The Ex Who Wouldn't Die
what kin d of cookies you liked, but chocolate chip was Charley ' s favorite, so I thoug ht you might like the same kind . "
    Amanda took a second bite. " You made these cookies for me? "
    "Of course. I ' m glad you like them. "
    " I love them. " Suddenly Amanda found her throat oddly choked. To her surprise and consternation, she felt tears brimming in her eyes.
    Mrs. Rando lph fell to her knees beside Amanda and wrapped both arms around her, patting her gently . " It ' s okay to cry. I ' ve cried an ocean over him. We both loved him , and now he ' s gone. "
    Amanda decided it wouldn ' t be a good idea to tell a grieving mother that she was crying because someone had made cookies for her, not because she ' d loved the son in question who wasn't really gone anyway . " I didn ' t kill him. " It was the only consoling thing she could think of to say.
    Mrs. Randolph drew back. " Why, of course, you didn ' t! Why would you even say such a thing? "
    Amanda wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and shrugged. " The cops. They ' ve been questioning me. "
    Charley ' s mother patted her hand. " They questioned me, too. Don ' t you worry. They ' ll catch w ho ever did this horrible thing. " She straightened. " Bad enough you lose your husband. Those police shouldn ' t be making things worse. " She squeezed Amanda's hand. "You've been through a lot here lately, and Herbert and I want you to come to Silver Creek and stay with us for a while, give yourself some time to heal and get to know your new family."
    "Herbert?" Amanda's brain didn't seem to be working very well this morning. Instead of thoughts flashing through her mind like mercury, they seemed to be moving through murky quicksand. Silver Creek. Family. Herbert?
    "Charley's daddy. Your father-in-law. He couldn't come today because he has to work. But we all talked about it, and everybody wants you to come stay with us. Me and Herbert and the girls that are still at home…that's Paula and Penny, the twins. And then Charley has two brothers and two more sisters, and both boys and my oldest girl are married, and you have four nieces and three nephews and one on the way. Then there 's Herbert's kin…he had five sisters. Can you imagine being the only boy in that family? They all have husbands and kids. I have three brothers and one whole sister and one half sister. Anyway, point is, you have a big family you've never met that wants to be with you while we're all grieving for the same lost loved one."
    Amanda lost count of poor orphan Charley's family members somewhere after the twins. "That's…uh…thank you." Fortunately the manners her mother had drilled into her since birth kicked in to compensate for her total inability to process and respond to this overwhelming information. "I'd love to. But I can't leave right now. I have a business to run."
    Mrs. Randolph smiled and waved a hand toward Dawson. "This nice young man says he can handle things here for as long as you want to stay with us. You can have Charley's old room. There's a big cottonwood tree right outside his window that makes the prettiest sound when the wind blows. It's real peaceful."
    His own room with a big cottonwood tree outsid e didn't quite coincide with Charley's tales of sleeping on a sofa with his little brother in a tiny living room while his prostitute mother turned tricks and took drugs in the only bedroom.
    "That sounds wonderful." Amanda smiled, hoping the expression didn't look as forced as it felt. "I'll think about it when Charley's funeral and the police investigation are finished."
    "I understand. I've got to get back home today, but I' ll leave you our telephone number, and I'll be up here to help you with the funeral all I can. I buried my momma and daddy and one baby. It's not easy."
    "You're very kind."
    "You're family."
    "Mrs. Randolph—"
    The older woman patted Amanda's hand. "Please, call me Irene. One day I hope

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