The walk across the parking lot is one of the most surreal experiences of their lives. They’re holding hands as their mothers comfort each other behind them. The sun’s shining down hot on the asphalt parking lot—even though it’s late fall, the afternoons will still get uncomfortably hot for another few weeks.
Although Sam handled the interview well, her nerves are shot, and she’s shaking a little as they walk.
“You did good in there,” Jackson says.
“I doubt it. Sitting there, even though Billy was being nice about it, I still felt like they were accusing me, that they think I killed her.”
“It’ll be fine. I’m more concerned about when the State boys show up.”
“I thought the whole point of this was so that they would leave me alone once they got here.”
“The head guy, I think his name’s Morrison, he’s not a bad guy. Not the friendliest person ever, but not a bad guy. He and Billy have worked together quite a bit over the years, so we should be all right. Morrison knows that although Billy isn’t much at solving crimes, he’s a great judge of character. They can officially write you off as having been interviewed, and if Morrison has any concerns, he’ll go talk to Billy about it before coming after you.”
“So why are you concerned?”
“If they catch whoever did this, if they do it pretty quick, it won’t be a problem. But if they can’t find the killer, they’re going to start backtracking. And you’re still the best suspect they’ve got, you know?”
“I hate this. Leave it to that bitch to ruin my life from beyond the grave.”
“I would really like it if you could refrain from saying shit like that in public until after this shit blows over a little.”
“I know. Understandable.”
“So what are we going to do now?”
“You’re going straight home, young lady,” Peggy says from behind them. Obviously she didn’t hear the entire conversation, or she would have raised objection at their use of foul language.
“And why is that?”
“Because there’s too much craziness right now. People are going to know you spent all morning at the jail, and they’re going to wonder why.”
“So let them wonder.”
“Samantha Kathleen Murphy! You know as well as I do how that’s going to look!”
“Mom, right now, I don’t care how it looks, okay? Right now, I just want to get something to eat. After that, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. But I’m not going to run home with my tail between my legs just because that bitch is dead!”
“It’s okay,” Jackson says, intervening before things get crazy. Peggy’s right—everyone in town is going to be wondering why one of their golden children has been at the county jail since before daybreak. Twilight is small enough so that the residents feel that any business is everyone’s business. “Peggy, can you take my mom home? Sammy and I will grab a pizza—drive-through only—and I’ll take her home.”
“I think it would be better if I took her straight home right now,” Peggy says.
“I know you think that, Peggy, but come on. Right now, we’re all a little freaked out, and when you and Sammy get together when you’re both stressed, you tend to get on each other’s nerves. No, no, don’t try to argue—you know I’m right. I know you feel like you need to stick with her, but I honestly don’t think that’s the best thing at this very moment. Let’s just all take a few hours to decompress, we’ll meet up for supper.”
Peggy looks like she wants to argue, but she knows that he’s right. She concedes by kissing Sam on the forehead and then looking sternly at Jackson. “You watch out for her.”
“I always do,” he says, leaning over for his kiss on the forehead. He walks over to his mom. “Sorry about this morning, ma.”
“I just hope everything works out,” she says.
He leans down for his kiss from her—she gives them on the cheek instead of the forehead—and says, “It will. I promise.”
“Big talk, young man—you shouldn’t tempt the gods.”
“You know, they don’t scare me as much as they used to.”
“What does that mean?”
“You ready?” Sammy asks, walking over with her mother.
“Yep,” Jackson says. He waits until Sam gets her mandatory cheek-kiss from his mother, and then they leave.
“You okay?” He asks as they drive.
He lights a cigarette, hands it over to her, and then lights another. “It’ll be okay.”
“You keep saying that. So, what, are you starting smoking again?”
“Nah. I figure I’ll smoke as much as I want today. After that, I’ll never smoke again, how about that?”
“I bet you a million bucks.”
“Deal.” It’s a joke from their childhood, one that’s only funny to children. At this point in their lives, it’s said more out of respect for tradition than humor value.
She takes a drag from her cigarette, looks at the tip for a while, tears brimming in her eyes. “What’s gonna happen, Jackson?”
“We’re gonna get some pizza, Sammy. And we’re gonna have faith. And everything is going to work itself out.”
She smiles and her tears drip down her cheeks. “It’s always so easy for you. How do you do that?”
He smiles at her, and reaches over to wipe away the tears. “It’s all a matter of perspective, man. Now quit crying—I’m sick and tired of cleaning up your tears.”