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Home > Shelter (Mickey Bolitar #1)(15)

Shelter (Mickey Bolitar #1)(15)
Author: Harlan Coben

“What?”

“We’re going to be okay.”

I flashed back to when I was twelve. Mom, Dad, and I were spending three months in Ghana. They did charity work for the Abeona Shelter, a group that specialized in feeding and caring for poor and at-risk children. My father often left us for two or three days at a time, doing missions in even more remote areas. One night when he was gone, I woke up with chills and a spiked fever. I felt so awful that I thought I was going to die. My mother rushed me to the hospital. It turned out I had malaria. I was woozy and dazed and sure that I wasn’t going to make it. For three days, Mom never left my side. She held my hand and kept telling me that I was going to be okay, and it was her tone that made me believe it.

I heard that tone again now.

“I’m so sorry,” Mom said.

“It’s fine,” I said.

“What I did. What I became . . .”

“It’s behind us.”

Here was what she didn’t get: Mom had taken care of me my whole life. It was okay for it to be my turn for a while.

She started unpacking, humming while she did. She asked me about school and basketball. I gave her only the basics. I didn’t want to worry her, so I didn’t tell her about Ashley or especially about Bat Lady and what she’d said about Dad being alive. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to share all that with her. Like I said before, my mother was ridiculously open. But it wasn’t the kind of thing you told someone the day she leaves rehab. It could wait.

My phone buzzed. I looked down at the incoming call. It was Spoon, his third call this morning. Mom said, “Why don’t you get that?”

“It’s just someone from school.”

That pleased her. “A new friend?”

“I guess.”

“Don’t be rude, Mickey. Answer it.”

So I did, stepping into the hallway. “Hello?”

“Only male turkeys gobble,” Spoon said. “Female turkeys make more of a clicking sound.”

For this he called three times? Oh boy. “Great, Spoon, but I’m kind of busy.”

“We forgot about Ashley’s locker,” Spoon said.

I switched hands. “What about it?”

“She had a locker here, right?”

“Right.”

“Maybe there’s a clue in it.”

Genius, I thought. But I didn’t want to leave Mom alone. “Let me call you back,” I said, and pressed End.

When I came back in the room, Mom said, “What was that about?”

“Just something going on at school.”

“What?”

“It’s not important.”

She looked at her watch. It was eight thirty. “You’re going to be late.”

“I thought I’d stay with you today,” I said.

Mom arched an eyebrow. “And miss school? Oh, I don’t think so. Don’t worry. I’ve got a lot to do. I need to buy some more clothes. I need to go food shopping so I can make us dinner. I need to go back to Coddington for outpatient therapy in the afternoon. Come on, I’ll drive you.”

There was no room for protest, so I grabbed my backpack. Mom played the pop station and sang along softly. Normally her singing, off-key and enthusiastic as it was, made me roll my eyes. Not today. I sat next to her, closed my eyes, and just listened.

For the first time in so long, I let myself feel hope. This woman driving me to school was my mom. The junkie we had dropped off six weeks ago wasn’t. That’s what they don’t tell you. The drugs didn’t just change her. They stole her away, made her into something she wasn’t.

We stopped in front of the school. I didn’t want to leave her. She told me again not to worry.

“I’m going to the supermarket right now,” she said. “Then I’m going to prepare us the absolute best dinner in the history of the world.”

Mom was a great cook. She had learned how to prepare all kinds of exotic dishes during our years in exotic lands. “What are you making?”

She leaned in conspiratorially. “Spaghetti and meatballs.”

Man, that sounded great. Talk about a perfect choice. Mom’s spaghetti and meatballs, as she well knew, were my favorite. Pure comfort food. She took my face in both of her hands. She always did that, held my face. “I love you so much, Mickey.”

I almost cried right then and there. “I love you too, Mom.”

I started to get out of the car but she put a hand on my forearm.

“Wait.” She fumbled for something in her purse. “You’ll need a note, right? For being late?” She jotted one down. When I got out of the car, she drove off, smiling and waving. Anybody watching would think that she was just another mom dropping her kid at school.

Chapter 7

I FOUND SPOON right before lunch.

“Look at this,” he said.

He handed me an article he’d printed out. I figured that it would be on turkey sounds or Beyoncé, but no, it was a small piece on last night’s “attempted robbery” at the Kent home. According to the police, a man had broken in and started ransacking the house when he realized that Mr. Kent was home. The intruder assaulted him but ran off when Mrs. Kent arrived. Mr. Kent’s injuries were minor. He had been released from the hospital. The investigation was ongoing.

I still didn’t get it. Did the Kents have a daughter or not? Maybe it would pay to visit the house again.

“Which way to her locker?” Spoon asked.

I showed him. As we walked, Spoon got his key ready.

“I’ll need to do this fast,” he said. “You block the line of vision. I don’t want everyone seeing that I can open their lockers.”

I nodded my agreement. But when we turned the corner and approached Ashley’s locker, I could see right away that something was wrong. Spoon stopped and looked up at me.

Ashley’s lock had been smashed open.

I wasn’t sure what to do. Students were passing us by, oblivious, rushing to lunch or another class. I reached to open the locker and see what was inside when I felt eyes upon me. I turned and felt the quiet boom from her eyes.

It was Rachel Caldwell.

This won’t sound like an earth-shattering pronouncement, but boys get funny around really hot girls. Rachel could tell the lamest jokes and boys fall about the place in laughter. She could offer the smallest smile and fill a boy’s head with dreams that would last deep into nightfall. I would like to think I was above such things. For all I knew, Rachel had the brains of banana bread. But for a moment I met her gaze and felt my throat go dry.

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