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Authors: Nicholas Sparks

Dreamland: A Novel (20 page)

BOOK: Dreamland: A Novel
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She turned to face me, leaning in. I wrapped both arms around her.

“Of course it is.”

On my playlist, another song began. Morgan put her arms
around my neck and I held her close, thinking how naturally her body seemed to fit with mine. Unconsciously, I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, our bodies swaying in time.

“I remember you singing this song,” she murmured, “the first night I heard you play. I was spellbound.”

Outside, the wind continued to howl, and the rain continued to blow. The candles bathed the room in a golden glow. I caught the scent of Morgan’s perfume, something musky and alluring.

Morgan pressed into me, and when she lifted her gaze to meet mine, I traced the outline of her cheekbone with a finger. Our faces drew closer, our breathing slightly ragged but in nearly perfect harmony.

I kissed her then, hungry and nervous, and when our tongues came together, I felt a jolt run through me, electrifying every nerve. One of her hands trailed down my back and around my side, her touch so light it almost seemed as though it wasn’t happening. Her fingers eventually found the bottom of my shirt, and after a quick tug on it, her fingernails skimmed across my skin, the sensation making it almost impossible to breathe. Slowly, she traced the muscles of my abdomen and chest, even as her tongue continued to flicker against my own. Her breaths became shallow; her eyes were half closed, and I could only stare, in thrall to her sensuality. One by one she undid the buttons of my shirt, until it fell open. Pulling the shirt over my shoulders, she locked my arms in place, holding them there for a moment, as though teasing me, before finally allowing my shirt to fall free to the floor. She leaned in and kissed my chest, her mouth trailing upward to my neck. Her heated breath on my skin set my body to trembling, and I reached for the strap on her dress. She bit my neck softly before raising her mouth to mine again. I slid one strap down, followed by the other, then reached for the hem of her dress. Lifting the hem with my finger, I traced the inside of
her thigh. I heard her gasp and felt her hand grip the back of my head. She began kissing me with even more passion then, and I found myself slipping away to the place I suddenly knew I was always meant to go. Slowly lowering the top of her dress, I slid it down her body and separated from her then, reveling in her beauty. When the dress hit the floor, I cupped my hands around her small waist, helping her step out of it, knowing I wanted her more than I’d ever wanted anything. Without another word, I picked up a single candle and led her to the bedroom.

Afterward, we lay beside
each other without speaking for a long time, her body warm against my own, until finally she rolled to her side and we fell asleep spooning in the tangle of sheets.

Waking in the gray twilight of dawn, I kissed her tenderly, unable to hold the words inside any longer.

“I love you, Morgan,” I murmured into her ear.

Morgan merely smiled before opening her eyes and staring into my own.

“Oh, Colby,” she said, reaching up to touch my mouth. “I love you, too.”

The man in the truck
had returned.

She tried to slow her breathing as she ducked behind the barn. What would have happened had he arrived ten minutes earlier, while she was in the house? Would he have seen her through the windows? Would he have opened her door? And what if she’d actually entered the barn and been discovered in the place she shouldn’t have been?

The burst of adrenaline made her stomach flip. She leaned against the plank siding and closed her eyes, thanking God she hadn’t been that stupid, that she’d decided to avoid the barn before it was too late.

I need to calm down so I can think,
she told herself, closing her eyes. She hoped he hadn’t seen her, hoped he would believe she wasn’t home, so he would leave like he had the last time. She hoped he would leave before the school bus arrived….

Oh God…


Peering around the corner again, she saw the man standing on
the porch, looking first one way and then the other. A moment later, he descended the steps and started toward the barn. Beverly flattened herself against the planking, staying perfectly still. She fought the urge to watch his approach.

She heard the barn doors squeak open. In her mind’s eye, she imagined him scanning the interior, making sure that nothing had been disturbed. She wondered if he’d done the same thing the day before, when she and Tommie were down at the creek, or whether he was in communication with the farmworkers, monitoring her routines.


Please let the bus be late today.
She clenched her fists, waiting, until she heard the barn door squeak again, followed by the sound of it banging shut. She remained in place, hoping he wouldn’t circle the barn, wondering what he would do if he found her. She considered making a dash for the creek, but just as she psyched herself up to do so, she heard the truck door slam, followed by the engine cranking to life. Finally, she heard the crunch of the gravel as the truck backed out and vanished down the road.

Beverly stood there for what felt like eons, her breaths eventually beginning to slow, before gathering the courage to peek around the barn again. The truck was gone, and as far as she could tell, no one was lying in wait. There was no movement, but she lingered, just to be sure, and then she started running toward the house. She burst through the door, leaving it open, then tore up the stairs.

In Tommie’s room, the guns were right where she’d left them. It wasn’t possible to carry both the guns and the boxes of ammunition in just her hands, so, thinking quickly, she reached for Tommie’s pillow. Removing the pillowcase, she shoved the boxes of ammunition inside, then carefully lifted both guns from the
floor by their stocks, keeping the barrels pointed toward the ground as she scooped up the pillowcase.

Now wasn’t the time to rush, even if the bus was right out front. She left the room, walking slowly. She gingerly descended the steps, thankful that she hadn’t bothered to shut the front door on her way in. Careful not to stumble, she backtracked to the creek, to the hole that she’d already dug.

She put one gun in, then the other, then dumped the ammunition from the pillowcase. Using her hands to speed things up, she refilled the hole. Once that was done, she patted it down, then stomped on it, but there was only so much she could do. It would be obvious to anyone who came this way that something had been buried, but she realized she didn’t care.

She was going to get the hell out of here before anyone found out.

Back inside, Beverly scrubbed
her hands at the sink until her skin felt raw, but the soil had left a brownish tint on her palms, like wood stain. Eyeing the chaos on the main floor, she figured she’d have to clean it all before they escaped, not because she cared about the owner but because the man in the truck could come back, and an orderly house might make it appear that they were still living there, which would buy them some time….

And for now? She’d have to thaw and cook the hamburger and chicken and rice, and she’d have to soak the beans and cook them, too, but without a cooler she doubted the food would last more than a day on the road. After that, it would be sandwiches and apples and carrot slices for God knew how long. She had to pack clothes, too, before sneaking away at night. No one would see them, but that also meant there might be no one to give them a ride, and the realization of all she had to do made something collapse inside, fear giving way to another flood of tears.

How was it possible for something like this to happen? To leave
one dangerous situation only to end up in another equally dangerous situation? If she lived a hundred lifetimes—a thousand—the odds were almost inconceivable.

She couldn’t understand it and recognized that she didn’t have the energy to try. Instead, swiping at her tears, she took a deep breath and left the house, descending the porch steps and heading toward the road. She took a seat on the stump, adrenaline fading fast. How long had it been since she slept more than a few hours at a stretch? Too long, that much was certain, and now she was paying the price. With every exhale, like a deflating balloon, the frantic energy of moments earlier was replaced by a blanket of almost overwhelming exhaustion. In the silence, her limbs seemed to be falling asleep, and though she tried to concentrate on the weed and the guns and the secrets in the barn and the man in the truck, she felt strangely disconnected from those things, as though she were watching herself from a distance. From somewhere deep inside, she understood that she had to leave, but the urgency had become a receding tide. It was flowing out and away from her, growing ever-more distant while the rest of world blurred at the edges. She could feel herself beginning to sway as she tried to stay balanced, her body already rebelling. She needed to rest, to sleep. More than anything, she wanted to close her eyes and drift away, if only for a few minutes. What would be the harm? Even if the man in the truck suddenly reappeared, she didn’t have the energy to hide….

“No,” she said aloud. Knowing she needed to focus, she forced herself to stand. She tried to summon the fear she’d just experienced, but it remained dull and listless, a phantom more than reality.

“Stay awake,” she told herself, shaking her head.

She began to pace then, back and forth, like a tiger in a cage at the zoo. Within minutes she heard the bus, a low growl in the
distance. The image started as a shimmery liquid mirage, gradually solidifying as it drew near. The brakes squeaked, and then the bus slowed and came to a halt. There was a soft hiss when the doors swung open.

Through the windows, she saw Tommie seated near the rear of the bus and watched as he rose and made his way forward with his backpack slung over his shoulder. Her love for him provided a single moment of clarity, like the sun’s rays passing through a cloud. All at once, she felt like herself again, and just before her son jumped down to the road, he turned and waved to someone behind him. Despite her exhaustion, Beverly broke into a wide smile.

He finally made a friend,
she thought. When he was close, she reached for his backpack, and they started toward the house. He was home and he was safe and he’d made a friend, but with every step, the clarity faded. She wanted to ask how school was, wanted to ask who he’d been talking to just then, but the words wouldn’t seem to come. She reminded herself that they should leave before the man in the truck returned, reminded herself that they had to escape before it was too late, but the fear associated with it had fogged over again like breath on a mirror. She fought to keep her eyes open. Tommie kicked at a small rock on the path, sending it skittering.

“Are you going to come to the school tomorrow?”

The sound of his voice startled her, and it was difficult to process what he’d asked. Finally: “Why would I come to the school?”

“It’s field day, remember? Amelia said it’s really fun and some of the moms bring cupcakes and cookies. You could come, too.”

She couldn’t place the name and wondered where she’d heard it.

“We’ll see,” she said, hearing the words emerge as a mumble. When she opened the door, Tommie came to a stop, taking in
the utter disarray. She should have warned him, but it felt like too much effort.

“It’s nothing.”

She shuffled to the kitchen and grabbed an apple, then led Tommie to the living room. Using the last of her energy, she plugged in the television and reattached the cable, watching as the screen blinked before cartoons came on. It was
something she used to watch as a child, and Tommie settled on the floor, already transfixed. She vaguely heard him take his first bite as she lay on the couch, her eyes already beginning to close. Absently, she used her foot to push a stack of DVDs to the floor, so she could stretch out further. They hit the rug with a plastic clatter. On the television, Scooby and the gang were being chased in a supposedly haunted amusement park. Even as her mind slowly shut down, she realized she had seen this episode.

“Mommy’s really tired, so I’m going to take a quick nap, okay?”

There was so much to do before she left, she thought again, but in the next instant, she felt as though she were falling, and that was the very last thing she remembered before everything shut down and she was fast asleep.

BOOK: Dreamland: A Novel
5.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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