Perfect scents, p.10
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       Perfect Scents, p.10

           Heather Karn
 
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  Chapter 9

  “What?” she screeched, staring at me with huge eyes. “Shut up. You are so joking right now. Tell me you’re joking.”

  “Nope, it’s the truth.”

  “Get that man back here right now.”

  She was opening the car door before I could stop her, moving so fast that by the time I could react one of her legs was already out of the car, and she was moving to stand.

  “No, Chrissa, please. Let him go. Just let him go.”

  Her aqua blue eyes studied my face as she sat back in the seat. I don’t know what she saw on my face. I was trying to hide the panic I felt inside that had my heart racing and my hands trembling. Whatever it was had her nodding as she closed the car door.

  “Seriously, Joey, that man was a weregal? A real live weregal?”

  The wonder and awe in her shaky voice had me rolling my eyes, but I shouldn’t have been surprised by her reaction in the slightest. This was the girl who was helping me with my research paper just to catch a glimpse of a picture. Instead of laughing, which was what I really wanted to do, I let her have her fangirl moment.

  “You have to promise me not to tell anyone. No one can know about him, or they’ll hunt him and kill him. I can’t let that happen.”

  “I won’t say a thing, Joey. I promise.”

  The grin that slowly crept across her face as she started giggling sent goosebumps rising across my skin.

  “I think you have a lot of explaining to do, Miss Joey. Ice cream here we come. We’re going to need a lot of it.”

  “And I’m going to need to borrow your cell to call Gram and let her know we’re going to be late.”

  “Yes, yes, we are.”

  With that, she backed out of our prime parking space and headed for the parking lot exit. To call Gram, I first had to dig Chrissa’s cell phone out of her purse, which had more accessories in it than I had in my bathroom. It could have been Mary Poppins’s bag for how much she had stuffed in it, and of course, the phone was at the very bottom.

  Gram was happy to hear I was having fun with Chrissa but gave her regular warning to be good, and to call when I was on my way home. Though I wanted to grumble at her stereotypical warning, I also didn’t want to get off the phone yet. Chrissa tapped her fingers on the steering wheel as we coasted down the road to the nearest Dairy Queen, waiting for me to hang up.

  “Okay, tell me again how you aren’t interested in guys?” she asked the moment I ended the call.

  “I never said I wasn’t interested in guys. I said I hadn’t found anyone that I was interested in, and before you say it, there’s nothing going on between Kev and me.”

  “Uh huh, that’s why he met us at the theater, after following us from the mall, on foot. The guy couldn’t take his eyes off you, and man, he’s mighty fine to look at. Explain to me again how there’s nothing going on between you.”

  “Yes, he’s attractive, Chrissa. I never said he wasn’t. And he has this way of pulling me in without saying a thing, and I hate it. But he’s only here tonight to watch over me.”

  “Well, I’d say he’s doing a pretty darn good job there, missy.”

  We pulled into the Dairy Queen parking lot, and Chrissa parked the car. It hadn’t dawned on me until she turned the car off that she’d actually driven it like a normal human being…and gone the speed limit.

  “But it’s not like that,” I explained, getting out of the car and following her toward the building. “Two nights ago when I went to see him, just to talk,” I added when she turned back and arched an eyebrow at me, “there was someone in the woods watching me. That’s why Kev is keeping watch tonight.”

  “Okay, we’re coming back to the subject of Mr. Hot Stuff, but I feel I have to ask why someone would be spying on you?”

  My shoulders shrugged as she opened the restaurant’s door and held it for me. The aroma of ice cream of varying flavors, as well as fried chicken and hamburgers assaulted my nose before I stepped foot inside. They were the best smells ever after the night I’d had. I didn’t want to smell popcorn for at least another month.

  “Beats me. Really, I have no idea.”

  She copied my shrug. “Hmm, that’s strange. Well, I wouldn’t complain. You’ve got the hottest bodyguard because of it.”

  I grimaced like she’d stomped on my foot. “Don’t remind me.”

  She laughed her pretty, bubbly laugh that had every man in the room staring in our direction.

  “You’re serious? You’ve got the hottest guy on the planet following you around and sharing his popcorn with you, don’t think I didn’t notice, and you’re upset by this? Are you kidding? Why?”

  The lady behind the register hadn’t noticed us yet since she was deep in conversation with another female coworker. It had to be gossip with the way they were whispering and giggling back and forth. Chrissa’s foot tapped as we waited for them to finish and take our order.

  “I just don’t want to get emotionally attached in that way. Eventually, he’s going to have to leave, and when he does I won’t be going with him. He’s a friend, but that’s all he can be.”

  “Girlfriend, at this point sleeping with him is an emotional attachment. You haven’t done that yet, have you?”

  She gave me a wink as my mouth popped open.

  “Seriously?”

  “Well?”

  “Not a chance.”

  “Good girl. That can wait. Now, what are we going to order?”

  Her attention turned briefly to the menu listed above the counter. Her tactic had worked. The two women finally acknowledged us the moment Chrissa asked me if I was sleeping with Kev. Too bad for them I was a dry well for gossip, well male gossip.

  “So, when did you meet him?” Chrissa asked after we’d given our orders and stepped aside to wait for our ice cream.

  “Sunday.”

  “Wait, you’ve only known him for five days?”

  “Yeah. You sound surprised.”

  She took her ice cream from the lady behind the counter.

  “Well, first I’m a little hurt that I’m only now hearing about him, but I understand why you didn’t tell me. And second, it’s been five days and you guys already have a ‘usual spot’?”

  “Yeah, I guess.”

  “Does your grandma know about him?”

  “Nope, and I’m not planning to tell her yet.”

  “I see. So, how’d you meet?”

  When a man behind the counter offered my ice cream cone, I took it and we found a quiet booth in the back, away from the door and the few other people eating inside.

  “I was running in the woods when he jumped into the trail in his other form. He about gave me a heart attack.”

  “Then what?”

  “Then I tripped and rolled down the hill. Next thing I know, he’s kneeling beside me as a man.” I took a large bite, hoping she’d let me eat my ice cream before it melted. No such luck.

  “So, what do you talk about?”

  “Mostly his kind in general, but I still don’t know much. We haven’t had much time to talk.”

  “So tell me what you know.”

  I did. She nodded when I finished and looked down at her empty bowl.

  “I always wondered where they came from. That is so cool. Do you think they’d let us go visit?”

  My laugh came out as a snort since my mouth was full of ice cream. Chrissa was like a kid who just learned she was going to Disney World.

  “I don’t know. We’d probably have to ask Kev. You’d really want to go there? They probably don’t even have a shopping mall.”

  “Who cares? Who needs a shopping mall when there are so many more interesting things around, such as men who look like him?” She wagged her eyebrows at me.

  I was about to tell her we weren’t going anywhere when the outside door opened, and a familiar, eerie scent blew into the room. It was followed by yet another flavor of the same sour odor, one I hadn’t yet smelled. My words died on my lips as the blood drai
ned from my face. Was it coincidence that whoever had watched me the other night would show up here, and right after I’d banished Kev away?

  Chrissa watched me, and her eyes widened as my skin paled. “Joey, are you okay?”

  I shook my head slowly. “We need to get out of here. Now.” My voice was a whisper, but she heard it and nodded.

  Moving from our seats, we walked toward the door, trying not to draw any unwanted attention from anyone inside. I started a perusal of the room’s occupants. A group of teenagers sat in the far corner, laughing and yelling, completely oblivious to anyone else in the room. An older couple sat at a small table eating their hamburgers. A mother with three small children was trying to coax the youngest one to eat his dinner before dessert.

  I didn’t need to smell any of them to know they weren’t my mystery odors. The moment my eyes locked on a man and woman waiting in line, I knew who I was looking for. The man’s beard hid half his face, and his hair was pulled into a messy man bun. His height rivaled Kev’s, and his shoulders were broad. He wore a denim jacket over a gray hoodie, and as we made our way to the door, he turned to watch us, lips curving into a wicked smile.

  The auburn haired woman standing in front of him turned around and caught me staring. Her hazel eyes sparkled as she lifted one side of her mouth in a cocky grin. Not only was she as tall as her companion, but she also looked to be just as muscular. Her thin shirt clung to her, revealing muscular arms that I was certain weren’t the only strong muscles she had.

  My heart raced as I pushed Chrissa through the door faster. She grumbled at me as I scanned the small lot. Sure enough, a blue Mustang was parked two spaces down from Honeybee.

  “Kev, you’re riding home with us,” I told the breeze. Chrissa whipped her head around to stare at me as she unlocked the car doors.

  “Joey, what’s going on?”

  A large tiger stepped through the bushes in front of the car causing her to squeak and jump. His black eyes glittered in the light from the Dairy Queen, and a low rumble sounded in his chest. I’d known he was there the moment I’d stepped outside. His scent filled the air around us.

  “Holy-.”

  “Get in,” I ordered both of them.

  Kev shifted, his eyes never leaving me, and hopped in the backseat. It took Chrissa a moment to regain her composure, but when she did she jumped inside and started the car.

  “What’s going on?” she asked, backing the car out and moving toward the parking lot exit.

  “Just get us out of here and I’ll explain on the way.” I locked the doors as I spoke.

  Kev remained silent in the back seat, but the tension he was feeling filled the car. Or maybe it was my tension. I kept watch in the mirror beside me to make sure we weren’t followed, but with nothing but headlights behind us, I couldn’t tell if any belonged to a blue Mustang.

  “Okay, spill,” Chrissa ordered as we merged onto the expressway. This late at night there wasn’t much traffic.

  Turning in my seat, I faced them both. Kev’s face was carefully blank whereas Chrissa was passed concern, but not quite near panic.

  “It could have been me overreacting, but I swear the guy who was spying on me the other day walked into that Dairy Queen while we were eating.”

  Kev’s eyes widened as he opened his mouth to respond, but Chrissa beat him to it.

  “How could you tell? You weren’t even facing the door.”

  Though I was beginning to trust my best friend and had let her in on Kev’s secret, I wasn’t yet ready to acknowledge my own lineage or my quirky sense of smell.

  “I don’t know. As I said, I could’ve been paranoid.”

  “Joey, there’s paranoid, and then there’s terror. You were terrified when we left that place. Now how did you know he was in there? Who was he?”

  “Did you see the couple at the end of the line, the man with the denim jacket and the man bun?”

  “The one as tall as him?” She jerked a thumb in Kev’s direction. “And the beard? With the lady who looked like she could bench press the two of us at the same time?”

  “Yeah, that’s them.”

  “Okay, yeah, he was pretty freaky looking when he stared at us. But how did you know he was even in there?”

  “I just did.”

  “You smelled him, didn’t you?” Kev asked from the backseat.

  And just like that, my weirdness was thrown into the open.

  “Smelled him?” Chrissa asked me with a sidelong glance.

  “I have a good sense of smell. Better than most people’s ability to smell. What did you smell, Kev?”

  “What did he smell like?” he responded back with his own question.

  My nose scrunched up at the memory of the horrid stench. Each distinct flavor of it was etched into my scent memory, never to be forgotten.

  “They smell…sour. It’s the best I can describe it. Like the scent of rancid meat mixed with rotting lemon. It’s sour, bitter, and gross.”

  A gagging sound came from the driver’s seat, but I kept my eyes on Kev.

  He tugged his lower lip as he thought, but for once I didn’t find it alluring. I was too scared. “I didn’t smell anything like that.”

  “Nothing?” I didn’t see how that was possible.

  “No. I didn’t smell it. If I had, I would’ve gone in after you.” Kev’s determined voice was enough for me to know he was telling the truth, and that was freaky.

  My fingers played with the star pendant on my necklace as I thought about this for a minute. “What are you saying exactly?”

  “Joey, we know your sense of smell is better than mine. It’s possible that the reason I didn’t smell anything when I checked out the woods the other day is because I can’t smell like you can.”

  “Dude, that’s freaky,” Chrissa told me. “So…how’d he find us? I mean, is it possible he was already in town and just happened across us at the Dairy Queen?”

  I shook my head in answer, but Kev spoke before I could.

  “I was barely able to follow you with your scent earlier, and I was close. It’s possible he followed the same scent, but I can’t be sure.”

  Taking her eyes off the road, Chrissa focused them on Kev in the rearview mirror. “Because it’s less scary I’m going with dumb luck he found us.”

  “It wasn’t dumb luck,” I cut in. “He followed us there.”

  “You don’t know that for sure, Joey.”

  “Yes, I do, Chrissa. Do you remember seeing a blue Mustang on the expressway this afternoon?”

  Her eyes were back on the road, but they were glossed over as she recalled our trip on this same road earlier that day.

  “You mean the idiot who almost rear-ended the guy in front of him?”

  “Yeah, that was them. Only I didn’t know it at the time since I couldn’t smell them. I only thought they were being creepy.”

  Chrissa shuddered in her seat. “That means they know what my car looks like and that they followed us from school. Girl, I don’t know what you did to attract these people, but looks like you’ve got yourself a freaky stalker.”

  “What’s worse is that they’re not the only ones who I’ve met who smell like that. Milly at the library smells a little more sour than bitter. And Tom Hildebrant smells more bitter than sour.”

  “That’s why you asked me if I smelled anything weird about Milly?” Chrissa asked, finally understanding our conversation from earlier in the week.

  “Exactly. I wanted to know if I was crazy or not. Obviously, I’m either crazy, or I really am the only person who can smell them.”

  “So let’s get this straight,” Chrissa began after a minute of silence. “Some weirdo couple is following Joey, who she can smell but no one else can. We’re blaming that on her incredible ability to smell. We don’t know why said guy and girl are following her.” She looked at me for confirmation. I nodded. “And two other people in town smell the same way?”

  “Correct.”

  “And we don’t
know why they smell like that.”

  “Yup.”

  “Any theories?”

  Silence reigned in the car before I got up the courage to tell them a theory I’d been toying with for a few days. My heart pounded in my chest, and my hands shook as I explained.

  “What if they’re another species? Kev, you said that weregals have a unique scent that humans can’t smell. What if they have a scent too, only I’m the only one whose nose is strong enough to smell them? They aren’t human; I can almost guarantee that. No human smells like that for any reason.”

  Kev leaned forward so that his head hung between the front seats. “Another species besides humans and weregals? I’ve never heard of any others, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It doesn’t explain why he’s following you, though, Joey.”

  “No, it doesn’t,” I replied, leaning the back of my head against the window. “And it’s beginning to freak me out.”

  “Maybe they’re some type of hunter species, and this is a game to him?” Chrissa asked us.

  “Because that’s not the scariest thought I’ve had all night.”

  No one commented as the weight of Chrissa’s statement hung in the air. When the silence became more than I could bear, I had to break it.

  “I’m sorry for getting you into this Chrissa, and for ruining our girl’s night.”

  She scoffed. “Don’t worry about it, Joey. How could you have known he’d show up? This isn’t your fault. You are taking it rather well, by the way.”

  “Not really,” I told them both, my voice dull and lethargic. “I don’t show my emotions well. I may not look it, but I’m terrified out of my mind right now.”

  While I stared out the windshield, Kev snaked one of his hands around my chair and placed it on my shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I’ve got your back, Joey. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

  “But you can’t smell them, Kev.”

  “No, I can’t. But I can stay with you. Whether you like it or not, I’m always going to be watching you from now on.”

  “Dude, that’s creepy too,” Chrissa told him.

  “What do you mean?”

  “Tell her you’ll be watching over her, not watching her. One word can make a huge difference.”

  “I see.”

  A tiny smile tried to find its way to my face as silence again consumed us. Somehow Chrissa’s words had lightened the mood, and my worry dimmed a little with Kev’s revelation that he was going to protect me. He didn’t have to, but he was choosing to, and I appreciated that more than I let on, but it also made me uncomfortable because he was once again shielding me as a security blanket, and whether or not I wanted to admit it, I was becoming attached.

  “Did you still want to hang out tomorrow, Kev? Is it safe to go back to our bench?”

  “I doubt they would try to harm you with me so close, so yes, it’s safe. And yes, I want to see you tomorrow. It’ll be easier to keep you safe if you’re close.”

  “So what’s the plan? What do we do about mystery man?”

  “We wait,” Kev responded.

  Chrissa didn’t like that answer. She alternated watching the road and swinging glares in Kev’s direction. “Wait for what?”

  “For him to make a move. That’s when we’ll find out what he is. I’d also like to meet one of the others since they don’t appear to be hiding.”

  “We can go to the library on Monday so you can meet Milly. I don’t want you anywhere near Tom. It’s too risky.”

  “Dude, if he’s not human, then how did weregals kill his son?” Chrissa asked the car.

  My unintentional moan was loud and long. “Too many questions and not enough answers. Story of my life. You seem to be handling all of this fairly well yourself.”

  “I’m three seconds from a panic attack. It helps that I’m driving. I’ll probably freak out tonight before I go to bed and recheck every lock, door and window in the house before I go to sleep. Really, it’s okay, though. He wasn’t following me. I should be fine.” She was quiet for only a second, not enough time to prepare me for her change of topic. “What might help me relax is if someone explained to me what happened with Michael at the theater? I never did get that story.”

  With a laugh, I filled her in on what she’d missed while she’d been in the bathroom. That creepy moment of my life now appeared to be calm and pleasant, and I was happy to share how Kev had scared the crap out of Michael so he’d leave me alone. Kev added his own details to the story, making it sound much more dramatic than it had been. Though an ominous tension hung over us, we were all laughing by the time we reached the turn off for my road.

  We dropped Kev off by our trail. The moment the door shut behind him, he shifted and walked up next to my window. His warm breath fogged the glass as he stared in at me. My finger hit the button to lower the window, and once it was down, Kev stuck his massive head inside.

  “Good night to you too, tiger,” I told him as I ruffled the fur at his neck while my other hand ran over his head. “Thanks for helping out tonight.”

  He nodded his head in an unfeline gesture, snorted a goodbye to Chrissa, and pulled his head back out of the window. My gut tightened as he winked then hopped off the road into the dark forest.

  “Yeah, there really is nothing going on between you two, is there?”

  The reminder of our audience sent heat to my face, ears and neck.

  “No, there’s not. Can we go now? Please?”

  She didn’t argue with me as we continued down the dirt track to my house. Either she knew I wasn’t in the mood to banter anymore about it, or she wasn’t in the mood. I was grateful for either option.

  “Thanks for inviting me to have a girl’s night. It was a lot of fun, up until the end,” I told her as I took my seatbelt off as she pulled up my driveway.

  “Don’t worry about it. We had a good night. It just made things more interesting. The night wasn’t all bad, though. I got to meet your boy toy.” She giggled as I scowled. Pulling herself together, she asked, “You’ll tell me what you all talk about tomorrow, right?”

  My laugh at her eagerness couldn’t be contained. “I doubt that now you know he exists I’ll be able to keep much from you.”

  “You won’t be able to keep anything from me,” she corrected.

  “I can try.”

  “Try all you want. You know, I can’t decide whether you’re a private person, or you just don’t like talking about your feelings.”

  “A lot of both.”

  “Gotcha. Well, it looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me then. I guess I’ll have to learn the best ways to pry information from you. Tell Kev ‘hi’ for me tomorrow, will you?”

  “Sure. I’ll see you Monday.”

  “See you.”

  Climbing out of the car I did a quick surveillance scan around the yard, squinting my eyes to see into the shadows. It wasn’t until I’d shut the door that I realized the stupidity of that action. I couldn’t see worth beans. Instead of continuing my fruitless search, I took in a deep breath as I moved around the car toward the house.

  Mint hung in the air, which wasn’t surprising. I pushed my nose to think beyond the mint as I took another long breath. A few deer wandered the woods around the house, and a few rodents scurried through the thick, high grass beside the garage. My nose told me that was where Kev was. I had to swallow hard as the thought of him having a little midnight snack.

  Waving goodbye to Chrissa, who’d stayed to make sure I made it inside, I turned the knob on the door and walked inside.

  Aunt Gwen sat in her recliner crocheting. She looked up, smiling when I walked in, and I returned the smile as I started to take off my jacket.

  “Gram asked me to wait up for you. She said you’d call on your way home, but I figured you forgot when I didn’t hear from you.”

  I slapped a hand to my face as I remembered the one thing I wasn’t supposed to forget to do.

  “I’m sorry. I totally forg
ot.”

  “Did you have a good night?”

  I thought about it while hanging up my coat in the closet. With my back turned to her, Aunt Gwen couldn’t see the quick grimace that crossed my face. I made sure it was gone when I turned back to her.

  “Yeah I did. It was great. I really like Chrissa. She’s a good friend.”

  “Well, good. I’m glad. That makes up for the no phone call.” She leaned down to put her crochet project away. “Now I think it’s time we both went to bed.”

  We hugged goodnight in the kitchen and headed our separate ways. After changing into my pajamas, I crawled into the comfort of my bed and waited for sleep to come. I’d never realized before tonight how many sounds the house made, or how the wind rattled the trees outside. Every little sound met my ears, and my brain imagined the worst as I lay at the brink of sleep.

  Giving up the fight, I cracked open the window above my bed. As Kev’s soft sent rolled through the opening, my muscles relaxed, and my racing heart slowed. I collapsed onto my pillow once again, ready for sleep to take me. The last conscious thought my mind gave me was one word.

  Mine.

  Sunlight lit my room when I finally woke up, but it wasn’t the sun that woke me. Someone was cooking bacon. Yummy, delicious, melt in your mouth bacon.

  My stomach rumbled as I hopped out of bed and headed toward my bedroom door. Gram and Aunt Gwen were both cooking in the kitchen, which told me it was very late in the morning.

  “Good morning, sleepy head,” Aunt Gwen called over her shoulder from where she was making waffles. “We thought cooking might get you up with how good that sniffer of yours is. Do you want chocolate chips on your waffles?”

  “Why of course I do. You really need to ask?”

  She laughed as I padded over in my bare feet to watch their progress. If I was lucky, I could steal some chocolate chips or bacon.

  “Gwen said you had fun with your friend last night,” Gram said as she flipped the bacon so it wouldn’t burn in the pan. The smell was divine, and I leaned in beside her to fill my nose with its delicious scent.

  “We had a blast, Gram. She even invited me to her place to hang out Tuesday night, if that’s okay?”

  If I’d been brave, I’d have snatched the tongs from Gram and grabbed a piece of bacon to eat right then and there, but it was too hot, and Gram wouldn’t have appreciated that. Instead, she narrowed her eyes as she caught me spying the meat, a sly grin on my face. She settled my inward dilemma by placing a lid over the pan.

  “You’re making a friend. Don’t let me stop you.”

  If only she knew the whole truth. Then there was no way I’d ever be allowed near Chrissa again. But I wasn’t fool enough to tell her. In fact, it felt wonderful to be a bit rebellious after being such a good girl my whole life. It wasn’t like I was doing anything illegal. I was only meeting with a weregal, and going to go to a party that I hadn’t asked permission to go to, and being stalked by some creeper.

  Yeah, she was going to kill me when she found out. And she would. After all, she was Gram.

  “Can you set the table?”

  “You bet.”

  It was her way of keeping me as far from temptation as possible. The smell of the bacon cooking was too inviting, and I was having a hard time saying no to my thoughts of stealing some. A few burned fingers would heal. Being across the room, even a small room like this would help keep me at bay.

  We worked quietly after that. None of us were ever too chatty in the morning unless Gram and I were butting heads. When the phone rang and it was for Gram, she hesitated a full thirty seconds before admitting defeat and handed me the tongs for the bacon. The phone wasn’t wireless so she couldn’t leave the living room.

  “I saw that,” Aunt Gwen whispered to me when I blew on a slice of bacon and popped it in my mouth.

  “You didn’t see a thing,” I told her while chewing proudly on my prize.

  Ten minutes, and three more pieces of bacon later, Gram was back. She narrowed her gaze at me after checking the meat and declared breakfast was ready.

  “So what is everyone planning on doing today?” I asked, digging into my waffle. It was amazing.

  Gram had a spoonful of oatmeal in her mouth so that left Aunt Gwen to respond.

  “Tom called last night and needs some help on the farm today, so I offered my services.”

  My fork stopped a few inches from my mouth. Tom. The same man who smelled like the guy following me. For a brief second I considered telling them about my stalker, but at the last second decided against it. Only their weird smells connected them in some way, and that didn’t seem like viable proof for claiming Tom was…what? Evil? Some other creature? In cahoots with my stalker?

  “Is something wrong, Joey?”

  Aunt Gwen’s voice broke into my thoughts as my fork continued to hang suspended in the air. Since my appetite was now gone, I placed the fork back on my plate. If I didn’t think about that smell again, I’d be able to eat the bite in a few minutes.

  “The guy gives me the willies. Please be careful.”

  She laughed off my worries.

  “Honey, we’ve known Tom for years. Just because something smells weird doesn’t make it scary or bad.”

  She had no idea.

  “What about you, Gram? What are you up to today?”

  “I was thinking about going over to the retirement home and help one of my friends bake some pies for the potluck after church tomorrow. What about you, young lady?”

  “Not a whole heck of a lot, I don’t think. I want to get a run in this morning. I had way too much sugar last night. Don’t worry, Gram, I’ll wear pants and long sleeves today. After that, I think I’ll be lazy.”

  “I think you should clean your room today too.” Gram took her bowl to the sink and put away the ingredients for her oatmeal.

  “I’ll see if I can fit it in my busy schedule.”

  Aunt Gwen chuckled at my muttered words while Gram started complaining about teenagers and hormones as she got ready to leave. After volunteering to do the dishes, I listened as both Gram and Aunt Gwen left for the day. Finishing the dishes, I hopped in the shower and changed into my jogging clothes.

  Breakfast still sat heavy in my stomach by the time I was cleaned up, which meant I wasn’t ready to run yet. I’d run on a full stomach before, and it hadn’t ended well. From that moment I’d promised myself never to do it again.

  Instead, I took the time to clean my room like Gram had asked. It wasn’t dirty, just messy, and not even that messy. After that, I vacuumed the house since I’d vacuumed my room.

  Cleaning the bathroom was not an option. It would leave me smelling like chemicals. That wasn’t attractive. Not that I was worried about it, but you never knew when you needed to not smell like chemicals.

  By the time I finished cleaning my stomach had settled, and the house was clean. Grabbing my running shoes, I put them on and headed out the door.

  The morning had been cooler than normal, and I had a feeling this was going to be one of the last weeks before the temperature dipped too far for me to run without a heavier coat. Snow would follow, and Gram would never let me run in it.

  Without delaying any longer, I began my run down the driveway.

 
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