Karen watched the teenager almost choke on her own, endless, insane laughter while Amelia rocked her. Karen could hardly hear the lullabies Amelia tried to sooth the girl with, or the extraordinary beauty of that old homeless woman’s voice, over the teenager’s sharp, jarring laughter.
The mother… Who would have thought…
Karen bowed her head, feeling her cheeks burn in shame as she realized they’d all run off to get the cops to protect the teenager from the wrong person. Why hadn’t they stayed long enough to see who struck the first blow? Then she felt a strong but gentle hand on her shoulder.
“You all thought I was the one who beat my daughter, didn’t you…”
Karen looked up into a face full of rage that suddenly changed to pathos, pain, and the hurt of indignation.
“Her boyfriend does that, not me. He even takes turns beating my daughter.”
It wasn’t just the odd tremble in the voice; it was something in that hand still on her shoulder that froze Karen’s blood. Still, none of them had seen him lay a hand on his daughter. But they’d all topped the stairs in time to see his wife hit him in the head with the lever Karen knew had been enough to kill Irwin. How had she found it? What else had she found?
“I know,” he said, biting his lip so hard she was afraid he’d draw blood, “it’s that terrible temper of mine. I can sure shout up a storm, can’t I?” A fierce pride was just barely smothered by a sheepish shrug, and a weak little pleading smile. “But you know what they say about the bark being so much bigger than the bite.”
The teenager’s laughter escalated sharply at that.
The teenager’s father clutched Karen’s shoulder and got closer to her. “I can’t stand it. They both have the same laugh. They’re both off in la-la land. You can’t believe a word either of them say.”
“You mean like her denying she’s pregnant?”
The hand on Karen’s shoulder tightened sharply.
It was then that Karen looked over to where the teenager sat on the floor and noticed that she was sitting in a widening puddle of blood.