My Niece Janelle, Chapter 7

  • Posted on January 5, 2017 at 3:08 pm

By Muffi

I awoke the next morning when I felt Janelle untangling herself from my arms. Before I could open my eyes, she had padded out of the living room. A few moments later, I heard the toilet flush, and sat up on the couch. From the light filtering through the drapes, I knew it had to be early. I glanced at the clock across the room. Five-fifteen. Geez…

Raising myself into a sitting position, my eyes drifted over to the snake tank. There were Ellie and Nellie, ready to pass judgment on me after what I’d done with Janelle last night…

That was when I paused in mid-thought, slowly rose to my feet and drifted over to the aquarium. I stared at my snakes, dazed.

They weren’t judging me. They weren’t saying anything to me — just lying peacefully, at one with the snake universe. I felt both relieved and incredibly foolish. Had I actually worked up this fantasy of guilt and retribution in my own mind, turning my own pets into Grand Inquisitors?

A total head case? Me? Yeah, quite probably. But now that Janelle and I had made love, all the fretting and agonizing I’d done seemed completely pointless. I hadn’t hurt my niece — I’d made her incredibly happy. She loved me, and I adored her. So there.

Taking a deep breath, feeling more at ease than I had in days, I made my way back to the couch and sat.

As if she knew that I’d been thinking about her, Janelle came thumping back into the living room and climbed up on the couch to kneel next to me. With a smile, she wound her arms around my neck and kissed me on the mouth.

“G’mornin’, Aunt Meagan!” she said brightly.

“Good morning, Sweetie,” I replied. “You’re up bright and early.”

“I know,” she grinned. “An’ I’m hungry, too.”

“You’re hungry all the time.”

“Nuh-uh! Only most of the time!”

“Well, you know where everything is,” I said, laughing despite the early hour. “Go stuff your face while I go to the bathroom.”

“Okies!” she said, bounding from the couch and down the hall.

I headed to the bathroom to the sound of dishes clattering in the kitchen. I peed, brushed my teeth, and ran my fingers through my hair, then headed down to the kitchen. I needed coffee. Desperately.

Janelle was sitting at the table eating a huge bowl of cereal when I walked into the kitchen. I started the ritual of making my coffee.

“Aunt Meagan,” said Janelle, “are you gonna call my Mom today and find out how Grampa’s doin’?”

“Yes, Sweetie, I am,” I said. “And I promise, if there’s been any change, I’ll call the school and leave a message for you, okay?”

“‘Kay,” she said.

I dropped two slices of bread in the toaster, then sat at the table. Janelle finished her cereal; pushing her bowl away, she looked at me, gave a loud, satisfied belch, then grinned.

I shook my head. “You’re such a little lady,” I said.

“But you love me,” she sang, grinning.

I couldn’t help laughing. “Yes,” I said, “I love you.”

Her grin faded to a gentle smile. Standing up, she came around the table and wrapped her arms around my neck. “I love you, too, Aunt Meagan,” she whispered.

I hugged her, smiling at the feel of her warmth against me. When she pulled away and sat back down, I looked at her expectantly. I sensed that she wanted to say something.

“Aunt Meagan,” said Janelle, “is it weird that I think I only like girls?”

“Well, no, I don’t think so,” I said. “But I’m a lesbian, so of course I wouldn’t think it was weird.” I hesitated for a moment. “Do you think it’s weird?”

“I dunno,” she said slowly. “I mean, you know how Sarah was always talkin’ about dykes, and how gross an’ disgusting they are and stuff. I’d be scared ta let anybody know I like girls.”

“Sweetie,” I said, “you know that you don’t have to announce it to the world, right? I don’t introduce myself to strangers and say, ‘Hi, I’m Meagan Bristol, and I’m a lesbian.’ I suppose that a lot of people figure it out, but I don’t just go and tell everyone I meet. It’s not a secret, but I don’t broadcast it. Do you understand what I mean?”

“So I should keep it a secret?” she asked.

“That’s up to you, Sweetie,” I said. “In some ways, it’s easier to keep it a secret. But after a while, that gets to be hard, too, because it’s like you aren’t being honest about yourself.”

“So, do you think I’m a lesbian, Aunt Meagan?” She was staring at me intently.

“Janelle, that’s something I can’t answer,” I said. “The only person who can answer that is you.”

“But how do you know?”

“Well, for me, I knew it the day that I stopped asking myself if I might be a lesbian, and actually admitted to myself that I am. When I admitted it to myself, I felt much better. Kind of peaceful, you know? There were no more questions, just knowing.”

Janelle thought about this for a few moments. “Then I don’t know if I am or not,” she said, “cuz I’m still tryin’ ta figure it out.”

“It might take you a while, Sweetie,” I said, smiling. “But don’t worry about it too much, okay? Just let yourself feel what you feel. Eventually, you’ll know.”

“‘Kay,” she said. “I gotta go get ready for school!” She jumped out of her chair and ran upstairs.

When I got to my room to get dressed, Janelle already had on her jeans and a cute little purple top with spaghetti straps. She was tying her sneakers as I came into the room. I got myself dressed, ran one brush through my hair and another over my teeth, and went back downstairs to wait for Janelle to finish. I hadn’t heard from Michelle, so I assumed that our little visit to see Sara’s father was still on for the afternoon.

Janelle came bounding down the stairs with her backpack. “Don’t forget, Sweetie,” I said, “Sara is coming over for a while after school this afternoon.”

“I know,” she said, “We’ll prob’ly do our homework, so Sara doesn’t hafta do it when she gets home t’night.”

“Okay,” I said. “And Janelle, listen. Michelle is coming over today at about three-thirty. We have something that we need to do. Will you and Sara be okay here for a little while? I want you to keep all the doors locked while we’re gone.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Janelle. She stared at me for a moment. “Are you guys gonna try ta do somethin’ about Sara’s Dad?”

“Yes, we are,” I said, nodding. “But I need you to keep it a secret, okay? I don’t want Sara to be scared or upset about this.”

“‘Kay. I hope you can do somethin’, so she’ll stop bein’ sad all the time.”

“So do I, Sweetie,” I replied. “So do I.”

We got loaded into the Chevy, and I took Janelle to school. Before she got out, she leaned over and gave me a huge, wet smacking kiss on the mouth. Pulling away she grinned at me, that mischievous look in her eyes.

“I loved last night, Aunt Meagan,” she said softly. “I like makin’ love. I like it a lot.”

I reached out and stroked her hair. “I loved it, too, Sweetie. And I love you even more.”

She grinned and opened the door. “See ya this afternoon!”

“Okay,” I said. “Remember, don’t say anything to Sara about me and Michelle.”

“I won’t. Bye, Aunt Meagan!” She slammed the door and ran off toward the front doors of the school.

I drove back home, and called Kate as soon as I got there. I felt a pang of guilt when she answered, thinking about last night, but I shoved it aside. It wasn’t wrong. I would not let myself feel guilty or ashamed because of it.

Kate said that her father-in-law seemed to be holding his own, and that things actually looked a little better, though he wasn’t out of the woods yet. She still wanted me to bring Janelle to see him on Friday, though, just in case things got bad again. I told her about my plan with Michelle for that afternoon, and made sure she was okay with Janelle being left alone for a little while. She had no problem with it. She wished us luck, I told her to give my love to her in-laws, and we hung up.

I spent the rest of the day catching up on my work, and was surprised when I noticed it was almost time to go get the girls from school. I finished up, and headed out to the Chevy.

When I pulled up in front of the school, Sara and Janelle were waiting for me, heads together, smiling and giggling. They saw me and ran to the car, climbing in back and buckling their seatbelts.

“Hi, girls,” I said. “Sara, it’s nice to see you again!”

Sara smiled shyly at me in the rearview mirror. “It’s nice to see you, too, Meagan.”

“Aunt Meagan,” said Janelle, “can we stop at McDonald’s on the way home? Please?”

I glared at her in the mirror. “Are you ever not hungry?”

She thought about this for a moment. “Nope,” she said.

“Okay,” I sighed. “We’ll stop at McDonald’s. But we’ll have to use the drive-through, because I have an appointment this afternoon.” I glanced in the mirror at Janelle.

She nodded to me. ” ‘Kay,” she said, “We can eat it when we get ta your house.” I just shook my head.

Sara, at least, had a normal appetite. One burger, a small order of fries, and a small soda. Janelle, on the other hand, ordered two double cheeseburgers, a super-sized order of fries, and a large soda. I have no idea where she puts it.

“You know,” I said, “one day, that stuff is going to catch up with you, and you’re going to start getting fat. At least, if there’s any justice in the world, you will.”

“Will you still love me if I get fat?”

“Maybe,” I said. She gave me a hurt look.

“Okay, okay,” I said. “I’ll love you no matter how fat you get.”

She grinned. “I knew it,” she said.

“Brat!”

Both girls giggled. I think Sara was still trying to adjust to the banter that takes place constantly between Janelle and I. I truly hoped that one day, I’d get to see that sad little face light up and have Sara feel completely at ease with us.

When we got to my place, the girls tumbled out and into the kitchen to eat. I went in and checked the clock. It was almost three-thirty; Michelle would be here soon. I felt a little anxious about what was going to happen, but I was also pretty secure knowing that Michelle would be there. She’s no one’s victim, and if things got out of hand, I knew that she could handle the guy.

I was in the kitchen with the girls, watching them eat and laughing with them when the doorbell rang. I went and opened the front door, to find Michelle standing there smiling at me.

I felt a little pang of regret for a moment. We had been good together, but it was over now. I was just glad that we still got along well enough that she was willing to go out of her way to help me with this.

“Hey, girl!” I said. “Long time, no see! Come on in, the girls are in the kitchen stuffing their faces.”

Michelle stepped into the hallway as I closed the door behind her. She followed me into the kitchen.

“Janelle,” I said, “look who’s here!”

Janelle gave Michelle her signature grin. “Hiya, Michelle,” she said around mouthful of fries. “This is my friend, Sara.”

“Well, hi, Sara,” Michelle said. “It’s nice to meet you.” She put her hand out for Sara to shake.

Sara took Michelle’s hand shyly and nodded, apparently too polite to talk with her mouth full. Which is more than I could say for Janelle.

Janelle swallowed hard, and then piped up, “Michelle’s a cop, Sara.”

“Police officer, Janelle, please,” said Michelle, giving a mock frown.

“Nope. Aunt Meagan says you’re a cop, ‘n’ she says you’re a damn good one, too!”

Sara gasped, and Michelle raised her eyebrows at me. Janelle looked perplexed. “What? She does!”

“Teaching her to talk like a real lady, eh, Meagan?” asked Michelle.

“Oh, be quiet,” I said, turning to the girls. “Okay, you two. Michelle and I have to run and take care of something. We won’t be gone for more than an hour. I want you to keep the doors locked until I get back, okay? And don’t answer the phone. Just let the answering machine get it. If there’s an emergency, you know my cell number.”

“‘Kay,” Janelle said. She was staring at me.

“See you later, girls,” Michelle said, smiling. “Nice meeting you, Sara.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” Sara replied.

I made sure all the doors were locked, then we went to Michelle’s car. When we got in, Michelle gave me a long look.

“It’s in her eyes,” she said quietly, through clenched teeth. “You can see it in her eyes.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “It pisses me off more than I would have thought.”

Michelle gave me a look. “I’m not surprised. You always were one to fight for the underdog.”

“I’m no one’s hero, Michelle,” I said. “That’s why you’re coming with me.”

“So, how do we want to do this?” she asked.

“Honestly,” I said, “I don’t know. Maybe I should talk to him alone? With two of us, he might feel threatened, especially since you’re a cop.”

“And a damn good one, too,” she grinned at me.

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t let it go to your head,” I said. She laughed at me. The bitch.

“What about this?” I asked. “I’ll get him to come out on the porch to talk to me, and you can stand by the car. You don’t look too intimidating, but if he thinks there’s two of us, he probably won’t start anything.”

“About looking intimidating…” she said, letting the sentence hang.

“What?”

“Look in the back seat.”

I turned to look in the back. On the seat was what I’d always called Michelle’s Batman utility belt, and her small leather badge case.

“But you aren’t in uniform,” I said, turning to look at her.

“So I’m in plain clothes,” she said. “Look, I’m wearing blue jeans and a white polo shirt. Trust me, with the belt, and the badge on my shirt, there’s no mistaking that I’m a cop.”

“Do you think that’s a wise thing to do? You’re not on duty.”

“He won’t know that. Besides, he’s not going to call the police. He’s not smart enough or brave enough to try and explain the visit away.”

“Okay,” I said. “It’s your call.”

“What are you going to say to him?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it yet.”

“Just going to wing it, huh?”

“Trust me, every time I see that bruise in my mind, I get mad enough to kill. I’ll come up with something.”

When we got to the long driveway that led to Sara’s house, Michelle stopped the car and got out. She reached in and got her belt from the back seat, then took her badge out of the leather case and pinned it to her shirt. She climbed back into the car.

“Ready?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s scare the shit out of this bastard.”

Michelle pulled the car up in front of the steps to the front porch. She shut the engine off. “Here we go,” I said, opening my door and getting out.

I didn’t look back. I didn’t need to. I knew she’d be there if I needed help.

As I stepped onto the porch, I heard Michelle’s door close with a solid thunk. The house was open; I could see the Davidson patriarch sitting in his beloved recliner, the usual bottle of cheap vodka on the table next to him. It was only about one-third full.

My heart was pounding. I was scared, but damn it, this needed to be done. I took a deep breath and knocked hard on the screen door.

“Yeah, who is it?” he said in a snarling voice. He didn’t move from the recliner, didn’t even look up.

“It’s Meagan Bristol, Mr. Davidson. I need to speak to you.”

“Who? Oh, yeah, I remember you. Whad’ya want?”

“I need to speak with you for a minute, please. Could you come out here?”

“Oh, fer Christ’s fuckin’ sake!” The recliner thumped down, and he stood, listing slightly to one side. Good. If he decided to take a swing, his coordination would be off. Not that I’d be close enough for him to hit me, anyway.

He stood on the other side of the screen door. “The fuck do you want?” He peered out blearily. “Where’s Sara?”

“Sara’s fine, Mr. Davidson. She’s at my house. I need to talk to you out here for a minute. Would you come out, please?”

“I can talk just fine from here,” he snarled. “Now what the fuck do you want?”

I took a deep breath. Now I was getting pissed off. I’m not nice when I’m pissed off.

“Listen, Chuck,” I said sarcastically, “you can either come out here so I can talk to you, or my friend the police officer over there can arrest you for child abuse. Which way do you want it?”

“The fuck are you talkin’ about?” His voice went low and nasty. He pushed the screen door open and stepped onto the porch as I moved back. I let him take in Michelle, standing by the car with arms folded under her breasts, the badge, gun, and various other cop accessories clearly visible. He glared at me. “I said, what the fuck are you talkin’ about, bitch?”

“Listen, Chuck…”

He cut me off with a growl. “Don’t fuckin’ call me Chuck.”

I’d had enough of his mouth. “Okay, asshole, listen up. We’re doing you a favor coming here. If anything I say can make its way through that two-dollar vodka and into your miniscule little brain, you’d better shut your fucking mouth and pay attention.” I watched his fists ball up, but refused to back away. Michelle was there, I’d be okay.

“What I’m talking about, asshole, is a bruise that’s just about the size of one of those fists I’m looking at. It’s in the small of Sara’s back. It’s pretty distinct, too, asshole. It was made by a fist, and I seriously doubt that your wife’s hands are that big. In fact, come to think of it, I bet if we had a chance to look your wife over, we’d probably find a few more, wouldn’t we?”

His face was a mask of rage now. He opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off.

“I told you to shut your fucking mouth,” I snapped. “My cop friend is here to back me up. You’re lucky she’s not here to arrest you. She’s seen the pictures that I took of Sara’s back.” He suddenly looked a little frightened. Good.

“The only reason I haven’t filed a complaint against you with my cop friend here is for Sara. As much of a dickhead as you are, you’re still her father, and I really don’t think she wants you in jail. And trust me when I tell you that I have the evidence to lock your miserable little ass for a while.”

The bastard grinned at me. “Not for very long,” he said. “And what do you think happens then?”

“Chuck, Chuck, Chuck,” I said, in a patronizing tone. “You don’t get it, do you?”

He just stood there looking confused.

“You fucked up, you moron,” I said. “Sara has friends. I’d be willing to bet that with just a little bit of persuasion, Colleen would be more than happy to walk away and leave you crawling in the dirt.”

He laughed. “And where would she go? Who the fuck would take that useless bitch in?”

“I would,” I said, smiling. “In a heartbeat. You’d better believe that I’m going to make sure she knows that, too.”

He started to raise his fist.

“I’d love it if you hit me, Chuck,” I said quietly. “Please, go right ahead. You’ll be in jail faster than you can blink.”

The hand dropped. Damn it! I was beginning to have second thoughts about this whole plan. I wanted a reason, other than Sara, to have this guy arrested.

When dealing with a drunk, keep running your mouth. It will piss them off every time.

“Ah,” I said. “Not only nutless, but gutless, too. What’s wrong, Chuck? Are you afraid of a woman who isn’t afraid of you?”

I watched his jaw clench, working like he was grinding his teeth. “You better shut the fuck up, cunt,” he hissed.

“No, you better shut the fuck up. I’m going to tell you how it’s going to be from now on, and if you slip up once, if you lay a hand on Sara or your wife again, I’ll make sure you regret it for the rest of your miserable existence.”

I didn’t even see the hand coming. I felt something hit my cheekbone and I saw an explosion of stars as I fell on my back. I heard Michelle screaming something, but the words weren’t getting past the ringing in my ears. Then I heard the gun go off. Oh, shit, I thought, she shot him. She fucking shot him.

Michelle was still screaming. The words were coming through now, something about get down on your knees with your hands behind your head, then something about lie down flat.

I lifted myself up on one elbow to see Michelle, her gun pressed to the back of Chuck’s head, her knee on the back of his neck as she dug the handcuffs out of her belt. She cuffed his hands behind his back, told him to stay there, and got up.

As she came towards me, she holstered her gun, then helped me to sit up. “You okay?” she asked.

I nodded, feeling my cheekbone gently. It throbbed, and it was going to bruise. It was already swelling. I smiled at her. “Thanks,” I said. “I’m glad you were here.”

“Jesus, Meagan,” she said quietly. “What the hell? Were you trying to get him to hit you?”

I nodded. “Yeah. He’s not the kind who’s going to stop, Michelle. He’ll never stop, and one of them will get hurt really badly, or killed. I had to get him to hit me. Now I can press charges, too.”

Michelle sighed. “You know how much paperwork I’m going to have to do? I discharged my weapon.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I had to. Why did you shoot?”

“He wouldn’t stop. He kept coming for you. The only thing he could do with you flat on your back was start kicking. That wasn’t going to happen.”

I watched her stand and step over to the man she’d just taken down. “Charles Davidson, you’re under arrest for the assault of Meagan Bristol. You are also under arrest for child abuse, and endangering the welfare of a child. I’m hoping I can find more.” I listened as she read him his rights. She pulled her cell phone out, and hit speed dial.

“This is Officer DuBois,” she said. “I need backup here; I have one suspect in custody. No, I’m off duty, and I’m not going to transport him in my vehicle. Yes.” She gave directions to our location, then hung up the phone.

It’s amazing how fast the cops show up when one of their own needs backup. Within about four minutes, there were five police cars in front of the Davidson house, lights flashing, cops all over the place. Chuck was led away to a patrol car. Michelle was talking to another officer, one with stripes on his arm. I figured I’d just go sit in the car.

When Michelle was done, she came and got into her car, starting the engine. As we pulled away, she glanced over at me. “You’ll have to make a statement at some point,” she said. “The sooner the better. Not tonight though. We have too much to do.” She was in full cop mode now, taking charge.

“First, we need to go see Colleen Davidson,” she continued, “before we do anything else. This will be easier for Sara if it comes from her, and not from us. We’ll get her from work, and take her to your house. Is that okay with you?”

“Of course,” I said.

She glanced at me again, then winced. “Jesus, Meagan. I should have called an ambulance, too.”

“I’ll be fine,” I said. “Besides, it was worth it. It got him locked up.”

“Yeah, well, let’s hope he stays locked up for at least a few days, until we can figure out the next step. I hope Sara’s mother will be willing to keep him away.”

“We’ll talk to her,” I said. “She can’t let him slide this time.”

We were silent for the rest of the drive to the diner where Colleen worked. Michelle said that she hoped we got there before the asshole got to make his one phone call. We needed to talk to her first.

I flipped open my cell phone when we pulled into the parking lot, and dialed my home number. Janelle didn’t answer, but I knew she’d hear the answering machine. I waited for it to pick up.

“Janelle, it’s Aunt Meagan,” I said. “Pick up the phone, please. I need to talk to you.”

Suddenly, Janelle was there. “Hi, Aunt Meagan!” she said cautiously.

“Hi, Sweetie. What are you guys up to?”

“Doin’ our homework,” she replied.

“Okay, good,” I said. “Listen, Janelle, I need you to act like everything is normal, okay? I’m fine, Michelle is fine, and Sara’s Dad is in a lot of trouble. Just don’t let her know that anything happened. Wait for us to get there, okay?”

“‘Kay,” she replied.

“Okay,” I said. “We may be running a few minutes late, and I didn’t want you to worry. We’ll be back just as soon as we can, okay?”

“‘Sure,” she said. “Want me to get somethin’ out for dinner?”

“Uhm, no, it’s okay. I’ll get pizza.” I headed off the expected request. “With extra of all your favorites, and no eyebrows.”

“Cool!” she said, giggling. “Can Sara stay for dinner, you think?”

“I’ll have to check, Sweetie, but if she can, I’ll bring some for her, too.”

“Cool!”

“I’ll see you as soon as I can, Sweetie.”

“‘Kay. Bye!”

“Bye.” I flipped the phone shut.

I turned to Michelle. “This might be tricky. Colleen’s boss gives her shit if she even gets a phone call at work.”

Michelle grinned. “I still have the badge on, Darlin’. Don’t worry about the boss.”

“You like power tripping, don’t you?” I asked.

“Job perk,” she laughed.

We walked into the diner. I looked around, and we went to the register. I didn’t see Colleen anywhere. When the waitress at the register saw my face, she winced.

“That bad?” I asked.

“It looks like it hurts. A lot.”

She was right. It was beginning to throb, sending a harsh, dull pain through the whole left side of my face.

“You want some ice for that?” the waitress asked. “I can get you some.”

“Yes, please. That would help,” I said. “Also, we need to see Colleen Davidson. It’s important.”

“Okay, she’s out back. I’ll tell her you’re here.”

“Just tell her it’s Meagan Bristol. And thanks,” I said.

We turned and sat down at the counter. A few moments later, Colleen came through the door from the kitchen. When she saw my face, she gasped. She stared at me for a moment, then looked at Michelle. I saw her eyes go to the badge. Her gaze snapped back to me.

“What happened?” she asked. “Was there an accident? Where’s Sara? Is she okay?” The words came out in a rush.

“Sara is fine,” I said. “There’s been no accident. She’s at my house with Janelle.” As relief washed over her face, the other waitress came out with a plastic bag filled with ice, handing it to me. I winced as I put it against my face, but it did feel better after a moment or two.

“Colleen,” I said, “this is my friend, Michelle DuBois. Michelle is a police officer. She’s the only reason this isn’t worse than it is.” I looked around. “Is there a place we can talk privately?”

“My boss won’t like it,” she said.

Michelle stood. “Is he in the kitchen?” she asked. Colleen nodded. “I’ll talk to him, don’t worry.” She walked through the door into the kitchen as if she owned the place.

“We’ll be in a booth down there,” said Colleen, pointing to a deserted end of the diner. Michelle was already out of sight.

As we sat down, Colleen looked at me, worry etched into her face. “Meagan, what’s going on? You’re scaring me.”

I gathered my thoughts for a moment, trying to figure out where to start. Well, when in doubt, start at the beginning.

“Colleen,” I said, “the night that Sara stayed at my house with me and Janelle, I saw something.” I paused, but she didn’t say anything. “I saw a pretty bad bruise on Sara’s back. I think we both know who put it there.”

Her eyes filled with horror. “Not again,” she whispered. “He promised he’d never hit her again.”

“Well, he did,” I said. “And unless I’m completely wrong, I don’t think that Sara is the only one he hits.”

Her face flushed as her eyes dropped to the table. She didn’t say anything.

“Anyway,” I said, “after I saw that, I called Michelle, to ask for advice. I’m sorry if you think I was interfering, but I couldn’t let something like that go. We went to your house this afternoon. I wanted to try and scare him a little, let him know that someone else knows what’s going on, maybe get him to stop. That was pretty stupid of me.”

Her eyes snapped up. “He did that to you?”

I nodded. “To be fair, I asked for it. Practically begged for it, really. When I was talking to him, it hit me that nothing I could say, nothing I could threaten him with would make him stop. He’s just that kind of man. So, I goaded him until he hit me. That gave Michelle enough reason to arrest him.”

Colleen went pale. “He’s in jail?” I nodded. “He’s going to be furious. Oh, God, you don’t know…”

Michelle came to the booth at that point, sitting down next to me.

“Colleen,” I said, “listen to me. He’s not going to do anything. Michelle is involved in this now. She’ll protect you, I promise.” From the corner of my eye, I saw Michelle nodding her head.

“He’ll just make us move again,” she said. “That’s what he did the last time.”

“You don’t have to go with him,” I said. “You can get the courts and the police to help you. You can leave him.”

“No, I can’t,” she said. “He’ll come after me, and if anything happens to me, where’s that going to leave Sara? Alone with him. And that I won’t allow. Besides, I don’t make enough money to support us. I can’t get out, don’t you see?”

I saw Michelle tip her head to one side. “I ran a background check on him, Colleen. He doesn’t have a job, at least, he’s not on a regular payroll anywhere. If you’re supporting the three of you now, you can certainly support just you and Sara.”

“He…” She hesitated. “He picks up some extra money on the side.”

“Doing what?” asked Michelle.

Colleen’s eyes dropped to the table. “I can’t say,” she whispered.

“Colleen,” I said, “you don’t owe him anything. If he’s doing something illegal, Michelle is exactly the person you need to tell. She won’t give you away, and it might be what you need to keep him away from you for good.”

Her voice was barely a whisper. “All I know is he makes some kind of drug and sells it. I’ve never seen him doing it, though. I just know he does. He’s real careful not to let many people come to the house.”

“Where does he make it?” Michelle asked.

“There’s an old barn on the property. He makes it there.”

“And you don’t know what he makes?” said Michelle.

“I heard him on the phone once. He said something about cooking a batch of crystals, whatever that means. I don’t know anything about drugs.”

I could feel Michelle squirming in the seat next to me. “Crystal meth,” she said. “The guy’s got a meth lab!”

Michelle reached out and took Colleen’s hand. “He’s going to go away for a very long time, Colleen,” she said softly. “The courts really frown on people making methamphetamine in this state.” She thought for a moment.

“Colleen, does he have any money in the house that you know of?”

Colleen shook her head. “I don’t know. I never saw much money from him, anyway. We were supposed to get rich when he started this. Not that I believed him, anyway.”

“Do you know where he’d hide it if he did?”

Colleen thought for a moment. “Well, he’s got big old trunk down in the basement that no one’s allowed to go near,” she said. “The only other place I can think of would be in the barn out back.”

“Okay,” said Michelle. “Listen, I’m not going to say anything about this yet. I can’t go back there, because without a warrant, I’d just cause problems down the road. But your husband is in jail at least for a couple of days, so it’s safe there. I’m going to have Meagan go out and see what she can find. If she doesn’t mind, that is.” She turned to look at me.

“No, that’s fine,” I said.

“Good.” Michelle looked back at Colleen. “Once a warrant is served, any cash they find is going to be seized. I want to make sure it’s out of there before we search. If it’s there, and Meagan can find it, she’ll get it for you. Oh, and Colleen…” She paused. “We never had this discussion.”

Colleen sat there across from us, her eyes shifting from my face to Michelle’s and back again. “Do you really think you can get him away from us?” she whispered.

“Colleen, if he’s cooking meth in that barn, he’s going to be in prison for quite some time,” Michelle answered.

The hope in Colleen’s eyes was almost palpable.

“Do you want to take the rest of the night off?” I asked. “You’re welcome to come to my house and stay if you want to.”

She shook her head. “I can’t afford to take a night off,” she said. “My boss might be okay with a long break to talk to a police officer, but not with skipping out for the night.” A worried look crossed her face. “Oh. What am I going to do with Sara?”

“Sara is fine right where she is,” I said. “Don’t even worry about it. She’s welcome to stay until you get off work, or overnight, if that’s more convenient for you. You could come over when you get out, too, if you’d like.”

She looked at Michelle. “When do you think they’ll be searching?” she asked.

“Tomorrow by noon, most likely,” Michelle answered. “I won’t call this in until I hear from Meagan one way or the other about any money there.”

“Okay, then. Well, if you’re sure it’s okay, I guess maybe I’ll come to your house tonight. I really don’t want to be there when they search. And I need to talk to Sara about her father.”

“That’s fine,” I said. “I’ll wait up for you then.”

“And I’ll stay with the girls while Meagan goes to your house,” Michelle said. “Don’t worry, Colleen. This is going to be the best thing for you. And for Sara.”

“I hope you’re right,” she said softly. “If he gets out, it’ll just be worse.”

“Leave that to me,” said Michelle.

“You know where I live, right?” I asked. Colleen nodded. “Good. I’ll be up waiting for you tonight. The front door will be open, just walk in, okay?”

“Okay.” She sighed, then met my eyes. “Thank you,” she said simply.

“It’s just a bruise,” I grinned. “Makes me look tough.”

“No, I mean… For caring. About Sara. About us.”

“She’s a beautiful little girl,” I said. “And no one deserves to live like that. Well, except maybe Chuck.”

She looked mystified for a moment. “Oh, my God! Did you call him Chuck?” She was grinning now as I nodded. “He hates being called ‘Chuck.’ I mean, it just makes him furious!”

I touched my cheek. “Yeah, I found that out,” I said.

Her face flushed. “I’m sorry for that,” she said.

“Colleen, you don’t have to apologize for him,” I said. “Besides, I wanted him to hit me. And I got what I wanted.”

We all stood. As we neared the door, I smiled at Colleen. “Don’t worry,” I said. “It’s going to work out.”

She smiled. I think it was the first genuine smile I’d seen on her face.

“I’ll see you later tonight,” I said.

When we got in the car, I called home again. After hearing me tell her to pick up, Janelle answered again.

“Sweetie, there’s a little change in plans. I’m not coming inside when we get there. Michelle is going to stay with you for a little while. There’s one more thing I need to do.”

“Why aren’t you comin’ in?” Janelle asked.

“I’ll explain later, Sweetie. While I’m gone, Michelle will order the pizza, okay?”

“‘Kay,” she said. She sounded a little worried.

“It’s okay, Janelle,” I said. “Everything is fine. I just have an errand that has to be taken care of right away.”

When we got to my house, Michelle and I went in through the garage door. I got in the Chevy and backed out while Michelle went into the house. I’d told her where she’d find money for the pizza. She said she’d call in the order as soon as I let her know that I was finished at the Davidson’s. By the time I got back, it would probably be just about time to eat.

When I got there, I felt kind of strange walking into the house with no one else there. I had put on the black leather gloves that Michelle had taken out of her belt and given to me. My fingerprints aren’t on record, but it would be better not to take any chances. It felt kind of surreal, actually. Meagan Bristol, Private Investigator. That thought gave me a bout of the giggles.

I walked through the first floor of the house. I figured going to the second floor would be a waste of time; there were probably only bedrooms and a bathroom up there. Just for the hell of it, as I passed the recliner, I picked up the bottle of vodka and opened it. He seemed to always use a glass, so I wasn’t too worried. I took a long pull from the bottle, grimacing at the taste of cheap vodka. It was just a moral victory, really. I’d gotten him arrested, and now I was drinking his booze.

I put the bottle down, and wandered through to the kitchen. I found the door to the cellar, flipped the light switch and went down the old stairs. The walls were the old-fashioned kind, built from stacked stones, and there was an ancient furnace in the middle of the room. Under a workbench, I saw the trunk that Colleen had told us about. It was locked, but the lock was one that I was pretty sure I could force with a screwdriver. I searched the workbench, looking for one big enough, when I saw an old brass key on the shelf. That’s what I call security.

I opened the lid of the trunk, and gasped.

It was full of guns. Mostly handguns, but a few short rifles, too, the kind with long black magazines on the bottom. Assault rifles, I think they’re called. I’m not much for guns, but I’d learned a little bit from Michelle when we were together.

I was about to close the trunk when I noticed a small compartment inside the lid. There was a little knob, and I turned it. The compartment opened, and there were four stacks of cash inside. I took them out one by one, and again following Michelle’s advice, kept two of the stacks, leaving the rest inside. She had said that if there was any money, it would be better to leave some of it behind for the police to find. I left a stack of twenties and a stack of fifties in the lid, taking two stacks of fifties with me. I didn’t bother to count it. That was for later, when Colleen got to my house.

As I went back up the cellar stairs, I was thinking. There was quite a bit of money in the trunk, but not really as much as I would have thought, for someone making meth. I’d always heard that meth was pretty lucrative. And all those guns. There had to be more money somewhere. Colleen was going to need it; besides, she deserved it after living with that asshole.

I decided to check the barn where Colleen said he made the meth. I rummaged in the kitchen until I found a package of brown paper lunch bags. I pulled out two, putting the cash I’d already found in one. I folded the other one up and stuck it in my hip pocket.

I went out to the Chevy, looking around, then slid the money under the passenger’s seat. I closed and locked the door, and wandered to the back of the house, looking for the barn. There was a path leading away from the house, so I followed it. When I came out of the trees and saw the barn in front of me, I froze, listening intently. I wanted to be sure no one was around before I went poking around inside.

There was no sign of life. The side door to the barn wasn’t even locked. What kind of drug dealer was this idiot? Keys in plain sight, no locks on the stash house. I shook my head. The stupidity of some people never ceases to amaze me.

I’d never seen a meth lab before. The barn was about one-third filled with tables, fifty-gallon drums, hoses and tubes, all kinds of weird stuff cobbled together. It looked like some itinerant mad scientist had set up shop in there. But I wasn’t interested in the process. I was looking for money.

I started searching, but didn’t see anything that looked promising. Then I saw a large wooden crate under one of the tables, with a black garbage bag in it. I almost passed it by, but didn’t. I stuck my hand down, and felt the bag. It didn’t feel like trash.

I slid the crate out from under the table. When I opened the bag, I almost fainted. There was money, all right. A lot of money. I shook my head. What the hell? Was he saving for a rainy day? He could have helped out a little bit around the house with this kind of cash. Instead, he was squirreling it away. What a prick!

I wasn’t going to bother trying to figure out what to take and what to leave. I looked around quickly, and found a box of garbage bags. Pulling one out, I stuffed stacks of cash into it, not even bothering to look at what I was throwing in there. When I’d taken about three-quarters of the money, I closed the bag back up and slid the crate back under the table. I picked up the bag I’d stuffed the cash into; it must have weighed about fifteen pounds. So much for Colleen’s financial worries.

I got the hell out of there as fast as I could. I was nervous now, not wanting to be caught with this much money in my hands, walking away from a meth lab. When I got to the car, I threw the bag in the back seat, locked the Chevy up again, and ran into the house. I flew up the stairs, and found Sara’s bedroom. Rummaging around, I grabbed a pair of pants, a t-shirt, socks and panties. I wanted a reason for being here if I ran into any police on my way out. I rushed back to my car, got in, and drove down the driveway.

As soon as I turned on to the main road, I pulled over for a moment, flipped my cell open, and called Michelle. She answered right away.

“You want to call in that pizza order?” I said.

“Will do,” she replied. “You’re all done?”

“Yup,” I said. “Jackpot.”

“Good,” she said. “That’s one thing Colleen won’t have to worry about.”

“From the look of things, she won’t have to worry for quite a while if she’s careful.”

“That much?”

“That much,” I said. “You’ll see.”

“Okay,” she replied, “see you in a few.”

I couldn’t believe what I’d just done. I’d ripped off a crystal meth dealer! He should be grateful, I thought. Anyone else would have taken it all. I was grinning from ear to ear, my heart pounding in my chest. Even my battered cheekbone felt better. I pulled the gloves from my hands and laid them on the seat, then cranked up my stereo, singing along with Bonnie Raitt. Hey, I was alone. No children or small animals were being tortured.

I pulled in the garage, closing the door behind me, then got out of the car and locked it. I didn’t want to bring the cash in with the girls there. When I walked into the kitchen, Sara, Janelle and Michelle were all sitting at the table, drinking soda and waiting for the pizza.

“Ohmygod! Aunt Meagan!” Janelle shrieked when she saw my face.

Sara turned and looked at me with sad eyes. “Did my Dad do that to you?” she asked.

I looked at Michelle. “They know,” she said quietly. “I told them Sara would be spending the night, and that her mother would be here to stay, too, when she gets off work. I had to explain why, and I figured I might as well be honest.”

“I hope he never gets out,” said Sara softly. “So he can’t ever hurt my Mom again.” Two tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Come here, Sweetie,” I said, holding out my arms. I squatted down as she came near, wrapping my arms around her. “It’s okay, I promise. He’s never going to hurt you or your Mom again.”

“But what if he gets out?”

“Trust me, Sara,” I said. “By the time he gets out of jail, he’s not going to be able to find you. Things are going to be better from now on.”

We got up and went to sit at the table.

“Does your Dad hit your Mom a lot, Sara?” Michelle asked.

Sara nodded. “He hits her all the time.”

“When was the last time?”

“Yesterday,” she said.

Michelle looked at me and raised one eyebrow. I nodded. I’d talk to Colleen about that. It was one more thing to charge him with.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” I said. I went to the Chevy and got the clothes I’d grabbed from Sara’s room, bringing them back in. “I went by your house and grabbed a change of clothes for you, Sara. I forgot your toothbrush, though, but I have some new ones in the bathroom. You can have one of them.”

“Well, I’m going to head out,” said Michelle. “I’ve got a lot of paperwork to do, and I need to take care of something else, too.” She smiled at me.

“You’re not stayin’ for pizza, Michelle?” Janelle asked.

“Not tonight, Baby. I’ve got a lot of work to do, thanks to your aunt.”

“But you’re highly qualified to do it,” I said, “being such a damn good cop and all.”

She gave me a look. I shrugged and looked innocent. Like she’d buy that.

I told the girls I wanted to talk to Michelle for a minute, and that I’d be right back. We walked out to the garage.

“You know,” I said, “I kind of feel like I’m in a really bad movie. Something I’d see on Janelle’s favorite channel.”

“What’s that?”

I rolled my eyes. “Lifetime,” I said.

Michelle laughed. “Oh, yeah. The ‘I’ve Been Raped’ channel.”

I opened up the Chevy, dug the paper bag out from under the front seat, and opened the back door. When I opened the garbage bag, Michelle’s mouth dropped.

“Holy shit!” she said.

“I know. And I thought to leave some behind, too.”

“Good. Well, those two aren’t going to have to worry about money for a while,” she said.

“Nope, they’re not,” I replied.

At the side door of the garage, she stopped and turned to me. Her eyes searched my face for a moment. “You did a really good thing today, Meagan. He was only going to get worse with time. You may very well have saved one or both of their lives.”

“Stop it,” I said. “You’re the one who saved my ass, remember?”

She leaned forward and gave me a soft, chaste kiss on the lips, brushing my hair back. “I know it can’t ever be the same, Meagan,” she said. “But I can’t help wishing sometimes that things had turned out differently for us.”

“I know,” I whispered. “Me, too.”

She stared at me for another moment. “Tomorrow, you and Colleen are going to have to come in and give statements,” she said.

I nodded. “I’ll talk to her tonight about the abuse, and see if I can get her to press charges. I don’t think she’ll have a problem with that now.”

“Probably not,” she replied. “Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow, then. Call me in the morning, and we’ll figure out what’s up.”

“I will. Thanks Michelle. For everything.”

“I was doing my job. You’re the one who took a risk today.”

I laughed. “Doing your job, and bending a lot of rules,” I said.

She grinned. “I’m good at it,” she said, “being such a damn good cop and all.”

“Get out of here,” I said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As I entered the kitchen, the front doorbell rang. Janelle jumped up, but I told her to wait, even though it was probably the pizza. I was still nervous after everything that had happened, and didn’t want one of the girls answering the door.

It was the pizza; I paid for it and tipped the delivery guy, smiling at the three boxes. I got to have eyebrows after all. I also got to work out even more for the next few days, to keep the calories from taking up permanent residence on my hips.

It was a subdued meal. We talked, but it was just quiet chit-chat. I wasn’t sure how to go about cheering Sara up, and decided to let it go. If anyone could do that, it would be Janelle. I glanced at her, and when she caught my eye, she smiled and winked at me. I grinned while my heart melted.

After we ate, I sent the girls upstairs to get showered and changed for bed. Janelle had plenty of clothes here, so Sara could borrow something of hers for the night. I also told them that, for tonight, they’d be sharing the guest room. I’d be waiting up for Sara’s mother, and I wanted to let her have the master bedroom. She deserved a decent night’s rest, something I was pretty sure she hadn’t had for a while. I’d sleep on the couch.

The girls came back downstairs, and we watched the idiot box for a while. When nine o’clock came, I sent them off to bed, giving both of them a good night kiss. About three minutes after they went upstairs, Janelle came back down and gave me another kiss, this time a long, slow open-mouthed kiss, complete with dancing tongues.

When she finally pulled away, she gave me a teasing look. “That’s so you’ll think about me when you go ta sleep t’night.”

I smacked her bottom, then squeezed it affectionately. “Good night, brat,” I said. “I love you.”

Janelle grinned at me. “Love you too, Aunt Meagan. ‘Night.” With that, she bounced back up to bed.

I switched the channel to SyFy with a sigh of contentment. Finally, I got to watch what I liked to watch.

About forty minutes later, I needed to pee, and decided to get ready for bed myself. I went upstairs quietly, not wanting to disturb the girls. As I reached the top of the stairs, I heard hushed giggling coming from the guest room. Thinking I’d burst in on them and ask them what they were doing still awake, I crept quietly down the hall. As I neared the door to the guest room, I could make out quiet voices.

“See? Right here.” It was Janelle. “You rub it right here, and it feels sooo good.”

The next thing I heard was Sara as she let out a soft, long, ‘Oh’ sound.

The door was about half open, but I hesitated. I wanted to look. God, how I wanted to look! But I didn’t want to interrupt them, either. If I was hearing this correctly, Janelle was giving masturbation lessons to Sara.

Suddenly, I had a very evil, but very arousing idea.

I slipped quietly into my bedroom. My laptop was still there, on the dresser. I opened it, powered it up, and plugged it in so it wouldn’t be running on batteries. I didn’t want to risk it losing power. As quickly as I could, I changed the settings so that the desktop was just a black screen, hid the desktop icons, then the taskbar. Finally, I turned on the webcam and set it to record. Then I crept back about halfway down the stairs, turned around, and came up the stairs again, making plenty of noise. I peeked into the guest room to find both girls under the covers, but not hiding the fact that they were still awake.

“Hey, you two,” I said. “Change of plans. Why don’t you two sleep in my bed tonight, and Sara’s Mom can have this room. All of your stuff is in my room, so it’ll make things easier in the morning.”

With mock complaints, they both got out of bed and padded across to my room. I followed them in, and grabbed myself a t-shirt and clean panties. “Good night, you two,” I said, smiling.

They sang out a “goodnight,” and I left the room, closing the door to give them their privacy. Or so they thought.

I showered in record time, pulled on my panties and t-shirt, brushed my teeth, and headed back downstairs. As I passed my bedroom door, I could hear the muffled giggling again, and I smiled to myself. I was instantly wet at the thought of what I might find recorded tomorrow.

I wasn’t sure what time Colleen would be arriving, so unfortunately for me, masturbating was out of the question for the moment. The thought of those two little girls upstairs, in my bed, and what they might be getting up to had me as horny as I’ve ever been in my life.

It would have to wait, though. Damn it.

At about eleven-thirty, I heard a car pulling into my driveway, and saw lights flash through the window. A few moments later, there was a timid knock at the front door, and then it immediately opened. As I stood and turned, I saw Colleen hesitantly stepping into the front hall. I put on the best smile I could, given my swollen and tender cheek, and stepped around the couch to meet her.

“Colleen, come in, please,” I said. “Make yourself comfortable. We may be up for a little while.”

Colleen smiled shyly. “Thank you so much for everything you’re doing,” she said softly. She winced when she looked more closely at my face. “Oh, God. That must really hurt.”

I waved a dismissive hand. “It’s not so bad now. It throbs, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.” I pointed to the stairway. “You’re going to have the guest room tonight. Would you like a shower? You’re a little smaller than I am, but I have some sweats or some pajamas that should work for you. You can borrow some clothes in the morning, and we’ll figure out how to get you some of your own clothes later.”

“Oh, yes! I’d love a shower,” she said.

I waved a hand for her to follow me. “The girls are in my room,” I said in a whisper. “I’ll get some pajamas for you while you put your purse in the guest room. I did have the girls in there, but then I thought you might like to sleep in tomorrow, so I moved them to my room.”

I showed Colleen to the guest room, then crept into my room and quietly pulled out a pair of light pajamas for her. I also took the opportunity to shut the webcam down. I couldn’t wait for the chance to view my little treasure.

Returning to the guest room, I showed Colleen to the bathroom, and told her I’d be downstairs when she finished. Leaving her to her shower, I returned to the living room. Ten minutes later, she joined me. When she did, I got up and locked the front door, then closed the blinds and pulled the drapes. Smiling, I turned to face her again.

“Would you like something to drink?” I asked. “We have quite a bit to talk about, and we need to do it tonight. I’m going to suggest wine or beer, or even liquor. You’re going to need a drink, I believe.”

“Wine would be good,” she said shyly.

I went to the kitchen and poured two glasses of Merlot, and then brought them to the living room. I told Colleen to relax, that I’d be back in just a minute. I went into the garage and retrieved the heavy garbage bag from the back seat, lugged it into the living room, and left it on the floor at the end of the couch.

I sat down on the opposite end of the couch from Colleen, took a sip of my wine, and then smiled at her.

“I have some good news, and some even better news,” I said. “Let’s start with the good news, although it might be difficult for you to talk about this with a stranger.” She gave me a questioning look.

“Colleen,” I said softly, “Sara gave you away this afternoon. She knows what happened today. When Michelle and I talked to her, she said that she hopes your husband never gets out of jail, so that he can never hurt you again.” Colleen’s eyes dropped away from mine. “She also said that the last time he hit you was yesterday.”

She nodded, still not meeting my eyes.

“Okay, look,” I said. “That’s a good thing. Not that he hit you, but because if he left a mark, you can document it. And you are going to need to file charges against him. When we tack spousal abuse on top of child abuse, endangering the welfare of a child, and what’s going to happen because of that nifty little meth lab he has going, he’s going to go away for a very long time. We need that to happen. You need that to happen, for your sake and for Sara’s.”

“But what if he doesn’t go to jail?” she asked.

“Colleen, I was out there this afternoon,” I replied. “I saw the meth lab. He’s going to go away, trust me. Even without the spousal abuse charges. But the more we can stack up on him, the longer he goes away.” Softening my voice, I said, “Did he leave any marks on you?”

She nodded. “But I don’t want to show them to you. Not now, not yet.”

“I understand,” I said. “But tomorrow, the police will want to photograph them. Don’t worry, it will be a female officer. And if you want, I’ll go with you.” She nodded, finally meeting my eyes again.

“Now,” I said. “Take a good slug of that wine, because I have something to show you.”

I set my glass on the coffee table, and dragged the garbage bag over in front of Colleen. I took the bottom of it in my hands, and lifted, dumping the stacks of cash on the floor in front of her. I heard her gasp in astonishment, and grinned at the look on her face. Her jaw was hanging open.

“Is that… I mean, did you find that… I mean, he had all that money hidden somewhere?”

“He had all of this, and there’s at least this much left behind.” She looked up at me, again giving me a questioning look. “Michelle told me that it would be best to leave some for the cops to find when they search the place tomorrow. I’m pretty sure the only place where there’s any money is in the barn, so they’ll believe that you didn’t know about it.”

She sat staring at the pile of money in the middle of the living room floor. I saw her shake her head once, open her mouth, close it, and shake her head again.

“That son of a bitch,” she said. “The house could have been repaired. Sara could have had decent clothes for school. I wouldn’t be driving a car that breaks down every other week.” She shook her head again. “That piece of shit loser,” she hissed through her teeth.

“I have no idea how much is here,” I said. “I didn’t bother to count it. I just took what looked to be about half of it, and left the rest, and then I got out of there.” I grinned. “I’ll get some paper. You want to have a counting party?”

Colleen nodded, a wide, genuine grin spreading over her face. She was actually quite pretty, now that she wasn’t living in quite so much fear of that lardass Chuck.

I got a spiral notebook and a pen from my office, and threw them on the coffee table when I returned to the living room. We started counting. There was no rhyme or reason to the bundles. Each bundle had one denomination, but some had twenty bills, some a hundred bills. At one point, I got up and retrieved the remainder of the bottle of wine from the kitchen, and we each had a second glass. Almost three hours later, we were finished. I tallied up the totals we had written down; grinning, I handed the notebook to Colleen.

Her jaw dropped again. Her eyes got huge, then she jerked her head up to look at me.

“162,270 dollars?” she said incredulously. “That’s what I’d make at my job in about ten years!”

We were both silent for a few minutes. Colleen picked up her wine with a shaking hand, and drained the glass. I held out the wine bottle, and she let me pour the last of the wine for her.

“The more I think about this, the madder I get,” she said. “I mean, the way we’ve lived…” She sighed deeply. “Well, I guess I’ll just consider it as having been in the bank, and now I’ve withdrawn it. No, now I’ve closed the account. For good.”

I smiled. I got the metaphor.

“You can’t put this in the bank, you know,” I said. “There’s no way you can let anyone know about this money. You’re going to have to store it; hide it away, and spend it a little at a time.”

She nodded. “I know. That’s okay. At least I know that I can afford to take care of Sara and myself for a long time, if I’m careful with it.”

“But you know,” I said, grinning again, “you can take yourself and Sara on a little shopping spree. If anyone asks, you just tell them that I loaned you the money. We’ll pick an amount, and you take that much cash out. I’ll verify it if anyone asks.”

Her face softened. “Oh… Sara will love being able to get some new clothes,” she said quietly.

“Something tells me,” I said, “that you won’t mind getting some new things, either.”

Suddenly, she was looking at me with tears in her eyes. “Meagan, I… I don’t know how to thank you for this. You and Michelle. For everything you’re doing.”

I sat down next to her, and pulled her into a hug. “There’s no need to thank us,” I said. “I couldn’t just do nothing after I saw that bruise on Sara’s back. Michelle couldn’t just do nothing when I told her about it.” I held her for a few more moments.

“Come on,” I said, “Let’s get this put away. Keep some out for yourself, but not too much. The rest we’ll put in a duffel bag, and hide away for you.”

I went to the garage again and dug out an old, red canvas duffel bag that I have. Bringing it back to the living room, I put it on the floor, and we stuffed the cash into it. When it was all in except for five hundred dollars that Colleen was keeping out, we went to the garage and put the bag up on a shelf with a bunch of old camping gear that I have. Just another piece of stuff, stored in the garage.

When we finished, it was after three o’clock. Colleen went upstairs to bed, after protesting that she should sleep on the couch. I told her that she was not sleeping on the couch, that she was going to sleep in the guest room, that she would sleep as late as she wanted, and that I’d take the girls to school in the morning. She smiled gratefully, and went up to bed.

I set my travel alarm, pulled my heavy old afghan from the back of the couch, and lay with the unbruised side of my face on the pillow. I was asleep almost instantly.

Continue on to Chapter 8

2 Comments on My Niece Janelle, Chapter 7

  1. kim says:

    Muffi, thanks , I am loving this series, don’t take this the wrong way, it has become my favorite Hallmark story, better than the stuff they show, and the sex is the best.

  2. admatt says:

    Muffi:
    Excellent narration. Good read. Thanks so much for your time and efforts.
    Admatt

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