Shelter in place, p.5
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       Shelter in Place, p.5

           Nora Roberts

  CiCi hired a male nurse whose compassion, kindness, and love of rock made them lifelong friends.

  For twenty-one months she helped nurse her dying father and ran the household accounts, while her mother clung to denial and spoiled Tulip.

  Her father died at home with the wife who loved him curled beside him in their bed, and his daughter holding his hand.

  Over the next few months she accepted that her mother would never become independent, would never learn how to balance a checkbook or fix her own leaky faucet.

  And accepted she would go raving mad if she stayed in suburbia in a not-so-mini mansion with a woman who could barely figure out how to change a light bulb.

  As her father had left her mother more than financially secure, CiCi hired a business manager, an on-call handyman, and an eager young housekeeper, as the other had retired, who would also stand as a companion.

  When she learned, during those twenty-one months, her father had changed his will and left her a million dollars—after taxes—her first reaction was rage. She didn’t need or want his conservative right-wing establishment money. She could—and was—supporting herself and her daughter through her art.

  The rage faded when she took Tulip for a ferry ride to Tranquility Island and saw the house. She loved the ramble of it, the wide terraces—on the first and second levels. The views of the water, its narrow little strip of beach, that curve of rocky coastline.

  She could paint forever.

  The FOR SALE sign was just that to CiCi. A sign.

  Only a forty-minute ferry ride from Portland—far enough (thank God!) from her mother, but close enough to assuage any guilt. A village with a cheerful artists community an easy bike ride away.

  She bought it—after a hard-eyed negotiation—for cash, and began the next chapter of her life.

  Now she was back in upper-class suburbia—briefly, she hoped—in the home of a daughter who’d always been more like her grandmother than the mother who’d tried to give her a sense of adventure, independence, and freedom.

  Because Help When You Can was still a rule. And she loved her grandchildren beyond measure.

  She made breakfast for her daughter and Ward in their sleekly modern kitchen. She’d unplugged the phones, closed the curtains and drapes as reporters gathered outside.

  She’d listened to the news on the guest-room TV, and heard the replay of Simone’s nine-one-one call. It had chilled her to the bone. Someone had leaked not only the call but Simone’s name.

  She sat with Ward and Tulip in the breakfast nook of the kitchen, made her pitch.

  “Let me take Simone to the island, at least until school starts.”

  “She needs to be home,” Tulip began.

  “The press isn’t going to leave her alone. She was the first call for help, she’s a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl. One of her friends died, and the other is in the hospital. Mi made it through the night,” CiCi added. “She’s still critical, but she made it.”

  Ward let out a shaky breath. “They wouldn’t give me any information on her when I called.”

  CiCi looked at him. He was a good man, she thought. A good man, good husband, good father. At the moment, he looked exhausted.

  “Hwan had them put my name and Simone’s on the family list.” Because he was a good man, CiCi reached out, laid her hand over his. “You should call him.”

  “I will. Yes, I’ll call him.”

  Now CiCi laid a hand over her daughter’s. “Tulip, I know you need your girls, and they need you right now. I’ll stay as long as I can help. Simone won’t leave until she’s sure you’re all right, and Mi’s all right. And I imagine the police are going to need to talk to her.”

  “We’ll have to make a statement to the press,” Ward added. “You’re right. They won’t leave her alone.”

  “You’re right, too. But after all that, let me take her, give her a few weeks of peace and quiet. Even with the crazy of summer people on the island I can give her that—and Mi when she’s well enough. No one will bother her, or them, I’ll see to that. And Simone’s going to need someone to talk to about everything, besides us. I have a friend. He spends part of the summer on the island. He’s a therapist with offices in Portland. You can check out his credentials, Ward. You can meet him, talk to him.”

  “I’d have to do all of that.”

  “I know, but you’ll learn he’s very good. She’ll need to talk to someone. So will you and Natalie, baby.”

  “I don’t want to talk to anyone, see anyone right now. I just want to be home, with my family.”

  CiCi started to speak, but Ward shook his head in warning.

  “Okay, think about this instead. After you’ve had that, a few weeks on the island might help Simone get away from all of it. Natalie, too, if she wants to come, but I know she’s had her heart set on that equestrian camp, and that’s coming up in a couple weeks. She likes spending time on the island, but Simone loves it.”

  “We’ll talk about it,” Ward said. “We’re grateful, CiCi, for—”

  “None of that. Family does what family needs. And right now, I think this family needs more coffee.”

  As she stood, Simone came in.

  Dark circles under her dazed, heavy eyes stood out stark against her pallor.

  “Mi woke up. The nurse said the doctor was in with her, and her dad said—he said she asked for me. I have to go see Mi.”

  “Sure you do, but you need to have some breakfast. You don’t want Mi to see you looking so pale. That won’t help her feel better, will it, Tulip?”

  “Come, sit down, sweetie,” her mother urged.

  “I’m not hungry.”

  “Just a little bit. CiCi’s going to fix you just a little bit.”

  She sat, looked at her mother’s face. The bandages, the bruises. “Are you feeling better?”

  “Yes.” But her eyes welled.

  “Don’t cry, Mom. Please.”

  “I didn’t know where you were. I hit my head, and poor Nat … It was only for a minute,” she said, “but I was confused and scared. I could hear the shooting, the screaming, and I didn’t know if you were all right, if you were safe. I know Mi needs to see you, but I need you for just a little while first.”

  “I didn’t know if you and Nat … I didn’t know.” She sat next to her mother, pressed her face to Tulip’s shoulder. “When I woke up, I thought it was a bad dream. But it wasn’t.”

  “We’re okay now.”

  “Tish isn’t.”

  Tulip stroked, rocked. “I’m going to call her aunt. I’d call her mother, but— I think I’ll call her aunt. I’ll ask if there’s anything we can do.”

  “Trent’s dead, too.”

  “Oh, Simone.”

  “I saw on the news … I looked before I came down, and I saw the names, the pictures of who did this. They went to my school. I know them. I went to school with them. I had classes with one of them, and they killed Tish and Trent.”

  “Don’t think about it right now.”

  Denial, CiCi thought, like her grandmother. Close your eyes to the bad shit until you couldn’t.

  CiCi watched Simone get up and go sit on the other bench to face her parents.

  “They said my name in the news report. I looked outside, and there are people, reporters.”

  “You don’t need to worry about that,” Ward told her. “I’ll take care of it.”

  “It’s my name, Dad. And my voice—they played my call to the police. They had my yearbook picture. I don’t want to talk to them, not now. I need to see Mi.”

  “Your dad’ll talk to them,” CiCi said briskly as she brought over a single scrambled egg, two strips of bacon, a piece of toast with butter. “And your mom’s going to help you with some makeup. My Tule always had a hand with makeup. We’re going to put your hair up under a ball cap, you’re going to put your Wayfarers on, and you and I are going out the back while your dad has them busy out front. We’re going to cut across the backyards to where I p
arked the car in the Jeffersons’ driveway. I called them last night to clear that. Then all we have to do is call the hospital and have them get us in a side entrance.”

  “That’s a damn good plan,” Ward murmured.

  “When you have to make some quick exits from hotels, motels, wherever, you learn the ropes. We’ll get you to Mi.” CiCi smoothed a hand over the tangle of Simone’s hair. “Just eat a little first.”


  It worked, exactly the way CiCi said it would. Though it seemed to Simone like some weird dream, like the ones she’d have when she wasn’t exactly awake or exactly asleep. Everything felt vivid and blurred at the same time, with sounds coming down some echoing tunnel.

  But when CiCi guided her into ICU, Simone’s heart started beating so loud and fast inside what felt like squeezing hands. The sensation shot her straight back to the bathroom stall where she’d crouched with her dead phone and terror.


  “Breathe. In through your nose, like your belly’s a balloon you’re inflating, then out through your nose, like it’s deflating. In and out,” she crooned, an arm around Simone’s waist. “That’s right. You’re all right. Mi’s going to be all right, so you’ll breathe for her. Look, there’s Nari.”

  Nari, face pale with fatigue, eyes bruised from it, rose and walked to them. “Our parents are in with Mi. The doctor said they’ll put her in a step-down room soon, maybe today, because her condition’s improved.”

  “She’s better?” Simone’s throat filled. “She’s really better?”

  “She’s better, I promise. She looks…” Nari pressed her lips together when they trembled. “She looks very frail, but she’s better. We had to tell her about Tish. She needs to see you, Simone, very much.”

  “Nari, sweetie, have you been here all night?” CiCi asked her.

  “My grandparents took my brother home. I stayed with my parents. We just couldn’t leave her.”

  “I’m going to get you some coffee. Or tea? A soda?”

  “I’d be grateful for coffee.”

  “Simone, sit with Nari. And, Nari, when your mom and dad come out, the three of you should go home and get some sleep. Simone and I’ll stay. We’re going to start taking shifts so someone’s always here. Go on and sit.”

  “I don’t know if they’ll leave,” Nari said after CiCi had gone to find coffee.

  “CiCi will convince them. She’s good at that.” To be brave for Mi meant starting now, Simone thought, leading Nari back to the chairs. “We’ll take turns so Mi isn’t ever alone.”

  “She remembers. Some anyway, she remembers. The police talked to her this morning. The doctor only let them talk to her for a few minutes. Have you talked to the police?”

  “Not today. Not yet today.”

  CiCi came back with a Coke for Simone, coffee for Nari. “A lot of cream, a little sugar, right?”

  “Yes.” Nari managed a smile. “You remembered.”

  “Got it locked in.” CiCi tapped a finger on her temple, sat. “I was a roadie on and off for a few years. You learn to lock in how people like their coffee, their liquor, their sex.”


  “Facts of life, my girls. Are you seeing anyone, Nari?”

  Simone didn’t know how her grandmother did it, but even then could see why she did. She took Nari out of the terrifying moment and into the normal; in three minutes she learned more than Simone suspected Mi or their parents knew of the boy Nari had started dating. An Irish Catholic boy from Boston who was, even now, driving up to be with her.

  When Mi’s parents came out, CiCi rose, went over to quickly embrace each of them. During their murmured conversation, Simone saw Mrs. Jung look back toward the doors with tears in her eyes, but CiCi kept talking in that low, soothing way.

  Like a dream, Simone thought again, when, within minutes, the Jungs agreed to go home for a little while.

  When it was done, CiCi sat again, patted Simone’s knee. “They don’t think they’ll sleep, but they will. The body and the spirit need recharging, and the spirit will guide the body.”

  “I didn’t know Nari had a real boyfriend.”

  “I don’t think she did, either, until he said he was dropping everything and coming to be with her. Now. I want you to think strong, positive thoughts.”

  With a finger tapping in the air, CiCi gave Simone a knowing look out of eyes Simone thought of as golden, and were, in fact, the same shade as her own.

  “And don’t think I can’t see the smirk you’re giving me inside your head. Think them anyway. You’re going to cry together, but that’s a healing thing whether it feels like it now or not. You’re going to listen to her, to whatever she needs to say. And you’re going to tell her the truth about whatever she asks you because if you break trust with each other now, you may not get it back.”

  “I don’t want to say anything that makes it worse.”

  “It’s already worse, and you’re going through it together. You need truth between you. There’s her nurse now. Go see your sister, baby. Strong and brave.”

  She didn’t feel strong and brave, not with the buzzing in her head and that squeezing inside her chest. She nodded at the nurse, but didn’t really comprehend what she said.

  It all got worse when she saw Mi through the glass.

  Mi looked so small, so sick. Frail, Nari had said, but to Simone’s eyes Mi looked broken. Something fragile already dropped and shattered.

  Mi’s exhausted eyes met hers, and tears spilled.

  She didn’t remember going in. Couldn’t remember if the nurse had told her not to touch Mi. But she had to, had to.

  She pressed her cheek to Mi’s, gripped hands that felt as thin as bird wings.

  “I thought— I was afraid they lied.” Mi’s voice, thin as her hands, choked with sobs. “I was afraid you were dead, too, and they weren’t telling me. I was afraid…”

  “I’m not. I’m here. I didn’t get hurt. I wasn’t there. I left—”

  Simone heard herself—and heard CiCi: Listen to her.

  “Is Tish really dead?”

  Her cheek still pressed to Mi’s, Simone nodded.

  They cried together, with Mi’s frail body shaking under hers.

  Simone shifted so she could sit on the side of the bed, hold Mi’s hand.

  “He came in. I didn’t see him at first. Then we heard the shooting and the screaming, but it happened so fast, and we didn’t know what was happening. Tish said, ‘What’s happening?’ and then…”

  Mi closed her eyes. “Can I have some water?”

  Simone got the cup with the bendy straw, held it for Mi.

  “He shot her. Simone, he shot her, and I felt this—like, this awful pain, and Tish fell on me, just sort of tipped over on me, and I felt more pain, and she was, I don’t know, jerking. Simone, he kept shooting her, and she was kind of over me, so she died. I didn’t. She saved me. I told the police. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t help her. And I was awake, but it didn’t seem real. He just kept shooting and shooting, then it all stopped. The shooting. But people were screaming and crying. I couldn’t scream, and I couldn’t move. I thought I was dead, and then I … I just went away, I guess. I don’t remember until I woke up here.”

  Her fingers squeezed, light as wings, on Simone’s. “Am I going to die?”

  Tell her the truth.

  “You were really hurt, and we were so scared. It took hours before the doctor came out, but she said you did really well. And today they said they’re going to take you out of ICU because you’re not critical anymore. CiCi’s here with me, and she talked your parents into going home for a little while to sleep. They’d never go home if you were going to die.”

  Mi closed her eyes again. “Tish did. Why?”

  “I don’t know. I can’t— I still think it’s not real.”

  “You went to the bathroom. What happened?”

  “I was coming back, and I thought the noise was from the movie. But someone—a man—
tried to run out, and he fell. I saw the blood all over him. I looked in, just for a second, and I saw— I saw somebody shooting, and I heard everything. I ran back to the bathroom and called nine-one-one. They said for me to stay where I was, to hide and wait, and while I was talking my phone died.”

  Mi smiled a little. “You forgot to charge it again.”

  “I never will again, ever. The police came. A policewoman, I gave her your names, and my mom’s and Natalie’s.”

  “They were in the mall. I forgot.”

  “There were three of them, Mi. That’s what the news said. Two in the mall, one in the theater.”

  “Your mom and Natalie? No, Simone, no.”

  “They’re okay. Mom got a concussion and some cuts from flying glass. Nat dragged her behind a counter. She’s okay. They’re okay.” She hesitated a moment, then pushed on. “Three of them, killing people. Killing Tish. And we knew them.”

  “‘We knew them’?” Mi repeated slowly.

  “They’re dead. I’m glad they’re dead. JJ Hobart.”

  “Oh my God.”

  “Kent Whitehall and Devon Paulson were in the mall. JJ was in the theater.”

  “He killed Tish. I saw them in school almost every day. They killed Tish.”

  “And Trent. He’s dead. Tiffany’s hurt bad. I saw her mom last night. Tiffany’s. JJ shot her. She might have brain damage and her face … I only heard a little. I don’t know how bad she is.”

  “I knew JJ especially was mean, stupid mean sometimes, but…” Mi’s bruised eyes spilled over with tears again. “I’m the one who picked that movie. I wanted to see that movie especially, and now Tish is dead.”

  “It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault I went to the bathroom and wasn’t there. But it feels like it. It really feels like it. But it’s their fault, Mi. I hate them. I’ll hate them forever.”

  “I’m so tired,” Mi murmured as her eyes closed. “Don’t go.”

  “I’ll be right outside,” Simone said after the nurse came to the door and signaled her time was up. “I won’t go.”

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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book
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