I'm hiring a lawyer for Chris," James announced Saturday, over dinner. The words erupted from him, like a belch, and he belatedly covered his mouth with his napkin as if he could take them back and declare them more politely.
A lawyer. The serving platter dropped the last few inches from Gus's fingers, clattering on the table. "You what?"
"I spoke confidentially to Gary Moorhouse about this. Remember him, from the Groton reunion? It was his suggestion."
"But Chris didn't commit a crime. Being depressed is not a crime."
Kate turned to her father, incredulous. "You mean they think Chris killed Emily?"
"Absolutely not," Gus said, crossing her arms, suddenly shivering. "Chris doesn't need a lawyer. A psychiatrist, yes. But a lawyer . . ."
James nodded. "Gary said that when Chris told Detective Marrone it was a double suicide, he implicated himself. Just by saying there wasn't a third person, that it was just Em and him, turns the suspicion onto him."
"That's crazy," Gus said.
"Gus, I'm not saying Chris did what they think," James said softly. "But I think we ought to be prepared."
"You will not," Gus said, her voice shaking, "hire a defense lawyer for a crime that never happened."
"You will not, James. I won't let you." Her arms went tighter around herself, almost meeting at the middle of her back. "If they find out we've gotten a lawyer, they'll think Chris has something to hide."
"They already think that. They're doing an autopsy on Emily, and sending the gun in for tests. Look. You and I know what really happened. Chris knows what really happened. Shouldn't we get someone trained to let the police know what really happened?"
"Nothing happened!" Gus yelled. She spun around, facing the kitchen. "Nothing happened," she repeated. Tell that, her conscience murmured, to Melanie.
She suddenly remembered the day Chris woke up and wound his arms around her neck, and she realized that he no longer had the breath of a baby. It was stale and ordinary, not sweet and milky, and she had instinctively reared back from him, as if this had nothing to do with the transition to solid food but instead with the fact that this small, toddling body was now capable of holding in its sins.
Gus took several deep breaths, then turned back toward the dining room table. Kate was bent like a willow stem over her plate, her tears collecting in its pale reflection. The serving platter remained untouched. And James's chair was empty.
Kate STOOD UNEASILY in the doorway of her brother's hospital room, one hand resting on the knob in case he totally tripped out and became some kind of head case, like that kid with the greasy blond hair who'd been skulking behind a gurney when she came down the hall with her mom. Actually, she hadn't even wanted to come visit. Chris would be home on Tuesday. Plus, the doctors had said something about surrounding him with people who cared about him, but Kate didn't think that included herself. Most of her interactions with her older brother in the past year had been hostile: fighting over time in the bathroom, over entering a room without knocking first, over catching him with his hands under Emily's sweater.
It freaked her out to think about Chris in a rubber room-well, not rubber exactly, but still. He looked different, with dark circles under his eyes and this hunted look, like everyone was out to get him. Certainly not like the swimming star who'd swum a two-minute butterfly last year. Kate felt a pang in her chest, and silently swore to let Chris have the bathroom first every morning. All those times she'd screamed at him to "Drop dead," and look at how close he had come.
"Hey," Kate said, and she was embarrassed to see that her voice trembled. She glanced over her shoulder, but to her surprise her mother had disappeared. "How are you feeling?"
Chris shrugged. "Like shit," he said.
Kate bit her lip, trying to remember what her mother had said. Cheer him up. Don't discuss Emily. Make small talk. "We, uh, we won our soccer game."
Chris lifted flat, dull eyes to her. He did not say a word but he did not have to. Emily's dead, Kate, he was sneering. You think 1 care about your stupid game?
"I scored three goals," Kate stammered. Maybe if she didn't face him . .. She turned toward the window, which overlooked the incinerator, spitting out thick black smoke. "God," she breathed. "I wouldn't give this view to someone who's suicidal."
Chris made a sound; Kate whirled around and clapped her hand to her mouth. "Oh. I wasn't supposed to say that..." she muttered, and then she realized Chris was smiling. She had made him smile.
"What'd they tell you to talk to me about?" Chris asked.
Kate sat down on the edge of the bed. "Anything to make you happy," she admitted.
"What would make me happy," he said, "is knowing when the funeral's going to be."
"Monday," Kate said, leaning back on her elbows, relaxing in this new, tentative trust. "But I'm absolutely, positively not supposed to tell you that."
Chris let a slow smile painfully stretch his face. "Don't worry," he said. "I won't hold it against you."
When Gus AND James entered Chris's room on Monday morning, he was sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed in an ill fitting pair of blue chinos and the shirt he'd been wearing on Friday night. The bloodstains had been rinsed out, but lingered in the fabric like ghosts, shifting pink beneath the fluorescent lights. The gauze wrapping his head had been traded for a small butterfly bandage at his brow. His hair was damp, neatly combed. "Good," he said, coming to his feet. "Let's go."
Gus stopped. "Go where?"
"To the funeral," Chris said. "You didn't plan to leave me here?"
Gus and James exchanged a look. That was exactly what they had been planning, at the recommendation of the adolescent psychiatric ward doctors, who had debated the pro of letting Chris grieve versus the con of touching a very raw nerve and reminding him that with Emily gone, he didn't want to be alive. Gus cleared her throat. "Em's funeral isn't today."
Chris looked at her dark dress, at his father's civilian clothes. "I suppose you're going out dancing," he said. He came toward them with jerky, uncoordinated movements. "Kate told me," he explained. "And I'm going."
"Honey," Gus said, reaching for his arm, "the doctors don't think this is a very good idea."
"Fuck the doctors, Mom," he said, his voice cracking. He threw off her touch. "I want to see her. Before I can't see her ever again."
"Chris," James said, "Emily's gone. Best put it behind you and get yourself healed."
"Just like that?" Chris said, his words spinning higher, like threads of glass. "So if Mom died and you were stuck in the hospital the day of her funeral and the doctors told you that you were too sick to leave, you'd just roll over and go back to sleep?"
"It's not the same," James said. "It's not like you have a broken leg."
Chris rounded on them. "Why don't you just say it?" he yelled. "You think I'm going to watch Em get buried and throw myself off the nearest cliff!"
"The day you're released, we can go to the cemetery," Gus promised.
"You can't keep me here," Chris said, stalking to the door. James jumped up and grabbed his shoulders; he swatted his father away. "Let go," he panted.
"Chris," James said, struggling. "Don't."
"I can sign myself out."
"They won't let you," Gus said. "They know today's the funeral."
"You can't do this!" Chris shouted, jerking away from James and cuffing him on the jaw with his arm. James staggered back, holding his hand to his mouth, and Chris ran out of the room.
Gus tore after him. "Stop him," she yelled to the nurses at the main desk. She heard a flurry of activity behind her, but she could not take her eyes off Chris. Not when the locked doors did not give way to his titan pulls; not when the orderlies twisted his arms behind his back and plunged a needle into his biceps; not when he slumped to the floor, with the glitter of accusations in his eyes and the taste of Emily's name on his lips.
It had been Michael's plan to sit shiva following the burial service. Because Melanie had refused to have anything to do with the preparations, it had fallen to Michael to order bagels and lox, salads, coffee and cookies. Some neighbor-not Gus-had arranged the food on the dining room table by the time they returned from the cemetery.
Melanie went straight upstairs with her bottle of Valium. Michael sat on the living room couch, accepting the condolences of his dentist, a veterinary colleague, some clients. Emily's friends.
They approached in a pack, a swelling, amorphous mass that looked as if it might part at any minute to reveal his daughter in its center. "Mr. Gold," one girl said-Heather or Heidi, Michael thought-her sad eyes a faded liberty blue, "we don't know how this could have happened."
She touched his hand, her own palm milk-soft. Her hand was the same size as Emily's.
"I didn't see it either," Michael replied, realizing for the first time how true that was. On the surface, Em had been busy and bright, a beautiful tempest of a teenager. He'd liked what he'd seen, so he never thought to dig deeper. Too frightening to unearth the specters of drugs, of sex, of adult choices that he didn't yet want her to be making.
He was still holding Heather's hand. Her fingernails were small ovals, pale seashells you might stash in a pocket. Michael raised the girl's hand to his face, and cradled it against his cheek.
The girl leaped backward, snatching away her hand, her fingers recoiling, her cheeks flushed. She turned away, swallowed immediately by a fold in the group of her friends.
Michael cleared his throat, wanting to say something. But what? You reminded me of her. 1 was wishing you were my daughter. Nothing seemed right. He stood and made his way past well-wishers and teary relatives to the foyer. "Excuse me," he said in a commanding voice. He waited until every eye was turned toward him. "On behalf of Melanie and myself, I'd like to thank you for coming today. We, uh, appreciate your kind words and your support. Please stay as long as you like."
And then, to the incredulous stares of fifty people who knew him well, Michael Gold left his own home.
THERE WERE TWO visiting sessions in the locked psychiatric ward; one at nine-thirty in the morning, and one at three. Chris's mother not only managed to be there for both of them, but also sweet-talked the nurses into letting her stay past the allotted time for a visit, so that when he came back from speaking with a psychiatrist or taking a shower in the communal bathroom, he'd often find her still there and waiting.
But when Chris woke up from his medically induced stupor on the day of Emily's funeral, his mother was not there. He didn't know if this was because it was not yet three, if the doctors had prohibited her visit in light of the morning drama, or if she was just plain scared to show up after screwing him over like that. He inched up in bed and scrubbed his hand over his face. The inside of his mouth felt like sandpaper and his mind was wheeling, as if a fly were spirographing around inside his head.
A nurse carefully pushed open the door. "Oh, good," she said. "You're up. You have a visitor."
If his mother was here to tell him about the funeral, he didn't want to see her. He wanted to know everything-the design of the bevel on the coffin, the lyrics of the prayers they had said for Em, the texture of the earth where she was buried. His mother could not possibly have remembered these details, and having to fill in the holes in her story would be worse than never hearing it at all.
But as the nurse stepped out of the way, Emily's father came into the room. "Chris," he said, stopping awkwardly a foot away from the bed.
Chris felt his stomach muscles jerk.
"I probably shouldn't be here," Michael said. He shrugged out of his coat and began to wring it in his hands. "In fact, I know I shouldn't be here." He laid the coat on the edge of a chair and stuffed his hands into his trouser pockets. "You know, Em was buried today."
"I heard that," Chris said. He was pleased at how steady he sounded. "I wanted to come."
Michael nodded. "She would have liked that."
"They wouldn't let me," Chris said, and his voice cracked. He tried to duck his head so that Michael wouldn't see the tears, instinctively assuming that Em's father, like his own, would see them as a weakness.
"I'm not sure it was so important to be there today," Michael said slowly. "I think you were with Em when it mattered the most." He looked at Chris until the boy glanced up. "Tell me," Michael whispered. "Tell me what happened Friday night."
Chris stared at Michael, caught not by the power of his question but by the way Emily played over her father's face-her eyes the same marble blue; her chin as determined; her smile hiding just behind the lines of strain at his mouth. It was easy for him to picture Emily asking, not Michael. Tell me, she begged, her mouth still wet from his own, blood running down her temple. Tell me what happened.
His gaze slid away. "I don't know."
"You must know," Michael said. He grasped Chris's chin, the remarkable radiant heat of adolescence burning his fingertips so quickly he let go almost immediately. He spent five minutes trying to get Chris to speak to him again, to spit out a detail or a piece of information that he could carry with him in his breast pocket the way one might tuck the note of a lover or a lucky charm. But when Michael left the room, the only thing he knew for certain was that Chris had not been able to look him in the eye.
ANNE-MARIE MARRONE CLOSED the door to her office, kicked off her shoes, and sat down with the faxed autopsy report for Emily Gold. She curled her feet up beneath her on the chair and closed her eyes, intentionally clearing her mind so that she would not prejudge what she was about to read. Then she raked her fingers through her hair and stared until the words began to swim on the page.
The patient was a seventeen-year-old white female, admitted unconscious after a gunshot wound to the head. Within minutes of admission patient's blood pressure dropped to fifty-seventy/palpable. Patient was pronounced dead at 11:31 P.M.
Gross examination revealed powder burns surrounding the entrance wound at the right temple. The bullet had not cut a clean path across the head, but had crossed the temporal and the occipital lobes of the brain and nicked the cerebellum to exit somewhere right of center in the rear of the skull. A fragment matching a .45 caliber bullet had been found in the occipital lobe. Wounds were consistent with a .45 caliber bullet fired directly against the skull.
All in all, a death that suggested the suicide Christopher Harte had related.
Anne-Marie felt the hairs stand up on the back of her neck as she read through the second page of the autopsy report. The external examination had revealed bruising on the right wrist. The medical examiner had found flakes of skin beneath Emily's fingernails.
Signs of a struggle.
She stood up, thinking of Chris Harte. She had not yet received a report from Forensics on the Colt, but that didn't matter. It had been procured from his house, his fingerprints would be all over it. It remained to be seen whether Emily's would as well.
Something niggled at her mind, and she looked back at the first page of the report. The medical examiner had only roughly explained the entry and exit wounds, but they did not seem quite right to Anne-Marie. She took her right hand, pointed the finger like it was a gun, and held it to her temple. She cocked her thumb, pretended to shoot. The bullet should have come out near Emily's left ear. Instead, it exited in the back of her head, a few inches behind her right ear.
Anne-Marie twisted her wrist so that her imaginary gun would point in a similar path. It involved lifting her elbow and angling it in an odd fashion, so that the gun was almost parallel to the temple-a highly uncomfortable and unnatural position from which to shoot oneself in the head.
Yet the bullet trajectory made perfect sense if the person who shot the gun was standing in front of you.
She flipped to the last page of the autopsy to read about the gross examination of the gallbladder, the gastrointestinal tract, the reproductive system. Suddenly, she caught her breath. Slipping back into her shoes, Anne-Marie lifted the telephone, and dialed the attorney general's office.
"MRS. GOLD," the detective had said on the phone, "I have the autopsy results on your daughter. I'd like to come over at your convenience and show them to you."
Melanie had played the words over in her mind. Something about Detective Marrone's request had stuck in her craw, and she turned the sentences around, wondering what it was that seemed odd, studying them through different filters as if her mind were a kaleidoscope. Perhaps it was the detective's politeness, so diametrically opposed to the last few times she'd barreled into their grief. Perhaps it was simply hearing the words autopsy and your daughter in the same short breath.
Melanie and Michael sat on the couch, wide-eyed and clutching each other's hands like refugees. Detective Marrone sat across from them on a tufted chair. Spread out on the coffee table were the facts and statements of Emily's body, the last information she had to give.
"Let me get right to the point," the detective said. "I have reason to believe that your daughter's death was not a suicide."
Melanie felt her whole body soften like butter left out in the sun. Wasn't this what she had been hoping for? This absolution by a law enforcement expert who was now saying, It wasn't your fault; you didn't see signs of your daughter's impending suicide became there was nothing there to see.
"The State of New Hampshire believes there is sufficient evidence to take this case to a grand jury and have them hand down an indictment for murder," the detective was saying. "Whether or not you, as Emily's parents, choose to be involved, the case will still proceed. But we hope that you'll comply with requests from the attorney general's office if need be."
"I don't understand," Michael said. "You're suggesting . . ."
"That your daughter was killed," Detective Marrone said, unblinking. "Most likely by Christopher Harte."
Michael shook his head. "But he said that Emily shot herself. That they'd planned to kill themselves together."
"I know what he said," the detective replied more gently. "But your daughter said something different." She lifted the first page of the autopsy report, covered with foreign markings and measurements. "In a nutshell, the medical examiner confirmed that Emily was killed by a gunshot wound to the head. However . . ." She gestured further down the page, outlining bodily evidence of violence, of Emily fighting back.
Melanie stopped listening. She folded her hands in her lap and pretended that Chris Harte was minuscule and hidden within them. She crushed her palms together, flattened them, until he would have no room to breathe.
"Wait," Michael said, shaking his head. "I don't believe this. Chris Harte wouldn't have killed Emily. There's not a malicious bone in his body. For Christ's sake, they grew up together."
"Shut up, Michael," Melanie gritted out.
He turned to her. "You know I'm right," he said.
Michael glanced at the detective again. "Look, I watch the legal shows on TV. I know that mistakes can be made. And I know that every piece of evidence you've found in that autopsy probably has a perfectly logical explanation that has nothing to do with murder." He exhaled slowly. "I know Chris," he said quietly. "If he said that he and Em were going to kill themselves, well, then I don't understand why, and I'm shocked to find out, but I believe that that's what they were going to do. He wouldn't lie about something so painful."
"He might," Anne-Marie said, "if his own life depended on it."
"Detective Marrone," Michael replied, "I mean no disrespect. But you met these kids three days ago. I've known them all their lives."
Michael had the distinct impression that Anne-Marie Marrone was sizing him up. What kind of father vouched for the boy who might have murdered his daughter? "You're saying you know Chris Harte well," she stated.
"As well as I knew my own daughter."
The detective nodded. "Then it should come as no surprise," she said evenly, flipping to the final page of the autopsy, "when I tell you that Emily was pregnant."
"Eleven WEEKS," Melanie said dully. "She knew for two months. I should have known. Tampons never made it to the shopping list." She twisted the sheets between her hands. "I never even knew they were sleeping together."
Neither had Michael. Since Detective Marrone had left, that was what he'd been imagining. Not that tiny peanut of life inside Emily's body, but what had brought it there: the strokes and caresses that peeled away the layers of girl to reveal a woman no one else had wanted to admit existed.
"That's probably what they were fighting about," Melanie murmured.
Michael rolled over and faced his wife. Her profile, ribboned against the edge of the pillow, kept shifting and realigning, so that he could not see her clearly. "Who?"
"Chris and Em," Melanie said. "He would have wanted her to get rid of it."
Michael stared at her. "And you wouldn't? A year before she was set to go off to college?"
Melanie sniffed. "I would have wanted her to do whatever she felt she had to do."
"You're lying," Michael said. "You're only saying that now because it doesn't matter." He levered himself up on an elbow. "You don't even know if she told Chris."
Melanie sat up in bed. "What is the matter with you?" she hissed. "Your daughter is dead. The police believe that Chris killed her. And you're defending him at every turn."
Michael glanced away. The bottom sheet was wrinkled, as if time took its toll on a marriage bed as surely as it would on a face. He tried in vain to smooth it. "You told me at the funeral home that fancy trappings weren't going to bring Em back. Well, neither's crucifying Chris. The way 1 see it, he's all we have left of her. I don't want to see him buried too."
Melanie stared at him. "1 don't understand you," she said, and picking up her pillow, she fled from the bedroom.
On Tuesday MORNING, when the sun first slitted its eyes, James was already awake and dressed. He stood on the porch, his breath coming in small circles, clutching a stack of yellow posters in one hand. Rifle season for deer was almost over, but James had been determined. He'd finally located some signs that he'd purchased years ago and had forgotten in the attic. Slipping a hammer through the loop of his belt, he struck off toward the perimeter of his property, listening to the jangle of nails in his pocket.
At the first tree beside the driveway, he yanked loose the hammer and pounded a nail through the first sign. Then he moved to the second tree, just a few feet away, and he put up another. SAFETY ZONE, they read. More urgent than a traditional POSTED sign, they let hunters know they were within three hundred feet of a residence. That a stray bullet could have dire consequences.
James moved to the third tree, and the fourth. The last time he had done this, when Chris was just a child, he'd hung the signs every twenty feet or so. This time, he hung a sign on every single tree. They rustled in the light wind, a hundred yellow warnings, garish and obscenely festive against the dark trunks.
James stepped out on the road to look at his handiwork. He stared at his signs, thinking of amulets carried, of red worn to ward off the Evil Eye, of Hebrews painting lamb's blood on doorposts, and he wondered what, exactly, he was trying to keep away.