Home > Sweet (Contours of the Heart #3)(6)

Sweet (Contours of the Heart #3)(6)
Author: Tammara Webber

The girl’s Scout leader appeared. “Pearl! Oh God!” Her hands shook as she pressed her fingers against the girl’s neck. She laid her head on her chest, saying, “No pulse, no pulse, oh Jesus.” She pinched the girl’s nose shut and breathed into her mouth, but the girl’s eyes didn’t open.

I felt sunburn-hot, but I was shaking like I was sitting in a bucket of ice. People surrounded us, watching and mumbling, but I couldn’t see or hear them clearly and I couldn’t move. All I could see was the lady mashing on the girl’s unmoving chest and breathing into her mouth. All I could hear was my own pulse, thumping like a drumbeat in my ears. I was alive and she was dead, and it was my fault for not yelling for an adult instead of walking into the water alone. And I’d made her cry an hour ago—her eyes dark, sad pools, like Mama’s always looked after Daddy hurt her.

Then, like a fancy fountain, the girl coughed up water—lots of water. It gushed over her face as she jerked up, sucking in air, eyes flying open. She looked right at me, and not until I felt her hand tighten around mine did I know I’d been holding it.

The crowd around us cheered. I felt hands patting my shoulders and the back of my head as the lady started to cry, saying the girl’s name over and over—Pearl, Pearl, Pearl—and thanking Jesus and God and finally, me. “You saved her life. Thank you. Thank you.”

The past moments crashed around me like days instead of minutes. My eyes burned. My teeth rattled and my limbs quaked. I clutched Pearl’s hand, small and bronze in mine, and stared down at the dark hair tangled around her face, stuck to her cheek, and snagged around one of the Girl Scout pins on her chest—which rose and fell like it should. I gazed into dark eyes that were wide and alive and felt like I’d just learned something, but I didn’t know what it was yet.

When the paramedics arrived, my den leader wrapped me in a beach towel and pulled me away, breaking my grip on Pearl’s hand and hers on mine. “You done good, Boyce. You’re a hero, you know that?”

There was a story in the paper and two pictures: one of my smiling pack leader pinning a shiny Honor Medal just above my left pocket, over my heart, and another of Pearl’s mother, my parents, and Brent standing behind the two of us—both in our Scouting uniforms. The top of her head, a mess of dark curls pulled into a pink bow, didn’t even reach my shoulder.

That was my one occasion of valor—more than some people can lay claim to, I guess. Too bad I was only seven. It’s some kinda crap to peak before you hit puberty.

• • • • • • • • • •

I don’t always quit working at closing time. Most afternoons I’m wrapped up in the job and don’t want to stop until I’m done, but sometimes there’s just too much left to do whether I want to finish or not. I’d been considering hiring someone to help out, at least part-time.

I usually remember to throw the bolt and turn the Sorry, We’re Closed sign on the front door at six o’clock even if I’m still working, but I was ass deep in the installation of a cylinder block when the hour turned. When the bell over the door clanked at half after, I swore under my breath and called, “I’m closed,” glancing toward the doorway between the cramped front office and the garage.

Dad’s old lawyer (and failed AA sponsor), Barney Amos, appeared there, his expression twisted into a permanent warped grimace from the accident that had mangled his face and left arm, almost gotten him disbarred, killed his six-year-old son, and made him quit drinking—one day too late. Austin Amos had started Cub Scouts with me. He’d have been twenty-two or so now.

“Hey there, Boyce,” Mr. Amos said, one hand upturned like he was swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.

“Hey, Mr. Amos.” I wiped my hands on a rag and stood straight, rolling my shoulders and feeling the burn under my shoulder blades. “What can I do for ya?”

Barney Amos hadn’t been to the shop in years, though I saw him around town often enough. Dad’s attempt to quit drinking had consisted of two or three meetings followed by a binge that lasted the rest of his life. I knew where to place that blame, even if Mr. Amos tried to take a piece of it. It was all my dad’s choice. Every bottle. Every swallow.

“Boyce, did your dad ever see another attorney? After he and I parted ways?”

I shrugged, shoulders objecting, feeling guilty for the appeal of the ice-cold beer waiting for me once I showered and met up with a couple of boys in town. Unlike my father, I would limit my intake. Unlike Mr. Amos, I wouldn’t get behind a wheel until I’d sobered up.

“Not that I know of, but he wasn’t exactly talkative about that sorta stuff.” Or anything else, except his opinion of what a fuckup I was. “Why?”

Mr. Amos shifted position but remained in the doorway, his eyes falling to the floor, looking even more uncomfortable than his natural state. “Have you browsed through his papers? Thoroughly?”

When people answer a question with a question, it’s never a good sign. “Legal papers, you mean? Not really. Why?” I asked again.

His crooked mouth turned up on one side in clear relief at my answer. “Ah, well then, I’d suggest you get to looking—the sooner the better. You’re gonna need documentation to have his effects—the deed to the trailer, the garage, and the contents thereof—legally transferred to you. As well as the business itself.”

I frowned. That made sense, but something about this needled, shoving his reasonable advice aside. “I’m his only remaining heir, so that’s just formality, right?”

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