A Lane in Red
by Jon Kilner
Jane dumped a spoonful of sugar into her first cup of the day and looked up through half-opened eyes. Simon had just walked into the kitchen, decked out in his finest black turtleneck and grey jacket. "You look disgustingly awake for such an early hour," Jane mumbled, her voice honed to a lovingly sarcastic edge.
"Early?" The corner of Simon's mouth turned upward. "It's after ten."
Jane shrugged and turned back to her coffee. "Like I said."
Simon reached across the kitchen island and gently lifted Jane's chin, raising her gaze to meet his own. His brown eyes were alight, glowing in concert with his smile. "You're just not a morning person," he said. "Are you?"
"Well, neither are y . . . mmmmphh."
His kiss caught Jane in mid rejoinder, smothering her words. Jane leaned into the kiss and set the spoon aside, freeing her hand to wander up the back of Simon's neck. Seconds passed unnoticed as husband and wife shared a proper greeting.
"Hmmmmm," said Simon as they parted. "How's that for a morning pick-me-up?"
Jane smiled, mischief alight in her eyes. "Not bad," she said, lifting her mug. "But it'll never replace coffee."
Simon's eyes widened. He lifted a hand to his heart and stepped back, recoiling in mock horror. "You wound me, my lady," he said.
"I'll hurt you anytime, lover," Jane replied with an evil smirk. "All you have to do is ask."
"How tempting." Simon arched a suggestive eyebrow. But it lasted only a few seconds, replaced by a winsome sigh. "But I'm already late. How do I look?"
Jane looked Simon over as he struck a mock fashion magazine pose. He was sharp, there was no denying it. The pressed grey slacks matched his jacket and a pair of black dress shoes completed the ensemble. It all combined well with his straight black hair and dark eyes, giving him the mysterious air just right for an artist. "You look good," she said, narrowing her eyes in honest assessment. "But there's one thing missing."
Simon spread his arms and looked himself over. "I remembered my pants," he said with a grin. "I give up. What's missing?"
Jane walked around the kitchen island. Simon turned to face her, but without a word she put a hand on his shoulder and turned him around the other way. Standing behind him now, Jane reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out what she knew would be there. Then, with a deftness born of practice, Jane hooked Simon's hair over his ears and gathered it up into a tail. She tied the tail off with the black band from his pocket and let it fall between his shoulder blades. "There you go," she said, turning him around again. "Now you look like an ahhhtist."
Simon leaned in close. "Many thanks, my little apple blossom."
"Ugh." Jane hated cutesy little names like that and Simon knew it. In truth, he hated them as much as she, but Simon rarely passed up an opportunity to tease. Jane arched a threatening eyebrow at him and narrowed her eyes. "I will hurt you when you get home, you know."
"Promises, promises." Simon gave her a quick peck on the lips. "Seriously, I won't be home until after dark. I'll be talking to business types about art, after all, so it'll probably take a while to break through to them. But hell, if I can chip marble . . ."
"Think you'll get the commission?"
"Probably, but it's bound to be a long and drawn out process. So, don't wait dinner for me."
"Tell it to the delivery boy," Jane replied, reaching again for her mug.
"Pizza again?" Simon nodded toward the stairs and to Jane's studio beyond. "Gonna work on your newest, huh?"
"Yep. I've done some good sketches and I'm ready to start pushing the paint."
"Good luck," Simon offered as he turned for the door. "See you tonight."
Jane turned away as Simon vanished through the door. It was time to get her own day started. A second cup of coffee and a long morning run brought her soul back in contact with her body. She started blending oils in her thoughts as she ate a quick breakfast and showered, rendering up colours suitable for the work at hand. Jane kept the colours fresh in her thoughts as she slipped into a comfortable pair of old jeans and a paint-stained grey sweatshirt. Then she slipped on her grey boots, old friends from high school, just for old time's sake. Now suitably attired, Jane at last climbed the stairs and entered her studio.
It was pretty bare place at the moment, her most recent paintings having been displayed and sold in the New York show last week. Jane sighed as she looked around at the unaccustomed neatness. Her oils were put away. Her brushes stood like sentinels in paint-covered mason jars. Fresh canvasses lay stacked and waiting against the wall and her favorite easel stood empty. Jane walked over to the canvasses and started flipping through them, measuring each against the work she had in mind. She chose a 30" by 40" canvass and set it up on her easel. In minutes she had her brushes in place and her colours squirted onto a clean palette. Taking up a long-handled filbert brush, Jane set to work.
The canvass filled as the afternoon wore into evening, coming to life as a forest glen split by a wide stream, the trees and warm sky reflected in calm water. It had a Renoiresque look, something new for her, like a vision that one could walk into. Jane paid particular attention to creating a little spit of land that extended out into the water like a minuscule peninsula. She covered it with green grass, a little brighter than that on the more common shores, lit by sunlight filtered through a hole in the forest canopy. Jane stepped back and smiled, satisfied with her grassy creation.
Then she turned back to her tubes of paint and squirted out a new selection of colours. Choosing a narrower brush, she stirred the oils into new combinations and dabbed them on the canvass. Two figures took shape on the peninsula, a man and a woman standing together hand in hand. Jane gifted them with amorphous qualities, but in her thoughts they were herself and Simon. That was why she'd painted this scene. It represented how the world felt to her now. It was a more tolerable, more pleasant place than it had ever been before.
Jane smirked. How Daria would laugh to hear such thoughts from her longtime partner in gloom. Daria had, in fact, mentioned the more positive tone Jane's paintings had begun to take on after Simon entered her life. For a while it seemed she had actually been worried about Jane's state of mind. Of course, Daria's own happiness in marriage had managed to leak into her writing, but Daria would never admit it. The thought made Jane smile as she turned her attention from the unfinished figures to their reflections in the water.
She was well into matching the reflections to their respective figures when a distant ringing seeped in through the shell of her creation. Jane reluctantly lifted her brush from the canvass and tilted her head, listening. Yep, it was the phone. She considered ignoring it, her usual tactic when in the studio, but it was probably Simon. It was already getting late and he did so hate to worry her. He was sweet in that way, and in others.
Jane tapped one last daub of paint to the face of the female figure, then upended her brush and stuck it into the nearest jar. Setting her palette aside, Jane ran for the bedroom phone, anxious not to leave Simon hanging. On the canvas, her final daub distorted, borne down by the weight of it's hasty application. Moving slowly, it formed a thick drop and ran like a tear down the figure's blurry face.
"You're writing has bite to it, Daria," said the slightly drunken publisher. "I hope you never decide to put me in one of your books."
Daria hid her grimace behind a tactical sip of champagne. "I'd never write about you, Terry," she said as she lowered her glass, her stoic placidity restored. Unless I was writing a book intended as a cure for insomnia, she finished silently, suppressing a wicked smirk.
Blissfully ignorant -- a state with which he was intimately familiar -- Terry saluted Daria with his champagne flute and turned to resume his mingling. Daria shook her head. Terry had come to the party to troll for successful writers to sign and he knew that Daria was already spoken for as far as the European market was concerned. Setting his sights on a gaggle of fresh faces across the room, Terry set off, staggering only a little as he worked his way through the crowd.
Daria shook her head and turned away, sipping her drink as she scanned for familiar faces. Dammit, why had Alan invited her to this party? Sure, she had just signed with his London house to publish her books in Europe, but was that any reason to subject her to a roomful of schmoozers? Better question. How had she let him talk her into accepting the invitation? You're getting soft, she told herself. Time was, you couldn't be dragged to one of these phony functions.
A flicker of hasty motion -- an anachronism in a room of the idly chatting -- caught Daria's eye. Jenny, Alan's secretary, was making her way across the room. She found Alan and broke into his conversation, something she never did under normal circumstances. Alan nodded to her and lifted his head to scan the room. His eyes settled on Daria and he motioned her over.
A chill traveled up Daria's spine as she set her drink aside and moved to join them. This couldn't be good. Good news never arrived in a hurry. Please don't let it be about Miles . . .
"Daria," said Alan as she approached. "There's a phone call for you."
"This way." Jenny turned for Alan's office and Daria followed. Jenny showed her to the door and motioned her inside. "Right at the desk, Ms. Morgendorffer." Then Jenny left Daria alone.
Daria walked straight to the phone and lifted the receiver to her ear, her eyes on the blinking 'hold' button. She stretched out a finger to press it, but something held her back. Did she really want to take this call? Then she drew a deep breath and pressed the button. "Hello?"
She released her breath in a relieved huff. "Miles. You scared me, calling me here. But you did get me out of that so-called party, so maybe I should . . ."
"Daria," said Miles, his voice low. "I'm afraid I've got some bad news."
Oh shit. "What is it?" Daria asked aloud. "What's happened?"
"It's Simon," Miles said with the directness that she loved and sometimes hated in him. "There was a car accident. He's been killed."
An icy hand gripped Daria's spine. "Oh, god. What about Jane? Is she . . ."
"Jane is fine. She wasn't in the car."
Daria shuddered, a reaction of equal parts relief and horror. "When did it happen?"
"Last night, our time," Miles explained. "I just found out about it. Trent called."
"I've got to get to Jane's," said Daria, her thoughts already turning toward a means. "I'll call Heathrow and get a flight. I'll have to stop at the hotel. Oh god, I've got to talk to Jane first."
"Call her," said Miles. "Then just pick up and go. I'll take care of your reservations from here. Your ticket to New York will be waiting for you at Heathrow."
"Okay," said Daria. "Thanks. I've got to get off and call Jane. She must be in hell."
Miles paused. "You know I wish I could be there, Daria. But there's just no transport . . ."
"I know. I understand."
Mutual silence over the telephone line conveyed their exchange of wishes and understanding. "Go then," Miles said at last. "Do what you need to."
"Okay." Then Daria paused, tightening her grip on the receiver. "Miles? I love you."
"I love you too, Daria."
Daria hung up and dialed Jane's number. The phone rang twice, then clicked. "Hey," replied Jane's recorded voice. "You found us, so you've earned the right to leave a message. Do it after the beep and maybe we'll get back to you. Or maybe not." Daria spoke quickly, telling Jane that she was on her way. Then she slammed the phone down, stomped out of the office and made for the door. She paid no attention to the questioning shout from her publisher and even less to the rude comments that came from conversations interrupted by her passage.
The famed London drizzle spotted Daria's glasses as she stepped from the building and hailed a passing cab. The hotel had to be her first destination. She didn't give a damn about her clothes and other traveling items, not with Jane needing her, but she'd need her passport if she wanted to get home. Besides, she could try to call Jane again from the room.
Daria called from the hotel, but again she just got the machine. She called from the airport and again from the Concorde as it crossed the Atlantic, but Jane didn't answer. Each unanswered call ate at Daria. Normally she slept soundly when flying, but not this time. The hours passed in silent agony as she stared out the Concorde window with haunted eyes, watching the moon's reflected light dance on the ocean far below.
The house was dark and the darkness was good. It was a quiet thing, smothering both sound and thought alike. It was heavy and light, oppressive and gentle, like forgetting. Like a quiet in the mind. Silence. Peace. Forgetfulness. Qualities all to be found in a darkened room. And in sleep.
Jane stood barefoot in the upstairs hallway, her eyes open wide to the darkness. Sleep called to her, lulling her to seek its solace. Ready to give herself over, Jane turned to the bedroom door and stretched out a hand. But her fingers stopped an inch from the knob. She couldn't . . . touch it. Jane drew her hand away and tried again, this time spreading her fingers and reaching for the center of the door, for the wood right before her eyes. Again she paused an inch away, repelled by the silent door and by the emptiness beyond. It was something she didn't want to see, didn't want to enter. Something she didn't want to be a part of.
Withdrawing her hand, Jane turned away and stalked to the closet. Slamming the door open, she yanked out a blanket and pillow and carried them downstairs to the family room. "Dammit,"she cursed as thin cardboard crumpled under the arch of her bare foot. Throwing her burden onto the sofa, she bent down and lifted the empty pizza box from the floor and set it on the coffee table, knocking aside an empty soda can and a paper takeout container to make room. Then she turned back to the sofa and spread her blanket out.
A thought struck before she could climb in and Jane touched her clothes. She was still wearing her old cutoffs and t-shirt. Slowly, Jane looked back toward the stairs, her gaze moving upward to that empty room up there. No. Pajamas weren't necessary. Shorts and a t-shirt were just fine for sleeping. Jane climbed under the blanket and arranged the pillow beneath her head. Then all was silence again. Silence and remembrance.
Wide eyes remained open to the darkness, images playing unbidden within. Jane watched them play, an unwilling spectator, a tormented patron unable to turn away from the hellish dance upon the stage. Each vision pricked her consciousness and bled her soul until her breathing became laboured and her sorrow pooled in the corners of her eyes.
Jane sat bolt upright, clutching the blanket to her. "Simon!" she called into the darkness. "Simon! Are you home?"
The silence closed over her again. Simon wasn't home and the house was dark. He was late. Damn, usually he called if he was going to be so late. Sure, she wasn't the worrying type, but it would be nice of him to at least call. Usually he did. But not tonight.
Jane threw the blanket aside and put her feet on the floor. It was no use lying here. Sleep wasn't what she needed. She needed to work. Yeah, that was it. She would paint until Simon came home. She'd been working on a painting, hadn't she? It seemed like a long time ago, but maybe it was still up there waiting for her. Her unfinished work.
Jane smirked at that turn of phrase as she climbed up the darkened stairway and entered her studio. For just a moment she hesitated with her hand over the light switch, then she flicked it on. Light flooded the room and blanked out Jane's vision as she raised a hand against it. Slowly the brightness resolved into her studio, a room innocent of her works save for one. There it sat on her favorite easel, a peaceful scene of love in natural greens and blues. Her upended brush still sat in it's jar. Jane lifted it out and looked at the bristles. They were glued together, dried paint joining them into a single useless unit. No matter. She had loads of brushes.
Jane set the brush aside, laying it on the pigment-caked palette she'd abandoned so long ago, and put on her old yellow smock. Taking up a clean palette, Jane squirted colour onto it and took up a fresh brush. She looked at the figures in the painting and started blending the colours to finish them. Filling her brush, Jane turned her gaze to the figures. They were unfinished and blurry. Indistinct, and yet so clear in their intentions. They were two people in love. Happy. Together. Content.
Jane tossed the palette and brush aside and glared at the figures. How could they be so happy? What a foolish world she'd been painting, a fantasy land. Jane clenched her teeth as she stared, angry now. Where was the pain? Where was the reality and the agony of living day to day? How could these figures pretend to be so happy when others were in pain? It wasn't fair! Not fair at all!
Her motions quick and full of dark intent, Jane twisted open a tube of blood red paint and closed her hand around it. The paint flowed out onto a palette, twisting around itself and piling into a soft mound. Jane squeezed until no more came out, her hand shaking with the effort. Then she flung the expended tube across the room. Taking up the loaded palette and a fresh brush, she turned back to the painting. It was time to wipe away the lies.
She plunged the bristles into the red mound and lifted out a healthy portion. Balancing the overloaded brush, Jane reached out to the male figure, poised to strike. She hesitated over the figure, her hand shaking and paint dripping on the floor. One stroke, that's all it would take. One quick motion and the happy lie would be erased forever. It had to be done. Didn't it?
Jane slowly withdrew the brush and laid it back into the mound of paint. Setting aside the palette, Jane reached out and gently lifted the painting from the easel. Moving like a sleepwalker, Jane carried the painting to the far wall and set it down under the window. Jane leaned it against the wall, turning it's lying picture away. Let it sit there, it's face turned away from the world. Unseen. Unloved. Alone.
The words pricked at Jane's thoughts as she stomped across the room and grabbed one of the clean canvasses from the stack. She carried it to the easel and slammed it home, clamping it in place with ruthless efficiency. Then she took up the palette and brush, and set to work. Jane worked with careless abandon, her brush moving quickly as if fueled by a life of its own. Rage came alive on the canvass in merciless strokes of red. When the canvass was filled by her rage, she unclamped it and set another in it's place.
And so it went, canvass after canvass, vicious strokes of red upon white. All the while, the words echoed in her mind. It isn't fair. Another work finished, she threw it aside and began yet another. It isn't fair. More red paint. Stroke upon stroke, each intensifying the rage that powered the next. Jane stabbed with her brush, pounding the canvass and shaking the easel beneath it. It isn't fair, dammit! It just isn't fair!
The canvass rocked under her assault and the easel overbalanced. Enraged by it's betrayal, Jane closed her fist around the brush and swung. Her fist smashed into the work, slamming the painting and easel to the floor. Teeth clenched and fist at the ready, Jane stood over the fallen painting and shook, every instinct calling for action. Closing her eyes, Jane parted her lips and drew breath, ready to howl out her rage at the world's injustice.
Jane spun to face the voice, ready to tear into Simon for worrying her this way. But Simon wasn't standing in the doorway. It was Daria. School was over for the day and she'd come to Casa Lane for some quiet time away from her family. Soon Daria would be sitting on the bed with a book while Jane painted, the stereo providing quiet background noise to drown the outside world. Jane forced up a smile for her partner-in-crime. "Hey, Daria," she said. "You made it."
"Yes, I did," Daria replied, her voice strangely quiet. "What are you doing?"
"Painting." Jane looked down at the fallen easel, it's slashes of red now strangers to her mind. She looked at the red-soaked brush in her hand, another stranger. This wasn't right. Where was her bed? Where was Daria going to sit? Everything was wrong. Jane opened her hand and let the brush fall onto the wounded canvass. Red upon red. Some of the red stayed behind, like blood on her hands. Jane rubbed her hands against her smock. "I'm painting," she told Daria. "That's what I do."
"How about a break," Daria offered. "Let's get a cup of coffee."
"No." Jane turned back to the easel and tried to set it upright, but it fought her efforts. It's folded legs would not support it and the easel fell again, pinning the canvass beneath it. Jane stood up, leaving it on the floor. Her floor. Simon's floor. Yes. How could she have mistaken her studio for her old bedroom on Howard Drive? Struck by the absurdity, Jane couldn't help but chuckle. Imagine, thinking she was back in high school. A fate worse than death.
No, not worse. Other things were worse, like an empty house. Jane turned to her friend. "I'm alone, Daria," Jane muttered. "Simon isn't here."
"I know," Daria replied. She stepped forward and extended her hand. "I heard, Jane. That's why I came home. Remember, I called from London and told you I was coming."
Jane stared at Daria's extended hand. It was like friendship itself was reaching out to her, offering to give her what she needed. But giving wasn't the whole story. That which could be given, could also be taken ruthlessly away. "He's not coming back," Jane said, not knowing how she knew. "He left me, Daria."
"He didn't want to go, Jane. It wasn't his idea."
Not his idea? That didn't make sense. "What do you mean?"
"It was an accident," came Daria's soft reply. "Simon didn't want to leave you. He was in his car and he had an accident."
"What?" Jane met Daria's steady gaze. "An accident? So you're saying that he's . . . No! That's not right. That can't be right."
Jane turned away and bent to lift the easel again. She had to get back to work. Simon would be home soon and they would send out for pizza and spend the evening together, just like they always did. He was late, that was all. He'd said he was going to be late, hadn't he?
Daria's hands closed on Jane's shoulders. "Come on, Jane," Daria prodded. "Let's sit down and talk a while."
Jane spun, throwing Daria's hands off her shoulders. The motion unbalanced her and Jane stepped over the canvass, catching it's corner under her heel. She didn't feel it. Why didn't she feel it? "What are you saying, Daria?" she said, already fearing the answer. "Are you saying that Simon is . . . No, he can't be. He was my one. My only one. He just can't be . . ."
Daria blurred as Jane's eyes filled. But maybe it wasn't so. Maybe there was just one more chance. If only . . . "Tell me he isn't, Daria," she pleaded. "Please tell me he isn't."
Daria's eyes held steady, the pain within giving Jane her answer. "I'm sorry, Jane," said Daria, the words almost a plea of their own. "I'm so sorry."
Jane's world spun and she fell backward, landing hard on the floor. Daria ran across the fallen easel and knelt down, crushing Jane in her arms. Jane threw her arms around Daria, her only anchor amid the turmoil, as the grief took her body and soul. "He's dead," Jane gasped, the words both releasing and imprisoning her. Jane buried her face in Daria's shoulder and cried. "Oh God, Daria. My Simon is dead!"
"Shhhh," Daria replied, her arms strong and steady. "It'll be okay. I'm here with you now and I won't let you go."
Jane cried all the harder, knowing that it wasn't okay. Simon was dead. How was it ever going to be okay again?
The quick double-knock on the front door startled Daria and she looked over her shoulder. It had actually been a quiet, almost tentative sound, as if the visitor had been unsure of disturbing the night. But the house was quiet and it magnified every sound. Resisting the urge to call out for silence, Daria turned back to her fitfully sleeping charge. Jane was lying on the sofa, her upturned face still bearing the red splotchiness of her grief. The knock set her to stirring. A flutter of the eyelids, a soft sigh and she fell back to sleep.
Daria finished spreading a blanket over her and turned for the door, moving quickly to forestall any further noise. Flipping the locks, she opened the door and found an old friend standing on the porch. Daria smiled in spite of the somber circumstances and threw her arms around him. "Hey, Trent. It's good to see you."
Trent returned her embrace, squeezing her warmly. "Hey, Daria. It's been a while."
"Too long," Daria replied.
Trent gave her one last squeeze, then stepped back and held Daria at arm's length. "How's Janey?"
"Sleeping, finally." Daria sighed. "She's in pretty bad shape, Trent. I don't think she's slept since it happened." Daria stepped back and motioned Trent inside. She closed the door behind him, shutting out the blowing autumn leaves.
Trent immediately turned for the stairs. "I want to see her."
"Jane's not up there." In answer to Trent's questioning gaze, Daria raised a hand toward the sofa. Trent quietly walked up to the sofa and peered over the back, a worried frown darkening his face. "She was all set up down here when I came," Daria explained, walking up to join him. "Jane refused to let me take her into the bedroom. She wouldn't even look at the door."
Trent shook his head as he leaned over and gently brushed errant strands of hair from Jane's eyes. Jane stirred. Drawing a breath, she opened bleary eyes and looked up. Her gaze caught her brother's and a sleepy smile tugged the corners of her mouth. "Trent?"
"I'm here, little sister," Trent whispered. "Go back to sleep."
Jane closed her eyes and rolled onto her side, pulling the blanket more snugly about her neck. Another long sigh and she was asleep.
Daria stood in silence, unwilling to break the moment between brother and sister. Trent crossed his arms and rested his elbows on the back of the sofa, supporting his weight as he looked down on Jane's peaceful rest. He seemed to age as the minutes passed, his concern etching lines that had no business on so young a face. Daria frowned. She didn't want to add to his burdens, but he would have to know about Jane's earlier confusion. He might have to deal with it tomorrow.
After a few more minutes, Daria walked up and put a hand on Trent's shoulder. "You want some coffee?"
Trent turned his head, his slouch putting his eyes on level with Daria's. He nodded. "Yeah. I suppose so."
"Okay. I'll make it." Daria motioned toward the kitchen as he straightened up. "There's something we need to talk about."
Trent lifted his mug and looked at the ring of half-dried coffee remnant lining the bottom. Empty again. Hadn't he just filled it a minute ago? How many cups had he drank tonight? Four? Five? No matter. The cup was empty and it needed refilling.
Lowering the cup, he looked over at Janey still asleep on the sofa. God, she looked so peaceful now. The red of her crying had faded. Her brow, which had creased several times during the night when hard reality invaded a pleasant dream, was now relaxed. Lost in the forgetfulness of sleep, Janey's face had relaxed into a portrait of the child she had once been, before the cares and responsibilities of adulthood had added its inevitable imprint.
A slight smile tugged at the corner of Trent's mouth, prompted by the thousand pleasant memories this tableau resurrected within him. If he squinted, he could almost see her in another time, wearing the paint-splatter print pajamas of her preschool days -- to which she had of course added watercolour splatters of her own -- and lying asleep on the sofa. She'd done that so often, waiting for him to carry her to bed . . .
"Wake up, Janey. It's time for bed."
"Mmmmm hmmmmm," Janey replied, her sleepy-hum answer barely audible. Rather than opening her eyes, Janey rolled up tighter and tucked her hands up between the sofa's pillow and her cheek. Then she sighed and relaxed again into sleep.
Trent reached out and gently shook her shoulder. "Hey, wake up and go up to bed."
Janey stirred awake -- just a bit -- and smiled at him through mostly-closed eyes. "Carry me," she said.
"No way. You have to walk yourself."
"Huh uh," Janey replied. "I'm too tired. Carry me."
"Not a chance, Janey."
The corners of Janey's mouth edged up just a little higher and she closed her eyes. Trent sighed as he looked down at her. "Oh, okay," he huffed. "But just for tonight."
Trent slipped his arms under his little sister and lifted her from the sofa, pretending all the while not to see the grin that was leaking through her sleep-face. She was getting big, but she was still only four years old. He was nine now and the day he couldn't carry her all over this house . . . well, that day would never come. He had to be careful on the stairs, but he managed. Flicking the light switch with an elbow, he carried Janey over to her bed and plopped her down, prompting a giggle which she quickly covered with her hand. She rebuilt her sleep-face as he spread the covers over her. He tucked them up under her chin and brushed strands of hair away from her closed eyes. "There you go," he told her. "But this is the last time, Janey. Tomorrow you walk up here on your own."
"Okay," she mumbled, smiling. "I promise."
Trent turned for the door. "Okay, then. Goodnight, Janey."
"Goodnight. And Trent?" Trent turned and looked back at her from the doorway. Her eyes were wide open now, watching him. "Thanks for the ride," she said, her voice solemn.
Trent nodded to her. "No problem. Goodnight."
He flicked the light off and closed the door, leaving it open just a crack the way she liked it. Then, standing alone in the hallway, he shook his head and grinned from ear to ear. He'd been smiling all the time, really. On the inside. Janey knew it, too, or she wouldn't keep playing the game. But his keeping a straight face all the way through was important. That was his role in the game, the 'serious parent,' so that's the way he played it. The truth was, he really liked carrying her to bed and he'd keep doing it as long as she wanted him to. He had to take care of his little sister, didn't he?
Who else was gonna do it?
Janey's child-like sleep-face blurred into memory and Trent lifted a hand to wipe the moisture from his eyes. Man, that was so long ago now, but it seemed like yesterday. In those days, there wasn't a problem Janey had that he couldn't solve.
But times change. Problems get bigger and some of them didn't come with solutions.
Trent eased himself out of the recliner, watching Janey to see that his motion didn't wake her. She didn't even stir. Neither did Daria, sacked out on the other recliner. No surprise there. Daria was nearly as exhausted as Jane, and not just physically. Like him, she'd traveled all the way here in a state of nervous agitation, worrying herself sick that she couldn't get to Jane's side fast enough. Let them both sleep. They needed it.
Trent carried his cup into the kitchen, but the Mr. Coffee was empty. That was no surprise either. He'd been hitting it pretty hard tonight, but that was better than the alternative. He wasn't going to sleep until he talked to Janey, until her saw her face to face and told her that he was here for her. That's what he'd come for and that's what he would do. There was no way he'd let her wake up and find him asleep.
Trent looked out the window as the Mr. Coffee burbled its way through the pot. The horizon was just beginning to tint a pale blue. God, was it almost dawn already? It seemed unreal, somehow, that dawn could follow a sleepless night. There was some part of the soul that just refused to accept it that way around. Night should fall first, then sleep should come. Then, and only then, was the next day allowed to begin. Dawn arising from an unfinished night was just wrong.
On the counter, the Mr. Coffee's burble faded to a hiss. Trent turned his back on the dawn and poured himself a cup. Then, unable to help himself, he walked back to the window and watched the coming sunrise. Maybe it was a primal thing, the fascination of watching the world reawaken. Maybe it was just novelty. He and the dawn had never been on speaking terms.
"Wow. So that wasn't a dream."
Trent turned. Jane stood in the doorway, bare feet on the tile and a blanket draped over her running shorts and t-shirt. Trent set his cup down, splattering coffee on the counter. Then he crossed the room and gathered Janey up in his arms, blanket and all. "Janey," he said. "I'm so sorry about what happened."
Jane didn't try to return the hug. Instead she just let herself be enveloped in his arms. They stood that way for a long moment, eyes closed, shutting out the world. But the world never allowed itself to be shut out for long.
Trent stepped back and studied Jane's face, looking for any signs of the pseudo-madness that Daria had described. Jane smiled back at him, a weak effort. "Don't worry," she said. "I'm not going to flake out on you."
"I didn't mean to . . ."
"Forget it." Jane gathered the blanket around her shoulders and glanced at the Mr. Coffee. "Fresh pot?"
"Yeah." Trent turned for the counter. "Let me . . ."
"I can get it for myself," Jane replied, a touch of acid in her voice. "I'm not that far gone."
Trent retrieved his own coffee while Janey poured herself a cup. He sat down at the kitchen table -- just big enough for two -- and watched as she mechanically performed her coffee ritual. When she turned, Trent motioned her toward the empty chair. "Have a seat."
For just a second she looked uncomfortable, then she sat down across from him. "Look, Janey," he began. "I just want to . . ."
"Stop," Jane replied, raising a hand against his words. She closed her eyes and struggled to keep her face composed. Her effort wasn't entirely successful. "I really don't want to talk about it," she continued. "Not now."
"I know, Janey. But it might help if you did. Daria told me about . . ."
Jane opened her eyes. "I know what she probably told you, but that's over. I know what happened. I just . . . don't want to talk about it."
The words came out dry, but her eyes pleaded with him. "Okay," he said, relenting. "That's cool. But I'm here for you, Janey. I want you to know that. When you want to talk . . . and I mean anytime . . . I'm here."
Trent lifted his right hand, fingers open and palm outward. The corner of Jane's mouth quirked upward a touch at the motion, then she lifted her own left and touched her palm to his. Together they closed their hands, interlocking their fingers. "I know you are," Jane replied. "You always have been."
Daria awoke to the sound of singing birds and the fervent wish for a hunter to silence them. She opened one eye -- unwilling to commit further to the new day -- and looked to the window. It was light outside, but it wasn't yet what she'd consider daytime. By the colour of the light, it was what Jake called 'oh-God-hundred in the morning,' a term leftover from his military academy days. To cadets, that was the time between the brightening of the sky and the sun's rising, when it was too late to get back to sleep before reveille. Well, there was no reveille here to stop her returning to sleep.
Before surrendering herself again to slumber, Daria glanced over her shoulder at the sofa and found it empty. She sat bolt upright, casting aside her blanket -- blanket? -- but a quick look to her left gave her panic a pause. Trent's recliner was empty as well. Most likely they were together, then. Daria hoisted herself out of the chair anyway. Together they might be, but she was damned if she would go back to sleep before finding out for sure.
The scent of freshly brewed coffee drew her to the kitchen doorway and there she breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Jane and Trent were sitting together in the breakfast nook, each clasping the other's hand. They sat in silence, Jane looking out at the coming day and Trent staring down into his empty coffee cup. Neither seemed inclined to move.
There was still half a pot of coffee in the machine. Its scent reached out to Daria, drawing her with it's siren song. She desperately desired a cup, but she didn't want to intrude on their silence. Jane and Trent had yet to notice her standing in the doorway and that was just as well. By the look of it, they needed some time together.
Daria backed out and cast her glance back to her recliner, smirking a touch at the sight of the rumpled blanket. That had been Trent's doing, no doubt. Good old Trent. Somewhere in that strange guitarist/singer/songwriter/narcoleptic's double helix huddled the genetic coding of a caregiver.
But there was no point in returning to the recliner. Sleep had left her. Well, if coffee and breakfast were out of the question, then there was something else she wouldn't mind having a look at.
Stepping softly on the stairs, Daria returned to the scene of last night's drama. The studio was exactly how they'd left it; the dripped oils on the floor, the fallen easel, the red paintings everywhere. Daria entered cautiously. Jane must have been in here for some considerable time, working herself up into the frenzy she'd achieved. And all of it had been centered on one goal, spreading red paint over canvass.
The urge to straighten up the room was strong, but Daria suppressed it. There was no telling how Jane would react if she changed things. Maybe this uncontrolled spasm of creation had been part of her grieving process. Part of her healing. Maybe cleaning the mess up would be another part. Better to leave things as they lay.
She looked though. And occasionally, as she moved gingerly around the room, she tilted a painting up to examine it before putting in back in place. Some she would never see, as they were stuck face down on the carpet. Strange how each was different. Jane's talent showed through even her temporary madness. But they were all of one genre. Each depicted an artist's vicious attack on a canvass.
All except one.
Daria found it by the window, it's face to the wall. It nearly slipped from her fingers at first glance, so surprised was she to find such a calming image in this sea of chaos. Her eyes were drawn to it, as if made tired by all the crimson and seeking relief in the cool blues, greens and browns of the landscape. Two indistinct figures, a man and a woman, stood together in the forest scene. Their reflections danced in the gently flowing waters, their rippled edges nearly mingling.
What was the story behind this painting? Had Jane created it before learning of Simon's death, or had it been the calm before the emotional storm? The smart money was on the former. There was contentment in every stroke, the same kind of contentment that Jane had been feeling ever since her marriage to Simon. Before her world had crumbled at her feet.
Daria looked around at the crimson nightmare. That was how Jane Lane would deal with the blow she'd received. Her pain lay in every slash and spatter. This landscape had come before and maybe that was why it had been hidden. Her contentment ripped violently away, Jane could no longer stand to look at it.
Daria set the painting back in it's place, facing the wall. The fact that it still existed at all suggested Jane had put it here for a reason. Jane's opinions about her own works were strong and visceral. If she wasn't satisfied in it, the work wouldn't survive. Jane wasn't finished with this painting. That suggested a question left unresolved in her mind. Perhaps a decision yet to be made.
The possibilities worried Daria as she picked her way back out of the studio.
"How was the funeral?"
Daria grimaced into the phone as she pried her boot off with one hand. Why did people ask such stupid questions? "The funeral was . . . well . . . it was a funeral, Mom."
Silence greeted her reply. Daria could almost see the familiar exasperated frown on the other end of the line. She made use of the reprieve to get her other boot off and the socks quickly followed. Ahhhhh. The cool kitchen tiles felt wonderful. Turning one of the kitchen chairs with her free hand, she kicked her boots aside and sat down. The motion wrinkled her tasteful black dress, but that didn't concern her in the slightest. If she'd known sitting had that affect on it, she never would've bought the thing. Then again, she hadn't had time -- and never had the inclination -- for comparison shopping.
"I understand," Helen replied. "But what I really meant was, how is Jane holding up?"
"She held up really well at the funeral. Too well, in fact."
"Jane's always been the stoic type," Helen reminded her. "She's had to be, the way she was brought up." A hint of disapproval leaked into Helen's voice. She'd never approved of Vincent and Amanda's hands-off parenting style.
"No, it's more than that." Daria leaned out and glanced into the family room. Jane had gone upstairs to change and taken Trent with her, to fetch clothes from her bedroom, no doubt. She still refused to go in there. They hadn't yet come down. "To be honest, I'm worried about her, Mom. I told you about the first night."
"Yes, you did," Helen replied, a concerned edge colouring her voice. "She hasn't slipped back into denial, has she?"
"No, but I'm not sure what she's doing now is any better." Another glance to the empty family room. "She looks like she's just going through the motions instead of dealing with it. I mean, she really let it out that first night, but since then she's been almost . . . disconnected."
"Quiet, you mean?"
"Well, yes," Daria replied. "But more than that. She's bottling it up inside and letting it fester. She seems to be cutting herself off from her life. She's just not . . . dealing with it."
"Ah," said Helen, a knowing tone in her voice. "I think I see what you're saying now. You mean she isn't painting. Am I right?"
Daria sighed and rolled her eyes. Dammit, she hated when her mother did that. "Yes, I suppose that's what I'm saying."
"Well, my goodness, Daria. It's only been a few days. Give her time to get over the shock."
"But that's just it," Daria countered. "As long as I've known Jane, she's coped by painting. Every time something happens, good or bad, Jane responds artistically. It's like nothing is real for her until she gets it on the canvass. But not this time."
"Daria," replied Helen, her tone low and serious. "Jane's never gone through anything like this before."
"Yeah. But still, it worries me."
"That's because you're a good friend, Daria."
"Ummmm, thanks," Daria mumbled. Why was it so hard to take a compliment from her own mother? "Sooo, what do you think I should do."
"Just what you're doing now," Helen answered. "Just be with her. Have your shoulder there, ready to be cried on, because once won't be enough. And don't mention her art, whatever you do. Let Jane come back to it naturally."
"No one is closer to Jane now than you and Trent," Helen continued. "And you're doing everything you can for her. Just give it some time. Jane will come back to her self."
"Well, I really appreciate the advice."
"It's my pleasure, sweetie," Helen replied. "I'd better get going. I've got a stack of deposition transcripts to go through tonight. You be sure to give Jane our love."
"I will. Goodbye Mom. And thanks."
Daria pushed back a plate of lunchtime crumbs and lifted her coffee for a sip. Trent entered the kitchen as she lowered the cup. He had a sheaf of legal-looking papers in his hand, a pencil behind his ear and a frustrated look in his eyes. His hair was disheveled, as if he'd been running harried fingers through it all morning. "Janey," he said. "I need to talk to you about this stuff."
Daria looked to Jane, who was sitting across the table in front of a half-eaten ham sandwich and an empty coffee mug. Jane glanced at the papers, a mere raising of her eyes, then she looked back down at her lunch. "No thanks," she said.
"C'mon, Janey," Trent replied, his voice rough and tired. He'd been staying up late every night trying to sort out the legal mess that death always left behind. Somebody had to. "I just don't know everything I need to fill these out."
"Don't care," Jane mumbled. "Just leave it."
"I can't just leave it. This stuff is important." Trent leafed through the papers with his free hand, turning the corners over one by one. "I've got your mortgage papers . . . stuff that needs to be changed over to your name . . . Simon's life insurance claim forms . . ."
Jane jolted to her feet, the backs of her knees pushing her chair to the middle of the kitchen floor. For a long second she glared at Trent. Then, without a word, she lifted her plate and turned toward the family room. Trent reached out and caught her elbow before she could pass him by. Jane yanked her arm free and sucked in a quick breath, as if his touch had burned her. She stood still, her arm held close against her body, her free hand forming into a fist. Daria's eyes widened. For a terrified moment she thought Jane was going to swing at him. But the fist slowly faded back into an open hand and fell limp to her side.
Trent hadn't even flinched. Had Jane swung, he wouldn't have moved. Daria could read that much in his eyes. There was even a hint of disappointment in his gaze. Perhaps he'd been trying to provoke a reaction -- any reaction. Something to drag Jane from her fugue of misery. Daria found herself wishing it had worked.
"I'm sorry, Janey," said Trent, his voice gentle -- almost pleading. "I know this is hard, but I can't do this alone. I need your help."
Jane opened her mouth to reply, but all that came out was a long sigh. Her tension drained away with the outpouring breath. "I can't," she breathed out with the last of the sigh. Then she walked past Trent and into the family room, taking the remains of her lunch with her. Conversation over.
Trent didn't watch her go. He stood with eyes closed, his teeth clenched behind parted lips. Then his jaw tightened and his lips peeled back into an angry grimace, the expression of a man enraged at the world and at things within it he was powerless to alter. Daria readied herself for his anger -- for the sight of papers flying at the very least -- but nothing came. Instead Trent let his face fall from anger into sorrow. He echoed Jane's long sigh, as if sending his soul out through his mouth in search of less painful circumstances.
"I'm sorry, Trent," Daria whispered. She wanted to say more, but what else was there?
Trent opened his eyes and turned to her. His anger spent, he retrieved Jane's chair and set it back in place. Tossing the papers down with a slap, he sat down and sagged, his arms resting folded on the table. "She isn't getting any better," he muttered. "She's getting worse."
"It's going to take her some time . . ."
"It's been five days since the funeral, Daria," Trent replied, his voice harsh. Then his eyes came up, regret for his tone clear within them. Daria let him off easy, turning up a corner of her mouth to let him know she understood. It wasn't the first cross word in the last few days and forgiveness certainly hadn't had to flow in only one direction. The tension was wearing on them both.
Trent sighed. "Do you think she's slipping back into denial?"
"No," Daria replied, shaking her head. "It's more like she's not letting herself mourn. Jane knows Simon is gone, but she's not willing to let him go. And if she won't mourn his loss, she'll never start to heal."
"Simon's been gone for more than a week now," said Trent. "And she still hasn't cried over him."
"Except that one night," Daria added.
"Yeah," said Trent. Then his eyes came up, a question in them. "You don't suppose . . .?"
Trent shifted in his chair. Putting his weight on one elbow, he drew on the table with his finger as if diagraming his thoughts. "You don't suppose that Janey believes she's done mourning, do you? I mean, she's never been one for letting out her strongest feelings, except in her art. Maybe she thinks that one good cry is all she needs."
"And now she's put her stoic face back on," Daria finished. "I don't know. Maybe."
"Then the reason she can't move on -- can't deal with what's happened -- is that it's all still bottled up behind the grief she hasn't let out yet."
"Maybe," Daria repeated. She spread her hands and shrugged. "I just don't know. And I don't know what to do about it if you're right."
Trent let himself sag again, wiping his phantom diagram away with an open hand. "Yeah. I guess it's just going to take more time."
"Probably." It hurt Daria to see that brief moment of clarity fade from Trent's eyes. By way of compensation, she reached out and drew the legal papers across the table. "Maybe I can give you a hand with these," she suggested. "My knowledge of legalese is pretty much limited to copyrights and publishing contracts, but I'll do what I can."
Trent offered her a tired smile. "Thanks, Daria. I'd appreciate that."
Jane lay awake on the sofa, one arm resting on her forehead, her gaze on the ceiling. It was late, but she was getting used to being awake while the rest of the world slept. Sleep was not something she needed just now. It only brought her dreams. Terrible dreams of Simon and of accidents, of blood and twisted steel. And it brought even worse, dreams of days more sweet. Dreams of so many peaceful anydays she'd spent with Simon at home doing mundane anyday things. In those, the pain came upon waking when contentment faded beyond recall. In those, life was the nightmare and there was no waking to escape it.
Drawing a sigh, Jane looked to her right. Daria was lying on her side, not an easy position on a recliner. Her blanket had been thrown askew, one corner held clutched in her hand and the rest draped over her back and down to the floor. Only her sleeping grip preventing it from escaping completely. Daria had been shifting in her sleep all night, her active mind no doubt preventing a restful sleep. Trent was having no such difficulty on his recliner. He had fallen hard -- big surprise -- and lay sprawled on his back, his feet spread and his arms at his sides. By the unwrinkled lay of his blanket, he hadn't moved since dropping off. His breathing was heavy through his open mouth, but he wasn't snoring. Not quite.
Jane pushed back her own blanket and stood up, careful not to wake them. Moving slowly, she lifted the end of Daria's blanket from the floor and drew it over her friend. Daria stirred, releasing her grip on the crumpled corner. Jane froze, but Daria didn't wake. When all was quiet again, Jane adjusted the blanket to perfection and turned back to the sofa.
The rumpled pillow and blankets looked anything but inviting. The sofa was good for sitting on, but it just wasn't made for sleeping. Still, it was better than . . .
Jane's eyes were drawn to the stairs. Unbidden, her feet carried her across the family room floor and onto the staircase. She climbed slowly, one hand on the railing, each step deliberate -- as if preordained by fate. They carried her to the top and across the hallway until she stood before the bedroom door. There she stopped, wresting control once again from her traitorous feet. But she didn't turn away. Instead she raised a hand to the door, as she had done that other night. Again her hand paused an inch from the wood, but this time nothing stopped her. This time she spread her hand on the door and sighed. Gathering her strength with an indrawn breath, Jane reached down and turned the knob.
Everything stood as it had before that . . . day, a perfect monument to the last happy hours she'd known. The last she would ever know with Simon. God, it was all so perfectly in place. Even her side, which she'd kept reasonably tidy in deference to him. His dresser was a shrine to neat efficiency. It still stood -- as she'd told him so many times -- as a perfect counterpoint to his thunderous disaster of a basement studio. Simon had always lived in neatness, but he could only create amid chaos.
It was all too perfect. The clothes he would never wear again tucked away in their drawers and in their closet. The bed he'd never sleep in again freshly made -- his doing. Too perfect. It should be wrecked, a symbol of all that was wrong now. All that would never be right again. Jane laid her hand on the bedspread, crushing it in her grip. One yank would start it all and the rest would flood after. The rage would come easily enough and the room wouldn't stand a chance against it. It would feel so good.
And it would utterly destroy this neatness that Simon had made. His final creation.
Jane released the bedspread and smoothed it beneath her hand. Perhaps it needed doing, but she couldn't do it. It just wasn't in her.
Jane turned and walked out of the bedroom, leaving the door open behind her. She turned for her studio, her thoughts of Simon's final creation stirring a memory. The place was still a mess. Somewhere in her thoughts, she had expected Daria to have cleaned up in here, but Daria had left it all untouched. Jane did the same, stepping over and around red-smeared canvasses to reach her own last creation. It still lay against the wall, it's face turned away from view. Jane lifted it and turned its face to her.
Unfinished and wrong. That's what it was. Begun in another era, time had passed it by. The thoughts -- the contentment -- that had inspired the painting's creation were gone beyond all hope of recapture. The painting would never be finished now. At least not in the way it was intended. What it needed was . . . updating.
Jane strode across the studio to her easel, thoughtlessly kicking bloodied canvasses out of her way. She set the easel upright and clamped the unfinished work in place. Then she readied a fresh palette, splashing it with greens and browns. Quick motions with a brush mixed the colours to perfection and then she set to work.
It didn't take long. Just a few strokes carefully applied. Then she stepped back and looked it over. Yes. That was it. Now the painting was finished. Now she was finished.
Jane set the palette and brush aside and walked out of the studio. She didn't look back.
Daria stirred, the sound of distant thunder invading her dreams. Wiping a hand across her eyes, she opened them to the sight of a sleeping Trent. Poor Trent. Even asleep he looked wiped. But at least he was sleeping. Suppressing a sigh, Daria glanced over at the sofa.
The sofa was empty. The indented pillow and thrown-back blanket were still there, but no Jane. Daria lay perfectly still and listened. Nothing. No water running, no footfalls. Just silence. Tossing aside her blanket, Daria got up and made her way first to the kitchen, then the bathroom. Both were empty. Maybe Jane had used the upstairs bathroom, but it didn't seem likely. She hadn't gone upstairs alone in days.
The first tingling of panic quickened Daria's breath as she strode back into the family room and flicked on the lights. "Trent!" Without waiting for a response, she smacked her hand down on the chair only inches from Trent's arm. "Trent, wake up!"
"Whu . . . uhh?" Trent opened bleary eyes and tried to focus them on her. "Daria? What's the matter?"
"It's Jane! I can't find her!"
Trent looked to the sofa, as if she wouldn't have thought to look there. Then his gaze darted around the empty room. "The bathroom, maybe?"
"No. I checked . . . at least the one on this floor."
Trent leaned forward, resetting the recliner upright, and stood up. His blanket slid unnoticed to the floor. "We'd better look around and find her."
"Right," Daria answered. "I'll check upstairs."
"I'll take the basement."
A flash of lightning lit the windows as Daria took the stairs two at a time. The thunder followed quickly, rumbling to a crescendo just as she opened the ajar bathroom door. If the thunder had been intended as a cosmic music cue, the payoff fell short of the mark. The bathroom was empty.
Daria turned and walked into the studio. Stopping in the doorway, she slapped a hand on the light switch. Again, no Jane. Everything was exactly as she'd left it days ago. No . . . wait. Something was different. The easel was standing upright and there was a canvass resting on it, turned away. Maybe . . . maybe Jane had started painting again. Maybe she'd come sneaking up here at night to begin her healing process at last. Buoyed by the thought, Daria stepped over the canvasses littering the floor and walked around to look at Jane's work. Outside the lightning flashed anew. Thunder followed, a long low rumble that traveled up through the floorboards and into Daria's feet. Ignoring it, Daria looked the painting over.
"Oh, my God."
It was the unfinished work of figures on a landscape, but it was not the same. The two indistinct figures had been painted out, landscaped over as if they had never been. Only their reflections in the water remained, blurry shadows of a man and a woman who no longer existed. Just echoes of a memory.
Daria bolted from the studio and all but slammed into Jane's bedroom door. "Just let her be in here," she muttered as she fumbled with the knob. "Just please let her be . . ." But she wasn't. The bedroom was empty.
Daria stood in the open doorway, trying to put herself into her best friend's thoughts. On a whim, she walked to Jane's dresser and pulled open the drawers. The clothing inside was neat, but it wasn't undisturbed. For days Daria had been coming in here and pulling clothes out for Jane. She'd come to know where everything was kept and some of Jane's stuff was missing. Her fancier, only-for-gallery-showings outfits were untouched, but a lot of her everyday clothes had been taken. Daria looked next in the closet and found an empty space where Jane's suitcase had been.
And suddenly she knew what her best friend was doing.
Daria ran down to the family room just in time to meet a breathless Trent coming up from the basement. His worried gaze met hers. "She's not down there," he huffed. "But her car is gone from the garage."
"Her suitcase is gone, too," Daria told him. "And a lot of her clothes."
"Dammit! What the hell is she doing?"
"She's leaving her life."
Trent's eyebrows rose, his eyes growing wide beneath them. "What?"
"She can't cope," Daria continued, her hands curled into fists before her. "She can't deal with what's happened, so she's running. She's leaving it all behind."
Trent ran the fingers of his right hand through his hair, a rough motion. His gaze darted around the room as if he might find Jane standing in a corner or in an open doorway. He needed to do something. Anything. "I'm going out to look for her!"
"Trent, we don't even know how long she's been gone. She could be hours away."
"I'll call the police!" Trent started for the kitchen phone.
Daria didn't want to reply to that, but she had to. He would find out anyway. "They won't do anything," she told him. "A person has to be missing for forty-eight hours before they'll start looking."
"Then I'll report her car stolen!" Trent fired back over his shoulder. "At least that way they'll stop her."
Daria nodded, though Trent had already turned away. It was a good idea. It might even work, if Jane hadn't gotten too far away. Daria unclenched her hands and let them fall to her side as Trent spoke with the police. His rapid-fire words blurred in her thoughts, disrupted by distance and the intervening wall. She turned away, not wanting to hear any more.
A flash of lightning met her at the front door. It's accompanying crash of thunder entered through the doorway as Daria opened it to the night. The rain had begun to fall. Daria walked out onto the porch and looked down the long driveway to the road beyond, unmindful of the gentle shower. It dampened her sleeping shorts and t-shirt, but that didn't matter. It mattered even less when the clothing soaked through and the droplets started running down from her hair. Daria just closed her eyes and accepted it. The night lay quiet, a strange interlude. A moment of peace. Perhaps the last she would know for some time. Daria knew that no matter what she had said earlier, Trent was eventually going to get in his car and start looking for Jane.
And she would be going with him.
To Be Continued . . .
** My thanks go out to Diane Long for her editorial comments on several drafts of this story. Also, thanks to Chad Page and Martin Pollard for their comments on the nearly-final draft, and for telling me that my springing of an unannounced two-part story on the fanfic community was an act of pure evil. Like I didn't know this already. :-) Wasn't that a great weekend? Let's do it again sometime.
** And thanks to the folks who took the time to share their thoughts my past stories. I value every message and e-mail.
** I welcome all feedback, comments and constructive criticism. You can reach me at Sehala@Aol.Com
(This is a work of fiction. All characters, settings and situations are fictitious. Hence the name 'fiction.')