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"I think I'll get a job."
A second or two passed before Jack McAdam abandoned the sports page and lifted his gaze to his wife. Her tone was soft and low in the early-morning stillness. Musical. He'd always thought of Rachel's voice as musical. It was one of the first things that had attracted him to her. Settling back, he studied her. Straight and slim, she stood with her back to him watching a fierce fight for turf between two hummingbirds just outside the kitchen window. Inside, it was quiet. Too quiet. Would he ever get used to the silence?
He swallowed black coffee and grimaced at the bitter taste. "Is it a done deed," he asked, setting the cup down gently, "or can we discuss it?"
"What is there to discuss?"
He lay the newspaper aside and stood up.
She shrugged, a brief lift of one shoulder. "The bank, I guess. I don't know." He drew in a slow breath. "Which bank?" "First State."
She turned then to look at him. There was little emotion in her voice.
"Typing, filing, clerical stuff " She shrugged again. "What does it matter?"
"If it doesn't matter, why do you want to do it?"
"I can't sit around here forever, Jake. I'll go crazy if I do."
Wearily, he rubbed at the back of his neck. "Is this necessary, Rachel? Don't you have enough to do without taking on some" he made a vague gesture "some go-nowhere job that won't pay beans and will probably only boost us into a higher tax bracket?"
"It'll take me out of this house."
Away from the silence. Away from the reminders. Maybe she had the right idea. Maybe it would work for her. He fingered the edge of the paper. Burying himself in his job hadn't done a thing for him. Hadn't distracted his thoughts no matter how much he'd crammed into his workday. Hadn't eased the raw, desperate dread that rode him constantly. Hadn't dulled the grief that lay like a tangle of barbed wire in his gut. Hell, he couldn't blame her for wanting to escape. Reaching blindly for the paper, he accidentally knocked his cup to the floor where it shattered.
"I'll get it," Rachel said, going to the pantry to get a dustpan and brush before he could move.
"Sorry," he muttered.
Bending quickly, Rachel began to sweep the broken china into the pan. Outside, a dog began to bark excitedly. In the next house, a door slammed and a boyish voice called out a command to the dog. The next sound was the rumble and groan of a large vehicle.
The school bus.
Rachel's hands stopped. Her head bent lower, so that her blond hair fell around her cheeks. Then, working blindly, she cleared the floor of the last slivers of china and straightened, turning toward the trash can. "Don't forget to take this out," she said, her tone slightly choked. "The garbage run's today."
"I've already taken it out." Jake moved the can toward her, knowing she couldn't see. Her eyes would be filled with tears. "I put in a new liner."
A squeaking noise sounded from outside. Both Jake and Rachel glanced up, their faces turned to the window. The school bus again. It stopped. Timmy, the six-year-old next door, would be boarding. He yelled at Max, his big Labrador retriever, who barked a spirited farewell. The familiar sounds winged across the lawn and into the McAdams's window, heightening the tension in the kitchen. The bus changed gears and pulled slowly away. Silence descended again.
Jake moved to the countertop and poured himself another cup of coffee. He cleared his throat. "Maybe you could do some volunteer work at the courthouse. It's time for the voters' registration drive. They can always use someone to"
He looked at her. "Why what?"
"Why do you think I should volunteer at the courthouse? Don't you think I have any marketable skills?"
"I didn't mean it that"
"I have a college degree, Jake. Why shouldn't I put it to use?"
"Well, sure. I was just"
"Not that I've ever had any encouragement along those lines," she said bitterly. "Wherever I apply, I'll probably have to start at the bottom." She made a disgusted sound. "Below the bottom."
"You're a little rusty maybe, but"
"Thanks a lot. With that kind of encouragement from my husband, how can I fail?"
Jake slammed a hand on the table, the sound exploding like a shot in the kitchen. "What do you want from me, Rachel? Fine. Go to work! I agree, even though you drop the news out of the blue. I make a perfectly logical suggestion, but coming from me, naturally, it offends you. I sympathize when you worry about reentering the market after so many years as a housewife, and you reject that. I can't please you. So just tell me how you want me to react and I'll do it."
"I don't want to tell you anything!" she cried. "I shouldn't have to. Couldn't you just once put yourself in my place? every day you go off to work and bury yourself in your jobSheriff Jake McAdam, Kinard County's protector and defender. For twelve hours, you don't have to think about anything else. Well, fine. If that works for you, keep it up. Just don't try to stop me when I look for ways to cope. Okay?"
Jake slammed his cup on the counter, muttering as he reached for his jacket. There was no reasoning with Rachel lately. Especially when she was in this mood.
"And while you're at it," she said to his back as he pulled the door open, "you might take a minute or two from your busy schedule to try to find our son!"
With the crash of the door, another kind of silence settled into the kitchen. Rachel wrapped her arms around her middle and rocked slowly back and forth as scalding tears washed down her face. Closing her eyes, she leaned forward and let the despair take her. It was a dark, familiar void. In it, she didn't have to think, to feel. All she had to do was give herself up to it, and time passed. That was the important thing. For time to pass. Survival depended on just holding herself together until the pain and despair eased to a point where they became bearable. After a while, she sniffed. Fumbling slightly, she pulled a tissue out of the pocket of her robe. She always carried a tissue now for the tears that could well up and overflow in an instant. It didn't matter where she wasin the shower, driving a car, in the checkout line at the grocery store, in the middle of the night. She must have shed enough tears to rival Florida's last hurricane since Scotty
Anguish, quick and arrow-sharp, pierced her breast. Where was he? Where was her baby? She could not believe he was gone, vanished. One minute playing with Timmy and John-John and the next snatched up by someone, something, some
She got to her feet, wiping furiously at her cheeks and blowing her nose. She knew what would happen if she sat here and let her thoughts run away with her like this. Too many times in the past three months she'd been too close to the edge. She couldn't tempt fate that way anymore. The shaky control she'd managed to hang on to since Scotty's disappearance was too fragile to stand much more. That was why she had decided to get out, to get away from the house, at least during the day. Everywhere she looked were reminders. Six years of precious memories were housed under this roof. The rooms echoed with bursts of laughter, childish shouts, sharp sounds of slamming doors and running feet. She honestly thought she'd die from the pain sometimes. Why couldn't Jake understand that she had to do something?
A pang, different but no less distressing, sent her hurrying to the sink. She turned on the water and began rinsing cups, spoons, scrubbing the counter where he'd splashed coffee when she'd finally pushed him too far. Why did she do that? Why did she keep on and on until he lost his temper and they began shouting at each other? Wasn't this a time when they needed each other? Shouldn't they be able to find some kind of solace in grieving together? Worse yet, why had she said that to him?
Her hands slowed, stopped. Closing her eyes, she heard the cruel words again. She hadn't seen his face because he'd been on his way out, leaving because he knew their argument would only get worse, the words more cutting, the accusations wilder, more unreasonable. She didn't know why. She didn't know how to stop. About the only thing she knew was that she needed something else to think about. She was desperate, and if she was going to survive this, then it was up to her and her alone to work it out.
She forced herself to finish up at the sink, then headed upstairs to shower and dress. As she passed the phone, it rang. It was her sister.
"Just checking to see if you'd like to meet me at Flanagan's for lunch," Suzanne said. "I've got a client appointment at one-thirty this afternoon, but we'll still have plenty of time. What do you say?" Suzanne had been running her own business for eight years. She was a beautiful ash blonde with amber eyes, unlimited energy and self-confidence, a husband who adored her and encouraged her to reach for the sky if she felt like it. On top of all that, she was the mother of three.
"I don't know, Suzy." Rachel stared into the trash can at the broken pieces of Jake's cup. "I may have something going today. I know how busy you are, and I don't want to promise and then have to cancel."
"I'm never too busy to have lunch with my baby sister. But you know that. So, what's on your agenda?" She hesitated. "Is it Scotty? Has something turned up?"
"No, no. Nothing like that. Actually, it may be nothing at all. At least, nothing as of this minute.
"Wait a minute, whoa up. I think there's an answer in there somewhere, but it's so scrambled I can't make it out. Now, tell me again slowly."
"I'm thinking about getting a job."
"Hallelujah! It's about time. Where?"
"I don't know. The bank, I guess."
A small silence. "Doing what, honey?"
"That's exactly what Jake said."
"Well, when somebody says they're getting a job, the next logical question is whereand the next is what."
"I don't know which bank, because I haven't even applied yet. And since I haven't applied, I don't know what I'd do." Rachel sighed. "I don't even know that I can get a job in a bank, or anywhere else, for that matter."
"You can get a job. Lots of jobs. I think this is the best idea you've had since"
"Since Scotty disappeared?" Rachel said softly.
"Yes, honey. You need to do something to keep from dwelling on it." Suzanne paused. "But math was never your best subject, was it?"
"It was my worst."
"Then why in the world do you want a job in a bank?"
Rachel shrugged. "Can you suggest anything else?"
"How about the hospital? Don't you know Ron Campbell, the administrator?" "Yes."
"Don't you do a lot of volunteer work there?" "Well, I used to before . Yes, I did."
"Then Ron would probably be able to find something. He'd probably be tickled to death at the opportunity to get a person with your brains and obvious talent to work full-time. Don't waste a minute," she advised. "Get dressed and get over there before you change your mind."
Rachel rested her forehead against the wall. If she had a fraction of Suzanne's energy and self-confidence, she wouldn't have to build a fire under herself just to apply for a job doing grunt work. With Suzy's attitude, she would never have found herself in this position in the first place. She would have been managing house, children, career and husband as well as life's curveballs easily. Instead, Rachel thought, here she was, almost forty years old, trying to find some kind of sense, some meaning, in the way she'd lived all those years.
"What brought this on?"
"Why? Is it so strange for me to start to take charge of my life for a change?"
"What does Jake say?" Suzanne asked after a moment.
"Nothing. Nothing useful, at any rate. He told me to do it if I thought it would make me happy." She gave a short, bitter laugh. "Just the kind of reply he would make to a child when choosing treats at a candy store."