Pain flared in her eyes when he spoke and he thought, I should have waited. She doesn't believe it because we're in bed. But she kissed him and said, "Don't love me."
"I'm trouble. Nothing but trouble." But she held him tight, as though she were afraid he would be the one to vanish.
"I love trouble." He kissed her again.
"Why? Why would you love me?"
"What's not to love?" He kissed her forehead. "You have a great brain." He kissed between her eyes. "You see the beauty in everything." He kissed her mouth and grinned. "You always know the right thing to say. . .unlike me."
She kissed him back and they made love again and when they were done she said, "Three months. You can't really know me."
"I'll never know you. We never know another person as much as we like to pretend."
She smiled, snuggled up close to him, pressed her face to his chest, put her mouth close to his beating heart. "I love you, too."
"Look at me and say it."
"I'll say it here to your heart," she said. A tear trickled from her cheek to his chest.
"Nothing. Nothing. I'm happy," Carrie said. She kissed him and said, "Go to sleep, baby."
And he did and now, in the hard light of day, she was gone, the whispers and the promises gone with her. And this distant note. But maybe this was for the best. She was nervous. And the last complication he needed was explaining a mysterious family disaster.
He tried Carrie's cell phone. Left her a voice mail. "Babe, I've got a family emergency, I've got to go to Austin. Call me when you get this." He thought, I shouldn't say it again, it scared her off but he said, "I love you and I'll talk to you soon."
Evan tried his father's cell phone. No answer. Not even voicemail picking up. But his dad's phone might not connect in Australia. He put the plane crash scenario out of his mind. He followed his clockwork morning regimen: fired up his computer, checked his to-do list, checked his news feed: no disasters reported in Australia. Perhaps this was a disaster on a smaller scale. Cancer. Divorce. The thought dried his throat.
He clicked on his email, shot off a message to his dad saying, Call me ASAP, then downloaded his emails. His in-box held an invitation to speak at a film conference in Atlanta; e-mails from two other documentary filmmakers who were friends of his; a pile of music files and a couple of her latest digital photos, all sent by his mother late last night. He synced the music to his digital player; he'd listen to the songs in the car. Mom thrived on obscure bands and tunes, and she'd found three great songs for his earlier movies. He checked to be sure he had all the footage he still needed to edit for his nearly completed documentary on the professional poker circuit. Made sure that he had the raw notes for a talk he was supposed to give at for a speech at University of Houston next week. He slid his laptop, his digital music player, and his digital camcorder into his backpack. Evan packed a bag with a weekend's worth of clothes his mother hated for him to wear: old bowling shirts, worn khakis, tennis shoes a year past their prime.
Reprinted from Panic by Jeff Abbott by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA). Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Abbott. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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