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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:52:56

“It’s on your Web site,” she said, shaking her head. “Boy, you’ve really dropped right out of your life, haven’t you?”

He took a deep drink of the hot black coffee and didn’t answer. The answer was all too obvious.

I wonder how many voice mails I have from Erica, now?

He was stunned to realize he wanted to check. He wanted to look at his old life for the first time in months.

Something was happening here, at this house. He was growing back into his old skin.

“I finished my research work two days ago and I’m not scheduled to be back in the library until tomorrow, so I thought I’d lend a hand. And—” she smiled “—I’m guessing you probably don’t want or need my help and are trying to figure out how to get rid of me. But sadly, my daughter gets her stubbornness from me.”

And I’m not going anywhere. The words rang in his head as if she’d yelled them rather than implied them.

He wondered if she was here with the foolish idea that she could save him, and he wanted to tell her not to bother.

“I’m building a maze,” he said. He set down the thermos and pulled the pencil and notebook out of his back pocket. “I was thinking something…” He began sketching. Beginning with the cypress in the center, he worked his way out, creating blind alleys and hidey-holes that went nowhere. All in a circular pattern. “I was thinking box hedges, but that won’t really work with the form. I’ll need to—”

“Lilacs,” she said. “Here.” She pointed to his sketch, the dark outer perimeter of his circles. “And honeysuckle, for the inside.”

It clicked. “That would be—”

“Smelly?” she asked, with a laugh.

“Perfect,” he said, getting lost for a moment in her eyes. “Totally perfect.”

He didn’t know how long they stood that way. A second, ten minutes. But time collapsed, disappeared, and all there was were her eyes, blue as the sky and bottomless.

“Matt,” she breathed. “Tell me about the accident.”

He went cold. Numb. In a heartbeat.

He stepped away, throwing the sketch on the ground and reaching for the tools. She got in his way, her hands, so delicate and clean on his, and he recoiled from the contact.

“You didn’t know about the floors,” she whispered.

He took tiny sips of air because there was suddenly a shortage. “Did you?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Not to Pete Borjat. Not to his girlfriend.”

“But there was nothing you could have done, Matt.”

“I could have opened my eyes and seen the problems Jack was having instead of stupidly, blindly following my own vision.”

He stepped into the shed, grabbing equipment, needing to do something, anything, because the pressure in his head and body was about to burst.

“Did he tell you he didn’t reinforce the floors there?”

“No, but the building was in much worse shape than anyone thought. I knew he’d downgraded some of the supplies.” Matt threw more and more tools onto the ground, pitching them in anger, hurling things he didn’t need to feed his impulse for violence. “He told me over and over again that he could not take another loss. That he could not afford my visions. My obsessions.”

“But if he didn’t tell you, it’s not your fault—” Suddenly she stopped, blinked, her mouth gaping.

He pulled out more tools and her silence continued. She stood there, a deer in headlights, her face white with shock.

“Savannah,” he asked. “You all right?”

She shook her head and he stepped to her side, slid his hand over her shoulder for support.

She put her hands over her face and remained still for a long time, so long Matt got worried and looked over her shoulder for any sign of Margot.

“My grandmother has been telling me the same thing for years,” she said. “It’s not my fault because I didn’t know. Years of her saying that and then you come here, with your guilt and your lies, and it all makes sense.”

She lifted her pale face to his, her eyes burning and wet with unshed tears, her lips a white line.

“What’s not your fault?” he asked.