Silas fidgeted, unable to move for worry that Jack might get away. Jack was laughing, bitter and vindictive as she opened the car and got in, lip curling that it smelled like Jack. There was guilt for leaving Silas, but it was outweighed by the horror at the temptation that she knew Jack presented. She hated him for laughing. He knew why she was leaving—running away. She wanted what he offered, and she didn’t dare tempt herself again.
“Don’t let him move until they get here, okay?”
Frantic, Silas divided his attention between her and Jack. “Where are you going? Peri, talk to me!”
“Somewhere else,” she said, then slammed the door shut. “We can fix this,” Silas called out. “I promise.”
She started the car and rolled the window down. “I’m sorry. I have to. And thank you.”
“Don’t do this. God bless it, woman!”
She thought she heard shots as she drove away, but there was no change when she looked in the rearview mirror. Silas was standing there horrified, unable to stop her as he held Jack unmoving. The son of a bitch was laughing, and helpless tears slipped from her. She angrily wiped them away. She didn’t deserve to cry.
She was close enough to the bridge to Canada that she would be across it before Fran’s call could stop her. She didn’t need a passport to go over the bridge, not with her enhanced driver’s license. They’d think she was just a woman on the way home. She probably had time to stop and get her cat and knitting. The clothes she’d leave, though. Allen’s taste in women’s fashion still sucked.
Her helpless bark of laughter sounded fanatical, and she turned the radio on to distract herself from her thoughts. Her heart was breaking, but she couldn’t stay. Jack was alive, a temptation she didn’t know if she could resist. She couldn’t be that person anymore, someone so dependent upon others that she was a danger to herself. So she would leave, and go somewhere far away, pick up the pieces of her shattered facsimile of a life and start anew.
She was done with it. Done with it all.
I should have worn white sneakers, Peri thought as she strode purposefully through the wide corridors with their uniform handrails and hidden, indistinct lighting. Her borrowed scrubs were a pale blue to match the stripe on the wall, and a forgotten machine lit up in alarm as she passed it, reacting to her mild radiation level.
She just kept going, taking a dust cap in passing from a nurse’s station and tucking her short hair under it. Behind her, two nurses and an aide went to fuss over the machine.
Pulse fast, she read the names on the doors, trying not to glance in and ruin what little privacy the residents had. She found the one she was looking for across from the communal living room. Someone was at the baby grand, playing music from the forties as three patients and a nurse sang.
MRS. CAROLINE REED.
Head down, Peri took the clipboard hanging on the door, hiding her face from a passing orderly. There was a current picture of her mother, and Peri’s heart clenched at the fading hint of the strong woman Peri had once railed against, the strength and determination hidden under the wrinkles and indistinct focus. Beneath it was a brief description of her life, the highlights and accomplishments: marriages, siblings, divorces. Peri wasn’t on it.
The orderly turned the corner. Steeling herself, she knocked. The door was hard against her hand, and it made hardly any noise.
“Yes. Come in!” a strong but quavering voice called.
Peri unclenched her jaw, forcing a smile on her face as she pushed the door open. “Hello,” she said, shutting the door carefully behind her.
“Finally!” her mother said, sitting in a chair all alone in her robe, looking out the window to an empty bird feeder. “Just how long were you going to let me sit here? I’ve got things to do today other than wait for my stylist. New girl, eh?”
She swallowed, blinking fast. She doesn’t know me. “I’m sorry I’m running late,” she said, glancing at her clipboard like it meant something. “What can we do for you today?”
How many times, Peri wondered, have I said the same thing to hide the embarrassment of not knowing what’s going on?
Heart aching, Peri helped her mother sit up straight, trying not to notice how light she was as she turned her to the huge mirror that was there to try to make the small room look larger. Her mother’s chin was high, her anger that she didn’t know what her usual was obvious.
“A style it is,” Peri said, reaching for the soft brush beside the bed. “We can skip the wash if you like. Your hair is in wonderful condition. You take very good care of it. Is it getting too long? Would you like me to schedule a cut next week?”
“If you would,” her mother said, her thin, age-spotted fingers coming up to play with the ends. Peri remembered it as jet-black as hers was, but now it was pale, a hint of the original, a whisper, like her mother herself. She was looking vacantly at their reflection, seeing something other than what was there.
Peri slowly brushed her mother’s hair, taking what she had today and not letting regret color it. “Has it been a busy week?” she asked, focusing on how the hair felt slipping through her hands as she cared for her mother.
“About the same,” she answered, voice distant.
She doesn’t know, doesn’t remember.
“Family?” Peri prompted, hoping for something. A story. A recollection. Anything.