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I was mulling King’s idea to take back the MC over in my mind. Wondering if it was a real possibility. With every step I took toward the apartment it sank its teeth into my brain and by the time I opened the door it took hold, but the thought didn’t last long because as soon as I opened the door I felt it in the air. I knew before I even peered into the bedroom. I knew before I ran back up to the house to ask Ray if she’d seen her. I knew before I spotted my ring on the coffee table still attached to the chain.

Thia was gone.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Thia

The venom of a brown widow spider is six times more powerful than the venom of its cousin, the black widow. But unlike its darker relative, the brown widow’s first response to a threat is to retreat, rarely biting unless direct contact is made. Attacking is its last option.

A last resort.

Kind of like me.

I had more in common with the spider that killed my little brother than I did with Bear.

Sheriff Donaldson wasn’t ever in his office until after three pm. The town of Jessep may have been big in land mass but we were small in population, so small in fact that our town sheriff only worked part time.

Jessep was one of the oldest towns in Florida and being old meant a lot of its laws had been written a long time ago. One of its charms is that those laws hadn’t ever been revised, leaving all sorts of backwards southern rules on the books.

Under Jessep law, men were not permitted to wear women’s clothing, but it didn’t stop there. More specifically, the punishment for those men caught wearing satin strapless gowns would be much more severe than those caught wearing knee-length skirts.

Showering naked was also a big no-no. Oral sex, even between married couples, was strictly forbidden as well.

It was illegal to sing in a public place while wearing a swimsuit. The rule makers may not have liked singing at all because it was also illegal to sing to a goat.

Even on the goat’s birthday.

It was illegal for a single woman to parachute on Sundays.

I peddled back into my backwards hometown on a bicycle I’d found in the garage, an old blue beach cruiser with a tattered orange flag attached to the back of the seat. I’d rode all the way back to Jessep without stopping, my need to put distance between me and Bear and my desire to face what I had coming to me head on propelled me forward, faster and faster I’d pedaled until I’d finally slowed when I turned down the road with the Welcome to Jessep sign, Population 64. I’d meant to go straight to the sheriff’s office but it was only two o’clock. I hadn’t meant to go to the house but before I’d realized it, I was still on the bike with my feet on the ground staring at the yellow crime scene tape that had dispatched on one side and was now floating in the wind.

I walked slowly up the path, taking the bike with me. I didn’t plan on getting off or walking up to the porch or sitting in the old rocking chair inhaling the smell of rotting citrus.

But I did.

The afternoon rains had turned my mother’s blood on the side of the house from fresh red to pale brown. Anyone who didn’t know what happened there would have just thought it was a mud stain.

But I knew what happened here.

What I didn’t know was what was going to happen next.

That’s when I saw it.

The spider.

I stood on the rickety porch holding an old straw broom with a broken handle. I watched as it turned over a small black bug using a few of its many long and striped legs. It was lingering under the fascia, minding its own business, wrapping up his lunch, while I stood only feet away and planned its imminent demise.

The sun was beginning to set, one of the only hours of the day when the weather was tolerable and right before the summer rain settled in for its evening cry above Jessep.

I understood how it felt to want to be left alone and for a brief moment I contemplated sparing the spider the death sentence, but quickly changed my mind.

One just like it killed Jesse.

It had to die.

It seems I was good at killing things.

I set up our old rusty ladder and climbed up to the top, positioning the end of the broom handle over the innocent spider who had no idea what was coming. “Sorry little guy,” I whispered, right before I crushed him into the corner. Over and over again I hit and hit and hit him, crushing him into oblivion. I killed that spider over and over again and kept killing it until my hands were bleeding from the splintered broom handle and tears ran down my face, long after what was left of the spider fell from the end of the broom and into the grass.

“Miss Andrews?” a man asked. I gripped the top of the ladder with both hands to maintain my balance, and dropped the broom. It fell onto the uneven porch and rolled off the side into the grass.

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