Shelter in place, p.16
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       Shelter in Place, p.16

           Nora Roberts

  “I decide what I can forgive.”

  “I think making amends to you starts with trying to make them to Simone. To try to do that, I have to say things to her.”

  “Then you should do that. She’s up in her studio.”

  With a nod, Natalie released Harry’s hand. “You’ve never been anything but wonderful to me, and I’m ashamed of what I said to you. You’ve never once let me down, ever, even when I deserved it.”

  “Long walk for her,” CiCi murmured when Natalie went inside.

  “Yeah, it is. We interrupted your work. I can wait out—”

  “Don’t be silly. I can’t work wondering if I’ll hear screaming, shouting, and cursing. Let’s have a beer.”

  “I could use one.”

  CiCi stepped up to the doorway, reached up to pat his cheek. “You’re good for her, Harry. I wasn’t sure of it, but you’re good for her.”

  “I love her.”

  “Love’s the glue. Use it right, it can fix most anything.”

  * * *

  Simone used glue, metal pins, sandpaper, paints. After a week of intense work, she began to believe she could bring Tish back. She could bring the life back into the face.

  She heard the footsteps as she pushed back to study the morning’s progress.

  “Come see. I think … I think maybe.”

  Then she looked up, saw Natalie. Slowly, she got to her feet. “You’re not welcome here.”

  “I know. I’m asking for five minutes. Please. There’s nothing … Oh God! You fixed it.”

  “Don’t you dare.”

  Natalie stopped her rush forward to the worktable, gripped her hands behind her back. “There’s nothing you can say to me I don’t deserve. Being sorry, ashamed, disgusted with myself isn’t enough. Knowing you’ve fixed what I tried to ruin doesn’t let me off the hook.”

  “She isn’t fixed.”

  “But it—she … She’s so beautiful, Simone. I resented that, resented what you can create out of freaking mud. I’m ashamed of that, I can’t even explain how ashamed. I didn’t tell you about the engagement, the party, because I didn’t want you to come. I told myself you wouldn’t anyway. It wouldn’t matter to you. I was only going to have you in the wedding party because people would think poorly of me otherwise. I let myself think and feel terrible things about you.”


  “You left me. It felt like you left me. After the mall—” She broke off when Simone’s face went blank, when she turned away. “Like that. You wouldn’t talk about it with me.”

  “I talked about it in therapy. I talked about it to the police. Over and over.”

  “You wouldn’t talk to me, and I needed my big sister. I was so scared. I’d wake up screaming, but you—”

  “I had nightmares, Nat. Cold sweats, gasping for air. No screams, so Mom didn’t rush in, but I had nightmares.”

  Staring, Natalie brushed tears from her cheek. “You never said.”

  “I didn’t want to talk about it then. I don’t want to talk about it now. I put it away.”

  “You put me away.”

  “Oh, bullshit.” Simone whirled back. “Bullshit.”

  “It’s not. It doesn’t feel like bullshit, Simone, not to me. Before, you included me. It was you and Mi and Tish, but you included me. They were my friends, too. After, you shut me out. It was just you and Mi.”

  “Jesus Christ! Tish died. Mi was in the hospital for weeks.”

  “I know, I know. I was fourteen, Sim. Please, God. Have some pity. I thought she was dead. When I dragged Mom behind that counter, I thought she was dead. I thought you were dead. Then you weren’t, and I kept dreaming you were. Everybody but me. Tish was my friend, too. And Mi. And all I saw was me being replaced as a sister. I know how stupid and selfish that sounds. The two of you came here when Mi got out of the hospital. To CiCi. And all I could think was Why did they leave me behind?”

  “She needed me, and I needed—”

  Natalie hadn’t been hurt, Simone thought. But of course, she had. Of course she had.

  “I didn’t think,” Simone managed. “I didn’t think of it as leaving you out or behind. I just needed to get away from it. The reporters, the police, the talk, the looks. I was sixteen, Natalie. And broken inside.”

  “It was always Mi after that. You had each other. I was broken, too.”

  “I’m sorry.” Simone dropped back on her stool, rubbed her hands over her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see it. Maybe I didn’t want to see it. You had Mom and Dad, CiCi, friends of your own. You got so involved in school, in projects.”

  “It helped me stop thinking. It helped stop the nightmares. But I wanted you, Simone. I was too mad to tell you. Not mad,” she corrected. “More sorry for myself. Then you went to New York, to college. With Mi. You started dying your hair weird colors, wearing clothes Mom just hated. So I hated them, too. I wanted my sister back, but I wanted you back the way I wanted you. You weren’t the way I wanted you, or I thought you should be. Then you sort of were, and … I didn’t like you.”

  Finally, Natalie sat, let out a breath that ended with a baffled laugh. “I just realized that. I didn’t like the Simone who wore business suits and dated that—what was his name?”

  “Gerald Worth, the freaking Fourth.”

  “Oh yeah.” Natalie sniffled. “He was kind of a jerk, but he didn’t mean to be. I didn’t like you that way, or the other way because you weren’t the big sister I had before the world changed for us. Then you dropped out of college and went back to New York, then you went off to Italy, and I didn’t know who the hell you were. You hardly came home.”

  “The welcome wasn’t exactly warm there.”

  “You don’t put much effort into it, either.”

  “Maybe not,” Simone replied. “Maybe not.”

  “Everything I said last week, I felt. I believed. I was wrong, but I felt it, sincerely. I was wrong to expect you to, I don’t know, freeze in place from before, when we all changed that night. I was so, so wrong to say those things to CiCi, who’s the most loving and amazing person in the world, and I’ll never stop being ashamed of that.”

  “She wouldn’t want you to be ashamed forever.”

  “I know. Another reason for the shame. I’m here because of Harry, because he makes me a better person.” Those blue eyes teared up again. “He makes me want to be a better person. You’ve been selfish, Simone. So have I. But this is who you are, and who I am. I’m going to try to be a better person—the one Harry sees when he looks at me. I’m going to try to be a better sister. It’s the only way I know how to make amends for what I did.”

  “I don’t know if we’d be any different from who we are, but I’m sorry. I am sorry I wasn’t there for you, that I didn’t see I wasn’t there. We can try starting from here, with who we are now.”

  “Yeah. Yes.” Tears swirling, Natalie got to her feet, stepped forward.

  Her gaze fell on the bust, and she saw what she hadn’t before.

  “It’s Tish.”


  Her hand flew up to her mouth, clamped there. More tears now, spilling over her fingers. “Oh God, oh my God. It’s Tish. I never really looked—I didn’t want to.” Shuddering, Natalie lowered her hand, and as Simone rose, she saw deep grief. “It’s Tish. You made something beautiful, and I … You had to feel as if she died again. Oh, Simone.”

  “Yes, I did.” But she came around the worktable, felt herself able and more willing to pull Natalie to her. “I did. But I can bring her back. I can bring her back,” she said, with her eyes on the clay. “This time, this way.”


  Passion of Purpose

  Wealth lost, something lost,

  Honor lost, something lost:

  Courage lost, all lost.

  —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


  Reed sat with Chaz Bergman on the rocks watching the moonbeam light over the bay. They each had a bottle of Summer Pale
Ale, a technical violation. But at two in the morning on the lonely stretch of coastline, Reed figured nobody cared.

  Though Chaz had moved to Seattle for a job right out of college, they hadn’t lost touch, and kept up sporadically through texts and e-mails.

  Face-to-face time tended to be limited to Chaz’s return for Christmas and the occasional long summer weekend.

  “Sorry I couldn’t make it earlier,” Reed said as they settled in.

  “Cop shit?”


  “You get the bad guy?”

  With a nod, Reed took his first long drink. “Book ’em, Danno.”

  “Detective Quartermaine. It still slays me.”

  “Supreme IT Nerd Chaz Bergman. Doesn’t surprise me a bit.” Reed took another pull from the bottle, let the long day go. “I didn’t expect to see you again this summer. You were just here in July.”

  “Yeah.” Chaz took a slower, smaller sip, nudged his glasses up on his nose.

  He’d kept his husky build, but put on some muscle. He had a lot more hair now, enough that he tied it back in a stub of a tail. He’d added a weird little soul patch that didn’t disguise the geek.

  Chaz looked out at the water, shrugged. “My mom really wanted me to fly in for that McMullen deal. I guess part of me wanted to. Not to talk about it so much, but to see some of the people who were in the store that night.”

  “That kid,” Reed remembered. “He was, like, twelve, and now he’s working on being a doctor.”

  “Yeah, and the pregnant woman. She’s got those twins.”

  “You saved them, bro.” Reed tapped his bottle to Chaz’s.

  “I guess. Speaking of, how’s Brady Foster?”

  “He’s great. Batted three-forty on his high school team last year. They had another kid, you know, Lisa and Michael.”

  “Yeah, that’s right. You told me.”

  “A girl. She’s five. Camille. She’s crazy smart, looks like her mom. I tell you, Chaz, Lisa’s amazing. She lives with that night every day, but she doesn’t let it, you know, define her. It sure as hell doesn’t stop her. I guess I look at that family, and what that night cost them, and how they didn’t just survive it, they didn’t even just overcome it, they, well, they shine, you know? Like that damn moon up there.”

  “I never asked you, but do you ever go back there? To the mall?”

  “Yeah.” He’d drawn maps, marked points of attack, victims, movements, numbers. He had it all in his files. “It’s changed a lot.”

  “I can’t go in there. I don’t even like driving by. I never told you, but I took the job in Seattle because it was the farthest away I could get and stay in the country. Well, the mainland—and I didn’t get offers from Alaska or Hawaii. It’s a great job, a good company,” Chaz added. “But it was the distance.”

  “Nothing wrong with that,” Reed said after a moment.

  “I don’t think about it for weeks, months. But I come back here and it hits me all over again. Weird … because I was in a locked, crowded room for the worst of it, not in the thick like you. Jesus, we were just kids, Reed.”

  Chaz took a longer drink. “Or I’ll hear about another mass shooting, and it all flashes back.”

  “I hear that.”

  “I go to Seattle, and you go to the front line.”

  “You took a job, man. You built a career.”

  “Yeah, about that. The reason I’m back? I’m taking a transfer to New York. Taking a little downtime first, heading down to check out some apartments the company’s got lined up.” Chaz shrugged. “They want me to head up the cybersecurity division there.”

  “Head it? Holy shit, Chaz.” Reed gave him a congratulatory elbow in the ribs. “You’re a fucking honcho nerd.”

  It made him smile, but Chaz shook his head, shoved his glasses back up on his nose. “I almost turned it down. New York’s a lot closer than Seattle, but I can’t let that damn night, that damn mall—what did you call it?—define my damn life. So I’m moving to New York in November.”

  “Congratulations, man, all around.”

  “How do you do it? I mean, the badge and the gun and putting it on the line every fucking day?”

  “Detective work’s mostly detecting, and a boatload of paperwork, legwork. It’s not like TV. It’s not car chases and shoot-outs.”

  “You’re going to tell me you’ve never been in either one.”

  “Some car chases. More foot chases—and why do they run?—but some car chases. They’re crazy, I’ll give you that.”


  “It’s not like the O.K. Corral, Chaz.”

  Chaz just looked at him, those quiet eyes behind the thick lenses.

  “I’ve been involved a couple of times when we had shots fired.”

  “Were you scared?”

  “Bet your hairy white ass.”

  “But you did it anyway, and you keep doing it. See, that’s the thing about you, Reed. You face up and do it anyway, and you always have. New York’s not facing down some asshole with a gun, but it’s sort of my ‘do it anyway.’”

  Chaz paused, smiled. “With a promotion and a big, fat raise.”

  “Lucky bastard. I bet you’ve got the rest of a six-pack in a cooler in that rental car.”

  “Eagle Scout. We’re always prepared. But I’m driving, so one’s it.”

  “So let’s take it back to my place, polish it off. Tomorrow—well, today now. Sunday, and I’m not on the roll. You can sleep on the couch.”

  “I could do that. Why are you still living in that dump?”

  “It’s not so bad, and there’s talk about some gentrification in the neighborhood. I could be sitting sweet before you know it. Anyway, I might not be there much longer. I’m looking at a house tomorrow afternoon. It feels like the one from the outside, and the video tour. Nice yard, new kitchen.”

  “You don’t cook.”

  “Doesn’t matter. Excellent master suite, and so on. I like the neighborhood. I can walk to pubs and restaurants. Mow my own grass. Best, if I can whittle the price down just a couple clicks, I can afford it without selling my blood or taking bribes.”

  “You could sell your sperm,” Chaz suggested. “Remember that guy—Fruenski—who did that in college?”

  “I think I’ll try my hand at negotiation first. Anyway,” he said as they rose, “you ought to come with me tomorrow, check the place out.”

  “I gotta go see my grandparents. Already on the books. Then Monday, I’m heading to New York to check out my own digs.”

  “Then let’s go make the best of what’s left of the six-pack.”

  * * *

  Reed slept till noon, then threw together some coffee and scrambled eggs, since he had company. He saw Chaz off with the promise of a wild New York weekend once his old friend settled in.

  When he showered, in lukewarm water as apparently the building’s hot water heater was dying again, he thought how good it had been to spend time with Chaz. And talk about things he realized Chaz had avoided talking about.

  He dressed studying his bedroom wall, the one he used as a makeshift case board. He had tacked up photos of every DownEast Mall survivor who’d died, with the death designation above each group: Accidental, Natural Causes, Homicide, Suicide.

  He had maps with each of the deceased’s location when they died pinned with the name, date, time.

  And he crossed-checked each along with their reported locations and any injuries incurred on the night of July 22, 2005.

  Too many, he thought again. Just too many.

  He couldn’t argue with Essie’s debate point on the variety of weapons and methods in the homicides, but he knew there was a pattern in there. One that just hadn’t come clear for him yet.

  He had autopsy reports, witness statements, copies of interviews with next of kin. He’d compiled articles and recordings from a dozen years back right up to the McMullen special.

  It had surprised him to see Hobart’s sister on there. Patricia H
obart, pale, hollow-eyed, looked older than twenty-six. Then, he guessed, having your brother murder a bunch of people, your mother blow up her house under the influence of drugs and alcohol—as the ME report stated—having your asshole father drink himself drunk and kill a woman and her kid, along with himself, rated premature aging.

  She hadn’t cried, Reed recalled as he studied her picture on the wall. Plenty of nervous tics though. Hunched shoulders, fingers twisting together or pulling at her clothes.

  Dumpy suit, he remembered, ugly shoes. Lived with her grandparents, stood as main caregiver for her grandmother, who’d used a walker since recovering after a broken hip, and her grandfather, who’d suffered two small strokes.

  Paternal grandparents—really well-off—who’d disinherited the asshole father and uncle who’d had their shitload of guns available for a trio of fucked-up teenagers to take, to use, to kill what came to be ninety-three people in the space of minutes.

  What a fucking family, he thought, strapping on his off-duty weapon, shoving his wallet, ID, and phone in his pockets.

  On the way out, he pulled out his phone, called Essie. An actual call because she might ignore a text.

  He jogged down the steps as she answered.

  “I’m heading to the house I told you about, meeting Realtor Renee. Come on and see it with me. Bring the gang.”

  “It’s a hot, lazy afternoon, Reed.”

  “That’s why it’s perfect. We’ll go to the park after, the dog and kid can run around. And I’ll take you all for pizza to celebrate me making an offer. I really think this is the one.”

  “You said that with that weird Victorian three months ago.”

  “I liked the weird Victorian, but it had a bad vibe when we walked through it.”

  “Yeah, yeah, vibe, bad. You’re a house-shopping addict, Reed.”

  Since it might be true, he evaded. “It’ll be fun. This one’s only a few blocks from your place.”

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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book
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