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That was stupid.

If he was a cop he’d pull out his weapon all the time to get people to behave. Who wants to argue with people?

“I’m going to take a shower and see if it clears up my sinuses,” she told him. “Clean up your dishes, okay?” She stood and strolled out of the room, leaving her own dishes on the table.

He put hers and his in the dishwasher and then wiped up the crumbs she’d left by the toaster. He studied the kitchen, an inspection to spot anything else she could get upset about. It looked perfect. It was the least he could do for her since she was so sad.

“Honey?” she called from her bathroom.

He hooked his backpack onto one shoulder as he headed down the hallway, knowing he needed to be out the door and on his way to the bus stop in a minute. He stopped outside her bathroom door. “What?”

“I can’t reach the buttons on the back of this shirt. Can you help me real quick?”

“Sure.” He waited for her to open the door a crack so he could slide an arm through. The door opened wide and she stood with her back to him. She’d already removed her sweatpants and underwear. He stared and then yanked his gaze up to her back. With shaking hands he undid her buttons. Her bra was black, with lace.

He grabbed the door handle, stepped backward, and slammed it shut.

Holy cow.

Sweat bloomed under his arms. He’d never seen his mother naked before. She opened the door three inches, peering at him with her wide blue eyes. “I’m sorry. Did I surprise you?”

“Uh . . . no.” His voice shook.

“It’s okay, honey. I’m your mother. No big deal.”

He didn’t know what to say.

“Go to school. I’ll see you tonight after your game.”

He turned and left.

They lost the game. The other school had crushed his team and twice his coach had yelled for him to get his head in the game. He’d ridden the late activity bus and he slowly plodded up the street to his house. He didn’t want to go home.

In his mind he kept seeing his mother in the bathroom that morning. He felt dirty, like when he’d looked at the naked layouts in his friend’s magazine. Those women were whores, posing for men to stare at. His mother wasn’t like that. His mother had never let anyone see her naked in her whole life.

Except for him.

Another explicit image from that morning shot through his brain. He hadn’t told any of the guys what he’d seen. It was cool to brag when you saw a naked girl or got a hold of a dirty magazine, but he was positive that gloating that he’d seen his mother’s naked ass wouldn’t score him any points with his friends.

She didn’t bring it up that evening. He loaded the dishwasher in silence as she watched TV in the living room, and he hoped she’d forgotten the incident. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was a bigger deal in his head than it should be. She was his mother; she knew what was right and wrong.

But it felt wrong.

Later he brushed his teeth and kissed her good night on the cheek like he’d done all his life. She’d already crawled in bed and was reading a book. He turned to leave.

“Before you go, can you scratch a spot in the center of my back?” she asked. “It’s been itching for the last ten minutes and I can’t reach it.”

He swallowed hard. “Sure, Mom.”

She presented her back to him and lifted the back hem of her pajama top. “Right in the center, sort of up high.”

He reached out and scratched on top of the fabric up by her neck.

“No, silly. Lower than that. And under my shirt, please.”

He grasped the hem of her top and lifted. She wasn’t wearing a bra, but he doubted they were worn under pajamas. Black lace from her underwear showed above the waistband of her pajama bottoms. He looked away and scratched.

“Ahhh. Don’t stop.” She leaned back into his hand. “Press harder.”

He scratched faster, trying to hide the tremor in his hand. His gut gave an odd twist and warmth flowed from it out to his limbs. She glanced at him over her shoulder and smiled. “That’s perfect.”

He yanked his hand away as if he’d been burned. Her shirt fluttered back into place.

“While you’re right there, can you massage my right shoulder? I don’t know what I did to it, but it’s aching like crazy tonight.”

Not lifting her shirt, he rubbed through the material, massaging as hard as he could.

“Who needs a man around when I have you?” she said, looking back at him with a smile. “We don’t need anyone else.”

He didn’t say anything.

“That last jerk didn’t hurt me,” she said. “He just used me. That’s what they all do, you know. As soon as they see a beautiful single woman, they think they can pretend to be kind to her for a little while and then just move on. I cooked him that nice dinner and pie, and then he backed out of his mentoring agreement.”

Why were these men so mean to his mother? Over and over. For years they had done this to her. It was completely unfair. She was a good woman. They must find him unbearable to be around. Or they discovered he was too big a loser for them to help.

“One of these days they’ll regret not being kinder to me,” she said.

“Yes, they will,” he agreed.


Ava checked the address on the house against the one on her phone. This was the right place. Nora had called after Ava left David and Glen at the coffee shop and asked her to talk to Lucien Fujioka’s wife, Jeanine. She’d flown home a few hours after her husband had been found but had spent the last twenty-four at her parents’ house, avoiding the media. She wanted to talk to the police but had requested time to pull herself together.