I locked the door and then just stared at it. God, I just lied to a detective. Why the hell did I just lie to a detective? It had felt right in the moment. But as soon as the words left my mouth I regretted them. I could have told him about the woman running through the woods. I could have pointed him in the direction that she had fled. I could have given him every detail he wanted and gotten him out of my hair.
But instead I lied. I shook my head. He hadn’t left me with much of a choice. I couldn’t have the cops poking around in the woods. I couldn’t have them running all around my property with police dogs and metal detectors and whatever else cops used in the search for a criminal. What if they found something? I couldn’t risk it.
I bit the inside of my cheek. Had the detective known I was lying? It looked like he did. Like he could easily see right through me. Shit shit shit.
“It wasn’t a big lie,” I said into the empty room. “It was a little white lie. A nothing lie. There are no consequences for a nothing lie.” Right?
I should have run back upstairs to finish what I had started just in case he came back, but instead I found myself pushing my ear against the door. There was no squeak of floorboards or crunch of leaves. I closed my eyes and tried to listen. The silence was incredibly loud as I pressed the side of my face harder against the wooden door.
Detective Reed’s gaze had been so intense. It felt like he had locked me in place when he was staring at me. Like I could barely even breathe. Does he feel as frozen as me right now?
I moved away from the door. Of course he didn’t. There was no way that he was as affected by our meeting as I was. It was his job to make me feel frozen. For his eyes to bore into my soul, see my darkest sins, and to travel down my body…I shook my head. No. That was most certainly not his job. But he had done that, right? I hadn’t imagined it?
I swallowed down the lump in my throat. All my nerves were on hyperdrive. The only man I had interacted with recently was mailman Joe. And he was like seventy. This was a normal response to a man my own age. Especially one who looked like Detective Reed. I glanced down at the business card in my hand. Detective Tucker Reed.
I tiptoed to the window in the living room and peered through a gap in the curtains. I expected to see him retreating through the woods, but he was just standing there. Staring at the door. Frozen. I could feel my pulse beating in my head. I hadn’t imagined it. He had been looking at me. Really looking. And it didn’t seem like it was purely for detective reasons.
I let myself stare unabashedly at him from behind the safety of the curtain. He didn’t look how I expected a detective to look. Beer bellies and mustaches were the dominant features of the detectives in my mind. But he was most certainly not like the detectives I pictured in my head. He was wearing a formfitting wool jacket that was undoubtedly not hiding a huge stomach. If anything it was probably covering perfect six pack abs. I glanced down at his left hand. There was no ring on his finger. Hot and single. I was good at smelling trouble a mile away. And Detective Reed was most certainly trouble. After all, he was clearly the reason I had lied. I couldn’t think straight when a man with a chiseled jaw, five-o’clock shadow, piercing brown eyes, and a deep sexy voice was staring right at me.
Yes, he was the reason I had lied. He had made me act poorly. It was all his fault. Jerk.
He turned his head and I threw myself down onto the floor. Ow. I cradled my elbow that had just whacked the hardwood floors. Or what was left of them.
When I peered back out the window, the detective was gone. And a part of me wondered if I had imagined him.
I placed the handgun and old letters back in their box. There was no reason to move the gun. It’d been sitting there for six years without causing me any harm. No one would find it here. My original plan was to grab the gun and chuck it into the lake. But the red and blue lights hadn’t ceased lighting up the sky. The cops wouldn’t be going away anytime soon, despite me denying the fact that a very guilty looking woman had been running through the woods. The gun was safer with me than out there where they could find it. Like I had told the detective…he needed a warrant. And I couldn’t see why anyone would give him one to search my house. I was a law-abiding citizen. I paid my taxes. I was most definitely not going to be a suspect in their investigation of a house fire. I lived all the way out here for a reason. They’d leave me alone.
I put the floorboard back in place and stood up. Yup, it was most definitely safe there. Just like it always had been. But I still wondered if police dogs could sniff out guns. I wanted to Google it on my phone, but I knew searching that question would inevitably lead me down a terrible, inescapable rabbit hole of useless facts. It was the same reason I had to ban myself from looking up anything on WebMD. No matter my symptoms, it always made me think I had a brain tumor. Or maybe there was a reason for that. My fingers itched to look up whether I did or did not in fact have a brain tumor. I took a deep, calming breath. You are banned from that site. You are banned from searching police dogs.
And honestly, who cared if police dogs could smell guns? The gun wasn’t loaded, and it was mine. Well, technically it wasn’t mine. It had been my stepfather’s. But I didn’t steal it or anything. No, it wasn’t registered in my name, but I was pretty sure I had a right to it since he was dead.
Did that look bad? God, it probably did. I looked back down at the floorboard. Honestly, I was terrified of the thing. I didn’t know how to properly use it. And I didn’t know how to discard of it or I would have done it years ago. The gun had been lying in my floorboards untouched ever since I moved in. And now I had an unregistered gun in my house. With my fingerprints all over it. It did look bad.
I took another deep breath. No one was going to find it. Because no one was coming into my house without an invitation. I walked over to my nightstand and stared down at the detective’s business card. It was easy for me to suddenly focus on him instead. He had been in the back of my head all night. All I had wanted to do since he left my front porch was send him a text. Google and WebMD searches wouldn’t have appeased me long anyway when my true desire was to talk to him. I stared at the card. A little harmless flirting would either help get him off my back or make me seem suspicious. Probably the latter.
I lifted up the card. The temptation was too strong. I needed to get rid of it before I did something I regretted. I walked into the bathroom, opened one of the drawers in my vanity, and pulled out one of my three lighters. I lit the corner of the business card and watched his information slowly disappear forever. Not that it mattered. I had remembered his number. And once something was seared into my brain it was pretty hard for me to forget it. Regardless, I watched it burn closer to my fingers. At the last second I tossed it into the toilet. It sizzled and went out with the most satisfying sound. Huh. I watched the remainder of the card grow damp. Maybe they should have suspected me for setting a house on fire. I had always liked the sound of fire. But more so the sound of a fire being extinguished. I was a lot of things, but I was most definitely not a pyromaniac. I flushed the toilet and placed the lighter back where it belonged.
Tonight was always going to be hard. I was surprised at how little the memory of Joel stung me now, though. Maybe six years truly was the magical amount of time to heal. I doubted it had anything to do with Detective Reed. A handsome face didn’t just erase years of painful memories. One chance meeting wasn’t enough for me to forget the fact that the love of my life had abandoned me here.
Despite the fact that I wasn’t sad, I still walked out of my bedroom and down the hall, trying hard not to let the floorboards creak. If I was being honest, I found myself wandering into Zeke’s room most nights. Sad, happy, grateful…all of my emotions were always heightened by him. Seeing him sleeping peacefully reminded me how little all the Joels and Detective Reeds in the world really mattered. Zeke was the only man that I needed in my life. And since he was five, he didn’t seem to mind his mother snuggling with him when she needed a little comfort.
I climbed into his twin sized bed and wrapped my arm around him.
“I don’t feel good,” he said and nuzzled his face into his pillow.
I hadn’t expected him to still be awake. I kissed the top of his head. “I know, sweetie.” I had put him to bed right after dinner. He had been complaining about his throat hurting. Although...he didn’t have a temperature. And a liar was always good at spotting another liar. Maybe he had learned it from me. But I hadn’t pressed it tonight because I had a date with the lake and memories that I should have buried long ago. “So you’re not feeling any better?”
“No. I think I have to stay home from school tomorrow.”
“You do, huh?”
He turned to face me. “Probably. I wouldn’t want to get the other kids sick.”
“Zeke.” I placed my hand on the side of his face. “Are the other children still teasing you?”
“No.” He said it too defensively, and his tone broke my heart.
I had been called into the principal’s office a week after he first started kindergarten. A very uncaring principal who just wanted to inform me that my child was being teased. He didn’t offer any way to help the situation. Just thought it was important for me to know that my boy was being called Zeke the Freak.
I hoped the last few months had been getting better. But they hadn’t. Fake stomach bugs. Headaches. He even claimed he had AIDS. I doubt he really knew what that entailed. The honest truth was that my sweet boy had the dreaded faker’s disease. Zeke was spending more time on WebMD than me to look up fake illnesses.
“Little dude, you have to go to school. It’s important.”
“Why? You don’t leave. I don’t want to either.”
I pressed my lips together. I knew that part of his name calling was my fault. I was the crazy lady who lived at the top of the hill. I could handle housewives’ wrath. But my son? None of my idiosyncrasies were his fault. Why did bored suburban moms teach their kids to behave so poorly? Just because I liked to live out here alone didn’t mean my son was strange.
Sure, he didn’t exactly look like normal kids. I let him dress how he liked because I believed it was important for children to express themselves. His blonde hair was in short dreadlocks, he always wore bright yellow rain boots, and he preferred cargo shorts to any other kind of pants or shorts, even if it was frightfully cold. But that made logical sense. He held all sorts of things in his pockets. Whenever I needed a pen he could hand me one in under two seconds. It was impressive. The kind of thing that kids should have admired. But no. I looked down at my beautiful little son. Zeke the Freak. Children could be so idiotic. He was the light of my life. He was wonderful, and smart, and kind. He was perfect.
“Maybe you can have tomorrow off,” I said as I tucked a dreadlock behind his ear. “How does a three day weekend sound?”
“Yeah?” He looked up at me with his adorable little face.
“Yeah. You’ve earned a holiday.” He hadn’t. He was a few absences away from having to repeat kindergarten. But that was bullshit. He was smarter than all those little assholes making fun of him. And if his principal wanted to try to cross me, I’d pull the crazy card and scare him into agreeing with me.
“Thanks, Mom.” He snuggled back into my arms.
I wished that I could turn back time and name him something different. Something that didn’t rhyme with a hateful word. But children would find a way to be mean no matter what. That was what kids did. Hurt each other with words.
Zeke’s chest started to rise and fall slower. Knowing that he didn’t have to face his enemies tomorrow had put him fast asleep. I blinked away the tears in my eyes. All the thoughts of my ex, handsome detectives, and unregistered handguns disappeared. What was I going to do about Zeke? I needed to figure out something soon before he repeated my mistakes.
END OF CHAPTER 3
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