Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 19

“Even Bruce Wayne is proving to be a disappointment. You actually believe he’s sick and not off getting high somewhere? You really are naïve. This is why you need to let me make all the business decisions, Rose. I’m the one with common sense.”

“You’re just like Momma,” I whispered.

“What?”

“Oh, my word.” I sagged against the counter. “How did I never see this before? You’re exactly like her.”

Her back became ram-rod stiff. “I’m nothin’ like her.”

“You think your way is the right way, and when I don’t do things your way, you berate me until I think I was wrong.” I shook my head. “I’m done. I’m done with letting you or anyone else tell me what to do.”

“Tell you what to do? Good heavens.” She scowled in disgust. “You haven’t done a thing I’ve told you to do since Joe Simmons showed up in your life! I knew he’d hurt you! When I found out about his family, I told you that you’d never be good enough for them. And who was right, Rose? It kills you to admit it, doesn’t it?”

“Is that what this is about?” I shouted. “Joe destroys my heart and you’re waiting for me to tell you that you’re right?”

The crowd outside the windows had grown larger and several onlookers dared to come inside and gather around the front door.

“Congratulations, Violet. You were right.” I took a step toward her, lifting my eyebrows. “I’m too white trash for the high-and-mighty Simmons family of El Dorado, Arkansas. But if I’m white trash because of my roots, stop and think about what that makes you.”

Her smile fell.

I leaned into her ear and whispered, “And the reason Joe and I broke up was to save you, Violet. His father has photos of you and Brody coming out of a motel room and was using them to blackmail Joe into running for office.” I took a step back, my heart dark with anger and bitterness. “But I don’t expect a thank you. You’ll just twist it around somehow so you won’t have to accept responsibility. Because that’s what you do.” I turned around and headed into the back room. “And for the record,” I said as I walked. “I’m not hiding in the back room. I’m trying to stay away from you.”

I left her standing in the middle of the shop, pale-faced and in obvious shock, but for once I didn’t care. And if that didn’t make me wicked, I wasn’t sure what would.

Neely Kate was sitting at my potting table, her eyes as big as quarters. “Did that just happen?” she whispered.

I had invited her the night before, but with all the commotion, I hadn’t seen her sneak in. My legs started to quiver as I nodded.

She hopped off the stool and grabbed my arm. “Let’s go out and get some fresh air.”

I let her pull me out the back door and Muffy followed us. I leaned against the brick wall, reminded of the night of Momma’s visitation when Joe and I had ducked out to escape the stares of the people who were certain that I’d bashed in my mother’s head and then hid the rolling pin in the folds of my skirt.

“Thanks for coming early, Neely Kate. You didn’t have to.”

“And miss that confrontation? That was the best thing I’ve seen in…well, ever.”

Muffy lay on the concrete next to my feet, looking up at me in confusion.

“It was horrible.” I squeezed my eyes, hoping all the mean, vile things I’d just said would somehow disappear. “I’ve never talked to anyone that way.”

She grabbed my arm. “Well, then that was a long time coming, wasn’t it? Besides, what about all the ugly things she said to you? She was much more hateful than you would ever even consider being. How can you work with her every day?”

“I’m not with her every day. I’m usually out at the job sites.”

“Well, there you have it. You can just stay away from the shop,” she teased, but my heart ached.

Spewing my anger had made me feel good temporarily, but now I felt hollow and sick to my stomach. “What am I going to do?” I turned to Neely Kate, her bright blue eyes gazing at me while her long blonde curls blew in the wind behind her. “I should apologize.”

Her eyes flew open. “No, you will not! Are you really sorry you told her how you felt?”

“Well, no. But I am sorry I was so hateful. I regret that part.”

“I suspect that’s the only language Violet Beauregard understands.”

I sighed. “It still doesn’t make it right.”

“I suppose.” She was silent for several seconds. “I heard about Daniel Crocker getting out.”

“Yeah, I’m surprised so many people are out front waiting for this press conference with a hardened criminal on the loose.”

She stepped away from the wall. “You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

She turned to look at me, studying my face. “A good portion of Henryetta supports Daniel Crocker. He provided a lot of jobs that disappeared after he was arrested. Some people are happy he escaped. They think he’s innocent and that it was all a setup. You may have seen his evil side, but he was an excellent schmoozer and an even better liar. Heck, people loved him so much that I suspect he would have been the next mayor if he’d decided to run.”

“You’re kidding.” But I wasn’t too surprised when I stopped to think about it. Thomas had pretty much told me the same thing, only he’d added that a lot of people blamed his arrest on me.

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