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The heavy feeling hit Bridie before she even opened her eyes. She pulled the covers up, wanting nothing more than to go back to sleep and not wake up again. In this morning's gray light her fantasies of happy endings seemed hopelessly childish. She gave a bitter little smile as she thought of the times she had almost poured out the truth to Alasdair over coffee and dessert. A fine mess that would have been. If he was ready to cut her loose because of Anna's diaries, what would he do if he knew the truth? What had she been thinking?
She rolled over and looked at the clock. It was time to get up if she was to perform her last duties for him and the children. She would go to the parsonage, get Samantha off to school, and spend these last two days with the children. And after that she would be unemployed again. She remembered that day, not so long ago, when she had made a wager with God. A job by the end of the day or she would go back to dealing.
She didn't bother to make a wager this time. She felt somehow that her fate had been decided long ago, maybe before she even existed. So this is how it happens, she realized as she showered and dressed, as she gathered up the few things she wanted to take with her and shoved them into her backpack. This is how a person ends up a loser. A bad break here, a poor choice there. Pile up a few months of those, a few years, and there you were. Out of luck, out of ideas, ready to do whatever it took to get by.
She counted out what was left of her money and put most of it into an envelope with a note for Carmen and left it on her dresser.
She walked quietly into the living room and peeked out the window. Newlee's patrol car was parked out front, but they weren't up yet. She looked around the little apartment one more time and the words she'd written to Carmen didn't seem enough now. She reached her hand into the pocket of her jacket to get the key to the apartment and came out with a slip of paper as well. The mysterious telephone number. After last night's drama she'd forgotten all about it. She went to the phone. One more time she dialed the number.
"This is Bridie Collins." Her pulse was loud in her ears. She swallowed, and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. "You've been trying to get ahold of me."
"Just a minute," the woman said. There was a rustling sound, and Bridie thought she heard a baby whimper. A door closed. "Yeah," the woman said. "I live with Eric. In Charlottesville."
Her stomach clenched. "Why are you calling me?"
"Somebody came looking for you, and Eric gave you up."
"Who was it?" Bridie asked, her voice calm, her insides a twisting mess.
"Tall, thin dude. Weird, whacked out on speed. He kept chewing his lip and picking at himself."
"What did Eric give him?"
"Everything he had. If I found you, he will, too."
"Thank you," Bridie said.
"We're even now," the woman answered and then hung up.
Bridie's hands shook as she replaced the telephone and turned on the computer. She almost screamed with impatience as she waited for it to boot up, then clicked on the heart for her favorite place and was immediately routed to the Virginia Department of Corrections Inmate Locator. She punched in the familiar name one last time: Porter, Jonah.
When the screen appeared, she stared, too frightened to move. Her breath came in shallow little gasps. Porter, Jonah. Status: Released. She leaned forward, reading it over and over, trying to think of what she should do. She clicked on the picture. There he was. The same angular face, the same raw features. His striking eyes were blank, vacant, like the soul inside had been gradually eaten away. He was out. And he knew where she was.
She had to leave. That much was clear now. She shouldn't even go to Alasdair's. She could be leading Jonah to them, and that could only be trouble. She paused, chewing her lip.
Carmen was standing in the doorway staring at her, giving her a strange look. "What's going on?"
Bridie didn't answer. She went back to the computer and turned it off. When she turned toward Carmen, her roommate was still staring at her. "What's up?" Carmen asked again, her voice a little more pointed.
"Nothing." She answered too quickly.
"What's with that?"
"That." Carmen gestured toward Bridie's backpack and gave her another intent stare. "And what's up with you? You're acting like you did that night we ate the espresso beans."
"Nothing's up with me," Bridie lied, trying to make her voice sound as natural as possible. "The backpack's because I'm spending the night at the parsonage. Alasdair's going on a trip."
Carmen stared at her, not smiling or nodding. "You sure you don't want to tell me?"
This wasn't good old live-and-let-live Carmen.
"Nothing to tell. I've got to go."
Carmen nodded, but she didn't pad off to the kitchen to make coffee as she usually did.
Bridie opened the apartment door, determined to get away before Newlee came out and started asking questions. She peered into the gray morning, but she couldn't do too much reconnaissance, or Carmen would get suspicious and wake up Newlee, and then she might as well just raise her hands and give herself up without a fuss. No one was around that she could see. She stepped out and closed the door behind her, but instead of going out the front she looped around the back of the building. It was raining, a light foggy mist. She cut through the alley and took the long way around the block, running to catch the bus one stop north of her usual.
She climbed on board and slid down in the seat, nothing moving but her eyes as she scanned Alexandria's sidewalks, slick but already full of people. He wasn't there. She didn't see him, at least.
Her breathing finally slowed, though her heart was still galloping. The bus passed the parsonage and the church. She stayed on, but halfway to the next stop her heart got the better of her good sense. She had to say good-bye. Otherwise Samantha would think she'd just up and left. She pulled the cord and got off, looking around to make sure no one was following before she doubled back.
Not a Sparrow Falls by Linda Nichols
Copyright © 2002, Linda Nichols
ISBN 0764227270, 0764227556, 0764227564
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.