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At the Edge
Twenty-two years later
"I should go talk to him, but I really do not want to," Claire murmured to herself.
From her kitchen window, Claire watched the man standing in front of the house next door. Hunched against Montana's bitter January wind, he seemed alone, his collar turned up, his hands in his jacket's pockets.
He stood so still amid the ghostly white snowdrifts and stark, leafless trees that he seemed a part of the landscape. Snow covered his knit cap and shoulders now, but he hadn't moved. He stood facing his aunt's house as if he were facing memories and bracing himself to enter it.
Claire had recognized Neil Olafson immediately; she'd seen him many times as he'd visited his aunt. There was no mistaking that tall, powerful body, despite the curtain of snow.
A warning tingle at the back of her neck caused Claire to reach for the telephone before it rang. That special tingle told Claire that one of her older sisters was calling. The triplets and their mother rarely needed the ring of the telephone to know family was calling. Their psychic link was stronger than electronics, and Claire's senses instantly picked up the identity of the caller. "Hi, Tempest. Neil Olafson is over at his Aunt Eunice's house now, and he's been standing outside, just looking at the house for some time."
"Mmm. Dreading to go in. You should go to him, Claire."
"I know. He really needs someone now. He looks so alone."
"He is alone, you know that. He's lost all of his family, according to what Eunice said. It's the right thing to do, Claire—to walk over there, say a few comfortingthings, then leave."
Claire inhaled slowly. She still had her family and could afford to comfort a grieving man she'd seen but never actually met. In fact, she'd avoided meeting him for five years, preferring her solitude and her work.
Tempest was unrelenting, an older sister nudging a younger one. "You know you should. He's standing out there, lonely in a freezing blizzard, dreading to go into his aunt Eunice's home, and he's all alone. You were her friend, and he knows it. Just remember to protect yourself. You know how to block other's energies from you. You can protect yourself when you try really hard. Just go over there and do it, then you're done."
"I've managed to not meet him since I moved in here. So I just walk up and tell him that I'm sorry his aunt died?" Claire was only prolonging the moment. Her reluctance was genuine, but so was her affection for the elderly woman who had just passed away. Tempest was right: Neil Olafson looked as if he really needed someone else standing near him in that snowy cold mist, someone to share his love of his aunt.
A gust of wind tossed the snowflakes in front of Claire's window; they churned slowly, almost like elegant dancers, before settling onto the layer of snow on her window ledge. To see better, Claire wiped her hand against the window glass, clearing it of the fog her breath had created.
Open on the cold glass, her hand paused as she thought of her friend, an old woman who had died at Christmastime. Claire continued looking through her window as she steadied the pewter hummingbird that dangled from its suction cup on the glass. The cheerful little bird seemed at odds with the blanket of snow draping the trees and Eunice's little house.
Her sister, always in tune with Claire's emotions, sensed her hesitation. "You need to help him, and you want to, so just do it. You'll regret it if you don't. He's alone, grieving, and you're elected. Eunice would want you to. You'll be okay, Claire. You're stronger now, but you also know how to block the feelings of others better. You've had enough practice. You deal with people all the time."
"On a necessity basis, Tempest. I'm out here in the-middle-of-nowhere Montana because I need solitude. I'd be drained and exposed to everything if I dealt with people every day. This is different. It's emotional. He's grieving. You know how dangerous that can be to me, especially when I'm missing her, too. I could take his emotions, his energy, into me, and they'd be magnified by my own, and—"
"You'll be fine. You've gotten better at protecting yourself. And wear the brooch I made you. If you feel you're in trouble, focus on that. We all have one, and we're all together. Love you. Truly, I do. Get back with me about what happens. You can use me to get rid of any upsetting energies. And I want to know what he looks like up close," Tempest advised, before the connection closed.
Snowflakes swirled around the man as Claire replaced the telephone.
How often through the years had the older woman peered through her own kitchen window and waved back at Claire? Or toasted her with her morning cup of tea?
Claire had missed the morning ritual, just as she was ending her all-night work session, and Eunice was rising.
The big man hadn't moved and stood like a shadow in the bluish white mist. Claire understood that this time was different; this time was Neil Olafson's reckoning, to face the truth of a loved one's passing. He would be wrapped in memories of his aunt Eunice. Since her death, he'd come only once, just after her funeral, staying but an hour or so.
Claire placed her hand over her heart, where the warm, fond memories of Eunice rested. She inhaled sharply, her heart twisting just that bit as the memories tightened within her: the little tea parties they'd shared, the way Eunice had always wanted her to meet Neil Olafson, her nephew. I worry about Neil. He'll need a soft hand when I'm gone. He's been through so much. . . .
The secluded valley was so quiet that Claire could almost hear the snowflakes tumble down her window's glass.At the Edge. Copyright � by Cait London. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.