She slipped off her shoes and padded barefoot to the front door. As she fumbled with the lock, the leaves of an overgrown bush next to the porch rustled despite the windless night. She raised her spiked heels in defense and then winced at the overreaction. Lee’s crime warning must have jumpstarted her worry meter. She turned back to the door and hurried inside.
She shot the deadbolt into place. Before her skittish pulse could slow, she heard the revving of a nearby motor. Tires squealed, and the engine noise faded away. Through the door’s sheer curtain, she looked up and down the street.
“Enough already,” she said in a too loud, chiding voice.
She flipped on the foyer light and her nerves relaxed until she saw the rug at the bottom of the stairs. It was askew. Her eyes darted over the space in front of her. Everything else was in its proper place. Besides the inability to pick faithful husbands, she and her mother shared the rarely appreciated trait of compulsive neatness.
She thought back to when she had left the house earlier. Maybe in her haste to meet Sarah, her foot had slid the rug out of place as she came down the stairs. But she would have straightened it. Unless she didn’t notice… but she would have noticed… because that’s how she was.
She inched into the kitchen and picked up the phone. She’d call the police and ask them to search the house. Because of a cockeyed rug? Even in her paranoid state, she knew it would sound crazy. Their first question would be, “How much did you have to drink tonight, Ms. Baxter?”
She shook her head. For all the bravado she showed in front of Lee, here she was acting like a scared twelve-year-old, alone for the first time while her parents were on a date night. Her mom had offered to cancel her trip to London when Jessie told her the date of the class reunion, but Jessie had insisted she go. Since retirement, these trips had become her mom’s main source of entertainment.
She rummaged in her purse until her fingers found her pepper spray. With the canister at arm’s length, she circled each room on the first floor, testing the locks on the windows. Everything seemed in order. She let out a breath and grasped the banister leading upstairs with her free hand while her foot straightened the rug.
The steps to the second floor creaked under Jessie’s weight. She shuddered at the eerie feeling the empty house gave off. Still clutching the pepper spray, she checked the windows upstairs before collapsing on the bed in her childhood room. The house was too big for one person. She didn’t know how her mom stood it. Maybe tomorrow she’d move to Sarah’s. They could have a slumber party like old times.
Old times. Lee Archer. Wow. Her smile turned into a yawn. Something itched at the back of her mind, but after seven hours in a car and a few more in the bars, she gave into heavy eyelids and fell into an uneasy sleep.
At three in the morning, her eyes flew open and she clutched the comforter to her chin.
Underwear. A pair of lacy, black underwear hung from the top rail of the desk’s chair. No way in hell had she done that.
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