This Heart of Mine(9)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Hannah regarded her cagily. "I think somebody should steal Benny's mountain bike. Then he'd stay out of trouble."

Molly smiled. "Stealing doesn't exist in Nightingale Woods. Didn't we talk about that when you wanted somebody to steal Benny's jet ski?"

"I guess." Her mouth set in the mulish line she'd inherited from her father. "But if there can be mountain bikes and jet skis in Nightingale Woods, I don't see why there can't be stealing, too. And Benny doesn't mean to do bad things. He's just mischievous."

Molly thought of Kevin. "There's a thin line between mischief and stupidity."

"Benny's not stupid!"

Hannah looked stricken, and Molly wished she'd kept her mouth shut. "Of course he's not. He's the smartest badger in Nightingale Woods." She ruffled her niece's hair. "Let's have our tea, and then we'll take Roo for a walk by the lake."

Molly didn't get a chance to look at her mail until later that night, after Hannah had fallen asleep with a tattered copy of The Jennifer Wish. She put her phone bill in a clip, then absentmindedly opened a business-size envelope. She wished she hadn't bothered as she took in the letterhead.

Straight Kids for a Straight America

The radical homosexual agenda has targeted your children! Our most innocent citizens are being lured toward the evils of perversion by obscene books and irresponsible television shows that glorify this deviant and morally repugnant behavior…

Straight Kids for a Straight America, SKIFSA, was a Chicago-based organization whose wild-eyed members had been appearing on all the local talk shows to spew their personal paranoia. If only they'd turn their energies to something constructive, like keeping guns away from kids, and she tossed the letter in the trash.

Late the next afternoon Molly lowered one hand from the steering wheel and ran her fingers through Roo's topknot. Earlier she'd returned Hannah to her parents, and now she was on her way to the Calebows' Door County, Wisconsin, vacation home. It would be late when she got there, but the roads were clear and she didn't mind driving at night.

She'd made the decision to travel north impulsively. Her conversation with Phoebe yesterday had exposed something she'd been doing her best to deny. Her sister was right. Having her hair dyed red was a symptom of a bigger problem. Her old restlessness was back.

True, she wasn't experiencing any compulsion to pull a fire alarm, and giving away her money was no longer an option. But that didn't mean that her subconscious couldn't find some new way to commit mayhem. She had the uneasy sensation she was being drawn back to a place she thought she'd left behind.

She remembered what the counselor had told her all those years ago at Northwestern.

"As a child, you believed you could make your father love you if you did everything you were supposed to. If you got the best grades, minded your manners, followed all the rules, then he'd give you the approval every child needs. But your father was incapable of that kind of love. Eventually something inside you snapped, and you did the worst thing you could think of. Your rebellion was actually healthy. It kept you functioning."

"That doesn't explain what I did in high school," she'd told him. "Bert was dead by then, and I was living with Phoebe and Dan. They both love me. And what about the shoplifting incident?"

"Maybe you needed to test Phoebe and Dan's love."

Something odd had fluttered inside her. "What do you mean?"

"The only way you can make certain their love is unconditional is to do something terrible and then see if they're still around for you."

And they had been.

So why was her old problem coming back to haunt her?

She didn't want mayhem in her life anymore. She wanted to write her books, enjoy her friends, walk her dog, and play with her nieces and nephew. But she'd been feeling restless for weeks, and one look at her red hair, which really was awful, told her she might be on the verge of going off the deep end again.

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