Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 11

“I’m better.” I wrapped my arms around my chest, my heart aching. I’d lost so much in my life recently and I just kept losing more. “I miss you too, Mike. I hope you’re doing well.”

“I’ve been better,” he sighed as the kids ran back to us. “I’ve been a helluva lot better.”

Ashley held up her pink pumpkin. “I got M&Ms, Daddy!”

“That’s awesome, my little princess!”

Melancholy hung over me the rest of the evening, seasoned with my dread of facing Joe the next day. Mike and I took the kids back to the house and went inside, stopping in the entryway. Violet was sitting on the sofa with a bottle of wine and two glasses, one partially full.

“I’m going to go ahead and head home, Vi. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed, jumping off the sofa and walking over to me, disappointment in her eyes. “I thought maybe you could stay and have a glass of wine with me and we could talk. We haven’t really had a chance to for weeks.”

I glanced at Mike, who awkwardly stood to the side.

“I’m really tired and I want to get plenty of rest for tomorrow. What time do I need to be there?”

“The presentation is at one, but we should both be there by twelve. I think it’ll take the whole afternoon.”

No way could I handle that. “Once my part is done, I’m out of there.”

“Okay.” She nodded.

“Aunt Rose?” Ashley tugged on the hem of my sweater. “Can Muffy sleep over with me?”

“I don’t know…” I hadn’t had any run-ins with Thomas in over a month, but I was still worried that he and his friends might try to prank my house. If Muffy was there, at least she’d be some kind of alarm system. “I kind of want Muffy to spend the night with me tonight. How about tomorrow night? If it’s okay with your mommy.”

“Can she, Mommy?” Ashley spun to face her mother. “I miss Muffy.”

“Okay, maybe Aunt Rose can bring Muffy to the shop tomorrow. She should be there for the press conference anyway. She is the nursery mascot.”

Her statement surprised me. She usually didn’t like Muffy hanging around the store.

I flashed Ashley a smile. “Muffy will be very excited. She loves having sleep-overs with you.”

Mike picked up little Mikey and put an arm around Ashley’s shoulders. “How about I get you two ready for bed?”

Violet looked surprised. “You don’t have to do that, Mike.”

He stopped and stared at her for several seconds. “I know, but I miss this. Our family.” His voice was raspy, so he cleared his throat. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me get them ready for bed.”

For once Violet seemed at a loss for words. “Sure, Mike,” she finally said. “Thank you.”

Violet watched them disappear down the hall, and there was a certain heaviness in her eyes when she turned back to me. “Are you sure you can’t stay?”

My heart ached. I longed for the days when Violet and I had been close, but lately I’d begun to wonder how close we’d really been. My faith in Violet had wavered in everything, including her role in our shared past. If she’d managed to hide an affair from me for months, what else had she hidden? I couldn’t stay tonight because it was too hard to hide my bitterness and anger. I knew I needed to confront her, but now wasn’t the time. “I’m tired. I’ve been working more with Bruce Wayne gone.”

“When is he coming back?”

“I’m not sure.” I sure wished I knew. I needed to start figuring out where he was, and what I could do to find him.

I headed home, suddenly feeling more lonely than usual. I missed Joe, but I realized it wasn’t an all-consuming feeling, like it had been for the past several weeks. The kind that sometimes stole my breath and threatened to suck me into an abyss of despair. No, the grief had turned to a nagging ache, and when I really stopped to examine it, I realized it wasn’t even necessarily Joe that I missed. It was having someone in my life to share the little things no one else cared about.

Did that mean I was ready to move on?

I pulled into my driveway and walked up to my dark front porch, looking for any signs of mischief from Thomas and his friends, but everything was in its place.

When had I become so paranoid?

Muffy was still wearing her costume, and I considered taking it off before letting her loose to go to the bathroom in the front yard, but she didn’t seem to mind it anymore, perhaps because she’d broke it in. One of her antennae had fallen off completely and the broken wing was hanging lopsided. Somehow it seemed to suit her even more now.

My eyes drifted to Thomas’s house. He was in his driveway, sitting on the back of his car with two of his friends. When Bruce Wayne had disappeared last time, it was after an encounter with Thomas at Jonah’s church. I was beginning to suspect that Bruce Wayne’s disappearance definitely had some tie to Crocker’s gang. I just didn’t know what. The question was, would Thomas tell me anything?

There was only one way to find out.

I could only imagine the harassment Muffy would endure if I took her with me in her costume, so I stripped it off before clipping her leash onto her collar. She immediately began to jump around in excitement. If only my enthusiasm matched hers. Instead, dread filled my belly like a boulder, dragging me down my steps. I forced myself to straighten my back and lift my chin as I walked. I was about to confront a handful of teenage boys. What was I so worked up about?

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