The rest of my family was probably wondering where I was. I made a face in my bedroom mirror. When I'd gotten up that morning, my most pressing problem had been whether or not my only pair of intact panty hose was clean.
While Phillip slept, I'd checked Robin's itinerary and then called him at a store called Murder by the Book, in Houston. The young man who'd answered the phone had been very civil about getting Robin to the phone as soon as he'd been convinced I actually knew Robin and was not a crazed fan who'd dreamed up a clever way to talk to him.
"Did you win?" I asked him.
"No," Robin said, though he sounded cheerful. "But the panel was standing room only, and my signing line went out of the room. Awards are nice, but sales are better."
"How's your signing at the bookstore going?"
"Just about to get under way. I'm signing with Margaret Maron, and the store is jam-packed."
So he had a group of people waiting for him.
"I just have some things I had to tell you," I said anxiously.
"You're all right?" His voice was suddenly sharp. "Your stepfather okay?"
"I'm fine, Robin," I said, my voice soft. "And John is healthy. But John David's wife, Poppy? She got killed this morning."
"In a car?" he said cautiously.
"No, she was murdered."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. From your voice, I'm betting you found her."
"I'm afraid so."
"Shall I come home right now?"
"Bless you for offering. But there's more."
A long pause. "I'm listening," he said, just when I was about to ask if he'd hung up. "Did you get arrested?" He wasn't entirely joking.
"My brother Phillip is here."
"Your brother? Oh, sure! The little guy who was staying with you all those years ago! Hasn't he been living in Pomona? What's he doing in Lawrenceton?"
"He's at least five eight or nine now," I said. "And he got here by running away from home."
"Uh-oh. You talked to your dad and the new wife?"
"She's not so new now, and my dad cheated on her. Phillip walked in on this little episode," I said. "That's supposed to be the reason he ran away, but I'm finding that a little, I don't know, extreme."
"So, what do you think the real reason is?"
"Maybe time will tell. He's going to stay here for at least a week."
"Yeah, I know," I said. "He needs this right now."
"No problem. If you don't need me instantly, I'll just do two more signings tomorrow, one in Austin and one in Dallas, and then I'll fly home from there."
"I sure will be glad to see you," I said. "But you keep up with your signing schedule." I was flattered and delighted that Robin would offer to do that, but at the same time, it scared me. Had we rushed into this comfortable intimacy? I had just adjusted to being alone in my widowhood when Robin had unexpectedly returned to Lawrenceton. It hadn't taken long to resume our relationship of a few years ago. Though I hadn't yet brought myself to discuss my doubts with Robin, I had been thinking the past couple of weeks that we might have hurried things too much. But the minute Robin had left for his convention, I'd missed him. Now I found myself looking forward to his return, not only for the pleasure of his physical presence but because I'd be glad to have his support and his insight - especially in matters regarding Phillip. After all, Robin had been a teenage boy once upon a time.
"I have to go sign some books," Robin said gently.
The doorbell chimed. "And I have to go answer the door," I told him. "Just let me know when you're coming in, and I'll pick you up at the airport."
"I left my car there so I could bring my mother back with me," he reminded me. "Her plane gets in right after mine. I'll call you when I'm back."
When I remembered that Robin would not exactly be at my disposal when he returned, I was so distracted by my disappointment that I answered the door without looking through the peephole. That was a bad habit, and one I'd have to break. When I'd lived out in the country, I'd heard every visitor before they'd gotten to the door, and I'd had time to look out the window to find out who it was. Town living was different.
Bubba Sewell, my lawyer (and possibly my next state representative), was looming in my doorway. Cartland Sewell was a big man anyway, and he'd put on the pounds since he'd married my beautiful friend Lizanne.
"Is it true?" he asked.
"Hello. Glad to see you. Why don't you come in," I said, waving my hand down the hall. I knew I sounded pissed off, and I was.
"I'm a little too upset for the amenities, Aurora," he said. When he was in the house, I got a better look at him. Bubba had been crying. I reminded myself to call him Cartland; since he'd gotten into politics, Cartland had been the name of choice.
"What's put a bee in your bonnet?"
"Poppy," he said. He seemed to have trouble getting the name out.
I looked at him for a long moment. "So the rumor is true."
"Yeah, it's true. I was actually thinking of..."
"You weren't going to leave Lizanne?" I sounded every bit as horrified as I felt. "You idiot!"
Cartland looked as though he was thinking of slapping me. And I would almost have deserved it if he had; not that I think hitting is ever excusable, but I'd been unbearably tactless.
"Poppy was so wonderful," he said. "She was so beautiful, and she was ... in intimate moments... she, ah..."
"Don't want to know," I said. "Too much information!"
He looked a little embarrassed. "Sorry. But you just don't know," he said. "She was everything to me. I wanted her to run off with me."
"Meaning an end to your political ambitions, your marriage, and your relationship with your children?"
"I could have patched things up politically, eventually," he said, sounding as if he really believed it. "Lizanne and I don't get along anyway. And how could she stop me from having a relationship with my own sons?"
"There's still a lot you don't know about Lizanne, if you believe that."
"Roe, Lizanne is a great woman, and she's beautiful and peaceful and she's a good mother to the boys, but..." He waved his hands in frustration.
"But what?" I snapped.
"But Lizanne's so dumb!" he said. It was as if the words had been ripped out of him.
I opened my mouth to rebut his blunt assessment, but I made myself think over what he'd said. Poppy hadn't exactly been a rocket scientist, but she was shrewd, and practical, and a follower of world and local events. And she was articulate in voicing her ideas and opinions. That's why she'd been tapped to be an Uppity Woman. Poppy was - had been - a very different animal than Lizanne, who admittedly had very limited interests. Lizanne's intellectual boundaries had never seemed to bother any man before, as I reminded Cartland now.
"You know as well as I know, Roe, that being attracted to someone physically is not the same as being her constant companion."
"But you're not Lizanne's constant companion. You go out almost every night to this or that meeting, and everyone knows you're counting on a political future."
"And the reason I did all that was at least partly to get away from Lizanne."
"I've never heard of anyone running for office to avoid a spouse." Cartland wanted to be our next state representative.
"I've done a lot of things lately I never thought I'd do."
I didn't like the sound of that. I took a step away from him. "When did you last see Poppy?"
"I saw her last night. John David was going to be at some meeting, so I stopped by."
"How'd you get in?"
"Went to the front door. I figured it might as well be an open visit, since it wasn't going to last that long, not with John David due back within the hour. I helped her bathe Chase," he said tenderly.
I could have beaten him on the head with a baseball bat. I was willing to bet Lizanne could have used some help bathing Brandon and Davis. Why did this man think he was any smarter than his wife? And I'd been considering voting for this jerk!
"When did you leave?" I asked after an appreciable pause to regain control.
"I guess about... eight-thirty. She was wearing a bathrobe, since she'd gotten wet bathing Chase," he said dreamily. "Her hair was all curly from the humidity in the bathroom. She told me she'd think about divorcing John David. I think she would have done it."
"And who do you think killed her?" I asked, conversationally throwing cold water on his fantasies.
"Her husband," Cartland said, and he didn't look like an overweight lawyer anymore. He looked dangerous. "I know it was John David."
"And how do you know that?"
"She must have told him," Cartland said reasonably. "She must have told him she was going to leave him for me, and he killed her for it."
"Where were you all morning?"
"Oh for God's sake, Roe! I went to my office and worked until about eleven, when I left to speak at the Rotary Club in Mecklinburg." Mecklinburg was about fifteen miles away. "I was there, in front of about forty people, for the next hour and a half."
I was going to have to talk to Lizanne soon, and I dreaded it. Those embroidered straps were still stuffed into my purse, and if Lizanne hadn't gone to Poppy's house and thrown them down in the driveway to let Poppy know she knew the situation, I was a Jersey girl.
"Okay, get out."
"Get out. I've listened to as much as I'm going to."
Cartland looked stunned. "But Roe, I was trying to explain - "
"Go to hell. You've just told me you've been cheating on your wife, who is a good friend of mine, with the wife of my brother-in-law; and you are evidently assuming that your wife would be happy to raise two sons of yours on her own, while you raise John David's boy! You actually think Poppy would have left John David? You're a moron! Get out! And keep your grief to yourself!"
I had herded Cartland to the front door, snapping at his heels like a sheepdog, and now he left in something of a hurry. I slammed the door shut and glowered at it.
For a few minutes, I hovered outside Phillip's door, afraid we might have wakened him. But there was no movement from the room, no rustle of sheets. Struck with the sudden fear that he'd crawled out of the window, I opened the door a crack, and was reassured by the sight of a big bare foot hanging off the end of the bed.
I eased the door shut as silently as I could, then I hovered in the hall, trying to think of what I should do next.
Amazingly, it was only 5:00 p.m. Since it was November, the daylight was almost gone, but I thought of some errands I needed to run. I hastily wrote a note and stuck it to Phillip's doorknob. After checking his clean clothes for sizes, I pitched them back in the dryer and set off for the small branch of Davidson's that Lawrenceton was proud to have. I got my brother a package of underwear, a bundle of socks, a pair of jeans and a pair of khakis, and two shirts, a T-shirt and a nice sports shirt, and a jacket. Crossing over to Wal-Mart, I quickly purchased a comb and brush, a toothbrush, and a razor and some shaving cream. I grabbed some gloves, too; his hands had been bare.
Satisfied that I could clothe and clean him, I made one more stop, at the grocery store. I had a dim awareness that teenage boys ate a lot, but I wasn't really sure what they ate a lot of. I got some frozen pizzas, some Bagel Bites, and some egg rolls. I got some milk, too, and a bottle of soda.
By the time I'd unloaded all this booty and folded Phillip's dry clothes, it was seven o'clock. I called Mother to find out what was happening. She sounded exhausted and tearful, and she said John wasn't feeling very well. After a long, long "interview" with Arthur Smith, John David had arrived at the house to assume his role as chief mourner. Mother thanked me from the heart for running him to ground and getting him to go into SPACOLEC with Bryan Pascoe. "Avery was really angry for a while, but I think he sees now that you were right," Mother said.
"I'm sorry if you've had to take the fallout from people who were really mad at me," I said. The thought did cross my mind that it seemed to take very little to make Avery angry with me. "I had to stay with Phillip, to get him straightened out."
"I do wish all this hadn't happened at the same time." I knew Mother had to have been really distressed even, to voice that much complaint about something that simply couldn't be helped. "John told Avery that you'd done more practical things to help our family than had even occurred to him. John, that is."
"That was sweet of John," I said, abruptly aware of how fond I was of my stepfather. He was a better man than my real father. I felt cold and disloyal for that thought instantly, but I made myself face it and admit it was true. God wasn't going to strike me dead for admitting my own father wasn't a perfect man.
"How long is the boy staying?" my mother asked. Her voice was a little stiff. She had always had a hard time with the existence of another child of my father's, but I hoped she would get over it right now.
"I think at least for this week. He's out for Thanksgiving break now. I got the impression that things are going pretty badly between Dad and Betty Jo." No point in spelling out my father's peccadilloes. As far as my mother was concerned, it was an old story. "Phillip got caught up in the middle of that. He made his way over here, and I hope he can stay for a while. He's so big now, Mother, you wouldn't recognize him."
"Just like Phil, messing up a second chance to get it right," my mother said.
This was such a vulnerable way to put it, and her voice was so unhappy, it was hard for me to believe I was listening to the same stiff-backed woman who had created her own fortune after my dad had left her. The shock of Poppy's death had cracked Mother wide open.
"Have Poppy's parents come in yet?"
"No, they'll be here in about an hour, I think. Then poor John will have to go through another emotional scene."
"Well, he feels obligated."
"No, Mother. John David is obligated, not his dad. You make John go to bed, tell him John David and Avery can handle the Wynns. In fact, they can all go to Avery and Melinda's. For that matter, I can put the Wynns up. I have another bedroom, and all I have to do is go make the bed."
That would make my life even even more confusing, but I wanted to help my mother any way I could.
"I'll give you a call back on that. But you're right," she said resolutely. "John needs to rest more than he needs to worry. Avery and Melinda are perfectly capable of handling whatever comes up. And poor John, he keeps thinking that he and John David are so alike because John lost his first wife and now John David's lost his ... but the situation is totally different. Tell me, where was John David when you tracked him down?"
"Ah, he was visiting a friend." I closed my eyes at my own stupidity. That had sounded pretty lame.
"Visiting a friend, in the afternoon of a workday." My mother's eyebrows were probably arched clear up to her hairline. "I'll be willing to bet the friend is pretty and female and wasn't wearing work clothes when she opened the door."
I winced. "Well..."
"You don't need to say anything else," Mother said. "And Poppy, bless her heart, was just as bad. People these days are just like rabbits. Everything's sex. No duty, no loyalty. By the way, where's Robin?"
I didn't like her thought association there, and she was not the first person who'd asked me today where Robin was. We weren't engaged and we weren't talking about marriage. We weren't a locked-in official couple.
"He's in Houston. He'll be back day after tomorrow," I said, sounding just as stiff as my mother.
"Do you think he and Phillip will get along?"
"Mother, you have enough to worry about right now. I believe I can handle Phillip and Robin."
"You're right. Well, let me go. I have to convince John he's not responsible for the whole social process surrounding Poppy's death, and I have to remind John David that he is."
"Good luck, Mother. I'll be there when I can. Remember, if the Wynns need a place to stay, the door is open. Just let me know thirty minutes ahead of time."
"Thanks, baby. I'll talk to you soon."
Because I couldn't seem to sit still, I went to the third bedroom and made the bed, just in case. If the Wynns drove in from their retirement community in the next hour, it would be at least another hour after that before they'd be ready to retire, and they might well want to go see Poppy's body. Could they? Or would her body have already been sent to Atlanta for autopsy?
I just didn't know.
I yawned, a big jaw-cracking yawn. I'd run out of steam.
Phillip shambled into the living room and plopped down on the couch opposite my chair. He was looking much better, and he was smiling.
"Thanks for the clothes and stuff," he said. "It was neat to find the bags in the room when I woke up."
I was glad I'd passed a rack of those drawstring flannel pants at Wal-Mart, because that was what Phillip was wearing, the pants and the sleeveless T-shirt he'd had on under his flannel shirt.
"I was glad to do it."
"Listen, what's happening about your sister-in-law?" he asked.
I told him what the situation was, and he was openmouthed at the awfulness of the adult world. Moments like this reminded me how young my brother really was.
"I'll bet you're hungry," I said.
"Oh," he said. "Oh, yes. Just point me at the kitchen. I can fix stuff myself."
"Has your mom been working these past few years?" I felt guilty for not knowing this basic fact about Phillip's life.
"Yeah, ever since we moved to Pomona, she's worked at an insurance company as a clerk."
"I talked to her."
He froze in the act of turning on the oven. He'd already found the box of Bagel Bites in the freezer compartment. "Um, how is she?" There were so many layers to his voice - guilt, anger, grief - it was hard to pick the dominant emotion.
"Glad you're okay. Relieved she knows where you are. Not too happy that you're with me."
"I'm sorry," he mumbled.
"You don't have to apologize. She wants you to be safe and happy more than anything."
"Then why can't they act like it?" he said furiously. "Why can't they act like parents, instead of switching partners like they were kids?"
This was a complex bunch of ideas. I was beginning to get the feeling that there was no simple way to raise a teenager, or even to answer the questions one might ask you. Was every conversation with my brother going to be as loaded as this one? The prospect was exhausting.
"People don't always do what I wish they would, either," I said. In fact, people stubbornly lived their lives as they wanted, without regard to me, to an amazing degree. I suppressed this observation, as I expected it wouldn't find favor with Phillip.
We talked for over an hour while Phillip ate (and ate, and ate). I told him about the possible arrival of Poppy's parents and introduced him to Madeleine, who came in while he was wiping his mouth with a napkin.
"Is that a cat?" he asked, regarding Madeleine with startled eyes.
"Sure," I said, trying not to sound offended. "She's really old, I know... ."
"She's really fat."
"Well, that, too. She doesn't get as much exercise as she used to, now that we live in town."
"She probably can't walk more than five feet," Phillip said scornfully.
"I guess she is a little dumpy," I said, wondering how long it had been since I'd actually looked at Madeleine and really evaluated her. "You know, she must be - let's see, when my friend Jane died and left me Madeleine, she was at least six years old. That was at least seven years ago. Wow, Madeleine, you are really old." I tended to forget between vet appointments.
"Almost as old as I am," my brother said.
That was a startling thought. I wondered if any of Madeleine's kittens were still alive. I scrabbled around in my memory for the names of the kind people who'd adopted them. That led to another thought, one I should have mentioned earlier.
"Oh, your mom said it was okay for you to stay this week," I told him.
Phillip hadn't asked, but he'd been anxious; I could see his shoulders relax. I scolded myself for not having told him sooner. A deep sigh left him, as if the weight of the world had squeezed the air out of his lungs.
"I'll clean up the kitchen this time," I told my brother, "but from now on, when you use it, you wash it. That's the rule."
"Thanks," he said. "I clean up at home, honest. Sometimes I vacuum and stuff, when it's on my list."
I'd done the few dishes, wiped down the kitchen surfaces, and straightened up the living room a little, when Phillip, who'd been wandering around, said, "He doesn't really look that different." He was looking at a newspaper article about Robin's latest book. I'd clipped it to give Robin when he returned.
"I don't think so, either," I said, trying to sound casual.
"And you guys are dating."
"Are you... um... really tight?"
"We're not dating each other exclusively," I said, though I hadn't dated anyone else since Robin had returned to town. On the other hand, I hadn't dated anyone before then, either. But we hadn't talked about exclusivity.
"If he asked you to marry him, what would you say?"
"I would say it's none of your business," I said, stating it more harshly than I'd intended. "No, I'm sorry I said that." Phillip's face had flushed. "Truly, Phillip, I married Martin really quickly, and though I'm not sorry and never have been, I guess now I feel a little... cautious about doing the same thing again." Then I felt like a hypocrite. I was as quick in making up my mind as I ever had been. I was just trying to put a mature face on for Phillip's benefit. But I knew I would never stop making up my mind quickly. That was my nature.
The Wynns pulled to the curb twenty minutes later. Avery, who'd called me to announce their arrival, had led them over in his car. He came inside for just a minute to reintroduce us. Avery looked awful, but then, I was sure I looked no better.
"The police are really asking questions," he whispered as he gave me a hug.
"Well, sure," I said, surprised. "That would be the way to find out who did such an awful thing to Poppy." Avery was speaking as though asking questions would lead to unpleasant revelations, when what we wanted, as a family, was the truth. But I was grateful to him for escorting the Wynns in and easing the way, so I tried to be friendly.
I had known the Wynns only slightly, and that when I was more or less a child, so it was almost like meeting them for the first time. Sandy and Marvin Wynn were into their seventies, but they were both healthy and lean as whips. They'd always eaten correctly, walked four miles a day, and done things like taking square-dancing classes, or tai chi for beginners. Poppy, their late-in-life and unexpected child, had not had a chance of being included in this harmonious twosome. As much as they seemed to care for their daughter, when she'd begun to act out in high school, the Wynns hadn't had a clue how to handle the problem. They'd clung to their sanity and hoped that Hurricane Poppy would lose its impetus in time.
Tonight, they were exhausted and grief-stricken and stunned. Somehow or other, they'd seen Poppy steered safely into the harbor of marriage and motherhood in suburbia, and now she had been killed in a horrible way, despite her achievement of a smooth life.
I had no idea what the Wynns needed. I didn't know whether to try to get them to talk, to hustle them into their bedroom, or to feed them. ... I'd had enough experience with grief to know that its effects can be unpredictable.
Phillip shook their hands, though I don't think he registered with them. Sandy hugged me as though we were very close, which we had never been, and Marvin hugged me, too, murmuring into my ear that he was so grateful to me for putting them up; the drive had been so long and confusing....
"Have you eaten?" I asked.
"Yes, I think we stopped a couple of hours ago," Sandy said. "I think we ate. I'm not hungry. Are you, Marvin?"
I remembered Marvin Wynn's hair as being red. Now it was snowy white. His face was lean and lined, and he had broad shoulders. He looked as though normally he could climb a mountain without breathing hard, and Sandy could probably drag a sled through the snow for a few miles. But right now, their faces were gray and sagging. Marvin shook his head. "No, not hungry."
I showed them the bathroom they would share with Phillip (which I had restored to its orderly state) and then their bedroom. I'd opened boxes of tissues and left them on the bedside tables. There was free closet space and a couple of free drawers, extra blankets at the foot of the bed.
"If you need anything during the night, just come get me," I said, showing them where my bedroom was. "Otherwise, there are cold drinks in the refrigerator, muffins in the bread box, and the coffeepot is right here."
"We don't drink coffee," Sandy said earnestly. "But thank you. We'll just wash up and go to bed, if that's okay."
"Anything you want is fine with me," I said. "Here's a key to the house. You may need it tomorrow." I put it out on the counter, making sure they couldn't miss it in the morning.
"You're being so kind," Sandy said, and her eyes overflowed. "Everyone is being so kind." Marvin had put their suitcases in the bedroom, and now he put his arm around his wife. They went into the small room I'd prepared for them. I heard the door close.
I stared after them, the memory of the misery I'd plumbed after my husband died yawning wide at my feet. I would be useless the next day if I let myself step over the brink back into that awful time. With all the will I had, I wrenched myself back into the here and now. My brother's alarmed face was staring at me. He really did look only fifteen at that second.
"Phillip, everything I told them - coffeepot, muffins, if you need me - I would have told you before we went to bed. Anything you want to ask?"
"Is there anything in the refrigerator you don't want me to eat? Anything you're saving for supper tomorrow night or something?"
"No, feel free. Eat me out of hearth and home." I could tell he was trying to be a great houseguest, and that touched me.
"What do we do tomorrow?" he asked.
"Tomorrow, I'm going to have to do stuff connected with poor Poppy dying," I said. "And I have to work, too. In fact, I have to get up early in the morning and go to work. I'll leave a note here with my phone number on it. Why don't you use the computer in the study to send your folks an E-mail? The password is on a slip of pink paper in the drawer."
"The study? The room with all the windows and books?"
"Right. Sometimes Robin works in there, if his apartment gets to feeling too small. So don't rearrange the piles of books."
He snorted, as if that was ludicrous. "I'm not that much of a reader," he explained. "That book of Robin's was the first one I'd read in months. I'm not much on school, either."
Meaning, I gathered, that the day he touched books voluntarily was a day that should be marked on the calendar. I suppressed a sigh. It was hard to believe a brother of mine wasn't a reader. I had never been able to figure out what non-readers did. Maybe, during Phillip's stay, I'd find out.
I knew he had other pastimes. I was thinking, of course, of the condoms, and I thought about health issues. I tried to smile at him. "Tomorrow, you and I are going to talk about some stuff."
His smile faded. "Uh-oh."
"It won't be as bad as all that," I said. I hugged him, and just when I was about to let him go, I pulled him tighter instead. "Phillip, I'm so glad to see you. I was wondering if I'd ever get to see you again. I'm sorry you've been having a tough time. I'm happy you're here."
He patted my back awkwardly and made some indeterminate noises. I'd embarrassed the hell out of him, and he was fifteen and didn't know what to do about it. After a second or two, I realized he was crying. I could only guess at the correct response. I remained still, my arms around him, rubbing his back gently. He wiped his eyes on the shoulder of my sweater, a childish gesture that somehow won me over completely.
"Good night," he said in a clogged voice, then retreated to his room so quickly, I only glimpsed a reddened face.
"Good night!" I called after him, keeping my voice low so I wouldn't disturb Marvin and Sandy Wynn.
The silence sank into my bones. With a deep sense of relief, I went into my own bedroom. It had been a very long day, maybe twice as long as my days usually were, at least in terms of emotional content. Either Poppy's death or Phillip's arrival would have given me a full slate of thoughts and feelings, and to have both at one time had sent me into overload. I needed to sleep more than I needed anything, and the only thing that would have made my bed look more welcoming would have been a shock of red hair on the other pillow.
I sat on the side of the bed and realized that what I missed was not Robin exactly, and not sex exactly. And it wasn't missing Martin, either, though still at rare moments I felt I was being stabbed, the flash of grief was so intense. What I was missing at this moment was the state of being married. I missed having someone there to share the little moments of my day. I missed having someone someone to whom I was the most important person on earth. I missed being part of a team, whose job was always to back each other up.
Even the least perfect marriage has moments that are wonderful, and mine had been far from the least perfect.
I made myself go into my bathroom and begin my nightly routine. I was being ridiculous. My sister-in-law had died an awful death this morning, and here I was, blubbering about not having anyone to sleep with tonight. I was a ridiculous human being. I should know better, I told myself. There were far more terrifying things in the world, and one of those things was very close.
Somewhere in our town, tonight, a person was talking, or brushing his teeth, or making love to a spouse. Yet that person knew he - or she - had committed murder. That person had knocked Poppy down with vicious blows. That person had watched the life drain out of one of the most vital women I'd ever known... and done nothing to help her.
Now that was something to brood about.