Authors: Diane Chamberlain
A novel by
Copyright Â© 2010 by Diane Chamberlain
Cover by Kimberly Killion
Ebook creation by Dellaster Design
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Originally published by HarperCollins, 1996
is a place as well as a frame of mind, deep in the heart of Pennsylvania Mennonite country.”
âThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution
THIS WAS HELEN'S FAVORITE
part of the sonata, the slow, measured rise and fall of the notes, the yearning, pleading sound flowing from her piano. Her eyes were closed in concentration when she heard the low growl of thunder in the distance. She lifted her hands from the keys and looked through the window. Her eyes were still sharp enough to see that the wind was spinning crazily through the trees, baring the pale undersides of the leaves and bending the stand of volunteer bamboo nearly to the ground. It was only five o'clock on a summer afternoonâthe Fourth of July, to be exactâbut it was already dark, the sort of darkness that made the woods look at once foreboding and inviting.
The sky above the trees suddenly pulsed with light, and thunder rumbled once more in the distance.
Helen loved a good storm, and she skipped the entire second movement of the sonata to begin the roaring, thundering third. It wasn't until the rain began in earnest that she remembered the tools in the garden. She'd planned to work out there again this afternoon, but the piano had seduced her on one of her trips through the house.
She rose slowly from the bench and walked into the kitchen and out the back door. She didn't bother with an umbrella, and the rain felt fresh and cool on her face as she crossed the yard to the garden.
The scuffle hoe lay on the ground near the thigh-high shoots of corn. She picked up the hoe, then turned in a circle, hunting for the shovel and trowel, shaking her head when she spotted them in a tangle of weeds. Had those weeds been there a few hours earlier? They were popping up as fast as she could pull them these days. They raised their healthy green faces to the rain as she bent over for the trowel.
She walked to the edge of the bamboo where Rocky was buried, and pulled a few weeds from around the boulder she'd managed to roll on top of the fresh grave. She'd nearly wrenched her back moving the stone, but she hadn't cared. The vet had come out to her house to put the terrier to sleep only the week before, and she was not quite over it yet. She missed the wiry body leaping on her bed in the morning for a cuddle. She missed the way he would lie at her feet, no matter where she went in the house. She'd wept and wept watching the vet dig the grave, as though all the losses she'd endured in her eighty-three years had been encapsulated in the death of the little dog. Rocky had been her family since Peter's death ten years earlier, becoming the object of her nurturing and the source of her affection. The loneliness in the house the past week had been a palpable force.
The trees whipped around her shoulders as she stood up from Rocky's grave, and thunder roared in her ears like a menacing animal lurking just out of sight. Something made her turn to look back at her houseâthat little miracle of wood and glass she and Peter had created more than sixty years agoâand suddenly the world turned white. Ice white. So cold it burned.
PAIN, EVERYWHERE. ABOVE HER
, pink and blue dahlias bloomed in the dark sky before dropping their petals in a shower of sparks. She lay still for several minutes, waiting for the petals to fall on her, wondering why she didn't feel them on her skin, until she realized it was fireworks she was seeing in the sky above her. Fireworks. The Fourth of July. The gardening tools. Weeds and rain.
She couldn't swallow. Couldn't hear. Shouldn't there be sound with fireworks? She tried to lift her head to see exactly where she was, but the muscles in her neck were frozen. Maybe she'd had a stroke.
Oh, the pain in her chest! Her head!
Maybe she'd fallen and given herself a concussion.
She squinted as tiny gold fish wriggled across the sky, disappearing in a pale orange mist. She tried to remember. There'd been a storm. Thunder. The white light, sudden and blinding. She knew then what had happened, and she felt a keen sense of disappointment that the lightning had not simply killed her. It would have been a splendid way, a splendid time, to die. Her family was gone; the last of her good friends had passed away a few months earlier. She'd had a fine life. There'd been sorrow, to be sure, but she'd known deep and enduring love. Selfless love. She had known passion. And she had touched many lives.
Perhaps she would die after all. She couldn't get to the house, and it might be days before anyone came up here and found her.
All right, then
. She closed her eyes to the soundless spectacle of light above her and tried to will herself back into unconsciousness.
Too many clues in the attic
The thought darted into her brain, and her eyes sprang open. The boxes in the attic. Why hadn't she taken care of them? She'd meant to clean them out long before now. She couldn't die yet, not until she'd gotten rid of them. She tried to lift her head again, wincing with the effort, finally giving up. Was the house behind her? To her right? Left? A dozen dahlias flashed in the air above her, and she stared at them numbly. Who would care enough to weed through those boxes? Even if someone did, would they ever be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together? Surely this was needless worry.
Closing her eyes against the exploding dahlias, she put herself in the hands of fate.
Helen opened her eyes to see a young woman at her bedside, and once again she had to struggle to remember where she was. Spader Hospital. She'd been hereâ¦, how long? Days. She knew that much. The white light.
She squinted at her visitor, trying to remember why the visage of this woman struck fear in her heart. Oh, yes. The social worker. The one who wanted to put her in some sort of home.
“You're awake.” The social worker smiled at her.
“I can take care of myself,” she said, before the woman had a chance to start talking about the home again.
“I know.” The social worker nodded, patronizing her. “I'm sure in time you'll be able to, but as we talked about yesterday, you're going to need some help for a while. You have a badly sprained ankle and wrist as well as a concussion. And your blood pressure and heart rate are very unstable. You know what happens when you try to get out of bed.”
Helen couldn't even sit on the side of the bed without the room spinning and fading to black. “You'd be surprised what I'll be able to do once I'm home,” she said.
The social worker nodded pleasantly. “But at first you're going to need some help,” she said. “Not for long. Not forever.”
Helen stared at her, afraid. The woman had rosy cheeks, a too bright smile, brown hair shaped like a bubble. She was somewhere in her midthirties, too young to understand that once you allowed someone to take over, you would never have control of your life again. She knew the social worker saw her as a stubborn old lady, set in her ways, making life difficult for those who thought they knew what was best for her. Worse, she had overheard the womanâor maybe it had been one of the nursesâtalking about her in the hallway, saying something about her being “just an old woman who happened to be married to an important man.”
They called her “demanding,” too. Every afternoon there was a thunderstorm, and she found she couldn't bear the noise, the light. She'd never been a fearful sort of person, but now the thick, swirling clouds of an approaching storm made her tremble. She'd insisted that the nurses move her bed away from the window and pull the shades.
“There's a wonderful home not far from where you live.” The social worker spoke carefully. “It's expensive, but you can afford it, I'm sure.” Obviously the woman knew that the royalties from Peter's music had left her more than comfortable financially, although no one would ever know it from the simple way she lived.
“I told you, no nursing home,” Helen said firmly.
“All right.” The social worker tried unsuccessfully to hide a sigh. “Let's look at some other options, then. Do you have any relatives who might be able to help out?”
Helen shook her head. “My only living relatives are a granddaughter I haven't seen in nearly thirty years and a great-grandson I've never even met. They live way out in San Antonio. I wouldn't think of imposing on them.”
“I understand. But let me just give your granddaughter a call. I'm sure she'd like to know your situation, and maybe the three of us can put our heads together and come up with an idea.”
Helen started to shake her head again but changed her mind. She was curious about her granddaughter. She'd been cut off from Rachel since the girl was fifteen. There had been a few Christmas cards in recent yearsâenough to tell Helen about the grandson, Chris, and that Rachel was a high school teacherâbut no other contact. Rachel would be in her early forties by now.
“Rachel Huber,” Helen said. “My address book is at home, but you can try Information, I suppose. She's on some street that begins with an S, I think. Some Spanish name, in San Antonio. But don't you dare ask her to come here. I will not impose on that girl.” She wondered if she should say more, if she should tell the woman the real reason Rachel should not come to Reflection, but decided against it as the social worker rose to leave the room, looking a little smug.
She was back within an hour, her pink cheeks aglow.
“Well,” she said as she took her seat again next to Helen's bed. “You are in for a very pleasant surprise.”
“What?” Helen eyed her with suspicion.
“I spoke with your granddaughter. I didn't ask her to come,” she added quickly. “I promised you that. She suggested it on her own. She's a teacher, but she's taking this coming year off. Isn't that one of those meant-to-be coincidences? She said it would be wonderful to see you and Reflection again. I guess she grew up here?”