In the back of the police car, Chris shivered. They had the heat turned up full blast but he had to sit sideways so that his handcuffs didn't cut into his back and no matter what he did to get his bearings, he found himself shaking. "You all right back there?" the officer who wasn't driving asked, and Chris said yes, his voice cracking like a melon on that single syllable.
He was not all right. He was not even marginally okay. He had never been so scared in his life.
The car was redolent with the scent of coffee. The radio chattered in a dialect Chris did not understand, and for a moment that made perfect sense-if his whole world went to pieces, didn't it stand to reason that he'd no longer be able to speak the language? He bounced a little on the seat, concentrating on not peeing his pants. This was a mistake. His father and that lawyer would meet him wherever they were taking him, and Jordan McAfee would do a Perry Mason speech and everyone would realize they'd made a mistake. Tomorrow he would wake up and laugh this off.
Suddenly the car lurched to the left and he saw light flash by the window. He'd completely lost track of time and direction, but he figured they were at the Bainbridge police station. "Let's go," the taller policeman said, opening one of the rear doors. Chris scooted to the edge of the seat, trying to keep his balance with his hands all houdinied behind his back. With one foot on an embankment, Chris levered himself from the cruiser and landed flat on his face.
The policeman hauled him up by his handcuffs and unceremoniously dragged him toward the station. He was carted in a back door he'd never noticed. The officer locked his gun in a box and radioed on an intercom, then a connecting door buzzed open. Chris found himself at the booking desk, where a sleepy-eyed sergeant sat. He was allowed to sit while they asked him questions about his name and age and address that he answered as politely as possible, just in case he got brownie points for good behavior.
Then the policeman who'd taken him in stood him against a wall and had him hold a card up, just like in TV movies, with a number on it and the date. He turned right and left while a camera flashed.
On command, Chris emptied his pockets and held out his hands for fingerprinting-twenty-one separate prints; a set for the local police, the state police, and the FBI. Then the officer cleaned his hands with a diaper wipe, took his shoes, his coat, his belt, and called on the intercom to have cell three opened. "Sheriff's on his way," he told Chris.
"The sheriff?" Chris asked, shuddering all over again. "How come?"
"You can't stay here overnight," the policeman explained. "He'll transport you to the Grafton County jail."
"Jail?" Chris whispered. He was going to jail? Just like that?
He stopped walking, effectively halting the cop who was beside him. "I can't go anywhere," he said. "My lawyer's coming here."
The policeman laughed. "Really," he said, and tugged him forward again.
The holding cell was six feet by five feet, in the basement of the police station. Chris had actually seen it before, when he was in Cub Scouts and they'd taken a field trip to the Bainbridge public safety building. It had a stainless steel sink and toilet combination, and a bunk. Its door was made of actual bars, and there was a video camera trained on the inside. The policeman checked beneath the mattress-for bugs? weapons?-then unlocked the handcuffs and ducked Chris inside.
"You hungry?" he asked. "Thirsty?"
Shocked that the policeman would care about his creature comforts, Chris blinked up at him. He was not hungry, but sick to his stomach from everything else. He shook his head, trying to block out the sound of the cell clanking shut. He waited for the policeman to move down the hall, then stood up and urinated. He wanted to tell the policeman who had booked him, and the one who'd led him to this cell, that he had not murdered Emily Gold. But his father had told him to keep quiet, and the warning cut through even the thick swath of fear that blanketed Chris.
He thought about the birthday cake his mother had made; the candles burning down to the frosting, the untouched half that was still on his plate, with its strawberry filling as bright as a line of blood.
He ran his fingers along the pitted cinderblock, and he waited.
To JORDAN McAfee, there was nothing better than sliding one's way down the terrain of a woman.
He rustled beneath the covers of his own bed, his lips and his hands measuring their way, as if he were going to map this information. "Oh, yes," she murmured, fisting her hands in his thick, black hair. "Oh, God."
Her voice was getting loud. Uncomfortably loud. He smoothed his hand over her belly. "Quiet," he murmured against her thigh. "Remember?"
"How," she said, "... could I... ever. . . forget!"
She grabbed his head and held it against her at the same moment he reared back to clap a hand over her mouth. Thinking it was a game, she bit him.
"Shit," he said, rolling off her. He slanted a glance at the woman, lush and cross. Jordan shook his head, not even aroused anymore. He was usually better at judging these things. He rubbed his sore palm, thinking that he'd never go out with a friend of his paralegal's again, and that if he did, he sure as hell wouldn't drink enough at dinner to invite her home. "Look," he said, trying to smile amiably. "I told you why-"
The woman-Sandra, that was it-rolled on top of him, fusing her mouth to his. She pulled back and traced her lower lip with her finger. "I like a guy who tastes like me," she said.
Jordan felt his erection swell again. Maybe he wouldn't end the evening just yet.
The telephone rang, and Sandra batted it off the nightstand. As Jordan cursed and went to grab for the receiver, she wrapped her hand around his wrist. "Leave it," she whispered.
"I can't," Jordan said, rolling away from her to fumble along the floor. "McAfee," he said into the phone. He listened quietly, coming alert instantly, his body performing by rote to pull a pen and pad from the night-stand and write down what the caller had said. "Don't worry," he said calmly. "We'll take care of this. Yes. I'll meet you there."
He hung up the phone and came to his feet with leonine grace, smoothly stepping into the trousers that had been discarded near the bathroom door. "I'm sorry to do this," Jordan said, zipping the fly, "but I've got to go."
Sandra's mouth dropped open. "Just like that?"
Jordan shrugged. "It's a job, but someone's got to do it," he said.
He glanced at the reclining woman in his bed. "You, uh, don't have to wait for me," he added.
"What if I want to?" Sandra asked.
Jordan turned his back on her. "It could be a long time," he said. He stuffed his hands into his pockets, offering her a last look. "I'll call you," he said.
"You won't," Sandra cheerfully disagreed. Swinging her naked body off the bed, she disappeared into the bathroom and locked the door.
Jordan shook his head and walked quietly into the kitchen. He fumbled around, looking for something to write on. Suddenly, the room flooded with light, and Jordan found himself staring at his thirteen-year-old son. "What are you doing up?"
Thomas shrugged. "Listening to things I shouldn't be," he said.
Jordan scowled at him. "You ought to be fast asleep. It's a school night."
"It's only eight-thirty," Thomas protested. Jordan's brows shot up. Was it really? How much had he had to drink at dinner? "So," Thomas said, grinning. "Did you come up for air?"
Jordan smirked. "I liked it better when you were little."
"Back then I used to pee on the bathroom wall if I wasn't careful. I think this age is a hell of a lot better."
Jordan wasn't so sure. He'd been raising his son alone since Thomas was four, when Deborah had decided that motherhood and marriage to a career-driven lawyer did not suit her. She had walked into his office with their son, divorce papers, and a one-way ticket to Naples. The last Jordan had heard, she was living with a painter twice her age on the Left Bank in Paris.
Thomas watched his father swill straight from the carafe of day-old, cold coffee. "That's gross," he said. "Although maybe not quite as gross as bringing home a-"
"Enough," Jordan said. "I shouldn't have. Okay? You're right, and I'm wrong."
Thomas smiled radiantly. "Yeah? Can we get this historic moment on video?"
Jordan set the carafe back in the Mr. Coffee machine and tightened the noose of his tie. "That was a client on the phone. I've got to go." He whirled into his jacket, still draped over an chair, and turned back to his son. "Don't call the beeper number if you need me. Apparently it's on the blitz. Ring the office; I'll check my voice mail."
"I won't need you," Thomas said. He gestured toward his father's bedroom. "Maybe I should go say hi."
"Maybe you should get your butt back into your own room," Jordan said, smiling at Thomas, and then he whisked out the door with the feel of his son's admiration lightly riding on his shoulders.
Gus LEANED INTO the rear of the car, buttoning Kate's jacket up to the throat. "You're warm enough?" she asked.
Kate nodded, still too shocked by the thought of her brother being dragged off by the police to function fully. She would wait in the car while Gus and James and the lawyer sorted out this mess-not the best solution, but the only available one. At twelve, Kate was too young to be left alone at night, and who was Gus supposed to call? Her parents lived in Florida, James's would have had heart failure even hearing about this scandal. Me-lanie-the only close friend Gus would have felt comfortable phoning as a last-minute baby-sitter-thought that Chris had killed her child.
But as much as Gus wished she could have spared her daughter all this, there was a niggling voice in her head that urged her to have Kate as close as possible. You have one child left, it said. Keep her in sight.
Gus reached across the foot of space between them and smoothed Kate's hair. "We'll be back in a little while," she said. "Lock the doors when I leave."
"I know," Kate said.
"And be good."
like Chris wasn't. The thought leapt between Gus and Kate, a hideous, traitorous current, and they broke apart before either of them could say it aloud, or admit that they'd even thought it.
Gus and James Harte hovered in the small cone of light produced by the outside lamp at the police station, as if crossing the threshold without a legal knight in tow was unthinkable and surely risky. Jordan raised a hand in greeting as he crossed the street, reminded of that old adage about people who live together for a long time coming to look like each other. The Hartes' features were not so similar, but the singular, burning purpose in their eyes twinned them in an instant.
"James," Jordan said, shaking the doctor's hand. "Gus." He glanced toward the door of the station. "Have you been inside?"
"No," Gus said. "We were waiting for you." Jordan thought about hustling them into the lobby, but then decided against it. The conversation they were going to have was better done in privacy, and as a former prosecutor he knew that the walls of cop shops had ears. He pulled his coat a little closer and asked the Hartes to tell them what had happened.
Gus recounted the arrest during dinner. Through the recitation, James stood off to one side, as if he'd come to admire the architecture rather than protect his son. Jordan listened to Gus, but watched her husband thoughtfully. "So," Gus finished, rubbing her hands together for warmth. "You can talk to someone and get him out, right?"
"Actually, I can't. Chris has to be held overnight until his arraignment, which will most likely be in the morning at the Grafton County Courthouse."
"He has to stay in a cell here overnight?"
"Well, no," Jordan said. "The Bainbridge police aren't equipped to keep him in their holding cell. He'll be moved to the Grafton County jail."
James turned away. "What can we do?" Gus whispered.
"Very little," Jordan admitted. "I'm going to go in and speak to Chris now. I'll be there first thing in the morning when he's called in for the arraignment."
"And what happens there?"
"Basically, the attorney general will enter the charge against Chris. We'll enter a plea of not guilty. I'll try to get him released on bail, but that may be difficult, given the fact that he's up against a very serious charge."
"You're saying," Gus replied, her voice shaking with rage, "that my son, who did nothing wrong, has to sit overnight in jail, probably even longer than that, and there's nothing you can do to stop this from happening?"
"Your son may have done nothing wrong," Jordan said gently, "but the police didn't buy his story about the suicide pact."
James cleared his throat, breaking his silence. "Do youl" he asked.
Jordan looked at Chris's parents-his mother on the verge of puddling to the sidewalk; his father distinctly embarrassed and uncomfortable-and decided to tell them the truth. "It sounds .. . convenient," he said.
As Jordan had expected, James looked away and Gus flew off into a rage. "Well," she huffed. "If your heart's not in it, we'll just find someone else."
"It's not my job to believe your son," Jordan said. "It's my job to get him off." He looked directly into Gus's eyes. "I can do that," he said softly.
She stared at him for a long moment, long enough for Jordan to feel like she was picking through his mind, sifting the wheat from the chaff. "I want to see Chris now," she said.
"You can't. Only during shift changes-that's several hours away. I'll tell him whatever you want." Jordan held the door of the station open for her, the perfume of her indignation following in her wake. He was about to move inside himself when James Harte stopped him. "Can I ask you some-
thing?" Jordan nodded. "In confidence?" Jordan nodded again, a bit more slowly.
"The thing is," James said carefully, "it was my gun." He took a deep breath. "I'm not saying what did or didn't happen. I'm just saying that the police know the Colt came out of my gun cabinet." Jordan's brows drew together. "So," James said, "does that make me an accessory?"
"To murder?" Jordan asked. He shook his head. "You didn't deliberately put that gun there with the intention that Chris use it to shoot someone."
James exhaled slowly. "I'm not saying Chris did use it to shoot someone," he clarified.
"Yes," Jordan said. "I know." And he followed the man into the Bain-bridge police station.
When he heard footsteps, Chris came to his feet and pressed his face to the small plastic window of the cell. "Lawyer's here," the policeman said, and suddenly Jordan McAfee was standing on the other side of the bars.
He sat down on a chair the officer brought and took a legal pad out of his briefcase. "Have you said anything?" Jordan asked abruptly.
"About what?" Chris answered.
"Anything to the cops, to the desk sergeant. Anything at all."
Chris shook his head. "Just that you were coming," he said.
Jordan visibly relaxed. "All right. That's good," he said. He followed Chris's glance toward the video camera trained on the cell. "They won't tape this," he said. "They won't listen to the monitor. That's basic prisoner rights."
"Prisoner," Chris repeated. He tried to sound like he didn't care, like he wasn't whining, but his voice was trembling. "Can I go home yet?"
"No. First off, you don't say anything to anybody. In a little while, the sheriff's going to come take you to the Grafton County jail. You'll be brought in and booked there. Do what they tell you to; it's only a few hours. By the time you get up in the morning I'll be there, and we'll go over to the courthouse for your arraignment."
"I don't want to go to jail," Chris said, paling.
"You don't have a choice. You have to be held pending your arraignment, and the prosecutor arranged it so that you'd have to wait overnight. Which means Grafton." He looked directly at Chris. "She did it this way to scare the shit out of you. She wants you shaking when you see her face tomorrow in the courthouse."
Chris nodded and swallowed hard. "You've been charged with first-degree murder," Jordan continued.
"I didn't do it," Chris interrupted.
"I don't want to know if you did or didn't," Jordan said smoothly. "It doesn't matter one way or the other. I'm still going to defend you."
"I didn't do it," Chris repeated.
"Fine," Jordan said dispassionately. "Tomorrow the prosecutor will move that you be held without bail, which is likely given the severity of the charge."
"You mean, like, in jail?" Jordan nodded. "For how long?"
Something in Chris's voice struck a chord. Jordan tilted his head and suddenly the panicked features of his client reconfigured, and he was staring at Thomas, much younger, asking when he was going to see his mother again. There was a universal tone of voice for a boy who had just realized he was not invincible, who understood how slowly time could pass. "For as long as it takes," he said.
In THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, James awakened with a start. Disoriented, his mind took him back years, and he sat up abruptly to listen for the thick wail of Kate with an infant's earache, or the sound of Chris's padding feet as he untangled himself from a nightmare and crept into his parents' bed for comfort. But there was only silence, and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness he realized that Gus's half of the bed was completely empty.
He shook off sleep and started down the hall. Kate was snoring peacefully, and Chris-well, Chris's bed was neatly made. The fresh realization hit James just below the breastbone, a physical ache that made him stumble. He wandered downstairs, drawn by a humming sound. A small rosy glow emerged from the mud room. James walked softly across the kitchen, his back to the wall, stopping a few feet shy of the mud-room door.
Gus sat on the cold tile floor, her back pressed to the spinning dryer, which she'd turned on to muffle the sounds of her cries. Her face was red and splotched, her nose running, her shoulders as bent and weary as an old woman's.
She had never been a pretty crier. She sobbed the way she did everything else-with passion and excess. That she had managed to keep it inside her this long was astounding to James.
He thought of pushing open the half-closed door and kneeling before his wife, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and helping her upstairs. He raised his hand, stroking the wood of the door, planning to say something to calm her. But what wisdom could he offer Gus, when he could not even heed it himself?
James walked upstairs again, got into bed, covered his head with a pillow. And hours later, when Gus crept beneath the sheets, he tried to pretend that he did not feel the weight of her grief, lying between them like a fitful child, so solid that he could not reach past it to touch her.
THERE WERE HIGH METAL FENCES around the jail, capped off with curls of barbed wire. Chris closed his eyes, wondering with a child's tenacity if maybe he could block the whole ordeal out, so that it wouldn't really be happening.
The sheriff helped him out of the car and walked him to the door of the jail. A correctional officer unlocked the heavy steel door to admit them; Chris watched it being secured into place again. "You got another one, Joe?"
"Like fleas," the sheriff said. "They just keep on coming."
They all seemed to think this was hilarious, and laughed for a while. The sheriff handed over a plastic bag, inside which were items Chris recognized-his wallet, his car keys, his loose change. A second officer took it. "You gonna do the paperwork? We've got it from here."
The sheriff left without even making eye contact with Chris. Alone with two men he knew even less well than he'd known the sheriff, Chris started to shiver again. "Hands out to your sides," one of the officers said. He stood in front of Chris, patting his hands from Chris's neck down to his waist and then up each of his legs. The second officer began to catalog Chris's personal possessions.
"Come on." The first guard caught Chris by the elbow and led him toward the booking room. He fussed with a placard, handed it to Chris, then stood him up against a wall. "Smile," he grunted, and there was a flash as a picture was taken.
He sat Chris down at the single table, rolled his fingertips in ink again for prints. Then he handed Chris a cloth to wipe his hands off, and slid a piece of paper across the table. Chris glanced down at the questionnaire as the officer scrounged for a pencil. "Fill this in," he said.
The very first question stumped Chris. "Are you suicidal?" His psychiatrist knew he wasn't. His attorney thought he was. Hesitantly, he checked off "Yes," then erased it and answered "No."
"Do you have AIDS?"
"Do you have any ongoing medical problems?"
"Do you tvish to see a doctor while here?"
Chris chewed at the end of the pencil. "Yes," he checked off. Then wrote in the margin, "Dr. Feinstein."
He finished the questionnaire and looked over his answers with the same attention to detail he'd given the SAT exam. What if someone lied? What if they were really suicidal, or dying of AIDS, and said they weren't?
Who would care enough to check?
The officer led him upstairs, to a control area filled with tiny TV monitors. He exchanged some information with the officer on duty, which made no sense to Chris, then guided him toward another small room. As the gate locked behind him, Chris shivered. "You cold?" the officer said dispassionately. "Lucky for you this room comes with free clothes." He waited until Chris stood up and then handed him a blue jumpsuit. "Go on," he said. "You put that on."
"Here?" Chris asked, embarrassed. "Now?"
"No," the officer said. "Aruba." He folded his arms.
It's no big deal, Chris told himself. He'd stripped naked a million times in the locker room in front of a bunch of guys. One prison guard, and only down to his shorts-that was nothing at all. But by the time he pulled the zipper of the coveralls up to his throat, his hands were trembling so badly he hid them behind his back.
"All right," the officer said. "Let's go."
He escorted Chris down a hallway, into the maximum security division. With every breath, Chris's lungs had to work harder. Was it his imagination, or was the air inside a jail thinner than it was outside? The officer unlocked a heavy door and led Chris onto a narrow, gray catwalk. There were individual cells, two side by side along the catwalk, but the barred doors were open. At the end of the pod, outside the bars, was a TV. The nightly news was on.
Suddenly there was a call through the air, which rippled through the open bars and hollow catwalks. "Lockdown," the voice yelled, and Chris heard the pounding of feet as prisoners slowly returned to their cells.
"Here you go," the officer said, leading Chris to an unoccupied cell. "Bottom bunk."
There were three other people in the pod. A small man with tiny, deep-set black eyes and a goatee walked into the cell beside Chris's and sat down on the bunk. At the end of the catwalk, the TV blinked black.
The officer slid home the door of Chris's cell. The lights dimmed, but did not go out. Gradually the entire jail hushed, save for the collective breaths of the prisoners.
Chris crawled onto the bottom bunk. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness he could make out the form of an officer walking by on the other side of those bars, the flash of the man's smile.
Chris rolled over so that all he could see was the cinder-block wall that confined him. He pressed a wad of jumpsuit into his mouth to muffle the sound, and he let himself cry.
When Michael came DOWN to the kitchen the next morning, he could barely believe his eyes. Melanie stood at the stove, a spatula in one hand and a potholder gracing the other. He watched her flip a pancake and tuck a strand of hair behind her ear and he thought, Ah, yes. This is who 1 married.
He intentionally made a noise, so that she would think he was just entering. Turning, Melanie flashed a bright smile. "Oh, good," she said. "I was just going to get you up."
"To eat, I hope."
Melanie laughed. It was so unfamiliar a sound that both she and Michael stopped for a moment. Then, Melanie briskly turned away and picked up a platter of pancakes. She waited until Michael slid into his customary spot at the table, then set them down in front of him while never taking her eyes off his. "Buckwheat," she said softly.
"Actually," he said, "the name's Michael." Melanie smiled at him, and without thinking it through Michael looped an arm around her thighs and drew her closer, pressing his head to her stomach. He felt her hand stroke his hair. "I've missed you," he murmured.
"I know," Melanie said. She let her hand linger a moment longer, then pushed back. "You need syrup," she said.
She carried a saucepan from the stove, maple syrup bubbling, and drizzled it over Michael's pancakes. "I thought we might take a ride this morning."
Michael closed his mouth around a succulent bite of breakfast. He had to worm a litter of puppies next town over, check a colicky horse, and pay a house call on an sick llama. But he hadn't seen Melanie this.. . well, this together in days. "Sure," he said. "I just have to call some people to reschedule."
Melanie slid into the chair across from him. When Michael stretched out his hand, she slipped hers into it. "That would be nice," she said.
He finished eating and went to his office to make the phone calls. When he returned, Melanie was standing in front of the mirror in the foyer, running a thin coat of lipstick over her mouth. She smacked her lips together and saw Michael's reflection. "Ready?" she asked.
"Sure," he said. "Where are we going?"
Melanie linked her arm through his. "If I told you," she said, "it wouldn't be a surprise."
»Michael silently guessed where she was taking him. Not to Emily's grave; Mel wouldn't be chipper about that. Not out to eat, certainly, although they passed the main strip with all of Bainbridge's restaurants. Not shopping; it was too early. Not to the library, which was in the opposite direction.
But then Melanie turned the car out of town. They passed barren fields and dairy farms, long stretches of road with nothing at all. A small green road sign announced that the town of Woodsville was ten miles away.
What the hell was in Woodsville?
He'd been there once, to put down a horse that had broken its leg. If he'd driven through the main part of town, he no longer remembered it.
Melanie drove past a brick building, from behind which a tuft of barbed wire peeked. And Michael remembered that the county jail was in Woodsville. Conveniently down the street from the county courthouse.
His wife turned into the parking lot of that courthouse. "There's something here," she said evenly, "that I think you should see."
CHRIS WAS ALREADY AWAKE when the door to his cell screeched open at 5:45 A.M. His eyes felt like they had sand under the lids, no matter how much he rubbed them. The zipper of the jumpsuit was cutting into his skin, and he was starving. "Chow," an officer said, slinging a tray into the cell.
Chris looked from the unappetizing lumps on the plate to the catwalk. The man with the black eyes was staring at him from the other cell. The man stalked away and disappeared behind a shower curtain.
Chris ate, brushed his teeth with the toothbrush he'd gotten in the booking room the night before, and picked up the disposable razor an officer had put in his cell. Unsure of himself, he walked out of the cell and down the catwalk to the shower stall and sink.
Chris shaved while he waited for the other man to finish showering, squinting into a mirror that offered as clear a reflection as tinfoil. When the other man stepped out, Chris nodded and went inside.
He drew closed the curtain but just past the edge he could see the black-eyed man soaping his face in front of the sink, towel slung around his waist while he shaved around his goatee. Chris undressed and hung his clothes over the curtain rod. Then he turned on the water and lathered himself with the soap, closing his eyes and trying to make believe he'd just swum an in-fucking-credible four-hundred-meter butterfly, and was getting ready to go home after the meet.
"What are you in for?"
Chris blinked water out of his eyes. "Excuse me?" he said.
Through the crack between the shower curtain and the wall, Chris saw the man leaning against the sink. "How come you're here?"
Wet, his hair reached almost to his shoulders. That was the way Chris could tell the prisoners from the detainees awaiting arraignment-those serving sentences had their hair cut military-short. Like his already was. "I shouldn't be here," Chris said. "It's a mistake."
The man laughed. "Says you and everyone else. For a prison, there are a heck of a lot of people in here who didn't do jackshit."
Chris turned away and soaped up his chest.
"Just 'cause you can't see me don't mean I gone away," the man said.
Shaking water out of his hair, Chris turned off the shower faucet. "What did you do?"
"Cut off my old lady's head," the man said dispassionately.
Suddenly Chris felt his knees give out. He did not think he could stay upright, so he leaned against the plastic wall of the shower. He was not standing beside a felon in a county jail. He was not going to be charged with murder. He blindly wrapped his towel around his waist, grabbed his clothes, and stumbled back to his cell, where he sat down on the bunk and tucked his head between his knees so he wouldn't throw up.
He wanted to go home.
An officer walked to his cell to retrieve the razor he had been given. "Your lawyer's here," he said. "He's brought clothes for you. Get dressed and we'll bring you upstairs to change."
Chris nodded, expecting him to stand by and watch him change again, but the officer left. The doors of the cells were open. The man who'd decapitated his wife was watching the Today show at the end of the catwalk.
"I'm, um... ready," he said to a different officer, who escorted him to the door that led out of the pod.
"Good luck," the black-eyed man called out, eyes still on the TV show. Chris paused, looked over his shoulder. "Thanks," he said softly.
The CLOTHES WERE WAITING for him in the booking room. Chris recognized the Brooks Brothers blazer he'd bought with his mother down in Boston. They had gone shopping specifically for an outfit he could wear on college interviews.
Instead, he was wearing it to his arraignment.
He dressed in the white button-down shirt and gray flannel trousers, the buttery loafers. He slid the tie through the collar of the shirt and tried to knot it, but couldn't get it right. He was used to watching himself do it in front of a mirror, and there wasn't one in the booking room.
He settled for the back tail of the tie hanging a fraction lower than the front.
Then he shrugged into his blazer and walked toward the officer who was waiting, doing some paperwork. They walked in silence to a room Chris hadn't seen before, and the officer opened the door.
Jordan McAfee was waiting in the interview room. "Thanks," he said to the officer, motioning for Chris to sit across from him at the table. He waited until the door closed behind the officer. "Morning," he said. "How was your night?"
He knew damn well how it had been; any idiot could look at the circles beneath Chris's eyes and realize he hadn't slept at all. But Jordan waited to see what his client would say. It would go a long way toward indicating how much fortitude he could expect from Chris for the remainder of the long haul.
"It was okay," Chris said, unblinking.
Jordan stifled a smile. "You remember what I told you about today?"
Chris nodded. "Where are my mom and dad?"
"Over at the courthouse, waiting."
"My mom brought you the clothes?"
"Yes," Jordan said. "Nice outfit. Very preppy, very classy. It will help set your image for the judge."
"I have an image?" Chris asked.
Jordan waved his hand. "Yeah. White, upper middle class, student athlete, rah-rah good ol' boy." He locked his gaze on Chris. "As opposed to lowlife scum murderer." He tapped his pencil on the legal pad in front of him, on which he'd written nonsense. The thing about arraignments was that as a defense attorney you went in cold, like a cat ready to land on the balls of its feet no matter how it was thrown. You had the charge that had been leveled against a client, but you had no idea what the prosecutor was thinking until you got your hands on the files after the arraignment. "Follow my lead today. If I need you to do something, I'll write it on the pad. But this is going to be pretty straightforward."
"Okay," Chris said. He stood up, shaking his legs as if he were getting ready to step up to the block before a race. "So let's go," he said.
Jordan glanced up, suprised that he hadn't expected this. "You can't walk over to the courthouse with me," he said. "The sheriff will bring you over."
"Oh," Chris said, sinking back into his chair.
"I'll be there, waiting," Jordan hastened to add. "So will your parents."
"Right," Chris said.
Jordan slid the legal pad back into his briefcase. He looked at Chris, frowned at his tie. "Come here," he said, and when Chris stood he snugged the tie so that it lay correctly.
"I couldn't do it right," Chris said. "No mirror."
Jordan did not say anything. He clapped Chris on the shoulder and nodded at his overall appearance. Then he walked out of the room, leaving Chris to stare at the open door, the hall that led outside the jail, and the guard who stood between the two.
It WAS FELONY DAY at the Grafton County Courthouse.
In a state as rural as New Hampshire, serious crimes were committed fairly infrequently, so the felony arraignments were gathered into bunches every few weeks. More interesting than petty infractions, the proceedings were attended by local reporters, court groupies, law students.
Even so, the Hartes were sitting in the front row, behind the defense table. They'd arrived at the courthouse shortly after six in the morning, just in case, Gus had said. Gus's hands were clenched so tightly in her lap that she did not know if she'd ever be able to untangle them. James sat beside her, staring at the judge. She was a grandmotherly, middle-aged woman with a bad perm. Surely, Gus thought, someone who looked like that would take one look at a child like Chris and would stop this debacle from going any further.
Gus leaned toward Jordan McAfee, who was arranging documents on his lap. "When is he going to be brought in?" she asked.
"Any minute," Jordan said.
James turned to the man beside him. "Is that the Times?" he asked. When the man offered the discarded paper, James grinned and thanked him.
Gus stared at her husband, stunned. "You can read?" she said. "At a time like this?"
James meticulously creased the first section. He ran over the crease with his thumbnail, then did it again. "If I don't," he said evenly, "I will go crazy." He began to scan the front page.
There were other women in here like her, Gus knew; women who might not have been wearing a designer suit or diamond studs like hers but who had a son who was going to be brought to that table like Chris was, accused of something too horrible to imagine. Some of those children had actually committed the crimes. In this, she supposed, she was lucky.
She could not imagine what it was like for those mothers, whose sons had intentionally set fire to houses or stabbed enemies or raped young women. She could not fathom what it was like to know that you'd grown someone within your body capable of these atrocities; to know that if you hadn't given birth, this small measure of evil in the world might not have come to pass.
At the sound of heels clicking down the aisle, Gus turned her head. Melanie and Michael Gold slid into the seats across from Gus. Melanie glanced at Gus blankly and Gus felt her chest constrict. She had expected disdain; she had not realized that indifference could cut more deeply.
A bailiff opened a door at the right rear of the courtroom and led in Chris. His hands were cuffed in front of him, attached to a waist chain. He kept his eyes lowered. Jordan immediately rose and stepped up to the defense table, helping Chris into the chair beside him.
The assistant attorney general was a young woman with short black hair and a nervous walk. Her voice irritated Gus. It was low and gravelly; it reminded her of the rasp a cinnamon stick made when you drew it over a grater. Judge Hawkins pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "What's next?" she asked.
The clerk read: "The State of New Hampshire v. Christopher Harte. Grand Jury 5327 handed down an indictment on November seventeenth, 1997, on a count of murder in the first degree. Christopher Harte is charged with willfully, knowingly, and deliberately shooting Emily Gold in the head and intentionally causing her death."
The handcuffs rattled as Chris swayed. Hearing the words out loud, and his name linked to them, he felt a horrible, bubbling urge to laugh again, like he had at Em's memorial service. He thought of Dr. Feinstein telling him how close together certain strong emotions were, and he wondered what might be the flip side of panic.
There was a harsh laugh from the gallery, and for a moment Chris thought he'd actually done it-let it fly loose past his clenched teeth. But when his head whipped around, like everyone else's, he saw Emily's mother still snickering.
The judge was staring at Chris. "Mr. Harte, how do you plead?"
Chris looked at Jordan, who nodded. "Not guilty," he said, his voice thin.
Behind him, Melanie Gold snorted. "Not guilty of what?"
The judge narrowed her eyes at Melanie. "Ma'am," she said, "I must ask you to remain quiet."
During the reprimand, Gus did not look at Melanie. Her head had bowed farther and farther toward her lap during the reading of the indictment. Murder in the first degree was the stuff of courtroom novels, of TV movies. It did not happen in real life. It did not happen in her life.
"Does the state wish to be heard on bail?"
The assistant attorney general stood. "Your Honor," Barrie Delaney said, "given the severity of the charge we request that the defendant be held without bail."
Jordan McAfee was arguing before she even finished. "Your Honor, that's ludicrous. My client's a good student, a respected athlete. His family is well-established in the community. He has few resources of his own; he poses no flight risk."
"How come," Melanie called, "he should get to go free? My daughter can't."
The judge rapped her gavel. "Bailiff, escort this woman from the court."
Gus listened to the click of Melanie's heels the entire way out.
"Your Honor," said the prosecutor, as if the interruption had never oc' curred, "given the sentence accompanying a charge of murder in the first degree, there is certainly a flight risk."
"Your Honor," Jordan retorted, "the prosecution is wrongly assuming there will be a conviction."
"All right, all right." The judge pressed her hands to her temples and closed her eyes. "Counsel, save it for the trial. We're talking about murder in the first degree; the defendant will be held without bail." Gus drew in a breath, but could not get enough air. She felt James's hand steal into her lap and grasp hers tightly.
A bailiff walked toward Chris to lead him from the courtroom. "Wait," Chris said, looking back over his shoulder. He looked at his mother, at his lawyer. "Where am I going now?"
Chris began shaking all over. The handcuffs were cutting into his wrists and the waist chain sang with every step he took. He found himself back in the holding cell at the sheriff's office in the county court, a deputy locking the door behind him. "Excuse me," Chris said, summoning all his strength to call back the man who was already retreating. "Where do I go now?"
"Back," the deputy said.
The man shook his head. "To jail."
In A SMALL CAFETERIA at the county courthouse, Gus rounded on Jordan McAfee. "You didn't even say anything," she hotly accused. "You didn't even try to keep him out of jail!"
Jordan held his hands out in front of him, placating. "That was a standard arraignment for a charge of that nature; there was very little I could do. A conviction of first-degree murder carries with it a sentence of life imprisonment. The AG figured that's enough reason for Chris to skip town. Or for you to help him do that." He hesitated for a second. "It has nothing to do with Chris. It's just that judges don't grant bail to accused murderers."
Gus, white-faced, fell silent. James sat forward, hands clasped. "There must be someone we can call," he said. "Strings we can pull. Surely this isn't fair-to be innocent, but kept in jail until the trial."
"First of all," Jordan said, "it's the way the legal system works. Second of all, it's in Chris's best interests to have several months pending trial."
"Months?" Gus whispered.
"Yes, months," Jordan answered, unblinking. "I'm not about to motion for a faster trial-the time he waits to come up on the docket is the same amount of time I have to come up with a defense."
"My son," Gus said, "is going to live for months with criminals?"
"He'll be housed in general population at the jail, and I'm sure with his conduct he'll be promoted to medium security. He's not mixed in with convicts serving out sentences, just with other people awaiting their own trials."
"Oh," Gus spat. "You mean like the man who raped the twelve-year-old, or the guy who shot the gas station owner during the robbery, or any of the other good citizens who were arraigned this morning."
"Gus," Jordan said calmly, "any of those men could be just as wrongly accused as you believe your son to be."
"Come off it!" Gus said, standing up so abruptly she knocked over her chair. "Look at them. Just look at them compared to Chris."
Jordan had defended his share of well-to-do clients, all shelled in a clean-cut persona and guilty as sin inside. He thought of the Preppy Murderer, of the Menendez brothers, of John Du Pont-all rich, all presentably charming. But he said, "The time will go by more quickly than you think."
"For you," Gus said. "Not for Chris. What's this going to do to him? If he wanted to kill himself a week ago . . ."
"We can move to have his psychiatrist visit him at Grafton," Jordan said.
"And what's he supposed to do about school?"
"We'll have something arranged."
He looked at James, who watched his wife from a distance, stuck behind his own wall of terror. Jordan had seen that expression before; it was not so much disinterest as apprehension, stemming from the belief that any smidgen of emotion revealed would crack the careful mask of control and leave the person in pieces. "Excuse me," James said thickly, walking out of the cafeteria.
Gus jackknifed, hugging her knees. "I've got to see him. I've got to get in to see him."
"You can do that," Jordan said. "They have weekly visiting hours." He sat back and sighed. "Look, Gus," he said, "I'm going to jump through every possible hoop to figure out what I can do to get Chris out permanently. I want you to believe that."
Gus nodded. "Okay."
"Okay," Jordan said quietly. "Why don't I walk you out?"
Gus shook her head stiffly. "I'm just going to stay here for a while," she said, rocking back and forth on the perch of her chair.
"Well. All right." Jordan stood up. "I'll give you a call the second I have some information."
Gus nodded absently, staring at the table. Her voice, when it came, was so soft that at first Jordan thought he'd imagined it. He turned anyway to find her staring at him. "Does Chris know?"
She was asking, he realized, whether her son understood that he'd be in jail for several months. But Jordan heard the question at its simplest level: Does Chris know? And he thought that, perhaps, Chris was the only one who did.
THE BAILIFF HAD ESCORTED MELANIE to a point several feet down the hall from the courtroom door. It did not bother her that she'd been kicked out of court after making a fool of herself. She had never intended to call out; the words just burst out of her like an odd, vengeful bout of Tourette's syndrome. The first time she'd spoken, she felt something give in her chest, like the spring on an old watch that had been wound too tight. The second time, a righteousness coursed through her that felt like the few dizzy moments after childbirth, when she had felt simultaneously exhausted and powerful enough to move mountains. It had not even hurt to see Chris sitting in the courtroom. Melanie had stared at the handcuffs on his wrists, at the red spots where they'd rubbed raw his skin. Good, she had thought.
She leaned against the brick wall now, waiting for the arraignment to be over so that Michael could come out and tell her what had happened. Her eyes were closed and her head tipped back when the door to the courtroom swung open. A young man wearing a suede driving jacket approached her and stopped a few feet away. From inside his coat he withdrew a pack of Camels and held it out to her.
Melanie had not smoked since 1973. She reached for one. "Thanks," she said, smiling.
"You looked like you needed a fix."
A fix. She did. But in the more elemental sense of the word.
"I saw you in there," the man said, holding out his hand. "I'm Lou Ballard."
"Gold," Lou said, whistling. "You must be the victim's mother."
Melanie nodded. "Which explains why I was there."
"I'm a stringer for the Gra/ton County Gazette."
Melanie raised her eyebrows, inhaling deeply. "Court beat?"
"None other." He laughed. "I'm sure you've seen my stuff buried on page eighteen behind the weather map."
Melanie crushed the cigarette beneath her heel. "Did the judge rule yet?"
"Bail was denied."
Melanie exhaled. "Wow," she said softly. She felt as if she were floating an inch above the ground. "I think I need another cigarette," she said.
Lou dug into his coat again. "How about an even trade? You get the cigarettes." He handed her the whole pack. "And I get a front-page story."
CHRIS CHANGED BACK INTO a jumpsuit in the booking room of the jail. An officer led him to the pod where he'd spent the night. The TV was still on, and there were two new men in the area. One, who looked to be violently drunk, was throwing up in the toilet in Chris's cell.
Heedless of the sound and the smell, Chris crawled onto the mattress where he'd slept the night before. He stayed there for a few minutes, curled into himself. "I want to go home," he said. The drunk stared blearily at Chris. "I want to go home."
He stood up, walking out of the cell toward the end of the pod where the officer stood behind a locked metal door. Like the door of a fucking cage. He was an animal now. Chris grabbed at the bars and rattled them hard.
The officer stared at him. The other inmates ignored him; a few snickered. Chris rattled the bars again, and then more, until his hands hurt from clenching them. He fell to his knees and stayed that way for a long while.
Then Chris stood up. Dry-eyed, he walked past his cell toward the TV at the end of the catwalk. He sat down in a chair behind the black-eyed man with the goatee. No one spoke to him; no one even indicated they'd heard his tantrum. Sally Jessy Raphael was on. Chris let his eyes go wide and he stared at the screen until he was seeing absolutely nothing.
Swimmers, take your marks."
Emily leaned forward at the edge of her seat in the middle of the high school bleachers. She watched Chris snap the band of his goggles twice, for luck, and shake out the muscles of his arms and legs. Then he hooked his toes over the edge of the starting block. As he bent down, he turned his head and unerringly found Emily's face in a sea of others. He winked.
There was a buzz, then Chris bulleted into the water, streaking beneath the surface of the water to emerge halfway across the pool. His shoulders rose like a great whale, and his arms windmilled in a powerful butterfly stroke. He reached the fifty-meter mark before any of the other swimmers.
Then he turned, the soles of his feet flashing silver as he raced home.
The gymnasium swelled with the yells of the crowd, and Emily found herself smiling. Chris reached the wall in an eruption of sound. Over the cheers, the student announcing the meet warbled Chris's time. "A personal best," he crowed, "and a new school record for the hundred-meter butterfly!"
Panting, Chris hauled himself out of the pool. He was grinning from ear to ear. Emily stood up and pushed past the other people sitting on that row of the bleachers. Walking down the aisle, she made her way to the floor, where the next race was about to start.
Chris hugged her and buried his face in her neck. Emily could feel the exertion of his heart and his lungs. She imagined the crowd watching as they embraced. The fact that everyone knew someone like him had picked someone like her was one of the things she loved about being Chris's girlfriend.
Unfortunately, there were also things she hated.
Carlos Creighton, who was nearly as legendary a breastroker as Chris was a butterflyer, had the locker beside his. "Nice race," Carlos said as Chris emerged from beneath a towel, his hair sticking up in spikes.
"Thanks. You too."
Carlos shrugged. " 'Course, I could have probably gone faster if I had a hot little piece waiting for me at the finish line, too."
Chris smiled tightly. It was no secret that he and Em were going out- they had been for almost three years-but that led to assumptions that were not necessarily true. Like the fact that Emily put out, or why else would Chris have stuck around so long?
The thing was, if he chose to set Carlos straight, it made Chris look like a fool.
"Bet you get some tonight," Carlos said.
Chris shrugged into his shirt. "Who knows," he said, just off-handed enough to sound modest.
"Well, when she gets sick of you give her my phone number," Carlos said.
Chris buttoned his fly and swung his knapsack over his shoulder. "Don't hold your breath," he said.
EMILY KNEW THAT her relationship with Chris was very different from most of the other teenage relationships she saw at school. First, it was not a fleeting thing-she had known Chris her entire life. Second, it was truly love, and not infatuation: Chris was practically a member of her family.
That was why Emily could not understand what was the matter with her.
When she and Chris had first started going out, two whole years back, it had been an amazing exploration. There was no safer way to stumble through intimacy than with a good friend. But then something had changed. Chris's hands moved; Emily found herself fighting him off. At first it was fear, which gave way to curiosity. The problem was, curiosity gave way to something else.
Em did not know what sex was supposed to feel like, but she guessed it wasn't having your skin shrink back from his, your stomach roll, your head pound out that this was wrong. Every time her body betrayed her like that, she was embarrassed. It was clear that Chris loved her; of course he'd want to make love to her. And certainly it was right-for God's sake, she'd been hearing her name linked to Chris's since before she could speak. She could not imagine exposing herself so vulnerably to anyone but Chris. Unfortunately, she could not see exposing herself so vulnerably to Chris, either.
He'd yelled at her when she pulled away; once he had even called her a cocktease. But Emily didn't mind, because the alternative was having Chris ask what was the matter. When that happened, she went silent, unwilling and unable to hurt him with the truth.
With a vicious yank of the brush through her hair, Emily turned away from her bedroom mirror. Dinner had been a quiet affair, her father off on house calls and her mother absorbed in the nightly news. She dropped her brush on her bed and gathered up her math books.
"Where do you think you're going on a school night?" her mother asked, as soon as Emily came into the kitchen wearing her coat.
"To Chris's," she said. "To study."
"Oh. All right." Melanie poked at several buttons on the dishwasher; it hummed to life. "Call when you're ready to come home. I don't want you walking through the woods when its dark."
Emily nodded and zipped up her jacket. It was still cool for April. She felt her mother's hand on her shoulder. "Are you feeling okay?"
"Yeah. I guess." She lifted her eyes, staring into her mother's, willing Melanie to put together pieces that Emily could not fit into place by herself. "If it was someone else-not Chris-would you let me go?"
Melanie smoothed her daughter's hair. "Probably not," she said, smiling. "But why talk about something that isn't going to happen?"
FOR A MOMENT THEY both stood at the threshold to Chris's bedroom, afraid to enter.
Chris swallowed. How come he'd never noticed how little furniture was in here? The dresser, the tiny desk, and that bed. "Why don't we sit on the floor?" he suggested.
Relieved, Emily sank down and immediately began spreading out her notes. "I think that McCarthy's going to try to get us on the proofs. So I thought we could go over some of the-" She broke off as Chris leaned down and kissed her. "We're supposed to be studying," she whispered.
"I know. I just had to do that."
Emily's mouth twitched. "You had to."
"Like you can't imagine," Chris said. He settled behind her, curved into the shape of her body, one big hand protectively slung over her ribs.
This she liked. Being close to Chris, and being held, and well, just being. It was the other that upset her.
She stared at a carefully printed page of graphs, wiggling because of what Chris was doing to her. She could feel his teeth scraping the tendons of her neck. Emily thought of the wavy sine curve on her homework: one half leaning in, one half pulling away.
THE FLOOR; THAT HAD SEEMED like a good idea. Monkish. But with Emily on her side, the slides and curves of her body were more apparent. It never failed to amaze Chris how one moment, Em could be as familiar as his own sister, and the next, a mystery.
He kept thinking of what Carlos had said. Everyone on the planet probably thought he and Em were having sex. It was practically a given that they'd get married one day, so what was the big deal? It wasn't like that was the only reason he wanted to be with Emily. She certainly knew that.
She let him kiss her. Sometimes, she let him slide a hand under her shirt. He'd never tried anything below the waist. For that matter, neither had she.
Chris curled closer behind her and began to kiss her neck. She twisted in his embrace. "We're not going to get any studying done, are we?"
He shook his head. "I studied last night," he admitted.
"Well, that's just great," Emily grumbled, turning to face him. "What am I supposed to do?"
He was going to say, "Study tomorrow." But the words came out wrong, and before he knew it he had grasped Emily's wrist and pressed it between his legs. "You're supposed to touch me," he said.
For a moment, her fingers curled around the length of him. Chris closed his eyes, drifting. Then her hand jumped up, trembling. Emily jerked into a sitting position. "I ... I ... can't," she whispered, her face turned away.
Stunned-was she crying?-Chris got up on his knees. "Em," he said softly. "I'm sorry." Afraid to touch her, he held out his arms. She looked up at him, her eyes wide and wet. It took a moment, and then she came to him.
"I LIKE THIS TIME OF YEAR BEST," Gus announced. She was sitting on Melanie's porch, drinking lemonade, the unseasonably warm temperatures melting away the last of the winter's snow. "No black flies, no mosquitoes, no snow."
"Mud," Melanie said, her eyes fixed on something beyond the tree line. "Lots of it."
"I always rather liked mud," Gus said. "Do you remember how we used to let Em and Chris roll around in it like piglets?"
Melanie laughed. "I remember scrubbing dirt out of the bathtub," she said.
Both women stared down the length of the driveway. "Those were the good old days," Melanie sighed.
"Oh, I don't know. They still roll around. . . just not for the same reasons."
Gus took a sip of her drink. "I caught them in Chris's room the other night."
"Well, they weren't actually doing anything."
"And how do you know?"
"I just do." Gus drew her brows together. "Don't you think?"
"Not with the same level of certitude that you do," Melanie said.
"Well, if they do, so what? They're going to have sex one day anyway."
"Yes," Melanie said slowly, "but it doesn't have to be at fifteen."
"Wrong. Chris is sixteen. Emily is fifteen."
"A mature fifteen."
"A female fifteen."
Gus set down her lemonade. "What does that have to do with it?"
"Everything." Melanie shook her head. "You wait till it's Kate's turn."
"I'll assume, as I do now with Chris, that Kate is old enough and bright enough to be making the right decisions."
"No, you won't. You'll want to keep her your little girl for as long as you can."
Gus laughed. "Emily's always going to be your little girl," she said.
Melanie turned in her chair. "Think of yourself, after your first time," she urged. "Emily is mine now. But afterward, well, she'll belong to Chris."
Gus was silent for a moment. "You're wrong," she said softly. "Even now, Emily belongs to Chris."
The previous spring, Chris had begun working at Shady Acres-a small playground that was neither shady nor on a full acre. It sported an octo-puslike plastic climbing structure, a sandbox, and an antique carousel, which could be ridden for twenty-five cents.
Chris ran the carousel. It was mindless, dizzying work-collecting the quarters, settling the kids on the horses, checking safety belts, pushing the button that activated the motor, then waiting for the calliope tape to finish one entire round of song before shutting the power and letting the carousel spin slowly to a stop. He liked the candied smell of the toddlers he hefted into the saddles. He liked swinging up on a support pole as the carousel slowed, to help the children unlatch their belts and slide down. He liked taking a damp cloth at the end of the day to wipe down the manes of the horses and to stare into their frozen, rolling eyes.
This year, the owners had given him his own key.
It was Friday, and exceptionally warm for a night in April. Chris and Emily had gone to see a movie, but it was early and Chris wasn't ready to go home. Driving aimlessly, he wound up in the parking lot of the play-ground. "Hey," Emily said, her face lighting up. "Let's go on the swings."
She got out of the car and raced across the mud. By the time Chris made his way there, she was already in the air, her face tipped up to the night sky. He walked in the other direction, hearing Em call out, then used his carousel key to open the control panel.
In the moonlight, the horses began to run.
Delighted, Emily got off her swing and came closer. "When did they give you the key?" she asked.
Chris shrugged. "Last weekend."
"Oh, it's wonderful. Can I get on?"
He grabbed her around the waist and swung her up by the white horse she loved best. "Be my guest," he said.
Emily climbed onto the wooden horse and, after the carousel made one full revolution, held out her hand to Chris. "You come too," she urged.
He chose the horse beside hers, and as soon as he was seated he realized his mistake: When Emily was up, he was down, and vice versa. He leaned into her as their horses came level and kissed her cheek. Emily laughed, then leaned back to kiss him.
He slid off his horse and held out his arms for Emily. And then they were lying on the thick painted planks beneath the horses, the churning wooden hooves just clearing their arms and legs. Emily leaned back, her eyes closed, her mind full of the music. Chris slipped his hands up her shirt.
Her bra unhooked in the front. And oh, God, she felt good. Soft and full all at the same time, and she smelled of peaches. Chris leaned his head toward the curve of her neck and licked her, certain she would taste of them too. He heard Emily make a noise at the back of her throat, and he took it to mean that she liked this as much as he did.
He slid his hand down the front of her jeans, slipping beneath the waistband of her panties as well, so that his fingers brushed against silky hair. Holding his breath, he inched his fingers downward.
"Stop," she whimpered. "Chris, stop."
And when he didn't, she took her fist and clubbed him in the ear.
He reared back, his head ringing like a sonofabitch. But before he could yell at Em he saw the white oval of her face shake in denial, then she was standing. She leaped off the moving carousel, falling once before she gained her footing, leaving Chris spinning in circles.
In THE MOVIES, when things like that happened, the heroine somehow found her way home. But all Emily could think was that in real life the ultimate indignity was having to shove your boyfriend away, then still need him to drive you home.
She felt Chris slide into the seat beside her, and kept her face averted until the overhead light in the Jeep went off. But she did not have to look to know that his jaw would be tight, his lips pressed into a line.
For a moment she wanted to mold herself against him, in hopes that that would make him soften. She remembered being a toddler, screaming to her mother than she wanted to be put down, but clinging all the harder. "Maybe," she whispered, "we shouldn't see each other for a while."
Chris put the car into drive. And nodded.
Everything about Donna DeFelice was legendary-from her spun-sugar hair to her grapefruit-size breasts to her cheerleader split, the fastest anyone could ever remember seeing at the high school. For two years she had made it clear to Chris that if he was willing, she was available. And finally, pushed over the edge by Emily, he'd decided to reciprocate.
He could not see in the Jeep, and moisture that had fogged the insides of the windows seeped through the shoulder of his shirt when he brushed up against it. Beneath him, Donna writhed on the backseat.
Chris hadn't even taken her out to dinner. She'd put her hand on his leg during the drive to the restaurant and asked what he was really hungry for.
And now she was, remarkably, totally naked, and her hand was wrapped around him, and Chris didn't think she even realized he'd never done this before.
In the thin light from the dashboard, Donna's chest was tinted a luminous green, but magnificent for all that. Her eyes were slitted and her mouth rounded on his own name. The only thing wrong with her was that she wasn't Em.
"Oh, God," Donna moaned. "Give it to me now." She pulled him onto her.
One thrust, he thought, and I'm gonna lose it. But to his surprise, he wasn't nearly as carried away as he'd expected to be. He felt almost as if he was watching himself from a corner of the car; seeing Donna buck beneath him like an animal he couldn't put a name to.
When it was over she pushed him off her and wriggled into her underwear. Then she curled up under his arm, feeling all wrong there. "That was something," she breathed, "wasn't it?"
"Something," Chris agreed. He stared out the windshield, wondering how he could have been stupid enough to think that it was sex he had wanted all along, when in fact he had only wanted Emily.
ALL DAY LONG EMILY had hidden in school corridors and ducked into bathrooms so that no one would see her cry. Everywhere she went, though, she heard people talking about the way Chris Harte had been walking with his arm around Donna DeFelice. At sixth period, when Emily had walked toward the trig class she had with Chris and found him leaning over Donna on a bank of lockers just outside the door, she finally broke down. She asked Mrs. McCarthy for a pass to the nurse and had no problem getting the woman to believe she was ill. It wasn't her throat, and it wasn't a fever, but it hurt all the same to be heartbroken.
When her mother came to pick her up, Emily slouched down in the passenger seat and turned her head away. Then she went up to her room and crawled under the covers. She stayed there until it was dark.
Chris's Jeep left at six-fifteen. Emily watched the headlights disappear down Wood Hollow Road until she could not see them anymore. She imagined where Chris would be taking Donna DeFelice on a Friday night. She did not have to imagine what they would be doing.
Disgusted with herself, she sat down at her desk and tried to concentrate on the English paper she had to write by Monday. But she only got as far as sliding the paper clip from the pages she'd drafted. She stared down at the words, reading none of them, and bent the clip back and forth, letting friction work up a heat until it broke apart.
At eleven, when Chris was still not home, Emily's mother knocked on the door and let herself in. "How are you feeling, honey?" she asked, sitting down beside Emily on the bed.
Emily turned toward the wall. "Not good," she said thickly.
"We can go to the doctor in the morning," Melanie offered.
"No . . . it's not that. I'm all right. 1 just... I just want to stay up here for a while."
"And does this have to do with Chris?"
Amazed, Emily whipped around to face her mother. "Who told you?"
Melanie laughed. "It doesn't take a graduate degree to figure out that you two haven't called each other all week."
Emily ran a hand through her hair. "We had a fight," she admitted.
And what? She certainly wasn't going to tell her mother what they'd been fighting about. "And I think I made him mad enough for him to stay away." She took a deep breath. "Mom," she said, "what do I do to bring him back?"
Melanie looked stunned. "You don't have to do anything. He'll come around."
"How do you know that?"
"Because you're two halves of a whole," Melanie said, then kissed her daughter's forehead and left the room.
Emily glanced down at a sharp pain in her forearm to find that she was still holding the jagged edge of the paper clip. Curiously she drew it over her skin, scratching the surface. The red line grew brighter when she traced a second time, and a third. She dug deeper and deeper until she was bleeding, until Chris's initials were carved hard enough into her arm to leave a scar.
Chris's Jeep got home shortly after one in the morning. Emily watched him from her bedroom window; he turned on light after light as he worked his way through the kitchen and up the stairs. By the time he entered his own room and started to get ready for bed, Emily had thrown a sweatshirt over her nightgown and stuffed her bare feet into sneakers.
The ground, considerably softened by the recent weather, was damp and soft, and pine needles that had been sleeping beneath snow squelched under her feet. Chris's window was directly over the kitchen. It had been years since she'd done it, but Emily picked up a thin twig and tossed it at the panes of glass. It landed with a light snap, and bounced back toward her. She picked it up from between her feet and threw it again.
This time, a table lamp flared on and Chris's face appeared at the window. Seeing Emily, he opened the sash and stuck his head out. "What are you doing?" he hissed. "Stay there."
Seconds later, he eased open the kitchen door. "What?" he demanded.
There was much she had imagined in this reunion, but anger had never been part of it. Remorse, maybe. Joy, acceptance. Certainly not the look that was on Chris's face right now. "I came to ask," she said, her voice trembling, "if you had a nice time on your date."
Chris swore and rubbed a hand down his face. "I don't need this. I can't do this right now." He turned on his heel and started back into the house.
"Wait!" Emily cried. Her words were thick with tears, but she lifted her chin and crossed her arms tight over her chest to keep from shaking. "I, um, I have this problem. I broke up with my boyfriend, you see. And I'm pretty upset about it, so I wanted to talk to my best friend." She swallowed and looked at the black ground. "The thing is, they're both you."
"Emily," Chris whispered, and pulled her close.
She tried not to think of the unfamiliar scent of him, something perfumed mixed with something else lush and ripe. Instead Emily concentrated on the way it felt to be next to Chris again. Two halves of a whole.
He kissed her forehead, her eyelids. She buried her face against his shirt. "I can't stand it," she said, and she was not certain what she was talking about.
Suddenly Chris grasped her wrist. "Jesus," he said. "You're bleeding."
"I know. I cut myself."
Emily shook her head. "It's nothing," she said. But she let Chris lead her into the kitchen and sit her down while he retrieved a Band-Aid. If he noticed that his own initials were on her arm, he was wise enough to keep silent. She closed her eyes while he touched her with all the care in the world, and she started to heal.