“Good. I like you,” said Karen. “I want you to stay.”
“Thanks.” Mary sipped at her wine, hoping the others didn’t see her blinking back tears. Having someone openly tell her she was welcome was something she hadn’t experienced often.
“Look, Mary, I know you’ll want to find a job,” said Lacey, “but take your time. We’re not in a hurry here. Our roommate broke her lease early and left money for her remaining rent, so that’s covered. I’ve been where you are, and you should take a little time to get your head straight. We’ll help where we can.”
Mary choked out a laugh and wiped at her eyes. “Thanks, you guys. I have a little savings, but it means so much. And you hardly know me.”
“I think we know you well enough,” said Karen. “I’m a great judge of character, ask anyone. I knew Dean was an asshole the second he walked in the store, for example, and I knew you deserved better.”
“If you had such great insight,” said Lacey, “you’d know that Devlin has a thing for you.”
“What?” Karen shook her head. “No, he doesn’t.”
Lacey looked at Mary and grinned. “Her one blind spot.”
Mary smiled. “Who’s Devlin?”
“Aaron Devlin,” said Lacey. “He’s an old friend and he has had a thing for her for years. She has one for him, too. She just won’t admit it.”
“He does not. Lacey’s just making trouble. Don’t listen to her, Mary.” Karen rolled her eyes but Mary noticed the blush in her cheeks and suspected it might be from more than just the wine.
Lacey yawned. “All right, ladies, this has been fun but I am late getting to bed. I need to get up and serve coffee to the multitudes tomorrow.”
Mary realized she was exhausted herself, emotionally as much as physically. Her face ached as well. “Good idea, Lacey. I’m beat.”
“And me makes three,” said Karen. “Let’s get moving before we all fall asleep on the floor.”
They collected the pizza and went to the kitchen, sorting out the leftovers and putting the boxes in the trash. Finished with the cleanup, they went upstairs.
“Here’s your room,” said Karen, showing Mary into a small bedroom at the end of the hall. “Sorry it’s tiny.”
“Not a problem.” Mary looked around. The room was fairly empty, since the previous occupant had gone, but it wasn’t sterile. The carpet was a warm shade of green, the walls had been painted a cream color, and the window curtains made it seem cozy. “Thanks so much. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome,” Karen said. “The room is small, but you’re closest to the bathroom, so that’s the trade-off. There are extra toothbrushes and things in the closet. Do you know what time you’d like to go get your things tomorrow?”
Mary rubbed a hand over her face, wincing as she touched her bruise. “I hadn’t thought too much about it, but earlier is better I guess. He usually meets up with some friends on Sunday mornings to golf or something. You guys don’t have to go, you know. I appreciate it, but it’s my situation and I can deal with it.”
“Oh yes, we do,” said Karen. “This is something you shouldn’t do alone. I mean, it’s not that I don’t think you’re capable, it’s just—”
“Sometimes you need support, even if you don’t think you do,” finished Lacey. “So in the morning we’ll round up the posse and go help you.”
Mary laughed at the idea of the women on horses with sheriff’s stars. “All right.”
“Well, not me,” said Lacey, “because I have to work on the front lines. But everyone else.” She looked at Karen. “Jackson?” When Karen nodded, Lacey hooted. “Now that I’d like to see, I admit. Jackson on a rescue mission.”
“He acts like a doof,” Karen acknowledged, “but he’s solid.”
“Yeah, he is,” said Lacey. “All right, good night, ladies.”
“Good night, Lacey,” said Mary. “And thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome. Get some sleep. You deserve it.”
The next morning, Mary got up early, almost before the sun was up. She’d slept poorly through the night, despite the comfortable surroundings. Alone in the dark, she’d started to worry about Dean finding Karen’s house and coming after her, or that he might do something to the tattoo shop. When she wasn’t thinking about that, she was feeling guilty about dragging Karen and the others into her problems.
She dozed from time to time, but when Lacey got up, Mary lay there listening to the noises until she heard the front door close, then gave up on sleeping.
It’s a new day, and you’re free, she reminded herself. You can make a new plan. One step at a time, and there’s no hurry.
Mary took a shower, grateful for the change of clothes Lacey had given her. They were a little big, but she didn’t care. After she showered and dressed, she went downstairs to get some coffee, which she was pleased to find was already made. Lacey must have set it going before she’d left.
Mary poured herself a cup, added a liberal amount of cream, and sat down at the table. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she checked her phone, which she had turned off the night before in case Dean tried to call, text, or track her.
She saw a load of voice messages and texts, which made her wary. A few were from her cousins, a lot were from Dean. She started with the messages from her cousins.
First was Allie. “Check online,” she warned. “And be careful. Call me.”
That wasn’t too ominous.
Allie’s brother, Gabe, wasn’t any better, and was more blunt. “Hi. Dean put some stuff on social media. Might want to mute or block. Call me or Allie. We’re worried.”
It was too early to call either of them, so Mary opened her apps. It wasn’t great. Dean had posted a rant about her, about how he had broken up with such an ungrateful bitch. He included some nasty hashtags, which she quickly muted. She muted and blocked on other accounts, then sent texts to Gabe and Allie. She couldn’t explain it all but at least they wouldn’t worry so much, she hoped.
“So you’re an early riser?” Karen asked as she came into the kitchen.
“I was today. Didn’t sleep well.”
“Yes and no. I’m fine, but I couldn’t sleep anymore so I got up. I turned on my phone and it’s not pleasant.”
“Dean?” Karen asked with a sympathetic look.
Mary nodded. “Yeah. I shouldn’t have expected anything else. There are a couple of messages from my cousins but Dean texted and left voice mail and put things on social media. It’s tempting to just delete it all without even looking at it.”
Karen got herself some coffee and sat down. “Take screenshots. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but I really think you should do what you can to protect yourself, just in case. Document everything. Save it all and send it to me, if you like, for a backup.”
“Yeah. You’re right. Good idea.” Mary took a deep breath and went into her messages. Dean got progressively angrier with each unanswered text and call. Mary took screenshots of the texts and saved them, and also saved the voice messages. Then she went to other sites and repeated the process. She sent them to Karen, and made a mental note to make a backup to her computer, shut down her accounts, and get a new phone.
“Was it bad?” Karen asked.