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10. CORA: The Invitation

n what must have been her hundredth circle through town, Cora finally spotted Juliette walking fast and coatless along the main street, only a block from home. Leaning heavily on her horn, Cora squealed around in a u-turn and jerked the car into park right in the middle of the street — there was no one else on the road at this hour anyway, if you didn’t count the fire trucks that had sped, sirens screaming, by — and jumped out, engine still running.

“Where in hell did you go?” Cora shouted, torn between grabbing Juliette by the shoulders to shake her and throwing her arms in gratitude around the girl. She’d been terrified that Juliette had run away, or worse. Trolling the town, beaming her headlights everywhere she’d hidden out as a teenager: the alleys between the bath houses, the supermarket parking lot, the old gazebo. But there’d been no trace of Juliette.

Now the girl only shrugged. “I had to get out of that pigsty,” she said, in French. “I’m surprised you even noticed I was gone.”

“Of course I noticed you were gone. You scared me half to death.” Cora sniffed, the scent of smoke unmistakable in the crisp pre-dawn air.

“Have you been smoking?” she asked her daughter, taking the girl’s arm and leaning in for a better smell. “Or have you been in a bar somewhere?”

“I haven’t been doing anything,” said Juliette, pulling away. “Can we please go home to bed now?”

Cora was about to relent, more from her own exhaustion than from giving up on trying to figure out what was going on with Juliette, when she heard footsteps on the pavement. Who else would be out at this hour?

Through the darkness emerged a pale puffy face, a nimbus of long frizzy white-blonde hair, a large body wearing an even larger white nightgown and, improbably, a truly enormous pair of fireman’s galoshes.

“Jesus,” said Jimmie Sue Fallon, huffing to a stop beside them. “You sure gave me a run there, young lady.”

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