A is for Alibi Page 56

The kitchen was a semicircle, wood and white Formica and luscious healthy houseplants, windows on three sides looking onto a deck with the ocean stretching out beyond, wide and gray in the late afternoon. Colin was kneading bread, his back to me, his concentration complete. His hair was the same pale no-color shade as Nikki's, silky like hers where it curled down on his neck, his arms looked wiry and strong, his hands capable, fingers long. He gathered the edges of the dough, pressing inward, turning it over again. He looked like he was just on the verge of adolescence, beginning to shoot up in height but not awkward yet. Nikki touched him and he turned quickly, his gaze sliding over to me at once. I was startled. His eyes were large, tilted slightly, an army-fatigue green, his lashes thick and dark. His face was narrow, chin pointed, ears coming to a delicate point, a pixie effect with the fine hair forming a point on his forehead. The two of them looked like an illustration from a faerie book-fragile and beautiful and strange. His eyes were peaceful, empty, glowing with acute intelligence. I have seen the same look in cats, their eyes wise, aloof, grave.

When I spoke to Nikki, he watched our lips, his own lips parting breathlessly, so that the effect was oddly sexual. "I think I just fell in love," I said and laughed. Nikki smiled, signing to Colin, her fingers graceful, succinct. Colin flashed a smile at me, much older than his years. I felt myself flush.

"I hope you didn't tell him that," I said. "We'd probably have to run off together.”

"I told him you were my first friend after prison. I told him you needed a drink, " she said, still signing, eyes resting on Colin's face. "Most of the time we don't sign this much. I'm just brushing up.”

While Nikki opened a bottle of wine. I watched Colin work the bread dough. He offered to let me help and I shook my head, preferring to watch his agile hands, the dough developing a smooth skin almost magically as he worked. He made gruff, unintelligible sounds now and then without seeming aware of it.

Nikki gave me chilled white wine in a glass with a thin stem while she drank Perrier. "Here's to parole," she said.

"You look much more relaxed," I said.

"Oh I am. I feel great. It's so good to have him here. I follow him everywhere. I feel like a puppy dog. He gets no peace.”

Her hands were moving automatically and I could see that she was translating for him simultaneously with her comments to me. It made me feel rude and clumsy that I couldn't sign too. I felt as if there were things I wanted to say to him myself, questions I wanted to ask about the silence in his head. It was like charades of some kind, Nikki using body, arms, face, her whole self totally involved, Colin signing back to her casually. He seemed to speak much more quickly than she, without deliberation. Sometimes Nikki would halt, struggling for a word, remembering, laughing at herself as she relayed to him her own forgetfulness. His smile in those moments was indulgent, full of affection, and I envied them this special world of secrets, of self mockery, wherein Colin was the master and Nikki the apprentice. I couldn't imagine Nikki with any other kind of child.

Colin placed the smooth dough in the bowl, turning it once to coat its pale surface with butter, covering it carefully then with a clean white towel. Nikki motioned him into the living room, where she showed him the photo album. Colin settled on the edge of the couch, leaning forward, elbows on his knees, the album open on the coffee table in front of him. His face was still but his eyes took in everything and he was already engrossed in the snapshots.

Nikki and I went out onto the deck. It was getting late but there was still enough sunlight to create the illusion of warmth. She stood at the railing, staring out at the ocean that rumbled below us. I could see tangles of kelp just under the surface in places, dark strands undulating in waves of paler green.

"Nikki, did you talk to anyone about where I was and what I was up to?" I asked.

"Not at all," she said, startled. "What makes you ask?”

I filled her in on the events of the last few days: Sharon Napier's death, my talks with Greg and Diane, the letter I'd found among Libby Glass's effects. My trust in her was instinctive.

"Would you recognize his handwriting?”


I took the manila envelope out of my purse, carefully removing the letter, which I unfolded for her. She glanced at it briefly

"That's him," she said.

"I'd like you to read it," I said. "I want to see if it coincides with your intuitions about what was going on.”

Reluctantly her gaze dropped back to the pale blue pages, when she finished, she seemed almost embarrassed. "I wouldn't have guessed it was that serious. His other affairs weren't.”

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