She stood up from the bed she was weeding, arched her back and grunted as a soothing crack sounded in her spine. You’re making old woman sounds, Gramma warned her. I’m the one who should be creaking and popping.
Gramma had come straight to her house after yesterday’s phone call, making the five-minute drive in two and a half minutes. She’d burst through the front door, greeted Poppy, then wrapped her arms around Mila and rocked her back and forth, stroking her hair, calling her baby and sweet girl and whispering that everything was all right now.
And everything had been all right, because Gramma was there. She was the rock in Mila’s life. Once, when Mila had told her she was her hero, Gramma had laughed and said, Except the tights are support hose these days, and the cape looks more like a hairdresser’s than a superhero’s.
Having Gramma in her life made Mila the luckiest person in the world.
Her startle reflex was sharper than usual, though an instant after the surprise, she recognized Mario’s voice. He stood just inside the gate, his brows raised in question. She nodded and began gathering her tools, along with the pop-up mesh tub that held the weeds. She would be the first drop-off today, a fact she appreciated since they’d already worked an hour longer than usual. Poppy would be even more excited than usual, both with her greeting and her need to get outside.
Most of the equipment was already loaded in the trailer. Ruben secured his weed trimmer while she stuffed her tools into their spot, then they both climbed inside the truck and headed out of the neighborhood. The silence was comfortable, she realized with surprise. She’d always lived mostly in silence, and she’d always been acutely aware that it wasn’t exactly normal. But the crew wasn’t quiet because they were angry or suspicious or plotting. They were tired, thinking about a shower and dinner and a good night’s sleep, just as she was. It was familiar. Normal.
When Ruben turned the old pickup onto her block, he glanced her way. “Huh.”
She looked at him, then ahead. A white pickup truck with police department markings was parked across the street from her house. Chief Douglas. Huh, indeed.
Her mouth went dry, her stomach clenching hard. Did he have more questions? Pretty much everyone involved with a murder was looked at closely. Had they looked at her? Had they found out that Milagro Ramirez had formed out of thin air fifteen years ago, that before then she hadn’t existed? Did they wonder what she was hiding and if it had anything to do with the dead man she’d discovered?
Ruben pulled up to the curb opposite the police chief. She got out of the pickup, holding the door so Alejandro could move from the back seat to the front. Before letting go, she managed an action that was more grimace than smile and said, “Thanks, Ruben. Goodbye.” She didn’t look to see if all three men were staring at her. She’d never said thank you, goodbye, hello or anything else voluntary to them.
No wonder they were never chatty with her.
She wanted to go straight inside her house and lock the door, but it would be futile. If Douglas could be put off that easily, he wouldn’t be police chief. With a deep breath to control the queasiness in her stomach, she turned to face his truck. The engine was shut off, the windows rolled down to let in the stifling heat, stirred only by the occasional rustle of wind. The sun was at just the right angle to shine in the driver’s side window, making the cab significantly warmer than the outside air, enough to make sweat glisten on his forehead.
It wasn’t a bad look on him.
He got out, closing the door with a thud, and crossed the street to join her.
“You should have waited on the porch. At least you would have had shade and a breeze,” she said, not realizing until after she’d spoken that a greeting of some sort would have been polite.
Being polite had never been one of her goals, regretfully. Not being noticed had always been far more important to her—and to her survival.
“I would have, but my going on the porch and knocking on the door made your dog crazy. I figured if I didn’t go away, he was going to come right through the door.”
“She,” Mila corrected automatically as she opened the gate, then led the way to the porch. “Poppy is excitable.”