She stood on the balls of her feet and reached up to a slingshot on the highest shelf.
The craftsmanship was simple but exact.
Carved, raw wood, sanded smooth.
A thick rubber band attached to the forks of the Y and a brown leather pocket.
“This is perfect,” Ethan said.
“It’s my pleasure.”
As he grasped the slingshot, his other hand reached down and touched Kate’s hand. The hammering had stopped next door, but the commotion of Ethan’s heart sounded deafening in the quiet of the store.
He stared down into her eyes, which seemed somehow bluer than he remembered, and unfurled the fingers of her left hand.
Fighting to ignore the electricity as their skin touched.
She didn’t pull away.
Her eyes flicked down at their hands.
She took the scrap of paper from him, clutched it in her fist.
Ethan said, “It’s really good to see you again.”
And walked out of the store.
The bells jingled on the inner doorknob of Wayward Pines Realty Associates.
Theresa looked up from her desk as a man she’d never laid eyes on before walked into her office.
She could tell immediately that he was new in town, whatever that meant.
He looked sheet-pale and bewildered.
Stopping at the edge of her desk, he asked, “Are you Theresa Burke?”
“They said I should talk to you about a house, but I don’t really know what—”
“Yes, of course, I can help you with that. What’s your name?”
“Um, Wayne. Wayne Johnson.”
She reached over and shook his hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Wayne. Please have a seat.”
She pulled out her binder of available listings and slid it across the desk to him.
For a moment, she wondered if he was on the verge of storming out.
But he flipped it open, started turning through the pages.
She hated this. It was one thing to help someone who’d been in Wayward Pines for several years upgrade to a new house. They knew the deal, knew how to bullshit. But this poor man had just arrived. He had no idea what was happening to him. Why he was here. Why he couldn’t leave. She wondered if they’d threatened him yet.
After a minute, he leaned forward.
“See something you like?” Theresa asked.
He whispered under his breath, “What’s going on here?”
Theresa said, “What do you mean? We’re just looking at real estate. Look, I know buying a new house can be overwhelming, but I’m here to help.”
And she said it like she almost believed it.
Through the storefront window, something caught her eye—across the street, Ethan was emerging from Wooden Treasures with a slingshot in his hand.
Through the window behind the kitchen sink, Ethan watched the sky fading toward dusk. Houses began to glow. The valley filled with piano, courtesy of Hecter Gaither.
A winter’s-coming chill sharpened the breeze pushing through the screen. Ethan had been noticing it more and more—when the sun went behind the mountains, the cold sank almost instantly into town. An aggressiveness to the onset, which he found disturbing. He’d heard talk that the winters here were long and legendary.
Ethan let his hands linger in the warm dishwater.
Suddenly Theresa was beside him.
She set a plate down hard on the butcher block.
“Everything okay?” Ethan asked.
She’d been weird during dinner. Weird even for Wayward Pines. Hadn’t spoken a word. Hadn’t taken her eyes off her plate.
She looked up at him.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” she asked.
She was angry. Her green eyes smoldering.
“Didn’t you have something for Ben?”
She’d seen him. Somehow, she’d seen him in the toy shop. But he hadn’t brought the slingshot home. He’d gone to his office instead, checked in with Belinda, stashed Kate’s gift in the bottom drawer of his desk.
Hoping to avoid this exact conversation.
“What’d you do with it?” she asked. “I think our son would love to own a slingshot.”
“Oh my God, are you actually going to try and deny it?”
He pulled his hands out of the water, dried them on the towel hanging from the stove door handle.
Felt an awful metal burn in the back of his throat that reminded him of the night he’d told Theresa about Kate. His ex-partner was already in Boise when he’d sat Theresa down and spilled everything. He couldn’t live with the lie between them. Respected her too much. Loved her too much. It had never been about him not loving his wife.
Theresa didn’t understand.
That hadn’t been a surprise.
But she didn’t throw him out either.
And that had been.
She had cried and been devastated, but in the end, loved him all the same.
And the strangest thing happened—her response made him love her more. Showed him his wife in a light he’d never seen. Or rather, had missed.
Theresa took a step toward him.
“I saw you there,” she said. “In her shop. I saw you.”
“I was there,” Ethan said. “She gave me the slingshot for Ben, and I didn’t bring it home—”
“Because you wanted to hide it from me.”
“Why would she give me something clearly from her if we were doing something behind your back?”
“But you did hide it from me.”
Theresa shut her eyes, and for a moment, Ethan thought she might be on the brink of going to pieces.
She opened them again, said, “Then why did you go to see her?”
Ethan put his hands on the stovetop and leaned back.
“It’s work, Theresa, and that’s all I can say.”
“I would never have gone to her otherwise.”
“And I’m just supposed to take your word for that?”
“I love you, and I wish I’d never met her. You have no idea.”
“What am I supposed to do with that?”
Theresa ran the tap and filled a glass.
Drank it down.
Set it down.
Staring through the window screen, she said, “Look, you got something from her that you couldn’t get from me. Some kind of experience beyond ours. I don’t hate you for it. I never did.” She turned from the sink and faced him, steam rising off the surface of the soapy water. Gaither was playing one of Mozart’s piano concertos. “But that doesn’t mean you didn’t hurt me,” she said.