Home > Floored (Frenched #3)(12)

Floored (Frenched #3)(12)
Author: Melanie Harlow

Charlie’s chin jutted. “He abused her?”

“No. Well, yes. I mean, he didn’t physically abuse her, but he said…horrible things to her.” In my mind I could still hear them fighting late at night. He’d berate her for any little thing—dust on the furniture, undercooked pot roast, a bill paid late. He’d accuse her of flirting if they’d been out and make scathing remarks about her clothing, her hair, her makeup. I shuddered, pulling my hands inside my sleeves to warm them. “I overheard a lot of terrible stuff.”

“That must have been really hard on you,” Charlie said quietly.

“Yeah. He never did it in front of my brother or me, but we heard it from our bedrooms late at night. I used to bury my head under my pillow, but I heard every word.” I didn’t talk about this much, but I felt surprisingly comfortable telling Charlie about it. Maybe it’s because we knew each other as kids. “It was so confusing for me, because he was such a happy, loving dad by the next morning. He drove me to ballet classes, came to every performance, coached my brother’s soccer teams, kissed my mother goodbye every morning before work. It was almost like there were two different men living in the house, and I was always nervous the other one would make an appearance if I wasn’t perfect.”

“Ah. Makes sense now.” Charlie nodded slowly, as if truth were dawning on him.

“What does?”

“Why you were so obsessed with being perfect.”

“I wasn’t obsessed with being perfect!” I snapped straight up in my chair.

Confession: I was pretty much obsessed with being perfect. I kept my room spotless. I never talked back. I made straight A’s. I didn’t drink, smoke, or have sex until I was twenty-one. And I never once acknowledged that I heard the terrible things my father said to my mother.

That would have meant a Scene, and I hated Scenes worse than messes.

“All right, maybe a little obsessed,” I admitted. “But as a kid, it was my way of coping with things.” I took a breath. “I loved my dad, I still do. I don’t think he’s a bad person. But when my mother finally got the wherewithal to throw him out five years ago, I sobbed tears of joy and told her she’d made the right decision.”

Charlie tipped back his coffee. “How’s your mom now?”

“My mom? Oh, she’s fine. She found God.”

“Yeah? And where was He before?”

I grinned ruefully, bringing my heels to my chair and resting my chin on my knees. “Not sure. She goes on all these religious pilgrimages hoping to—I don’t know, find herself. She’s on one right now in Spain called The Footsteps of St. Teresa. But it’s nice for her, really. My dad was never into traveling and she was.”

“Do you like traveling?”

“Yes, but not on those pilgrimage things. Thank God she hooked up with a ladies group at her church. Before that she wanted me to take all the crazy religious trips with her.”

“What, don’t you want to find God?” he teased.

“If I find him by accident, fine. I just don’t want to spend my vacations looking for him. Last year I spent my spring break with my mother on a faith journey in Ireland called Slow Down and Smell the Heather.”

He grinned. “Oh yeah? How was that?”

“Put it this way: I asked the bus driver many times if we could please Slow Down and Smell the Whiskey. Ireland was beautiful and all, but…” I shook my head.

“You’d prefer more Jameson, less Jesus?”

I pointed at him. “Exactly.”

“I like Irish whiskey too.” He set his empty cup down, but didn’t look as if he wanted to leave yet. “Always been a dance teacher?”

“No. I actually went to school for elementary education and taught fourth grade for a few years. But I really missed dance, and owning my own studio was always a dream of mine as a kid. When the opportunity came up, I decided to quit teaching and go for the dream.”

“And?”

“And…” I tilted my head this way and that. “I have good days and bad. Today was a good day. Yesterday, not so much. Hey, any luck with the gas station camera?”

Charlie grimaced. “Not really. Blurry footage of a short, slim white male wearing a black hoodie. He bought gas with your card and paid for a Red Bull and Cheetos with change he probably pilfered from someone’s unlocked car.”

“Red Bull and Cheetos?” I wrinkled my nose. “Gross.”

“Don’t even tell me you don’t like Cheetos.”

“I don’t like Cheetos. That shade of orange scares me.” Picking up my coffee, which was finally cooling off, I took a long sip.

Charlie’s brow furrowed. “Isn’t that coffee cold by now?”

“Not at all.” I slurped noisily. “It’s lukewarm, the perfect temperature.”

“What? Lukewarm is not the perfect temperature for coffee. Not that what you’re drinking is coffee. It has frosting on it, for fuck’s sake. Coffee is hot and black.”

“Whatever.” I slurped again, even louder this time. “So no leads on my burglar?”

“We have a few houses we’re watching. Places where we think they take the stolen stuff. Your cell phone pinged near one of them last night.”

“Really?” My voice rose an octave. “Can you go in and get it back?” I had a brief fantasy of Charlie riding up to the house on a white horse, charging inside with pistol drawn.

   
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