Two Lethal Lies(3)

By: Annie Solomon



She screeched when she saw her daughter. “Oh, my God, Sara Jean, what happened?”

Mitch pushed past her. Made a split-second decision. “She… she fell into the river.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Julia open her mouth. He nudged her with his elbow to shut up. Not that Mrs. Blunt was listening.

“The river? Dear Lord, Sara Jean, what on earth were you doing—”

“Where’s her room?” Mitch interrupted, turning around with the wet child in his arms. “You should get her out of these clothes.”

With rapid steps, she led the way to a staircase, and Mitch and Julia followed her up to the second floor. “Are you all right?” she asked her daughter. “You didn’t break anything, did you? How’s your ankle? She broke her ankle last summer,” she explained quickly to Mitch.

Sara Jean’s room was a flurry of pink and white. Ruffled pillows fluffed up the bed; balloons and teddy bears danced on the walls. It was the kind of room that made a man feel wildly uncomfortable but that little girls everywhere loved. Julia was no exception. He watched in regret as she gasped and gawked at the dolls and stuffed animals—all the trappings of the girlhood she never had and never would.

Mitch laid Sara Jean on the bed. “You’ll be okay now.”

An unspoken message passed between them. “Thanks,” she said.

Mitch nodded, hoping he’d done the right thing. If nothing else, he’d done the convenient thing. The choice that would get him and Julia out of there fast. There was still time to make it to Nashville and from there head south to the Gulf. “Come on, Jules. Let’s go.”

“Wait,” Sara Jean’s mother said. She was scrambling around the room, collecting dry clothes and towels from the bathroom. “Please.”

“That’s okay,” Mitch said. “We gotta hit the road.”

“No, we don’t,” Julia said.

“Jules,” Mitch warned.

“Don’t have a job to go to, no one waiting on us.”

“You’re out of work?” Sara Jean’s mother looked concerned. A couple of years ago, being unemployed was like having leprosy—only the poor and shiftless caught it. Now, so many people were out of work it was almost a pandemic. “Do you live in town?”

Mitch opened his mouth, but Julia got there first. “No, ma’am. We don’t live nowhere.”

“Anywhere,” Mitch corrected. “And we’re fine.” He emphasized the last word with another meaningful look at Julia. She scowled at him.

Mrs. Blunt seemed to sum up the situation. “I’m sure you are, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t thank you properly. I’ve got chocolate chip cookies downstairs.” Julia’s eyes lit up. “If you’ll just wait until I can get Sara Jean dried off…”

Jules took his hand and tugged him away. “Be happy to.” She smiled.

But when they were in the hallway, Mitch yanked his hand away. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Nothing.”

“You’re damn right. Because we’re going.”

She hopped down the stairs and plopped onto one of the chairs that sat on either side of a table in the foyer. Crossing her arms and setting her mouth, she shot him a “make me” look.

He knew that look. “Come on, Junebug,” he wheedled. “You know the rules.”

“I hate your stupid rules,” she said. “One of these days, I’m gonna be old enough to make my own rules.”

“Well, until then you’re living by mine. And rule number one is we don’t talk about our troubles, and rule number two is we don’t get involved in other people’s.”

“Then why’d you jump in the river?”

“That’s different. I couldn’t exactly watch Sara Jean drown.”

“Well, I can’t let her poor mother feel guilty about not thanking us properly.”

“Okay, that’s it.” He pulled her up. She weighed no more than a pea, so it wasn’t hard. “We’re going.”

“I’ll scream. I’ll tell them you beat me.” He dragged her toward the door. “Mrs. Blunt! Mrs. Blunt!”

“Stop that.”

“Oh,” she groaned at the top of her voice, “I’m sooo hungry. Can’t remember when I ate last.”

“You little—”

“Mrs. Bluuuunnnnt!!”

Mitch threw up his hands. “Okay, okay.” He held up a finger. “One cookie.”

“And a glass of milk.”

“All right. One cookie and a glass of milk. And no talking about us.”

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