Too Close to Home

Too Close to Home by Maureen Tan

Book: Too Close to Home by Maureen Tan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Maureen Tan
to clear away the flood of grim memories by focusing on Tina. I pressed my face down against her sleep-dampened curls and listened to the deep rhythm of her breathing as I inhaled her odd, slightly sweet baby scent. An innocent kind of smell. Perspiration and talcum powder, I thought. Or maybe baby shampoo. The kind that doesn’t sting eyes.
    I’d rescued her, I reminded myself. Rescued an innocent. The way I’d rescued so many others in the years since Missy’s death. I’d preserved the Underground and, over the past eight years, helped many dozens of helpless women escape to new, betterlives. And I’d given up the only man I’d ever loved because I couldn’t tolerate lying to him and I dared not tell him the truth. Wasn’t that enough to make up for breaking the law, for abusing in death someone who’d been so badly abused by life?
    I couldn’t convince myself that it was.
     
    The rescue, with enough people and the right equipment, was quick and safe. Tina, Possum and I left the ravine at a place several yards distant from the exposed root system of the massive tree. I handed Tina over to a paramedic and then, with Possum by my side, followed the tree line to the yellow-taped perimeter that Chad was creating several yards back from the ravine. The tape was a standard item in my pack. Chad always seemed to have it with him, too. And I wondered briefly what that said about our expectations.
    Chad paused in his work and reached down to ruffle the fur on Possum’s head.
    “Good job, Possum,” he said. “I’m going to get you a big rawhide chew. And maybe a tube of new tennis balls.”
    Possum responded as he would to anyone whose voice was so full of praise. He wiggled most of the back half of his shaggy black-and-tan body.
    Then Chad straightened and turned toward me. His body blocked the glare from a high-powered lantern that was set up nearby, but there was still enough light to see the dark patches of perspiration staining his uniform shirt and the long, bloody gouge that some branch had carved beneath his right eye. It nearly intersected the puckered, white line that paralleled his strong jaw—a scar that Chad’s daddy had put there more than a decade earlier.
    “Thank you,” he said. “You’re fabulous.”
    I felt my cheeks redden and my pulse quicken in responseto the admiration I heard in his voice, and I knew without doubt that I wouldn’t have reacted that way to just anyone. Only Chad.
    Quickly, I focused my attention on Possum, who was butting Chad’s hand with his broad head in an attempt to get more petting. I ordered him to lie down and stay—probably more firmly than I should have—and waited until his body was sprawled comfortably on the ground. Then I helped Chad finish tying off the tape. I took my end all the way back to the dangerous edge, finally wrapping it around a sapling that was about fifteen feet from the cottonwood tree where I’d found the bones. After rejoining Chad beneath the lantern and taking a moment to survey our work, I turned and looked him squarely in the eyes.
    “Okay, now let me take a look at your face.”
    He shook his head. “No big deal,” he began. “We need to—”
    “No,” I said, cutting him off midsentence and probably midthought. “Before we do another thing, you let me take care of that cheek.”
    From long experience, I knew just how stubborn he could be. So I didn’t wait for his reply. Or his permission. I grabbed his chin, tipped his injured cheek in my direction and peered at the wound.
    “It’s only a scratch,” he said.
    “Bull. Shit. Hold. Still.”
    I gave his chin a quick pinch to make my point.
    One way or another, I’d been dealing with Chad’s stubbornness and patching him up for years. The first time was just after he’d come to live with a family that took in foster kids. Their house was down the hill from the Cherokee Rose. Even though Chad had been a boy—and, at twelve, I’d written off the opposite sex as pretty

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