In his right hand, Coach Krull held a banana. In his left hand was a condom.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said dispassionately, "take your marks."
There was a general wave of ripping as the class, grouped in twos, opened their own individual Trojans. Emily had to use her teeth to get the wrapper open. From the next desk over, a boy watched her bite at foil. "Ouch," he winced.
Heather Burns, a friend of Emily's and her partner for this ridiculous Health Education class, giggled. "He's right," she whispered. "You're not supposed to use your teeth."
Emily blushed furiously, thanking God for the millionth time that Heather, and not Chris, was her partner. It was bad enough doing this, but doing it with him would be that much more embarrassing.
Health Education was mandatory for seniors, although most of them had been rolling their own condoms down actual penises for several years by the time they entered the class. The fact that high school coaches-like Coach Krull of the swim team-served as teachers made it even less palatable. To a letter, all the coaches were fat and male, pushing fifty. Whatever wisdom they could offer to teens regarding sex could only be taken with a grain of salt. In fact the only saving grace of the class was seeing Coach Krull stammer over the word menstruation.
The coach lifted a whistle to his lips and blew, and there was a flurry of caressing hands as thirty condoms were rolled down thirty bananas. Furrowing her brow, trying very hard not to think of Chris, Emily stroked her hand down the yellow skin of the banana and worked out the wrinkles on the condom.
"Hey! My banana broke!" a boy shouted.
Someone else snickered. "That happen to you a lot, McMurray?"
Emily snapped the condom into place at the base of the banana. "Done," she sighed.
Heather leaped to her feet. "We won!" she shrieked.
Everyone else's eyes turned to them. Coach Krull ambled down the aisle and stopped in front of their desks. "Let's see, now. We've got a nice space at the top, like we ought to. And the condom isn't bunched up on one side ... and it fits snugly at the bottom. Ladies," he said, "my congratulations."
"Well," said McMurray, eating his banana, "now we know why Heather Burns."
The class snickered at his joke. "Keep wishing, Joey," Heather said, tossing her hair. Coach Krull presented Emily and Heather with SKOR candy bars. Emily wondered if that was supposed to be a joke.
"In real life," Coach Krull said, "putting on a condom isn't a race." He grinned, adding, "Although it probably feels like one." He picked up a banana peel from the floor and looped it into the trash can. "If used correctly-correctly-we know it's the best way barring abstinence to prevent an STD or AIDS," he said, "but seventy-five-percent effectiveness isn't a great form of birth control. At least not for those twenty-five women out of a hundred who wind up pregnant. So if that's your method of choice, consider a backup plan,"
As Coach Krull talked, Heather unwrapped her candy bar and took a bite. Emily caught her friend's eye and smiled faintly. "Ouch," she mouthed.
WITH HER HEART POUNDING, Emily locked the door to the bathroom and drew the cardboard box out from beneath her shirt. She rubbed at the spots on her stomach where the sharp edges had dug in and then set the box on the sink counter and stared at it.
Remove test stick from kit. Make sure you read all directions before beginning test.
With trembling hands Emily extracted the foil packet. The test kit was a long, narrow piece of plastic with a squared-off swab at the end and two small windows cut out higher up.
Hold swab end of stick in urine stream for ten seconds.
Who could pee for ten seconds?
Place test stick in holder and wait for three minutes. You will know the test is working when you see the blue "control" tine appear in the first window. If you see a blue line appear in the second window, no matter how faint, you are pregnant. If there is no blue line in the second window, you are not pregnant.
Emily wiggled down her jeans and sat on the toilet, positioning the stick between her legs. She closed her eyes and tried to go slowly, but counted only to four before her bladder ran dry. Then she took the stick, beads of urine still beaded on the plastic, and set it in the provided plastic spoon rest.
Three minutes was a very long time.
She watched the control line appear in the first window, and thought, We were always careful.
Then she heard Coach Krull's voice: Seventy-five-percent effectiveness isn't a great form of birth control, at least not for those twenty-five women out of a hundred who wind up pregnant.
The second line came thin as a hairline fracture, and carried just as much pain. Emily doubled over, her hand unconsciously curled over her stomach, as she stared up at the packaging of the only test she'd ever wanted to fail.
The muscles of Chris's back gleamed with exertion, and his shoulders blocked Emily's view of the moon as he reared over her. She raised her hips to him, with the uncharitable thought that maybe he could drive the thing out of her, but Chris interpreted this gesture as passion and began to stroke, slow and deep inside her. Her head turned to the side, she could feel him, a battering ram. She felt his hand slip between them-he hated it when she didn't come, too-and she clamped her legs together before she could remember to relax. "Sssh," he said, so far in her now she could feel an unbearable pressure, as if this person inside her was pushing Chris out of its space.
Suddenly Chris convulsed, and-as she always did when he came apart- she laced her arms and legs tight and held him close. He lay heavily, a stone on her heart, squeezing the air from her lungs, and almost, with it, her secret.
The Planned Parenthood office was conveniently on a bus line that linked Bainbridge with several less affluent communities to the south and east. The waiting room boasted a mix of ethnicities, some single women and some with partners, some with swollen bellies and some crying into their hands, but no one had the look of Emily herself: a rich girl from a bedroom community where things like this did not happen.
"Emily?" The counselor, a nurse practitioner named Stephanie Newell, was calling her back inside. Gathering her coat, Emily followed the nurse into a small, homey room. "Well," Stephanie said, sitting across from Emily. "You are pregnant. Approximately six weeks, from the looks of things." She paused, searching Emily's face. "I take it this isn't welcome news."
"Not exactly," Emily whispered.
It had not been real, until now. There was always the margin for error with the home pregnancy test, or the possibility that it had all been nothing more than a bad dream. But this-a stranger telling her it was true-was incontrovertible proof.
"Have you told the father?"
Emily noticed, in a hazy, detached way, that no one was using the word baby. "Pregnant," sure. "Father," yes. But just in case, she assumed, there was no need to put a face to something you might not keep. "No," she said tightly.
"It's your choice," Stephanie said gently, "but it's easier to go through something like this-no matter which option-with someone beside you."
"I won't be telling him," Emily said, her voice firm, realizing as the words came that they were true. "He's not in the picture."
"He isn't," Stephanie pressed, "or you don't want him to be?"
Emily turned to the nurse. "I can't have this baby," she said flatly. "I'm going to college next year."
Stephanie nodded, nonjudgmental. "We offer abortion as one option," she said. "It costs three hundred twenty-five dollars and you have to pay up front."
Emily blanched. She figured there would be a cost, but that was an awful lot. She'd have to ask her parents ... or Chris ... and that was impossible.
She rucked the edge of her shirt up and twisted it between her hands. She had spent her entire life being what everyone wanted her to be. The perfect daughter, the budding artist, the best friend, the first love. She had been so busy meeting everyone's expectations, in fact, that it had taken her years to remember exactly why it was all one big farce. She was not perfect, far from it, and what you saw on the outside was not what you really were getting. Deep down, she was dirty, and this was the kind of thing that happened to girls like her.
"Three hundred twenty-five dollars," she repeated. "All right."
In THE END, it was easy. She initially thought of going to Chris and asking him to help her get the money, but he would ask what it was for, and even if she told him it wasn't something she could talk about, he'd figure it out. There were not many things a seventeen-year-old would need so much cash for, and quick.
So Emily set her clock radio to go off in the middle of the night. She crept downstairs and fumbled in her mother's purse for the checkbook. Ripping off number 688, she made the check out to cash for the total amount, easily forging Melanie's signature. Her mother used her checks only to pay bills, and that was just once a month. By the time Melanie was going crazy trying to remember what check number 688 had been for, the entire procedure would probably be over.
The next day after school, Emily asked Chris to drive her to the bank. She had to cash a check for her mother, she said. The teller knew her; in Bainbridge, everyone knew everyone. And Emily had gone home $325 richer.
THE NIGHT BEFORE Emily was scheduled to have the abortion, she and Chris went to the beach at the edge of the lake. For September, it was balmy-Indian summer, the night flung across the sky like sheer gauze, bringing darkness but no weight. Emily could not settle or concentrate; her skin felt too small for her body, and she was convinced she could feel the thing growing inside her. Desperate to push it out of her mind, she threw herself at Chris, kissing him with a fury, so that at one point he leaned back and looked at her quizzically. "What?" she demanded, but he just shook his head. "Nothing," he murmured. "You just don't seem like you."
"Who do I seem like?" she asked.
Chris smiled. "My wildest dream," he said, and buried his hands in her hair. And then all of a sudden he had pulled Emily on top of him, her legs falling open on either side of his hips. "Sit up," Chris urged, and she did, only to feel him slipping inside her with the change of position.
It was too soon. Emily immediately braced her hands on Chris's shoulders, leaning back in an effort to rear away. "Oh, that's good," Chris murmured, his head turned to the side. Emily froze, and then urged by Chris's palms on her hips, moved tentatively. "You look like a centaur," he said, and-surprised-she laughed.
The movement drove Chris even deeper inside her, making the whole thing worse. They were joking around, just like they used to. They might as well have been wrestling, as they had when they were children, practically siblings. But they weren't wrestling, and they weren't siblings, so it was all right to have sex. Wasn't it?
Emily squeezed her eyes shut, scattering her thoughts. "That would make you the horse," she said, slightly queasy.
Chris flexed his buttocks. "Giddyap," he said, and bucked beneath her so that the moon rippled over her shoulder, lying light on her breast.
Afterward, she lay on her side, her head pillowed by Chris's arm and his hand resting on her hip, spooning. This was the part she waited to get to, the part worth suffering through the sex. She had curled up against Chris a million times in her life. Afterward, it was like it had always been, with nothing embarrassing between them.
"Sand," he suddenly whispered, "is greatly overrated."
She smiled faintly. "Oh?"
"My ass is rubbed raw," he admitted.
Emily grinned. "Serves you right," she said.
"Serves me right? I was doing the chivalrous thing, letting you be on top." He splayed his palm over her stomach.
Abruptly, Emily sat up, grabbed the nearest piece of clothing-Chris's shirt-and wrapped herself in it to walk along the edge of the lake.
Did Chris have a right to know? Would she be lying, if she did not say anything at all?
If she did tell him, they'd get married. The problem was, she wasn't sure she wanted that.
She told herself that it wasn't fair to Chris, who thought he'd be getting a girl who'd never been touched by another man.
But a small, nagging throb at the back of her thoughts said that it wasn't fair to her, either. If she sometimes went home after making love with Chris and vomited for hours; if she sometimes couldn't bear his hands roaming under her bra and panties because it felt more like incest than excitement- could she really spend her whole life married to him?
Emily tossed a pebble into the lake, breaking the smooth surface. It was a strange feeling, knowing that her life would always be intertwined with Chris's-God, it had been since the day she was born-and yet realizing that she was still secretly hoping for an out. Everyone expected Chris and Emily to be together forever, but forever had always seemed a long way off.
She pressed her hand to her stomach. Forever had a real time line, now.
Emily supposed then, that the answer was yes. She could marry Chris. The alternative would be explaining that she cared about him like a sister, like a friend, not necessarily like a wife. And she would see his face whiten, feel his heart crumble in her hands.
She did not love Chris enough to marry him, but she loved him too much to tell him that.
Emily blinked at the surface of the lake, rippling deep and ringed with the sounds of crickets. She imagined how easy it would be to walk into that lake, her feet slipping along the silty bottom, until the black water covered her head and weighted down her lungs, sinking her like a stone.
She felt Chris walk up behind her and gently slip his arm around her shoulders. "What are you thinking about?"
"Drowning," she said softly. "Walking in there until it was over my head. Very peaceful."
"Jesus," Chris said, clearly startled. "I don't think it would be peaceful at all. I think you'd start thrashing around and try to get to the surface-"
"You would," Emily said. "Because you're a swimmer."
She turned in his arms, and laid her head on his chest. "I would just let go," she said.
PERHAPS IT WOULD HAVE gone well, but the physician scheduled the day of Emily's abortion was a man. She lay on the gurney, her legs bent up and revealing, Stephanie beside her. She watched the doctor enter and turn to the sink to wash. The soap slipped between his fingers, greasy and white, exaggerating the size and shape of him. He turned around and smiled at Emily. "Well," he said, "what have we got here?"
Well. What have we got here?
Then he reached under the gown, just like the other had, after saying that same awful thing, and slid his fingers into her. Emily began to kick, her ankles knocking aside the stirrups, her foot striking the doctor on the side of the head as he cautiously backed away.
"Don't touch me," she yelled, trying to sit up, curling her hands between her legs and tucking the gown beneath her thighs. She felt Stephanie's hand on her shoulder and turned her face into the counselor's arm. "Don't let him touch me," she whispered, even after the physician left the room.
Stephanie waited until Emily stopped crying, then sat down on the doctor's stool. "Maybe," she suggested, "it's time to tell the father."
She would not tell Chris, especially not now. Because as soon as she did, she would have to tell him about this horrible abortion and the doctor and why she couldn't stand to have the man touching her. And why she couldn't stand to have Chris touch her. And why she was not the girl Chris thought she was. As soon as she told him, she'd have made her own bed, and she would have to lie in it-with him.
Eventually, too, she would have to tell her parents. And they'd stare at her in shock-their little girl? Her fault, because she was having sex now, when she shouldn't. Her fault, because she attracted that disgusting man's attention when she was still so young.
Everyone would find out soon enough, anyway. She was well and neatly trapped, with only one small and hidden exit, so dark and buried that most people never even considered breaching its hatch.
Emily listened to Stephanie, her options counselor, talking and talking for over an hour. Amazing, considering there really were no options at all.
"Can YOU PASS the butter?" Melanie asked, and Michael handed it to her.
"This is good," Michael said, pointing to his dinner. "Em, honey, you ought to try the chicken."
Emily pressed her fingers to her temples. "I'm not that hungry," she said.
Melanie and Michael exchanged a glance. "You haven't eaten anything all day," Melanie said.
"How do you know?" Emily shot back. "I could have polished off a whole banquet at school. You weren't there." She bowed her head. "I need Tylenol," she murmured.
"Did you see the application from the Sorbonne?" Melanie said. "It came with today's mail."
Emily's fork clattered against her plate. "I'm not going."
"What's the harm in applying?" Melanie said. She smiled at Emily across the table, clearly misreading her reluctance. "Chris will be just where you left him, when you get home," she teased.
Emily shook her head, her hair flying. "Is that what you think this is? That I can't live without him?" She tamped down the question that burned at the base of her throat: Could she7. Throwing her napkin on top of her plate, she stood. "Just leave me alone!" she cried, running out of the room.
Melanie and Michael stared at each other. Then Michael cut a slice of chicken and placed it in his mouth, chewed it. "Well," he said. "It's the age," Melanie agreed, and reached for her knife.
There WAS A CLEARING down the Class IV road that ran behind the Harte and Gold properties where people left off old stoves and refigerators, bags of thick glass bottles and rusted tin cans. For lack of a better word, it was known in Bainbridge as the Dump, and had served for years as a field for target practice. Chris four-wheeled into the clearing and left Emily sitting on the hood of the Jeep while he set up a gallery of bottles and cans thirty yards away. He loaded the Colt revolver, batting away the flies that buzzed in the sweet, tall grass around the Jeep's tires. Chris snapped the chamber back into place as Emily leaned down to pluck one green stalk and threaded it between her front teeth. He took a Kleenex from his pocket and wadded small balls of it into his ears, then handed it to Emily. "Plugs," he said, pointing, urging her to do the same.
He had just lifted the revolver, braced in both his hands, when he heard Emily's shout. "Wait! You can't just shoot," she said. "You have to tell me what you're aiming for."
Chris grinned. "Oh, right. So that I can look bad when I miss." He squinted, shutting one eye, and raised the Colt again. "Blue label, I think it's an apple juice jug."
The first shot was deafeningly loud, and in spite of the tissue Emily clapped her hands over her ears. She didn't see where it went, exactly, but the trees behind the targets rustled. The second shot hit the blue-labeled bottle dead on, the glass exploding against the rough bark of the trees.
Emily hopped off the hood of the car. "I want to try," she said.
Chris pulled the Kleenex from his ear. "What?"
"I want to try."
"You what?" He shook his head. "You hate guns. You tell me all the time you don't want to me to hunt."
"You use a rifle, and they're too big," Emily pointed out, staring at the revolver curiously, her eyes slightly narrowed. "This looks different." She sidled closer and touched her hand to Chris's. "So can I?"
Chris nodded, wrapping her hands around the gun. She was surprised at how heavy it was, for such a little thing, and how unnatural her palms felt molded to its sleek, cool curves. "Like this," Chris said, coming up behind her. He showed her the bead on the barrel, explained sighting a target.
She would not let him know she was sweating. Her hands slipped a bit on the metal as Chris raised them, still covered by his, to the level at which she should brace herself to shoot.
"Wait," Emily cried, pivoting out of Chris's embrace so that she faced him with the gun. "How do I-"
His face had gone white. Gingerly he raised a finger and pushed aside the short barrel. "You don't ever wave a pistol at someone like that," he said in a strangled voice. "It could have just gone off."
Emily flushed. "But I didn't cock it yet."
"Did I know that?" He sank down on the ground, his head on his knees, a puddle of limbs and muscle. "Holy Christ," he breathed.
Chagrined, Emily lifted the revolver again, braced her legs, pulled back the hammer, and fired.
A tin can sang and spun, lifting into the air and hanging there for a moment before tumbling to the ground.
Emily herself had jerked backward with the recoil, and would have fallen if Chris hadn't scrambled to his feet to steady her.
"Wow," he said, genuinely impressed. "I'm in love with Annie Oakley."
"Beginner's luck," she said, but she was smiling, and her cheeks were red with pleasure. Emily looked down at her fingers, still clasped around the gun, now as comfortably warm as the hand of an old friend.
It was damp IN the Jeep, the heater fogging the windows and creating a sticky, tropical humidity. "What would you do," Emily said softly, sitting back against Chris, "if things didn't work out the way you planned?"
She felt him frown. "You mean like if I didn't get into a good college?"
"Like if you didn't even go to college. If your parents died in a car accident, and you had to take care of Kate all of a sudden."
He exhaled softly, stirring her hair. "I don't know. I guess I'd try to make the best of it. Maybe go to college later on. Why?"
"You think your parents would be disappointed in you, for not becoming what they thought you'd be?"
Chris smiled. "My parents would be dead," he reminded her. "So the shock of it couldn't hurt them too badly." He shifted, so that he faced her, propped on an elbow. "And I don't really care what anyone else thinks. Except you, of course. Would you be disappointed?"
She took a deep breath. "What if I was? What if I didn't want to be ... to be with you anymore?"
"Well, then," Chris said lightly, "I'd probably kill myself." He kissed her forehead, smoothing a crease. "Why are we talking about this, anyway?" He curled forward, unlatching the rear door of the Jeep so that it flew open, exposing a night spread with stars.
Indian summer was gone, and the air smelled crisp and thin, full of the tang of wild crab apples and the hint of an early frost. Emily drew it into her lungs and held it there, the sharpness itching at her nostrils, before her breath burst out in a small white cloud. "It's cold," she said, burrowing closer.
"It's beautiful," Chris whispered. "Like you." He touched her face and kissed her deeply, as if he meant to drain away her sorrow. Their lips separated with a faint ripping sound.
"I'm not beautiful," Emily said.
"You are to me." Chris drew her between his bent legs, her back to his chest, and wrapped his arms around her ribs. The sky seemed rich and heavy, and the moment was suddenly full of a thousand tiny things which Emily knew she would always remember-the tickle of Chris's hair against the back of her neck, the seal-smooth callus on the inside of his middle finger, the parking lights of the Jeep, casting a blood-red shadow over the grass.
Chris nuzzled her shoulder. "Did you read the science chapter yet?"
"How romantic," Emily laughed.
Chris grinned. "It is, kind of. It says how a star is just an explosion that happened billions of years ago. And the light's just reaching us now."
Emily squinted at the sky, considering. "And here I thought it was something to wish on."
Chris smiled. "I think you can do that, too."
"You first," Emily said.
He tightened his arms around her shoulders, and she felt the familiar sensation of wearing Chris's own skin, like a cloak of heat or a barrier for protection, maybe even a second self. "I wish that things could stay like this ... like now ... forever," he said softly.
Emily turned in his arms, afraid to hope, even more afraid to let this opportunity slip by. Her head was canted at an angle, so that she could not quite look Chris in the eye but could make her words fall onto his lips. "Maybe," she said, "they can."
Harte to Control."
Chris looked up from the book he was reading and rolled out of his bunk, studiously ignoring one of his cellmates, Bernard, who was sitting on his own bunk cracking ice between his teeth. The officers brought ice once a day and set it in a cooler in the common room, where it was supposed to last well into the night. Unfortunately, Bernard managed to siphon most of it away before other inmates even noticed it had arrived.
He walked down the catwalk to the locked door at the end of the medium security unit, where he waited until one of the officers hovering at the control booth noticed his face. "Visitor," the officer told him, unlocking the door and waiting for Chris to take a step forward.
His mother had tearfully informed Chris the last time she'd come that she'd be unable to make it on Saturday, since Kate's dance recital fell at the same exact time. Chris had told her, of course, that he understood, although he was jealous as hell. Kate had their mother seven days a week. Couldn't she give up one lousy hour?
At the door of the basement, an officer was waiting. "There you go," he said, pointing Chris in the direction of the table farthest away.
For a moment, Chris stood motionless. The visitor was not his mother. It was not even his father, which would have been enough of a shock.
It was Michael Gold.
Chris took one wooden step, and then another, mechanically bringing himself toward Emily's father. He took some courage from the fact that the same officers who kept him from escaping were also there to protect him. "Chris," Michael said, nodding toward a chair.
Chris knew that he had the right to refuse a visitor. Before he could speak, however, Michael sighed. "I don't blame you," he said. "If I were you, I would have hightailed it upstairs the minute you saw my face."
Chris sat down slowly. "The lesser of two evils," he said.
A shadow passed across Michael's features. "Is it that bad here, then?"
"It's a fucking party," Chris said bitterly. "What did you expect?"
Michael blushed. "I just meant, well. .. compared to the alternative." He looked into his lap for a second, and then raised his head. "If things had gone the way you planned, you wouldn't be here. You'd be dead."
Chris's hands, drumming on the tabletop, stilled. He was wise enough to know an olive branch when he saw one, and unless he was mistaken, Michael Gold had just admitted that, in spite of whatever garbage the prosecution was dishing up, he believed Chris's story.
Even though it wasn't the truth.
"How come you're here?" Chris asked.
Michael rolled his shoulders, one at a time. "I've been asking myself that question. The whole drive out here, I've been wondering." He turned his frank gaze onto Chris. "I don't really know," he said. "What do you think?"
"I think you're spying for the AG," Chris said, not so much because he believed it but because he wanted to see the reaction on Michael's face.
"God, no," Michael said, stunned. "Do they have spies?"
Chris scuffed his sneaker on the floor. "I wouldn't put it past them," he said. "The whole point is to lock me away, right? To keep me from killing a whole string of girls, like I did to Em?"
Michael shook his head. "I don't believe that."
"Don't believe what?" Chris asked, his voice growing louder. "That the attorney general doesn't plan to throw away the key? Or that I didn't kill her?"
"You didn't," Michael said, his eyes tearing. "You didn't kill her."
Chris found his throat too tight to speak. He scraped his chair along the floor, wondering what the hell had ever made him sit down in the first place, what had made him think that he had anything to discuss with Emily's father.
Michael stared at the table, running his thumb along the battered edge. "I came ... the reason I came," he began, "is because I wanted to ask you something. It's just that we didn't see it. Melanie and I, we didn't know Emily was upset. But you did; you must have. And what I was wondering is. . ." He paused, glanced up. "How did I miss it?" he whispered. "What did she say when I wasn't listening?"
Chris swore softly and rose, intending to escape, but Michael gripped his arm. Chris swung toward him, eyes burning. "What?" he said roughly. "What do you want me to say to you?"
Michael swallowed. "That you loved her," he said thickly. "That you miss her." He pinched his ringers into the corners of his eyes, fighting for composure. "Melanie's not-well, I can't speak about Emily to her. But I thought... I thought..." He looked away. "I don't know what I thought."
Chris rested his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands. He couldn't promise Michael Gold anything. Then again, if the man wanted to talk about Emily, you couldn't get better than Chris for a captive audience. "Someone will find out you came," he warned. "You shouldn't be here, you know."
Michael hesitated. "No," he said finally. "But neither should you."
Gus PUSHED HER SHOPPING CART absently through the aisles of Caldor, amazed that her family, which was no longer by any means ordinary, would still cling to the trappings of the mundane, needing shampoo and toothpaste and toilet paper just like any other. Driven to shopping out of desperation, she wandered through the big store, sometimes so engrossed in her thoughts that she passed the Kleenex without putting any in her cart, that she stared blankly at cat food for minutes although they had never owned a cat.
She wound up in the sporting goods section, idly passing shiny bicycles and Rollerblades until she stopped short, arrested by the display of the hunting/fishing area. Buffeted by huge camouflage-print raincoats and blaze orange vests, she examined the small items hanging on the pegboard- Hoppes Solvent #9, and gauze cleaning patches, and bluing. Fox urine, doe estrus. Things she could not believe were sold to the public, but that never failed to make her husband smile when he found them in his Christmas stocking or Easter basket.
She stared at a picture of a hunter taking aim and realized that she didn't want James ever to pick up a gun again.
If he had never purchased the antique Colt, would this have happened?
Gus sank down on the metal shelf that edged the floor of the pegboard. She took deep breaths, her head between her knees. And with her ears ringing, she did not hear the approaching cart until it nicked the edge of her shoe.
"Oh," she said, her head snapping up at the same moment another voice said, "I'm so sorry."
Gus stared at the tight lines of her face, the dulled skin, the anger that made her seem several inches taller than she actually was. Melanie drew the cart across the aisle. "You know," she said softly, "I'm not sorry, after all." She pushed her wagon away. Leaving her own cart in the middle of the aisle, Gus ran after her. She touched Melanie's arm only to have the woman swing around, her eyes filled with a cold, banked rage. "Go away," she bit out.
Gus remembered what it had been like when she first met Melanie; how they would sit and hold their hands over their bellies, knowing that the other understood the ripple and hum of a stretching child; the quiver at the fingertips and nape and nipples that came late in the pregnancy, when you had given your body up to someone else.
What she wanted to say to Melanie was: You aren't the only one who was hurt. You aren't the only one who lost a person you love. In fact, when it came down to it, Melanie grieved for one person, whereas Gus grieved for two. She had lost Emily-and she'd also lost her best friend.
"Please," Gus finally managed, her throat working. "Just talk to me."
Melanie abandoned her cart and headed out of the store.
All OF a SUDDEN, Jordan stood up from the cramped table in the small conference room and yanked hard on the window sash, gritting it open. It was lined on the outside with bars, of course, but a cooling breeze threaded into the room. Chris leaned into it, smiled. "You trying to help me break out of here?"
"No," Jordan said, "I'm trying to keep us from suffocating." He wiped his sleeve across his forehead. "I'd love to see the heating bills for this place."
Chris laced his hands over his stomach. "You get used to it."
Jordan looked up briefly. "I imagine you have to," he said, and then spread his hands on a stack of papers.
They had been going over the discovery from the attorney general's office for three hours. It was the longest continuous stretch that Chris had ever spent away from his cell. He waited for Jordan to ask him another question, absently reading the names on the spines of the New Hampshire statute books arranged on a metal cart for the convenience of the visiting counselors.
Jordan had told him, almost immediately after arriving this morning, that his defense strategy would be based on a double suicide that had not been carried through to its end. He had also told Chris that he would not be taking the stand in his own defense. It was the only way, Jordan insisted, to win the case. "How come," Chris said for the second time, "on TV, the defendant always takes the stand?"
"Oh, holy Christ," Jordan muttered. "Are we back to that again? Because on TV the jury says whatever the hell the script tells it to. Real life is considerably less certain."
Chris's lips thinned. "I told you that I wasn't suicidal."
"Exactly. That's why you won't be on the stand. I can say whatever I want to at the trial to get you acquitted, but you can't. If I put you on the stand, you have to tell the jury that you were never going to kill yourself, and that weakens the defense."
"But it's the truth," Chris said.
Jordan pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's not the truth, Chris. There is no one truth. There's only what happened, based on how you perceive it. If I don't put you on the stand, all I'm doing is giving my idea of how I perceive what happened. I'm just not asking for yours."
"It's a lie of omission," Chris pointed out.
Jordan snorted. "Since when did you become a good Catholic?" he asked. He leaned back in his chair. "I'm not going to go around and around on this," he said. "You want to go on the stand and do it your way? Fine. First thing the prosecutor's going to do is hold up the police interviews and show the jury how you've already changed your story once. Then she'll ask you how come, if you were going to save Emily, you brought a gun with bullets in it, instead of an empty revolver for show. And then the jury will hand back a guilty verdict and I'll be the first one to wish you well at the State Pen."
Chris muttered something under his breath and stood up, facing the rear wall of the conference room. "According to the ballistics report," Jordan said, ignoring him, "the shell of the one bullet that was fired was still in the revolver chamber, along with that second bullet. Your fingerprints were on both, which is a good piece of evidence for us: Why put two bullets in the chamber unless you were planning on one for yourself? I also like the fact that her fingerprints are on the gun, along with yours."
"Yeah. But they only found her fingerprints on the barrel," Chris said, reading over Jordan's shoulder.
"Doesn't matter. All we have to do is cast a reasonable doubt. Emily's fingerprints are somewhere on that gun. Therefore, she held it at some point." He spread his hands.
"You sound confident," Chris said.
Would you rather I wasn't?"
Chris sank down in his chair. "It's just that there's an awful lot of evidence there to explain away."
"There is," Jordan briskly agreed. "And all it does is place you at the scene of the crime-something you've never denied. It does not, however, prove what you were doing there." He smiled at Chris. "Relax. I've won cases with far less to go on than this one."
Jordan opened up the medical examiner's report with the details of Emily's autopsy. Entranced, Chris reached out and twisted the folder, reading the distinguishing marks of her body that he could have cataloged himself, the measure of her lungs, the color of her brain. He did not have to read the careful number to know the weight of Emily's heart; he'd held it for years.
"Are you left-handed or right-handed?" Jordan asked.
"Left," Chris said. "Why?"
Jordan shook his head. "Trajectory of the bullet," he said. "What about Emily?"
Jordan sighed. "Well, that's consistent with the evidence," he said. He continued to leaf through the records that had been sent by the prosecutor's office. "You had sex before she killed herself," Jordan stated.
Chris reddened. "Um, yes," he said.
He felt his cheeks burning even hotter. "Yeah."
"Straight intercourse? Or did she go down on you?"
Chris ducked his head. "Do you really need to know this?"
"Yes," Jordan said evenly. "I do."
Chris picked at a nick in the table. "Just straight," he murmured. He watched his attorney flip through the autopsy report. "What else does it say?"
Jordan exhaled through his nose. "Not enough of what we need." He stared at Chris. "Is there any physical condition you know of that could have accounted for Emily's depression?"
"Like some kind of hormonal imbalance? Cancer?" Chris shook his head twice. "What about the pregnancy?"
For a moment, all the air in the room thickened. "The whatl" Chris said.
He was aware of Jordan watching his face carefully. "Pregnancy," Jordan said, turning the autopsy report toward Chris again. "Eleven weeks."
Chris's mouth opened and closed. "She was ... oh, God. Oh, God. I didn't know." He thought of Emily as he had last seen her: lying on her side, her blood spreading beneath her hair, her hand draped over her abdomen. And then the room went black, and he imagined that he was falling into place beside her.
USUALLY a VISIT TO the jail's nurse cost three dollars, but apparently fainting in the middle of a meeting with one's attorney won an inmate high triage status and a free trip to the small room used for medical treatment. Chris awakened to the feeling of cool hands on his brow. "Are you all right?" a voice said, high-pitched and muted, as if through a tunnel. He tried to sit up, but the hands were surprisingly strong. After a moment, he took deep breaths and tried to focus, and his eyes seized upon the face of an angel.
The nurses rotated, on loan from the old folks' home next door. Chris knew of certain inmates who'd fill out the request for a medical visit and pay the three bucks just to see whether they'd get Nurse Carlisle, hands down the hottest of the three women. "You passed out," Nurse Carlisle said to him now. "Just keep your feet up, yes, like that, and you'll be fine in a few minutes."
He kept his feet up, but turned his head on the scratchy pillow so that he could watch Nurse Carlisle move with economical grace around the small closet that passed for a sickroom. She returned with a glass of water- filled with, oh, God, precious ice. "Drink this slowly," she said, and he did, slipping the small cubes into his mouth the moment she turned away.
"Have you fainted before?" Nurse Carlisle asked, her back to him, and he almost said no, until he remembered the night that Emily had died.
"Once," he said.
"Well, I've been in those little conference rooms," the nurse confided. "I'm surprised anyone makes it through without fainting, given the heat."
"Yeah," Chris said. "That must have been it." But now that she had mentioned the conference room, it was all coming back. The discovery he'd been going over with Jordan. The small black letters that made up Emily's autopsy report. The baby.
He felt himself sinking back down on the table, and almost immediately the nurse was at his side. "Are you feeling sick again?" she asked, propping his feet up again and had covering him with a blanket.
"Do you have kids?" Chris asked thickly.
"No," the nurse laughed. "Why? Am I acting like a mother?" She tucked the blanket in at his sides. "Do you?"
"No," Chris answered. "No, I don't." His hands fisted on the fabric.
"You stay here as long as you want," Nurse Carlisle said. "Don't worry about the officers; I'll let them know what's happened."
What had happened? Chris wasn't even certain he knew anymore. Emily . . . pregnant? He had no doubt that the baby was his; he knew this in the way he knew that the sun would go down that night and that the sky would be blue the next morning-a fact that had always been that way and would always continue to be. He squinched shut his eyes and tried to remember whether her stomach had been any less flat; whether her features had seemed different; whether the truth had always been there for the taking. But all he could seem to recall was Emily, drawing away from him every time he touched her.
Maybe Jordan had been right; the pregnancy had been the thing that made her so depressed. But why? They could have gotten married and had the baby; they could have gone together for an abortion. Surely she would have known that they'd figure it out together.
Unless that was exactly what she was afraid of.
All of a sudden a powerful rage shuddered through Chris. How dare she depend on him for the one thing, but not the other?
With great precision, Chris rolled to his side and put his fist through the plasterboard wall.
SELENA SAT ON a high stool, waiting for Kim Kenly to finish rinsing her hands. She let her eyes roam about the classroom, taking in the wide, black tables and the wall of shelving that held a rainbow of construction paper, a brace of easels, a festival of paints. The art teacher wiped her palms on the front of her denim apron and turned toward Selena with smile on her face. "Now," she said, briskly pulling up a stool. "What can I do for you?"
Selena opened her notebook. "I'd like you to tell me about Emily Gold," she said. "I understand she was one of your students?"
Kim smiled wistfully. "She was. A particular favorite."
"I've heard that she was very artistic," Selena prodded.
"Oh, yes. She designed the Thespian Club's stage sets, you know. And she won a statewide high school art contest last year. With her grades, we had discussed her going to a college of fine arts, or even off to the Sorbonne."
Now that was interesting. Pressure could come from many angles, not only parental, to make a kid feel overwhelmed. "Did you ever sense that Emily was worried about living up to everyone's expectations?"
The art teacher frowned. "I don't know if anyone was harder on Emily than herself," she said. "Many artistic personalities have a wide streak of perfectionism."
Selena sat back, patiently waiting for Kim to explain.
"Well, maybe a case in point would be best," she said. She stood up and rummaged in the back of the room, emerging with a medium-size canvas painted with the spitting image of Chris.
Emily Gold had been better than good; she was an accomplished painter. "Oh," Kim said, "that's right. You'd know Chris."
She shrugged. "A bit. I have every high school student, for some small block of time in ninth grade. The interested ones sign up for continuing art classes, the others beat a path to the door." She smiled ruefully. "Chris would have been among the first ones out, if not for Emily."
"He took art classes, too, then?"
"Oh, God, no. But he came here quite a lot during his free periods to pose for Emily." She lifted a hand toward the canvas. "This was one of many."
"Were you always here with them?"
"Most of the time. I was impressed by the maturity of their relationship. In my line of work, you see a lot of giggling and necking in the halls, but rarely the connection those two had."
"Can you explain that?"
She tapped her finger against her lips. "I guess the best example would be Chris himself. He's an athlete, always in motion. Yet he thought nothing of sitting perfectly still for hours just because it was something Emily asked of him." She lifted the canvas, preparing to put it away, and then remembered why she'd brought it out in the first place. "Oh-the perfectionism. See here?" She peered closer to the canvas, and Selena did too, but only made out the layered shadings of paint. "Emily must have reworked the hands six or seven times, over a period of months. Said she couldn't get them exact. I remember that Chris, who was getting awfully sick of modeling at that point, told her that it wasn't supposed to be a photograph. But, you see, it was, to Emily. If she couldn't capture a portrait the way it was in her own mind's eye, it wasn't acceptable." Kim slid the canvas behind some others. "That's why I have it," she said. "Emily wouldn't take it home.
In fact, I'd seen her destroy some others that didn't work out precisely the way she wanted, slashing the canvases or painting over them entirely. And I couldn't let that happen to this one, so I hid it and told her one of the custodians had misplaced it."
Selena penciled a note in her little book, then looked up at the art teacher again. "Emily was suicidal," she said. "I wonder if she seemed depressed to you over the past few months, if there was any change in behavior at all."
"She never said anything to me," Kim admitted. "She really never said much of anything at all. She'd come right in and get down to business. But her style had changed," she said. "I thought it was just experimentation."
"Can you show me?"
Emily's most recent work was propped beside an easel near the big windows of the art room. "You saw her painting of Chris," Kim said, by way of explanation. This last canvas was washed with a red and black background. A floating skull grinned out from the picture, bone white and gleaming, a painfully blue sky streaked with clouds showing through the holes of the eye sockets. A realistic red tongue snaked out from between yellowed teeth.
At the bottom, Emily had signed her name. And titled it Self-Portrait.
JORDAN'S CLEANING WOMAN, like the six before her, finally got sick of dusting and vacuuming around heaps of papers that were "absolutely, positively not to be disturbed," and quit. Well, actually, she'd quit a month ago, but that was just when Chris's case arrived on his doorstep and he'd put it out of his mind entirely. Until that evening, when he'd been leafing through his notes while reclining on the bed and realized that the smell which wouldn't go away came from his own sheets.
Sighing, Jordan hiked himself off the bed and carefully set his notes on the dresser. Then he stripped the sheets from the mattress, wadding them into a ball and heading toward the washing machine. It was only when he passed Thomas, doing his homework in front of Wheel of Fortune, that he realized he probably ought to get his son's sheets, too.
All in all, if Maria hadn't quit, Jordan might never have found the Penthouse. As it was, when it tumbled into the tangle of sheets, all he could do was stare at it, stunned.
Finally, he shook himself into motion and picked up the magazine. Emblazoned on the front was a woman whose breasts defied gravity, her privates shielded by a low-hanging pair of binoculars. Jordan rubbed his hand along his jaw and sighed. He was completely at a loss when it came to this part of fatherhood. How could he tell his son to get rid of a porno magazine, when he himself paraded in bimbo after bimbo?
If you're going to have this conversation, he told himself, you might as well have Thomas listen. Tucking the magazine beneath his arm, Jordan walked into the family room.
"Hi," he said, sinking down on the couch. Thomas crouched over the coffee table, a textbook spread in front of him. "What are you working on?"
"Social studies," Thomas said, and before Jordan could stop himself, he thought, A little too social.
He watched his son write in his three-ring binder, his left hand carefully printing so that the pencil wouldn't smudge. Left-handedness; Thomas had gotten that from Deborah. And also the thick black hair, and the shape of the eyes. But the promised breadth of his shoulders, and the long line of spine, all that was straight from Jordan himself.
Apparently he'd also bequeathed his son a healthy lust.
Sighing, he pulled the magazine out and threw it over the looseleaf paper. "Want to tell me about this?" he asked.
Thomas flicked a glance at the cover. "Not really," he said.
"Is it yours?"
Thomas rocked back on his heels. "Seeing as how only you and I live here, and you know it's not yours, then I guess that's pretty obvious."
Jordan laughed. "You've been hanging around lawyers too long," he said. Then he sobered, capturing Thomas's gaze. "How come?" he asked simply.
Thomas shrugged. "I wanted to see it, is all. I wanted to know what it was like."
Jordan glanced at the Binocular Babe on the magazine cover. "Well, I can tell you, it's not really like that." He bit his lip. "In fact, I can tell you anything you feel like asking me."
Thomas blushed, the color of a peony. "Okay, then," he said. "How come you don't have a girlfriend?"
Jordan's mouth gaped. "A what?"
"You know, Dad. A steady girlfriend. A woman who actually sleeps with you and then comes back."
"This is not about me," Jordan said tightly, wondering why it was so much easier to keep control in front of strangers at a trial. "We're talking about how you came to have a Penthouse in your possession."
"Maybe that's what you're talking about," Thomas shrugged. "I'm not. You said I could ask you anything, but you won't answer me."
"I didn't mean about my private life."
"Why the hell not?" Thomas exclaimed. "You're asking about my private life!"
"What I do with my free time is my own business," Jordan said. "If it bothers you when I bring women home, you may voice your opinion, and we'll discuss it. Otherwise, I expect you to respect my privacy."
"Well, what I do with my free time is my own business, too," Thomas responded, and he slid the Penthouse beneath his stack of schoolbooks.
"Thomas," Jordan said, his voice terrifyingly soft, "give it back."
Thomas stood up. "Make me," he said.
They squared off, tension thickening the air, their differences punctuated by the applause of the studio audience on the television. Suddenly Thomas grabbed the magazine from beneath his books and dashed toward his bedroom.
"Get back here!" Jordan roared, striding in the direction of Thomas's room only to hear the door slam and the lock twist home. He was standing in the hall, considering breaking down the door on principle, when the doorbell rang.
Selena. She would be coming over to discuss the Harte case. Which actually might be the best thing for all concerned parties, right now.
Jordan walked to the front door and opened it, surprised to find an unfamiliar man in a uniform. "Telegram," he said.
Taking the envelope, Jordan walked back inside. GETTING MARRIED DEC 25 STOP WOULD LIKE THOMAS TO BE THERE STOP PLANE TICKET TO PARIS BEING SENT TO YOUR OFFICE STOP THANKS JORDAN STOP DEBORAH.
He glanced in the direction of Thomas's closed bedroom door, and thought, as he had a thousand times before, that timing was everything.
"Let ME GUESS," Selena said a few minutes later when she came into the house and found Jordan sprawled miserably on the couch. "Emily came back to life and pointed a finger at your client."
"Hmm?" Jordan levered himself on an elbow and swung his feet off the edge so that Selena could sit down. "No, nothing like that." He passed the telegram to Selena and waited for her to read it.
"I didn't even know your wife was alive, much less dating someone."
"Ex-wife. I knew she was alive. Or, rather, my accountant did. Got to send that alimony somewhere." He sighed and sat up. "The hell of it is, Thomas and I just had a fight."
"You two never fight."
"Well, there's a first time for everything." Jordan scowled. "And now he gets to run off with the other parent."
"In Paris," Selena added, glancing around. "I've got to tell you, Jordan. You can't compete with the Left Bank."
"Thanks a lot," he grumbled.
Selena patted his knee. "It will all work out," she predicted.
"What makes you so sure?"
She glanced at him, surprised. "Why, because that's your forte." She unloaded a stack of small notebooks and set them on the coffee table beside Thomas's school binders. "Are we going to brood tonight? Or talk about the case? Not that I mind either one," she hastily added.
"No, no, the case," Jordan said. "Get my mind off Thomas." He walked into the dining room, returning with a high stack of papers. "What are you doing for Christmas?"
"Going to my sister's," Selena said, looking up. "Sorry." She waited for Jordan to sit down next to her again. "Okay," she said. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."
Jordan laughed. "What did you get from Michael Gold?"
Selena flipped through her notebook. "I think he's going to help us. Reluctantly. You can use him to bring up how little time Emily spent with her parents, cast doubt on how well he knew his own daughter ..."
Jordan's mind flashed back to Thomas, hiding his Penthouse. How long had it been here, with Jordan away and working and lacking the time to find it?
Selena was still talking about Michael Gold. "... while he won't tell a jury that Chris didn't do it, I think you can get him to admit that Chris loved Emily."
"Mmm," Jordan said, looking over her notes. "And we can mention that Michael's been to visit Chris in jail."
Jordan smiled. "You must have triggered something in him."
"The only other thing I've got is Emily's art teacher, who has no verbal mention of suicide but a whopper of a convincing painting." She told Jordan about Emily's self-portrait.
"I'll have to think about that. Who could we get to interpret the difference in styles? It's not like we're talking about a real artist."
"You'd be surprised," Selena said. She shucked off her shoes. "What have you got?"
"Well," Jordan said, "Emily was eleven weeks pregnant."
"That's exactly what Chris said," Jordan murmured, "before he passed out." He looked at Selena. "You know, I've seen a lot of liars over the years. Hell, I've made a career out of consorting with them. But either this kid is the best one I've ever met, or he really didn't know about that baby."
Selena's mind was racing. "That's the prosecution's motive," she calculated aloud. "He knew and was trying to eliminate the whole problem."
"Add college into the mix, and you too can be S. Barrett Delaney," Jordan mocked.
"Well, then, it's simple. All we have to offer is a two-pronged defense. We get proof that Emily was suicidal, and we get proof that Chris didn't know about the baby."
"Easier said than done," Jordan reminded her. "Just because he didn't tell someone doesn't mean he didn't know."
"I'll go back and talk to Michael Gold," Selena said. "And there was something the art teacher said-about Emily wanting to go study abroad, or attend a school of fine arts. Maybe she was the one who didn't want the baby."
"Suicide seems a bit extreme as a method of abortion," Jordan said.
"No, it's the pressure, don't you see? Emily's this perfectionist, and all of a sudden her plans had a wrench thrown into them. She wasn't going to live up to what everyone expected her to be, so she killed herself. End of story."
"Very nice. Too bad you're not the jury foreman."
"Can it," Selena said pleasantly. "Did her regular doctor know about the pregnancy?"
"Apparently not," Jordan said. "It's not in the medical files the prosecution handed over."
Selena began writing in her notepad. "We can try Wellspring and Planned Parenthood," she said. "May have to subpoena the records, but I'll see if I can find someone willing to talk. The other thing I want to do is try to plant doubt about who brought the gun. Maybe put James Harte on the stand and ask if Emily ever had access to the gun cabinet, if she knew where the key was, you know. Get the jury off on another tangent. Oh, and I'm meeting with Chris's English teacher. Scuttlebutt has it that she thinks he's the Second Coming."
She paused for breath and looked up to find Jordan staring at her, a faint smile dancing at the edge of his mouth. "What?" she demanded.
"Nothing," Jordan said, looking away. He clapped his hand over his collar, as if he could tamp down the blush creeping up his neck. "Nothing at all."
It WAS HIGHLY UNLIKELY that any medical professional would be willing to talk to the defense team's investigator without being formally subpoenaed. Still, the rules at the clinics set up for free prenatal testing and care were slightly different. Although the records were sealed, the walls had ears. People talked in clinics, and cried, and other people heard them.
Selena had tried Wellspring first, without making a dent in the hatchet-faced receptionist. Then she'd gathered up her reserve at a nearby coffee bar and optimistically headed toward Planned Parenthood. Located two towns over from Bainbridge, it was on the bus line. Emily, who did not have her own vehicle, would have been able to get there without much difficulty.
The office was small and lemon yellow, located inside a converted Colonial. The receptionist here had high, teased hair the same color as the walls, and eyebrows that were painted on. "May I help you?" she asked.
"Yes," Selena said, handing her a card. "I wonder if I might be able to speak with the director."
"I'm sorry, she's not here now. May I ask what this is in reference to?"
"I'm working with the defense in a case involving the alleged murder of Emily Gold. It's possible that she was a patient here recently. And I'd like to speak to someone who examined her."
The receptionist looked at the card. "I'll give this to the director," she said, "but I can save you some trouble. She'll tell you you have to subpoena a request for the records, if they're here."
"Marvelous," Selena said, baring her teeth. "Thanks for your help."
She watched the receptionist turn toward a ringing phone, and walked back to the waiting room. A counselor holding a chart looked at her as she shrugged on her coat. As she walked out the door, the woman was escorting a heavily pregnant woman into the inner sanctum.
Selena slid into her car and turned over the ignition. "Goddamn," she said, slamming her hand on the steering wheel so hard it honked. The last thing she really wanted was to subpoena the records, because that meant the State would be present too, and God only knew what Planned Parenthood would have to say. For all Selena knew, Emily Gold had come in crying that the baby was some other guy's, and that Chris had threatened to kill her.
She jolted as there was a sharp rap on the window. Rolling it down, Selena found herself face-to-face with the counselor from inside. "Hi," she said. "I heard you in there." Selena nodded. "I-could I come in? It's cold."
Selena noticed that the woman was still wearing her short, smocked nurse's uniform. "Be my guest," she said, sliding over to open the passenger door.
"My name is Stephanie Newell," the counselor said. "I was working the day Emily Gold came in here." She took a deep breath, and Selena began to pray very, very hard. "The only reason I even remember that name is because I've been reading about her in the papers so much. She came a few times. At first she was talking abortion, but then she got scared and kept putting it off. There are counselors here-you know that the women all have to talk to counselors?" Selena nodded. "Well, I was the one who talked to Emily. And when I asked about the father of the baby, she said that he was out of the picture."
"Out of the picture? Those were the words she used?"
Stephanie nodded. "I tried to get her to elaborate, but she wouldn't. Every time I asked if he lived out of state, or if he even knew about the baby, she just said she hadn't told him yet. As counselors, we're trained to help clients see all the options, but not to force them to change their minds. Emily cried a lot, and mostly I just listened." She fidgeted in the seat. "Then I started reading in the papers about this boy, who'd killed Emily because of the baby, and I thought that didn't seem right, because he didn't even know she was pregnant."
"Is it possible that you convinced Emily to tell him? Maybe after one of your visits?"
"It's possible," Stephanie said. "But every time I saw Emily she said the same thing-she hadn't told the father; she didn't want to. And the last time I saw her was the day she died."
At THE SOUND OF the heavy barred door slamming shut, Dr. Feinstein jumped, leading Jordan to believe that it would not be all that difficult to convince the man not to come back. "This way, Doctor," Jordan said so-licitiously, directing the man toward the narrow staircase that led up to the attorneys' conference room at the jail. The officer who unlocked the door smiled grimly, hitched his hands into his belt, and told them Chris was on his way.
"Interesting fellow," Jordan said, taking a seat in the small, stifling room.
"You mean Chris?"
"No, the officer. He's the one who was held hostage here last year."
"Oh," Dr. Feinstein said, peering out the door. "I remember seeing that on the news."
"Yeah. Messy thing. Ax murderer who was waiting for trial led the uprising, and they locked the guy in one of the cells after they cut up his face with a razor blade." He leaned back, linking his hands on his belly and enjoying the way Dr. Feinstein's face leached of color. "You remember, now, the conditions for this interview?"
Dr. Feinstein turned his head away from the door with effort. "Conditions? Oh, yes. Although I will tell you again that my primary interest is healing Chris's mind, and there's a certain benefit associated with exploring the moment it was damaged in a now-safe environment."
"Well, you'll have to go about your 'healing' in another way," Jordan said flatly. "No discussing the crime, or the case."
Dr. Feinstein rallied once more. "Whatever Chris says is protected by patient confidentiality," he said. "You really don't have to be present."
"Number one," Jordan said, "patient confidentiality has been violated before in extreme circumstances, and Murder One certainly qualifies as one of those. Number two, the dynamics of your relationship with my client come second to my relationship with him. And if he's going to be putting his trust in anyone these days, it's me, Doctor. Because you might be able to save his mind, but I'm the only one who can save his life."
Before the psychiatrist could answer, Chris appeared at the doorway. A smile broke over his face at the sight of Dr. Feinstein. "Hi," he said. "I've, uh, had a change of address."
"I can see that," Dr. Feinstein chuckled, settling back in his chair with such ease that Jordan found it difficult to believe this same man had been shaking at the control booth only minutes before. "Your attorney graciously arranged for me to have a private meeting with you. Provided he's allowed to chaperone."
Chris cut a glance toward his lawyer and shrugged. Jordan took that as
a very good sign. He sat down at the last empty chair and flattened his palms on the table.
"Why don't we start with how you're feeling?" Dr. Feinstein began.
Chris turned toward Jordan. "Well... I feel weird with him here," he said.
"Pretend I'm not," Jordan suggested, closing his eyes. "Pretend I'm taking a nap."
Chris scraped his chair along the floor, turning it sideways so that he wouldn't see Jordan's face. "At first I was pretty scared," he told the psychiatrist. "But then I figured out that if you keep to yourself it's okay. I just try to ignore most everybody." He picked at the cuticle on his thumb.
"You must have a lot you want to say."
Chris shrugged. "Maybe. I talk a little to one of my cellmates, Steve. He's all right. But there are things I don't tell anyone at all."
Atta boy, Jordan thought silently.
"Do you want to talk about these things?"
"No. I don't," Chris said. "But I think I need to." He looked up at the psychiatrist. "Sometimes it feels like my head's going to crack apart." Dr. Feinstein nodded. "I found out that Emily was... we were going to have a baby."
He paused, as if waiting for Jordan to swoop in, avenging legal angel, to say that this was too closely related to the case to discuss. In the silence, Chris knotted his hands together, squeezing the knuckles tight against each other so that the pain would keep him focused. "When did you find out?" Dr. Feinstein asked, his face carefully blank.
"Two days ago," Chris said softly. "When it was too late." He looked up. "Do you want to hear the dream I had? Don't psychiatrists like dreams?"
Dr. Feinstein laughed. "Freudians do. I'm not a psychoanalyst, but go right ahead."
"Well, I don't dream much in this place. You've got to understand, the doors are slamming shut all night, and every few minutes one of the more ob' noxious officers comes around on the catwalk and shines his flashlight in your face. So the fact that I slept deep enough to dream anything is pretty amazing. Anyway, I dreamed she was sitting next to me-Emily, I mean-and she was crying. I put my arms around her, and I could feel her shrinking away, into only skin and bones, so I hugged her a little tighter. But that just made her cry more, and curl up closer, and all of a sudden she hardly weighed anything at all and I looked down and saw that I was holding this baby."
Jordan shifted uncomfortably. When he'd included himself in this private session, he had not thought beyond the point of protecting Chris legally. Now, he was beginning to realize that the relationship between a psychiatrist and client was very different from the relationship between a lawyer and client. An attorney only had to draw out the facts. A psychiatrist was obligated to extract the feelings.
Jordan didn't want to hear Chris's feelings. He didn't want to hear Chris's dreams. That would mean getting involved personally, never a good idea when practicing law.
He had a fleeting vision of Chris, sucked dry on both accounts by Dr. Feinstein and himself, blowing away like a husk.
"Why do you think you had this dream?" Dr. Feinstein was saying.
"Oh-I'm not done yet. Something happened after." Chris took a deep breath. "I was holding this baby, see, and it was screaming. Like it was hungry, but 1 couldn't figure out what to feed it. It kicked harder and harder, and I talked to it, but that didn't make a difference. So 1 kissed it on the forehead, and then I stood up and slammed its head onto the ground."
Jordan buried his face in his hands. Oh, Christ, he prayed silently. Don't let Feinstein get subpoenaed.
"Well. A psychoanalyst would say something about you trying to return to the so-called childhood of your original relationship," Dr. Feinstein said, smiling. "But I'd probably say it sounds like you were frustrated when you went to bed."
"I took this psych course at school," Chris continued, as if Feinstein had not spoken. "I think 1 can figure out why Emily turned into the baby in the dream-somehow I've got them connected in my mind. I even understand why I was trying to kill it-that guy Steve I was talking about, my cellmate? He's in here because he shook his baby to death. So that was already going around my head, too, when I went to sleep."
Dr. Feinstein cleared his throat. "How did you feel when you woke up from the dream?"
"That's the thing," Chris said. "I wasn't sad. I was totally pissed off."
"Why do you think you were angry?"
Chris shrugged. "You're the one who said that emotions all jumble together."
Feinstein smiled. "So you were listening," he said. "In this dream, you hurt the baby. Might you be angry about the fact that Emily was pregnant?"
"Wait a second," Jordan objected, aware that critical information was about to be revealed.
But Chris wasn't listening. "How could I be?" he said. "By the time I found out about it, it didn't make much difference."
"Because," Chris said sullenly.
"Because isn't an answer," Dr. Feinstein said.
"Because she's dead," Chris exploded. He slumped down in his chair and ran his hand through his hair. "God," he said softly. "I am mad at her."
Jordan leaned forward, his hands clasped between his knees. He remembered how, the day Deborah had left him, he'd gone to work at the DA's office and had picked Thomas up at day care and acted as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. And then a week later Thomas had knocked pver a cup of milk and Jordan had all but skinned him alive-he, who had never struck his son-before he realized who he was really trying to punish.
"Why are you angry at her, Chris?" Dr. Feinstein asked softly.
"Because she kept it a secret," Chris said hotly. "She said she loved me. When you love someone you let them take care of you."
Dr. Feinstein was silent for a moment, watching his patient gather control. "If she'd told you about the baby, how would you have taken care of her?"
"I would have married her," he said immediately. "A couple of years wouldn't have made a difference."
"Hmm. Do you think Emily knew you would have married her?"
"Yes," Chris said firmly.
"And what is it about this that scares the hell out of you?"
For a moment, Chris was speechless, his eyes set on Dr. Feinstein as if he was wondering whether the man was a seer. Then he looked away and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. "My whole life was about her," Chris said, his voice thick. "What if her whole life wasn't all about me?" He bowed his head at the same instant that Jordan lurched to his feet and walked out of the conference room, breaking his own rules so he would not have to listen anymore.
The Hartes' HOUSE was decorated, for the most part, in the serviceable New England WASP style that included spindly Chippendale furniture, threadbare antique carpets, and paintings of stiff-lipped subjects who were not related to the family. By contrast, the kitchen-where Jordan was currently sitting-looked as if several ethnic festivals had recently collided within it. Delft tiles decorated the splashboard of the sink; Colonial lad-derback chairs offset a marble-topped ice cream parlor table; a shoji screen blocked off the doorway to the dining room. Rainbow-hued Zapotec Indian place mats surrounded a German Hofbrauhaus beer stein, which held a mismatched assortment of silverware and plastic utensils. The eclectic surroundings set off Gus Harte beautifully, Jordan thought, as he watched her pour him a glass of cold water. As for James-he turned his attention to the man, hands shoved in his pockets as he stared out the window at a bird feeder-well, he probably spent his time in the rest of the house.
"There you go," Gus said, drawing up the second chair to the tiny round table. She frowned at its surface. "Do we need to move?" she asked. "There isn't much room here."
They should have moved; Jordan had brought a crate full of papers. But there was something about being in one of the more staid, conservative rooms that didn't appeal to Jordan, not when it came to discussing a case that required nearly gymnastic flexibility. "This is fine," he said, steepling his hands. He looked from Gus to James. "I came today to talk about your testimonies."
It had been Gus's question; Jordan let his eyes touch on her face. "Yes," he said. "We're going to need you as a character witness for Chris. Who knows him better than his own mother?"
Gus nodded, her face pale. "What do I have to talk about?"
Jordan smiled sympathetically. It was quite common for people to be afraid of going up on the stand; after all, every eye in the courtroom was focused on you. "Nothing you won't have heard before, Gus," he assured her. "We'll talk about the questions I'm going to put to you before the actual testimony. Basically we'll cover Chris's character, his interests, his relationship with Emily. Whether, in your esteemed opinion, your son could ever have committed murder."
"But the attorney general-doesn't she get to ask questions too?"
"She does," Jordan said smoothly, "but we can probably figure out what they're going to be."
"What if she asks me if Chris was suicidal?" Gus blurted out. "I'd have to lie."
"If she does, I'll object. On the grounds that you're not an expert in teen suicide. So then Barrie Delaney will rephrase, and ask whether Chris ever mentioned anything to you about killing himself, to which you'll simply say no."
Jordan pivoted in his seat to address James, who was still looking out the window. "As for you, James, we're not going to use you as a character witness. What I'd like to get out of you is the possibility that Emily might have taken the gun herself. Did Emily know where the guns were kept in your household?"
"Yes," James said softly.
"And did she ever see you take one from the gun cabinet? Or Chris, for that matter?"
"I'm sure she did," James said.
"So is it possible, since you weren't there to actually see it happen, that it was Emily and not Chris who removed the Colt from the safe?"
"It's possible," James said, and Jordan broke into a smile.
"There," he said. "That's all you'll have to say."
James lifted a finger and set a stained-glass angel sun catcher swinging in the window. "Unfortunately," he said, "I won't be taking the stand."
"Excuse me?" Jordan sputtered. He'd believed, until this moment, that the Hartes would condone anything short of and possibly including bribery to get their son free. "You won't take the stand?"
James shook his head. "I can't."
"I see," Jordan said, although he didn't. "Could you tell me why?"
The cuckoo clock on the wall came obscenely to life, its small dweller slipping out like a tongue seven consecutive times. "Actually," James said, "no."
Jordan was the first to recover his voice. "You do understand that all the defense has to do to vindicate Chris is present a reasonable doubt. And that your testimony, as the owner of that gun, would almost singlehandedly do that."
"I understand," James said. "And I refuse."
"You bastard." Gus stood in front of the shoji screen, her arms crossed. "You selfish, rotten bastard." She walked up to her husband, so close her anger stirred the strands of his hair. "Tell him why you won't do it." James turned away. "Tell him!" She whipped around to face Jordan. "It has nothing to do with stage fright," she said tightly. "It's because if James gets up at the trial, he can't pretend that this was all a nasty nightmare. If he gets up at the trial, he's actively involved in defending his son . . . which would mean there was a problem in the first place." She snorted in disgust, and James pushed past her and left the room.
For a moment both Jordan and Gus were quiet. Then she sat down in the chair across from him once again, her hands toying with the collection of silverware in the beer mug, making it clink against the ceramic lip. "I can put him on the witness list," Jordan said, "in case he changes his mind."
"He won't," Gus said. "But you can ask me the questions you were going to ask him."
Surprised, Jordan lifted his brows. "You've seen Emily with Chris when he was getting into the gun cabinet?"
"No," Gus said. "Actually, I don't even know where James keeps the key." She scrubbed her thumbnail over the engraved design of the mug. "But I'll say anything you need me to, for Chris."
"Yes," Jordan murmured. "I imagine you would."
THE UNWRITTEN RULE in the jail was that baby killers got no peace. If they were showering, you threw things into the stall. If they were shitting, you walked in on them. If they were sleeping, you woke them up.
As the medium security ward population dwindled-supposedly, the huge influx occurred after the Christmas holiday-the two prisoners who'd shared a cell with Chris and Steve were moved out. One was transferred to maximum security for spitting at an officer. The other finished his sentence and was released. With these cellmates out of the picture, Hector began anew his campaign to make Steve pay for his crime.
Unfortunately, Chris still shared the cell with Steve.
One Monday when Chris was sleeping, Hector began to bang on the bars of the cell. Privacy was an illusion in jail, especially during times when they weren't locked down. But even if the door to a cell was open, you did not walk in uninvited. And if the inhabitants were asleep, you left them alone.
Steve and Chris both sat up in bed at the sound of Hector, playing xylophone across the front of the cell with the legs of a bridge chair. "Oh," he said, grinning, when he saw them. "Were you guys sleeping?"
"Jesus," Chris said, swinging his legs off the bunk. "What is with you?"
"No, professor," Hector said. "What's with you!" He leaned across the threshold, his breath still stale with the night. "Guess now it makes sense. You compare notes?"
Chris rubbed his eyes. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Hector leaned even closer. "How long did you think it would take me to find out that you killed the girl 'cause she was having your kid?"
"You motherfucker," Chris said, his hands flying of their own volition around Hector's neck. Behind him, he could feel Steve pulling at his shoulder, but he shook him off easily, putting all his strength and all his concentration into strangling the asshole in front of him who'd spoken such a filthy lie.
It did not occur to him to wonder how this information had become public knowledge. Perhaps Jordan had mentioned it to the nurse, and an inmate had been washing the floors outside the medical office at the time. Maybe a guard had overheard. Maybe it had been leaked into the papers which were available for the inmates in the day room.
"Chris," Steve said, the voice floating thin over his shoulder. "Let go." And suddenly Chris could not stand the fact that everyone in this-this hellhole-would be lumping him together with Steve. There was a huge difference between hanging with Steve because Chris wanted to, and hanging with Steve because there was no one else.
Hector's eyes were bulging, his cheeks puffed and eggplant purple, and Chris did not think he'd ever seen anything so beautiful. And then all of a sudden his arms were wrenched behind his back and handcuffed and he'd been driven to his knees by a blow to the neck. Hector, restrained by another officer, was getting back his color and his wind. "You little fuck," he shouted, as Chris was dragged out of the pod. "I'm going to get you for this!"
It was not until Chris reached the control desk that he managed to ask where they were going. And even then, he didn't get an answer. "You act like an animal," the officer said, "you get treated like one."
He led Chris to the isolation cell. Before the officer unlocked the handcuffs, he checked beneath the mattress. There was no pillow.
Without another word, the officer freed Chris's hands and left him alone.
"Hey!" Chris said, rushing toward the door, solid metal except for the slat where his food tray would be passed in. He stuck his fingers through the slat. "You can't do this to me. You have to have a DR for me."
From somewhere down the hall, he could hear laughter.
He sank down on the floor and turned around bleakly. He would have his disciplinary review eventually, he supposed, sometime after he'd served his punishment. In the meantime, he was stuck in the hole for God knew how long, and the small cell had not been cleaned up from its last
inhabitant. There was a puddle of vomit in the corner, and feces smeared one-of the walls.
Chris sprang up, stretching to reach along the three-inch ledge at the top of the shower, just to see if anyone had left something behind. He scrabbled beneath the mattress and the nailed-down bunk, to no avail. Then he settled back in his original position, huddled against the door, his knees drawn up to his chest, gagging with every breath.
At 12:15 his lunch was shoved through the slot.
At 2:30 the maximum security inmates went to the exercise room, passing the isolation cell. One of them spat through the slot, mucus streaking across the back of Chris's shirt.
At 3:45, when the medium security men came to the exercise room, Chris took off his shirt and slid it under the door, a flat fabric puddle. He waited for something to fall onto it as the thunder of feet passed by, and then carefully drew back the shirt. Someone-Steve, he supposed-had tossed him a pen.
He tried to draw on the walls, but the ink didn't take to the cinder block. Or to the metal bunks or shower stall, which left only one thing. For the next three hours, until dinnertime, Chris drew on his prison-issue pants and shirt, wild designs that reminded him of Emily's artistic doodling.
After dinner he lay on his back and ran through every practice relay his coach had ever written on the locker room chalkboard. He crossed his arms over his chest and pictured his blood coursing from heart to artery to vein.
When he heard the squeak of crepe-soled shoes outside, he was certain that he'd imagined it. "Hey!" he yelled. "Hey! Who's there?"
He tried to squint out the opening, but the angle of the metal prevented him from seeing anything. Honing his senses, he made out the roll of wheels and the slush of a mop. The custodians. "Hey," he said again. "Help me."
There was a definite pause in the routine swing of the mop. Chris tilted his head against the slot again, then jumped back when something winged him in the temple.
He scrabbled at his feet, hoping for food, but felt the unmistakably thick binding of a Bible.
With a sigh, Chris crawled onto the bunk, and started to read.
Christmas vacation began on Thursday, so Selena was extremely grateful when Mrs. Bertrand agreed to speak to her Wednesday afternoon.
She sat uncomfortably in the small wooden chair, wondering who the hell thought this furniture was conducive to learning. Chris Harte was nearly as tall as Selena's six feet; how could he ever have jammed his legs under a table like this? No wonder today's adolescents couldn't wait to get out of school-
"I am so glad," Mrs. Bertrand said, "that you called."
"You are?" Selena was taken aback. In her professional career, she could count on one hand the number of people who didn't look at her funny when she said she was working for a defense attorney.
"Yes. I mean, of course I've read the papers. And the very thought of someone like Chris ... well, it's ridiculous, that's what." She smiled broadly, as if that was enough to acquit. "Now, what is it I can help you with?"
Selena extracted her ubiquitous pen and pad from her coat pocket. "Mrs. Bertrand," she started.
"Joan, then. What we're looking for is certain information that can be presented to a jury to make the murder charge seem... as you said, ridiculous. How long have you known Chris?"
"Oh, four years, I suppose. I had him in ninth-grade English, and then I sort of knew what he was doing even in the years I didn't have him-he's the kind teachers are always talking about, you know, in a good way-and then he was put in my class this year, as well."
"You teach honors English?"
"Advanced Placement," she said. "The kids take the test in May."
"So Chris is a good student."
"Good!" Joan Bertrand shook her head. "Chris is extraordinary. He has a gift for clarity, for getting to the heart of a complicated tangle. It wouldn't surprise me if he went on to college to become a writer. Or a lawyer," she added. "The thought of that sort of mind just. . . wasting for months in a jail," she shook her head, unable to continue.
"You're not the first person to feel that way," Selena murmured. She frowned at the filing cabinet, lettered with the alphabet.
"Student portfolios," Joan said. "Writing folders." She leaped to her feet. "I should show you Chris's."
"Did you have Emily Gold as a student too?"
"Yes," Joan said. "Again, another straight-A kid. But more reserved than Chris. Certainly, they were always together-I imagine the principal could even have told you that. But I just didn't know her as well as I do Chris."
"Did she seem depressed in class?"
"No. Very attentive to her work, as usual."
Selena looked up. "Could I see her folder, too?"
The English teacher brought back two manila leaves. "Emily's," she pointed. "And Chris's."
Selena opened Emily's folder first. There were poems inside-none that mentioned death-and a creative writing piece fashioned like Arthur Conan Doyle's work. Absolutely nothing useful. She closed the folder and glanced up again. "Did Chris seem depressed?"
She had to ask, although she knew what the answer would be. It was unlikely that an outsider would have noticed suicidal tendencies that were never there. "Oh, good Lord, no."
"Did Chris ever come to you for help?"
"Not in schoolwork; he was capable of that on his own. He asked me about colleges, when he started applying. I wrote him a letter of recommendation, too."
"1 meant personal things."
Joan's brow wrinkled. "I encouraged him to come to me, after-after Emily died. I knew he'd need someone. But he didn't have a chance," she said delicately. "We had a memorial here for Emily. To everyone's surprise, when Chris was asked to make a speech, he started to laugh."
Selena reconsidered the wisdom of putting Mrs. Bertrand on the stand.
"Of course, knowing Chris the way I do, I chalked it all up to stress," she said. Clearly uncomfortable with the recollection, Joan reached for Chris's folder and opened it in front of Selena. "I told the teachers who were gossiping about it to read this," she said, slapping her palm against an argumentative essay. "Any mind with this much promise wouldn't be a party to murder."
Selena didn't really agree, having met her fair share of intelligent criminals, but she politely glanced down at the essay. "The assignment said to come down on one side of a sensitive issue," Joan explained. "To present convincing evidence for that side, and then to dismiss the alternative point of view. This is something, you know, that most college graduates can't even do. But Chris pulled it off beautifully."
Chris's paragraphs were neatly aligned, justified by the computer printer. "In conclusion," Selena read, "being 'pro-choice' is a misnomer. There is not really an issue of choice at all. It is against the law to cut short someone's life, period. To say that a fetus is not a life is to split hairs, since all major bodily systems are in place at the time most abortions are undertaken. To say that it is a woman's right to choose is also unclear, because it is not only her body but another's as well. In a society that stands behind the best interests of a child, it seems strange indeed . .."
Selena lifted her head and let a white grin split over her face. "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Bertrand," she said.
It SEEMED ARCHAIC to offer a Bible as comfort, in a world where a vial of crack would probably have been preferred two to one, but Chris found himself entranced. He had never really read the Bible. For a brief stint, he'd gone to Sunday School, but that was because his father insisted on belonging to the local Episcopal church for the social statement it made. Eventually, they stopped attending with the exception of holidays, when one was most likely to be seen.
The familiar quotations leaped out at him, making Chris feel as if he'd populated the small cell with old friends. "Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you." He stared at the heavy door. Not bloody likely.
When the lights went out-no warnings, up here, just a misty darkness- Chris rolled off the bunk and got to his knees. The floor was freezing beneath the thin cotton of his pants, and in the new dark the smell of the shit on the wall seemed suddenly stronger, but he managed to knot his hands together and bow his head. "Now I lay me down to sleep," he whispered, feeling very, very young. "I pray the Lord my soul to keep." He furrowed his brow, trying to remember the rest of it, but couldn't.
"I haven't done this in a long time," Chris said, feeling foolish. "I hope You can hear me. I don't blame You for putting me in here. And I probably don't deserve any favors." He let his voice trail off, thinking of what he most wanted. Surely, if he only asked for one thing, he had a fighting chance of getting it. "I want to pray for Hector," he said softly. "I pray that he gets out of here soon."
Chris wondered whether God had met Emily yet. He closed his eyes, imagining the long blond hair he'd wrapped around his hands like reins; the point of her chin and the soft blue hollow of her throat where he could touch his lips to her pulse. He remembered something he'd read that night: "A new heart also I will give you, and a new spirit will I put within you." He hoped, now, Emily had that.
As he drifted off to sleep, still kneeling on the floor like a penitant, Chris heard God. He came on the sounds of footsteps, of key turns and disembodied whistles. And He murmured, stirring the fine hairs on the back of Chris's neck: "Forgive, and you shall be forgiven."
Gus WAS AWAKENED BY a heavy object falling across her chest. Startled, she began to fight her way out, only to realize that it was Kate pinning her. "Get up, Mom," she said, her eyes shining, her smile so infectious that Gus momentarily forgot waking meant she'd have to get through another day.
"What?" she asked groggily. "Did you miss the bus?"
"There is no bus," Kate said. She sat up, cross-legged. "Come on downstairs." She poked under the covers, receiving a grunt from her father. "You too," she said, and ran from the room.
Ten minutes later, Gus and James walked into the kitchen, dressed and bleary-eyed. "You want to start the coffee," Gus asked, "or should I?"
"You can't start the coffee," Kate said, bouncing in front of them. She grabbed each of their hands and drew them toward the shoji screen that separated the kitchen from the living room. "Ta-da!" she trilled, stepped away to reveal a scraggly, potted eucalyptus tree, hastily decorated with a handful of glass balls and ornaments. "Merry Christmas!" she sang, and wrapped her arms around her mother's waist.
Gus glanced at James over Kate's bowed head. "Sweetheart," she heard herself say. "Did you do all this?"
Kate nodded shyly. "I know it's kind of dorky, the tree from the foyer and all, but I figured if I cut down something outside you'd be pretty bummed out."
Gus had a fleeting image of Kate pinned beneath a fallen pine. "This is lovely," she said. "Really." The Christmas lights, small and winking, were on a timer. They faded in and out, reminding Gus of the ambulance parked outside the hospital when she was summoned for Chris.
Kate walked into the living room and happily settled herself beneath the small tree. "I figured you guys weren't around enough, with everything that's been happening, to decorate." She held out a package to Gus, and another to James. "Here," she said. "Open them."
Gus waited while James unwrapped a new DayTimer calendar in a faux alligator-skin cover. Then she tore away the wrapping paper from her own gift, a pair of jade earrings. Gus stared at Kate, still beaming, and wondered when her daughter had been to the mall. She wondered when her daughter had decided that at all costs, she was going to celebrate a normal Christmas.
"Thanks, honey," Gus said, hugging Kate close. And she whispered into the shell of her ear, "For everything."
Then Kate sat back down again, expectant. Gus fisted her hands in the pockets of her robe and glanced at James. How did you tell your fourteen-year-old you'd completely forgotten Christmas this year? "Your present," she announced extemporaneously, "isn't quite ready yet."
The smile fell away from Kate's face in degrees.
"It's ... being sized for you," Gus said.
A wall went up between them, solid and unforgiving for all its transparency. "What is it?" Kate asked.
Unwilling to lie any further, Gus turned to her husband, who only shrugged. "Kate," Gus pleaded, but her daughter was already on her feet and accusing.
"You don't have anything for me at all, do you?" she said thickly. "You're lying." She flung her arm out toward the eucalyptus. "If I hadn't done this lame Christmas thing, you would have just moped around today like you always do."
"Things are different this year, Kate. You know that with what's happened to Chris-"
"I know that because of what happened to Chris, you don't even know I'm around!" She grabbed the earring box out of Gus's hands and threw it against the wall. "What do I have to do to make you see me?" she cried. "Kill someone?"
Gus slapped Kate across the face.
A heavy shock settled over the room, the only sound the faint hiss of the lights as they glowed and faded. Kate, palm pressed to her burning cheek, whirled and ran out of the room. Trembling, cradling her hand as if it did not belong to her, Gus turned to James. "Do something," she begged.
He stared at her for a moment, then nodded. And walked out of the house.
It WAS ONE OF THOSE rare years when Christmas and Chanukah overlapped. The world was celebrating, which meant that Michael got the day off, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
He had been sleeping on the couch for months now, so he did not know if Melanie had awakened yet. But he showered in the downstairs bathroom and made himself an English muffin to take in the truck. Then he drove to the cemetery to visit Emily.
He parked some distance away, preferring the walk for the solitude and peace it offered. Snow crunched beneath his boots and the wind bit at the tips of his ears. At the cemetery gates, he paused to stare up at the wide, blue bowl of the sky.
Emily's grave was over the top of the hill, hidden by the crest. Michael walked along, thinking about what he would say to her. He had no qualms about speaking to a grave; he talked all the time to things that conventionally were considered unable to understand-horses, cows, cats. He puffed up the last bit of the long path, to the point where he could first see the grave. There were flowers there, brittle stalks now, from the last time Michael had come. And ribbons trailing, and bits of paper bleeding into the snow. And Melanie, sitting on her bottom on the frozen ground, unwrapping gifts.
"Oh, look at this," she said, when he was close enough to hear. "You're going to love it." And she draped a sapphire pendant over the dead necks of the roses Michael had left behind.
Michael glanced from the glittering jewelry to the other presents, arrayed like offerings on either side of the marker. A single-cup coffee maker, a novel, several tubes of oil paint and the expensive brushes Emily favored.
"Melanie," he said sharply. "What are you doing?"
She turned slowly, dreamily. "Oh," Melanie said. "Hi."
Michael felt his jaw clench. "Did you bring these things?"
"Of course," Melanie said, as if he were the crazy one. "Who else?"
"Who ... who are they for?"
She stared at him, then raised her brows. "Why, Emily," she said.
Michael knelt down beside her. "Mel," he said softly, "Emily is dead."
His wife's eyes filled immediately with tears. "I know," she said thickly. "But you see-"
"I don't see."
"It's just that it's her first Chanukah away from home," Melanie said. "And I wanted-I wanted-"
Michael pulled her into his arms before he had to watch the tears streak down her face. "I know what you wanted," he said, "I want it too." He buried his face in her hair and closed his eyes. "Will you come with me?" He felt her nod against him, her breath warm in his collar. They walked down the path of the cemetery, leaving behind the paints and the brushes, the coffee maker and the sapphires, just in case.
The Manchester airport was mobbed on Christmas Day, full of people carrying fruitcake tins and shopping bags ripping at the seams with their presents. Beside Jordan in the waiting lounge, Thomas bounced in his seat. He frowned as his son knocked the small folder with his tickets off his lap for the thousandth time. "You're sure you remember how to make a connection."
"Yeah," Thomas said. "If the stewardess doesn't take me, I ask someone else at the gate."
"You don't go yourself," Jordan reiterated.
"Not in New York City," they said simultaneously.
Thomas's feet danced impatiently, kicking at the metal rungs of the brace of seats. "Cut that out," Jordan said. "Everyone in this row can feel it."
"Dad," Thomas asked, "do you think they have snow in Paris?"
"No," Jordan said. "So you'd better come back home to use those skis." In an act of outright bribery, he'd deliberately bought Thomas a pair of Rossignols for Christmas, giving the gift to his son before he left to join Deborah for the holiday.
There had been a couple of transatlantic telephone calls, a heated exchange about whether or not Thomas was old enough to travel that far alone, and a flurry of compromise. In fact, for a few days, Jordan had refused Deborah's request. But then he awoke in the middle of the night one weekend and went in to Thomas's room to watch him sleep. He found himself thinking of Dr. Feinstein's questions to Chris Harte: What is it about this that scares the hell out of you? And he realized that his answer was the same as Chris's had been. Up until this point, Thomas's whole life had been filled with Jordan. What if, when given an alternative, it did not remain that way?
He'd called Deborah the next morning and had given his blessing.
"Flight 1246 to New York's LaGuardia Airport, now boarding at gate three."
Thomas jumped to his feet so quickly he tripped over the carry-on bag. "Whoa, hang on," Jordan said, reaching up a hand to steady him. He paused, about to lift the duffel, his eyes on his son. And Jordan realized that he would see this moment forever-one of life's gallery of pictures- Thomas with his head in profile: the soft fuzz of early adolescence on his cheeks, the concentration-camp thinness of his bony arms, the flapping orange "youth" ticket grazing the waist of his jeans. Clearing his throat,
Jordan hefted the carry-on bag. "God, this is heavy," he said. "What have you got in here, anyway?"
Thomas grinned, his eyes dancing. "Just ten or twelve Penthouses," he said. "Why?"
It had still been a sore point, something they did not talk about but rubbed sharply against every now and then when passing too close near the refrigerator or sidling out of the bathroom. With relief, Jordan felt the tension of the past week dissolve. "Get out of here," he said, and embraced his son.
Thomas hugged him back, hard. "Give mom a kiss for me," Jordan said.
The boy drew back. "On the cheek or on the lips?"
"The cheek," Jordan said, and gently pushed Thomas toward the boarding ramp. He took a deep breath then, and walked toward the plate-glass windows parallel with the belly of the plane. He would wait, he thought, just in case Thomas changed his mind at the last minute. With his hands in his pockets, Jordan stood sentry, watching the jet taxi to the runway and lift on the wind, until it disappeared from his range of vision.
"Merry Christmas," the officer said, grating open the door of the isolation cell.
Chris sat up, uncurling from the floor. The Bible had fallen beneath the bunk; he quickly slipped it into the waistband of his pants. "Yeah," he murmured, rocking back on his heels.
The officer grunted at him. "You want to wait till New Year's?"
Chris blinked. "You mean that's it? I'm out?"
"Superintendent's feeling charitable today," the officer said, holding the door open so that Chris could pass through. He walked swiftly down the corridor, stopping at the control room. "Where now?"
"Go Directly to Jail," the officer said, laughing at his own joke.
"I meant, which security level?"
"Usually you go back to max," the officer said. "But seeing as how your cellmate said you were provoked, and how you didn't have a DR before you went the hole, we're putting you back in medium." He opened the door for Chris. "Oh, yeah," he added. "Your buddy Hector's back downstairs."
"In maximum?" The officer nodded, and Chris briefly closed his eyes.
Steve was reading in the cell when Chris came in. He slid into his bunk and tried to bury himself under the pillow, smelling that horrible jail smell
in the detergent but luxuriating in the very fact of a pillow. He could feel Steve's gaze on him, even through all these layers, deciding whether or not he should speak.
Finally, because it was coming sooner or later, Chris took the pillow off his face. "Hey," Steve said. "Merry Christmas."
"Same to you," Chris answered.
"You all right?"
Chris shrugged. "Thanks for telling them about Hector." He meant it. Hector was not one to forgive someone for ratting on him.
"It was nothing," he said.
"Well, thanks anyway."
Steve looked away, picking at a nubby pill on the worn sleeve of his shirt. "I've got something for you," he said casually. "For Christmas."
Horrified, Chris panicked. He'd never thought about giving gifts in here, for God's sake. "I don't have anything for you," he said.
"As a matter of fact," Steve said, reaching beneath his bunk, "you do." He extracted a nasty looking instrument, fashioned out of the shaft of a Bic pen and a long, lethal-looking needle. "Tattoos," he whispered.
Chris wanted to ask how he'd gotten the needle-he could not imagine any weekender sticking that up his ass-but he knew that if he was going to do this, he didn't have time. Jail tattoos-and the items used to create them-were illegal. Having one, right out in the open, raised you a notch in respect because you were flaunting your trespasses right under the officers' noses.
What Steve was really giving him for Christmas was a way to save face.
He held out his arm, unsure if he really wanted to do this but clearheaded enough to realize that if he wanted to escape AIDS, he'd damn well better go first. With a quick glance toward the officer making rounds, Steve took out a lighter-another contraband surprise-and held the needle over the flame.
Chris rested his elbow on his knee and felt the first searing burn of flesh. It smelled oddly sweet, like roasting meat, and it sent pain straight down to his groin. Clenching his fist, he watched his own blood run down his bicep as Steve heated, carved, and cut. Then he felt Steve squirt the ink cartridge from the Bic into the wound, rubbing it into the raw skin where it would permanently set. "You can't see till you wash it off good," Steve said, "but it's an eight ball." He looked up at Chris, his eyes clear and sharp. "Because we both seem to be stuck behind it."
Chris pulled his sleeve down as far as it would go, licking at his fingers
to rub off the residue of blood and ink. An officer drifted by the cell, and Steve pressed the lighter into his hand. "Do one for me," he said. "Please."
Chris's hands shook as he cauterized the needle and pressed it against Steve's upper arm. Steve jerked, then tightened his muscles. Chris drew the circle, the figure eight, and the black background. Then he rubbed ink into the cuts and quickly pressed the needle back into Steve's hands.
Their fingers brushed. "Is it true," Steve asked, without glancing up, "about the baby?"
Chris thought of Jordan, who had told him not to say a word to anyone. He thought of these matching tattoos, branding them two of a kind. And he thought of words he'd read last night in the filth of the isolation cell: "Listen to my voice and I shall be your God, and you shall be my people."
Chris stared at his friend, his confidant, his congregation. "Yes," he said.
It had BEEN a GOOD VISIT. Michael stood up, as was his custom now, and watched Chris leave the basement of the jail. Today, he had not been planning to come. But seeing Melanie at the gravesite had unnerved him, and he wanted to tell someone about it. In the end, he hadn't told Chris-it didn't seem quite right, after all-but something about being here on Christmas Day eased his conscience. If he had not had the chance to speak to Emily that morning, at least he could talk to Chris this afternoon.
He wished the officer a happy holiday and jogged up the stairwell to the control room. It was the only way out of the jail; you were locked inside to visit with an inmate.
He stood patiently behind a woman in a camel's-hair coat, her hair concealed by a fluffy mohair cap. "Yes," she said to the officer. "I'm here to visit Chris Harte."
"Popular guy," the officer said. He bellowed over the loudspeaker, "Harte to Control."
Michael felt his heart squeeze under his ribs. "Gus," he said, his mouth dry.
She whirled, her cap tumbling off and her bright fall of hair spilling over the lapels of her coat. "Michael!" she gasped. "What are you doing here?"
"Apparently," he said, smiling wryly, "the same thing as you."
Her mouth worked for a moment without making a sound. "You . . . you visit Chris?"
Michael nodded. "I have been," he admitted. "Recently."
They stared for a moment. "How are you," Gus asked, at the same moment Michael said, "How has this been?" And, shaking their heads, they both smiled. A bright blush stained Gus's cheeks, and she glanced toward the staircase. "I better go," she said.
"Merry Christmas," Michael answered.
"You too! Oh ..."
"That too." Michael smiled. Gus put her hand on the doorframe of the staircase but did not move into it. "Do you ... I mean, would you maybe want to get a cup of coffee afterward?"
She smiled, her whole face lighting. "I'd like that," she said. "But I... Chris ..."
"I know. I'll wait," Michael said. He leaned against the wall and folded his coat over his arm. "I've got all the time in the world."