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Dead Sleep

Dead Sleep

Dead Sleep 14


  “What is it, honey?” I whisper.

  She closes her eyes tight, squeezing out tears as she turns her face into my breast and sobs. “I miss my mama.”

  This time there’s no stopping my tears. I have never known a protective instinct as powerful as the one that suffuses me now. Not even when I was practically raising Jane in Oxford. I would kill to protect these children. But who can I kill to protect them from the loss of their mother? All I can do is caress Lyn’s forehead and reassure her about the future.

  “I know you do, baby. I do, too. But I’m here for you now. Think about happy times.”

  “Are you going to stay with us?”

  “I sure am.”

  “How long?” Her eyes are wide and fragile as bubbles.

  “As long as you need me. As long as it takes.”

  Marc looks over at us, his eyes suddenly alert. “What’s the matter?”

  “Nothing a little hugging won’t fix,” I tell him, rocking Lyn as best I can with Henry weighing me down. But what I’m hearing in my mind is the voice on the telephone eight months ago. God, let that have been Jane, I pray silently. These children need more than I can ever give them.

  A half hour later, Marc and I carry the kids to their beds. They’ve slept together since Jane disappeared, insisting on the room next to Marc’s rather than the larger but more isolated ones upstairs. When we get back to the living room, he opens a second bottle of wine, and we methodically drink most of it while reminiscing about Jane. Marc wasn’t lying when he said he missed her. As he drains the last of the bottle, his eyes mist over.

  “I know you think I’m a bastard for telling them she’s dead. I’m just trying to make things as easy on them as I can.”

  I give him a conciliatory nod. “Now that I see them, I understand better why you did what you did. But what will you do if it turns out you’re wrong?”

  He snorts. “You don’t really think those women are alive, do you?”

  “I honestly don’t know. I had convinced myself that Jane was dead. But now I won’t give up until I see her body.”

  “Just like with your father,” he mumbles. “You never give up.”

  “I wish you wouldn’t either. In your heart, at least.”

  “My heart?” He gestures toward his chest with the goblet, and wine sloshes onto his shirt. “For the last thirteen months, my life has been shit. If it weren’t for those kids, I might not even be here.”

  “Marc—”

  “I know, I know. Self-pitying slob.”

  “That’s not what I was thinking.”

  He’s not listening anymore. He has covered his eyes and begun sobbing. Alcohol and depression definitely don’t mix. I feel a little awkward, but I get up, walk over to him, and lay my hand on his shoulder.

  “I know it’s hard. I’ve had a tough time myself.”

  He shakes his head violently, as though to deny the tears, then sits up and wipes his face on his shirtsleeve. “Goddamn it! I’m sorry I got like this.”

  I sit on the ottoman and put my hands on his shoulders. “Hey. You’ve been through one of the worst things anyone can go through. You’re allowed.”

  His bloodshot eyes seek out mine. “I just can’t seem to get it together.”

  “Maybe you need a break. Have you taken a vacation since it happened?”

  “No. Work helps me deal with it.”

  “Maybe work helps you not deal with it. Have you thought of that?”

  He laughs like he doesn’t need or appreciate amateur psychology. Privileged men are masters of ironic distance. “I’m just glad you came,” he says. “I can’t believe how the kids responded to you.”

  “I can’t believe how I responded to them. I almost feel like they’re mine.”

  “I know.” His smile vanishes. “Just . . . thanks for coming.” He leans forward and embraces me. The hug does me good, too, I must admit. I haven’t had many these past months. But suddenly a current of shock shoots through me. There’s something moist against my neck. He’s kissing my neck. And there’s nothing brotherly about it.

  I go stiff in spite of my desire not to overreact. “Marc?”

  He takes his lips away, but before I can gather my thoughts, he’s kissing my mouth. I jerk back and put my hands on his arms to restrain him.

  His eyes plead silently with me. “You don’t know what it’s been like without her. It’s not the same for you. I can’t even make myself look at another woman. All I see is Jane. But watching you tonight, at the table, with the kids . . . you almost are her.”

  “I’m not Jane.”

  “I know that. But if I let my mind drift just a little, it’s like you are. You even feel like her.” He pulls his arms free and squeezes my hands. “Your hands are the same, your eyes, your breasts, everything.” His blue eyes fix mine with a monk’s intensity. “Do you know what it would mean to me to have one night with you? Just one night. It would be like Jane had come back. It would—”

  “Stop!” I hiss, afraid the children will wake. “Do you hear yourself? I’m not Jane, and I can’t pretend to be! Not to ease your grief. Not for the kids, and especially not in your bed. In her bed. My God.”

  He looks at the floor, then back up at me, and his eyes shine with an unpleasant light. “It wouldn’t be the first time you pretended to be her, would it?”

  It’s as though he flushed liquid nitrogen through my veins. I am speechless, unable to move. Only when he squeezes my hands do I yank them away in reflex.

  “What are you talking about?”

  He smirks like a little boy with a secret. “You know.”

  Without knowing how I got there, I find myself standing three feet away from him with my arms crossed over my breasts. “I’m leaving. I’m going to stay at a hotel. Tell the kids I’ll be back during the day.”

  He blinks, then seems to come to his senses a bit, or at least to feel some sense of shame. “Don’t do that. I didn’t mean to upset you. You’re just so damn beautiful.” He stumbles over the ottoman as he comes toward me. My instinct is to jump forward and help him, but I don’t. I don’t want things to get any worse than they already are.

  “I’m going upstairs to get my bags. You stay here while I do it.”

  “Don’t be melodramatic. You don’t have anything to worry about.”

  “I mean it, Marc.”

  Without waiting for a reply, I run up the stairs and grab my suitcase, thanking God I didn’t unpack yet. When I go back down, he’s waiting at the foot of the stairs.

  “What am I supposed to tell the kids?” he asks.

  “Don’t you dare use them against me like that. Tell them I got called away to a photo shoot. I’ll be back to see them. I just won’t be spending the night.”

  He looks penitent now, but the sense of entitlement I heard in his voice only moments ago still haunts me. Before he sinks into drunken apologies, I push past him and leave without a word.

  As I hit the sidewalk, a car door opens a few yards away and a dark figure floats onto the sidewalk.

  “Jordan?” says a female voice. “What’s the matter?”

  “I’m fine, Wendy. I’m just staying elsewhere.”

  “What happened?”

  My joke to Kaiser about Wendy making a pass at me comes back to me like instant karma. Someone made a pass tonight, all right. But I could never have imagined it would come from my sister’s husband. “Men problems,” I murmur.

  “Gotcha. Where are we going?”

  “A hotel, I guess.”

  She takes my suitcase and starts toward the Mustang, then pauses. “Um, look . . . I don’t know how you feel about hotels, but I’ve got an extra bedroom at my apartment. I’ve got to stay with you no matter where you go, so, you know. It’s up to you. But that way we’d have food and coffee, toiletries, whatever you need.”

  There have been nights I would have killed for a hotel room. I’ve slept in shell craters and been grateful for them. But tonight I don’t want a sterile, empt
y place. I want real things around me, a humanly messy kitchen and CDs and a crocheted comforter on the couch. I hope Wendy isn’t a compulsive cleaner. “That sounds great. Let’s go.”

  I’m about to start the Mustang when a soft beeping sounds in it. “What’s that?” I ask, looking around in confusion.

  “Cell phone,” she announces. “A Nokia. I recognize the ring. We use some at the office.”

  “Oh.” I grab my fanny pack from the backseat, unzip it, and remove the phone Kaiser gave me back at the FBI office. “Hello?”

  “Ms. Glass? Daniel Baxter.”

  “What’s up?”

  “I‘ve been negotiating with Monsieur de Becque of the Cayman Islands.”

  “And?”

  “He says you can go on our plane, and you can bring one assistant to help with lighting, et cetera.”

  “Great. When do I leave?”

  “Tomorrow. A few of us have spent the last half hour arguing over who your assistant should be. I’m backing a member of the Hostage Rescue Team. If things take a nasty turn, he’d have the best chance of getting you out of there alive.”

  “Is someone arguing with your choice?”

  “Agent Kaiser has a different opinion.”

  I smile to myself. “Who does the sheriff want to send?”

  Baxter’s hand covers the mouthpiece, but despite his effort I hear him say, “She just called you ‘the sheriff.’ ” When the ISU chief removes his hand, he says, “The sheriff doesn’t want to send anybody. He wants to go himself.”

  “You should let him go, then.”

  “Is that who you want?”

  “Absolutely. I feel safer already.”

  “Okay. You’ll probably leave tomorrow afternoon. I’ll call you in the morning to give you the travel details.”

  “I’ll talk to you then. And Wendy’s taking good care of me.”

  “Good. See you tomorrow.”

  “What’s happening?” Wendy asks after I hang up.

  “I’m going to the Cayman Islands.”

  “Oh.” She shifts in her seat. “What was that about a sheriff ?”

  “A joke. I was talking about Kaiser.”

  She guessed as much. “He’s going with you?”

  “It looks that way. For security.”

  She looks out her window. “Lucky you,” she says finally.

  The eternal plight of women. A minute ago we were fast friends. Now she’d like to revoke her offer to share her apartment. But her manners are far too good for that. I’d like to reassure Agent Wendy that she has nothing to worry about, but I don’t want to insult her intelligence. I start the engine and pull into St. Charles Avenue.

  “Give me some directions. It’s time to get some sleep.”

  “Straight,” she says. “I’ll tell you where to turn.”

  I start down the tree-lined avenue, the streetcar tracks gleaming silver under the lights as the Mustang swallows them. The leaves on the trees look gray, but only a small part of my brain registers this. The rest is rerunning Marc Lacour’s remark again and again: It wouldn’t be the first time you pretended to be her, would it? And then Dr. Lenz’s voice, out of the dark: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?

  If only you could plead the fifth with your conscience.

  9

  MOST FLIGHTS TO the Cayman Islands stage out of Houston or Miami, but with the FBI Lear, things are simpler. It’s Kaiser, me, and two pilots up front for the two-hour run from New Orleans to Grand Cayman, largest of the three islands that make up the British colony. The last time I made this flight, my knuckles were white for half the journey. I was covering the air convoy that American pilots take to the Caymans for the annual air show there, one “highlight” of which is the provocative overflight of communist Cuba. Fifteen years ago, this was no joke, and I’m happy to be cruising along with nothing more to worry about than a seventy-year-old Frenchman who for some unknown reason has requested my presence.

  We’ve been in the air for an hour, and Kaiser is un-characteristically quiet. I don’t suppose there’s much to say. Or perhaps I’m radiating enough hostility to discourage conversation. I can still feel my brother-in-law’s lips against my neck, and the emotional fallout is hard to shake. Most difficult of all is the remark Marc made as I rebuffed him: It wouldn’t be the first time you pretended to be her, would it? I’d hoped that particular chapter of my life was shared only by my sister, but apparently I hoped for too much. The fact that Jane told her husband about it reveals a piercing truth: she never really believed my side of the story.

  What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Dr. Lenz used to ask his patients. A simple but devastating question. And the other one—what was it? What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you? Several terrible things have happened to me, none of which I want to dwell on now, but in making choices about my behavior, I haven’t often gone against the dictates of my conscience. On the most painful occasion when I did, I was eighteen years old. It’s almost embarrassing that twenty-two years of post-high school living haven’t given me some greater claim to infamy, but the journey through adolescence is one of the hardest we ever make, and the wounds sustained along the way last a lifetime.

  Years of simmering tension between my sister and me came to a boiling point during our senior year, just weeks before my affair with David Gresham became the sensation of the school. Jane was riding her high horse, chattering endlessly about how she was going to be a Chi Omega the next year and asking why I didn’t get my act together, “fix up” a little, and try to be “halfway normal,” whatever that meant to her. When I wasn’t worrying about how I was going to pay her expenses at Ole Miss, I was shooting portraits in my tiny studio or sneaking through the woods to my history teacher’s house. Looking back on it, I was like a ghost. Silent during classes, vanishing after school, skipping pep rallies and ball games, never going to high school hangouts.

  Jane suspected I was involved with someone, but I had no idea of the shape of her suspicions. One day, during an argument over something stupid, I realized she thought I was gay. That I was slipping off at all hours to meet a woman. It was funny, really, but when I treated it as such, she started screaming about how strange I was, how I was ruining her chance to become a Chi O and have a normal life. I told her that her idea of a normal life wasn’t anything to aspire to. I also told her I wasn’t gay, and that I knew more about men than she ever would. She smirked in a superior way that dismissed me completely. I said if circumstances had been slightly different, it could be me dating Bobby Evans, her wealthy boyfriend of three years, and her doing the work that paid the light bill. She looked at me incredulously and said, “Bobby and you? Together? You’ve got to be kidding.” And then she laughed. For some reason, that really cut me to the quick. “Why not?” I asked. “Because you’re so weird,” she said, looking at me with pity. I understood then that she saw me exactly as others did, as some sort of self-exiled outcast. All I’d done to keep our family together, she simply took as her due.

  Two days later, I got home from school and found a note taped to Jane’s window. It was from her boyfriend, and it said to meet him that afternoon in the woods behind the coliseum. I threw away the note, put my hair up in a ponytail, slipped on a pair of Jane’s earrings and one of her precious Lacoste sweaters, and rode her bike down to the woods. Bobby Evans was waiting there in his letter jacket. He looked like a young Robert Redford standing there, though his IQ left a bit to be desired.

  I played Jane to perfection. We’d been impersonating each other since we were babies; it was easy. Why did I do it? I wanted to know what lay behind that smirk she’d given me. And I suppose I was jealous of her in my own way. The road of the nonconformist is a lonely one, and I’d been walking it for a long time. Bobby Evans was one of the rewards for being a “good girl,” which meant following every hypocritical southern folkway and more with the rigidity of a Victorian virgin. As we talked, Bobby steered us over into the trees, and I realized this wa
s a ritual of theirs. He kissed me in the shadows, first delicately, then with passion. It was typical high school stuff—or what I imagined that to be, anyway—all rushed and breathless and intense, him crushing my breasts from outside my sweater and pressing his pelvis against mine. Very different from my experiences with David Gresham. When I let him put his hand inside her sweater, I could tell that was as far as they ever went. The way he slowly lowered his hand toward my waistband told me that. He was waiting for a “No,” a “Not yet,” or an “I want to, but we just can’t.”

  I didn’t say any of those things.

  A few minutes of touching me there was more than he could handle. Afterward, he sat down at my feet, too embarrassed to look at me, and stared down at the ground. It was like someone had finally given him the keys to paradise. He asked why I had let him do that, and I said I’d just decided that today was the day. It was getting dark by then. He looked up like a puppy and said, “Do you have to go back now?” I said the only person who would notice I was late was Jordan, and who cared about her? He laughed.

  This time when he touched me, I touched back. I’m not sure why. I’d already gotten whatever petty revenge I wanted against Jane. It was a hormonal thing by that point, I think. I was eighteen and experienced, he was eighteen and good-looking, and things took their natural course. When we were half undressed, I almost stopped pretending. There didn’t seem much point anymore, and I didn’t want him thinking he had deflowered Jane. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the truth. I kept my blouse on to hide the arm where Jane had her scars, and kept my mouth over his to keep from talking.