Two Lethal Lies(7)By: Annie Solomon
He checked the timer. Thirty minutes. Then he’d collect Jules and they could keep on keeping on.
A head popped into the room. “Mr. Turner?” Tommy Blunt stood in Hannah’s place, making Mitch feel like he’d never shake these people.
Sara Jean’s father entered, his hand extended. “I don’t know how I can thank you.”
“No need. I just did what anybody—”
“I don’t think so. And I want you to know we’re grateful. My wife tells me you’re looking for work and a place to live. I’m sure I can hook you up with something. And we’ve got a small carriage house you and your daughter can stay in until I get things settled.”
“That’s not necessary. Really—”
“I insist. Won’t take no for an answer. We owe you our daughter’s life. It’s the least we can do. And I’m afraid your daughter’s already agreed.” He grinned. “You’ll stay for dinner, of course, and then we can get you moved in.”
He slapped Mitch on the back and disappeared.
A minute later, a loud whoop came from the kitchen. Julia.
His heart sank, and that old saying came back to him a hundredfold: No good deed goes unpunished.
After dinner, Tommy mentioned staying in town again, but Mitch insisted on heading back on the road.
“Why do we have to go?” Julia asked plaintively as Mitch ushered her out of the kitchen, the Blunts following.
“We’ll talk about it later,” Mitch told her.
“But I like it here,” Julia said. “And they want us to stay. Don’t you?” She appealed to Bitsy, her blue eyes pleading.
“Of course we do,” Bitsy said to her. And to Mitch, “Are you sure you won’t stay? Even for a few days?”
“Look, you have plenty on your plate right now with Sara Jean.” Mitch steered Julia toward the front door. “You don’t need two more bodies to worry about.”
“They like worrying about us!” Julia dug in her heels. “And I won’t get in the way, I promise.”
“Jules,” Mitch said in a quiet way that immediately silenced her. He knelt down, put his hands on her shoulders, looked directly in her eyes, and spoke in a low, emphatic voice. “We are not staying.” It was a tone he’d used since she was a baby, and it always got results. “Thank the Blunts for dinner.”
For half a second, he thought there was going to be a scuffle, but then she lowered her head. When she raised it back up, she was fighting tears. Mitch knew he was right, but being right didn’t mean he also didn’t feel like a heel.
“Thank you for dinner,” Julia said.
“You’re more than welcome.” Bitsy bent down and gave her a hug. “Come and visit whenever you want.”
Julia nodded and fled out the door.
Mitch shook hands with Tommy.
“You change your mind, we’ll be here,” Tommy said.
“Appreciate it,” Mitch said, and walked into the night.
Back in the truck, Mitch could breathe again. But Julia stared straight ahead, her little face set. Ordinarily, he’d drive a few hours, find a place to pull over, and camp outside. It was still warm enough with the sleeping bags. But he wanted to make things up to Julia, so he shelled out for a motel on the edge of town.
Normally, she would be bouncing up and down to stay in a motel. The height of luxury to her. Plus TV.
But tonight she was having none of it.
“I don’t see why this is so much better than a real house.”
“Because it’s only the two of us, like always.”
“And what’s so great about that?”
Instead of answering, Mitch took out their backpacks, found her pajamas, and handed them to her. She grabbed them wordlessly and disappeared into the bathroom to change. Marched out, got her toothbrush and toothpaste, marched back in. She brushed her teeth noisily, peed, flushed, then plopped into the bed by the window without turning on the TV.
If he didn’t know she was mad before, he knew now.
“Not going to watch TV?”
“That wasteland?” she said, mimicking him.
He fished in her backpack and came out with a book. “Read?”
She groaned loudly, then whipped away from him, burrowing low, and pulled the covers over her head.
He sighed. Hoped the sulk wouldn’t last past morning.
Mitch was up with the sun. He rolled over and stretched, saw Julia was already up, and felt relieved. He hadn’t been looking forward to a whole day in the truck with a pouty kid.
“Mornin’, Junebug!” he called through the closed bathroom door.
Uh-oh. Maybe his optimism had been short-lived.