Page 54 of Mystic River

The conversations? if you could call them that? could last as long as fifteen minutes depending on how much he said, but tonight Sean was exhausted in general and worn out from missing her, a woman who'd disappeared on him one morning when she was seven months pregnant, and fed up with his feelings for her being the only feelings he had left for anything.

"I can't do this tonight," he said. "I'm fucking weary and I'm in pain and you don't even care enough to let me hear your voice."

Standing in the kitchen, he gave her a hopeless thirty seconds to respond. He could hear the ding of a bell as someone pumped a tire with air.

"Bye, baby," he said, the words strangling on the phlegm in his throat, and then he hung up.

He stood very still for a moment, hearing the echo of the dinging air pump mix with the ringing silence that descended on the kitchen and thumped through his heart.

It would torture him, he was pretty sure. Maybe all night and into tomorrow. Maybe all week. He'd broken the ritual. He'd hung up on her. What if just as he'd been doing it, she had parted her lips to speak, to say his name?


The image of that got him walking toward the shower, if only so he could run away from it, from the thought of her standing by those pay phones, mouth opening, the words rising in her throat.

Sean, she might have been about to say, I'm coming home.





MONDAY MORNING Celeste was in the kitchen with her cousin Annabeth as the house filled with mourners and Annabeth stood over the stovetop, cooking with a detached intensity, when Jimmy, fresh from the shower, stuck his head in to ask if he could help with anything.

When they were kids, Celeste and Annabeth had been more like sisters than first cousins. Annabeth had been the only girl in a family of boys, and Celeste had been the only child of parents who couldn't stand each other, so they'd spent a lot of time together, and in junior high had talked on the phone almost every night. That had changed, in almost imperceptible increments, over the years, as the estrangement between Celeste's mother and Annabeth's father had widened, moving from cordial to frosty to hostile. And somehow, without any single event to point to, that estrangement had wormed its way down from a brother and sister to their daughters, until Celeste and Annabeth saw each other on only the more formal occasions? weddings, after giving birth and at the subsequent christenings, occasionally on Christmas and Easter. It was the lack of a clear reason that got to Celeste most, and it stabbed her that a relationship that had once seemed unbreakable could slip apart so easily due to nothing more than time, family turmoil, and growth spurts.

Things had been better since her mother had died, though. Just last summer, she and Dave had gotten together with Annabeth and Jimmy for a casual cookout, and over the winter they'd gone out for dinner and drinks twice. Each time the conversation had come a little easier, and Celeste had felt ten years of bewildered isolation fall away and find a name: Rosemary.

Annabeth had been there for her when Rosemary died. She'd come to the house every morning and stayed until dark for three days. She'd baked and helped with the funeral arrangements and sat with Celeste while she'd wept for a mother who'd never shown much in the way of love, but had been her mother, nonetheless.

And now Celeste was going to be here for Annabeth, though the thought of someone as fearsomely self-contained as Annabeth needing support was alien for most, Celeste included.

But she stood by her cousin and let her cook and got her food from the fridge when she asked for it and fielded most of the phone calls.

And now here was Jimmy, less than twenty-four hours after he'd discovered his daughter was dead, asking his wife if she needed anything. His hair was still wet and barely combed, and his shirt was damp against his chest. He was barefoot, and pockets of grief and lack of sleep hung below his eyes, and all Celeste could think was, Jesus, Jimmy, what about you? Do you ever think about you?

All the other people who packed the house right now? filling the living room and the dining room, milling near the front of the hall, piling their coats on the beds in Nadine and Sara's room? were looking to Jimmy, as if it wouldn't occur to them to look out for him. As if he alone could explain this brutal joke to them, soothe the anguish in their brains, hold them up when the shock wore off and their bodies sagged under fresh waves of pain. The aura of command Jimmy possessed was of an effortless sort, and Celeste often wondered if he was aware of it, if he recognized it for the burden it must be, especially at a time like this.

"What's that?" Annabeth said, her eyes on the bacon crackling below her in a black pan.

"You need anything?" Jimmy asked. "I can work the stove a bit, you want."

Annabeth gave the stovetop a quick, weak smile and shook her head. "No, I'm fine."

Jimmy looked at Celeste as if to say: Is she?

Celeste nodded. "We've got things covered in here, Jim."

Jimmy looked back over at his wife, and Celeste could feel the tenderest of aches in the look. She could feel another teardrop piece of Jimmy's heart detach and free-fall down the inside of his chest. He leaned in and reached across the stove and wiped a bead of sweat from Annabeth's cheekbone with his index finger, and Annabeth said, "Don't."

"Look at me," Jimmy whispered.

Celeste felt like she should leave the kitchen, but she feared her moving would snap something between her cousin and Jimmy, something too fragile.

"I can't," Annabeth said. "Jimmy? If I look at you, I'll lose it, and I can't lose it with all these people here. Please?"

Jimmy leaned back from the stove. "Okay, honey. Okay."

Annabeth whispered, her head down, "I just don't want to lose it again."

"I understand."

For a moment, Celeste felt as if they stood naked before her, as if she were witness to something between a man and his wife that was as intimate as if she were watching them make love.

The door at the other end of the hall opened, and Annabeth's father, Theo Savage, entered the house, came down the hall with a case of beer on each shoulder. He was a huge man, a florid, jowly Kodiak of a human being with an odd dancer's grace as he squeezed down the narrow hall with the cases of beer on his boat-mast shoulders. Celeste was always a bit amazed to think that this mountain had sired so many stunted male offspring? Kevin and Chuck being the only sons who'd gotten some of his height and bulk, Annabeth the only child to inherit his physical grace.

"Behind you, Jim," Theo said, and Jimmy stepped out of the way as Theo spun delicately around him and moved into the kitchen. He brushed Celeste's cheek with his lips and a soft "How ya doing, honey?" then placed both cases on the kitchen table and wrapped his arms around his daughter's belly, pressed his chin to her shoulder.