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张艺谋儿子曝光

福彩3d百位号码走势图

时间:2019-12-14 20:32:59 作者:泡泡小火锅 浏览量:63855

Clayton knew by her expression that he had her attention but wasn't sure she understood the implications. "He has a photograph of you," he went on, "and when he first got to town, he flashed it around Decker's Pool Hall. Tony was there that night and he saw it. Actually, he called me right away because he thought the guy's story sounded weird, but I didn't think much of it. Last weekend, though, Tony came by to tell me that he recognized Thibault when he was playing the piano at church." Beth could only stare at him. "I don't know if Drake gave it to him, or if he took it from Drake. But I figure that's the only thing that makes sense. Both Drake and Thibault were in the marines, and according to Tony, the picture was an older one, taken a few years ago." He hesitated. "I know that what I told you about the way I behaved might make it seem like I'm trying to run him off, but I'm not going to talk to him. I do think that you should, however, and I'm not saying this because I'm your ex-husband. I'm saying this as a deputy sheriff." Beth wanted to walk away but couldn't seem to find the will to move. Think about it. He had a picture of you, and based only on that, he walked across the country to find you. I don't know why, but I can make a pretty good guess. He was obsessed with you even though you'd never met, like someone who gets obsessed with movie stars. And what did he do? He hunted you down, but seeing you from afar鈥攐r simply meeting you鈥攚asn't enough. Instead, he had to become part of your life. That's what dangerous stalkers do, Beth." His tone was calm and professional, which only intensified the dread she'd begun to feel. "By your expression, I know that all of this is news to you. You're wondering if I'm telling the truth or if I'm lying, and my track record isn't perfect. But, please, for Ben's sake鈥攆or your own sake鈥攁sk him about it. I can be there if you want me to be there, or I could even send another deputy if you'd prefer that. Or you can call someone else鈥攜our friend Melody. I just want you to understand how serious this is. How鈥 creepy and weird this is. This is scary stuff, and I can't impress on you enough how important it is that you take it seriously, too." His mouth was set in a straight line as he set the file on a child's desk beside him. "This is some general information on Logan Thibault. I didn't have time to dig too deep, and I can get in big trouble for even letting you see this, but since I don't know what else he hasn't told you鈥" He trailed off before looking up at her again. "Think about what I told you. And be careful, okay?"Thibault watched as Victor cast his line into the cool Minnesota water. It was a cloudless Saturday morning. The air was still, the lake mirroring the pristine skies. They had set out on the lake early, wanting to fish before it became crowded with Jet Skis and speedboats. It was their last day of vacation; tomorrow, both were scheduled to fly out. For their final evening, they planned to eat at a local steak house they'd heard was the best in town. "I think you'll be able to find this woman," Victor announced without preamble. Thibault was reeling in his own line. "Who?" "The woman in the photo who brings you luck." Thibault squinted at his friend. "What are you talking about?" "When you look for her. I think you'll be able to find her." Thibault inspected his hook carefully and cast again. "I'm not going to look for her." "So you say now. But you will." Thibault shook his head. "No, I won't. And even if I wanted too, there's no way I could." "you'll find a way." Victor sounded smug in his certainty. Thibault stared at his friend. "Why are we even talking about this?" "Because," Victor pronounced, "it's not over yet." "Believe me, it's over." "I know you think so. But it isn't." Thibault had learned long ago that once Victor started on a topic, he would continue to expound on it until he was satisfied he'd made his point. Because it wasn't the way Thibault wanted to spend their last day, he figured he might as well get it over with once and for all. "Okay," he said, sighing. "Why isn't it over?" Victor shrugged. "Because there is no balance." "No balance," Thibault repeated, his tone flat. "Yes," Victor said. "Exactly. You see?" "No." Victor groaned at Thibault's denseness. "Say someone comes to put a roof on your house. The man works hard, and at the end, he is paid. Only then is it over. But in this case, with the photograph, it is as if the roof has been put on, but the owner has not paid. Until payment is made, everything is out of balance." "Are you saying that I owe this woman something?" Thibault's voice was skeptical. "Yes. The photo kept you safe and brought you luck. But until payment is made, it is not over." Thibault reached for a soda in the cooler. He handed one to Victor. "You do realize you sound insane." Victor accepted the can with a nod. "To some, maybe. But eventually, you will look for her. There is a greater purpose to all this. It is your destiny." "My destiny." "Yes." "What does that mean?" "I don't know. But you will know it when you get there." Thibault stayed quiet, wishing Victor had never brought up the subject. In the silence, Victor studied his friend. "Maybe," he speculated, "you're meant to be together." "I'm not in love with her, Victor." "No?" "No," he said. "And yet," Victor observed, "you think about her often." to this, Thibault said nothing, for there was nothing he could say. On Saturday morning, Thibault arrived early and went straight to work at the kennels, feeding, cleaning, and training as usual. While he worked, Ben played with Zeus until Elizabeth called him inside to get ready to go. She waved from her spot on the porch, but even from a distance, he could see she was distracted. She had gone back inside by the time he took the dogs out; he usually walked them in groups of three, with Zeus trailing behind him. Away from the house, he would let the dogs off the leash, but they tended to follow behind him no matter what direction he headed. He liked to vary the route he took; the variety kept the dogs from wandering too far away. Like people, dogs got bored if they did the same thing every day. Usually, the walks lasted about thirty minutes per group. After the third group, he noticed that Elizabeth's car was gone, and he assumed she'd gone to drop Ben off at his father's. He didn't like Ben's father, mostly because Ben and Elizabeth didn't. The guy sounded like a piece of work, but it wasn't his place to do much more than listen when she talked about him. He didn't bow enough to offer any advice, and even if he did, she wasn't asking for any. In any event, it wasn't his business. But what was his business, then? Why was he here? Despite himself, his thoughts drifted back to his conversation with Victor, and he knew he was here because of what Victor had said to him that morning at the lake. And, of course, because of what happened later. He forced the memory away. He wasn't going to go there. Not again. Calling to the dogs, Thibault turned and made for the kennels. After putting the dogs away, he went to explore the storage shed, When he turned on die light in the shed, he stared at the walls and shelves in amazement. Elizabeth's grandfather didn't have just a few tools鈥攖he place resembled a cluttered hardware store. He wandered inside, scanning the racks and sorting through the Snap-on tool cabinets and piles of items on the workbench. He eventually picked out a socket wrench set, a couple of adjustable and Allen wrenches, and a jack and carried them out to the truck. As Elizabeth had promised, the keys were under the mat. Thibault drove down the driveway, heading for the auto supply store he vaguely remembered seeing near downtown. The parts were in stock鈥攔eplacement pads, C-clamp, and some high-temp grease鈥攁nd he was back at the house in less than half an hour. He put the jack in place and raised the car, then removed the first wheel. He retracted the piston with the C-clamp, removed the old pad, checked the rotors for damage, and reinstalled a new pad before replacing the wheel and repeating the process with the other wheels. He was finishing the third brake pad when he heard Elizabeth pull up, rolling to a stop next to the old truck. He glanced over his shoulder just as she got out, realizing she'd been gone for hours. "How's it going?" she asked. "Just about done." "Really?" She sounded amazed. "It's just brake pads. It's not a big deal." "I'm sure that's the same thing a surgeon would say. It's just an appendix." "You want to learn?" Thibault asked, staring up at her figure silhouetted against the sky. "How long does it take?" "Not long." He shrugged. "Ten minutes?" "Really?" she repeated. "Okay. Just let me get the groceries inside." "Need help?" "No, it's just a couple of bags." He slipped the third wheel back on and finished tightening the lug nuts before moving to the final wheel. He loosened the nuts just as Elizabeth reached his side. When she squatted beside him, he could smell a hint of the coconut lotion she'd applied earlier that morning. "First, you take the wheel off鈥e began, and methodically walked her through the process, making sure she understood each step. When he lowered the jack and started to collect the tools, she shook her head. "That seemed almost too easy. I think even I could do it." "Probably." "Then why do they charge so much?" "I don't know." "I'm in the wrong line of work," she said, rising and gathering her hair into a loose ponytail. "But thank you for taking care of it. I've wanted those fixed for a while now." "No problem." "Are you hungry? I picked up some fresh turkey for sandwiches. And some pickles." "That sounds delicious," he said. They had lunch on the back porch, overlooking the garden. Elizabeth still seemed distracted, but they chatted a little about what it was like to grow up in a small southern town, where everyone knew everything about everybody else. Some of the stories were amusing, but Thibault admitted that he preferred a more anonymous existence. "Why am I not surprised?" she asked. Afterward, Thibault went back to work while Elizabeth spent the afternoon cleaning the house. Unlike her grandfather, Thibault was able to pry open the office window that had been painted shut, though it turned out to be more difficult than fixing the brakes. Nor was it easy to open or close afterward, no matter how much sanding he did to smooth it. Then, he painted the trim. After that, it was a normal workday. By the time he finished up his duties at the kennel, it was coming up on five, and though he could have easily left for the day, he didn't. Instead, he began work on the files again, wanting to get a head start on what he knew would be a long day tomorrow. He settled in for the next couple of hours, making what he thought was headway鈥 who could tell, though?鈥攁nd didn't hear Elizabeth approach. Instead, he noticed Zeus get to his feet and start toward the door. "I'm surprised you're still here," she said from the doorway. "I saw the light on and thought you'd forgotten to turn it off." "I wouldn't forget." She pointed to the stacks of files on the desk. "I can't tell you how glad I am that you're doing that. Nana tried to talk me into organizing the files this summer, but I was extremely adept at put' ting her off." "Lucky me," he drawled. "No, lucky me. I almost feel guilty about it." "I'd almost believe you, except for that smirk. Have you heard from Ben or Nana?" "Both," she said. "Nana's great, Ben is miserable. Not that he said as much. I could hear it in his voice." "I'm sorry," he said, meaning it. She offered a tense shrug before reaching for the door handle. She rotated it in both directions, seemingly interested in the mechanism. Finally, she let out a sigh. "Do you want to help me make some ice cream?" "Excuse me?" He set down the file he'd been labeling. "I love homemade ice cream. There's nothing better when it's hot, but it's no fun to make if you can't share it with someone." "I don't know if I've ever had homemade ice cream鈥" "Then you don't know what you're missing. You in?" Her childlike enthusiasm was contagious. "Yeah, okay," he agreed. "That sounds fun." "Let me run to the store and get what we need. I'll be back in a few minutes." "Wouldn't it be easier just to buy some ice cream?" Her eyes shone with delight. "But it's not the same. You'll see. I'll be back in a few minutes, okay?" She was as good as her word. Thibault just had time to straighten up the desk and check on the dogs one last time before he heard her coming up the drive on her way back from the store. He met her as she was getting out of the car. "Would you mind bringing in the bag of crushed ice?" she asked. "It's in the backseat." He followed her into the kitchen with the bag of ice, and she motioned to the freezer as she set a quart of half-and-half on the counter. "Can you get the ice-cream maker? It's in the pantry. Top shelf on the left." Thibault emerged from the pantry with a crank-handled icecream maker that looked to be at least fifty years old. "Is this the one?" "Yeah, that's it." "Does it still work?" he wondered aloud. "Perfectly. Amazing, isn't it? Nana got that as a gift for her wedding, but we still use it all the time. It makes delicious ice cream." He brought it over to the counter and stood beside her. "What can I do?" "If you agree to crank, I'll do the mixing." "Fair enough," he said. She dug out an electric mixer and a bowl, along with a measuring cup. From the spice cabinet, she chose sugar, flour, and vanilla extract. She added three cups of sugar and a cup of flour to the bowl and mixed it by hand, then put the bowl on the mixer. Next, she beat in three eggs, all the half-and-half, and three teaspoons of vanilla extract before turning on the mixer. Finally, she splashed in a bit of milk and poured the entire mixture into the cream can, put the can in the ice-cream maker, and surrounded it with crushed ice and rock salt. "We're ready," she announced, handing it to him. She picked up the rest of the ice and the rock salt. "To the porch we go. You have to make it on the porch, or it isn't the same." "Ah,"h e said. She took a seat beside him on the porch steps, sitting fraction' ally closer than she had the day before. Wedging the can between his feet, Thibault began to rotate the crank, surprised at how easily it turned. "Thanks for doing this," she said. "I really need the ice cream. It's been one of those days." "Yeah?" She turned toward him, a sly smile playing on her lips. "You're very good at that." "What?" "Saying, 'Yeah?' when someone makes a comment. It's just enough to make someone keep talking without being too personal or prying." "Yeah?" She giggled. "Yeah," she mimicked. "But most people would have said something like, 'What happened?' Or, 'Why?'" "All right. What happened? Why was it one of those days?" She gave a disgusted snort. "Oh, it's just that Ben was really grumpy this morning while he was packing, and I ended up snap-ping at him to hurry up because he was taking so long. His dad usually doesn't like it when he's late, but today? Well, today, it was as if he'd forgotten that Ben was even coming. I must have knocked on the door for a couple of minutes before he eventually opened it, and I could tell he'd just gotten out of bed. Had I known he was sleeping in, I wouldn't have been so hard on Ben, and I still feel guilty about it. And, of course, as I'm pulling away, see Ben already hauling out the garbage because dear old Dad was too lazy to do it. And then, of course, I spent the whole day cleaning, which wasn't so bad the first couple of hours. But by the end, I really needed ice cream." "Doesn't sound like a relaxing Saturday." "It wasn't," she muttered, and he could tell she was debating whether to say more. There was something more, something else bothering her, and she drew a long breath before sighing. "It's my brother's birthday today," she said, the faintest tremor in her voice. "That's where I went today, after dropping Ben off. I brought flowers to the cemetery." Thibault felt a thickness in his throat as he remembered the photograph on the mantel. Though he'd suspected that her brother had been killed, it was the first time that either Nana or Elizabeth had confirmed it. He immediately understood why she hadn't wanted to be alone tonight. "I'm sorry," he said, meaning it. "So am I," she said. "You would have liked him. Everyone liked him." "I'm sure." She twisted her hands in her lap. "It slipped Nana's mind. Of course, she remembered this afternoon and called to tell me how sorry she was that she couldn't be here. She was practically in tears, but I told her it was okay. That it wasn't a big deal." "It is a big deal. He was your brother and you miss him." A wistful smile flickered across her face, then faded away. "You remind me of him," she offered, her voice soft "Not so much in your appearance, but in your mannerisms. I noticed that the first time you walked in the office to apply for the job. It's like you two were stamped out of the same mold. I guess it's a marine thing, huh?" "Maybe," he said. "I've met all types." "I'll bet." She paused, drawing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. "Did you like it? Being in the marines?" "Sometimes." "But not all the time?" "No." "Drake loved it. Loved everything about it, in fact." Though she seemed mesmerized by the movement of the crank, Thibault could tell she was lost in her memories. "I remember when the invasion began. With Camp Lejeune less than an hour away, it was big news. I was scared for him, especially when I heard talk about chemical weapons and suicide stands, but do you want to know what he was worried about? Before the invasion, I mean?" "What?" "A picture. A dumb old photograph. Can you believe that?" The unexpected words made Thibault's heart suddenly hammer in his chest, but he forced himself to appear calm. "He took this picture of me when we first arrived at the fair that year," she said, going on. "It was the last weekend we spent together before he joined, and after we made the usual rounds, we just kind of wandered off to be alone. I remember sitting with him near this giant pine tree and talking for hours as we watched the Ferris wheel. It was one of the big ones, all lit up, and we could hear kids oohing and aahing as it went round and round under this perfect summer sky. We talked about our mom and dad, and we wondered what they would have been like or whether they'd have gray hair or whether we would have stayed in Hampton or moved away, and I remember looking up at the sky. All of a sudden, this shooting star went by, and all I could think was that they were listening to us somehow." She paused, lost in the memory, before going on. "He had the picture laminated and kept it with him all through basic training. After he got to Iraq, he e-mailed me and told me that he'd lost it, and asked if I could send him another one. It seemed kind of crazy to me, but I wasn't there, and I didn't know what he was going through, so I said I'd send another one. But I didn't get around to sending it right away. Don't ask me why. It was like I had some sort of mental block against doing it. I mean, I'd put the disk Into my purse, but every time I was near the drugstore, I'd just forget to get the photograph developed. And before I knew it, the invasion had started. I finally got around to sending it, but the letter was eventually returned to me unopened. Drake died in the first week of the invasion." She stared at him over the tops of her knees. "Five days. That was how long he lasted. And I never got him the one thing he wanted from me. You know how that makes me feel?" Thibault felt sick to his stomach. "I don't know what to say." "There's nothing you can say," she said. "It's just one of those terrible, impossibly sad things. And now 鈥 today, I kept thinking that he's just slipping away. Nana didn't remember, Ben didn't remember. At least with Ben, I can sort of understand it. He wasn't even five when Drake was killed, and you know how memories are at that age. Only a little bit sticks. But Drake was so good with him because he actually enjoyed being around him." She shrugged. "Kind of like you." Thibault wished she hadn't said it. He didn't belong here____ "I didn't want to hire you," she continued, oblivious to Thibault's turmoil. "Did you know that?" "Yes." "But not because you walked here from Colorado. That was part of it, but it was mainly because you'd been in the marines." He nodded, and in the silence she reached for the ice-cream maker. "It probably needs some more ice," she said. She opened the lid, added more ice, and then handed it back to him. "Why are you here?" she finally asked. Though he knew what she really meant, he pretended he didn't. "Because you asked me to stay." "I mean, why are you here in Hampton? And I want the truth this time." He grasped for the right explanation. "It seemed like a nice place, and so far, it has been." He could tell by her expression that she knew there was more, and she waited. When he didn't add anything else, she frowned. "It has something to do with your time in Iraq, doesn't it? His silence gave him away. "How long were you there?" she asked. He shifted in his seat, not wanting to talk about it but knowing he had no choice. "Which time?" "How many times did you go?" "Three." "Did you see a lot of combat?" "Yes." "But you made it out." Yes. Her lips tightened, and she suddenly looked on the verge of tears. "Why you and not my brother?" He turned the crank four times before answering with what he knew was a lie. "I don't know." When Elizabeth got up to get bowls and spoons for the ice cream, Thibault fought the urge to call Zeus and simply leave, right then, before he changed his mind, and go back home to Colorado. He couldn't stop thinking about the photograph in his pocket, the photograph that Drake had lost. Thibault had found it, Drake had died, and now he was here, in the home where Drake had been raised, spending time with the sister he'd left behind. On the surface, it was all so improbable, but as he fought the sudden dryness in his mouth, he concentrated on those things he knew to be true. The photograph was simply that: a picture of Elizabeth that her brother had taken. There were no such things as lucky charms. Thibault had survived his time in Iraq, but so had the vast majority of marines who'd been posted there. So, in fact, had most of his platoon, including Victor. But some marines had died, Drake among them, and though it was tragic, it had nothing to do with the photograph. It was war. As for him, he was here because he'd made a decision to search for the woman in the picture. It had nothing to do with destiny or magic. But he'd! searched because of Victor鈥 He blinked and reminded himself that he didn't believe anything Victor had told him. What Victor believed was just superstition. It couldn't be true. At least not all of it. Zeus seemed to sense his struggle and lifted his head to stare. With his ears raised, he gave a soft whine and wandered up the stairs to lick Thibault's hand. Thibault raised Zeus's head, and the dog nuzzled his face. "What am I doing here?" Thibault whispered. "Why did I come?" As he waited for an answer that would never come, he heard the screen door slam behind him. "Are you talking to yourself or to your dog?" Elizabeth asked. "Both," he said. She sat next to him and handed him his spoon. "What were you saying?" "Nothing important," he said. He motioned for Zeus to lie down, and the dog squished himself onto the step in an attempt to remain close to both of them. Elizabeth opened the ice-cream maker and scooped some ice cream into each of the bowls. "I hope you like it," she said, handing him a bowl. She dipped her spoon in and had a taste before turning toward him, her expression earnest. "I want to apologize," she said. "For what?" "For what I said before 鈥 When I asked why you made it and my brother didn't." "It's a fair question." He nodded, uncomfortable under her scrutiny. "No, it isn't," she said. "And it was wrong to ask you. So I'm sorry." "It's okay," he said. She ate another spoonful, hesitating before going on. "Do you remember when I told you that I didn't want to hire you because you were in the marines?" He nodded. "It's not what you probably think. It wasn't because you reminded me of Drake. It's because of the way Drake died." She tapped her spoon against the bowl. "Drake was killed by friendly fire." Thibault turned away as she went on. "Of course, I didn't know that at first. We kept getting the runaround. 'The investigation is continuing' or 'We're looking into the matter,* things like that. It took months to find out how he was killed, and even then, we never really learned who was responsible." She groped for the right words. "It just鈥 didn't seem right, you know? I mean, I know it was an accident, I know whoever did it didn't mean to kill him, but if something like that happened here in the States, someone would be charged with manslaughter. But if it happens in Iraq, no one wants the truth to come out. And it never will." "Why are you telling me this?" Thibault said, his voice quiet. "Because," she said, "that's the real reason I didn't want to hire you. After I found out what happened, it seemed like every time I saw a marine, I'd be asking myself, Was he the one who killed Drake? Or is he covering up for someone who killed him? I knew it wasn't fair, I knew it was wrong, but I couldn't help it. And after a while, the anger I felt just sort of became part of me, like it was the only way I knew how to handle the grief. I didn't like who I'd become, but I was stuck in this horrible cycle of questions and blame. And then, out of the blue, you walked into the office and applied for a job. And Nana, even though she knew exactly how I was feeling鈥攎aybe because of the way I was feeling鈥攄ecided to hire you." She set her bowl aside. "That's why I didn't have much to say to you the first couple of weeks. I didn't know what I could say. I figured I wouldn't have to say anything, since more than likely you'd quit within a few days like everyone else. But you didn't. Instead, you work hard and stay late, you're wonderful to Nana and my son 鈥 and all of a sudden, you're not so much a marine as you are just a man." She paused as if lost in thought, then finally nudged him with her knee. "And not only that, you're a man who allows emotional women to ramble on without telling them to stop." He nudged her back to show her it was okay. "It's Drake's birthday." "Yes, it is." She raised her bowl. "To my little brother, Drake," she said. Thibault tapped his bowl against hers. "To Drake," he echoed. Zeus whined and stared up at them anxiously. Despite the tension, she reached out and ruffled his fur. "You don't need a toast. This is Drake's moment." He tilted his head in puzzlement, and she laughed. "Blah, blah, blah. He doesn't understand a word I'm saying." "True, but he can tell you were upset. That's why he stayed close." "He's really amazing. I don't think I've ever seen a dog so intuitive and well trained. Nana said the same thing, and believe me, that's saying a lot." "Thanks," he said. "Good bloodlines." "Okay," she said. "Your turn to talk. You pretty much know everything there is to know about me." "What do you want to know?" She picked up her bowl and spooned more ice cream into her mouth before asking, "Have you ever been in love?" When he raised his eyebrows at the nonchalant way she'd said it, she waved him off. "Don't even think I'm being too personal. Not after everything I've told you. 'Fess up." "Once," he admitted. "Recently?" "No. Years ago. When I was in college." "What was she like?" He seemed to search for the right word. "Earthy," he offered. She said nothing, but her expression told him she wanted more. "Okay," he continued. "She was a women's studies major, and she favored Birkenstocks and peasant skirts. She despised makeup. She wrote opinions for the student newspaper and championed the causes of pretty much every sociological group in the world except white males and the rich. Oh, and she was a vegetarian, too." She studied him. "For some reason, I can't see you with someone like that." "Neither could I. And neither could she. Not in the long run, anyway. But for a while, it was surprisingly easy to overlook out obvious differences. And we did." "How long did it last?" "A little more than a year." "Do you ever hear from her anymore?" He shook his head. "Never." "And that's it?" "Aside from a couple of high school crushes, that's it. But bear in mind that the last five years haven't exactly been conducive to starting new relationships." "No, I don't suppose so." Zeus got up and stared down the drive, his ears twitching. Alert. It took a moment, but Thibault heard the faint sound of a car engine, and in the distance, a broad, dispersed light flashed in the trees before it began to narrow. Someone pulling up the drive. Elizabeth frowned in confusion before a sedan slowly rounded the corner and came toward the house. Even though the lights from the porch didn't illuminate the drive, Thibault recognized the car and sat up straighter. It was either the sheriff or one of his deputies. Elizabeth recognized it as well. "This can't be good," she muttered. "What do you think they want?" She stood from her spot on the porch. "It's not a they. It's a him. My ex-husband." She started down the steps and motioned toward him. "Just wait here. I'll handle this." Thibault motioned for Zeus to sit and stay as the car pulled to a stop beside Elizabeth's car at the far end of the house. Through the bushes, he saw the passenger door open and watched as Ben got out, dragging his backpack behind him. He started toward his mother, keeping his head down. When the driver's-side door opened, Deputy Keith Clayton stepped out. Zeus let out a low growl, alert and ready, waiting for Thibault's command to go after the guy. Elizabeth glanced at Zeus in surprise until Ben stepped into the light. Thibault noticed the absence of Ben's glasses and the black-and鈥 blue bruises around Ben's eye at the same moment Elizabeth did. "What happened!" she cried, hurrying toward her son. She squatted to get a better look. "What did you do?" "It's nothing," Clayton responded, approaching them. "It's just a bruise." Ben turned away, not wanting her to see. "What about his glasses?" Elizabeth said, still trying to make sense of it. "Did you hit him?" "No, I didn't hit him. Christ! I wouldn't hit him. Who do you think I am?" Elizabeth didn't seem to hear him and focused her attention on her son. "Are you all right? Oh, that looks bad! What happened, sweetie? Are your glasses broken?" She knew he wouldn't say anything until after Clayton left. Tilting his face up to hers, she could see the vessels had burst in his eye, leaving it bloody. "How hard did you throw it?" she demanded, her expression horrified. "Not too hard. And it's just a bruise. His eye is fine, and we managed to tape his glasses back together." "It's more than a bruise!" Elizabeth's voice rose, barely controlled. "Stop acting like this is my fault!" Clayton barked. "It is your fault!" "He's the one who missed it! We were just playing catch. It was an accident, for God's sake! Wasn't it, Ben? We were having fun, right?" Ben stared at the ground. "Yeah," he mumbled. "Tell her what happened. Tell her it wasn't my fault. Go ahead." Ben shifted from one foot to the other. "We were playing catch. I missed the ball and it hit me in the eye." He held up his glasses, crudely taped at the bridge and the top of one lens with duct tape. "Dad fixed my glasses." Clayton held up his palms. "See? No big deal. Happens all the time. It's part of the game." "When did this happen?" Elizabeth demanded. "A few hours ago." "And you didn't call me?" "No. I took him to the emergency room." "The emergency room?" "Where else was I supposed to take him? I knew I couldn't bring him back here without having him checked out, so I did. I did what any responsible parent would do, just like you did when he fell off the swing and broke his arm. And if you remember, I didn't get all crazy on you, just like I don't get crazy about you letting him play in the tree house. The thing is a death trap." She seemed too shocked to speak, and he shook his head in disgust. "Anyway, he wanted to go home." "Okay," she said, still struggling with her words. A muscle clenched and unclenched in her jaw. She waved Clayton off. "Whatever. Just go. I'll take it from here." With her arm around Ben, she started to lead him away, and it was in that instant that Clayton spotted Thibault sitting on the porch, staring directly at him. Clayton's eyes widened before they flashed in anger. He started for the porch. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. Thibault simply stared at him without moving. Zeus's growls grew more ominous. "What's he doing here, Beth?" "Just go, Keith. We'll talk about this tomorrow." She turned away. "Don't walk away from me," he spat, reaching for her arm. "I'm just asking you a question." At that moment, Zeus snarled and his rear legs began to quiver. For the first time, Clayton seemed to notice the dog, his teeth bared, the fur on his back standing straight up. "If I were you, I'd let go of her arm," Thibault said. His voice was flat and calm, more a suggestion than an order. "Right now." Clayton, eyeing the dog, let go immediately. As Elizabeth and Ben hurried to the porch, Clayton glared at Thibault. Zeus took a single step forward, continuing to snarl. "I think you'd better go," Thibault said, his voice quiet. Clayton debated for an instant, then took a step backward and turned away. Thibault heard him cursing under his breath as he stalked back to the car, opened the door, and slammed it shut behind him. Thibault reached out to pet Zeus. "Good boy," he whispered. Clayton backed out of his spot, made a sloppy three-point turn, and took off up the drive, spewing gravel. His taillights receded from view, and only then did the fur on Zeus's back finally lower. His tail wagged as Ben approached. "Hi, Zeus," Ben said. Zeus glanced at Thibault for permission. "It's okay," Thibault said, releasing him. Zeus pranced toward Ben as if to say, I'm so happy you're home! He nosed at Ben, who started to pet him. -You missed me, huh?" Ben said, sounding pleased. "I missed 鈥淗ere, sweetie," Elizabeth urged, moving him forward again. "Let's go inside and put some ice on your eye. And I Want to see it in the light" ' As they opened the screen door, Thibault stood. "Hey, Thibault," Ben said, waving. "Hi, Ben." "Can I play with Zeus tomorrow?" Tf it's okay with your mom, it's okay with me." Thibault could tell by looking at Elizabeth that she wanted to be alone with her son. "I should probably go," he said, rising from his spot. "It's getting late, and I've got an early morning." "Thanks," she said. "I appreciate it. And sorry for all this." "There's nothing to be sorry for." He walked a ways down the drive, then turned toward the house. He could just make out movement behind the curtains of the living room window. Staring at the shadows of the two figures in the window, he felt for the first time that he was finally beginning to understand the reason he'd come.

Chapter 21 Clayton人间正道是沧桑 txt Despite the rain, Thibault couldn't imagine going back to his house. He wanted to be outside; it didn't feel right to be warm and dry. He wanted to purge himself of what he had done, of all the lies he had told. She'd been right: He hadn't been honest with her. Despite the hurt he felt at some of the things she'd said and her unwillingness to listen, she had been justified in feeling betrayed. But how to explain? He didn't fully understand why he'd come, even when he tried to put it into words. He could see why she interpreted his actions as those of an obsessed madman. And, yes, he was obsessed, just not in the way she imagined. He should have told her about the photograph as soon as he'd arrived, and he struggled to remember why he hadn't done so. Odds were, she would have been surprised and asked a few questions, but it would have ended at that. He suspected that Nana would have hired him anyway, and then none of this would have happened. More than anything, he wanted to turn around and go back to her. He wanted to explain, to tell his whole story from the beginning. He wouldn't, though. She needed time alone-or at least time from him- Time to recover and maybe, just maybe, understand that the Thibault she'd come to care for was the only Thibault there was. He wondered whether time alone would bring forgiveness. Thibault sank in the mud; he noted as a car passed slowly that the water reached its axles. Up ahead, he saw the river stretching across the road. He decided to cut through the woods. Perhaps this would be the last time he would make this walk. Perhaps it t was time to return to Colorado. Thibault moved forward. The autumn foliage, still hanging on provided partial cover from the rain, and as he walked deeper into the woods, he felt the distance between them grow with each step he took.福彩3d百位号码走势图福彩3d百位号码走势图Chapter 25 Thibault福彩3d百位号码走势图

福彩3d百位号码走势图Chapter 2 Thibault福彩3d百位号码走势图On Wednesday, Beth stared out her classroom window at lunchtime. She had never seen anything like it鈥攈urricanes and nor'easters had nothing on the series of storms that had recently pounded Hampton County as well as every county from Raleigh to the coast. The problem was that unlike most tropical storms, these weren't passing quickly out to sea. Instead, they had lingered day after thunderous day, bringing nearly every river in the eastern part of the state to flood levels. Small towns along the Pamlico, Neuse, and Cape Fear rivers were already knee-deep in water, and Hampton was getting close. Another day or two of rain would mean that most of the businesses downtown would be reachable only by canoe. The county had already decided to close the schools for the rest of the week, since the school buses could no longer make their routes and only a little more than half the teachers had been able to make it in. Ben, of course, was thrilled by the idea of staying home and playing in the puddles with Zeus, but Beth was a little more leery. Both the newspapers and the local news had reported that while the South River had already risen to dangerous levels, it was going to get far worse before it got better as the creeks and tributaries fed the rise. The two creeks that surrounded the kennel, usually a quarter mile away, could now be seen from the windows of the house, and Logan was even keeping Zeus away because of the debris washed out with the deluge. Being trapped indoors was hard on the kids, which was one of the reasons she'd stayed in her classroom. After lunch, they'd return to their classrooms, where in theory they'd happily color or draw or read quietly in lieu of playing kick ball or basketball or tag outside. In reality, kids needed to get their energy out, and she knew it. For years, she'd been asking that on days like this, they simply fold up the cafeteria lunch tables and allow the kids to run or play for twenty minutes, so they could concentrate when they returned to class after lunch. Not a chance, she was told, because of regulatory issues, liability issues, janitorial union issues, and health and safety issues. When asked what that meant, she was given a long explanation, but to her, it all came down to French fries. As in, We shouldn't allow kids to slip on French fries, or, If they do slip on French fries, the school district will get sued, or, The janitors would have to renegotiate their contract if they didn't clean the French fries from the cafeteria at the time they were scheduled to do so, and finally, If someone slipped on a French fry that had fallen on the floor, the children might be exposed to harmful pathogens. Welcome to the world of lawyers, she thought. Lawyers, after all, didn't have to teach the kids after keeping them cooped up inside the classroom all day with no recess. Usually, she would have retreated to the teacher's lounge for lunch, but with so little time to set up the classroom for activities, she'd decided to stay and get things ready. In the corner, she was setting up a beanbag-tossing game鈥攕tored in the closet for just such emergencies鈥攚hen she noted movement from the doorway. She turned that way, and it took her an instant to register who it was. The shoulders of his uniform were wet, and a few water droplets dripped from the belt where he stored his gun. In his hand was a manila file. "Hi, Beth," he said. His voice was quiet, "Do you have a minute?" She stood. "What is it, Keith?" "I came to apologize," he said. He clasped his hands in front of him, the picture of contrition. "I know you don't have a lot of time, but I wanted to talk to you when you were alone. I took a chance that you'd be here, but if it's not a good time, maybe we could set up another time that's better for you." She glanced at the clock. "I've got five minutes," she said. Keith stepped into the classroom and started to close the door. Midway, he paused, seeking her permission. She nodded, wanting to get whatever he had to say over with. He moved toward her, stopping at a respectful distance. "Like I said, I came here to tell you I was sorry." "About what?" "About the rumors you heard," he said. "I wasn't completely truthful with you." She crossed her arms. "In other words, you lied," she stated. "Yes." "You lied to my face." "Yes." "About what?" "You asked if I ever ran off some of the guys you've dated in the past. I don't think I did, but I didn't tell you that I did talk to some of them." "You talked to them." "Yes." She did her best to keep her anger in check. "And 鈥 what? You're sorry you did it, or sorry you lied?" "Both. I'm sorry I did it, I'm sorry I lied. I shouldn't have done those things." He paused. "I know we haven't had the greatest relationship since the divorce, and I also know that you think marrying me was a mistake. You're right about that. We weren't meant to be married, and I accept that. But between the two of us鈥攁nd i'll be honest, you've had a lot more to do with this than me鈥攚e have a great son. You might not think I'm the best father in the world, but I've never once regretted having Ben, or having Ben live with you most of the time. He's a great kid, and you've done a great job with him." She wasn't sure what to say. In the silence, he went on. "But I still worry, and I always have. Like I told you, I worry about who comes into Ben's life, whether it be friends, or acquaintances, or even people that you might introduce to him. I know that's not fair and that you probably consider it an intrusion into your personal life, but that's the way I am. And to be honest, I don't know if I'm ever going to change." "So you're saying that you'll keep following me forever?" "No," he said quickly. "I won't do it again. I was just explaining why I did it before. And trust me鈥擨 didn't threaten those guys or try to intimidate them. I talked to them. I explained that Ben meant a lot to me and that being his father was the most important thing in my life. You may not always agree with the way I parent him, but if you think back a couple of years, it wasn't always like this. He used to enjoy coming over to my place. Now he doesn't. But I haven't changed. He's changed. Not in a bad way鈥攇rowing up is normal, and that's all he's been doing. And maybe I need to realize and accept the tact that he's getting older." She said nothing. As Keith watched her, he drew a long breath. "I also told those men that I didn't want you to get hurt. I know that might sound like I was being possessive, but I wasn't. I said it like a brother would have said it. Like Drake would have said it. As in, if you like her, if you respect her, just make sure you treat her that way. That's all I said to them." He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe some of them took it the wrong way because I'm a deputy or because of my last name, but I can't help those things. Believe me, the last thing I want is for you to be unhappy. It might not have worked out between us, but you're the mother of my son and you always will be." Keith's gaze fell as he shuffled his feet. "You have every reason to be angry with me-I was wrong." "Yes, you were." Beth remained where she stood, arms crossed. "Like I said, I'm sorry and it's never going to happen again." She didn't respond right away. "Okay," she finally said. "I'm going to hold you to that." He flashed a quick, almost defeated smile. "Fair enough." "Is that it?" She bent to retrieve three beanbags from the closet floor. "Actually, I also wanted to talk to you about Logan Thibault. There's something you should know about him." She held up her hands to stop him. "Don't even go there." He wasn't dissuaded. Instead, he took a step forward, kneading the brim of his hat. "I'm not going to talk to him unless you want me to talk to him. I want to make that clear. Believe me, Beth. This is serious. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't. I'm here because I care about you." His chutzpah nearly took her breath away. "Do you honestly expect me to believe you have my best interests at heart after admitting that you've been spying on me for years? And that you were responsible for ruining any chance I had of finding a relationship?" "This has nothing to do with those things." "Let me guess 鈥 you think he's using drugs, right?" "I have no idea. But I should warn you that he hasn't been honest with you." "You have no idea whether he's been honest with me. Now get out. I don't want to talk to you, I don't want to hear what you have to say鈥" "Then ask him yourself," Clayton interrupted. "Ask him whether he came to Hampton to find you." "I'm done," she declared, moving toward the door so much as touch me on the way out, I'm going to scream for help." She walked past him, and as she was about to cross the threshold, Keith sighed audibly. "Ask him about the photograph," he said. His comment brought her to a halt. "What?" Keith's expression was as serious as she'd ever seen it, "The photograph he got from Drake."Chapter 1 Clayton and Thibault福彩3d百位号码走势图

Chapter 14 Clayton福彩3d百位号码走势图She could barely see through the windshield, but this time it had less to do with the rain than her inability to concentrate. After Keith had left, she kept blinking in confusion as she stated at the file, trying to make sense of the things her ex had told her. Logan had Drake's photograph鈥 Logan had become obsessed with her鈥 Logan had decided to seek her out鈥 Logan had hunted her down. She found it hard to breathe, and it had been all she could do to go to the office and tell the principal that she had to go home. The principal had taken one look at her face and agreed, offering to cover her class the rest of the afternoon. Nana would pick up Ben after school, Beth informed him. On the drive home, her mind flashed from one image to the next a kaleidoscope of sight and sound and smell. She tried to convince herself that Keith was lying, grasping for a way to rationalize his news. It was possible, especially considering the way he'd lied in the past, and yet鈥 Keith had been serious. More professional than personal, and J told her something she could easily check. He knew she u d ask Logan about it鈥 he wanted her to ask Logan鈥 which meant.. She squeezed the wheel, possessed by a feverish need to talk to Logan. He would clear this up. He had to be able to clear this up. Water from the river now stretched across the road, but in her preoccupied state, she didn't realize it until she plowed into the water. She jerked forward as the car almost came to a stop. The river flowed around her, and she thought the water would stall the engine, but the car continued to roll forward into ever deeper water, before finally emerging in a shallower patch. By the time Beth reached the house, she wasn't even sure what to feel, other than confused. One instant she felt angry and betrayed and manipulated; in the next, she was able to convince herself that it couldn't be true, that Keith had lied to her again. As she came up the drive, she found herself scanning the rain swept grounds for Logan. Up ahead, through low-hanging mist, she could see lights on in the house. She considered going in to talk to Nana, longing for Nana's clarity and common sense to straighten everything out. But when she saw the lights on in the office and noted the propped-open door, she felt something catch in her throat. She turned the wheel in the direction of the office, telling herself that Logan didn't have the picture, that the whole thing had been a mistake. She bounced through muddy puddles, the rain coming so hard now that the wipers couldn't keep up. On the office porch, she saw Zeus lying near the door, his head raised. She pulled to a stop out front and ran for the porch, rain stinging her face. Zeus approached her, nosing at her hand. She ignored him as she walked inside, expecting to find Logan at the desk. He wasn't there. The door that led from the office to the kennel stood open. She steeled herself, pausing in the middle of the office, as shadows moved in the darkened corridor. She waited as Logan emerged into the light. "Hey, Elizabeth," he said. "I didn't expect to see you 鈥" He trailed off. "What happened?" Staring at him, she felt her emotions threaten to boil over. Her mouth suddenly felt papery dry, and she didn't know how to start or what to say. Logan said nothing, sensing her volatile state. She closed her eyes, feeling on the verge of tears, then drew a careful breath. "Why did you come to Hampton?" she finally asked. "I want the truth this time." He didn't move. "I told you the truth," he said. "Did you tell me everything?" He hesitated for a fraction of a second before answering. "I've never lied to you," he said, his voice quiet. "That's not what I asked!" she snapped. "I asked if you've been hiding anything!" He appraised her carefully. "Where's this coming from?" "That doesn't matter!" This time, she heard the anger in her tone. "I just want to know why you came to Hampton!" "I told you鈥" "Do you have a picture of me?" Logan said nothing. "Answer the question!" She took a step toward him, biting out the words. "Do you have a picture of me?" She wasn't sure how she expected him to react, but other than a soft exhale, he didn't flinch. "Yes," he said. "The one I gave Drake?" "Yes," he said again. With his answer, she felt her whole world begin to topple like a row of dominoes. All at once, everything made sense鈥攖he way he'd stared at her when they first met, the reason he was willing to work for such a low wage, why he'd befriended Nana and Ben, and all his talk about destiny鈥 He had the photo. He'd come to Hampton to find her. He'd tracked her down like prey. All at once, it was difficult to breathe. "Oh, my God." "It's not what you think鈥斺" He stretched his hand toward her, and she absently watched it draw closer before she finally realized what was happening. With a start, she reeled back, desperate to put more space between them. All of it had been a lie鈥 "Don't touch me!" "Elizabeth鈥" "My name is Beth!" She stared at him as if he were a stranger until he lowered his arm. His voice was a whisper when he tried again. "I can explain鈥-" "Explain what?" she demanded. "That you stole the picture from my brother? That you walked across the country to find me? That you fell in love with an image鈥" "It wasn't like that," he said, shaking his head. She didn't hear him. All she could do was stare at him, wondering if anything he'd said was true. "You stalked me 鈥" she said, almost as if talking to herself. "You lied to me. You used me." "You don't understand鈥" "Understand? You want me to understand" "I didn't steal the photo," he said. His voice remained steady and even. "I found the photo in Kuwait, and I posted it on a bulletin board where I thought it would be claimed. But no one ever claimed it." "And so鈥 you took it back?" She shook her head in disbelief. "Why? Because you had some sick and twisted idea about me?" "No," he said, his voice rising for the first time. The sound startled her, slowing her thoughts, if only for an instant. "I came here because I owed you." "You owed me?" She blinked. "What does that even mean?" "The photo鈥 it saved me." Though she heard him plainly, she couldn't comprehend the words. She waited for more, and in the steady silence that followed, she realized she found them鈥 chilling somehow. The hairs on her arms prickled, and she took another step back. "Who are you?" she hissed. "What do you want from me?" "I don't want anything. And you know who I am." "No, I don't! I don't know anything about you!" "Let me explain 鈥" "Then explain why if this was all so pure and true that you didn't tell me about the photograph when you first came here!" she shouted, her voice echoing in the room. In her mind's eye, she saw Drake and all the details of the night the photo was taken. She pointed a finger at him. "Why didn't you say, 'I found this in Iraq and I figured you might want it back'? Why didn't you tell me when we were talking about Drake ?" "I don't know鈥" "It wasn't your photo to keep! Don't you get that? It wasn't meant for you! It was for my brother, not for you! It was his and you had no right to keep it from me!" Logan's voice was almost a whisper. "I didn't mean to hurt you." Her eyes bored into him, piercing him with the force of her rage. "This whole thing is a sham, isn't it? You found this photo and came up with some鈥 twisted fantasy in which you could play the starring role. You played me from the moment we met! You took your time to find out what you could do to make it seem like you were the perfect guy for me. And you thought that because you were obsessed with me, you could trick me into falling in love with you." She saw Logan flinch at her words, and she went on. "You planned all this from the very beginning! It's sick and it's wrong and I can't believe I fell for it." He rocked back slightly on his heels, stunned by her words. "I admit that I wanted to meet you," he said, "but you're wrong about the reason. I didn't come here to trick you into falling in love with me. I know it sounds crazy, but I came to believe that the photograph kept me safe from harm and that鈥 I owed you somehow, even if I didn't know what that meant or what would come of it. But I didn't plan anything after I got here. I took the job, and then I fell in love with you." Her expression didn't soften as he spoke. Instead, she slowly began to shake her head. "Can you even hear what you're saying?" "I knew you wouldn't believe it. That's why I didn't tell you鈥" "Don't try to justify your lies! You got caught up in some sick fantasy and you won't even admit it." "Stop calling it that!" he shouted back. "You're the one who's not listening. You're not even trying to understand what I'm saying!" "Why should I try to understand? You've been lying to me since the beginning. You've been using me since the beginning." "I haven't used you," he said, forcing his back straight, regaining his composure. "And I didn't lie about the photo. I just didn't tell you about it because I didn't know how to tell you in a way that wouldn't make you think I was crazy." She raised her hands. "Don't even think of blaming this on me. You're the one who lied! You're the one who kept secrets! I told you everything! I gave my heart to you! I let my son become attached to you!" she shouted. As she went on, her voice broke and she could feel the tears beginning to form. "I went to bed with you because I thought you were someone I could trust. But now I know that I can't. Can you imagine how that makes me feel? To know this whole thing was some sort of charade?" His voice was soft. "Please, Elizabeth 鈥 Beth .;. just listen." "I don't want to listen! I've already been lied to enough." "Don't be like this." "You want me to listen?" she screamed. "Listen to what? That you obsessed over a picture and came to find me because you believe it kept you safe? That's insane, and the most disturbing thing is, you don't even recognize that your explanation only makes you sound psychotic!" He stared at her, and she saw his jaw clench shut. She felt a shudder run through her. She was done with this. Done with him. "I want it back," she gritted out. "I want the photo that I gave to Drake." When he didn't respond, she reached over to the window ledge and grabbed a small flower pot. She threw it at him, shouting, "Where is it? I want it!" Logan ducked as the pot whizzed overhead and crashed into the wall behind him. For the first time, Zeus barked in confusion. "It's not yours!" she shouted. Logan stood straight again. "I don't have it." "Where is it?" she demanded Logan paused before answering. "I gave it to Ben," he admitted. Her eyes narrowed. "Get out." Logan paused before finally moving toward the door. Beth stepped away, keeping her distance from him. Zeus swiveled his gaze from Logan to Beth and back again before padding slowly after Logan. At the door, Logan stopped and turned toward her. "I swear on my life I didn't come here to fall in love with you, or try to make you fall in love with me. But I did." She stared at him. "I told you to go and I meant it." With that, he turned and strode out into the storm.福彩3d百位号码走势图

Chapter 10 Beth福彩3d百位号码走势图That evening, Keith Clayton lay on the bed smoking a cigarette, kind of glad that Nikki was in the shower. He liked the way she looked after a shower, with her hair wet and wild. The image kept him from dwelling on the fact that he would rather she grab her things and go on home. It was the fourth time in the last five days that she'd spent the night. She was a cashier at the Quick Stop where he bought his Doritos, and for the last month or so, he'd been wondering whether or not to ask her out. Her teeth weren't so great and her skin was kind of pockmarked, but her body was killer, which was more than enough, considering he needed a bit of stress reduction. Seeing Beth last Sunday night while she was dropping Ben off had done it. Wearing shorts and a tank top, she'd stepped out onto the porch and waved at Ben, flashing this kind of Farrah Fawcett smile. Even if it was directed at Ben, it drove home the fact that she was getting better-looking with every passing year. Had he known that would happen, he might not have consented to the divorce. As it was, he'd left the place thinking about how pretty she was and ended up in bed with Nikki a few hours later. The thing was, he didn't want to get back together with Beth. There wasn't a chance of that happening. She was way too pushy, for one thing, and she had a tendency to argue when he made a decision she didn't like. He'd learned those things a long time ago, and he was reminded of it every time he saw her. Right after the divorce, the last thing he'd wanted to do was think about her, and for a long while, he hadn't. He'd lived his life, had a great time with lots of different girls, and pretty much figured he'd never look back. Aside from the kid, of course. Still, sometime around when Ben turned three or four, he started to hear whispers about her beginning to date, and it bugged him. It was one thing for him to date鈥 but it was an entirely different situation altogether if she dated. The last thing he wanted was for some other guy to step in and pretend he was Ben's daddy. Beyond that, he realized he didn't like the thought of some other man in bed with Beth. It just didn't sit right with him. He knew men and knew what they wanted, and Beth was pretty much naive about that stuff, if only because he'd been her first. Most likely he, Keith Clayton, was the only man she'd ever been with, and that was good, since it kept her priorities straight. She was raising their son, and even if Ben was a bit of a pansy, Beth was doing a good job with him. Besides, she was a good person, and the last thing she deserved was for some guy to break her heart. She'd always need him to watch out for her. But the other night鈥 He wondered if she'd dressed in that skimpy outfit in anticipation of him coming over. Wouldn't that have been something? A couple of months back, she'd even invited him inside while Ben was gathering his things. Granted, it was raining buckets and Nana had scowled at him the whole time, but Beth had been downright pleasant and sort of set him to thinking that he might have underestimated her. She had needs; everyone had needs. And what would be the harm if he helped satisfy hers every now and then? It wasn't as if he'd never seen her naked before, and they did have a kid together. What did they call it these days? Friends with benefits? He could imagine enjoying something like that with Beth. As long as she didn't talk too much or saddle him with a bunch of expectations. Snubbing out his cigarette, he wondered how he might propose something like that to her. Unlike him, he knew, she'd been alone for a long, long time. Guys came sniffing around from time to time, but he knew how to deal with them. He remembered the little talk he'd had with Adam a couple of months back. The one who wore a blazer over a T-shirt, like he was some stud from Hollywood. Stud or not, he was pasty white when Clayton had approached the window after gulling him over on his way home from his third date with Beth. Clayton knew they'd shared a bottle of wine at dinner鈥攈e'd watched them from across the street鈥攁nd when Clayton gave him a sobriety test with the inhaler he'd rigged for just such instances, the guy's skin went from pasty to chalk white. "Had one too many, huh?" Clayton asked, responding with the .requisite doubtful expression when the guy swore up and down that he'd had only a single glass. When he slipped on the cuffs, he thought the guy was either going to faint or wet his pants, which almost made him laugh out loud. But he didn't. Instead, he filled out the paperwork, slowly, before giving him the talk鈥攖he one he delivered to anyone Beth seemed interested in. That they'd been married once and had a kid together, and how important it was to understand that he had a duty to keep them safe. And that the last thing Beth needed in her life was someone to distract her from raising their son or to get involved with someone who might just be using her. Just because they were divorced didn't mean he'd stopped caring. The guy got the message, of course. They all did. Not only because of Clayton's family and connections, but because Clayton offered to lose the inhaler and the paperwork if the guy promised to leave her alone for a while and remembered to keep their conversation to himself. Because if she found out about their little talk, that wouldn't be good. Might cause problems with the kid, you see? And he didn't take kindly to anyone who caused problems with his kid. The next day, of course, he'd been sitting in his parked squad car when Adam got off work. The guy went white at the sight of Clayton fiddling with the inhaler. Clayton knew he'd gotten the message before driving off, and the next time he saw Adam, he was with some redheaded secretary who worked in the same accounting office he did. Which meant, of course, that Clayton had been right: The guy had never planned to see Beth for the long term. He was just some loser hoping for a quick roll in the sack. Well, it wouldn't be with Beth. Beth would throw a hissy fit if she found out what he'd been doing, but fortunately, he hadn't had to do it all that often. Just every now and then, and things were working out fine. More than fine, actually. Even the whole coed picture-taking fiasco had turned out okay. Neither the camera nor the disk had surfaced at either the sheriff's department or the newspaper since last weekend. He hadn't had a chance to look for that hippie loser on Monday morning because of some papers that had to be served out in the county, but he found out the guy had been staying at the Holiday Motor Court. Unfortunately鈥攐r fortunately, he supposed鈥攖he guy had checked out, and he hadn't been seen since. Which most likely meant he was long gone by now. All in all, things were good. Real good. He especially liked the brainstorm he'd had about Beth鈥 the friends with benefits thing. Wouldn't that be something? He clasped his hands behind his head and lay back on the pillows just as Nikki stepped out of the bathroom wrapped in her towel, with steam trailing behind her. He smiled. "Come here, Beth." She froze. "My name is Nikki." "I know that. But I want to call you Beth tonight." "What are you talking about?" His eyes flashed. "Just shut up and come here, would you?" After a moment's hesitation, Nikki took a reluctant step forward.福彩3d百位号码走势图Chapter 2 Thibault

Chapter 4 Thibault大庆新玛特电影院 Chapter 28 Beth福彩3d百位号码走势图It was strange to think of the unexpected twists a man's life could take. Up until a year ago, Thibault would have jumped at the opportunity to spend the weekend with Amy and her friends. It was probably exactly what he needed, but when they dropped him off just outside the Hampton town limits with the August afternoon heat bearing down hard, he waved good-bye, feeling strangely relieved. Maintaining a facade of normalcy had been exhausting. Since leaving Colorado five months earlier, he hadn't voluntarily spent more than a few hours with anyone, the lone exception being an elderly dairy farmer just south of Little Rock, who let him sleep in an unused upstairs bedroom after a dinner in which the farmer talked as little as he did. He appreciated the fact that the man didn't feel the need to press him about why he'd just appeared the way he had. No questions, no curiosity, no open-ended hints. Just a casual acceptance that Thibault didn't feel like talking. In gratitude, Thibault spent a couple of days helping to repair the roof of the barn before finally returning to the road, backpack loaded, with Zeus trailing behind him. With the exception of the ride from the girls, he'd walked the entire distance. After dropping the keys to his apartment at the manager's office in mid-March, he'd gone through eight pairs of shoes, pretty much survived on PowerBars and water during long, lonely stretches between towns, and once, in Tennessee, had eaten five tall stacks of pancakes aftet going nearly three days without food. Along with Zeus, he'd traveled through blizzards, hailstorms,: fain, and heat so intense that it made the skin on his arms blister; he'd seen a tornado on the horizon near Tulsa, Oklahoma, and had nearly been struck by lightning twice. He'd taken numerous detours, trying to stay off the main toads, further lengthening the journey, sometimes on a whim. Usually, he walked until he was tired, and toward the end of the day, he'd start searching for a spot to camp, anywhere he thought he and Zeus wouldn't be disturbed. In the mornings, they hit the toad before dawn so no one would be the wiser. To this point, no one had bothered them. He figured he'd been averaging more than twenty miles a day, though he'd never kept specific track of either the time or the distance. That wasn't what the journey was about. He could imagine some people thinking that he was walking to outpace the memories of the world he'd left behind, which had a poetic ring to it; others might want to believe he was walking simply for the sake of the journey itself. But neither was true. He liked to walk and he had someplace to go. Simple as that. He liked going when he wanted, at the pace he wanted, to the place he wanted to be. After four years of following orders in the Marine Corps, the freedom of it appealed to him. His mother worried about him, but then that's what mothers did. Or his mother, anyway. He called every few days to let her know he was doing okay, and usually, after hanging up, he would think that he wasn't being fair to her. He'd already been gone for much of the past five years, and before each of his three tours in Iraq, he'd listened as she'd lectured into the phone, reminding him not to do anything stupid. He hadn't, but there had been more than a few close calls. Though he'd never told her about them, she read the papers. "And now this," his mother had lamented the night before he'd left. "This whole thing seems crazy to me." Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't. He wasn't sure yet. "What do you think, Zeus?" The dog looked up at the sound of his name and padded to his side. "Yeah, I know. You're hungry. What's new?" Thibault paused in the parking lot of a run-down motel on the edge of town. He reached for the bowl and the last of the dog food. As Zeus began to eat, Thibault took in the view of the town. Hampton wasn't the worst place he'd ever seen, not by a long shot, but it wasn't the best, either. The town was located on the banks of the South River, about thirty-five miles northwest of Wilmington and the coast, and at first glance, it seemed no different from the thousands of self-sufficient, blue-collar communities long on pride and history that dotted the South. There were a couple of traffic lights dangling on droopy wires that interrupted the traffic flow as it edged toward the bridge that spanned the river, and on either side of the main road were low-slung brick buildings, sandwiched together and stretching for half a mile, with business names stenciled on the front windows advertising places to eat and drink or purchase hardware. A few old magnolias were scattered here and there and made the sidewalks swell beneath their bulging roots. In the distance, he saw an old-fashioned barber pole, along with the requisite older men sitting on the bench out in front of it. He smiled. It was quaint, like a fantasy of the 1950s. On closer inspection, though, he sensed that first impressions were deceiving. Despite the waterfront location鈥攐r maybe because of it, he surmised鈥攈e noted the decay near the rooflines, in the crumbling bricks near the foundations, in the faded brackish stains a couple of feet higher than the foundations, which indicated serious flooding in the past. None of the shops were boarded up yet, but observing the dearth of cars parked in front of the businesses, he wondered how long they could hold out. Small-town commercial districts were going the way of the dinosaurs, and if this place was like most of the other towns he'd passed through, he figured there was probably another, newer area for businesses, one most likely anchored by a Wal-Mart or a Piggly Wiggly, that would spell the end for this part of town. Strange, though. Being here. He wasn't sure what he'd imagined Hampton to be, but it wasn't this. No matter. As Zeus was finishing his food, he wondered how long it would take to find her. The woman in the photograph. The woman he'd come to meet. But he would find her. That much was certain. He hoisted his backpack. "You ready?" Zeus tilted his head. "Let's get a room. I want to eat and shower. And you need a bath." Thibault took a couple of steps before realizing Zeus hadn't moved. He glanced over his shoulder. "Don't give me that look. You definitely need a bath. You smell." Zeus still didn't move. "Fine. Do what you want. I'm going." He headed toward the manager's office to check in, knowing that Zeus would follow. In the end, Zeus always followed. Until he'd found the photograph, Thibault's life had proceeded as he'd long intended. He'd always had a plan. He'd wanted to do well in school and had; he'd wanted to participate in a variety of sports and had grown up playing pretty much everything. He'd wanted to learn to play the piano and the violin, and he'd become proficient enough to write his own music. After college at the University of Colorado, he'd planned to join the Marine Corps, and the recruiter had been thrilled that he'd chosen to enlist instead of becoming an officer. Shocked, but thrilled. Most graduates had little desire to become a grunt, but that was exactly what he'd wanted. The bombing of the World Trade Center had little to do with his decision. Instead, joining the military seemed the natural thing to do, since his dad had served with the marines for twenty-five years. His dad had gone in as a private and finished as one of those grizzled, steel-jawed sergeants who intimidated pretty much everyone except his wife and the platoons he commanded. He treated those young men like his sons; his sole intent, he used to tell them, was to bring them back home to their mothers alive and well and all grown up. His dad must have attended more than fifty weddings over the years of guys he'd led who couldn't imagine getting married without having his blessing. Good marine, too. He'd picked up a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts in Vietnam and over the years had served in Grenada, Panama, Bosnia, and the First Gulf War. His dad was a marine who didn't mind transfers, and Thibault had spent the majority of his youth moving from place to place, living on bases around the world. In some ways, Okinawa seemed more like home than Colorado, and though his Japanese was a bit rusty, he figured a week spent in Tokyo would rekindle the fluency he'd once known. Like his dad, he figured he'd end up retiring from the corps, but unlike his dad, he intended to live long enough afterward to enjoy it. His dad had died of a heart attack only two years after he'd slipped his dress blues onto the hanger for the last time, a massive infarction that came out of the blue. One minute he was shoveling snow from the driveway, and the next minute he was gone. That was thirteen years ago. Thibault had been fifteen years old at the time. That day and the funeral that followed were the most vivid memories of his life prior to joining the marines. Being raised as a military brat has a way of making things blur together, simply because of how often you have to move. Friends come and go, clothing is packed and unpacked, households are continually purged of unnecessary items, and as a result, not much sticks. It's hard at times, but it makes a kid strong in ways that most people can't understand. Teaches them that even though people are left behind, new ones will inevitably take their place; that every place has something good鈥攁nd bad鈥攖o offer. It makes a kid grow up fast Even his college years were hazy, but that chapter of his life had its own routines. Studying during the week, enjoying the weekends, cramming for finals, crappy dorm food, and two girlfriends, one of whom lasted a little more than a year. Everyone who ever went to college had the same stories to tell, few of which had lasting impact. In the end, only his education remained. In truth, he felt like his life hadn't really started until he'd arrived on Parris bland for basic training. As soon as he'd hopped off the bus, the drill sergeant started shouting in his ear. There's nothing like a drill sergeant to make a person believe that nothing in his life had really mattered to that point. You were theirs now, and that was that. Good at sports? Give me fifty push-ups, Mr. Point Guard. College educated? Assemble this rifle, Einstein. Father was in the marines? Clean the cropper like your old man once did. Same old clich茅s. Run, march, stand at attention, crawl through the mud, scale that wall: There was nothing in basic training he hadn't expected. He had to admit that the drill mostly worked. It broke people down, beat them down even further, and eventually molded them into marines. Or that's what they said, anyway. He didn't break down. He went through the motions, kept his head low, did as he was ordered, and remained the same man he'd been before. He became a marine anyway. He ended up with the First Battalion, Fifth Marines, based out of Camp Pendleton. San Diego was his kind of town, with great weather, gorgeous beaches, and even more beautiful women. But it was not to last. In January 2003, right after he turned twenty-three, he deployed to Kuwait as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Camp Doha, in an industrial part of Kuwait City, had been in use since the First Gulf War and was pretty much a town unto itself. There was a gym and a computer center, a PX, places to eat, and tents spread as far as the horizon. Busy place made much busier by the impending invasion, and things were chaotic from the start. His days were an unbroken sequence of hours-long meetings, backbreaking drills, and rehearsals of ever changing attack plans. He must have practiced donning his chemical war protection suit a hundred times. There were endless rumors, too. The worst part was trying to figure out which one might be true. Everyone knew of someone who knew someone who'd heard the real story. One day they were going in imminently; next day they'd hear that they were holding off. First, they were coming in from the north and south; then just from the south, and maybe not even that. They heard the enemy had chemical weapons and intended to use them; next day they heard they wouldn't use them because they believed that the United States would respond with nukes. There were whispers that the Iraqi Republican Guard intended to make a suicide stand just over the border; others swore they intended to make the stand near Baghdad. Still others said the suicide stand would happen near the oil fields. In short, no one knew anything, which only fueled the imaginations of the 150,000 troops who'd assembled in Kuwait. For the most part, soldiers are kids. People forget that sometimes. Eighteen, nineteen, twenty鈥 half of the servicemen weren't old enough even to buy a beer. They were confident and well trained and excited to go, but it was impossible to ignore the reality of what was coming. Some of them were going to die. Some talked openly about it, others wrote letters to their families and handed them to the chaplain. Tempers were short. Some had trouble sleeping; others slept almost all the time. Thibault observed it all with a strange sense of detachment. Welcome to war, he could hear his father saying. It's always a SNAFU: situation normal, all f鈥攅d up. Thibault wasn't completely immune to the escalating tension, and like everyone else, he'd needed an outlet. It was impossible not to have one. He started playing poker. His dad had taught him to play, and he knew the game鈥 or thought he knew. He quickly found out that others knew more. In the first three weeks, he proceeded to lose pretty much every dime he'd saved since joining up, bluffing when he should have folded, folding when he should have stayed in the game. It wasn't much money to begin with, and it wasn't as if he had many places to spend it even if he'd kept it, but it put him in a foul mood for days. He hated to lose. The only antidote was to go for long runs first thing in the morning, before the sun came up. It was usually frigid; though he'd been in the Middle East for a month, it continually amazed him how cold the desert could be. He ran hard beneath a sky crowded with stars, his breaths coming out in little puffs. Toward the end of one of his runs, when he could see his tent in the distance, he began to slow. By then, the sun had begun to crest the horizon, spreading gold across the arid landscape. With his hands on his hips, he continued to catch his breath, and it was then, from the corner of his eye, that he spotted the dull gleam of a photograph, half-buried in the dirt. He stopped to pick it up and noticed that it had been cheaply but neatly laminated, probably to protect it from the elements. He brushed off the dust, clearing the image, and that was the first time he saw her. The blonde with the smile and the jade-colored mischievous eyes, wearing jeans and a T-shirt emblazoned with the words lucky lady across the front. Behind her was a banner showing the words Hampton fairgrounds. A German shepherd, gray in the muzzle, stood by her side. In the crowd behind her were two young men, clustered near the ticket stand and a bit out of focus, wearing T-shirts with logos. Three evergreen trees rose in the distance, pointy ones that could grow almost anywhere. On the back of the photo were the handwritten words, "Keep Safe! E." Not that he'd noticed any of those things right away. His first instinct, in fact, had been to toss the picture aside. He almost had, but just as he was about to do so, it occurred to him that whoever had lost it might want it back. It obviously meant something to someone. When he returned to camp, he tacked the photo to a message board near the entrance to the computer center, figuring that pretty much every inhabitant of the camp made his way there at one point or another. No doubt someone would claim it. A week went by, then ten days. The photo was never retrieved. By that point, his platoon was drilling for hours every day, and the poker games had become serious. Some men had lost thousands of dollars; one lance corporal was said to have lost close to ten thousand. Thibault, who hadn't played since his initial humiliating attempt, preferred to spend his free time brooding on the upcoming invasion and wondering how he'd react to being fired upon. When he wandered over to the computer center three days before the invasion, he saw the photo still tacked to the message board, and for a reason he still didn't quite understand, he took down the photo and put it in his pocket. Victor, his best friend in the squad鈥攖hey'd been together since basic training鈥攖alked him into joining the poker game that night, despite Thibault's reservations. Still low on funds, Thibault started conservatively and didn't think he'd be in the game for more than half an hour. He folded in the first three games, then drew a straight in the fourth game and a full house in the sixth. The cards kept falling his way鈥攆lushes, straights, full houses鈥攁nd by the halfway point in the evening, he'd recouped his earlier losses. The original players had left by then, replaced by others. Thibault stayed. In turn, they were replaced. Thibault stayed. His winning streak persisted, and by dawn, he'd won more than he'd earned in his first six months in the marines. It was only when he was leaving the game with Victor that he realized he'd had the photograph in his pocket the entire time. When they were back at their tent, he showed the photo to Victor and pointed out the words on the woman's shirt. Victor, whose parents were illegal immigrants living near Bakersfield, California, was not only religious, but believed in portents of all kinds. Lightning storms, forked roads, and black cats were favorites, and before they'd shipped out, he'd told Thibault about an uncle who supposedly possessed the evil eye: "When he looks at you a certain way, it's only a matter of time before you die." Victor's conviction made Thibault feel like he was ten years old again, listening raptly as Victor told the story with a flashlight propped beneath his chin. He said nothing at the time. Everyone had their quirks. Guy wanted to believe in omens? Fine with him. More important was the fact that Victor was a good enough shot to have been ^recruited as a sniper and that Thibault trusted him with his life. Victor stared at the picture before handing it back. "You said you found this at dawn?" "Yeah." "Dawn is a powerful time of the day." "So you've told me." "It's a sign," he said. "She's your good-luck charm. See the shirt she is wearing?" "She was tonight." "Not just tonight. You found that picture for a reason. No one claimed it for a reason. You took it today for a reason. Only you were meant to have it." Thibault wanted to say something about the guy who'd lost it and how he'd feel about that, but he kept quiet Instead, he lay back on the cot and clasped his hands behind his head. Victor mirrored the movement. "I'm happy for you. Luck will be on your side from now on," he added. "I hope so." "But you can't ever lose the picture." "No?" "If you do, then the charm works in reverse." "Which means what?" Nickel "It means you'll be unlucky. And in war, unlucky is the last thing you want to be." The motel room was as ugly on the inside as it had been from the outside: wood paneling, light fixtures attached to the ceiling with chains, shag carpet, television bolted to the stand. It seemed to have been decorated around 1975 and never updated, and it reminded Thibault of the places his dad had made them stay in when they took their family vacations through the Southwest, when Thibault was a kid. They'd stayed overnight in places just off the highway, and as long as they were relatively clean, his dad had deemed them fine. His mom less so, but what could she do? It wasn't as if there had been a Four Seasons across the street, and even if there had been, there was no way they could ever have afforded it. Thibault went through the same routine his dad had when entering a motel room: He pulled back the comforter to make sure the sheets were fresh, he checked the shower curtain for mold, he looked for hairs in the sink. Despite the expected rust stains, a leaky faucet, and cigarette bums, the place was cleaner than he'd imagined it might be. Inexpensive, too. Thibault had paid cash for a week in advance, no questions asked, no extra charge for the dog. All in all, a bargain. Good thing. Thibault had no credit cards, no debit cards, no ATM cards, no official mailing address, no cell phone. He carried pretty much everything he owned. He did have a bank account, one that would wire him money as needed. It was registered under a corporate name, not his own. He wasn't rich. He wasn't even middle-class. The corporation did no business. He just liked his privacy. He led Zeus to the tub and washed him, using the shampoo in his backpack. Afterward, he showered and dressed in the last of his clean clothes. Sitting on the bed, he thumbed through the phone book, searching for something in particular, without luck. He made a note to do laundry when he had time, then decided to get a bite to eat at the small restaurant he'd seen just down the street. When he got there, they wouldn't let Zeus inside, which wasn't surprising. Zeus lay down outside the front door and went to sleep. Thibault had a cheeseburger and fries, washed it down with a chocolate milk shake, then ordered a cheeseburger to go for Zeus. Back outside, he watched as Zeus gobbled it down in less than twenty seconds and then looked up at Thibault again. "Glad you really savored that. Come on." Thibault bought a map of the town at a convenience store and sat on a bench near the town square鈥攐ne of those old-fashioned parks bordered on all four sides by business-lined streets. Featuring large shady trees, a play area for the kids, and lots of flowers, it didn't seem crowded: A few mothers were clustered together, while children zipped down the slide or glided back and forth on the swings. He examined the faces of the women, making sure she wasn't among them, then turned away and opened the map before they grew nervous at his presence. Mothers with young kids always got nervous when they saw single men lingering in the area, doing nothing purposeful. He didn't blame them. Too many perverts out there. Studying the map, he oriented himself and tried to figure out his next move. He had no illusions that it was going to be easy. He didn't know much, after all. All he had was a photograph鈥攏o name or address. No employment history. No phone number. No date. Nothing but a face in the crowd. But there were some clues. He'd studied the details of the photo, as he had so many times before, and started with what he knew. The photograph had been taken in Hampton. The woman appeared to be in her early twenties when the photo was taken. She was attractive. She either owned a German shepherd or knew someone who did. Her first name started with the letter E. Emma, Elaine, Elise, Eileen, Ellen, Emily, Erin, Erica鈥 they seemed the most likely, though in the South, he supposed there could be names like Erdine or Elspeth, too. She went to the fair with someone who was later posted to Iraq. She had given this person the photograph, and Thibault had found the photograph in February 2003, which meant it had to have been taken before then. The woman, then, was most likely now in her late twenties. There was a series of three evergreen trees in the distance. These things he knew. Facts. Then, there were assumptions, beginning with Hampton. Hampton was a relatively common name. A quick Internet search turned up a lot of them. Counties and towns: South Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nebraska. Georgia. Others, too. Lots of others. And, of course, a Hampton in Hampton County, North Carolina. Though there'd been no obvious landmarks in the background鈥 no picture of Monticello indicating Virginia, for instance, no welcome to Iowa! sign in the distance鈥攖here had been information. Not about the woman, but gleaned from the young men in the background, standing in line for tickets. Two of them had been wearing shirts with logos. One鈥攁n image of Homer Simpson鈥 didn't help. The other, with the word Davidson written across the front, meant nothing at first, even when Thibault thought about it. He'd originally assumed the shirt was an abbreviated reference to Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle. Another Google search cleared that up. Davidson, he'd learned, was also the name of a reputable college located near Charlotte, North Carolina. Selective, challenging, with an emphasis on liberal arts. A review of their bookstore catalog showed a sample of the same shirt. The shirt, he realized, was no guarantee that the photo had been taken in North Carolina. Maybe someone who'd gone to the college gave the guy the shirt; maybe he was an out-of-state student, maybe he just liked the colors, maybe he was an alum and had moved someplace new. But with nothing else to go on, Thibault had made a quick phone call to the Hampton Chamber of Commerce before he'd left Colorado and verified that they had a county fair every summer. Another good sign. He had a destination, but it wasn't yet a fact. He just assumed this was the right place. Still, for a reason he couldn鈥檛 explain, this place felt right. There were other assumptions, too, but he'd get to those later. The first thing he had to do was find the fairgrounds. Hopefully, the county fair had been held in the same location for years; he hoped the person who could point him in the right direction could answer that question as well. Best place to find someone like that was at one of the businesses around here. Not a souvenir or antiques shop- Those were often owned by newcomers to town, people escaping from the North in search of a quieter life in warmer weather. Instead, he thought his best bet would be someplace like a local hardware store. Or a bar. Or a real estate office He figured he'd know the place when he saw it. He wanted to see the exact place the photograph had been taken. Not to get a better feel for who the woman was. The fair-grounds wouldn't help with that at all. He wanted to know if there were three tall evergreen trees clustered together, pointy ones that could grow almost anywhere.福彩3d百位号码走势图Clayton stared at the house in disbelief, his knuckles white on the steering wheel. He blinked repeatedly to clear his vision, but he still saw the same things: Beth's car in the driveway, the couple kissing on the couch, Thigh-bolt leading her to the bedroom. Beth and Thigh-bolt together. With every passing minute, he felt stronger waves of anger cresting and crashing inside him. His perfect plans, all of them, up in smoke. And Thigh-bolt would forever have him over a barrel. He pressed his lips together in a tight line. He was tempted to storm in on them, but then there was the damn dog. Again. It had been hard enough already, following them through his binoculars from his car without being noticed. Thigh-bolt. The dog. Beth鈥 He banged the steering wheel. How could this have happened? Hadn't Beth heard what he'd said? Didn't she understand how much danger she was in? Didn't she care about Ben? No way was that psycho going to be part of his son's life. Not a chance. Not on his life. He should have expected this. He should have known how stupid Beth would be.She might be pushing thirty, but she had the intelligence of a child. He should have known that she'd see in Thigh-bolt whatever she wanted to see and ignore the obvious. It would come to an end, though. Sooner rather than later He'd make her see the light, no matter what it took.

福彩3d百位号码走势图She could barely see through the windshield, but this time it had less to do with the rain than her inability to concentrate. After Keith had left, she kept blinking in confusion as she stated at the file, trying to make sense of the things her ex had told her. Logan had Drake's photograph鈥 Logan had become obsessed with her鈥 Logan had decided to seek her out鈥 Logan had hunted her down. She found it hard to breathe, and it had been all she could do to go to the office and tell the principal that she had to go home. The principal had taken one look at her face and agreed, offering to cover her class the rest of the afternoon. Nana would pick up Ben after school, Beth informed him. On the drive home, her mind flashed from one image to the next a kaleidoscope of sight and sound and smell. She tried to convince herself that Keith was lying, grasping for a way to rationalize his news. It was possible, especially considering the way he'd lied in the past, and yet鈥 Keith had been serious. More professional than personal, and J told her something she could easily check. He knew she u d ask Logan about it鈥 he wanted her to ask Logan鈥 which meant.. She squeezed the wheel, possessed by a feverish need to talk to Logan. He would clear this up. He had to be able to clear this up. Water from the river now stretched across the road, but in her preoccupied state, she didn't realize it until she plowed into the water. She jerked forward as the car almost came to a stop. The river flowed around her, and she thought the water would stall the engine, but the car continued to roll forward into ever deeper water, before finally emerging in a shallower patch. By the time Beth reached the house, she wasn't even sure what to feel, other than confused. One instant she felt angry and betrayed and manipulated; in the next, she was able to convince herself that it couldn't be true, that Keith had lied to her again. As she came up the drive, she found herself scanning the rain swept grounds for Logan. Up ahead, through low-hanging mist, she could see lights on in the house. She considered going in to talk to Nana, longing for Nana's clarity and common sense to straighten everything out. But when she saw the lights on in the office and noted the propped-open door, she felt something catch in her throat. She turned the wheel in the direction of the office, telling herself that Logan didn't have the picture, that the whole thing had been a mistake. She bounced through muddy puddles, the rain coming so hard now that the wipers couldn't keep up. On the office porch, she saw Zeus lying near the door, his head raised. She pulled to a stop out front and ran for the porch, rain stinging her face. Zeus approached her, nosing at her hand. She ignored him as she walked inside, expecting to find Logan at the desk. He wasn't there. The door that led from the office to the kennel stood open. She steeled herself, pausing in the middle of the office, as shadows moved in the darkened corridor. She waited as Logan emerged into the light. "Hey, Elizabeth," he said. "I didn't expect to see you 鈥" He trailed off. "What happened?" Staring at him, she felt her emotions threaten to boil over. Her mouth suddenly felt papery dry, and she didn't know how to start or what to say. Logan said nothing, sensing her volatile state. She closed her eyes, feeling on the verge of tears, then drew a careful breath. "Why did you come to Hampton?" she finally asked. "I want the truth this time." He didn't move. "I told you the truth," he said. "Did you tell me everything?" He hesitated for a fraction of a second before answering. "I've never lied to you," he said, his voice quiet. "That's not what I asked!" she snapped. "I asked if you've been hiding anything!" He appraised her carefully. "Where's this coming from?" "That doesn't matter!" This time, she heard the anger in her tone. "I just want to know why you came to Hampton!" "I told you鈥" "Do you have a picture of me?" Logan said nothing. "Answer the question!" She took a step toward him, biting out the words. "Do you have a picture of me?" She wasn't sure how she expected him to react, but other than a soft exhale, he didn't flinch. "Yes," he said. "The one I gave Drake?" "Yes," he said again. With his answer, she felt her whole world begin to topple like a row of dominoes. All at once, everything made sense鈥攖he way he'd stared at her when they first met, the reason he was willing to work for such a low wage, why he'd befriended Nana and Ben, and all his talk about destiny鈥 He had the photo. He'd come to Hampton to find her. He'd tracked her down like prey. All at once, it was difficult to breathe. "Oh, my God." "It's not what you think鈥斺" He stretched his hand toward her, and she absently watched it draw closer before she finally realized what was happening. With a start, she reeled back, desperate to put more space between them. All of it had been a lie鈥 "Don't touch me!" "Elizabeth鈥" "My name is Beth!" She stared at him as if he were a stranger until he lowered his arm. His voice was a whisper when he tried again. "I can explain鈥-" "Explain what?" she demanded. "That you stole the picture from my brother? That you walked across the country to find me? That you fell in love with an image鈥" "It wasn't like that," he said, shaking his head. She didn't hear him. All she could do was stare at him, wondering if anything he'd said was true. "You stalked me 鈥" she said, almost as if talking to herself. "You lied to me. You used me." "You don't understand鈥" "Understand? You want me to understand" "I didn't steal the photo," he said. His voice remained steady and even. "I found the photo in Kuwait, and I posted it on a bulletin board where I thought it would be claimed. But no one ever claimed it." "And so鈥 you took it back?" She shook her head in disbelief. "Why? Because you had some sick and twisted idea about me?" "No," he said, his voice rising for the first time. The sound startled her, slowing her thoughts, if only for an instant. "I came here because I owed you." "You owed me?" She blinked. "What does that even mean?" "The photo鈥 it saved me." Though she heard him plainly, she couldn't comprehend the words. She waited for more, and in the steady silence that followed, she realized she found them鈥 chilling somehow. The hairs on her arms prickled, and she took another step back. "Who are you?" she hissed. "What do you want from me?" "I don't want anything. And you know who I am." "No, I don't! I don't know anything about you!" "Let me explain 鈥" "Then explain why if this was all so pure and true that you didn't tell me about the photograph when you first came here!" she shouted, her voice echoing in the room. In her mind's eye, she saw Drake and all the details of the night the photo was taken. She pointed a finger at him. "Why didn't you say, 'I found this in Iraq and I figured you might want it back'? Why didn't you tell me when we were talking about Drake ?" "I don't know鈥" "It wasn't your photo to keep! Don't you get that? It wasn't meant for you! It was for my brother, not for you! It was his and you had no right to keep it from me!" Logan's voice was almost a whisper. "I didn't mean to hurt you." Her eyes bored into him, piercing him with the force of her rage. "This whole thing is a sham, isn't it? You found this photo and came up with some鈥 twisted fantasy in which you could play the starring role. You played me from the moment we met! You took your time to find out what you could do to make it seem like you were the perfect guy for me. And you thought that because you were obsessed with me, you could trick me into falling in love with you." She saw Logan flinch at her words, and she went on. "You planned all this from the very beginning! It's sick and it's wrong and I can't believe I fell for it." He rocked back slightly on his heels, stunned by her words. "I admit that I wanted to meet you," he said, "but you're wrong about the reason. I didn't come here to trick you into falling in love with me. I know it sounds crazy, but I came to believe that the photograph kept me safe from harm and that鈥 I owed you somehow, even if I didn't know what that meant or what would come of it. But I didn't plan anything after I got here. I took the job, and then I fell in love with you." Her expression didn't soften as he spoke. Instead, she slowly began to shake her head. "Can you even hear what you're saying?" "I knew you wouldn't believe it. That's why I didn't tell you鈥" "Don't try to justify your lies! You got caught up in some sick fantasy and you won't even admit it." "Stop calling it that!" he shouted back. "You're the one who's not listening. You're not even trying to understand what I'm saying!" "Why should I try to understand? You've been lying to me since the beginning. You've been using me since the beginning." "I haven't used you," he said, forcing his back straight, regaining his composure. "And I didn't lie about the photo. I just didn't tell you about it because I didn't know how to tell you in a way that wouldn't make you think I was crazy." She raised her hands. "Don't even think of blaming this on me. You're the one who lied! You're the one who kept secrets! I told you everything! I gave my heart to you! I let my son become attached to you!" she shouted. As she went on, her voice broke and she could feel the tears beginning to form. "I went to bed with you because I thought you were someone I could trust. But now I know that I can't. Can you imagine how that makes me feel? To know this whole thing was some sort of charade?" His voice was soft. "Please, Elizabeth 鈥 Beth .;. just listen." "I don't want to listen! I've already been lied to enough." "Don't be like this." "You want me to listen?" she screamed. "Listen to what? That you obsessed over a picture and came to find me because you believe it kept you safe? That's insane, and the most disturbing thing is, you don't even recognize that your explanation only makes you sound psychotic!" He stared at her, and she saw his jaw clench shut. She felt a shudder run through her. She was done with this. Done with him. "I want it back," she gritted out. "I want the photo that I gave to Drake." When he didn't respond, she reached over to the window ledge and grabbed a small flower pot. She threw it at him, shouting, "Where is it? I want it!" Logan ducked as the pot whizzed overhead and crashed into the wall behind him. For the first time, Zeus barked in confusion. "It's not yours!" she shouted. Logan stood straight again. "I don't have it." "Where is it?" she demanded Logan paused before answering. "I gave it to Ben," he admitted. Her eyes narrowed. "Get out." Logan paused before finally moving toward the door. Beth stepped away, keeping her distance from him. Zeus swiveled his gaze from Logan to Beth and back again before padding slowly after Logan. At the door, Logan stopped and turned toward her. "I swear on my life I didn't come here to fall in love with you, or try to make you fall in love with me. But I did." She stared at him. "I told you to go and I meant it." With that, he turned and strode out into the storm.On Wednesday, Beth stared out her classroom window at lunchtime. She had never seen anything like it鈥攈urricanes and nor'easters had nothing on the series of storms that had recently pounded Hampton County as well as every county from Raleigh to the coast. The problem was that unlike most tropical storms, these weren't passing quickly out to sea. Instead, they had lingered day after thunderous day, bringing nearly every river in the eastern part of the state to flood levels. Small towns along the Pamlico, Neuse, and Cape Fear rivers were already knee-deep in water, and Hampton was getting close. Another day or two of rain would mean that most of the businesses downtown would be reachable only by canoe. The county had already decided to close the schools for the rest of the week, since the school buses could no longer make their routes and only a little more than half the teachers had been able to make it in. Ben, of course, was thrilled by the idea of staying home and playing in the puddles with Zeus, but Beth was a little more leery. Both the newspapers and the local news had reported that while the South River had already risen to dangerous levels, it was going to get far worse before it got better as the creeks and tributaries fed the rise. The two creeks that surrounded the kennel, usually a quarter mile away, could now be seen from the windows of the house, and Logan was even keeping Zeus away because of the debris washed out with the deluge. Being trapped indoors was hard on the kids, which was one of the reasons she'd stayed in her classroom. After lunch, they'd return to their classrooms, where in theory they'd happily color or draw or read quietly in lieu of playing kick ball or basketball or tag outside. In reality, kids needed to get their energy out, and she knew it. For years, she'd been asking that on days like this, they simply fold up the cafeteria lunch tables and allow the kids to run or play for twenty minutes, so they could concentrate when they returned to class after lunch. Not a chance, she was told, because of regulatory issues, liability issues, janitorial union issues, and health and safety issues. When asked what that meant, she was given a long explanation, but to her, it all came down to French fries. As in, We shouldn't allow kids to slip on French fries, or, If they do slip on French fries, the school district will get sued, or, The janitors would have to renegotiate their contract if they didn't clean the French fries from the cafeteria at the time they were scheduled to do so, and finally, If someone slipped on a French fry that had fallen on the floor, the children might be exposed to harmful pathogens. Welcome to the world of lawyers, she thought. Lawyers, after all, didn't have to teach the kids after keeping them cooped up inside the classroom all day with no recess. Usually, she would have retreated to the teacher's lounge for lunch, but with so little time to set up the classroom for activities, she'd decided to stay and get things ready. In the corner, she was setting up a beanbag-tossing game鈥攕tored in the closet for just such emergencies鈥攚hen she noted movement from the doorway. She turned that way, and it took her an instant to register who it was. The shoulders of his uniform were wet, and a few water droplets dripped from the belt where he stored his gun. In his hand was a manila file. "Hi, Beth," he said. His voice was quiet, "Do you have a minute?" She stood. "What is it, Keith?" "I came to apologize," he said. He clasped his hands in front of him, the picture of contrition. "I know you don't have a lot of time, but I wanted to talk to you when you were alone. I took a chance that you'd be here, but if it's not a good time, maybe we could set up another time that's better for you." She glanced at the clock. "I've got five minutes," she said. Keith stepped into the classroom and started to close the door. Midway, he paused, seeking her permission. She nodded, wanting to get whatever he had to say over with. He moved toward her, stopping at a respectful distance. "Like I said, I came here to tell you I was sorry." "About what?" "About the rumors you heard," he said. "I wasn't completely truthful with you." She crossed her arms. "In other words, you lied," she stated. "Yes." "You lied to my face." "Yes." "About what?" "You asked if I ever ran off some of the guys you've dated in the past. I don't think I did, but I didn't tell you that I did talk to some of them." "You talked to them." "Yes." She did her best to keep her anger in check. "And 鈥 what? You're sorry you did it, or sorry you lied?" "Both. I'm sorry I did it, I'm sorry I lied. I shouldn't have done those things." He paused. "I know we haven't had the greatest relationship since the divorce, and I also know that you think marrying me was a mistake. You're right about that. We weren't meant to be married, and I accept that. But between the two of us鈥攁nd i'll be honest, you've had a lot more to do with this than me鈥攚e have a great son. You might not think I'm the best father in the world, but I've never once regretted having Ben, or having Ben live with you most of the time. He's a great kid, and you've done a great job with him." She wasn't sure what to say. In the silence, he went on. "But I still worry, and I always have. Like I told you, I worry about who comes into Ben's life, whether it be friends, or acquaintances, or even people that you might introduce to him. I know that's not fair and that you probably consider it an intrusion into your personal life, but that's the way I am. And to be honest, I don't know if I'm ever going to change." "So you're saying that you'll keep following me forever?" "No," he said quickly. "I won't do it again. I was just explaining why I did it before. And trust me鈥擨 didn't threaten those guys or try to intimidate them. I talked to them. I explained that Ben meant a lot to me and that being his father was the most important thing in my life. You may not always agree with the way I parent him, but if you think back a couple of years, it wasn't always like this. He used to enjoy coming over to my place. Now he doesn't. But I haven't changed. He's changed. Not in a bad way鈥攇rowing up is normal, and that's all he's been doing. And maybe I need to realize and accept the tact that he's getting older." She said nothing. As Keith watched her, he drew a long breath. "I also told those men that I didn't want you to get hurt. I know that might sound like I was being possessive, but I wasn't. I said it like a brother would have said it. Like Drake would have said it. As in, if you like her, if you respect her, just make sure you treat her that way. That's all I said to them." He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe some of them took it the wrong way because I'm a deputy or because of my last name, but I can't help those things. Believe me, the last thing I want is for you to be unhappy. It might not have worked out between us, but you're the mother of my son and you always will be." Keith's gaze fell as he shuffled his feet. "You have every reason to be angry with me-I was wrong." "Yes, you were." Beth remained where she stood, arms crossed. "Like I said, I'm sorry and it's never going to happen again." She didn't respond right away. "Okay," she finally said. "I'm going to hold you to that." He flashed a quick, almost defeated smile. "Fair enough." "Is that it?" She bent to retrieve three beanbags from the closet floor. "Actually, I also wanted to talk to you about Logan Thibault. There's something you should know about him." She held up her hands to stop him. "Don't even go there." He wasn't dissuaded. Instead, he took a step forward, kneading the brim of his hat. "I'm not going to talk to him unless you want me to talk to him. I want to make that clear. Believe me, Beth. This is serious. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't. I'm here because I care about you." His chutzpah nearly took her breath away. "Do you honestly expect me to believe you have my best interests at heart after admitting that you've been spying on me for years? And that you were responsible for ruining any chance I had of finding a relationship?" "This has nothing to do with those things." "Let me guess 鈥 you think he's using drugs, right?" "I have no idea. But I should warn you that he hasn't been honest with you." "You have no idea whether he's been honest with me. Now get out. I don't want to talk to you, I don't want to hear what you have to say鈥" "Then ask him yourself," Clayton interrupted. "Ask him whether he came to Hampton to find you." "I'm done," she declared, moving toward the door so much as touch me on the way out, I'm going to scream for help." She walked past him, and as she was about to cross the threshold, Keith sighed audibly. "Ask him about the photograph," he said. His comment brought her to a halt. "What?" Keith's expression was as serious as she'd ever seen it, "The photograph he got from Drake."

Chapter 38 Thibault福彩3d百位号码走势图Sunday. After church, it was supposed to be a day of rest, when she could recover and recharge for the coming week. The day she was supposed to spend with her family, cooking stew in the kitchen and taking relaxing walks along the river. Maybe even cuddle up with a good book while she sipped a glass of wine, or soak in a warm bubble bath. What she didn't want to do was spend the day scooping dog poop off the grassy area where the dogs trained, or clean the kennels, or train twelve dogs one right after the next, or sit in a sweltering office waiting for people to come pick up the family pets that were relaxing in cool, air-conditioned kennels. Which, of course, was exactly what she'd been doing since she'd gotten back from church earlier that morning. Two dogs had already been picked up, but four more were scheduled for pickup sometime today. Nana had been kind enough to lay out the files for her before she retreated to the house to watch the game. The Atlanta Braves were playing the Mets, and not only did Nana love the Atlanta Braves with a feverish passion that struck Beth as rediculous, but she loved any and all memorabilia associated with the team. Which explained, of course, the Atlanta Braves coffee cups stacked near the snack counter, the Atlanta Braves pennants on the walls, the Atlanta Braves desk-calendar, and the Atlanta Braves lamp near the window. Even with the door open, the air in the office was stifling. It was one of those hot, humid summer days great for swimming in the river but unfit for anything else. Her shirt was soaked with perspiration, and because she was wearing shorts, her legs kept sticking to the vinyl chair she sat in. Every time she moved her legs, she was rewarded with a sort of sticky sound, like peeling tape from a cardboard box, which was just plain gross. While Nana considered it imperative to keep the dogs cool, she'd never bothered to add cooling ducts that led to the office. "If you're hot, just prop the door to the kennels open," she'd always said, ignoring the fact that while she didn't mind the endless barking, most normal people did. And today there were a couple of little yappers in there: a pair of Jack Russell terriers that hadn't stopped barking since Beth had arrived. Beth assumed they'd barked nearly all night, since most of the other dogs seemed grumpy as well. Every minute or so, other dogs joined in an angry chorus, the sounds rising in pitch and intensity, as if every dog's sole desire was to voice its displeasure more loudly than the next. Which meant there wasn't a chance on earth that she was going to open the door to cool off the office. She toyed with the idea of going up to the house to fetch another glass of ice water, but she had the funny feeling that as soon as she left the office, the owners who'd dropped off their cocker spaniel for obedience training would show up. They'd called half an hour ago, telling her that they were on their way鈥"We'll be there in ten minutes!"鈥攁nd they were the kind of people who would be upset if their cocker spaniel had to sit in a kennel for a minute longer than she had to, especially after spending two weeks away from home. But were they here yet? Of course not. It would have been so much easier if Ben were around. She'd seen him in church that morning with his father, and he'd looked as glum as she'd expected. As always, it hadn't been a lot of fun for him. He'd called before going to bed last night and told her that Keith had spent a good chunk of the evening sitting alone on die porch outside while Ben cleaned the kitchen. What, she wondered, was that about? Why couldn't he just enjoy the fact that his son was there? Or simply sit and talk with him? Ben was just about the easiest kid to get along with, and she wasn't saying that because she was biased. Well, okay, she admitted, maybe she was a little biased, but as a teacher, she'd spent time with lots of different kids and she knew what she was talking about. Ben was smart. Ben had a zany sense of humor. Ben was naturally kind. Ben was polite. Ben was great, and it made her crazy to realize that Keith was too dumb to see it. She really wished she were inside the house doing鈥 some' thing. Anything. Even doing laundry was more exciting than sitting out here. Out here, she had way too much time to think. Not only about Ben, but about Nana, too. And about whether she would teach this year. And even the sad state of her love life, which never failed to depress her. It would be wonderful, she thought, to meet someone special, someone to laugh with, some-one who would love Ben as much as she did. Or even to meet a man with whom she could go to dinner and a movie. A normal man, like someone who remembered to put his napkin in his lap in a restaurant and opened a door for her now and then. That wasn't so unreasonable, was it? She hadn't been lying to Melody when she'd said her choices in town were slim, and she'd be the first to admit that she was picky, but aside from the short time with Adam, she'd spent every other weekend at home this past year. Forty-nine out of fifty-two weekends. She wasn't that picky, that's for sure. The simple fact was that Adam had been the only one who'd asked her out, and for a reason she still didn't understand, he'd suddenly stopped calling. Which pretty much summed up the story of her dating life the last few years. But no big deal, right? She'd survived without a relationship this long, and she'd soldier on. Besides, most of the time it didn't bother her. If it hadn't been such a miserably hot day, she doubted it would bother her now. Which meant she definitely had to cool off. Otherwise she'd probably start thinking about the past, and she definitely didn't want to go there. Fingering her empty glass, she decided to get that ice water. And while she was at it, a small towel to sit on. As she rose from her seat, she peeked down the empty gravel drive, then she scribbled a note saying she'd be back in ten minutes and tacked it to the front door of the office. Outside, the sun pressed down hard, driving her toward the shade offered by the ancient magnolia and guiding her to the gravel path that led toward the house she'd grown up in. Built around 1920, it resembled a broad, low-country farmhouse, banded by a large porch and sporting carved molding in the eaves. The backyard, hidden from the kennel and office by towering hedges, was shaded by giant oaks and graced with a series of decks that made eating outside a pleasure. The place must have been magnificent long ago, but like so many rural homes around Hampton, time and the elements had conspired against it. These days the porch sagged, the floors squeaked, and when the wind was strong enough, papers would blow off the counters even when the windows were closed. Inside, it was pretty much the same story: great bones, but the place needed modern updates, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms. Nana knew it and mentioned doing something about it every now and then, but they were projects that always got put on the back burner. Besides, Beth had to admit that the place still had unique appeal. Not only the backyard鈥攚hich was truly an oasis鈥攂ut inside as well. For years, Nana had frequented antiques shops, and she favored anything French from the nineteenth century. She also spent good chunks of her weekends at garage sales, rummaging through old paintings. She had a knack for paintings in general and had developed some good friendships with a number of gallery owners throughout the South. The paintings hung on nearly every wall in the house. On a lark, Beth had once Googled a couple of the artists' names and learned that other works by those artists hung in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Huntington Library in San Marino, California When she mentioned what she'd learned, Nana had winked and said, "It's like sipping champagne, ain't it?" Nana's nutty turns of phrase often disguised her razor sharp instincts. After reaching the front porch and opening the door, Beth was hit by a blast of cool air so refreshing that she stood in the doorway, savoring the feeling. "Close the door," Nana called over her shoulder. "You're letting the air out." She turned in her chair, giving Beth the onceover. "You look hot." "I am hot." "I take it that the office feels like a furnace today." "Ya think?" "I think you should have opened the door to the kennel like I told you. But that's just me. Well, come on in and cool off for a while." Beth motioned to the set. "How're the Braves doing?" "Like a bunch of carrots." "Is that good or bad?" "Can carrots play baseball?" "I guess not." "Then you have your answer." Beth smiled as she walked to the kitchen. Nana always got a little edgy when the Braves were losing. From inside the freezer she drew out an ice tray and cracked out a few cubes. After dropping them into a glass, she filled it and took a long, satisfying drink. Realizing she was hungry as well, she chose a banana from the fruit bowl and went back to the living room. She propped herself on the armrest of the couch, feeling the sweat evaporate in the cold draft, half watching Nana and half watching the game. Part of her wanted to ask how many touchdowns had been scored, but she knew Nana wouldn't appreciate the humor. Not if the Braves were playing like a bunch of carrots, anyway. Glancing at the clock, she exhaled, knowing she had to get back to the office. "It was nice visiting with you, Nana." "You too, sweetie. Try not to get too hot." "I'll do my best." Beth retraced her steps to the kennel office, noting with disappointment the absence of cars in the parking lot, which meant the owners still hadn't showed up. There was, however, a man walking up the drive, a German shepherd by his side. Dust spirals were rising in the dirt behind him, and the dog's head drooped, his tongue hanging out. She wondered why they were outside on a day like this. Even animals preferred to stay indoors. Thinking back, she realized it was the first time she could ever remember someone walking his dog to the kennel. Not only that, but whoever it was hadn't called for an appointment. People dropping off their pets always called for an appointment. Figuring they'd reach the office at about the same time, she waved a greeting and was surprised when the man paused to stare at her. The dog did the same, his ears rising, and her first thought was that he looked a lot like Oliver, the German shepherd Nana had brought to the house when Beth was thirteen. He had the same black-and-tan markings, the same tilt of his head, the same intimidating stance in the presence of strangers. Not that she'd ever been afraid of Oliver. He'd been more Drake's dog during the day, but Oliver had always slept beside her bed at night, finding comfort in her presence. Brought up short by memories of Drake and Oliver, she didn't realize at first that the man still hadn't moved. Nor had he said anything. Odd. Maybe he'd expected Nana. Because his face was in shadow, she couldn't tell one way or the other, but no matter. Once she reached the door, she took down the note and propped the door open, figuring he'd come to the office when he was ready. She walked around the counter and saw the vinyl chair, realizing she'd forgotten the towel. Figured. Thinking she'd get the paperwork ready for the stranger to drop off his dog, she grabbed a sheet from the file cabinet and attached it to the clipboard. She rummaged through the desk for a pen and set both on the counter just as the stranger and his dog walked in. He smiled, and when their eyes met, it was one of the few times in her life that she felt at a complete loss for words. It had less to do with the fact that he was staring than with the may he was staring. As crazy as it sounded, he was looking at her as though he recognized her. But she'd never seen him before; she was sure of that. She would have remembered him, if only because he reminded her of Drake in the way he seemed to dominate the room. Like Drake, he was probably close to six feet and lean, with wiry arms and broad shoulders. There was a rugged edge to his appearance, underscored by his sun-bleached jeans and T-shirt. But that's where the similarities ended. While Drake's eyes were brown and rimmed with hazel, the stranger's were blue; where Drake had always kept his hair short, the stranger's hair was longer, almost wild looking. She noted that despite having walked here, he seemed to be sweating less than she was. She felt suddenly self-conscious and turned away just as the stranger took a step toward the counter. From the corner of her eye, she watched him raise his palm slightly in the dog's direction. She'd seen Nana do that a thousand times, and the dog, attuned to every subtle move, stayed in place. The dog was already well trained, which probably meant he was here for boarding. "Your dog is beautiful," she said, sliding the clipboard toward him. The sound of her own voice broke the awkward silence. "I had a German shepherd once. What's his name?" "This is Zeus. And thank you." "Hello, Zeus." Zeus's head tilted to the side. "I'm just going to need you to sign in," she said. "And if you have a copy of the vet's records, that would be great. Or the contact information." "Excuse me?" "The vet's records. You're here to board Zeus, right?" "No," he said. He motioned over his shoulder. "Actually, I saw the sign in the window. I'm looking for work, and I was wondering if you still had anything available." "Oh." She hadn't expected that and tried to reorient herself. He shrugged. "I know I probably should have called first, but I was out this way anyway. I figured I'd just swing by in person to see if you had an application. If you want me to come back tomorrow, I will." "No, it's not that. I'm just surprised. People usually don't come by on Sundays to apply for a job." Actually, they didn't come by on other days, either, but she left that part out. "I've got an application on file here somewhere," she said, turning toward the cabinet behind her. "Just give me a second to grab it." She pulled out the bottom drawer and began rummaging through the files. "What's your name?" "Logan Thibault." "Is that French?" "On my father's side." "I haven't seen you around here before." "I'm new in town." "Gotcha." She fished out the application. "Okay, here it is." She set it in front of him on the counter along with a pen. As he printed his name, she noted a certain roughness to his skin, making her think that he spent a lot of time in the sun. At the second line of the form, he paused and looked up, their eyes meeting for the second time. She felt her neck flush slightly and tried to hide it by adjusting her shirt. "I'm not sure what I should put for an address. Like I said, I just got to town and I'm staying at the Holiday Motor Court. I could also use my mom's mailing address in Colorado. Which would you prefer?" "Colorado?" "Yeah, I know. Kind of far from here." "What brought you to Hampton?" You, he thought. I came to find you. "It seems like a nice town, and I figured I'd give it a try." "No family here?" "None." "Oh," she said. Handsome or not, his story didn't sit right, and she heard mental alarm bells starting to go off. There was something else, too, something gnawing at the back of her mind, and it took her a few seconds to realize what it was. When she did, she took a small step back from the counter, creating a bit more space between them. "If you just got to town, how did you know the kennel was hiring? I didn't run an ad in the paper this week." "I saw the sign." "When?" She squinted at him. "I saw you walking up, and there was no way you could have seen the sign until you got to the front of the office." "I saw it earlier today. We were walking along the road, and Zeus heard dogs barking. He took off this way, and when I went to find him, I noticed the sign. No one was around, so I figured I'd come back later to see if that had changed." The story was plausible, but she sensed that he was either lying or leaving something out. And if he had been here before, what did that mean? That he'd been scoping out the place? He seemed to notice her unease and set the pen aside. From inside his pocket he pulled out his passport and flipped it open. When he slid it toward her, she glanced at the photo, then up at him. His name, she saw, was legitimate, though it didn't silence the alarm bells. No one passed through Hampton and decided to stay here on a whim. Charlotte, yes. Raleigh, of course. Greensboro, absolutely. But Hampton? Not a chance. "I see," she said, suddenly wanting to end this conversation. "Just go ahead and put your mailing address on it. And your work experience. After that, all I need is a number where I can reach you and I'll be in touch." His gaze was steady on hers. "But you're not going to call." He was sharp, she thought. And direct. Which meant she would be, too. "No." He nodded. "Okay. I probably wouldn't call me based on what you've heard so far, either. But before you jump to conclusions, can I add something else?" "Go ahead." Her tone made it plain that she didn't believe anything he said would matter. "Yes, I'm temporarily staying at the motel, but I do intend to find a place to live around here. I will also find a job here." His gaze did not waver. "Now about me. I graduated from the University of Colorado in 2002 with a degree in anthropology. After that, I joined the marines, and I received an honorable discharge two years ago. I've never been arrested or charged with any crime, I've never taken drugs, and I've never been fired for incompetence. I'm willing to take a drug test, and if you think it necessary, you can have a background check run to confirm everything I said. Or if it's easiest, you can call my former commanding officer, and he'll verify everything I've said. And even though the law doesn't require me to answer a question of this type, I'm not on medication of any kind. In other words, I'm not schizophrenic or bipolar or manic. I'm just a guy who needs a job. And I did see the sign earlier." She hadn't known what she'd expected him to say, but he'd certainly caught her off guard. "I see," she said again, focusing on the fact that he'd been in the military. "Is it still a waste of time for me to fill out the application" "J haven't decided yet." She felt intuitively that he was telling the truth this time, but she was equally certain there was more to the story than he was revealing. She gnawed the inside of her cheek. She needed to hire someone. Which was more important鈥 knowing what he was hiding or finding a new employee? He stood before her erect and calm, and his posture spoke of easy confidence. Military bearing, she observed with a frown. "Why do you want to work here?" The words sounded suspicious even to her. "With a degree, you could probably get a better job somewhere else in town." He motioned toward Zeus. "I like dogs." "It doesn't pay much." "I don't need much." "The days can be long." "I figured they would be." "Have you ever worked in a kennel before?" "No." "I see." He smiled. "You say that a lot." "Yes, I do," she said. Note to self: Stop saying it. "And you're sure you don't know anyone in town?" "No." "You just arrived in Hampton and decided to stay." "Yes." 'Where's your car?" "I don't have one." "How did you get here?" "I walked." She blinked, uncomprehending. "Are you telling me that you walked all the way from Colorado?" "Yes." "You don't think that's odd?" "I suppose it depends on the reason." "What's your reason?" "I like to walk." "I see." She couldn't think of anything else-to say. She reached for the pen, stalling. "I take it you're not married," she said. "No." "Kids?" "None. It's just me and Zeus. But my mom still lives in Colorado" She pushed a sweaty lock of hair back from her forehead, equal parts flustered and bemused. "I still don't get it. You walk across the country, you get to Hampton, you say you like the place, and now you want to work here?" "Yes." "There's nothing else you want to add?" "No." She opened her mouth to say something, then changed her mind. "Excuse me for a minute. I have to talk to someone." Beth could handle a lot of things, but this was beyond her. As much as she tried, she couldn't quite grasp everything he'd told her. On some level, it made sense, but on the whole, it just seemed鈥 off. If the guy was telling the truth, he was strange; if he was lying, he picked strange lies. Either way, it was weird. Which was why, of course, she wanted to talk to Nana. If anyone could figure him out, Nana could. Unfortunately, as she approached the house, she realized the game wasn't over yet. She could hear the announcers debating whether it was right for the Mets to bring in a relief pitcher or something along those lines. When she opened the door, she was surprised to find Nana's seat empty. "Nana?" Nana poked her head out from the kitchen. "In here. I was just getting ready to pour myself a glass of lemonade. Would you like some? I can do it one-handed." "Actually, I need to talk to you. Do you have a minute? I know the game is still on 鈥" She waved the thought away. "Oh, I'm done with that. Go ahead and turn it off. The Braves can't win, and the last thing I want to do is listen to their excuses. I hate excuses. There's no reason they should have lost, and they know it. What's going on?" Beth walked into the kitchen and leaned against the counter as Nana poured the lemonade from the pitcher. "Are you hungry?" Nana inquired. "I can make you a quick sandwich." "I just had a banana." "That's not enough. You're as skinny as a golf club." From your mouth to God's ears, Beth thought. "Maybe later. Someone came in to apply for the job. He's here now." "You mean the cute one with the German shepherd? I figured that's what he was doing. How is he? Tell me that it's always been his dream to clean cages." "You saw him?" "Of course." "How did you know he was applying for the job?" "Why else would you want to talk to me?" Beth shook her head. Nana was always a step ahead of her. "Anyway, I think you should talk to him. I don't quite know what to make of him." "Does his hair have anything to do with it?" '"What?" "His hair. It kind of makes him look like Tarzan, don't you think?" "I really didn't notice." "Sure you did, sweetie. You can't lie to me. What's the problem?" Quickly, Beth gave her a rundown of the interview. When she was finished, Nana sat in silence. "He walked from Colorado?" "That's what he says." "And you believe him?" "That part?" She hesitated. "Yeah, I think he's telling the truth about that." "That's a long walk." "I know." "How many miles is that?" "I don't know. A lot." "That's kind of strange, don't you think?" "Yes," she said. "And there's something else, too." "What?" "He was a marine." Nana sighed. "Why don't you wait here. I'll go talk to him." For the next ten minutes, Beth watched them from behind the living room window curtains. Nana hadn't stayed in the office to conduct the interview; instead, she'd led them to the wooden bench in the shade of the magnolia tree. Zeus was dozing at their feet, his ear flicking every now and then, shooing away the occasional fly. Beth couldn't make out what either of them was saying, but occasionally she saw Nana frown, which seemed to suggest the interview wasn't going well. In the end, Logan Thibault and Zeus walked back up the gravel drive toward the main road, while Nana watched them with a concerned expression on her face. Beth thought Nana would make her way back to the house, but instead she began walking toward the office. It was then that Beth noticed a blue Volvo station wagon rolling up the drive. The cocker spaniel. She'd completely forgotten about the pickup, but it seemed obvious that Nana was going to handle it. Beth used the time to cool herself with a cold washcloth and drink another glass of ice water. From the kitchen, she heard the front door squeak open as Nana came back inside. "How'd it go?" "It went fine." "What did you think?" "It Was鈥 interesting. He's intelligent and polite, but you're right. He's definitely hiding something." "So where does that leave us? Should I put another ad in the fan paper: "Let's see how he works out first." Beth wasn't sure she had heard Nana right. "Are you saying you're going to hire him?" "No, I'm saying I did hire him. He starts Wednesday at eight." "Why'd you do that?" "I trust him." She gave a sad smile, as if she knew exactly what Beth was thinking. "Even if he was a marine."福彩3d百位号码走势图Chapter 6 Thibault福彩3d百位号码走势图

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Chapter 26 BethChapter 15 Beth

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Keith Clayton stared at Beth as she left the house, knowing exactly what had happened inside. The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to follow her and give her a little talking-to as soon as she got back home. Explain the situation in a way she'd understand, so she would realize that this sort of thing just wasn't acceptable. Like with a slap or two, not enough to hurt, but enough for her to know he meant business. Not that it would do any good. And not that he'd really do it. He'd never slapped Beth. He wasn't that kind of guy. What in the royal hell was going on? Could any of this possibly get any worse? First, it turns out the guy works at the kennel. Next, they spend a few days having dinner at her place, trading the kinds of drippy stares you saw in crappy Hollywood movies. And then鈥攁nd here was the kicker鈥攖hey go out to that dance joint for losers, and afterward, even though he couldn't see past the drapes, he had no doubt that she started putting out like a harlot. Probably on the couch. Probably because she'd had too much to drink. He remembered those days. Give the woman a few glasses of wine and keep filling it when she wasn't looking, or spike her beers with a bit of vodka, listen for when her words started to slur, and then end up having some seriously great sex right there in the living room. Booze was great for that. Get her sloppy drunk, and the woman not only couldn't say no, but became a tiger in the sack. As he'd staked out the house, he'd had no trouble imagining what her body looked like as she took her clothes off. If he hadn't been so damn angry, it might have excited him, knowing she was in there, getting it on, getting all hot and sweaty. But the point was this: She wasn't exactly acting like a mother, was she. He knew how it went. Once she started having sex with guys she dated, it would become normal and accepted. Once it became normal and accepted, she'd do the same on other dates. Simple as that. One guy would lead to two, which would lead to four or five or ten or twenty, and the last thing he wanted was for her to start leading a parade of guys through Ben's life who'd wink at him on their way out the door as if to say, Your mom sure is one hot lady. He wasn't going to let that happen. Beth was dumb in the way most women were dumb, which was why he'd been watching out for her all these years. And it had worked out just fine, until Thigh-bolt rolled into town. The guy was a walking nightmare. Like his sole intent was to ruin Clayton's life. Well, that wasn't going to happen, either, was it? He'd learned quite a bit about Thigh-bolt in the last week. Not only that he worked at the kennel鈥攚hat were the odds on that, by the way?鈥攂ut that he lived in a ramshackle dump near the forest. And after making a few official-sounding calls to law enforcement in Colorado, professional courtesy did the rest. He learned that Thigh-bolt had graduated from the University of Colorado. And that he'd been a marine, served in Iraq, and received a couple of commendations. But most interesting, that a couple of guys in his platoon spoke about him as though he'd made some sort of deal with the devil to stay alive. He wondered what Beth would think of that. He didn't believe it. He'd met enough marines to know most of them were as smart as rocks. But something fishy was definitely going on with the guy if his fellow marines didn't quite trust him. And why walk across the country and stop here? The guy knew no one in town, and from the sound of things, he'd never been here before. Something fishy about that, too. More than that, he couldn't escape the feeling that the answer was staring him in the face, but he couldn't figure it out. He would. He always did. Clayton continued to stare at the house, thinking it was time he finally dealt with the guy. Not now, though. Not tonight. Not with the dog around. Next week, maybe. When Thigh-bolt was at work. See, that was the difference between him and other people. Most people lived their lives like criminals: act first, worry about the consequences later. Not Keith Clayton. He thought things through beforehand. He planned. He anticipated. Which was the main reason he'd done nothing so far, even when he'd seen the two of them pull up tonight, even though he knew what was going on in the house, even as he'd watched Beth walk back outside, her face flushed and hair all wild. In the end, he knew, this was about power, and right now, Thigh-bolt had the power. Because of the disk. The disk with photos that might cut off the flow of money to Clayton. But power was nothing if it wasn't used. And Thigh-bolt hadn't used it. Which meant that Thigh-bolt either didn't realize what he had, or had gotten rid of the disk, or was the kind of guy who generally minded his own business. Or maybe all three. Clayton had to make sure. First things first, so to speak. Which meant he had to look for the disk. If the guy still had it, he'd find it and destroy it. Power would shift back to Clayton, and Thigh-bolt would get what was coming to him. And if Thigh-bolt had gotten rid of the disk soon after finding it? Even better. He'd handle Thigh-bolt, and things would start getting back to normal with him and Beth. That was the most important thing. Damn, she'd looked good walking out of that house. There Was something hot and sexy about seeing her and knowing what she'd done, even if it had been with Thigh-bolt. It had been a long time since she'd had a man, and she seemed鈥 different. More than that, he knew that after tonight, she'd surely be ready for more That friends with benefits thing was looking better all the time.

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As night fell, Beth stood on the back deck, watching Logan concentrate on the chess board in front of him, thinking, I like him. The thought, when it struck her, felt at once surprising and natural. Ben and Logan were on their second game of chess, and Logan was taking his time on his next move. Ben had handily won the first game, and she could read the surprise in Logan's expression. He took it well, even asking Ben what he'd done wrong. They'd reset the board to an earlier position, and Ben showed Logan the series of errors he had made, first with his rook and queen and then, finally, with his knight. "Well, I'll be," Logan had said. He'd smiled at Ben. "Good job." She didn't want to even imagine how Keith would have reacted had he lost. In fact, she didn't have to imagine it. They'd played once a couple of years ago, and when Ben won, Keith had literally flipped the board over before storming out of the room. A few minutes later, while Ben was still gathering the pieces from behind the furniture, Keith came back into the room. Instead of apologizing, he declared that chess was a waste of time and that Ben would be better off doing something important, like studying for his classes at school or going to the batting cage, since "he hit about as well as a blind man." She really wanted to strangle the man sometimes. With Logan, though, things were different. Beth could see that Logan was in trouble again. She couldn't tell by looking at the board鈥攖he intricacies that separated the good from the great players were beyond her鈥攂ut whenever Ben studied his opponent rather than his pieces, she knew the end was coming, even if Logan didn't seem to realize it. What she loved most about the scene was that despite the concentration the game required, Logan and Ben still managed to鈥 talk. About school and Ben's teachers and what Zeus had been like when he was a puppy, and because Logan seemed genuinely interested, Ben revealed a few things that surprised her鈥攖hat one of the other boys in his class had taken his lunch a couple of times and that Ben had a crush on a girl named Cici. Logan didn't deliver advice; instead he asked Ben what he thought he should do. Based on her experience with men, most assumed that when you talked to them about a problem or dilemma, they were expected to offer an opinion, even when all you wanted was for them to listen. Logan's natural reticence actually seemed to give Ben room to express himself. It was clear that Logan was comfortable with who he was. He wasn't trying to impress Ben or impress her by showing her how well he could get along with Ben. Though she'd dated infrequently over the years, she'd found that most suitors either pretended Ben didn't exist and said only a few words to him or went overboard in the way they talked to him, trying to prove how wonderful they were by being overly friendly with her son. From an early age, Ben had seen through both types almost immediately. So had she, and that was usually enough for her to end things. Well, when they weren't ending the relationship with her, that is. It was obvious that Ben liked spending time with Logan, and even better, she got the sense that Logan liked spending time with Ben. In the silence, Logan continued to stare at the board, his finger resting momentarily on his knight before moving it to his pawn. Ben's eyebrows rose ever so slightly. She didn't know whether Ben thought the move Logan was considering was a good one or a bad one, but Logan went ahead and moved the pawn forward. Ben made his next move almost immediately, something she recognized as a bad sign for Logan. A few minutes later, Logan seemed to realize that no matter what move he made, there was no way for his king to escape. He shook his head. "You got me." "Yeah," Ben confirmed, "I did." "I thought I was playing better." "You were," Ben said. "Until?" "Until you made your second move." Logan laughed. "Chess humor?" "We've got lots of jokes like that," Ben said, obviously proud. He motioned to the yard. "Is it dark enough?" "Yeah, I think so. You ready to play, Zeus?" Zeus's ears pricked up and he cocked his head. When Logan and Ben stood, Zeus scrambled to his feet. "You coming, Mom?" Beth rose from her chair. "I'm right behind you." They wended their way in the darkness to the front of the house. Beth paused by the front steps. "Maybe I should get a flashlight." "That's cheating!" Ben complained. "Not for the dog. For you. So you don't get lost." "He won't get lost," Logan assured her. "Zeus will find him." "Easy to say when it's not your son." "I'll be fine," Ben added. She looked from Ben to Logan before shaking her head. She wasn't entirely comfortable, but Logan didn't seem worried at all "Okay," she said, sighing. "I want one for me, then. Is that okay?" "Okay," Ben agreed. "What do I do?" "Hide," Logan said. "And I'll send Zeus to find you." "Anywhere I want?" "Why don't you hide out that way?" Logan said, pointing toward a wooded area west of the creek, on the opposite side of the driveway from the kennel. "I don't want you accidentally slipping into the creek. And besides, your scent will be fresh out that way. Remember, you two were playing out this way before dinner. Now once he finds you, just follow him out, okay? That way you won't get lost." Ben peered toward the woods. "Okay. How do I know he won't watch?" "I'll put him inside and count to a hundred before I let him out. "And you won't let him peek ?" "Promise." Logan focused his attention on Zeus. "Come," he said. He went to the door and opened it before pausing. "Is it okay if I let him in?" Beth nodded. "It's fine." Logan motioned for Zeus to go in and lie down, then closed the door. "Okay, you're ready." Ben started to jog toward the woods as Logan began to count out loud. In midstride, Ben called over his shoulder, "Count slower!" His figure gradually merged into the darkness, and even before reaching the woods, he'd vanished from sight. Beth crossed her arms. "I must say that I don't have a good feeling about this." "Why not?" "My son hiding in the woods at night? Gee, I wonder." "He'll be fine. Zeus will find him in two or three minutes. At the most." "You have an inordinate amount of faith in your dog." Logan smiled, and for a moment they stood on the porch, taking in the evening. The air, warm and humid but no longer hot, smelled like the land itself: a mixture of oak and pine and earth, an odor that never failed to remind Beth that even though the world was constantly changing, this particular place always seemed to stay the same. She was aware that Logan had been observing her all night, trying hard not to stare, and she knew she'd been doing the same with him. She realized she liked the way Logan's intent made her feel. She was pleased he found her attractive but liked that his attraction didn't possess any of the urgency or naked desire she often felt when men stared at her. Instead, he seemed content simply to stand beside her, and for whatever reason, it was exactly what she needed. "I'm glad you stayed for dinner," she offered, not knowing what else to say. "Ben's having a great time." "I'm glad, too." "You were so good with him in there. Playing chess, I mean." "It's not hard." "You wouldn't think so, right?" He hesitated. "Are we talking about your ex again?" "Am I that obvious?" She leaned against a post. "You're right, though. I am talking about my ex. The putz." He leaned against the post on the opposite side of the stairs, facing her. "And?" "And I just wish things could be different." He hesitated, and she knew he was wondering whether or not to say anything more. In the end, he said nothing. "You wouldn't like him," she volunteered. "In fact, I don't think he'd like you, either." "No?" "No. And consider yourself lucky. You're not missing anything." He looked at her steadily, not saying anything. Remembering the way she had shut him down earlier, she supposed. She brushed away a few strands of hair that had fallen into her eyes, wondering whether to go on. "Do you want to hear about it?" "Only if you want to tell me," he offered. She felt her thoughts drifting from the present to the past and sighed. "It's the oldest story in the book 鈥 I was a nerdy high school senior, he was a couple of years older than me, but we'd gone to the same church for as long as I can remember, so I knew exactly who he was. We started going out a few months before I graduated. His family is well-off, and he'd always dated the most popular girls, and I guess I just got caught up in the fantasy of it all. I overlooked some obvious problems, made excuses for others, and the next thing you know, I found out I was pregnant. All of a sudden, my life just鈥 changed, you know? I wasn't going to go to college that fall, I had no idea how to even be a mother, let alone a single mother; I couldn't imagine how I was going to pull it all off. The last thing in the world I expected was for him to propose. But for whatever reason, he did, and I said yes, and even though I wanted to believe that it was all going to work out and did my best to convince Nana that I knew what I was doing, I think both of us knew it was a mistake before the ink was dry on the marriage certificate. We had virtually nothing in common. Anyway, we argued pretty much constantly, and ended up separating soon after Ben was born. And then, I was really lost." Logan brought his hands together. "But it didn't stop you." "Stop me from what?" "From eventually going to college and becoming a teacher. And figuring out how to be a single mother." He grinned, "And somehow pulling it off." She gave him a grateful smile. "With Nana's help." "Whatever it takes." He crossed one leg over the other, seeming to study her before he smirked. "Nerdy, huh?" "In high school? Oh yeah. I was definitely nerdy." "I find that hard to believe." "Believe what you want." "So how did college work?" "With Ben, you mean? It wasn't easy. But I already had some AP credits, which gave me a bit of a head start, and then I took classes at the community college while Ben was still in diapers. I took classes only two or three days a week while Nana took care of Ben, and I'd come home and study when I wasn't being Mom. Same thing when I transferred to UNC Wilmington, which was close enough to go to school and make it back here at night. It took me six years to get my degree and certificate, but I didn't want to take advantage of Nana, and I didn't want to give my ex any reason to get full Custody. And back then, he might have tried for it, just because he could." "He sounds like a charmer." She grimaced. "You have no idea." "You want me to beat him up?" She laughed. "That's funny. There might have been a time when I would have taken you up on that, but not anymore. He's just鈥 immature. He thinks every woman he meets is crazy for him, gets angry at little things, and blames other people when things go wrong. Thirty One going on sixteen, if you know what I mean." From the side, she could sense Logan watching her. "But enough about him. Tell me something about you." "Like what?" "Anything. I don't know. Why did you major in anthropology?" He considered the question. "Personality, I guess." "What does that mean?" "I knew I didn't want to major in anything practical like business or engineering, and toward the end of my freshman year, I started talking to other liberal arts majors. The most interesting ones I met were anthropology majors. I wanted to be interesting." "You're kidding." "I'm not. That's why I took the first introductory classes, at least. After that, I realized that anthropology is a great blend of history and supposition and mystery, all of which appealed to me. I was hooked." "How about frat parties?" "Not my thing." "Football games?" "No." "Did you ever think you missed out on what college was sup' posed to be?" "No." "Me neither," she agreed. "Not once I had Ben, anyway." He nodded, then gestured toward the woods. "Um鈥 do you think we should have Zeus find Ben now?" "Oh, my gosh!" she cried, her tone slightly panicked. "Yes. He can find him, right? How long has it been?" "Not long. Five minutes, maybe. Let me get Zeus. And don't worry. It won't take long." Logan went to the door and opened it. Zeus trotted out, tail wagging, then wandered down the stairs. He immediately lifted a leg by the side of the porch, then trotted back up the stairs to Logan. "Where's Ben?" Logan asked. Zeus's ears rose. Logan pointed in the direction Ben had gone. "Find Ben." Zeus turned and started trotting in wide arcs, nose to the ground. Within seconds, he'd picked up the trail and he vanished into the darkness. "Should we follow him?" Beth asked. "Do you want to?" "Yes." "Then let's go." They'd barely reached the first of the trees when she heard Zeus emit a playful bark. Right after that, Ben's voice sounded in a squeal of delight. When she turned toward Logan, he shrugged. "You weren't lying, were you?" she asked. "What was that? Two minutes?" "It wasn't hard for him. I knew Ben wouldn't be too far away." "What's the longest he's ever tracked something?" "He followed a deer trail for, I don't know, eight miles or so? Something like that, anyway. He could have gone on, too, but it ended at someone's fence. That was in Tennessee." "Why did you track the deer?" "Practice. He's a smart dog. He likes to learn, and he likes to use his skills." At that moment, Zeus came padding out from the trees, Ben a step behind him. "Which is why this is just as much fun for him as it is for Ben." "That was amazing!" Ben called out. "He just walked right up to me. I wasn't making a sound!" "You want to do it again?" Logan asked. "Can I?" Ben pleaded. "If it's okay with your mom." Ben turned to his mother, and she raised her hands. "Go ahead." "Okay, put him inside again. And I'm really going to hide this time," Ben declared. "You got it," Logan said. The second time Ben hid, Zeus found him in a tree. The third time, with Ben retracing his steps in an attempt to throw him off, Zeus found him a quarter mile away, in his tree house by the creek. Beth wasn't thrilled with this final choice; the unstable bridge and platform always seemed far more dangerous at night, but by then, Ben was getting tired and ready to call it quits anyway. Logan followed them back to the house. After saying good night to an exhausted Ben, he turned to Beth and cleared his throat. "I want to thank you for a great evening, but I should probably be heading home," he said. Despite the fact that it was close to ten o'clock, part of her didn't want him to go just yet. "Do you need a ride?" she offered. "Ben will be asleep in a couple of minutes, and I'd be glad to bring you home." "I appreciate the offer, but we'll be fine. I like to walk." "I know. I don't know much about you, but I do know that." She smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow, right?" "I'll be here at seven." "I can feed the dogs if you'd rather come in a bit later." "It's no problem. And besides, I'd like to see Ben before he leaves. And I'm sure Zeus will, too. Poor guy probably won't know what to do without Ben chasing him." "All right, then鈥" She hugged her arms, suddenly disappointed at the thought of Logan's departure. "Would it be okay if I borrowed the truck tomorrow? I need to ran into town to get a few things to fix the brakes. If not, I can walk." She smiled. "Yeah, I know. But it's not a problem. I have to drop Ben off and run some errands, but if I don't see you, I'll just put the keys under the mat on the driver's side." "Fine," he said. He looked directly at her. "Good night, Elizabeth." "Good night, Logan." Once he was gone, Beth checked on Ben and gave him another kiss on the cheek before going to her room. She replayed the evening as she undressed, musing on the mystery of Logan Thibault. He was different from any man she'd ever met, she thought, and then immediately chided herself for being so obvious. Of course he was different, she told herself. He was new to her. She'd never spent much time with him before. Even so, she reasoned she was mature enough to recognize the truth when she saw it. Logan was different. Lord knows Keith wasn't anything like him. Nor, in fact, was anyone else she'd dated since the divorce. Most of those men had been fairly easy to read; no matter how polite and charming or rough and unrefined they might be, everything they did seemed like transparent efforts at getting her into bed. "Man crap," as Nana described it. And Nana, she knew, wasn't wrong. But with Logan 鈥 well, that was the thing. She had no idea what he wanted from her. She knew he found her attractive, and he seemed to enjoy her company. But after that, she had absolutely no idea what his intentions might be, since he seemed to enjoy Ben's company as well. In a way, she thought, he treated her like a number of the married men she knew: You're pretty and you're interesting, but I'm already taken. It occurred to her, though, that maybe he was taken. Maybe he had a girlfriend back in Colorado, or maybe he'd just broken up with the love of his life and was still getting over it. Thinking back, she realized that even though he'd described the things he'd seen and done on his journey across the country, she still had no idea why he'd gone on the walk in the first place or why he'd decided to end his trek in Hampton. His history wasn't so much mysterious as hidden, which was strange. If she'd learned one thing about men, it was that they liked to talk about themselves: their jobs, their hobbies, past accomplishments, their motivations. Logan did none of those things. Puzzling. She shook her head, thinking she was probably reading too much into it. It wasn't as if they'd gone out on a date, after all. It was more like a friendly get-together鈥攖acos, chess, and conversation. A family event. She put on pajamas and picked up a magazine from her bedside table. She absently flipped through the pages before turning out the light. But when she closed her eyes, she kept visualizing the way the corners of his mouth would turn up slightly whenever she said something he found humorous or the way his eyebrows knit together when he concentrated on a task. For a long time, she tossed and turned, unable to sleep, wondering if maybe, just maybe, Logan was awake and thinking of her, too.On Wednesday, Beth stared out her classroom window at lunchtime. She had never seen anything like it鈥攈urricanes and nor'easters had nothing on the series of storms that had recently pounded Hampton County as well as every county from Raleigh to the coast. The problem was that unlike most tropical storms, these weren't passing quickly out to sea. Instead, they had lingered day after thunderous day, bringing nearly every river in the eastern part of the state to flood levels. Small towns along the Pamlico, Neuse, and Cape Fear rivers were already knee-deep in water, and Hampton was getting close. Another day or two of rain would mean that most of the businesses downtown would be reachable only by canoe. The county had already decided to close the schools for the rest of the week, since the school buses could no longer make their routes and only a little more than half the teachers had been able to make it in. Ben, of course, was thrilled by the idea of staying home and playing in the puddles with Zeus, but Beth was a little more leery. Both the newspapers and the local news had reported that while the South River had already risen to dangerous levels, it was going to get far worse before it got better as the creeks and tributaries fed the rise. The two creeks that surrounded the kennel, usually a quarter mile away, could now be seen from the windows of the house, and Logan was even keeping Zeus away because of the debris washed out with the deluge. Being trapped indoors was hard on the kids, which was one of the reasons she'd stayed in her classroom. After lunch, they'd return to their classrooms, where in theory they'd happily color or draw or read quietly in lieu of playing kick ball or basketball or tag outside. In reality, kids needed to get their energy out, and she knew it. For years, she'd been asking that on days like this, they simply fold up the cafeteria lunch tables and allow the kids to run or play for twenty minutes, so they could concentrate when they returned to class after lunch. Not a chance, she was told, because of regulatory issues, liability issues, janitorial union issues, and health and safety issues. When asked what that meant, she was given a long explanation, but to her, it all came down to French fries. As in, We shouldn't allow kids to slip on French fries, or, If they do slip on French fries, the school district will get sued, or, The janitors would have to renegotiate their contract if they didn't clean the French fries from the cafeteria at the time they were scheduled to do so, and finally, If someone slipped on a French fry that had fallen on the floor, the children might be exposed to harmful pathogens. Welcome to the world of lawyers, she thought. Lawyers, after all, didn't have to teach the kids after keeping them cooped up inside the classroom all day with no recess. Usually, she would have retreated to the teacher's lounge for lunch, but with so little time to set up the classroom for activities, she'd decided to stay and get things ready. In the corner, she was setting up a beanbag-tossing game鈥攕tored in the closet for just such emergencies鈥攚hen she noted movement from the doorway. She turned that way, and it took her an instant to register who it was. The shoulders of his uniform were wet, and a few water droplets dripped from the belt where he stored his gun. In his hand was a manila file. "Hi, Beth," he said. His voice was quiet, "Do you have a minute?" She stood. "What is it, Keith?" "I came to apologize," he said. He clasped his hands in front of him, the picture of contrition. "I know you don't have a lot of time, but I wanted to talk to you when you were alone. I took a chance that you'd be here, but if it's not a good time, maybe we could set up another time that's better for you." She glanced at the clock. "I've got five minutes," she said. Keith stepped into the classroom and started to close the door. Midway, he paused, seeking her permission. She nodded, wanting to get whatever he had to say over with. He moved toward her, stopping at a respectful distance. "Like I said, I came here to tell you I was sorry." "About what?" "About the rumors you heard," he said. "I wasn't completely truthful with you." She crossed her arms. "In other words, you lied," she stated. "Yes." "You lied to my face." "Yes." "About what?" "You asked if I ever ran off some of the guys you've dated in the past. I don't think I did, but I didn't tell you that I did talk to some of them." "You talked to them." "Yes." She did her best to keep her anger in check. "And 鈥 what? You're sorry you did it, or sorry you lied?" "Both. I'm sorry I did it, I'm sorry I lied. I shouldn't have done those things." He paused. "I know we haven't had the greatest relationship since the divorce, and I also know that you think marrying me was a mistake. You're right about that. We weren't meant to be married, and I accept that. But between the two of us鈥攁nd i'll be honest, you've had a lot more to do with this than me鈥攚e have a great son. You might not think I'm the best father in the world, but I've never once regretted having Ben, or having Ben live with you most of the time. He's a great kid, and you've done a great job with him." She wasn't sure what to say. In the silence, he went on. "But I still worry, and I always have. Like I told you, I worry about who comes into Ben's life, whether it be friends, or acquaintances, or even people that you might introduce to him. I know that's not fair and that you probably consider it an intrusion into your personal life, but that's the way I am. And to be honest, I don't know if I'm ever going to change." "So you're saying that you'll keep following me forever?" "No," he said quickly. "I won't do it again. I was just explaining why I did it before. And trust me鈥擨 didn't threaten those guys or try to intimidate them. I talked to them. I explained that Ben meant a lot to me and that being his father was the most important thing in my life. You may not always agree with the way I parent him, but if you think back a couple of years, it wasn't always like this. He used to enjoy coming over to my place. Now he doesn't. But I haven't changed. He's changed. Not in a bad way鈥攇rowing up is normal, and that's all he's been doing. And maybe I need to realize and accept the tact that he's getting older." She said nothing. As Keith watched her, he drew a long breath. "I also told those men that I didn't want you to get hurt. I know that might sound like I was being possessive, but I wasn't. I said it like a brother would have said it. Like Drake would have said it. As in, if you like her, if you respect her, just make sure you treat her that way. That's all I said to them." He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe some of them took it the wrong way because I'm a deputy or because of my last name, but I can't help those things. Believe me, the last thing I want is for you to be unhappy. It might not have worked out between us, but you're the mother of my son and you always will be." Keith's gaze fell as he shuffled his feet. "You have every reason to be angry with me-I was wrong." "Yes, you were." Beth remained where she stood, arms crossed. "Like I said, I'm sorry and it's never going to happen again." She didn't respond right away. "Okay," she finally said. "I'm going to hold you to that." He flashed a quick, almost defeated smile. "Fair enough." "Is that it?" She bent to retrieve three beanbags from the closet floor. "Actually, I also wanted to talk to you about Logan Thibault. There's something you should know about him." She held up her hands to stop him. "Don't even go there." He wasn't dissuaded. Instead, he took a step forward, kneading the brim of his hat. "I'm not going to talk to him unless you want me to talk to him. I want to make that clear. Believe me, Beth. This is serious. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't. I'm here because I care about you." His chutzpah nearly took her breath away. "Do you honestly expect me to believe you have my best interests at heart after admitting that you've been spying on me for years? And that you were responsible for ruining any chance I had of finding a relationship?" "This has nothing to do with those things." "Let me guess 鈥 you think he's using drugs, right?" "I have no idea. But I should warn you that he hasn't been honest with you." "You have no idea whether he's been honest with me. Now get out. I don't want to talk to you, I don't want to hear what you have to say鈥" "Then ask him yourself," Clayton interrupted. "Ask him whether he came to Hampton to find you." "I'm done," she declared, moving toward the door so much as touch me on the way out, I'm going to scream for help." She walked past him, and as she was about to cross the threshold, Keith sighed audibly. "Ask him about the photograph," he said. His comment brought her to a halt. "What?" Keith's expression was as serious as she'd ever seen it, "The photograph he got from Drake."

星期八小镇 上海

Clayton knew by her expression that he had her attention but wasn't sure she understood the implications. "He has a photograph of you," he went on, "and when he first got to town, he flashed it around Decker's Pool Hall. Tony was there that night and he saw it. Actually, he called me right away because he thought the guy's story sounded weird, but I didn't think much of it. Last weekend, though, Tony came by to tell me that he recognized Thibault when he was playing the piano at church." Beth could only stare at him. "I don't know if Drake gave it to him, or if he took it from Drake. But I figure that's the only thing that makes sense. Both Drake and Thibault were in the marines, and according to Tony, the picture was an older one, taken a few years ago." He hesitated. "I know that what I told you about the way I behaved might make it seem like I'm trying to run him off, but I'm not going to talk to him. I do think that you should, however, and I'm not saying this because I'm your ex-husband. I'm saying this as a deputy sheriff." Beth wanted to walk away but couldn't seem to find the will to move. Think about it. He had a picture of you, and based only on that, he walked across the country to find you. I don't know why, but I can make a pretty good guess. He was obsessed with you even though you'd never met, like someone who gets obsessed with movie stars. And what did he do? He hunted you down, but seeing you from afar鈥攐r simply meeting you鈥攚asn't enough. Instead, he had to become part of your life. That's what dangerous stalkers do, Beth." His tone was calm and professional, which only intensified the dread she'd begun to feel. "By your expression, I know that all of this is news to you. You're wondering if I'm telling the truth or if I'm lying, and my track record isn't perfect. But, please, for Ben's sake鈥攆or your own sake鈥攁sk him about it. I can be there if you want me to be there, or I could even send another deputy if you'd prefer that. Or you can call someone else鈥攜our friend Melody. I just want you to understand how serious this is. How鈥 creepy and weird this is. This is scary stuff, and I can't impress on you enough how important it is that you take it seriously, too." His mouth was set in a straight line as he set the file on a child's desk beside him. "This is some general information on Logan Thibault. I didn't have time to dig too deep, and I can get in big trouble for even letting you see this, but since I don't know what else he hasn't told you鈥" He trailed off before looking up at her again. "Think about what I told you. And be careful, okay?"

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茂名御水古温泉

"I think I want to be an astronaut," Ben said. Thibault was playing chess with him on the back porch and trying to figure out his next move. He had yet to win a game, and though he wasn't absolutely sure, the fact that Ben had started talking struck him as a bad sign. They'd been playing a lot of chess lately; there hadn't been a day without steady, heavy rain since October began nine days earlier. Already, the eastern part of the state was flooding, with additional rivers rising daily. "Sounds good." "Either that or a fireman." Thibault nodded. "I've known a couple of firemen." "Or a doctor." 'Hmm," Thibault said. He began reaching for his bishop. "I wouldn't do that," Ben said. Thibault looked up. I know what you're thinking you should do," Ben added. "It won't work." "What should I do?" "Not that." Thibault drew his hand back. It was one thing to lose, it was another thing to lose continually. Worse, he didn't seem to be closing the gap. If anything, Ben was getting better faster than he was. The previous game had lasted all of twenty-one moves. "Would you like to see my tree house?" Ben said. "It's really cool. It's got the big platform that hangs out over the creek, and this shaky bridge." "I'd love to see it." "Not now. Some other time, I mean." "Sounds great," Thibault said. He reached for his rook. "I wouldn't move that one either." Thibault arched his brow as Ben leaned back. "I'm just telling you," he added. "What should I do?" He shrugged, looking and sounding like the ten-year-old he was. "Whatever you want." "Except move the bishop and the rook?" Ben pointed to another piece. "And your other bishop. Knowing you, that's what you'll try next, since you're trying to set up your knight. But it won't work either, since I'll sacrifice the bishop for mine, and move my queen in to take the pawn over there. That freezes your queen, and after I castle my king, I'll move my knight there. Two moves after that, I'll have you in checkmate." Thibault brought his hand to his chin. "Do I have any chance in this game?" "No." "How many moves do I have left?" "Anywhere from three to seven." "Then maybe we should start over." Ben pushed his glasses up on his nose. "Maybe." "You could have told me earlier." "You seemed so serious about the game. I didn't want to bother you." The next game was no better. If anything, it was worse because Elizabeth had decided to join them and their conversation proceeded in much the same way. He could see Elizabeth trying to stifle her giggles. Over the last week and a half, they'd settled into a routine. After work, with overpowering rain coming down continuously, he'd come up to the house to play a few games of chess with Ben and stay for dinner, where the four of them would sit at the table, chatting amiably. After that, Ben would go upstairs to shower and Nana would send them outside to sit on the porch while she stayed in the kitchen to clean up, saying things like, "Cleaning to me is like being naked to a monkey." Thibault knew she wanted to give them time alone before he left. It still amazed him that she was able to stop being the boss as soon as his workday was done and shift so easily to the role of grandmother of the woman he was dating. He didn't think there were many people who would be able to pull that off. It was getting late, though, and Thibault knew it was time to leave. Nana was talking on the phone, Elizabeth had gone inside to tuck Ben into bed, and as Thibault sat on the porch, he could feel the exhaustion in his shoulders. He hadn't been sleeping much since his confrontation with Clayton. That night, unsure how Clayton would respond, he'd gone back to his house and made it appear as though he planned to spend a normal evening at home. Instead, once he turned out the lights, he'd climbed out the window in his bedroom at the rear of the house and trotted into the woods, Zeus by his side. Despite the rain, he'd stayed out most of the night, watching for Clayton. The next night, he'd watched Elizabeth's; on the third night, he'd alternated between his house and hers. The endless rain didn't bother him or Zeus in the slightest; he'd rigged a couple of camouflaged lean-tos that kept them dry. The hard part for him was working after sleeping only the last few hours before dawn. Since then, he'd been alternating nights, but it still wasn't enough sleep for him to catch up. He wouldn't stop, though. The man was unpredictable, and he looked for signs of Clayton's presence when he was at work and when he ran errands in town. In the evening, he took different routes home, cutting through wooded areas at a run and then watching the road to make sure Clayton wasn't following. He wasn't afraid of the man, but he wasn't stupid, either. Clayton was not only a member of the First Family of Hampton County, but also in law enforcement, and it was the latter that most concerned him. How hard would it be to plant something鈥攄rugs, stolen items, even a gun that had been used in a crime鈥攊n Thibault's home? Or claim that Thibault had them in his possession and arrange to have that evidence discovered? Not hard. Thibault was certain that any jury in the county would side with testimony provided by law enforcement over a stranger's, no matter how flimsy the evidence might be or what genuine alibi he had. Add to that the deep pockets and influence of the Claytons, and it wouldn't be hard to line up witnesses fingering Thibault for any number of crimes. The scary part was that he could imagine Clayton doing any of those things, which was why he'd gone to see Clayton and told him about both the disk and the videotape in the first place. Though he had neither鈥攈e'd cracked and tossed the disk soon after taking the camera, and the motion-activated recorder had been an inspired invention鈥攂luffing seemed to be the only option he had to buy him enough time to figure out his next step. The animosity Clayton felt for him was dangerous and unpredictable. If he'd been willing to break into Thibault's house, if he'd manipulated Elizabeth's personal life, the man would probably do whatever he thought necessary to get rid of Thibault. The other threats鈥攁bout the newspaper and the sheriff, the hint about informing the grandfather鈥攕imply reinforced the bluff. He knew that Clayton was searching for the disk because he believed Thibault could use it against him. It was either because of his job or because of his family, and a few hours researching the illustrious family history in the library on Sunday afternoon had been enough to convince Thibault that it was probably a bit of both. But the problem with bluffs was that they worked until they didn't. How long would it be until Clayton called it? A few more weeks? A month? More than that? And what would Clayton do! Who could tell? Right now, Clayton thought Thibault had the upper hand, and Thibault had no doubt that was only enraging Clayton even further. In time, the anger would get the better of him and Clayton would react, to either him, Elizabeth, or Ben. When Thibault didn't follow through in the aftermath and produce the disk, Clayton would be free to act as he pleased. Thibault still wasn't sure what to do about that. He couldn't imagine leaving Elizabeth 鈥 or Ben and Nana, for that matter. The longer he stayed in Hampton, the more it felt to him like this was the place he belonged, and that meant he had to not only watch out for Clayton, but avoid the man as much as possible. He supposed his hope was that after enough time, Clayton would simply accept the matter and let it rest. Unlikely, he knew, but for now, it was all he had. "You look distracted again," Elizabeth said, opening the screen door behind him. Thibault shook his head. "Just tired from the week. I thought the heat was hard, but at least I could dodge some of that- There's no avoiding the rain." She took a seat beside him on the porch swing. "You don't like being drenched?" "Let's just say it's not the same as being on vacation." "Well, I'm sorry." "It's okay. And I'm not complaining. I really don't mind it most of the time, and it's better me getting wet than Nana. And tomorrow's Friday, right?" She smiled. "Tonight I'm driving you home. No arguments this time." "Okay," he said. Elizabeth peeked in the window before turning her attention to Thibault again. "You weren't lying when you said you could play the piano, right ?" "I can play." "When was the last time you played?" He shrugged, thinking about it. "Two or three years ago." "In Iraq?" He nodded. "One of my commanding officers was having a birthday. He loved Willie Smith, who was one of the great jazz pianists of the 1940s and 1950s. When word got out that I knew how to play, I got roped into doing a performance." "In Iraq," she said again, not hiding her disbelief. "Even marines need a break." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I take it you can read music." "Of course," he said. "Why? Do you want me to teach Ben?" She didn't seem to hear him. "How about church? Do you ever go?" For the first time, he looked at her. "I'm getting the sense there's more to this conversation than simply the two of us getting to know each other better." "When I was inside, I heard Nana talking on the phone. You know how much Nana loves the choir, right? And that she just started to sing solos again?" He considered his response, suspicious of where this was going and not bothering to hide it. "Yes." "Her solo this Sunday is even longer. She's so excited about it." "Aren't you?" "Kind of." She sighed, a pained expression on her face. "It turns out that Abigail fell yesterday and broke her wrist. That's what Nana has been talking about on the phone." "Who's Abigail?" "The pianist with the church. She accompanies the choir every Sunday." Elizabeth started to move the swing back and forth, staring out into the storm. "Anyway, Nana said she'd find someone to fill in. In fact, she promised." "Oh?" he said. "She also said that she already had someone in mind." "I see." Elizabeth shrugged. "I just thought you'd want to know. I'm pretty sure Nana will want to talk to you in a few minutes, but I didn't want her to blindside you. I figured it would be better if I did it." "I appreciate that." For a long moment, Thibault said nothing. In the silence, Elizabeth put a hand on his knee. "What do you think?" "I'm getting the sense I don't really have a choice." "Of course you have a choice. Nana won't force you to do it." "Even though she promised?" "She'd probably understand. Eventually." She placed a hand over her heart. "Once her broken heart healed, I'm sure she'd even forgive you." "Ah," he said. "And most likely it wouldn't make her health any worse, either. What with the stroke and all and the disappointment she'd feel. I'm sure she wouldn't end up bedridden or anything." Thibault cracked a smile. "Don't you think you're overdoing it?" Elizabeth's eyes sparkled with mischief. "Maybe. But the question is, will you do it?" "I suppose." "Good. And you know you're going to have to practice tomorrow." "Okay." "It might be a long rehearsal. Friday rehearsals are always long. They really love their music, you know." "Great," he said, and sighed. "Look at it this way: You won't have to work in the rain all day." "Great," he said again. She kissed him on the cheek. "You're a good man. I'll be si-fcndy cheering for you in the pews." Thanks." "Oh, and when Nana comes out, don't let her know I told you." "I won't." "And try to be more excited. Honored, even. Like you couldn't imagine that you'd ever be offered such a wonderful opportunity." "I can't just say yes?" "No. Nana will want you to be thrilled. Like I said, it means a lot to her." "Ah," he said again. He took her hand in his. "You do realize you simply could have asked me. I didn't need the whole guilt-inducing story." "I know," she said. "But it was a lot more fun to ask the other way." As if on cue, Nana stepped outside. She flashed a quick smile at both of them before wandering to the railing and turning toward him. "Do you ever play the piano anymore?" Nana asked. It was all Thibault could do not to laugh. Thibault met with the music director the following afternoon, and despite her initial dismay at his jeans, T-shirt, and long hair, it didn't take long for her to realize that Thibault not only could play, but was obviously an accomplished musician. Once he'd warmed up, he made very few errors, though it helped that the chosen musical pieces weren't terribly challenging. After rehearsal, when the pastor showed up, he was walked through the service so he'd know exactly what to expect. Nana, meanwhile, alternately beamed at Thibault and chattered away with her friends, explaining that Thibault worked at the kennel and was spending time with Beth. Thibault could feel the gazes of the women sweep over him with more than a little Interest and, for the most part, approval. On their way out the door, Nana looped her arm through his. "You were better than a duck on a stick," she said. "Thanks," he said, mystified. "Are you up for a little drive?" "Where?" "Wilmington. If we go now, I think I can have you back in time to take Beth to dinner. I'll watch Ben." "What am I going to buy?" "A sport jacket and chinos. A dressier shirt. I don't mind you in jeans, but if you're going to play the piano at the service on Sunday, you're going to need to dress up." "Ah," he said, recognizing at once that he had no choice in the matter. That evening, while dining at Cantina, the only Mexican restaurant downtown, Elizabeth stared over her margarita at Thibault. "You know you're in like Flynn now," she said. "With Nana?" "She couldn't stop talking about how good you were, and how polite you were to her friends, and how respectful you sounded when the pastor showed up." "You make it sound like she expected me to be a troglodyte." She laughed. "Maybe she did. I heard you were covered in mud before you went." "I showered and changed." "I know. She told me that, too." "What didn't she tell you?" "That the other women in the choir were swooning." "She said that?" "No. She didn't have to, but I could see it in her face. They were. It's not every day a young and handsome stranger comes into their church and dazzles them on the piano. How could they not swoon?" "I think you're probably overstating things." "I think," she said, dabbing her finger on the rim of her glass and tasting the salt, "that you still have a lot to learn about living in a small southern town. This is big news. Abigail has played for fifteen years." "I'm not going to take her spot. This is temporary." "Even better. It'll give people a chance to pick sides. They'll talk about it for years." "This is what people do here?" "Absolutely," she said. "And by the way, there's no faster way to get accepted around here." "I don't need to be accepted by anyone but you." "Always the sweet talker." She smiled. "Okay, how about this? It'll drive Keith crazy." "Why?" "Because he's a member of the church. In fact, Ben will be with him when he sees you. It'll kill him to see how much everyone appreciates the way you pitched in to help." "I'm not sure I want him any angrier. I'm already worried about what he's going to do." "He can't do anything. I know what he's been up to." "I wouldn't be so sure," Thibault cautioned. "Why do you say that?" Thibault noted the crowded tables surrounding them. She seemed to read his mind and slid out from her side of the booth to sit beside him. "You know something you're not telling me," she whispered. "What is it?" Thibault took a sip of his beer. When he put the bottle back on the table, he described his encounters with her ex. As he told the story, her expression changed from disgusted to amused, finally settling into something resembling concern. "You should have told me earlier," she said, frowning. "I didn't get concerned until he broke into my house." "And you really think he's capable of setting you up?" "You know him better than I do." She realized she wasn't hungry anymore. "I thought I did." Because Ben was with his father鈥攁 situation that felt somewhat surreal to both of them considering the circumstances鈥擳hibault and Elizabeth went to Raleigh on Saturday, which made it easy to avoid dwelling on what Keith Clayton might or might not do. In the afternoon, they had lunch at a sidewalk cafe downtown and visited the Museum of Natural History; on Saturday evening, they made their way to Chapel Hill. North Carolina was playing Clemson, and the game was being broadcast on ESPN. Though the game was in South Carolina, the bars downtown were packed, full of students watching it on giant flat-screen televisions. As Thibault heard them cheering and booing, as if the future of the world hung on the outcome of the game, he found himself thinking about the kids their age serving in Iraq and wondered what they would make of these college students. They didn't stay long. After an hour, Elizabeth was ready to leave. On their way back to the car, as they walked with their arms around each other, she leaned her head against his shoulder. "That was fun," she said. "But it was so loud in there." "You just say that because you're getting old." She squeezed his waist, liking the fact that there was nothing but skin and muscle there. "Watch it, bub, or you might not get lucky tonight." "Bub?" he repeated. "It's a term of endearment. I say it to all the guys I date." "All of them?" "Yep. Strangers, too. Like if they give me their seat on the bus, I might say, 'Thanks, bub.'" "I guess I should feel special." "And don't you forget it." They walked among the throngs of students on Franklin Street, peeking in windows and soaking up the energy. It made sense to Thibault that she'd wanted to come here. This was an experience she'd missed because of Ben. Yet what impressed him most was that although she was obviously enjoying herself, she didn't seem wistful or bitter about what she'd missed. If anything, she acted more like an observant anthropologist, intent on studying newfound cultures. When he said as much, she rolled her eyes. "Don't ruin the evening. Trust me, I'm not thinking that deep. I just wanted to get out of town and have some fun." They went to Thibault's and stayed up late, talking and kissing and making love well into the night. When Thibault woke in the morning, he found Elizabeth lying beside him, studying his face. "What are you doing?" he murmured, his voice thick with sleep. "Watching you," she said. "Why?" "I wanted to." He smiled as he ran a finger over her arm, feeling a surge of gratitude for her presence in his life. "You're pretty awesome, Elizabeth." "I know." That's it? You're just going to say, 'I know'?" he demanded in mock outrage. "Don't get needy on me. I hate needy guys." "And I'm not sure I like women who hide their feelings." She smiled, leaning in to kiss him. "I had a great time yesterday." "I did, too." "I mean it. These last few weeks, being with you, have been the best weeks of my life. And yesterday, just being with you,, -鈥; you have no idea what that was like. Just being鈥 a woman. Not a mother, not a teacher, not a granddaughter. Just me. It's been a long time since that has happened." "We've gone out before." "I know. But it's different now." She was talking about the future, he knew, a future that had acquired a clarity and purpose it never had before. Staring at her, he knew exactly what she meant. "So what's next?" he asked, his tone serious. She kissed him again, her breath on his lips warm and moist. "Next is getting up. You have to be at the church in a couple of hours." She swatted him on the hip. "That's a lot of time." "Maybe for you. But I'm here and my clothes are at home. You've got to get up and start getting ready, so I have time to get ready." "This church stuff is tough." "Sure," she said. "But it's not like you have an option. And by the way?" She reached for his hand before going on. "You're pretty awesome, too, Logan."Chapter 28 Beth

昆山祛痘

Chapter 37 ClaytonMaybe she'd misjudged him, Beth admitted. At least as far as work went, anyway. In the last three weeks, Logan Thibault had been the perfect employee. Better than that, even. Not only hadn't he missed a day, but he arrived early so he could feed the dogs-something Nana had always done until her stroke鈥攁nd stayed late to sweep the floors of the office. Once, she'd even seen him cleaning the windows with Windex and crumpled newspaper. The kennels were as clean as they'd ever been, the training yard was mowed every other afternoon, and he'd even started to reorganize the customer files. It got to the point that Beth felt guilty when she handed him his first paycheck. She knew that the paycheck was barely enough to live on. But when she'd handed the check to him, he'd simply smiled and said, "Thanks. This is great." It was all she could do to muster a subdued, "You're welcome." Other than that, they hadn't seen much of each other. They were in the third week of school, and Beth was still getting back into the flow of teaching again, which necessitated long hours in her small home office, updating lesson plans and correcting homework. Ben, on the other hand, raced out of the car as soon as he got home to play with Zeus. From what Beth observed from the window, Ben seemed to view the dog as his new best buddy, and the dog seemed to feel the same way. As soon as their car rolled up the drive, the dog would start nosing around for a stick, and he'd greet Ben with it when the car door swung open. Ben would scramble out, and as she walked up the porch steps, she'd hear Ben laughing as they raced across the yard. Logan鈥攖he name seemed to fit him better than Thibault, despite what he'd said at the creek鈥攚atched them as well, a slight smile playing across his face, before he turned back to whatever he was doing. Despite herself, she liked his smile and the ease with which it surfaced when he was with Ben or Nana. She knew that sometimes war had a way of crawling into a soldier's psyche, making it hard to readapt to the civilian world, but he showed no sign of any posttraumatic stress disorder. He seemed almost normal鈥攁side from walking across the country, that is鈥攚hich suggested that he might never have been overseas. Nana swore that she hadn't asked him about it yet. Which was odd in and of itself, considering Nana, but that was another story. Still, he seemed to be fitting into their little family business better than she'd imagined possible. A couple of days earlier, just as Logan was finishing up work for the day, she'd heard Ben race through the house to his bedroom, only to clatter out the front door again. When she peeked out the window, she realized that Ben had retrieved his baseball from his room to play catch with Logan in the yard. She watched them throw the baseball back and forth, Zeus doing his best to chase down the missed balls before Ben could get to them. If only her ex had been there to see how happily Ben played when he was not being pressured or criticized. She wasn't surprised that Logan and Nana were getting along, but the frequency with which Nana brought him up after he'd left for the night, and the glowing nature of her comments, took her aback. "You'd like him," she'd say, or, "I wonder if he knew Drake," which was her way of hinting that Beth should make an effort to get to know him. Nana had even begun to allow him to train the dogs, which was something she'd never allowed another employee to do. Every now and then, she'd mention something interesting about his past鈥攖hat he'd slept beside a family of armadillos in north Texas, for instance, or that he'd once dreamed of working for the Koobi Fora Research Project in Kenya, investigating the origin of man. When she mentioned such things, there was no denying her fascination with Logan and what made him tick. Best of all, things around the kennel were beginning to calm down. After a long, hectic summer, their days had settled into a rhythm of sorts, which explained why Beth was eyeing Nana with apprehension over the dinner table at Nana's news. "What do you mean you're going to visit your sister?" Nana added a pat of butter to the bowl of shrimp and grits before her. "I haven't had a chance to visit my sister since the incident, and I want to see how she's doing. She's older than I am, you know. And now that you're teaching and Ben is at school, I can't think of a better time to go." "Who's going to take care of the kennel?" "Thibault. He's got it down to a science by now, even the training part of this. He said he'd be more than happy to work some additional hours. And he also said he'd drive me to Greensboro, so you don't have to worry about that, either. We've got it all worked out. He even volunteered to start straightening up the files for me." She speared a shrimp and chewed vigorously. "Can he drive?" Beth inquired. "He says he can." "But he doesn't have a license." "He said he'd get one at the DMV. That's why he left early. I called Frank, and he said he'd be glad to work him in for the driving test today." "He doesn't have a car鈥" "He's using my truck." "How did he get there?" "He drove." "But he doesn't have a license!" "I thought I already explained that." Nana looked at her as if she'd suddenly become slow-witted. "What about the choir? You're just getting back into it." "It's fine. I already told the music director I'd be visiting my sister, and she says there's no problem. In fact, she thinks it's a good idea. Of course, I've been with the choir a lot longer than she has, so she couldn't exactly say no." Beth shook her head, trying to stay on subject. "When did you start planning all this? The visit, I mean?" Nana took another bite and pretended to consider. "When she called and asked me, of course." "When did she call you?" Beth pressed. "This morning." "This morning?" From the corner of her eye, Beth noticed Ben following the interchange like a spectator at a tennis match. She shot him a warning look before returning her attention to Nana. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" "It's like candy on a battleship," Nana said with an air of finality. "What does that mean?" "It means," Nana said, "that I'm going to see my sister. She said she's bored and that she misses me. She asked me to come, and so I agreed to go. It's as simple as that." "How long do you intend to be gone?" Beth suppressed a rising sense of panic. "I'm guessing about a week." "A week?" Nana glanced at Ben. "I think your mom has caterpillars in her ears, She keeps repeating everything I say like she can't hear me." Ben giggled and popped a shrimp into his mouth. Beth stared at them both. Sometimes, she thought, dinner with these two was no better than eating with the second graders in the cafeteria. "What about your medicine?" she asked. Nana added some more shrimp and grits to her bowl. "I'll bring it. I can take my pills there just as easy as I can take them here." "What if something happens to you?" "I'd probably be better off there, don't you think?" "How can you say that?" "Now that school has started, you and Ben are gone most of the day and I'm alone in the house. There's no way Thibault would even know if I was in trouble. But when I'm in Greensboro, I'll be with my sister. And believe it or not, she has a phone and everything. She stopped using smoke signals last year." Ben giggled again but knew enough not to say anything. Instead, he grinned at the contents of his bowl. "But you haven't left the kennel since Grandpa died鈥" "Exactly," Nana cut her off. "But鈥" Nana reached across the table to pat Beth's hand. "Now, I know you're worried that you won't have my sparkling wit to keep you company for a while, but it'll give you a chance to get to know Thibault. He'll be here this weekend, too, to help you out with the kennel." "This weekend? When are you leaving?" "Tomorrow," she said. "Tomorrow?" Beth's voice came out as a squeak. Nana winked at Ben. "See what I mean? Caterpillars." After cleaning up the dinner dishes, Beth wandered to the front porch for a few solitary minutes. She knew Nana's mind was made up, and she knew she'd overreacted. Stroke or not, Nana could take care of herself, and Aunt Mimi would be thrilled to see her. Aunt Mimi had trouble walking to the kitchen these days, and it might very well be the last chance Nana had to spend a week with her. But the exchange troubled her. It wasn't the trip itself that bothered her, but what their little struggle at the dinner table signaled鈥 the beginning of a new role for her in coming years, one she didn't feel altogether ready for. It was easy to play parent to Ben. Her role and responsibilities were clear-cut' there. But playing parent to Nana? Nana had always been so full of life, so full of energy, that until a few months ago it had been inconceivable to Beth that Nana would ever slow down. And she was doing well, really well, especially considering the stroke. But what was going to happen the next time Nana wanted to do something that Beth honestly believed wasn't in her best interest? Something simple鈥 like driving at night, for instance? Nana couldn't see as well as she used to, and what was going to happen in a few years when Nana insisted that she wanted to drive to the grocery store after work? She knew that in the end, she'd handle these situations when the time came. But she dreaded it. It had been hard enough to keep Nana in check this summer, and that was when her physical problems were obvious even to Nana. What was going to happen when Nana didn't want to admit to them? Her thoughts were interrupted by the sight of Nana's truck slowly rolling up the drive and coming to a stop near the back entrance to the kennel. Logan got out and went around to the bed of the truck. She watched him sling a fifty-pound bag of dog food over his shoulder and head inside. When he emerged, Zeus was trotting beside him, nosing at his hand; Beth figured that he must have kept Zeus inside the office while he'd been in town. It took him a few more minutes to unload the rest of the dog food, and when he was done, he started toward the house. By then, dusk had begun to fall. The faint echo of thunder sounded in the distance, and Beth could hear the crickets beginning their evening song. She suspected the storm would hold off; with the exception of a couple of scattered showers, it had been miserably dry all summer. But the air, carried from the ocean, was scented with pine and salt, and she flashed on memories from a beach long ago. She could remember seeing spider crabs scuttling before beams from the flashlights that she and Drake and Grandpa were holding; her mom's face illuminated by the glow of the small bonfire her dad had started; the sight of Nana's marshmallow catching fire as they toasted them for smores. It was one of the few memories she had of her parents, and she wasn't even sure how much of it was real. Because she'd been so young, she suspected that Nana's memories had become fused with her own. Nana had told her the story of that night countless times, perhaps because it was the last time they'd all been together. Beth's parents had died in an auto accident only a few days later. "Are you all right?" Distracted by her memories, Beth hadn't noticed that Logan had reached the porch. In the fading light, his features seemed softer than she remembered. "Yeah, I'm fine." She straightened up and smoothed her blouse. "I was just thinking." "I have the keys to the truck," he said, his voice quiet. "I wanted to drop them off before I went home." When he held them out, she knew she could simply thank him and say good night, but鈥攎aybe because she was still upset that Nana had made her decision to leave without talking to her about it first, or maybe because she wanted to make her own decision about Logan鈥攕he took the keys and deliberately held his gaze. "Thanks," she said. "Long day for you, huh?" If he was surprised by her invitation to talk, he didn't show it. "It wasn't too bad. And I got a lot done." "Like regaining the ability to drive legally?" He offered a lazy smile. "Among other things." "Did the brakes give you any problems?" "Not once I got used to the grinding." Beth grinned at the thought. "I'll bet the examiner loved that." "I'm sure he did. I could tell by the wincing." She laughed, and for a moment, neither of them said anything. On the horizon, lightning flashed. It took some time before the thunder sounded, and she knew the storm was still a few miles off. In the silence, she noticed Logan was looking at her with that peculiar deja vu expression again. He seemed to realize it and quickly turned away. Beth followed his gaze and saw that Zeus had wandered toward the trees. The dog stood at attention, staring at Logan as if to ask, Do you want to go for a walk? Emphasizing his point, Zeus barked and Logan shook his head. "Hold your horses," he called out. He turned back toward Beth. "He's been cooped up for a while and he wants to wander." "Isn't he doing that now?" "No, I mean he wants me to wander with him. He won't let me out of his sight." "Ever?" "He can't help it. He's a shepherd and he thinks I'm his flock." Beth raised his eyebrow. "Small flock." "Yeah, but it's growing. He's really taken to Ben and Nana." "Not me?" She pretended to look wounded. Logan shrugged. "You haven't thrown a stick for him." "That's all it takes?" "He's a cheap date." She laughed again. Somehow she hadn't expected him to have a sense of humor. Surprising her, he motioned over his shoulder. "Would you like to walk with us? For Zeus, it's almost as good as throwing a stick." "Oh, it is, huh?" she parried, stalling. "I don't make the rules. I just know what they are. And I'd hate for you to feel left out." She hesitated briefly before accepting that he was just trying to be friendly. She glanced over her shoulder. "I should probably let Nana and Ben know I'm going." "You can, but we won't be gone long. Zeus just wants to go to the creek and splash around for a few minutes before we go home. Otherwise, he gets hot." He rocked on his heels, hands in his pockets. "You ready?" "Yeah, let's go." They stepped off the porch and headed down the gravel path. Zeus trotted ahead of them, checking every now and then to make sure they were following. They walked side by side, but with enough distance to ensure they didn't touch accidentally. "Nana told me you're a teacher?" Logan inquired. Beth nodded. "Second grade." "How's your class this year?" "It seems like a good group of kids. So far, anyway. And I've already had seven mothers sign up to volunteer, which is always a good sign." Moving past the kennel, they approached the small trail that led to the creek. The sun had dipped below the trees, casting the trail in shadow. As they walked, thunder boomed again. "How long have you been teaching?" "Three years." "Do you enjoy it?" "Most of the time. I work with a lot of great people, so that makes it easier." "But?" She didn't seem to understand his question. He pushed his hands into his pockets and went on. "There's always a 'but' when it comes to jobs. Like, I love my job and my colleagues are first-rate, but鈥 a couple of them like to dress up like superheroes on the weekend and I can't help but wonder if they're nuts." She laughed. "No, they really are great. And I do love teaching. It's just that every now and then there's a student who comes from a challenging family background, and you know there's nothing you can do for them. It's enough to break your heart sometimes." She walked a few steps in silence. "How about you, though? Do you like working here?" "Yeah, I do." He sounded sincere. "But?" He shook his head. "No buts." "That's not fair. I told you." "Yes, but you weren't talking to the boss's granddaughter. And speaking of my boss, do you have any idea what time we'll be leaving tomorrow?" "She didn't tell you?" "No. I figured I'd ask when I dropped off the keys." "She didn't say, but I'm sure she'll want you to train and exercise the dogs before you leave so the dogs won't get antsy." They'd come within sight of the creek, and Zeus plunged ahead into the water, splashing and barking. Logan and Beth watched him frolic before Logan motioned toward the low branch. Beth took a seat and he joined her, carefully preserving the space between them. "How far is Greensboro from here?" he asked. "Five hours, there and back. It's mainly on the interstate." "Do you have any idea when she'll be coming home?" Beth shrugged. "She told me a week." "Oh鈥" Logan seemed to digest this. All worked out, my foot, Beth thought. Logan was more in the dark than she was. "I'm getting the impression Nana didn't tell you much about this." "Just that she was going and I was driving, so I'd better get my license. Oh, and that I'd be working this weekend." "That figures. Listen, about that鈥 I can handle things this weekend if you have things to do鈥" "It's no problem," Logan said. "I don't have anything planned. And there are some things I haven't had a chance to get to yet. Just some little things that need to be fixed." "Like installing an air conditioner in the kennel officer' "I was thinking more along the lines of painting the door trim and seeing what I can do to get the office window to open." "The one that's painted shut? Good luck. My grandpa tried to fix it for years. He once worked a whole day on it with a razor blade and ended up wearing Band-Aids for a week. It still wouldn't open." "You're not filling me with confidence here," Logan said. "Just trying to warn you. And it's funny because it was my grandpa who painted it shut in the first place, and he had a whole storage shed full of just about every tool you could imagine. He was one of those guys who thought he could fix anything, but it never quite worked out as well as he'd planned. He was more of a visionary than a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy. Have you seen Ben's tree house and the bridge?" "From a distance," Logan admitted. "A case in point. It took Grandpa most of one summer to build it, and whenever Ben goes there now, I cringe. How it's lasted this long without blowing over I have no idea. It scares me, but Ben loves to go there, especially when he's upset or nervous about something. He calls it his hideout. He goes there a lot." When she paused, he could see her concern, but it lasted only an instant before she came back to him. "Anyway, Grandpa was a prize. All heart and soul, and he gave us the most idyllic childhood you could imagine." "Us?" "My brother and me." She gazed toward the tree, the leaves silver in the moonlight. "Did Nana tell you what happened to my parents?" He nodded. "Briefly. I'm sorry." She waited, wondering if he'd add anything else, but he didn't. "What was it like?" she asked. "Walking across the country?" Logan took his time answering. "It was鈥 peaceful. Just being able to go where I wanted, when I wanted, with no rush to get there." "You make it sound therapeutic." "It was, I suppose." A sad smile flickered across his face, then was gone. "In a way." As he said it, the fading light reflected in his eyes, making them seem as if they were changing color incrementally. "Did you find what you were looking for?" she asked, her expression serious. Logan paused. "Yeah, actually I did." "And?" "I don't know yet." She evaluated his answer, unsure what to make of it. "Now don't take this the wrong way, but for some reason, I don't see you staying in one place for very long." "Is that because I walked from Colorado?" "That has a lot to do with it." He laughed, and for the first time, Beth was conscious of how long it had been since she'd had a conversation like this. It felt easy and unforced. With Adam, the conversation had been stiff, as though both had been trying too hard. She still wasn't sure how she felt about Logan, but it seemed right that they were finally on friendly terms. She cleared her throat. "Now, about tomorrow. I'm thinking that maybe the two of you should take my car, and I'll use the truck to go to school. I'm a little worried about the truck's brakes." "I have to admit I wondered about that, too. But I'm pretty sure I can fix it. Not by tomorrow, but on the weekend." "You can repair cars, too?" "Yes. But brakes aren't hard. They need some new pads, but I think the rotors are probably okay." "Is there anything you can't do?" Beth asked, only half feigning amazement. "Yes." She laughed. "That's good. But okay, I'll talk to Nana and I'm sure she'll be fine with using my car. I don't trust those brakes at highway speed. And I'll make sure to check on the dogs when I finish up at school, okay? I'm sure Nana didn't mention that to you either. But I will." He nodded just as Zeus padded out. He shook off, then moved closer to sniff at Beth before licking her hands. "He likes me." "He's probably just tasting you." "Funny," she said. It was the type of thing Drake would have said, and she was struck by the sudden desire to be alone once again. She stood. "I should probably be heading back. I'm sure they're wondering where I am." Logan noticed the clouds had continued to thicken. "Yeah, me too. I want to get home before it starts pouring. The storm seems to be getting closer." "Do you want a ride?" "Thank you, but no, that's okay. I like to walk." "Gee, I never would have known," she said with a faint smile. They retraced their steps to the house, and when they reached the gravel drive, Beth pulled a hand out of her jeans pocket and gave a small wave. "Thanks for the walk, Logan." She expected him to correct her the way he had with Ben鈥攖o tell her again he was called Thibault鈥攂ut he didn't. Instead, he raised his chin slightly and grinned. "You too, Elizabeth." She knew the storm wouldn't last long, though they desperately needed the rain. It had been a hot, dry summer, and it seemed like the heat would never break. As she sat listening to the last drops of rain falling on the tin roof, she found herself thinking about her brother. Before Drake left, he'd told her that the sound of rain on their roof was the sound he would miss most of all. She wondered if he often dreamed of these North Carolina summer storms in the dry land where he ended up. The thought made her feel hollow and sad all over again. Nana was in her room packing for her trip, as excited as she'd been in years. Ben, on the other hand, was becoming more and more subdued, which meant he was thinking about the fact that he'd have to spend a big chunk of the weekend with his father. Which also meant she'd have a weekend alone at home, her first solo weekend in a long, long time. Except for Logan. She could understand why both Nana and Ben had been drawn to him. He possessed a quiet confidence that seemed rare these days. It was only after she got back Co the house that she realized she'd learned little about him that he hadn't already told her during their initial interview. She wondered whether he'd always been so private or if it stemmed from his time in Iraq, He'd been there, she'd decided. No, he hadn't said as much, but she'd seen something in his expression when she'd mentioned her parents鈥攈is simple response hinted at a familiarity with tragedy and an acceptance of it as an unavoidable aspect of life. She didn't know whether that made her feel better or worse about him. Like Drake, he was a marine. But Logan was here, and Drake was gone, and for that reason as well as more complicated ones, she wasn't sure that she could ever look at Logan with fairness in her heart. Gazing up at the stars that had emerged between the storm clouds, she felt the loss of Drake like a newly reopened wound. After their parents had died, they had been inseparable, even sleeping in the same bed for a year. He was only a year younger than her, and she distinctly remembered walking to school with him on the first day of kindergarten. To stop his tears, she had promised that he'd make lots of friends and that she'd wait by the swing set to walk him home. Unlike many siblings, they had never been rivals. She was his biggest cheerleader, and he was her unwavering supporter. Throughout high school, she went to every football, basketball, and baseball game he played and tutored him when he needed it. For his part, he was the only one who remained unfazed by her dizzying teenage mood swings. The only disagreement they'd ever had concerned Keith, but unlike Nana, Drake kept his feelings largely to himself. But she knew how he felt, and when she and Keith separated, it was Drake she turned to for support as she tried to find her footing as a newly single mother. And it was Drake, she knew, who kept Keith from pounding on her door late at night in the months immediately afterward. Drake had been the one person she'd ever known that Keith was afraid to cross. By that point, he'd matured. Not only had he been an excellent athlete in virtually every sport, but he'd taken up boxing when he was twelve. By eighteen, he'd won the Golden Gloves in North Carolina three times, and he sparred regularly with troops stationed at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune. It was the hours he spent with them that first made Drake consider enlisting. He'd never been a great student, and he lasted only a year at a community college before deciding it wasn't for him. She'd been the only one he'd talked to about enlisting. She had been proud of his decision to serve his country, her heart bursting with love and admiration the first time she saw him outfitted in his dress blues. Though she had been scared when he was posted to Kuwait and, later, Iraq, she couldn't help but believe that he was going to make it. But Drake Green never did make it home. She could barely recall the days immediately after she'd learned that her brother had died, and she didn't like to think of them now. His death had left her with an emptiness that she knew would never fill completely. But time had lessened the pain. In the immediacy of his loss, she never would have believed it possible, but she couldn't deny that when she thought of Drake these days, it was usually the happier times she remembered. Even when she visited the cemetery to talk to him, she no longer experienced the agony those visits once aroused. Nowadays, her sadness felt less visceral than her anger. But it felt real right now, in the wake of the realization that she鈥攍ike Nana and Ben鈥攚as drawn to Thibault, too, if only because she felt an ease with him that she hadn't known with anyone since losing Drake. And there was this: Only Drake had ever called her by her given name. Neither her parents nor Nana, no Grandpa, nor any of her friends growing up had ever called her anything but Beth. Keith hadn't either; to be honest, she wasn't sure he even knew her real name. Only Drake had called her Elizabeth, and only when they were alone. It was their secret, a secret meant for just the two of them, and she'd never been able to imagine how it would sound coming from someone else. But, somehow, Logan made it sound just right.

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