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The Secret Between Us Barbara Delinsky As one lie forces another lie, a life falls apart in this stunning novel from bestselling author Barbara Delinsky.When Deborah Monroe’s car hits and kills a man on a deserted road on a dark and rainy night, questions of who is to blame muddy the already complicated life of a woman who is newly divorced and struggling with emotions that are rampant in a house with two vulnerable children.Deborah’s daughter, 16-year old, Grace, was behind the wheel but, desperate to protect her daughter, Deborah covers for her and takes responsibility for the death of the man.But, when it seems that the victim may or may not have been suicidal, issues of guilt and responsibility, truth and honesty, are all brought into sharp focus.Barbara Delinsky is the master of the issue. Perfect for all fans of Jodi Picoult, this novel will make you question where the lines of right and wrong can be drawn. BARBARA DELINSKY The Secret Between Us Contents Dedication To Ruby with sparkle and love Chapter 1 They were arguing in the seconds before impact. Later, Deborah Monroe would agonize about that, wondering whether, had she been focused solely on the road, she might have seen something sooner and been able to prevent what occurred—because the argument had been nearly as distracting as the storm. She and her daughter never argued. They were similar in looks, temperament, and interests. Deborah rarely had to tweak Grace—her son, Dylan, yes, but not Grace. Grace usually understood what was expected and why. This night, though, the girl fought back. “You’re getting hyper about nothing, Mom. Nothing happened.” “You said Megan’s parents were going to be home,” Deborah reminded her. “That’s what Megan told me.” “I would have thought twice if I’d known there would be a crowd.” “We were studying.” “You, Megan, and Stephie,” Deborah said, and, yes, the textbooks were there, damp from Grace’s dash to the car in the rain, “plus Becca, and Michael, Ryan, Justin, and Kyle, none of whom were supposed to be there. Three girls study. Four girls and four boys make a party. Sweetie, it’s pouring rain, and even above the noise of that, I could hear shrieking laughter all the way from the car.” Deborah didn’t know if Grace was looking guilty. Long brown curls hid broad-set eyes, a straight nose, and a full upper lip. She did hear the snap of her daughter’s gum; its spearmint shrouded the smell of wet books. But she quickly returned her own eyes to the road, or what she could see of it, despite the wipers working double time. Visibility on this stretch was poor even on the best of nights. There were no streetlights, and moonshine rarely penetrated the trees. Tonight the road was a funnel. Rain rushed at them, swallowing the beam of the headlights and thrashing against the windshield—and yes, April meant rain, but this was absurd. Had it been as bad on the way out, Deborah would never have let Grace drive home. But Grace had asked, and Deborah’s husband—ex-husband—too often accused her of being overprotective. They were going slowly enough; Deborah would repeat that many times in subsequent days, and forensics would bear it out. They were less than a minute from home and knew this part of the road well. But the darkness was dense, the rain an unreckoned force. Yes, Deborah knew that her daughter had to actually drive in order to learn how, but she feared this was too much, too soon. Deborah hated rain. Grace didn’t seem fazed. “We finished studying,” the girl argued around the gum in her mouth. Her hands were tight on the wheel, perfectly positioned, nothing wrong there. “It was hot inside, and the AC wasn’t on yet, so we opened the windows. We were taking a break. Like, is it a crime to laugh? I mean, it’s bad enough my mother had to come to get me—” “Excuse me,” Deborah cut in, “but what was the alternative? You can’t drive by yourself on a learner’s permit. Ryan and Kyle may have their licenses, but, by law, they’re not allowed to take friends in the car without an adult, and besides, we live on the opposite end of town from the others—and what’s so bad about your mother picking you up at ten o’clock on a weeknight? Sweetie, you’re barely sixteen.” “Exactly,” Grace said with feeling. “I’m sixteen, Mom. I’ll have my real license in four months. So what’ll happen then? I’ll be driving myself places all the time—because we don’t only live on the opposite end of town from everyone else, we live in the middle of nowhere, because Dad decided he had to buy a gazillion acres to build a McMansion in the forest, which he then decided he didn’t want, so he left it and us and moved to Vermont to live with his long-lost love from twenty-five years ago—” “Grace—” Deborah couldn’t go there just then. Grace might feel abandoned by her father, but the loss hit Deborah harder. Her marriage wasn’t supposed to end. That hadn’t been in the plan. “Okay, forget Dad,” Grace went on, “but once I get my license, I’ll be driving places alone, and you won’t see who’s there or whether there’s a parent around, or whether we’re studying or having a party. You’re going to have to trust me.” “I do trust you,” Deborah said, defensive herself now, but pleading. “It’s the others I don’t trust. Weren’t you the one who told me Kyle brought a six-pack to the pool party at Katherine’s house last weekend?” “None of us had any. Katherine’s parents made him leave.” “Katherine’s parents. Exactly.” Deborah heard her growl. “Mom. We were studying.” Deborah was about to list the things that could happen when teenagers were studying—things she had seen both growing up, when her father was the only family doctor in town, and now, being in practice with him and treating dozens of local teenagers—when a flash of movement entered her line of sight on the right. In quick succession came the jolt of a weighty thud against the front of the car, the slam of brakes, the squeal of tires. Her seat belt tightened, holding her while the car skidded on the flooded pavement, fish-tailed, and spun, all in the space of seconds. When it came to a stop, they were facing backward. For a minute, Deborah didn’t hear the rain over the thunder of her heart. Then, above it, came Grace’s frightened cry. “What was that?” “Are you okay?” “What was that?” the girl repeated, her voice shaking this time. Deborah was starting to shake, too, but her daughter was upright, belted in, clearly okay. Scrabbling to release her seat belt, Deborah hiked up the hood of her slicker and ran out to search for whatever it was they had hit. The headlights reflected off the wet road, but beyond that paltry light, it was totally dark. Ducking back into the car, she fumbled through the glove box for a flashlight. Outside again, she searched the roadside, but saw nothing that remotely resembled a downed animal. Grace materialized at her elbow. “Was it a deer?” she asked, sounding terrified. Deborah’s heart continued to pound. “I don’t know. Sweetie, get back in the car. You don’t have a jacket.” It was a warm enough spring night; she just didn’t want Grace seeing what they had hit. “It had to be a deer,” Grace cried, “not even hurt, just ran off into the woods—what else could it be?” Deborah didn’t think a deer wore a running suit with a stripe up the side, which was what she swore she had seen in the split second prior to impact. A running suit meant something human. She walked along the edge of the road, searching the low shrubs with her light. “Hey,” she called out to whoever was there, “are you hurt? Hello? Let me know where you are!” Grace hovered at her shoulder. “Like, it came from nowhere, Mom—no person would be out here in the rain, so maybe it was a fox or a raccoon—or a deer, it had to be a deer.” “Get back in the car, Grace,” Deborah repeated. The words were barely out when she heard something, and it wasn’t the idling car. Nor was it the whine of wind in the trees or the rain splattering everything in sight. The sound came again, definitely a moan. She followed it to a point at the side of the road and searched again, but it was another minute before she found its source. The running shoe was barely visible in the wet undergrowth some four feet from the pavement, and the black pants rising from it, half hidden under a low branch of a hemlock, had a blue stripe. A second leg was bent in an odd angle— broken, she guessed—and the rest of him was crumpled against the base of a tree. Supine, he ran no risk of suffocation in the forest undergrowth, but his eyes were closed. Short dark hair was plas- tered to his forehead. Scrambling through a clump of wet ferns, Deborah directed her flashlight to his head, but didn’t see any blood other than that from a mean scrape on his jaw. “Omigod!” Grace wailed. Deborah felt for a pulse at his neck. It was only when she found it that her own began beating again. “Can you hear me?” she asked, leaning close. “Open your eyes for me.” He didn’t respond. “Omigod!” Grace cried hysterically. “Do you know who that is, it’s my history teacher!” Trying to think quickly, Deborah pulled her daughter back onto the road and toward the car. She could feel the girl trembling. As calmly as she could, Deborah said, “I want you to run home, honey. It isn’t more than half a mile, and you’re already soaked. Dylan’s alone. He’ll be scared.” She imagined a small face at the pantry window, eyes large, frightened, and magnified behind thick Harry Potter glasses. “What’ll you do?” Grace asked in a high, wavery voice. “Call the police, then sit with Mr. McKenna until an ambulance comes.” “I didn’t see him, I swear, I didn’t see him,” wailed Grace. “Can’t you do something for him, Mom?” “Not much.” Deborah turned off the engine, turned on the hazards. “I don’t see any profuse bleeding, and I don’t dare move him.” “Will he die?” Deborah grabbed her phone. “We weren’t going fast. We couldn’t have hit him that hard.” “But he got way over there.” “He must have rolled.” “He isn’t moving.” “He may have a concussion or be in shock.” There were plenty of worse possibilities, most of which, unfortunately, she knew. “Shouldn’t I stay here with you?” “There’s nothing you can do here. Go, sweetie.” She cupped her daughter’s cheek, frantic to spare her this, at least. “I’ll be home soon.” Grace’s hair was drenched, separating into long, wet coils. Rain dripped from a gentle chin. Eyes wide, she spoke in a frightened rush. “Did you see him, Mom? Like, why would anybody be walking on the road in the rain? I mean, it’s dark, how could I possibly see him, and why didn’t he see us? There are no other lights here.” Deborah punched in 9-1-1 with one hand and took Grace’s arm with the other. “Go, Grace. I need you home with Dylan. Now.” The dispatcher picked up after a single ring. Deborah knew the voice. Carla McKay was a patient of hers. She worked as the civilian dispatcher several nights a week. “Leyland Police. This call is being recorded.” “Carla, it’s Dr. Monroe,” she said and shooed Grace off with a hand. “There’s been an accident. I’m on the rim road, maybe a half mile east of my house. My car hit a man. We need an ambulance.” “How badly is he hurt?” “He’s unconscious, but he’s breathing. I’d say there’s a broken leg, but I’m not sure what else. The only cut I see is superficial, but I can’t look more without moving him.” “Is anyone else hurt?” “No. How fast can you get someone here?” “I’ll call now.” Deborah closed the phone. Grace hadn’t moved. Soaking wet, curls long and bedraggled, she looked very young and frightened. Frightened herself, Deborah stroked wet hair back from her daughter’s cheeks. On a note of quiet urgency, she said, “Grace, I need you home with Dylan.” “I was driving.” “You’ll be more of a help to me if you’re with Dylan. Please, sweetie?” “It was my fault.” “Grace. Can we not argue about this? Here, take my jacket.” She was starting to slip it off when the girl turned and broke into a run. In no time, she had disappeared in the rain. Pulling her hood up again, Deborah hurried back into the woods. The smell of wet earth and hemlock permeated the air, but she knew what blood smelled like and imagined that, too. Again, she looked for something beyond the scrape on Calvin McKenna’s jaw. She saw nothing. He remained unconscious, but his pulse was strong. She could monitor that and, if it faltered, could manually pump his chest. Studying the angle of his leg, she suspected that his injury involved the hip, but a hip injury was doable. A spine injury was something else, which was why she wouldn’t move him. The EMTs would have a backboard and head immobilizer. Far better to wait. It was easier said than done. It was an endless ten minutes of blaming herself for letting Grace drive, of taking Calvin McKenna’s pulse, trying to see what else might be hurt, wondering what had possessed him to be out in the rain, taking his pulse again, cursing the location of their house and the irresponsibility of her ex-husband, before she saw the flashing lights of the cruiser. There was no siren. They were in too rural a part of town for that. Waving her flashlight, she ran back onto the road and was at the cruiser’s door when Brian Duffy stepped out. In his mid-forties, he was one of a dozen officers on the town force. He also coached Little League. Her son, Dylan, had been on his team for two years. “Are you all right, Dr. Monroe?” he asked, fitting a plastic-covered cap over his crewcut. He was already wearing a rain jacket. “I’m fine. But my car hit Calvin McKenna.” She led him back to the woods. “I can’t tell how badly he’s hurt.” Once over the ferns, she knelt and checked his pulse again. It remained steady. She directed her flashlight at his face; its beam was joined by the officer’s. “Cal?” she called futilely. “Cal? Can you hear me?” “What was he doing out here?” the officer asked. Deborah sat back on her heels. “I have no idea. Walking? Running?” “In the rain? That’s strange.” “Particularly here,” she said. “Do you know where he lives?” It certainly wasn’t nearby. There were four houses in the circle of a mile, and she knew the residents of each. “He and his wife have a place over by the train station,” Brian replied. “That’s a few miles from here. I take it you don’t treat him?” “No. Grace has him in school this year, so I heard him speak at the open house last fall. He’s a serious guy, a tough marker. That’s about all I know.” She was reaching for his pulse again when the road came alive with light. A second cruiser arrived, its roof bar thrumming a raucous blue and white. An ambulance was close behind. Deborah didn’t immediately recognize the EMTs; they were young, likely new. But she did know the man who emerged from the second cruiser. John Colby was the police chief. In his late-fifties, he would have been retired had he been working anywhere else, but he had grown up in Leyland. It was understood that he would keep working as long as his health allowed. Deborah guessed that would be a while. He and his wife were patients of theirs. His wife had a problem with allergens—dander, pollen, dust—that had resulted in adult-onset asthma, but John’s greatest problem, beyond a pot belly, was insomnia. He worked days; he worked nights. He claimed that being active kept his blood pressure down, and since his blood pressure was chronically low, Deborah couldn’t argue. While John held a floodlight, the EMTs immobilized Calvin. Deborah waited with her arms crossed, hands in the folds of her jacket. He made neither movement nor sound. She followed them out of the woods and was watching them ease him into the ambulance, when Brian took her arm. “Let’s sit in the cruiser. This rain’s nasty.” Once inside, she lowered her hood and opened her jacket. Her face was wet; she wiped it with her hands. Her hair, damp and curling, still felt strange to her short after a lifetime wearing it waist long and knotted at the nape. She was wearing a tank top and shorts, both relatively dry under her jacket, and flip-flops. Her legs were slick and smudged with dirt. She hated rain. It came at the worst times, defied prediction, and made life messy. Brian folded himself next to her behind the wheel, and shook his hat outside before closing the door. He took a notebook and pen from a tray between the seats. “I have to ask you a few questions—just a formality, Dr. Monroe.” He checked his watch. “Ten forty-three. And it’s D-E-B-O-R-A-H?” “Yes. M-O-N-R-O-E.” She was often mistakenly thought to be Dr. Barr, which was her maiden name and the name of her father, who was something of a legend in town. She had used her married name since her final year of college. “Can you tell me what happened?” the officer asked. “We were driving along—” “We?” He looked alarmed. “I thought you were alone.” “I am now—Grace is home—but I had picked her up at a friend’s house—that’s Megan Stearns’s house—and we were on our way home, going really slowly, not more than twenty-five miles an hour, because the rain was so bad. And suddenly he was there.” “Running along the side of the road?” “I didn’t see him running. He just appeared in front of the car. There was no warning, no time to turn away, just this awful thud.” “Had you drifted toward the shoulder of the road?” “No. We were close to the center. I was watching the line. It was one of the few guidelines we had with visibility so low.” “Did you brake?” Deborah hadn’t braked. Grace had done it. Now was the time to clarify that. But it seemed irrelevant, a technicality. “Too late,” she replied. “We skidded and spun around. You can see where my car is. That’s where we ended after the spin.” “But if you drove Grace home—” “I didn’t drive her. I made her run. It isn’t more than half a mile. She’s on the track team.” Deborah wrangled her phone from a soggy pocket. “I needed her to babysit Dylan, but she’ll want to know what’s happening. Is this okay?” When he nodded, she pressed the speed-dial button. The phone had barely rung when Grace picked up. “Mom?” “Are you okay?” “I’m okay. How’s Mr. McKenna?” “He’s on his way to the hospital.” “Is he conscious?” “Not yet. Is Dylan okay?” “If being dead asleep on the sofa when I got here means okay, yes. He hasn’t moved.” So much for large eyes at the window, Deborah thought, and heard her ex-husband’s You worry too much, but how not to worry about a ten-year-old boy who had severe hyper-opia and corneal dystrophy, which meant that he viewed much of his life through a haze. Deborah hadn’t planned on that, either. “Well, I’m still glad you’re with him,” she said. “Grace, I’m talking with the police officer now. I may run over to the hospital once we’re done. You’d probably better go to bed. You have that exam tomorrow.” “I’m going to be sick tomorrow.” “Grace.” “I am. I can’t think about biology right now. I mean, like, what a nightmare. If this is what happens when you drive, I’m not doing it. I keep asking myself where he came from. Did you see him on the side of the road?” “No. Honey, the officer’s waiting.” “Call me back.” “Yup.” Deborah closed the phone. The cruiser’s rear door opened and John Colby got into the backseat. “You’d think the rain’d take a break,” he said, adding, “Hard to see much on the road. I took pictures of everything I could, but the evidence won’t last long if it stays like this. I just called the state team. They’re on their way.” “State team?” Deborah asked, frightened. “The state police have an Accident Reconstruction Team,” John explained. “It’s headed by a credited reconstructionist. He knows what to look for more than we do.” “What does he look for?” “Points of impact, marks on the car. Where on the road the car hit the victim, where the victim landed. Skid marks. Burned rubber. He rebuilds the picture of what happened and how.” It was only an accident, she wanted to say. Bringing in a state team somehow made it more. Dismay must have shown on her face, because Brian said, “It’s standard procedure when there’s personal injury. Had it been midday with the sun out, we might have been able to handle it ourselves, but in weather like this, it’s important to work quickly, and these guys can do that.” He glanced at his notes. “How fast did you say you were going?” Again, Deborah might have easily said, Oh, I wasn’t the one at the wheel. It was Grace, and she wasn’t speeding at all. But that felt like she was trying to weasel out of some-thing—to shift the blame—and besides, Grace was her firstborn, her alter ego, and already suffering from the divorce. Did the girl need more to trouble her? Calvin McKenna was hit either way. No laws had been broken either way. “The limit here is forty-five,” she said. “We couldn’t have been going more than thirty.” “Have you had any recent problems with the car?” “No.” “Brakes working?” “Perfectly.” “Were the high beams on?” She frowned, struggling with that one. She remembered reminding Grace, but high beams, low beams—neither cut far in rain like this. “They’re still on,” John confirmed from behind, “both working.” He put his hat back on his head. “I’m going out to tape off the lane. Last thing we need is someone driving by and fouling the scene.” Deborah knew he meant accident scene, but with a state team coming, she kept thinking crime scene. She was feeling upset about the driver issue, but the questions went on. What time had she left her house to get Grace? What time had Grace and she left Megan’s house? How much time had passed between the accident and Deborah’s calling it in? What had she done during that time? Had Calvin McKenna regained consciousness at any point? Deborah understood that this was all part of the investigation, but she wanted to be at the hospital or, if not there, at home with Grace and Dylan. She glanced at her watch. It was past eleven. If Dylan woke up, he would be frightened to find her still gone; he had been clingy since the divorce, and Grace wouldn’t be much help. She would be watching for Deborah in the dark—not from the pantry, which she saw as Dylan’s turf, but from the window seat in the living room that they rarely used now. There were ghosts in that room, family pictures from a happier time, in a crowd of frames, an arrogant display of perfection. Grace would be feeling desolate. A new explosion of light announced the arrival of the state team. As soon as Brian left the cruiser, Deborah opened her phone and called the hospital—not the general number, but one that went straight to the emergency room. She had admitting privileges and had accompanied patients often enough to know the night nurse. Unfortunately, all the nurse knew was that the ambulance had just arrived. Deborah called Grace. The girl picked up instantly. “Where are you?” “Still here. I’m sitting in the police car, while they check things outside.” She tried to sound casual. “They’re reconstructing the accident. It’s standard procedure.” “What are they looking for?” “Whatever they can find to explain why Mr. McKenna was where he was. How’s Dylan?” “Still sleeping. How’s Mr. McKenna?” “Just got to the hospital. They’ll be examining him now. Have you talked with Megan or any of the others?” There was the issue of Grace climbing into the car on the driver’s side, which might have been seen by her friends, reason to level with the police now. “They’re texting me,” Grace said in a shaky voice. “Stephie tried to call, but I didn’t answer. What if he dies, Mom?” “He won’t die. He wasn’t hit that hard. It’s late, Grace. You ought to go to bed.” “When will you be home?” “Soon, I hope. I’ll find out.” Closing the phone, Deborah tucked it in her pocket, pulled up her hood, and went out into the rain. She pulled the hood closer around her face and held it there with a dripping hand. A good part of the road had been sealed off with yellow tape, made all the more harsh now by floodlights. Two latex-gloved men were combing the pavement, stopping from time to time to carefully pick up and bag what they found. A photographer was taking pictures of Deborah’s car, both its general position on the road and the dent in the front. The dent wasn’t large. More noticeable was the shattered headlight. “Oh my,” Deborah said, seeing that for the first time. John joined her, bending over to study what remained of the glass. “This looks to be the only damage,” he said and shot her a quick glance. “Think you can dig out your registration so I can record it?” She slipped behind the wheel, adjusted the seat, opened the glove box, and handed him the registration, which he carefully recorded. Restowing it, she joined him outside. “I didn’t think of damage,” she said, pulling her hood forward again. “I was only concerned with what we’d hit. We thought it was an animal.” She peered up at him. “I’d really like to drive to the hospital, John. How long will these fellows take?” “Another hour or two,” he said, watching the men work. “This is their only shot. Rain continues like this and come morning, everything’ll be washed out. But anyway, you can’t take your car. We have to tow it.” “Tow it? It’s perfectly driveable.” “Not until our mechanic checks it out. He has to make sure nothing was wrong that might have caused the accident—brake malfunction, defective wipers, worn tires.” He looked at her then. “Don’t worry. We’ll drive you home tonight. You have another car there, don’t you?” She did. It was Greg’s BMW, the one he had driven to the office, parked in the Reserved for President spot, and kept diligently waxed. He had loved that car, but it, too, was abandoned. When he left for Vermont, he had been in the old Volkswagen Beetle that had sat under a tarp in the garage all these years. Deborah didn’t like the BMW. Greg had bought it at the height of his success. In hindsight, that was the beginning of the end. Folding her arms over her chest, she watched the men work. They covered every inch of the road, the roadside, and the edge of the forest beyond where Calvin McKenna had landed. More than once, feeling useless and despising the rain, she wondered why she was there and not at the hospital helping out. The answer, of course, was that she was a family practitioner, not a trauma specialist. And it was her car that had caused harm. The reality of that loomed larger by the minute. She was responsible—she was responsible—for the car, for Grace, for the accident, for Calvin McKenna. If she could do nothing for him and nothing for the car, she needed to be home with her children. Grace huddled in the dark. Each time her cell phone rang, she jumped, held it up, studied the panel. She answered if her mother was calling, but she couldn’t talk to anyone else. Megan had already tried. Twice. Same with Stephie. Now they were texting. WER R U? TM ME! R U THER? HELLO?? When Grace didn’t reply, the focus changed. DUZ YR MM NO ABT TH BR? DD SHE SMLL IT? R U IN TRBL? U ONLY HD I. But Grace hadn’t had only one beer, she had two, and even though they were spaced three hours apart, and she hadn’t felt high and probably wouldn’t even have blown a .01 if she had been breathalyzed, she shouldn’t have driven. She didn’t know why she had. She didn’t know why these so-called friends of hers—alleged friends, as in provable but not proved—were even mentioning beer in a TM. Didn’t they know everything could be traced? UOK? Y WONT U TALK? She wouldn’t talk, because her mother was still with the police and Mr. McKenna was at the hospital and it was all her fault—and nothing her friends could say would make it better. Chapter 2 It was another hour before the state agents dismantled their lights, and a few minutes more before a tow truck arrived. Deborah knew the driver. He worked at the service station in the center of town and was a frequent customer at her sister’s bakery. That meant Jill would hear about the accident soon after she opened at six. Brian drove her home, pulling into the circular drive and, at her direction, past the fieldstone house to the shingled garage. She was exhausted and thoroughly wet, but as soon as she had closed the cruiser door and was sprinting forward hugging her medical bag and Grace’s books, she opened her phone and called the hospital. While she waited for an answer, she punched in the code for the garage. The door rumbled up as the call went through. “Joyce? It’s Deborah Monroe again. Any word on Calvin McKenna?” “Hold on, Dr. Monroe. Let me check.” Deborah dropped her armload and hung her slicker on a hook not far from the bay where her car should have stood. Leaving her flip-flops on the landing, she hurried inside, through the kitchen to the laundry room. “Dr. Monroe? He’s in stable condition. They’re running tests now, but the neurologist doesn’t see any evidence of vertebral fracture or paralysis. He has a broken hip. They’ll deal with that in the operating room once this last scan is done.” “Is he conscious?” Deborah asked, back in the kitchen, drying her arms with a towel. “Yes, but not communicating.” “He can’t speak?” “They suspect he can but won’t. They can’t find a physical explanation.” Deborah had run the towel over her face and was lowering it when she spotted Grace in the corner. “Trauma, maybe?” she speculated. “Thanks, Joyce. Would you do me a favor? Let me know if there’s any change?” Still dressed, Grace was hunched over, biting her nail. Deborah pulled the hand away and drew her close. “Where were you?” the girl asked meekly. “Same place.” “All this time?” “Uh-huh.” “Why did the police drive you home?” “Because they don’t want me driving my car until they’ve examined it in daylight.” “Isn’t the cop who drove you home coming in?” Deborah drew back to study her face. They weren’t quite the same height, but almost. “No. They’re done for the night.” Grace’s voice went up a notch. “How can they be done?” “They’ve asked their questions.” “Asked you, not me. What did you tell them?” “I said we were driving home in the rain, visibility was terrible, and Mr. McKenna ran out from nowhere. They’ll have to go back along the road in the morning to see if there’s anything they missed that the rain didn’t get. I’ll file a report at the station tomorrow and get the car. Where’s Dylan?” “He went to bed. He must have thought you were home. What do we tell him, Mom? I mean, he’ll know something happened when he sees your car missing, and besides, it was Mr. McKenna. This is such my luck that it was my teacher. I mean, like, I’m so bad at American history, people will think it was deliberate. What do I tell my friends?” “You are not bad at U.S. history.” “I shouldn’t be in the AP section. I don’t have a prayer of placing out when I take the test in June. I suck.” If she did, it was news to Deborah. “You tell them that we couldn’t see Mr. McKenna in the rain, and that we weren’t going very fast.” “You keep saying we.” Yes. Deborah realized that. “I was the licensed driver in the car. I was the one responsible.” “But I was the one at the wheel.” “You were my responsibility.” “If you’d been driving, the accident wouldn’t have happened.” “Not true, Grace. I didn’t see Mr. McKenna, and I was watching the road as closely as if my own foot was on the gas.” “But it wasn’t your foot on the gas.” Deborah paused, but only for a minute. Slowly, she said, “The police assume it was.” “And you’re not telling them the truth? Mom, that’s lying.” “No,” she said, sorting it out even as she spoke. “They drew their own conclusion. I just haven’t corrected them.” “Mom.” “You’re a juvenile, Grace,” Deborah reasoned. “You were only driving on a permit, which means that you were driving on my license, which makes me responsible. I’ve been driving for twenty-two years and have a spotless record. I can weather this better than you can.” When Grace opened her mouth to protest again, Deborah pressed a hand to her lips. “This is right, sweetie. I know it is. We can’t control the weather, and we can’t control what other people do. We were compliant with every law in the book and did our very best to stop. There was no negligence involved on our part.” “What if he dies?” “He won’t.” “But what if he does? That’s murder.” “No,” Deborah argued, though the word murder gave her a chill, “it would be vehicular homicide, but since we did absolutely nothing wrong, there won’t be any charges.” “Is that what Uncle Hal said?” Hal Trutter was the husband of Deborah’s friend Karen, and while neither he nor Karen were actually related to the Monroes, they had known the children since birth. Their daughter, Danielle, was a year ahead of Grace. Deborah saw Karen often. Lately, she had felt more awkward with Hal, but that was a whole other story. “I haven’t talked with him yet,” she told Grace, “but I know he’d agree. And anyway, Mr. McKenna is not going to die.” “What if he’s crippled for life?” “You’re getting carried away with this, Grace,” Deborah warned, though she harbored the same fears. The difference was that she was the mother. She couldn’t panic. “I saw his leg,” the girl wailed. “It was sticking out all wrong, like he fell from the top of a building.” “But he didn’t fall from the top of a building. He is definitely alive, the nurse just told me so, and broken bones can be fixed.” Grace’s face crumbled. “It was awful. I will never forget that sound.” Nor would Deborah. She could still hear it—that thud—hours after the fact. Seeking purchase, she clutched Grace’s shoulders. “I need a shower, sweetie. I’m chilled, and my legs are filthy.” Keeping an arm around the girl, she walked her up the stairs and down the hall. In addition to the three children’s rooms, the third for a last child that Deborah and Greg might have had, there was a family room that had built-in desks, a sofa, matching armchairs, and a flat-screen TV. After Greg left, Deborah had spent so many nights here with the kids that she finally just moved into the third bedroom. Grace was biting her nails again by the time they reached her door. Taking the hand from her mouth, Deborah looked at her daughter for a long, silent moment. “Everything will be fine,” she whispered before letting her go. The texting had stopped before her mother got home, for which Grace was grateful. What could she tell Megan? Or Stephie? Or Becca? My mom is taking the blame for something I did? My mom is lying so I won’t be arrested? My mom could go tojail if Mr. McKenna dies? Grace had thought the divorce was bad. This was worse. Deborah had hoped that the shower would calm her, but warm, clean, and finally dry, she could think more clearly, and a clearer mind simply magnified what had happened. The sound of the rain didn’t help. It pounded the roof much as it had the car, and she remembered another night, the one when her mother had died. It had been pouring then, too. Creeping into Dylan’s room, she knelt by the bed. His eyes were closed, dark lashes lying on cheeks that wouldn’t be smooth much longer. He was a gentle child with more than his share of worry, and while she knew that there were cures for his vision problems, her heart ached. Not wanting to wake him, but helpless to leave without a touch, she moved her hand over his sandy hair. Then she went to her room, slipped into bed, and pulled the covers to her chin. She had barely settled when she heard Dylan’s steps, muted by the old slipper-socks that he wore every night. They were the last pair Ruth Barr had knit before her death, too big for him at first, now stretched so thin that they were about to fall apart. He refused to let Deborah throw them out, saying that they kept his Nana Ruth alive. In that instant, Deborah needed her mother, too. “I tried to stay awake ’til you got home,” he mumbled. Pulling him toward her, Deborah waited only until he set his glasses on the nightstand before tucking him in next to her. He was asleep almost at once. Moments later, Grace joined them, crawling in on the other side. It was a snug fit, though preferable to lying awake alone. Deborah reached for her daughter’s hand. “I won’t be able to sleep,” the girl whispered, “not at all, the whole night.” Deborah turned her head in the dark and whispered back, “Here’s the thing. We can’t rewind the clock. What happened happened. We know that Mr. McKenna is in good hands and that if there’s any change, we’ll get a call. Right?” Grace made a doubtful sound but said nothing more. In time her breathing lengthened, but she slept in fits and starts. Deborah knew because she remained awake for a long time after that, and for reasons that went well beyond the drumming of rain on the roof. She kept seeing that striped running suit, kept feeling the jolt of impact. Sandwiched between the children, though, she knew she couldn’t panic. After her marriage ended, she had made a vow. No more harm to the kids. No … more … harm. The phone rang at six the next morning. Deborah had been sleeping for less than three hours, and the press of her children made her slow to react. Then she remembered what had happened, and her stomach clenched. Fearing Calvin McKenna had taken a turn for the worse, she bolted up and, reaching over Dylan, grabbed the phone. “Hello?” “It’s me,” said her sister. “I figured your alarm would be going off soon. Mack Tully was just in here. He said you hit someone last night.” “Oh. Jill.” Relieved, Deborah let out a breath. She and her sister were close, though very different from each other. Jill was thirty-four to Deborah’s thirty-eight, blonde to her brunette, five-two to Deborah’s five-six, and the maverick of the family. Despite two long-term relationships, she hadn’t married, and while Deborah had followed their father into medicine, Jill flat-out refused to take any science courses. After one post–high school year as a baker’s apprentice in New Jersey, then a second year in New York and four more as a dessert chef on the West Coast, she had come back to Leyland to open her own bakery. In the ten years since her return, she had expanded three times—all to her father’s chagrin. Michael still prayed she would wake up one day, go back to school, and do something real with her life. Deborah had always loved her little sister, even more in the three years since their mother had died. Jill was Ruth. She lived simply but smartly, and, like her bakery, she exuded warmth. Just hearing her voice was a comfort. Talking with Ruth on the phone had conjured the smell of warm, fresh-baked bread. Talking with Jill on the phone conjured the smell of pecan-topped sticky buns. The image soothed the rough edges of fear. “It was a nightmare, Jill,” she murmured tiredly. “I had just gotten Grace, and it was rainy and dark. We were driving slowly. He came out of nowhere.” “Was he drunk?” “I don’t think so. I didn’t smell anything.” “Vodka doesn’t smell.” “I couldn’t exactly ask him, Jill. He wasn’t talking.” “The history teacher, huh? Is he badly hurt?” “He was operated on last night, likely to put a pin in his hip.” “Marty Stevens says the guy is odd—a loner, not real friendly.” “Serious is the word, I think. He doesn’t smile much. Did Marty say anything else?” “No, but Shelley Wyeth did. She lives near the McKennas. She said his wife is weird, too. They don’t mix much with the neighbors.” There was a brief pause. “Wow. You actually ran someone down. I didn’t think you had it in you.” Deborah was a minute reacting. Then she said, “Excuse me?” “Have you ever been in an accident before?” “No.” “The rest of us have.” “Jill.” “It’s okay, Deborah. This makes you human. I love you all the more for it.” “Jill,” Deborah protested, but Dylan was awake and reaching for his glasses. “My boy, here, needs an explanation. I’ll see you as soon as I drop off the kids.” “You’re not driving the BMW, are you?” Jill asked. She shared Deborah’s disdain for the car, albeit more for its cost than for memories of a marriage gone bad. “I have no choice.” “You do. I’ll be there at seven-thirty. Once you get to Dad’s, you can use his car. I don’t envy you having to tell him about the accident. He won’t be happy. He likes perfect records.” Deborah didn’t need the reminder. The thought of telling her father made her ill. “I like perfect records, too, but we don’t always get what we want. Trust me, I didn’t plan on this. My car was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gotta go, Jill. Seven-thirty. Thanks.” She hung up the phone and looked down at Dylan. At ten, he was more of an introvert than his sister had been at that age. He was also more sensitive, a character trait exacerbated by both the divorce and his vision. “You hit someone?” he asked now, brown eyes abnormally wide behind his lenses. “It was on the rim road, very dark, very wet.” “Was he splattered all over the road?” the boy asked with a hard blink. “Jerk,” Grace mumbled from behind Deborah. “He was not splattered anywhere,” Deborah scolded. “We weren’t going fast enough to do serious harm.” Dylan rubbed one of his eyes. “Have you ever hit anyone before?” “Absolutely not.” “Has Dad?” “Not that I know of.” “I’m going to call him and tell him.” “Not now, please,” Deborah said, because Greg would insist that Dylan put her on the phone and would then hassle her with questions. Glancing past Dylan at the clock, she said, “He’ll be sleeping and, anyway, you need to get dressed. Aunt Jill is coming for us.” There was another hard blink. “Why?” “Because the police have my car.” “Why?” “They have to make sure it’s in good working order.” “Is there blood on the front?” “No. Get up, Dylan,” Deborah said and gave him a gentle push. He got out of bed, started for the door, then turned back. “Who’d you hit?” “No one you know,” Deborah said and pointed toward the door. He had barely left when Grace was hovering at her shoulder. “But he’s someone I know,” she whispered, “and someone all my friends know. And you can bet Dylan’s gonna call Dad, who’s then gonna think we can’t take care of ourselves. Like there’s someone else who’ll take care of us if we don’t, not that Dad cares. Mom, what if Mr. McKenna died on the operating table?” “The hospital would have called.” “What if you get a call today? I need to stay home.” Deborah faced her. “If you stay home, you’ll have to retake the test—and miss track practice, which isn’t a great idea with a meet on Saturday.” Grace looked horrified. “I can’t run after what happened.” Deborah knew how she felt. When Greg left, she had wanted nothing more than to stay in bed nursing her wounds. She had a similar urge now, but it would only make things worse. “I have to work, Grace, and you need to run. We were involved in an accident. We can’t let it paralyze us.” “What if it paralyzes Mr. McKenna?” “They said it didn’t.” “You can really work today?” “I have to. People depend on me. Same with you. You’re the team’s best hope for winning the meet. Besides, if you’re afraid of people talking, the best thing is to behave as you always do.” “And say what?” Deborah swallowed. “What I just told Aunt Jill. That it was a horrible storm, and that the car was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” “I’ll flunk the bio test if I take it today. There’s another AP section I shouldn’t be in.” “You won’t flunk the test. You’re pre-med, and you’re acing bio.” “How can I take a test when I barely slept?” “You know the material. Besides, once you’re in college, you’ll be taking tests on next to no sleep all the time. Think of this as practice. It’ll build character.” “Yeah, well, if character’s the thing, shouldn’t I go with you to file the police report?” Deborah felt a flash of pride, followed by a quick pang of conscience. Both turned to fear when she thought of the possible fallout if she let Grace take the blame. The repercussions wouldn’t be productive at all. Very slowly, she shook her head, then held her daughter’s gaze for a moment before drawing her out of bed. As always, it hit Deborah in the shower—the second-guessing about what she was doing. Between diagnosing dozens of patients each week, helping her father run his household without Ruth, being a single mother and having to make sensitive decisions like the one she had just made, she was often on the hot seat. Now she stood with her head bowed, hot water hitting her back with the sting of too many choices, until she was close to tears. Feeling profoundly alone, she turned the water off and quickly dressed. The clothes she wore for work were tailored, fitting her slim frame well and restoring a sense of professionalism. Makeup added color to her pale skin and softened the worry in brown eyes that were wide-set, the adult version of Grace’s. But when she tried to fasten her hair in a clasp so that it would be neat and tidy as her life was not, it fought her. Shy of shoulder length, the dark waves had a mind of their own. Accepting that there was no going back to her orderly life, she let them curl as they would and turned her back on the mirror. Mercifully, the rain had stopped. Sun was beginning to break through the clouds, scattering gold on trees whose still-wet limbs were just beginning to bud. Grateful for a brighter day, she went down to the kitchen, set out cereal for the kids, then phoned the hospital. Calvin McKenna was in recovery, soon to be moved to a room. He hadn’t talked yet, but he was listed in stable condition. Reassured, she skimmed her Post-its on the fridge: pay property tax—Dylan dentist at 4—tennis camp deposit. Then she logged on to her e-mail and phoned the answering service. Had there been an emergency, she would have been called. The messages she received now—the flare-up of a chronic ear infection, a stubborn migraine headache, a severe case of heartburn—were from patients the receptionist would schedule when she arrived at eight. Her nurse-practitioner would examine the earliest to arrive. Deborah was usually at her office by eight-fifteen, after seeing the kids off to school, stopping to have coffee with Jill, and checking on her father. He was booked to see his first patient at eight-thirty. These days, it was Deborah’s job to make sure that he did. Her sister, Jill, though perennially at odds with the man, respected that. She appeared at the house this morning at seven-thirty on the nose. Having come from work, she wore jeans and a T-shirt. The T-shirt, always either red, orange, or yellow to match the bakery’s colors, was red today, and her boy-short blonde hair was rumpled from whipping off her apron. She had their mother’s bright, hazel eyes and the shadow of childhood freckles, but the fine lines of her chin mirrored Deborah’s. As soon as Grace and Dylan were in the backseat, she passed them each bags with their favorite pastries inside. She had a bag for Deborah, too, and a hot coffee in the cup holder. Picking up the coffee, Deborah cradled it in her hands and inhaled the comforting brew. “Thanks,” she finally said. “I hate taking you from work.” “Are you kidding?” Jill replied. “I get to have my favorite people in the car. Are you guys okay back there?” she called into the rearview mirror. Dylan was. He ate his glazed cinnamon stick as though he hadn’t just had a full bowl of cereal. Grace hadn’t eaten much cereal, and she only picked at her blueberry muffin. She uttered a high-pitched moan when they passed the spot where the accident had been. “It was here?” Jill guessed. “You’d never know.” No, Deborah realized. You never would. Only a small piece of yellow tape remained, tied to a pine to show the police where to look this morning. If there had been skid marks on the road, the rain had washed them away. She tried to catch Grace’s eye, but the girl refused to look at her, and, in the end, Deborah didn’t have the strength to persist. Sitting back, she sipped her coffee and let her sister chat. It was a ten-minute respite from responsibility. All too soon, they reached the middle school, and Dylan was out of the van. “I’m getting out here, too,” Grace said, tugging on her jacket and collecting her things. “No offense, Aunt Jill, but, like, the last thing I want is to pull up at school in a bright yellow van with a totally identifying logo on the side. Everyone’ll know it’s me.” “Is that so bad?” Jill asked. “Yes.” Leaning forward in her seat, she said in a voice that was urgent and low, “Please, Mom. I’d really rather not be at school today. I mean, I’ve missed maybe two days this year. Can’t I stay with Aunt Jill?” “And have the truant officer after me?” Jill countered before Deborah could speak. Plaintive, Grace turned on her aunt. “It’s going to be so bad for me today. Everyone’s gonna know.” “Know what? That your mother had an accident? Accidents happen, Grace. It’s not a crime. If you’re in school today, you can tell everyone how bad you feel.” Grace stared at her for a minute, muttered, “Yeah, right,” and climbed out of the van, but when Jill might have called her back, Deborah put a hand on her arm and Grace stalked off. Her spine was rigid for the first few steps but steadily softened until she was hunched over her books, looking impossibly small. Worried, Deborah said, “Should I have kept her home?” “Absolutely not,” Jill replied. “If nothing else, you need her busy.” She put the van in gear and pulled away from the curb. “Are you okay?” Deborah sighed, leaned against the headrest, and nodded. “I’m fine.” “Truly?” “Truly.” “Good. Because I have news. I’m pregnant.” Deborah blinked. “Cute. A bit of humor to lighten things up.” “I’m serious.” “No, you’re not, because, A, there is no guy in your life right now, B, you’re working your butt off at the bakery, and, C, it would be one thing too many for me this morning, and you wouldn’t be that cruel.” She looked at her sister. Jill wasn’t laughing. “You’re serious? But pregnant by whom?” “Sperm donor number TXP334. He has blond hair, is five-eight, and writes children’s books for a living. A guy like that has to be compassionate, creative, and smart, doesn’t he?” Deborah struggled to take in the information. “I need you to be happy,” Jill warned. “I am. I think. I just … didn’t expect … a baby?” Jill nodded. “Next November.” The date made it real. Loving babies and loving Jill, Deborah didn’t know what else to do but open her arms, lean over, and give her sister a hug. “You really want a child.” “I always have. You know that.” “What about work?” “You did it.” “I had Greg. You’re alone.” “I’m not alone. I have you. I have Grace and Dylan. I have … Dad.” “Dad. Oh, boy.” Major complication there. “And you haven’t told him.” “Absolutely not.” Which meant one more secret to keep. “If you’re due in November—” “I’m eight weeks pregnant.” “Eight.” Deborah was belatedly hurt. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” “I didn’t trust you’d let me do it.” “Let you. Jill, you do your own thing. Always.” “But I want your approval.” Deborah studied her sister’s face. “You don’t look different. Have you been sick?” “A little here and there, mostly from excitement.” “And you’re sure you’re pregnant?” “I’ve missed two periods,” Jill said, “and I’ve seen the baby on a sonogram, Deborah, seen that little heart beating. My doctor pointed it out on the screen.” “What doctor?” “Anne Burkhardt. She’s in Boston—and please,” Jill grew serious, “don’t tell me you’re angry that I didn’t get a name from you, because I wanted this totally to be my choice. We both know Dad’ll be a problem. But hey, I’ve already disappointed him in so many things, what’s one more? But you—you had no part in this, which is what I’ll tell Dad— but I’m not telling anyone until I pass the twelve-week mark.” “You just told me,” Deborah argued, “so I do have a part in it, or at least in keeping the secret. What do I say if he asks?” “He won’t. He won’t have a clue until I hit him in the face with it. He doesn’t think I’m capable of sustaining a relationship with a man, much less having a baby, and maybe he’s right about the man part. I’ve tried, Deborah, you know I have, but I haven’t met a single guy in the last few years who was remotely husband material. Dad would have stuck me with someone I detest just for the sake of having a baby the traditional way. But my God, look at you. You played by all the rules, and now you’re a single parent, too.” Deborah didn’t need the reminder. It made her think of her failings, which brought the accident front and center again. She held her hair back from her face. “Why are you telling me now? Why in this awful minute when I have so much else on my mind?” “Because,” Jill said, suddenly pleading, “like I said on the phone, you’re more human after last night, so I’m thinking that right now you’ll understand and still love me.” Deborah stared at her sister. Jill had just added a complication to her already complicated life, but a new baby was a new baby. Reaching out, she took her sister’s hand. “Do I have a choice?” Grace loitered just beyond the school fence, gnawing on her cuticle until the final bell rang. Then, clutching her jacket tightly around her, she ran down the path and, joining the other stragglers, dashed up the stairs, into the high school. Keeping her head down, she slipped into her homeroom seat and barely heard the announcements until the principal said that Mr. McKenna had been hit by a car, was in the hospital, and deserved a moment’s prayer. Grace gave him that and then some, but stole out of the room the instant the bell rang again and, squatting in front of her locker, tried to make herself invisible. Friends stopped for a few seconds to chat. Did you know that Jarred has mono? Why is Kenny Baron running for student body president? Are you going to Kim’s party Saturday night? Grace only rose when it was seconds before her first class. Megan and Stephie came up and flanked her before she reached the door. “We kept trying to call you,” Megan hissed. “Where were you?” asked Stephie. “Kyle told me it was your mom’s car that hit Mr. McKenna.” “Were you there? What did you see, Grace? Was it gross?” “I can’t talk about it,” Grace said. “I thought I’d die when I saw your mom sitting outside,” Stephie muttered. “How much does she know?” Megan asked Grace. “Did she notice anything?” “No,” Grace said. “And you didn’t tell her?” Stephie asked. “No.” “And you won’t tell her,” Megan ordered. “No.” “Well, that’s good. Because if word gets back to my parents, I’ll be grounded ’til fall.” Grounded ’til fall? Grace could live with being grounded ’til fall. As punishments went, that would be easy. Chapter 3 Michael Barr was revered in Leyland. A family practitioner before family practitioners had come back into vogue, he had spent his entire career in the town. He was the doctor of record for three generations of local families, and had their undying loyalty as a reward. He owned a pale blue Victorian house just off the town green. It was the same house where Deborah and Jill had grown up, and while Michael had always run his practice from the adjacent cottage, both structures had grown over the years. The last of the work, to the cottage, was done eight years before as a lure for Deborah to join the practice. In truth, she hadn’t needed much encouragement. She adored her father and loved seeing the pride on his face when she was accepted into medical school and again when she agreed to work with him. She was the son he’d never had, and, besides, she and Greg were already living in Leyland, which made it convenient. Grace was six, born shortly before Deborah started medical school, and, by the time her residency was done, she was pregnant with Dylan. Her mother, a born nurturer, would have provided child care in a minute had Deborah and Greg not already employed the de Sousas. Lívia served as a sitter, Adinaldo a handyman, and there were de Sousa relatives to do gardening, roofing, and plumbing. Lívia still stopped by to clean and make dinner, and since Deborah’s mother died, the de Sousas did similar chores for her father. He wasn’t as enamored of them as she was, but then, no one could measure up to Ruth Barr. Juggling her medical bag, bakery bag, and coffee, Deborah picked up the morning paper and went in the side door of the house. The accident would definitely be reported in the local weekly on Thursday. But in today’s Boston Globe? She prayed not. There was no sign of her father in the kitchen—no coffee percolating, no waiting mug or bagel on a napkin beside it. She guessed that he had overslept again. Since Ruth died, he had taken to watching old movies in the den until he was sure he could fall asleep without her. Deborah set her things on the kitchen table and, not for the first time, wished her father would bend enough to accept a pastry from Jill’s shop. People drove miles for her signature pecan buns, SoMa Stickies. But not Michael. Coffee and a supermarket bagel. That was all he wanted. She hated the thought of telling him about Jill’s pregnancy. “Daddy?” Deborah called in the front hall and approached the stairs. “Are you up?” She heard nothing at first, then the creak of a chair. Cutting through the living room, she found her father in the den, sitting with his head in his hands, still dressed in yesterday’s clothes. Discouraged, she knelt by his knee. “You never made it to bed?” He looked at her with red-rimmed eyes, disoriented at first. “Guess not,” he managed, running a hand through his hair. It had gone pure white since his wife’s death. He claimed it gave him new authority with his patients, but Deborah thought he was something of an autocrat already. “You have an early patient,” she reminded him now. “Want to shower while I put on coffee?” When he didn’t move, she felt a twinge of concern. “Are you okay?” “A headache is all.” “Aspirin?” she offered meekly. It was a standing joke. They knew all the current meds, but aspirin remained their default. He shot her something that was as much a grimace as a smile, but took her hand and let himself be helped up. As soon as he left the room, Deborah noticed the whiskey bottle and empty glass. Hurriedly, she put the bottle back in the liquor cabinet and took the highball glass to the kitchen. While she waited for the coffee to perk, she sliced his bagel, then called the hospital. Calvin McKenna remained in stable condition. This was good news, as was, she discovered next, the absence of mention of the accident in the Globe. Hearing steps on the stairs, she refolded the paper and poured coffee. She was spreading cream cheese on the bagel when her father joined her. He was his usual well-dressed self. Putting an arm around her, he gave her a squeeze, then reached for his coffee. “Better?” she asked after he had taken several swallows. “Oh yeah.” Other than bloodshot eyes, he had cleaned up well. “Thanks, sweetheart. You’re a lifesaver.” “Not quite,” she said and took the opening. “Grace and I were in an accident last night. We’re both fine—not a scratch—but we hit a man.” Her father was a minute taking it in, his face filled with concern, then relief, then uncertainty. “Hit?” “He was just suddenly there in front of the car. It was out on the rim road. Visibility was really bad.” When her father didn’t seem to follow, she prompted, “The rain? Remember?” “Yes, I remember. That’s awful, Deborah. Do we know him?” “He teaches history at the high school. Grace has him.” “Is he one of ours?” One of their patients? “No.” “How badly is he hurt?” She related what she knew. “Not life threatening, then,” her father decided as she had. He sipped his coffee. She was starting to think that she’d gotten off easy, when, with marginal sharpness and a rise in color, he asked, “How fast were you going?” “Well under the speed limit.” “But how could you not see him?” “It was pouring and dark. He wasn’t wearing reflective gear.” Her father leaned back against the counter. “Not exactly the image of the good doctor. What if someone thought you’d been drinking?” His eyes met hers. “Were you?” I wasn’t driving, she nearly said, but settled for a quiet, “Please.” “It’s a fair question, sweetheart. Lord knows, you have cause to drink. Your husband left you with a huge house, huge responsibilities, huge wine cellar.” “He also left me with a huge bank account, which makes the huge house doable, but that’s not the point. I don’t drink, Daddy. You know that.” “Did the police issue a citation?” Her stomach did a little flip-flop—possibly from the word, more likely from the increased edge in her father’s voice. “No. They didn’t see any immediate cause. They’re doing a full report.” “That’s swell,” Michael remarked dryly. “Does the man have family?” “A wife, no kids.” “And if he ends up with a permanent limp, you don’t think he’ll sue?” Mention of a lawsuit, coming on the heels of the word citation, both evidence of her father’s disappointment, made Deborah’s stomach twist. “I hope not.” Michael Barr made a dismissive sound. “Lawsuits have little to do with reality and everything to do with greed. Why do you think we pay what we do for malpractice insurance? We may be totally in the right, but the process of proving it can cost thousands of dollars. Naïveté won’t help, Deborah.” He snorted. “This is the kind of discussion I’d expect to have with your sister, not with you.” And guess what she’s done now? Deborah wanted to cry in a moment of silent panic, but she just said, “She’s doing great.” “A baker?” he tossed back. “Do you know the kind of hours she works?” “They’re no worse than ours.” Deborah had hired a nanny. Jill could, too—actually, Jill didn’t have to. She lived above the bakery. She could set up a nursery in the back room and have the baby with her all the time. She could even have one of her employees help out. They had almost become like family. “She can barely make ends meet,” Michael argued. “She knows nothing about business.” “Actually, she does,” Deborah said. But her father had moved on. “You’ve called Hal, haven’t you? He’s the best lawyer around.” “I don’t need a lawyer. I’ll file a report today, and that’s it.” “File a report at the police station? Put it in writing, and then have your own words come back to haunt you?” His color heightened. “Please, Deborah. Listen to me here. You hit someone; he didn’t hit you. That makes you the offender. If you’re talking with the police, you need a lawyer with you.” “Isn’t that a sign of guilt?” “Guilt? Cripes, no. It’s preventive medicine. Isn’t that what we’re about?” Deborah made house calls. It wasn’t something she had planned to do when she was in medical school, or even when she started to practice—and when tests were necessary, it was out of the question. Those patients had to be seen either in the office or at the local hospital. But not all patients needed tests, and one day a few years ago, when a regular patient had called with severe back spasms that prevented her from driving to the office, it seemed absurd not to help. The patient was a single mom, with a new baby and a disabled aunt. Deborah couldn’t bear letting her suffer. Seeing her at home made a difference in Deborah’s diagnosis. The apartment—five rooms on the second floor of a two-family house—was in chaos. Clothes were everywhere; baby gear was everywhere; dirty dishes were everywhere. When Deborah talked with her on the phone, the women claimed that the spasms came from lifting the baby. In fact, Deborah saw a woman who was simply overwhelmed with her life. There were social services that could help, but Deborah wouldn’t have known to give them a call if she hadn’t visited the house. Treating patients was like solving a puzzle. There were times when an office visit yielded enough clues, other times when more was needed. Since Deborah was drawn to this puzzle-solving, and liked being out and about more than her father did, she did all the home visits. This also gave her a lighter patient load and more flexibility, both of which were especially welcome after Greg left. Today, desperate to busy herself, she set off shortly before nine to visit an elderly woman who had fallen out of bed the week before and hit her head. The concussion was mild compared to her fear of falling again. A pair of bed rails and a cane, both of which she showed Deborah now with pride, had restored some of her confidence. Deborah’s second stop was just down the road, at the home of a family with six children, the youngest three of whom had high fevers. The parents could have brought the kids in. But to risk infecting other patients in the waiting room? Deborah didn’t see the point, particularly when she was going to be nearby anyway. Ear infections. All three. Easily diagnosed, with a minimum of risk. Her next patient lived one town over. Darcy LeMay was a woman whose husband, a business consultant, was on the road three weeks out of every four, leaving her alone in a beautiful home with a severe case of osteoarthritis. She was seeing a specialist, from whom Deborah received regular reports. The woman’s current complaint had to do with such intense ankle pain that she wondered if she had broken a bone. Deborah rang the bell and let herself in when she found the door ajar. “In the kitchen,” Darcy called unnecessarily. She was always in the kitchen, and why not? It was a beautiful kitchen, complete with exquisite cherry cabinets, carved granite counters, a state-of-the-art cooktop, and appliances so neatly built-in that they were almost invisible. A baker’s rack held earthenware plates in gold, olive, and rust, all hand-painted in Tuscany, Darcy had explained when Deborah had admired them on an earlier visit. Darcy sat at a hexagonal table built into the breakfast nook. She wore a large cotton sweater over a pair of tights, and had her bad foot resting on the seat of the adjacent chair. The table was strewn with papers. “How’s the book coming?” Deborah asked, regarding the papers with a smile as she set her bag on the table. “Slow,” Darcy said and proceeded to blame her ankle for distraction, her arthritis specialist for unresponsiveness, and her absent husband for disinterest. Deborah knew scapegoating when she heard it. Moreover, she didn’t have to look at Darcy’s ankle to see the immediate problem, though she did an appropriate amount of prodding. “No break,” she concluded, as she had known she would. “Just your arthritis kicking up.” “So bad?” Gently, Deborah said, “You’ve gained more weight.” Darcy gave a dismissive headshake. “I’m holding steady.” Denial was right up there with scapegoating. Taking a direct approach, Deborah peered under the table. “Is that a bag of chips on the floor behind you?” “They’re low fat.” “They’re still chips,” Deborah said. “We’ve talked about this. You’re a beautiful woman who is carrying around fifty pounds too much weight.” “Not fifty. Maybe thirty.” Deborah didn’t argue. Darcy had been thirty pounds overweight when she had last been to the office, but that was two years ago. Seeing a specialist was a convenient excuse not to have to face one’s own doctor’s unforgiving scale. “Here’s the thing,” Deborah said, gentle again. “Arthritis is a real disease. We know you have it. The medication you take helps, but you have to do your part, too. Think of carrying a fifty-pound weight around in your arms all day. Think of the extra stress that puts on your ankles.” “I really don’t eat very much,” Darcy said with feeling. “Maybe not, but what you do eat is bad for you, and you don’t exercise.” “How can I exercise, if I can’t walk?” “Take some of the weight off, and you will be able to walk. Set yourself up in the den, Darcy. Working here in the kitchen is too convenient for snacking. Start slowly. Walk up and down stairs three times a day, or to the mailbox and back. I’m not asking you to run a marathon.” “You shouldn’t,” Darcy advised. “Fast is not always good. I heard about your accident.” Deborah was taken off guard. “My accident?” “Speed does it every time.” Deborah might have informed her that speed had not been involved, but it was the wrong direction to take. “We were talking about your weight, Darcy. You can blame arthritis, or your husband, or Dr. Habib, or me. But you’re the only one who can change your life.” “I can’t cure arthritis.” “No, but you can make it easier to live with. Have you given more thought to taking a job outside your home?” They had talked about that at length last time Deborah had visited. “If I do that, I’ll never finish my book.” “You could work part-time.” “Dean earns more than enough.” “I know that. But you need to be busier than you are, particularly when he’s gone.” “How can I work if I can’t walk?” Darcy asked, and Deborah grew impatient. Taking a pad from her bag, she wrote down a name and number. “This woman is a physical therapist. She’s the best. Give her a call.” She returned the pad to her bag. “Does she come to the house?” “I don’t think so. You may just have to go there,” Deborah said with a perverse satisfaction that had vanished by the time she left the house. Like so many of her patients, Darcy LeMay had issues that went beyond the physical. Loneliness was one; boredom, denial, and low self-esteem were others. On a normal day, Deborah might have spent more time addressing them. But there was nothing normal about today. She had barely returned to the office when the school nurse called to say that Grace had thrown up in the girls’ bathroom and needed to be picked up. How could Deborah refuse? She knew that Grace would have already taken the biology exam, and yes, she would miss the rest of the day’s classes, plus track, but if Deborah’s own stomach lurched at the thought of the accident, she could imagine how Grace felt. The girl’s face was pale, her forehead warm. Deborah was helping her off the cot in the nurse’s office when the woman said, “We heard about the accident. I’m sure the talk didn’t help Grace.” Deborah nodded, but didn’t want to discuss it in front of her daughter. Once in the car, Grace put her head back and closed her eyes. Deborah started driving. “Was the test bad?” “The test wasn’t the problem.” “How’d they find out about the accident?” “There was an announcement in homeroom.” “Saying that it was our car that hit him?” Grace said nothing, but Deborah could piece together the answer. The school wouldn’t have said it, but Mack Tully would have told Marty Stevens, who told his kids, who told the kids on their school bus, who told all the kids on the steps of the school. And that wasn’t counting the phone calls Shelley Wyeth would have made en route from the bakery to work. Even Darcy LeMay, who lived in another town, had heard about the accident. Gossip was that way, spreading with the frightening speed of a virulent flu. “Are they asking you questions?” “They don’t have to. I hear them anyway.” “It was an accident,” Deborah said, as much to herself as to Grace. The girl opened her eyes. “What if they take your license away?” “They won’t.” “What if they charge you with something?” “They won’t.” “Did they tell you that at the police station?” “I haven’t been yet. I’m going there after I drop you home.” Her daughter’s expression flickered. “And no, you can’t come.” Grace closed her eyes again. This time, Deborah let her be. The Leyland police department was housed next to Town Hall in a small brick structure that held three large offices and a single cell. There were twelve men on the force, eight of them full-time, which was all that the town of ten thousand needed. Domestic quarrels, drunk driving, the occasional petty theft—that was the extent of its crime. As she came in, Deborah was greeted warmly by people she had known most of her life. There were brief mentions of kids, aging parents, and a ballot initiative concerning the sale of wine in supermarkets, but there was also an averted look or two. John Colby led her to his office. Bright as he was, physically imposing as he could be, John was a shy man, more prone to seeking insight than to attacking investigations head-on. He was also modest, happier to be taping off an accident scene than to be hanging official commendations on his wall. Other than a large clock and some framed photographs of police outings, the office was unadorned. John closed the door, took some forms from the desk, and passed them to her. “It’s pretty straightforward,” he said. “Take it home, fill it out, return it when you’re done.” “I don’t have to do it here?” He waved his hand. “Nah. We know you won’t be skipping town.” “Not quite,” Deborah murmured, glancing through the form. There were three pages, all requiring details. Time and privacy would help. “Do you have the results of any of the tests yet?” “Only the ones on your car. It looks like everything was in good working order. No cause for negligence there.” So much for the local garage, but Deborah’s real concern was with the state’s report. “When will you hear about the rest?” “A week, maybe two if the lab is backed up. Some of the analysis involves mathematical calculations. They can be pretty complex.” “It was only an accident,” she said. He leaned against the desk. “This is just a formality. We’re mandated to investigate, so we investigate.” “I’ve dedicated my life to helping people, not hurting them. I feel responsible for Calvin McKenna.” That was the truth, though it did nothing to change John’s assumption that Deborah was driving—and even here, with a man she knew and trusted, she couldn’t mention Grace’s name. Instead, frustrated, she said, “What in the world was he doing out there?” “We haven’t been able to ask him that, yet,” John said. “But we will. In the meanwhile, you fill out that form. You have to file three copies.” “Three?” she asked in dismay. “One with us, one with your insurance company, one with the Registry of Motor Vehicles. It’s the law.” “Does this go on my driving record?” “RMV keeps your report on file.” “I’ve never had an accident before. You saw the damage to the car. It isn’t much. I doubt I’ll even exceed my deductible.” “You still have to file a copy with the insurance company. When personal injury is involved, you’re required to do it. If Cal McKenna isn’t insured, he may go after you for medical costs, and if he sues, your insurance company will have to pay.” Deborah had thought her father an alarmist when he mentioned a possible lawsuit. John Colby’s mentioning it was something else. “Do you really think he’ll sue?” she asked. “What with the rain? His lack of reflective gear? What kind of case could he have?” “That depends on what the reconstruction team finds,” the police chief said with a glance at the phone. “I’ll let you know when the report comes in.” His round face softened. “How’s your daughter handling things?” “Not well,” Deborah said, able to be honest about this at least. “I had to pick her up from school a little while ago. She’s traumatized, and the talk there doesn’t help.” “What are the other kids saying?” “I don’t know. She won’t tell me much.” “She’s at that age,” John said, head bowed. “It’s hard. They want responsibility until they have it. By the way,” he added, scratching his upper lip, then looking at her, “I should warn you. McKenna’s wife called me this morning. She could be a problem.” “What kind of problem?” “She’s pretty upset. She wants to make sure we’re not letting you off easy just because you’re so well regarded in town. She’s the reason you need to get your insurance company up to speed. She’s angry.” “So am I,” Deborah burst out. “He shouldn’t have been running in the dark. Did she say what he was doing?” “No. Apparently she wasn’t home when he left the house. But don’t worry. We’ll do our investigation, and no one’ll ever say we favored one side or the other.” He tapped the desk and stood. “If I keep you much longer, I’ll get flack from my men. You’re seeing Officer Bowdoin’s new baby this afternoon. He’s pretty excited about the kid.” Deborah managed a smile. “So am I. I love newborn visits.” “You’re good to do it.” “It’ll be the highlight of my day.” She rose with the accident report in hand. “When do you need this back?” She had five days from the time of the crash to file a report, but from the minute she left the police station, she wanted to get it done. She made copies and spent several hours that night filling it out. She went through several drafts before she felt she had it right. Then she copied the final result, one for the police, one for the Registry, one for her insurance company. She put the latter two in envelopes, addressed and stamped them, and tucked them in her bag, but out of sight wasn’t out of mind. Waking early the next morning, the report was the first thing she thought of. Dylan was the second. She had barely left her room, when she was drawn to his by the soft sound of his keyboard. He was playing “Blowin’ in the Wind” with such soulful simplicity that it brought a lump to her throat. It wasn’t the song that got to her but her son. His eyes were closed, glasses not yet on. He had been playing by ear since he was four, picking out tunes on the grand piano in the living room long before he’d had a formal lesson. Even now, when his teacher was trying to get him to read music, he was far more interested in the tunes his dad had liked. Deborah didn’t have to be a psychologist to know that Dylan loved music precisely because he could do it without using his eyes. He had been severely farsighted by the time he was three, and by seven had developed corneal dystrophy. Eyeglasses corrected the hyperopia, but the dystrophy meant that the vision in his right eye would be gauzy until the time when he was old enough for a corneal transplant. Going into his room, she gave him a good-morning hug. “Why so sad?” He took his hands from the keyboard and carefully fitted his glasses to his nose. “Missing Dad?” she asked. He nodded. “You’ll be seeing him the weekend after next.” “It’s not the same,” he said quietly. She knew that. One weekend a month didn’t make up for four weeks of no father. She and Greg had always known that they would have to work hard to juggle family time and their careers, but divorce hadn’t been in the mix. Sadly, she took a Red Sox T-shirt from the drawer, but Dylan’s voice rose in dismay. “Where’s my Dylan one?” “In the hamper. You wore it yesterday.” “I can wear it today, too.” “Honey, it has Lívia’s spaghetti sauce all over it.” “But it’s my good-luck shirt.” His father had given him the shirt for his last birthday, along with an iPod loaded with songs sung by his namesake, hence “Blowin’ in the Wind” moments before. Deborah understood that it was Greg’s attempt to involve his son in something he loved himself. But the shirt had to be washed. “What does Dad think of Lívia’s spaghetti sauce?” she asked. “He hates it.” Totally. “Think he’d like it on your shirt?” “No, but she’s washing it too much. It’s getting faded.” Deborah improvised. “Faded is good. Dad would agree with me on this,” she added to clinch it, sounding more sure than she was. Though not much taller than Deborah, Greg had cut an impressive figure with his thick sandy hair and designer clothes. But all that was gone. She didn’t know the man he was today—didn’t know what kind of man could leave his wife and children on a day’s notice. “Can I call him now?” Dylan asked. “Nuh-uh. Too early. You can call this afternoon.” She tussled the thick silk of his hair. “Put on the Red Sox shirt for now, and we’ll wash the other so it’ll bring you luck tomorrow.” His eyes were sad. “Is Dad ever coming to one of my games?” “He said he would.” “I know why he isn’t. He hates baseball. He never played it with me. I hate it, too. I can’t see the ball.” Deborah’s heart ached. “Even with the new glasses?” “Well, I guess. But anyway, I sit on the bench most of the time.” “Coach Duffy says you’ll play more next year. He’s counting on your being his right fielder once Rory Mayhan moves up a league. Honey? We need to get going or we’ll be late.” Deborah was in the shower when the phone rang. Grace came into the bathroom and held the cordless up so her mother could see it. “You need to take this,” she cried shrilly. Turning off the shower, Deborah grabbed the phone. It was the hospital calling to tell her that Cal McKenna had died. Chapter 4 Deborah felt her heart stop. When she could finally speak, her voice held panic. “Died? How?” “A cerebral hemorrhage,” the nurse reported. “But he had a brain scan when he was admitted. Why wasn’t it seen?” “He wasn’t hemorrhaging then. We’re guessing it started yesterday. By the time the vital signs tipped us off, it was too late.” Deborah didn’t understand what could have happened. She had checked the man herself on the road—no vital injuries, solid pulse. He had sailed through an initial surgery and regained consciousness. Dead didn’t make sense. Clutching the towel around her, she asked, “Are you sure it’s Calvin McKenna?” “Yes. They’ll be doing an autopsy later.” Deborah couldn’t wait. “Who was on duty when this happened?” “Drs. Reid and McCall.” “Can I talk with one of them?” “They’ll have to call you back. A multiple-car accident just came in. Can I give them the message?” “Yes. Please.” She thanked the woman and disconnected. Grace was in tears. “You said he wouldn’t die.” Bewildered, Deborah handed her the phone and, wanting to cry herself, said, “I don’t know what went wrong.” “You said his injuries weren’t life threatening.” “They weren’t. Grace, this is a mystery to me.” She was badly shaken, struggling to make sense of it. “He was in stable condition. They saw nothing on the tests. I have no idea how it happened.” “I don’t care how it happened,” the girl sobbed. “It was bad enough when I thought about seeing him in class, knowing I was the one who hit him, but now there won’t be any class. I killed him.” “You didn’t kill him. Killing implies intent. It was an accident.” “He’s still dead,” Grace wailed. Death was a sidebar to Deborah’s job. She saw it often— fought it often. Calvin McKenna’s death was different. She couldn’t think of a single useful thing to say. For her own comfort as much as her daughter’s, she simply wrapped her arms around Grace. Deborah didn’t have the heart to make Grace go to school. The girl argued—rightly—that word would spread, and it seemed unfair to subject her to all that attention until they knew more. But neither of the doctors on call phoned back, which meant that there was little she could say to make Grace feel better. There was no explanation for why the teacher had died— which was what she told Mara Walsh, the school psychologist, as soon as she came in. She and Mara often worked together with students struggling with anorexia or drug abuse, and, when a student had died of leukemia the year before, they jointly gathered a team of grief counselors. Mara was shocked by today’s news. She asked questions Deborah couldn’t answer and shed little light on Calvin McKenna, other than to say that he had a Ph.D. in history— a surprise to Deborah, since he neither used the title nor listed the degree on the school website. When Deborah hung up, she found Dylan listening. “Died?” he asked, his skin pale, eyes huge behind his glasses. Since his grandmother’s death three years before, he had known what death meant. Deborah nodded. “I’m waiting for a call from his doctor to explain why.” “Was he old?” “Not very.” “Older than Dad?” She knew where he was headed. The divorce, coming only a year after Ruth Barr’s death, had compounded his sense of loss. “No. Not older than Dad.” “But Dad’s older than you.” “Some.” “A lot,” the boy said, sounding nearly as upset as her parents when Deborah, at twenty-one, had married a man seventeen years her senior. But Deborah had never felt the difference in age. Greg had always been energetic and young. A free spirit through his teens and twenties, he hadn’t grown up until his thirties—this, by his own admission—which meant that he and Deborah felt much closer in age than they really were. “Dad is fifty-five,” she said now, “which is not old, and he isn’t dying. Mr. McKenna was hit by a car. If that hadn’t happened, he’d be alive.” “Are they gonna arrest you for killing him?” “Absolutely not. It was a terrible accident in the pouring rain.” “Like the night Nana Ruth died?” “Nana Ruth wasn’t in an accident, but yes, the weather was bad.” The rain had been driven by near-hurricane winds the night Ruth had died. Deborah would never forget the drive into town to be with her for those last hours. “Are they gonna bury him?” “I’m sure they will.” There would definitely be a funeral, plus headlines in the local paper. She could see it—a big front page piece, along with a description of the accident naming those in the car. “Will they bury him near Nana Ruth?” She pulled herself together. “That’s a good question. Mr. McKenna didn’t live here very long. He may be buried somewhere else.” “Why isn’t Grace dressed?” Grace was on a stool at the kitchen counter. Shoulders slouched, she wore the T-shirt and boxer shorts she had slept in. She was nibbling on her thumbnail. “Grace?” Deborah begged and, when the thumb fell away, said to Dylan, “She’s not going to school. She’s staying home while we try to learn something more.” Deborah tapped her laptop. Patients would be e-mailing. Taking care of their problems would ground her. “I want to stay here, too,” Dylan said. Deborah typed in her password. “There’s no need for that.” “But what if they arrest you?” “They won’t arrest me,” she scolded gently. “They could. Isn’t that what police do? What if I come home and find out you’re in jail? Who’ll take care of us then? Will Dad come back?” Deborah grasped his shoulders and bent down so that their eyes were level. “Sweetie, I am not going to jail. Our chief of police, no less, said that there was no cause for worry.” “That was before the guy died,” said the boy. “But the facts of the accident haven’t changed. No one is going to jail, Dylan. You have my word on that.” She had no sooner given her word, though, when she began to worry. She had to force herself to reply to her patients: No need to be anxious, Kim, your daughter hasn’t even been on antibiotics for a full day; Yes, Joseph, we’ll call in a refill for the inhaler; Thanks for the update, Mrs. Warren, I’m pleased you’re feeling better. The day before, when her father had suggested she call Hal Trutter, she resisted. Even now, she wasn’t sure if she needed legal advice, but she did need reassurance. “Karen,” she said when her friend answered the phone. “It’s me.” “Who’s me?” Karen replied in a hurt tone. “My friend Deborah, who didn’t bother to call yesterday, not even to say she wouldn’t be at the gym, and left me to hear about the accident from my daughter, who keeps trying to call Grace and can’t get through?” Deborah was instantly contrite. She couldn’t answer for Grace, who loved Danielle like a sister, but Karen was her best friend. She would have called sooner had it not been for Hal, which was another thing to fault him on. But she couldn’t tell her friend about that. “I’m sorry. I didn’t phone anyone, Karen. It was a bad day. We were pretty upset.” “Which was why you should have called. If I couldn’t make you feel better, Hal could have.” Deborah cleared her throat. “That’s why I’m calling now. Calvin McKenna just died.” Karen gasped. “Are you serious?” “Yes. I don’t know the details. But I thought I’d run it past Hal. Has he left?” “He’s on the other line. Hold on a sec, sweetie, and I’ll get him.” Hal sounded nearly as hurt as his wife. “You took your time calling, Deborah. Any reason for that?” Deborah might have said, Because for starters, you’re apt to take it the wrong way, but Grace had followed her into the den, and Deborah had no way of knowing if Karen was still on the line. So she said, “It was an accident. All I need is information. I don’t think I need a lawyer.” “You need me,” he drawled, likely winking at his wife. Sadly, he meant what he said. He had loved Deborah for years, or so he professed shortly after Greg left, and no matter that she cut him off with, No way. I don’t love you, and your wife is one of my closest friends, he hadn’t taken back the words. School meetings, sports events, birthday parties—he took every opportunity to remind her. He never touched her. But his eyes said he would in a heartbeat. It had put her in an untenable position. She and Karen had shared pregnancies, kid problems, Karen’s breast cancer, and Deborah’s divorce. Now Deborah knew something about Hal that Karen didn’t. Keeping the secret was nearly as painful as the thought of what might happen if she divulged it. Hal had made her his partner in crime. She hated him for that. “I don’t think there’s any problem,” she told him now, “but I want to be sure. I went down to the station yesterday.” “I know. I talked with John. He doesn’t see any cause for concern.” Deborah might have been irked that he had taken it upon himself to talk to the police, but she knew her father was right; Hal was the best defense lawyer around. And Hal regularly played poker with Colby, so his assurance carried more weight. Of course, things had changed since yesterday. “Calvin McKenna just died,” Deborah said, “and don’t ask how, because I’m waiting to learn myself. Do you think this alters the picture?” There was a pause—to his credit, the lawyer at work— then a prudent, “That depends. Is there anything you were doing at the time of the crash to suggest you were at fault?” There it was, a golden opportunity to set the record straight about who was driving. She knew it was wrong to lie. But the accident report was filled out, and the fact of a fatality made it even more important to protect Grace. Besides, Deborah had repeated the line often enough that it rolled off her tongue. “My car was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. If they weren’t going to charge me with operating to endanger before, will a death change that?” “It depends on what the reconstruction team finds,” Hal replied, less comforting than she had hoped. “It also depends on the D.A.” “What D.A.?” Deborah asked nervously. “Our D.A. A death might bring him into the picture.” She had called for reassurance. “What does ‘might’ mean?” “You’re starting to panic. Do not do that, sweetheart. I can get you out of whatever it is.” “But what is it?” she asked, needing to know the worst. “When a death is involved,” he said in a measured tone, “every side is examined. An accidental death can be termed vehicular homicide or even negligent homicide. It depends on what the state team finds.” Deborah took a shaky breath. “They won’t find much,” she managed to say. Of course, she hadn’t imagined Calvin McKenna would die. “Then you’ll be clear on the criminal side,” Hal added, “but a plaintiff doesn’t need much to file a civil suit. The standard of proof is looser. John tells me he got a call from the wife. He says she’s looking for someone to blame. And that was before her husband died.” “We weren’t even going thirty in a forty-five-mile-per-hour zone.” “You could have been going twenty, and if she hires a hotshot lawyer who convinces the jury that you should’ve been going fifteen in that storm, she could recover something. But hey,” Deborah heard a smile, “you’ll have a hotshot lawyer on your own side. I’m giving John a call. I want to know what tests were done to register the guy’s blood alcohol or the presence of drugs. John said you took the crash report home with you. Did you fill it out?” “Last night.” “I’d like to see it before you file. One wrong word could suggest culpability. Are you going to be home for a little while?” “Actually, no.” She was grateful for a legitimate excuse to see him away from the house. “I have to take Dylan to school and, since the police are done examining my car, I want to drop it at the body shop. Can you meet me at Jill’s in, say, twenty minutes?” Jill Barr’s bakery, Sugar-On-Main, was a cheery storefront in the center of town. After leaving her car at the garage for repair, Deborah approached it on foot, her medical bag slung over her shoulder. Keeping her eyes on the sidewalk with its faux brickwork, she tried not to think of Cal McKenna’s wife. She tried not to think of vehicular homicide. She tried not to think that people seeing her walking along Main Street might view her now in a different light. The sweet scent of the bakery reached her seconds before she came to the small iron tables outside. Three of the four were taken. She nodded at several of the regulars as the familiar aroma took the edge off her fear. The inside of the bakery was gold, orange, and red— walls, café tables, easy chairs, love seats. Deborah had a favorite grouping among the upholstered pieces, which was where she would have normally headed. But people often approached her there. She even got the occasional medical question—Does this look like poison ivy? It was the downside of having a local practice. Usually she didn’t mind, but today she didn’t want an audience. Half a dozen customers waited in line; another dozen were seated around the shop. Head down lest one of them catch her eye, she continued on through the swinging kitchen door and went straight to Jill’s office. She had barely settled into the desk chair when her sister arrived with a tray. It held three coffees and three SoMa Stickies. “I take it I’m joining you?” Jill asked. “Definitely.” Taking a mug, Deborah studied her. Pregnant? With her short blonde hair and freckles, and her cropped orange T-shirt and slim jeans, Jill looked like a child herself. “I can’t picture it,” Deborah said, oddly bewildered. “Are you feeling okay?” “Perfect.” “Are you excited?” “Beyond my wildest dreams.” Deborah reached for her hand. “You’ll be an incredible mom.” “Then you’re not upset with me?” “Of course I’m upset. It won’t be easy being up at night with a crying baby and no one to spell you. You’ll be exhausted, and it’s not like you can call in sick.” Jill pulled her hand free. “Why not? Look out there.” Deborah didn’t have to look. She was at the bakery often enough to know that there were three people at work behind the front counter, rotating deftly between coffee machines and pastry bins as customers ordered from tall chalkboards that listed additional specialties like SoMa Shots, Smoothies, and Shakes. Two bakers would be in the kitchen until mid-afternoon, producing fresh-from-the-oven batches of everything from muffins to croissants to sticky buns. And then there was Pete, who came to help Jill with lunch. Deborah got the message. Still her sister said, “I have a great staff that I’ve hand-picked and carefully trained. Who do you think was minding the shop when I was going back and forth to the doctor? I do have a life, Deborah. It’s not all work.” “I didn’t say it was.” “And I love what I do. I was back there kneading dough a little while ago. SoMa Stickies are my recipe. And SoMa Slaw? If you think I don’t get joy making Mom’s recipe every day, think again. Honestly, you sound like Dad some-times. He thinks it’s all drudgery and that I’m alone here. He doesn’t know Skye and Tomas, who get here at three in the morning to bake, or Alice, who takes over at seven. He doesn’t know I have Mia, Keeshan, and Pat. He doesn’t know about Donna and Pete.” “He knows, Jill,” Deborah said. “People tell him.” “And he can’t say the bakery’s a success? I did good at piano lessons when I was eight, so he decided I should be a concert pianist. I won a prize at the science fair when I was twelve, so he decided I should be a Nobel winner. Being me wasn’t good enough—he always expected something more.” She flattened a hand on her chest. “I want this baby. It’s going to make me happy. Shouldn’t that make Dad happy?” They weren’t talking about childbearing, but about the larger issue of parental expectations. Jill might be thirty-four, but she was still Michael Barr’s child. “Tell him you’re pregnant,” Deborah urged, perhaps selfishly, but she hated having to keep this secret too. “I will.” “Now. Tell him now.” By way of response, Jill asked, “Did you know Cal McKenna taught several AP sections?” Deborah stared at her sister long enough to see that Jill wasn’t giving in. With a sigh, she took a drink of coffee. “Yes. I did know that.” So did Jill, since Grace had him for AP American History. “Some of his students were in here yesterday afternoon. There was talk.” Picking a pecan from the top of her bun, Deborah brought it to her mouth, then put it back down. “And that was before he died. I let Grace stay home today. Was I right to do that?” “Dad would say no.” “I’m not asking Dad. I’m asking you.” Jill didn’t hesitate. “Yes, you were right. The accident itself was bad enough, but now it has to be even harder for Grace, who knew the man. Any word on why he died?” “Not yet.” Deborah opened her mouth, about to blurt out the truth. She was desperate to share the burden of it, and if there was anyone in her life she could trust, it was Jill. But before she could speak, Hal Trutter appeared. There was nothing subtle about Hal. Wearing a natty navy suit and red tie, he had LAWYER written all over him. Realizing that, Deborah guessed every one of the people out front knew why he was here. He took a coffee from the tray on the desk and looked at Jill. “Witness or chaperone?” Jill didn’t like Hal. She had told Deborah that more than once, without even knowing he had come on to her sister. It might have simply been her distrust of arrogant men. But in answer to his question, Jill folded her arms across her chest and smiled. “Both.” Feeling marginally protected, Deborah pulled the accident report from her bag. Hal unfolded it and began to read. Deborah was comfortable with the first page, a straightforward listing of the spot where the accident occurred, her name, address, license number, car model, and registration number. She grew more nervous when he turned to the second page, where there was a line labeled “Driver.” Fighting guilt, she kept her eyes steady on Hal. He ate some of the sticky bun and read on. Jill asked, “You’re not gooeying up that form, are you?” Just then, Deborah’s cell phone chimed. Pulling it from her pocket, she read the message, swore softly, and rose. “Be right back,” she said and headed through the kitchen. “Yes, Greg.” “I just got a message from Dylan. What’s happening down there?” Deborah wasn’t surprised Dylan had called his father. She wished he had waited, but Cal McKenna would still be dead. Greg would have to know sooner or later. Finding a spot in the shadow of a dumpster outside the back door, she told him about the accident. The questions that followed were predictable. Greg might have moved to Vermont to rediscover his inner artist, but to Deborah, he was still the CEO who had inadvertently micromanaged his business to success. To his credit, the first questions were about Grace and whether either of them had been hurt in any way. Then came, What time did you leave the house, what time did you get Grace, what time was the accident? Exactly where on the rim road did it happen, how far was the victim thrown, how long did it take for the ambulance to arrive? What hospital was he at, who’s his primary doctor, was a specialist brought in? “No specialist,” Deborah said. “He was doing fine. No one expected that he’d die.” There was a brief pause, then, “Why did I have to hear this from my ten-year-old son? You were involved in a fatal accident, and you didn’t think it important enough to keep me in the loop?” “We’re divorced, Greg,” she reminded him sadly. He sounded genuinely wounded, so much like the caring man she had married that she felt a wave of nostalgia. “You said you had burned out on your life here. I was trying to spare you. Besides, there was nothing fatal about it until early this morning, and I’ve been slightly preoccupied since then.” He relented a bit. “Is Grace upset?” “Very. She was in a car that hit a man.” “She should have called me. We could have talked.” “Oh, Greg,” Deborah said with a tired sigh. “You and Grace haven’t talked—really talked—since you left.” “Maybe it’s time we did.” She didn’t know whether he meant talking on the phone or in person, but she couldn’t imagine proposing either to Grace right now. The girl saw her father every few months, and then only at Deborah’s insistence. “Now’s not good,” she said. “Grace is dealing with enough, without that.” “How long is she going to stay angry with me?” “I don’t know. I try to talk her through it, but she still feels abandoned.” “Because you do, Deborah. Are you imposing your own feelings on her?” “Oh, I don’t need to do that,” Deborah said with quick anger. “She feels abandoned enough all on her own. You’re her father, and you haven’t been here for the last two years of her life. Literally. You haven’t been down once, not once. You want the kids to go up there to visit, and that might be fine for Dylan, but Grace has a life here. She has homework, she has track, she has friends.” Deborah glanced at her watch. “I can’t do this right now, Greg. I was in the middle of something when you called, and I have to get to work.” “That’s what did it, y’know.” “Did what?” “Destroyed our marriage. You always had to work.” “Excuse me,” Deborah cried. “Is this the man who put in sixteen-hour days right up until the moment he dumped it all? For the record, Greg, I do go to Grace’s track meets and Dylan’s baseball games. I do go to piano recitals and school plays. You’re the one who could never make time for us.” Quietly, Greg said, “I asked you to move up here with me.” Deborah wanted to cry. “How could I do that, Greg? My practice is here. My father depends on me. Grace is in high school—and we have one of the best school systems in the state, you said that yourself.” She straightened her shoulders. “And if I had moved north with you, would it have been a threesome—you, Rebecca, and me? Oh, Greg, you made me an offer I couldn’t accept. So if you want to discuss what killed our marriage, we could start with that, but not today, not now. I have to go.” Amazed at how close to the surface the hurt remained, Deborah ended the call before he could say anything else. Looking out over the yellow van with her sister’s logo on the side—a stylized cupcake, frosted into peaks spelling Sugar-on-Main—she took several calming breaths. When she was marginally composed, she went back inside. Hal had finished reading the report. He was standing with his hands on his hips. Jill hadn’t moved. “Is it okay?” Deborah asked uneasily. “It’s fine.” He extended the papers. “If what you say here is exact, there’s good reason for us to know what the guy was doing out there in the rain and whether he was hopped up on booze or drugs. Anyone in his right mind would have moved to the side of the road when a car came along. So the big question mark is him, not you. I don’t see anything here that would raise a red flag on your end.” Feeling little relief, Deborah refolded the papers. “I’m sending copies to the Registry and to my insurance company. Are you okay with that, too?” “You have to do it. Just don’t talk with John again without me there, okay?” “Why not?” “Because the victim died. Because I’m your lawyer. Because I know John; John knows how to build a hand and hold it close. And, Deborah, don’t talk to the media. The Ledger’s bound to call.” Of course they would, now that a death was involved. Deborah grew fearful. “What do I say?” “That your lawyer advised you not to talk.” “But then they’ll think I’m hiding something.” “Okay. Tell them you’re stunned by Calvin McKenna’s death and have no further comment at this time.” Deborah was more comfortable with that. Nervously, she asked, “You don’t see a problem, do you?” “Well, you killed a man with your car. Was it intentional? No. Did it result from reckless driving? No. Was there negligence involved regarding the condition of your car? No. If the reconstruction team supports all of the above, you’ll be clear on the criminal side. Then we’ll just have to wait to see what the wife does.” Deborah nodded slowly. It wasn’t quite the rosy, all-is-well picture she wanted, but a man was dead. There was nothing remotely rosy about that. Chapter 5 Deborah was late reaching her father’s house. Hearing the shower, she put the coffee on and readied his bagel. When the water continued to run, she considered dashing over to the office to get ahead on paperwork, but the living room was too strong a lure. A wingback chair stood in its far corner, upholstered in a faded rose brocade. Sinking into it, she folded her legs under her as she had done dozens of times growing up. Wingback chairs had been originally designed to protect their occupants either from drafts or the heat of a fire. Deborah had needed protection of another kind. She had used the chair to help her deal with her parents’ expectations, and it had delivered for her more times than she could count. Her parents had assumed she was strong, assumed she could take care of herself in ways that her younger sister could not. But even if she looked the part, she was often scared to death. Sitting in this chair was akin to wearing blinders. It allowed her to focus on one thing at a time. One thing she could do. If she was dealing with Calvin McKenna’s death, she couldn’t dwell on Jill’s pregnancy, Greg’s accusations, or Hal’s betrayal of her best friend. Pushing the last three from her mind, she relived the accident for the umpteenth time, trying desperately to see something she might have done differently. She replayed her talks with the police and, later, with Grace, but here there was no going back. Grace was her daughter, and she deserved protection. That’s what parents did, particularly ones who had made their kids suffer through a divorce. Upstairs, the shower went off. Getting up from the chair, she started back to the kitchen, caught herself, and returned to the den for a highball glass and an empty whiskey bottle. She put the glass in the dishwasher, the bottle in the trash, and unfolded the newspaper. Calvin McKenna’s death wouldn’t have made the morning edition. Tomorrow’s perhaps. But the local weekly would hit stands tomorrow, too. Deborah dreaded that. More, though, she dreaded telling her father that the man had died. As it happened, he already knew. There was an impatience in his stride as he went straight to the coffeemaker. His white hair was neatly combed, his cheeks pale. The disappointment on his face made him look older. “Malcolm called,” he explained, filling his mug. Malcolm Hart was chief of surgery and a longtime friend of Michael’s. “Looks like we have a problem.” “Does Malcolm know anything more?” Deborah asked. “About why the man died?” Her father drank from his mug. “No. The widow is fighting the autopsy. She doesn’t want her husband’s body desecrated. In the end, of course, she won’t have a say. Autopsy is the law after a violent death. She’ll just slow things down.” “Doesn’t she want to know why he died?” He shrugged, swallowed more coffee. “But if she’s thinking of suing, she’ll need to know the exact cause of death,” Deborah reasoned, “unless there’s some reason she doesn’t want to know. Or doesn’t want us to know.” “Like what?” Michael said, and in that instant, Deborah was grateful for Hal. “Like alcohol or drugs. We’re insisting that they check for both.” Her father seemed unimpressed. “If I were you,” he said, eyeing her over his mug, “I’d worry about insurance. Do you have enough personal coverage in the event that she sues?” “Yes.” Insurance was one of the things that Greg, the businessman, had bought to the hilt. Michael sighed and shook his head. Deborah knew he was thinking that this would be a very public stain on the family’s reputation. Not wanting to hear the words, she said, “This is one of those instances when I’d do anything to turn back the clock.” “And do what?” he asked kindly enough, lowering his cup. “What would you do differently?” She should never have let Grace take the wheel in weather like that. Should never have let Grace drive. But to tell her father that, without telling the police, would be making him an accomplice, as unfair as what Hal had done to her. So she simply said, “Go even slower. Maybe wear my glasses.” He seemed startled. “You weren’t wearing them?” “I don’t have to. There’s no restriction on my license.” Her glasses were weak. Occasionally she wore them watching a movie, but that was all. “Shouldn’t you have taken every possible precaution on a night like that?” “In hindsight, yes.” “Your mother would have worn her glasses.” It was a low blow. “Did she ever have an accident?” “No.” But Deborah knew differently. Feeling no satisfaction, simply a thread of anger, she said, “Take a look at her personal checkbook for the year I got married. You’ll see a check she wrote for several thousand dollars, paid to Russo’s garage. While she was driving down West Elm, she was looking for something on the passenger’s seat and sideswiped a parked car.” Her father made a face. “That’s ridiculous. I would have known.” “Her car needed a tune-up. It had to be in the shop anyway. Ask Donny Russo.” “Your mother would never have lied to me.” “She didn’t lie. She just didn’t tell the whole truth.” “Why would she do that?” Deborah sighed. Gently, she said, “Because you want perfection, and we can’t always deliver. Is Mom less lovable because she sideswiped a car? Am I less lovable because my car hit a man? I was upset when we hit Calvin McKenna, and I’m crushed that he died. But it was an accident,” she was suddenly close to tears, “—an innocent accident, but I seem to be the only one saying that. I’m saying it to my daughter, to my son, to Hal, to the police, to my ex-husband, to you. It would be really nice if someone said it to me— because, here’s a flash, Dad, I’m not made of steel. And I’m not without feelings. Right now, I need support.” Deborah hadn’t planned the outburst. But she didn’t apologize. Michael eyed her strangely. “Did you tell me that about your mother so that I wouldn’t be angry about you?” “It’s not about anger. It’s about understanding.” “Then understand this,” he said and set down his mug. “I loved your mother. I was married to her for forty years, and during that time I never once had cause to doubt her. It sounds to me like you’re trying to find fault with her and with me to get yourself off the hook. You killed a man, Deborah. It might be best if you accept that fact.” Deborah was startled by the attack and too long formulating her response. What she might have asked, had her father not left, was why he had endless compassion for his patients and none for her. The answer, of course, was that she was family, and that, for family, the expectations were different. For patients, the expectations were always the same. Family doctors didn’t get sick, didn’t take long vacations, didn’t take Wednesday afternoons off to play golf or, in Deborah’s instance, to sit with Grace. Between ten in-office patients and four house calls, Deborah’s Wednesday was nonstop. Her very last patient, waiting for her when she returned to the office, was Karen Trutter. “If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad …” her friend said with a small smile. She wore gym clothes stylish enough to blend with the diamond studs that were a gift from her husband and that she never removed. Deborah closed the door, and, looking at Karen, was warmed by the history of caring that had been given and taken for eighteen years. “I’m sorry,” she finally said, crossing the small space to give her friend a squeeze. “You deserve better.” “You’re busy.” Deborah pulled up a chair and sat. “What I am, is running to get as much done as possible before the you-know-what hits the fan.” “It was an accident.” “Thank you. But still …” Deborah knew that even aside from whose responsibility the driving had been, there was the issue of deception. The fact that Karen knew nothing of it made it even worse. “Danielle says Grace wasn’t in school.” “How could I send her?” Deborah asked. “She’s distraught.” “Maybe she needs counseling.” “No. Just time. This is all so fresh. Have you heard about any funeral plans?” “Friday afternoon. Here in town.” “Here?” Deborah was disappointed. She was hoping the funeral would be far away. “I’m surprised. He hasn’t lived here very long.” “They’re suspending classes so students who want to can attend. And there’ll be a memorial service at the school Friday night. Was Hal a help this morning?” “As much as he could be. There are so many unknowns. My stomach churns when I think about it.” “John Colby won’t charge you with anything,” Karen said. “He knows what you mean to this town.” “That could backfire,” Deborah remarked. “He’s already been warned about a whitewash. Precisely because of who I am, he could go after me harder.” “For what?” But Deborah didn’t want to list the possible charges again. “I’ll let Hal tell you. He was very good to meet with me.” “Why wouldn’t he? He loves you.” For the second time that day with someone named Trutter, Deborah felt like a fraud. Karen frowned, seeming ready to say something more— and, for an instant, Deborah feared Hal had confessed his feelings to his wife. Then Karen closed her mouth, cleared her throat, and said weakly, “I’m actually here on business. My elbow’s been killing me for two weeks. You said I should tell you if something lasts that long.” “ ‘Killing you’?” Deborah asked, quickly concerned. “Which elbow?” When she bobbed the right one, Deborah took it in her hand and began to press. “Hurt?” “No.” “This?” “No.” She prodded enough, without distress to her friend, to rule out a broken bone. Cradling the elbow, she took Karen’s wrist and moved it through a normal range of motion. This did elicit a cry. When Deborah repeated the offending movement, Karen protested again. Deborah probed the elbow again, this time focusing on the lateral tendon. “There,” Karen said and sucked in a breath. Deborah sat back. “How often have you played tennis this week?” “Every day, but—” “And not just for fun. Karen, you have tennis elbow.” “Women on my team don’t get tennis elbow.” Deborah chuckled with relief. “You have tennis elbow.” Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/barbara-delinsky/the-secret-between-us/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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