A knock at the door.
It’s already half-open. A white man in a black suit and severe expression walks inside, not waiting for a response to his knock. “Ms. Mendoza?”
“That’s me.” My voice comes out scratchy. More than that, it hurts. It feels like someone’s sifting pieces of sandpaper against my vocal cords. I don’t want to talk to anyone, but I especially don’t want to talk to this person. A stranger. An intimidating one.
“Detective Joe Causey.” He doesn’t reach to shake my hand. Either he’s read the doctor’s report about how they’re scratched up or he just doesn’t do that. He pulls out a small notepad and pen. “I’m looking into the fire at the Rochester place.”
I glance at the notepad, where he’s already started scribbling something. I haven’t even said anything yet. What’s he writing down? “Wouldn’t that be the fire department?”
“The fire chief called me out at two o’clock in the morning to take a look at the scene.”
“Oh.” Maybe that’s why he looks so severe. He got no sleep. Technically I also got very little sleep, but I can’t imagine sleeping. I feel frantic and jumpy. After all, the fire started when I was asleep. Slumber doesn’t feel safe anymore. As if it’s sleep that led to the flames and the smoke. As if it’s sleep, instead of the fire, that’s the enemy.
“Just a few questions. Your name is Jane Mendoza. You work for the family. Is that correct?”
“Yes. I’m the nanny for Paige.”
“And last night. What time did you have dinner?”
“Six, maybe? Seven? It was my day off, so they made spaghetti without me.” Beau and Paige were dancing in the kitchen when I got home from town.
“So you didn’t cook.”
“Did you go back to the kitchen after you ate? Make anything else?”
“Why would that—” Something catches at the back of my throat and I cough. It hurts. “I didn’t, but why would that—”
“Most accidental fires start in the kitchen. Sometimes, looking back, a person might remember leaving the stove on.”
“I didn’t leave the stove on.”
“And where were you when you first noticed the fire?”
“I noticed the smoke.” I noticed the heat, actually. In my dreams. “It woke me up. Smoke in my bedroom. I’m not sure what time it was.”
It was after we had sex.
“So you didn’t go back to the kitchen. You were around the house, going to bed—”
“Yes. We put Paige to bed, and I went to my room, and when I woke up—”
I’m not trying to be difficult, it’s just that there’s a clamor in my head. A sense of urgency running through my veins. I don’t know this person. Detective? Yes. Sure. In my world, police were the people that pulled you away from your parents. They were the people who looked the other way when foster parents were abusive. “What does this have to do with the fire?”
“I’m trying to get the facts, ma’am.” He seems to set aside the original question. “How long have you been working for Beau Rochester?”
Ma’am. That’s the first time I’ve ever been called that. The word is meant to be respectful, but the way he says it feels combative. It’s mocking me because I’m not really in a position of respect. I’m nobody. “A few months. I think.” I rub my forehead. “I’m not sure. If I check my email, I would know. I don’t have my phone. It was… in the fire.”
“And how much time do you spend with the family?”
“Most of my time. Like I said, I’m Paige’s nanny, so I’m there all the time, except for my days off.” I have a vision of this gruff, serious man questioning Paige and my heart speeds up. “Did you talk to her? Is she okay?”
“I spoke with Beau—” He catches himself. “With Mr. Rochester already.”
That makes me blink. The way he said Beau was casual. Personal. As if he knows him. “Mr. Rochester grew up around here. He said that once.”
A pause. And then a short nod. “We went to school together.”
What was he like? It’s like I have a window to his childhood right now. “High school? Middle school? How long have you known him?”
He ignores this. “What made you accept the job?”
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