Seconds Away Page 34

I didn\'t know what to make of that. I waited until the police car was out of sight before making my approach. The gate at the entrance to Rachel\'s driveway had closed after Chief Taylor drove out. I pressed an intercom button and looked up into the camera. Rachel said, ’’I\'ll buzz you in.’’ She was waiting for me at the front door. Other than the bandage on the side of her head, you would never guess that she\'d been shot. Of course, the bullet hadn\'t entered her skin, just skimming the scalp, but somehow that made it all the more poignant. Probably half an inch, no more, was the difference between minor injuries and death.

The thought made me want to hug her, but it didn\'t feel right.

’’I\'m so glad to see you\'re okay,’’ I said.

Rachel gave me a tight smile and kissed my cheek. She wore a short-sleeved shirt so that the burn mark was visible. I had always wanted to ask her how that had happened because it still looked painful, but of course, now was not the time. The red in her eyes told me that she\'d been crying recently and probably a lot.

’’I\'m so sorry about your mom.’’

’’Thank you.’’

’’Did I just see Chief Taylor drive out?’’

Rachel nodded and frowned.

’’What did he want?’’ I asked.

’’I don\'t know. He\'s been talking to my father a lot. Every time I come near them, they tell me it\'s nothing. Oh, and Chief Taylor keeps asking me what I remember.’’

He had done that at the hospital too. ’’I guess that\'s normal. Him investigating what happened and all.’’

’’I guess,’’ Rachel said. But she didn\'t seem convinced. ’’It\'s just weird.’’

’’Weird how?’’

’’He seems on edge or something.’’

Rachel shrugged and led me down the hall. We stopped at an open doorway with yellow crime-scene tape across it. This, I could see, was clearly where it had happened. There was still blood on the floor. I moved closer to Rachel. She began to shake. I put my arm around her and pulled her toward me.

’’Why don\'t we go somewhere else?’’ I said as gently as I could.

’’No, it\'s okay. I wanted to show this to you.’’

The house was silent.

’’Who\'s home with you?’’ I asked.

’’No one.’’

That surprised me. ’’Where are your father and stepmother?’’

’’My stepmother needed a vacation thankfully. She\'s at a spa in Arizona. My father is at work.’’ When she saw the concerned look on my face, she waved it away. ’’Believe me, it\'s better.’’

For a moment we both just stared at the blood on the floor. Rachel\'s eyes flooded with tears again. Not sure what to say, I went with, ’’Do you want to tell me what happened?’’

’’I got my mother killed,’’ Rachel said. ’’It\'s as simple as that.’’

Now I really wasn\'t sure what to say. When I spoke again, I did so slowly and carefully. ’’I don\'t see how that could be true.’’

’’I got her to come here. I put my mother right in the crossfire.’’

’’What crossfire?’’

Rachel shook her head. ’’It doesn\'t matter anymore.’’

’’Of course it does. Someone tried to kill you and last night . . .’’ I stopped.

’’Last night what?’’

’’Last night, someone tried to kill me.’’

Her body stiffened. ’’What are you talking about?’’

I told her about the Butcher and the fire at Bat Lady\'s house. Rachel stood there, stunned. ’’Is she okay?’’

’’Bat Lady? I don\'t know. I never saw her.’’

’’I don\'t understand this,’’ Rachel said.

We both looked back toward the room.

’’Tell me what happened,’’ I said.

’’I don\'t remember all of it.’’

’’Tell me what you do remember.’’

I turned toward Rachel. The lights were low, casting a shadow on her lovely face. I wanted so badly to reach out and touch her cheek and pull her close. I didn\'t. I stood and waited.

’’I have to go back a little,’’ Rachel said. ’’I have to explain why my mom was here in the first place.’’

’’Okay. No rush.’’

’’Well, yeah, there is.’’ She almost smiled. ’’Don\'t you have tryouts?’’

’’There\'s time.’’

Rachel stared down at the bloodstain on the carpet. ’’I was angry at my mother for a very long time. I thought she abandoned me.’’

I looked down at the blood too.

’’My mother left us when I was ten. My father told me she still loved me, but that she needed to’’ Rachel made quote marks with her fingers ’’rest. I didn\'t know what that meant. I mean, in some ways I still don\'t. I just knew that she\'d abandoned me. My parents got divorced, and I didn\'t see my mother for three years.’’

’’Three years? Wow.’’

’’I didn\'t even know where she was.’’

I thought about that. ’’The other day, you told me that your mother lived in Florida.’’

’’That wasn\'t exactly true. I mean, she was in Florida, at least part of the time . . .’’ Rachel stopped and shook her head. ’’I\'m telling this all wrong.’’

’’It\'s okay,’’ I said. ’’Take your time.’’

’’Okay, so where was I? The divorce. The next time I saw my mother, I was thirteen years old. She just showed up after school one day. I mean, it was so surreal, you know? Mom was just standing there with the other mothers, smiling like . . . well, a crazy person. She looked horrible. She had too much bright red lipstick on, and her hair was all over the place. She wanted to drive me home, but I was actually scared of her. I called my dad. When he showed up, there was this big horrible scene. My mother went berserk. She started screaming at him, about how he had locked her up, how she knew the truth about him.’’

The temperature in the room felt like it dropped ten degrees.

’’So what happened next?’’ I asked.

’’My father got really quiet. He just stood there and let her rant, until the police came. It was so horrible. Her lipstick was all smeared, her eyes were wide . . . it was like she couldn\'t even see me. Later, after she was gone, my father explained to me that my mom hadn\'t just run off she\'d had a nervous breakdown. He said that she\'d always had mental health issues, but when I turned ten, she became manic and even dangerous. He said that she had been in and out of hospitals for the past three years.’’

’’When you say dangerous . . . ?’’

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