Authors: Dallas Schulze
"You're lying." He leaned toward her, his face tight and hard. "You stick in your safe little world, Kate. I won't do anything to damage it. But you might ask yourself one thing. You might ask yourself if my brother doesn't deserve something more than what you're giving him."
"I...I love Gareth," she said waveringly.
"You've got a hell of a way of showing it." He released his grip on her arm and took a step back, as if he no longer wanted to touch her. "Give us five minutes alone and I could have you flat on your back with your skirt around your ears and your legs around my waist."
The contempt in his voice stung her to the core. It hurt all the worse because there was an element of truth in his words. She didn't seem to have much resistance when it came to him.
"You're crude," she said. It was hardly a searing insult, but she was too shaken to come up with anything better.
"But I'm honest. That's more than you can say."
Before she could think of a response, the curtain scraped open behind her, rings rattling against the metal rod. The sound was as startling—and effective—as a trumpet blast. Kate turned, pinning a false smile on her face when she saw Philip and Sara Blackthorne.
"Oh, good, you found him. I'll go find Gareth and let him know you're here," she said and brushed past them and out of the cubicle without waiting for a response.
Nick watched her go. He wanted to go after her, wanted to apologize for being so harsh. And then he thought of her determination to marry his brother and he wanted to grab her and shake her until her teeth rattled. It was probably just as well that neither was possible, he thought, and made an effort to drag his attention to his parents.
"You don't look too bad," Sara said, her eyes cataloguing his injuries with a professional's skill and a mother's concern.
''I'm fine," Nick assured her. "There was no reason for Gareth to drag the two of you down here in the middle of the night."
"We much prefer getting the news from your brother than getting some garbled version later on," Sara told him.
"That's what he thought."
"Well, he was absolutely right." She picked up his chart and skimmed it. "You were very lucky."
"The dog I missed was even luckier," he said dryly. He stirred restlessly. "Can you do anything to break me out of this place?"
"I'll see what I can do," she promised. She reached up to touch his cheek lightly, her expression both stem and loving. "Don't do this again." She left the cubicle with his chart.
Nick looked at his father. "I didn't want to tell her but I'm going to make a break for it pretty soon, whether she gets permission or not."
"I suspect she knows as much." Philip's dark eyes were worried as he looked at his youngest son. "Is everything all right?"
"You mean other than assorted scrapes and bruises and the fact that my bike is totaled?" Nick asked with a half smile. "Other than that, everything's fine."
"I was thinking of less tangible things," Philip said. "Kate seemed upset when she left."
Nick's smile faded abruptly and he turned away. His father had always had an uncanny knack for picking up on the one thing you least wanted to discuss. It was like he had an internal magnet that led him unerringly to your guiltiest secrets—or so it had seemed when he was a boy.
"Did she?" he asked without looking at Philip.
"It seemed that way." Philip hesitated. Nothing in his son's stance invited him to continue the conversation, but he couldn't bring himself to simply let it drop. "You know, if you ever need to talk, I'm always here for you, Nick."
"Forgive me. Father, for I have sinned?" Nick asked, turning to give his father a humorless smile.
"Wrong church." Philip's worry deepened. "I just want you to know I'm here if you need me."
"Thanks, but there's nothing to worry about. Whatever Kate was upset about, it had nothing to do with me." Nick limped to the chair and picked up his ruined shirt again.
"You know, if you don't want to talk to me, there are other—"
"If you're going to suggest I have a chat with God, forget it." Nick hooked his fingers in the torn fabric and ripped the left sleeve completely off, the sound harsh and grating. "I've tried that."
"Actually, I was going to suggest your mother," Philip said mildly. "But, now that you mention it, it never hurts to go to a higher source."
"No, thanks—to both of them." Nick eased his arm out of the sling, gritting his teeth against the pain as he slid his hand through the ragged edge where the sleeve had been.
"I didn't realize you still carried such anger." Philip resisted the urge to help Nick with the shirt, knowing his assistance wouldn't be appreciated. "There are reasons—"
"No!" Nick left the shirt dangling from one shoulder and turned to face him, his eyes hard. "Don't give me that crap about reasons. There was no reason for Brian to die. Or Lisa. And there sure as hell can't be a reason for a two-month-old baby to die. You explain that to me and maybe I'll find a reason to talk to God again." He jerked the other side of the shirt around and shoved his uninjured arm through the sleeve, ignoring the sharp twinges of protest from his battered body.
"I can't give you an explanation," Philip admitted in a troubled voice. "I can only tell you that I believe, with all my heart, that there is a greater purpose."
Nick forced himself to draw a deep, calming breath. Maybe it was finding himself in a hospital that had his temper stretched thin. The smells of antiseptic and pain brought back too many memories. Or maybe it was the scene with Kate. That certainly hadn't done anything to help. But whatever it was, it wasn't fair to take it out on his father.
"I respect your faith. Dad," he said slowly. "But I can't share it. Not anymore."
Fumbling, he fastened a few of the buttons on his shirt. The cubicle suddenly felt small and constricting, as if the curtains had become solid walls that were closing in on him.
"I've got to get out of here," he muttered. He brushed past his father and dragged open the curtain. His mother was on her way in, and she gave him a disapproving look.
"You really should stay overnight," she said.
"Not another minute." He summoned a lopsided smile. "I'm going to blow this joint, with or without your permission."
"In that case, you can come home with your father and me."
He opened his mouth to refuse and then closed it again as he realized that that was exactly what he wanted to do. "Okay."
"You sure you didn't hit your head?" Gareth asked, coming up behind Sara. "I thought for sure you were going to argue."
"And give up a chance to con Dilly out of one of her world-famous breakfasts?" Nick asked lightly. "How dumb do you think I am?"
"I'd better not answer that," Gareth said with a grin.
"Safe bet." Nick looked at Kate, who was standing next to Gareth. Their eyes met for a moment and then she looked away. He ruthlessly quashed a twinge of pain when she slid her hand into Gareth's. That pretty much said it all, he thought. It was ridiculous to feel a sense of loss, because she'd never really been his to start with.
He threw his arm around Sara's shoulders. "Let's go home."
The graveyard was cool and quiet. Ancient sycamores cast soft shadows among the gravestones, filtering the summer sun and creating a dim oasis from the heat.
Nick walked between the graves, letting his fingers trail along the edges of marble and granite markers. When he was a boy, he and his twin had spent a lot of time here, reading the names and dates on the gravestones, speculating about the lives they marked. It had been at least twenty-five years since he and Brian had sat cross-legged in the grass and spun tales about the people laid to rest here, but many of the names rang bells. It felt a little like meeting ok friends after a very long time apart.
He made his way to a single marker set under the outer branches of an ancient oak. It had been five years since he'd been here, but the image had remained clear in his mind. He knew this place as well as if he'd visited it daily. Sun and rain had weathered the stone slightly, giving it a gently settled look. But nothing could soften the short span of years after the first name and the heartbreakiagly few number of weeks shown after the second.
It had been almost three weeks since the accident and he was still favoring his injured leg. And his movements were a little stiff as he crouched beside the grave and reached out to brush his fingertips over the cool stone, gently tracing his son's name. For a moment, the pain of loss was a sharp, hard ache in his chest. What kind of a little boy would Kyle have been if he were still alive—rough and tumble or quiet and thoughtful? Would he have hated Brussels sprouts and tried to sneak an extra cookie whenever he could?
"I wondered if you'd come here today." At the sound of Harry's voice, Nick pulled his hand back and stood up, blinking rapidly. He cleared his throat before speaking, but his voice was still husky.
"It's Lisa's birthday. I haven't forgotten." "No, I didn't think you would have." Harry came forward and bent to lay a colorful bouquet of mixed flowers at the base of the stone. His movements were stiff with age. "I knew you wouldn't have forgotten. I just didn't know if you'd forgiven."
"There was never anything to forgive," Nick said. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and hunched his shoulders as if against a chill, "Lisa loved Kyle. She would have given her life to protect him. In a way, that's what she did. She was trying to keep him safe. I can't hate her for that."
A little way off, a mockingbird sang its heart out, running up and down the scales in a way that would have made an opera diva pale with envy. Much farther off, he could hear a dog barking. Both sounds seemed to deepen the silence around them.
"It took me years to forgive her," Harry said suddenly. He kept his eyes on the grave. "I used to come here a couple of times a month, not to grieve but because I was so angry. I just couldn't understand how she could take her own life, let alone her son's. I don't know, I think I was almost coming here to demand answers."
"Did you get any?"
"No." Harry sighed and lifted his head, looking across the rows of markers. "But after a while, I guess I found a kind of acceptance. Not so much of what she'd done but of why she'd done it. I knew she'd never have done anything to deliberately hurt anyone, least of all her own son. To do what she did, she must have been very confused."
"Something happened to her after Kyle was born," Nick said. "She was suddenly afraid of everything. She couldn't bear to read the paper or watch the news because she equated every terrible thing she saw with the same thing happening to Kyle. It wasn't just a murder in Los Angeles. It was killers coming after the baby. If there was an earthquake, no matter how small, she was afraid it was a foreshock of the Big One. She was afraid to leave the house for fear something would happen to Kyle. I tried to talk her into seeing a doctor, but the idea upset her so much that I didn't push it. I thought she'd get over it, that she was just a little more anxious than most new mothers."
"You had no way of knowing what was in her head," Harry said, responding to the guilt Nick hadn't quite expressed. He looked at the grave again. "She was always so fragile. I used to wonder if it was because she lost her parents when she was so little or if it was something I'd done to her. She was all I had, and I know I spoiled her."
"If there's one thing I think I'm finally getting through my thick skull, it's that playing 'what if ' is a waste of time." Nick pulled one hand out of his pocket and brushed a leaf off the top of the marker, his eyes following it as it fell to the ground. "Some people just aren't tough enough to survive for long in this world. Lisa was one of them."
They stood without speaking for a few minutes, letting the quiet warmth of the afternoon drift around them. It was a good place to sleep, Nick thought. He felt peace slip through him, a kind of acceptance.
There would never be a time when he didn't mourn what he'd lost, but it was time to let go, time to move on. He touched the top of the stone again and said goodbye one last time before turning and limping away.
Harry fell into step with him but neither spoke until they reached the edge of the cemetery. Harry's car was parked next to Nick's new Harley. He opened the driver's door and then set his arm along the top of the window, scowling at the big motorcycle. "I can't believe you bought another one of those deathtraps."
"That dog would have run out in front of me if I'd been in a car," Nick said mildly. He'd already survived a thorough scolding from Dilly on his choice of transportation.
"That may be, but if you'd been in a car, you wouldn't have ended up skidding across the road on your face," Harry said tartly.
"Can't argue with that one," Nick admitted. The truth was, he'd bought another motorcycle as a reminder that his time here was strictly limited. A few weeks ago, he'd been thinking about trading the Harley in for a truck, but that was when he'd thought he might be staying in Eden. Before he'd realized how impossible that was.
Harry leaned his arm along the top of the open car door and looked at Nick, his eyes questioning.
"You've been putting in a lot of hours on the house the last few weeks. The lights are on into the wee hours every night."