21 - The Quiet of Home

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Liz slid the key into the lock, realizing as she did so that she barely remembered the drive here. It was strange, how much of a day could slip past  without noticing, a life lived on auto-pilot. Familiar schedules and familiar drives, thoughts slipping away to day dreams while the body just trudged along in its well-worn grooves. 

She wasn't sure whether she found this comforting or frightening. She supposed it was a sign of success, in a way: Being so content and cozy in your life that you no longer had to struggle with it. 

Then again, maybe all of that was a bullshit excuse she was telling herself as a way to pretend her thoughts simply weren't preoccupied with other things. Finances, for one, that eternal white-noise buzz of worry about how to keep the shop afloat. But, more pressing, the looming meeting with the divorce lawyer this afternoon, sorting out the finer points of the summer custody arrangements for Liam.

Kyle was meant to have the boy for the summer, as usual. But he was contesting it, wanting to swap the summer for extra time throughout the year -- an arrangement that sounded like a doting father wanting more time with his boy, but one Liz was quite certain was rooted more in a desire to sabotage her. Kyle knew perfectly well that her livelihood depended on the summer tourist season, when people were more likely to visit the downtown area and go antique-shopping. Summer was when she had the most chances to buy new items. And the only way to make a summer custody schedule work was if Nat stayed home, or if they kept Liam cooped up in the store all day -- less than ideal options. 

More than that, it was an obvious power move. Kyle would spin it to sound like she was simply trying to foist the kid off on him, villainize her for having priorities beyond motherhood, and whether or not he got the lawyers to agree to his requests, he'd have that satisfaction of seeing her humiliated. 

The smug son of a bitch. 

She tried not to think about it. 

The house was quiet and empty, as she expected. Not even Fluff came to see her, though he was always hit-or-miss with whether he'd make the effort of gallumphing down the hall just for her. If he heard Nat, undoubtedly he'd come skittering, but his emotions toward Liz were lukewarm at best. She tried not to be offended at this. She wasn't overly fond of him, herself, and Nat at least seemed very impressed that the cat hadn't launched a full-on assault against her as he had some of her exes. 

But with no cat to greet her at the door, Liz was alone with the silence of the house, only the ticking of the grandfather clock to serve as a heartbeat. The dog, ever a silent sentinel, stood by the door and peered up at her as she passed. Feeling a bit silly, she nevertheless reached out a hand to pat its head, stroking her fingers along the soft fur behind its silken ears. 

"There's a good boy," she said, as much to break up the silence as anything, and started toward the hall. 

She was a mess, cobwebby and dusty and with blonde hair spilling out in wispy mess from where it had begun to work loose from the braid she'd put it in, and she had places to be, so she did not linger. She undressed piecemeal on her way to the master bath: shoes in the foyer, shirt and pants dropped unceremoniously just inside the laundry room, socks and panties and bra scattered across the bed. Fluff, sleeping coiled in the middle of the bedspread, gave an irritable meow as an item of clothing hit him in the face, but he lowered his head and went back to snoozing. 

The shower, like driving, had a meditative quality, and Liz was happy to let her mind wander, to shut off her brain for a while to drive out the unpleasant thoughts. Enough time passed that the water began to run cold, the hot water heater unable to keep up with demand, and she exited reluctantly into the steam-filled bathroom, leaving wet footprints on the tile and dripping onto the bedroom carpet as she began rooting around for fresh clothes. She picked up her phone from where she had dropped it on the bed and checked the time, dismayed at how quickly the day was bleeding away from her. 

As she started back toward the front room, something about the scattered mess of photographs and papers on the kitchen table caught her eye, and she drifted toward it, curious. She knew Nat had been working on identifying the owners of their last storage unit, but she hadn't probed for the details and Nat hadn't been too keen on sharing them -- so Liz had assumed there was nothing much of interest. 

Now, though, her curiosity was piqued. It was strange that Nat was still sifting through things days later. Liz took a photograph from the table and peered at it, seeing a normal-looking young family looking back up at her. She set it down and reached instead for a spiral-bound notebook filled with Nat's neat handwriting. At the top of the page, she saw the words "Timeline." Beneath that, a handful of dates and events interspersed with question marks. It didn't look like a timeline, Liz thought, so much as a list of questions that didn't make much sense. 

She frowned, opening the laptop and tapping a few keys, impatient for it to load. The browser was open, and she saw there were multiple tabs. She clicked each, feeling her frown deepen. 

Man kills wife, daughter in brutal slaying 

What we know about the Verde Vista murders

Sleepy town rocked by terrible murder, police still searching for answers 

The news stories were filled with lurid details and, in one case, a crime scene photo that turned Liz's stomach. She didn't stay to read far past the headlines, feeling certain already that she'd gotten the gist of it, and she rapidly closed the laptop and backed away from it, feeling deeply unsettled. 

Why was Nat reading all of this? Was that what that notebook was about -- trying to piece together this crime? 

And, more importantly, if all this was tied into the storage unit somehow, why wasn't Nat telling her about it? 

That felt especially ominous, and she wanted suddenly to call Nat and have a proper discussion about it -- but she was interrupted in her plan by the buzzing of her phone, the alarm reminding her of her appointment. 

Fine, she thought, irritated. Later. 

She made her way for the front door, trying to drive the image from her mind and finding it instead stubbornly clinging to her thoughts.

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