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Authors: Bobbie O'Keefe

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BOOK: Family Skeletons
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Chapter Six

“Jonathan!” Sunny hollered for the third time from
the kitchen. Impatience and irritation had made her voice louder with each
yell. Her mood had slid downhill fast during the two days since Ryan’s visit.

She was making a feast this morning, but not because
she was hungry or wanted to impress anyone. She was working off excess energy.
Instead of going with convenient frozen hash browns, she’d peeled and diced
fresh potatoes, and she’d fancied up the eggs with crumbled bacon and diced
onion and freshly chopped tomato bits. After covering a plate with a paper
towel, she scooped the fried potatoes onto it, then forked crisp bacon slices
onto the side.

By the way, my nickname is Sunny, but my
given name is Laurel.

It was so easy, so what was the problem? She didn’t
want to claim her name? Her father? Her past?

“Jonathan!”

She scraped the scrambled eggs from the skillet into
a bowl and put it on the table. What was taking him so long? She knew he was
up; she’d heard water running through the pipes.

“Jonathan!”

Dammit! She stared at the red-checked tablecloth,
watching the food get cold, then took a deep breath and marched down the hall.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs he appeared at the top.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Criminy,” she said, and stomped her way back to the
kitchen. She sat and filled her plate and started eating before he even got to
the table. At the back of her mind she knew she was overreacting, yet she
didn’t try to rein herself in.

“Oh,” he said, reaching for the eggs. “You put
something in them.”

“Yeah. I call ’em fancy eggs. They’re remarkably
better if one gets to eat them before they get cold.”

He glanced at her but didn’t respond to her
crossness. He put the bowl of eggs down without taking any and picked up the
plate of potatoes. She noticed, but said nothing. He scraped the remaining
potatoes onto his plate, ate one forkful and frowned. “You put something in the
potatoes, too.”

“Onion and garlic. It’s called seasoning. I put salt
and pepper in there, too.”

“I like simple food,” he said apologetically. “Just
standard fare. I’ll have plain toast and bacon.”

Had he not noticed the mushrooms and sour cream in
the stroganoff, along with the onions and garlic? Or maybe to him, that was
standard. Putting her fork down, she stared at him. “You might also want to
skip the toast. I buttered it.” Some people might consider it nice not to have
to butter their own toast.

He sipped coffee then chose a piece of bread.
“Actually, I do prefer it dry, but I’ll eat it either way.” He looked at her as
if he thought she might explode.

Which she did. She took his and her plates and
dumped them into the garbage. Not just the contents, the whole plates. She
threw in her cup of coffee, still half-full, and the plate of toast. The crash
of crockery made her feel guilty, but that fueled her anger instead of easing
it.

“You said you know how to operate a toaster, so make
your own stupid breakfast!”

Coffee sloshed out of his cup when it hit the table.
“What is the matter with you? You were okay until Ryan left. Did you have a
fight with him or what?”

He’d hit the nail on the head, which only made her
madder. “Oh, no, you don’t. It’s not my fault you’re fussy. And I’ll clean the
bathroom today. You can wash the dishes.”

“Sunny—”

She stomped down the hall.

“Sunny!”

She threw open the front door and almost tripped
over the cat on the porch. It was so startled that instead of fleeing down the
stairs, it scampered into the corner and cut off its own escape route. As if by
magic, Sunny’s mood lightened. She knelt. “Oh, kitty, I’m sorry. Come here,
kitty.” It was trapped between her and the wall of the porch. “It’s okay. I’m
not going to hurt you. C’mon. Come to me, baby.”

Aware of Jonathan coming to stand in the doorway
behind her, she looked up. “Be careful. Don’t scare it.”

When his gaze lit upon the cat in the corner, his
expression also eased. “It came back.”

“Looks only half-grown, and maybe not completely
wild yet. I’d like to tame it if I could.”

“You could give it breakfast if someone hadn’t
thrown it in the garbage.”

She was facing away from him. A return of
contentiousness hit her, then regret, and then her mind cleared, all in about
three seconds. She looked back up. “There’s a can of tuna in the cupboard, one
of those easy-open tab tops. Would you get it?”

Quickly he returned with it, lid removed, and Sunny
put it on the floor and pushed it toward the kitten. The cat’s apprehension
seemed to ease as it sniffed the air. It crept to the can, hesitating only once
for another quick glance at the two people, then started licking up tuna.

Sunny grinned. “Hey, all right.”

“It appears you now have a pet. But what are you
going to do when you have to leave?”

“Take it with me. I told you I’m looking for a new
place. Now I’ll have company.” She remained kneeling on the porch floor, watching
the cat. “It,” she repeated. “Don’t even know if it’s male or female.”

“If it will let me close enough once it’s through
eating, I’ll find out for you.”

She slanted a look up at him. “Guess doctors are
good for something.”

His expression turned contentious and stayed that
way. “Sunny...”

She smiled at the warning in his voice. “It was a
joke, Jonathan. Lighten up.”

“Me? I need to lighten up?”

With a sigh, she stood. “Okay. I’ve been in a lousy
mood and taking it out on you. It’s not your fault. I’ll try to behave.”

“Thank you. I’d appreciate that.”

“Wow. Can you ever be stuffy sometimes.”

His eyes narrowed as he digested that. The cat
nuzzled Sunny’s ankle. “Hey.” She reached down and picked up the unresisting
feline.

“It has a loud motor,” Jonathan said. It didn’t seem
to mind when he took it from her. He held it up, then handed it back. “Give it
a girl’s name. And she’ll make a gentler pet for you.”

Sunny refrained from telling him she could have done
that all by herself. Instead she stroked the kitten. “Yes, you do have a loud
motor. Hope you won’t keep me awake all night, cat.” She gave Jonathan a fast
grin. “Hey, I like that. Why give it a made-up name? What’s wrong with Cat?”

He chuckled. “Sometimes you’re amazingly
uncomplicated. And other times I couldn’t figure you out if my life depended on
it.”

She walked past him into the house, taking Cat with
her.

“Did you mean it about the dishes?” he asked. “The
ones that aren’t broken, that is.”

“No.” She nuzzled the feline as she walked down the
hall, not wondering about her rapid mood change so much as wondering how easily
Jonathan had accepted it.

“Then I’m going to drive into Castleton and leave
you and Cat to get acquainted.”

“Okay.” She turned to face him. “Uh, Jonathan?”

“Yes?”

“Is it okay if I use salt and pepper when I make
dinner?”

He frowned, and she smiled.

“Bye,” she said.

The front door closed, leaving her on her own. He
was taking the long way around to get to his truck that was parked in back.
Apparently he’d had enough of her for one morning.

* * *

By noon Sunny had finished clearing out the
upstairs, with the exception of her room and Jonathan’s. But the next floor,
the attic, would be more work than the first two floors combined. It was time
to call the disposal company to pick up another full dumpster and leave her an
empty one.

She took a boloney sandwich and a can of Sprite to
the back porch and shared everything but the beverage with Cat. The animal got
a bowl of water. When a movement in the yard caught the corner of her eye, her
head snapped up.

“Oh, hi, Matthew.” She opened the screen door and
descended the steps. No car. “Did you hike the beach?”

He nodded. She waited for him to speak, but he said
nothing. His manner seemed strained.

“Would you like a sandwich?” she offered. “I just finished
lunch.”

“No, thanks. Uh...I just wanted to say I was sorry
about what happened to you the other day. I know you had a close call, and Tom
Fairly thought maybe me and some other guys had been target shooting around
here. But we weren’t, not then.”

“Okay.” He was looking more and more uncomfortable,
but she didn’t know how to put him at ease.

“I was wondering if you’d looked for the bullet,” he
added.

“Oh. No, we didn’t. Didn’t even occur to us to look
for it. It would’ve imbedded itself in the sand or carried into the water.”

“Yeah, I guess so. I looked but couldn’t find
anything, and then I wasn’t sure exactly where you were when you were hit.
Except that you were in the cove or near it.”

“Why were you looking for it?”

“I was hoping to prove it didn’t come from my
rifle.”

Hoping to? Then there was a chance it
did?

She asked, “Where do you and your friends usually
hold your target practice sessions?”

In answer, he turned and pointed to the grove of
cypresses on the bluff with their misshaped branches that had been permanently
blown inland by wind. “But we haven’t been out here since you moved in. At
least I haven’t, and I don’t think they have either.”

“Who would they be?”

He looked down at his scuffed sneakers. They weren’t
expensive designer ones; they looked more like variety store specials. “I don’t
want to get anyone in trouble.”

She relented. He was trying to do the right thing.
“If I can’t interest you in lunch, can I get you something to drink?” She held
up her can of soda. “One of these?”

He hesitated. “I shouldn’t take the time. I don’t
want to get caught by the tide.”

But he looked like he wanted one. Hiking the beach
was thirsty work.

“I’ll get you one, and you can take it with you.”
She left, returned with the can and said, “If you don’t mind company, I’ll walk
to the beach with you.”

“Sure. And thanks.” He held up the drink as if to
say cheers.

They fell in step. He had gray-blue eyes and
sandy-blond hair, and topped her by no more than four or five inches. She had
no trouble keeping pace with him. “How’s business been? Does the store keep you
and your mom busy?”

“Not really. I spell her when she wants me to, but
it’s been kind of slow lately. I got a job busing tables at Sal’s. You ought to
go eat there one day. Good food. That and the hotel are the only places that
keep Chester Beach alive.”

“Maybe I will.”

He polished off the soda before they reached the
bluff, so she accepted the empty can to take back with her. He made it down the
steep trail as easily as she did. Maybe the smaller one was, the easier it was
to negotiate the path.

Before she got back to the house, she saw dust
rising on the road that signaled the arrival of a vehicle. But it wasn’t
Jonathan’s truck. It was a dented, dated sedan she didn’t recognize. This was
her day for company.

Cat was outside and tried to run away from the
vehicle by running in front of it. Sunny yelled a warning and raised her hand,
signaling for the driver to stop. He ignored the warning, and Cat made it
beyond the second front tire by a narrow margin. Sunny closed her eyes and blew
her breath out.

The car jerked to a stop, and a man got out and
stalked around the front of it. “I want to talk to your mother.”

“Huh?”

He squinted, possibly realizing she might be older
than she looked. “You that Corday woman?”

“My name is Laurel Corday,” she said coolly.

See how easy that was, Sunny? Now tell
Jonathan the same thing when he returns.

“What can I do for you?” She forced politeness into
her tone. “Mr...?”

She caught the odor of alcohol, probably beer. That
belly on him most likely had come straight out of a can. A sleeveless
undershirt exposed fleshy, hairy arms, but it at least covered his stomach.
She’d disliked him on sight because he’d almost killed Cat, and he hadn’t even
been paying enough attention to be aware of the close miss, and her dislike was
growing by the second. She backed up a step, in distaste rather than fear.

“Well, Miz Corday, I’m Langley Bowers and you been
spreadin’ lies about my two boys and I want you to stop it.”

“Who are your two boys, Mr. Bowers, and what lies
are you talking about?”

Maybe you shouldn’t have put those
questions together. He might not be able to handle two thoughts at the same
time.

“My boys are Toby and Langley, Jr., as you damn well
know.”

She gave him time, but he stopped there.

BOOK: Family Skeletons
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