The Dark Divine Page 13

I whipped into the driveway and slammed on the brakes when a dark shadow lunged out in front of the car. My heart pounded against my rib cage as I peered out the window. Jude shielded his eyes from the headlights. His hair was disheveled, and his mouth was fixed in a thin, tight fine.

"Jude, are you okay?" I asked as I got out of the car. "I almost hit you." Jude grabbed my arm. "Where have you been?"

"At the library with April. I told Mom--"

"Don't lie to me," he said through clenched teeth.

"April came here looking for you. Good thing I answered the door. Mom and Dad can't deal with this right now. Where were you?" His eyes were sharp, like he wanted to tear me to the bone--and his fingernails, digging into my elbow, felt like they could finish the job.

"Let go," I said, and tried to pull out of grasp.

"Tell me!" he shouted, wrenching my arm even harder. I'd rarely ever heard him shout before, even when we were kids. "You were with him, weren't you?" He wrinkled his nose in disgust, like he could smell Daniel on me.

I shook my head.

"Don't lie!"

"Stop it!" I shouted back. "You're scaring me."

There was a catch in my voice, and when Jude heard it, his eyes softened and he let go of my elbow.

"What on earth is going on?" I asked.

Jude put his hands on my shoulders. "I'm sorry." His face twisted like he was trying to hold back a rush of emotion, "I'm so sorry. I've been looking for you everywhere. This is just so horrible. I

... I needed to talk to you, and when I couldn't find you--"

"What?" Flashes of horrible things happening to Baby James or Charity shot through my mind.

"What happened?"

"I found her," he said. "I found her and she was all blue and cold ... and those gashes ... I didn't know what to do. Dad came, the sheriff, the paramedics. But it was too late. They said she'd been gone for hours, more than a whole day."

"Who?!" Grandma, Aunt Carol, who?

"Maryanne Duke," he said. "I was delivering Thanksgiving packages for Dad to all the widows. Maryanne was my last delivery. And there she was, sprawled on her porch." Jude's face splotched with red. "One of the paramedics said she must have fainted with weakness while leaving her house.

"Dad called Maryanne's daughter in Milwaukee. She's mad. She said it was Dad's fault. Said that he should have taken better care of Maryanne, that he should have made her go to the doctor." Jude wiped at his nose. "People expect him to work miracles. But how can you work miracles in a world where an old woman lay on her porch for over twenty-four hours and nobody stopped?" Lines furrowed around his eyes. "She was frozen, Grace. Frozen."

"What?" Maryanne lived in Oak Park. It wasn't nearly as bad as where Daniel was staying, but it was definitely a less desirable area. My head felt like I'd been standing over an open bottle of oil solvent too long. How many people could have passed her by? "She has a lot of potted plants on her porch, and with the railing ... that's probably why nobody found her." At least that's what I wanted to believe.

"But that's not the worst of it," Jude said. "Something had found her. Some animal or something

... some scavenger. She had all these gashes on her legs. And her throat, it was open all the way to her esophagus. I thought that's what had killed her, but the paramedics said she'd been dead and cold for a long time before it happened. There was no blood."

"What?" I gasped. My dog, Daisy, jagged through my mind. Her little throat ripped open. I pushed the thought down with my rising stomach. I couldn't let myself picture Maryanne the same way.

"Angela Duke said it was Dad's fault, but it wasn't." Jude bowed his head. "It was mine."

"How could any of this possibly be your fault?"

"I told her that if she'd gone to the doctor, then she would be able to sing in the program. I made her feel guilty." Tears welled in his eyes. "When I found her, she was wearing her green Sunday dress and that hat with the peacock feather she always wears when she sings." Jude burrowed his forehead into my shoulder. "She was trying to make it to the church. She was trying to sing her solo." His body lurched against mine, and he began to sob.

The world spun even faster. I couldn't believe I'd been singing while an old woman I'd known all my life was dying in the cold--alone. My legs gave out. I sank to the ground. Jude came with me. I sat in the middle of the driveway and held my brother's head to my shoulder. He sobbed and sobbed. I rubbed my hand up and down his back and thought of the only other time we had held each other like that. Only I was the one who'd needed comforting then.

FOUR AND A HALF YEARS AGO

It was a hot May night. I'd opened my window before bed and was awakened by echoing voices around two in the morning. Even now, when I can't sleep, I still hear those voices--like phantom whispers on the night wind.

My bedroom was on north end of the house--the side facing Daniel's home. His window must have been open, too. The shouting got louder, I heard a crash and the sounds of ripping canvas. I couldn't help it. I couldn't stay put. I couldn't stand to be in my own skin until I did something. So I went to the one person I knew I could rely on most.

"Jude, are you awake?" I peeked into his room.

"Yes." He sat on the edge of his bed.

Jude's room was the one next to mine at the time--before my parents turned it into a nursery for James. Those horrible voices wafted in through his open window. They weren't as loud as they had been in my room, but they were just as chilling. My parents' bedroom was on the far south side of the house. If their window wasn't open, they probably wouldn't hear a thing.

"We have to do something," I whispered. "I think Daniel's father hits him."

"He does worse," Jude said quietly. "Daniel told me." I sat next to Jude on the bed. "Then we have to help him."

"Daniel made me blood-brother swear I wouldn't tell Mom and Dad."

"But that's a secret, and secrets are wrong. We have to tell."

"But J can't," Jude said. "I promised."

A vicious roar erupted in the background, followed by the loud cracking of splintering wood. I heard a muffled plea cut off by a horrible smacking sound--like the noise the mallet made when my mom pounded out meat on the kitchen counter.

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