She tacked the pills back beneath her nightstand and headed downstairs. As she walked into the kitchen to load up her backpack, she found her chemistry textbook still wide open -- and a long-stemmed red rose marking her place.
Matt was leaning against the refrigerator in the corner; he must have let himself in through the open garage door. Like always, he made her head swim with seasons -- his hair was all the colors of autumn; his eyes the bright blue of a winter sky; his smile as wide as any summer sun. He was wearing a baseball hat backward, and a Sterling Varsity Hockey tee over a thermal shirt that Josie had once stolen for a full month and hidden in her underwear drawer, so that when she needed to she could breathe in the scent of him. "Are you still pissed off?" he asked.
Josie hesitated. "I wasn't the one who was mad."
Matt pushed away from the refrigerator, coming forward until he could link his arms around Josie's waist. "You know I can't help it."
A dimple blossomed in his right cheek; Josie could already feel herself softening. "It wasn't that I didn't want to see you. I really did have to study."
Matt pushed her hair off her face and kissed her. This was exactly why she'd told him not to come over last night -- when she was with him, she felt herself evaporating. Sometimes, when he touched her, Josie imagined herself vanishing in a puff of steam.
He tasted of maple syrup, of apologies. "It's all your fault, you know," he said. "I wouldn't act as crazy if I didn't love you so much."
At that moment, Josie could not remember the pills she was hoarding in her room; she could not remember crying in the shower; she could not remember anything but what it felt like to be adored. I'm lucky, she told herself, the word streaming like a silver ribbon through her mind. Lucky, lucky, lucky.
Patrick Ducharme, the sole detective on the Sterling police force, sat on a bench on the far side of the locker room, listening to the patrol officers on the morning shift pick on a rookie with a little extra padding around the middle. "Hey, Fisher," Eddie Odenkirk said, "are you the one who's having the baby, or is it your wife?"
As the rest of the guys laughed, Patrick took pity on the kid. "It's early, Eddie," he said. "Can't you at least wait to start in until we've all had a cup of coffee?"
"I would, Captain," Eddie laughed, "but it looks like Fisher already ate all the donuts and -- what the hell is that?"
Patrick followed Eddie's gaze downward, to his own feet. He did not, as a matter of course, change in the locker room with the patrol officers, but he'd jogged to the station this morning instead of driving, to work off too much good cooking consumed over the weekend. He'd spent Saturday and Sunday in Maine with the girl who currently held his heart -- his goddaughter, a five-and-a-half-year-old named Tara Frost. Her mother, Nina, was Patrick's oldest friend, and the one love he probably would never get over, although she managed to be doing quite well without him. Over the course of the weekend, Patrick had deliberately lost ten thousand games of Candy Land, had given countless piggyback rides, had had his hair done, and -- here was his cardinal mistake -- had allowed Tara to put bright pink nail polish on his toes, which Patrick had forgotten to remove.
He glanced down at his feet and curled his toes under. "Chicks think it's hot," he said gruffly, as the seven men in the locker room struggled not to snicker at someone who was technically their superior. Patrick yanked his dress socks on, slipped into his loafers, and walked out, still holding his tie. One, he counted. Two, three. On cue, laughter spilled out of the locker room, following him down the hallway.
In his office, Patrick closed the door and peered at himself in the tiny mirror on the back. His black hair was still damp from his shower; his face was flushed from his run. He shimmied the knot of his tie up his neck, fashioning the noose, and then sat down at his desk.
Copyright © Jodi Picoult, 2007. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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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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