Gone for Good Page 78

I ignored him and knocked again. There was still no answer. Buzz Cut put his arm on mine. I shook it off, knocked again, and yelled, “I know you’re not Sheila.” That confused Buzz Cut. He frowned some more. We both stopped and watched the door. Nobody answered. Buzz Cut took my arm again, more gently this time. I did not put up a fight. He led me downstairs and through the lobby.

I was out on the sidewalk. I turned. Buzz Cut puffed his chest again and crossed his arms.

Now what?

Another New York City axiom: You cannot stand in one place on a sidewalk. Flow is essential. People hurry by and they don’t expect to find something in their way. If they do, they may veer but they never stop.

I looked for a safe place. The secret was to stay as close to the actual building as possible—the shoulder of the sidewalk, if you will. I huddled near a plate glass window, took out the cell phone, called the hotel, and asked to be connected to Donna White’s room. I got another “a pleasure” and was patched through.

There was no answer.

This time I left a simple message. I gave her my cell phone number and tried not to sound like I was begging when I asked her to call.

I slid the phone back into my pocket and again asked myself: Now what?

My Sheila was inside. The thought made me light-headed. Too much yearning. Too many possibilities and what-ifs. I made myself push it away.

Okay, fine, so what did that mean exactly? First off, was there another way out? A basement or back exit? Had she spotted me from behind those sunglasses? Was that why she hurried to the elevator? When I followed her, had I made a mistake about the room number? That could be. I knew that she was on the ninth floor. That was a start. Or did I? If she spotted me, could she have stopped at another floor as a decoy?

Do I stand out here?

I didn’t know. I couldn’t go home, that was for sure. I took a deep breath. I watched the pedestrians race by, so many of them, one bleary mass, separate entities making up a whole. And then, looking through the mass, I saw her.

My heart stopped.

She just stood there and stared at me. I was too overwhelmed to move. I felt something inside me give way. I put my hand to my mouth to stifle a cry. She moved toward me. Tears stung her eyes. I shook my head. She did not stop. She reached me and pulled me close.

“It’s okay,” she whispered.

I closed my eyes. For a long while we just held each other. We did not speak. We did not move. We just slipped away.


“My real name is Nora Spring.”

We sat in the lower level of a Starbucks on Park Avenue South, in a corner near an emergency fire exit. No one else was down here. She kept her eyes on the stairs, worried I’d been followed. This Starbucks, like so many others, had earth tones, surreal swirling artwork, and large photographs of brown-skinned men too happily picking coffee beans. She held a venti iced latte between both hands. I went with the frappuccino.

The chairs were purple and oversize and just plush enough. We pushed them together. We held hands. I was confused, of course. I wanted answers. But beyond that, on a whole higher plane, the pure joy splashed through me. It was an amazing rush. It calmed me. I was happy. Whatever I was about to learn would not change that. The woman I loved was back. I would let nothing change that.

She sipped at the latte. “I’m sorry,” she said.

I squeezed her hand.

“To run out like that. To let you think”—she stopped—“I can’t even imagine what you must have thought.” Her eyes found mine. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

“I’m okay,” I said.

“How did you learn I wasn’t Sheila?”

“At her funeral. I saw the body.”

“I wanted to tell you, especially after I heard she’d been murdered.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Ken told me it might get you killed.”

My brother’s name jarred me. Nora turned away. I slid my hand up her arm and stopped at the shoulder. The tension had knotted her muscles. I gently kneaded them, a familiar moment for us. She closed her eyes and let my fingers work. For a long time neither of us spoke. I broke the silence. “How long have you known my brother?”

“Almost four years,” she said.

I nodded through my shock, trying to encourage her to say more, but she still had her face turned away. I gently took hold of her chin and turned her to me. I kissed her lightly on the lips.

She said, “I love you so much.”

I felt a soar that nearly lifted me off the chair. “I love you too.”

“I’m scared, Will.”

“I’ll protect you,” I said.

She held my gaze. “I’ve been lying to you. The whole time we’ve been together.”

“I know.”

“Do you really think we can survive that?”

“I lost you once,” I said. “I’m not going to lose you again.”

“You’re that sure?”

“Love you,” I said. “Always.”

She studied my face. I don’t know what she was looking for. “I’m married, Will.”

I tried to keep my expression blank, but it was not easy. Her words wrapped around me and tightened, boa-constrictor-like. I almost pulled my hand away.

“Tell me,” I said.

“Five years ago, I ran away from my husband, Cray. Cray was”—she closed her eyes—“incredibly abusive. I don’t want to go into details. They’re not important anyway. We lived in a town called Cramden. It’s not far from Kansas City. One day, after Cray put me in the hospital, I ran away. That’s all you need to know, okay?”

I nodded.

“I don’t have any family. I had friends, but I really didn’t want to get them involved. Cray is insane. He wouldn’t let me go. He threatened . . .” Her voice trailed away. “Never mind what he threatened. But I couldn’t put anyone at risk. So I found a shelter that helps battered women. They took me in. I told them I wanted to start over. I wanted to get out of there. But I was afraid of Cray. You see, Cray is a town cop. You have no idea . . . you live in terror for so long, you start to think that a man is omnipotent. It’s impossible to explain.”

I scooted a little closer, still holding her hand. I had seen the effects of abuse. I understood.

“The shelter helped me escape to Europe. I lived in Stockholm. It was hard. I got a job as a waitress. I was lonely all the time. I wanted to come back, but I was still so afraid of my husband, I didn’t dare. After six months, I thought I’d lose my mind. I still had nightmares about Cray finding me. . . .”

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