Alla inlägg den 14 maj 2011

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 14 maj 2011 07:41

After a long moment, the young one shook his head. “Then let’s not try again, okay?” he said in a voice that brooked no disagreement. “It isn’t safe to be shooting out here, not with the highway so close. It’s also against the law. And that place isn’t for kids. It’s just about to fall down and you could get hurt in there. Now, you don’t want me to talk to your parents, do you?” “No, sir.” “Then you won’t go after that owl again, will you? If I let you go, I mean?” “No, sir.” Miles stared at them wordlessly, making sure he believed them, then nodded in the direction of the nearest homes. “You live out that way?” “Yes, sir.” “Did you walk or ride your bikes?” “We walked.” “Then I’ll tell you what—I’ll get your rifles and you two get in the backseat. I’ll give you a ride back home and drop you off down the street. And I’ll let it go this time, but if I ever catch you out here again, I’m gonna tell your parents that I caught you before and warned you and that I’m gonna have to bring you both in, okay?” Though their eyes widened at the threat, they both nodded gratefully. After dropping them off, Miles made his way back to the school, looking forward to seeing Jonah. No doubt the boy would want to hear all about what just happened, though Miles first wanted to find out how things had gone that day. And despite himself, he couldn’t suppress a pleasant thrill at the thought of seeing Sarah Andrews again. • • • “Daddy!” Jonah screamed, running toward Miles. Miles lowered himself into position to catch his son just as he jumped. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Sarah had followed him out in a more sedate fashion. Jonah pulled back to look at him. “Did you arrest anyone today?” Miles grinned and shook his head. “Not so far, but I’m not finished yet. How’d it go in school today?” “Good. Miss Andrews gave me some cookies.” “She did?” he asked, trying to watch her approach without being too obvious. “Oreos. The good ones—Double Stuf.” “Oh, well, you can’t ask for more than that,” he said. “But how’d the tutoring go?” Jonah furrowed his brow. “The what?” “Miss Andrews helping you with your schoolwork.” “It was fun—we played games.” “Games?” “I’ll explain later,” Sarah said, stepping up, “but we got off to a good start.” At the sound of her voice, Miles turned to face her and again felt pleasant surprise. She was wearing a long skirt and a blouse again, nothing fancy, but when she smiled, Miles felt the same strange fluttering he’d experienced when he’d first met her. It struck him that he hadn’t fully appreciated how pretty she was the last time. Yes, he’d recognized the fact that she was attractive, and the same features immediately jumped out at him—the corn-silk hair, the delicately boned face, eyes the color of turquoise—but today she looked softer somehow, her expression warm and almost familiar.

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But she wouldn’t be upset now, if she was really over him. . . . Sarah finished her glass and rose from the couch, not wanting to believe that, refusing to believe it. She was over him. If he came crawling back to her right now and begged for forgiveness, she wouldn’t take him back. There was nothing he could say or do to ever make her love him again. He could marry whoever the hell he wanted, and it would make no difference to her. In the kitchen, she poured her third glass of wine. Michael was getting married again. Despite herself, Sarah felt the tears coming. She didn’t want to cry anymore, but old dreams died hard. When she put her glass down, trying to compose herself, she set the glass too close to the sink and it toppled into the basin, shattering instantly. She reached in to pick up the shards of glass, pricked her finger, and it began to bleed. One more thing on an already terrible day. She exhaled sharply and pressed the back of her hand against her eyes, willing herself not to cry. • • • “Are you sure you’re okay?” With crowds pressing in around them, the words seemed to fade in and out, as if Sarah were trying to listen to something from a distance. “For the third time, I’m fine, Mom. Really.” Maureen reached up and brushed the hair from Sarah’s face. “It’s just that you look a little pale, like you might be coming down with something.” “I’m a little tired, that’s all. I was up late working.” Though she didn’t like lying to her mother, Sarah had no desire to tell her about the bottle of wine the night before. Her mother barely understood why people drank at all, especially women, and if Sarah explained that she’d been alone as well, her mother would only bite her lip in worry before launching into a series of questions that Sarah was in no mood to answer. It was a glorious Saturday, and the downtown area was thronged with people. The Flower Festival was in full swing, and Maureen had wanted to spend the day browsing among the booths and in the antique stores along Middle Street. Since Larry wanted to watch the football game between North Carolina and Michigan State, Sarah had offered to keep her company. She’d thought it might be fun, and it probably would have been, if it hadn’t been for the raging headache that even aspirin couldn’t ease. As they talked, Sarah inspected an antique picture frame that had been restored with care, though not enough care to justify the price. “On a Friday?” her mother asked. “I’d been putting it off for a while and last night seemed as good as any.” Her mother leaned closer, pretending to admire the picture frame. “You were in all night?” “Uh-huh. Why?” “Because I called you a couple of times and the phone just rang and rang.” “I unplugged the phone.” “Oh. For a while there, I thought you might be out with someone.” “Who?” Maureen shrugged. “I don’t know . . . someone.” Sarah eyed her over the top of her sunglasses. “Mom, let’s not go into that again.” “I’m not going into anything,” she answered defensively. Then, lowering her voice as if conversing with herself, she went on. “I just assumed you’d decided to go out. You used to do that a lot, you know. . . .” In addition to wallowing in a bottomless pit of concern, Sarah’s mother could also play to perfection the part of a guilt-ridden parent. There were times when Sarah needed it—a little pity never hurt anyone—but now wasn’t one of them. Sarah frowned slightly as she set the frame back down. The proprietor of the booth, an elderly woman who sat in a chair beneath a large umbrella, raised her eyebrows, clearly enjoying the little scene. Sarah’s frown deepened. She backed away from the booth as her mom went on, and after a moment, Maureen trailed after her. “What’s wrong?” Her tone made Sarah stop and face her mother. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just not in the mood to hear how worried you are about me. It gets old after a while.” Maureen’s mouth opened slightly and stayed that way. At the sight of her mother’s injured expression, Sarah regretted her words, but she couldn’t help it. Not today, anyway. “Look, I’m sorry, Mom. I shouldn’t have snapped at you.” Maureen reached out and took her daughter by the hand. “What’s going on, Sarah? And tell me the truth, this time—I know you too well. Something happened, didn’t it?” She squeezed Sarah’s hand gently and Sarah looked away. All around them, strangers were going about their business, lost in their own conversations. “Michael’s getting married again,” she said quietly. After making sure she had heard correctly, Maureen slowly enveloped her daughter in a firm embrace. “Oh, Sarah. . . I’m sorry,” she whispered. There wasn’t anything else to say. • • • A few minutes later, they were seated on a park bench that overlooked the marina, down the street from where the crowds were still congregated. They’d moved that way unconsciously; they’d simply walked until they could go no farther, then found a place to sit.

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 14 maj 2011 07:37

Believe me, I know. I can’t remember the last time I felt that way.” “Oh, come on, you’re not that old. You’re what—forty, forty-five?” Miles looked horrified again, and Sarah winked. “Just teasing,” she added. Miles wiped his brow in mock relief, surprised to find himself enjoying the conversation. For some reason, it seemed almost as if she were flirting, and he liked that, more than he thought he should. “Thanks—I think.” “No problem,” she answered, trying and failing to hide the smirk on her face. “But now . . .” She paused. “Where were we again?” “You were telling me that I haven’t aged well.” “Before that . . . Oh yeah, we were talking about your schedule and you were telling me how impossible it was going to be to get a routine going.” “I didn’t say impossible. It’s just not going to be easy.” “When are you off in the afternoons?” “Usually on Wednesdays and Fridays.” As Miles tried to work it out, Sarah seemed to come to a decision. “Now, I don’t usually do this, but I’ll make a deal with you,” she said slowly. “If it’s okay with you, of course.” Miles raised his eyebrows. “What kind of deal?” “I’ll work with Jonah after school the other three days a week if you promise to do the same on the two days you’re off.” He couldn’t hide the surprise in his expression. “You’d do that?” “Not for every student, no. But as I said, Jonah’s sweet, and he’s had a rough time the last couple of years. I’d be glad to help.” “Really?” “Don’t look so surprised. Most teachers are pretty dedicated to their work. Besides, I’m usually here until four o’clock anyway, so it won’t be much trouble at all.” When Miles didn’t answer right away, Sarah fell silent. “I’m only going to offer this once, so take it or leave it,” she finally said. Miles looked almost embarrassed. “Thank you,” he said seriously. “I can’t even tell you how much I appreciate this.” “My pleasure. There’s one thing that I’m going to need, though, so I can do this right. Think of it as my fee.” “What’s that?” “A fan—and make it a good one.” She nodded toward the school. “It’s like an oven in there.” “You got yourself a deal.” • • • Twenty minutes later, after she and Miles had said good-bye, Sarah was back in the classroom. As she was collecting her things, she found herself thinking about Jonah and how best to help him. It was a good thing that she’d made the offer, she told herself. It would keep her more attuned to his abilities in class, and she’d be able to better guide Miles when he was working with his son. True, it was a little extra work, but it was the best thing for Jonah, even if she hadn’t planned on it. And she hadn’t—not until she’d said the words. She was still trying to figure out why she’d done that. Despite herself, she was also thinking about Miles. He wasn’t what she’d expected, that’s for sure. When Brenda had told her that he was a sheriff, she’d immediately pictured a caricature of southern law enforcement: overweight, pants hanging too low, small mirrored sunglasses, a mouth full of chewing tobacco. She’d imagined him swaggering into her classroom, hooking his thumbs into the waistband of his pants, and drawling,Now, just what did you want to talk to me about, little lady? But Miles was none of these things. He was attractive, too. Not as Michael had been—dark and glamorous, everything always perfectly in place—but appealing in a natural, more rugged way. His face had a roughness to it, as if he’d spent many hours in the sun as a boy. But contrary to what she’d said, he didn’t look forty, and that had surprised her. It shouldn’t have. After all, Jonah was only seven, and she knew Missy Ryan had died young. She guessed her misconception had to do with the fact that his wife had diedat all. She couldn’t imagine that happening to someone her age. It wasn’t right; it seemed out of sync with the natural order of the world. Sarah was still musing over this as she glanced around the room one last time, making sure she had everything she needed. She removed her purse from the bottom drawer of her desk, slipped it over her shoulder, put everything else under her other arm, and then turned off the lights on her way out. As she walked to her car, she felt a pang of disappointment when she saw that Miles had already left. Chiding herself for her thoughts, she reminded herself that a widower like Miles would hardly be entertaining similar thoughts about his young son’s schoolteacher. Sarah Andrews had no idea how wrong she was.

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“It wasn’t a problem. My boss was able to work it out.” She nodded, holding his gaze. “Charlie Curtis, right? I’ve met his wife, Brenda. She’s been helping me get the hang of things around here.” “Be careful—she’ll talk your ear off if you give her the chance.” Sarah laughed. “So I’ve realized. But she’s been great, she really has. It’s always a little intimidating when you’re new, but she’s gone out of her way to make me feel as if I belong here.” “She’s a sweet lady.” For a moment, neither of them said anything as they stood close together, and Miles immediately sensed that she wasn’t as comfortable now that the small talk was out of the way. She moved around the desk, looking as if she were ready to get down to business. She began shuffling papers, scanning through the piles, searching for what she needed. Outside, the sun peeked out from behind a cloud and began slanting through the windows, zeroing in on them. The temperature instantly seemed to rise, and Miles tugged on his shirt again. Sarah glanced up at him. “I know it’s hot . . . I’ve been meaning to bring a fan in, but I haven’t had the chance to pick one up yet.” “I’ll be fine.” Even as he said it, he could feel the sweat beginning to trickle down his chest and back. “Well, I’ll give you a couple of options. You can pull up a chair and we can talk here and maybe we both pass out, or we can do this outside where it’s a little cooler. There are picnic tables in the shade.” “Would that be okay?” “If you don’t mind.” “No, I don’t mind at all. Besides, Jonah’s out on the playground, and that way I can keep an eye on him.” She nodded. “Good. Just let me make sure I have everything. . . .” A minute later they left the classroom, headed down the hall, and pushed open the door. “So how long have you been in town?” Miles finally asked. “Since June.” “How do you like it?” She looked over at him. “It’s kind of quiet, but it’s nice.” “Where’d you move from?” “Baltimore. I grew up there, but . . .” She paused. “I needed a change.” Miles nodded. “I can understand that. Sometimes I feel like getting away, too.” Her face registered a kind of recognition as soon as he said it, and Miles knew immediately that she’d heard about Missy. She didn’t say anything, however. As they seated themselves at the picnic table, Miles stole a good look at her. Up close, with the sun slanting through the shade trees, her skin looked smooth, almost luminescent. Sarah Andrews, he decided on the spot, never had pimples as a teenager. “So . . . ,” he said, “should I call you Miss Andrews?” “No, Sarah’s fine.” “Okay, Sarah . . .” He stopped, and after a moment Sarah finished for him. “You’re wondering why I needed to talk to you?” “It had crossed my mind.” Sarah glanced toward the folder in front of her, then up again. “Well, let me start by telling you how much I enjoy having Jonah in class. He’s a wonderful boy—he’s always the first to volunteer if I ever need anything, and he’s really good to the other students as well. He’s also polite and extremely well spoken for his age.” Miles looked her over carefully. “Why do I get the impression that you’re leading up to some bad news?” “Am I that obvious?” “Well . . . sort of,” Miles admitted, and Sarah gave a sheepish laugh. “I’m sorry, but I did want you to know that it’s not all bad. Tell me—has Jonah mentioned anything to you about what’s going on?” “Not until breakfast this morning. When I asked him why you wanted to meet with me, he just said that he’s having trouble with some of the work.” “I see.” She paused for a moment, as if trying to collect her thoughts. “You’re making me a little nervous here,” Miles finally said. “You don’t think there’s a serious problem, do you?” “Well . . .” She hesitated. “I hate to have to tell you this, but I think there is. Jonah isn’t having trouble with some of the work. Jonah’s having trouble withall of the work.” Miles frowned. “All of it?” “Jonah,” she said evenly, “is behind in reading, writing, spelling, and math—just about everything. To be honest, I don’t think he was ready for the second grade.” Miles simply stared at her, not knowing what to say. Sarah went on. “I know this is hard for you to hear. Believe me, I wouldn’t want to hear it, either, if it was my son. That’s why I wanted to make sure before I talked to you about it. Here . . .” Sarah opened the folder and handed Miles a stack of papers. Jonah’s work. Miles glanced through the pages—two math tests without a single correct answer, a couple of pages where the assignment had been to write a paragraph (Jonah had managed a few, illegibly scrawled words), and three short reading tests that Jonah had failed as well. After a long moment, she slid the folder to Miles. “You can keep all that. I’m finished with it.” “I’m not sure I want it,” he said, still in shock. Sarah leaned forward slightly. “Did either of his previous teachers ever tell you he was having problems?” “No, never.”

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 14 maj 2011 07:33

Her life, she realized, had taken on a strange simplicity since she’d moved here. Though she sometimes missed the energy of city life, she had to admit that slowing down had its benefits. During the summer, she’d spent long hours browsing through the antique stores downtown or simply staring at the sailboats docked behind the Sheraton. Even now that school had started again, she didn’t rush anywhere. She worked and walked, and aside from visiting her parents, she spent most evenings alone, listening to classical music and reworking the lesson plans she’d brought with her from Baltimore. And that was fine with her. Since she was new at the school, her plans still needed a little tinkering. She’d discovered that many of the students in her class weren’t as far along as they should have been in most of the core subjects, and she’d had to scale down the plans a bit and incorporate more remedial work. She hadn’t been surprised by this; every school progressed at a different rate. But she figured that by the end of the year, most students would finish where they needed to be. There was, however, one student who particularly concerned her. Jonah Ryan. He was a nice enough kid: shy and unassuming, the kind of child who was easy to overlook. On the first day of class, he’d sat in the back row and answered politely when she’d spoken to him, but working in Baltimore had taught her to pay close attention to such children. Sometimes it meant nothing; at other times, it meant they were trying to hide. After she’d asked the class to hand in their first assignment, she’d made a mental note to check his work carefully. It hadn’t been necessary. The assignment—a short paragraph about something they’d done that summer—was a way for Sarah to quickly gauge how well the children could write. Most of the pieces had the usual assortment of misspelled words, incomplete thoughts, and sloppy handwriting, but Jonah’s had stood out, simply because he hadn’t done what she’d asked. He’d written his name in the top corner, but instead of writing a paragraph, he’d drawn a picture of himself fishing from a small boat. When she’d questioned him about why he hadn’t done what she’d asked, Jonah had explained that Mrs. Hayes had always let him draw, because “my writing isn’t too good.” Alarm bells immediately went off in her head. She’d smiled and bent down, in order to be closer to him. “Can you show me?” she’d asked. After a long moment, Jonah had nodded, reluctantly. While the other students went on to another activity, Sarah sat with Jonah as he tried his best. She quickly realized it was pointless; Jonah didn’t know how to write. Later that day, she found out he could barely read as well. In arithmetic, he wasn’t any better. If she’d been forced to guess his grade, having never met him, she would have thought Jonah was just beginning kindergarten.

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Instead, things between them grew steadily worse. With every passing month, the arguments became more frequent, the distance more pronounced. One night, when she suggested again that they could always adopt, Michael simply waved off the suggestion: “My parents won’t accept that.” Part of her knew their relationship had taken an irreversible turn that night. It wasn’t his words that gave it away, nor was it the fact that he seemed to be taking his parents’ side. It was the look on his face—the one that let her know he suddenly seemed to regard the problem as hers, not theirs. Less than a week later, she found Michael sitting in the dining room, a glass of bourbon at his side. From the unfocused look in his eyes, she knew it wasn’t the first one he’d had. He wanted a divorce, he began; he was sure she understood. By the time he was finished, Sarah found herself unable to say anything in response, nor did she want to. The marriage was over. It had lasted less than three years. Sarah was twenty-seven years old. The next twelve months were a blur. Everyone wanted to know what had gone wrong; other than her family, Sarah told no one. “It just didn’t work out” was all she would say whenever someone asked. Because she didn’t know what else to do, Sarah continued to teach. She also spent two hours a week talking to a wonderful counselor, Sylvia. When Sylvia recommended a support group, Sarah went to a few of the meetings. Mostly, she listened, and she thought she was doing better. But sometimes, as she sat alone in her small apartment, the reality of the situation would bear down hard and she would begin to cry again, not stopping for hours. During one of her darkest periods, she’d even considered suicide, though no one—not the counselor, not her family—knew that. It was then that she’d realized she had to leave Baltimore; she needed a place to start over. She needed a place where the memories wouldn’t be so painful, somewhere she’d never lived before. Now, walking the streets of New Bern, Sarah was doing her best to move on. It was still a struggle at times, but not nearly as bad as it once had been. Her parents were supportive in their own way—her father said nothing whatsoever about it; her mother clipped out magazine articles that touted the latest medical developments—but her brother, Brian, before he headed off for his first year at the University of North Carolina, had been a life-saver. Like most adolescents, he was sometimes distant and withdrawn, but he was a truly empathetic listener. Whenever she’d needed to talk, he’d been there for her, and she missed him now that he was gone. They’d always been close; as his older sister, she’d helped to change his diapers and had fed him whenever her mother let her. Later, when he was going to school, she’d helped him with his homework, and it was while working with him that she’d realized she wanted to become a teacher. That was one decision she’d never regretted. She loved teaching; she loved working with children. Whenever she walked into a new classroom and saw thirty small faces looking up at her expectantly, she knew she had chosen the right career. In the beginning, like most young teachers, she’d been an idealist, someone who assumed that every child would respond to her if she tried hard enough. Sadly, since then, she had learned that wasn’t possible. Some children, for whatever reason, closed themselves off to anything she did, no matter how hard she worked. It was the worst part of the job, the only part that sometimes kept her awake at night, but it never stopped her from trying again. Sarah wiped the perspiration from her brow, thankful that the air was finally cooling. The sun was dropping lower in the sky, and the shadows lengthened. As she strode past the fire station, two firemen sitting out front in a couple of lawn chairs nodded to her. She smiled. As far as she could tell, there was no such thing as an early evening fire in this town. She’d seen them every day at the same time, sitting in exactly the same spots, for the past four months. New Bern.

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 14 maj 2011 07:28

Her mother was thrilled at the news, but her father didn’t say much at all, other than that he hoped that she would be happy. Maybe he suspected something, maybe he’d simply been around long enough to know that fairy tales seldom came true. Whatever it was, he didn’t tell her at the time, and to be honest, Sarah didn’t take the time to question his reservations, except when Michael asked her to sign a prenuptial agreement. Michael explained that his family had insisted on it, but even though he did his best to cast all the blame on his parents, a part of her suspected that had they not been around, he would have insisted upon it himself. She nonetheless signed the papers. That evening, Michael’s parents threw a lavish engagement party to formally announce the upcoming marriage. Seven months later, Sarah and Michael were married. They honeymooned in Greece and Turkey; when they got back to Baltimore, they moved into a home less than two blocks from where Michael’s parents lived. Though she didn’t have to work, Sarah began teaching second grade at an inner-city elementary school. Surprisingly, Michael had been fully supportive of her decision, but that was typical of their relationship then. In the first two years of their marriage, everything seemed perfect: She and Michael spent hours in bed on the weekends, talking and making love, and he confided in her his dreams of entering politics one day. They had a large circle of friends, mainly people Michael had known his entire life, and there was always a party to attend or weekend trips out of town. They spent their remaining free time in Washington, D.C., exploring museums, attending the theater, and walking among the monuments located at the Capitol Mall. It was there, while standing inside the Lincoln Memorial, that Michael told Sarah he was ready to start a family. She threw her arms around him as soon as he’d said the words, knowing that nothing he could have said would have made her any happier. Who can explain what happened next? Several months after that blissful day at the Lincoln Memorial, Sarah still wasn’t pregnant. Her doctor told her not to worry, that it sometimes took a while after going off the pill, but he suggested she see him again later that year if they were still having problems. They were, and tests were scheduled. A few days later, when the results were in, they met with the doctor. As they sat across from him, one look was enough to let her know that something was wrong. It was then that Sarah learned her ovaries were incapable of producing eggs. A week later, Sarah and Michael had their first major fight. Michael hadn’t come home from work, and she’d paced the floor for hours while waiting for him, wondering why he hadn’t called and imagining that something terrible had happened. By the time he came home, she was frantic and Michael was drunk. “You don’t own me” was all he offered by way of explanation, and from there, the argument went downhill fast. They said terrible things in the heart of the moment. Sarah regretted all of them later that night; Michael was apologetic. But after that, Michael seemed more distant, more reserved. When she pressed him, he denied that he felt any differently toward her. “It’ll be okay,” he said, “we’ll get through this.”

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Or so he assumed. Later that night, right after crawling into bed, he found himself thinking about them again. And though the feelings of guilt and betrayal were still there, they weren’t as powerful as they had been earlier that day. And in that moment, Miles knew he’d taken the first step, albeit a small one, toward finally coming to terms with his loss. He began to justify his new reality by telling himself that he was a widower now, that it was okay to have these feelings, and he knew no one would disagree with him. No one expected him to live the rest of his life alone; in the past few months, friends had even offered to set him up with a couple of dates. Besides, he knew that Missy would have wanted him to marry again. She’d said as much to him more than once—like most couples, they’d played the “what if” game, and though neither of them had ever expected anything terrible to happen, both had been in agreement that it wouldn’t be right for Jonah to grow up with only a single parent. It wouldn’t be right for the surviving spouse. Still, it seemed a little too soon. As the summer wore on, the thoughts about finding someone new began to surface more frequently and with more intensity. Missy was still there, Missy would always be there . . . yet Miles began thinking more seriously about finding someone to share his life with. Late at night, while comforting Jonah in the rocking chair out back—it was the only thing that seemed to help with the nightmares—these thoughts seemed strongest and always followed the same pattern. Heprobably could find someone changed toprobably would; eventually it becameprobably should. At this point, however—no matter how much he wanted it to be otherwise—his thoughts still reverted back toprobably won’t. The reason was in his bedroom. On his shelf, in a bulging manila envelope, sat the file concerning Missy’s death, the one he’d made for himself in the months following her funeral. He kept it with him so he wouldn’t forget what happened, he kept it to remind him of the work he still had to do. He kept it to remind him of his failure. • • • A few minutes later, after stubbing out the cigarette on the railing and heading inside, Miles poured the coffee he needed and headed down the hall. Jonah was still asleep when he pushed open the door and peeked in. Good, he still had a little time. He headed to the bathroom. After he turned the faucet, the shower groaned and hissed for a moment before the water finally came. He showered and shaved and brushed his teeth. He ran a comb through his hair, noticing again that there seemed to be less of it now than there used to be. He hurriedly donned his sheriff’s uniform; next he took down his holster from the lockbox above the bedroom door and put that on as well. From the hallway, he heard Jonah rustling in his room. This time, Jonah looked up with puffy eyes as soon as Miles came in to check on him. He was still sitting in bed, his hair disheveled. He hadn’t been awake for more than a few minutes. Miles smiled. “Good morning, champ.” Jonah looked up from his bed, almost as if in slow motion. “Hey, Dad.” “You ready for some breakfast?” He stretched his arms out to the side, groaning slightly. “Can I have pancakes?” “How about some waffles instead? We’re running a little late.” Jonah bent over and grabbed his pants. Miles had laid them out the night before. “You say that every morning.” Miles shrugged. “You’re late every morning.” “Then wake me up sooner.” “I have a better idea—why don’t you go to sleep when I tell you to?” “I’m not tired then. I’m only tired in the mornings.” “Join the club.” “Huh?” “Never mind,” Miles answered. He pointed to the bathroom. “Don’t forget to brush your hair after you get dressed.” “I won’t,” Jonah said. Most mornings followed the same routine. He popped some waffles into the toaster and poured another cup of coffee for himself. By the time Jonah had dressed himself and made it to the kitchen, his waffle was waiting on his plate, a glass of milk beside it. Miles had already spread the butter, but Jonah liked to add the syrup himself. Miles started in on his own waffle, and for a minute, neither of them said anything. Jonah still looked as if he were in his own little world, and though Miles needed to talk to him, he wanted him to at least seem coherent. After a few minutes of companionable silence, Miles finally cleared his throat. “So, how’s school going?” he asked.

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