[Then I'll just have to visit <1>you</i> instead,] Madelyn said with that seductive purr in her voice that Charlie remembered so well. On the surface, it sounded pleasant enough, but she heard her mothers' words for what they really were- a threat.
Charlie didn't want her mother anywhere near this heavenly sanctuary she had crafted for herself, so she knew she had no choice but to comply with the woman's wishes. Her jaw hardened and her nostrils flared in retaliation, but her voice still came out clear. "I'll come today."
[Wonderful! I'll be waiting with lunch! You still like salmon, right?]
Charlie hung up without responding, her head falling to the table. The tears were still there, hiding at the corners of her eyes, and just this once, she allowed them to fall. Just a little, just enough to let the need pass. Then she straightened, wiped her face with a corner of her t-shirt, and stood. Time to get this over with.
With her mind made up, she walked quickly around the desk and opened the door, rushing through and nearly crashing into Royce. That shook her out of her mindset for a moment, and she stared at him a moment longer than was absolutely necessary before turning toward Doc. "I'm sorry, but there's someplace I need to be right now. It's extremely important. If I pay for the gas, would you let me borrow your car?"
This clearly wasn't the answer he was expecting. His brows climbed his head in surprise as he glanced over his shoulder at the vehicle in question, parked in front of the shop as usual. "Uh... where are you going?" he asked.
She didn't want him to know lest he or Royce decide to follow her, so she hedged. "Not far. Less than thirty miles round trip. I should be back in an hour or so, but I can call if it takes more than that."
"And may I inquire into the nature of this 'it' of yours?"
Charlie bit her lip, thinking of how best to respond. "I would very much appreciate it if you didn't. Please."
His brows came down again, his expression caught between curiosity and concern. His eyes flicked toward Royce once briefly, but were back on Charlie before she thought to question it. After a short while, his hand fished in his coat pocket for the keys and he tossed them her way. "Be careful driving. And don't get yourself into trouble." Which was as close as he would come to saying 'Be careful'.
"I'll be good," she promised. "And I'll be back soon." Hopefully.
She hurried to the reception desk to grab her bag and headed for the door before she paused. A brief moment's thought and she was walking back toward Royce, raised on her tip toes, and kissed him lightly. "I'll be back," she said again, touching his arm once before spinning around, going outside, and hopping in the car. Two false starts later, she was backing out of the parking spot, changing the gear, and going as fast as the speed limit allowed.
Doc stared after her, mind racing, and looked at Royce once more. "Tell your sister to go home and change. She can help me here in the shop. Go after Charlie. Make sure she doesn't get hurt."