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Home > Gone for Good(15)

Gone for Good(15)
Author: Harlan Coben

I held it up again. This time she didn’t blink.

“It’s Ken,” I said stupidly.

“I can see that, Will.”

“That’s the sum total of your reaction?”

“How would you like me to react?”

“He’s alive. Mom knew it. She had this picture.”

Silence.

“Mel?”

“He’s alive,” she said. “I heard you.”

Her response—or lack thereof—left me speechless.

“Is there anything else?” Melissa asked.

“What . . . that’s all you have to say?”

“What else is there to say, Will?”

“Oh, right, I forgot. You have to get back to Seattle.”

“Yes.”

She stepped away from me.

The anger resurfaced. “Tell me something, Mel. Did running away help?”

“I didn’t run away.”

“Bullshit,” I said.

“Ralph got a job out there.”

“Right.”

“How dare you judge me?”

I flashed back to when the three of us played Marco Polo for hours in the motel pool near Cape Cod. I flashed back to the time Tony Bonoza spread rumors about Mel, how Ken’s face had turned red when he’d heard, how he’d taken Bonoza on, even though he’d given up two years and twenty pounds.

“Ken is alive,” I said again.

Her voice was a plea. “And what do you want me to do about it?”

“You act like it doesn’t matter.”

“I’m not sure it does.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Ken’s not a part of our lives anymore.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“Fine, Will. He’s not a part of my life anymore.”

“He’s your brother.”

“Ken made his choices.”

“And now—what?—he’s dead to you?”

“Wouldn’t it be better if he were?” She shook her head and closed her eyes. I waited. “Maybe I did run away, Will. But so did you. We had a choice. Our brother was either dead or a brutal killer. Either way, yes, he’s dead to me.”

I held up the picture again. “He doesn’t have to be guilty, you know.”

Melissa looked at me, and suddenly she was the older sister again. “Come on, Will. You know better.”

“He defended us. When we were kids. He looked out for us. He loved us.”

“And I loved him. But I also saw him for what he was. He was drawn to violence, Will. You know that. Yes, he stuck up for us. But don’t you think part of that was because he enjoyed it? You know he was mixed up in something bad when he died.”

“That doesn’t make him a killer.”

Melissa closed her eyes again. I could see her mining for some inner strength. “For crying out loud, Will, what was he doing that night?”

Our eyes met and held. I said nothing. A sudden chill blew across my heart.

“Forget the murder, okay? What was Ken doing having sex with Julie Miller?”

Her words penetrated me, blossomed in my chest, big and cold. I couldn’t breathe. My voice, when I finally found it, was tinny, faraway. “We’d been broken up for over a year.”

“You telling me you were over her?”

“I . . . she was free. He was free. There was no reason—”

“He betrayed you, Will. Face it already. At the very least, he slept with the woman you loved. What kind of brother does that?”

“We broke up,” I said, floundering. “I held no claim to her.”

“You loved her.”

“That has nothing to do with it.”

She wouldn’t take her eyes off mine. “Now who’s running away?”

I stumbled back and half collapsed onto the cement stairs. My face dropped into my hands. I put myself together a piece at a time. It took a while. “He’s still our brother.”

“So what do you want to do? Find him? Hand him over to the police? Help him keep hiding? What?”

I had no answer.

Melissa stepped over me and opened the door to head back into the den. “Will?”

I looked up at her.

“This isn’t my life anymore. I’m sorry.”

I saw her then as a teenager, lying on her bed, jabbering away, her hair overteased, the smell of bubble gum in the air. Ken and I would sit on the floor of her room and roll our eyes. I remembered her body language. If Mel was lying on her belly, her feet kicking in the air, she was talking about boys and parties and that nonsense. But when she lay on her back and stared at the ceiling, well, that was for dreams. I thought about her dreams. I thought about how none of them had come true.

“I love you,” I said.

And, as though she could see into my thoughts, Melissa started to cry.

We never forget our first love. Mine ended up being murdered.

Julie Miller and I met when her family moved onto Coddington Terrace during my freshman year at Livingston High. We started dating two years later. We went to the junior and senior proms. We were voted class couple. We were pretty much inseparable.

Our breakup was surprising only in its outright predictability. We went off to separate colleges, sure our commitment could stand the time and distance. It couldn’t, though it hung on for longer than most. During our junior year, Julie called me on the phone and said that she wanted to see other people, that she’d already started dating a senior named—I’m not kidding here—Buck.

I should have gotten over it. I was young and this was hardly an unusual rite of passage. And I probably would have. Eventually. I mean, I dated. It was taking time, but I was starting to accept reality. Time and distance helped with that.

But then Julie died, and it seemed as though a part of my heart would never break free of her grip from the grave.

Until Sheila.

I didn’t show the picture to my father.

I got back to my apartment at ten o’clock at night. Still empty, still stale, still foreign. No messages on the machine. If this was life without Sheila, I wanted no part of it.

The scrap of paper with her parents’ Idaho phone number was still on the desk. What was the time difference in Idaho? One hour? Maybe two? I didn’t remember. But that made it either eight or nine o’clock at night.

Not too late to call.

I collapsed into the chair and stared at the phone as if it’d tell me what to do. It didn’t. I picked up the scrap of paper. When I’d told Sheila to call her parents, her face had lost all color. That had been yesterday. Just yesterday. I wondered what I should do and my first thought, my very first, was that I should ask my mother, that she would know the right answer.

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