CHAPTER SIX

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Chapter Six 

I went back to the visitation room and plastered on a smile that said thank you for coming but my heart is breaking. And while the thank you for coming part wasn’t true, the my heart is breaking part was.

A couple of hours later, my feet ached from standing and my cheeks hurt from smiling but a few stragglers remained. They munched on cookies while trying to determine the size and location of the hole in Momma’s head from the placement of her hat. Aunt Bessie and Uncle Earl stayed the entire time. They brought bottles of water to Violet because she did so much talking over the course of three and a half hours that she had become hoarse. And me, too, because Aunt Bessie worried that I’d become dehydrated from the slow flow of tears that I couldn't stop.

Aunt Bessie and Uncle Earl were supposed to spend the night with Violet. But Aunt Bessie suggested they stay with me instead.

“Rose has grown an independent streak,” Violet said in a snippy tone. “She might not let you.”

I gasped. “Of course, they can stay with me. They can take Momma’s room.”

We said goodbye in the parking lot, Violet and I giving each other awkward hugs. Aunt Bessie and Uncle Earl followed me to the house. I pulled into the driveway and gave Joe’s house a mournful glance as I waited for them to get their suitcase from the car.

“I heard Mr. Williams died a few months ago. Who lives there now?” Aunt Bessie asked, the softness of her voice telling me she knew my look meant something.

“Joe McAllister.”

“The young man from tonight?”

“Yeah, but don't be thinkin’ anything about it, Aunt Bessie. We’re just friends.” My tongue tripped over the word friends and to my chagrin, I felt tears building again. “I never met him before the night Momma was killed.”

She watched me unlock the door. “Isn’t that deadbolt new? I don't’ remember seeing it before.”

I'd forgotten she had the memory of an elephant. “Joe put it in for me when he fixed the broken lock.”

“Oh?”

I ignored the question in her voice and flipped on the light. She oohed and awed over the new paint color, finding it perfectly reasonable and logical to paint two days after Momma died, given the circumstances.

Uncle Earl took their suitcase to the room. I offered to help change the sheets on Momma’s bed, but Aunt Bessie suggested I put on pajamas and make us hot tea instead. I sat at the kitchen table with two cups ready when she entered the kitchen.

Even though I dressed for bed, I hadn’t taken my hair down. Aunt Bessie stood behind me, taking out the pins, running her fingers through the strands. I closed my eyes, relaxing at the feel of it.

“Tonight was a long night, wasn’t it?” she asked.

“Yes,” I murmured softly, leaning my head back into her hands.

“Did Joe say something to upset you tonight?”

Tears burned my eyes again. “No, if anything he helped me.”

“Then what made you so upset?”

“You mean other than the town folk of Henryetta rallying to grab their pitchforks?”

“Yes, I know there was something else.” Aunt Bessie was a hairdresser and knew how to massage someone’s head and make them so relaxed they’d give up their deepest darkest secrets. After only a few minutes in her hands, I was too soothed to care.

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