Shelter in place, p.7
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       Shelter in Place, p.7

           Nora Roberts

  The casket came out, so she took a couple shots with her long lens, just in case nothing better came along. She watched McVee moving up, and spotted one more prize.

  Reed Quartermaine—teenage protector of the firefighter’s kid, the kid whose mother took one in the spine.

  Seleena took a couple shots of them talking, then walking together, then getting in the cop’s car. And while everyone else headed to the cemetery, she ran to her own car.

  She nearly lost them twice, but considered that more good luck. If she looked like a tail, the cop might spot her.

  Running potential copy in her head, she parked a good distance away, watched from the car until her quarry settled on a bench.

  Pleased with the investment she’d made in the lens, she wandered as close as she dared. She was just one more person casually taking photos of the bay, of the boats.

  Maybe she couldn’t get close enough to hear the conversation—the cop wouldn’t talk to her—but she had her lead as she framed her shots.

  On another painful day in Rockpoint, death unites heroes of the DownEast Mall Massacre.

  Oh yeah, that leap was coming soon.


  — Three years later —

  Simone rolled up to sit and nudged the man who shared her bed.

  “You gotta go.”

  He grunted.

  She knew his name, even knew why she’d decided to have sex with him. He looked clean, in good shape, and had wanted just what she had.

  Plus he had an interesting face, sort of chipped and chiseled and sharp. In her head she’d seen him as a modern-day Billy the Kid. The hard-boned western outlaw.

  It had taken her awhile to embrace the idea that one-night-stands had particular and peculiar advantages over the drama and hassle of relationships—or the pretext of them.

  It wasn’t taking quite as long for her to realize they also carried a whole lot of boredom in their wake.

  The guy, Ansel, dressed in the dim glow of light through the window. She hadn’t pulled the shades—why bother?

  She liked looking out at New York, and didn’t mind if some of New York liked looking back at her.

  He said, “I had a good time.”

  She said, “Me, too,” and meant it enough that it didn’t qualify as a lie.

  “I’ll call you.”

  “Great.” Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. It didn’t matter much either way.

  Since she didn’t bother to get up, he made his own way out. When she heard the door shut, she grabbed a sleepshirt, quick-walked out to lock the apartment door.

  She wanted a shower and turned into the bathroom she shared with Mi in their tiny apartment. The fact that it boasted two bedrooms and was reasonably close to the campus offset the fourth-floor walk-up, the unreliable hot water, and the sting of the monthly rent.

  But they were together, in New York. Sometimes they forgot to look for the ghost of the friend who wasn’t there.

  Simone showered off the sex, stuck her head under the stingy spray of lukewarm water. She’d cut her hair into a short wedge and had recently dyed it the purple of a ripe eggplant.

  It made her feel different. It seemed she searched forever for something that made her feel different from the girl from Rockpoint, Maine. Something that would make her look in the mirror one day and think: Oh, there you are!

  She liked New York, liked the crowds, the rush, the noise, the color. And God yes, the freedom from parental criticism, questions, and expectations.

  But she knew she’d come to fulfill Tish’s dream.

  She liked Columbia, had worked her ass off to get in, but knew she’d done that to be a part of Mi’s dream.

  She couldn’t find her own, and wasn’t sure she had one.

  But being there on borrowed dreams was better than being home where everything reminded her. Where her mother would look at her choice of hair color with puzzled disapproval or her father, with that worried look in his eyes, would casually ask how she was doing.

  She was fine. How many times did she have to say it? It was Mi who still suffered from anxiety attacks and nightmares. Though they came less frequently now.

  She’d done everything possible to bury that night along with her friend. Since Mi’s release from the hospital, Simone read nothing that connected to that night, watched no reports on it. Every anniversary, she watched and read no news at all, in case she tripped over some mention.

  She went home only on winter break and for a week in the summer—and the summer week she spent on the island with CiCi. When she wasn’t in class, she worked. When she wasn’t in class or working, she played—hard.

  Out of the shower, she wrapped herself in a bath sheet—Egyptian cotton, courtesy of her mother—then swiped off the skinny mirror over the teacup sink.

  No, she thought, not yet. She saw a girl with tired eyes and wet hair, and nothing more.

  She hung the towel, dragged the sleepshirt back on. When she stepped out of the batheroom, she saw Mi in their sorry excuse of a kitchen, putting a kettle on their two-burner stove.

  “Can’t sleep?”

  “Restless. I heard the door.”

  Mi had let her hair grow into a straight rain of black. When she turned, Simone saw another pair of tired eyes.

  “I’m sorry.”

  “Doesn’t matter. Do I know him?”

  “I don’t think so. Doesn’t matter, either.” Moving into the kitchen, Simone got out two cups. “The music was good, and he wasn’t a bad dancer. I wish you’d come with me.”

  “I needed to study.”

  “You’re acing everything—again.”

  “Because I study.”

  Simone waited while Mi fiddled with the tea. “Something’s up, I can see it.”

  “I’ve been accepted for a summer research program.”

  “That’s great—like last summer? Dr. Jung, biomedical engineer.”

  “That’s the dream. Not exactly like last summer. The program’s in London.”

  “Holy shit, Mi!” Grabbing her friend, Simone danced her around the room. “London! You’re going to London.”

  “It’s not until the end of June, and … my family’s asked me to come home first. To spend the time after the semester ends and before I leave for London at home. I need to give them that.”

  “Okay.” Maybe her heart dropped a little, but Simone nodded.

  “Come home with me. Come home, Simone.”

  “I’ve got a job—”

  “You hate that job,” Mi interrupted. “If you want to waitress at some dump of a coffeehouse, you can do it anywhere. You’re not happy here. You’re doing okay at Columbia, but it doesn’t make you happy. You have sex with guys that don’t make you happy.”

  “Rockpoint’s not going to make me happy.”

  Trim, tiny, with that gymnast’s grace, Mi went back to finish making the tea.

  “You need to find what does. You’re here because of me and Tish, and I’m not going to be here all summer. You should find what makes you happy. Your art— Don’t do that!” she snapped when Simone rolled her eyes. “You’ve got talent.”

  “CiCi has talent. I’m just playing around.”

  “So stop playing around!” Mi snapped again. “Stop playing around, stop screwing around, stop fucking around!”

  “Wow.” Simone picked up the tea she no longer wanted, leaned back on a fridge manufactured in the last century. “I like playing around, screwing around, and fucking around. I’m not going to spend my life studying, researching, holed up in a lab because I don’t want to have a life. Jesus, when’s the last time you had sex?”

  “You have enough for both of us.”

  “Maybe if you got laid, you wouldn’t be such a bitch. You won’t go to parties, won’t go to clubs, you haven’t had a date in months. It’s school, labs, or this shithole apartment. Happy, my ass.”

  As her eyes fired, Mi curled one hand into a fist. “I’m going to make something of myself. I didn’t
die, and I’m going to make something out of my life. I am happy. Sometimes it’s almost happy, and sometimes I hit it. But I know I’m working toward something, and I’m watching my best friend pushing back at everything.”

  “I go to classes, I go to work, I go to clubs. How’s that pushing back at anything, much less everything?”

  “You go to classes, but you don’t care enough about any of them to do more than get by. You go to work at a job that means less than nothing to you, instead of looking for something that would.” It poured out now, a flood over a broken dam. “You go to clubs because you can’t stand being alone, being quiet for more than an hour. And you hook up with guys you have no intention of seeing again because you have no intention of seeing them again. Not letting yourself be close or involved with anything or anyone is the freaking definition of pushing everything away.”

  Simone smirked, adding nasty to it. “I was damn close to the guy who just left.”

  “What’s his name?”

  Austin, Angel, Adam … shit, shit, shit. “Ansel,” she remembered.

  “You had to dig for it. You brought some guy home, had sex with him, and have to dig for his name in less than an hour.”

  “So what? So the fuck what? If I’m such a ho, why do you care what I do, what I feel?”

  “Because, goddamn it, you’re my ho.”

  Simone opened her mouth to rage, and laughter gurgled out. As Mi—face bright pink with temper, tears of fury sparking in her eyes—stared at her, the gurgle built into a roll.

  Even as Mi let out an insulted huff, Simone toasted with her tea. “This calls for a T-shirt. Mi-Hi’s Ho.” She tapped her free hand on her chest.

  While she knuckled temper tears out of her eyes, the absurdity pushed a watery laugh out of Mi. “You’d wear it proud, too.”

  “Why wouldn’t I?”

  “Oh hell, Sim.” Mi set her tea aside, scrubbed her hands over her face. “I love you.”

  “I know. I know.”

  “You’re wasting yourself, taking classes you can basically sleep through.”

  “I’m never going to be a biomedical freaking engineer, Mi. Most of us are still figuring stuff out.”

  “The only courses you’ve shown any real interest in are art related. So focus there, and figure it out. You’re wasting yourself on a job you don’t like, don’t need, where you’re so stupidly overqualified you should be running the shop.”

  “I don’t want to run the shop. A lot of people don’t like their jobs. And I need it because I’m going to at least pay for some of my own expenses.”

  “Then find a job you like. You’re wasting yourself on sex with men you don’t care about.”

  Now Simone had her own tears to knuckle away. “I don’t want to care about anybody right now. I don’t know if I ever will. I can care about you, about my family, and that’s all I’ve got.”

  “I think it’s sad I value you more than you value yourself, so it’s a good thing I’m around to bitch and nag at you.”

  “You’re really good at it.”

  “I’m president of the Bitch and Nag Club. You barely qualify as an honorary member. Take the summer, Sim. We can hang out at the beach until I leave for London. You can spend time with CiCi, even let her take you around Europe like she wanted to after graduation. We can sublet the apartment. Don’t stay here alone.”

  “I’ll think about it.”

  “That’s what you say when you want me to shut up.”

  “Maybe. Look, I’m tired, and I’ve got to be at the shop at eight to do the job I don’t like. I want to get some sleep.”

  Mi nodded, dumped the tea neither of them had finished in the sink.

  Simone knew the quality of that silence, and it read anxiety.

  “Sleepover time?” she suggested.

  Mi’s shoulders dropped in relief. “That’d be good.”

  “We’ll use your virginal bed for obvious reasons.” She slung an arm around Mi as they walked to Mi’s bedroom. “I got Aaron’s number. Maybe he has a friend.”

  “You said he name was Ansel.”

  “Damn it.”

  They crawled into Mi’s bed, snuggled together for comfort.

  “I miss her,” Mi murmured.

  “I know. Me, too.”

  “I think I’d feel different about New York, just being here, if she were. If Tish were here, we’d be different.”

  Everything would be, Simone thought.

  She dreamed of it, of sitting with Mi, watching Tish, alive and vital, onstage. In the spotlight. Just owning it.

  She dreamed of Mi working in her lab, so crisp and brilliant in her white coat.

  And when the dreams turned inward, she saw herself sitting on a raft on a still and silent sea. Drifting nowhere.

  She woke to the reality of serving the college crowd fancy, overpriced coffee most paid for with credit cards given to them by their parents—and they still couldn’t be bothered to tack on a decent tip.

  When she found herself, for the second time that week, scrubbing out the toilet in the unisex bathroom, she took yet another good look at herself in the mirror.

  She knew the fuckhead of a manager dumped the bathroom duty on her twice as often as anyone else because she wouldn’t have sex with him. (Married, at least forty, ponytail, so yuck.)

  “So screw it,” she told herself.

  She walked out of air that smelled like bleach and fake lemons, into the constant hum of espresso machines and conversations pontificating about politics or whining about relationships.

  She pulled off the stupid red apron she had to pay to have laundered, got her purse out of the skinny locker—the rent of which also came out of her sorry excuse for a paycheck.

  Manager Fuckhead sneered at her. “It’s not time for your break.”

  “You’re wrong about that. It’s past time for my break. I quit.”

  She strolled out into the world of noise and color, and realized she felt something she’d missed for entirely too long.

  She felt happy.

  * * *

  Six months after graduating from the Academy, Reed rode patrol with Bull Stockwell. Officer Tidas Stockwell had earned the name “Bull” not only from his physicality, but from his personality. A fifteen-year vet, Bull was foulmouthed, hard-assed, and claimed to have a nose that could detect bullshit from two miles off.

  He had several red flags that caused him to charge, including: anything he considered anti-American (a sliding scale), assholes (a wide range of qualifications), and motherfuckers. His top candidates for motherfuckers were anyone who harmed children, beat women, or abused animals.

  He hadn’t voted for Obama—he’d never voted for a Democrat in his life, and saw no reason to deviate. But the man was president of the United States and, as such, had his respect and loyalty.

  He didn’t have a bigoted bone in his body. He knew assholes and motherfuckers came in every color and creed. He might not understand the whole gay thing, but didn’t actually give a shit one way or the other. He figured if you wanted to get off with somebody built the same as you, that was your business.

  He had two divorces under his Sam Browne belt—from the first, a ten-year-old daughter he unabashedly worshipped—and he owned a one-eyed, one-legged cat he’d rescued after a drug bust.

  Most days he berated Reed verbally for being too stupid, too slow, a college boy, and a dumbass rookie. And in the six months since he’d been on the job, Reed had learned more about the down-and-dirty and nitty-gritty of cop work than he had in all his college courses or in his months at the Academy.

  He’d sure as hell learned, when answering a domestic disturbance call, to put himself between Bull and the offending party (male) before that red flag had his partner pawing the ground and snorting.

  So when they rolled up to a potential double D in a townhome they’d visited for the same reason four times before, Reed prepared to do just that.

  “She’s got an RO on him now, so his ass is mine.”

  Reed recalled the she in question—one LaDonna Gray—had taken her husband—one Vic Gray—back after a black eye and split lip, and again after a broken arm and clear-cut marital rape.

  But the third incident—knocking her unconscious, and knocking out two teeth—two months after she’d given birth to their son had been the restraining order charm.

  “He better not have touched that baby.” Bull hitched up his pants as they started for the door down a frost-heavy walkway slushy with snow.

  A woman ran out of the connecting unit. “He’s killing her! I swear this time he’s killing her.”

  Reed heard it now—the screams, the shouts, the wails from the baby.

  He had time to think: Oh, shit.

  He saw, too, the front door had already been broken in.

  He went through the doorway with his partner, noted the signs of violence on the main level, with the overturned table, broken lamp.

  Upstairs the baby screamed as if someone had shoved an ice pick through his ear, but the shouts, curses, sobs, thuds came from the rear of the house.

  Reed moved faster than Bull—younger, longer legs—and had time to see Vic Gray bolt out the back door. The woman lay moaning, sobbing, bleeding on the kitchen floor.

  “I’ve got him.” Reed sprinted out the back. As he ran, he called it in.

  “Officer Quartermaine in pursuit of suspect in assault. Suspect is Victor Gray, Caucasian male, age twenty-eight, heading south on Prospect on foot. Suspect is five feet ten inches, a hundred and eighty pounds. He’s wearing a black parka, red watch cap, jeans. Turning east on Mercer.”

  Gray cut across a yard, carving a path through the eight inches of snow from the fall the night before, scaled a fence. Reed thought how much faster he’d be if he had his Nikes instead of the uniform shoes.

  His breath in visible clouds, Reed went over the fence, dropped into snow. Heard screams, kicked up his speed. He hadn’t lettered in track in high school for nothing.

  He spotted a woman sprawled in the snow in her yard beside a half-built snowman. With her nose dripping blood, she clutched a wailing toddler.

  “He tried to grab my baby!”

  Reed kept going, saw Gray cut east again, reported it as he gained on him. He went over another fence, saw Gray veer toward the open door of another townhome where music and a woman’s laugh pumped out.

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Comments 1

admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book