Wayward

Page 44

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The adhesive held.

Ethan moved around to the front of the chair and put his lips to Theresa’s ear.

“I got it out. You did amazing.”

“It was so hard not to scream.”

“The glue is working, holding it closed, but you should stay put for a little while. Give it time to really set.”

“I’m freezing.”

“I’ll bring you blankets.”

She nodded.

He smiled at her.

She still had tears in the corners of her eyes.

She mouthed, “Let me see it.”

He lifted the Harpy off the plate and held the end of the blade up to Theresa’s face.

The microchip sat in cooling blood that was becoming more and more viscous.

The muscles in her jaw tensed with a flicker of anger. Violation.

She looked at Ethan.

No words spoken, but that didn’t matter. He could see them written plainly across her face—Those f**kers.

He picked the microchip off the knife, cleaned the blood and tissue with a piece of gauze, and presented it to her. Then he reached into his lapel pocket and lifted out the gold necklace he’d bought that afternoon. It consisted of a thin, braided chain with a heart-shaped locket.

She said, “You shouldn’t have.”

Ethan opened the locket, whispered, “Keep the microchip inside the heart. Unless I tell you otherwise, you have to wear this necklace at all times.”

It was actually warm in the living room. Ben’s cheeks glowed in the firelight. He was sketching the open woodstove. The flames. The blackening wood inside. The pieces of the smashed coffee table scattered around the base.

“Where’s Mom?”

“Reading in the study. You need anything?”

“No.”

“Let’s not bother her for a while, okay? She’s had a hard day.”

Ethan gathered up an armful of blankets from the stash under the sofa and headed back to the study.

Theresa was shivering.

He wrapped her up.

Said, “I’ll make you something warm for dinner.”

She smiled through the pain. “That’d be great.”

Then he leaned in and whispered, “Come out in one hour, but no matter how much it hurts, walk straight. If they catch you limping on the cameras, they’ll know.”

Ethan stood at the kitchen sink, staring into the blackness out the window. Three days ago, it had been the end of summer. Leaves just beginning to take on color. Jesus, fall had been a blink—from August to December in seventy-two hours.

The fruit and veggies in the refrigerator were almost certainly the last fresh things they would eat for months to come.

He filled a pot with water and put it on the range to boil.

Stuck a roomy saucepan beside it, turned the eye up to medium, and poured a spot of olive oil.

They had five vine-ripened tomatoes left—just enough.

A dinner plan percolated.

He smashed a clove of garlic, diced an onion, dumped it all into the oil.

While things sizzled, he chopped tomatoes.

He could’ve been standing in their kitchen in Seattle. Late Saturday afternoons, he’d put on a Thelonious Monk record, open a bottle of red, and immerse himself in cooking a fabulous dinner for his family. No better way to unwind after a long week. This moment had the feel of those peaceful evenings, all the trappings of normal. Except that a half hour ago he’d cut a tracking chip out of the back of his wife’s leg in the one spot in their house that wasn’t under constant surveillance.

Except for that.

He added the tomatoes and crushed them into the onions and poured more oil and leaned over the stovetop into the sweet-smelling wafts of steam, trying, just for a beat, to embrace the fantasy.

Theresa came out as he was rinsing the pasta. She was smiling and he thought he sensed pain in it—a subtle strain—but there was no falter to her gait. They ate dinner as a family on a blanket in the living room, crowded around the woodstove and listening to the radio.

Hecter Gaither was playing Chopin.

The food was good.

The heat enveloping.

And it all passed too quickly.

After midnight.

Ben slept.

They’d burned through the coffee table in two hours, and now the Victorian was plunging back into the deep freeze.

Ethan and Theresa lay facing each other in bed.

He whispered, “Are you ready?”

She nodded.

“Where’s your necklace?”

“I’m wearing it.”

“Take it off, leave it on the bedside table.”

When she’d done it, she said, “Now what?”

“We wait one minute.”

They dressed in the dark.

Ethan looked in on their son, found the boy out cold.

He walked downstairs with Theresa.

Neither said a word.

As he opened the front door, Ethan raised the hood of his black sweatshirt and motioned for Theresa to do the same.

They went outside.

Streetlamps and porch lights punctuated the darkness.

Frigid and no stars.

They walked out into the middle of the street.

Ethan said, “We can talk now. How’s your leg?”

“Agony.”

“You’re a rock star, babe.”

“I thought I was going to pass out. I wish I had.”

They moved west toward the park.

Soon they could hear the river.

“Are we really safe out here?” Theresa asked.

“We’re not safe anywhere. But at least without our chips, the cameras won’t pick us up.”

“I feel like I’m fifteen again, sneaking out of my parents’ house. It’s so quiet.”

“I love coming out late. You never crept out before? Not even once?”

“Of course not.”

They left the street and wandered into the playing field.

Fifty yards away, the bulb of a single streetlamp shone down on the swing set.

They walked until they reached the end of the park, the edge of the river.

Sat down in the dying grass.

Ethan could smell the water but he couldn’t see it. He couldn’t see his hands in front of his face. Invisibility had never felt so comforting.

“I shouldn’t have told you,” he said. “It was a moment of weakness. I just couldn’t stand to have this lie between us. For us not to be on the same page.”

“Of course you should have told me.”

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