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aryn assured George that of course, he had to go to LaTonya for their lesson. When he hesitated, when he said that perhaps he ought to take Beth with him, so Taryn could rest, she told him he was being ridiculous. Beth was fast asleep; he’d woken her up and dragged her out with him the night before.

Now Taryn was here, she was the child’s mother, for God’s sake. Didn’t he trust her?

“Don’t worry, you don’t have to answer,” she said, smiling gently, bringing her fingers to his lips. “I know I haven’t given you much reason to trust me. But things are going to be different from now on, George, really. I love you so much. You and Beth too.”

He hesitated just one more moment before enfolding her in his arms. She loved how he felt, big, tender, warm, different from any other man. If only he could be enough for her.

She curled up on the built-in sofa, leafing through a magazine, while he went out and got in the car, turned on the engine, backed out of the gravel drive, drove off into the darkness. It was so snug in the houseboat, the only sounds the lapping of the lake outside, and Beth’s quiet breath.

Taryn got up and went and stood over her daughter, gazing down. She couldn’t believe this was her child. The little girl looked nothing like her, and not much like George either. Taryn had been a tomboy, tearing around the woods with her brothers and cousins, swinging from trees, while Beth was shy and frightened, happy only when George was nearby and she had her play horses and stuffed animals, paper and crayons close at hand.

Taryn thought of kissing the girl on the cheek, but she didn’t want to risk waking her. Briefly, she considered getting into bed and going to sleep herself, but she’d been half-waiting for George to leave her alone in the place ever since she woke up. What did he have around these days?, she’d been wondering. Now that she wasn’t around here much anymore?

She surveyed the medicine cabinet first, though of course she’d already looked there when George finally left her alone for a minute to use the toilet. But she’d had to be quick and quiet then, and now she took her time, opening pill bottles, checking that everything was what the label said it was. The most daring thing he had was three expired amoxicillin, two of which Taryn swallowed, just for the hell of it.

The thing was, she felt so much better than she had the night before. Speed kills, that was true. If only she didn’t have to dance, if only she didn’t have to keep running like that, she’d never need to take that stuff. Those oxies the dentist had given her, they just evened things out. Her body was more resistant to drugs than most people’s bodies. Oxies might be dangerous for somebody else, but for her, they leveled off her need for speed and made her relax, want to stay home, made her feel the love for the people she loved, and wasn’t that a good thing?

There was a big bottle of ibuprofen over the kitchen sink, and she took three of these too. She couldn’t understand it: How could somebody who worked with drugs all day long have so little need to take any of them? Maybe it was like cooks who were skinny, or whores who hated sex. That would never be Taryn.

The houseboat was so tiny, it wasn’t like there were many places to look. There were few cupboards, most of the shelves were open, and George’s possessions were spare. She went through all his jacket pockets, through his sock drawer, looked behind a book or two, and still came up empty.

Maybe she could call DaShawn. But she put that idea out of her mind almost as soon as it came into it. She had a bad feeling about DaShawn that she couldn’t put her finger on, but in any case there was no way she was going to leave Beth alone sleeping here and go to the GoGo, and she did not want DaShawn out here either.

Jamie. No, Jesus, he was on a serious bender. He could be fun to hang with, and he could usually be relied upon to come through with some drugs, but not for much else.

But she was starting to feel a little nervous now. Decidedly nervous. Maybe she could just walk out to the road, stick her thumb out, get into town, cop something, get back before George even noticed. She’d lock the door, Beth was asleep, she’d be fine.

No, Jesus, no, she couldn’t do that. No, never. There were lines, and she’d crossed so many of them. But never that one, not with her baby girl.

There had to be something here. All those animals, all those people George treated. He had to have something. Well hidden. Locked away.

She took a deep breath, tried to think. She’d been here when he built this place, she should know every corner, every possible hiding place. But the walls were solid, the ceiling bare rafters, and the floor opened to nothing but the weedy water below.

She scanned. And then her eyes lighted on it: The closet that housed the small furnace and the water heater. She remembered how proud George had been when he’d installed these, how he said they made it a real home. She hadn’t even wanted to look at them, said that was boy stuff. Which was exactly why he would have picked that as a place to hide something he didn’t want her to find.

It was stowed behind the furnace, made of black metal so it was invisible in the unlit closet, a small safe bolted to the wall. She had to lie on her stomach to get a good look at it, and it was hard to make out the numbers on the dial. And of course she had no idea what the combination was.

But she could guess. Beth’s birthday. George was a simple guy. She dialed the numbers slowly — 6-28-5 — and sure enough, the door popped right open. And there inside, as she had suspected, was not money or jewels but pills, a whole cache of bottles, some medicines, of course, but also plenty of narcotics, enough to get you high for a month. Or to kill you. Or to get you set up in Mexico until you could figure out the next step.

Her first impulse was to scoop everything out and run. Or hide it somewhere she could grab it easily before she took off.

But what was the rush? If she took it all, he’d know right away and come after her. If she took just what she needed, she could feel good and bide her time. He’d never know, and the stash would still be there if and when she wanted it.

There were no 80s, but regular Oxies, yes. And all you had to do was double up and you’d get the same rush. Last night she’d just swallowed them down, but she remembered people saying you had to crush them to disable the time-release thingie, so you’d get that rush. She’d start slow, try just a couple. And then she’d decide what to do next.

Read Taryn’s side of the story.

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