Today's Reading

Looking at him wasn't helpful, so she focused on the building in front of her. Her store, like every other one on the street, was made from worn and weathered brick. It gave Main Street a soft yet dependable look. Most of these buildings had managed to remain standing even during the Civil War and the siege on neighboring Corinth. Two large plateglass windows flanked each side of the double doors. Those doors were possibly as old as the building itself and wore their thick layers of paint like badges of honor. There had been some debate between Arlo and Chloe as to whether or not to replace the doors for security reasons, but sentimentality had won out. Instead, they added new locks, another coat of paint, and relied on the honesty of small-town living to do the rest.

Through the windows she could see the reading area. Faulkner's cage still had the cover on, but she was certain the Amazon parrot was ready to be seen and fed. On the other side of the shop, the coffee bar waited for the doors to be opened and the customers to come in. Usually Chloe was bustling around getting things ready. But not today.

"Arlo."

"Huh?" She dragged her attention from the shop, only briefly aware that the men had switched places. Jason was now talking to Inna and Mads had somehow managed to turn Daisy away from the grisly scene.

"Are you just going to stand there?" Chloe asked. Her voice was only a stage whisper. As if she didn't want to be heard or noticed.

Was she just going to stand there?

Arlo gathered her thoughts and what she could of her composure, then headed into her store.

Chloe held one door open, then locked it as soon as it was closed again. "Chloe?" Arlo whirled around to look at her best friend and business partner. Chloe's normally wild blond curls seemed even more riotous today. Or was that the light in her green eyes? She looked so completely un-Chloe-like that Arlo almost laughed. Maybe she would have if Wally Harrison wasn't lying dead on the sidewalk in front of her store.

"What's wrong? I mean besides..." She trailed off as she waved a hand in the general direction of the crime scene outside.

Chloe practically wrung her hands, then rushed over to the sink. She pulled the two oversize coffee mugs from the drainer and started to wash them.

"Aren't those...clean?" Arlo asked. She barely got the words out before Chloe shook her head.

"No. I guess I forgot them last night."

Chloe never forgot anything. She was too laid-back and too utterly Zen to forget, unlike Arlo who needed a daily reminder to remember to put on her shoes. At least that's what Helen, Arlo's one-time guardian, said. Helen was the reason Arlo had been able to stay in Sugar Springs when her family was ready to move on.

"Courtney closed last night."

Chloe pushed her hair back from her face, but it sprang forward once again. "Did she?" She gave a nervous laugh.

Arlo narrowed her gaze and looked around the room. Something was up. But what? Dishes in the drainer, not actually forgotten, meant they had been used that morning. And that meant...

"He was here, wasn't he?"

Chloe laughed again, but the sound was choked. "He? Who he?"

Arlo propped one hip against the back of the couch that faced the reading area. Behind her she heard Faulkner flap his wings. The bird gave a small reminder squawk that no one had taken the cover off his cage. "You know who he."

"Why would who he, uh, he be here?" She grabbed a clean rag from the stack next to the sink and turned on the water.

"Maybe to relive old times?"

"What old times?"

"I don't know. How about that time up at Pickwick...?"
 
Chloe closed her eyes and held up her hand to stay that memory. "Please." Her fingers trembled.

"All right." Arlo straightened and grabbed Chloe by one string-bracelet-covered wrist. "Let's go." She herded her friend past the open-faced bookshelves with their sturdy oak ladders, then up the wide plank staircase to the loft above. There was more seating there, along with café-style tables and chairs, but more important, Arlo didn't have to see what was going on outside her store. Not for a while anyway. Hopefully long enough for Chloe to tell whatever story she was hiding.
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