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VIVIAN LEARY STOOD motionless at the corner of the street, her eyes darting from side to side. She had no idea where she was or how she'd gotten lost. After all, she'd lived in Colville her entire life. She should knowdid knowevery square inch of this town. But the last thing she remembered was going out to collect the mail and that must have been hours ago.
The street didn't look familiar and the houses weren't any she recognized. The Henderson house at the corner of Chestnut and Elm had been her marker, but it was nowhere in sight. She remembered that the Hendersons had painted their place white with green shutters. Where was it? she wondered, starting to feel frantic. Where was it? George would be upset with her for taking so long. Oh, no, how could she have forgotten? George was dead.
The weight of grief settled over her, heavy and oppressive. George, her beloved husband, was gonetaken from her just two months short of their sixtieth anniversary. It had all happened so fast____
Last November, her husband had gone outside to warm up the car before church, and a few minutes later he lay dead in the carport. He'd had a massive heart attack. The nice young man who'd come with the ambulance had told her George was dead before he even hit the pavement. He sounded as if this was supposed to comfort her. But nothing could have eased the shock, the horror, of that dreadful morning.
Vivian blinked hard, and despite the May warmth of eastern Washington, a chill raced up her bare arms. She tried to extinguish her growing panic. How was she going to find her way home?
Susannah would know what to dobut then she remembered that her daughter didn't live in Colville anymore. Of course Susannah wasn't at home. She had her own house. In Seattle, wasn't it? Yes, in Seattle. She was married with two precious children. Susannah and Joe's children. Good grief, why couldn't she think of their names? Her grandchildren were her joy and her pride. She could picture their faces as clearly as if she was looking at a photograph, but she couldn't recall their names.
Chrissie. The relief was instantaneous. Her granddaughter's name was Chrissie. She was born first and then Brian was born three years later. Or was it four years? It didn't matter, Vivian decided. She had their names now.
What she needed to do was concentrate on where she wasand where she should go from here. It was already starting to get dark and she didn't want to wander aimlessly from street to street. But she couldn't figure out what to do next.
If there'd been any other pedestrians around, she could've stopped and asked for directions to Woods Road.
Woods Road had been her childhood address. She hadn't lived there since she was a schoolgirl, and that was before the war. For heaven's sake, she should be able to remember her own address! What was wrong with her?
The place she was looking for was the house she and George had bought almost forty-five years ago, when the children were still at home. She felt a mixture of fear
and shame. A woman of eighty should know where she lived. George would be so frustrated and impatient if he ever found out about this____Only he'd never know. That didn't make her feel any better, though. She needed him, and he wasn't there to help her, and that filled her with anxiety so intense, she wrung her hands.
Vivian started walking again, although she wasn't sure where she was headed. Maybe if she kept moving, if she concentrated hard enough, the memory would eventually return to her.
Her legs tired quickly, and she sighed with relief when she saw a bench by the side of the road. Vivian couldn't understand why the city would place a nice wooden bench therenot even near a bus stop. It was a waste of taxpayers' money. If George knew about this, he'd be fuming. He'd been a public servant all those years, a superior court judge. A fine one, too, a man of principle and character. How proud Vivian was of him.
Still, she was so grateful for somewhere to sit, she wasn't about to complain. George had freely voiced his opinions about matters of civic responsibility and what he called city hall's squandering of resources. While she listened to her husband's views, she didn't always share them. She had her own thoughts when it came to politics and things like that, but she usually didn't discuss them with George. That was something she'd learned early in her marriage. George always wanted to convince everyone of the superiority of his ideas and he'd argue until he wore people down. So when her views differed from his, she kept them to herself.
Sitting on the hard bench, she glanced about, hoping to find a landmark. Oh my, this was a busy street. Cars whizzed past, their lights blinding her until she felt dizzy. She wasn't nearly as tired now that she was sitting. That was good, because she needed to think. Thinking was important. She hated forgetting basic facts, like her address, her phone number, people's names. This happened more and more often now that George had died, and it frightened her.
Perhaps if she closed her eyes for a moment, that would help. She'd try to relax, clear her mind, since all this worry only made her memory less reliable.
It was chilly now that the sun had gone down. She should've brought a sweater but she'd been working in the garden earlier and it had been hot. Her irises were lovely this spring, even though her garden was in sad shape. For years, it had been a source of pride and she hated the way it looked these days. She did as much as she could, but so much else needed to be done. Weeding, pruning, planting annuals
After dinner she'd decided to do some watering and remembered that she hadn't collected the mail. That was when she'd gone out, planning to walk to the neighborhood mailbox. And now here she was, lost and confused and afraid.
That was when Vivian sensed someone's presence and opened her eyes. Joy coursed through her veins as she stared, wondering if her mind had betrayed her.
Her husband of fifty-nine years stood beside her, shadowed under the nearby streetlight. His smile warmed her and she straightened, eyes wide open, terrified he'd disappear. George had come to help her, come to save her.
"That is you, isn't it?"
He didn't answer but stood there plain as could be. He'd always been such a handsome man, she thought, admiring his broad shoulders and his confident posture.
They'd been high school sweethearts and known each other their entire lives. Vivian felt she was the luckiest girl in the world when George Leary asked her to marry him. They'd been apart for nearly three years while he was fighting in Europe. Then he'd gone to college to get his law degree on the G.I. Bill. That time of struggle had paid off, though, and after a few years of private practice, he'd been invited to join the bench. George had been the one and only love of her life and she missed him terribly. How like him to come to her now, in her hour of need.
Vivian reached out to him, but George backed away. She dropped her hand abruptly, biting her lower lip. No, of courseshe should've realized she couldn't touch him. One couldn't touch the dead.
"I'm lost," she whispered. "Don't be angry with me, but I can't find my way home."
He smiled again and she was so relieved he wasn't upset with her. She'd forgotten things before he died, too, and sometimes he got frustrated, although he tried to hide it. She'd even stopped cooking but that was because she'd forgotten so many of her recipes. The ones in cookbooks were too hard to read, too confusing. But George never complained and often heated soup for both of them.
Vivian felt she should explain what had happened. "I went to get the mail and I must've decided to go for a walk, because when I looked up I wasn't anywhere close to the house."
He stretched out his hand and she got to her feet.
"Can you take me home?" she asked, hating how plaintive and helpless she sounded.
He didn't answer. Then she realized that dead men couldn't talk, either. That was all right; she didn't care as long as George stayed with her. Six months it had been since he'd died and every one of those months had seemed an eternity.
"I'm so glad you came," she whispered, trying to hide the way her voice cracked with emotion. "Oh, George, I miss you." She told him about the garden, even though she knew she was rambling. He'd never liked it when she talked too much, but she was afraid he'd have to leave soon, and there was so much to tell him. "George, I'm sure Martha is stealing. I just don't know what to do. I watch her like a hawk when she comes to clean, but still I find things missing. I can't let her rob me blind, and yet I hate to fire her after all these years. What should I do?" She hadn't really expected him to answer, and he didn't.
Then, suddenly, she saw the house. They were on Chestnut Avenue, where they'd lived since 1961. She walked laboriously to the front door, holding on to the railing and taking the steps one at a time. When she looked up to thank George for helping her, her beloved husband had vanished.
"Oh, George," she sobbed. "Come back to me
please. Please come back."
SUSANNAH NELSON DUMPED the leftover broccoli salad into a plastic container and shoved it inside the refrigerator, closing the door with unnecessary force. Brian, her seventeen-year-old, had mysteriously disappeared after dinner, leaving her with the dishes. She shouldn't be surprised. He had a convenient excuse every night to get out of doing his assigned chores.
"Is something bothering you?" her husband asked from his perch in the family room. Joe lowered the newspaper and all Susannah could see were his dark brows and his eyes behind the steel-rimmed reading glasses.
She shrugged. "I don't suppose you've noticed, but this is the third night in a row that Brian hasn't done the dishes," she said, more sharply than she'd intended.
"I'll do them," he offered.
"You shouldn't have to do that," Susannah told him. "Nor should I."
Joe set the newspaper aside. "This isn't about Brian, is it? You're upset about something else."
"Well, I am annoyed about the way he's been skipping out on chores, but you're right, that isn't everything." What concerned her most was her inability to identify a specific reason. She'd been on edge for weeks, feeling vaguely dejected.
It didn't help that she'd dreamed of Jake again last night. Her high school boyfriend had been making nightly appearances, and that unsettled her as much as anything. Susannah was happily married and despite the abrupt ending to her teenage romance, there was no good reason for her to dwell on Jake. Her marriage had survived the crises that any successful marriage does. Her children were nearly grown; her daughter was in college, ready to start her own life. Brian had summer employment, working for a construction company, and would earn enough to pay his own car insurance. The school break would officially begin in a day's time, and she'd be free for nearly seven weeks. Why, after more than three decades, was she dreaming of Jake? It made no sense whatsoever. There he was, big as life, filling her head with memories of a long-lost love.
"School's almost out," Joe reminded her. "That should cheer you up."
He was right; it should. Today was the last day of classes and her fifth-grade students had been overjoyed at the prospect of summer vacation. Susannah was equally ready for a break. Maybe for more than a breaka change. What kind of change, she didn't know. She supposed she could think about it over the summerafter tomorrow, anyway, when she'd be finishing her paperwork.
"You've been restless since your father died," Joe commented in a mild voice. He glanced at her across the family room. "Maybe you should talk to someone."
"You're saying I should talk to a counselor?" She hated to think it had come to this. Yes, her father's death had been a shock, but at the time her grief had seemed., .formal. Almost abstract. As though she'd mourned the idea of losing a father more than the man himself. She'd never gotten along with him. They'd tolerated each other, at best. As far as Susannah was concerned, her father was dictatorial, overbearing and arrogant. The moment she turned eighteen, she couldn't get away from him fast enough.
"He was your father, Susannah," Joe reminded her gently. "I know the two of you weren't close, but he was still your father." He removed his glasses. "In fact, maybe that's why you're feeling like this. Now that he's dead, there's no opportunity to settle your differencesto work things out."
Susannah shook her head, dismissing the suggestion. Her relationship with her father had been difficult. Complicated. But she'd accepted that reality years ago. "This has nothing to do with him."
Joe looked as if he wanted to argue, but she didn't let him. "Yes, his death was unexpected, but he was eighty-three and no one lives forever." The truth of the matter was that while they weren't completely estranged, they rarely spoke. That didn't seem to bother him any. Over the years, Susannah had made occasional efforts to bridge the gap between them, but her father seemed incapable of deepening their relationship.
Whenever she'd phoned or visited, Susannah talked to her mother. George Leary was a decent grandfather; she'd say that for him. Both Chrissie and Brian thought the world of her father. As for herwell, it was better to not think about the way he'd interfered with her life, especially during her teenage years. Yes, she was sorry he'd died, especially so suddenly, but she discounted the possibility that his death was the cause of this discontent she felt. If she was going to blame anyone, it would be Jake. But it wasn't as though she could mention this to Joe, her husband, her wonderful husband. Hey, honey,
I've been thinking about another man lately. That wouldn't go over too well, no matter how understanding Joe was.
Her husband continued to study her. "Even though you don't agree," he said slowly, "I suspect your father's death had a strong impact on you. Don't you remember what it was like when my parents died?"
She did remember and was embarrassed to admit that she'd grieved for her father-in-law more than she had her own dad. When Joe's mother died ten months later, they'd both been devastated. It had been a rough time for them as a family. Susannah had envied Joe's close relationship with his parents when her own, particularly with her father, was so distant.
"Of course it was a shock to lose my dad," Susannah went on, "but I don't think this mood"
"Depression," Joe inserted. "Low-grade, garden variety depression."
"I am not depressed." Even while she denied it, she knew Joe was right.
Her husband raised his eyebrows. "If you aren't depressed, then what is it?"
Joe was a solid, strong, self-assured man. Honorable. After twenty-four years together they'd grown accustomed to each other, so alike that they often ordered the same thing from a menu, read the same books, voted for the same candidates. She didn't understand how she could lie beside him in the same bed night after night and dream about another man. This wasn't like her. Not once in her entire marriage had she even considered looking at another man.
She'd be crazy to risk her marriage by searching for a high school fling. The episode with Jake was long over. She hadn't seen or talked to him since she was seventeen, and that was
oh, more than thirty-three years ago now.
Joe replaced his glasses after polishing the lenses on his shirt.