By: Melanie Harlow

“Oh.” Stumbling back, I sank into one of the two chairs at my small island, which also served as my kitchen table. “OK.”

“Erin, this is Detective Walker.”

I nodded miserably at the plain-clothes man.

“Ms. Upton, as far as you know, he wasn’t in any other room but this one?” The craggy-faced detective straightened to his full height, which was pretty impressive. Seated between him and Charlie, I felt like a dandelion between two redwoods.

“That’s correct.”

“And he entered through this door, which was unlocked.”

I gritted my teeth. “Yes.”

“All right then. Charlie, I’ve got everything I need for now. I’m gonna head out.” The detective picked up my purse and nodded at me. “Ma’am. Very sorry this happened. I’ll get your purse back to you as soon as possible.”

“All right. Thank you.”

He disappeared out the back door, shutting it tightly behind him, leaving Charlie and me alone.

“OK, Erin. Let me ask you a few questions about tonight.” He stood across from me, leaning back on the kitchen counter. He looked totally out of place in his dark blue uniform against the pretty white cabinetry and exposed brick. Between us, a clear glass bowl of bright green apples stood out against the island’s marble top, and to his right was my coffee station complete with a little chalkboard sign that said But First Coffee. I loved my kitchen. Even at midnight, with the cold October dark pressing at the windows, it was cozy and cheerful. A police officer did not belong in it.

Especially this one.

From his pocket he took out a stubby pencil and tiny notebook, the kind with the spiral at the top, and flipped to the next blank page. “Why don’t we start with the timeline. Were you home all night?”

“Well, I was at the studio until about seven, then I stopped at Kroger, and then I drove home. I parked in the garage and came in the back door. I usually lock it behind me right away—I’m very careful about security—

“Of course you are,” he interrupted, writing something down in his notebook.

I blinked in surprise. Was he being rude or sympathetic? It seemed like a bad sign that I couldn’t tell. “But I was carrying four big bags of groceries. Then as soon as I set them down, my cell phone rang.”

“What time was this?”

Automatically, I got up and looked around for my cell phone so I could check the time the call came in. Then it hit me—it was gone. “God, this is so annoying! I don’t know,” I said miserably, slumping in the chair again. “About seven thirty? Seven forty-five? It was totally dark outside.”

“And then?”

“And then I had a long and stressful conversation with one of the many dance moms who are intent on ruining my life, and when I hung up, I was very upset.” Just then I noticed some crumbs on my dark wood floor, beneath the stool at the counter where I’d eaten an entire bag of honey mustard pretzels earlier. The overwhelming urge to get a broom and dustpan and sweep them up bit at me like a bloodthirsty mosquito. I can’t stand crumbs or spills or messes.

“A dance mom?” Charlie picked up his head.

“A mother of one of the dancers at my studio. I don’t think she’s the one who robbed me, but I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to lock her up.”

He smiled slightly. “Why?”

“She’s crazy. They’re all crazy.” For the millionth time, I wondered if taking over the studio had been a huge mistake.

“So you’re a dance teacher. You used to dance as a kid, too, right?”

“Yes, I did.” I eyeballed him, one eyebrow cocked. “And you used to make fun of me and call me Twinkle Toes. Among other things.”

He looked interested. “What else did I call you? I mean, besides Red.”

“Teacher’s Pet.”

The smile widened. “You were.”

I pursed my lips together. Secretly I hadn’t minded being called Teacher’s Pet, but he didn’t know that. “Crybaby. You called me a crybaby, too.”

“I don’t remember that.” The look on his face said, Since I don’t remember it, it can’t be true.

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