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Authors: Bobbie O'Keefe

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BOOK: Family Skeletons
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Bev matched Mavis in age and height, had a head of
short dark curls, and brown eyes that were presently flashing with resentment.
Since Mavis seemed to be having difficulty getting her tongue and brain
coordinated, Sunny stepped up to the plate. “There was a target shooter out
near the house, Bev, but we have no idea who it was. As soon as Mavis gets her
foot out of her mouth, she’ll apologize. And this is Jonathan Corday. Jonathan,
this is Bev Wilkes, the owner of the store. That’s her son Matthew at the
counter.”

Bev directed a brief nod his way, but didn’t
actually meet his eyes, or Sunny’s. Sunny’s dry speech had apparently defused
the storeowner. Having nothing to dispute, her manner now seemed as strained as
her peer’s.

Mavis finally got her tongue unstuck. “Excuse me,
Bev. I wasn’t implying Matthew might’ve been responsible, so much as I was
thinking of those other boys that—”

“Well, I’d believe it of them, too. But not Matthew.
He’s a cut above them.”

Leaving the two women to sort it out, Sunny motioned
Jonathan around the corner to the fresh vegetables, where she grabbed a package
of mushrooms.

“We need a tub of sour cream, and we’re low on milk.
You see the dairy section over there?” As he walked away, she added a head of
lettuce, a tomato and a cucumber, then went searching for egg noodles, hoping
she wasn’t going to lose anything on the way and wondering why she hadn’t
thought to grab a cart on the way in.

Matthew checked their items. He glanced up once at
Sunny, but never met Jonathan’s eyes. The young boy looked nervous, and she
guessed he’d overheard his mother and Mavis.

“Been working all day?” she asked, thinking they
might as well get it out in the open.

But either he didn’t recognize the gambit or chose
not to respond. “Close to it,” he said, telling her nothing at all, and totaled
their bill. “That comes to twenty-nine eighty-five.”

That was way too high for those few things, but
she’d known their prices before she’d come in here. She had her wallet in her
hand and started to pull out bills.

“I’ve got it,” Jonathan said.

“We’ll split it.”

“Let me get it.”

“Thanks, but we’ll split—”

“I’ll get it,” he said firmly. Though he was polite
about it, he elbowed her out of the way. When she stepped on the foot of
someone behind her, she looked up apologetically. Mavis held a can of tomato
sauce and a loaf of French bread. The Fairly family might also be having
spaghetti for dinner tonight.

“Met your match, Sunny?” Mavis asked. “That’s twice
today.”

Curiously Sunny looked at her, then realized
Jonathan was at the door and waiting for her. She put her wallet back into her
shoulder bag and grabbed the second grocery bag. At least he was letting her
share in the carrying out part.

That’s twice what, Mavis?

You went up against him twice today, and
he won both times, stupid.

Oh, for Pete’s sake.

 

Chapter Five

“You outdid yourself, Sunny,” Ryan said as he placed
his fork across his empty plate.

“Yes, that was an excellent meal,” Jonathan agreed.

“But note that I brought dessert,” Ryan told him.
“She doesn’t like sweets. If you want it, you provide it.” He looked at Sunny,
and she looked back. He pushed his chair away from the table. “Note that you
also have to serve it.”

He rummaged in the cupboards until he found plates,
then in the drawers until he found a knife, then in the refrigerator until he
found his pie, lemon meringue, then brought everything to the table without
dropping anything.

Jonathan watched the interplay between them with
neither obvious interest nor disinterest.

Ryan had brought back three plates. When he got to
the third one, he glanced at Sunny and she shook her head. She got up and put
the unused dish back in the cabinet, then worked between the table and sink
while the men ate pie.

After scraping his plate free of the last bit of
meringue, Ryan turned his attention to Jonathan. “Looks like a neat SUV out there,
except for that big dent. New truck?”

“I’ve had it a couple of months. I was tempted to
take it into Castleton and look for a body shop, but then decided to wait until
I get home and take it to people I know.”

“Yeah, I would, too. Sunny told you not to worry
about the Reviler?”

“No. That’s your car?”

“My grandmother’s. I inherited it. They took her
license away when she tried to run over a cop.”

Jonathan appeared to be wondering if that was a joke
as he picked up his water glass. “How old is she?”

“Ninety next month.”

“Sounds like a lively ninety, wanting to drive as
long she could.”

“Yep. Only thing that scared her was cops. She was
driving on borrowed time and knew it. He’d just paralleled and was opening his
door to get out. He made her so nervous she misjudged, got too close, and took
his door off.”

His listener flinched.

“She missed him somehow. But she knew she was in
trouble when he wet his pants.”

Jonathan choked on his water.

“She saw that spreading stain, turned off the
ignition and surrendered right then and there. The cop had to park the car for
her. Left a wet stain on the seat.”

“He’s not kidding.” Sunny grinned at the look on
Jonathan’s face. “It really happened.”

She glanced back at Ryan. “You want to walk down to
the beach and catch the sunset?”

“Definitely.” He rose, picked up his plate and
Jonathan’s, then stopped in the middle of the kitchen as if lost. “No dishwasher?
How do you do dishes?”

“I’m it. It’s an arrangement that works. Go compare
fender dents, and I’ll meet you outside in a couple of minutes.”

Their voices carried through the screen door. As she
worked, she listened to them discussing standard equipment and options,
upholstery versus leather seats, rear windows, fold down seats and storage
space, and finally she lost interest.

If it’s not football, it’s cars. It’s a
guy thing.

A short while later the three of them stood at the
top of the cliff path, looking down.

“No kidding,” Ryan said dubiously.

Jonathan appeared pleased that someone agreed with
him.

“I hope you don’t think I’m going first,” Ryan said.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake.” Sunny pushed by them and
started down. She stopped and looked back up. “You do understand we go one at a
time.”

“You betcha.” Ryan’s head bobbed in an emphatic nod.

He was the last one down. Once safely at the base of
the cliff he looked back up, then over at her. “No need to go to an amusement
park for a thrill ride when you’ve got this in your backyard.”

Sunny ignored him. She slipped out of her shoes and
played tag with the water, most of the time letting it catch her, but neither
companion seemed inclined to join her. Leaving them to themselves, she wandered
a short way south to a crevasse in the cliff. It was deep, extending inland in an
inverted V parallel with the house. On the far side of the ravine, a grove of
cypresses stood near the bluff’s edge, and she wondered if that was where the
rifle shot had come from.

She walked a short way into the narrow canyon amid numerous
beer and soft drink cans. She made a mental note to come down here one day and
clean the place out. With her foot she nudged one that was dented with bullet
holes. Undoubtedly the cans had been tossed down here and used as targets. She
shook her head and looked at the cliff high above.

Stupid. Reckless. And inconsiderate as
hell.

An aged cypress hung precariously over the edge, one
long root exposed and snaking halfway down the side of the bluff. It resembled
a crooked fireman’s pole, or a natural ladder if one were a monkey.

She retraced her steps and joined the men, who were
yakking away and paying no attention to her or to the incoming tide that was
getting perilously close to them. The sun was also sinking fast, but evidently
football was more important. They must’ve talked the present to pieces because
they were now on the past.

She watched and waited.

“Green Bay was on top for a long time there,” Ryan
said. “Those cheesy hats have got a place in history all their own.”

“The Forty-niners really earned their dynasty days.
They had talent. Montana, then Young and Garcia. And Rice—”

“Hey!”

“What...”

They retreated in an awkward backward run but their
shoes still got soaked and their slacks were wet to the shins. Once he got to a
safe distance Ryan looked suspiciously at Sunny. “You knew that was coming and
didn’t tell us on purpose.”

She said nothing.

“Don’t stand there with that grin on your face. I’m
tempted to get you wetter than I am.”

Jonathan looked up and down the coast. “A person
could get trapped in here. We’re already cut off from going north or south.”

She sat down to put her tennis shoes on. They’d get
full of sand but they’d wash out. “You need to be aware of the tide and time of
day if you want to go jogging. There’s beach access in Chester, about a mile
and a half that way.” She stopped and pointed. “And to the south the road
descends to sea level after about five miles. It’s pretty private in here.”

He gave her a curious look. “You appear to know both
the people and terrain well.”

She paused in the act of slipping on the second
sneaker. “I used to live around here before I ended up in San Francisco.” She
got to her feet, aware of Ryan’s narrow-eyed look but not meeting it as she led
the way to the cliff’s path.

* * *

The next day Sunny followed Ryan and his suitcase
down the porch stairs. The early morning fog danced around them in patches. She
wore a baby blue turtleneck over snug black jeans, and she hugged her arms
against the chill. He deposited his bag in the trunk, closed it and gave her a
pointed look.

“What are you up to, Sunny?”

Staring at the ground, she leaned against the car
and folded her arms. She’d gone to bed early last night to avoid this, but she
could put it off no longer. “Thanks for not giving me away.”

“What are you up to?” he repeated. His disapproval
bordered on angry.

“I didn’t do it on purpose. It just kind of...”

“Let me guess. You were pissed and started talking
about Laurel in the third person. Am I close?”

She didn’t look up. “Yeah.”

“You’re playing mind games. I don’t like it, and
neither will he. When are you going to level with him?”

“He’s got a very low opinion of Laurel.”

“He wouldn’t if he knew he was living with her. He
seems like a decent guy, and you seem to be getting along all right. When are
you going to tell him who you are?”

She met his eyes. “Okay, okay. You’re right.” She
smiled in resignation. “And I’m wrong.”
Just like Tom said
. “I’ll talk
to Jonathan.”

She kissed him lightly on the cheek, then watched as
he got into the car. He still appeared displeased as he drove away.

Inside the house, Jonathan was on his way down the
stairs. They paused and looked at each other, as if they each had something on
their minds. Once Sunny realized this, she said, “The best way to find out
something is to ask.” Maybe he’d somehow guessed her identity and this would be
easier than she’d expected.

“Is your relationship with Ryan romantic or friendly
or both?”

“Friendly.” That he might have that question hadn’t
occurred to her. “But that says a lot. He’s the greatest guy I’ve ever known.
If I ever find a better friend, I’ll have to marry him.”

“That explains the separate bedrooms last night. How
long have you and he roomed together?”

“About four years now.”

He was standing on the bottom stair. His gaze not
leaving her, he leaned against the wall, folded his arms and crossed one ankle
over the other foot. “You’re using him.”

She frowned. “Using him?”

“No one is going to put the make on either one of
you if it appears you’re already in a relationship.”

“Oh. I hadn’t looked at it that way. Actually, our
rooming situation is coming to an end. He’s involved in a romance, and as soon
as I’m through up here I’ll be looking for a new place.”

“Is she a psychologist, too?”

“He’s a body builder. He works at a gym.”

“I thought he was a psychologist.”

“Ryan is a psychologist. Marcus is a body builder.”

“Who’s Marcus?”

“Ryan’s significant other.”

After a short silence he said, “Oh.” Then a longer
silence followed, at the end of which he said thoughtfully, “I saw no sign of
it.”

“He doesn’t believe it’s necessary to wear a sign
around his neck.”

He shrugged, manner casual. “Okay. I don’t wear a
sign either.”

She smiled and motioned that she wanted to go up the
stairs. He moved aside and she passed him.

“Sunny?”

She stopped and looked back.

“Why do I have the feeling I just passed a test?” he
asked.

“Because you did.” She continued climbing, then
heard her name again. She stopped on the  last stair before the top and looked
down.

“If you wore a sign around your neck,” he asked,
“would it read
heterosexual
?”

Now, Sunny. Tell him your legal name
now.

Instead she kept the flirty moment lighthearted. Deliberately
she assumed his recent pose as she leaned against the wall, folded her arms and
crossed one foot over the other. Though his gaze didn’t leave hers, she knew he
was taking in her whole frame.

“Yeah,” she answered. “You?”

“Yes.” He smiled, stepped to the door and went out.

You’re being stupid, Sunny. Stupid,
stupid, stupid.

BOOK: Family Skeletons
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