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Authors: Nicholas Sparks

Dreamland: A Novel (23 page)

BOOK: Dreamland: A Novel
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They were her shoes,
no question; she recognized the box they sat in and the tiny scuff mark on one of the toes from the first night she’d worn the shoes to dinner. Nor did she wonder how or why they were in the house.

Gary brought them.

He’d known that she and Tommie would run again; he must have known everything all along. It didn’t matter that there were cameras in the bus station; he probably hadn’t plastered her image all over wanted posters and distributed them to law enforcement around the country. He didn’t need to; he knew she would travel light, so he sewed GPS trackers into their backpacks. And wherever he’d been, maybe even their old house, he simply sat back and watched their progress on his phone or computer for the next few days. He knew she’d hitched rides in strangers’ cars, knew she’d stayed at the motel and gone to the diner, maybe even tracked her as she’d visited the house the very first time. He probably pulled it up on some sort of satellite or street map and then used his connections to identify the owner.

Removing her wig and leaving it in the bathroom, she staggered down the stairs, dizzy with her own stupidity. Beyond the windows, lightning flashed, and a boom of thunder followed. Rain began to fall, making the house vibrate as though a train were running past it, but in the grip of her thoughts, Beverly noticed none of it.

Gary had contacted the owner of the house, of course. More than likely, he’d done so on the phone even before the owner agreed to show the house to Beverly. He likely offered some bogus story about the opportunity to help the government with an investigation, perhaps even offered her money and told her what he needed her to do. Which explained why the woman hadn’t asked Beverly the ordinary questions or asked for identification or even references. It explained why the woman had been so willing to take cash.

The rest was easy. He’d sent men to check on her, driving beat-up pickup trucks to blend in. And after that? The introduction of a bit of psychological warfare: The first time the man in the truck came, he left the guns and drugs in the house. He’d been careful to remove his boots, though, which explained why there were no footprints inside. Gary knew her and had anticipated exactly how she would react; he knew she would panic if she found prints. The second time the man came, he’d trashed her room in a further attempt to keep her off-balance and terrorize her. At the same time, Gary stationed men in the fields to watch her, so they knew exactly when she intended to run.

Beverly staggered to the couch, her mind beginning to slow as the pieces continued to come together. While she’d picked up groceries or painted the kitchen, Gary had obviously gone to John Small Elementary School and made his arrangements there. He’d explained to the principal and the teacher and the bus driver that Beverly had kidnapped their son. No doubt, he
further stressed the fact that Beverly was dangerous and that both guns and drugs were suspected to be in the house; he might even have shown them photographs as proof. He would underscore his concern for Tommie’s safety. In a way that sounded both official and reasonable, he would tell them that it was best to simply rescue Tommie when he was at school, when there would be no risk of Tommie being hurt.

And now? Soon the police or sheriff would be summoned, and she’d be arrested. They were, in fact, probably on their way to the house as she sat on the couch, but the thought of spending the rest of her life in prison was nothing compared to the idea that she’d never see her son again.

Tommie is gone,
a voice chanted in her head as the blue fog overwhelmed her.
Tommie is gone.
There was no way to fix it, no way out. There was no future for her, no matter what, and as her mind grew blank and fuzzy, she was left only with emotions that were as dark as the fog, and further pieces fell into place. Tommie was gone and she would go to prison and Gary would take his anger out on his son, and her sweet young boy would eventually grow up and become a violent, dangerous man.

Outside, flashes of lightning continued to split the sky, and thunder boomed above the sound of pouring rain. The house grew dim, more oppressive, but it meant absolutely nothing. Life meant nothing, and the future was blacker than the world outside, no matter what she did. Every road she’d imagined had come to a dead end, and there was nothing but oblivion.


She realized that she’d never watch him play soccer or football or hit a home run while she clapped in the stands; she’d never see him dressed up before homecomings or proms. She’d never watch him develop a crush for the first time or bask in excitement early on Christmas morning. She’d never see him drive a
car or become a young man or graduate from high school and college, and she’d never hear his laughter again.

All those chances had turned to dust and ashes, but even crying seemed pointless. Doing anything was pointless, and for a long time she couldn’t summon the will to move. Her breath slowed while the blue fog thickened, bringing anguish and loss and unlimited sorrow, as though her soul was being inked with poison. The past was a horror show and the future promised nothing but pain, but the present was even worse, suffocating in its intensity.

Deliberately, she rose from the couch. As if in a trance, she slowly climbed the stairs, her hand and knee and finger throbbing in pain, but she deserved all of it, because she’d failed her son.

On the floor in Tommie’s room was the plastic garbage bag, the one she’d dragged around the house while searching for drugs. Beverly turned on the lamp and sat on the edge of the bed. Buried in it were the pill bottles she’d found in the bathroom, and she began digging through the sandy rodent killer, searching for what she needed.

She pulled the pill bottles out one by one and read the labels, dropping to the floor the ones she didn’t recognize. In time she found the Ambien, the vial more than half full. Dropping the bag, she left the room and went downstairs.

In the kitchen, she ignored the smell of burned chicken and the hamburger that was now spoiling. She ignored the mess and looked past the blood on the counter. Instead, she filled a glass of water from the faucet. Glancing out the window, she knew that Gary would be here soon, along with a host of law enforcement. But she didn’t care anymore about being arrested; she didn’t care about anything, for there was nothing left to care about and there was no way out.

Wandering back upstairs, she went to Tommie’s room and sat on the side of his bed. She dumped the pills from the bottle into her hand, then tossed them into her mouth, washing all of them down with water. She lay back, thinking that Tommie’s scent already seemed to have vanished completely. But it would be over soon, the sensation of finality ringing so loud that it muted everything she’d been feeling over the last few hours.

Closing her eyes, Beverly felt momentary relief.

Then she felt nothing at all.

I’d hoped Morgan and
I could linger over breakfast, but she told me that she couldn’t because of rehearsal. Instead, she kissed me, then hopped into the shower, and after she threw on her sundress, I drove her back to the Don.

A family with children was standing in the hotel lobby, and I saw Morgan’s gaze flicker to them before she gave me a chaste kiss that left me longing for more. She’d invited me to come by the pool later to hang out with her and her friends, and though I wanted her all to myself, I accepted that it was their last week together, as well.

I did a shorter run than usual, stopping to pick up breakfast tacos from a stand. I ate them in the parking lot while still sweating, my mind on Morgan. She’d been quiet on the drive to the hotel, seemingly dazed, which I appreciated because I felt the same way. It wasn’t possible to fall in love so quickly, but somehow we had, and I think she needed some time to sort through it. I also suspected she wasn’t looking forward to the discussion that would inevitably arise with her friends. If she barely
understood what had happened, then she probably assumed that her friends wouldn’t understand it, either.

As for me, I was also thinking about the fact that Morgan and I had only a few more days together, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d spend the next couple of hours coming to her senses and realize that she’d been mistaken about her feelings all along.

Sometime after we’d fallen asleep, the power had come on, so after I got back and showered, I took some time to clean up the condo. At the appointed hour, I drove to the Don and made my way to the pool deck. Morgan and her friends were already there, clad in colorful bikinis and soaking up the sun. The small table between the chairs was littered with tubes of sunscreen and a large bottle of water, along with leftover cups of green drinks. Thoughtfully, there was an empty chaise longue saved beside Morgan, topped with a couple of folded towels.

Holly was the first to see me, and she offered a quick hello; the others—even Morgan—waved nonchalantly, as though unaware that Morgan hadn’t returned to the hotel the night before. I thought about kissing Morgan but opted not to, in case it embarrassed her, and did my best to play it cool, even though the sight of Morgan in her bikini triggered tantalizing flashbacks. For a few minutes, no one said anything; for all intents and purposes, we could have been strangers who happened to be seated beside one another. Maybe I was wrong, I thought; perhaps Morgan and her friends hadn’t discussed the situation at all. Then Maria cleared her throat.

“So, Colby…how did
night go?” she asked.

As soon as she asked, they all started cackling. With the ice finally broken, I turned toward Morgan.

“Any regrets?” I said under my breath.

Morgan gave me a sunny smile. “None at all.”

Thankfully, none of them pressed
either Morgan or me about the night before, though by their avoidance of the subject, I was reasonably sure that Morgan had spilled the beans about pretty much everything. Instead, the five of us spent the day chatting and occasionally jumping into the pool to cool off. We ordered snacks from the pool bar, and afterward Morgan and I went for a walk on the beach. I held her hand, thinking how it seemed to fit perfectly in my own.

By late afternoon, everyone was ready to call it quits. Morgan announced she needed a nap, and after hauling our used towels to the bin, I slipped back into my shirt and flip-flops. By then, Morgan had already put on her cover-up.

“Would you like to have dinner later?” I asked.

“What are you thinking?”

“How about a picnic on the beach?”

She took my face in her hands and kissed me gently. “That sounds perfect.”

BOOK: Dreamland: A Novel
10.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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