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The Pact

By Tim Rogers,2014-11-04 20:29
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SUMMARY:Jodi Picoult's extraordinary tale of love, friendship and family dares to explore the terrifying secrets that lurk in the hearts of the people we think we know inside and out. Emily Gold and Chris Harte are soul mates. They have lived next door since they were born, sharing everything from chicken pox to Chinese food, and in high school their friendship blossoms into something more. Then a midnight call from the hospital changes everything: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head. There's a single unspent bullet in the gun that Chris took from his father's cabinet - a bullet Chris tells police he intended for himself. But a detective has doubts about the suicide pact theory and slowly Chris's and Emily's closely guarded secrets are revealed as the real truth abo Published by Allen & Unwin on 2009/07/15

    The Pact

    The Pact

    The Pact

    The Pact

    NOW

    November 1997

    There was nothing left to say.

    He covered her body with his, and as she put her arms around him she could picture him in allhis incarnations: age five, and still blond; age eleven, sprouting; age thirteen, with thehands of a man. The moon rolled, sloe-eyed in the night sky; and she breathed in the scent ofhis skin. “I love you,” she said.

    He kissed her so gently she wondered if she had imagined it. She pulled back slightly, to lookinto his eyes.

    And then there was a shot.

    Although THERE had never been a standing reservation made, the rear corner table of the HappyFamily Chinese restaurant was always saved on Friday nights for the Hartes and the Golds, whohad been coming there for as long as anyone could remember. Years ago, they had brought thechildren, littering the crowded nook with high chairs and diaper bags until it was nearlyimpossible for the waiters to maneuver the steaming platters of food onto the table. Now, itwas just the four of them, blustering in one by one at six o'clock and gravitating close as if,together, they exerted some kind of magnetic pull.

    James Harte had been first to arrive. He'd been operating that afternoon and had finishedsurprisingly early. He picked up the chopsticks in front of him, slipped them from their paperpacket, and cradled them between his fingers like surgical instruments.

    “Hi,” Melanie Gold said, suddenly across from him. “I guess I'm early.”

    “No,” James answered. “Everyone else is late.”

    “Really?” She shrugged out of her coat and balled it up beside her. “I was hoping I wasearly. I don't think I've ever been early.”

    “You know,” James said, considering, “I don't think you ever have.” They were linked by theone thing they had in common-Augusta Harte-but Gus had not yet arrived. So they sat in thecompanionable awkwardness caused by knowing extremely private things about each other that hadnever been directly confided, but rather blurted by Gus Harte to her husband in bed or toMelanie over a cup of coffee. James cleared his throat and flipped the chopsticks around hisfingers with dexterity. “What do you think?” he asked, smiling at Melanie. “Should I give itall up? Become a drummer?”

    Melanie flushed, as she always did when she was put on the spot. After years of sitting with areference desk wrapped around her waist like a hoop skirt, concrete answers came easily to her;nonchalance didn't. If James had asked, “What is the current population of Addis Ababa?” or“Can you tell me the actual chemicals in a photographic fixing bath?” she'd never haveblushed, because the answers would never have offended him. But this drummer question? Whatexactly was he looking for?

    “You'd hate it,” Melanie said, trying to sound flippant. “You'd have to grow your hair longand get a nipple ring or something like that.”

    “Do I want to know why you're talking about nipple rings?” Michael Gold said, approaching thetable. He leaned down and touched his wife's shoulder, which passed for an embrace after somany years of marriage.

    “Don't get your hopes up,” Melanie said. “James wants one, not me.” Michael laughed. “1think that's automatic grounds for losing your board certification.”

    “Why?” James frowned. “Remember that Nobel laureate we met on the cruise to Alaska lastsummer? He had a hoop through his eyebrow.”

    “Exactly,” Michael said. “You don't have to have board certification to create a poementirely out of curse words.” He shook out his napkin and settled it in his lap. “Where'sGus?” James checked his watch. He lived by it; Gus didn't wear one at all. It drove him crazy.

“I think she was taking Kate to a friend's for a sleepover.”

    “Did you order yet?” Michael asked.

    “Gus orders,” James said, an excuse. Gus was usually there first, and as in all other things,Gus was the one who kept the meal running smoothly.

    As if her husband had invoked her, Augusta Harte rushed through the door of the Chineserestaurant. “God, I'm late,” she said, unbuttoning her coat with one hand. “You cannotimagine the day I've had.” The other three leaned forward, expecting one of her infamousstories, but instead Gus waved over a waiter. “The usual,” she said, smiling brightly. Theusual? Melanie, Michael, and James looked at each other. Was it that easy?

    Gus was a professional waiter, not the kind who carried food to tables, but the one whosacrificed time so that someone else would not have to. Busy New Englanders solicited herbusiness, Other People's Time, when they didn't want to wait in line at the Motor VehiclesDivision, or sit around all day for the cable TV repairman. She began to tame her curly redhair. “First,” she said, an elastic band clamped between her teeth, “I spent the morning atthe Motor Vehicles Division, which is awful under the best of circumstances.” She bravelyattempted a ponytail, something like leashing a current of electricity, and glanced up. “SoI'm the next one in line-you know, just in front of that little window-and the clerk, swear toGod, has a heart attack. Just dies on the floor of the registry.”

    “That is awful,” Melanie breathed.

    “Mmm. Especially because they closed the line down, and I had to start from scratch.”

    “More billable hours,” Michael said.

    “Not in this case,” Gus said. “I'd already scheduled a two o'clock appointment at Exeter.”

    “The school?”

    “Yeah. With a Mr. J. Foxhill. He turned out to be a third-former with a lot of extra cash whoneeded someone to sit in detention for him by proxy.”

    James laughed. “That's ingenuity.”

    “Needless to say, it wasn't acceptable to the headmaster, who wasted my time with a lectureabout adult responsibility even after I told him I didn't know any more about the plan than hehad. And then, when I go to pick up Kate from soccer practice, the car gets a flat, and by thetime I change the spare and get to the playing field she's already found a ride to Susan'shouse.”

    “Gus,” Melanie said. “What happened to the clerk?”

    “You changed a tire?” James said, as if Melanie hadn't spoken. “I'm impressed.”

    “So was I. But just in case it's on backwards I want to take your car downtown tonight.”

    “You're working again?”

    Gus nodded, smiling as the waiter delivered their food. “I'm headed to the box office forMetallica tickets.”

    “What happened to the clerk?” Melanie said more forcefully.

    They all stared at her. “Jeez, Mel,” Gus said. “You don't have to yell.” Melanie flushed,and Gus immediately gentled her voice. “I don't know what happened, actually,” she admitted.“He went off in some ambulance.” She spooned lo mein onto her plate. “By the way, I saw Em'spainting today in the State building.”

    “What were you doing in the State building?” James asked.

    She shrugged. “Looking for Em's painting,” she said. “It seems so ... well, professional,with that gilded frame and the big blue ribbon hanging underneath it. And you all made fun ofme when I saved the crayon pictures she used to make with Chris over at our house.” Michaelsmiled. “We laughed because you said they were going to be your retirement income one day.”

    “You'll see,” Gus said. “A statewide art champion at seventeen; a gallery opening at twenty-one .. . she'll be hanging in the Museum of Modern Art before she's thirty.” She reached forJames's arm, and twisted the face of his wristwatch toward her. “I've got five more minutes.”James let his hand fall back into his lap. “The Ticketmaster's open at seven at night?”

    “Seven A.M.” Gus said. “Sleeping bag's in the car.” She yawned. “I'm thinking I need acareer change. Some position with a little less stress ... like an air traffic controller orthe prime minister of Israel.” She reached for a platter of mu shi chicken, began rolling thepancakes and passing them out. “How are Mrs. Greenblatt's cataracts?” she asked absently.

    “Gone,” James said. “Chances are she'll wind up with twenty-twenty vision.” Melanie sighed.“I want cataract surgery. I can't imagine waking up and being able to see.”

    “You don't want cataract surgery,” Michael said.

    “Why not? I'd get rid of my contacts and I've already got the name of a good surgeon.”

    “James couldn't operate on you,” Gus said, smiling. “Isn't there some kind of ethical lawagainst it?”

    “It doesn't extend to virtual family,” Melanie said.

    “I like that,” Gus said. “Virtual family. There ought to be a statute ... you know, likecommon-law marriage. If you live in each other's pockets long enough, you're related.” Sheswallowed the last of her pancake and stood up. “Well,” she said. “That was a sumptuous andrelaxing dinner.”

    “You can't go yet,” Melanie said, turning to ask a busboy for fortune cookies. When the manreturned, she stuffed a few in Gus's pockets. “Here. The box office doesn't offer take-out.”Michael picked up a cookie and cracked it. “ 'A gift of love is not one to be taken lightly,'” he read aloud.

    “ 'You are as young as you feel,' ” James said, scanning his own fortune. “Doesn't say muchfor me right now.”

    Everyone looked at Melanie, but she read the thin strip and pocketed it. She believed that ifyou spoke it aloud, your good fortune had no chance of coming true.

    Gus took one of the remaining cookies from the plate and cracked it open. “Imagine that,” shesaid, laughing. “I got a dud.”

    “It's missing?” Michael said. “That ought to be worth a free meal.”

    “Check the floor, Gus. You must have dropped it. Who ever heard of a fortune cookie without afortune?” Melanie said.

    But it was not on the floor, or beneath a plate, or caught in the folds of Gus's coat. Sheshook her head ruefully and lifted her teacup. “Here's to my future,” she said. She drainedthe tea, and then, in a hurry, she left.

    Bainbridge, New Hampshire, was a bedroom community populated mostly with professors fromDartmouth College and doctors from the local hospital. It was close enough to the university tobe considered attractive real estate, and far enough away to be deemed “country.”Interspersed between old holdout dairy farms were narrow roads that branched off into the five-acre parcels of land that had settled the town in the late seventies. And Wood Hollow Road,where the Golds and the Hartes lived, was one of them.

    Their land, together, formed a square; two triangles meeting along a common hypoteneuse. TheHartes' land was narrow at the driveway and then opened up; the Golds' land did the reverse, sothat the houses were only about an acre apart. But they were separated by a small thicket ofwoods that did not completely block out the view of the other home.

    Michael and Melanie, in their separate cars, followed the gray Volvo that belonged to ]ames asit turned onto Wood Hollow Road. A half mile up the hill, at the granite post that announcednumber thirty-four, James went left. Michael swerved into the next driveway. He turned off theignition in the truck and stepped out into the small square of light liberated from thepassenger compartment, letting Grady and Beau leap up against his hips and chest. The Irish

setters danced circles around him as he waited for Melanie to get out of her own car.

    “Doesn't look like Em's home yet,” he said.

    Melanie stepped out of the car and closed the door in one fluid, economical motion. “It'seight o'clock,” she said. “She probably just left.”

    He followed Melanie through the side door into the kitchen. She set a small stack of books onthe table. “Who's on call tonight?” she asked.

    Michael stretched his arms over his head. “I don't know. Not me. I think Richards, from WestonAnimal Hospital.” He went to the door and called to the setters, who stared at him but thenmade no effort to stop chasing leaves in the wind.

    “That's a travesty,” Melanie said. “A vet who can't control his own dogs.” Michael steppedaside as Melanie came to the door and whistled. The dogs barreled by him, bringing inside thebrisk scent of night. “They're Emily's dogs,” he said. “It makes a difference.” WHEN THETELEPHONE RANG at three in the morning, James Harte was instantly awake. He tried to imaginewhat could possibly have gone wrong with Mrs. Greenblatt, because she was potentially hisemergency case. He groped across the bed, across where his wife should have been, for thetelephone. “Yes?”

    “Is this Mr. Harte?”

    “This is Dr. Harte,” James amended.

    “Dr. Harte, this is Officer Stanley of the Bainbridge police. Your son has been injured, andhe's being taken to Bainbridge Memorial Hospital.”

    James felt his throat working up sentences that tangled around each other. “Is he ... wasthere a car accident?”

    There was a brief pause. “No, sir,” the officer said.

    James's heart twisted. “Thank you,” he said, hanging up, although he did not know why he wasthanking someone who had brought him such horrible news. The moment the receiver was back inplace, he had a thousand questions to ask. Where was Christopher hurt? Critically orsuperficially?

    Was Emily still with him? What had happened? James dressed in the clothes he'd already throwninto the hamper and made his way downstairs in a matter of minutes. The hospital, he knew,would take him seventeen minutes to reach. He was already speeding down Wood Hollow Road whenhe picked up the car phone and dialed Gus.

    “WHAT DID THEY SAY?” Melanie asked for the tenth time. “What did they say exactly?” Michaelbuttoned the fly of his jeans and stuffed his feet into tennis shoes. He remembered, too late,that he didn't have on socks. Fuck the socks.

    “Michael.”

    He glanced up. “That Em was injured, and that she'd been taken to the hospital.” His handswere shaking, yet he was amazed to find himself able to do what was necessary: push Mel towardthe door, find his car keys, plot the fastest route to Bainbridge Memorial.

    He had hypothetically wondered, what would happen if a phone call came in the middle of thenight, a phone call that had the power to render one speechless and disbelieving. He hadexpected deep down that he'd be a basket case. And yet here he was, backing carefully out ofhis driveway, holding up well, the only sign betraying panic a tiny tic in his cheek.

    “James operates there,” Melanie was saying, a soft, slurred litany. “He'll know who weshould contact; what we should do.”

    “Sweetheart,” Michael said, groping for her hand in the dark, “we don't know anything yet.”But as he drove past the Hartes' house he took in the absolute quiet of the scene, thepeaceable lack of light in the windows, and he could not help feeling a stab of jealousy at thenormality of it all. Why us?

    he thought, and did not notice the brake lights of a car at the end of Wood Hollow Road,already turning toward town.

    Gus LAY ON THE SIDEWALK between a trio of teenagers with spiked green hair and a couple thatwas coming as close to sex as possible in a public venue. // Chris ever does that to his hair,she thought, we would . . . Would what? It had never been an issue because, for as long as Guscould remember, Chris had had the same slightly-longer-than-crew-cut hairstyle. And as forRomeo and Juliet here, on her right-well, that was a no-brainer also. As soon as it had begunto matter, Emily and Chris had started dating, which is what everyone had been rooting for inthe first place. Four and a half hours from now, her client's sons would have prime seats at aMetallica concert. She'd go home and sleep. By the time she got back there, James would havereturned from hunting (she assumed something was in season), Kate would be gearing up for asoccer game, and Chris might just be rolling out of bed. Then Gus would do what she did everyother Saturday that she didn't have plans or an invasion of relatives: She'd go to Melanie's,or have Melanie come over, and they'd talk about work and teenagers and husbands. She hadseveral good female friends, but Melanie was the only one for whom the house didn't have to becleaned, for whom she didn't have to wear her makeup, and around whomrshe could say anythingwithout fear of repercussions, or of looking truly stupid.

    “Lady,” one of the green-haired kids said. “You got a smoke?” It came out in a rush,Yagottasmoke, so that at first Gus was stunned at the audacity of the statement. No, she wantedto say, I do not gotta, and you shouldn't either. Then she realized he was wagging a cigarette-at least she hoped it was just a cigarette-in front of her face. “Sorry,” she said, shakingher head.

    It was impossible to believe that teenagers such as this existed, not when she had one likeChris, who seemed another breed entirely. Perhaps these children, with their stegosaurus hairand leather vests, only happened to look this way on the off hours, transforming themselvesinto scrubbed, well-mannered adolescents during the time they spent with their parents.Ridiculous, she told herself. Even the thought of Chris having an alter ego was out of thequestion. You couldn't give birth to someone and not sense that something so dramatic was goingon.

    She felt a humming against her hip and shifted, thinking that the amorous couple had gotten alittle too close. But the buzzing didn't stop, and when she reached down to find the source sheremembered her beeper, which she'd carried in her purse ever since she'd started up OtherPeople's Time. It was James who insisted; what if he had to go back to the hospital and one ofthe kids needed something?

    Of course, in the way that most preventative medicines work, just having the beeper had managedto ward off emergencies. It had beeped only twice in five years: once, when Kate called to askwhere she kept the rug-cleaning supplies, and once when the batteries were low. She fished itout of the bottom of her purse and pushed the button that identified the caller. Her car phone.But who would be in her car at this time of night?

    James had driven it home from the restaurant. After crawling out of her sleeping bag, Guswalked across the street to the nearest phone booth, graffitied with sausagelike initials. Assoon as James picked up, she heard the hum of the road beneath the tires.

    “Gus,” James said, his voice catching. “You've got to come.” And a moment later, leavingher sleeping bag behind, she started to run.

    THEY WOULDN'T TAKE the lights out of his eyes. The fixtures hung over him, bright silversaucers that made him wince. He felt at least three people touching him-laying hands, shoutingdirections, cutting off his clothes. He could not move his arms or legs, and when he tried, hefelt straps lacing across them, a collar anchoring his head.

    “BP's falling,” said a woman. “It's only seventy over palp.”

    “Pupils dilated but unresponsive. Christopher? Christopher? Can you hear me?”

    "He's tachycardic. Get me two large-bore IVs, either fourteen or sixteen gauge, stat. Give himD-5

    normal saline, wide open for a liter to start with, please. And I want to draw some bloods . ..get a CBC with diff, platelets, coags, cherri'20, UA, tox screen, and send a type and screen tothe blood bank."

    Then there was a stabbing pain in the crook of his arm and the sharp sound of ripping adhesivetape.

    “What have we got?” asked a new voice, and the woman spoke again. “A holy mess,” she said.Chris felt a sharp prick near his forehead, which had him arcing against his restraints andfloating back to the soft, warm hands of a nurse. “It's okay, Chris,” she soothed. How didthey know his name?

    “There's some visible cranium. Call radiology, we need them to clear the C-spine.” There wasa scurry of noise, of yelling. Chris slid his eyes to the slit in the curtain off to his rightand saw his father. This was the hospital; his father worked at the hospital. But he wasn't inhis white coat. He was wearing street clothes, a shirt that wasn't even buttoned right. He wasstanding with Emily's parents, trying to get past a bunch of nurses who wouldn't let him by.Chris flailed so suddenly he managed to rip the IV out of his arm. He looked directly atMichael Gold and screamed, but there was no sound, no noise, just wave after wave of fear.

    “I DON'T GIVE A FUCK about procedure,” James Harte said, and then there was a crash ofinstruments and a scuffle of footsteps that diverted the attention of the nurses enough to lethim duck behind the stained curtain. His son was fighting backboard restraints and aPhiladelphia collar. There was blood everywhere, all over his face and shirt and neck. “I'mDr. Harte,” he said to the ER

    physician who was barreling toward them. “Courtesy staff,” he added. He reached out andfirmly grasped Chris's hand. “What's going on?”

    “EMTs brought him in with a girl,” the doctor said quietly. “From what we can see, he's gota scalp laceration. We were about to send him to radiology to check skull and cervicalvertebral fractures, and if they report back negative, we'll get him down to CT scan.”

    James felt Chris squeeze his hand so tightly his wedding band dug into the skin. Surely, hethought, he's ail right if he has this strength. “Emily,” Chris whispered hoarsely. “Where'dthey take Em?”

    “James?” a tentative voice asked. He turned around to see Melanie and Michael hovering at theedge of the curtain, horrified, no doubt, by all that blood. God only knew how they'd gottenpast the dragons at triage. “Is Chris all right?”

    “He's fine,” James said, more for himself than for anyone else in the room. “He's going tobe just fine.”

    A resident hung up a telephone receiver. “Radiology's waiting,” she said. The ER doctornodded toward James. “You can go with him,” he said. “Keep him calm.” James walked besidethe gurney, but he did not let go of his son's hand. He began trotting as the ER

    staff wheeled it more quickly past the Golds. “How's Emily?” he remembered to ask, anddisappeared before they could answer.

    The doctor who'd been attending Chris turned around. “You're Mr. and Mrs. Gold?” he asked.They came forward simultaneously.

    “Can you step outside with me?”

    The DOCTOR LED THEM to a small alcove behind the coffee machines, decorated with nubby bluecouches and ugly Formica end tables, and Melanie instantly relaxed. She was a professionalexpert when it came to reading verbal or nonverbal clues. If they weren't being led to anexamination room on the double, the danger must have passed. Maybe Emily was already up on apatient ward, or off to radiology as Chris was. Maybe she was being brought out to meet them.

“Please,” the doctor said. “Sit down.”

    Melanie had every intention of standing, but her knees gave out from beneath her. Michaelremained upright, frozen.

    “I'm very sorry,” the doctor began, the only words that Melanie could not rework intoanything but what they signified. She crumpled further, her body folding into itself, until herhead was so deeply buried beneath her shaking arms that she could not hear what the man wassaying.

    “Your daughter was pronounced dead on arrival. There was a gunshot wound to the head. It wasinstantaneous; she didn't suffer.” He paused. “I'm going to need one of you to identify thebody.” Michael tried to remember to blink his eyes. Before, it had always been an involuntaryact, but right now everything-breathing, standing, being-was strictly tied to his own self-control. “I don't understand,” he said, in a voice too high to be his own. “She was withChris Harte.”

    “Yes,” the doctor said. “They were brought in together.”

    “I don't understand,” Michael repeated, when what he really meant was How can she be dead ifhe's alive?

    “Who did it?” Melanie forced out, her teeth clenched around the question as if it were a boneshe had to keep possession of. “Who shot her?”

    The doctor shook his head. “I don't know, Mrs. Gold. I'm sure the police who were at the scenewill be here to talk to you shortly.”

    Police?

    “Are you ready to go?”

    Michael stared at the doctor, wondering why on earth this man thought he ought to be leaving.Then he remembered. Emily. Her body.

    He followed the doctor back into the ER. Was it his imagination or did the nurses look at himdifferently now? He passed cubicles with moaning, damaged, living people and finally stopped infront of a curtain with no noise, no bustle, no activity behind it. The doctor waited untilMichael inclined his head, then drew back the blind.

    Emily was lying on her back on a table. Michael took a step forward, resting his hand on herhair. Her forehead was smooth, still warm. The doctor was wrong; that was all. She was notdead, she could not be dead, she . .. He shifted his hand, and her head lolled toward him,allowing him to see the hole above her right ear, the size of a silver dollar, ragged on theedges and matted with dried blood. But no new blood was trickling.

    “Mr. Gold?” the doctor said.

    Michael nodded and ran out of the examination room. He ran past the man on the stretcherclutching his heart, four times older than Emily would ever be. He ran past the residentcarrying a cup of coffee. He ran past Gus Harte, breathless and reaching for him. He picked upspeed. Then he turned the corner, sank to his knees, and retched.

    Gus HAD RUN the whole way to Bainbridge Memorial clutching hope to her chest, a package thatgrew heavier and more unwieldy with every step. But James was not in the ER waiting room, andall of her wishes for a manageable injury-a broken arm or a light concussion-had vanished whenshe'd stumbled upon Michael in the triage area. “Look again,” she demanded of the triagenurse.

    “Christopher Harte. He's the son of Dr. James Harte.”

    The nurse nodded. “He was in here a while ago,” she said. “I just don't know where they'vetaken him.” She glanced up sympathetically. “Why don't I pee if anyone else knowssomething?”

    “Yes,” Gus said as imperiously as she could, wilting as soon as the nurse turned her back.She let her eyes roam over the serviceable Emergency entranceway, from the empty wheelchairs

    waiting like wallflowers at a dance to the television shackled to the ceiling. At the edge ofthe area, Gus saw a swatch of red fabric. She moved toward it, recognizing the scarlet overcoatshe and Melanie had found for eighty percent off at Filene's.

    “Mel?” Gus whispered. Melanie lifted her head, her face just as stricken as Michael's hadbeen. “Is Emily hurt too?”

    Melanie stared at her for a long moment. “No,” she said carefully. “Emily is not hurt.”

    “Oh, thank God-”

    “Em,” Melanie interrupted, “is dead.”

    “WHAT'S TAKING SO LONG?” Gus asked for the third time, pacing in front of the tiny window inthe private room that had been assigned to Christopher. “If he's really all right, then howcome they haven't brought him back yet?”

    James sat in the only chair, his head in his hands. He himself had seen the CT scans, and he'dnever looked over one with such a fear of finding an intracranial contusion or an epiduralhemorrhage. But Chris's brain was intact; his wounds superficial. They had taken him back tothe ER to be stitched up by a surgeon; he would be monitored overnight and then sent foradditional tests the next day.

    “Did he say anything to you? About what happened?”

    James shook his head. “He was scared, Gus. In pain. I wasn't going to push him.” He stood upand leaned against the doorframe. “He asked where they'd brought Emily.” Gus turned slowly.“You didn't tell him,” she said.

    “No.” James swallowed thickly. “At the time I didn't even think about it. About them beingtogether when this happened.”

    Gus crossed the room and slipped her arms around James. Even now, he stiffened; he had not beenbrought up to embrace in public places, and brushes with death did not alter the rules. “Idon't want to think about it,” she murmured, laying her cheek against his back. “I sawMelanie, and I keep imagining how easily that could have been me.”

    James pushed her away and walked toward the radiator, belching out its heat. “What the hellwere they thinking, driving through a bad neighborhood?”

    “What neighborhood?” Gus said, seizing on the new detail. “Where did the ambulance come infrom?”

    James turned to her. “I don't know,” he said. “I just assumed.” Suddenly she was a womanwith a mission. “I could go back down to Emergency while we're waiting,” Gus said. “Theyhave to have that sort of information logged.” She strode purposefully toward the door, but asshe went to pull it, it was opened from the outside. A male orderly wheeled in Chris, his headswathed in thick white bandages.

    She was rooted to the floor, unable to connect this sunken boy with the strong son who hadtowered over her just that morning. The nurse explained something that Gus didn't bother tolisten to, and then she and the orderly left the room.

    Gus heard her own breathing providing a backbeat for the thin drip, drip of Chris's IV. Hiseyes were glassy with sedatives, unfocused with fear. Gus sat down on the edge of the bed andcradled him in her arms. “Ssh,” she said, as he started to cry against the front of hersweater, first thin tears and then loud, unstoppable sobs. “It's all right.”

    Within minutes Chris's hiccups leveled, and his eyes closed. Gus tried to hold him to her, evenafter his big body went slack in her arms. She glanced at James, who was sitting in the chairbeside the hospital bed like a stiff and stoic sentry. He wanted to cry, but he wouldn't. Jameshadn't cried since he'd been seven.

    Gus did not like to cry around him, either. It was not that he ever told her she shouldn't, butthe plain fact that now he wasn't as visibly upset as she was made her feel foolish rather thansensitive. She bit her lip and pulled open the door of the room, wanting to have her breakdownin private. In the hallway, she flattened her palms against the cool cinder block wall and

    tried to think of just yesterday, when she had gone grocery shopping and had cleaned thedownstairs bathroom and had yelled at Chris for leaving the milk out on the kitchen counter allday so it spoiled. Yesterday, when everything had made sense.

    “Excuse me.”

    Gus turned her head to see a tall, dark-haired woman. “I'm Detective-Sergeant Marrone of theBainbridge police. Would you be Mrs. Harte?”

    She nodded and shook the policewoman's hand. “Were you the one who found them?”

    “No, I wasn't. But I was called in to the scene. I need to ask you some questions.”

    “Oh,” Gus said, surprised. “I thought you might be able to answer mine.” Detective Marronesmiled; Gus was momentarily stunned at how beautiful that one transformation made her. “Youscratch my back, I'll scratch yours,” she said.

    “I can't imagine I'll be much help,” Gus said. “What did you want to know?” The detectivetook out a pad and a pen. “Did your son tell you he was going out tonight?”

    “Yes.”

    “Did he tell you where he was going?”

    “No,” Gus said. “But he's seventeen, and he's always been very responsible.” She glanced atthe hospital room door. “Until tonight,” she added.

    “Uh-huh. Did you know Emily Gold, Mrs. Harte?”

    Gus immediately felt tears well in her eyes. Embarrassed, she swiped at them with the backs ofher hands. “Yes,” she said. “Em is ... was like a daughter to me.”

    “And what was she to your son?”

    “His girlfriend.” Gus was more confused now than before. Had Emily been involved in somethingillegal or dangerous? Was that why Chris had been driving through a bad neighborhood?

    She did not realize that she'd spoken aloud until Detective Marrone's brows drew together. “Abad neighborhood?”

    “Well,” Gus said, coloring. “We know there was a gun involved.” The detective snapped shuther notebook and started for the door. “I'd like to talk to Chris now,” she said.

    “You can't,” Gus insisted, blocking the other woman's way. “He's asleep. He needs his rest.Besides, he doesn't even know about Emily yet. We couldn't tell him, not like this. He lovedher.”

    Detective Marrone stared at Gus. “Maybe,” she said. “But he also may have shot her.” THEN

    Fall 1979

    the way Melanie hefted the small brick of banana bread in the palm of her hand, her husband wasnot sure if she was planning to eat it or to throw it. She closed the front door, still shinywith new paint, and carried the loaf to the two cartons that were substituting as a makeshiftkitchen table. With reverent fingers she touched the French-wire ribbon and untangled a carddecorated with a hand-drawn horse. “ 'Welcome,' ” she read, “ 'to the NEIGH-borhood.' ”

    “Your veterinary reputation has preceded you,” she said, handing the card to Michael. Michaelscanned the brief message, smiled, and tore open the cellophane. “It's good,” he said. “Trysome?”

    Melanie paled. Even the thought of banana bread-of any food really-before noon made her queasythese days. Which was odd because every book she'd read on the subject of pregnancy-and she'dread many-said that by now, her fourth month, she should be feeling better. “I'll call tothank them,” she said, retrieving the card. “Oh. My.” She glanced up at Michael. “Gus andJames. And they sent baked goods. Do you think they're . .. you know?”

    “Gay?”

    “I would have said 'embarking on an alternative lifestyle.' ”

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