Shelter in place, p.4
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       Shelter in Place, p.4

           Nora Roberts

  He’d been working in his front garden, she remembered, and had waved them off.

  He rose, walked over with tears swirling in his eyes to hug her.

  “I’m so glad you weren’t hurt.” His English was perfect and precise, and he smelled of freshly cut grass.

  “I left them. I had to use the bathroom, and I left them. Then—”

  “Ah. I’m glad for it. Ms. Lennon, it’s kind of you to come.”

  “CiCi,” she corrected. “We’re all family now. We’d like to wait with you, send all our healing thoughts and lights to Mi.”

  His chin wobbled as he fought to compose himself.

  “Simone, my treasure, why don’t you go sit with Mi’s mom?” She put an arm around Mr. Jung’s shoulders. “Let’s take a little walk.”

  Simone went over to sit by Mrs. Jung. And when Mrs. Jung gripped her hand, Simone held tight.

  She knew CiCi believed in vibes and light and burning sage and meditation. And all sorts of things that made her daughter roll her eyes.

  Simone also knew that if anyone could make Mi be okay through sheer force of will, it was CiCi.

  So she clung to that just like she clung to Mi’s mother’s hand.


  When CiCi came back, Simone got up so Mr. Jung could sit next to his wife. Before she took another seat, Mi’s sister, Nari, took her arm.

  “Help me get tea.”

  Simone went with her across the big room to a counter with pots of hot water, coffee, tea bags, and disposable cups.

  Nari, slim, studious, in her second year at MIT, efficiently set up a cardboard tray. “They won’t tell you.” She spoke quietly, giving Simone a long look—dark eyes through the lenses of dark-framed glasses. “It’s bad. Mi was shot three times.”

  Simone opened her mouth, but no words came out. There were no words.

  “I heard one of the police talking to a nurse after they took her to surgery. She lost so much blood. She’s so tiny, and she lost a lot of blood. Will you go with me to give blood for her? It might not go to her, but—”

  “Yes. What do we do? Where do we go?”

  Because she was a minor, Simone needed CiCi. They took turns because so many people were doing just as they were.

  Simone looked away before the needle went in because needles made her feel a little sick. She drank the little cup of orange juice after, as instructed.

  On the way back, she told CiCi she needed to use the bathroom.

  “I’ll go with you.”

  “No, that’s okay. I’ll be right there.”

  She wanted to go alone, mostly because she needed to throw up the orange juice.

  But when she went inside she saw a woman standing at one of the sinks, crying.

  Tiffany’s mother. Mrs. Bryce had been her seventh-grade language arts teacher. That same year—and everyone knew—Mr. Bryce had divorced her to marry the woman (lots younger) he’d had an affair with because the woman was pregnant.

  Simone realized she hadn’t thought of Tiffany or Trent—the boy she’d thought she loved.

  “Mrs. Bryce.”

  Still sobbing, the woman turned.

  “I’m sorry. I’m Simone Knox. You taught me in middle school. I know Tiffany. I saw her tonight before … Before.”

  “You were there?”

  “With Mi-Hi Jung and Tish Olsen. In the movies. They’re operating on Mi. She got shot. She got shot. He killed Tish.”

  “Oh God.” They stood, tears streaming. “Tish? Tish Olsen? Oh God, oh God.” When she threw her arms around Simone, Simone clung to her.

  “Tiffany’s in surgery. She … they can’t tell me.”

  “Trent? She was with Trent.”

  Mrs. Bryce stepped back, pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes, shook her head. “I’ll pray for Mi.” She turned back to the sink, ran water, splashed and splashed it on her face. “You’ll pray for Tiffany.”

  “I will,” she promised, and meant it.

  She didn’t need to throw up anymore. She already felt empty.

  In the waiting room she fell asleep with her head in CiCi’s lap. When she woke she stayed curled there, her mind so foggy it seemed a thin layer of smoke blurred the room.

  Through it she saw a man with gray hair and blue scrubs talking to Mrs. Bryce. And Mr. Bryce, she realized, and the woman he’d gotten pregnant and married.

  Mrs. Bryce was crying again, but not the way she had in the bathroom. She had her hands clutched together in her lap, her lips pressed tight, but she kept nodding. And even through the layer of haze, Simone saw gratitude.

  Tiffany hadn’t died, not like Tish. Not like Trent.

  Mi wouldn’t die, either. She couldn’t.

  They waited. She drifted off again, but lightly now, so she felt CiCi shift.

  This doctor was a woman with ink-black hair pulled back from her face. She had an accent—Indian, maybe. Simone heard it, but it faded off as the words registered through the fog as she pushed herself up.

  Mi had come through surgery.

  Bullet wound in the right arm. No muscle damage.

  Bullet nicked the right kidney. Repaired, no permanent damage likely.

  Chest wound. Lungs full of blood. Draining, repairing, transfusions. The next twenty-four hours critical. Mi—young and strong.

  “Once she’s out of Recovery and in ICU, you can see her. Briefly, only two at a time. She’s sedated,” the doctor continued. “She should sleep for several hours. You should try to get some rest.”

  Mrs. Jung cried, but like Mrs. Bryce had.

  “Thank you. Thank you. We’ll wait, and go see her.” Mr. Jung put an arm around his wife.

  “I’ll have you taken up to ICU. But only family,” she added, with a glance at Simone and CiCi.

  “This girl is family,” Mr. Jung said.

  Relenting, the doctor looked back at Simone. “I’ll need your name for the approved visitors list.”

  “Simone Knox.”

  “‘Simone Knox’? The first nine-one-one caller?”

  “I don’t know. I called them.”

  “Simone, you should know: By calling them so quickly, you gave Mi a fighting chance. I’ll put your name on the list.”

  * * *

  After Simone had gone home to her bed, to dark, fractured dreams, Michael Foster sat by his wife’s hospital bed while she slept.

  She’d wake, ask about Brady again. Her short-term memory was disrupted, but would come back, they told him. For now, he needed to reassure her anytime she surfaced that their son hadn’t been harmed.

  Reed Quartermaine. They owed Reed Quartermaine for that.

  She’d wake, he thought. She’d live.

  And, due to a bullet in the spine, she’d never walk again.

  One bullet struck her just below the shoulder blade, but the other hit her lower spinal cord.

  He tried to believe they’d been lucky, because he’d have to believe it to convince her. If the bullet had hit higher, she could’ve lost feeling in her trunk, in her arms. She might have needed a breathing tube, might not have been able to turn her neck.

  But they’d been lucky. She’d been spared the trauma of losing control of her bladder and bowels. With time and therapy, she’d be able to operate a motorized wheelchair, even drive.

  But his beautiful wife, his wife who loved to dance, wouldn’t walk again.

  She’d never run on the beach again with Brady, go hiking, jog up and down the stairs in the house they’d scrimped and saved for.

  All because three sick, selfish bastards had gone on some senseless murder spree.

  He didn’t even know which one of the three had hurt his wife, the mother of his child, the love of his goddamn life.

  It didn’t matter which, he thought. They’d all done it.

  John Jefferson Hobart, aka JJ, age seventeen.

  Kent Francis Whitehall, age sixteen.

  Devon Lawrence Paulson, age sixteen.

  Teenagers. Sociopaths, psychopaths.
He didn’t care what label the shrinks slapped on them.

  He knew the death count, at least as of four a.m. when he’d last checked. Eighty-nine. And his Lisa was one of the two hundred and forty-two injured.

  Because three twisted boys, armed to the fucking teeth, had walked into the mall on a Friday night with a mission to kill and maim.

  Mission accomplished.

  He didn’t count them among the dead—they didn’t deserve to be counted. But he could be grateful to the cop who’d taken out Hobart, and grateful the other two had killed themselves—or each other.

  That detail remained unclear as of four a.m.

  He could be grateful there would be no trial. Grateful he, a man who’d dedicated himself to saving lives, wouldn’t spend sleepless nights imagining killing them himself.

  Lisa stirred so he shifted closer. When her eyes opened, he brought her hand to his lips.


  “He’s fine, baby. He’s with your mom and dad. He’s fine.”

  “I had his hand. I started to grab him up and run, but then…”

  “He’s fine, Lisa honey, he’s fine.”

  “So tired.”

  When she drifted off, he went back to watching her sleep.

  * * *

  Reed woke at dawn with his head banging, his eyes burning, his throat desert dry. The world’s worst hangover without a single drop of alcohol.

  He showered—his third since coming home to his exhausted, grateful parents and his clinging, weeping sister. He just couldn’t get over the way Angie’s blood had soaked through his pants and onto his skin.

  He knocked back some Advil, guzzled water straight from the faucet.

  Then he booted up his computer. He didn’t have any problem finding stories on the shooting.

  He studied the three names listed, then the photographs. He thought maybe he recognized Whitehall, but couldn’t figure from where.

  He knew he recognized Paulson. He’d seen him riddle a man’s body with bullets and laugh.

  One of the two had killed Angie, as the reports said the third, Hobart, never got out of the theater.

  One of them had killed Justin, a busboy at Mangia, his first summer job. And Lucy, a waitress who’d planned to retire at the end of the year and hop into their RV to tour the country with her husband.

  Customers, too. He didn’t know how many.

  Dory was in the hospital. So were Bobby and Jack and Mary.

  Rosie told him the boy with the guns had walked through the glass doors, sprayed the main dining room with bullets, then walked out again. Ten seconds, twenty. No more.

  He read eyewitness reports, stopped and read the one on GameStop twice.

  We heard the shooting, but didn’t really know what it was. The shop’s noisy. Then somebody came running in yelling somebody was shooting people. He was bleeding, but didn’t even seem to know he’d been shot.

  That’s when the store manager—I don’t know his name—started telling everybody to get into this back room. Some people started to run out, but the shooting got closer. You could hear it, and the manager kept telling people to get in the back. It was really tight in there, the store was crowded. I was never so scared in my life as being crammed in that room. People were crying and praying, and he said we had to be quiet.

  Then we heard it, the shooting, really loud. Right out in the store. Glass breaking. I thought we were all going to die, but then it stopped. Or I guess it moved away. He wanted us to stay in there until the police came, but somebody panicked, I guess, and pushed out of the door. Some people ran out. Then police came and took us outside. That boy saved our lives, the young manager with the thick glasses. I’m convinced he saved our lives.

  “Way to go, Chaz,” Reed murmured.

  * * *

  In the little kitchen of her little apartment, Essie brewed a full pot of coffee. She’d have plenty of time to drink it as she’d been taken off the roll.

  Her CO assured her she’d be back on—and likely get a medal—but the process had to play out. She’d not only fired her weapon, she’d killed.

  She believed her CO and knew she’d done her job, but figured she’d stay half on edge until being cleared for duty. She hadn’t realized just how much she needed to be a cop until there’d been the tiniest doubt that she could be dismissed.

  While the old cat slept on a cushion, Essie made herself a bagel and took her last banana. Since the size and layout of the apartment allowed her to see the screen from her kitchen/dining/worktable, she sat there and switched on the TV.

  She knew the press had her name, and an earlier glimpse out the window proved they’d tracked her down. She wouldn’t go out of the apartment and into the volley of questions and cameras. Someone had leaked her landline number, so she’d unplugged it. The constant ringing bugged the shit out of her.

  So far her cell phone remained secure. If her partner or her CO wanted to reach her, they would. Plus she still had e-mail.

  She opened her laptop as she ate and watched the early news shows for any information she didn’t already have.

  Using the laptop, she made a list of names she had in her head.

  Simone Knox, her mother, her sister. Reed Quartermaine. Chaz Bergman. Michael, Lisa, and Brady Foster. Mi-Hi Jung.

  She’d follow up with all of them, even if it had to be on her own time.

  She noted down the names of the shooters. She intended to dig out everything she could on them, on their families, their teachers, their friends, employers, if any. She wanted to know them.

  She typed out the numbers—current—of dead, of wounded. Added names when she had them. She’d get the rest.

  She’d been doing her job, she thought as she watched, as she ate, as she worked. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t personal.

  * * *

  CiCi Lennon lived life by her own rules. Two of the top rules—Try Not to Hurt Anybody, and Have the Balls to Say What You Think—often clashed, but the results blended with her Be An Asshole When Necessary rule, so it worked for her.

  She’d been raised by sober Methodist, traditional Republican parents in Rockpoint, an upper-class suburban haven of Portland, Maine. Her father, a financial executive, and her mother, a housewife (self-proclaimed and proudly), had belonged to the country club, attended church every Sunday, and hosted dinner parties. Her father had bought a new Cadillac every three years, played golf on Saturday mornings and tennis (doubles with his wife) on Sunday afternoons, and collected stamps.

  Her mother had had her hair done on Mondays, played bridge on Wednesdays, and belonged to the garden club. Deborah (never Deb or Debbie) Lennon had kept her pin money inside a white glove in her top dresser drawer, had never in her life written a check or otherwise paid a bill, and greeted her husband with freshened makeup after his day of work. She had mixed his evening drink—a dry gin martini, one olive, except during the summer season, when he switched to gin and tonic with a twist of lime—so he could unwind until dinner.

  The Lennons had employed a daily housekeeper, a weekly groundskeeper, and—in the season—a pool boy. They had owned a vacation home in Kennebunkport and were considered, by themselves and others, pillars of the community.

  Naturally, CiCi rebelled against everything they were and stood for.

  What was a child of the sixties to do but appall her conservative parents with her passionate embrace of the counterculture? She denounced the patriarchal structure of the church—and their lifestyle—railed against the government, actively protested the war in Vietnam, and literally burned her bra.

  At seventeen, CiCi packed a bag and hitchhiked to Washington to march. From there, along with sex, drugs, and rock and roll, she traveled. She spent springtime in New Orleans sharing a ramshackle house with a group of artists and musicians. She painted for tourists—she’d been born with the talent.

  She rode to Woodstock in a van she helped paint into psychedelic wonder. Sometime during the rain-soaked bliss of that weekend in August,
she conceived a child.

  When she realized she was pregnant, she cut out the drugs and alcohol, adjusted her vegetarian diet (as she would do countless times for countless reasons over the decades), and joined a commune in California.

  She painted, learned to weave, planted and harvested vegetables, tried and failed at a lesbian relationship—but she tried.

  She gave birth to her daughter on a cot in a dilapidated farmhouse on a pretty spring afternoon as Janis Joplin rocked it out on the record player and tulips swayed in the breeze outside the open window.

  When Tulip Joplin Lennon was six months old, CiCi, missing the green of the East Coast, caught a ride with a group of musicians. Along the way she hooked up briefly with another musician/songwriter who, stoned, offered her three thousand to paint him.

  She did, with him wearing only his Fender Stratocaster and a pair of shitkicker boots.

  CiCi moved on, the subject of her painting got a record deal and used her painting for the album cover. As luck would have it, he had a major Top 40 hit with the single, “Farewell, CiCi,” and the album went gold.

  Two years later, while CiCi and Tulip lived in a group house in Nantucket, the songwriter OD’d. The painting went on the auction block, sold for three million dollars.

  And CiCi’s career as an artist truly launched.

  Seven years after she’d hitchhiked to D.C., CiCi’s father contracted pancreatic cancer. Though she’d sent postcards and mailed photos of their granddaughter, called them two or three times a year, communications had remained scattered and tense.

  But her mother breaking down over the phone had CiCi following another of her rules: Help When You Can.

  She packed up her daughter, her art supplies, and her bike in a thirdhand beater of a station wagon and went home.

  She learned a few things. She learned her parents loved each other, deeply. And that deep love didn’t mean her mother could handle the dirty work. She learned the house where she grew up would never be her home again, but she could live there as long as she served a purpose.

  She learned her father wanted to die at home and because she loved him—surprise—she would damn well make sure he got his wish. While she drew the line at her mother’s strong suggestion of private school, she enrolled Tulip in the local public elementary. While she drove her father to chemo, to his doctor’s appointments, cleaned up puke, her mother happily tended to Tulip.

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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book
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