Authors: Teresa Hill
So Grace's arrival had been considered one of those rare times when the universe realized the error of its ways, then came back to right a major wrong. Sam and Rachel had lost one baby girl, but they'd been given another one, Grace.
A little angel, people had often said of her.
She'd had blonde curls and a naturally sunny disposition, and had been dressed up as an angel more times than she could count. At one point, when she was very little, she thought she really was an angel. She'd stand in front of a mirror and stare at her bare back, waiting for her wings to grow.
The image of her as the perfect, golden child persisted into her young adult life, and her story helped people believe life did indeed make sense. Bad things didn't happen to good people. Faith and kindness were rewarded, and good prospered over evil. She'd been lost, but she'd also been found, and Grace came to believe her life would continue that way forever.
People who'd lived in Baxter at the time of her arrival and knew the real story made a point of being extra nice and kind, offering up many prayers and good wishes for her. For a long time, she had thought that was one of the reasons life was so good for her, because a bunch of nice people had sent extra angels to watch over her.
Sometimes she'd thought all the good things in her life simply arrived at the beginning, but at times, too, she'd truly believed life would always be ridiculously easy for her. She'd felt guilty about it. It wasn't fair that other people suffered so much. Of course, she'd done her best to deserve her life, to be the perfect child, doing everything right, working hard, being helpful, being kind. And it hadn't been easy, never causing any trouble or sleepless nights, never making people mad or disappointing them, but she'd tried, and most of the time, she thought, she'd succeeded.
Sometimes, she'd thought her life had gone so smoothly because of her family, the foundation upon which she stood. They were so good, so strong, so caring. A person could get through anything with a family like hers.
And if she were totally honest with herself, at times she'd thought her life had been good simply because she was careful and smart and made good decisions, so naturally her life just worked.
God, what a fool she'd been to think anyone got a perfect life.
Wiping away tears, Grace lost sight of the rain-slicked road for a second—she would have sworn it was only a second—and when she looked up again, the whole world had turned a thick, milky white.
Fog had descended from nowhere, enveloping her car, like she'd driven into a cloud.
She screamed and tried not to hit her brakes too hard, yet hard enough, afraid both of skidding and hitting the car in front of her. And of being rear-ended, she realized a moment later as she eased her slowing car off the road and onto what she hoped was the empty shoulder.
All around her, she heard the screech of brakes, the impact of cars crunching and banging into each other. Somehow, she finally came to a stop, seemingly safe and sound.
"Oh, my God," she whispered, a quick offering of amazement and thanks, as she sat there shaking and suddenly cold.
She hadn't wanted to make this trip, had put it off as long as she could. Guilt alone forced her to go where she didn't want to be—her in-law's, as she called them, although they were actually Luc's mother and stepfather.
Were they still her in-laws now that Luc was no longer her husband? Did the fact that she and Luc hadn't separated or divorced—that he'd died—mean she had to keep them forever, had to go on mourning Luc forever with them, like a sacred duty? Because to them, he was still perfect, the beautiful, charming, most-adored son, who had seemed to be the perfect match for the perfect girl with the perfect life Grace was supposed to have.
At the moment, she did feel very lucky to be alive and unhurt.
She could hear people getting out of their cars and, a moment later, as the thickest of the fog dissipated, she could see a bit of what was around her. She got out, too, seeing a few fender-benders but finding people whole and safe, walking around, checking on each other.
A dozen cars had bumped into each other, but miraculously, no one seemed truly hurt. Cell phones came out, sending calls for help out into the world. People started flagging traffic to a stop behind the huge wreck so no one else became a part of it.
Satisfied that everyone was fine and she need do nothing to help, Grace got back into her car, desperate to avoid having to explain how much this had shaken her up. She drove about a mile down the road, then pulled over again at a rest stop.
Her husband had died not far from here.
She never wanted to see the exact spot, hadn't even seen his car afterward. By the time she'd thought to ask to see it, the insurance company had towed the car away. The first she'd known of the accident had been two hours after it happened, when her beloved father, brother and brother-in-law showed up at her doorstep. One of the cops first on the scene knew her father and had called him, thinking that kind of news would be easier coming from family.
This was the closest Grace had come to a car accident since Luc had died, and at the moment, she was shaking as hard as she had when she'd first heard the news.
And now, she had the perfect excuse not to continue on to her in-laws.
She felt guilty just thinking it. She was supposed to spend the next five days with them, deciding finally on a gravestone for Luc and some sort of memorial scholarship, in a visit that would surely feel like five months to her. But she honestly wasn't sure she could do it. Pretending was hard work. So was keeping secrets, and she was exhausted.
Grace hadn't told her in-laws the truth about her marriage. She hadn't been able to crush that image Luc's mother had of him, no matter how angry Grace was. It had hurt too much when she'd found out, and truly, she didn't want to hurt his mother any more. Losing her only child had been devastating enough.
But that locked Grace into the never-ending role of loving, grieving spouse to a seemingly perfect man, and it was proving harder than she had ever imagined to maintain that image. It was proving unbearable at the moment.
Not letting herself think about it anymore, she pulled out her phone and dialed, getting Luc's mother, Ellen.
"I'm so sorry," Grace cried, fresh tears falling before the words were even out of her mouth. She was that much of a mess. "I just can't make it this weekend."
She explained about the fog, the rain, the accident, how shaken she was. Ellen sounded terribly disappointed and offered to send her husband, Joe, to pick Grace up, so she wouldn't have to drive.
"No, really. I'm only about forty-five minutes from home, and... I'm sorry, Ellen. I haven't been sleeping well." It certainly wasn't a lie. Who slept anymore? And certainly not well. "I'm just so tired."
Again, no lie.
She was exhausted all the time. Showering, getting dressed and making it out the door to work every day seemed like major accomplishments. And now she was ashamed to be so relieved to have an excuse to not go through with spending the weekend with Ellen and Joe.
"If that's what you need to do, Grace. We couldn't bear it if anything happened to you. It would be like losing Luc all over again."
, to them she would forever be the sainted widow of their seemingly saintly son. As long as she never told them the truth, which—granted—she didn't fully know. Just enough of it to really hurt and leave her a little bit crazy.
She promised to call Ellen in a few days. Putting her phone away, she realized her family wasn't expecting her back for five days, and she just wanted to hide.
Not that she didn't love them. She did, tremendously.
But they all wanted to take care of her. They watched her, like they feared she might go off the deep end at any moment, and being watched like that was exhausting, too. Trying to convince people she was handling this was exhausting. Comforting people who were trying to comfort her was exhausting.
On top of that, she hadn't told them her husband had been cheating on her. She hadn't told anybody. She'd been too stunned at first, and then too confused, too emotional, too freaked out. She'd already lost him to a car accident. But then it turned out she'd actually lost him before that to another woman, without Grace even knowing about it. That seemed even more pathetic, more overwhelming, more exhausting. So she'd kept her secret. His secret. Their secret.
She'd wanted to ignore the whole thing at first. The man had died. Hadn't that been bad enough? Then she'd gone through her know/not know period. She'd wanted to know, but maybe she really didn't. Maybe not knowing was better. He was gone, after all. Did anything else really matter?
As time went on, she'd settled firmly into an obsession with knowing. It was her marriage, after all. A woman should know the truth about her own marriage. It seemed essential to ever being able to move on, and she wanted to move on someday. Soon, she hoped, because this place, where she was emotionally, felt awful.
The problem with the have-to-know phase was that the person she needed to ask, the one with all the answers, was gone. Which meant that knowing wasn't proving all that easy to accomplish.
Grace had searched her own house like a mad woman. The place had looked like a crime scene by the time she was done. All for nothing. She'd found nothing in the cell phone bills, home phone bills, credit card bills, his laptop, the studio where he'd worked, the pockets of his pants, his jackets, his coats. She could find nothing to indicate he'd contacted another woman in any regular, on-going way.
So he must have met her in person, come into regular contact with her.
Someone in the small town where she lived?
God, she hoped not.
Besides, she had a pretty good idea where he'd met her—the college where he'd been teaching two days a week for the six months before he'd died. Please, don't let it be some college girl, Grace thought. So distasteful and cliché.
Still, there was meeting her, and then there was meeting her. Even if he'd met the woman at the college to begin with, where was he having sex with her?
Not in the house he'd shared with Grace. It was in the middle of her hometown, tiny Baxter, Ohio. She knew all the neighbors, and they all knew her and him. No way he could sneak another woman in and out of their house. Maybe the other woman's house or apartment, but what if she was a student, living in a dorm? As a faculty member, surely he wouldn't go near a dorm.
If he'd used a hotel or motel, she should be able to find some record of payment, unless he'd paid cash all the time. Or maybe a friend at the college had lent him a place every now and then. Had a friend she knew helped him betray her that way?
Or maybe the woman hadn't been a student. Maybe it had been someone older who had an apartment or house of her own.
Grace's father and her brother-in-law, Rye, owned a company that specialized in the renovation of older homes. They almost always had a house that was empty at night while being renovated. As teenagers she and her brother had always known that and made judicious use of it. She'd had her first beer, which she'd hated, in such a place. Her first glass of wine, too, which she'd liked a little better.
She didn't think Luc would have had the nerve to use one of those places, knowing how easily he could get caught, but she'd searched the current house in progress anyway. She found nothing.
At that moment, she glanced up and realized the fog had completely dissipated. Ahead of her, through the car windshield, Grace saw a sign for the Owen's Mill exit. That was an odd coincidence.
The road to Owen's Mill led to another road, the name of which she couldn't remember, but if she turned right there and then right again, it would take her to a gravel road around a small lake.
Her family had a cabin there.
A ratty, old cabin on that quiet, out-of-the-way lake.
Years ago, her father and brother-in-law had reluctantly accepted the place in exchange for work they'd done on a man's house after he ran out of money. The cabin was a wreck, but the lot was lakefront, and they were in the construction business, after all. Fixing it up would be no problem and cost next to nothing if they recycled material and fixtures from houses they were renovating. The men in her family had relished the challenge, and probably the whole idea of having such a man-cave.