Molly Banks angled the Charger into an empty space at the Sonic.
She needed to hit the road pretty soon if she was going to get back to Springfield before the sun set, but she couldn’t leave town without her breakfast burrito, a coffee, and, most importantly, her Route 44 diet cherry limeade. With extra cherries, of course. No self-respecting college girl would ever embark on a road trip without one.
The sky was a crisp blue, not a cloud in sight. She’d be driving with the sun in her eyes for only an hour or so before it was bearable, and while the freedom of dorm life held its appeal, she always felt a little sad leaving her home town. There was her mom and dad, of course. And her younger brother, whom she loved marginally more than she hated. But it was the familiarity of everything she missed. And the safety. There was comfort in being related to half the town.
Lost in her musings as she waited for her order, Molly was startled back to reality by an oddly familiar voice.
“Well, good golly – if it ain’t little Miss Molly!”
Molly looked to her left and saw that a dusty grey Pontiac had pulled up in the adjacent space. Curtis had got out of his car and was leaning against the passenger side with his arms folded, grinning down at her.
“Do I know you?” She asked, smiling before the shock of recognition tumbled through her veins like ice water. Molly paled. “Oh – it’s You, Mr. golf pro,” she said as lightly as she could manage. “Small world, huh?” She gave an airy laugh and pushed the auto-lock button.
Curtis heard the click and laughed. “I thought I’d check out Amos,” he said, tipping the brim of his hat back and taking a quick appraisal of his surroundings: The tin-man water tower, the Wal-Mart, the strip malls and a Holiday Inn Express, all laid out in the shadow of I-70. He nodded approvingly. “Looks like a nice place,” he drawled, “I think I might stick around for a while.”
Molly’s throat was too dry to speak, but her finger worked the window control just fine. Forgetting her order, she turned the key and started her car, praying no one was behind her when she made a precipitous reverse maneuver and skidded out of the forecourt. Her heart was thundering in her ears, though she did not know precisely why. He hadn’t actually done anything!
Curt the so-called golf pro was laughing as he watched her drive away.
She shuddered. He was a weirdo, a creep. Creeps abounded everywhere, Molly knew that.
But this one scared her. And he looked drunk. At ten a.m.
She roared up to the police station and parked. Reaching into her glove box, Molly retrieved the slip of paper she had retained these past couple months: Six letters scrawled hastily in lip liner on the back of an Old Navy receipt.
It was an Arkansas plate number. And Uncle Mick was a cop.
Molly was a pretty blonde. But no one had ever accused her of being a dumb one.
Curtis tried to finish the last of Molly’s breakfast. She had paid for it already, and hey, who wants to waste food? But, as was typical these days, his appetite was low and coffee completely unnecessary.
Taking a right out of the Sonic, he swung past the Home Depot. A few well placed questions with a girl at the service desk told him Avery had phoned in sick that morning, which he figured was just as well. At least he knew where to find her. He passed a police car on the way back to his motel to gather his things, and another near Wal-Mart. A third car appeared at an intersection just beyond the school.
For a little town, Amos sure seemed to have a lot of cops.
Ten minutes later, he was pulling into Avery’s drive, pleased to see her old brown pickup parked outside. He figured it might be worth a couple thousand bucks once he cleaned it up a little. Considering the car and the wad of cash his ex had stolen from him, he was surprised to see she had moved down so far in the world. But then, that might be good news: She probably had cash stashed somewhere, and he could be on his way.
Avery came out her back door and stood on the porch. Dressed in muddy jeans, cowboy boots and her big flannel shirt, she was barely recognizable. Her dark blonde hair hung past her waist in a long, thick rope, and she wore no makeup whatsoever. Without the aid of lash extensions, her brown eyes seemed smaller, sharper than he had remembered. They were cool eyes. Calculating eyes.
He decided he didn’t like them one little bit, and wondered how he had ever found her attractive in the first place.
But then, the pretty Waffle House waitress who had leaned over to refill his coffee little more than a year ago was not the same woman he faced today.
Oddest of all, Avery’s lips were smiling, even if her eyes weren’t. It was almost as if she expected him, and Curtis didn’t quite know what to make of that. He had been depending on the element of surprise to work to his advantage. Now, he suddenly felt off center.
He got out of the car and leaned against the hood. “Good morning, sunshine,” said Curtis, smiling broadly.
Unused to strangers, Baby pricked up his ears and snorted, sniffing the air. He began a slow trot to the fence line.
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