Lily couldn't concentrate at school. Thoughts of the break-in the night before and of her mom's return later tonight kept bouncing around inside her head.
Finally, Mr. Doore called her on it. "Do you have a problem today, Miss Dunlap? Am I boring you?"
She felt her cheeks warm with embarrassment, but said, "My mom and grandma are coming home tonight. I'm pretty excited about it."
Eddie Maxwell, two seats behind her, sneered. "You've been on your own all this time and you haven't thrown a party or anything? And you want your mom to get back? That's pathetic."
Mr. Doore gave her a close look. "I find that truly commendable. Well done, Miss Dunlap."
Lily felt as if she must look beet red, but she was grateful for Mr. Doore's support. She knew how old-fashioned and out of it she must seem to most of the kids in her class. Pathetic, as Eddie called her. But they did their own thing, and she did hers. She didn't envy them any more than they envied her.
Mr. Doore returned to his lecture, taking the attention off her. She tried to concentrate, but she was more flustered now than she'd been before. She was glad when the bell rang to change classes. The rest of the day wasn't much better. By the time she left the school building and walked to her car, she felt like she'd survived one skirmish after another.
When she pulled into her drive and started toward the house, she had so many mixed feelings, it felt like they were bumping into each other inside her.
"Aren't you even going to say hi?" Woodrow's voice called from his back door.
Lily's head jerked up. "What are you doing home? I thought you'd be late again tonight."
"I turned the paper in today. Bea Hummings called and asked me to tell you that your mom's flight was delayed and they won't get to Emerald Hills until close to nine tonight. So I thought you might be disappointed. What if we drive into Bloomington and have supper at a nice restaurant there?"
Lily's pulse beat triple time. Then she looked down, chewing on her bottom lip.
"What is it?" Woodrow was by her side before she realized it. "Is everything okay?"
"I was horrible to you yesterday just because you wouldn't bring the Chinese food home to eat. And now you're being so nice to me, I feel rotten about it."
He frowned. "Is that all? If that's as bitchy as you get, I'm in for an easy time."
She stared. "You've met girls who are worse?"
"Every day. You can't hold a candle to them."
She wasn't sure what to say. Finally, she asked, "Is that a good thing?"
"As far as I'm concerned, it is. I have friends who fall for the girls who treat them like crap. I don't understand it. I can visit my family any time I need that."
"You hardly ever talk about your family."
"Before, it was too hard for me. It was depressing. Now they're in my past. It's different."
"I like it when you talk to me about serious stuff."
He started walking with her to her house. "You're the one I always came to when something bothered me."
She unlocked the front door and motioned him inside. "And that made me feel good, but it was few and far between. I'm the one who did most of the blabbing."
"You never blabbed. You brainstormed or vented. And everything you talked about was interesting."
She grabbed his shoulder and turned him toward her. Then she rose on tiptoe and kissed his lips. "You always make me feel better about myself."
"That's because you don't realize how wonderful you are." He stopped just inside the door, as though he was unsure whether to come any farther or not.
"I'll behave," Lily told him. "I owe that much to Sara Mae." She tossed her books on the hall table. "Should I change into something nicer? Should I dress up?"
"It's a college town. Jeans are the fashion of choice." He looked down at his own worn out Levis. "And you'll be with me. But if you want me to give you a minute, I will. I can go to my place and come back when you're ready."
And lose time with him? Lily shook her head. "Nope, I'm fine. Do you want to leave now?"
"Why not? We can go to the book store and poke around there before we eat."
"Let me grab some money."
"No, this is my treat."
"You don't have to buy a book for me if I find one I like."
"Hey, it's cheaper than jewelry. Just make it a paperback."
She laughed and followed him to his van. When they pulled away, Lily gave a wave toward Sara Mae's house. "She won't worry if she knows we're going someplace."
It wasn't a long drive to Bloomington. "There are a few small book stores besides the chains," Woodrow told her when they neared the downtown area. "I thought we could browse through all of them if we have time."
Lily didn't care what they did, as long as they were together, so she happily followed Woodrow from one shop to another. She gravitated to the mystery and romance sections while he looked at the biographies. By the time they headed to a restaurant that advertised a stone oven, Lily had a novel by Elizabeth George. "Heavy reading," she told Woodrow. "I love her use of language." And a novel by Mae Clair. "She mixes the supernatural with mysteries, and she does tons of research. I always enjoy her books"
Woodrow had a tome about Benjamin Franklin. "I've always admired the founding fathers." He waited to order before he asked, "Did you get Georgina off safe and sound this morning?"
Lily shook her head. "I overslept. She's still in her box, waiting for me to send her."
"I thought you wanted her out of the house before your mom got home."
"She's not a problem, not like Sunny and Blair were. She gets jealous once in a while, but that's all. I meant to go to the post office after school tonight, but I forgot."
"Because I surprised you."
She smiled. "Guess which I'd rather do? Go to dinner with you or mail Georgina?"
"Okay, I'll take her to my place tonight and mail her tomorrow on my way to classes. The post office is on my route."
"You'd do that?"
"Why not? You've done favors for me before. Besides, I want that doll out of your house, and I want you to text Cross right now and tell him the doll and an extra freebie will be on its way in the morning. Then he won't have to break into your house to look for it again."
Lily wasn't sure why, but she had to fight to swallow. Her eyes stung, but she blinked to keep them from tearing up. She was getting sentimental and mushy. She changed the subject. "Are you coming over to see Mom and Grandma tonight?"
"And our doll? You couldn't keep me away. But before our food gets here, text Cross. I fixed your back window this morning. It would be awful if he broke another one to get in when your mom is there."
Lily didn't even want to think about that. What would her mother do? She could picture her grabbing a skillet and a butcher knife and marching down the stairs to do serious harm. She flipped open her cell phone and sent a quick text. Cross would know that both dolls were coming to his clinic. He could destroy his rag doll replica the minute he got it.
With the message sent, Woodrow relaxed more. "Good. That's out of the way. We can enjoy our supper."
And enjoy, they did. The food was delicious. Lily had never felt more at ease with Woodrow. The time passed too quickly, and before she knew it, an hour had passed and the waitress came with their tab. It was time to go. On the drive home, she tried to contain the emotions that were battling inside her. She was excited about seeing her mom and grandma. She couldn't wait to see the soul mate doll her mother brought. If it was Woodrow, she thought she might explode with happiness. If it wasn't, she didn't know what she'd do.
Woodrow broke the silence. "Guess this will be our moment of truth."
Lily blinked back tears. She felt anxious and worried and thrilled and elated all at the same time. "It's worse than Christmas when I was a little girl."
In the dim light, she could see Woodrow smile. "I feel sort of like the guy who has to choose the lady or the tiger."
"The short story?"
"Yeah, where the girl and guy get caught, and the guy has two doors to choose from. There's a tiger behind one and a gorgeous woman behind the other. Someone leaks which is which to his girlfriend, and she tells him which door to choose. And the question is, which does she want for him."
"I want you to always be happy," Lily said.
"And I want the same for you. I just don't know which door will open. I hope we can be happy together."
They sank back into silence. There was no point in making small talk. Both of them wrestled with the same issue. The wheels rolled over the pavement, and Lily's thoughts whirled in her head. When they pulled in front of her house, she was almost hoping that Mom and Grandma would already be there, that somehow, they got home early. But the driveway was empty, and only one small light was on in the foyer.
"I'll walk you inside," Woodrow said. "Do you want me to stay till your mom gets here?"
"We'll turn on the lights and stay by the front window so that Sara Mae knows we're being good," he teased.
But the doll shop wasn't set up for comfort. There were no chairs, only shelves. Finally, Lily said, "At least let's move to the studio. There are stools there." They were sitting across from each other, stalling for time to pass, when a car screeched to a halt in the drive. Footsteps flew up the sidewalk and someone pounded on the door.
Lily looked at Woodrow. "Maybe something happened to Grandma. Maybe there was an accident." She ran to throw the door open and blinked at the young girl standing on the front stoop. She'd recognize Georgina anywhere. Before Georgina could say a word, Cross' Lexus zoomed into the drive and slammed on its brakes. Cross raced toward Georgina. "What in the hell do you think you're doing?" he demanded. "And how dare you scroll through my cell phone."
Georgina yanked out of his grasp. "Is it true?" she asked Lily. "Did Cross order a doll for me?"
Lily didn't know how to answer. She looked to Cross for a clue. Was Georgina stable? Was she dangerous?
"Yes, I ordered you a doll," he hissed.
"Are you going to kill me too? Is that what you do, buy a doll to keep instead of keeping the girl?"
Woodrow came to stand behind Lily. "What are you talking about?" he demanded.
Georgina pointed at Cross. "He pushed Sunny. I saw him. She wasn't interested in him. She wanted the intern, so he pushed her."
"You're delusional," Cross barked. "I didn't realize how sick you are until tonight."
"Not as sick as you are," she spat. "I didn't pretend Blair called me with an emergency, then leave the hospital to give her sedative, smash a pillow over her face, and then give her an overdose so no one would suspect.”
He’d suffocated her? Lily and Woodrow locked gazes. That’s why the van lost oxygen on their drive to the hospital, why it became a vacuum. Blair couldn’t get any air. Georgina went on. “I heard the detective tell you that he suspected foul play, that it looked like Blair was dead before she shot up. That's why you left the hospital. You wanted to get rid of her."
"I want to see the doll!" She turned to Lily. "It's ready. I saw your text. Show it to me."
"Go ahead," Woodrow said. "That's who it's meant for. She's here. Why not give it to her?" He stayed close to Lily's side as she led Georgina into the studio. He lifted the white box and opened the lid for Georgina to see the doll inside.
Georgina gave a small gasp and asked, "Why? You're the only one I want. I wouldn't have left you."
Cross' expression turned sour with disgust. "Like I ever had any feelings for you! I'm your therapist. Nothing more, nothing less."
Georgina reached for the plastic bag tucked in beside her doll. Cross ripped it from her hands. "I bought and paid for these. They're mine."
Georgina turned to Lily. "What is that?"
"A rag doll of your soul mate. I saw it while I worked on yours."
"You saw it? Are you always right?"
"I want to see it," Georgina told Cross.
"Because he doesn't want you. That's why he broke into the studio last night and tried to steal it," Woodrow said.
Cross threw up a hand in defeat. "Another false accusation. Can you prove that?"
"Our neighbor saw you and your car through her binoculars."
Cross turned to run, but Woodrow grabbed his shoulder. "You’re not going anywhere. And I want some answers. Why did you climb the stairs and try to break down Lily's door?"
"He was going to kill her," Georgina said. "Just like he killed Blair and Sunny, and no one suspects because his patients are suicidal or messed up to begin with. But not me. I might have problems, but I'm not nuts." Her eyes met Cross'. "Show me the doll."
He shoved the bag toward her. When she opened it, she went completely still. "You're my soul mate? We're meant for each other?"
"I don't think so."
Her lips tilted in a smirk. "That's what you were afraid of. That you'd end up with someone like me. But you're as twisted as I am. We're perfect for each other."
Cross gave her a hard push, knocking her into Woodrow. Then he twisted out of Woodrow’s grasp and ran. He was racing his engine when Georgina raced out of the house after him. While Woodrow called 911, Georgina jumped in her car to follow him. Cross zoomed from the driveway too fast and smashed into Sara Mae's mail box. The heavy post stuck under his car's frame, and he had to rock back and forth to free himself. He was putting his car in forward when Georgina spun her vehicle sideways to cut him off.
Cross backed down the road a short distance and Georgina angled her car to face his. He raced forward, playing chicken, trying to force Georgina to get out of his way. Instead, she slammed her foot on her car's accelerator and smashed into him, head on. Metal ripped and tore. Tires screeched, and when everything came to a halt, the two cars were jammed together as one.
Woodrow swore under his breath. He ran to Georgina's car. When Lily followed him, he turned and motioned her away. "Don't look. She's gone." He went to Cross' car next and had to turn his face away. He took deep breaths and said, "Help’s on the way. There are two casualties. Both of them are dead."
Lily's hands shook and she jammed them into her jean pockets. Sara Mae and Cyrus came out of their house. "You don’t' want to see this!" Woodrow told them, and Cyrus led Sara Mae farther down the street to cross and join Lily. Everyone stood, shivering, until the EMS and sheriff got there. Woodrow went to explain what had happened and then led Lily, Sara Mae, and Cyrus inside her house until the sheriff was ready to ask more questions.
The EMS had left and the hearse had come and gone when Bea pulled into the drive with Lily's mother.
"What's going on?" Isabelle asked Lily. She stretched her arms open for a hug, and Lily didn't hesitate.
"We helped her get settled at Golden Hills. You can visit her tomorrow, but the poor woman was beat. It's been too long of a day for her." Lily's mother looked around the room at Woodrow, Sara Mae, and Cyrus. "So, what happened?"
Lily burst into speech. She told her mother about the Sunny doll and how her energy peaked and spiked and then went out. Then she told her about Blair—how her energy dipped, Woodrow’s van lost all of its oxygen, and then the energy disappeared. And finally, she told her about Cornell Cross and Georgina.
"So Doctor Cross killed those two girls?" her mom asked.
"And Georgina thought he was going to kill her when he ordered a doll for her?"
"Yes, but her doll was different," Lily said.
"But once she realized she'd blabbed enough to send her soul mate to prison, and she'd be alone or with the wrong man for the rest of her life, she rammed into him," Woodrow said.
Isabelle looked stunned. "And they both died in the crash?"
"Yes." Woodrow sounded troubled.
Isabelle pursed her lips, thinking. "Maybe it was for the best. They were meant for each other, and I'd guess that she was no nicer than Cross was."
Sara Mae gave a weak smile. "Things were sort of out of control when you got here, Isabelle, but we sure are glad you're back. Welcome home."
Lily's mother reached for her suitcase. "I left quite a mess for you two clean up," she told Lily and Woodrow, "but maybe this will make you feel better." She unlatched the lid and pulled out a rag doll. It had black hair and gray eyes. It looked exactly like Woodrow, at precisely this age.
Lily stared. "Then why did you tell me to wait? Why did you tell me I'd understand when I saw the doll?"
Her mother looked slightly ashamed. "Because once you saw this doll, I knew there'd be no stopping you, and I wanted to be here before you went into full lust mode."
Lily could feel her cheeks burn. "Mom!"
"You've been in love with Woodrow from the minute you set eyes on him, and it sure looked as if it was mutual. You can't blame a mom for wanting to make you wait a minute before I lost you."
Woodrow's hands were shaking when he reached for Lily. "I am your soul mate. We're made for each other." And he pulled her into his arms.
Isabelle's eyes twinkled as she looked at her daughter. "We grown-ups have things to talk about. Why don't you two get out of here a while? The boy lives next door. I know where to find you."
Lily's spirit soared. She felt so full of light and happiness, she thought she could float. Instead, she grabbed her coat and pulled Woodrow behind her. "Come on. I'm eighteen. It's time you did more than kiss me goodnight."
Woodrow froze in shock, but Isabelle laughed. "That doesn't mean you have to go all the way," she told him. "But a kiss isn't going to cut it anymore."
Seeing that it was all right with Lily's mother, Woodrow pulled Lily to him. He gave her a kiss like she'd never had before. She could have sworn that her knees melted and her stomach pooled into a puddle. "Come with me, Lily Dunlap. I've been waiting for this day."
Lily's eyes went wide and then she threw herself into Woodrow's arms. "Thanks, Mom!" she called as they left the house. She caught a glimpse of her mother shaking her head.
"Those two were always meant for each other," Lily heard her say.
Soul mates. Woodrow was her soul mate, and a new phase of her life was just beginning.
P.S. Next week, I plan to post a new Jazzi/Ansel Christmas mystery in 4 parts. Since The Body in the Attic takes place in early summer and book 2, The Body in the Wetlands, takes place in late summer, I had to write this story out of order without letting anything slip that comes later in the series, so sorry about jerking you from summer to December and then back to summer again if you read book 2.