Unbreak My Heart, страница 1
Unbreak My Heart
USA Today Bestselling Author
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Copyright 2001, 2011 by Teresa Hill. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
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A Note from Teresa Hill
There is no Dublin, Kentucky, but people who know Central Kentucky will likely see that the town I made up is on the Kentucky River between Lexington, Winchester, and Richmond. They may also recognize the Winchester Public Library, in the old church complete with stained-glass windows, the old Corner Drug Store, and the Dairy Queen. I waited tables at Hall's Restaurant on the river and my husband-to-be had a way of convincing me to skip classes at Eastern to go to the horse races at Keeneland with him. Somehow all of those places made their way into this book.
When my characters Allie and Stephen talk about a bone-deep sense of recognition for a place, they're speaking for me and the way I feel about Kentucky.
Nine-year-old Allie Bennett woke to a hand shaking her shoulder, a light shining in her eyes. "Allie?" Her mother's voice was odd and tense. "Come on. We have to get up now."
"Is it morning?" She squeezed her eyes shut and buried her face in her soft pillow. "Do I have school today?"
"No. No school. It's not morning. But we have to get up. Now."
"Why?" Allie said. Outside, it was dark. Inside, the only light came from the flashlight her mother held.
"You and I are going away. Tonight."
"Away?" she whispered, the first flickering of unease creeping in.
Her sister, Megan, went away. And never came back.
Megan ran away six months ago. Allie still missed her desperately. She sneaked into Megan's room sometimes and lay on Megan's bed with her knees drawn up to her chest, her arms clasped around them, and inside she just ached from missing her sister.
"Why are we going away?" Allie whispered, scared now. It seemed she'd been scared the whole time since Megan disappeared.
"We just have to. Be a good girl for me and hurry." Her mother went to Allie's closet and flung open the doors. "Get dressed while I pack your things."
Her mother handed her a pair of jeans and a sweater, socks and her favorite shoes. Still sleepy, she hurried to put them on, watching in growing fear as her mother hastily stuffed things from Allie's closet into two suitcases. Cold, Allie grabbed her favorite doll and sat on her bed wrapped up in her comforter.
Outside, the rain was loud. At times she heard the crackle and boom of thunder, saw a flash of lightning. Her mother, breathing hard and still wiping away tears, took Allie by the hand and led her down the big, curving staircase to the front door. Two more bags sat there, packed and waiting. From out front, Allie heard a car horn.
"There's the cab," her mother said, reaching down for the bags.
There were footsteps behind them. Allie turned and ran to her father. He lifted her into his arms and held her, something he rarely did now that she was so big.
She held on tight. "Daddy? We're going on a trip?"
"Oh, baby. I love you. Will you remember that? Always? I love you."
She nodded gravely. He put her down and went to her mother. There were whispers, strangely intense whispers. Something was terribly wrong. Sick with fear, Allie remembered the morning they woke up and found Megan gone. She wanted to be back upstairs safe in her bed.
Her mother and father began arguing. Her father said, "Don't do this, Janet. Don't take her away from me." Her mother, weeping, said, "I've already lost one daughter. I'm not going to lose another one."
And that was that. Her father turned away.
Allie ran to him and threw herself into his arms once again. "Daddy?" she said urgently. "You're not coming with us?"
"I'm sorry, baby." She saw tears in his eyes, thought his heart must hurt, just like hers did. "I'm so sorry."
"For what?" she said. Whatever it was, he'd said he was sorry. When someone said he was sorry, you were supposed to forgive him and be his friend again. Her mother taught her that.
"If I could go back and change things, I would, Allie," he said. "And I'll always love you."
There was a rush of air, and the sound of the rain grew louder. Someone must have opened the front door. She buried her face against her father's neck, the next moments a terrifying blur. She remembered screaming and holding onto her father, her mother pulling her away, her father wearing such an odd expression on his face as he watched them disappear into the night.
It was just a house, Allie told herself as she climbed the front steps for the first time in fifteen years and paused outside the massive door of wood and beveled glass.
Of course, that was like saying this was merely a small town in Kentucky. That it held no power over her. It was like saying all the people now gone from her life were nothing more than her family, like claiming that finding herself virtually alone in the world didn't matter in the least.
So did this house.
A shiver started at the base of her skull and worked its way down her spine, chilling her through and through. Allie wasn't sure if she could open the door and walk across the threshold. She never expected it to be this hard to come back, never expected anything as ridiculous as an eerie feeling about a house to throw her so off balance. Especially after she'd read the letters and realized she had to come back.
She was a careful, cautious woman, with her feet planted firmly upon the ground, one who'd spent the past six months watching her last living relative—her mother—die. There wasn't a single, silly, fanciful notion in her head, and certainly not a superstitious one.
Still, the house seemed to have a power all its own. It stood three stories tall, a stately mass of whitewashed stone with white columns on either side of the entrance. Statuesque oaks and broad, full willow trees—weeping willows, for which the road was named—shaded the entire area and hid most of the house from passersby. Rosebushes, azaleas, and all sorts of greenery had run amok throughout the yard, and she could smell the river from here, the scent achingly familiar.
Outwardly, there was nothing at all sinister about the house, just an air of abandonment, of loneliness, and of isolation. Yet Allie had felt a sense of dread building inside her from the moment she learned it was still standing, that it passed to her mother upon her father's death two and a half years ago, then to Allie at her own mother's death.
Until then, Allie hadn't
Allie sighed. Why indeed? Maybe for the same reason that fifteen years ago Allie and her mother had run off into the night and never returned. Maybe if she could solve that one mystery, she could solve them all.
A strong autumn breeze, surprisingly chilly for this early in the fall, whipped around the corner, hissing menacingly as it came and smelling of rain. The wind wrapped itself around Allie, sending shivers through her. It felt like an omen, like someone or something warning her, Don't go inside.
Unnerved, Allie was grateful to see a car pull into the circular driveway. A statuesque man with stark white hair and a kind smile climbed out of the car.
"Miss Bennett? I'm William Webster." The man in his sixties moved slowly up the walkway and held out a hand. "I'm so sorry I'm late."
Allie wasn't sorry at all. She didn't want to go inside. They shook hands, and she said, "I appreciate you meeting me here on such short notice."
"No problem at all, young lady," he said, smiling. "I'm awfully sorry to hear about your mother. And I'm glad someone's finally going to do something with this old place. It's a shame the way it sat empty all these years."
She smiled, knowing it was as obvious an opening as she was likely to get.
Ask him, she told herself. Just ask.
"I made copies of the keys for you." Mr. Webster pulled a set from the pocket of his overcoat. "Had the utilities turned on, too. Shall we go inside?"
She hadn't come all this way to cower on the front porch. After all, it was just a house, stone and mortar, wood and plasterboard. An inanimate object. It could not hurt her.
In fact, the few memories she had of this place were happy ones—at least until that last summer. Until her sixteen-year-old sister ran off into the night and was never seen alive again. Somewhere on a rural highway in Georgia, Megan had died in a car accident. At least, that's what Allie had been told. To this day, Allie didn't know why her sister ran away, and she could no longer be certain how her sister died, either.
Glancing up at the stately white columns flanking the entranceway like the most stoic of sentinels, she wondered if the answers to that particular mystery were somewhere inside. She hoped so, because there was no one left to ask. There was no other place to go for answers. Except here.
The front door opened with an ominous creak. The lawyer stepped back to allow her to enter. Allie took that first step. And caught her heel on the antique rug just inside the doorway, nearly falling down.
"Careful." Mr. Webster's hand shot out to steady her. His other hand stretched past her left shoulder and found the light switch.
"Why am I not surprised?" Allie said.
"I'm so sorry," he said, flipping three wall switches in a row, all to no avail. "My secretary called the power company as soon as I hung up the phone with you yesterday. They assured her this would be taken care of by now."
"Oh, I didn't mean this is your fault. Just that I'm not surprised at any little glitches. It's been a difficult day."
She spared him her tale of flying through the storm. Now she found herself in something akin to a mausoleum with no electricity. Glancing outside the open doorway, she saw the faint light of day beginning to fade. Soon it would give way to full darkness, made even more ominous by the clouds that would obliterate the moon and the stars. She'd be alone with nothing but her memories and wild speculations about why she'd been so scared to come back.
Mr. Webster phoned the power company about her electricity. Allie hovered just inside the doorway thinking that perhaps this was a blessing. She didn't have to stay. It would have been silly to go to a hotel when she had a five-bedroom house sitting here empty. But she had no power. For one more night, she had an excuse not to be here. Relief flooded through her.
Just then the lights in the overhead chandelier flickered once, then again, then stayed on.
"Damn," Allie muttered. It would be a long night.
Mr. Webster graciously brought in her bags. In the big kitchen, he opened the refrigerator, showing her the casserole his own housekeeper had prepared and delivered earlier, along with a few other staples. A small welcome home, he explained. Surprised and touched, Allie thanked him.
She stopped him at the front door, knowing she couldn't let him go at this. "My father... All those years, he knew where my mother and I were?"
"I'm not sure he knew all along," the man said kindly. "But when he came to me eleven years ago to make out a will, he did. Your mother was his sole beneficiary. He told me then where to find her."
He rattled off the address and phone number.
Allie nodded, unable to deny it any longer. All along, her father had known. He could have been with them, if that's what he wanted.
She forced herself to go on. "He and my mother never divorced?"
"I've never seen anything to indicate they divorced."
It seemed impossible. They'd lived apart for fifteen years, yet Allie also had found no divorce decree when she went through her mother's things. Instead she'd found letters from William A. Webster, attorney at law, Dublin, Kentucky, the town of her birth. Letters addressed to Mrs. John Bennett, among them one notifying her that her husband had died, a letter dated more than two years ago. Allie had been sure it must be an awful mistake. What kind of mother didn't even tell her own daughter that her father was dead? One who hadn't told her daughter much of anything else, she supposed.
"What about custody? Of me?" Allie tried. "If they went to court, there should be a record of it somewhere, shouldn't there?"
"If there was a custody agreement, I'm not aware of it. The only thing I handled was the will and your father's estate."
"But... you could check?"
"Of course. I'll do anything I can to make this easier for you, my dear."
"Thank you," she said, so many questions running through her head. Allie settled on one. "All this time... My mother... she wouldn't come here?"
"No," he said simply.
"I'm sorry. I don't know," he said. "The first time I called your house when I asked for Mrs. John Bennett, she hung up on me. I called back and got an answering machine. The next day the number had been disconnected."
Allie remembered her mother abruptly having the phone number changed. She'd claimed she was getting crank calls.
"I wrote letters," Mr. Webster continued. "She never replied. I finally flew to Connecticut, thought she'd throw me out of her house. But she must have seen that I wouldn't give up, because we came to an agreement. She didn't want anything to do with the house. I offered to have it sold. She said she'd think about it. I told her there was some money from your father's estate. She didn't want it. So I paid taxes on the house, had somebody cut the grass, that sort of thing. I kept your mother informed all along. She never responded."
Allie could hardly believe it. All that time her mother had known.
"For what it's worth," Mr. Webster said, "I always liked your father. And he missed you, Allie. I could see it in his face whenever he talked about you and your mother. He missed you both."
"My mother said he didn't want to have anything to do with us," Allie whispered.
"I scarcely knew your mother. I couldn't say what might have given her that idea. But I knew your father. He missed you."
Allie thanked him for all his help. Once he left, she stood with her back pressed aga
Allie shouldn't have given in to her mother's wishes. She should have demanded answers years ago, no matter how much it upset her mother.
How could she have let her mother slip away without telling her anything? Allie knew, of course, but that didn't make it any easier to accept. She'd done it by refusing to accept that her mother was so close to dying. Janet Bennett had been diagnosed with breast cancer and seemed to respond well to chemotherapy. But she'd grown weak, her body worn down by the treatments. She needed the kind of care that could only be provided by someone with her day and night. As much as Allie hated to give up the independence she'd gained over the years, she quit her job and moved back into her mother's house.
In the end, it was nothing but a cold, which turned into pneumonia, that sent her mother slipping into a coma and dying. For so long, Allie had longed to be free of her mother, a master manipulator. Until she was free, and it didn't feel like freedom anymore. It simply felt like being left all alone.
She'd been sorting through her mother's things one day when she started finding letters. Not just the ones from Mr. Webster. There was the letter Allie wrote her father that had never been mailed. Stamped and addressed in her childish scrawl but never mailed. She'd found it in a box tucked into the corner of a drawer by her mother, who seldom threw anything away.
Allie had written many such letters, full of love and longing and sadness, and later, shortly before she'd simply given up, letters full of adolescent rage. Her father had never answered her. Her mother's face fell every time Allie asked about him, every time she asked her mother to send off another letter. She'd stopped writing around the time she was twelve. She'd started to believe her mother, who was all she had left then, and she'd never imagined her mother might not have even mailed those letters.