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Authors: Loreth Anne White

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BOOK: In the Waning Light
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“Something like that.”

“I can tell you one person who’s gonna be really pissed. Sheriff Kovacs. That case ate him and his wife up whole. Changed the whole damn town. Never the same after that. Like an era gone.”

“And now his boy is running for sheriff,” Frank added, pushing open the door. “Her timing sucks.”

Blake followed the men out. He handed them crab pots, watched them go load their boat. His father’s contemporaries. Friends of the old sheriff.

Meg was backing her rig out. Her vehicle headed up the driveway and took a left onto the coast road. Guilt, hurt, a twinge of anger filled Blake. If he hadn’t been so hung up on Meg all those years ago he might have made a better go of his marriage. He’d have a better relationship with his son. And now that he was finally on track, plans for the marina, could see his life here with Noah, here she was. Like a bad penny. Because his body still reacted to her like a teen on hormone overdrive. Or was it just knee-jerk muscle memories chasing down old neural channels before he had time to think them through? He turned to go down the gangway, telling himself to use his head next time he ran into her. If there was a next time.

He could have handled that conversation better, that was for sure. He’d been an ass. It was self-defense and he knew it. Because he
couldn’t
want her. She was spoken for and sporting a big-ass diamond cluster to prove it.

And she was wrong about one thing. There were still secrets to keep.

“She’s able to recall the smallest details from decades ago, but can get confused by the present.” The director of the assisted living facility glanced up from the file on her desk and peered at Meg over small-rimmed glasses, as if examining something rather distasteful. And Meg supposed she was. In the eyes of everyone here she’d abandoned her aunt.

“When her short-term memory trips her up it can make her defensive. Irene sometimes thinks people are out to fox her, or that there’s a conspiracy afoot.”

Meg cleared her throat, feeling for all her thirty-six years and
lifetime of experience like a kid in front of the school principal.
“I . . . hadn’t realized it was so far advanced.”

“Her dementia is heading into what we call stage four—a CDR2—moderate impairment. At the moment she manages her own hygiene,” the director said crisply. “And although she’s fine with social activities, outings, chores, she’s reached the stage where she needs to be accompanied when she does leave the facility. As she progresses into stage four, and it can happen quite rapidly, her spatial and time disorientation will increase, and it’s at this point that our loved ones can get easily lost, and when short-term memory becomes seriously impaired. It’ll be difficult for her to remember anything new, including people she’s just met.”

“Why did no one tell me?”

The woman, handsome, with soft silver hair swept back into a sleek chignon, regarded Meg across the expanse of her desk as a judge might stare down a petty criminal in the dock. “Irene asked that we withhold informing
any relatives as long as we could, so as not to alarm you, or force you into returning prematurely.” She cleared her throat. “But it’s appropriate that you’re here now—decisions will need to be made.”

“So I can take her out?”

“As long as she’s signed out by a responsible adult, she’s free to leave.” The director smiled thinly as she got to her feet. “I’ll show you through.”

Meg followed the woman and her loudly clacking heels down the overly warm corridor. The place smelled of antiseptic, and bacon and eggs and burned coffee being served for breakfast. Is this what it all came down to? A place like this? Irene had put her life on hold to care for her brother’s child. And this is where Meg had left her aunt;
this
is how she’d thanked her. She swore internally, and vowed she was going to make this right. She
would
atone. One way or another, while Irene still had time.

Jonah’s words dogged her into the bowels of the facility.

You haven’t even been to see Irene since she went into that home. You haven’t returned in eighteen years. You can’t put roots down here, yet you can’t go back, either. See? You have
not
put it behind you. This is not about your work. It’s about your problem with intimacy, with letting people in. You want connection, yet you push people away . . .

Her skin prickled and a pearl of sweat slid slowly down between her breasts. The director knocked on room 117, opened the door, let Meg in.

“If you need to talk further—”

Meg nodded, her gaze fixed on the frail, stooped woman pacing in front of a window, scratching at her sleeve.

“Irene?” she said, stepping into the room. The door closed quietly behind her.

Her aunt spun around. Her jaw dropped.

“Tara?”

“I . . . no, it’s me, Megan.” She went forward.

Irene hesitated, confusion chasing through her features. Her hand touched the silvered hair at her temples.

“You . . . look just like her—your mother. My goodness. I . . . I didn’t expect to see you, Megan. What . . . are you doing here?”

“I came to see you, of course.” She kissed her aunt’s cheek. Irene’s skin was cool, papery, but her scent was familiar—lavender, lemongrass—and it brought a rush of memories.

Irene’s gaze darted around the room in panic. “I . . . I should get some chairs in here. More chairs.”

“The bed’s just fine.” Meg seated herself on the edge of the bed. “You’ve got a pretty view of the garden. I like the birdbath right outside.”

Irene looked out the window, as if seeing the view anew.

Meg swallowed.
The long good-bye
is what Nancy Reagan called it. Today was a start. She still had time. And suddenly this was no longer just about the book, but so much more. It was about setting right all sorts of past wrongs. It was about growing up and beyond being the self-indulgent “victim” as Blake had so brutally called her this morning. And he’d had a right to do so.

Irene finally took the lone chair. She stared at Meg. “It’s been so long,” she said in a whisper. “When did I last talk to you, Megan, how many years ago?”

“I phoned,” Meg said gently. “Remember? At least once or twice a month since you moved in here.” She cleared her throat. “I’ve come to see how you’re doing. And I’m going to fix up the house. Give it a paint job, spruce up the garden. Maybe you’d like to come and help? Or just watch? Sit in the garden, if the weather turns, while I try and work that darn mower.” She smiled. “I see the gate is padlocked.”

Irene frowned, her eyes going distant. Then her face lit up suddenly. “Ah, yes. Chained. Because of the vandals. There was graffiti. You’re not going to sell it, are you?”

“Well, I am thinking of listing it—”

“Maybe you could move back in, Meg? I could come and stay.”

“I . . . how about we talk about all that later.” She hesitated. “I’m going to be in town for a while—we’ll have plenty of time.”

“You stopped visiting your dad, too. You never visited him in prison. You hurt your father, you know that?”

Shock rippled through Meg, and defensive walls slammed instantly up.

Well, he hurt me. He hurt all of us. He killed Mom.

“I did visit him.”

“You . . .” Her brow furrowed, and she started scratching at her sleeve again. “You stopped going. That’s it. Now I remember. I know it’s a long drive from Seattle to Salem, but not once in the last five years did you see your father. He died without seeing you again, Meggie.”

“I stopped going because he
refused
to see me the last two times that I did drive all the way out there. If I’d known he was sick—if someone had told me . . .”

Irene started to scratch her sleeve aggressively. A nervous tic, Meg noted, when her aunt was having trouble recalling something.

“That’s right,” Irene said. “Yes. Of course. He refused to let me tell you that he was ill. He wanted you to get on with your life, Meggie. That’s why. He said the punishment should be his alone to bear, that you should not have to spend your life driving for miles upon miles to visit him in prison. You needed to move on.”

A sharp surge of emotion rose up the back of her nose, catching Meg by surprise. Wind gusted outside and dry vine leaves ticked against the window. “I wish I
had
known,” she said softly, holding Irene’s eyes, once so dark, and bright, like her dad’s. “I’m sorry.”

“You were always our little Meggie. We only wanted the best for you.”

Shit. This was sucking her back too deep.

“How is that man of yours?” Irene said, glancing at Meg’s large engagement ring. “What was his name again?”

“Jonah. He’s fine.” Meg slapped her knees. “So! How about it—want to help me with the house? I’ll need the keys for the padlock on the gate, and for the house, so I can get in, take a look-see what needs to be done. Then we can make a time for you to come out. Maybe we can go into town for lunch some day, tea? Shopping?”

Irene’s face crumpled into a smile and her eyes gleamed with moisture. “I’d like that. I’ve got the keys somewhere in my dresser drawer.” She got up, shuffled over to the dresser, opened the top drawer, and started rummaging around. Meg noticed a copy of her new hardcover atop the dresser. It was bookmarked and lying beside a silver-framed photo of her family taken a month before Sherry’s murder. She got to her feet, picked up the frame. Complex emotions corded her stomach. She really did look like her mother. In this photo Tara Brogan was not much older than Meg was now. It brought the memory of her mother suddenly closer. It painted a new perspective around their family tragedy, and it made Meg wonder how she herself would have handled her own daughter’s violent death, her husband going to prison for murdering the assailant in a vigilante rage. She sure as hell wouldn’t have killed herself, leaving her youngest child an orphan, that’s for sure. Meg set the frame down firmly, an old bitterness resurfacing at the back of her tongue.

Irene set a small, padded box on the dresser. “The keys should all be in here,” she said, lifting the lid. “Ah, here they are.” She handed Meg a fob with several keys attached. “I should also give you Tara’s boxes, all her files.”

Meg looked up from the keys. “What?”

Irene’s mouth pulled to the side. She scratched hard at her arm. “It’s all in the boxes, you know. What your mother was working on. I must let you have it all now. Maybe you can make sense of it all.”

“What boxes? What are you talking about?”

She hurried over to her closet and yanked open the doors. “Up there, Meg. Top shelf. Two of them. Get them down, will you?”

Meg stared at her aunt. “What’s in them?”

Frustration bit suddenly at Irene. “After the fire. I’m so sorry about the house fire, about leaving the candles burning like that. It’s why I decided to come here, to the facility. I was worried it could happen again. Or worse.”

“I know, I know. Go on.”

Irene’s hand moved rapid-fire along her sleeve, two hot spots forming high along her cheekbones. Meg placed her hand gently over her aunt’s agitated one. “Tell me, Irene.”

“The fire and water damage—we had to get in contractors to fix up the kitchen. Tommy’s company came and did it. He did it for nothing, you know. There was that dividing wall between the kitchen and the living room, remember, the one with the bookshelves, where Sherry used to keep her goldfish?”

Don’t be stupid, Meggie. They live in a perfect world. There are no predators in their water, like the poor wild fish have to deal with in the sea . . .

“I remember.”

“Well, when they came to hack that drywall out, they removed the damaged books from the shelf and found there was a large fire safe at the back of one of the shelves. It had been hidden by those books, which I’d never moved. That was where your mother kept the file boxes, and her journal.”

Meg felt blood rush from her head. Her breathing slowed.

“Journal?”

“Get it all down, will you?”

She did. Two file boxes. Dust layered the lids. Meg set them on the bed, opened them. Inside were folders, envelopes stuffed with papers, photographs, a leather-bound journal. Meg lifted out the top folder, flipped it open. Ice slid down her spine. She shot a glance at her aunt. “It’s a transcript,” Meg said. “Of the sheriff’s interview with Tyson Mack.”

Irene nodded.

Quickly, Meg flipped through more of the folders, her hands beginning to tremble. “Sherry’s autopsy report,” she whispered. “And a diary.” Meg opened the first page of the leather-bound book. Her mother’s handwriting filled the pages.

I visited with Lee Albies this evening, Ty Mack’s defense counsel. We spoke well into the night. She’s a remarkable woman. Believed passionately in her client. A startling defense she’d been mounting. She gave me copies of everything, and the more I read, the more I believe there was no doubt a jury would have acquitted Ty, at least on grounds of reasonable doubt . . .

Meg’s knees buckled, and she sat slowly on the bed. “Who . . . what does this all mean?”

“Your mother didn’t believe it was your dad’s fault, killing Tyson Mack. So, she started gathering all the information she could—”

BOOK: In the Waning Light
11.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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