“Your mom showed me a picture of him one time. He’s really good looking,” Emma Jo states, swaying to the side and sloshing some wine on her yoga pants.
“Not as good looking as Hot Guy in the hospital. You should have touched his chest. It was all chesty and muscly and pretty.”
She giggles, clinking her glass to mine.
“I’m so proud of you, Payton. You got out of this town and you made something of yourself. You got out, and I just sat here and did nothing. I sat here, and I didn’t go skinny dipping, and I didn’t stuff my bra, and I didn’t drink wine, and I just let him order me around and I let him hit me. Over and over, I let him do it. Why did I let him do it?” she whispers, sniffling and bringing the wine glass up to her mouth and drinking quickly to stop herself from crying.
“Rule numero uno of wine drinking – there is no crying in wine drinking. Rule number B…I don’t know, just drink more wine and don’t cry. I’m not going anywhere until I know you’re okay so drink more wine and don’t cry,” I demand, the wine buzz strong with this one.
Setting my glass down on the coffee table, I decide it might be time for me to stop drinking if I want to make good on my promise to Emma Jo. I won’t be able to make sure either one of us is okay if I pass out on the couch. We sit in silence for a few minutes as I look around the living room. After I made the phone call to the sheriff’s office, I took the rest of the time Emma Jo was in the shower to wander the house. To an outsider, it’s the perfect home for a happily married mayor and his wife. It’s an older home, just like all the houses in Bald Knob, but every room in the house has been updated and upgraded, filled with nothing but the best carpet, furniture, appliances, and home entertainment systems. On every table, across the fireplace mantle, and hung on every wall are pictures of Emma Jo and Jed, documenting everything from when they were dating, to their wedding, to buying their first home, and each one of Jed’s mayoral induction ceremonies.
If I was a stranger walking into this house, looking at all of those pictures, I would believe the fairytale. I would believe that the mayor of Bald Knob is a good man and a loving husband. I would believe that the smile on Emma Jo’s face in every photo is a real one. Looking at the handful of framed photos scattered around this room with the eye of a friend, even if I haven’t been here for all of those events, I can see that the smile never reaches her eyes. I can see that she always stands a few inches away from Jed like she’s afraid of touching him, and I can see the tight clench of his fingers wrapped around her hip, or her shoulder, or her side, letting her know with the pinch of his hold that he’s never going to let her go. And not in a devoted, caring way either.
A knock on the front door makes both of us jump and Emma Jo stares at me with wide, frightened eyes.
“It’s okay, it’s fine,” I reassure her with a pat on her thigh as I get up from the couch.
Even though I know it’s probably someone from the sheriff’s department, because I have a feeling when Jed comes home and finds the locks changed, he’ll be doing a lot more screaming than knocking, the look on Emma Jo’s face as her eyes dart back and forth between me and the front door makes my heart pound in my chest.
“Just in case,” I tell her with a reassuring smile as I grab a heavy glass object in the shape of a triangle from the side table, glancing at it as I move to the door.
“Number One Mayor and Number One in Our Hearts,” I read under my breath, rolling my eyes and raising my arm, bringing the stupid thing up above my head as I get to the door.
“Who is it?” I shout, looking back over my shoulder and giving Emma Jo a cheerful smile.
“Sheriff’s department,” a muffled voice calls back through the door.
With a relieved sigh, I unlock the new deadbolt and fling the door open.
“YOU!” I yell in shock, my eyes widening when I see who’s standing on the front porch.
“Me,” Hot Guy from the hospital replies, glancing up at the award I’m still wielding like a weapon over my head. “Can you put that thing down? I don’t know if you’ve had your coffee yet, and I don’t trust you.”
My arm drops from over my head, but I don’t put the heavy glass down. Instead, I aim the pointy end right at his uniform covered chest.
“Did you follow me here? What kind of creeper are you?” I ask, thrusting the award closer to him.
“Payton?” Emma Jo calls from the living room worriedly.
I lean back around the open door so she can see me, my eyes locked on Hot Guy, who I will now refer to as Hot Guy Creepy Stalker, as I answer her.
“Emma Jo, call the police. That guy from the hospital followed us here and stole a sheriff’s uniform,” I explain, bringing my weapon up higher and pointing it at his face.
The face, while still incredibly good-looking, wears a smirk and isn’t the least bit scared that I could shove this thing through his heart if I so choose. You know, if his chest wasn’t all muscly and made of steel. And he didn’t have at least five inches on me and a hundred pounds.
“You mean Hot Guy? The one with the super hero chest and cute dimples?” Emma Jo yells to me.
Hot Guy Creepy Stalker actually has the nerve to laugh.
“Super hero chest?” he asks with another damn smirk.
“You shut your mouth. You’re not allowed to laugh when you’re a stalker and I’m the one holding a weapon.”