Unbreakable, page 1
Table of Contents
Titles by Ruth Buchanan
You Can Help!
God Can Help!
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
COPYRIGHT 2017 by Ruth Buchanan
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Titles by Ruth Buchanan
Murder on Birchardville Hill
January had a way of making Rachel want to flop into bed, pull the duvet over her face, and stay that way forever. Instead, she did the responsible thing and worked on her New Year’s Resolutions. They probably wouldn’t do much good, but Lynn and Ann would give her a hard time if she didn’t come up with four resolutions as promised.
When they’d first challenged her to do this, she’d tried to slither out of it. She’d claimed that New Year’s Resolutions were nothing more than corny coping mechanisms, but Ann shot back that perhaps a semi-spinster English teacher with a gimpy ankle and a special knack for disaster was in no position to look down her nose at such things.
Rachel had no arguments against such logic. Annoying as it was, she wasn’t in a position to reject advice from people who actually had their lives together. She accepted the assignment with what she hoped passed for humility, promising to come up with at least four resolutions, record her weekly progress in a notebook, and give status reports whenever they met for breakfast at Stu’s. Which is why on New Year’s morning, Rachel fortified herself with a slurp of well-creamed coffee and got down to business.
Her first resolution was so obvious that it required no dithering. She picked up her pen and wrote in quick, smooth strokes. Resolved: to stop reading into ordinary situations and thereby creating groundless, alternate storylines in my head. Her days of assuming things were numbered. Assuming that Call-Me-Matt had been stalking her. Assuming he’d been the Memento Killer. Assuming Lee had been the Memento Killer. Then assuming Lee had left poetry scrawled backstage for her during last semester’s fall play when the entire time it had been a disturbed cry for help from a suicidal student. Assuming Detective Smith had been wrong about the students he’d identified as at risk, even though she’d asked for his expertise.
Alone in the silence of her living room, Rachel’s cheeks heated. She underlined the resolution twice.
Now for number two. Resolved: To pay attention in church. This was Lynn’s suggestion, and Rachel had no reason to ignore it. Half the time, she had no idea what was going on. Hopefully, with most of her major life issues solved, she would now be able to concentrate better.
After the second resolution, Rachel hit a wall. She tapped her pen rhythmically against the page. Should she resolve to drink less coffee? Ha. She may be ready to make some changes, but she wasn’t insane. Besides, how would she face all those early mornings without it?
Then it hit her. She clicked the pen, bent forward, and wrote, Resolved: To master the flying teep kick. With her ribs mostly healed and her ankle fully rehabbed, anything was possible—perhaps even the ridiculous kicks that Coach Donovan and Ann seemed intent on making her master during their early-morning workouts. “Considering how often you manage to get yourself into ridiculous situations,” Donovan had said, “the least you could do is learn to defend yourself.” He had a point.
Now all that remained was to think of a fourth resolution, and she would be home free.
“I can’t think of anything!” Rachel topped off Lynn’s mug before turning politely to her sister. She tilted the pot toward Ann. “Coffee?”
Ann snorted, leaned back against the booth, and continued skimming through texts on her ancient flip phone.
Lynn closed Rachel’s Resolutions Notebook, set it in the center of the table, and tapped it with a slender finger. “These three are a fine start. Good job, Rachel.”
Rachel flushed. As anticipated, victory was sweet.
“What’d she pick?” For someone who hadn’t looked up from her phone in the last five minutes, Ann sounded surprisingly interested. “Something about killing all the spiders in the world?”
“Oh, good one.” Rachel reached for the notebook. “Let’s write that down.”
Lynn pulled the notebook out of reach. “Don’t be silly. Rachel has resolved to take situations at face value, to pay better attention to the sermons at church on Sundays, and to master the flying teep kick at your early-morning workouts.”
Ann’s gaze flicked up from her phone. “Seriously?”
“Seriously.” Rachel nodded and pried the notebook from Lynn’s hands. “But don’t tell Coach Donovan.”
“I’m absolutely telling Donovan.” Ann’s thumbs tapped against her phone.
“Are you texting him now? Ugh, don’t.”
“Why not? He’ll have to know eventually.”
“I just don’t want him to get his hopes up.”
“Are you kidding me? Rachel—you thinking about workouts when we’re not actually at workouts? He’ll be thrilled to know you’re starting to care.”
Rachel sighed. “It’s not that I care, exactly. It’s just that I wanted to give myself really challenging goals, and that one will probably be the hardest.”
Lynn raised one well-manicured eyebrow. “Harder than tackling personality issues fundamental to your very nature?”
Rachel crossed her arms. “Thanks for the confidence boost.”
Lynn tilted her head to the side. “I didn’t know a ‘flying teep kick’ was even a thing.”
“I think it’s a thing.” Rachel scratched the top of her head, sending her curls bouncing. “Coach Donovan has us learning it.”
“Although he has been known to make stuff up,” Ann admitted.
Their food arrived. After Lynn prayed, the three fell into a comfortable silence while Lynn sliced her chicken into tiny cubes and Rachel ate her bacon.
“I have a fourth suggestion for you,” Ann said around a mouthful of breakfast burrito.
Rachel tucked a roll of curls behind her ear. It immediately sprang out again. “Oh, boy, here we go. I’m sure I’ll love this.”
Ann shrugged. “Think what you want, but you really should make it a goal to figure out what’s going on between you and Ian Smith.”
Rachel’s face burned. “There’s nothing going on between me and Ian Smith.” She reached for her water glass and gulped several cold mouthfuls.
The corners of Ann’s lips tilted up in a sly smile. “Only because you haven’t figured things out yet.”
“There’s nothing to figure out!” Rachel snapped. “He expressed some interest, and I acted like an insane person. He still helped me out last semester when all of that stuff went down with Jessica—” Rachel swallowed a sudden lump in her throat and caught Lynn’s sympathetic gaze. She steadied herself and continued. “He helped me with Jessica, but what choice did he have? A life was at stake!”
“And now?” Lynn asked.
Rachel shrugged, feigning serenity. “I haven’t heard from him at all over the holidays. But that’s fine. I’m done trying to figure things out.” She reached for the Resolutions Notebook. “If I’m to be faithful to these resolutions at all, this is the point when I don’t start speculating on Ian Smith’s feelings and intentions.” She held up the list and underscored the words stop reading into situations with her index finger, glaring pointedly at Ann.
Seeming unperturbed, Ann dabbed the corners of her lips with a napkin. “If you say so.”
Rachel rolled her eyes and scrounged in her bag for a pen. “I will say this, though. I do have to figure out my dating situation.”
Lynn perked up. “You have a dating situation?”
Ann leaned back in her seat, looking around broadly as if consulting the whole room. “Isn’t that what I just finished saying?”
“I’m creeping up on my mid-thirties,” she reminded them, as if they didn’t know. “If I’m to get married and have babies before I’m forty, I’d better get on it.” She scribbled in the notebook. Resolved: To sort out my romantic relationships and finally settle down with a good man. She read the resolution aloud to Ann and Lynn, slipped the pen back into her bag, and downed a hearty scoop of eggs.
“Oh yeah.” Ann shook her head. “This will go great.”
Lynn chuckled. “Don’t listen to her, Rachel. I think that’s a solid resolution. And don’t worry. I’ll help.”
Ann scoffed. “Better you than me.”
“You’re the worst,” Rachel informed her sister.
“Now, ladies,” Lynn soothed. “You’re family. Be nice.”
“Speaking of which, I have mail for you.” Ann slid a hand into her bag and pulled out a packet of mail.
“Is the post office still forwarding my mail to your address? I contacted them about this weeks ago!”
Ann shrugged. “Beats me what the problem is.” She handed the packet across the table and returned to her burrito. “But I hope you fix it soon, because you’re currently getting more mail at my house than I am.”
“I don’t know how much of an accomplishment that is when it’s mostly junk mail.” Rachel flipped through a series of long, narrow envelopes from car dealerships, insurance salesmen, and credit card companies. At the back of the packet, however, one tall, square envelope rose above the rest. She turned it over in her hands, wondering at the flowing calligraphy.
“That looks like a wedding invitation.” Lynn observed from across the table, stirring more cream into her coffee. “Who do we know who's getting married?”
“No one.” Then Rachel’s eye caught the family name on the return address label, and she sucked in a breath. Surely not. She flipped the envelope and used a clean butter knife to slice upward through the flap.
Lynn tsked. “Rachel. Never cut toward your face. You could put an eye out.”
“It’s just a butter knife. How much harm could it do?” She set the knife next to her plate and pulled out the card, goggling down at the couple smiling back. “It’s not a wedding invitation.” She heard her own voice as if from a distance. “It’s a Save the Date.”
“So?” Ann asked. “Who is it?”
“Yeah, who’s getting married?” Lynn leaned forward, craning her neck.
Rachel’s words came slowly. “Sharon Day.”
“That little blonde teacher with the fluttery eyes?” Ann asked, clearly indifferent. “Well, good for her. Who’s she marrying?”
“It’s whom,” Rachel corrected absently, although clearly this was no time for grammar. She flipped the Save the Date so Ann and Lynn could see the photo of Sharon Day and her fiancé.
It was as if someone had paused the universe. Lynn halted mid-sip while Ann froze mid-chew. In any other moment, Rachel would have been pleased to see her friends displaying evidence of the same shock that she felt. As it was, all her emotions were engaged in processing the sundrenched engagement photo of Lee Martin and Sharon Day. When was this photo even taken? And where? They were wearing sweaters and didn’t appear to be sweating. So it couldn’t have been Florida.
“I didn’t even know they were officially dating.” Ann used her straw to swirl the ice in her glass.
“They only made it official at Thanksgiving.” Rachel pinched the Save the Date between two fingers and flapped it back and forth. “What is this?”
Lynn frowned. “Lee didn’t talk to you about this? Odd. I didn’t know you two were still on the outs.”
“We’re not on the outs!” Rachel sensed her voice pitching upward and drew a deep breath. “At least, I didn’t think we were.”
“When’s the last time you talked to him?” Ann asked.
“Right before he and Sharon left to go out of town for Christmas. They headed to the Midwest so he could meet her family. I told him it sounded as if they were moving a bit fast. I guess I didn’t know how fast.” With a flick of her wrist, Rachel spun the Save the Date onto the table. She glared at it. The traces of Lee’s influence in the simple design were unmistakable: the textured paper, the elegant font, and the tasteful embellishments. At least Lee would be marrying someone who would appreciate his artistic gifts.
Lee would be marrying someone. And not just anyone, either. Sharon Day—a woman Rachel had once found intensely exasperating. Not that Rachel opposed the match solely on those grounds. Sharon was young, impressionable, and slightly immature—a description that wasn’t too far off from Lee himself, come to think of it. So in a sense, they were a good fit.
Lee was marrying someone.
And he hadn’t even talked to her about it.
“Rachel?” Lynn’s voice cut through the haze.
“I’m fine.” Rachel picked up the invitation, fitted it back into the envelope, and jammed it into her bag.
“Wait—” Ann propped her elbows on the table and leaned forward. “You’re fine?”
“Of course I’m fine.”
Ann slitted her eyes. “There’s no way you’re fine.”
Lynn topped off Rachel’s coffee and pushed the jug of cream across the table. “Honestly, Rachel, it’s OK if you need to talk it out. We know what a surprise this must be for you.”
Rachel shook back her hair, red spirals tumbling. Ignor
Ann leaned back in her chair and expelled a loud breath toward the ceiling.
Lynn searched Rachel’s eyes, brow creasing.
“Yes?” Rachel asked archly. She sipped her coffee, slurping noisily into the heavy silence.
Ann leveled her gaze on Rachel. “There are so many things wrong with what you just said that I don’t know where to start.”
“Do tell.” Rachel would not allow herself to be drawn into this debate. Didn’t they realize that the first Resolution was at stake? Maybe they did, and they were testing her.
“Are you honestly sitting there and saying that you love Lee more than his own mother does?” Ann snorted. “More than his own flesh and blood?”
“I certainly love him better,” Rachel shot back. “I’m not the one who virtually abandoned him when he was growing up and left him to raise himself. I never stole his car and tried to sell it for parts so that I could buy drugs.”
Lynn lifted a finger. “Rachel does have a point. But I don’t think this is the argument we need to have right now.” She glanced back and forth between the sisters, holding eye contact with each in turn. “I think we can agree that everyone at this table cares about Lee and wants him to be happy.”
“I certainly do.” Rachel thwacked her mug against the tabletop with more force than she’d intended. “But how can I know what’s best for him when I can’t even figure out what’s best for myself?”
“That’s true.” Ann shocked them all by agreeing with Rachel. “Although I think we all know what would be best for you at this point, and that would be to put poor Ian Smith out of his misery.”
“I’m sorry,” Rachel interrupted, her face going hot, “but when did we change the subject?”