Hider in the House: Episode Nine
Hallie’s heart beat so fast she could hear blood rushing through her veins. Her fight or flight response kicked in at the same time she knew flight was not possible. Neither, she was afraid, was fight.
The door closed with soft click. A girl with long dark hair and Thomas’s green eyes stepped into view and yelped in surprise when she spied Hallie.
They stared at each other as long seconds ticked by. Finally the girl spoke. “Who—who are you?”
Hallie cast about for an answer. I’m a friend of your father’s. Lie. I’m Hallie. Too much information. I’m a person of interest in a murder investigation. Accurate, but also TMI.
“Oh, my God. Are you my dad’s girlfriend?”
Hallie hadn’t thought of that.
“Mom was sure he had a girlfriend, but he would never say.”
Hallie almost sagged in relief. If she allowed Becca to believe her to be her dad’s girlfriend, her presence here was easily explained. But what wasn’t so easily explained was Becca’s surprise appearance. In the morning. On what must be a school day. Otherwise why would she be wearing what was obviously a uniform? A plaid skirt in a mix of navy, green and white and a white blouse under a navy blazer.
“Let me get dressed, and we can talk.” Hallie dashed into the bedroom and yanked on her clothes in record time. She didn’t have a comb. She’d been borrowing Thomas’s, but it was in his bathroom.
What’s his daughter doing here? Her panicked brain screamed. That girl could ruin everything. She’d need to be sworn to secrecy, but how? Duh, Hallie’s brain answered the obvious question. She’s cutting school. And Hallie discovered she wasn’t above using a little blackmail. Not when a life was at stake. Her life.
She left her hair in a wet tangle and opened the door. She could hear Becca rummaging around in the kitchen, so she scooted that way, deciding it would be best not to leave the kid to her own devices for too long. Hallie pasted a huge smile on her face. She desperately needed Thomas’s daughter on her side and she wasn’t above subterfuge to guarantee it. The girl had located Thomas’s stash of Oreos and had stacked three on the counter before stowing the package back in the cabinet. From another shelf she took down a glass before opening the refrigerator.
When she turned she caught sight of Hallie. She held up the milk carton. She tilted it back and forth as if considering its limited contents. “Think Dad will notice if the rest of the milk is gone?”
Becca started to put it back.
“But I could tell him I drank it.”
Becca gave Hallie an assessing look which turned into one of resignation. “No free rides.”
“I beg your pardon.”
Becca turned and drained the milk from the carton to the glass. “That’s what dad always says. There are no free rides. He’s always talking about actions having consequences.” She turned to Hallie. “Like there’s no reason you should offer to cover for me. You want something in return.”
Smart kid. Hallie edged past her and refilled her mug with the remaining coffee. “Why don’t we sit and talk.”
If sighs had words, the one Becca offered up at Hallie’s suggestion clearly said grown-ups! But she took a seat at the table with her milk and cookies. Hallie sat where Thomas had last night. I’m the adult here, she reminded herself.
Becca bit into a cookie and took a sip of milk. She chewed, her gaze on Hallie, waiting.
Hallie drank some coffee and regarded the girl over the rim of her mug. Thomas’s daughter was well on her way to being beautiful, even given the awkward adolescent stage. Her dark hair was thick and lustrous. She had a pert, upturned nose and full lips that gave her mischievous look if they even hinted at a smile. Her green eyes were framed by long, dark lashes and her eyebrows framed them perfectly.
Thomas’s ex-wife must be stunning, because although she could see hints of Thomas in Becca, his gene pool couldn’t be responsible for the whole package. Becca also had that coltish look, long arms and legs combined with a bit of awkwardness from a body that grew faster than she could adjust to it.
Hallie set her mug down and said, “Why don’t we start with what you’re doing here when you’re supposed to be in school.”
“School’s boring.” Becca bit into her second cookie and fixed Hallie with a look.
The kid had guts, Hallie’d give her that. “You’re going to have to do better than that.”
Becca regarded her third cookie. Hallie suspected she was also contemplating what to say. “You might as well just tell me the truth,” Hallie said gently. “Maybe I can help.”
Becca’s head came up. “You wouldn’t understand. My mom doesn’t.”
“Have you told your mom?”
Becca shook her head in the negative.
“Then you can’t say she doesn’t understand, can you?” Hallie left that as a rhetorical question. “It’s been awhile but I once was your age myself. I went to school, too. I might even have been bored.”
A smile tugged at the corner of Becca’s mouth. Definitely mischievous. She started to speak. “There’s this boy named Jacob.”
Hallie managed not to roll her eyes. It’s always a boy.
“He knows I like him because this girl Meredith told him even though she swore she wouldn’t. We were all at the skating rink yesterday and she told!” Hallie shared Becca’s outrage. She had a sudden, startlingly clear memory of the viciousness of middle school. She remembered her brother Dean telling their mother he couldn’t remember one day in middle school where he didn’t see a girl crying because her friends were mean to her.
“And Jacob told her I was okay, but I was too smart and I don’t have boobs so he doesn’t want to go out with me.”
Becca startled at Hallie’s outburst. “Sorry. Sorry,” Hallie said, taken aback at her own vehemence. “I didn’t realize that most girls your age had boobs already.”
“But most don’t, am I right?”
“So that’s not even a legitimate reason, is it?”
“I guess not.”
Hallie chewed her lip and took another sip of coffee before she spoke again. “Tell me. This girl Meredith. Is she a good friend of yours?”
“No. She’s a friend. But not like my friend Chelsea.”
“Do you trust Meredith?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you think she’d lie to you? About what Jacob said?”
“Why would she?”
“I can think of a couple of reasons. Maybe she likes Jacob herself and wants to cut you out of the competition. Maybe she’s a back-stabbing bi— sort of person, who just wants to mess with you. Maybe she’s jealous of you.”
Hallie wondered how to encompass the twenty-plus years of experience she had on Becca into one brief conversation. She knew she couldn’t. She also knew she never wanted to experience adolescence again. She leaned forward. “Trust me, Becca, you’ll run across people like Meredith throughout your life. My best advice is to ignore them and don’t trust anyone until you’re as sure as you can be that they can be trusted. In the meantime, talk to this kid Jacob yourself. Find out what he’s into. Smile at him. Laugh at his jokes. Boys love that.”
“They do?” Becca grinned and for the first time Hallie noticed she wore braces. And that they were packed with black cookie crumbs.
To be continued…
HIDER IN THE HOUSE EPISODES ON BLOG