At around seven o’clock, John’s doorbell rang. It was the Domino’s delivery guy.
He paid for the pizza, grabbed a Coke from the fridge, and went back to his office. John didn’t like to work while he was eating, so he would usually watch a few YouTube videos and read some blogs while he munched on whatever fast food or microwave meal he was having.
He couldn’t stop thinking about Annabeth, so he double-clicked his Annabeth pictures folder and started up a slide show. The first picture was one he’d taken soon after he first noticed Annabeth in junior high—in her cheerleader outfit. That’s when it all started. That’s when he knew they were meant to be together.
All the old feelings came rushing back.
It wasn’t until their senior year that he’d finally worked up the nerve to ask her out. The next picture was taken by Annabeth’s mom on the night of the prom. He remembered how excited he was that night. All he could think about was the first kiss. When would it happen—on the dance floor? At the end of the date on her front porch? John was scared to death of her father—but not enough to keep him from trying to get that kiss.
Oh, wow—the wedding pictures. Annabeth was pregnant, but nobody knew except for John and her parents. Albert had ripped into John when he found out. They had already planned to get married, but Albert still wanted to kill him.
Could it be that she was interested in getting back together? Was that what she wanted to talk to him about tonight? It was too soon right now, of course, but maybe in six months or so. Would that be enough time?
But what about her father? He still hated John. Albert Ainsley was a God-fearing, fundamentalist Christian who believed what he’d been taught and, brother, if you didn’t believe it just like he believed it, then you were going to Hell. To Albert, there were no gray areas. John was completely wrong for his daughter.
Well, this time it was gonna be different. John was older now, and he didn’t give a crap what the old man thought about him. If Annabeth wanted him, that was all that mattered.
* * * * *
John arrived at Annabeth’s house at ten-fifteen, as agreed.
When she opened the door, she seemed more relieved than happy to see him.
“Thanks for coming, John.”
“You looked beautiful today.” He walked in.
“Thanks—for lying.” She offered a half smile. “I’m afraid to look in the mirror.” She took him into the living room. “I’ve had company all day—bringing food, giving their condolences, trying to make me feel better, and I’m just beat. Mom and Dad finally left a few minutes ago. I kinda had to rush them out, since I knew you’d be here soon.”
“Yeah, the last thing you want to deal with right now is another run-in between me and your father.”
She nodded. “Have a seat.”
John wondered how many nights they had cozied up on this couch, watching a movie and eating popcorn. He remembered the time they made love on it.
His leather recliner was still sitting across the room in the same spot where he’d left it. He hoped Mark had enjoyed using it.
Annabeth got all the furniture when they divorced. It was more than fair, since John got to keep all of his computer equipment. He’d signed the house over to her as well—not that there was any equity in it at the time. They’d barely been married a year. Annabeth’s parents must have helped her with the note until she married Mark.
“If you don’t mind me asking—exactly what happened to Mark? I know he ran into the back of a tractor-trailer, but…”
“We don’t know for sure.” Annabeth’s lower lip quivered as she talked. “He might have fallen asleep at the wheel. Or it could have been the wet road. The police said he was driving over a hundred miles per hour. But that doesn’t make sense to me. Mark is a safe driver.” She quickly corrected herself. “He was a safe driver.” She sniffed.
“I’m so sorry, Annabeth.”
“I don’t know how it happened. He could have been sleepy, I guess, and dozed off with his foot on the gas. He’d been upset about something lately. He wouldn’t tell me what it was, but I know he wasn’t sleeping well. I wish he would have told me so I could have helped him. I should have made him tell me.”
“Don’t beat yourself up over it. It was an accident—it wasn’t anybody’s fault.”
Annabeth wiped her nose with a tissue. “It might not have been an accident.”
“What do you mean?”
“That’s why I asked you to come over tonight,” she said. “I got this email this morning.” She took a piece of paper out of her dress pocket, unfolded it, and handed it to John.
Be careful or you might be next.
“Do you have any idea who sent it?” he asked.
“No. But it’s scaring me. It says that I’d better be careful, but I don’t know what that means. Be careful about what?”
John took another look. The sender’s Gmail account was made up of a string of random-looking letters and numbers. “I’ll check it out.”
“Did you show this to your parents?”
“Are you kidding? Dad would have gone ballistic. He would have called the police—and maybe that’s exactly what I’m not supposed to do. Does the email mean that somebody might try to kill me?”
“Oh, Annabeth, I’m sure nobody wants to kill you.”
“Then what does it mean? I can’t imagine why anyone would have wanted to kill Mark, but that’s what the email implies, isn’t it? That he was murdered? Did he know something he wasn’t supposed to know about? Was he murdered because he was about to go to the police? And does this killer think I know this secret too? If they think that, they’re wrong. I don’t know anything.”
“Okay. Take it easy. It’s gonna be okay. We’ll figure this out. Now, what had Mark been doing? What was he working on?”
“Just his work for the church.”
“Did he talk about it? I mean—did he give you details?”
“Yeah, when he first started. Not so much lately.”
“Was he having problems with anybody?”
“Not that I know of—but like I say, he was worried about something. I assumed it had to do with his work, but I can’t say for sure.”
“Mind if I take a look at his computer?”
“It’s a laptop,” she said. “You can take it home with you if you think it will help.”
She got up. “I’ll get it.”
Annabeth came back with the laptop and a looseleaf notebook, and sat down next to John. “You might as well take his training notebook too. I’ve looked through it already and I couldn’t find anything—but maybe you can.”
“Okay. I’ll give it my best shot—I promise.”
“Thank you so much.” She smiled. “I’ve missed you, John.”
“I’ve missed you too.”
She stood up. “You’re such a great friend.”
Friend. This is all I wanted from you, friend. Now it’s time for you to go, friend.
John stood up. “I’ll let you know what I find out. In the meantime, try not to worry.”