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“If I’d seen any evidence of that, he wouldn’t have been at that meeting because he’d be in the hospital. If he smacks her around, they’ve both hidden it damn well from me.”
“Damn shame when a woman puts up with that kind of treatment. I’ve seen it time and again in my line of work, but I’ll never understand it.” He heaved a sigh, switching gears. “So. Are you sure about purchasing Wynn’s? I’m prepared to have you work for me instead, if you’ve had second thoughts about taking on that loan. Now’s the time to speak up.”
“No, sir. Truth is, I think abiding this hardship to get that garage has been a good thing, in a way. Instead of feeling that the place was dumped on me like a ton of bricks, I not only chose this, I’m gonna earn it. Thank you for offering me the ability to do that. I want Wynn’s to be mine. I’m sure.”
“All right then. Give me a couple weeks or so to get everything filed and clear, and we’ll proceed with your loan from there.”
• • • • • • • • • •
I’d insisted that Pearl text me when she left her house so I could walk directly out the door without her coming up to knock. Half an hour ago—when I started packing—I’d realized I had no luggage. In the back of my closet, behind the box of photos I’d gleaned from Dad’s room, I unearthed my high school backpack. Luckily, I’d barely used it in high school, so it wasn’t in the nasty shape it should have been. I was a grown man—going on an overnight trip who knows where—stuffing my shit in a backpack. Jesus.
I hitched it over my shoulder and said, “Back tomorrow,” to Mom and Riley, who were sitting on the sofa, smoking. It wasn’t yet noon, so they weren’t roused enough to respond before I jerked the door shut behind me.
Pearl pulled up and popped the trunk on her little car. I tossed my backpack next to her leather duffle, which had some kind of initialed design all over it and probably cost more than a new set of tires.
“Have I ever driven you anywhere?” she asked when I folded myself into the passenger seat and slid it back so my knees weren’t under my chin. She was a sight with her hair pulled into a ponytail, big dark sunglasses, and a little sundress showing off her smooth bronze legs and shoulders.
I slid my aviators on. “Nope.”
“Well, settle in. We’ve got a three-and-a-half-hour drive—after we get off the ferry, which currently has a forty-five-minute line, according to the website.”
Three point five hours… “Houston?”
She sighed. “Wow—yes. Bonus points for speed. I knew you’d figure it out once I got on 59, but sheesh. We aren’t even to the first stoplight.”
“Bonus points, eh? What exactly do these points go toward?” I asked. “I might want to rack up a few more before we reach our destination.”
Sitting ramrod straight, her full pink lips pursed tight, she slid me a sidelong look over the top of her sunglasses and then scrutinized the road ahead like we were battling rush hour traffic. “Maybe you won’t need any points tonight.”
Whatever smartass retort I might have prepared went up in flames.
It’d been years since I’d gone farther out of town than Corpus. The long stretches of highway with nothing for miles in every direction but grass and crops and cows felt cosmic—as if there was nothing beyond any of it but more of the same, forever. And then we’d go through a town so small that if you blinked you’d miss it, or I’d spy a big decrepit barn set back from the road—roof half caved in, paint peeling—and I’d think, Somebody used to keep livestock in there and now they’re all gone. Did they move? Die? Did they live a good life, out here in the middle of bumfuck nowhere?
We stopped for gas and barbeque in Wharton.
“Still not going to tell me what we’re doing in Houston?”
She took a huge bite of her turkey sandwich, a bit of barbeque sauce running down the side of her hand. “Uhn-uhnn.” She licked the sauce off her hand—her pink tongue darting out to catch it before it got far—and I contemplated my potato salad like I was trying to figure out the recipe. Goddamn.
I took a bite of my sandwich. Took a sip of iced tea. “There’s a game at Minute Maid Park tonight.” I grinned. “Pirates are in town for a four-game series.”
She scowled. “Dammit, Boyce!”
I lowered my sandwich. “Are you serious? We’re going to a baseball game?” I couldn’t stop my voice’s inflection from climbing sky-high right at the end.
Her scowl melted and her words went soft. “Yeah. That was the surprise.”
I shook my head. “What’s that thing Mrs. Thompson used to say when one of her kids startled her, bringing unauthorized critters in the house… Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit!”
Pearl chuckled. “I didn’t think actual people said that.”
“Oh hell yeah—when Randy dragged a baby possum into the kitchen one time, she blurted it right out. That thing like to gave her a coronary on the spot.”
“Oh… my… God.” She laughed until she snorted.
“I’m serious! I’m surprised—so bonus points for that. Not that you’ll need ’em.” I winked. “I aim to show you my sincere appreciation any damn way you want it.”
She swallowed. “Just to remind you…” She leaned closer so the couple at the next table wouldn’t hear. “It’s broad daylight outside, and the parking lot is really small and crowded.”
“Guess you’ll have to wait, then.”
“Guess you will, too,” she said, all wide-eyed innocence, sucking down the last of her iced tea through a straw I was suddenly very jealous of.
Boyce was like a kid at Christmas—though as soon as I had that thought I couldn’t bear to think what his Christmases must have been like.
When I pulled up to the valet at the Magnolia, he mumbled, “Holy shit,” before he got out. I handed the valet the keys and Boyce grabbed the bags from the trunk. “S’ok, I got ’em,” he told the impeccably uniformed porter who attempted to carry them to the front desk. He stood silently as I checked us in and didn’t speak another word until I opened the door to the room. “Holy. Shit,” he repeated, making no move to enter.
I walked in, heading for the window, and he followed. “Thomas and Mama always stay at the Magnolia whenever they’re in Houston. I’m using their points for the room. This building is almost a hundred years old, and Minute Maid Park is”—I opened the drapes wide—“right there.”