“I’m going back to the apartment.”
“Don’t do that, Nell. I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“I need to be alone.” She shoved her feet into her shoes, gathered up her things and even stormed into the bathroom to grab her toothbrush. “I should never have...”
“Don’t say that.” He sounded devastated, the confidence she’d believed so entirely in shattered. “Nell, it was a slip of the tongue.”
She shook her head hard. “Don’t lie. You know it was more than that. And maybe I’m making too big a deal out of this, but...I can’t help it.”
She rushed from the room before she could start crying. She didn’t stop for her parka, only her bag. She groped and found her keys, then sprinted down his porch steps and across the yard, hardly feeling the cold.
Even so, she was shivering by the time she climbed the steps to the apartment. Instead of adjusting the thermostat, though, she simply dropped everything and climbed into bed, huddling in a ball until her body could create a cocoon of warmth beneath the heap of covers.
She felt so much hurt, so much confusion. Grief even.
I made a fool of myself, she thought, but then pictured his face when he’d claimed she’d misunderstood. He’d tried to hide guilt, but it was there.
He wanted, maybe even loved Maddie Dubeau. And Nell knew that, even if she recovered every last memory, she would never be Maddie again. She didn’t want to be! After being born again, she’d defined herself. She was Nell.
And she wished, more than she’d wished anything in her life, that Colin loved her.
SLUGGISH AND HEAVY-EYED, Nell dragged herself out of bed late in the morning. It was nearly eleven before she checked her phone and discovered she had a couple of messages.
The first was from Colin. “Nell, we need to talk. I think you misunderstood last night—but I admit to moments of confusion,” he said gruffly. “I wish we could have that talk right now. Bystrom has just resigned, though, and I’ve been appointed acting police chief. I need to meet with the mayor and city attorney, then bring myself up to speed with whatever was sitting on Bystrom’s desk. Will you stay home? Or at least, if you’re going anywhere, call and let me know your plans? Whatever you do, don’t let yourself be alone with anyone but maybe your mother. And Hailey or Emily, of course.” There was a pause. “Damn. I want to see you, not be leaving a message.” His voice was suddenly explosive, frustrated. “I don’t know if I’ll always be able to answer the phone today. Text me if it’s important.”
“Maddie, this is your mother. I’m hoping you will come to dinner tonight. Whatever you may believe, we are happy beyond words to have you home.” There was the tiniest of pauses in the stilted speech. “I regret giving you any other impression. Please let me know if you can make it.”
End of messages.
Nell listened to both again. To Colin’s just to hear his voice, to realize he sounded as ragged as she felt. To her mother’s in disbelief.
Acting police chief. Despite her turmoil, she was glad for him. She knew he was smart, kind, fair and ethical, capable of the necessary dispassion as well as being stern and even hard, but he’d have to be, wouldn’t he?
He wasn’t dispassionate where she was concerned, and she was glad of that. We need to talk.
Apparently her parents wanted to talk, too, which surprised her. As wretched as Nell felt, another uncomfortable get-together with them was the last thing she wanted to do, but of course she had to go. Spending time with them was part of her quest to remember. Besides, while she was obviously never going to have an ideal relationship with them, they were her parents. The family she’d envied her friends having. And surely dining with her parents would be on Colin’s list of approved activities.
What was more, it might get her out of having that talk with him tonight. She didn’t think she was ready.
After having a stiff little conversation with her mother, Nell texted Colin to let him know her plans. An hour later, she got one in return, demanding details. Rolling her eyes, she told him what time she was expected and that she planned to drive herself. All right, he responded. Don’t know how late I’ll be tied up.
Midafternoon, Felix texted to let her know he was back in Salem. He suggested she come over to visit him for a few days. The idea sounded extraordinarily appealing except for the fact that she’d lose some of her limited remaining time with Colin.
Assuming they were going to be spending time together.