Why should that old woman care what we were up to? She didn't even like us. We couldn't even slip away to the yard or barn to get away from Aunt Georgia's growling and snarling. Not without Aunt Georgia freaking out at us the second we got back into the house. The rooms upstairs rooms became our hiding place, just like they were for Sydney.
That led to the third new thing that started happening. Every once in a while, when we had had enough of Aunt Georgia's eagle eye and yelling, Hayley and I would slip out Sydney's window and shimmy down the tree at night, just like our mothers used to do. We always waited until Momma had gone to work and Aunt Georgia and Sydney were settled into bed. We were usually left alone after eight o'clock anyway, but we waited a little longer just to be sure. We weren't going to any parties, of course. We were just hanging out down at the stable, which was where Kirsten had started hanging out ever since her mother caught her having a party in November. Kirsten brought her friends and sometimes a thermos of hot cocoa. Everyone sat on hay bales and buckets down at the end of the stable where the huge heater was. Kirsten always seemed to like having us around, even though we were a lot younger than everyone else. Some of Kirsten's friends smoked while they sat on the hay bales, but she didn't smoke. She wouldn't let anyone offer me a cigarette or a drink from the glass bottles of alcohol that one or two of the boys always pulled out of their deep coat pockets. Hayley, though, drank and smoked whenever she felt like it. I figured since she had already started on that stuff, Kirsten couldn't really stop her. I kind of liked how Kirsten looked out for me. It wasn't suffocating like Aunt Georgia's new obsession with our whereabouts. It just felt nice to have someone want to take care of me for once.
One night Kirsten had even bumped her shoulder against mine and said, "You're pretty cool, you know that? Like a cool little sister or something." I smiled and thanked her at the time, but I soared inside for the rest of the night. Of course, Kirsten didn't have siblings, so she didn't know that having a little sister was actually a lot of work. But still, her saying what she did felt better than being kissed by any dumb boy. Since Dakota didn't hang out at the barn with us, I was even starting to forget how embarrassing that kiss had been.
Hayley and I had barely settled into bed after one of our nighttime escapes early one Thursday morning when the house phone ringing scared us half to death.
It was pretty weird for the phone to ring when it was still dark out. Momma never called the house, though I called her sometimes before I went to bed. Aunt Georgia answered the phone on the third ring. Her voice was muffled as it came up through the vent, but I could still tell she was not happy to answer the phone before sunrise.
I went back to sleep for a little while after it got quiet again, until I heard Aunt Georgia calling my name. That was really weird because she never called me by my name. Come to think of it, she never actually called me anything. Maybe "You" or "kid" once in a while, but that was it. My name sounded ugly coming out of that mouth. I wished she hadn't said it. I got up, though, and walked halfway down the stairs until I could see her.
"Cara, you need to get your sister up and ready. We're going into town," Aunt Georgia said from the bottom of the stairs. She was dressed and wearing shoes already. Her hair wasn't hanging all stringy around her face. Instead, it was in a ponytail with a huge old scrunchy in it. She wasn't scowling at me like usual. I couldn't quite make out what her expression was, but I knew for sure it wasn't one I had seen before.
"Oh... Okay," I said.
"Can you be ready in 30 minutes?" Was she asking me a question?
"Thanks," she said.
Thanks? What had gotten into that woman?
I headed to Sydney's room and got her up quickly. She had peed the bed again, but none of it got on the mattress because Momma had put a plastic sheet on it. Sydney never used to wet the bed, but just lately she had started. It was like as time went by, she became more and more like a baby. Maybe she was scared to go downstairs by herself. But she could have woken me up if she really needed to.
On the way to the bathroom, I caught sight of Hayley at the kitchen table with her head down on her arms. She was breathing raggedly as though she'd just finished crying. I put a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off. Since she didn't even raise her head to look at me, I just kept going where I was going.
As I was brushing Sydney's hair, she asked me, "Where's Herbert Hoover?"
"I don't know," I said, suddenly suspicious. "Probably the stable. Why?"
"I wished for him. He didn't come."
I nearly dropped the brush. "I thought you weren't going to wish that horse into the house anymore!"
"I didn't! The yard."
"You could have gotten us in so much trouble. What if anybody had seen him?"
Sydney shrugged. Just then I saw a big purple bruise on her arm.
"Syd, what happened to your arm? Did Aunt Georgia hit you again?"
"No," Sydney said. "She doesn't hit now."
I pushed against the bruise lightly, and she didn't flinch.
"Does that hurt?"
I decided to let it go since she wasn't hurting. Besides, Sydney didn't know how to lie. She must have run into something on her own. I felt kind of bad for not noticing her getting hurt before then.
We were all washed, brushed, dressed, and ready before half an hour was up. Aunt Georgia was waiting for us in the kitchen. All the lights were on in there, and there was a tall stack of toast on a plate at the center of the table. Aunt Georgia looked uncomfortable, but she still wasn't scowling. She sat at her normal place at the table and held her normal mug of coffee, but she was actually looking at us instead of down at her hands. I still couldn't make out that weirdness in her expression. I glanced at Hayley. She still looked like a mess, but she had changed her clothes. Sydney skipped to the table and sat down happily, folding her hands in front of her on the table. Aunt Georgia pulled a paper towel off the roll and set two pieces of toast on it in front of Sydney.
"Want some jelly?" Aunt Georgia asked her.
She nodded excitedly and said, "Yes, pwease." Aunt Georgia got to work spreading jelly while I stood there gawking.
"Well? Hop to it," Aunt Georgia said to the two of us. "It ain't gonna walk into your mouth by itself."
Hayley and I did as she said and buttered our toast. As soon as we were done eating, Aunt Georgia ushered us out the front door to her pickup truck. She told us to leave the kitchen chores until we got back.
"What about the horses?" I asked.
"They'll be alright. I had Jared take care of them today."
I didn't know he knew anything about horses, since I had never seen him down at the stable before. But oh well. I didn't mind a break from shoveling horse poop. But still, I couldn't understand what would put us in such a rush we couldn't feed the horses.
"Hayley, what happened?" I whispered.
She shook her head at me to shush me and fell back a few steps. I followed her lead.
"Bo killed Herbert Hoover," she whispered back. "Don't say a word to Sydney."
My mouth flew open. "No way! Why would he sneak all the way out here to the stables just to kill a horse?" I knew who he was really after.
"I don't know, but he put the head in our front yard."
My mouth fell open as I let that sink in. "But why a horse?"
"He wants to scare your mom. Look."
She pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket. It read, "DADDY'S HOME" in black marker.
"Did you show that to Aunt Georgia?"
Hayley nodded. She told me to get rid of it, but I wanted to show it to you."
"So he's just trying to mess with us before he tries to kill us."
"Sure. He's got a lot of reason to hate your mom."
"You really don't know anything, do you? Your mom got Bo thrown in jail, and she got off free."
"Got off free? You mean she--"
"I don't know the whole story, but I do know that there was a murder. Your mom had something to do with that whole thing, and Bo's real mad at her because she didn't get in trouble."
"Momma was part of a murder?"
"Shh!" She dug her nails into my arm, and I shut up.
"But why a horse? Herbert Hoover didn't belong to any of us."
"He didn't know that. Besides, you can't reason with a monster." Hayley snapped her lips shut when Aunt Georgia rolled down the truck window.
"Come on, we gotta go," Aunt Georgia called. "Did you lock up?"
"Yeah," Hayley said. She pulled the deadbolt key out of her pocket and held it up.
We just got into the truck and buckled in as best we could. I had to put Sydney on my lap because the truck was old and there were no extra seats in the cab. It felt weird riding that way.
Aunt Georgia stopped at the BP station first to fill up the truck. We went in to say hi to Momma and because Sydney said she needed to pee. If Aunt Georgia's sudden change of behavior wasn't weird enough, Momma seemed even weirder. Her hands were shaking a little. She tried to smile at us, but her mouth stretched too tight, and she burst into tears. I started crying too; I couldn't help it. I cried every time she did, no matter how I felt about her. Hayley took Sydney to the bathroom, probably because she didn't know what to do with everyone standing around, crying like that.
"Momma, what's going on?" I asked in a wobbly voice.
"Nothing, honey, everything's gonna be okay. I promise." She hugged me and kissed the top of my head. An old man walked into the gas station, took one look at us, and veered away from the counter and toward the coffee machine instead.
"Bo's been here," I whispered to her. My stomach dropped to my toes and bounced back up as I said those words. I wasn't sure if the toast I had eaten would stay down. "But you said he didn't know Aunt Georgia. You said he wouldn't find us here."
"He doesn't know her. I don't know how he found us." Momma hugged me tighter. "Now, I don't want you to worry. Your Aunt Georgia is going to keep a close eye on you. And you need to do what she says. She is going to keep you safe."
The old man brought his coffee up to the counter to pay for it. Momma sniffed and wiped her eyes quickly. She said to me in a very low tone, "Now, don't say a word to Sydney about this. She doesn't remember him. And she is in no condition to have to worry about anything."
I nodded and stepped back to give the customer room at the counter. My heart raced painfully in my chest even though I didn't remember any of the things Bo did. I was too little at the time. I only remember the yelling and screaming and crying that would go on from the bedroom next to mine. And once he slapped me hard enough to knock me down, or at least that was what Grandma told me. I knew Bo had done things that made him deserve to go jail, but I didn't understand til today that Bo had actually killed someone.
Aunt Georgia joined us inside the tiny gas station and got herself a cup of coffee too. Momma only charged Aunt Georgia for the gas and waved away the extra money for the coffee.
"Thank you," Momma whispered to Aunt Georgia.
"Chin up, girl," Aunt Georgia said. "We're gonna take care of ourselves. That's what we do. I ain't gonna let nobody get to nobody, not on my place."
More pieces of this whole puzzle that was my family fell together. "All those calls lately, those were Bo."
Georgia shot a look at Momma. She shrugged and put up her hands.
"Yeah. he's been calling and threatening every day," Aunt Georgia admitted. Oh. So that was who Aunt Georgia yelled at on the phone so many times a day.
"But we didn't expect him to actually show up. Not with him being on parole," Momma said.
I wanted so badly to ask Momma about who it was that Bo had killed. I wanted to know whether or not my mom was a murderer, too. But there were customers going in and out of the station, and I knew better than to ask in front of them. After all, we Clements live a quiet life. Only now was I starting to understand why.