Two Lethal Lies(9)

By: Annie Solomon



Mitch wrenched open the door to the master bedroom, saw the covers strewn on the bed.

“Why don’t we go downstairs,” Bitsy said, “get some coffee, talk about—”

He flung open another room. A desk and a neatly made bed.

“Please, Mitch, we’d know if she was—wait, that’s Sara Jean’s room. I don’t think—”

But he’d already opened that door, too.

And snuggled under the covers next to Sara Jean’s red head was a smaller, black-haired one.

• • •


“We were going to switch places!” Julia cried, while Mitch glared at her. “Like the prince and the pauper. But Sara Jean was asleep, and I was tired….”

“I’ll bet you were,” Mitch said. “What in the world were you thinking?”

Julia scuffed a toe against the floor. They were in the empty room with the desk and the bed. “I told you. I don’t want to go. And I don’t see why we have to.”

“Because I said so.”

The narrow look she gave him clearly said, “Not good enough, pal.”

“We can’t stay.”

She shrugged.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Silence.

“Jules…”

Another shrug. “I’ll just do it again.”

“Next time we’ll go too far to walk back.”

“Then I’ll hitch.”

“You damn well won’t!”

“I will if you make me.”

He wouldn’t put it past her, either.

“Come on,” she cajoled. “We’ll have our own house and everything.”

Mitch wanted to shout at her, shake her, force her to understand. But he couldn’t. Not without telling her everything, and that was information he’d take to his grave.

“A week,” he said.

“A month.”

“Two weeks. And that’s it.”

She thought it over. “ ’Til Christmas.”

“Christmas! That’s over two months!”

She gave him that shrug again.

He growled at her. “You’re supposed to be meeting me in the middle, not escalating your position. Who taught you how to negotiate?”

She grinned. “You did.”

He lunged, pulled her under his arm like a football, and gave her a gentle head noogie. “You’re too good a learner.”

She giggled, and he released her. She was grinning widely, mischief and laughter in her eyes. His heart clenched, and for some unearthly reason, tears gathered at the back of his throat.

Abruptly, he turned away. DNA was a cruel master.

“Daddy?”

He swallowed. Cleared his throat. “Yeah, Junebug?”

“So, are we staying?”

“I guess so.”

“ ’Til Christmas?”

He had himself under control now, so he turned and wagged a finger at her. “But no promises after that.”

“And I go to school?”

He eyed her, partly in disbelief for her nerve, partly in horror. “Jesus, Jules. Most kids would do anything to stay out of school.”

“I’m different.”

“Tell me about it,” he said grimly.

“Unique.”

He grunted.

“That mean we have a deal?” She held out her hand to seal it.

He knew what he should do. Be tough. Resist. Disaster loomed if he didn’t.

But the dread of losing her again was still with him. It turned his constant paranoia into mere habit. After all, they’d been free for over a decade. How much would it hurt to give her what she wanted? At least for a little while.

So he slid his large hand around her smaller one and they shook once. And that evening, they moved into the Blunts’ carriage house.





5





Mitch set their backpacks at their customary place by the main exit, where they could be grabbed in a hurry if necessary. Bitsy had hired someone to clean the place from top to bottom, so all Mitch and Julia had to do was make themselves at home.

The carriage house was a square brick building tethered to the back of the Blunt home by an alley. The carriage that had once been lodged there was long gone, and the space had been divided into a series of rooms. He had known far bigger homes with many more rooms and many more floors, but Julia walked the space as though she were a farmer tramping a magical pasture somewhere over the rainbow. Every nook, every cabinet, every window ledge, was exclaimed upon and marveled over. He indulged her fascination and used it to dampen his own uneasiness.

That night they had dinner with the Blunts again, and this time, Sara Jean was there. She looked fully recovered from her ordeal, if a little withdrawn, especially around her parents.

Mitch volunteered himself and Julia to do the cleanup, and when Bitsy protested, Julia said, “Oh, no. He’s an expert at dishwashing. It’s just about the best thing he does.”

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