Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
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Copyright ©1998 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author
The late November sunlight peeked weakly through the heavy layering
of clouds in the sky. The dark billows threatened rain, but I didn't care.
Anything was better than what I had faced at home a scarce half hour earlier.
I pulled my long coat tightly about my body and sat down on the stone bench
opposite my daughter's grave.
I always go to the graveyard when I am troubled. Somehow it seems to
make everything clearer. But today things were about to get worse. A lot
My bare hands slid into my pockets, and one hand touched paper. What's
this? A smile played on my lips as I brought it out and recognized Jean-Marc's
bold script. My husband had occasionally written to me during our nearly
seventeen years of marriage, but it was uncommon enough to be unexpected.
There was nothing to tell me this note was different. I felt only as if he
were at the cemetery with me, warming my chilled hands in his.
"This is just what I need," I whispered softly. Jean-Marc was a good
man who had a tendency toward tender, emotion-filled displays of love. He
had mellowed over the years, and now his temper rarely surfaced; it was a
pity his manner hadn't spilled over to all of our five children. I could
still see fifteen-year-old Josette's face, her pretty features contorted
with anger. It was she who had driven me here this afternoon.
Marie-Thérèse and I had just returned from the shopping
spree I had promised for her sixteenth birthday. She had wanted to find something
special for her first date the next week, and I had wanted to give it to
her. Though my adopted daughter had grown into a beautiful, self-assured
young woman, she was considerably reserved around people outside the family,
and I was surprised she had accepted the date at all. Of course he was a
member of our church, and of course he would be well-behaved. My
Marie-Thérèse would choose no other. I had hoped to help make
the experience a positive one.
Twelve-year-old André had met us at the door to our apartment.
"Going somewhere?" I asked.
"To Grandma Simone's," he answered.
I nodded. Simone was my two adopted daughters' grandmother on their
mother's side. She had only recently settled into an apartment within walking
"Where are the others?"
"Josette's in her room. Dad and Marc went to fix Grandma Simone's sink.
Pauline went with them." That last sentence surprised me. André was
rarely without Pauline; though Marc and Josette were the twins, André
and Pauline were just as close.
"I was sleeping when they left," André added sheepishly, answering
my unspoken question.
"I wonder why he didn't call a plumber like we usually do," I said.
At that point, Josette swept into the large entryway, slipping slightly
on the polished wood floor. "You took long enough!" she exclaimed. Her dark-brown
eyes flashed as she surveyed her sister's purchases. "You got one of those
jackets?" She turned to me quickly, her long dark hair fanning out around
her. "But you wouldn't buy me one!"
"I said you'd have to wait until your birthday for a second jacket,
that's all," I said calmly. "It was your choice to pick out the clothes you
did when school started. You picked the nylon coat, not me."
Josette's lips drew together in a pout, marring her perfect complexion.
She fingered the rich brown leather her sister had chosen. "You will let
me borrow it, won't you?"
Marie-Thérèse hesitated, and I understood all too well
her dilemma. Once Josette was given permission to borrow something, it was
almost like giving it away; she wouldn't ask a second time. Besides, she
didn't care well for her things. Stains and rips were common in her
Marie-Thérèse brushed back her light-brown locks with
a lean hand. Her freckled nose curved slightly upward, giving her a delicate,
pixie appearance. "We'll see," she said placatingly.
Her tone didn't fool Josette. "You think you're so great just because
you get to go out alone with a boy. I'm the popular one; I'm the one who
should be going!" She turned to me. "Mom, please let me go!" She had already
been asked out on numerous occasions.
"Not until you're sixteen," I said.
She fumed with exasperation as her anger grew. Though I knew it stemmed
from frustration, it bothered me that she had to react so violently. Couldn't
she take lessons from her sister?
"A few months," she said, nearly bursting. "It's just a few months
difference! I'll bet if Marie-Thérèse had wanted to go a few
months ago, you would have let her, wouldn't you?"
I didn't answer. The truth was, I probably would have.
Marie-Thérèse was a good judge of character, and she always
behaved appropriately. Josette was too volatile, and I feared her immature
nature and extraordinary beauty would get her into trouble.
"You just love her better than me, don't you, Mom?" Josette cried. "All
my life, you've put her above me, just 'cause she's a little older. It's
not fair!" She glared at both of us.
Marie-Thérèse turned pale. She darted a nervous glance
at me before making her way around Josette, running through the kitchen and
down the hall to the room they had shared since childhood.
"You're such an idiot." The slow drawl came from André, who up
until then had watched the display in silence.
Josette whirled to face him, her dark hair once again flying, giving
me the impression of a cat arching angrily to face a dog. "What!"
"Mom doesn't love her better than you, she's just trying to make up
for Marie-Thérèse not having her real mother!"
Am I doing that? I thought. Aloud I said, "Don't call your sister names,
"Sorry, Mom." He was instantly contrite. André had always been
the child most attuned to my feelings. Ever since he was a baby, he had given
me practically no trouble.
Josette stomped into the kitchen, muttering something under her breath
about nosy little brothers. André laughed. "Don't worry, she'll get
over it." He kissed my cheek. "I'm leaving now." Coat in hand, he disappeared
through the door.
I followed Josette into the kitchen. The dishes from lunch were still
sitting on the table. I knew it was her turn to clean up.
"Please change your mind," she pleaded. "I'm old enough. Why can't you
see that?" A flash of memory came to minda memory of me
at the same age. There was no doubt who Josette got her nature from. Had
I ever been so young and innocent? So passionate?
"Whose turn is it to clean up?" I asked lightly.
Her face darkened a shade. "Mine," she muttered. "That's all you care
about. Dishes and your precious Marie-Thérèse!"
I faced her, my patience fading. "Enough! That's enough!"
Her mouth was open, but clamped shut as she recognized the seriousness
in my voice.
I stalked to the door. "When I get back, I'd better find a lot of things
changed around here," I declared. "Especially your attitude!" I grabbed my
coat from its hanger in the closet near the door and left the apartment.
Now at the graveyard on the outskirts of Paris, I pondered my life since
Jean-Marc and I had adopted our young nieces after losing their parents to
AIDS. We'd had our problems, but life had been very good. It was hard to
believe that ten more years had passed, and I would soon be forty. Forty!
Where did the years go?
There was only one thing I really regretted. I had wanted to have a
child with Jean-Marc's green-brown eyes. I had thought it might happen in
the years after we had adopted the girls, but I had been disappointed. Perhaps
that was one more reason why I had been given Paulette's children to raise.
The Lord knew that I would never have any more of my own.
Our three biological children all resembled me. Oh, André had
his father's firm jaw, but each had my oval face and dark-brown eyes, as
well as my thick, unruly brown tresses instead of Jean-Marc's more manageable
hair. Marie-Thérèse, of course, looked like her mother. Little
Pauline, with her round face, resembled my husband more than anyone; she
took after her father, Pierre, Jean-Marc's brother. But none of the children
had those extraordinary green-brown eyes.
Feeling a bit foolish, I smiled and laughed aloud, purposely steering
my mind back to the letter in my hand. Becoming sentimental seemed to go
with turning forty. Something to do with holding on to youth, I supposed.
Jean-Marc had used a simple sheet of lined paper with holes that told
me he had taken it from the six-ring binder he always carried in his briefcase.
Not very romantic, but at least he had thought to write to me. It was the
four-day-old date that first gave me an inkling that something wasn't right;
it was odd for my husband to keep silent about it for so long. His usual
way would be to contrive something to force me to look in my pocket. He would
have taken me out for dinner and asked me to hold the car keys, or some such
thing. Why was this different?
These thoughts raced through my mind as I focused on the words and their
|My Dearest Ari,
Have I told you recently how much I love you? Every day you grow
more beautiful to me. I don't know how to tell you that I've failed you.
I guess by writing this letter, I'm running from having to face you, but
I have learned over the years that I can't solve the big things alone. This
is one of those things, Ari.
My pulse quickened fearfully, and my hand went to my heart. I didn't
want to read the rest. Regardless, my eyes moved relentlessly down the
|The bank is failing. I've done everything I know to do and have
employed the best people to try to stop it, but I can't. It's my fault because
I approve all the decisions, but I daresay that several of my employees will
be investigated. I suspect they have been embezzling since before your father
turned the bank over to me last yearperhaps for many years
Everything we had was tied up in the bank. Everything. I don't know
what we're going to do. Our insurance will end next month, and there are
Pauline's treatments and special drugs. The children's college and mission
funds are gone, too, though we might recover a portion later on. The funds
were not insured as they should have been, as the company promised they
wereone more thing to be investigated. I just don't know
where to go from here. I guess I need to find the heart to start
I'm sorry, so very sorry I have failed you. Please forgive
I blinked twice and shook my head, but the words on the page before
me did not change. My heart thudded dully in my chest, and a queasy feeling
gripped my stomach. Everything gone? But how? Why? I reread the letter slowly,
letting realization penetrate my soggy brain.
Fear was my first emotionwhat would we do? How would
we pay the bills?but anger came close on its heels as I
instinctively tried to protect myself. We were too old to have to start over!
It wasn't fairwe had worked so hard to save and be frugal.
Now that the children were older, our life together, Jean-Marc's and mine,
was supposed to allow us more time to explore our relationship. We shouldn't
have to worry about eking out a living!
The more I thought along these lines, the angrier I grew. I imagined
confronting those who had wronged us, seeing them locked away forever behind
thick prison bars. They could never replace the comfortable security they
had stolen from my life. What about my children? What about little Pauline,
who needed a daily dose of drugs for her HIV treatments? All our careful
plans for the future now lay in ruins. Could this really be happening?
The anger intensified. Minutes ticked away into an hour as I became
absorbed by my fury. Intertwined so intimately with the fear, I felt it eating
away at parts of my soul. I knew I should make it stop; yet, in some
indescribable way, I wanted to feel the sharp pain because it seemed to further
justify my wrath.
Jumping to my feet, I began to pace back and forth before the headstones
of my brother, Antoine, and my daughter, Nette. The normally brilliant green
grass of the graveyard was faded with the cold, and the trees had lost many
of their leaves; yet there was a strange, austere beauty here, even during
this time of year. The frail light reflected off the scrollwork on top of
the gray stone on Antoine's grave and seemed to send a brief, piercing flash
which stopped me abruptly.
The panic I had yielded myself to was suddenly overcome by another emotion,
a stronger one of compassion. Poor Jean-Marc! How long had he known? How
many months had he tortured himself with these same visions as he tried to
shield his family? If I felt the devastation this clearly, how deeply his
must run! He had always been confident of his ability to support
uswhat must he be feeling now?
This new emotion was welcome; it coated my anger, sweet over sour. I
had to get to Jean-Marc.
My feet nearly ran down the cobblestone path, boots crunching on loose
pebbles, but I hesitated before reaching the black cast-iron gate. I stared
at the menacing, pointed tips that topped the fence surrounding the graveyard.
Even in the diluted light, they gleamed like inky arrows.
What would I say to my husband? What had I to offer him, except perhaps
my own anger at the situation? No; before I faced him, I needed to have something
to offer, something to start us in a positive direction. I knew he must be
deeply wounded at what he saw as his failure, and my reaction would be a
I sighed aloud. "Oh, thank you, Father," I prayed. I didn't want to
think about what I might have said had I discovered this note in Jean-Marc's
presence. Whatever it was that made him write instead of telling me himself
had worked to our advantage.
I methodically retraced my steps and sat again on the stone bench, drawing
from my pocket the now-crumpled letter. My coat had opened, and I smoothed
the paper out over the thick black leggings I wore underneath a semi-dressy
gray sweater. The fear in my husband's simple words was obvious, and it renewed
the trepidation in my own heart. I wondered if our lives hadn't changed forever
in this short moment of time.
I stopped myself. It was only money. What did it matter as long as we
still had each other? Our love had already suffered through much more than
this. "You'll get work," I practiced saying aloud. "I can too, now that the
children are older. It's not that big a deal. We'll get through this."
That was when I heard steps to my left, on the path that led to the
gate and my car parked beyond. I wiped the tears off my cheeks with hands
stiff from the cold. I glanced up, thinking to nod and smile at the stranger
as he passed. Our eyes met and held. For a moment I didn't recognize the
man with the longish dark-blond hair who stared at me. His head cocked slightly
backward and to the side in an oddly familiar way, and in his gloved hands
he held a bouquet of white roses.
At once the flowers bridged the seventeen years between us, and his
features became even more familiar: the lean face, the dark-brown eyes, the
slight cleft in his chinall spelling out a certain rugged
handsomeness. The compelling smile on his full lips made his expression almost
boyishly eager, and I sensed the magnetism that had always hung about him.
I stood, trying to gain the advantage height might give me. It made no
difference; he was taller still. Why was it that just when you thought things
couldn't get any worse, they did?
Lifting my chin slightly, I gazed into the face of the man I had once
loved so desperatelythe dashing playboy who had nearly destroyed
my life, the man who had killed my daughter, my precious Nette. I had hoped
never to see him again.
My heart hammered in my ears as I spoke. "Hello, Jacques."
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