Home > Liars Like Us (Morally Gray #1)

Liars Like Us (Morally Gray #1)
Author: J.T. Geissinger





The yellow balloons bob in a cheery arch over the open glass doors of ValUBooks as a steady stream of customers passes through on their blissful way to kill my soul, my family’s legacy, and every dream I ever dared to dream.

“It’s not that bad,” says Viv brightly.

My sweet employee, she of the freckles and strawberry-blonde hair, stands beside me at the window of my shop as we watch the throng of people outside make their way to fatten the already fat bank account of my arch nemesis.

I’d say competitor, but there’s no competition. ValUBooks is a Fortune 500 company with over a billion in assets, operating more than 1,000 successful retail outlets across the country, and employing over 30,000 people.

My company, Lit Happens, has one location, five employees, and “assets” that include an assortment of feral cats that wander in and out and an ancient espresso machine possessed by a fire demon that once burst into flames just as the city health inspector arrived to conduct the annual inspection on the tiny café inside the store.

I mutter, “Sure. In the same way a brain tumor isn’t that bad.”

Viv shoots me a glance, examines my expression, then turns back to the view of the sunny July morning and continues trying to reassure me.

“Don’t sound so depressed. It’s opening day. They’re bound to be busy today. I bet tomorrow, it will be slower. Then next week, it will be totally dead.”

Dead like my business. Dead like my future. Dead like my love life, which came to a screeching halt six months ago when my boyfriend Ben suddenly declared it was over between us. Then he blocked my number as if I were a bill collector he was trying to avoid.

I still have no idea what happened. When I went to his apartment to try to talk to him, his neighbor across the hall said he’d moved.

He didn’t leave a forwarding address. He didn’t even give the landlord notice. He just cleared out like a criminal on the run from the law.

He probably had a premonition that my life was about to end, and he didn’t want to get dragged down into the depths of bankruptcy and self-loathing with me.

“Oh God. It’s Channel 4 News!” Horrified, I point to the blue-and-white van with the satellite dish affixed to its roof that’s pulling into the parking lot.

Viv says hopefully, “Maybe there’s a gas leak.”

I scoff. “Thanks for that, but the news doesn’t show up to cover a gas leak. They’re reporting on the grand opening.”

“Maybe it’s a big gas leak. Maybe the building is about to be evacuated. Maybe ValUBooks is going to explode!”

That’s Viv in a nutshell. Little Miss Sunshine, always looking on the bright side, even in the face of imminent disaster.

I could point to a gigantic asteroid entering the atmosphere directly over our heads that was about to obliterate all life on the planet, and she’d say something chipper about how at least there are no income taxes or internet trolls in the afterlife.

“Nothing is exploding around here except my sanity. I need a drink.”

Despondent, I turn away from the window and cross the store, stopping behind the counter where the register sits. From beneath it, I pull a bottle of whiskey. I unscrew the cap and take a slug right from the bottle as Viv watches me, her pretty face pinched.

She says tentatively, “Isn’t it a little early for a drink, Em?”

“Don’t judge me. My life’s falling apart. Liquor is the answer.”

“Liquor is never the answer. Especially at ten o’clock on a Friday morning.”

“Ha! Says the infant with no problems.”

She looks insulted. “Twenty isn’t an infant.”

“Pfft. Get back to me in a decade and we’ll talk.”

I take another swig from the bottle, cap it, then put it back under the counter. Because although I’d never admit aloud that my young and unjaded employee is right, she’s right. Ten o’clock is much too early to drink.

I’ll wait until noon to really get started.

The front door of the shop swings open. A tanned brunette wearing a gold USC hoodie, cutoff jean shorts, and flip-flops bursts in, looking panicked.

“Emery! OhmyfuckingGod the news is out there! Did you see the van? Did you see the crowd? Did you see how many cars are in the lot? I had to park down the street, it’s so packed!”

“Maybe tone down the hysteria,” suggests Viv, sending an uncharacteristic frown toward Harper as she charges at me, tossing her Louis Vuitton handbag onto the counter.

Harper ignores her. She grabs me by the shoulders and gives me a shake.

“I can’t lose this job, Em. You know my financial situation. You know Chad wiped me out. You know I could never find another job because I have no work ethic!”

“What I know is that you’re giving me bruises and making me want to give you a friendly little slap in return.” I reach under the counter and grab the whiskey. “Here. This will help.”

As Harper unscrews the cap on the whiskey and takes a drink, Viv throws her hands in the air in exasperation.

“Doesn’t anyone around here have healthy stress management skills?”

“They didn’t teach that back in the dark ages when we went to school. Now make yourself useful, Vivienne. Go next door to the enemy camp, have a look around, and report back.”

“What am I supposed to be looking for?”

“Anything we can send as a code violation to the county to get those bastards closed down.”

“What if I don’t find anything?”

Harper pipes in, “Pretend to slip. Fall and break a bone. Make a scene. And make sure there’s blood! News reporters love it when there’s blood.”

Viv sighs and shakes her head.

“She’s joking,” I say.

“No, I’m not!” insists Harper. “This is life or death, girls! I’m a thirty-year-old single mother with no marketable skills, forty grand in credit card debt, and a child who visits the emergency room at least once a month because he’s allergic to everything. I can’t lose this job. And if we don’t do something drastic, ValUBooks will be the end of us.”

She turns toward the front window, waves an arm in the air, and wails, “Just look at that crowd!”

Harper always gets dramatic when she’s upset. She was a theater major in college before she dropped out to marry the star quarterback, have a baby, and discover that her husband’s idea of monogamy included a rotating roster of perky coeds.

I take the bottle from her and put it back under the counter. I’d let her have more, but I need it.

Over the sound of Harper hyperventilating, a gruff male voice calls, “Good morning, ladies.”

Mr. Murphy stands in the front door, nodding a curt hello to all of us.

He’s a retired English teacher originally from the Bronx whose wife passed away last year. He was a long-time customer of the shop before I owned it, and the first employee I hired after my father died.

In my opinion, every good bookstore has at least one cat, several comfy chairs tucked away in hidden corners to curl up in, and a curmudgeon who knows how to find exactly the story you’re looking for.

Mr. Murphy is our curmudgeon.

“Oh, Murph,” cries Harper. “Did you see? We’re doomed!”

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