Carol looked from Zep to Mae and back again. Her mind zipped through the tragedies which could occur with Zep half watching Mae in his yard: Mae wandering into the kitchen and cooking napkins; Mae walking out the front door and down the street; Mae hitting Zep over the head with a garden tool when he became a complete stranger to her again. She looked at her mother stirring her third teaspoon of sugar into her coffee with complete concentration, feeling a sudden and desperate longing to be free of her, if only for twenty minutes. She looked back at Zep, who seemed to be reading her mind.

“I have a great lock on the back gate, and the screen door has a lock as well.” He looked quickly at Mae and back again. “It’s a great corral.” He winked.

“Great Scot, if you ask me.” Mae nodded her head, joining the conversation.

Carol pulled in her feet and put her cup on the table. “Mom, do you mind if I run to the store for a minute. You and Zep could sit outside in the yard and enjoy the day. Would that be okay?”

“Yes, dear. I’ll stay here and you go right ahead. You can use the shineness. Where’s the place?” She got up and headed for the back door, walking out before Carol could speak. “Hey, here’s the beast.” Her voice faded away from the porch. “We need to sit sit.”

Zep laughed and got up. “I’d better go get her settled.” He put a hand on Carol’s shoulder. “We’ll be fine. I promise.”

“It’ll just be twenty minutes. Here’s my cell number.” Carol pulled a piece of paper and a pen out of her purse. “I’ll leave it right here in case you need to call me. I’ll drive to the beach or something – just a quick ride with the window down and maybe a lemonade somewhere.” She took a breath. “Can I bring you something?”

Zep was walking into the yard. “Coming, Mae. Maybe a hot dog, Carol – with plenty of onions. You go ride to the boardwalk – take however long you need. Put mustard and relish on Mae’s. And don’t forget the Cokes and suckers!”

Carol smiled and stood, watching Zep through the screen door guide Mae to a chair and crouch down beside her, taking her hand in his. He pointed out the areas of the yard as he spoke, and she looked at the grass and the roses and back at his face, her expression one of happy relaxation.

She needs to get away from me, too.” Carol stood still with that new realization, then picked up her purse and bolted for the front door, closing it deliberately behind her until she heard the lock click. She snuck around the side of the house and attempted to open the gate to the backyard, finding it locked, just as Zep had said.

She turned and ran for her car.






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