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“I worry about you.” Melinda’s warmth was evident even over the lousy connection. “You’re all alone up there. It was one thing to be on the mountain when you and my sister…” Her voice fell away, then grew warm and strong again. “Well, when there were two of you… But now that you’re all by yourself, it’s got to be a little creepy.”
The road twisted ahead of him with only the lights from his BMW to help him follow the serpentine mess of roughly paved gravel paths. Like something from his past, growing up in southern Georgia, only with gravel instead of red clay. Drive for miles and see nothing but woods and fields, and then—boom—suddenly a bed and breakfast or a fishing lodge jumps out at you from around the next tight curve. Any minute now, his home away from home, his two-story art studio would do the same, where she would be waiting for him.
“I’m a sculptor, Melinda.” He grinned at the phone even though he knew she couldn’t see it. “I’m supposed to like solitude. Remember? Besides, I’ve got a new project to keep me occupied for several weeks.”
There was a long silence.
“Okay, but you call me at least once a week, and if you get lonely, just know that I can be up there in about an hour and a half. We could grab some dinner at that mom and pop seafood buffet.”
“Bill and Vera’s Seafood Shack.”
“That’s the one.”
“Yeah. That was one of your sister’s favorites.”
Melinda coughed and cleared her throat. “Well, we don’t have to eat there.”
“No,” he said, picking up the phone from the seat. “It’s fine, really. But not for a few weeks. I really want to finish this new project and then I’ll call you up for a weekend and show her off to you. I think you’re going to love it. It’s my most personal work so far. I’m really putting a lot of love into it.”
“Okay, if you’re sure.”
“I’m sure. Don’t worry about me.”
A deer ran in front of him and he hit the brakes, dropping the phone and sending it careening into the floor. “Hold on,” he shouted.
Melinda’s voice suddenly sounded like a fairy stuffed under a pillow. The phone had probably been jostled under the seat. He could hear her but couldn’t make sense of the muffled squeals and squawks.
“Just a minute,” he yelled, and spun the car to a stop.
He leaned over and dug under the seat until he found the phone and held it up to his ear. “Got it. Sorry about that.”
He laughed. “After what we’ve been through the past year, you’re worried about a deer crossing in front of my car? Talk about a loss of perspective.”
He heard his sister-in-law laugh too. “But you are okay, right?”
“Yeah. Wasn’t even close.”
Something rustled loudly in the bushes a few feet away, and Mark jerked his head sideways to get a look. But it was too dark and the headlights were facing the wrong direction. “Damn,” he said and leaned over to open the dashboard pocket. Groping blindly, his fingers searched for the flashlight he kept there. When they didn’t find it, he remembered leaving it in the trunk after using it down at the cemetery when he had visited the gravesite a few days earlier.
“Hang on. There’s something in the bushes.”
“One of them?”