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Home > Gone for Good(13)

Gone for Good(13)
Author: Harlan Coben

“I have to find her,” I said.

“Yeah, I know.”

“You want to help?”

Squares shrugged. “You won’t be able to do it without me.”

“There’s that,” I said. “So what should we do first?”

“To quote an old proverb,” Squares said, “before we go forward, we have to look back.”

“You just make that up?”

“Yeah.”

“Guess it makes sense, though.”

“Will?”

“Yeah?”

“Not to state the obvious or anything, but if we look back, you may not like what we see.”

“Almost assuredly,” I agreed.

Squares dropped me by the door and drove back to Covenant House. I entered the apartment and tossed my keys on the table. I would have called out Sheila’s name—just to make sure she hadn’t come home—but the apartment felt so empty, so drained of energy, I didn’t bother. The place I’d called home for the past four years seemed somehow different to me, foreign. There was a stale feel to it, as though it’d been empty for a long time.

So now what?

Search the place, I guess. Look for clues, whatever that meant. But what struck me immediately was how spartan Sheila had been. She took pleasure in the simple, even seemingly mundane, and taught me how to do the same. She had very few possessions. When she’d moved in, she’d only brought one suitcase. She wasn’t poor—I’d seen her bank statements and she’d paid for more than her share here—but she’d always been one of those people who lived by that “possessions own you, not the other way around” philosophy. Now I wondered about that, about the fact that possessions don’t so much own you as bind you down, give you roots.

My XXL Amherst College sweatshirt lay over a chair in the bedroom. I picked it up, feeling a pang in my chest. We spent homecoming weekend at my alma mater last fall. There’s a hill on Amherst’s campus, a steep slope that starts a-high on a classic New England quad and slides toward a vast expanse of athletic fields. Most students, in a fit of originality, call this hill “the Hill.”

Late one night Sheila and I walked the campus, hand in hand. We lay on the Hill’s soft grass, stared at the pure fall sky, and talked for hours. I remember thinking that I had never known such a sense of peace, of calm and comfort and, yes, joy. Still on our backs, Sheila put her palm on my stomach and then, eyes on the stars, she slipped her hand under the waistband of my pants. I turned just a little and watched her face. When her fingers hit, uh, pay dirt, I saw her wicked grin.

“That’s giving it the old college try,” she’d said.

And okay, maybe I was turned on as all get-out, but it was at that very moment, on that hill, her hand in my pants, when I first realized, really realized with an almost supernatural certainty, that she was the one, that we would always be together, that the shadow of my first love, my only love before Sheila, the one that haunted me and drove away the others, had finally been banished.

I looked at the sweatshirt and for a moment, I could smell the honeysuckle and foliage all over again. I pressed it against me and wondered for the umpteenth time since I’d spoken to Pistillo: Was it all a lie?

No.

You don’t fake that. Squares might be right about people’s capacity to do violence. But you can’t fake a connection like ours.

The note was still on the counter.

Love you always.

S

I had to believe that. I owed Sheila that much. Her past was her past. I had no claim to it. Whatever had happened, Sheila must have had her reasons. She loved me. I knew that. My task now was to find her, to help her, to figure a way back to . . . I don’t know . . . us.

I would not doubt her.

I checked the drawers. Sheila had one bank account and one credit card—at least, that I knew of. But there were no papers anywhere—no old statements, no receipts, no bankbooks, nothing. They’d all been thrown away, I guess.

The computer screen saver, the ever-popular bouncing lines, disappeared when I moved the mouse. I signed on, switched over to Sheila’s screen name, clicked Old Mail. Nothing. Not one. Odd. Sheila didn’t use the Net often—very rarely in fact—but to not have one old email?

I clicked Filing Cabinet. Empty too. I checked under Bookmarked Websites. More nothing. I checked the history. Nada.

I sat back and stared at the screen. A thought floated to the surface. I considered it for a moment, wondering if such an act would be a betrayal. No matter. Squares had been right about looking back in order to figure out where to go next. And he was right that I might not like what I find.

I logged on to switchboard.com, a massive online telephone directory. Under Name I typed Rogers. The state was Idaho. The city was Mason. I knew that from the form she’d filled out when she volunteered at Covenant House.

There was only one listing. On a slip of scrap paper, I jotted down the phone number. Yes, I was going to call Sheila’s parents. If we were going to go back, we might as well go all the way.

Before I could reach for the receiver, the phone rang. I picked it up, and my sister, Melissa, said, “What are you doing?”

I thought about how to put it and settled for: “I have something of a situation here.”

“Will,” she said, and I could hear the older-sister tone, “we’re mourning our mother here.”

I closed my eyes.

“Dad’s been asking about you. You have to come.”

I looked around the stale, foreign apartment. No reason to hang here. And I thought about the picture still in my pocket—the image of my brother on the mountain.

“I’m on my way,” I said.

Melissa greeted me at the door and asked, “Where’s Sheila?”

I mumbled something about a previous commitment and ducked inside.

We actually had a real-life nonfamily visitor today—an old friend of my father’s named Lou Farley. I don’t think they’d seen each other in ten years. Lou Farley and my father traded stories with too much gusto and from too long ago. Something about an old softball team, and I had a vague recollection of my father suiting up in a maroon uniform of heavy polyester knit, a Friendly’s Ice Cream logo emblazoned across the chest. I could still hear the scrape of his cleats on the driveway, feel the weight of his hand on my shoulder. So long ago. He and Lou Farley laughed. I hadn’t heard my father laugh like that in years. His eyes were wet and far away. My mother would sometimes go to the games too. I can see her sitting in the bleachers with her sleeveless shirt and tanned, toned arms.

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