Two Lethal Lies(4)

By: Annie Solomon

The commotion brought Sara Jean’s mother running down the stairs. “Everything all right?”

“Just fine,” Mitch said, a wary eye on the kid.

Sara Jean’s mother brightened a bit. “I put Sara Jean to bed. She”—the mother’s eyes darted away and back again—“she wasn’t up to talking. Would you mind?” She gestured for them to follow her into the house, and they walked through the rooms with their heavy farmhouse replicas, the rugs and ceramics, not to mention family pictures. Julia’s eyes popped and a look of worshipful awe crossed her face.

The kitchen was large and bright. A dining area was carved out of one corner, where a window looked out on a tree-filled backyard. In lieu of chairs, a wooden bench sat below the window, and Julia bounded onto it, gazing at the yard’s October harvest of gold and red leaves.

But Mitch knew her focus was probably on one tree in particular, where a homemade swing hung alone and idle.

Sara Jean’s mother made coffee, and while they waited for it to brew, she brought a plate of cookies to the table. Mitch thought it better all around for Julia to be gone for this part, so he let her take a cookie, then gestured toward the window.

“Go ahead,” he told her.

She didn’t need a second invitation. She whooped, grabbed another cookie, and dashed out the back door. He sat across from the window, where he could keep an eye on her. She leaped onto the swing and was airborne in seconds.

“She’s adorable,” Mrs. Blunt said with an edge of wistfulness. “You and your wife must be very proud of her.”

Mitch nodded, his gaze still on his girl. “I am. But my wife… Julia’s mother passed away.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you. It was a long time ago. Julia was just a baby.”

“Well, you’ve done an amazing job with her. I wish… I wish Sara Jean could be that happy again.” She brought Mitch his coffee, which he sipped gratefully. He was still wearing his wet clothes, and his skin was icy.

Mrs. Blunt noticed the shiver that went through him. “Good gracious,” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe I’ve left you in those wet clothes.”

“That’s okay. We’re not stay—”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Let me get you something of Tommy’s, my husband…” She was already pushing him out the door and into a laundry room off the kitchen. “Stay here and I’ll bring you something. Then we can just pop this stuff into the machine and be done with it.”

She was back in a few minutes with a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt, which he dutifully put on, though the shirt barely covered his midsection and the sweatpants reached only to the top of his ankles.

“Well, at least they’re dry,” she said when she saw him.

He padded back to the kitchen in bare feet and saw Julia still happily ensconced on the swing. A few minutes later, Mrs. Blunt came back, poured herself a cup of coffee, and joined him at the table.

“Now,” she said brightly, though there was the glisten of tears in her eyes. “Tell me what really happened at the river.”

Mentally, he groaned. The house with its cozy warmth was like flypaper—no matter how hard he tried, his feet kept sticking. But he couldn’t bring himself to lie again.

When he was done, tears snaked down her cheeks and she put her hand on his arm. “God bless you,” she said. “If you hadn’t been there…”

“I promised her I wouldn’t tell you. She seems to think you wouldn’t understand.”

Sara Jean’s mother sighed sadly. “She’s right. I don’t.”

“Maybe she needs someone else to talk to.”

“Someone else? Oh, you mean a therapist. I don’t know. We’re not much on that kind of thing here.”

Mitch remained silent. Wasn’t his problem.

The front door slammed closed. “Bitsy?”

Mrs. Blunt—Bitsy—rose. “In here!”

A worried-faced woman rushed into the kitchen, toting an overstuffed briefcase and an armful of binders. She dropped everything on one of the counters and flew to Bitsy, who burst into tears and rushed into her arms. The two women hugged, the newcomer tall and rangy next to the petite redhead.

“Is she all right?” the newcomer asked.

Bitsy nodded, sniffing and swiping at her eyes.

“What on God’s earth happened?” She suddenly seemed to notice they weren’t alone. She stopped short, looked pointedly at Mitch. “Who are you?”

“Oh, God,” Bitsy said. “That’s… that’s—” She reddened, and clamped a hand over her mouth. “I don’t even know his name,” she wailed. “My manners, my head just… just—”

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