That evening, Rory and Cade sat in the break room eating a pizza from Pinazza’s Grille. Cade had ordered half with mushrooms just for her. She dug in the moment it was on the table.
“Good guess on what I’d like,” she said, popping the tab on her Pepsi and taking a long drink as she sat down. She’d been looking forward to this all day – just a chance to sit, talk, and stop rushing. “I needed some real food. Anyway, Natalie said that Julie called her that night about 12:30 or so. She was hysterical, something about Alex not being the man she thought he was. But she didn’t explain herself to Natalie. She just kept screaming that he wasn’t… what was it? She said that Alex was going to destroy her. That’s it. He wasn’t, she said, ‘any different from the others.’ Natalie’s not sure exactly what she meant, though, or who she was referring to. All she can guess is that it deals with their mother’s poor choice in men.” Rory paused and reached for a second slice of pizza. “Thank you, by the way. I thought I was going to start gnawing on my steering wheel I was so hungry.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, taking a piece for himself. “What else did she say?”
“She just kept obsessing about what she could have and should have done while Julie was on the phone. You know, there isn’t a single item in Natalie’s house, that I could see anyway, that indicated a family. It’s like she was hatched. Then again, I think she was probably the least content of the three of them growing up. She was certainly one of the most difficult. She fought them on everything.”
She watched Cade down his second slice, fascinated at how he folded it long-ways before biting into it. Just a few bites and it was gone. She remembered that her brother Robert used to eat pizza that way.
“School, curfew, boys. You name it.”
“Did Julie rebel like that?”
“Not exactly. She wanted to be in politics, so she made sure her behavior never made the evening news.”
“But she rebelled?”
“Some. She got a tattoo of a butterfly on her thigh, for example. She joined campus organizations that Charles disapproved of, like the Young Democrats and the Feminist Collective. It was all pretty harmless, but it made him crazy.”
“Want another?” he asked when she tossed her soda can into the recycling bin.
Cade popped the tabs on two cans of cola and handed her one. “What other men were there in Julie’s life?”
“None besides Alex,” she said, forcing herself not to stare at his hands. “Charles kept those girls under lock and key. He was afraid they’d damage his political career. He forced Julie to go to Beaumont, for example. Natalie wasn’t academic enough, so he sent her to beauty school and turned her into a credit to him. She owns Sarazen Salons, you know.”
Cade watched her finish the second slice and eye a third. “Go on, you need it. You’re getting too thin.”
“Hardly.” But she was, she knew.
“Tell me more about the interviews.”
“I’m not sure what else to say at the moment. I need a chance to think it all over.”
“You’ll let me know if you need help, right?”
“Yeah, I will.” At least he was professional enough to stay focused. Meanwhile, she was thinking about his hands again. Watching them as he held his can of soda, as he picked up a slice of pizza.
“Can I read over your notes?” He dropped a fourth piece on her plate.
“You’re going to make me fat, Ransome.”
“Not likely. Can I see the notes?”
Rory rolled her eyes at his one-track mind. “I’ll make a copy and leave them on your desk before I leave. I’ll even throw in copies of the letters Julie sent me.”
“Sounds good. What did Charles tell you?”
“Nothing much. He basically rehashed the press conference. I got a few good sound bites from him today. He’s pretty consumed by guilt. He and Natalie both gave me a few pictures to use. I glanced at them, but haven’t really studied them yet to see which one I want for the article. ”
They ate in silence then, comfortable and non-threatening, and she was loathe to break it as six o’clock neared. “I have to get rolling,” she said finally, reluctantly, wondering if Paul would be home early or late, or at all.
“Husband waiting for you?”
She looked at the wall behind him while she gave a non-answer. “It’s tax season.”
“Don’t see much of him right now, huh?”
She shrugged and started to brush the crumbs off the table before clearing their respective places.
“You didn’t tell me what Richard said to you.”
She froze, half-seated and half-standing, the used plates in her hands. He was watching her, unwavering and waiting, his dark eyes drilling into her. He saw her completely, she knew. He was taking in every minute detail of her face, expression, and silence. He saw her.
“Nothing much.” She finished cleaning the table , trying to maintain her composure.
He watched her for a moment longer, then nudged her chair with his foot. “Come on, Roar, sit down and tell me what he said to you. Tell me how you’re holding up. I meant what I said before about being so strong. You have to let someone in.”
When was the last time she was invited to sit and talk – and wanted to? The pull of normalcy that came with civil conversation at a dinner table, albeit one in a company break room with a chipped linoleum floor and avocado green paint on the walls, was too much for her to deny. Why not? She didn’t have an answer to that, not really. She had nothing to go home to but an empty house.
“I can’t stay long.” She’d indulge herself, just for today. What was that song? ‘The great relief of having someone to talk to?’ Someone who would hear her words and actually understand them was too much to resist. “You have me for another half hour,” she said, sitting back down.
“That’s a good start.”
Silence fell for a moment. In it, she heard his patience, his willingness to wait and let her take her time before she spoke. Cade lounged back in his chair, letting her think, though his eyes never left her face.
“It didn’t go well, to put it mildly.”
“I guessed as much, since you never mentioned it.”
She just looked at him, trying to gauge how much she really could tell this man.
“We dated when I was a freshman in college.”
“How’d that go?”
Did my brother rape you? Why hadn’t she told Julie the truth? Why couldn’t she tell herself the truth?
“He blames me,” she said, deciding not to answer Cade’s question directly.
“For her death.”
“You weren’t there. You didn’t make her leave the club.”
Rory shrugged again, not knowing what else she dared to say. Sighing, she gave in to the words that were forming in her mind. “I know that life isn’t supposed to be easy or perfect, but why won’t he just talk to me? Julie was his sister. Then again, maybe he doesn’t want to talk about her because he knows something about her murder. I keep thinking about that necklace. Someone destroyed it. It wasn’t broken by accident. Maybe the killer did that because it was from Alex. Maybe he buried her there because he figured that no one would ever look on family land. I don’t know.”
“Do you think he killed her?”
“Honestly? No. I don’t. He’s angry,” she paused, considering what he’d screamed at her. “Well, no. Yes. He’s angry, but he’s hurt, too.”
“Alex thinks he’s dangerous, but – truthfully – he’s really kind of helpless. He was when we dated. He let everyone walk all over him back then, and he probably isn’t much different today.”