Chapter 9

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Petronia's spirits lifted after the rains stopped on Saturday. With the daylight growing shorter in November and the weather turning colder, gloomy skies and rain depressed her. Today, other than pulling over a few speeders on the William Penn Highway and investigating a fender bender in Duncannon, it had been blessedly quiet.

She decided to take her cousin Maggie's advice and go out on her own. When her shift ended, she changed into a red party dress and chose The Inn of the Dancing Bear as her destination. After arriving, she relaxed at one of the tables, drink in hand. It had been a long time since she'd been here, but she remembered how awesome a cook Jill Dunne was, and she had a hankerin' for that woman's famous chili con carne.

She giggled. Words like awesome  and hankerin'  clued her in that maybe she was drinking too much, too fast, even if she hadn't spoken the words out loud. She was also well-aware of the guys at the bar who had been casting glances her way. A precarious situation. Sooner or later, one of them would work up the nerve to approach her.

Precarious? Yeah, she really needed to slow down. That's another word that didn't usually find its way into her thoughts.

Petronia swished the wine in her glass and studied the overhead fluorescent light reflecting off the red liquid. Checking the time, she noticed it was almost nine. She had arrived at eight, eaten her meal and had what? Three glasses of wine. This was her fourth, but they were small glasses, no more than six ounces. This would be her last, so she decided to nurse it. The band was about to start, and she wanted to sit through their first set. After that, if nobody asked her to dance, she would go home.

Is that really what she wanted? Heck yes. If one of those guys at the bar asked her to dance, she'd take him up on the offer. She liked to dance, and it had been such a long time. Her ex, Charlie, hadn't been much of a dancer.

If a guy approached who seemed sketchy, all she'd need to do would be to flash her wedding ring and show him her badge. That usually deflated a guy more effectively than a cold shower.

While the band tuned up, Petronia pulled an adjacent chair and rested her feet on it, stretching out. She yawned.

Finally, the band started playing. The female lead vocalist who looked to be in her early twenties led off the set with Carrie Underwood's Before He Cheats. The song reminded her of Charlie. The asshole. The girl sang well, sounding exactly like Ms. Underwood. The band wasn't shabby either. The crowd applauded with enthusiasm when the song ended.

After that, the band launched into Fight Song  by Rachel Platten. Petronia glanced over at the row of guys sitting at the bar. When was one of them going to ask her?

Wait...she did a double take. Sitting there with his back turned was a man who looked a lot like Barlow Jackson. It couldn't be, could it? She lifted her feet from the chair and sat up straight. She studied the man's reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Oh god, oh god, it was him! Her heart rate accelerated. Of course, he looked older now, and a little world weary, but she'd recognize her first lover and former best friend anywhere.

Or was it just wishful thinking and too much wine? Butterflies floated in her belly.

Barlow!

What was he doing here? How long had he been back in Perry County? Why hadn't he tried contacting her? If he had wanted to find her, he could have. Her mother still lived in the same house.

Was he avoiding her because he had found someone else? She scanned the adjacent bar stools. No woman near him. It hurt her so bad when they had parted; she thought she would die of a broken heart. Why had he insisted on breaking things off so abruptly back then? He had explained how they were on different life paths or some other such nonsense she still couldn't understand. That same hurt from before once again welled in her chest. They had been so close, could finish each other's sentences and read each other's thoughts. Now that he had returned, why hadn't he bothered to find her?

Petronia wanted answers. Needed answers. She should march right up to Barlow and interrogate him like a cop. She took a breath realizing she needed to get control of herself. She downed the rest of her wine. No, she wouldn't approach him as a cop. She'd approach him as the woman he would remember. From her purse, she extracted a vial of perfume and dabbed some on.

Barlow stared into his beer, barely noticing the band had started playing

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Barlow stared into his beer, barely noticing the band had started playing. He had spent the whole day reviewing the company financial records, poring over all the receivables and invoices. He could find nothing irregular. The New Bloomfield housing development project brought in enough cash to make the business robust. As far as he could tell, the company had been legitimately in the black for the past ten years.

Could he have been wrong about his father? The evidence he had found today sure did make him think twice. His father made it clear that times back then were slow, but that was before he left. The contract was awarded a few weeks later, which meant his father hadn't lied about their financial situation.

Ten years ago, his father had been steadfast that there had been no steamer trunk full of cash and the driver had died behind the wheel of the car. But Barlow knew he hadn't hallucinated seeing the steamer trunk and pulling that man from the water.

He couldn't resolve it. If only his father made the effort to contact him to explain? But Barlow probably wouldn't have taken his call. He hadn't been interested in hearing what his father had to say.

Guilt gnawed his insides.

Damn it, if his father hadn't stolen the money and killed that man, then who did?

His subconscious registered the band starting to play one of his favorite tunes, Lady Antebellum's Need You Now.  He tried getting the bartender's attention for another beer when from behind, someone reached around and placed hands over his eyes.

He froze, unsure if he should make a defensive move or wait to see what happened next. In his ear, a woman's voice sang softly along with the music.

"And I wonder if I ever cross your mind. For me it happens all the time."

Her mouth was so close that her singing tickled his ear. And she smelled really nice! When she uncovered his eyes, he swiveled on his bar stool to face her.

 And she smelled really nice! When she uncovered his eyes, he swiveled on his bar stool to face her

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How do you think Barlow is going to react to this surprise?

Originally, I was going to be mean and leave you hanging for part two of the reunion. I decided that would be too cruel, so go ahead and click/swipe for the next chapter, and don't forget to vote!

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