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Authors: James Grippando

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BOOK: Lying With Strangers
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KEVIN REACHED THE HOSPITAL JUST BEFORE
6:30
A.M. FOR THREE
hundred bucks the hotel’s night manager proved willing to risk his life and drive Kevin all the way to Boston. What was normally an hour’s drive from Providence took nearly two and a half, and that was only because they’d lucked out and followed a snowplow most of the way. Not until he was trudging across the snowy sidewalk toward the windswept entrance did he fully appreciate what a total idiot he’d been. The one night on which he’d finally given in to Sandra’s advances was the one night on which Peyton needed him most.

A blast of heat from the vents washed over him as he hurried into the lobby. In less than a minute he was dripping wet. Just in the short walk to the hospital entrance he’d accumulated enough snow and ice on his body to pass for Sasquatch.

“Kevin?”

It was Peyton’s mother, Valerie, talking on the pay phone. She hung up and hurried toward him.

She looked beat, unlike the attractive woman she was. She and Peyton had the same exquisite face, the same expressive eyes. Kevin had seen all of the old photos of Peyton and Valerie dressed in matching holiday dresses, matching riding gear, matching bathing suits. It seemed to Kevin that the older Peyton got, the younger her mother tried to look, as if the ultimate goal were to become sisters.

“Where the heck have you been?”

Now there was an interesting question. “I came running as soon as the hospital called. How’s Peyton?”

“She’s pretty banged up, but she’s going to be fine, thank goodness. Poor girl was so confused she couldn’t even remember the name of your hotel in Providence. She wasn’t even sure you told her before you left.”

“I told her,” said Kevin. “But she knows I can always be reached by cell. I leave it on even when the battery is charging.”

“I’ve been dialing that number all night.”

“I must have slept through the earlier calls.”

Valerie seemed a tad suspicious. Perhaps Peyton had told him how they’d been growing apart lately. Or maybe she was just one heck of a rat-sniffer.

“Where’s Hank?” he asked, meaning Peyton’s father.

“Upstairs. I decided to get away from all that ICU stuff for a couple minutes. Makes me nervous.”

“What are the doctors saying?”

“No broken bones, miraculously. Bad sprain to her ankle and a big gash in her leg. Twenty-six stitches in her right calf. That’s where she had most of the blood loss. Leg wounds can be real bleeders, they tell me.”

“She’s going to be okay though?”

“Physically, yeah. Emotionally, we’ll have to wait and see. She could have some scarring.”

“Her leg, you mean?”

“Yes,” she said, then looked off to the middle distance. “And the face.”

Kevin nearly rocked on his heels.
That beautiful face
. “What happened?”

“Shattered glass,” she said, her voice tightening. “On the left side. Don’t really know how bad it is yet. They’ve got her bandaged up.”

Kevin lowered his head, saying nothing.

“She’s going to need lots of support from all of us,” she
said. “I’m optimistic. Peyton’s a tough kid. She’s just never been through this kind of emotional trauma. What with the blood loss and everything.”

“Why would blood loss be emotional?”

She just looked at him. Kevin asked, “Is there something you aren’t telling me?”

“Well. It’s like the doctor told me. When a woman loses a lot of blood real fast like that, it…you know.”

“What?”

“Can cause a miscarriage.”

“Miscarriage?”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “She did lose the baby.”

“Baby?”

Their eyes met. Her confusion slowly turned to anger as she said, “Peyton was in her eleventh week. You didn’t know?”

“She didn’t tell me.”

She stepped closer, glaring. “Listen to me. Peyton didn’t know the name of your hotel in Providence. I called you in the middle of the night and you didn’t answer your cell phone. Now I find out you didn’t even know your own wife was pregnant. I don’t like what I’m sensing, so you’d better give me a straight answer. What in the devil is going on with you kids?”

He paused, searching for the right response. “We aren’t kids anymore. Maybe that’s what’s going on.”

 

Jamie. That was going to be the baby’s name. It worked well for a boy or a girl, like her own name. Jamie Stokes. Or Jamie Shields. Depending on whether…well, that wasn’t an issue anymore.

Peyton had been alert enough in the emergency room to tell them she was pregnant. She seemed to drift in and out of consciousness as they tended to her injuries, but she heard one of the doctors mention the need for a D & C—dilation and curettage. She knew she’d miscarried.

“Peyton?”

She tried to open her eyes, but one remained in darkness. Her good eye followed the plastic IV tubes from the bag to her arm, and slowly she started to realize where she was. She felt woozy but strong enough to check her bandage. It seemed huge, covering one eye and half of her forehead. A wave of panic washed over her at the thought of a serious facial injury.

“Kevin?” she said softly. She felt him squeeze her hand, then saw his face. She tried to smile, but her face was numb. At least half of it. The injured half. The God-only-knows-what-it-looks-like half. “What happened?”

“You were in a car accident.”

She raised her head slightly from the pillow, as close as she could come to sitting up. “I know. What I meant was, what are they saying about my injuries?”

“The doctor can explain better than me. But she says you’re gonna be just fine.”

“Do I look fine?”

He didn’t answer right away. “You look like the luckiest woman alive.”

“Now you sound like my dad.”

“Would you rather I sound like your mother?”

“Only if we double the painkillers.” They shared a faint smile. Then slowly she scanned the room to gain her bearings. The equipment, the monitors, the sounds she knew from her training.

“I’m still in intensive care.”

“Only until your vital signs stabilize. You took a pretty good whack to the head, so they’re not taking any chances.”

“What time is it?”

“A little after nine.”

“I feel like Rip Van Winkle.”

“You’re wiped out, I’m sure. You lost a lot of blood.”

His words hung in the air, both of them aware of the bleeding’s consequences. Bandages or not, she knew she wasn’t doing a very good job of hiding the hurt expression on her face.

“I’m sorry about—”

“Let’s not talk about that, okay?”

“I just don’t understand. Why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”

“I’m sorry. I was waiting for the right time to tell you.”

“So why did the right time never seem to come along?”

“That’s…complicated.”

“I know there’s been some distance between us lately. But things weren’t really so bad that you couldn’t tell me we were having a baby. Were they?”

“Do you love me?”

He showed some surprise in response to the question, but it didn’t strike Peyton as all that genuine. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but Kevin didn’t seem to be acting like himself.

“You know I do,” he said.

“No, I don’t. The last few months, you don’t even seem to like me anymore, let alone love me.”

“Maybe things would have been different if I’d known you were pregnant.”

“That’s exactly the point. I didn’t want you to stay because I was pregnant. Not if there was someplace else you’d rather be.”

“How could you even think that?” he said. “Do you honestly think I could ever leave you?”

“A year ago I would have said no. But the further I get in my career, the less you seem to care about me.”

“That’s so not true.”

“Are you tired of me?”

He fell silent for a moment, then brushed her cheek with the back of his hand. “I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation. You’re worrying over nothing.”

“Will you be here for me?”

“I will always be here for you.”

She tried to smile, but it was a sad one. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m not thinking clearly.”

“I understand. I know this must seem like the end of the
world. But you were really very lucky. If that Good Samaritan hadn’t come along, you could have frozen to death.”

Mention of the rescue set her mind awhirl. In a flash the image came back to her. The man pulling her from the car, laying her in the snow, covering her with his coat. “He just left me there.”

“What?”

“He pulled me out of the car and then just left.”

“I guess he didn’t want to get involved. At least he had the sense to call nine-one-one.”

She touched his hand, trying to stop her own from shaking. “I need to talk to the police.”

The nurse appeared in the open doorway. “Okay, time to rest.”

“Just one more minute, please,” said Peyton. She squeezed Kevin’s hand harder, refusing to let him go. “I really want to talk to the police.”

“Surely the accident report can wait.”

“That’s just it. I don’t think this was an accident. I was run off the road.”

“You mean like by a drunk driver or something?”

“No,” she said, her tone deadly serious. “I think it was deliberate.”

“Why in the world would anyone want to hurt you?”

“I told you about that young mother’s creepy boyfriend at the Haverhill clinic. I was afraid he might retaliate. Maybe that’s what this is all about.”

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll look into it. But I want you to focus on getting well. I’m sure there’s nothing to it, just like the time you thought you heard someone picking at the lock on our front door a couple months ago.”

“There was
definitely
—” she started to say, then stopped. Kevin had been out of town when Peyton heard the picking noise at their front door, and when she told him about it, he was gung ho to pack up and move. She didn’t want her own paranoia to push him back up on the let’s-get-the-heck-out-of-Boston bandwagon.

The nurse reentered the room. “Time to check that bandage. Visitors will have a chance to come back later.”

He leaned across the bed and kissed Peyton on the forehead. She kept his hand and pulled him close, speaking softly so the nurse would not overhear. “Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have a guard posted outside the door. Please. I’m a little scared.”

“Okay. I’ll take care of it.”

“Promise?” Her eyebrow was up. It was the look that had never failed her.

“Yes. Promise.”

“Thank you.”

He left without another word. Peyton looked away, toward the window, and noticed for the first time her faint reflection in the glass. The bandages startled her. Way too big for just a few scratches.

“Now,” said the nurse, “let’s have a look-see at that eye.”

She drew a deep breath, bracing herself. “Okay,” she said quietly. “Let’s.”

PEYTON TRIED TO SLEEP, BUT THE SOUNDS OF THE INTENSIVE CARE
unit wouldn’t go away. She lay with her eyes shut, thankful to be alive but angry that it had happened at all. The eye itself wasn’t damaged, though she had quite a gash across the eyebrow. She worried about scarring, which only made her feel guilty, as if every ounce of grieving should have been for the real loss, not the cosmetic ones.

She heard talking but feigned sleep, in no mood for visitors. The voices grew louder as she became more lucid. There was no telling how long her mother and father had been sitting in the room with her, talking to each other as Peyton drifted in and out of consciousness.

“I’m right about this, Hank,” her mother said, but Peyton was only half listening.

Funny, there was a time in her life when ignoring her mother would have been a capital offense. She remembered the familiar old drill of, “
Peyton, are you listening to me?
” followed by the inevitable, “
Then tell me what I just said.
” As far back as Peyton could remember, her mother was always trying to educate her. A simple question like “What did you do in school today?” could evolve into a pop quiz in mathematics during the car ride home. When it was finally time for college, Peyton couldn’t wait to get away—to FSU, which was contrary to everything her mother had wanted for herself and her daughter. A
younger Valerie Stanton had been a pretty, fair-skinned blonde living the life of old Boston Brahmins, complete with summers in Maine and a house in Brookline that was supposedly built by Charles Bulfinch before his commission to design the Capitol in Washington, D.C. She’d gone to Princeton and had been working on her master’s in English at Harvard when she’d fallen in love with a handsome jock who was on the six-year plan toward a B.A. from Boston College. He was fun and funny and absolutely nothing like the man she’d thought she would marry. Hank Shields never did get his degree. Valerie never got her master’s. She’d gotten pregnant. She spent the rest of her life making sure that Peyton would build a better life. Over and over Peyton had heard the same advice, till she heard it one last time the night before she left for Tallahassee. “Whatever you do,” her mother had said, “don’t make the same mistake I did.”

It amazed Peyton that such an incredibly smart woman could be so oblivious to the real message she had been sending her daughter all these years:
she
was the “mistake.”

“What are you doing?” It was her mother again, speaking to her father. Peyton listened with eyes closed.

“Praying,” he answered.

Peyton sensed the uneasy silence in the room. She knew her mother didn’t talk to God anymore.

“Do me a favor,” said Valerie. “Ask Him why this happened.”

“I’m not asking Him anything. I’m thanking Him.”

The sigh was audible even across the room. “That’s my Hank,” she said softly, as if talking to herself. “An asteroid could slam into the earth, and we should all thank God for leaving us the moon.”

“I heard that,” he said.

Peyton sensed a fight coming on. It was eerily reminiscent of her childhood, the way her mother would pick fights with her father right in front of Peyton, as if their child weren’t even there. She was about to reveal herself and break it up when she heard her mother ask, “Are you praying for the baby?”

Peyton withdrew and listened. Her father said, “Do you want me to?”

“Only if you think Peyton would want you to.”

His voice dropped. “Of course she would.”

“You honestly believe that?”

“Yes.”

Peyton felt her eyelid quiver, as if yearning to open, but she continued her false sleep.

“Do you think…” Her mother started to ask something, then stopped.

“Do I think what?”

“Do you think Peyton wanted this baby?”

It was like a punch in the chest, but Peyton didn’t flinch. She just listened. “Absolutely,” her father said.

“You answered too quickly,” she said. “Think before you speak, for a change.”

“I don’t need to think about it. I know how torn up she must be.”

“Just because she’s sad about losing it doesn’t mean she was excited about having it. She didn’t tell anyone she was pregnant. Not even Kevin.”

“That’s between her and Kevin.”

“The heck it is. Can’t you see they’re in trouble?”

“Do you have to stick your nose into everything?” he said.

“If her marriage is falling apart, she’ll need emotional support from us. We can’t help her if we don’t know what’s going on in her life.”

Peyton didn’t need to open her eyes to see her father weakening. That was the way her mother had always gotten to him. Put it in terms of Peyton’s well-being.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.

“I think we should ask her about the baby.”

“Ask her what, if she really wanted it? That’s pointless.”

“If we can help her realize that she really didn’t want it, we can help her get over the fact that she lost it. She’ll recognize it was all for the best.”

“Let her grieve, will you, please? For once in your life, stop trying to tell your daughter how she should feel.”

“Are you going to do it or not?”

“No,” he said firmly.

“If you don’t, I will.”

“I’m not doing it. And if you’re half as smart as you think you are, you won’t either.”

“What do you know about smart, Henry Shields?”

Peyton lay still, eyes shut, hoping just this once to hear a stinging comeback from her father. But she knew he was too big of a person to trade insults with his wife in front of their daughter, even if he did think she was unconscious.

She heard only the shuffle of her father’s footsteps and the firm closing of the door.

BOOK: Lying With Strangers
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