"A word with you, Em?" he said, his voice carefully neutral.
Both girls looked at him. They seemed startled, like sleepers he'd wakened. He turned to his younger daughter. "Daze, could you keep an eye on Theo for a minute? He's scared of the dogs."
"I not scared," Theo was instantly shrilling. "I a big boy. I not scared."
As Mark and Emily stepped toward the doorway, Daisy, who had flopped down onto her bed, was starting a game: "How big are you, Theo? Big as a . . . lion?"
"Yes!" the boy cried.
As soon as Mark shut the door to his room, Emily sat down heavily at the foot of his rumpled bed and said, "Oh, Daddy, it's John. John's dead." Her face twisted, and tears immediately began sliding down it, as though she'd been waiting until this moment to allow herself her full measure of grief.
"What do you mean?" John was Eva's husband, the girls' stepfather. Theo's father.
"He's dead, Daddy." Her hands came to her face now and covered her opened mouth. She inhaled sharply through her fingers, and then closed her eyes. "He got hit . . . by a car. A car hit him."
Mark pictured it. He pictured it wrong, as it turned out, but he saw John then--his large body, bloody, slumped behind the wheel of his ruined car. He saw him dead, though he didn't believe it.
Mark sat down next to his daughter and held her, and she wept quietly and thoroughly, as he couldn't remember her weeping since he had told her he was moving out--long shuddering inhalations, and then a gentle high keening as her inheld breath came out. From the other bedroom he could hear Theo shrieking, "Bad! Bad!" and Daisy's voice trying to distract him.
"Sweetheart, it's okay. Cry, cry," he said. And then he said, "Shhh."
Though he was still thinking of John, still trying to take it in, he was also aware of thinking that it felt good, holding Emily. And of wondering when he had last held her, her or Daisy. He couldn't remember.
When she had calmed down a little, he stretched away from her to grab the box of tissues from the stand by the bed. She blew loudly, using several, and wiped her face. His shirt was wet where she had leaned against him.
"How did it happen?" he asked at last, keeping his voice gentle. "When?"
She seemed stricken again at the question, her eyes swam and grew larger, but she held on and whispered back, "This afternoon. A car just . . . hit him."
Mark cleared his throat. "He was driving?"
Excerpted from Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller Copyright © 2005 by Sue Miller. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, 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.
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From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary
The captivating story of an unconventional New England family.
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