26 - A Silly Fear

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It took longer to get Liam up and ready for school than Nat had anticipated. He was tired and grumpy, and she suspected he hadn't been sleeping well, whether or not he was still having nightmares. Insomnia - there was plenty of that to go around. She thought about asking him about it, probing a little about his dream and what was keeping him awake, but she didn't know how to broach the topic. She couldn't very well ask him for all the bloody, lurid details, not if she wanted to avoid another argument with Liz about planting ideas in his head. And besides -- talking to kids was a skill she was far from mastering. 

Besides: she had agreed to get him off to school, and so she did, despite his sleepy protests that he wanted to stay home, that his dad would have let him stay home, that she was being mean.  She got him dressed and onto the bus all the same, but by the time the school bus pulled away from the curb, she found that her good mood had evaporated. 

She checked the time and realized that she would need to hurry if she were to make it to her appointment with Matt Cook on time. Cursing under her breath -- and feeling, now, the early nagging of hunger, a reminder of her untouched breakfast -- she shuffled back inside and regarded the dog. 

She didn't want to touch the dog to carry it out to the van. A part of her wanted to go drag Liz out of bed and make her do it. A part of her wanted to call Matt Cook and cancel, then and there, despite the anticipation and relief she'd felt toward their meeting. 

She was convinced, somehow, that it would be warm to the touch, that the flesh might yield under her palm; she had a sudden, terrifying idea that her hand might sink into the fur and return covered in maggots and slime. That the shape of the hound was merely a cover for something more vile and repulsive, shadows stitched together with rot.

But of course that was silly.

It was only a stuffed dog, mounted into a standing position, and though it was awkward to lift, it was not heavy. It felt lighter, even, than when she and Liz had first carried it awkwardly out to the car. Now, she wondered why it had even taken two people to lift it at all. 

She didn't nestle it into the seat this time, though. She wrestled it into the back of the van, and tried to find her earlier optimism that Matt Cook would be enamored with the dog and buy it. That she wouldn't have to touch it again, or think about it.

But even selling the dog would do nothing to erase the memory of the Riveras, and the grisly crime that had stolen their lives.

Sobered by the thought, she drove to the house with her eyes firmly fixed upon the road ahead, the radio turned up high, trying to block out all sound. 

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