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Книга Third Degree. Страница 10

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When Mrs. Shields lived longer than her doctors expected, the “temporary” sabbatical slowly became permanent, like a mining encampment becoming a town. Warren took a position in a local family practice, and real money began flowing in. Then Mrs. Shields let it be known that the one thing that might bring some joy to her last days was to see a grandchild born. This time Laurel dug in her heels, her eyes on the receding horizon of their former future. But how could she deny Warren’s mother’s last request? After some terrible arguments, she relented, and nine months later Grant was born. Mrs. Shields lived ten months after that, and Grant certainly brought her joy. But less than a month after her funeral, as Laurel was prodding Warren to get everything in order for their return to Colorado, Warren’s father had a crippling heart attack. Thirty seconds after they got the call, Laurel realized that they would never go back to Colorado.

She’d tried to make the best of her life in Athens Point. Since there was no four-year college in town-much less a school of architecture-she’d joined the clubs that medical wives were expected to join to further their husbands’ careers: the Junior Auxiliary, the Medical Auxiliary, the Garden Club, the Lusahatcha Country Club. She went to church every Sunday, and even taught Sunday school, an immense personal sacrifice, given her background. But all this frenetic social networking did nothing to replace the dream she had given up; rather it created an emotional tension that fairly screamed to be released. For years Laurel had tried the traditionally accepted outlets: step aerobics; Tae Bo; reading groups (invariably chick lit, which made her want to slash her wrists in frustration at the heroines’ actions, or lack of them); she’d even circulated through various walking groups, in the hope of finding a friend who shared her frustrations with Martha Stewart Land. But in none of those clubs and groups had she discovered a single kindred spirit.

Her ultimate solution had been to go back to work. Teaching solved several problems at once. It gave her life a single focus, one that excused her from the wearisome club duties she was accustomed to taking on. She really cared about her students and felt she was giving them help that might otherwise be denied them in a small town. Teaching also brought her money that she could spend on whatever she wanted, without the auditing glance Warren always gave her when she made a purchase of even minor extravagance. Finally, teaching had given her Danny McDavitt, the kindred spirit she had been searching for all along. Moreover (an unexpected lagniappe), this kindred spirit came with an anatomically correct, fully functioning penis. And that, she thought bitterly, is what got me where I am now.

At least I hope it was his, she thought, passing the Elfmans’ flower-lined driveway. Her own house appeared on a gentle rise farther on, but the sight gave her no pleasure. It was a contemporary version of a Colonial, at six thousand square feet, twice the size of the homes that had inspired it. Laurel had wanted to design their home herself, in conjunction with a professional architect-her year of architecture school had made her proficient with the top CAD programs-but Warren had been against it. He’d marshaled a half dozen excuses for his opposition: teaching wouldn’t allow enough time for her to adequately supervise the project; time spent dealing with contractors would steal hours from the children; but the real reason was simpler: Warren knew that if she designed their home, it would look nothing like the rest of the houses in Avalon. His instinct toward conformity was so strong that he could not bear what the neighbors might say about something that broke the carefully established pattern of the development. And so Laurel lived in a house much like those of her neighbors, one her mother thought perfect, but which she herself saw as one more cell in the suburban hive called Avalon. She swung into her driveway and hit the brakes.

Warren’s Volvo was still parked in the garage.

She sat with her foot heavy on the brake, unsure what to do. Something told her to back out and leave; but there was no rational reason to do that. Besides, Warren might have seen her pull up. The kitchen had a direct line of sight to the driveway.

Why is he still home? she wondered. Did he come home early for lunch? No. He was running late when I left for school this morning. If he skipped hospital rounds and went straight to the office, he would have had to make rounds at lunch. He wouldn’t be here. Has he been here all morning? No…that’s impossible. Warren didn’t take off from work unless he was seriously ill; it took the full-blown flu to hold him down. A paralyzing thought surfaced in the swirling sea of speculation: What if he found the e.p.t carton? The used test strip from the pregnancy test?

“No,” Laurel said aloud. “No way.” Not unless he went behind the shrubs under the bathroom window…and why in God’s name would he do that? There’s no garden hose or anything else back there. There’s only-

“Mrs. Elfman.”

Could the old busybody have seen her drop the box from the bathroom window? Doubtful. Even if she had, why would she give it to Warren? Not even Bonnie Elfman was idiotic enough to congratulate her doctor on something he might not yet know himself. But she might be malicious enough to do it…

Laurel and Mrs. Elfman had once quarreled over the boundary line of their lots (a dispute resolved when a second survey proved Laurel correct). Was the woman still bitter enough to take her revenge in such an extreme way?

No, Laurel decided. Warren’s still here because of the IRS audit.

The situation was probably worse than he’d admitted. Warren never burdened her with business worries, and he also knew that Laurel had never trusted Kyle Auster, his senior partner, not even during the honeymoon years of the partnership. Auster’s smile was too broad, his patter too slick for a physician with his priorities in line, and he spent far too much money. For the first few years, Warren had defended his older partner-only ten years older, but that was sufficient to engender a little blind hero worship-but in the last couple of years, some of the shine had rubbed off of the statue in Warren’s mind. He had seen Auster’s human side too many times, and he’d revised his opinion accordingly. She recalled the wild look in Warren’s eyes as he’d searched the bookshelves this morning. It took a great deal of stress to make her husband betray any emotion at all. Given his mental state this morning, she wondered whether Auster might have gotten them into serious legal trouble. That must be it, she decided, worried for Warren, but also relieved for a distraction to keep him occupied during her present crisis.

She eased her foot off the brake and idled toward the garage, wondering what she could do to soothe his nerves. She was putting the car in park when she remembered the note in her pocket, the one she’d meant to give Danny this morning. A note saying I’M PREGNANT might give Warren a stroke today, even if he thought the child was his. Laurel considered stashing the note in her car, but something told her not to take any chances. Depressing the cigarette lighter with her thumb, she rolled down her window and switched the AC control to MAX. Then she fished the yellow Post-it from her pocket and touched the red-hot lighter to its corner. The glue-coated back of the note caught first, then the draft from the air conditioner stoked the flame. Soon the note was burning in the ashtray. Laurel leaned out of her window to keep the smoke out of her hair. When nothing remained but ash, she grabbed her purse and computer and walked up to the house just as she would have on any other day.

Squeezing past Warren’s Volvo, she remembered that she still had both Razrs in her slacks. Habit was a strong force. It would probably be better to leave the clone in the car, but Danny was liable to text her with more information about their meeting, and she needed to stay abreast of the situation, so that she could tell Warren whatever would get her the most free time. She took out the clone Razr, switched it to SILENT, then slid it into her back pocket on the opposite side from the legit phone in front. At least Warren wouldn’t see the flat bulges of two phones from any angle.


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