Home > Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(8)

Wayward (Wayward Pines #2)(8)
Blake Crouch

He winced.

“Did someone hit you?”

“No, it’s fine.”

“What happened?”

“I wrecked the cruiser.”

“When?”

“Last night. It’s not a big deal.”

“Did you go to the hospital?”

“I’m fine.”

“You didn’t get checked out?”

“Theresa—”

“What happened?”

“A rabbit or something ran out in front of the car. I swerved to miss it. Flipped.”

“You flipped?”

“I’m okay.”

“We’re going to the hospital right now.”

He leaned down, kissed her forehead. “I’m not going to the hospital. Drop it. You look beautiful. What’s the story?”

“There has to be a story if I look beautiful?”

“You know what I mean.”

“You forgot.”

“Entirely possible. It’s been a crazy couple of days. What’d I forget?”

“We have dinner at the Fishers’.”

“That’s tonight?”

“Fifteen minutes.”

For a moment, she thought he might say they weren’t going. That they would just cancel. Could he do that? Did he have that power?

“All right. Let me get out of these nasty clothes, and I’ll be back down in five.”

Theresa had spoken to Mrs. Fisher two weeks ago at the Saturday morning farmers’ market—a friendly exchange after they’d both reached for the same cucumber.

Then one evening last week, the Burkes’ phone had rung. The voice on the other end introduced herself as Megan Fisher. She wanted to invite Ethan and Theresa over for dinner on Thursday the week following. Could they join?

Of course, Theresa knew that Megan hadn’t woken up that morning with a burning desire to make new friends. Megan had gotten a letter in the mail suggesting that she reach out to the Burkes. Theresa had received her share of similar letters, and she figured that on some level, it made sense. Considering the prohibition on real human contact, she would never take it upon herself to initiate get-togethers with her neighbors. It was all too strained and strange.

So much easier to just disappear into your own private world.

Theresa and Ethan walked down the middle of the street holding hands, Theresa clutching a loaf of bread in her right arm that was still warm from the oven.

With Ben at home, it felt like she and Ethan had snuck out for a date night.

The lush coolness of evening had settled into the valley. They were running a little late. Already a few minutes past seven. Dinner with Hecter had begun, the velvet beauty of his piano creeping through every open window.

“Do you remember what Mr. Fisher does?” Theresa asked.

“He’s a lawyer. His wife’s a teacher. Ben’s teacher.”

Of course Theresa knew she was Ben’s teacher, but she wished Ethan hadn’t mentioned it. The school was a strange place. Education in Pines was compulsory from age four to fifteen, and the curriculum was a mystery. She had no idea what her son was learning there. Kids never had homework and were forbidden from discussing what they learned with anyone, including their parents. Ben never shared, and she knew better than to pry. The only time they were allowed a window into that world was the end-of-year play. It happened in June, and around Wayward Pines, the celebration rivaled Christmas and Thanksgiving. Three years ago, a fête had been called on a parent who forced his way into the school. She wondered how much Ethan knew.

“What kind of law does Mr. Fisher practice?” Theresa knew it was a stupid question. All likelihood, Mr. Fisher sat in a silent, rarely visited, rarely called office all day just like she did.

“Not sure,” Ethan said. “We’ll have to put that on our list of things to talk about.” He squeezed her hand. It was sarcasm in her husband’s voice. No one else would have picked it up, but to her it was biting. She looked up at him, smiled. Something shared and knowing in his eyes. The intimacy of an inside joke.

It was the closest she’d felt to him since his return.

She could envision a lifetime spent trying to create such flashes of connection.

The Fishers lived in a cozy house at the northern edge of town.

Megan Fisher opened the door before Ethan even had a chance to knock. She was midtwenties and very pretty in a white dress with lacing along the bottom. The brown headband that kept her hair back was the same color as her tanned, freckled shoulders.

Her smile reminded Theresa of a movie star smile—toothy and wide, and if you stared too hard at it, not quite real.

“Welcome to our home, Theresa and Ethan! We’re so thrilled you could make it!”

“Thanks for having us,” Ethan said.

Theresa presented the bread wrapped in cloth.

Megan cocked her head disapprovingly. “Now, I told you not to bring a thing.” She accepted it nonetheless. “Oh, it’s still warm!”

“Fresh out of the oven.”

“Please come in.”

Theresa reached up and swiped Ethan’s cowboy hat.

“I can take that,” Megan said.

The house smelled like supper, and supper smelled good. The heat coming out of the kitchen brought with it chicken roasting with garlic and potatoes.

Brad Fisher was in the dining room, arranging the last of four place settings at an elaborately candled table.

He walked into the foyer with a smile and a hand outstretched. Two or three years older than his wife and still wearing—Theresa guessed—his work clothes. Black wingtips, gray slacks, a tieless white oxford with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms. He looked like a young lawyer, exuding a streak of hard, scrappy intelligence.

Ethan shook his hand.

“Sheriff, great to have you in our home.”

“Great to be here.”

“Hello, Mrs. Burke.”

“Please. Theresa.”

Megan said, “I’ve got a couple things to finish up before we sit down. Theresa, want to help me in the kitchen? Perhaps the guys can enjoy a beverage on the back porch.”

Theresa washed a bag of salad greens. Through the window over the sink, she could see Ethan and Brad standing out in the grass with glasses of whiskey. She couldn’t tell if they were actually talking. The yard was fenced. It backed right up against a cliff that soared over a thousand feet in a series of dwindling, pine-studded ledges.

“Megan, you have a beautiful home,” Theresa said.

“Thank you. You’re too kind.”

“I believe you’re teaching my son this year.” She didn’t mean to say it. The words just came. It could’ve been an awkward moment, but Megan recovered graciously.

“I sure am. Ben’s a lovely boy. One of my best.”

And offered nothing else.

Their conversation moved in fits and starts.

Theresa sliced a warm beet into livid-purple medallions.

“Where do you want these?” she asked.

“Right here would be great.”

Megan held out a wooden bowl and Theresa scooped in two handfuls. She thought beets smelled like dirt in a weirdly pleasing way.

“You work in real estate, right?” Megan asked.

“I do.”

“I’ve seen you through the storefront window, sitting behind that desk.” She leaned in confidentially. “Brad and I are trying, if you know what I mean.”

“Really?”

“If we’re successful and Mr. Stork brings us a special delivery, we’ll be in the market for a bigger place. Maybe we’ll come see you. Let you be our agent. Show us some of the best properties Pines has to offer.”

“I’d love to help out,” Theresa said.

She still couldn’t get over the strangeness of standing in Megan’s kitchen like everything was normal. Megan had only come to town a couple of years ago, and her integration had been disastrous. She’d made two escape attempts. Tried to claw the former sheriff’s eyes out. Theresa could still remember sitting at her desk one afternoon and staring through the window as Megan broke down in the middle of Main Street in broad daylight, screaming at the top of her voice, “What the f*ck is wrong with this place? What the f*ck is wrong with this place? None of you are real!” Theresa had expected a fête that night, but the phones had never rung. Megan vanished. Three months later, Theresa saw her back in town—Megan walking down the sidewalk with a look of total peace. Soon she was teaching at the school. Then married to Brad. Megan had played important roles in subsequent fêtes. Had even wandered into the circle with a tire iron and dealt a blow to a dying runner.

Now they were cooking together while their husbands drank whiskey outside.

A question repeated in the back of Theresa’s mind as she washed the purple stains from her hands.

How did they finally break you?

Ethan stared up at the cliff and sipped his whiskey.

It was excellent—a Highland single malt. Aside from the awful-tasting beer on tap at the Biergarten, you couldn’t buy booze in town on a regular basis. Ethan supposed he understood Pilcher’s thinking—life in Wayward Pines was struggle enough. The presence of a liquor store might very well turn it into a town of drunks in short order. But every now and then, Pilcher released a few bottles of good stuff into circulation. They’d turn up at the grocery store, as expensive pours in the restaurants. And when the town was in a dry spell, people made their own.

“Scotch okay, Ethan?”

“It’s great. Thank you.”

Brad Fisher.

Ethan had read his file for the second time just last week.

Born in Sacramento.

Harvard law grad.

General counsel for a start-up in Palo Alto.

Brad had been traveling through Idaho on a two-week summer road trip with his new bride when they’d stopped in Wayward Pines for a night. The report had been unspecific regarding whether Pilcher had orchestrated the same type of collision he’d used on Ethan and many others.

Like everyone else in Pines, the Fishers had woken up eighteen hundred years later in this beautiful prison of a town.

Two months after their arrival, the first Mrs. Fisher climbed one of the cliffs on the northern end of town and leapt five hundred feet to her death.

It had torn Brad up, but otherwise, his integration had gone smoothly. No escape attempts. No erratic behavior. There was only one surveillance report in the man’s file. A couple of exterior cameras had caught him on a later-than-approved walk one night following a fight with Megan. The report had ultimately received an NSA (No Suspicious Activity) rating, and Brad had never raised suspicion again.

“How’s the new job treating you?” Brad asked.

“No complaints. Finally starting to get my sea legs. Tell me about your law firm.”

“Oh, it’s nothing special. Just my secretary and me. I call it a ‘door practice.’ I handle whatever walks in the door.”

Like anyone has ever walked in your door.

They stood in the semi-dark in the shadow of the cliff and drank.

After a while, Brad said, “Sometimes, I see mountain sheep up on those cliff ledges.”

“Oh yeah? Never seen one.”

Two minutes of silence elapsed and then Ethan commented on their garden.

The punctuations of silence weren’t completely uncomfortable. Ethan was beginning to understand that in Wayward Pines these periods of shared quiet were normal, expected, inevitable. Some people, by nature, were better at surface conversation than others. Better at walking the line, steering clear of forbidden topics. There was much more thinking before speaking. Like living in a novel of manners. Ethan had encountered one or two residents who could engage with seemingly effortless speed on a deep well of approved subject matter. But as a whole, conversations in Pines unfurled at a measured, almost plodding pace, with a rhythm distinctly alien to the world before.

It had been some time since Ethan had had liquor, and he already felt lightheaded. A sudden distance from the moment that troubled him. He set the glass of scotch on the fence and hoped it wouldn’t be too much longer before their wives called them in to the table.

Dinner was almost nice.

They kept the small talk going and the conversation only stalled a handful of times.

Even then, between the clink of silverware and Hecter Gaither’s piano playing on the tube radio, the silence was not unpleasant.

Ethan was fairly certain he had seen this room before on one of Pilcher’s monitors. If he wasn’t mistaken, there was a camera embedded in the drywall in the corner of the ceiling above the china hutch.

He knew for a fact that gatherings of three or more received monitoring priority from Pilcher’s surveillance techs.

They were being watched at this very moment.

After dessert, they played Monopoly. Board games were hugely popular at dinner parties. With clearly defined rules, they allowed people to laugh, joke, and interact with more spontaneity and with a shared sense of purpose and competition.

Men versus women.

Theresa and Megan snagged Park Place and Boardwalk early on.

Ethan and Brad focused on infrastructure—railroads, utilities, waterworks.

A little before nine thirty, Ethan landed their tiny metal shoe on Boardwalk.

Bankruptcy ensued.

The Burkes waved back at the Fishers from the driveway—the young couple standing arm in arm in the illumination of the porch light. They yelled back and forth how much fun was had. Made promises to get together again soon.

Theresa and Ethan walked home.

There was no one out but the two of them.

A cricket chirped from a hidden speaker in a bush they passed, and Ethan caught himself pretending that it was real. That all of this was real.

Theresa rubbed her arms.

“Want my jacket?” Ethan asked.

“I’m fine.”

“Nice couple,” Ethan said.

“Please don’t ever do that with me, darling.”

“Do what?”

She glanced up at Ethan in the dark. “You know.”

“I don’t.”

“Surface conversation. Filling the silence with bullshit. I do it every day of my life, and I will continue to do as I’m told. But I can’t stand it with you.”

Ethan flinched internally.

Wondered if any microphone in the vicinity was capturing their conversation. From his limited experience in the mountain and studying surveillance reports, he knew it was hit or miss whether conversations were legible outside. Even if they were being recorded, it wasn’t like Theresa was openly violating any rule. But she was straying dangerously close into gray territory. She was acknowledging the strangeness and voicing dissatisfaction with the way of things. At the very least, their last exchange would generate a report.

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