She heard the woop, woop
of the siren behind her. Amanda slammed her hand on the steering wheel; she had almost made it home.
All she had wanted to do was to go to the Super Walmart at the edge of town, pick up a few groceries and some necessities, then get home. It should have been that simple. It could
have been that simple.
Three more blocks and she would have made it. She had even waited until dark to go.
She put on the turn signal and, with a huff, pulled over to the curb. A bright spotlight pinned her in the car from behind. She powered down the window, and tapped her nails with an impatient rhythm on the frame.
“What the hell!” Officer Bryson’s head filled up the car window, and a Maglite was pointed directly at her, blinding her. “Didn’t I tell you not to get into trouble?”
“What?” she asked with feigned innocence. She impatiently pushed the flashlight out of her face.
“You are driving around town without a registration plate on your vehicle.”
“Oh, it’s missing?” She had removed the GREGSMOM plate from the sedan the other day. She tried to change the subject. “Are you the only cop in this town?”
“Fortunately for you, no. There are also my brothers Matt and Marc, to name a couple. I seemed to be the fortunate one to keep dealing with you, though. The way you’re going, you’ll meet them all soon enough.”
“So your whole family is the police department?” At least send one of his other brothers. They can’t all be barbarians like this one. “I guess I’ll have to get another plate for the car.”
“What happened to the old one?”
The one that she had tossed into the garbage? She wondered if that was a crime. “Uh…it was stolen?”
“We’ll have to report it stolen then. And you’ll have to notify PennDOT.”
“Maybe it fell off.”
He eyed her suspiciously. The tick in his jaw was growing by the minute. “Which was it?” he prodded. “Amanda, was it stolen or lost?”
Why couldn’t he let this go? Why not just write her another stinking ticket and send her on her way. Every time she looked up at him, she was reminded of her dream. Why the hell would she pick someone so controlling to be in her wet dream? “I don’t know.”
She raised her voice and repeated, “I don’t know!”
“Well, I’ll report it stolen then. I’m sure if someone around here took it”—he lifted a brow—“then we will surely notice a vehicle with the plate GREGSMOM on it.”
Amanda choked back a groan. “Yes, it shouldn’t be too hard to miss.”
“Well, when you get home, Amanda—Ms. Barber
—make sure you take a good
look around to see if it fell off. I suggest checking in the garage. If you find it, give us a call.”
Amanda’s felt the heat crawling up her neck. “I’ll do that.”
“I’ll let you go this time. But if I catch you driving without a plate again, I’m towing your car.”
“I’ll follow you home.”
How embarrassing, she thought as the black-and-white cruiser followed her up the street to the house.
How embarrassing Mrs. Myers, the next-door nosy neighbor just happened to be out on her porch. At nighttime. With only a bare yellow bulb lighting up her stocky figure, hands on her hips in clear disapproval.
As she pulled into the paved driveway, the cruiser continued on down the street. She stopped the vehicle and stared back at Mrs. Myers. The woman didn’t like her. It was mutual.
Great. Now she was dealing with a meddling cop and
a meddling neighbor. What was next?
* * * *
She should have never asked herself that question. She appeared to be stuck in the midst of Murphy’s Law.
The next morning, she went to wake up Greg, to get him ready for adult day care. His bed was empty.
She tried not to panic. She checked the bathroom. Empty. She whistled for Chaos. No response.
She ran down the stairs and out into the backyard. Empty.
She checked the car in the garage. It sat there empty.
Now she could panic.
She grabbed a jacket and a pair of sneakers, pulling them on as she went, and rushed out the front door.
Only to be brought up short.
A police car pulled up in the driveway. She relaxed somewhat when she spotted Chaos and Greg in the backseat.
She grimaced as she heard a tsk tsk
from the direction of the porch next door. She ignored the old busybody.
At least it wasn’t Officer Bryson driving the cruiser. Last thing she needed right now was another lecture from that man. Anyway, she didn’t think
it was him. As the car rolled to a stop, she rushed forward to open the back passenger-side door.
Fortunately, her brother was in one piece. “Greg! Where were you? You scared me!”
She gave him a big hug and brushed a lone lock out of his eyes.
The disturbingly familiar-looking police officer unfolded himself from the driver’s seat. “Ma’am. I’m Officer Bryson. I mean, Marc Bryson.” He gave her a half smile as he said, “I’ve heard you’ve already met my brother Max.”
They were eerily similar. The same closely cropped dark hair, ice-blue eyes, strong square jaw, and deep tan, like they both spent a lot of time outdoors. This one had quite a few less creases around the eyes, though. And he didn’t look so disapproving. Or barbarian.
He tilted a head toward the busybody and lowered his voice. “Mrs. Myers called and said she saw Greg running away from home.”
Greg piped in at that moment. “I wasn’t runnin’ away! I wasn’t, ’Manda.”
“We found him down on Fifth Street.”
“Fifth Street! Holy shit.” Amanda grimaced, realizing she’d just cursed in front of a police officer on duty. She turned to Greg and took his shoulders, giving him a little shake. “What were you doing on Fifth Street?”
“Looking for Mama.”
His sullen answer tore at her heart. She didn’t know what to say, how to respond.
“Amanda,” she corrected him. She was not ready for that old-lady title yet. Save it for Mrs. Busybody.
“Amanda…” With a hand on her back, he steered her away from Greg so they could talk privately. He kept his voice low as he continued, “His mother’s church is on Fifth.”
Amanda shook her head. She didn’t understand.
He cleared his throat. “That’s where her service was.”
Her service… Ah! What an idiot she was. The people in this town must think her heartless. No wonder Mrs. Busybody didn’t like her. Amanda had never visited. She never even came back for her father’s funeral. Or her stepmother’s.
No wonder Officer Max Bryson thought her immature and selfish. She looked up at his brother; nothing but pity showed in his blue eyes. Right now she felt so low that she’d rather have had Max’s disapproval staring down at her. Punishing her.
She deserved it.
As if in slow motion, she turned away and sank down on the concrete front stoop. She looked at her brother, who was helpless in this world. She was all he had.
Greg remained standing next to the black-and-white car with an abnormal calmness, not his excitable self. Chaos sat at his feet obediently—also unnaturally still.
She studied the dog. Chaos didn’t know his master was different. Chaos didn’t care.
She was so in over her head. But she was determined not to drown.
* * * *
Amanda glanced over at Greg, who was coloring with crayons…only he didn’t have a coloring book. He was immersed in decorating the kitchen table. Amanda closed her eyes and sighed.
She had insisted Greg stay home from day care and had spent half the morning trying to explain why his mother wasn’t still waiting for him at the Fifth Street church. He had heard everything she had to say, but hadn’t really listened
And Amanda was tired of trying to explain. Both ended extremely agitated for most of the day. Even Chaos had gone out his doggy door to escape the tension.
Maybe she just needed to get Greg away from this place.
“Bud, how about moving to the big city?”
Without even looking up, he mumbled, “No.”
Amanda moved around the table to stand next to his seat. She stroked her fingers over his hair. “Maybe you could meet new friends.”
“Why? Greg, don’t you want lots of friends and lots of things to do?”
“Don’t wanna leave.”
“Mama may come back.”
“Greg…” Amanda reached out and grabbed Greg’s hands with hers, ceasing their senseless movement. “Greg, your mama isn’t coming back.”
“Yes, she might.”
Greg’s hands tensed against hers, his fingers clench tight. “No…no…Daddy’s gone for good. Mama says so.”
“Yes, and your mama is with our daddy.”
“No. She’s coming back.”
“Yes, she said she’d never leave me.”
“I’m sure she did.”
“She said so!” He jerked away and stared down at the broken crayons in his hands. “Oh, my crayons are broke. Mama’s gonna be mad!”
Amanda sank into a chair at the table. “No, she won’t.”
“’Manda, stop it! Stop it! Mama said…”
“Greg, your mama said a lot of things, but…”
Greg suddenly pushed away from the table, causing his chair to flip backward with a crash. He towered over Amanda, his face flushed, a piece of spittle caught in the corner of his mouth. “SHUT UP!”
Amanda had to cover her ears to protect them from his high-pitched shriek. His fists were clenched and his eyes wild. For the first time, Amanda felt a spark of fear. She might have pushed him too far.
Max Bryson stepped into the kitchen. A fleeting thought of how he had gotten into the house crossed her mind. He approached Greg, put his hands on the younger man’s shoulders, and gave them a slight squeeze. “Hey, pal, what’s going on?”
The tension notably lessened in Greg’s body. For that she was grateful. Why Max was in her house was another thing. She realized then that she had been holding her breath; she released it in a rush.
“Max! ’Manda wants to take me away!”
Heat rose from her neck into her cheeks when Max gave her a quick glance. He frowned. “She does?”
“Yeah, she wants me to go…to the big city an’…an’…meet new people an’ get new things.”
“She does? And you don’t want to go? Well, we will have to convince her that you want to stay.”
Amanda hissed, “Like it’s any of your business.” She got up and grabbed the furniture polish from under the sink. She began to scrub at the crayon marks on the kitchen table with a rag.
The more she thought about Max putting his nose in their business, the harder she scrubbed. She tuned out their conversation and concentrated on removing the colored wax from the wood’s finish. When she was done, she looked up and realized it was quiet.
Greg had left the room, and Max was leaning back against the center island, arms and feet crossed. He was watching her intently.
“Do you have nothing better to do? Like go fight crime? Or write a little old lady a citation for jaywalking? Did you lose your parking-lot stopwatch?”
The corner of his lip curled up. “You should be fined for having such a cute ass. Just watching you wiggling it back and forth like that as you scrubbed gave me a—”
He stopped abruptly, as if he had just realized he had said his thoughts out loud. The surprise on his face was quickly schooled to a blank expression.
As she finished his thought, Amanda’s gaze flew downward.
She turned to gather Greg’s broken crayons and threw them into an old coffee can, closing the lid with a snap. She could finally look up at Max without blushing. “Again…why are you here? And most importantly, how did you get in?”
“Well, I got in through your front door. It wasn’t locked.”
“Do you normally just barge into people’s homes?”
“No, only in emergencies. I heard the yelling and thought there might be one.”
Amanda snorted. She stilled, her eyes narrowed. “Did that busybody call you?”
“Never mind. What do you want?”
“I heard what happened this morning and wanted to check up on you and Greg.”
“My brother said you were pretty distressed.”
“Of course I was. Do you think I don’t care about my brother?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t have to.”
Jeanne St. James