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She took a breath, screwing up her courage. “Was he the one?”


“Lev is…” Sara searched for the words, wishing she could do this through her aunt Bella. Her mother’s eyes pierced her like needles. “Lev has red hair.”

“Are you a doctor?” Cathy asked sharply.

“Well, ye-”

“Did you go to medical school?”


“Then you should know something about genetics.” Cathy was angrier than Sara had seen her mother in a long time. “Did you even stop to think how your father would feel if he thought you thought even for a minute-” She stopped, obviously trying to control her fury. “I told you at the time, Sara. I told you it was purely emotional. It was never physical.”

“I know.”

“Have I ever lied to you in my life?”

“No, Mama.”

“It would break your father’s heart if he knew…” She had been pointing her finger at Sara, but she dropped her hand. “Sometimes I wonder if you have a brain in your head.” She turned back around to the stove, picking up the fork.

Sara took the rebuff as well as she could, keenly aware that her mother had not really answered her question. Unable to stop herself, she repeated, “Lev has red hair.”

Cathy dropped the fork, turning back around. “So did his mother, you idiot!”

Tessa entered the kitchen, a thick book in her hands. “Whose mother?”

Cathy reined herself in. “Never you mind.”

“Are you making pancakes?” Tessa asked, dropping the book on the table. Sara read the title: The Complete Works of Dylan Thomas.

“No,” Cathy mocked. “I’m turning water into wine.”

Tessa shot a look at Sara. Sara shrugged, as if she wasn’t the cause of her mother’s fury.

“Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes,” Cathy informed them. “Set the table.”

Tessa stood in place. “I actually had plans this morning.”

“Plans to do what?” Cathy asked.

“I told Lev I’d come by the church,” she said, and Sara bit her tongue not to say anything.

Tessa saw the effort and defended, “This is a hard time for all of them.”

Sara nodded, but Cathy’s back was straight as an arrow, her disapproval as obvious as a flashing light.

Tessa tried to tread carefully. “They’re not all bad people just because of what Paul did.”

“I didn’t say they were.” Cathy provided, “Thomas Ward is one of the most upstanding men I have ever met.” She glared at Sara, daring her to say something.

Tessa apologized, “I’m sorry I’m not going to your church, I just-”

Cathy snapped, “I know exactly why you’re going over there, missy.”

Tessa raised her eyebrows at Sara, but Sara could only shrug again, glad her mother was taking up the fight.

“That is a house of worship.” Cathy pointed her finger at Tessa this time. “Church is not just another place to get laid.”

Tessa barked a laugh, then stopped when she saw that her mother was serious. “It’s not that,” she defended. “I like being there.”

“You like Leviticus Ward.”

“Well,” Tessa allowed, a smile curling her lips. “Yeah, but I like being at the church, too.”

Cathy tucked her hands into her hips, looking back and forth between her two daughters as if she didn’t know what to do with them.

Tessa said, “I’m serious, Mama. I want to be there. Not just for Lev. For me.”

Despite her feelings on the subject, Sara backed her up. “She’s telling the truth.”

Cathy pressed her lips together, and for a moment Sara thought she might cry. She had always known that religion was important to her mother, but Cathy had never forced it down their throats. She wanted her children to choose spirituality of their own accord, and Sara could see now how happy she was that Tessa had come around. For a brief moment, Sara felt jealous that she couldn’t do the same.

“Breakfast ready?” Eddie bellowed, the front door slamming behind him.

Cathy’s grin turned into a scowl as she turned back to the stove. “Your father thinks I’m running a damn Waffle House.”

Eddie padded into his room, his toes sticking out of his socks. Jeffrey was behind him with the dogs, who promptly came to the table and settled on the floor, waiting for scraps.

Eddie looked at his wife’s stiff back, then at his daughters, obviously sensing the tension. “Car’s cleaned,” Eddie offered. He seemed to be waiting for something and Sara thought if he was looking for a medal, he had picked the wrong morning.

Cathy cleared her throat, flipping a pancake in the skillet. “Thank you, Eddie.”

Sara realized she hadn’t told her sister the news. She turned to Tessa. “Jeffrey and I are getting married.”

Tessa put her finger in her mouth and used it to make a popping noise. The “Woo-hoo” she uttered was far from ecstatic.

Sara sat back in her chair, resting her feet on Bob’s belly. As much crap as she had gotten from her family over the last three years, she thought she at least deserved a hearty handshake.

Cathy asked Jeffrey, “Did you enjoy the chocolate cake I sent you the other night?”

Sara stared down at Bob as if the meaning of life was writ large on his abdomen.

Jeffrey drew out the word, “Ye-ah,” giving Sara a cutting look that she felt without having to see. “Best yet.”

“I’ve got more in the fridge if you want it.”

“That’s great,” he told her, his tone sickly sweet. “Thank you.”

Sara heard a trilling sound, and it took her a moment to realize Jeffrey’s cell phone was ringing. She dug around in his jacket pocket and pulled out the phone, handing it to him.

“Tolliver,” he said. He looked confused for a second, then his expression went dark. He walked back into the hall for some privacy. Sara could still hear what he was saying, but there weren’t many clues from his side of the conversation. “When did he leave?” he asked. Then: “Are you sure you want to do this?” There was a slight pause before he said, “You’re doing the right thing.”

Jeffrey returned to the kitchen, making his apologies. “I have to go,” he said. “Eddie, do you mind if I borrow your truck?”

Much to Sara’s surprise, her father answered, “Keys are by the front door,” as if he hadn’t spent the last five years hating every bone in Jeffrey’s body.

Jeffrey asked, “Sara?”

She grabbed his jacket and walked with him down the hall. “What’s going on?”

“That was Lena,” he said, excited. “She said Ethan stole a gun from Nan Thomas last night.”

“ Nan has a gun?” Sara asked. She couldn’t imagine the librarian having anything more lethal than a set of pinking shears.

“She said it’s in his book bag.” Jeffrey took Eddie’s keys off the hook by the front door. “He left for work five minutes ago.”

She handed him his jacket. “Why is she telling you this?”

“He’s still on parole,” Jeffrey reminded her, barely able to control his elation. “He’ll have to serve his full term- ten more years in jail.”

Sara didn’t trust any of this. “I don’t understand why she called you.”

“It doesn’t matter why,” he said, opening the door. “What matters is he’s going back to jail.”

Sara felt a stab of fear as he walked down the front steps. “Jeffrey.” She waited for him to turn around. All she could think to say was, “Be careful.”

He winked at her, as if it was no big deal. “I’ll be back in an hour.”

“He has a gun.”

“So do I,” he reminded her, walking toward her father’s truck. He waved, as if to shoo her away. “Go on. I’ll be back before you know it.”

The truck door squeaked open and, with great reluctance, she turned to go back inside.

Jeffrey stopped her again, calling, “Mrs. Tolliver?”

Sara turned around, her foolish heart fluttering at the name.

He gave her a crooked smile. “Save me some cake.”