Chapter 6: The Sheriff’s House

After dropping off Divya at her family’s brick two-story on Maple Street (and forcing Divya to a blood pact of secrecy regarding the stolen Archives material), Freddie shoved herself back onto the bike and pedaled home.

Everything in her body ached, but she was so close. And there was still one more thing she needed to finish before she could collapse on her bed and study the stolen ledgers: her civic duty.

Yes, a life of crime might call to her, but at the end of the day, she was a Good Girl.

Freddie spotted Bowman’s house as soon as she turned on the street. She lived across from Freddie. Not directly, but two houses over in a white stucco with ivy that covered everything in green—or, at this time of year, in brilliant, fiery red.

It glowed like a jack-o-lantern, and when Freddie coasted to a stop in front, she caught sight of an unfamiliar Honda Civic in the driveway. It’s taillights were still on, and as Freddie rolled up behind it, the car cut off and the driver’s door swung wide.

A jean-clad leg slid out along with a pair of black Vans. Then a pale head and navy-striped rugby tee followed.

Suddenly Theo Porter was standing in Sheriff Bowman’s driveway.

Freddie squeezed her breaks so hard, she almost tumbled off. Only a lucky angle let her regain balance—which, thank god. She did not need to crash her bike in front of Theo Porter. Or anyone, really.

He blinked at Freddie. And she blinked at him.

It was weird to see him without his RH Prep uniform. Plus, his hair wasn’t so perfectly combed, which looked even weirder. (Although Freddie also had to admit, it looked better. He had very full, very touchable hair—which ugh, why was she thinking this about the enemy?).

“What are you doing here?” he asked, shutting the car door.

“I need to see the Sheriff.” Freddie slung off her bike. “What are you doing here?”

“Uh, the Sheriff is my aunt.” He shrugged like this was the most obvious thing in the world.

And with a swoop in her gut, Freddie supposed it was—which, wow, what a terrible detective she was. She’d known Bowman’s maiden name was Porter, and she’d known that Bowman had a nephew in high school. Except…she thought he lived in Chicago.

“Then how come I’ve never seen you here before?” Her grip tightened on her handlebars. He was walking toward her. Not threatening, but still the enemy.

Montagues versus Capulets, and all that.

He paused three paces away. “I hadn’t been arrested before, that’s why.” He folded his arms over his chest, and his thumb tapped his bicep. “Now, however, I am required to eat dinner with my aunt and uncle every night until I graduate. Thank you for that.”

“You’re welcome,” Freddie said cheerily, and Theo’s thumb tapped faster.

As far as Freddie was concerned, though, nightly dinners seemed a very reasonable punishment. “The research does suggest that eating together as a family leads to better life choices, Mr. Porter.”

His lips twitched—although with a smile or annoyance, she couldn’t quite say. And now his thumb was really tapping. “My aunt is a terrible cook, Gellar. Like, I’d rather eat glass shards.”

“Good thing for you,” said Sheriff Bowman, walking up behind her nephew, “tonight you won’t have to do either. We’re going to the Quick-Bis.”

Theo’s hand fell to his sides, and for a half a second, his eyes squeezed shut. Freddie could practically hear him thinking, Shit, shit, shit. But when his eyelids lifted again, it was with the slightest smile. “Well-played, Gellar. Well-played.” Then he angled toward his aunt and added, “You have Spiderman stealth, Aunt Rita.”

Bowman grinned. “I do. And Freddie here has a great poker face.” She moved in line next to Theo. He was half a head taller, but side by side, the family resemblance was unmistakable.

Freddie really couldn’t believe she’d missed it.

“Hi, Gellar,” Bowman drawled. “What can I do you for?”

Freddie toed out her kickstand, and after making sure the bike wouldn’t suddenly topple sideways, she said, “I was hoping to talk to you. Alone.”

Theo might have had the moves of a Backstreet Boy, but he was still the enemy.

“Sure. Go wash your hands, Theo.”

“But you just said we’re going out. I can do it there.”

“And I also said, ‘Wash your hands.’” Bowman’s glower, which wasn’t even aimed at Freddie, still made her digestive system go weak.

Theo seemed to feel the same because he instantly chirruped, “Yes, ma’am,” and turned to go.

Although, before his long legs could carry him completely out of sight, he did glance back at Freddie and offer a head-cock that might have been a good-bye.

Bowman folded her arms over her chest—a literal carbon copy of her nephew from two minutes before. It was almost uncanny, actually. Except that Sheriff Bowman was the toughest person Freddie had ever met, and yet again, Freddie wanted to offer up every slightly naughty act she’d ever committed.

Which was perhaps why what came out next was a complete jumble of disorganized mayhem. Yes, she managed to describe what she and Divya had found in the woods, as well as how they’d found it. And where they’d been too. But she repeated the why of it all twice—and she definitely repeated the where at least six times.

She also might have mentioned the dead deer.

By the end, Freddie had flung off her backpack full of stolen goods and was all ready to confess to her theft too. Only remembering Divya was an accomplice kept her fingers from tearing open the zipper.

Bowman didn’t interrupt. She just listened, her face a mask of detached interested, and by the time Freddie was finished, her thumb was tap-tap-tapping.

“So let me see if I got this right, Gellar: you and Divya were working at the Archives and you took the shortcut home. Then on your way home, you found a water bottle that belonged to Mr. Fontana, and you think he left it there on Wednesday.”

“I know he did! It literally said, ‘Wednesday run, lap two.’”

“Was there a date on it?”

“Well…” Freddie’s lips screwed sideways. Had there been a date? “No,” she said eventually. “But you know it had to have been from the same day. Why would he have left it there otherwise?”

“I have no idea, and I also don’t make assumptions.” Bowman gave Freddie a thorough, spine-tingling once over. Then fixed her gaze on Buffy. “I see you have your camera.”

“Erm…” Squirm, squirm.

“Did you take pictures of the bottle, Gellar?”

“Uh…” Squirm, squirm.

“Photographing a crime scene is not allowed.”

“But it isn’t a crime scene. Not yet.”

Bowman thrust out a flat hand. “Give me the camera, Gellar.”

“But…” Freddie frowned down at Buffy. She’d only just gotten her sugar wookums back. And she’d taken three pictures of Kyle last night, while they’d hung out in the basement. She’d planned to develop the photos tomorrow and then place them with her N’SYNC shrine.

“Fine,” she grumbled at last, and she unhooked the strap from her neck.

“I’ll take the film out and return it to you tomorrow.” Bowman took the camera and tucked it under arm. “And I’ll go after dinner to find this bottle, okay?”

After dinner?” Freddie’s eyes bulged. “You can’t wait that long! What if it rains and the bottle gets washed away?”

“It’s not going to rain.” Bowman heaved a sigh. “Listen Gellar: if that sports bottle is what you say it is, then we’ve got a real game changer on our hands. But I gave my deputies the night off, and I promised Greg I wouldn’t ruin dinner unless it was an absolute emergency.”

Freddie’s posture wilted—and it only wilted further as Bowman proceeded to list twenty-three different reasons that Freddie should not have done what she’d done. “…obstruction of justice, a complete lack of experience, just plain stupidity, and I could keep coming up with reasons for you to stop pretending you’re a cop—”

“Please don’t,” Freddie mumbled. “Besides, I’m not pretending anything, Sheriff.”

“And I’m Miss America.”

“You could be,” Freddie offered. “With cheekbones like those.”

“Enough.” Bowman’s nostrils flared. “You’re too much like your dad, Gellar.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Bowman didn’t contradict this. “Thank you for stopping by. I’ll return your camera tomorrow. Now go home.”

“Alright.” Freddie stared at her toes in what she hoped was a truly pitiful way. Yes, she knew this was just Bowman’s manner, and she was grateful that Bowman seemed to care about what Freddie had said…but did Bowman really have to act this way—like Freddie was the bad guy here?

And did she really have to take Buffy? Because without photographic evidence of last night, how could Freddie know if it had really happened? If Kyle had really put his arm around her and said “cheese”?

This must be what an existential crisis felt like.

“One more thing.” Bowman snapped her fingers, forcing Freddie’s gaze to shoot back up—and to once again, meet those blue, wiggle-inducing eyes. “For the love of god, Gellar, please don’t get tangled up in this school rivalry, okay?” She jerked her head toward the house. “I don’t need two of you geniuses out there causing trouble.”

Freddie winced. She was flattered Bowman had called her a genius. She was not flattered to be compared to Theo.

“I know it was you who called in about the deer—even if you hadn’t just confessed.”

“Oh.”

“And I told you, it’s dangerous in those woods. Now, go on home.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Freddie watched Bowman leave, disappointment flaming down her spine. She waited until the front door had banged shut before she hefted her backpack onto her shoulders and toed up her kickstand.

She didn’t want to quit the pranks. Not on top of everything else.

Although, the more Freddie thought about it as she twisted her bike toward the street, the more she decided that if anyone was to blame here for the corn syrup and the birdseed, it was Sheriff Bowman herself. After all, she had stopped Freddie and Kyle on the lakeshore, and then she had let them go.

Yes. This was sound logic. Nary a post hoc fallacy in sight.

Freddie was halfway down the driveway when a voiced called, “Hey, Gellar! Wait.”

She glanced back and found Theo jogging toward her. His eyes were wide, and his hair was especially mussed now. Like maybe he’d been running his hands through it for the past five minutes.

She wished it didn’t look so nice that way.

“I meant to tell you,” he said, slowing to a stop on the other side of her bike. “Nice job with the birdseed and the trash. It took me and the other weekend students four hours to clean up. It was…” He squinted into the distance. “Inspired.”

Freddie’s lips twitched. “I don’t think you’re supposed to compliment the enemy.” She also didn’t think the enemy was supposed to be delighted by such compliments either.

Particularly since it made her Verona Beach analogy fall apart at the seams.

“What can I say?” He bounced a single shoulder. “I expected the BHS kids to completely implode without their prank book. Then you show up and ruin everything.”

This felt like another compliment, and Freddie really wished her heart would stop swelling so much at the prospect.

He is the enemy, she scolded inwardly. The Tybalt to your Mercutio!

Except, now that Freddie considered it, he looked more like Leonardo DiCaprio than John Leguizamo.

The Romeo to your Tybalt! she amended. And the enemy, enemy, enemy!

She cleared her throat. “So you, uh…You came all the way out here just to tell me that?”

“Uh…” He scrubbed nervously at his hair. There was a restless energy to him; he couldn’t seem to stand still. “I mean, it was either come find an excuse to talk to you, or spend the next five minutes on the couch waiting for my uncle to come home. And trust me: five minutes is more than enough time for my Aunt to list all of my faults. In detail. Again.”

“You do seem to have a lot of them.”

“Hey now.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. His knee juddered. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“I know you drink beer on school nights and drink soda for breakfast. And that doth not a wholesome human make.”

He gave a weak laugh at her joke, but it was forced. Distracted, even. There was definitely something else he wanted to say—something that was the actual reason he’d come out here.

So Freddie said nothing. Sheriff Bowman herself had taught her that silence was the best interrogation tool: people usually outed themselves, given enough patience.

And sure enough, after three Justin Timberlakes, Theo cleared his throat and said, “So…do you really think that Dr. Fontana guy was murdered?”

This was not what Freddie had been expecting him to say. “Were you eavesdropping just now?”

“Oh, absolutely.”

“Ugh.” Freddie shook her head, genuine annoyance unfurling in her chest. “That’s one more thing that makes you a Very Bad Human Indeed. And in case you can’t tell, I am saying that phrase as proper nouns. So you know it’s serious.”

His eyes crinkled, and this time the reaction was real. So real that Freddie felt her own lips lifting in return.

She instantly fought off the reaction, though. Theo Porter was not worthy of her smiles; Roberta Hughes students were all terrible snakes; enemy, enemy, enemy.

Then again, Theo was also not worthy of her time, yet here she was filling it for him so he wouldn’t have to go back to his aunt. She supposed she might as well use that time to exact a teensy bit of revenge.

“So tell me, Mr. Porter.” Freddie slung one leg over her bike, grinning wickedly, “What does the song ‘I Want It That Way’ actually mean?”

Instantly, red fanned up Theo’s neck and face. He ran his tongue across his teeth. “I was, uh…Wondering if you would mention that.”

“How could I not? You’re performance was…” She squinted into the distance. “Inspired. As were the threats that followed.”

“Huh.” Now he was really fidgeting. Hands in the pockets. Hands out. Fingers through his hair. Thumb tapping at his thigh.

“You were almost as good as the N’SYNC concert I went to in June,” Freddie added, delighted by his squirming.

He scoffed, and somehow the color on his cheeks flared brighter. “Justin Timberlake,” he said emphatically, “has nothing on Nick Carter.”

“Oh, puh-lease. At least all of N’SYNC’s lyrics make sense.”

“No way.” Theo’s eyes narrowed. “I mean, explain to me what ‘Tearing Up My Heart’ is actually about. He’s upset when he’s with her and he’s upset when he’s away?”

Freddie didn’t know whether to be impressed that Theo knew these lyrics or horrified that he could misunderstand them so badly. “He’s so in love with her that it rips him apart when he’s with her and when they’re apart—how is that hard to comprehend?”

“Because it’s illogical.”

“Or you have a heart made of stone.”

There it was again: the surprised laugh, and for several heartbeats, Freddie found herself grinning full wattage right back.

Maybe Theo Porter isn’t so bad, she thought. Then half a heartbeat later, NO WAIT. HE IS THE ENEMY. HE KILLED TYBALT. RED ALERT. RED ALERT. STOP SMILING.

Fortunately, Freddie was saved from having to get her face under control by a blue Explorer slowing before the house. Mr. Bowman was home.

Freddie waved to him. “It would seem you don’t require my presence anymore, Mr. Porter.”

“Thanks for helping out.” Theo ran his tongue over his teeth. “Although, it is the least you could do after getting me arrested.”

She rolled her eyes. Mr. Bowman was pulling into the driveway now. It really was time to go. Yet for some reason, instead of pedaling away, she found herself pinning Theo with her haughtiest stare and saying, “I’m going to get the prank book back, Mr. Porter. Just you wait—you and the rest of your filthy Montague clan won’t even know what hit you.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Theo said. “But if you actually manage to get that book back, Gellar, then I will be very impressed.”

“Oh, come now.” Freddie kicked into a slow roll. “You’re already impressed by me. You said as much earlier. But don’t you worry!”

She coasted past Mr. Bowman, who waved from the driver’s seat. Then once at the road, she released the handle bars and shouted back, “It’s only natural to think I’m amazing! I have that effect on everyone!

 

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