Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 56

“But could it be one of them?”

He sighed. “The sheriff is a good ole boy but he seems to be on the right side of justice. And I’m fairly certain someone is lining the DA’s pockets. I just thought it came from higher up the food chain, from a guy like J.R. Simmons.”

“If it’s someone higher up, are we safe?”

He looked out the window and shook his head. “After yesterday, Jeff and I worried about that too. When I told Jeff about this farmhouse, he jumped on it. To be safe, he’s told everyone else—including the sheriff—we’re at another location. In fact, Jeff has set up decoys at the other location so we’ll be notified in case it’s compromised.”

“So who’s our immediate threat? Crocker or the informant?”

“Possibly both.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve been going back through the files and notes trying to connect a high-level source to the cases. So far I have nothing.”

I stood and pressed my hands to his chest. “If I can do anything to help, let me know.”

“Thanks.”

“I’ve got my own list of very important things to accomplish. Mine is focused on the house. I’m washing bedding,” I teased. “I thought you’d want the front room with the view, and Muffy picked Dora’s room for us.”

His eyebrows lifted slightly. “Okay.”

After giving him a quick kiss, I headed down to the basement to transfer the laundry. The washing machine was done, but the dryer was still running. I leaned against a folding table and took a moment to look around. Gray stone walls lined the space and I didn’t see any windows other than one in a door at the top of a set of stairs that led to the back of the house. The hot water heater and furnace took up one end of the basement, but a row of wooden shelves stacked with boxes was on the other. Two were clearly labeled photos, which must have been what Mason had seen.

I wandered over to them, suddenly curious. I pulled one of the boxes down and carried it over to the folding table. I stared at the folded top for a long moment. Did I really want to explore the contents? Was I ready to see the photographic evidence of the life I’d almost had?

The dryer dinged, catching me by surprise. I had come down here to move the sheets to the dryer so I’d have a bed to sleep in, not to open a Pandora’s box. I put the warm bedding on the folding table and moved the wet laundry to the dryer. As I folded the sheets, my eyes kept returning to the box. Why didn’t I want to look inside?

I’d convinced myself that I didn’t want to know anything about Dora or the life I could have had. Knowing would be like rubbing salt in my wounds. But what if I found something inside the box that killed my fantasies about Dora and Daddy? Would that be worse?

After I folded the last piece of bedding, I rested my hand on top of the box, closing my eyes. If I had learned one thing over the past few months, it was to face my fears instead of letting them control me. Because when I really examined the source of my hesitation, it was fear. I was afraid of the past.

It was time to conquer that fear.

I piled the stack of folded sheets on top of the box, then hauled them up to the living room. After I stacked the sheets on the sofa, I set the box on the old wool rug and sat cross-legged beside it. Muffy curled up next to me, pressing her little body against my leg, giving me comfort.

Taking a deep breath, I carefully opened the box and peered inside. There was an assortment of old photo albums and loose photos—some ancient black and white square pictures and other newer rectangular ones. I pulled out the album on the top, flipping through the pages. I didn’t recognize anyone in the pictures, but I did recognize the exterior of the house. In the pictures, it was freshly painted and in much better shape. They looked like they had been taken in the forties since the women wore flowing skirts, Victory rolls in their hair, and dark lips—probably red lipstick that didn’t show up in the two-tone pictures. Since I didn’t recognize the people or the names scrawled on the back—Betty, Floyd, Margaret, William—I paid more attention to the changing features of the house. At one point there had been a porch swing and I liked the idea of putting up another one.

I moved through two more photo albums, finding nothing of interest until I got to a small square album. The first pictures were of Daddy and Dora, looking so happy they could burst. In one, Daddy was holding a small Violet, a huge smile on his face. Next were photos of Dora in maternity clothes, progressively more pregnant in each passing photo. The next photos were of a newborn baby screaming in a hospital bassinet. Aunt Bessie was holding me in one with Uncle Earl next to her, his usual stoic expression on his face.

I tried to let the significance of the moment sink in.

Sensing someone’s presence, I looked up. Mason stood in the doorway of the office, watching me. His gaze drifted to the photos in my lap then back up to my face. “How are you doing?”

“Better than expected.”

“Can I look with you?”

“Don’t you want to keep working?”

“I could use a break.” A look of contrition crossed his face. “Unless you’d rather be alone.” He took a step backward. “Which I understand. Just let me know if you need anything, okay?”

“Mason, wait.”

He paused in the doorway.

“I want you to join me.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want to intrude.”

I smiled and scooted some of the loose photos away, making a spot for him to sit. “Please.”

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