- A Serialized Novel -

Sorting out Carson's legacy only leads to more questions.

Author’s Note: Carson decided to wander off, and so he missed the parade. It was a choice between the mystery plot and the parade, and the mystery won, really.

Facing the Music

“You missed the parade.”

She should hate him for that, and Carson wouldn’t blame her if she did. He had kind of promised to be there for it, but he hadn’t been. He should have tried to make it there, but he hadn’t known where the nursing home was to meet them, and by the time he thought he was getting close, he’d seen the parade going through town. “I know.”

“You had me worried.”

Yeah, he’d figured he’d end up doing that, too. That wasn’t his intention, and that bothered him more than breaking his promise—knowing that he’d upset her and made her worry about him, but he hadn’t thought he’d had a choice. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” Mackenna asked, shaking her head. “I don’t think so. Sorry doesn’t cut it. Where have you been? You don’t know anyone here, and you weren’t in the Legion. If you’d gone to the church, your brothers would have seen you because they went there to get shirts, and so you weren’t there, either. You weren’t near the cars, and I didn’t see you anywhere at the lake or at the nursing home, so what the hell? Where have you been?”

Carson sighed. “I was… Down at the lake, I could have sworn someone was watching me, so… I separated myself from everyone and wandered on my own for a while—no specific purpose or plan, just walked and walked—until I figured he’d had plenty of chance to confront me. He didn’t. I don’t know who or where he is. I don’t even know if he was ever following me.”

She sighed. “Damn it, Carson. If there was someone following you, then I needed to know. Your brothers should have known. We should all have been watching you—making sure we found this guy and that you stayed safe. If someone is after you, it’s because they’re afraid of what you remember, and that means that they might kill you, too, like they did your father.”

He nodded. “I know. I… It was stupid, and it dawned on me halfway through the walk that I was being dumb about it, but by then I was kind of lost, and I didn’t have my cellphone with me—I think I left it at Jim and Natalie’s because I was so distracted by the costume idea—and I don’t even know that it would work here because I know it wasn’t working the last time I looked.”

“Okay, well, that’s got to change. No more going off without your phone. Even if the service is spotty, you need it. Also, no going off on your own. It’s one thing to need space or the bathroom or that sort of thing, but when you disappear for over an hour and miss an event, you scare the hell out of people.”

He grimaced. He had not meant to do that, not when he started out. He’d figured it would be easy to tell if he was being tailed, but it wasn’t as simple as the movies made it seem, and while he had still felt like someone was watching him, he never caught anyone doing it, just like the last time. “I won’t. I’m sorry. My paranoia is getting the better of me. I don’t like it, but that’s what keeps happening. I just wish I could get that last part of it back so that I could stop obsessing.”

“It’ll come. Be patient.”

“That is easier said than done.”

“I know,” she said, wrapping her arms around him. “Don’t ever do that to me again. I don’t like not knowing where you are or if you’re hurt. I had all these horrible images of what could have happened to you in my head, and I don’t think I was really there for the parade at all. I suppose I smiled and waved and all that, but I don’t remember doing it. All I could think about was you.”

He leaned his head against hers. He should push her away because his mind was bound to take the wrong sort of turn again like it had ever since he’d seen her in that dress this morning, but he liked having her close all the same. “I didn’t want to worry you.”

“Then don’t go off on your own. Promise?”

“Promise.” He slipped out of her hold and looked at her. “I know there’s a steak dinner tonight, but I’m not in the mood. Can you drop me off back at Jim and Natalie’s before you eat? I think I need a shower—well, I know I do. After the sun and this outfit, I’m kind of rank—and I’ll go to sleep early since we’ve got to leave before seven tomorrow, don’t we?”

“That’s when the starting gun goes off, yes.”

“That’s crazy.”

“It’s not so bad. There’s always doughnuts and coffee and other goodies at the first stop, and that makes the early morning worth it.”

“If you say so.”

“Let me go give our tickets to your brothers. They were so disappointed that they were going to miss out on the steak, but I think I’m with you. I could use a cool shower and an early night. Besides, we have a puzzle to finish.”

Carson laughed, shaking his head. She dragged him with her, still unwilling to let him out of her sight, and he should have known she’d be like that after what he’d done, but he didn’t know that he’d survive being alone with her, either. He’d just have to be too tired to finish the puzzle. That was it.

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