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Authors: Angel's Touch

Heather Graham (10 page)

BOOK: Heather Graham
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“Want to say something about him, Rocky?” a classmate called out teasingly.

“Nope. I don’t think I want to mess with old Uri-el!” Rocky called back cheerfully. “Any more angels tonight, Miss Trent?”

Rowenna bit lightly into her lower lip. She closed the Braille reference book she had before her, shaking her head.

It was Christmas Eve.

Agony to her.

A celebration to others.

She had to let her students go.

“Just the angels on your shoulders!” she told them lightly. “Good night, Merry Christmas to all of you.”

“Merry Christmas!” came back to her in a soft chorus. The students began to file out of the student-center auditorium. Jill stepped to the podium.

“Rowenna, Rocky and I would like to invite you to come home with us for a while. Maybe even spend the night. Wake up Christmas morning with … us.”

Rowenna smiled at Jill. She shook her head. “Thank you. I have plans.”

“Really? You won’t be alone?”

“I won’t be,” Rowenna lied. “Get that lug of yours home and enjoy Christmas Eve. It’s the last one the two of you will have alone. That baby is a blessing, of course, but the little sweethearts do change your life.”

“Rowenna, really, Rocky and I have lots of time together. I wish you’d come with us.”

“I’m fine. I do have plans, and you young people need to get on home and enjoy one another.”

“But—”

“Go!” Rowenna said firmly.

“Maybe you’ll stop by tomorrow?” Rocky suggested.

“Sure,” Rowenna lied. She wasn’t going to be here tomorrow. She hoped they wouldn’t be hurt too badly by what she meant to do, but she couldn’t bear the pain any longer. She couldn’t see, but it was easy to remember the Christmas carols coming over the plane’s speakers right before the engines had failed, before she had fallen from the sky into this pit of darkness…

“Tomorrow, then!” Rocky insisted. “Can we see you out?”

She shook her head. “I have my cane, and I’m practically across the street,” she assured them.

When the last of her students had trailed out, she collected her handbag, books, and cane. She knew the way in and out of the small auditorium. From there, she just had to go across the street, around the corner, and down a few houses. She had learned a great deal in a year. Braille—that had come easily enough. Listening—that had come harder. But now, she heard little things. A car coming from a long way off. A dog barking a street away. Footsteps moving slowly behind her. Whispering.

Was she about to be attacked? Murdered for her handbag. She slowed her gait.

Come! Come slice through this life of shadow! I told Joshua that Jeremy could not go to a home, that I would be with him. That my mom would be with him while I taught my classes, that I didn’t mind sacrificing our lives for our son.

Our
lives. She had to admit, she hadn’t listened to a word Joshua had said to her. She had hated him, had been furious that he hadn’t understood her need to be near the boy at all times. She could not abandon her son to others. She had created him.

Rowenna stopped walking. She no longer heard the footsteps behind her. The only whisper was that of the soft wind. Christmas Eve in South Florida. No snow, and this year, the temperature was a balmy seventy-five degrees.

She tapped along the walkway to the pretty little house she had rented in the community of Coral Gables. She was blinded to it now, but she could still see it in her mind’s eye. Three bedrooms, kitchen, living room, family room, screened porch with a small but adequate fifteen-by-thirty-foot swimming pool. It would have been perfect for Jeremy. She had meant to make sure that he had the constant therapy of water exercises.

Her bedroom, once
their
bedroom. Joshua had lived with her here for a while. Until it had been too much. Until he had left his own teaching position. He’d sent money. She’d never cashed his checks. She hadn’t talked to him until he had come to the hospital; then she had begged him to go away, and he finally had.

It was ironic. He had buried Jeremy and her parents. She had still been unconscious, in critical condition, when they had all been laid to rest.

I want to die, she told herself.

Hundreds of murders in Dade County yearly. And no one would come for her.

Accidents. Dozens a day.

She lived on.

Christmas Eve.

Too painful to be borne.

She turned the handle of her door. She never locked it. Ironically enough, she’d never been robbed.

She entered the house, dropped her books and handbag on the small table just inside the doorway. The master bedroom lay to her far left; the other two were down the hall to the right. Living room before her; family room and kitchen behind that.

The pool. She could walk into the pool. No, she was too good a swimmer. She’d never be able to force herself to drown.

There was only one way.

She moved on into the house, only having to feel her way once in the hallway. Jeremy’s room, untouched since his death, was now on her left.

To her right was her office. Filled with memorabilia,
things
, that had once made her happy. A giant poster of the Sphinx was up against the wall. Joshua had taken her to Egypt for her twenty-first birthday. They were newly married then; college students themselves. He had saved forever, starved at lunch, to pay for their tickets and accommodations. They’d eaten fruit—beans—and kushari—a mixture of rice, beans, and pasta the entire trip. It had been absolutely worth it. Her little brass figure of the Norse god Wodin sat atop the desk, along with her wooden replica of Zeus. Besides the poster of the Sphinx, her wall was covered with prints. Cheap prints, but still beautifully matted, copies of some of her favorite art, such as
Tobias and the Angels,
fifteenth century, Botticini.
Satan Contemplates the Fall,
Gustave Doré. She couldn’t see them anymore, but could picture them in her mind. She had loved myth and religion and philosophy, had been brought up in the Catholic Church and still loved it, especially William’s church, but in her studies she had determined that so much was similar among peoples, God simply had shown himself to man in different ways. She had once believed in heaven, in angels, and in hell.

Suicides went to hell…

She didn’t know what she believed in anymore. Because if there had really been a God, he wouldn’t have hurt Jeremy the way He did; He wouldn’t have killed her parents along with her son. He wouldn’t have left her alive, blinded to everything but pain…

“Don’t worry, she isn’t going to do it yet.”

Startled by the sound of whispering, Rowenna spun around. “Who’s there?” she demanded.

Nothing. She stood still and listened.

She had learned to listen.

Still nothing. Her imagination.

She sat down behind the desk. Started to open the desk drawer.

Then…

The whispering again.

“How do you know?” A woman’s voice.

“She hasn’t had a last cigarette.”

“Maybe she doesn’t smoke.”

“A last drink then. Cup of tea. I mean, you must do a last
something
, right?”

“Maybe.”

“Who is it? Who’s there?” Rowenna called out. Again, nothing. No reply. Wonderful. On top of everything else, she was losing her mind. Because suicides went to hell.

Straight to hell. It was a sin. A terrible sin. It was a sin against God, against herself, against her fellow man. It was the most incredibly cruel thing a person could do to her loved ones…

Her loved ones were gone.

Not all of them.

She would be damned…

No. No one really believed that anymore. The world understood the pain of a suicide these days.

But did God?

She ignored her own voice, wondered if the whispering wasn’t a product of her own conscience.

She bit gently into her lower lip, then opened the top drawer. She didn’t attempt to look downward. She couldn’t see anything at all in the darkened house.

Only shadows.

And darkness.

Haunting, lonely, darkness.

She didn’t need to see. She drew out the hefty Magnum there. She was a scholar. Well read. And she’d read about suicide. Pills might just make her sick—if she could find a druggist who’d give her enough of the guaranteed-dead kind.

No. This was the way she chose.

All she had to do was put the gun in her mouth and squeeze the trigger. It would be fast—and foolproof.

Rowenna felt the cold steel. Lifted the gun. Set it into her mouth. Choked, but didn’t withdraw it. She moved her fingers against the trigger…

And froze.

To her amazement, there were…

Voices.

“I thought you said she wasn’t going to do it now?”

“Well, I’m sorry. I was wrong. Who’d have imagined she’d be in such a hurry?”

“She
is
suicidal, remember?” An angry hiss.

“But even then—” A husky, masculine whisper.

“We can’t argue! What now?” The female voice again, aggravated, anxious.

I am losing my mind! Rowenna thought. First she had lost everything she’d lived for, then her sight. Now she was definitely losing her mind as well.

Squeeze the trigger!
she commanded herself.
It’s easy, just squeeze

“No! Don’t you dare. Drop that!” she suddenly heard. No longer a whisper. Words. Shouted. Angry, threatening.

The gun was slapped from her. Her finger caught in the trigger.

She heard the explosion…

Then dimly…

So dimly…

Words, again.

Curses!

“Oh, dammit to hell! Now I’ve gone and done it!”

“Don, your language!”

“What difference does it make now? I think I’ve managed to kill her myself!”

Chapter 8

S
ISTER MARY CLAIRE COULD
feel Death.

It was coming.

And she was terrified.

Horrified. All of her life, she had felt her calling. Had known that she was meant to endure mosquito bites, bee stings, cold nights, hot days, and long, endless hours. She had taken her greatest pleasure in helping little children lost in the world, and it hadn’t mattered where. She had enjoyed the time she had taken to raise her own nephew because she had always believed she had time. Time to be with children. Who were young. Who were life. She had always believed…

Even when the cancer had come. Even when she had been in pain. Pain was a part of life. She had believed in her Heavenly Father, and she had known that everything would be all right. She had been cheerful through every moment of her illness.

Until now.

Now there was no pain. Now there was morphine. Father William was at her side. He had given her the last rites, and she had managed to listen, but she had wanted to scream, wanted to shout out that it was all a hoax, that words didn’t matter, that the Church didn’t matter. She was Sister Mary Claire. She was supposed to be so good—a candidate for sainthood, just about. Her endless, never-questioning faith inspired those around her. Her patience, fortitude, and good cheer …

It was a lie.

That was what was so horrible! It was as if her whole life had been a lie, a pretense. She had thought she had believed—when there had been nothing. All of her life she had said that she believed.

But she hadn’t been dying then.

And now …

Now she was.

And she didn’t believe.

It had all been a lie. Her whole life. Like millions of others out there, she had just been paying lip service to a fantasy.

Once, there had been life and magic.

Now, there was just death.

She was in her room at the home. Father William—that little puppy, too young to have learned much about the way of the world!—was at her side. It was a spacious enough room. She lived in a wonderfully generous community, and thought, by the very nature of their lives, retired religious did not need much in the way of material luxuries, her surroundings were pleasant. A beautiful painting of Christ beamed down at her. Christ with blond hair and blue eyes, very Anglo, though even now, Mary Claire was convinced that Christ, when he had come to earth, born to Mary, must have been very dark, and in that darkness, far more beautiful—with deep, soulful eyes—than he had ever been portrayed by gentile artists.

Well, she was about to find out. Find out if he was the Son of Man, God’s gift to the world. Find out if there was a God, if there was a heaven, an afterlife, a power…

Panic seized her. How had she failed to believe? How strange death could be! She lay here now, with no strength in her arms. She could see, but could scarcely move her head. Oh, yes, she could see! The painting of Christ, the intravenous bottle that dripped morphine into her bloodstream—oh, why wouldn’t that damned morphine kick in, knock her out cold, let her escape this agony of fear? She wanted to ask for more; she couldn’t quite manage to do so. She wanted death to come quickly at one second, fought it the next. Each minute, each second, was agony.

So slow…

She looked across the room to where Father William sat, so dear a man, so deeply engrossed in prayer. He prayed for her so studiously, so intently. Poor man, poor foolish man! He prayed for a woman who had suddenly lost all faith, all belief…

Because though she had changed, she hadn’t changed. She could see her own image in the silver-plated water pitcher at her side, a gift from her nephew when she had come here. She was crinkled, wrinkled, and old.

But not inside! Inside, she was young. No wrinkles marred her face. She was the energetic little woman with the beautiful smile and dazzling eyes who had galvanized summer corps of CCD students into work forces in the worst jungles of Mexico and South America. She had fought the sin of vanity once she had actually taken her vows, because even into her later forties and fifties, she had been a handsome woman. But it wasn’t her beauty she remembered now; it was her energy. It remained in her soul. She wondered fervently why God—if He did exist—had allowed people to age so pathetically on the outside, while they never seemed to realize it inside, never saw themselves in the mind’s eye as the pathetic, dried-up, and worthless beings they had become?

BOOK: Heather Graham
4.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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