Read Love Lies Bleeding Online

Authors: Jess Mcconkey

Tags: #Mystery, #Contemporary, #Adult

Love Lies Bleeding (3 page)

BOOK: Love Lies Bleeding
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Caleb jumped up on the counter, his long legs dangling, and ripped open the bag of carrots. “So, are you excited about your new job?” he asked between chomps.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied, opening the refrigerator and placing the ketchup next to the bottle of mustard. Moving the bottle of mayonnaise to the left, she placed a jar of pickles by the mustard. “I haven’t met the patient yet, only her father and fiancé.”

Caleb didn’t speak for a moment while his mother rearranged the contents of the fridge. Finally, he broke his silence.

“Why are you nervous?”

“I’m not nervous,” Anne replied, glancing over her shoulder at her son.

Caleb hopped off the counter and crossed the short space between them. “Hmm.” He pointed to the straight row of condiments. “Ketchup, mustard, pickles, mayo. All you’re missing is a hamburger and bun.” Placing his hands on his knees, he leaned forward and peered at the second shelf. “And here we have milk and Hershey’s chocolate side by side, then on the next shelf—”

“Okay, okay,” she said, swinging the door shut. “I get it. I’m grouping again.”

He relaxed against the fridge and cocked his head. “At least this time you didn’t alphabetize everything.”

Lifting an eyebrow, she gave him a wry look before moving to the sink. She picked up the dishcloth and began wiping down the clean counter.

Caleb followed. Laying a hand on his mother’s, he stilled her swift movements. “So? What’s bugging you?”

With a sigh, she let go of the cloth and turned, propping a hip against the counter. Crossing her arms over her chest, she shook her head. “I don’t know . . . during my interview with Mr. Moore and Dr. Van Horn, I couldn’t help thinking that they were leaving things out.”

“Like what?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe her injuries are more severe than they were letting on.” She gave a slight shrug. “The whole conversation was just ‘off ’ somehow.”

He dropped a hand on her shoulder. “You worry too much, Mom.”

“You know, Caleb, you would, too, if . . . oh, never mind.” She pushed off from the counter and walked over to her purse sitting on the kitchen table. Taking out her checkbook and pen, she quickly deducted the grocery check from her balance. With a frown, she slapped the checkbook shut and tossed it and the pen into her bag.

“Not good?” he asked, noticing her expression.

Feeling Caleb’s eyes still on her, Anne forced a smile. “Ah, it’ll be okay,” she replied with a wave of her hand. “I’d hoped Mr. Moore would offer more, but I’ll still be able to sock at least part of it into your college fund.”

Caleb looked away. “What’s the deal with this lady?” he asked, snagging a handful of carrots. “Everyone at Esther’s was talking about her.”

“Samantha Moore?”

He nodded.

“As she was leaving work, she was attacked in the parking garage by a group of young men—”

“A gang?”

Anne nodded. “It sounds like it. They really don’t know. She was beaten and, during the beating, sustained a head injury that put her in a coma. When she came out of it, she couldn’t give the police much of a description, but a security guard saw her attackers running away. He thought they were wearing gang colors.”

She eyed her son. What if they’d been forced to stay in the Cities? In some crummy apartment. Would Caleb have been sucked into that life, too? The thought made her shiver. They’d been so lucky . . . her getting a job as a physical therapy assistant at the county hospital in Pardo and inheriting this house from her grandmother. It had been a struggle. Raising a kid alone. It seemed that there was never enough money, but they got by. And now, in another year, Caleb would be off to college to major in prelaw. He wouldn’t make the same mistakes she had. His life would be better, easier. She was determined to make it so.

Lost in her thoughts, she missed the remark Caleb had just made. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“Um, well.” He traced a seam in the worn linoleum with the toe of his tennis shoe. “I said I ran into Teddy Brighton today, and—”

“Caleb!” she exclaimed, cutting him off. “That kid’s bad news. How many times have I told you to stay away from him?”

“Jeez, Mom, he’s not that bad.”

Anne’s eyebrows disappeared under her fringed bangs. “Really? Tell that to the Abernathys, Greg, Fritz Thorpe,” she said, her fingers ticking off each name, “the Mich—”

Caleb grasped her hand to stop her. “It was just a harmless prank. No one was hurt.”

“You’re right, no one was injured, but untying all those boats last summer and setting them adrift was
not
harmless.” She squeezed his hand that was holding hers for emphasis. “It not only inconvenienced those people, but their boats could’ve been damaged, floating around the lake like that.”

“Mr. Brighton took care of it,” he argued. “He pulled all the boats back in and made Teddy apologize to everyone.”

“Humph,” she snorted, releasing his hand. “One of these days, Teddy’s going to do something that his dad can’t fix.”

“No, he won’t. He’s changed. I think military school straightened him out.”

“I don’t care if that school named him student of the year, I still don’t want you hanging out with him.”

“But just listen.” His voice took on a note of excitement. “He’s going to be up here all summer and his folks are letting him have a party in a couple of weeks. He asked me if my band would play—”

“Caleb—”

“Mom, come on,” he pleaded. “He said he’d pay us.”

“Right. And you’ll be using the money to bail yourself out of jail.” She drilled him with her eyes. “Do you remember the last party Teddy had? The cops busted it and several kids got hauled in for underage drinking. You’re almost eighteen now. Soon they’ll be able to arrest you and print your name in the paper.”

“Mom,” he argued in a determined voice, “it’s just a job. I won’t be partying with Teddy and his friends.”

“You’d better not,” she said with a quick nod. “The Brightons have always let Teddy run wild, and I’m not—”

“Look,” he interrupted, “it’s not only a chance to make money with the band. Mr. Brighton’s got connections and—”

Her eyes narrowed. “What kind of connections?”

Caleb dropped his head and wouldn’t look at her. “With a recording studio in Minneapolis,” he mumbled.

Exasperated, she crossed the kitchen and, grabbing the dishcloth, began to furiously wipe off the counter again. “It’s a pipe dream. For every band that makes it, thousands don’t. I’m not going to let you throw away your education to go chasing after something that’ll never happen.”

His head shot up. “You mean like you did?”

Tossing the cloth in the sink, she whirled on him. “Yes. Exactly like me.”

“But I’m good, Mom,
really
good.” Lifting his chin, he looked her square in the eye. “Even Mr. Thorpe says so, and you know how picky he is.”

“I should’ve never sent you to him for piano lessons,” she muttered.

“Wouldn’t have made a difference. Mr. Thorpe didn’t teach me guitar. I taught myself,” he replied defensively. “I can do it, Mom, I know I can. Just because you didn’t make it as a model in New York doesn’t mean I won’t make it as a musician. It’s different!”

Fisting her hands on her hips, Anne glared at him. “We’re not going to discuss this now,” she insisted. “You still have another year of high school. You need to focus on school.”

A mutinous look pinched Caleb’s face.
God,
she thought,
he’s so young. He doesn’t have a clue. He doesn’t understand how life can chew you up and spit you out.

“I don’t want to argue,” she said, passing a hand across her forehead. Dropping it, she turned and opened a cupboard door. “Dang it, I forgot bread.” With a sigh, she grabbed her purse off the kitchen table and fished out her car keys. “I’ve got to run down to Dunlap’s,” she said, referring to the small country store and gas station located two miles from the lake. “I’ll be back in a minute.” She glanced over her shoulder at Caleb, leaning against the counter, and stopped.

His face still wore a defiant expression and his eyes were angry and hard. Without a word, he shoved away from the counter and brushed past her as he strode into the living room. A moment later, the TV blared.

The argument with Caleb still troubled Anne as she pulled her car into the small parking lot at Dunlap’s and stopped. She hated fighting with him, but she couldn’t let him pursue this cockeyed dream. Resting her head on the steering wheel, she took several deep breaths. She had to play it smart. She knew from experience that the more she hassled him about going to college, the harder he’d resist her. It had been so much easier when he was four and she was bigger than him. When he didn’t listen to her, all she had to do was give him a “time-out.” Unfortunately, time-outs didn’t work so well with eighteen-year-olds. The sudden image of Caleb’s now-lanky frame folded onto his little desk chair that he’d used as a kid made her smile.

Raising her head, she shut off the car and pocketed the keys. They’d work it out. Somehow she’d figure out a way to show him the foolishness of his plan. Somehow she’d convince him her way was better.

The sound of cars whizzing by caught Anne’s attention.

Dunlap’s sat at the intersection of two main highways. Head north and you’d wind up in Duluth . . . head west and you’d find yourself in North Dakota. It was a prime location and Esther Dunlap made the most of it. A grocery store/motel/gas station; she fleeced not only the local residents and vacationers with her inflated prices, but also weary travelers by offering something other than convenience-store fare. Homemade sandwiches, pastries, fresh baked pies, premium ice cream. So what if you paid twice what you would in a larger town? So what if the gas was at least a nickel more than at the Shell station twenty miles down the road? Esther had a corner on the market and she knew it.

The gas station/grocery store sat in a graveled parking lot, with the motel sitting by itself a few yards away. Around to the back of the five units, there was a view of a small bay, located just off the main part of the lake. The Dunlaps—Esther and her son, Edward—lived on the second floor of the main building, right above the grocery store. Very little mention was ever made of Mr. Dunlap, who had died when Edward was a baby. According to rumors, Esther felt he had served his purpose by providing her with a son, and once he was gone, there was no need to ever think of him again.

Anne exited the car and crossed the parking lot, past the two gasoline pumps. Mounting the steps of the wide porch that surrounded the building, she paused at the doorway to let a couple of vacationers pass by on their way out of the store. She acknowledged them with a small smile and a nod. Once inside, she immediately saw Esther on her perch behind the counter.

Like a queen surveying her kingdom, Esther kept a sharp eye on all the customers milling about the store. God forbid someone should rip her off by taking a five-finger discount on any of her goods. Anne watched Esther lean forward on her stool and her face tighten when she spotted the Baxter twins, a pair of towheaded eight-year-olds who were perusing the candy bars. Her fixed look stayed on them until they moved away and joined their parents in the next aisle. Crossing her arms over her ample chest, she settled her short, squat body on her perch before focusing on the next potential thief.

On her way to the shelves holding the bread, Anne noticed Kimberly Brighton, Teddy’s mother, and her mother-in-law, Irene. Not wanting to engage in conversation, she looked quickly away, but not before taking in how Kimberly was dressed. It was Saturday morning at the lake, yet Kimberly looked as if she’d been at a spa. Her whole look was polished, and Anne knew that her simple, tailored blouse probably cost more than Anne’s monthly grocery budget. Add in her Capris, gold bracelets jangling at her wrist, and woven leather sandals, and Anne could make her car payment with the money that woman was wearing. She looked down at her own clothes—T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops picked up on sale at Walmart. Nope, nothing polished about her.

With a wry grin, she snagged a loaf of bread and wove her way past the other customers to the counter.

“Will this be all?” Esther asked, picking up the bread. “Don’t you need anything else?”

Not likely,
Anne thought sarcastically. Like she’d part with any more of her hard-earned money on Esther’s overpriced wares.

Giving her a bright smile, Anne ignored Esther’s obvious disappointment. “Nope, this is it.”

“Well then.” From behind her thick glasses, Esther’s gaze fell on Anne’s purse. “I’m sure you’d like to settle your charges.”

“What charges?”

“Caleb’s.” She reached under the counter and withdrew a recipe box containing sales tickets. After thumbing through them for a moment, she pulled one out. “Here it is. For ten gallons of gas, a box of Ho Hos, and a Mountain Dew.”

“May I see that, please?”

Reluctantly Esther handed over the yellow sales slip.

As Anne skimmed the spidery writing, her heart sank. Forty dollars out of a weekly budget that was already stretched too far. She stopped at the last charge. “What’s the extra five dollars for?”

“Service charge.”

“You tack on—” Anne stopped herself. It was pointless to argue with Esther about the bill, but wait until she got home . . . Caleb would hear about running up charges without her permission.

Anne extracted the money from her billfold and handed it to Esther. “I’ll talk to Caleb, but from now on, I don’t want him charging.”

“That’s between you and him,” Esther said as she swiftly hit the buttons on the antique cash register, ringing up Anne’s total. “I hear you have a new patient.”

“Yes.”

“You’re not still working at the hospital?”

Tugging on her bottom lip, Anne’s gaze fell to the counter. Everyone around the lake had heard of the layoffs at the hospital and she knew Esther was no exception. Esther must want the details, but Anne had no intention of giving them to her.

Raising her head, she met Esther’s speculative look head-on. “I’ll be going back this fall,” she replied curtly as she mentally crossed her fingers.

BOOK: Love Lies Bleeding
2.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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