Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons Page 27

Grabbing the metal handle, I swung the paint can off the counter and smiled. “I think I have everything I need for now. Thanks, Anne.”

Her eyebrows raised slightly when I said her name, then she grinned. “Good luck with your paintin’.”

I paid for my paint and rollers, glad to have gotten information but suddenly paranoid that someone from the Henryetta Police Department was outside waiting to bring me in. I breathed a sigh of relief when I drove out of the parking lot.

After I got home, I opened the door to Momma’s bedroom. I’d kept it closed since Joe had slept in there weeks ago, back when he’d worried someone was going to break into my house again.

The room was hot and smelled musty with a faint hint of Estée Lauder, Momma’s perfume. Violet and I had disposed of all her personal items about a week after her death, but the odor must have permeated the walls. While I moved the furniture to the middle of the room, I mulled over what Anne had said about Frank Mitchell. He’d owed money to people, but why? And how much and to whom? Maybe that person killed Frank Mitchell, but how in heaven’s name would I find out who it was? As far as I could tell, I was at a dead end.

I went out to the shed to get the rest of my painting supplies. Muffy followed behind me and the shrieks of the little boys next door caught her attention. While I slid the shed door open, Muffy pressed her face between the slats of the fence, studying the commotion. Heidi Joy sat in a lawn chair under the shade tree reading a magazine and her four boys ran around the yard, jumping in and out of a splash pool. Her baby sat on a quilt, chewing on his fat fist, his eyes wide as he watched.

Muffy whined.

“What is it, girl?” I asked, squaring my shoulders. I dearly hated going into the shed, but was determined to paint. Heavens knew I needed the distraction from everything else.

After I gathered the drop cloths, tape and paint tray, I headed back to the house. Muffy whimpered up a storm. Bending down, I rubbed her head. “What? What is it, girl?”

She barked and ran for the fence gate.

I dumped my supplies on the kitchen table. Muffy had stopped and watched me from outside.

“Okay, keep your pants on.” I shook my head, realizing my mistake. “Never mind. Come on.”

She ran in circles in her excitement. When I opened the gate, she burst through and made a beeline for the wading pool.

“Muffy!”

The boys shrieked when she jumped in and splashed water everywhere.

Horrified, I hurried over to Heidi Joy. “I am so sorry!”

Her eyes widened in surprise as she laid her gossip magazine on her legs. “Why?”

“My dog…she just jumped in your pool.”

Scoffing, she waved with her free hand. Her other hand clutched a glass of ice water to her chest. “My boys love it and if your dog keeps them entertained and out of mischief, please, I’ll sell my soul to keep her around.”

I stood next to her in the shade, watching Muffy prance around. I could swear she was grinning. “They do seem like a handful.”

“You don’t know the half of it.”

“How’s your move goin’?”

Her lips twisted. “As good as can be expected in the middle of a heat wave with five boys underfoot.”

“I can imagine.” Muffy jumped up and down in the plastic pool and the boys squealed in delight. “Muffy seems to love them.”

“They’ve been beggin’ for a dog, but it’s all I can do to take care of them, let alone a dog…” Her voice trailed off with wistful tone, her guilt evident.

“You know, Muffy loves kids. Look at her. She’s having so much fun. Maybe your boys could play with her sometimes and it would be the fun of having a dog without the work.”

Heidi Joy looked up, her chin trembling. “You would do that?”

Shocked at her tears, I shrugged. “Sure. Muffy would love it too.”

“I’m so tired of feeling guilty all the time.” Wiping a tear from her eye, Heidi Joy laughed. “There’s just not enough hours in the day and Andy’s at work and I’m left takin’ care of these little boys. I love ’em, I do, but sometimes I can hardly keep up. And when I tell them no every time they ask for a dog…”

“Well, then it works for all of us, doesn’t it? Your boys get to play with a dog and Muffy gets to play with kids.”

Muffy used that moment to pass gas in the pool, tiny air bubbles breaking the surface of the water.

“Ew!” the boys shouted.

My mouth dropped in horror. “Oh my word! I am so sorry!”

Heidi Joy shrugged. “It’s a Jacuzzi now.”

It was hot standing outside, even in the shade, and that room wasn’t going to paint itself. “Muffy, we have to be goin’ now. I’ve got a fun afternoon of painting ahead.”

The boys shouted their protest and Muffy turned up her chin.

“Could Muffy stay for a little while, Miss Rose?” Keith asked, his eyes pleading.

My gaze searched out Andy Jr. and his face paled. “Andy Junior, I’m makin’ you in charge of Muffy. If I find out you weren’t…” I remembered his mother didn’t know about the incident that morning, “that you weren’t watching her properly, you and I will have to reach a new understanding.”

He swallowed nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

I knelt next to the pool. “What do you say, Muffy? Want to hang out here?”

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