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The words erupted from him, like a belch, and he belatedly covered his mouth with his napkin as if he could take them back and declare them more politely. A lawyer. Remember him, from the Groton reunion? It was his suggestion. Being depressed is not a crime. A psychiatrist, yes. But a lawyer. You and I know what really happened. Chris knows what really happened. She spun around, facing the kitchen.

Tell that, her conscience murmured, to Melanie. She suddenly remembered the day Chris woke up and wound his arms around her neck, and she realized that he no longer had the breath of a baby.

It was stale and ordinary, not sweet and milky, and she had instinctively reared back from him, as if this had nothing to do with the transition to solid food but instead with the fact that this small, toddling body was now capable of holding in its sins.

Gus took several deep breaths, then turned back toward the dining room table. Kate was bent like a willow stem over her plate, her tears collecting in its pale reflection. The serving platter remained untouched. Chris would be home on Tuesday. It freaked her out to think about Chris in a rubber room-well, not rubber exactly, but still.

He looked different, with dark circles under his eyes and this hunted look, like everyone was out to get him. Kate felt a pang in her chest, and silently swore to let Chris have the bathroom first every morning. She glanced over her shoulder, but to her surprise her mother had disappeared.

Kate bit her lip, trying to remember what her mother had said. Cheer him up. Make small talk. He did not say a word but he did not have to. You think 1 care about your stupid game?

She turned toward the window, which overlooked the incinerator, spitting out thick black smoke. She had made him smile. Kate sat down on the edge of the bed. The bloodstains had been rinsed out, but lingered in the fabric like ghosts, shifting pink beneath the fluorescent lights.

The gauze wrapping his head had been traded for a small butterfly bandage at his brow. His hair was damp, neatly combed. Gus cleared her throat. He came toward them with jerky, uncoordinated movements. He threw off her touch. Best put it behind you and get yourself healed. James jumped up and grabbed his shoulders; he swatted his father away. James staggered back, holding his hand to his mouth, and Chris ran out of the room.

Gus tore after him. She heard a flurry of activity behind her, but she could not take her eyes off Chris. Because Melanie had refused to have anything to do with the preparations, it had fallen to Michael to order bagels and lox, salads, coffee and cookies. Some neighbor-not Gus-had arranged the food on the dining room table by the time they returned from the cemetery. Melanie went straight upstairs with her bottle of Valium. Michael sat on the living room couch, accepting the condolences of his dentist, a veterinary colleague, some clients.

They approached in a pack, a swelling, amorphous mass that looked as if it might part at any minute to reveal his daughter in its center. On the surface, Em had been busy and bright, a beautiful tempest of a teenager.

Her fingernails were small ovals, pale seashells you might stash in a pocket. The girl leaped backward, snatching away her hand, her fingers recoiling, her cheeks flushed. She turned away, swallowed immediately by a fold in the group of her friends. Michael cleared his throat, wanting to say something. But what? You reminded me of her. Nothing seemed right. He stood and made his way past well-wishers and teary relatives to the foyer.

He waited until every eye was turned toward him. We, uh, appreciate your kind words and your support. Please stay as long as you like. He inched up in bed and scrubbed his hand over his face.

The inside of his mouth felt like sandpaper and his mind was wheeling, as if a fly were spirographing around inside his head. A nurse carefully pushed open the door. You have a visitor. He wanted to know everything-the design of the bevel on the coffin, the lyrics of the prayers they had said for Em, the texture of the earth where she was buried.

His mother could not possibly have remembered these details, and having to fill in the holes in her story would be worse than never hearing it at all. Chris felt his stomach muscles jerk. He shrugged out of his coat and began to wring it in his hands.

He was pleased at how steady he sounded. It was easy for him to picture Emily asking, not Michael. Tell me, she begged, her mouth still wet from his own, blood running down her temple.

Tell me what happened. His gaze slid away. He spent five minutes trying to get Chris to speak to him again, to spit out a detail or a piece of information that he could carry with him in his breast pocket the way one might tuck the note of a lover or a lucky charm. But when Michael left the room, the only thing he knew for certain was that Chris had not been able to look him in the eye.

She curled her feet up beneath her on the chair and closed her eyes, intentionally clearing her mind so that she would not prejudge what she was about to read.

Then she raked her fingers through her hair and stared until the words began to swim on the page. The patient was a seventeen-year-old white female, admitted unconscious after a gunshot wound to the head. Patient was pronounced dead at P.

Gross examination revealed powder burns surrounding the entrance wound at the right temple. The bullet had not cut a clean path across the head, but had crossed the temporal and the occipital lobes of the brain and nicked the cerebellum to exit somewhere right of center in the rear of the skull. A fragment matching a. Wounds were consistent with a. All in all, a death that suggested the suicide Christopher Harte had related. Anne-Marie felt the hairs stand up on the back of her neck as she read through the second page of the autopsy report.

The external examination had revealed bruising on the right wrist. Signs of a struggle. She stood up, thinking of Chris Harte. It had been procured from his house, his fingerprints would be all over it. Something niggled at her mind, and she looked back at the first page of the report. The medical examiner had only roughly explained the entry and exit wounds, but they did not seem quite right to Anne-Marie. She took her right hand, pointed the finger like it was a gun, and held it to her temple.

She cocked her thumb, pretended to shoot. Instead, it exited in the back of her head, a few inches behind her right ear. Anne-Marie twisted her wrist so that her imaginary gun would point in a similar path.

It involved lifting her elbow and angling it in an odd fashion, so that the gun was almost parallel to the temple-a highly uncomfortable and unnatural position from which to shoot oneself in the head. Yet the bullet trajectory made perfect sense if the person who shot the gun was standing in front of you. But why? She flipped to the last page of the autopsy to read about the gross examination of the gallbladder, the gastrointestinal tract, the reproductive system.

Suddenly, she caught her breath. GOLD," the detective had said on the phone, "I have the autopsy results on your daughter. Perhaps it was simply hearing the words autopsy and your daughter in the same short breath.


The Pact: A Love Story

Book Critic B. Her work has appeared regularly in the Orlando Sentinel. Since then, she has published about one book every year, though some years have seen multimedia events and the publication of additional short ebooks. She uses this technique to show multiple sides of a situation and underscore areas of moral ambiguity. To see this in action, you can read a novel from the following complete list of Jodi Picoult books. It is told in five voices, each recounting the events of a fateful summer. Her dreams and marriage suffer as a result, and eventually, she decides to look for her mother.


November 1997


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