Tag Archive | Sidetracked

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 27

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

On the road, Vanessa called her boss, explaining that she was stopping at the school to talk to the coach and administrators about Wendy. She hadn’t scheduled the appointment, wanting to catch them off guard. Something was going on there, and she intended to find out what. If Coach Bullock had been having an affair with Wendy, he might have done the same with other girls. Or boys. She wasn’t discounting that possibility. Most pedophiles preferred one gender or the other, but some were multi-purpose perverts. Bullock probably didn’t see himself as a pedophile, because the girls were teenagers, but he was still a predator. She wouldn’t tolerate that.

As she turned into the campus, the saw a bus taking students to the small, satellite college campus down the road. She’d forgotten that Aiden said Wendy had done dual enrollment. Making a note to talk to those people, too, she headed to the office. The receptionist didn’t balk when she flashed her badge. She put the call in to the principal and Coach Bullock. That would do for a start. She was a little surprised to have the school security officer, Mendez, arrive first.

“I’ll take you to the gym. Coach Bullock has class. I’ll watch the kids while you talk.”

“And Principal Harkness?”

“He’ll get there. He’s in a meeting.” He shrugged, rolling his eyes.

“He’s avoiding me.”

“Would he do that?” He winked at her.

They knew one another from the police force. He had taken the security officer position when he was injured on the job. Still a young man, he hadn’t wanted to quit entirely, and had found a good fit here.

“What do you think of Bullock?”

“Nessa, I really shouldn’t….”

She showed him the photo of Bullock touching Wendy’s ass. He pressed his lips together, rolling his eyes away.

“You aren’t surprised.”

“No. Disgusted, but not surprised.”

“He still doing that?”

“Not around me. I’ve heard rumors, but I can’t catch him at it. I approach students, but they won’t talk to me.”

“Is it just touching?”

“Not from what I’ve heard.”

“Rape?” she asked very quietly.

“Depends on how you define it. It’s sick and perverted, but supposedly consensual. Though how it can be when they’re mostly under eighteen, I don’t know. None of them will talk.”

“Maybe Wendy was going to.”

He stopped walking, moving to face her, stepping closer. “I’ve heard rumors, again, can’t prove anything, that there were some girls who were planning to come forward and talk.”

“How many?”

“Three? Four? Some have graduated, some still here. They were talking about a lawsuit. One of them got knocked up, and he paid for an abortion. It’s all hearsay, but I think it holds validity. I just can’t find the truth by myself. These kids don’t talk to me, except to tease or be insulting.”

Vanessa couldn’t help thinking that this might be what Aiden knew, and was keeping to himself. Perhaps she could enlist his help. Did she dare? Following Mendez, she asked a few more questions about his family, his job and made chitchat.

When they got to the door, he turned to her, with his hand on the bar. “What aren’t you telling me, Detective Weinstein?”

“I can’t talk about it here,” she said quietly. “When are you done here?”

“Around three—ish. I usually hang around until four. Why?”

“Come by the station when you’re through. We’ll talk.”

“You got it.” He opened the doors to the gym.

The smell of sweaty bodies assailed her. Taking a step back, she had to regroup.

“Something you aren’t telling me?” Mendez asked. “Like a tiny Weinstein on the way?

“How did you guess? I don’t really even show yet.”

“I have four kids, Nessa. I know the signs. Let me bring him to you.” Taking a step forward, he waved, whistling sharply.

Coach Bullock’s head snapped around. He’d been eyeing the girls playing basketball. Vanessa’s sharp eyes didn’t miss that. Nodding, he jogged across the floor. He was still fairly fit, though he was a solidly built man. He didn’t strike Vanessa as a golfer, more of a wrestler or football player. Mendez introduced them and invited them to step outside. Vanessa nodded her thanks. Bullock looked miffed, but followed her out. She could feel his eyes on her, and felt distinctly grubby as a result.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 26

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

Helping Aiden up, he walked into his room with him, leaving Deirdre and Corin behind.

“Guy stuff,” Corin said, heading to his room.

“You’re a guy,” his mother said, a little surprised at his acceptance.

Corin shook his head. “Big guy stuff.”

He’d accepted that his older brothers were closer to one another than to him. He didn’t like it much, but there was no separating them. There might be two years apart in age, but they were only a year apart in school. As a result, they had shared a lot more with one another, than they had with him.

Deirdre stood in the hallway, completely flummoxed by her sons. They were all getting so grown up. Soon, they wouldn’t need her anymore. Her phone was ringing when she got back to her office. It was Fred.

“Hello?”

“Hey, beautiful. How’s my girl?”

The emotions she’d kept bottled up all day, burst free. Sniffling, she tried to answer.

“What’s wrong? Are the boys okay?”

She explained what had happened at the school, Aiden’s long afternoon away, and the strange emotions she felt.

“My love, I wish I could be there. I hate being away, but I can’t leave. I’m in charge of the whole bloody business. The other person, who was supposed to be in charge, had a fall and is in a cast to her hip.”

“Quite a fall!”

“Parasailing or something stupid. Dumb pastime.”

Deirdre had to agree. Then again, she and Fred had never been ones for outdoor activities, except golf and camping. She wasn’t as good as he and the boys, but she held her own. Camping was her love. They went out at least every other weekend in the summer, spring and fall. Winter, the boys would go with their father, but she stayed home. She might enjoy camping, but liked her warm hearth and hot showers.

“How long will you be?”

“At least a week. This is a monster. Someone f**ked up the damn floor plan. This is one of those bizarre layouts, like the Port Orange store, with the pharmacy in the middle. That requires a lot of different shelf and aisle placement. It’s a mess. Someone else wired the freezer section wrong, so that has to be completely redone.”

“Are you in charge of that, too?”

“I have to kick ass seventeen times a day. It’s like working with a crew of monkeys. I take that back, the monkeys would be smarter. I never worked with such a dumb crew. The only ones who know their asses from their elbows are Holly and Maynard.”

They were from his store and he’d worked with them a lot.

“Because you trained them.”

“Good point.”

They talked a while longer, but both were tired. Deirdre did remember to tell him she had given Aiden permission to use his car the following day.

“It’s fine. He knows what he’s doing. We’ll have to see about a car for him. He’ll be nineteen—wow in a month? And then off to college next year. I’ll talk to Byron about something second hand.”

“Okay. You get some rest, love. I know you start early and finish late.”

“You, too. I’m sorry you’re having to go through this without me.”

“Can’t be helped. I love you.”

“I love you.” He hung up.

Deirdre allowed herself a few minutes of tears, then got ready for bed. Her dreams were frantic, filled with people chasing her, and pretty, dead girls, with long, blonde hair.

Vanessa woke before her alarm. Turning it off, she woke Dario. He, of course, wanted to start his day with some happy time. Afterward, they had a rushed breakfast. As she was dressing, she realized that several of her favorite skirts no longer fit. Not sure how she felt about that, she pulled out a pretty A line dress, reminiscent of the Sixties. It was swirls of different shades of blue, which looked good with her caramel complexion. Dario couldn’t stop admiring her.

“I think you’re getting a little bump.” He rubbed her belly. “Yep!” Bending over, he kissed her belly. “Hey, Pepita. It’s Papi! I can’t wait to meet you!”

They kissed goodbye before heading up the road to work. Dario stopped at the house on the corner to pick up one of his co-workers. They both worked for a building contractor. Dario was the carpenter, and Debra was the electrician. They were heading out to do an estimate for a remodel, so decided to go together. Vanessa waved as she stopped at the sign at the end of their road. Dario waved back, blowing a kiss. He kept waving until she was around the corner and out of sight.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 25

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

“Thank you,” Corin said quietly. “I feel kinda stupid….”

“Never. You know how many times Aiden had to save my ass? Creeps have to learn that they don’t f**k with any Partridge. I’ll show you some tricks sometime, when Mom’s not around. She’d have a cow. Aiden showed me that duck and punch.”

“Right in the gut!”

“You kidding? I got him in the dick. He’s gonna pee sideways for a month.”

They exchanged a knuckle bump.

“You think Aid’s okay?” Corin asked very quietly.

“Don’t know. Aid doesn’t talk much. It freaked him out, finding her like that. He liked her a lot.”

“How do you know that, and I don’t?”

“You were still a little kid, he wasn’t gonna talk about stuff like that with you.”

“Like what?”

“Duh—he had sex with her.”

“Oooh….”

“You’re a dweeb sometimes,” Burl said affectionately.

“Thanks. Have you—ever?” Corin wouldn’t look at his brother, his ears burned red.

“No. Almost. You’re too young to think about stuff like that.”

“Aiden was younger than you!”

“And he was too young, too. He even said so when he told me. But you know, stuff happens….”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“So, show me how you do that,” Burl said, changing the subject.

Corin warmed to the subject change, and they played until dinner time. The meal was leftovers. They chose what the wanted from the array of containers, and warmed it in the microwave. On days like this, they did their own dishes. If they ate the last of something, they washed the empty container. They were just finishing up when Aiden walked in the door. Saying nothing, he went to his room, slamming the door. Deirdre peeped out of her office. “Aiden?”

“Yes?” he called, not opening his door.

Deirdre tapped on it, waiting for him to answer. He did so, looking worn out.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah.”

“Where have you been? I thought you’d be home ages ago.”

“I had some thinking to do. I took the bus to the beach.”

“Call next time, I’ve been worried sick.”

“I tried to text.” He pulled out his phone. “Crap, it saved as a draft.” He showed it to her. “I’m sorry. I really thought I’d told you.” He spotted Corin and rushed to his brother’s side, examining him carefully. “What happened? Burl?”

His middle brother explained the altercation.

“Burl took care of it,” Corin said. “He was super spooky, nailed Moe in the nuts and scared the crap outta Xander and Oliver! And Mom! Wow, she was kick ass.”

“But you’re okay?”

“Bruised, not broken,” his mother assured him. “Dinner is leftovers.”

“I ate at McDonalds.”

“Okay, if you’re sure. What did you find out?”

“Mom, I don’t really want to talk right now. I’m beat. I’ll try to do school tomorrow. Do you think I could drive the boys in Dad’s car?”

“It hasn’t got a sticker.”

“I can buy one in the office. Please?”

Sighing, she couldn’t think of a good excuse. He was a good, safe driver. “Be careful and cautious. Don’t take chances and don’t let your temper get you in trouble.”

“I promise to behave—as badly as possible. Sheesh, Mom. You act like you don’t trust me.”

“I trust you fine. I don’t trust anyone else. Drive defensively.”

“I promise. If I don’t, Corin will rat me out.” He ruffled his brother’s hair.

“Can’t I take a day?” Corin whined. “I’m bro-hen!” He made his fingers like twisted claws, bending over like Quasimodo.

“No. You’re not broken. You’re bent,” Aiden said, pinching his ribs.

Corin squeaked, jumping away. “Ow! Ow! Ow!”

“Sorry, I’m sorry, kid. I’m so sorry!” Aiden burst into tears, falling to his knees. “I’m so sorry.”

His little brother dropped to the floor beside him, hugging him almost savagely. “I’m okay. I’m fine. It’s gonna be all right, Aid. It really is. Just—we do this together, okay? Nothing and no one comes between the Partridge Boys.”

“Nothing, no one,” Burl said, squatting by his brothers. He didn’t hug them, but he was beside them adding his support. “They will find who killed her, and bring the bastard to justice. Belief.” He held out his knuckles for his brothers to tap.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 23

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

“Mom, really?” Burl yelled. “Why can’t you be like normal mothers and listen to appropriate music?”

Deirdre turned the music down. “And what’s appropriate?” She smiled, raising an eyebrow as she turned it down a little.

“I dunno, like Enya or Michel Bublé.”

“Hmm…. No. And hell no.”

The music changed, now it was More Human Than Human by Rob Zombie. The song began with the sounds of a woman having an orgasm. Burl hid his face in his hands.

“Please, Mom! Come on! People know me!”

Taking pity on her son, Deirdre laughingly turned the music down more. Corin got there a couple minutes later, disheveled and red faced. His shirt was torn and his face bruised. His lower lip was puffy and one eye was going black.

“What happened to you?” Deirdre asked, concerned.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Freak!” some kid yelled at him.

“Can we just go?”

Others walked by, leering at them, making rude noises and cursing.

“What the f**k?” Burl said. “What did you do?”

“Nothing! I heard some guys talking about Aiden finding Wendy’s body, and they were saying awful things about her—and him! So I tried, politely, to set them straight. I said he hadn’t found her, I had, and they jumped me.”

“Jumped you? Who?” Burl opened his car door.

Deirdre, who had been ready to pull into traffic, slammed on the brakes. “What are you doing?”

“No one f**ks with my baby brother. They want a piece of Partridge, they go through me.”

“Burl, I’ve told you…!”

He actually glared at his mother, one foot on the ground. “I don’t care, Mom. I’m as non-violent as the next guy, but someone put hands on my little brother, they cross a line. Look at him, he’s half the size of nothing. That can’t happen!”

“Get back in the car.”

“No. Corin, who was it?”

Three large, tough looking boys were walking over to the car. Corin shied away, although he was inside. That was all Burl needed. He walked over to the center one, blocking his way. He wasn’t quite as tall as Aiden, but was more solidly built. His anger made him seem bigger.

“You got a problem, Partridge?” the boy asked, squaring off with the middle brother.

“Yeah. You’re messing with my brother. I guess no one told your dumb ass not to f**k with our family.”

“Must have missed that memo,” the boy said, taking a step closer. He chest bumped Burl.

His friends hung back, ready to bolt. The raised voices had finally caught the attention of other students, and teachers.

Deirdre started to get out of the Jeep, but Corin caught her arm. Shaking his head, he held her in a steel grip.

“I guess you don’t listen well, then. That’s been the word now for three years. You f**k with one Partridge, you get us all.”

“I see only you. Your big brother’s not here to protect you.”

“I don’t need Aiden,” Burl said softly, looming over the shorter boy. “You think I need him to fight my battles?”

“You fighting for the baby,” the boy countered, but he looked less sure.

“You leave him outta this. Your argument is with me, now.”

“Your crazy big brother’s probably the one who killed her,” the boy grew bold, thinking his friends were behind him.

They had backed off even further. Teachers and administrators were converging on their position. Given the number of students who were gathered around, they were having a tough time getting through the crowd.

Burl started laughing. It was a deep, dark, ugly sound. “You think you’re a tough guy, huh? You’re a pussy. You and your butt buddies need to back off. If I catch you anywhere near my brother, or even smell your stank….” he didn’t have to finish the treat. It was implicit.

The other boy, unfortunately, didn’t read it right. Feeling bold, but threatened, he took a swing at Burl. The middle Partridge ducked, slugging the thug in the stomach. The other boy gagged and retched, red in the face. Moaning, he gripped his stomach. Backing up a step, Burl put his hands behind his head as the school security officer came over.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 12

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

After making arrangements with Aiden, Detective Weinstein speaks to Deidre again. The police officer reveals that there was evidence of sexual assault, and she hopes it will help them bring the guilty party to justice. In the morning, Aiden tells his mother a little bit more about Wendy, and how sweet and smart she was.

“You really loved her.”

“Yeah. And she loved me. She told me—that night.” His lips trembled and he had to set his coffee down, his hands were shaking too much. “I wish we’d gotten together sooner, but she had this creep of a boyfriend.”

“What was his name?”

“I’ve been trying to remember. Troy, something. He was a couple years older than her, at least. So I didn’t know him from school. He was a real low life son-of-a-bitch. I can see the bastard’s face.”

“Did he go to school here?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“You know they post all yearbook pictures now?”

“Shit? Really?” He snorted, shaking his head. “So my uber-goof expression from my freshman picture is immortalized?”

“For all to see, yes. And it was cute!”

“Boys aren’t cute past the age of ten,” he corrected her, sounding just like his father.

“My point, Mr. Uber-Goof, is that we might be able to track down his picture. Do you have any idea when he graduated?”

Aiden closed his eyes, inhaling slowly, trying to center himself. “He had a shirt that said Class of 2011. It was signed by all the class on the back. They do one every year.”

“So, we begin with that and then work our way out. You’re sure it was Troy?”

“Yes. He wanted her to get a tattoo of his name, but she refused. She finally broke down and got a henna one on her ass. She showed me. She said she wanted to sit on it every chance she got.” Blushing, he ducked his head. “Sorry. More information than you want.”

“Maybe so, but it’s helpful.” She booted the computer.

Once it was ready, they took seats and accessed the yearbook site. It took some digging to find Troy. He hadn’t been in any extra curricular clubs, wasn’t on any teams, and seemed to be completely unexceptional in every way. Finally, they hit pay-dirt with the auto shop class.

“That’s him,” Aiden pointed to the screen. His lip curled in disgust. “I can’t forget that face.”

Deirdre could understand that. Though he was very handsome, there was a cruelty and hardness in Troy’s eyes. He was about six feet tall, with bulging muscles. Curly, black hair fell to his shoulders, slicked back from his face. He had open gauges in both ears, at least the size of a silver dollar. He was the only one in the picture not smiling. In fact, he stood with his arms folded, glaring at the camera.

“Looks like a real piece of work,” she said.

“He used to hit her.”

“And you didn’t report it?”

“I wanted to, Mom. She said it would only make it worse. He seemed to have some magic pill, he never stayed in long.”

“And she stayed with this creep of nature? Why?”

“You’ve been really lucky with Dad. He’s a great guy, he’d never hurt any of us. Some people—they get into something, and they’re too scared to leave. She was using the move to Gainesville to get away from him. I think one reason she left so fast, and cut off her phone, was because of him. We need to tell Detective Weinstein. I’d have said something before, but I couldn’t remember his name.”

“Right away.” She pulled out Vanessa’s card and called.

The detective answered with a smile in her voice. “Deidre, hi. I was just about to call you.”

“Did you have more questions?”

“I did, for Aiden. I didn’t want to disturb him at school, so I thought I’d leave a message with you. I hate voice mail.”

“So do I. As a matter of fact, he’s here. I let him stay home.”

“Of course. May I speak to him?”

“Yes.” She handed the phone to her son.

Nodding his thanks, he took it. “Hello, Detective. Before you ask any questions, I wanted to tell you something.” He told her about Troy, giving her his last name, Intriago.

“Oooh, I know him,” her voice held a chilly malice. “Yeah, on more than one occasion, he’s graced our holding cell. Nasty piece of work. She was dating that—man?”

Aiden chuckled. “Detective Weinstein, my daddy was a Marine. He’s said so many curse words, he’s made up a few. Troy was an abusive bastard. I wanted to report him, but Wendy said he never was held long. She was afraid of retaliation.”

“And well she should be. He’s connected, or he was. A highly placed relative, maybe. More than that, I don’t know. Thank you. I was wondering if I could get you to drive along with me to the house? I want identification before I go talk to the residents.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 11

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

Aiden and Deirdre have a heart to heart about Wendy, and both decide to turn in. As she’s getting ready for bed, Deirdre’s phone rings. It’s Detective Weinstein, who wants to speak to Aiden. She asks him to go with her, to identify the house where Wendy lived.

“Thanks. I might…. Please, find who did this and take them down, Ms. Weinstein.”

“That is my intention. Thank you for your help.”

“You’re welcome. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight. Let me speak to Mom again?”

He handed the phone to his mother. Giving her a hug, he closed the bedroom door.

“He was very helpful. I told him if he needs to see someone, I have names of very good therapists, who are reasonably priced.”

“Thank you. My boy is strong, but even a hardened man would find that difficult.”

“Agreed. First love, huh? In every sense, I gather.”

“Yes. He said she left soon after, for college. I did a little digging. I know it’s not my job…. I was curious. Why would such a talented girl leave school? She was involved with her college professor. They got caught and she got thrown out of school about five months ago. As far as I can tell, nothing happened to him,” her voice got tight with anger. “Bastard!”

“That’s low. Why can men get away with that shit? Just because we have boobs, it’s our fault?” Weinstein snorted, then chuckled softly. “Sorry. Stepping off the soapbox.”

“Rant away, sister. I agree!” She paused, forming her sentence with care. “I saw the condition of her clothing. I hope Aiden didn’t. Was she—She was—assaulted….”

“Yes. He was sloppy. We got some specimens, but unless he’s in the system, it won’t help us track him. It will help us nail him when he’s caught.”

“My husband and I will claim the body if no one else does,” Deirdre said. “I didn’t want to say that in front of my son. If she has no family, we will do that for her. I wish I’d known her before. No one should have to live like that, unloved. Unwanted. My husband says I’d adopt the world if I could.”

“It’s an admirable trait. My mother is the same way. She was always pulling in loners and strays, all our friends call her Mom. Biggest heart. Loves all of her babies, whether she gave birth to them or not.”

“She and I sound a lot a like. Thank you…. I can’t keep calling you Ms. Weinstein.”

“Vanessa. I’ll find this guy, Deirdre. Like you, I’ve taken this case personally. I don’t know why, but I think when I saw the grief in your son’s face….” She sniffled. “Sorry. I don’t usually get this emotional.”

“But you’re pregnant.”

“How did you know?”

“I worked as a lactation consultant for five years, I’ve had three kids, and I’m a La Leche League leader. I know from pregnant. Three months?”

“Eleven and a half weeks. My first. My husband and I are very excited.”

“Best of luck to you. If you need any advice, call me. You’ve got my number.”

“Thank you. I’ll let you get to bed now, I’ve taken up enough time.”

“If it helps find Wendy’s killer, take all the time you want. Goodnight, Vanessa. Thank you.”

“Goodnight. Thank me when this is over.”

They hung up. Deirdre was too wound up to sleep, so she sat at her computer and wrote more at her book. It wasn’t turning out at all as she’d intended, but she found that the liked the direction it was going. Around 2:00, she finally shut it down and went to bed.

After dropping off the boys, Deidre stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts and picked up a dozen glazed donuts and two large cups of coffee. Her boys all had a caffeine habit, though Aiden was the only one who really liked coffee. He was awake when she walked in, and helped her carry the food to the table.

“You didn’t have to do this, Mom.”

“Yes, I did. Have as many as you want. I get two,” she clarified, because he could eat all twelve, given the chance.

Sipping coffee and eating their donuts, they sat in comfortable silence. Where Corin had to chatter, and Burl sat sullenly, grumping, Aiden was her cozy companion. Since he was small, he’d been the cuddler, climbing on her lap just to snuggle. It had nearly broken her heart when he decided he was too big for that. However, when they spent time together, it was like he was her other half. Their birthdays only ten days apart, they shared a star sign. Some people told her that would cause friction, but it never had between them.

“Wendy was super smart,” he said softly. “Straight A’s. She did the dual enrollment and graduated with a weighted GPA of 4.8. She was valedictorian. And crazy good at golf. She got snapped up by UF, they couldn’t wait to get her. She had schools all over the country trying to recruit her, but she wanted to stay in Florida. It was her home.”

“Was she born here?”

He nodded. “At Halifax, just like me. Her birthday is on the Twenty-sixth of September, two days before mine. I took her to lunch the day between, to celebrate.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 10

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

Deirdre calls Fred to see if he can come home, but he’s fairly sure he can’t get away. Aiden tells her about his night with Wendy. Afterward, he asks if he can stay home from school the next day.

“Since when do you use lurid in a sentence?”

“I guess I started today. Is it okay if I stay home?”

“Yes. I’ll see if they can give your work to Burl.”

“Thanks. I don’t want to be the guy who identified the dead body.”

Deirdre could understand that. He’d either be shunned, or attract all the creepy girls who got off on death.

“You don’t think it will be a problem for your brothers?”

“They didn’t know her. Burl will let it roll, Corin—who knows? They’ll be fine.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“We aren’t little kids anymore, Mom.”

“You’ll always be my baby,” she said softly, touching his cheek. “Even when you’re old and gray, you’ll be my baby boy.”

“I love you, Mama,” he said, tears falling again.

“I love you too, Sugar Plum. Even if you aren’t going to school, I am. I’d better get my happy ass to bed.”

Aiden grinned through his tears. “You’ve always said that, even when we were kids. Didn’t you worry about cussing in front of us?”

“With Daddy’s mouth? F**k, no. You were the first kid in kindergarten to say shit in class. I thought your teacher would have apoplexy. I told her she should be glad you didn’t say something worse.”

Aiden chuckled. “And the first kid to learn all the words to Fade to Black and Iron Man.”

“I taught you well.” She gave him a kiss on the forehead. “Try to sleep. If you can’t, have a couple Benadryl. That will make you sleepy.”

“I’m gonna stay up and play guitar for a little while. I won’t use the amp. I just need to unwind.”

“Okay. I’m gonna lock up. Goodnight, son. Each day gets better, I promise.”

Nodding, he shuffled off to his room. She heard him start to play his acoustic guitar as she made the rounds, locking up and setting the alarm. Since it was one of Fred’s jobs, she sometimes forgot. Finding Wendy’s body had spooked her, though. She felt vulnerable, on edge. She wasn’t tired, but 6:00 came awfully early. She had finally decided to start sleeping in, once she felt that Aiden was able to drive his brothers to school. They could find a secondhand car for him, or he could drive his father’s heap. Fred could use hers to go to work, or she could drop him off and pick him up.

Planning and plotting, she got ready for bed. It was barely 10:00 when her phone rang. She was getting into bed and hadn’t turned it off yet. She didn’t recognize the number, but had a feeling it was important.

“Mrs. Partridge? Detective Weinstein.”

“Oh, hello!”

“I apologize for calling so late. I wondered if I might speak to Aiden.”

“I’ll see if he’s still awake. This really shook him up. The young lady, Wendy, was his first love.”

“Oh, wow. Poor kid! I had a couple questions to ask him, if he’s available?”

“I’m looking now.” She tapped on Aiden’s door.

The guitar music stopped and he answered. He looked like he’d been crying again. “Yeah?”

“Detective Weinstein to speak to you.”

His face full of questions, Aiden took the phone. “Hello?”

“Hi, Aiden. I’m sorry to bother you, but I wondered if you knew where Wendy lived before she graduated?”

“Um…isn’t there a record of it? I thought the foster system kept track of those things.”

“Normally, yes. But it seems that she wasn’t in the system the last year she was in school. She had been assigned a home, but left.”

“I don’t know their names, but I remember where she lived. I saw her there a couple times. I didn’t ever meet anyone, but she showed me the house. It was over on Lime. The far end, north side of the Boulevard. I don’t know the number, but it was a ratty looking place, second house on the left in the first block after the intersection. At the time, it was that white cinder block with brown trim, but that’s been a few years.”

“I think I know the house you described. Thank you. Do you remember anything else?”

“Not really. She wouldn’t invite me in. I remember seeing someone peering out of the window. There weren’t drapes, or they were open. A fat lady with her hair in rollers, smoking. That’s all I remember. I’m sorry.”

“No need to be. That’s more than I had earlier. I’m very sorry for your loss, Aiden. I know this must be really hard. If you feel you want to—talk to someone, I can recommend a couple people.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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