“Did I call you?” Zoe asked Donna when she had gotten herself up to grab the ringing phone. She held it to her ear while opening and closing her eyes, trying to rid herself of the last traces of her very strange dream. What was that about the backyard? She wasn’t supposed to go there, as if whatever was out to get her lived only there and there alone. Of course, after what she thought she’d seen with Taran, and then the vodka, was it any wonder she was having strange dreams? She still felt light headed.
It was still raining outside, her father still wasn’t home, and the house remained too warm for the season even with the air conditioner trying to keep up with the humidity.
Donna laughed a little. “I don’t think so, hon. I was just checking in to see how you were doing. I was at home watching the rain pouring down and thinking how you must feel right at home in this.”
“It never rains like this in Portland,” Zoe said. Did her voice sound as grumpy as she felt? She should be nicer to Donna. She’d kept in touch. It wasn’t Donna’s fault she liked Corbin Meadow, didn’t think there was anything wrong with the place, wouldn’t in a million years believe Zoe had seen what she’d seen and chalk it up Zoe having done some sort of drugs on the Left Coast, as they said, probably with a “bless your heart” thrown in.
Donna humphed. “I was just thinking of you, that’s all.”
“That was nice. And it’s funny because I was thinking of you,” Zoe said, trying to be conciliatory. She’d been thinking just this morning that she’d stick around the town. No need to make everyone angry if she was planning on staying. Or maybe she should leave Corbin Meadow and live in Hickory or Raleigh or some other small town where she could be Zoe Hyer and no one would notice her as she went about her work in the lab, but deep down she knew she couldn’t. She was tied to the town as strongly as she was tied to her family, like a horse to a post, so to speak.
“Was it good?” Donna asked.
“I have a weird request,” Zoe said. “Something came up about Kay Pugh when I was going back over my mom’s death with Chief Rees…”
“Probably because he’s still not over her,” Donna interrupted. No “bless his heart.” Probably because unrequited love needed no blessing. It was sweet and wonderful and no one need apologize for that.
“No. I brought her up because I thought she might know something. Obviously Chief Rees couldn’t ask her to come here and he wasn’t even sure what to ask her because I didn’t know and I know Charlene and she were good friends…” This time Zoe purposely let the sentence hang.
Donna was probably in her too-small house, an eight hundred square foot place that housed her and her husband and two boys all living in each other’s pockets and getting on each other’s nerves, which was probably why Donna spent what time she could at her mother’s house, especially as the boys got bigger. Zoe didn’t know how her friend breathed in the house and wondered if Donna was hiding in the only bathroom to have a bit of privacy for her conversation. But no, the school was actually open so the boys would be gone. Donna could be enjoying what she could of the house, perhaps finding a corner that wasn’t a complete mess.
“I’ll ask Charlene to mention it,” Donna said, hesitant.
“I think it’s important,” Zoe said. “I thought someone was in my backyard, so I’m kind of worried that maybe the killer is after certain families and I could be next, you know? If there’s any way she can come back and maybe we can talk and I can put my finger on what it is that I thought she might know. It was something my momma said in passing the last time I was here…”
There, lay it on thick. My poor momma is dead and you must help me. If Kay Pugh Rees had an ounce of Corbin Meadow style compassion she ought to race over there to help out. This was, after all, about family and she might be able to help. As far as Zoe remembered, Kay was a nice enough woman. She’d probably fall for that.
“I’ll definitely tell Charlene,” Donna said. Zoe could almost feel Donna’s fingers start to itch with the desire to punch in Charlene’s number.
“That would be great,” Zoe said. “I wish my dad would get home. He went out to his usual day haunts and I bet he stayed at the coffee shop longer than he expected, but after what I thought I saw in the yard, I’m kind of scared.”
That was probably just asking for the whole town to know that she was scared, Zoe thought. Did she want to be remembered as the scared woman? Of course, being scared covered a multitude of sins and if, as she started acclimating to Corbin Meadow again, she failed to be nice enough and they thought she was a bitch, someone would remind others that “Bless her heart, she was just so scared around that time,” and all would be forgiven.
Donna chatted on about a few things and how the boys were disappointed that the school hadn’t closed even though they were getting hit by a hurricane. It might only be a sideswipe, well out of the cone, as everyone called it, but it was exciting for kids when they were young. It was kind of exciting, Zoe thought, even when you weren’t so young. It was only not exciting when you were certain your backyard was out to kill you. There were probably not a lot of people with that problem.
Finally, she and Donna hung up with a final promise on Donna’s part to talk to her sister. Zoe hoped that she’d been successful in relating her fears and that Donna would do what she had always done and embellish those fears when she talked to Charlene. Hopefully, then Charlene would take those fears and relate them to Kay and fairly quickly.
Zoe looked at the clock. It was nearing three. She could expect to hear something probably by eight that night. The downside to her plan was that likely the town would hear she was scared and soon enough her father would rush home and go searching the yard with his rifle.
Zoe didn’t expect him to find anything. What she’d seen wasn’t something you could shoot, but it was possible some other good neighbor might be checking the place out and then one or both of them could get hurt. It was a problem that wasn’t completely unique to the rural South but it wasn’t something Zoe had ever had to worry about in her condominium complex back in Portland. Heck, she didn’t even have a backyard out there.
Unfortunately, Tyler lived there, too, not that Portland was such a small city that she couldn’t lose him. It was just that part of their problem was that Zoe didn’t really want to stay there as much as she loved it. Nor, she realized, was she certain she wanted to stay in Corbin Meadow. She felt like she had a job to do at home and after that she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.
Zoe flopped back on the sofa, hugging a blue and black pillow she didn’t quite recognize, wondering when her father had gotten it or how, and sighed.
Chapter 22 will be coming next Friday. Don’t want to wait? Find the book here.