Page 43 of Jed Had to Die

I swallow over the lump in my throat and silently tell my ovaries to stop blowing noise makers and throwing confetti.

“I know you don’t believe it, Payton, but there hasn’t been one day that’s gone by that I haven’t thought about you since you moved to Chicago. I joined the police force because I wanted to be bigger and better and not so much of a loser if you ever came back to town,” he admits, clenching the material of my shirt at my lower back into his fists as he pulls me closer until my chest is pressed against his. “I know it’s crazy, and I know it probably scares the shit out of you, but I have been dreaming about you and what I would say to you and what I would do if you ever walked back into my life and I got a second chance to make another impression on you.”

His hands let go of their hold on the back of my shirt and he moves them up between us, cupping my face in his palms and lowering his voice. “I know it’s crazy and I know it’s fast, but honestly, I don’t give a fuck. As soon as I heard you were back in town, I knew it would be the only chance I’d get to make sure you never forgot who I was again,” he admits, running his thumbs back and forth over the skin of my cheeks while he stares into my eyes.

“I’m pretty sure your name is going to be burned into my brain for the rest of my life, don’t worry about that,” I whisper, while my ovaries crank up the volume on their house party and Leo starts moving his face closer to mine. “I’ll totally cover for you, too. Shit, people already think you knocked me up, I can just tell them we spent the night together or something. Boom! There’s your alibi! But just in case, I promise to come visit you in prison if this doesn’t work out. I’ll teach you everything I know about joining a gang and making sure you’re always the guy with the most packs of smokes.”

Leo stops moving when his mouth is a centimeter from mine, quickly pulling back to look down at me in puzzlement.

“Why would you need to cover for me or visit me in prison? You don’t think I killed Jed, do you?” he asks, pulling his face back more so he can get a better look at my own, which probably mirrors his What-in-the-actual-fuck expression.

“I mean, you kind of admitted it, didn’t you? You have those bruises and cuts on your knuckles and you said things got heated between you guys, and then Andrea Maynard told me at The Hungry Bear this morning that Jed had a black eye when you guys found his body, and you got all sweet and mushy when I told you I’d help you. What am I missing here?” I ask.

“You’re missing the fact that I didn’t fucking kill anyone!” Leo shouts, dropping his hands from my face to step back from me and pace in the small hallway. “When I said things got heated, I meant that I followed behind him to the bar just to get him away from here, and then I punched him in the face as soon as we got to the parking lot and got out of our vehicles. And when you said you’d help me, I just thought you meant covering for me about the bruises on my knuckles, but I already signed a statement about what went down that night. Jesus, Payton, you thought I killed him?”

Oh, shit.

“Um, just kidding?” I reply in a weak, tiny voice.

“Here I’ve been thinking you were avoiding me all day because you had something to do with Jed’s death, especially after how fucking insane you and Emma Jo were acting last night. And instead, you just sat around assuming I’m the one who killed him!” he complains, throwing his hands up in the air in frustration.

“Hey! We don’t act insane, we ARE insane. It’s a gift, and it’s taken a hell of a lot of years to perfect. Also, I didn’t just sit around all day. I spit on a dog, stole some coffee, and started dating Billy Ray. My plate has been entirely too full to avoid you just because I may or may not have thought you killed Jed, thank you very much! And didn’t you just get done reminding me that I haven’t seen you in over a decade and might not know very much about you? Well, how was I supposed to know you weren’t a murderer?!” I argue, leaving out the part about how Emma Jo and I decided to do our own investigation.

“BO JANGLES DID IT IN THE KITCHEN WITH A SHOVEL, MUSKRAT!” Emma Jo suddenly yells from down the hall. “EVERYONE GETS A MUSKRAT WHEN WE SOLVE THE CASE!”

Son of a bitch…

“Please, for the love of God, tell me you two aren’t conducting your own investigation…” Leo trails off, looking up at the ceiling in annoyance while he speaks.

“Fine, I won’t tell you that,” I reply, crossing my arms in front of me and shooting him a sarcastic smile.

He opens his mouth a few times to say something, each time clamping it quickly closed and trying again until his cell phone starts buzzing from his back pocket. He yanks it out, reads the text, and then shoves it back in his jeans without saying a word since I’ve clearly rendered him speechless, before turning and walking to the door.

“I’ll be back. At least promise me you’ll leave Bo Jangles alone while I’m gone,” Leo mutters as he yanks the door open and walks out onto the porch.

“I make no promises! That little asshole is at the top of our suspect list!” I shout to his retreating back before closing the door behind me and locking the deadbolt.

CHAPTER 22

Recorded Interview

June 4, 2016

Bald Knob, KY Police Department

Chrissy Lou Smith: Where is Sheriff Hudson? Why isn’t he doing this interview?

Deputy Lloyd: He’s otherwise detained, ma’am.

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