“But what if my situation here is more complicated than just picking up and leaving?” I wanted to tell him about Sammy, but there wasn’t enough time. I hadn’t even had enough time to truly process the fact that I was a mother for myself just yet.
King ran his thumb over the back of my neck. “You should know by now I’m not a man who takes no for an answer, Pup. This isn’t a negotiation. When all this shit is over I’m taking you home. With me. If you want to fight it, fight me? Go right on ahead, because honestly, I’m getting hard just thinking about you handcuffed to my bed again.” His words vibrated against my throat as he spoke them right into the sensitive place behind my ear.
“Are you on that damn houseboat, child?!” Nadine called out from the dock. Between the tree branches, I saw Nadine. She was standing on the dock with my shorts in her hand. “That thing is ten seconds from rotting into the water. It’s not safe.”
“Go,” King whispered. “I love you.” He took a deep breath and disappeared under the water, barely making a ripple in the surface. The hammering of my heart the only real reminder that he was ever really there. I stepped out from behind the trees and Nadine’s head snapped toward me.
Nadine pushed out a hip and stuck her hand on it. “Girl, I’ve been looking for you everywhere! What the hell are you doing in there? I came to check on you, and you were gone. You scared the bejesus out of me!”
“Sorry. I couldn’t sleep and decided to go for a swim,” I lied.
“During the storm?” Nadine asked skeptically.
“It wasn’t storming when I came out here.”
Seeming to accept my answer Nadine tossed me my shorts. I shimmied back into them before emerging back onto the little beach.
Nadine guided me back up to the house by my elbow like I was an elderly person who’d wondered off. “Not feeling like you’re home just yet?”
I shook my head.
Nadine patted my hand. “You know, those waters are pretty dark at night and there are things lurking in there that most sane people would be very afraid of.”
I tried to contain to contain my smile.
If you only knew…
I was about to get back in bed when the light from the phone I’d plugged in earlier illuminated the room, casting a glow on the ceiling. I unplugged it and crawled onto my stomach over the comforter, resting it on the pillow. The message on the screen indicated it was fully charged.
I slid the home screen open, but another message appeared asking for a password. I looked around the room and the first thing my eyes landed on was one of the sketches of Sammy hanging from the corkboard.
S-A-M-M-Y, I typed.
The screen unlocked. The home screen was wallpapered with a picture of Sammy, who was sitting a high chair, smiling from ear to ear, blue frosting all over his face. I smiled at the smashed cake between his fingers. A candle sat in the middle of the annihilated desert in front of him. “Ray obviously needs a course in creating better passwords.” I muttered.
I clicked on the camera icon and started scrolling through the pictures. Most were of Tanner and Samuel. One was a selfie of all three of us in a park that we must have taken several times because there were several varying versions of the same picture. We were all smiling.
We looked happy.
I don’t know how the pictures made me feel other than confused. I was about to turn the phone and finally get some rest when something in the background of one of the pictures caught my eye.
Lingering on a park bench not far from where we were taking our group selfie, sat a girl about my age with bright red hair. I blinked several times thinking that I was just seeing things. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I knew the girl. Her eyes had dark circles around them. Her clothes were tattered and torn. I scrolled back through the pictures again and there she was in each and every picture, looking directly at us as we snapped away. In the last picture she was smiling, but it was a sad smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
I sucked in a deep breath.
No, no it couldn’t be her.
It made no sense.
I raced around the room and searched through the various framed pictures, knocking some over in the process, until I found what I was looking for.
Until I found her.
The picture in my hand was taken in one of those old-time photo booths where they make the people in the picture look like they are from the Old West. Tanner and I were both in the picture as well, dressed like a cowgirl and cowboy. Tall hats and boots, bandanas tied around our necks. And there she was between us. Her foot hitched up onto an overturned barrel. Her dress falling off her shoulders, the side split clear up her thigh to her hip. She looked very different than the way she looked in the picture in the park, but there was no mistaking who she was, especially since in the old west picture she was aiming a fake gun directly at the camera.