“Smile when you’re scared. Laugh when you’re angry. Never tell what you’re really thinking. Cordelia Simms was always a quick study. Her brilliant mind and dysfunctional family prepared her perfectly for a career in the snakepit of an Old-South, old-money law firm, but she took a few detours along the way. Now the shameful secrets in her past put her future – and her child – at risk.” Previously… Cordelia’s coworkers forced her into confessing her true history with Richard Demarest, but she wound up winning their support. Her party planning elicited a summons to meet Detective Joyner’s mother, a wealthy businesswoman. Cordelia ditches work to have coffee with this potentially important contact.
Downtown redevelopment hasn’t reached Miss Jeannie’s Pickle plant yet. I rumble over potholed streets to a freshly paved parking lot. Tired teachers herd schoolchildren into a bus, leaving a trail of paper hairnets. The smell hits me when I open the car door. Vinegar. Dill. Chilies. My stomach doesn’t know whether it’s hungry or nauseous.
The espresso machine in Mrs. Joyner’s Pinterest-perfect office blasts the smell away. She does, as predicted, hug my neck. We settle down in matching floral slipper chairs, and she tells me all about May 1963.
“We were packed into a stockade at the fairground like cattle. We weren’t used to so much air conditioning like nowadays, but it was pretty bad.” She shakes her head. “Yes, it was pretty bad.
“I saw your father come in. I jumped up and told my girlfriend, “That’s my daddy’s friend! He’ll take us home.
“But he only had bail money enough for me. He told everybody crowded around, they’d keep on collecting and going to court. But my little friend just cried. And you know what your father did?”
I’ve got my mouth screwed up so tight I can’t answer. I shrug, and the movement makes my tears fall.
“He got right down on that dirty floor and hugged her. He asked her name and told her to hold on because he was coming right back. When he took me out, I heard him say to the guard, ‘Good God, Fred. Ask your father what he saw in ‘45.’”
I squeeze her hand. “I didn’t know.”
She pats mine. “Now you do.” She straightens up with a little shake. “You don’t know how happy I am that Lawrence found a nice girl. I’m hoping he’ll be around more!”
I’d just managed a sip of coffee. Now I’m wearing it. “What?” I splutter. “Did he tell you how we met?”
“Something to do with work.” She’s smiling and nodding, bright as a penny.
I bark out a laugh. “Sorry. Um. No, ma’am. Lawrence and I are just friends. Acquaintances, really. I mean, he’s a great guy, it’s just not—”
She smirks at someone behind me. “Yes, you.”
I crane my head. Lawrence is frozen in the doorway, giving his mom the Mother of all “Shut up!” looks.
* * * * *
I do the “Thank you, lovely, bye,” routine on autopilot and somehow find the door.
Lawrence – Detective Joyner — catches me in the hallway. He looks embarrassed and awkward as hell. Me, too. But he also looks…is that hurt? No, I’m imagining it. Oh, geez. Am I imagining it?
“I hope Mom didn’t freak you out.” He fakes a chuckle. “She gets like that sometimes.”
“No, no…” Well, this is a tightrope. I mean, he’s hot. And really, really nice. But isn’t there some kind of cop/convict code of ethics? Shouldn’t there be? Isn’t this weird? It should be weird.
You’re weird, snaps Trouble. What else is new?
I speak on the breath I’ve been holding, so it comes out like a cough. “I…I didn’t want her to think anything had happened, that hadn’t happened.”
His eyebrows go up.
Was he standing this close to me the whole time?
My cell phone rings. I jump a foot. “Dammit!”
He flops against the wall.
“Sorry, it’s work. I’ve really got to…” I swipe. “Tasha. What’s up?”
“Cordelia, I’m at Ms. Ackerman’s. You’ve got to see this.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you at the office later.”
“No. I’ll be here late and go straight home.” She lowers her voice. “I’m telling you, as a paralegal informing her attorney, as in memo-to-file I informed you on this date, you’ve got to see this.”
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