Three days before her death, my mother told me--these weren't her last words, but they were pretty close--that my brother was still alive.
That was all she said. She didn't elaborate. She said it only once. And she wasn't doing very well. Morphine had already applied its endgame heart squeeze. Her skin was in that cusp between jaundice and fading summer tan. Her eyes had sunken deep into her skull. She slept most of the time. She would, in fact, have only one more lucid moment--if indeed this had been a lucid moment, which I very much doubted--and that would be a chance for me to tell her that she had been a wonderful mother, that I loved her very much, and good-bye. We never said anything about my brother. That didn't mean we weren't thinking about him as though he were sitting bedside too.
Those were her exact words. And if they were true, I didn't know if it would be a good thing or bad.
We buried my mother four days later.
When we returned to the house to sit shivah, my father stormed through the semi-shag in the living room. His face was red with rage. I was there, of course. My sister, Melisa, had flown in from Seattle with her husband, Ralph. Aunt Selma and Uncle Murray paced. Sheila, my soul mate, sat next to me and held my hand.
That was pretty much the sum total.
There was only one flower arrangement, a wonderful monster of a thing. Sheila smiled and squeezed my hand when she saw the card. No words, no message, just the drawing on it.
Dad kept glancing out the bay windows--the same windows that had been shot out with a BB gun twice in the past eleven years--and muttered under his breath, "Sons of bitches." He'd turn around and think of someone else who hadn't shown. "For God's sake, you'd think the Bergmans would have at least made a goddamn appearance." Then he'd close his eyes and look away. The anger would consume him anew, blending with the grief into something I didn't have the strength to face.
One more betrayal in a decade filled with them.
I needed air.
I got to my feet. Sheila looked up at me with concern. "I'm going to take a walk," I said softly.
"You want company?"
"I don't think so."
Sheila nodded. We had been together nearly a year. I've never had a partner so in sync with my rather odd vibes. She gave my hand another I-love-you squeeze, and the warmth spread through me.
Our front-door welcome mat was harsh faux grass, like something stolen from a driving range, with a plastic daisy in the upper left-hand cover. I stepped over it and strolled up Downing Place. The street was lined with numbingly ordinary aluminum-sided split-levels, circa 1962. I still wore my dark gray suit. It itched in the heat. The savage sun beat down like a drum, and a perverse part of me thought that it was a wonderful day to decay. An image of my mother's light-the-world smile--the one before it all happened--flashed in front of my eyes. I shoved it away.
I knew where I was headed, though I doubt if I would have admitted it to myself. I was drawn there, pulled by some unseen force. Some would call it masochistic. Others would note that maybe it had something to do with closure. I thought it was probably neither.
I just wanted to look at the spot where it all ended.
The sights and sounds of summer suburbia assaulted me. Kids squealed by on their bicycles. Mr. Cirino, who owned the Ford/Mercury dealership on Route 10, mowed his lawn. The Steins--they'd built up a chain of appliance stores that were swallowed up by a bigger chain--were taking a stroll hand in hand. There was a touch football game going on at the Levines' house, though I didn't know any of the participants. Barbecue smoke took flight from the Kaufmans' backyard.
Excerpted from Gone For Good by Harlan Coben Copyright 2002 by Harlan Coben. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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