Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons Page 28

She splashed her response. Traitor. Now I had to paint alone.

“That settles it!” Heidi Joy exclaimed. “You go paint and we’ll dogsit.”

Reluctantly, I left Muffy in their yard after giving Andy Jr. and Keith half a dozen rules to follow. No going out front. No table scraps. No being mean to her in any way. Andy Jr. nodded, his eyes serious, while Keith petted her head. I took comfort in the knowledge that Heidi Joy was watching them too.

I spent the rest of the afternoon transforming Momma’s dreary, light gray room into a soothing blue oasis, but my thoughts still tumbled. Too many things were out of sorts in my life. As hard as it was to admit, I realized that I might be pouting. Muffy would rather be with the rambunctious kids next door than me, not that I could blame her. If I were a dog, I’d rather play with kids than smell paint fumes. But I couldn’t get over feeling like Muffy had betrayed me—and that she wasn’t the only one.

That wasn’t fair. Joe hadn’t betrayed me. We just didn’t see eye to eye on this trial. There was a big difference. But it was our first real disagreement since we’d officially started seeing each other, and it pricked my insecurities. Joe was in Little Rock with women like Hilary. Women who were normal, something I most definitely wasn’t. It dredged up the question I continually asked myself: Why was Joe Simmons, a handsome undercover policeman, with Rose Gardner, a freak who saw visions and was the town of Henryetta’s outcast?

I shook my head. I needed to trust Joe’s word. He wanted to be with me, whether I understood it or not.

I reminded myself that couples fight. Even Violet and Mike fought when they were happy. But their unhappiness was like an earthquake, shaking up everything I’d believed. If Violet’s world could fall apart, what could I count on?

Chapter Nine

A knock on the kitchen door jolted me out of my wallowing. I set the roller in the tray, wiping a strand of hair out my face with my forearm. Glancing at the rooster clock on the kitchen wall, I was surprised to see it was a little after six. I’d lost all track of time in my musings and the afternoon had gotten away from me. It was probably Andy Jr. and Keith bringing Muffy home.

I was halfway across the kitchen when the door flung open, catching me off guard. Releasing a shriek, I tripped backward and grabbed the broom in the corner to defend myself.

“What is it with you and brooms?” Joe asked, irritation making his words prickly.

I lowered my weapon, still holding onto the handle with one hand. The look on Joe’s face told me I might still need it. “What are you doing here?” My own irritation overshadowed the excitement of him standing in front of me.

What was Joe doing here?

Joe sucked in a deep breath, still holding onto the door handle. “You scared me to death, Rose. I’ve been trying to call you all day. Why didn’t you answer my calls?”

Oh, crappy doodles. Where was my phone? I panicked as I scanned the room, realizing I hadn’t seen it all day. I found it on the coffee table, where I’d left it the night before. I’d completely forgotten about my phone as I raced to get to the courthouse that morning. Since I hadn’t charged it overnight, I’d bet my grandma’s prize-winning cornbread recipe it was dead.

While my heart leapt with joy that Joe was here, his implied accusations and assumptions lit a fire in my chest. “Why didn’t I answer your calls? I could just as easily turn this around on you, Joe Simmons.”

He shoved his hand through his hair, a low growl rumbling from his chest. “I told you already, Rose. I was working late Monday night and then Hilary took my phone yesterday. And trust me, Hilary has been dealt with.” The hard look in his eyes left no question that she had.

My grip on the broom handle tightened. “Why are you here, Joe?”

His chest expanded and hardness on his face fell away to reveal worry. “I was scared.”

“Of what? That something happened to me? You could have called Violet.”

He took a hesitant step toward me. “That too, but more scared you didn’t want to talk to anymore.”

I bit my lip. “Joe, how could you think that?”

“After our argument, and you hung up on me…”

I stared at him, unsure what to say. I was still mad at him and I’d needed space the night before, but I couldn’t believe he thought I wouldn’t want to talk to him anymore. Could Joe feel as insecure as I did?

My silence filled his eyes with panic. “I’m sorry, Rose. Really I am. I wasn’t very understanding of your situation. I was looking at it from a police perspective, and I didn’t take into account what you were thinking or how you were feeling. I wish I could take it all back and start over.” He walked forward, stopping several feet in front of me.

I shook my head, tears burning my eyes. He’d driven all the way from Little Rock because he was scared I’d decided to not talk to him anymore. All my doubts about his interest in me floated away, leaving a burning lump in my throat.

He took my free hand, his eyes searching mine. “Say something, Rose.”

“Joe…” My voice broke.

“Is that a ‘Joe, I forgive you’ or ‘Joe, go away’? Because I’m warnin’you, I’m not leaving that easily.”

I wrapped my hand around his neck, while still holding the broom.

His mouth lifted into a grin. “I’m worried you’re gonna beat me with that broom.”

“You deserve it.”

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