Cold Springs

PART I

* * *

1993

1

Chadwick struggled with his bow tie.

He was thinking about what he would say, how he would break the news that would end his marriage, when Norma came up behind him and told him about the heroin in their daughter's underwear drawer.

He turned, the bow tie unraveling in his fingers.

Norma wore only her slip, her bare arms as smooth and perfectly muscled as they'd been when she was nineteen. Her eyes glowed with that black heat she saved for lovemaking and really huge arguments, and he was pretty sure which she was planning for.

“Heroin,” he said.

“In a Ziploc, yeah. Looked like brown sugar.”

“What'd you do with it?”

“I smoked it. What do you think? I flushed it down the toilet.”

“You flushed it down the toilet. Jesus, Norma.”

“It wasn't hers. She was keeping it for a friend.”

“You believed that?”

“She's my daughter. Yes, I believed her.”

Chadwick stared out the window, down at Mission Street, where the Christmas lights popped and sparked under the sudden weight of ice.

He'd lived in this house almost all of his thirty-seven years, and he couldn't remember a November night this cold. The glass storefront of the corner taquería was greasy with steam. Lowriders cruised the boulevard billowing smoke from their exhaust pipes. Twenty-fourth Street station was swept clean of the homeless—all gone to shelters, leaving behind piles of summer clothes like insect husks. Next door, the Romos had turned up their music the way other people turn up the heater—the sorrowful heartbeat of narcocorrido pulsing through the townhouse's wallpaper.

Chadwick wanted to turn to steam and disperse against the glass. He wanted to escape from what he had to do, what he had to say. And now this—Katherine.

“The Zedmans will be here in a few minutes,” he told Norma. “I've been home since yesterday.”

She tilted her head to put on an earring. “What? I should've told you earlier? Last week I needed your help, you ran off to Texas. Maybe I should've told you at the airport, huh? Let you get right back on the plane?”

Chadwick felt his throat constricting. His Air Force buddy Hunter used to tease him about marrying Norma Reyes. Hunter said he wasn't getting a wife, he was getting a Cuban Missile Crisis.

He wanted to tell her why he'd really run.

He wanted to tell her that out there in the woods of Texas—for a few days—he had remembered why he'd fallen in love with her. He'd remembered a time when he'd been excited to have a woman half his size take him on so fearlessly, grab his hand like a toddler's grip on a shiny new toy and pull him onto the dance floor with a look that said, Yeah, I want to marry an Air Force man. You got a problem with that?

He had decided Norma deserved the truth, even if it destroyed them. But that had been at a distance of two thousand miles. Now, getting too close, the feeling was like a computer photo. Expand it too much, and it turned into pixels of random color.

He shucked his tuxedo coat, walked down the hallway to Katherine's room, Norma calling from behind, “I've already grounded her, Chadwick. Don't make it worse.”

Katherine was on her bed, her back to the wall, her knees up to her chin—prepared for the assault. The Guatemalan fabric had fallen off her headboard, revealing the decorations Chadwick had painted when Katherine was two—rainbows and stars, a baby-blue cow jumping over a beaming moon. Kurt Cobain's picture sagged off the wall above, where Babar the Elephant used to be.

Sadness twisted into Chadwick's chest like a corkscrew. How the hell