Authors: Polly Iyer
“He’s out and home,” Jeraldine said. “But don’t go there.”
“More than likely, he’ll sleep outside tonight, even if it’s cold, even if it’s raining. He did that for a long time after he got out of prison. He said he wanted to look up at the stars to make sure he wasn’t in a cage. Give him this night, Dana. Remember, this is about Reece.”
Dana finally acquiesced, and it took every ounce of strength to follow through. She fought sleep all night long and woke in the dark. After she showered and dressed, she brewed a full pot of coffee and emptied it into a thermos. She made turkey sandwiches from a package in the fridge, gathered fruit, muffins, chips, cups, and napkins, packed them in a picnic basket, and got into her Jeep.
Pulling into Reece’s yard, Dana saw his silhouette sitting in the chair on the dock, facing the water. The ceiling of dark sky signaled at least an hour till sunrise. She opened the door of the Jeep and wrapped her sweater around her as a cool breeze flooded the car. The faint aroma of burning wood from someone’s chimney hung low in the air, and she breathed it in, an aphrodisiac to remind her how much she loved the mountains. A cacophony of barking that would have wakened the dead surrounded her as she got out. Reece didn’t react. Dana bent down and petted the menagerie begging attention, which seemed to placate them. Then she took the picnic basket and headed down the stairs to the dock, followed by her welcoming committee.
“You shouldn’t have come,” he said without turning around.
“How’d you know it was me?”
“I’d know your step anywhere. It’s delicate, and the dogs like you. That was friendly barking.”
She reached his chair, put the basket down, and plunked cross-legged on the dock like she had that first day. Only this morning the floor was damp and cold. She’d be wet when she got up. Pooch and two others buried her in affection, licked her face, and poked their noses around the basket. She didn’t shoo them away.
A haze of pink blurred the horizon, casting a dim light onto Reece. He looked tired and worn out, the creases in his face more pronounced. A beer sat on the arm of the chair, his hand wrapped around it. Off to the side lay a crumpled sleeping bag. He kept his eyes straight ahead.
“I brought coffee and food.”
He still didn’t look.
“Why shouldn’t I have come?”
“Remember I said I had moods? I’m in one and didn’t want you to see it.” He turned and studied her for a long time before he spoke. “I lied. I’m glad you’re here.” His gaze stayed on her. “You’re beautiful. Do you know that?”
Dana’s heart rate soared into the stratosphere. Why did this man turn her to mush? “No. I always thought I was just cute.”
He smiled. “You’re that too.”
His smile made her feel better, and she relaxed. “What’s with the beer for breakfast?”
He looked as if he’d forgotten it was there. “I thought of it more as a continuation of last night than as the first drink of the day.” He put it down on the dock. “The sun’s going to break over the horizon in a few minutes. It’s a sight to see, that big orange ball hovering over the water. The color’s something only Nature could create.”
She got up and straddled him, kissing him on the lips. “My ass is wet.”
He put his hands on her shoulders. “I don’t mind.”
“Don’t leave me any more at night.”
“I’m okay, Dana.” He met her gaze. “I am.”
“No, you don’t. You had dinner with Jeraldine and she told you things to make you worry. I know her. How much did she tell you?”
“Bullshit.” He didn’t say the word with malice, only as a matter-of-fact, normal, everyday word that happened to be bullshit. “Jeraldine’s as close to me as any family, but she has a hard time separating her maternal feelings from her professional ones. That’s okay, and I appreciate her more than I could ever express. I’d still be rotting in prison if it weren’t for her. But I don’t want you to be like her. I’m too old for one mothering hen and sure as hell don’t need another one. I called her to get me out of a jam, and it’s a bad one.”
“She didn’t want me to come here last night.”
“She was right. I haven’t been able to get a handle on these moods. I wasn’t like this before, but times have made me this way. I get over them, but while I’m in their thrall, I feel like an emotional cripple. No one wants to be described that way. At best, I sound weak. At worst, like someone who needs a long time with a shrink, and I’ve already gone that route. I’m being honest.”
She started to say something, and he put his finger across her mouth. “The other night, I was humiliated that you saw the cops drag me half-dressed from your house. I would never want any man or woman to see a lover, spouse, or child taken like that. It was degrading and brought back feelings I’d rather not remember. I couldn’t imagine what you thought.” He shook his head. “No, don’t tell me.”
“I will tell you. It pissed me off. I was furious at the system, at Mickey for waving the warrant in my face, at the injustice of it all, and pissed at whoever killed that girl and made it look like you did it.”
“I’ve been thinking about that, and so has Clarence. You met Clarence, didn’t you?”
“I wish he’d been working for Jeraldine the first time, but as a public defender she didn’t have the luxury of a top-notch investigator. I’ve been thinking about the first time too. About who knew Karen and who might have wanted her dead. I thought about it a lot in prison, but I couldn’t process anything clearly then. I think most of that time I was shell-shocked.”
“Yeah. It got better as time went on, but it also got worse, because I knew I’d never get out. Now, there are two murders pointing to me. Maybe two different murderers. Doesn’t matter that the Cambridge case has been dropped. Pinning it on me would justify they were right in the first place.”
Dana had thought the same thing ever since the murder. Would it be the court of public opinion all over again? “This one seems like a copycat. But
said Clarence has been poking around in Boston. Maybe he rattled someone’s cage. If it’s a copycat, it comes down to who around here knew about you.”
“When I moved down here, I’d hoped my past life would be that—past. But when your ex-husband made a big deal about my buying this property, word got out who I was and what I’d supposedly done. I didn’t care anymore. I was tired of running and fought him.”
“It doesn’t matter who Robert hurts, as long as he makes headlines.”
Reece brushed a curl off her forehead. “Why did you stay with him so long? I suspect you did it for your sons, but there must have been more to it.”
Dana swiveled around, her back to Reece’s chest. She couldn’t look him in the eyes when she told him. He wrapped his arms around her, and she felt his heat like a warm blanket in the cool morning.
“There is.” She took a moment, marshaling her courage. “I married Robert right after I finished college. He came on to me like Prince Charming. Swept me off my feet. Maybe he was the same bastard then, but I didn’t see it. Not until after my father died. Then he turned into this controlling martinet. I should have left him then, but I stayed because my sons were young, and I didn’t want to put them through something I knew would be ugly. Robert was a disciplinarian, but he wasn’t a bad father. When they started school, I needed something of my own, so I went back for my master’s in English. I had an affair with my professor.” She paused, giving time between her last sentence and the one to come. “My professor was a lesbian.”
Reece didn’t say anything, and he didn’t lessen his hold, but Dana held her breath. She wondered whether she should have told him, but he’d been straight with her.
“Does that bother you?” she asked.
She expected him to elaborate, but he didn’t. “Our relationship started out innocently enough. I was miserable; she was a good listener. Then it turned into something more. It seemed natural, and it was. Robert found out and hired a sleazy detective to follow me. He caught us in a compromising position and photographed us. From that time on, Robert threatened that if I left him, he’d make sure I never saw the boys again. He’d have sent them off to some military school out of spite and revenge so I couldn’t see them. In a fit of anger, he said he’d kill my younger son if I left. He apologized for that.” She snickered. “It’s the only time he ever apologized. I know he didn’t mean the threat. He couldn’t handle losing control, and my affair with a woman challenged his manhood. Still, he said if he showed the pictures to a judge, he’d be awarded full custody. I figured he was right. He knew the judges, and with social mores being what they are in the Bible Belt, the deck would’ve been stacked against me.” She sighed. “So I stayed until my younger son left for college.”
Dana wondered if Reece compared her to the unfaithful woman who’d turned his life upside down. But he wanted to know everything about her, and she told him the truth.
“Did he physically abuse you?”
She didn’t answer.
His hold tightened. “Prison is relative, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.”
“What happened to your lover?”
“Robert made sure she lost her job. I hated him for that. She didn’t deserve it. Fortunately, she landed a better position at a bigger, more liberal university. We still keep in touch, but as friends only. She helped me through a difficult time. I owe her a lot.” Dana felt the warmth of Reece’s lips on her neck, easing the tenseness that had built up. “No one but Harris knew about that part of my life. I wasn’t ashamed of it, but it wasn’t anyone else’s business. I never felt that way about a woman again and didn’t consider it a permanent change in the way I loved. So know that.”
“Love takes many different forms. I saw enough of it in prison. Some ugly, some not. I don’t judge. What you told me doesn’t change anything between us. So know that too.”
Tears stung Dana’s eyes. She let his words resonate before she continued. “I’d been trying to get an agent to represent my books, and I finally did. Last fall, she sold the second book I wrote, and a production company bought it to make a television movie. The income and a small inheritance my father left provided enough independence to move out.”
“And your sons?”
“As expected, Robert hit the roof when I left. For revenge, he told the boys I had been unfaithful and with whom. I remember feeling my blood boil inside me. After all the years I’d protected them, and Robert destroyed everything in one awful moment. I didn’t deny it, but they were angrier at Robert for telling than for my indiscretion. What is it kids say? Too much information? They’re mature young men who knew all was not well in the Minette household. They’ve been supportive of me and hold no animosity. I never spoke ill of their father, didn’t tell them what Robert had done to me. That would have turned me into a vengeful Robert, and the thought sickened me. Whatever they think of him they’ve kept to themselves. I respect them for that. But Robert had nothing left to hold over me. In a way, exposure relieved a lot of pressure. Now, he’s plain hateful.”
She rested her head on Reece’s chest. She didn’t think he could hold her any tighter, but he did. He kissed her hair and brushed his lips behind her ear and down her neck. They sat that way for a long time.
“I think I’m ready for that coffee now,” he said. “Then, I want to show you my house…and my etchings.”
She turned halfway around and noticed the teasing smile.
The huge orange ball inched over the horizon. They drank coffee and watched it get higher and smaller and brighter and more gold than copper.
“Come.” Reece took her hand and led her into the house.
ana gasped the minute they entered the main room of the house. Books covered every surface—toppled haphazardly on bookshelves, strewn over the floor and furniture. Art and architecture books—big, expensive tomes—hardbacks and paperbacks, fiction and non-fiction. They were a collection of a lifetime—a lifetime made shorter by fifteen years. She stood with her mouth open, speechless.
“See the other reason for my mood?” he said. “I couldn’t face this.”
“The police did this?”
He nodded. “I picked up some, straightened others. Then I couldn’t do it anymore.” He bent down, took hold of a few more, and placed them on the table. “I collected many of these while I was still in school and during my residency. Others since I got out of prison. Only now I collect them on the Internet. The police ripped them from the shelves when they searched my house. These books are all I have of value. A few are seriously damaged. When I saw it, I thought of Hitler’s book burning. Fine, hate me, but this is flagrant disrespect on an entirely different level.” He lifted an old book off the table. “A 1932 first edition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography, signed. Fortunately, it’s not damaged.”
She reached over and touched his hand. “I’m so sorry. This is beyond belief. I’ll help you get them back in order.”
“Thanks. That’d mean a lot.” He leaned down and kissed her. “I’m glad you’re here. You coaxed me out of my mood and made me think of good things, in spite of this.”