Where We Meet Again (Arrow Creek 1)

Page 23

I told myself that’s the last of Law.
After he left, Evelyn called from practice and begged to have a sleepover at her best friend’s house. Even though it was a school night, after what went down in my kitchen, I claimed the Mother-of-the-Year Award and granted her wish. Then, I spent a night in my quiet, lonely house drowning in the half remaining bottle of bourbon.
I’ve consumed more alcohol this week than I have in nearly fifteen years. I just can’t stomach listening to the short version of Law’s life story and remain sober. His voice replays in my head, the horrible things he experienced with just enough blame threaded in his tone to inform me he’ll never forgive me.
As an adult, I can understand the shitty things that happen in life. He made choices just as I had, and those choices hadn’t panned out the way he planned. Mine hadn’t either. Choices have consequences, and there are some things beyond our control. I have to stow away his pain in a compartment of sympathy, nothing more.
Even a few shots in, I can’t extinguish the guilt. The ‘what-ifs’ and ‘if-I’d-only.’ We used to be so close that almost anything that happened to him felt like my own. His joy caused me joy, and his pain stung me, too.
Time and several shots of bourbon pass, but I’m I eventually able to lock the guilt away with all the other emotions involving Law.
Three weeks pass, and I haven’t so much as seen him.
I also haven’t found any mice, and I believe Evelyn imagined them.
“Sweetie, are you up for school?” I call to her from outside her bedroom door. She’s becoming increasingly less productive as the holidays near. What I would give to be a teenager again. My job has been the opposite. Stupid accidents are at an all-time high during the holidays. Slick roads and an increase in holiday celebrations are the biggest contributing factors.
I knock louder. “Evelyn?”
No answer.
My stomach turns queasy as I thrust open her door. Even with her excitement for school break, she isn’t a lazy kid. The minute I locate her lying in bed, I know. Call it motherly instinct. I don’t even need to press my hand to her forehead for confirmation, but I do it anyway. She’s burning up.
“Are you feeling sick, honey?”
“Yes.” The moan is pitiful.
“I’ll call you out of school. Be right back.”
Thankfully, I trust her to stay home alone, which means I won’t have to call out of work. I have sick leave saved, but we are such a small town that only a few of us work in rotation. If I can help it, I don’t want to inconvenience my coworkers. The bad news is she has more than a minor cold, possibly the flu. My heart breaks for her and that I can’t stay with her.
I confirm we’re well stocked on canned soups and crackers and leave her with her phone nearby and instructions to call me if she needs anything.
The slow day allows me to answer Evelyn’s eight calls and take care of her fires without jeopardizing my job. Nathan, my regular partner and other best friend, is ridiculously cool about me dealing with my sick kid. He’d lost his wife two years ago to breast cancer and understood better than most balancing a job and family illnesses.
My poor girl sounds miserable. This has to be the start of the flu. The actual flu. Not the sniffles people get in the winter and call the flu. I’ll need to arm myself so I don’t get sick too.
At the end of the day, I can’t escape fast enough. During one of her many phone calls, Evelyn requested popsicles for her sore throat. So I drive the extra fifteen minutes to the grocery store. I run straight for the frozen treats section, choose a box of her favorite cherry, and then stroll to the pharmacy. After adding an arsenal of cold and pain soothers to my cart, I contemplate dinner.
Evelyn would want soup, but something more appealing than the Campbell’s in the cabinet might entice her to eat. The front left wheel of my cart squeaks noisily as I stride to the deli.
For a small-town grocer, this store carries everything. They stock the deli fresh daily with some of my favorite foods. I often come by late Sunday night and pick up some pre-made meals for weekday lunches. A half-gallon of soup can last Evelyn and me the entire week. I’ll see if they have some creamy gnocchi or maybe a roasted squash to get some healthy stuff in her, and a loaf of French bread for dipping.
Just as I can almost taste the deli from the aroma surrounding me, the front of my cart jerks to a stop. My stomach collides with the handle and the cart lists to the left. I lock my hands to save it from crashing to the floor, but the weight and gravity overpowers me. The cart drags me down with it when someone reaches out and steadies us.
I suck breath back into my shocked lungs when I glance up and lose it all over again.
“Lawrence. Thank you.”
Rocking back on his heels, he inserts his hands in his pockets and nods.
“I know it’s not my business, but you’re still in town.”
He scans my face. I feel as if I’m under a microscope. Like everything inside me is exposed.