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23.12.2018

The surgical floor smelled of antiseptic and fresh paint. With the staff halved for the holiday, the halls were almost empty. Someone had covered a mincemeat pie in Saran Wrap and left it at the nurse's station. It looked cheerful and miserably out of place. Tess stopped there as the nurse on duty filled out a report.

"I'm Dr. Teresa Court. Joseph Higgins, Jr., was admitted a short time ago."

"Yes, Doctor. He's in surgery."

"What's his condition?"

"Massive trauma, hemorrhaging. He was comatose when they took him up. Dr. Bitterman's operating."

Joeys parents?

"Down the end of the hall and to the left, in the waiting area, Doctor."

"Thank you." Steeling herself, Tess turned to Ben. "I don't know how long this might take, and it won't be pleasant. I'm sure I can arrange for you to wait in the doctor's lounge. You'd be more comfortable."

"I'll go with you."

"All right." Unbuttoning her coat as she went, Tess started down the hall. Their footsteps sounded like gunfire in the tiled silence of the corridor. As she approached the door to the waiting area, she heard the muffled sobs.

Lois Monroe was huddled close against her husband. Though it was overwarm in the room, neither of them had taken off their coats. She cried quietly, with her eyes open and unfocused. A Thanksgiving special danced soundlessly from the television mounted high on the wall. Tess motioned for Ben to stay back.

"Mr. Monroe."

At the sound of her voice his eyes shifted from the wall to the door. For a moment he stared at her as if he didn't know who she was, then a seizure of pain ran through him, reflecting briefly, poignantly, in his eyes. She could almost hear the thoughts.

I didn't believe you. I didn't understand. I didn't know.

Responding to that even more than to the weeping, Tess went to them to sit beside Lois Monroe.

"She went up to see if he wanted some more pie," Monroe began. "He-he was gone. There was a note."

Because she understood need, Tess reached out and held his free hand. He gripped it tight, swallowed, then went on.

"It said he was sorry. That he-he wished he could be different. It said everything would be better now, and that he was going to come back in another life. Someone saw him…" Monroe's fingers viced on hers while he closed his eyes and fought for control. "Someone saw him jump and called the police. They came-they came to the house just after we realized he was gone. I didn't know what to do, so I called you."

"Joey's going to be just fine." With her hands kneading together, Lois shifted farther away from Tess. "I've always taken care of him. He's going to be fine, then we're going to go home together." Maintaining the distance, she turned her head enough to look at Tess. "I told you he didn't need you anymore. Joey doesn't need you or any clinic or more treatment. He just needs to be left alone for a little while. He's going to be fine. He knows I love him."

"Yes, he knows you love him," Tess murmured as she took Lois's hand. The pulse was rapid and thready. "Joey knows how hard you've tried to make things good for him."

"I have. Everything I've done has been to try to protect him, to try to make things better. All I've ever wanted was for Joey to be happy."

"I know that."

"Then why? You tell me why this happened." Tears dried up. Her voice went from wavery to venomous. Lois struggled away from her husband to grab Tess by the shoulders. "You were supposed to heal, you were supposed to make him well. You tell me why my boy's bleeding on that table. You tell me why."

"Lois, Lois, don't." Already grieving, Monroe tried to gather her close, but she sprang up, dragging Tess with her. Instinctively Ben started forward, but was stopped by a furious shake of Tess's head.

"I want an answer. Damn you, I want you to give me an answer!"

Rather than block the fury, Tess accepted it. "He was hurting, Mrs. Monroe. And the hurt was deep, deeper than I could reach."

"I did everything I could." Though her voice was quiet, almost level, Lois's fingers dug deep into Tess's flesh. Bruises would show the next day. "I did everything. He wasn't drinking," she said with a hitch in her voice. "He hadn't had a drink in months."

"No, he wasn't drinking. You should sit down, Lois." Tess tried to ease her back on the sofa.

"I don't want to sit." Fury that was fear spewed out until each word was like a bullet. "I want my son. I want my boy. All you did was talk and talk, week after week just talk. Why didn't you do something? You were supposed to make him better, make him happy. Why didn't you?"

"I couldn't." In a wave, the grief washed over her. "I couldn't."

"Lois, sit down." Strengthened by her need, Monroe took her by the shoulders and brought her to the sofa. As his arm went around her again, he looked at Tess. "You told us this could happen. We didn't believe you. We didn't want to. If it's not too late, we can try again. We can-"

Then the door swung open, and they all knew it was too late.

Dr. Bitterman still wore his surgical scrubs. He'd pulled down his mask so that it hung by its strings. The sweat on it hadn't dried. Though his time in the operating room had been relatively brief, there were lines of strain and fatigue around his eyes and mouth. Before he spoke, before he moved over to the Monroes, Tess knew they had both lost a patient.

"Mrs. Monroe, I'm sorry. There was nothing we could do."

"Joey?" She looked blankly from the doctor to her husband. One hand was already clawing at Monroe's shoulder.

"Joey's gone, Mrs. Monroe." Because the hour he'd spent trying to sew the boy back together had left him sick and defeated, Bitter man sat beside her. "He never regained consciousness. He had a massive head injury. There was nothing that could be done."

"Joey? Joey's dead?" I'm sorry.

The sobbing started, harsh, guttural sounds that poured out of her into the room. She cried with her mouth open, her head back, in an agony of grief that twisted Tess's stomach. No one could truly understand the measure of joy a mother received from giving birth to a child. No one could truly understand the devastation a mother experienced upon losing one.

An error in judgment, a desire to keep her family whole with her own strength, had cost her her son. There was nothing Tess could do for her now. There was no longer anything she could do for Joey. With her own grief clogging her lungs, she turned and walked from the room.

"Tess." Ben caught her arm as she started down the hall. "You aren't staying?"

"No." Her voice was strong and icy as she continued to walk. "Seeing me now only makes it more painful for her, if possible." She pushed the button for the elevator then jammed her hands into her pockets, where they curled and uncurled.

"That's it?" Dull and centered in his gut, the anger began to spread. "You just cross it off?"

"There's nothing more I can do here." She stepped into the elevator, fighting to breathe calmly.

It was snowing hard on the way home. Tess didn't speak. Tast-ing bitterness in his own throat, Ben remained as coldly silent as she. Though the car heater poured out warmth, she had to struggle not to shiver. Failure, grief, and anger were so twined together that it made one hard knot of emotion that wedged in her throat; she could taste it. Control was often hard won, but never so vital as it seemed to her at that moment.

By the time they stepped into her apartment, the pressure in her chest was so strong she had to consciously school every breath. "I'm sorry you got dragged into this," she said carefully. She needed to get away, away from him, from everyone until she'd pulled herself back together. The throbbing in her head was building to a roar. "I know it was difficult."

"You seem to be handling it just fine." After yanking off his jacket, he tossed it into a chair. "You don't have to apologize to me. I'm in the business, remember?"

"Yes, of course. Listen." She had to swallow the bubbling heat in her throat. "I'm going to have a bath."

"Sure, go ahead." He walked to the liquor cabinet and reached for the vodka he'd stored. "I'm going to have a drink."

She didn't bother to go into the bedroom to change. When the door was closed quietly behind her, Ben heard the sound of water rushing against porcelain.

He hadn't even known the kid, Ben told himself as he splashed vodka into a glass. There was no reason for him to feel this ugly squeeze of resentment. It was one thing to feel sorrow, pity, even anger at the useless loss of a life, a young life, but there was no reason for this helpless, shaking rage.

She'd been so detached. So goddamned untouched.

Just like Josh's doctor.

The bitterness lodged deep for years swirled into his throat. Ben lifted the vodka to wash the taste away, then slammed it, untouched, onto the cabinet. Not sure what he was going to do, he went down the hall and pushed the bathroom door open.

She wasn't in the tub.

Like thunder, the water hit the porcelain full force, then whirled down the drain she hadn't bothered to close. Steam was rising, already sweating on the mirror. Fully dressed, using the sink for support, Tess wept violently into her hands.

For a moment Ben stood silently in the open doorway, too stunned to go in, too shocked to close the door and leave her the privacy she'd sought.

He'd never seen her as the helpless victim of her own emotions. In bed there were times she seemed utterly guided by her own passion. Occasionally he'd seen her temper flare, teetering briefly on full blossoming. Then she snapped it back, always. Now it was grief, and the grief was total.

She hadn't heard him open the door. Slowly, her body rocked back and forth in a rhythm of mourning. Self-comfort. Ben's throat tightened, driving back the bitterness. He started to touch her, then hesitated. It was harder, he discovered, unbelievably harder to comfort someone who really mattered.

"Tess." When he did touch her, she jolted. When his arms went around her, she went board stiff. He could feel her fighting to block off the tears, and him. "Come on, you should sit down."

"No." Humiliation washed through her already weakened system. She'd been caught in her lowest and most private moment, stripped naked, without the strength to cover herself. She wanted only solitude, and the time to rebuild. "Please just leave me alone for a while."

It hurt-her resistance, her rejection of the comfort he needed to give. It hurt enough that he started to draw away. Then he felt the shudder pass through her, a shudder more poignant, more pitiful than even the tears. In silence he moved over and shut off the tap.

She'd uncovered her face to wrap her fingers around the lip of the sink. Her back was ramrod straight, as if she were braced to ward off a blow or a helping hand. Drenched, her eyes met his. Her skin was already streaked and reddened from tears. He didn't say a word, didn't think of the angles as he lifted her into his arms and carried her from the room.

He expected a struggle, some fierce and furious words. Instead her body went limp as she turned her face into his throat and let herself cry.

"He was just a child."

Ben sat on the edge of the bed and gathered her closer. The tears were hot on his skin, as if they had burned behind her eyes for too long. "I know."

"I couldn't reach him. I should have been able to. All the education, all the training, the self-analysis, the books and lectures, and I couldn't reach him."

"You tried."

"That's not good enough." The anger sprang out, full-blown and vicious, but it didn't surprise him. He'd been waiting for it, hoping for it. "I'm supposed to heal. I'm supposed to help, not just talk of helping. I didn't just fail to complete his treatment, I failed to keep him alive."

"Are psychiatrists required to have godlike egos?"

Like a slap in the face, his words jarred her away from him. In an instant she was on her feet. The tears were still drying on her face, her body still trembling, but she didn't look as though she would collapse. "How dare you say that to me? A young boy is dead. He'll never have a chance to drive a car, to fall in love, to start a family. He's dead, and the fact that I'm responsible hasn't anything to do with ego."

"Doesn't it?" Ben rose as well, and before she could turn away, took her shoulders. "You're supposed to be perfect, always in control, always having the answers, the solutions? This time you didn't have them and you weren't quite indestructible. You tell me, could you have stopped him from going to that bridge?"

"I should've been able to." The sob was dry and shaky as she pressed the heel of her hand between her brows. "No. No, I couldn't give him enough."

With his arm around her again, he drew her back to the bed. For the first time in their relationship he felt needed, leaned on. In the normal course of events it would have been his cue to make for the door. Instead he sat with her, taking her hand as her head rested on his shoulder. Complete. It was odd and a little frightening to feel complete.

"Tess, this is the boy you told me about before, isn't it?"

She remembered the night of her dream, the night she'd woken to find Ben warm, and willing to listen. "Yes. I've been worried about what he might do for weeks."

"And you told his parents?"

"Yes, I told them, but-"

"They didn't want to hear it."

"It shouldn't have made any difference. I should have been able to-" She broke off when he turned her face to his. "No," she said on a long breath, "they didn't want to hear it. His mother pulled him out of therapy."

"And cut the strings."

"It might have pushed him a bit farther inward, but I don't think it was the final factor that drove him to suicide." The grief was still there, cold and hard in her stomach, but her mind was clearing enough for her to see past her own involvement. "I think something else happened tonight."

"And you think you know what it was?"

"Maybe." She rose again, unable to sit. "I've been trying to contact Joey's father for weeks. His phones disconnected. I even went by his apartment a few days ago, but he'd moved without leaving a forwarding address. He was supposed to spend this weekend with Joey." Tess rubbed tears from her cheeks with the backs of her hands. "Joey had been counting on it, too heavily. When his father didn't come for him, it was another brick on his back. Maybe the last one he could carry. He was a beautiful boy, a young man really." Fresh tears started, but this time the grief loosened and came clean. "He'd had such a tough time, and yet there was this warmth just under the surface, this great need to be loved. He just didn't believe he deserved to have anyone really care about him."

"And you cared."

"Yes. Maybe too much."

It was strange, but the small, hard ball of resentment coated with a thin layer of bitterness that he'd carried in his gut since his brother's death began to break apart. He looked at her-the aloof, the objective psychiatrist, the poker and prodder of minds-and saw the real and human scars of grief, not just for the patient, but for the boy.

"Tess, what his mother said back at the hospital…"

"It doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does. She was wrong."

Tess turned away, and in the dim light from the hallway saw her own reflection in the mirror above her dresser. "Only partly. You see, I'll never know that if I'd pushed in a different direction, tried another angle, whether it would have made a difference."

"She was wrong," Ben repeated. "A few years ago I said some of those same things. Maybe I was wrong too."

In the glass her gaze shifted and met his. He was still sitting on the bed, in the shadows. He looked alone. It was strange, because she had considered him a man constantly surrounded by friends, good feelings, his own self-confidence. She turned, but not certain he wanted her to reach out, remained where she was.

"I've never told you about Josh, my brother."

"No. You've never told me much about your family. I didn't know you had a brother."

"He was almost four years older than me." It didn't take the use of the past tense to tell her Josh was dead. She'd known it as soon as Ben had said the name. "He was one of those people who have gold on the ends of their fingers. No matter what he did, he did it better than anyone else. When we were kids we had this set of Tinker Toys. I'd built a little car, Josh would build a sixteen-wheeler. In school I'd maybe pull a B if I studied until my eyes dropped out. Josh would ace a test without opening a book. He just absorbed. My mother used to say he was blessed. She kept hoping he'd be a priest, because once he was ordained, he'd probably be able to perform miracles."

It wasn't said with the resentment many siblings might have felt, but with a trace of humor, and more than a little admiration.

"You must have loved him very much."

"Sometimes I hated him." It was said with a shrug, from a man who understood that hate was often the heat that tempered real love. "But mostly yes, I thought he was terrific. He never bullied me, not that he couldn't have. He was a hell of a lot bigger, but he just didn't have that kind of temperament. Not that he was holy or anything. He was good, just basically, deep down good.

"We shared a room when we were growing up. Once Mom found my stash of Playboys. She was prepared to whale the lust as well as the tar out of me. Josh told her they were his, that he was doing a report on pornography and its sociological effects on teenagers."

Unable to resist, Tess laughed. "And she bought it?"

"Yeah, she bought it." Even now, remembering made him grin. "Josh never lied to cover his own ass, only when he thought it was the best thing to do. In high school he was quarterback on the football team. The girls all but threw themselves on the ground in front of him. He was healthy enough to get some pleasure out of that, but he fell hard for one girl. It was like him to focus in on one instead of, well, picking the tree dry. Still, she was the one big mistake I ever thought he made. She was gorgeous, smart, and from one of the better families. She was also shallow. But he was crazy in love, and in his senior year he took his savings and bought her a diamond. Not just a little chip, but a real rock. She used to go around flashing it to make the other girls drool.

"They fought about something. He never would say what it was, but it was a real fallout. Josh had an academic scholarship to Notre Dame, but the day after graduation he enlisted in the Army. Kids were protesting 'Nam, smoking pot, and wearing peace signs, but Josh decided to give his country a few years of his time."

For the first time since he'd begun, Ben reached for and lit a cigarette. The tip glowed red in the shadowed light that fell over him. "My mother cried buckets, but my father was bust-button proud. His son wasn't a draft dodger or a pot-headed college student, but a real American. My fathers a simple man, that's the way he thought. For myself, I leaned more toward the left. I'd be starting high school myself in the fall, so I figured I already knew about everything I needed to know. I spent an all-night session with Josh trying to talk him out of it. Of course, the papers were signed and it was too late, but I figured there must be a way out. I told him he was stupid to toss three years of his life away because of a girl. The trouble was, it had gone beyond that. As soon as Josh had enlisted, he'd decided he was going to be the best soldier in the United States Army. They'd already talked to him about Officer's Training. The way Johnson was escalating things over there, we needed smart, capable officers leading the troops. That's how Josh saw himself."

She heard it then, the splinter of pain that worked its way into his voice. Leaving the light for the shadows, Tess went to him. He hadn't realized he'd needed it, but when her hand touched his, Ben held on.

"So he went." He drew deep on his cigarette and let smoke out with a sigh. "He got on the bus, young, I guess you could say beautiful, idealistic, confident. From his letters it seemed he was thriving in Basic. It was the discipline, the challenge, the camaraderie. He made friends easily, and it wasn't any different there. He got his orders for 'Nam less than a year later. I was in high school bluffing my way through Algebra and finding out how many cheerleaders I could rack up. Josh shipped out a Second Lieutenant."

He lapsed into silence. Tess sat beside him, his hand in hers, waiting for him to go on.

"My mother went to church every day he was over there. She used to go in and light a candle then pray to the Blessed Virgin to intercede to her Son for Josh's safety. Every time she got a letter, she'd read it until she knew every word. But it didn't take long for the letters to change. They got shorter, the tone was different. He stopped mentioning his friends. We didn't know until later that two of his best buddies had been splattered all over the jungle. We didn't know that until he'd come back and started having nightmares. He didn't get killed over there. My mother must have lit enough candles for that, but he died. The part of him that made him what he was died. I need a drink."

Before he could rise, Tess put a hand to his arm. "I'll get it." She left him, and wanting to give him the time he needed, poured two warming brandies. When she went back in, he'd lit another cigarette, but hadn't moved.

"Thanks." He drank, and found that while the brandy didn't fill the hole grief had left, it no longer had to bypass that ball of bitterness. "Nobody was giving hero's welcomes back then. The war had turned sour. Josh came back with medals, commendations, and a time bomb in his head. It seemed okay for a while. He was quiet, withdrawn, but we figured nobody could come through that without some change. He moved back into the house, got a job. He didn't want to talk about going back to school. We all figured, well, he just needs some time.

"It took almost a year before the nightmares started. He'd wake up screaming and sweating. He lost his job. He told us he'd quit, but Dad found out he'd picked a fight and gotten himself fired. It took about another year before things really deteriorated. He couldn't keep a job for more than a few weeks. He started coming home drunk, or not coming home at all. The nightmares got violent. One night I tried to bring him out of one and he knocked me across the room. He started shouting about ambush and snipers. When I stood up and tried to calm him down, he came at me. When my father came in, Josh was strangling me."

"Oh, God, Ben."

"Dad managed to bring him out, and when he realized what he'd done, what he'd almost done, Josh just sat down on the floor and cried. I've never seen anyone cry like that. He couldn't stop. We took him to the V.A. They assigned him a psychiatrist."

The ash on his cigarette had grown long. Crushing it out, Ben went back to the brandy. "I was in college by then, so I'd drive him sometimes when I had a light afternoon schedule. I hated that office; it always made me think of a tomb. Josh would go in. Sometimes you could hear him crying. Other times you couldn't hear anything at all. Fifty minutes later he'd come out. I kept waiting for him to walk out that door one day and be the way I remembered."

"Sometimes it's as hard, even harder on the family, than it is on the one who's ill," Tess said, keeping her hand near his, letting him take or reject the contact. "You feel helpless when you want so badly to help… confused when you need so badly to think clearly."

"My mother broke down one day. It was a Sunday. She'd been fixing a pot roast. All of a sudden she just dumped it all in the sink.

If it was cancer, she said, they'd find a way to cut it out of him. Can't they see what's inside him is eating him up? Why don't they find a way to cut it out of him?"

He stared down into his brandy, the image of his mother standing over the sink, sobbing, as clear as if it had happened yesterday.

"For a while he really seemed to get better. Because he was under psychiatric care and his job record was shaky, it was hard for him to find work. Our pastor applied a little pressure, some good old-fashioned Catholic guilt, and got him a job at a local gas station as a mechanic. He'd had a scholarship to Notre Dame five years before, and now he was changing spark plugs. Still, it was something. The nightmares slowed down. None of us knew he was eating barbituates to keep them that way. Then it was heroin. That got by us too. Maybe if I'd been home more, but I was in college, and for the first time in my life serious about making it work. My parents were totally naive about drugs. It got by the doctor too. He was a major, regular Army, had done a tour of Korea and 'Nam, but he didn't see that Josh was pumping himself full of smack to get through the night."

Ben dragged a hand through his hair before he finished off the brandy. "I don't know, maybe the guy was overworked, or maybe he burned out. Anyway, the upshot was, after two years of therapy, after thousands of candles and prayers to the Blessed Virgin, Josh went up to his room, put on his combat fatigues and his medals, and instead of picking up his syringe, loaded his service revolver and ended it."

"Ben, saying I'm sorry isn't enough, isn't nearly enough, but there's nothing else I can say."

"He was only twenty-four."

And you'd have been only twenty, she thought, but rather than say it, put her arm around him.

"I thought about blaming the whole U.S. Army-better yet, the entire military system. I figured it made more sense to focus on the doctor who was supposed to be helping him. I remember sitting there when the police were upstairs, in the room I'd shared with Josh, and thinking that the bastard was supposed to do something.

He was supposed to make him better. I even thought about killing him for a while, then the priest came and distracted me. He wouldn't give Josh last rites."

"I don't understand."

"It wasn't our pastor, but this young, straight-out-of-the-seminary rookie who turned green at the thought of going upstairs to Josh. He said Josh had willingly and knowingly taken his life, dying in mortal sin. He wouldn't give him absolution."

"That's wrong. Worse, it's cruel."

"I threw him out. My mother stood there, tight-lipped, dry-eyed, then she went up to the room where her son's brains were splattered on the wall and she prayed for his absolution herself."

"Your mother's strong. She must have tremendous faith."

"All she'd ever done was cook." He drew Tess closer, needing the soft, feminine scent. "I don't know if I could have walked up those stairs a second time, but she did. When I watched her do that, I realized that no matter how much she hurt, no matter how much she'd grieve, she believed and would always believe that what happened to Josh was God's will."

"But you didn't."

"No. It had to be someone's fault. Josh had never hurt anyone in his life, not until 'Nam. Then what he'd done there was supposed to be right because he was fighting for his country. But it wasn't right, and he couldn't live with it anymore. The psychiatrist was supposed to show him that no matter what he'd done over there, he was still decent, still worthwhile."

As she had been supposed to show Joey Higgins he was worthwhile. "Did you ever talk to Josh's doctor afterward?"

"Once. I think I still had it in my head I should kill him. He sat there behind his desk, with his hands folded." Ben looked down at his own, watching them curl into fists. "He didn't feel anything. He said he was sorry, explained how extreme Delayed Stress Syndrome could be. Then he told me, while he kept his hands folded on the desk and his voice just two shades away from being involved, that Josh hadn't been able to cope with what had happened in 'Nam, that coming home and trying to live up to what he'd been before had created more and more pressure, until finally the lid had blown off."

"I'm sorry, Ben. Probably a great deal of what he told you was true, but he could have done it in a different way."

"It could have meant a damn to him."

"Ben, I'm not defending him, but a lot of doctors, medical or psychiatric, hold themselves back, don't let themselves in too close, because when you lose someone, when you aren't able to save them, it hurts too much."

"The way losing Joey hurt you."

"That kind of grief and guilt rips at you, and if it rips at you too often, there's nothing left, not for you or for the next patient."

Maybe he understood that, or was beginning to. But he couldn't see Josh's regular Army shrink closing himself in the bathroom and sobbing. "Why do you do it?"

"I guess I have to look for answers, the same way you do." Turning, she touched his face. "It does hurt when it's too little, or too late." She remembered how he'd looked when he'd told her about three strangers who'd been murdered for a handful of coins. "We're not as different as I once thought."

He turned his lips into her palm, comforted by it. "Maybe not. When I saw you tonight, I felt the same way I did when I saw you looking at Anne Reasoner in that alley. You seemed so detached from the tragedy of it, so completely in control. Just the way that major had been, with his hands folded on the desk, telling me why my brother was dead."

"Being in control isn't the same as being detached. You're a cop, you have to know the difference."

"I wanted to know you felt something." Sliding his hand down to her wrist, he held it firm while he looked into her eyes. "I guess what I really wanted was for you to need me." And that was perhaps one of the most difficult confessions of his life. "Then, when I walked into the bathroom and saw you crying, I knew you did, and it scared the hell out of me."

"I didn't want you to see me like that."

"Why?"

"Because I didn't trust you enough."

He dropped his gaze long enough to study his hand over her slender, impossibly delicate wrist. "I've never told anyone but Ed about Josh. Until now, he's the only one I've trusted enough." He brought her fingers to his lips, brushing them lightly. "So what happens now?"

"What do you want to happen?"

A laugh, even when quiet and reluctant, can be cleansing. "Psychiatrist's cop-out." Thoughtfully, he fingered the pearls around her neck. He unhooked them. Her throat was fragrant and silky. "Tess, when this is over, if I asked you to take off for a few days, a week, and go somewhere with me, would you?" Yes.

Amused, and more than a little surprised, he looked at her. "Just like that?"

"I might ask where when the time comes, so I'd know whether to pack a fur coat or a bikini." She took the pearls from him to set them on the bedside table.

"They should be in a safe."

"I'm sleeping with a cop." Her voice was light, but she saw him brooding and thought she understood where his thoughts had taken him. "Ben, it will be over soon."

"Yeah." But when he brought her close, when he began to fill himself with her, he was afraid.

It was November twenty-eighth.