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Книга Third Degree. Содержание - Chapter 2

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“Supernova!” cried Grant. “That’s what they call that, right? When a star explodes?”

“Right,” said Warren with obvious satisfaction.

“That’s so cool,” Grant said.

“It’s a boy thing,” Laurel explained to Beth. “The end of the world sounds really cool to boys.”

Despite her predicament, Laurel was tempted to give Warren a chiding glance-it’s what she would have done had things been normal-but when she looked up again, he had gone back into the study, and she could no longer see him. More thumping sounds announced that he was still searching for something. On any other day, she would have gone in and asked what he was looking for and probably even helped him. But not today.

Grant slid off his stool and opened his backpack. Now Laurel felt some satisfaction. Without a word from her, he had begun reviewing his spelling words for the day. Beth went to a chair at the kitchen table and started putting on her shoes, which always had to be tied with equal tightness, a ritual that occasionally caused paroxysms of obsessive-compulsive panic, but on most days went fine.

Laurel sometimes felt guilty when other mothers complained what a nightmare it was to get their kids off to school in the mornings. Her kids pretty much did their preparations on autopilot, running in the groove of a routine so well established that Laurel wondered if she and Warren had some sublimated fascist tendencies. But the truth was, for someone who spent her days teaching special-needs students, handling two normal children was a no-brainer.

Should I go into the study? she wondered again. Isn’t that what a good wife would do? Express concern? Offer to help? But Warren didn’t want help with things like this. His medical practice was his business, and his business was his own. He was obviously preoccupied with the audit. And yet that prolonged stare from the door had disturbed her on a deep level. It seemed months since Warren had given her even a long look. It was as though he were intentionally giving her the space she had silently requested. He never looked too deeply, because she didn’t want to be seen, and he didn’t want to see. It was a conspiracy of silence, a mutual denial of reality, and they had become expert at it.

“We’re going to be late,” Grant said.

“You’re right,” Laurel agreed without looking at the clock. “Let’s move.”

She helped Beth get her backpack on, then picked up her own computer case and purse and walked toward the door to the garage. With her hand on the knob-almost out!-she glanced back over her shoulder, half expecting to find Warren gazing at her, but all she saw was his lower legs. He had climbed a small ladder to search the top shelves of his custom bookcases, ten feet up the wall. She breathed a sigh of relief and led the kids out to her Acura. Grant called shotgun-Beth never thought of it in time-but Laurel motioned for him to get in back, which earned a smile from her daughter and an angry grunt from her son.

After they were belted in, Laurel mock-slapped the side of her head and said, “I think I forgot to turn off the sprinkler last night.”

“I’ll check it!” cried Grant, unbuckling his seat belt.

“No, I’ll get it,” Laurel said firmly, and quickly got out of the car.

She hit the button on the wall and ducked under the rising garage door as soon as it was four feet off the concrete, then trotted around to the back of the house. She would retrieve the Walgreens bag, crush it into a ball, then slip it into her trunk and dispose of it sometime during the school day, at a gas station or convenience store. (She’d done the same with a valentine card and roses and a few actual letters during the past year.) She was making for a gap in the shrubbery when a woman’s voice called out, “Laurel? Over here!”

Laurel froze and looked toward the sound. Just twenty-five yards away, almost obscured by some boxwoods, knelt a woman wearing a straw hat and bright yellow gloves. Bonnie Elfman was about seventy, but she moved like a woman of forty, and for some reason she had chosen this morning to beautify the western boundary of her considerable property.

“I’m just adding some nasturtiums to this bed!” Bonnie called. “What’re you up to?”

Retrieving a positive pregnancy test so my husband won’t find it. “I thought I left the sprinkler on,” she called back.

“That’ll sure kill your water bill,” Bonnie said, standing and walking toward Laurel.

Laurel felt a flutter of panic. To compound her troubles, Christy came tearing around the corner of the house, desperate for someone to play with her. If Laurel picked up the bag from behind the shrubs, the corgi might just leap up and rip it out of her hands. She gazed along her own line of shrubs with exaggerated concern, then waved broadly to Mrs. Elfman. “I guess I got it after all! I’ve got to run, Bonnie. The kids are waiting in the car.”

“I’ll find your sprinkler and make sure,” Bonnie promised.

Laurel’s heart thumped like a bass drum. “Don’t trouble yourself! Really. I thought I’d left it out here, but I took it back to the storeroom. I remember now. Don’t you get too hot, either. It’s been really warm for April.”

“Don’t worry about that, it’s going to rain,” Bonnie said with the confidence of an oracle. “It’s going to cool off, too. By the time you get back from school, you’ll need a jacket.”

Laurel looked up at the sun, clear and bright in the sky. “If you say so. See you later.”

Bonnie looked miffed over Laurel’s escape. She would have much preferred to stand around gossiping for a half hour. Laurel knew from past experience that like most gossips, Bonnie Elfman was as quick to repeat stories about her as she was to confide in Laurel about others.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Laurel cursed, as she hurried back around to the garage. The Walgreens bag would have to wait until after school. Christy was trotting at her heels, so the dog was no problem. But Mrs. Elfman wasn’t going anywhere soon. Laurel prayed that the old busybody would stay on her own property until school was out.

Chapter 2

Laurel pulled her Acura up to the elementary-school door, leaned over, and kissed Beth on the cheek. Mrs. Lacey had door duty today, and she helped Beth out while Grant sprang out of the backseat like a monkey escaping from a zoo cage and darted into the school building to find his buddies.

After Mrs. Lacey escorted Beth through the door, Laurel drove around the elementary school and parked in her reserved space beside the Special Students building. It was a small brick box, two classrooms with a unisex bathroom and an office, but it was better than nothing, which was what Athens Country Day had had for the past fifty years. A generous endowment by a local geologist had made the building possible. He had a niece in New Orleans who was mildly retarded and so understood the need.

Laurel looked down at her computer and purse, which had lain under Beth’s feet during the drive over, but she didn’t reach for them. The engine was still running; she made no move to switch it off. She wasn’t sure she could face what lay ahead. Her students could be trying enough, but today she had parent conferences, and her first was with the wife of her former lover.

The prospect of facing Starlette McDavitt while pregnant by the woman’s husband was almost unendurable. If Starlette weren’t the first appointment, Laurel would have tried to cancel the meeting. But it was too late for that.

She didn’t know she was crying until she tasted tears in her mouth. It wasn’t the impending appointment, she realized. It was that she didn’t know for sure whose baby she was carrying. The odds were, it was Danny’s. They had ended their affair five weeks ago, but in the three weeks prior to that-the three weeks after her last period-they had made love at least a dozen times. She’d only had intercourse with Warren twice since her last period, both times after she and Danny had ended it. She hadn’t even wanted sex with Warren, but how else could she make an honest try? And what alternative did she have but to try, given Danny’s decision? Walk out on Warren to live alone in some lonely apartment, surrounded by other divorcées and waiting for a man who couldn’t come to her for another fourteen years, if ever? Not an attractive option even before she was pregnant. Now…

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