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Книга Third Degree. Страница 40

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“Any minute now,” Warren said, glancing around at her. “Nervous?”

She turned away. “Let’s go see the kids.”

“Yes. Let’s do that.”

He led her up the front stairs, only letting go of her arm when they reached the top. Laurel heard the TV blaring through the closed door of the kids’ playroom. She tried to steel herself, but she knew she would cry when she saw them. She had once burst into tears upon seeing them after a five-day education seminar in Dallas. She expected Warren to warn her in some way, but he simply pocketed his gun, opened the door, and cried, “Hey, hey! Look who’s here!”

Laurel heard a scuttling sound to her left, but saw nothing there. Her eyes were drawn to the couch, where Grant lay sprawled on his back watching the big-screen TV. He’d changed his royal blue school uniform shirt for a ripped GIRL skateboard T-shirt, and his New Balances for Adios with stripped black laces. On the screen before him, Tony Hawk leaped and spun over the lip of a massive half-pipe, which Grant never tired of begging Warren to build in the backyard.

“Hey, Mom,” Grant said, moving his eyes but nothing else. “How’s your headache?”

“A little better,” Warren said quickly. “She’s not over it yet. Where’s your sister?”

“Over here,” said a small voice. “Ta-da!”

Beth jumped out from behind the closet door. Laurel had to cover her mouth to hide the pain that pierced her at the sight. Beth was wearing the Snow White costume Laurel had bought her during their last trip to Disney World. Not the cheap one-piece costume, but the full-blown ensemble of yellow satin and dark blue velvet, with bright red ribbons like the ones in the Disney classic. Beth’s proud smile and flashing eyes made her look impossibly alive and happy, like a character who had leaped out of a movie herself.

“How do I look?” she asked.

Laurel bit her lip and knelt before her daughter. “Did you put this on all by yourself, Snow White?”

Beth curtsied with elaborate ceremony.

“I helped,” Grant said from the couch.

“No, you didn’t!” Beth cried.

Grant shrugged.

“He just tied my bow,” Beth explained. “Nothing else.”

“Riiiight,” Grant drawled.

“Shut up, Butt Face.”

Grant broke up at this.

“Stop provoking her,” Warren snapped. Then he looked down at Beth. “And you stop saying ‘Butt Face,’ young lady.”

“Well, he is.”

As Grant stifled more laughter, Laurel hugged her daughter as tightly as she dared. “Mama?” Beth’s small voice in her ear. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine now, baby. I just had to see you.”

“I don’t want your head to hurt.”

Hot tears slid down Laurel’s cheeks. She bent her neck and wiped her cheeks on Beth’s cape. Then she pulled away.

“Mama, you’re hands are all sticky. And your mascara’s running!”

Laurel stuck out her bottom lip and blew air over her face, hoping to dry the tears. “It’s just my headache, darling. Are you guys all right for food and stuff?”

“I’m hungry,” Grant said. “Can we come down and mikeywave something?”

“Not yet,” said Warren. “I’ll bring something up to you in a minute. But first we need to talk.”

A frisson of fear went through Laurel’s chest. She turned to Warren, but he wasn’t looking at her. He took Beth’s hand and led her over to the sofa, where Grant lay.

“Sit up, Son,” he said. “Come on, get your behind in gear. This is a family conference.”

Grant groaned loudly. “But I’m starving.

Laurel wanted to bolt from the room. She saw now that Warren had brought her up here not to ease her mind, but to torture her more painfully than he ever could downstairs. Grant and Beth sat side by side on the sofa, their upturned faces curious but unworried. Snow White and a skateboard prince. A more innocent pair of angels she could not imagine. Warren pulled two chairs over in front of the couch and sat facing the kids, then motioned for her to join him.

She couldn’t move.

“Come here, Laurel,” he said. “This won’t take long.”

“What is it, Daddy?” Beth asked. “Did Christy poop inside the house again?”

“No, sweetheart. This is more serious than that.”

When Laurel refused to move, Warren shrugged as if to say, All right. Then he turned to the children and said, “Your mother has something to tell you, guys. So pay close attention.” He turned to Laurel expectantly.

“Warren,” she said evenly, “I need to speak to you outside.”

He smiled in apparent sympathy. “Mom’s having a hard time finding the right words, kids. So I’ll help. While you kids have been going to school, and while I’ve been working hard at the hospital, Mom has been making a new friend.”

Grant’s eyes narrowed. “Really? Who is it, Mom?”

Laurel stared at her husband, silently begging him not to go on. But the hatred in his eyes was unveiled now, and it was absolute. Nothing was going to stop him. She thought of grabbing the kids and trying to get out of the room, but that would only result in a fight with Warren, which might scar them even more.

“It’s a man,” Warren said. “I don’t know who it is yet, because Mom won’t tell me. But she’s been going to a secret place every day and hugging and kissing this man.”

Beth’s eyes were wide. They moved from Warren to Laurel, filled with questions. Laurel wanted to say, That’s not true, sweetheart. But it was true. She had been doing exactly what Warren was accusing her of doing.

“I know it seems hard to understand,” Warren went on, “but Mama’s getting tired of us. Our family is starting to bore her, so she’s looking for another one. One that might make her happier.”

Her children’s faces were moving in ways Laurel had never seen before. She was witnessing the implosion of innocence. And she, not Warren, was responsible. Though Warren was the one talking, she felt as if she were holding down her children and hitting them in the face again and again, and they could not fight back.

“Mama?” Beth said, her voice scarcely a whisper. “Is that right? Are you tired of us?”

Laurel realized that her hands were shaking. And not just her hands. Her chin was quivering, and her legs were turning to water.

“Why are you crying, Mom?” Grant asked worriedly. He no longer looked like a smart-aleck teenager, but the terrified nine-year-old he really was. “Dad, what’s wrong? I don’t like this game.”

“I don’t either, Son. But Mom hasn’t given us any choice. She’s already made her decision.” He waved Laurel over to the chair beside him. “Come on, honey. I want you to explain things to Grant and Beth as best you can. They deserve to know the truth.”

There’s no way I’m staying married after this, Laurel thought. And if Danny had left his wife five weeks ago, like he said he would, I would have faced a scene a lot like this one. Warren wants me to tell them I had an affair? All right, I’ll tell them what I would have told them five weeks ago. Not that I’m in love with someone else, but that I don’t love Daddy anymore. That should be easy enough. I don’t love Daddy anymore. But I love them more than I ever have. They’ll know I’m telling the truth about that, because that is the truth-

“Get over here!” Warren snapped. “Have the courage of your convictions, damn it.”

“I’m scared,” Beth whimpered through glistening tears. She held out her arms for Laurel to pick her up, but when Laurel moved, Warren stood and blocked her path.

“Dad, you’re scaring us,” Grant said with surprising force. “You’re scaring Mom, too!”

“That can’t be helped, Son. Mama’s done a very bad thing.”

“No!” Beth cried. “She couldn’t do something bad. Mama’s good!”

Warren looked as though he might be crying himself. “I know you believe that, Elizabeth, but I’m afraid it’s not true, That’s one of the hard things about growing up-facing the fact that adults aren’t all good. And your mother is capable of doing some very bad things. You two get punished when you do bad things, don’t you?”

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