"Bee, where's Tibby?"
"I just picked her up and we're on our way to get Cole. Why?"
The room was still spinning. The smell of flowers was making my already twisted stomach nauseous. The phone grew slick in my sweat-soaked palm.
"Do not take them home,"
"JUST DON'T TAKE THEM HOME!" I screamed.
"Take them home with you. I'll be there as soon as possible. Don't answer the door for anyone. I'll call you when I'm standing right outside."
"You're scaring me. What's--"
I hung up before she finished. Leslie was staring at me, wide-eyed.
"Cancel the rest of the patients for today and then lock up and go home."
"Dennis and Michael won't be coming in at all today. They don't have any patients lined up. Just do it."
I tugged off my coat and threw it on the hook. It had been a long time since I had been in a situation where the blood literally pounded in my ears, but I had never forgotten what it felt like. I grabbed my purse, trying desperately to ward off the breakdown.
BANG. I was out the door before she could finish; however, before I could take a step, hands came at me. I went into immediate defensive mode. Using my purse, I began to bat and scream like a madwoman, hoping someone on the street would come to my rescue.
"OW! Stop! I get it! You didn't like the flowers!"
Brian held his hands up like a shield, twisting his body to protect vulnerable areas. I stopped, my purse falling limply in defeat and gasped for breath. When he realized I had stopped beating him, he let his hands drop. Concern spread across his face.
"I don't have time," I said quickly, already beginning to move towards my car.
"Jill, please. I don't want to leave things like--"
"I can't talk!"
My fingers felt like swollen sausages as I rooted around for my keys. As always the damn things had fallen to the bottom of my purse. Brian was right on my heels.
"I just wanted to let you know I have to leave a day early so we've got a flight back home tonight. But, I'd like to see you again. I could come back here or maybe if you want a vacation--"
I found the keys and pressed Unlock. I paused with my hand on the door handle. "Vacation? Where?"
"G-Georgia. I live there. I think I told y--"
My mind raced. "When?"
"Well, whenever you want."
"You're leaving today?"
The look of concern was long gone. He was now staring at me as if I had flew completely over the cuckoo's nest with no sign of ever returning. "Yeee-ees," he said slowly. Finally, he gave a little crooked smile. "You and the kiddos wanna go with?"
"Absolutely. When does the flight leave?"
His mouth dropped open. "You're ser--"
"Listen, I can't talk about this right now, but I'm serious. From a pocket of my purse I yanked out a little floss encased in a small square paper wrapper and a pen. I dashed off my cell and practically threw it at him.
I didn't give him a chance to finish. I jumped in the car and a second later, I was heading out of the lot on two wheels as I jumped a curb.
"Jill, what's going on?"
"I need Mikael to go get Hoover, but you need to tell him to be super careful. Can you watch him for a few days?"
"Not until you tell me what's going on."
"All Mik needs to get him out of the backyard using a treat and come right back. Tell him not to go in the house. He shouldn't come straight home either. Tell him to zig-zag back."
"You're scaring me. What's this about? Do we need to call the po--"
Tibby squeezed by Bee and hurled herself at me. I scooped her up and squeezed her so hard that I was sure I would break her ribs. The tears that I had been holding in broke free.
"I had fun at school!" Tibby said. "I painted, and I counted, and--"
My cellphone began to ring. The number looked familiar. The last time I had seen it the thing had been written on Hoover's dog food.
"Are you really serious about coming to Georgia?"
"We're leaving for the airport in about two hours. I called and there's still seats left on the flight, but--"
"Book them. I'll pay you back."
"Can you tell me what's going on?"
"Nothing," I said, unconvincingly. "I'll meet you at the airport."
Before he could say anything else, I hung up. Jill's eyes had grown even wider.
"Bee, I'll tell you when I have a chance. Right now I just need to get out of town."
"Where are you going?"
"Silly mommy! We can't go on vacation!" "Mom?"
From behind Bee's shoulder, I saw Cole descend from their loft. It was where Mikael did all of his painting and sculpture work. He took one look at my face and paled.
"He's back," he said. It wasn't a question. "Hey, Auntie Bee, can you make these guys a little snack?" I said. I've got to make a phone call.
Bee glanced between me and Cole. Tibby wiggled out of my arms. "What's going on?" she demanded, stomping her foot, mad that no one was paying attention to her. Bee finally nodded, resigned that I wasn't going to say anymore with the kids around.
"You guys want some peanut butter cookies? C'mon."
"Mom?" Cole repeated. His voice sounded small. He was eight years old again.
"Give me a minute, buddy," I said softly. "I've got to do something really quick."
"His name is Gregg Hickman. G-r-e-g-g H-i-c-k-m-a-n. Hickman."
The officer on the other end of the phone typed slowly. "And you said something about a note?"
I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Yes, he insinuated he had tracked down our daughter. He's supposed to be in prison. He's dangerous."
"I see." Again, more typing. How long did it take to type in one fucking name? "Ah, yes. Hickman, Gregg. The database says he was released early for good behavior three weeks ago."
"I was supposed to be notified," I snapped. "Why wasn't I notified?"
"Well, the address we have on file is a Kentucky address."
Shit. "I don't live in Kentucky anymore," I said. "How is it that he found me quicker than you could?"
"I'm very sorry ma'am. If you'd like, I can send an officer to meet you at your office and take the note."
"Are you kidding? I'm not going back there! He might be waiting. Or he might be watching the office from the car. What the hell do you think he'd do to me if he knew I called the police?"
"Ma'am, now please, calm down. I understand that this is upsetting but we could possibly help file a restrain--"
"A restraining order?" I said bitterly. "Yeah, because that worked so well the last time."
I couldn't listen to the guy any longer. I hung up and slid down to the ground of Bee's laundry room. The whole room smelled like Tide and Downy. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back against the washer.
He was out. On good behavior. He was supposed to have served eight years. I thought I had at least two years before I needed to worry.
I was wrong.
The time to run started now.