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PART TWENTY-THREE

The tailgate of Marti’s dark burgundy Lexus GX 460 Luxury SUV lifted as she clicked the remote. “Hold the bike, Sara,” she demanded, turning sufficiently to show her stepdaughter a scowl and raised eyebrow as she came to a stop behind the SUV. “Skylar, you may climb in,” she added, pressing the remote again to bring the engine purring. “There,” she said, pushing the remote a third time, “I’ve got the AC running so it’ll cool down in a minute.”

Extending her hand to Sara, arm locked at the elbow, she gave the girl a big-eyed expression that was simultaneously expectant and vague. “Ma’am?” Sara asked in response to the gesture.

Marti emitted a sigh so powerful that it moved a strand of Sara’s hair and shook her head. “Your bag? Hand, me, your, back, pack?” she said, adding flaring nostrils to her head shake of contempt. Taking the bag, she gave the girl a withering look before turning and thrusting the backpack in Skylar’s direction. “Hold this,” she commanded, not waiting for the girl to respond before dropping the bag. Walking around to the far side of the vehicle, she stowed the mid-compartment captain’s chair to create a three-seat, flat cargo area with ample room to lay the girl’s twenty-inch Electra cruiser.

Returning to the back of the GX she took Sara’s bike by the handlebar. “Get in the backseat so I can hand you this,” she told Sara, rolling her eyes as she waited for the girl to climb into the vehicle and wait, arms outstretched. With Sara at the ready, Marti flipped the bicycle on its side with the rear wheel facing forward and used the small shelf at the top of her thighs as a resting point that allowed her to muscle the bike into the back of the SUV. “Grab the wheel,” she told her stepdaughter, inching forward until Sara had one hand on the wheel. Together, they managed to stow the bike, pushing as the girl pulled. “Good,” she said to Sara, voice and facial expression neutral. “That was a good job. These Townies sure are cute but goodness they’re heavy,” she added, reaching up and pushing the close button for the GX’s hatch.

“Okay, get in,” she said, adding, “Way past time to blow this popsicle joint.”

Marti walked toward the driver’s door but stopped as she came to the vehicle’s mid-section. Looking at her stepdaughter she asked, “What exactly are you doing?”

“Climbing over the bike to sit with Skylar?” Sara answered.

Looking skyward Marti declared, “Good God almighty, deliver me from ineptness,” followed by a feet-spread-wide, fists-on-hips, glare into the back seat. “Why would you think to sit with Skylar? How many people are coming home right now?”

“Er, three?” Sara replied.

Marti nodded. “Good. And how many seats are available to use?”

“Er, three?” Sara repeated.

“Fantastic!” Marti said, voice dripping. “So, why would you think to share a seat with Skylar when there are three of us and three seats available? Does that make any sense?”

“But, I’m not allowed in the front seat.”

“Oh, for God’s sake! We’re a mile from home. Get in the front seat, put your seat belt on and let’s go! And stop saying, Er.”