I see you, p.1
I See You, page 1
Table of Contents
Recent Titles by Patricia Macdonald
Recent Titles by Patricia MacDonald
STRANGER IN THE HOUSE
NO WAY HOME
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
MARRIED TO A STRANGER
STOLEN IN THE NIGHT
FROM CRADLE TO GRAVE *
CAST INTO DOUBT *
MISSING CHILD *
I SEE YOU *
* available from Severn House
I SEE YOU
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This first world edition published 2014
in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
19 Cedar Road, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM2 5DA.
eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Bourgeau.
The right of Patricia Bourgeau to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
MacDonald, Patricia J.
I see you.
1. Family secrets–Fiction. 2. West Philadelphia
(Philadelphia, Pa.)–Fiction. 3. Suspense fiction.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8405-3 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-556-7 (ePub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited, Falkirk,
To Lorene Cary, with love and thanks for all those soul-expanding walks.
Long may we ramble together!
Restoration House, West Philadelphia
The pale gray twilight filtered through the grimy windows of Restoration House and formed watery patterns on the worn linoleum. A group of grim-faced men sat in a circle of folding chairs and listened intently as a burly black man named Titus described his descent into suicidal depression. ‘The doctor at the VA said I had PTSD. All I know is I didn’t want to live.’ He squeezed his hands together into one large fist while tears ran down the creases of his face.
Hannah Wickes watched from her seat at the outer edge as the group leader stared gravely at the bent head and tattooed neck of the suffering ex-serviceman.
‘Still not sure,’ he said, heaving a sigh.
‘But you’re still here. Talking to us.’
The vet nodded and met his gaze.
The group leader smiled. His face, pock-marked and scarred from burns, still managed to look gentle. ‘We have to keep talking. We all have to keep talking. And we’ll meet again next week. I want to see you here, Titus.’
‘I’ll be here,’ said Titus.
‘Good,’ said the leader. ‘Meanwhile, Anna here has some information for all of you that she’s put together.’ He nodded at Hannah.
Hannah took a deep breath. She found herself shaken by the depth of the vet’s emotion. She understood his pain all too well. She pulled herself together and tried to speak in an official tone. ‘A lot of our servicemen and women here at Restoration House have complained about the difficulty of getting the benefits they are entitled to. This Saturday morning at ten, we are having a workshop. Bring your paperwork. There will be people here to try and help untangle some of these problems. We’ve got some volunteers from the university whose computer skills are dazzling. They can help with those government websites. You should all be receiving the benefits that have been promised to you by your government.’
The men in the group murmured agreement.
‘OK, listen up,’ said the group leader, whose name was Frank Petrusa. ‘If you’re interested in this workshop, there’s more information in this pile on the desk. We meet next time on Wednesday, ’cause I have to be at a meeting in Washington on Friday.’
Amid high-fives and exhortations to have a good week, the group broke up and the men filed out of the room, a few of them stopping to pick up the printed material which Hannah had made available.
Frank spoke quietly to Titus, his prosthetic hand resting gently on the ex-serviceman’s shoulder. Watching them, Hannah felt, as she often did, that it was good for her to be working here. It kept her problems in perspective. In the course of the last year, it had sometimes been difficult not to sink into despair. She had applied for work at Restoration House, a non-profit in West Philadelphia, which focused on veterans and their families. She was interviewed by Father Luke, a veteran and defrocked priest, who still used his honorific. When Father Luke asked for her references she asked if she could speak in confidence. Father Luke assured her that she could. Then she told him that her very existence here in West Philadelphia was off the grid. He had asked few questions and hired her anyway, and Hannah had become a part of the compassionate family at Restoration House.
‘Hey, Anna, wait up,’ said a gruff voice.
Hannah turned in the doorway and saw Frank heading toward her. He was dressed in a sweatshirt, fatigue pants and combat boots and was itching his left wrist with the fingers of his right hand. His left hand had been blown off by an IED in Iraq, and he wore a prosthesis, which seemed to give him no end of discomfort. Hannah waited until he reached her. She often marveled at the fact that he emanated good will, despite the lingering effects of his terrible injuries.
‘You’re amazing,’ Hannah said as he approached. ‘You really know how to reach these guys.’
‘Yes,’ said Hannah. ‘We are looking forward to it. Where is that restaurant again? I got a flyer in my mailbox but …’
‘Ebony’s Beans and Greens, at 56th and Walnut.’
The party, in celebration of Father Luke’s sixtieth birthday, was being given by his life partner – the man for whom he had given up the priesthood. Spencer White was a middle-aged, overweight accountant from the neighborhood. Spencer and Father Luke had quietly become a couple years ago. Both men were devoted to the work at Restoration House, Father Luke as an employee and Spencer as a volunteer. The birthday party was going to be a simple affair but it promised to be special for Hannah and Adam, who rarely ever went out. ‘I’m bringing my husband, Alan,’ she said. ‘I want everyone to get to know him a little bit.’
‘I look forward to meeting him,’ said Frank. ‘I was beginning to wonder if he actually existed.’
‘He exists, I promise you,’ said Hannah, smiling.
‘Where does he work?’ Frank asked.
‘Well, he’s kind of a roving troubleshooter. He works for a group called the Geek Squad. They go out on calls to help people with computer problems,’ she said. She did not say that it was a difficult way for a man to make a living after being in charge of IT at a local phone company. Considering their situation, Adam felt lucky to have steady work.
‘Wow, maybe he can help me,’ said Frank. ‘I can’t do squat-all on that old computer of mine.’
‘He probably could,’ she said.
‘OK, well, I’ll see you there,’ said Frank. He waved his prosthetic hand as he headed off toward the kitchen in the back of the house. Hannah went in the direction of the nursery.
The nursery was the most cheerful room in the rundown, nearly crumbling West Philly mansion. The grateful families of vets who had once found respite there had donated cots, books and toys. Two of the young women from Penn who volunteered on weekends had enlisted art students to paint a colorful mural on the wall.
Hannah stood in the doorway and looked in. Sydney was busily engaged with two other children in a game of go-fish on a toddler-sized table. The teacher, a lovely, brown-skinned young woman named Kiyanna Brooks, who wore steel-rimmed glasses and long, elaborate cornrows, gave Hannah a signal to stay quiet till the game was over. Hannah smiled and nodded, gazing in at Sydney.
For all of the past year, Hannah had watched Sydney obsessively, like a doctor watching a transplant patient, for signs that she was rejecting this new life they had grafted on to her old world. Sydney’s new friends knew her as Cindy, and she had adjusted pretty quickly to that. Hannah, Sydney and Adam lived in walking distance from Restoration House in a Victorian brownstone owned by an elderly black woman named Mamie Revere. Mamie lived on the first two floors and the Wickes, now known as the Whitmans, lived on the third floor in an apartment which was fairly light, if a bit cramped, and almost devoid of modern conveniences. Hannah often caught herself starting to bemoan the lack of air-conditioning and a dishwasher. It wasn’t as if there was any remedy for that situation. The apartment would simply not accommodate some of the appliances Hannah wistfully craved. Neither would their finances, which had been strained ever since they left Tennessee. It was just another thing to get used to.
If Sydney disliked it in the city, her new home, she never made it known to Hannah and Adam. She went to a daycare in the next block each morning, and afterwards Hannah collected her and brought her to the nursery at Restoration House, while Hannah helped out with counseling programs for veterans and their families.
‘Go Fish!’ Sydney cried, and the game soon came to an end as a little boy at the table threw down his oversized cards and declared victory.
‘No fair,’ Sydney insisted.
Hannah stepped in before a fight broke out. ‘Come on, Cindy,’ she said, taking the child by the hands. ‘Time to go see Mamie. Did you know you’re staying at Mamie’s till we get home tonight?’
‘Where are you going?’ Sydney demanded.
‘To a party for Father Luke,’ said Hannah.
Sydney looked stricken. ‘I want to go to a party,’ she insisted.
‘You and Mamie will have your own party,’ Hannah assured her.
Indeed, two hours later, as Hannah came down the two flights of stairs from their apartment and stuck her head into Mamie’s living room, she could smell something suspiciously like the scent of a cake baking wafting out into the hallway. Mamie’s house was often redolent of chicken cooking, and lavender potpourri, covering up a certain mustiness from well-worn furniture and a long-overdue refresher of the paint job, but tonight, even with the front windows open to let in the autumn air, it smelled decidedly of caramel and sugar.
‘Mamie,’ Hannah cried. ‘We’re here.’ She turned to Sydney, whose hand she was holding. ‘I want you to be good for Mamie. Do everything she says.’
‘I will,’ said Sydney. ‘I’m always good.’
‘Yes, you are,’ said Hannah, bending to kiss Sydney’s cheek and ruffle her soft fair hair.
Mamie came bustling out from the depths of the house, and immediately ordered Sydney to take off her shoes and come join her in the kitchen.
‘I smell cake,’ Sydney announced.
‘Yes, you do,’ said the elderly woman. ‘And after our supper we’re going to have us a piece. Right now, it needs to cool.’
‘I can’t thank you enough for this, Mamie,’ said Hannah. ‘This is where we’re going to be. Ebony’s Greens and Beans. And you have my cellphone number if you need me.’
‘Oh, the food is fine there,’ Mamie assured her. ‘Their hush puppies are as light as air.’
‘We’re looking forward to it,’ said Hannah. ‘We won’t be late.’ She called out to Sydney to say goodbye, but Sydney had already scampered along and was making herself at home in the kitchen.
‘Don’t worry about a thing,’ said Mamie.
Hannah smiled and nodded, although worry was just a normal part of her every waking moment. She went out into the hallway, and called up the stairwell for Adam. ‘Come on, honey,’ she said. ‘We need to go.’
She heard the keys jingling as Adam locked the door, and then he was descending the stairs. ‘Where’s Syd— Cindy?’ he asked.
‘She’s discovered a cake in Mamie’s kitchen.’
Adam smiled. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘She’ll be OK.’
Hannah took a deep breath and nodded. They walked through the foyer lined with Mamie’s family photos. The largest photo was of her eldest son, Isaiah, who was a longtime member of the Philadelphia City Council. Mamie was understandably proud of him, but Hannah sometimes wished the councilman would devote a little time to helping his aged mother. The house had been in decline for years, and Councilman Revere never seemed to notice. Adam spent a lot of free time doing chores around the property.
Hannah went to the front door, opened it, and stepped outside into the crisp autumn evening. She inhaled the complex scent of the city. When they’d first moved here, she’d found the cacophony of smells and sounds to be overwhelming, but she had gotten to the point where she sometimes liked it. After a year, she’d felt like they might be safe here, and that helped.
‘Beautiful night,’ said Adam. He had adapted more easily. He traveled all over Philadelphia to his assignments. He saw the tapestry of city life as a much larger picture than Hannah did. And, even though it had been her idea originally, he accepted more easily than she that they had done what they had to do. No looking back.
‘Feels weird to be wearing a tie again,’ he said.
‘I’m sure Father Luke will appreciate it,’ Hannah said. Adam’s job had no dress code. In fact, being the oldest person on the staff, he did his best to always look casual, so that he wouldn’t appear out of place. The Geek Squad had hesitated to hire him at first, because of his age, but they handed him a messed-up laptop a
They went down the steps.
‘Which way?’ Adam asked.
‘56th Street,’ said Hannah, pointing uptown. ‘Not too far. We can walk.’
A scruffy-looking young woman wearing camouflage pants and a filthy canvas jacket was seated on a low wall in front of Mamie’s house, drinking out of a bottle in a brown-paper bag. Her black hair was cut short in a buzz cut, and there were dark circles around her eyes. Adam looked askance at the rheumy-eyed young woman, but Hannah smiled at her. ‘Hey, Dominga,’ she said.
The girl ran a hand over her buzz cut. ‘Hey, Miz Anna,’ she said shyly.
As they continued down the block, Adam looked at his wife with raised eyebrows. ‘Friend of yours?’ he asked.
‘She’s a vet. Suffers from PTSD. She comes to the group at Restoration House sometimes.’
‘Looks like she suffers from too much alcohol,’ Adam observed.
‘She self-medicates,’ said Hannah thoughtfully. ‘They have a lot that they’re trying to forget.’
‘I think I’ll self-medicate a little bit myself tonight,’ said Adam. ‘It’s been a long week.’
Hannah squeezed his hand. As long as she had Adam and Sydney, her world still made sense to her, no matter what the conditions of their life might be. ‘Why not?’ she said. ‘This is it.’
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