“Norman’s been so good to me. You’ve all been so good to me. I—”
“You’re not to blame.” As he reassured her, Neil’s eyes softened, and some of the tension ebbed from his body.
Laura could feel her own muscles loosening, her heart slowing, as she relaxed against her pillow. Some of her anguish and guilt receded. “You’ll let me know about Norman as soon as you know anything, won’t you?” she asked, directing the question to both of them but unable to tear her gaze away from Neil Cantrelle’s.
He nodded, his expression grave.
Denise squeezed her hand again, then bent to kiss her cheek, a flowery scent wafting over Laura. Laura felt her eyes fill again at the expression of kindness from Norman’s sister. “Get well, honey. Don’t worry about anything,” Denise whispered. Then she straightened. “Jeannine’s gone over to see the cats several times, and I’ve fed them and cleaned out the litter box.”
Laura clasped her hand against her mouth, then flinched from the pain in her lip. How could she have forgotten her cats? They must be so bewildered by her absence. She hadn’t left them alone overnight since she’d gotten them six months earlier. “Are you sure you don’t mind taking care of them until I get home?” she asked Denise.
“No, of course not. Besides, you know how Jeannine adores them. She’ll love helping out.”
Laura did know. Jeannine, Denise’s ten-year-old, came by each evening when Laura got home from work to play with Pete and Phoebe. Jeannine’s visit was always the high point of Laura’s day—spending thirty minutes or so with the bright-eyed charmer she’d grown to love.
Laura lived in one half of the duplex that Denise and her husband, Jett, owned. In fact, Denise was responsible for Laura’s getting her job with Cantrelle Roofing and Home Improvement Company. The first day Laura had arrived in Patinville, she’d checked into the one small motel and been directed to Jett’s for dinner by the motel’s night clerk.
“Best Cajun food hereabouts,” he said. “Just down the way a couple of blocks. You can’t miss it.”
Laura walked into Jett’s, the restaurant Denise and her husband owned and worked in together, and Denise had waited on her. Laura had liked Denise immediately, her bright eyes, infectious smile, and easy manner impossible to resist. When Laura explained that she was new in town and looking for a place to live, Denise smiled.
“You’ve come to the right place.”
Then later, after Laura moved into the duplex, she’d asked Denise for her advice on finding a job. When Denise discovered that Laura was a bookkeeper and experienced office manager, her dark eyes lit up with undisguised delight. “Norman is going to think he’s died and gone to heaven when I bring you around. He’s been looking for qualified help for weeks with no success.”
Since jobs were scarce, Laura was puzzled, but Denise explained quickly.
“So many people have left this part of Louisiana since the oil business has gone into such a decline that there aren’t many around to fill the few jobs there are. There’re plenty of untrained, unskilled people, or people who only know the oil patch business, but the only person Norman could find with bookkeeping skills was a crabby old lady from Port Allen and Norman said he didn’t want to have to look at her sour face all day.” Denise grinned. “You’ll be much nicer to look at.”
And so it was settled, and Laura started to work for Norman the next day. She and Denise built on that initial liking for one another and soon became friends. Denise was the first real woman friend Laura’d made since Celeste. In fact, Laura thought, Denise had some of the same qualities that had attracted her to Celeste. The same quirky sense of humor, the same kindness and generosity, the same common sense. Denise also had a temper. It didn’t flare often, but when it did, it was like a volcano in its fiery intensity. And then,
Lindsay Paige, Mary Smith