In the days after Emily's death, Melanie found herself riveted by the most ordinary things: the whorl of the wood of the dining room table; the mechanism of a Ziploc baggie; the pamphlet on toxic shock syndrome in the tampon box. For hours at a time she could stare at these things as if she had not seen them a million times before, as if she had never known what she was missing. She felt a call to detail that was obsessive, but necessary. What if, tomorrow morning, one of these things turned up missing? What if her only knowledge of these items came from memory? She knew now that, at any time, she might be tested.
Melanie had spent the morning tearing off the pages of a small notepad and throwing them into the trash can. She watched the white pages pile up, a tiny blizzard. When the trash bag was half full, she yanked it from the can to carry it outside. It had started to snow, the first snow of the season. Mesmerized, she dropped the trash bag, oblivious to the cold or the fact
that she was shivering without her coat, and held out her hand. As a snow-flake landed on her palm, she brought it close to examine, and watched it melt before she'd had the chance.
The telephone startled her, its harsh jangle wrangling through the open kitchen door. Melanie turned and ran inside, breathlessly reaching for the receiver on the wall. "Hello?"
"Yes," a floating voice said. "I'd like to speak with Emily Gold." Me, too, Melanie thought, and she silently hung up the phone.
Chris stood uncomfortably in the office of Dr. Emanuel Feinstein, pretending to look at the photographs of covered bridges decorating the walls and glancing surreptitiously instead at the secretary who was typing so fast her fingers were a blue blur. Suddenly there was a buzz on the intercom. The secretary smiled at Chris. "You can go in now," she said.
Chris nodded and walked through the adjoining door, wondering why he'd been cooling his heels for the past half hour if there wasn't another patient in there. The psychiatrist stood up, walked around his desk. "Come on in, Chris. I'm Dr. Feinstein. It's nice to meet you."
He nodded to a chair-not a couch, Chris noticed-and Chris sank into it. Dr. Emanuel Feinstein was not the old geezer he'd conjured up in his head based on that name, but a guy who would have looked just as comfortable hauling wood as a lumberjack or manning an oil rig. He had thick blond hair that brushed his shoulders, and he stood a good half foot taller than Chris. His office was decorated much like Chris's dad's study-dark wood and tartan plaids and leather books.
"So," the psychiatrist said, taking the wing chair across from Chris, "how are you feeling?"
Chris shrugged, and the doctor leaned forward to pick up the tape recorder on the coffee table between them. He played back the snippet, hearing his own question, and then shook the device. "Funny thing about these," Dr. Feinstein said. "They don't pick up nonverbal clues. There's only one rule in here, Chris. Your answers have to actually emit a sound frequency."
Chris cleared his throat. Any begrudged liking he'd started to have for this shrink vanished again. "Okay," he said gruffly.
"I'm feeling okay," Chris muttered.
"Are you sleeping all right? Eating?"
Chris nodded, then stared at the tape recorder. "Yes," he said pointedly. "I've been eating okay. But sometimes I can't sleep."
"Was this something you had a problem with before?"
Before, like with a capital B. Chris shook his head, and then his eyes filled with tears. It was an emotion he was getting used to; it happened whenever he thought about Emily.
"How are things at home?"
"Weird," Chris admitted. "My father acts like nothing ever happened, my mom talks to me like I'm a six-year-old."
"Why do you think your parents are treating you the way they are?"
"I guess it's because they're scared," Chris answered. "I would be."
What could it be like to find out, in a matter of minutes, that the kid you believed the sun rose and set on was not the person you'd thought? Suddenly, he frowned at the psychiatrist. "Do you tell my parents what I say here?"
Dr. Feinstein shook his head. "I'm here for you. I'm your advocate. What you say here, stays here."
Chris eyed him warily. Like that was supposed to make him feel better. He didn't know Feinstein from a hole in the wall.
"Do you still think about killing yourself?" the psychiatrist asked.
Chris picked at a hole in his jeans. "Sometimes," he murmured.
"Do you have a plan?"
"Do you think Friday night might have changed your mind?"
Chris looked up sharply. "I don't understand you," he said.
"Well, why don't you tell me what it was like for you. Seeing your friend shoot herself."
"She wasn't my friend," Chris corrected. "She was the girl I loved."
"That must have made it even more difficult," Dr. Feinstein said.
"Yes," Chris said, watching it all over again, Emily's head snapping to the left as if an invisible hand had slapped her, the blood that ran through his fingers. He glanced at the psychiatrist, wondering what the man expected him to say.
After prolonged silence, the doctor tried again. "You must be very upset."
"I pretty much cry at the drop of a hat."
"Well," the psychiatrist said, "that's perfectly normal."
"Oh, right." Chris snorted. "Perfectly normal. I spent Friday night getting seventy stitches. My girlfriend is dead. I've been locked up in a psycho ward for three days and now I'm here, where I'm supposed to tell someone I don't even know everything that's on my mind. Yeah, I'm a perfectly normal seventeen-year-old."
"You know," Dr. Feinstein said evenly, "the mind is a remarkable thing. Just because you can't see the wound doesn't mean it isn't hurting. It scars all the time, but it heals." He leaned forward. "You don't want to be here," he said. "So where would you like to be?"
"With Emily," Chris said unhesitatingly.
"No. Yes." Chris averted his gaze. He found himself looking at a second door, one he hadn't noticed, one that did not lead back to the waiting room through which he'd entered. It would be, Chris realized, the door through which he'd exit. A way out so that no one would ever have to know he'd been inside.
He looked at Dr. Feinstein and decided that someone who protected your privacy could not be all that bad. "Where I'd like to be," Chris said softly, "is a few months back."
The moment the elevator doors opened, Gus was fluttering all over her son, slipping her arm about his waist and falling into step and chattering as she whisked him out of the medical building where Dr. Feinstein's office was located. "So," Gus said, the moment they settled into the car. "How did it go?"
There was no answer. Chris's head was turned away from her. "For starters," she said, "did you like him?"
"Was this a blind date?" Chris muttered.
Gus pulled the car out of the lot, silently making excuses for him. "Is he a good psychiatrist?" she pressed.
Chris stared out the window. "As opposed to what?" he asked.
"Well... do you feel better?"
He turned to her slowly, pinned her with his eyes. "As opposed," he repeated, "to what?"
JAMES HAD BEEN RAISED by a set of Boston Brahmin parents who had elevated New England stoicism to an art form. In the eighteen years he'd lived in their household, he'd seen them kiss publicly only once, and that was so fleeting that he came to believe he'd surely imagined it. Admitting to pain, to grief, or to ecstasy was frowned upon: The one time James, as a teenager, had cried over the death of a pet dog, his parents acted as if he'd committed hara-kiri on the marble tiles of the foyer. Their strategy for dealing with things unpleasant or emotional was to push past the mortifying situation and get on with their life as if it had never happened.
By the time James had met Gus, he'd fully mastered the technique-and had rejected it out of hand. But that night, alone in the basement, he tried desperately to recapture that blessed, intentional blindness once again.
He was standing in front of the gun cabinet. The keys were still in the lock; he'd mistakenly believed his children were old enough to dispense with the excessive caution he'd used years ago. He twisted the keys and let the door swing open, revealing the rifles and shotguns lined up like match-sticks. Conspicuously absent was the Colt pistol, still impounded by the police.
James touched the barrel of the .22, the first gun he'd ever given Chris to shoot.
Was this his fault?
If James hadn't been a hunter, if the guns were not accessible, would any of this have happened? Would there have been pills or carbon monoxide poisoning, would the results have been less catastrophic?
He shook off the thought. This sort of obsessing would get him nowhere. He needed to move on, to get going, to look forward.
As if he'd suddenly discovered the secret of the universe, James pounded up the cellar stairs. He found Gus and Chris sitting in the living room together. They both looked up when he burst into the doorway. "I think," he announced breathlessly, "that Chris should go back to school on Monday."
"What?" Gus said, coming to her feet. "Are you crazy?"
"No," James said. "But neither is Chris."
Chris stared at him. "You think," he said slowly, "that going back to school, where everyone's going to look at me like I'm some kind of head case, is going to make me feel better?"
"This is ludicrous," Gus said. "I'll call Dr. Feinstein. It's too soon."
"What does Feinstein know? He's met Chris once. We've known him forever, Gus." James crossed the room and stood in front of his son. "You'll see. You'll get back in with your own crowd, and you'll be yourself in no time."
Chris snorted, and turned away.
"He's not going to school," Gus insisted.
"You're being selfish."
"I'm being selfish?" Gus laughed and folded her arms over her chest. "James, he isn't even sleeping at night. And he-"
"I'll go," Chris interrupted softly.
James beamed, clapped Chris hard on the shoulder. "Excellent," he said triumphantly. "You'll get swimming again, and excited about college. Once you're busy, things are going to look a hell of a lot better." He turned to his wife. "He just needs to get out, Gus. You coddle him, and he's got nothing better to do than think."
James rocked back on his heels, certain that the air in the house was circulating lighter and more freely with this small shift of focus. Disgusted, Gus pivoted and walked out the room. He frowned at her retreating back. "Chris is fine," he called out, for good measure. "There's nothing wrong with him."
It was a few moments before he felt the heavy burden of his son's gaze. Chris's head was tipped to the side, as if he was not angry at James, but truly confounded. "Do you really think that?" he whispered, and left his father standing alone.
The TELEPHONE WOKE MELANIE with a start, causing her to sit up disoriented in her own bed. When she'd lay down for a nap, the sun had been shining. Now, she could not even see her hand in front of her.
She fumbled along the nightstand. "Yes," she said. "Hello."
"Is Emily there?"
"Stop," Melanie whispered, and let the receiver drop while she buried herself once again beneath the covers.
MELANIE WENT GROCERY SHOPPING every Sunday morning at eight-thirty, when the rest of the world was still relaxing in bed with the paper and a cup of coffee. Last Sunday, of course, she hadn't. And with the exception of food left over from sitting shiva, there was nothing in the house to eat. As she tugged on her coat and struggled with the zipper, Michael watched her. "You know," he said awkwardly, "I can do this for you."
"Do what?" Melanie said, stuffing her hands into mittens.
"Go shopping. Run errands. Whatever." Seeing Melanie's pinched face made Michael think he was going about grieving all wrong. He was dying on the inside because of Emily, but not on the outside, and somehow it didn't seem as potent a sorrow as his wife's. He cleared his throat, forcing himself to look at her. "I can go if you don't feel up to it yet."
Melanie laughed. Even to her own ears, it sounded wrong, like a melody for a flute being played on a honky-tonk piano. "Of course I'm up to it," she said. "What else do I have to do today?"
"Well," Michael said, making a spur-of-the-moment decision, "why don't we go together?"
For the slightest moment, Melanie's brows drew together. Then she shrugged. "Suit yourself," she said, already leaving.
Michael grabbed his coat and ran outside, where Melanie was in the car. The engine was running, the exhaust creating a cloud around the vehicle. "So. Where are we going?"
"Market Basket," Melanie said, turning the car around. "We need milk."
"We're going all the way there for milk? We could get that at-"
"Are you going to be pleasant company," Melanie said, her lips twitching, "or are you going to be a backseat driver?"
Michael laughed. For a moment, it had been easy. In the past week he could count on one hand the number of moments like that.
Melanie pulled out of the driveway and turned onto Wood Hollow Road, accelerating. Although he tried to keep his eye from straying there, Michael instinctively glanced toward the Harte's house. A figure was walking along the edge of the driveway, setting out the trash can at the lip of the road. As the car drew closer Michael made out Chris's face.
He was wearing a hat and gloves, but no coat. His eyes lifted at the sound of the approaching car, and-as Michael had experienced-instinct kicked in when he realized it was the Golds. Probably before he even realized what he was doing, Chris had lifted his hand in greeting.
Michael felt the car pull toward the right, toward Chris, as if the boy had magnetized not only the direction of their thoughts but also the vehicle's tracks. He shifted in his seat and waited for Melanie to realign the car.
Instead, it swerved so far to the right that she went off the blacktop. Michael felt the car jolt forward as she pressed down on the gas pedal, barreling toward Chris. Chris's mouth rounded into an O; his hands twitched on the handle of the garbage can as his feet remained rooted to the driveway. Melanie's hands shifted, cutting the car even closer; and just as Michael snapped out of his stupefied paralysis to wrench the steering wheel from her grasp, she turned it herself, nicking the trash can. Chris safely bolted several feet back down the driveway as the barrel bounced into the street and spilled garbage across Wood Hollow Road.
Michael's heart was pounding so heavily in his chest that he could not even gain the composure to look at his wife until they were all the way down Wood Hollow, waiting at the stop sign to take a left toward town. He put his hand on Melanie's wrist, still speechless.
She turned to him, unruffled, guileless. "What?" she said.
Chris remembered being a little kid, pretending along with Em that he had the power to make himself invisible. They'd put on some goofy baseball hats or cheap dime-store rings and, bam, just like that, no one would be able to see them sneak into the pantry for an Oreo or empty the bottle of bubble bath into the toilet. It was a handy thing, the suspension of disbelief. And it was apparently something you outgrew pretty fast, because no matter what Chris did to imagine that no one could see him as he walked down the dull, narrow halls of the high school, he could not convince himself that this was truly the case.
He kept his eyes trained straight ahead as he maneuvered around the salmon flow of kids between classes, couples making out against the lockers, and surly underclassmen spoiling for a fight. In class, he could just sit with his head ducked and zone out like he usually did. In the hallways, though, it was brutal. Was everyone in the whole school staring at him? Because it sure as hell felt that way. Nobody had tried to talk to him about what happened; instead they all whispered behind their hands. One or two guys he knew said it was good that he was back at school and all that, but they made sure not to come too close while they talked, in case unhappiness was contagious.
You always knew, after shitty things happened, who your friends really were. It was perfectly clear to Chris that his one real friend had been Emily.
Fifth period he had AP English with Bertrand. He liked the class; he'd always done all right in it. Mrs. Bertrand was after him to major in English in college. When the bell rang, Chris didn't hear it at first. He was still sitting slumped in his chair when Mrs. Bertrand touched his arm. "Chris?" she said softly. "Are you all right?"
He blinked up at her. "Yeah," he said, clearing his throat. "Yeah, sure." He made a big production of gathering his books into his backpack.
"I just wanted you to know that if you want someone to talk to, I'm here." She sat down at the desk in front of his. "You may want to write about your feelings," she suggested. "Sometimes it's easier than speaking them out loud."
Chris nodded, wanting nothing more than to get away from Mrs. Ber-trand.
"Well," she said, clasping her hands. "I'm glad you're all right." She stood up and walked back to her desk. "The faculty is planning a memorial assembly for Emily," she said, and she looked at Chris, waiting for a response.
"She'd like that," Chris murmured, and he dashed from the frying pan into the fire, where a hundred pairs of curious eyes stood their distance.
The IRONY OF THE RELIEF that swept over Chris as he entered Dr. Feinstein's office did not escape him. This had been the last place in the world he'd wanted to be, but that trophy now belonged to Bainbridge High School. He sat with his elbows resting on his knees, his feet anxiously tapping.
Dr. Feinstein himself opened the door to the waiting room. "Chris," he said. "It's good to see you again." When Chris chose to pace in front of the bookshelves, he shrugged and came to stand beside him. "You seem a little restless today," Dr. Feinstein said.
"I went back to school," Chris answered. "It sucked."
"Because I was a freak. No one came up to me and God forbid they should touch me ..." He exhaled, disgusted. "It's like I have AIDS. No, scratch that. They'd probably be more accepting."
"What do you think sets you apart from them?"
"I don't know. I have no idea how much they know about what happened. And I couldn't get close enough to people to hear the rumors." He rubbed his temples. "Everyone knows Em died. Everyone knows I was there. They're rilling in the blanks." He leaned against the back of the wing chair, skimming his thumb over the row of leatherbound books closest to him. "Half of them probably think I'm gonna slit my wrists in the cafeteria."
"What do the other half think?"
Chris turned slowly. He knew perfectly well what the other half of kids believed-anything that could be escalated into a juicy story would be, in the rumor mill. "I don't know," he said as off-handedly as he could manage. "Probably that I killed her."
"Why would they think that?"
"Because I was there," he blurted out. "Because I'm still alive. Christ, I don't know. Ask the cops; they've thought that since day one."
Chris did not realize until he'd spoken how bitter he was about the accusation, veiled as it had been.
"Does that bother you?"
"Hell, yes," Chris said. "Wouldn't it bother you?"
Dr. Feinstein shrugged. "I can't say. I guess if I knew I was being true to myself, I'd want to believe that everyone would come around sooner or later to my way of thinking."
Chris snorted. "I bet all the witches in Salem were thinking that, too, when they smelled the smoke."
"What is it that bothers you the most?"
Chris fell silent. It wasn't that he was not being taken at his word; if the situation had been reversed, he too might have his doubts. It wasn't even that everyone in the whole goddamned school was treating him like he'd grown six heads overnight. It was that, having seen him with Emily, they could believe he would ever willingly hurt her.
"I loved her," he said, his voice breaking. "I can't forget that. So I don't see why everyone else can."
Dr. Feinstein motioned again toward the wing chair; Chris sank into it. He watched the tiny cogs inside the tape recorder chug in slow circles. "Would you tell me about Emily?" the psychiatrist asked.
Chris closed his eyes. How could he convey to someone who'd never even met her the way she always smelled like rain, or how his stomach knotted up every time he saw her shake loose her hair from its braid? How could he describe how it felt when she finished his sentences, turned the mug they were sharing so that her mouth landed where his had been? How did he explain the way they could be in a locker room, or underwater, or in the piney woods of Maine, but as long as Em was with him, he was at home?
"She belonged to me," Chris said simply.
Dr. Feinstein's eyebrows lifted. "What do you mean by that?"
"She was, you know, all the things I wasn't. And I was all the things she wasn't. She could paint circles around anyone; I can't even draw a straight line. She was never into sports; I've always been." Chris lifted his outstretched palm and curled his fingers. "Her hand," he said. "It fit mine."
"Go on," Dr. Feinstein said encouraging.
"Well, I mean, we weren't always going out. That was pretty recent, a couple of years. But I've known her forever." He laughed suddenly. "She said my name before anything else. She used to call me Kiss. And then, when she learned the word kiss for real, she'd get it all confused and look at me and smack her lips." He looked up. "I don't remember that, exactly. My mom told me."
"How old were you when you met Emily?"
"Six months, I guess," Chris said. "The day she was born." He leaned forward, considering. "We used to play together every afternoon. I mean, she lived right next door and our moms would hang all the time, so it was a natural."
"When did you start going out?"
Chris frowned. "I don't know the day, exactly. Em would. It just sort of evolved. Everyone figured it was going to happen, so it wasn't much of a surprise. One day I kind of looked at her and I didn't just see Em, I saw this really beautiful girl. And, well.. . you know."
"Were you intimate?"
Chris felt heat crawling up from the collar of his shirt. This was an area he did not want to discuss. "Do I have to tell you if I don't want to?" he asked.
"You don't have to tell me anything at all," Dr. Feinstein said.
"Well," Chris said. "I don't want to."
"But you loved her."
"Yes," Chris answered.
"And she was your first girlfriend."
"Well, pretty much, yeah."
"So how do you know?" Dr. Feinstein asked. "How do you know that it was love?"
The way he asked was not mean or confrontational. He was just sort of wondering. If Feinstein had been bitter, or direct, like that bitch detective, Chris would have clammed up immediately. But as it stood, it was a good and valid question. "There was an attraction," he said carefully, "but it was more than that." He chewed on his lower lip for a second. "Once, we broke up for a while. I started hanging around with this girl who I'd always thought was really hot, this cheerleader named Donna. I was, like, totally infatuated with Donna, maybe even when I was still together with Em. Anyway, we started going out places and fooling around a little and every time I was with Donna I realized I didn't know her too well. I'd hyped her up in my head to be so much more than what she really was." Chris took a deep breath. "When Em and I got back together, I could see that she had never
been less than what I'd figured her to be. If anything, she was always better than I remembered. And that's what I think love is," Chris said quietly. "When your hindsight's twenty-twenty, and you still wouldn't change a thing."
As he fell silent, the psychiatrist looked up. "Chris," he asked, "what's your earliest memory?"
The question took Chris by surprise; he laughed aloud. "Memory? I don't know. Oh-wait-there was this toy I had, a little train that had a button on it which honked. I remember holding onto it and Emily trying to grab it away."
Chris steepled his hands and thought back. "Christmas," he said. "We came downstairs and there was an electric train running around the tree."
"Yeah," Chris said. "Emily was Jewish, so she'd come over to our place to celebrate Christmas. When we were really little she'd sleep over Christmas Eve."
Dr. Feinstein nodded thoughtfully. "Tell me," he said, "do you have any early childhood memories that don't include Emily?"
Chris tried to run backward in his mind, replaying his life like a loop of film. He saw himself standing in a bathtub with Emily, peeing in the water while she giggled and his mother yelled bloody murder. He saw himself making a snow angel, swinging wide his arms and legs and hitting Emily, who was doing the same thing beside him. He caught glimpses and snippets of his parents' faces, but Emily was off to the side.
Chris shook his head. "Actually," he said, "I don't."
THAT NIGHT WHILE CHRIS was in the shower, Gus ventured into his bedroom to clean up. To her surprise, the mess was contained-basically a pile of dirty dishes covered with meals that remained uneaten. She smoothed Chris's covers and then fell to her knees, instinctively checking under the bed for mismatched socks to place in the wash, for food that had unobtrusively rolled beneath.
Her thumb pricked the hard edges of the shoebox before her mind could consciously register what she'd stumbled across. She reached inside; her fingers ruffled over pages of secret codes, filmy 3-D glasses, invisible lemon juice ink messages that had been decoded over a bare lightbulb. God, how old had they been? Nine? Ten?
He laughed softly at first, and then a guffaw burst out, impolite and rancid as a belch. He laughed and he laughed in counterpoint to the utter silence of the auditorium. He laughed so hard, he started to cry.
His nose running, his eyes so blurry that he could not see the podium in front of him, Chris pushed away and headed toward the stairs at the edge of the stage. He ran down the long aisle of the auditorium until he exploded through its double doors into the empty corridors of the high school, and he sped toward the locker rooms of the gym.
They were empty-everyone had been watching him-and he changed into his Speedo in record time. He left his clothes in a puddled heap on the cement floor, and exited through the door that led directly to the pool. Its soothing blue surface was glass, he thought, and he imagined it shattering and slicing through him as he dove into the deep end.
The healing wound on his scalp stung; the stitches had been removed only the day before. But the water was as familiar as a lover, and in its ample embrace Chris heard nothing but his own heartbeat and the intermittent pump of the heater. He let himself float motionless underwater, glancing up occasionally at the rippling bleachers and fluorescent lights. Then, carefully, deliberately, he blew bubbles from his mouth and nose, depleting his supply of oxygen and feeling himself sink inch by excruciating inch.
"Listen," THE voice SAID, more hostile now. "Does Emily live there or not?"
Melanie's fingers clenched the phone receiver so hard her knuckles went white. "No," she said. "She does not."
"And is this 6564309?"
"You're sure, now."
Melanie rested her head against the cold door of the pantry. "Don't call back," she said. "Leave me alone."
"Look," the voice said. "I have something of Emily's. Can you just tell her that, when you see her?"
Melanie raised her face. "What do you have?" she asked.
"Just tell her," the voice said, and hung up.
Dr. FEINSTEIN OPENED the adjoining door with a frown on his face. "Chris," he admonished, "you can't just run in here, you know. If you have a problem, call. But the only reason I'm free is because another patient is ill."
Chris didn't bother to listen. He shoved past the psychiatrist into the office. "I wasn't going to do it," he muttered.
Chris lifted his face, contorted with pain. "I wasn't going to do it."
Dr. Feinstein closed the office door and sat down across from Chris. "You're upset," he said. "Take a minute to calm down." He waited patiently for Chris to take several deep breaths, then sit up in his chair. "Now," the psychiatrist said, satisfied. "Tell me what happened."
"They had a memorial for Emily at school today." Chris scrubbed the heels of his hands against his eyes, the combination of his sorrow and residual chlorine creating a powerful sting. "It was totally lame, with these flowers and . .. whatever."
"Is that what upset you?"
"No," Chris said. "They had me go up to the stage and, you know, speak. And everyone was looking at me like I was supposed to know exactly how to make it better, what to say. 'Cause I was there, and I wanted to do what Emily did, so I should have been able to explain what happened to make us want to commit suicide." He snorted. "Like a frigging Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Hi, my name is Chris, and I wanted to Mi myself."
"Maybe this was their way of telling you that you're important to them."
"Oh, right," Chris sneered. "Most of the kids spent the assembly throwing spitballs."
"What else happened?"
Chris bowed his head. "They wanted me to talk about Emily, a eulogy kind of thing. And I opened my mouth and .. ." He glanced up and lifted his palms. "I cracked up."
"I laughed. I fucking laughed."
"Chris, you've been under an extraordinary amount of stress," Dr. Feinstein said. "I'm sure that when people-"
"Don't you get it?" Chris exploded. "I laughed. It was this little mock funeral and I laughed."
Dr. Feinstein leaned forward. "Sometimes very strong emotions cross over with each other. You've been-"
"Depressed. Upset. Grieving." Chris stood, began to pace. "Take your pick. Am I upset that Emily died? Every damn minute, every damn breath I take. But everyone thinks I'm a basket case, one turn away from slicing open my own wrists. Everyone thinks I'm waiting for the right opportunity to try and kill myself again. The whole school thinks it-they expected me to have a breakdown, probably, right at the podium-and my mother thinks it and even you think it, don't you?" Chris glared heatedly at the doctor and took a step foward. "I'm not going to kill myself. I'm not suicidal. I was never suicidal."
"Not even that night?"
"No," Chris said softly. "Not even that night."
Dr. Feinstein nodded slowly. "Why did you say you were, at the hospital?" Chris blanched. "Because I fainted, and then I woke up and the cops were standing over me, holding the gun." He closed his eyes. "I got scared, so I said the first thing that made sense."
"If you weren't going to kill yourself, why did you have a gun?" Chris sank down onto the floor, his muscles giving out. "I got it for Emily. Because she did want to kill herself. And I thought-" He dropped his head, and spat the words out again. "I thought that I could stop her. I figured that I'd be able to talk her out of it long before we got to that point." He lifted shining eyes to Dr. Feinstein. "I'm tired of pretending," he whispered. "I wasn't going there to kill myself. I was going there to save her." Tears ran unchecked over his cheeks, soaking the front of his shirt. "Except," Chris sobbed, "I didn't."
The GRAND JURY WHICH currently sat in the Grafton County Superior Court spent one day hearing assistant attorney general S. Barrett Delaney recount the mounting evidence against Christopher Harte in conjunction with the murder of Emily Gold. They listened to the medical examiner discuss the time and nature of the victim's death, the path of the bullet through her brain. They heard a duty officer from the Bainbridge Police Department describe the scene of the crime as he'd found it. They watched Detective-Sergeant Anne-Marie Marrone explain the ballistic evidence. They heard the A. A. G. ask the detective what percentage of murders were perpetrated by criminals who knew their victims; they heard the detective answer ninety percent.
As in most grand jury hearings, the defendant was not only absent, but blissfully unaware that a court was convening in his name.
At 3:46 P.M., S. Barrett Delaney was handed a sealed envelope, inside which was a paper indicting Christopher Harte on the count of murder in the first degree.
"Hello. Can I speak to Emily?"
Melanie stilled. "Who is this?"
There was a hesitation. "A friend."
"She's not here." Melanie clawed at the receiver, swallowing convulsively. "She's dead."
"Oh." The voice on the other end seemed stupefied. "Oh."
"Who is this?" Melanie repeated.
"Donna. Over at The Gold Rush. The jewelry store on the corner of Main and Carter?" The woman cleared her throat. "Emily bought something from us. We have it ready."
Melanie grabbed her car keys. "I'm on my way," she said.
The drive took less than ten minutes. Melanie parked in a spot directly in front of the jewelry store and went inside. Diamonds winked at her from within their cases; parabolic ropes of gold rested on blue velvet. A woman, her back to Melanie, was fiddling at the cash register.
She turned around with a brilliant smile, which withered and died as she took in Melanie's wild hair, her lack of a winter coat. "I'm Emily's mother," Melanie said.
"Of course." Donna stared at Melanie for a full five seconds before her body shocked itself into response. "I'm so sorry," she said. She went to the cash register and retrieved a long, narrow box. "Your daughter ordered this some time ago. It was engraved, too," she said, lifting the lid to reveal a man's watch. To Chris, Melanie read. Forever. Love, Em. She laid the watch back on its satin cushion and picked up the sales receipt. Boldly printed at the bottom was a note to the store personnel: "Gift is a secret. When calling, just ask to speak to Emily. Leave no information." Which explained the cloak and dagger routine, she thought. But why keep it a secret?
Then Melanie saw the price. "Five hundred dollars?" she exclaimed.
"It's fourteen-karat gold," the woman hastened to point out.
"She was seventeen!" Melanie said. "Of course she wanted to keep this secret. If her father or I found out she'd spent that much money we would have forced her to take it back!"
Clearly uncomfortable, Donna shifted. "The watch is paid for in full," she offered as a concession. "Perhaps you'd still like to give the gift to the person your daughter was thinking of."
Then it struck Melanie. This would have been a birthday gift for Chris, something special to mark his turning eighteen. That, in Emily's mind, would justify spending a full summer's wages.
Melanie picked up the box and carried it back to her car. She sat down and stared at the windshield, still seeing that incredibly ironic message. Forever.
And she wondered why Emily would have ordered a watch for Chris's birthday, if-as he said-they were going to kill themselves before then.
Melanie had her hand on the doorknob when the telephone began to ring. She pushed inside, hurrying, some small part of her certain that this was Donna the jeweler calling to tell her this had all been a mistake; there was another Chris and another Emily and-
"Mrs. Gold? It's Barrie Delaney of the attorney general's office. I spoke to you last week?"
"Yes," Melanie said, dropping the watch on the counter. "I remember."
"I thought you'd want to know," Barrie said, "that a grand jury indicted Christopher Harte today on the charge of first-degree murder."
Melanie felt her knees give out. She slid to the floor, her legs awkwardly splayed. "I see," she said. "Is he-is there a hearing?"
"Tomorrow," Barrie Delaney said. "At the Grafton County Courthouse."
Melanie scribbled down the name on a pad she used as a grocery list. She heard the prosecutor talking, but she was incapable of understanding another word. Softly, she replaced the receiver in its cradle.
Her gaze fell on the jewelry box. Very carefully she lifted the watch from its satin bed and rubbed her thumb over the wide face. Chris's birthday was tonight. She knew the date as well as she knew Emily's.
She pictured Gus and James and even Kate sitting at their wide cherry table, their conversations tangling in knots the size of fists. She pictured Chris standing up and bending over the cake, the flicker of candles softening his features. Under different circumstances, Melanie and Michael and Emily would have been invited, too.
Melanie clutched the watch so tight its edges cut into her palm. She felt the rage grow inside, uncontainable. It pushed past her heart, broke through her skin, sprouting thick as an extra limb on which she gingerly, doggedly, tested her weight.
Everything had to be perfect.
Gus stepped back from the table, then moved closer to fuss with a napkin again. The crystal goblets stood at attention, the spiral ham cutled introspectively on its serving platter. The fancy china that hibernated in the hutch with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas had been arrayed in full regalia, gravy boat and all. As Gus left the dining room to call everyone in, she tried to tell herself they were not celebrating another year of life for someone who'd wanted to prevent just that.
"Okay," she yelled. "Dinner's ready!"
James, Chris, and Kate came in from the family room, where they'd been watching the early news. Kate was gesturing with her hands, talking about a helium balloon the size of a Chevy that had been released with a message attached as part of a school science project. "It'll maybe get to China," she exuberantly proclaimed. "Australia."
"It won't get around the block," Chris muttered.
"It will too!" Kate shouted, then closed her mouth and looked into her lap. Chris glanced from his sister to his parents and slammed himself into his chair with more force than necessary.
"Now," Gus said. "Isn't this nice?"
"Look at that cake," James said. "Coconut frosting?"
Gus nodded. "With strawberry filling."
"Really?" Chris asked, seduced in spite of himself. "You made that for me?"
Gus nodded. "It's not every day," she said, "that someone turns eighteen." She glanced at the ham and the carrots, the sweet potato pie. "In fact," she added, "in honor of the event I think we should start with the cake."
Chris's eyes gleamed. "You're all right, Mom," he pronounced.
Gus took the pack of matches from beside the cake platter and lit the nineteen candles-one for good luck. She had to strike three matches in all, the shafts burning down to her fingertips before she'd finished. "Happy Birthday to you," she sang, and when nobody joined in, she stood, hands on her hips, and scowled. "You want to eat," she said, "you've got to sing."
At that, James and Kate joined in. Chris picked up his fork, ready even before Gus managed to cut him the first slice.
"Does it feel different being eighteen?" Kate asked.
"Oh, yeah," Chris joked. "Arthritis is setting in."
"Very funny. I meant, do you feel, like, smarter? Mature?"
Chris shrugged. "I could be drafted now," he said. "That's the only difference."
Gus opened her mouth, about to say that, thank God, there weren't any current wars, but realized this was untrue. A war was what you made of it. Just because U.S. troops were not involved did not mean Chris was not righting.
"Well," James said, reaching for a second slice of cake. "I think Chris should turn eighteen every day."
"Here, here," Gus said, and Chris ducked his head, smiling.
The doorbell rang. "I'll get it," Gus said, tossing her napkin onto the table.
It rang again just before she reached the door. She swung it open, the porch light falling on two uniformed police officers. "Good evening," the taller officer said. "Is Christopher Harte at home?"
"Well, yes," Gus said, "but we've just sat down-"
The officer held out a sheet of paper. "We have a warrant for his arrest."
Gus gasped, the air knocked from her lungs. "James," she managed, and her husband appeared. He took the warrant from the policeman's hand and scanned it. "On what grounds?" he asked tersely.
"He's been charged with murder in the first degree, sir." The policeman pushed past Gus, toward the lighted dining room.
"James," Gus said, "do something."
James grasped her shoulders. "Call McAfee," he said. He rushed toward the dining room. "Chris!" he shouted. "Don't say anything. Don't say a word."
Gus nodded, but did not turn to the phone. She followed James toward the commotion in the dining room. Kate was sitting at the table, crying. Chris had been pulled out of his chair. One officer was cuffing his hands behind him, the other was reading him his rights. His eyes were huge; his face chalk white. Coconut frosting trembled on his lower lip.
The policemen each took one of Chris's elbows to escort him out of the house. He stumbled between them blindly, his brows drawn together in confusion, his eyes unable to light on any of the familiar furnishings of the house. At the threshhold of the dining room, where Gus stood, the officers hesitated, waiting for her to step aside. In that brief pause, Chris looked directly at her. "Mommy?" he whispered, and then he was yanked away.
She tried to touch him, but they'd moved too quickly. Her hand, hovering in midair, clenched into a fist which she pressed against her mouth. She could hear James racing around the house, calling McAfee himself. She could hear Kate hiccupping in the other room. But over all this Gus could hear Chris, eighteen years old, and calling her by an endearment he had not used in a decade.