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Rabbits in the garden, p.11

Rabbits in the Garden, page 11

 

Rabbits in the Garden
 


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  Paul's Best Man looked so beautiful in a suit, and the bluebell in his lapel really brought out the clover in his eyes. She’d only known him for two months, but they’d been the most enlightening two months of her life. Maybe it was her raging hormones or how with each day that counted down her wedding, she grew less interested in the man she was going to marry. Natalie’s body seemed to want to be in Noah’s arms. As Paul’s best friend, he had fought his feelings for Natalie nearly as hard as she had, but the night before she was to marry Paul, they surrendered to their desires.

  “I love how you love your baby,” he said as he ran his hand over her belly. “I know she’s the biggest reason why you didn’t want to do this with me”

  “She?”

  “I think it’s a she.”

  “There are a lot of a reasons why I didn’t want to do this, but the main reason I did is also why I had to: because I love you, Noah.”

  “I love you too. I feel crazy saying it because we haven’t known each other that long, but that’s why I trust it. It’s too real to deny. It’s too crazy to be anything but love.”

  “But we can’t let it happen again though. If my mother found out - ”

  “If Paul found out,” Noah corrected. “He’s the one I don’t want to hurt.”

  “Neither do I, but if my mother found out, she might hurt us.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “All I know is that I don’t know her. I don’t know what she’s capable of.”

  “Your own mother?”

  “I’ve been so frightened, Noah,” she whispered and buried her face in the crook of his arm. “I’m scared she’ll try to take the baby.”

  “I would never let that happen, and neither would Paul.”

  “I just wish I knew the truth. I wish I knew whether I had to be scared or not,” she replied and wiped the tears from her eyes. “I'd probably be scared either way though. This is a perfect mess I’ve gotten myself into, isn’t it?”

  “Pretty much, but if it counts for anything, you pull off ‘perfect mess’ with absolute grace.”

  “For how long? How long can I endure this with a smile? How long can I tell him I love him when my heart belongs to you?”

  “Can you really be sure that Paul’s heart belongs to you?”

  “No. In fact, I know it doesn’t. This is the only heart that is truly mine,” she said as she caressed her belly.

  “Not the only heart,” Noah said as he kissed her fingers and the belly beneath them. “She isn’t mine, but she is. Just like you.”

  That night, Natalie’s bridal bed saw more passion and love than it did on the night of her wedding. Although Paul kissed her fingers and belly in the same way Noah did, there was a disconnection in it. At their most intimate, Natalie and Paul felt miles apart, and Faye, standing just outside of their bedroom, drummed her fingers against the wall and counted the minutes until her daughter would run back into her arms, begging for comfort. But Natalie never contemplated turning to her mother for consolation. The months passed and she remained tightlipped about her waning affection for Paul and her growing love for Noah, but it wasn’t for lack of agony. She wanted somewhere to run, someone to run toward, but every pair of arms outstretched to her seemed to foretell more agony in the wings. There was one pair, however, that she hadn’t felt in years, and although it had seemed a lifetime since their consolations had been offered to her, she needed to know whether they could ever be offered again.

  Paul had informed Natalie of the list that kept certain visitors out of Taunton, and not wanting to risk being denied entry, she gave the name Anne Elliot at the front desk. Avery was lighting a cigarette when Nurse Radcliffe called her name, and her smoke blocked the visitor’s face as she walked forward. When it cleared and her sister Natalie reached out for her, the cigarette tumbled out of her lips. Flint ran to retrieve it from the floor, but Nurse Moore got there first and stubbed it out before Flint could get her hands on it.

  “What are you doing here?” Avery asked dryly.

  Natalie could hardly believe the woman standing before her. Avery was still that skinny little girl with jet black hair that Natalie had played patty-cake with, the same little girl she’d loved and envied and tried to save from their mother’s lessons. She’d been trying for so long to repress everything from her childhood, but seeing Avery as a young woman brought the childhood back. It was more train wreck than stroll down memory lane, and with all of her current sadness, several pounds more were piled on top. She wanted to crumple to the ground and cry, but instead, she flung herself forward and wrapped her arms around her little sister.

  “I’m sorry,” she whispered, but Avery was too stunned to respond. “There are a lot of things I'm sorry for, but most of all, I'm sorry for not believing you.”

  “So you believe me now. That's lovely,” Avery said snidely. “But how can you expect me to believe you? You never defended me or visited me, and you married the only boy I've ever loved.”

  “You know about me and Paul?”

  “Mom was here a few months ago. She told me.”

  “I can't say I'm surprised.”

  “Really? I was,” Avery said. “What are you doing here, Natalie?”

  “I wanted to talk to you, to see you. I wanted - ”

  “What? Forgiveness?” Avery asked. “You people only come here for one thing: to feel better about yourself, to surround yourself with crazy people so you feel normal.”

  “I don’t think you’re crazy, Avery.”

  “That’s even worse. You don’t think I’m crazy, but you’ve let me rot in a crazy house for the past five years?” Avery replied, and Natalie was struck silent. “If you want to talk, let's do it. Take off your coat and stay a while. You came all this way.”

  “I wish I’d come sooner. I should have.”

  “Yes, you should have, but you’re here now, and I can’t disregard that, no matter how angry I am.”

  “I hope that’s true,” Natalie said, and when she took off her coat to reveal her condition, Avery’s eyes widened in shock. “This is something else I’m sorry about.”

  “You’re pregnant?! Is it Paul’s?”

  “Yes, but if it helps, it was an accident.”

  “No, you couldn’t be pregnant. You wouldn’t do that to me. He wouldn’t do that to me.”

  “It’s not what you think.”

  “She was right all along. Mom was right.”

  “No, Avery. She hasn’t been right about anything. Ever. Whatever she told you, it’s not true. Paul and I getting together was a complete accident. We didn’t recognize each other until after it happened, and then…” she started and ran her hand over her stomach. “Then, it was too late.”

  “Are you saying you don’t love him?”

  “Can we go to your room?” Natalie asked nervously, noticing the gathering eyes upon them.

  “Sure. I doubt if anyone will bother us. Not after Mom’s visit,” she replied and shut the door. “Go on, say what you need to say.”

  “I don’t know how to say it,” Natalie started, but seeing no sympathy in her sister, she said soberly, “I’m in love, Avery.”

  “I’m not sure I want to hear this now.”

  “No, it’s not with Paul. I don’t love him. I never did.”

  “You married him.”

  “I didn’t want to do it, and I wish I hadn’t. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul thinks the same thing. We aren’t in love, Avery. He still loves you.”

  “You don’t know that.”

  “No, but I feel it, just as I’m sure Paul feels that my love is directed toward someone else.”

  “Who?”

  “His name is Noah, and he loves me, Avery. He loves me and my baby.”

  “And Paul’s baby,” Avery added.

  “I know you must hate me, and I can only imagine what Mom may have told you, but I want you to know that I wanted to come here a million times. She told me that you didn’t want me here.


  “She told me that you didn’t want to come.”

  “Now you know why I believe you about everything, but not just because of that. Paul told me about that night: the night you stowed away in Mom’s car. The night she put two bodies into her trunk,” she said, but when Avery’s eyes began to well, she gripped her sister’s hand.

  “He told you? That means it was...it was real?” Avery whispered. “Did it really happen, Natalie?”

  “According to Paul. He said you told him to keep it a secret.”

  “I did, but after everything, I’ve really come to believe that the whole thing was in my mind. They told me I was guilty. Everyone said I was guilty. I thought I had to be guilty.”

  “I don’t know if you’re completely innocent, Avery, but I don’t think you’re guilty. Not of those murders.”

  Avery threw herself against Natalie, and when she bumped against her sister’s belly, she put her hand on it and felt the flutter of life within.

  “Is it really his?”

  “I'm sorry.”

  “But both you and Paul believe me, right?”

  “Yes, Avery.”

  “So what are you going to do about it? What are you going to do to get me out of here?”

  “Everything we can, I promise. After the baby’s born, we’ll appeal your case and Paul will tell the world about what really happened. We’re going to fix this, Avery. Taunton will be nothing but a distant memory when this is over.”

  “Taunton may fade, but it will never be a distant memory. It will always stay close. It will always haunt me.”

  “I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this. I can’t imagine how it's been for you.”

  “It doesn’t seem so bad until I think of everything I must have missed by being here. So many years have disappeared forever. I killed the rabbits in the garden and I was punished for it. Over five years away from everything I knew and loved. Five years of my youth for what: stupid rabbits?” Avery asked bitterly. “No, it wasn’t for the rabbits. It wasn’t even the law that punished me. It was her. She punished me because she thought she couldn’t control me. She wanted to keep me locked away in some tiny cage built of her ideals. That damn garden. Those damn rabbits. Well, she got exactly what she wanted, didn’t she? I’m locked away, unable to touch the world, unable to touch anything that makes life worth living. And even worse than that, everything I can’t touch doesn't mourn me. It doesn't want to be touched by me, not by a murderer.”

  “You’re not a murderer, Avery.”

  “I might as well be. Whether I get out of here or not, I’ll still be ‘Little Avery Norton’.”

  “We’ll fix it. No one will think of you like that.”

  “Of course they will. How can I expect the rest of the world to see me as I really am when my own sister couldn’t even do it? Five years, Natalie. It took you five years to realize that I didn’t kill those people. I’m your sister! How could you not know me well enough to defend me?”

  “I have defended you. I’ve been branded nearly as bad as a seed because of it, but I have defended you.”

  “Sure. Nearly as bad,” Avery scoffed. “And where was your defense during the trial? I needed you.”

  “I was scared. I’m still scared,” Natalie whimpered, but as Avery drew close with her teeth clenched, she felt no compassion for her sister’s fear.

  “You’re married to my boyfriend, you’re carrying his child, and you’re in love with another man. Natalie, you haven’t earned the right to be scared. Not until you’ve been in here. Not until you’ve been locked up and treated like some wild animal,” Avery replied. “When I was little, I could almost see the avenues that would open to me when I was grown. I didn’t know where they’d lead me, but they were there. Now that I’m grown up, all I see is barred roads. Nothing is within my grasp anymore.”

  “It doesn't have to be that way any longer, and if nothing else, you will still have me and Paul.”

  “You’ll have Paul.”

  “Only according to a piece of paper. Our hearts lie elsewhere. Mine with Noah and Paul’s with you.”

  “What are you suggesting?”

  “Avery, Paul knows about Noah and me. We have an arrangement. He loves you, not me. When all this is over, he'll be yours. Plus, you’ll have a niece or nephew. Just because the past five years have been anguish doesn’t mean the future has to be.”

  “Then why does it already feel like it?”

  “Because you’re still in here. Because although you can see the stars from your window, the bars makes you think that the stars aren't shining for you,” Natalie said as she held her sister’s hands. “Avery, I promise you that everything’s going to better in a few months. We’ll find the evidence we need to get you out of here and put Mom away. And most of all, I promise you that as long as I live I won't ever let you feel alone again.”

  Avery had imagined the moment so many times before that she had to convince herself it wasn’t another daydream, that when she threw herself into Natalie’s arms, they would really hold her instead of just fading away. They did hold her, very tightly, and although Avery was embraced to breathlessness, she savored the feeling with all of her heart. She thought that nothing else in the world could top that feeling until four words fell upon her, words that she felt even deeper than her heart.

  “I believe you, Avery.”

  When they broke apart, Avery kissed her palm and placed it tenderly on her sister’s stomach. She had never felt so hopeful, even through the long years of staring out the window, thinking that every jumping shadow might be Paul come to rescue her. True, no one had rescued her yet, but the possibility was enough, and in her hope, she found a resolution.

  “I promise too, Natalie. I promise that as long as I live your baby will never feel alone either.”

  Over the next several months, there were several changes in the ward. Sheila’s parents transferred her to McLean, and Frankie was no longer allowed to break the “no blues in pinks” rule once he turned eighteen and was moved to the men’s ward.

  “I heard he’s bagged two guys over there already,” Rachel said.

  “I don’t doubt it. Half of those guys were straight-laced business men, and I wouldn’t be surprised if when they lost their marbles, they lost the straight parts too,” Flint chuckled.

  Avery was more grateful than ever to still have Flint, but she wouldn’t for long. Even if Natalie and Paul weren’t getting Avery out, Flint’s eighteenth birthday was swiftly approaching. She’d be moved to the women’s ward within the next few months. The thought of it made Avery’s heart ache, but she knew that everything was going to be alright. She had already started to muse about plots to get Flint out of Taunton once she was a free woman herself. Once she was free…God, there’d be nothing she couldn’t do. Imagining Paul, Natalie, and Flint by her side, Avery finally began to feel her old strength soar again. As her flying horse neared the sweet spot, Avery reached out, mere inches away from hooking her finger around the brass ring. Even in her dreams, she never won it, but she felt closer than ever before.

  CHAPTER NINE

  Sophie Marie Dillon started packing her bags to make her voyage into the world just after two o'clock while Paul was in the middle of a biology exam. Luckily, Noah was nearby when Natalie went into labor, and he rushed her to the hospital with plenty of time for Faye to scold her for not getting there sooner. Since the week before Natalie’s due date, Faye had been staying in a hotel off-island so she’d be close when the call came. She was beaming the entire drive to Massachusetts General, but as soon as she walked into Natalie’s hospital room and saw the fair-haired stranger holding her daughter’s hand, her joy was abruptly dashed. It was bad enough that Natalie had slept with Paul, bad enough that she’d gotten pregnant, and bad enough that she’d had to quit school to be a wife and mother, but if she was also dallying some other boy, something might have to be done.

  “Don’t worry, Miss Hayworth, she’s doing fine. I’m glad yo
u’re here though,” Noah said as he shook Faye’s hand.

  “Who are you?”

  “I’m Noah Hanson, Paul’s friend. We met at the wedding. I was the best man.”

  “Of course, forgive me. I’m afraid I was a bit more focused on my daughter that day. As I should be now,” she said as she pushed past him.

  She really tried to keep her mind focused on Natalie, but her eyes kept slipping suspiciously back to Noah. He was holding Natalie’s hand just a bit too tightly, and she was staring up at him with a bit too much intensity. It made Faye’s skin crawl.

  “Are you the husband?” the nurse asked him.

  “No, just a friend,” Noah replied, and Faye noted that his voice had a hint of sadness as he squeezed Natalie’s hand and she looked up at him longingly.

  It was then that Faye knew for certain.

  Soon after Paul arrived, it was time for Natalie to push, and the nurses escorted Faye and Noah out of the room. He smiled at her as they sat down in the waiting room, unaware of his impending doom, and Faye smiled right back, completely aware and loving every minute of the calm before the storm.

  “So, you’re Paul’s best friend, right?” she asked.

  “Yes, Ma’am.”

  “And does he know that you’re sleeping with his wife?”

  “Excuse me?”

  “I suppose I shouldn’t even assume that the baby is Paul’s. I guess it could be anyone’s.”

  “Miss Hayworth, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but Natalie’s a good girl, and that is definitely Paul’s baby. Natalie would never - ”

  “Never what: sleep around? Why not? She’s been doing it for years. She thinks I’m stupid, but I’m not. Not when it comes to my children.”

 
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