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Authors: Luanne Rice

Last Day (45 page)

BOOK: Last Day
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“Come on,” Lulu said gently. “It’s time to go.”

Kate stared at the page. She heard low voices behind her.

Leaning down, she kissed
B
for Beth.

“Kate?” Conor said from the doorway.

Kate stood tall and walked toward the detective. He put his arms around her, and they stood together, rocking back and forth.

“You okay?” he asked, leaning back enough so he could look into her eyes.

She shook her head but felt a small smile deep inside.

He gazed at her as if he could see into her soul, as if he knew what she was thinking: that she could never really lose her sister. She crouched to pick up Clementine. She held her gently in her arms, felt her heart lightly beating through her soft fur.

Then together they had all walked out of the room.

60

May 5

Oh, Kate.

We walk through the meadow holding hands. Up the slant of the hill we go, until we near the top, up above our grandmother’s house. It is late afternoon, the first Tuesday of May, and golden light washes over the green grass, and the air is warm. Those cold days of November have long passed, and the earth is starting to bloom. My fingers interlock with my sister’s. In her other hand, she carries a small carton with handles and holes for air.

Can you feel me with you?
I ask her.

Yes,
she says out loud.

I believe she can, although it is hard to know. The unshakable certainty I had last summer, when my body died, has given way to a sense that being definite is an illusion. It doesn’t actually matter. Nothing is solid; nothing is black and white. Love is fluid, and so is peace, without shape or edges, fresh water flowing from the river’s mouth into the sea.

She named her rabbit for my favorite fruit, for the color of the dress I wore the day Lulu and I cut
Moonlight
from the frame. I once despaired over that act, feeling that if I hadn’t done it, I might have lived. Telling Scotty that I had done it deliberately to hurt my husband
had filled her with poison. How could I not respect my husband when she loved hers so much, when he was turning away from her?

Now Scotty is in prison, just like my father. My father desires retribution; he would like to see her die. What happens to Scotty is not my concern. I left her behind on my last day, when she followed me upstairs from the garden, when I pointed out the blank spot on the wall where
Moonlight
had hung, when she told me she was tired of my life.

Those were her words: “I am sick of your life.”

So she took it from me.

Lulu wasn’t wrong: everyone but Scotty was a sinner.

I have a journey to take. Scotty will go on trial, and she will tell the truth—that I attacked her, slapped her when she accused me of cheating, of not respecting my husband or myself, of not even respecting my lover enough to tell him he was Matthew’s father. Kate and Sam have suffered all along; they were collateral damage of her act, and they will see this through. They will do it for me.

Kate.
I say her name.
Kate.

Her name is contained—it is hard, while my name is soft. Say it out loud:
Beth
. It sounds like a breeze. Then say
Kate
: it starts with a sharp
K
sound and ends with a hard
T
. I used to think, after our mother died, that her name was perfect for her. She had shut herself off in a castle to protect herself, with rock edges of impenetrable walls. I used to feel her watching me, perplexed, wondering how I could stay open to the world after what had been done to us.

And for so long, she stayed that way.

I don’t take credit for what has happened to her in these last months, but I think her love for me, missing me, has let her realize that life is so short, over in the blink of an eye. She rescued Clementine because she couldn’t save me. The rabbit with soft fur healed and is alive because of Kate’s care.

Kate’s love helps me forgive myself for my own death. The choices I made, the people I hurt. But now I know—the best of us waste our time
repenting, forgiving everyone but ourselves. And the worst don’t even realize there is anything to forgive. Hungry ghosts wander the earth, trapped in the bardo, seeking redemption that had been there all along.

It is time for me to leave. Letting go of my sister’s hand will be my last act in this world and may well be the hardest thing I have ever done. We’ve finally found our way back to each other. I desire peace—I need it; it is the natural order—yet I yearn to stay. If only I could be reborn; if only this connection could last forever.

Now we have reached the top of the rise. Mathilda’s roof glints silver in the dying light. The Connecticut River is painted pure gold, running south to Long Island Sound. In the far distance, the salt water sparkles deep blue, and the two lighthouses at Saybrook Point have blinked on. Kate stops when she sees their beacons.

We stand there together, watching the sun set. In the east, a full moon rises. This night will never be truly dark; moonlight will illuminate this hill, the river, the sea. Kate crouches down and looks into the cardboard crate. Clementine’s dark-brown eyes watch her with gentle vigilance.

“It’s time,” Kate says.

I know,
I say.

“I don’t want you to go,” she says. “Just when I’ve found you.”

I love you,
I say.

“Forever,” she says.

And ever.

She slips her hand from mine, and I feel myself start to fade, to merge into the moon’s pale glow.

Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?
I want to ask, but I find I can’t. Words lose their meaning; feelings are all that exist. I look down the hill and see the man with dark hair climbing up through the tall grass, coming toward us.

“I will visit you here,” my sister says, reaching into the crate to pet Clementine’s head, to trace with one finger the scars left by the hawk’s talons.

You don’t have to visit me anywhere,
I say.
I am with you; I am in you; I always will be. Love Sam for me, love Lulu, love each other.

Kate draws a heart in the grass. There is no blood this time; there is no need for it. The pressure of her finger makes its mark. I kiss the top of my sister’s head. She opens the door to the crate, and Clementine inches out. She hops a foot away, seems to look back at Kate, then races through the field and disappears into the hay.

“I love you,” my sister says. Her voice is quiet and happy. That is what I take with me—the sound of Kate’s happiness.

The moon rises above the tree line, and I lift with it.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thank you to Thomas & Mercer, especially the brilliant Liz Pearsons and my wonderful editor, Charlotte Herscher.

I am forever grateful to my beloved friend and agent, Andrea Cirillo, and everyone at the Jane Rotrosen Agency: Jane Berkey, Meg Ruley, Annelise Robey, Christina Hogrebe, Amy Tannenbaum, Rebecca Scherer, Kathy Schneider, Jessica Errera, Danielle Sickles, Sabrina Prestia, Hannah Rody-Wright, Chris Prestia, Julianne Tinari, Michael Conroy, Donald W. Cleary, Ellen Tischler, Gena Louque, and, forever, Don Cleary.

Many thanks to my dear friend and film agent, Ron Bernstein.

I’m very thankful to Patrick Carson, my extraordinary social media manager.

Epic gratitude, as always, to William Twigg Crawford.

I am grateful to Sergeant Robert Derry of the Connecticut State Police for sharing his insight and expertise.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Photo © by Kristina Loggia

Luanne Rice is the
New York Times
bestselling author of thirty-four novels that have been translated into twenty-four languages. In 2002, Connecticut College awarded Rice an honorary degree, and she also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Saint Joseph. In June 2014, she received the 2014 Connecticut Governor’s Arts Award for excellence as a literary artist.

Several of Rice’s novels have been adapted for television, including
Crazy in Love
, for TNT;
Blue Moon
, for CBS;
Follow the Stars Home
and
Silver Bells
, for the Hallmark Hall of Fame; and
Beach Girls
, for Lifetime.

Rice is a creative affiliate of the Safina Center, an organization that brings together scientists, artists, and writers to inspire a deeper connection with nature—especially the sea. Rice is an avid environmentalist and advocate for families affected by domestic violence. She lives on the Connecticut Shoreline.

BOOK: Last Day
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