Shelter in place, p.21
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       Shelter in Place, p.21
 

           Nora Roberts

  “It feels right?”

  “Yeah, it does. When would you leave?”

  “I don’t have the job yet.”

  “You’re going to get it.” It felt too right for otherwise. “When would you leave?”

  “Not until after the first of the year. The current chief’s leaving in March—see, he told CiCi, hadn’t even told the council yet. It all just slid into place.”

  “Chief Quartermaine.” She shook her head. “Isn’t that a kick in the ass?”

  He felt that kick ten days later when he formally accepted the job as chief of police of Tranquility Island.

  * * *

  In the spirit of fence mending, Simone agreed to a fancy girls’ lunch at her mother’s country club. She’d have preferred spending the blustery November afternoon in her studio, but her relationship with Natalie had improved.

  Natalie wanted the lunch, and pushed. So here they were, eating elaborate salads, drinking Kir Royales, and making chitchat about a wedding that was still nearly a year off.

  She’d already gotten her mother’s eye for the short, shaggy do in a color her adventurous hairdresser dubbed Burning Embers. But the fact that Tulip held her tongue, for once, helped keep the interlude civilized.

  Besides, she couldn’t deny she’d chosen the over-the-knee boots, suede pants, and a bold green leather jacket to push her mother’s buttons.

  In any case, she liked seeing Natalie so happy, even if a lot of it stemmed from debates on wedding dress designs and wedding colors.

  When she felt her mind melting over the perfect signature drink for a fall wedding, she steered the conversation toward the house Natalie and Harry had just purchased.

  “So the new house. That’s exciting. When will you be ready to move in?”

  “There’s certainly no rush,” Tulip began. “Especially with all the holiday festivities coming up. Simone, you really must attend the Snowflake Ball next month. My friend Mindy’s son Triston’s coming in from Boston for Christmas, and I’m sure he’d be happy to escort you.”

  “Yes.” Glowing, happy, Natalie all but bounced in her seat. “You could double-date with Harry and me!”

  Under the table, Simone gave Natalie’s leg a quick, firm squeeze.

  “My calendar’s already full, Mom, but thanks for the thought. About the house—”

  “For once I’d like to have my whole family present at an event that’s important to me.”

  Simone picked up her glass, took a careful sip of a drink that struck her as too sweet and silly. “I know the Snowflake Ball’s important to you. So’s the Winter Gala, the Spring Ball, the Summer Jubilee in July, and so forth. I’ve come to several of them over the last few years.”

  “You haven’t once come to the Jubilee, and we raise money for the arts with the proceeds.”

  “It’s a bad time of year for me, Mom.”

  Tulip started to speak, then looked away. “It helps to do something positive.”

  “I know, and I do. For me. I really want to hear about the house.”

  “Haven’t you hidden yourself away on the island long enough? If you’re not there, you’re off somewhere else. You’re never going to create a social network or meet someone as wonderful as Harry on that island.”

  Here we go again, Simone thought. “I have the social network I want, and I’m not looking for someone like Harry. And he is wonderful,” Simone added with a smile for Natalie. “Mom,” she said before Tulip could speak again. “Let’s talk about things we can agree on. Like how happy Natalie is, what a wonderful wedding she’ll have. How fabulous her new house is.”

  “About the wedding—again,” Natalie said, so obviously trying to right the ship, Simone gave her knee another squeeze, a grateful one. “Will you be my maid of honor?”

  It surprised her, touched her, and both showed on her face. “Nat, I’m so honored. Really. It means so much to me you’d ask, and if it’s what you truly want, of course I will. But…”

  Now she took Natalie’s hand on the white tablecloth. “Cerise has been your best friend for a decade. The two of you are so close, and she knows exactly what you want for your wedding. She’ll know how to make it happen for you. She should be your maid of honor.”

  “People will expect—”

  Simone looked at her mother, so fast, so fierce, the rest of the words died. “What matters is what Natalie wants. Ask Cerise, and let me do something special for you instead.”

  “I don’t want you to feel slighted. You’re my sister.”

  “I won’t. I don’t. I’d like you to have Cerise stand for you. I’d like to make the topper for your cake. I’d like to do a sculpture of you and Harry. Something you’d keep to remember the biggest day of your lives. Something that shows not only how happy you were on that day, but how happy I am for you.”

  “We’ve already started looking at cake designs and toppers,” Tulip pointed out.

  “Mom.” Natalie reached for her mother’s hand, effectively joining the three women together. “I would love it. Honestly, I’d just love it. Could you do something fun for the groom’s cake? Like Harry putting on a golf green, or swinging on the tee?”

  “Absolutely. You get me the cake designs once you have them. And when you have your dress, I’ll do some sketches and photos—same with Harry when he’s got his groom clothes. We can brainstorm ideas for the groom’s cake if you want, but the wedding topper’s going to be a surprise.”

  She looked back at her mother. “I won’t disappoint or embarrass you. I want to give something to Natalie, something that’s a part of me. How about the two of you pick a couple of desserts to share and order me some black coffee? I’ll be right back.”

  She wound her way through the dining room, escaping to the restroom and vowing no matter how many fences needed mending, she would never agree to another ladies’ lunch at the club.

  To counterbalance, she decided she’d pick up some of her grandmother’s favorite veggie pizza on the way home, and they’d gorge while drinking some good wine.

  She had to push herself mentally to go into the bathroom stall—she always did. But the little flutter came and went, as it always did.

  When she came out, she barely glanced at the blonde carefully touching up her lipstick in the mirror over the long silver counter with its line of deep vessel sinks.

  She needed to figure out how to put a cheerful smile on her face, get through dessert and coffee. And escape.

  “Simone Knox.”

  She looked over at the blonde. She heard the sneer in the voice, saw it on the deep rose lips. Before she realized the physical sneer was caused by the pull of carefully masked scarring.

  The left eye—boldly blue—drooped just a fraction. A casual observer might not have noticed, but an artist who’d studied facial structure and anatomy couldn’t miss it.

  She kept her own face as neutral as her voice.

  “That’s right.”

  “You don’t recognize me?”

  She hadn’t, in those first few seconds. But it all flooded over her. All.

  “Tiffany. Sorry. It’s been a long time.”

  “Hasn’t it just?”

  “How are you?”

  “How do I look? Oh don’t be shy,” she continued, waving her hands on either side of her face. “Eight surgeries over seven years. Add years of speech therapy, some brain bleeds. Totally reconstucted left ear,” she added, tapping on it. “Of course, the hearing’s pretty well shot in it, but you can’t have everything.”

  “I’m sorry—”

  “Sorry? The fucking bastard shot me in the face! They had to put it back together. You walked away without a scratch, didn’t you?”

  None that showed.

  “But all these years later, they’re still talking about the brave, quick-thinking Simone Knox who hid and called for help. While I lay there under my dead boyfriend with my face in pieces.”

  She didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to see the flashes of gunfire throug
h the door wedged open by a dead body. She didn’t want to hear the screams.

  “I’m sorry for all you’ve been through.”

  “You don’t know anything about what I’ve been through.” The drooping eye twitched as Tiffany’s voice rose up another register. “I was beautiful. I was important. And you were nothing. A castoff. You got lucky, and they call you a hero. Why do you think people buy that crap you make?

  “You’re sorry? You should be dead. I’ve waited twelve years to tell you exactly that.”

  “Now you have.”

  “It’s still not enough. It’ll never be enough.”

  As Tiffany stormed out, Simone thought: Her left shoulder’s just a fraction lower than her right. Then went into the stall and threw up the fancy salad and Kir Royale.

  When she got back to the table, her mother and sister had their heads together, laughing.

  “I’m sorry. I need to go.”

  “Oh, Simone, we just ordered dessert.” Natalie reached up for her hand.

  “I’m sorry.” How many times would she say that today? she wondered.

  “Just because we disagree doesn’t—” Tulip’s quiet tirade stopped in midstream. “Simone, you’re white as a sheet.”

  “I’m not feeling well. I—”

  Tulip got up quickly, rounded the table. “You sit. Sit a minute. I’ll get you some fresh water.”

  “This is fine.” Water, she thought. Yes, some water. But her hand trembled a little. “Honestly, I need to go. A little air.”

  “Yes. Some air. Natalie, stay here. I’m going to walk your sister outside.” She slid her arm around Simone’s waist. “We’ll get our coats. I have the check.”

  Smooth, efficient Tulip retrieved their coats, helped Simone into hers. “Take my beret. You should have worn a hat.” She steered Simone out to a patio festively decorated for the holidays.

  “Now tell me what happened.”

  “It’s nothing. Just a headache.”

  “Don’t lie to me. Give me some credit for knowing my own child. Give me some respect.”

  “I’m sorry.” There it was again. “You’re right. I need to walk. I need to breathe.”

  “We’ll walk. You’ll breathe. And you’ll tell me what happened.”

  “In the restroom. Tiffany Bryce.”

  “Do we know her?”

  “I went to school with her. She was in the theater that night.”

  “Of course. I know her stepmother a little. She—they—have had a very difficult time.”

  “Yes. She told me.”

  “I know it’s hard for you to be reminded, but—”

  “She blames me.”

  “What?” Absently, Tulip brushed at her hair as the wind disturbed it. “Of course she doesn’t.”

  “She does, and she made that clear. She got shot in the face. I didn’t. Nothing happened to me.”

  “It happened to all of us, whether or not we were physically injured. All of us.” Now she gripped Simone’s hand. “What did she say to you, sweetie?”

  “She gave me a recount of her injuries, harangued me for not having any. And told me I should’ve died. That she wished I had.”

  “I don’t care what happened to her, she had no right to say that. It’s very likely she would have died without what you did that night.”

  “Don’t say that. Please, don’t say that. I don’t want to be thought of that way.”

  “You were brave and you were smart, and don’t you ever, ever forget it.” She took Simone by the shoulders. “That girl’s bitter and angry, and I can forgive that. But what she said to you is wrong and hateful. You said in there you wouldn’t disappoint or embarrass me. Don’t disappoint me now and take one single thing she said to heart.”

  “I hated her. That night, before, when she came in with Trent, so smug and dismissive of me. I hated her. And now…”

  “Now you’ve grown up, and she, obviously, hasn’t changed a bit. Not everyone changes, Simone. Not everyone can move through and beyond a tragedy.”

  Simone let her head drop to her mother’s shoulder. “Sometimes I’m still stuck there. In that bathroom stall.”

  “Then—God, I’m going to sound like my mother—open the door. You have, and you’ll keep opening it. Even if I don’t like where it takes you. I love you, Simone. Maybe that’s why you constantly exasperate me. I mean, honestly, why do you do that to your hair?”

  Simone managed a watery laugh. “You’re bringing up my hair to take my mind off the rest.”

  “That may be, but I still can’t understand why you’d chop it off and dye it hellfire red.”

  “I must’ve been in a hellfire mood when I did.” She drew back, then kissed her mother’s cheek. “Thank you. I’m better, but I don’t want to go back in. I couldn’t face dessert anyway.”

  “Are you well enough to drive?”

  “Yeah. Don’t worry.”

  “I will, so you’ll text me when you’re at your grandmother’s.”

  “Okay. Tell Nat—”

  “I intend to tell Natalie exactly what happened so we can gossip about that stupid, ugly woman over dessert and coffee.”

  This time the laugh came easier. “I love you, Mom. That must be why you constantly exasperate me.”

  “I’ll give you one touché. Your color’s better. Text me—and have CiCi make you one of her crazy teas.”

  “I will.”

  Rather than go through the club, she walked around the building to her car. She hadn’t wanted to come, she thought, and couldn’t claim she’d had a good time of it.

  But she could be glad she’d come. However strange and awful, the fences got mended, and they felt stronger for it now.

  Maybe they could keep them that way awhile.

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  Simone couldn’t forget Tiffany’s face—the before, and the now.

  She couldn’t forget the smugness on it then, the anger on it now. They pushed and prodded at her, both sides of the coin: the smugness of the young girl who prized her own beauty, and the anger of the woman who believed she’d lost it.

  While she worked, those faces revolved in her head.

  She’d never gone back to the DownEast Mall or any other. She’d never sat in a movie theater again. She’d done everything to push that night and all that surrounded it out of her mind. Away from her life.

  Now, with that single encounter, those two faces playing through her head, that night and all that surrounded it pushed into her.

  Unable to block it out, she made it a project. She sketched Tiffany’s face at sixteen from memory: the well-balanced features, the confident, blossoming beauty, the perfect sweep of hair.

  Then she sketched the now, the woman who’d confronted her at the club: the scarring, the slight drooping of the left eye, the drawn-up lip, the reconstructed left ear.

  Flawed, she thought, studying the two faces, visibly flawed. But hardly monstrous. In fact, as an artist, she found the second face more interesting.

  But … Did the anger come from being reminded, every time she looked in the mirror? Did the horror flood back? Instead of being able to shut it away, move on, the results of that single night lived in the face in the mirror.

  Wouldn’t it take a particular kind of strength and resolve to face that and move on?

  How could she criticize? How could she dismiss that anger and resentment when she’d refused to face her own? She’d just locked hers away.

  Rising, she walked to the window. Outside, snow fell soft out of moody gray skies and piled in soft mounds on the rocks. The water blurred with the sky, and winter closed off everything but that water, that sky.

  The quiet and peace, the solitude of winter on the island spread before her. The chaos and ugliness of that long ago summer night waited behind.

  She heard Tiffany’s voice in her head.

  You walked away without a scratch.

  “No. No, I didn’t. So…”

  On a deep breath, she turned.
r />   She chose her tools, her clay.

  Half-scale, she thought as she spread out some canvas and began to roll clay into a rectangle. She could stop anytime, she assured herself. Or just change directions. But if she wanted the faces out of her head, maybe she needed to make them real.

  She trimmed the slab of clay before rolling it, bending it into a cylinder. Once she’d flipped it vertically, she used her hands to smooth the walls. She cut the angles, scored, overlapped, joined, compressing the seams, created the void.

  The practical, the technical, came first, laid the foundation.

  She sketched the outline of the face with a rounded tip, checked proportions.

  With her hands, she began to shape it. Eye sockets, forehead, nose, adding clay, pushing from the inside of the cylinder for cheeks, cheekbones, chin.

  She could see it just as her hands could feel it. A female face—still any female face.

  Depressions, indentions, mounds.

  Thinking of the then, the now, the smug, the bitter, she turned the clay to do the same on the opposing side.

  The two sides, she thought, of a life.

  Now the dome of the head, coiling seams, compressing, adding a slit, until she left an opening only wide enough for her hand.

  She studied the work—yes, simple, basic, rough—letting the clay stiffen a bit before cutting another dart, the shape of a football, on the sides. Her transition from neck to skull.

  She darted the front, taking her time to create the chin and neck. Repeated on the back with the subtle changes from damage, and the years.

  Rising again, she walked around the worktable, studying the roughed-in faces, the sketches.

  She sat, made her commitment by using her thumb to draw down the depression of the left eye socket.

  “Here we go,” she mumbled, and began to roll a small ball of clay. “I don’t know what I’m trying to prove, but here we go.”

  The eyeballs, the corners of the eyes, the lids—she structured with fingers and tools.

  As was her habit, she jumped from feature to feature, roughing in the eyes, moving on to the nose, the chin, the ears, and back again. Shifting, as her mind and hands demanded, from face to face.

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
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new Nora Roberts book
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