Continued from Part 3…
Ida’s thoughts circled her head while she walked, buzzing too close for comfort but not near enough to swat away. Looking back at the store, she saw Bob and Sue; both waved and she returned the friendly gesture. Thoughts of Bob joined the swarm. Did he suspect her and should she suspect him? After all, Bob was not the sort to miss a person walking into his store and disappearing.
She sighed. This was all her mother’s fault. Ida could hear the lecture now: “You gotta do good in the world, Ida Ann. Nobody’s worth nothing if he thinks about himself all the time!” Her mother lived it, too. Ida couldn’t recall how many times she’d come home from school to find a note saying Mom was out at so-and-so’s house. Their family hardly enjoyed a meal or a batch of cookies without first sharing it with others.
Yes, her mother set the bug in Ida’s conscience to do good in the world. Yes, there was a need for good in a world with bad people. And, yes, she suspected that Petey might be one of those bad people.
A curling, yellow leaf drifted across her vision, drawing her attention to God’s beautiful autumn around her. She stopped. Maple Street glowed in reds and yellows while the gentle wind brushed leaves from branches to dance downward like soft rain.
It was the leaves that saved her. Crisp crunching footsteps came from behind, as solid but nervous as those she’d heard behind the hidden door at the back of McClintock’s Mercantile. By the time they stuttered to her side, she’d replaced her frozen expression with her classic, open smile. “Hello, Petey.”
Petey stalled and stopped. “Well! Ida Layton.” His lowered eyebrows and sharp eyes guarded a returning smirk. He kept pace with her as they continued on. “I see you went shopping.”
She’d forgotten the swinging bag of milk and cereal at her side. “Oh! Yes. You know how fast kids go through food!” She laughed, stopping quickly at its nervous tenor.
His laugh sounded natural and at ease. “I’m surprised you got out with just the Lucky Charms. Bob about got my ear last time I went in there.”
“Well,” she stopped. They were at her mailbox. “Now that you mention it, he did tell me all about some kind of juicing machine. He sounds …excited.”
“Ha! Excited isn’t the half of it. You’d think he were getting a horse.” Petey turned his gaze to a distant point in the sky across the street.
“Well,” she said again. He didn’t react. “Guess I’d better go get the kids their food.”
He waited till she was halfway up the front walk before answering. “You gotta take care of those kids.”
©2020 Chel Owens