David was in the shower when Rachel got home. “Is that you, honey?” he called out after Rachel opened and closed the bedroom door.
“It’s me, dear.”
She began undressing. The shower turned off. He poked his head around the jam. “Hi, hon. Where were you?” He ducked back into the bathroom to dry off.
“I went for a walk.” She hung her blouse in the closet. “I went to see Milada.”
“How is she?”
“She’s—an interesting person.”
David emerged from the bathroom wrapping the towel around his waist. “You know, I’ve been thinking about her.”
“You’ve been thinking about her?” she teased. “I can imagine what you’ve been thinking about.”
He gave her a comically annoyed look. “What I was thinking was, we all want to believe that everybody is the same under the skin. But meeting a person like her makes me think some people really are different from you and me and the guy next door. Not bad different. Just different.”
“In ways you would never guess.”
Rachel wrapped her arms around his waist, leaned against his chest. His skin was hot and moist against her cheek. She smelled the faint redolence of his deodorant, Old Spice. She felt herself relax, the tension melt out of her muscles. She was tired, exhausted—yet vibrantly alive. So she said the dullest thing she could thing of: “How was the game?”
“Pretty good. That Trisha Garner really impresses me. She’s only fifteen, but I can really see her playing for BYU or the WNBA, even. She’s got a jump shot I never had.”
“Ego a little bruised?”
“Nah. Anyway, she was on our team. I pretended I was John Stockton and concentrated on making the assist.”
“You’re good at that—making the assist.”
He brushed the hair away from her face. “Is that a compliment?”
“I think so.”
He kissed her. Lightly at first, lips brushing lips, a restraint that kindled desires too long dormant. His hands played across her back. She clung to him, catching her breath as he bent her across the bed and kissed her neck. She wanted to kiss him in turn, but she did not want him to stop either. She tugged at the towel. It dropped to the floor. He lay her down on the bed, undressed her, and with his hands and lips wrote sonnets on her skin.
She fit herself to him, tongue and groove, the arch of her back pressing the curve of her flesh against his torso. The physical response of her body to his always surprised her, like the unexpected bloom of a desert flower, the shock of sudden beauty on the plain stem. Sex wasn’t something she spent a lot of time thinking about—nowadays, even less often than she ought to—but the act of lovemaking never failed to conquer her completely.
The verses from Proverbs rang in her heart and in her head: May my breasts satisfy you always. May you ever be captivated by my love.
Her pulse quickened in her throat, and she panted hot against his shoulder. Her hips rose without bidding to meet his, pushing herself into the hot thrum of pleasure, desperate for release. Her inner core shuddered in taut ecstasy, a rapture almost too much to bear.
“Rachel—” He spoke her name like a caress, an intimate touch welling up involuntarily from within the deep and subtle parts of his being. She let her body respond in full, held him with all her strength, as if to fuse their bodies together, as if to make their molten spirits one.
Rachel stirred. She had fallen asleep naked, tucked into the crook of her husband’s arm. It was not something she did often, not when a child was likely to burrow into the marriage bed at any time of night. She sat up, suddenly aware, her attention tensed, her mind reaching out through the silent house, making a count of present souls. She caught her breath, recognizing the faint scent of vanilla.
She eased off the bed, pulled her bathrobe around her shoulders, and stole out of the room. There was something unearthly about a still, silent house at this hour. The hallway was a catacomb, the walls turned to cold, mottled stone. She paused at the door to Laura’s room and then continued on, finding her way by touch.
In the kitchen the digital numbers of the microwave clock glowed a dim fluorescent green. A faint, distant light shone through the curtains. As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she descended to the family room. Milada stood there in her BYU sweats. The woman turned, and her eyes shone. As with any other nocturnal animal, Rachel knew it was only the reflection of incidental light off the back of her retinas. But the sight froze her with an instinctive fear, speaking to her primate mind of that primeval fear of predators that rule the night.
Milada approached her, breathing in the fragrance of her sex. Their temples almost touched. “This time I really must kiss you.”
Rachel closed her eyes. “Don’t make me forget—”
Milada promised her nothing. Her mouth met hers, warm and insistent. Her tongue wet her lips. There was witchcraft in this kiss. Rachel was not aroused, but neither was she repulsed. She was lost as to how she should react, aware only that she was losing her awareness, losing her ability to react to whatever Milada might wish to do to her. She had never been so vulnerable in all her life.
I would not do to you what was done to me. What a terrible and reassuring thing to say.
A tingling sensation pricked her lips and tongue, followed by a creeping numbness. Then the sudden thump in her chest, as when the dentist’s lidocaine courses through the bloodstream and hits the heart. The room spun slowly. She floated off the carpet. Milada lifted her effortlessly in her arms and set her on the couch, slipping a pillow under her neck and turning her head to the side, exposing the curve of her neck. Milada’s left hand pressed firmly against her forehead, further immobilizing her. Rachel harbored one last thought: Don’t make me forget. Then the deep, sharp punctures, and she was swept into oblivion.
Rachel was conscious but not awake. Or maybe it was the other way around. She tried opening her eyes. Her heavy lids opened. Yes, she was awake. The bedroom was bright with filtered sunlight. Where was David? He was up and about. It was Saturday morning, time to get things done around the house.
She pulled back the comforter. She was loosely wrapped in her bathrobe. Why? When had she put on her bathrobe? She pushed herself into a sitting position, groaned, and fell back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Milada, she said to herself. And then came that sense of quiet victory: I remember.
Rachel sat up again and collected herself. Planting her feet on the floor, she stood, keeping the expanse of the mattress behind her. Black spots swam before her eyes. She held out her arms to keep her balance and filled her lungs with air. There, that’s better. She did a quick inventory of her body. Everything was okay. Except that she was thirsty. And she was ravenous.
She shuffled into the bathroom, leaned on the sink, and peered at her reflection in the mirror. She looked better than she felt, that was for sure. She touched the left side of her neck, fingered the delicate pair of bruises. She did remember everything. And now some of Milada was inside her doing heaven knew what.
She pulled up the collar of the bathrobe and snugged the sash tight. On her way down the stairs, she made good use of the banister. Laura and her father were in the kitchen, Laura trying to negotiate an afternoon at the mall with Heidi. At the bottom of the stairs, Rachel pushed off and managed to approximate a casual, relaxed gait until she reached the kitchen table and sat down.
“Morning, hon. So you’re up.”
She yawned. “I decided to sleep in for once.” Well, not exactly decided.
Laura gave her a suspicious look. Rachel was pretty sure she had something of a languid, self-satisfied grin on her face. And she was bathed in enough afterglow to light up a small auditorium. But she was too exhausted to try and hide it. Sometimes the facts of life just presented themselves as a fait accompli, kiddo.
Laura glanced at her mother, at her father, and back at her mother. Her mother knew exactly what she was thinking: They didn’t really—did they? Oh good grief, they had! Sheesh. Gamely ignoring the obvious, she said to her mother, “Can I go to the mall with Heidi this afternoon?”
“What did your father say?”
Her father said, “It’s not so much the going as the taking.” He handed his wife a steaming mug. She took a sip. Orange spice. She smiled warmly at him.
Laura said, “You know, this won’t be a problem once I get my driver’s license.”
The girl was already thinking ahead, priming the pump. Her mother said, “That’s something we can all look forward to.”
“Can I or can’t I?”
“Two-ish to what-ish?”
“What in the world are you going to do at the mall for four hours?”
Her mother shrugged. “Whatever. I’m sure I can arrange to do my shopping at two or so.”
“That’s all I needed to know,” Laura exclaimed, stomping out of the room. “You guys always have to make such a big deal out of stuff.”
David sat down at the table next to his wife. “I’d almost swear you enjoyed that little exchange.”
“I might have. A bit.” She kissed him, a kiss that deepened. She stroked the rough stubble on his chin. “What’s on your schedule for today?”
“Mow the lawn, for starters.”
“Then you’d better go mow the lawn, husband.” She didn’t let go of him right away. She considered inviting his hands inside the robe, but common sense overcame temptation. Heaven knew that a teenager wanted to believe that her parents’ knowledge of the facts of life was purely hypothetical. It would not help at this point to provide any more evidence to the contrary.
When Rachel left church Sunday afternoon after welfare meeting, the bishop was still busy with interviews. Sharon Sundwall and a couple she didn’t know were seated in the little alcove outside the bishop’s office. The matter of Derek and the Boy Scouts remained unresolved.
Located directly across from the clerks’ office, the alcove was something like a doctor’s waiting room. She knew her husband’s regulars, ward members for whom the bishop was cheaper than a psychiatrist, less demanding than Dr. Laura, more reliable than Ann Landers. But as for the others—she couldn’t help seeing people there and wondering, What does he need to see the bishop for? And what about her? Maybe just the equivalent of a flu here, maybe cancer there.
Rachel liked to believe she possessed a special divine insight into the human character, an adeptness at spiritual phrenology. But perhaps what she was really attuned to was a particular way of speaking, a style of grooming, the mannerisms unique to their culture. That new couple sitting there—the bishop always met promptly with new members in the ward—he could be a mass murderer, she a high-class call girl. And would the ward know otherwise? No. Just as no one looked at Rachel Forsythe and could begin to imagine the depth of the confluence between herself and Milada Daranyi.
When Rachel reached Milada’s house, she found the woman sitting at the back of the porch, hidden behind her sunglasses and her mask of porcelain stillness. Rachel understood why she sat and watched as the gods must sit and watch. Mortals must amuse her so, scurrying about in a constant tizzy, hastening with every skipped step toward the end of their too-short lives.
“How are you feeling, Rachel?”
Rachel stepped onto the porch deck. She was afraid that a sudden sense of intimacy, as one finds in a friendship too quickly formed, would dampen any real friendship that might exist between them. “Quite well, thank you. Saturday morning I was a little woozy—”
“A perfectly normal response.” Milada said, “I do not imagine, Rachel, that you have discussed this arrangement with your husband?”
Rachel shook her head. “I prefer not to have to lie, but no.”
“I agree. I hire people to lie for me.” Her thin smile almost became a grin. “Shall I meet you tomorrow at the hospital then? Around eight o’clock?”
Rachel’s heart skipped a beat. The substance of their relationship rushed into the forefront of her thoughts. She nodded. “Deseret Children’s Hospital, room 3209.”
“Very well. You could give me a ride home. Spare my driver the journey south. He’s a remarkable young man, my driver. Twenty-three, married with two children, determined to enter medical school.”
“I was twenty when I got married.”
“And in my youth, girls were married barely out of childhood. What our elders expect of us we come to deem as natural, even right.”
There was more to that statement than she said. Rachel shifted the weight off her right foot. She meant to bid Milada good-bye, thank her again, step back, and take her leave. Instead she stepped forward. “How did this happen to you, Milada? Who are you really?”
Milada turned her head to look at her. A long moment passed between them. When she spoke, she quoted from a text Rachel felt she should know but couldn’t recall: “And how he fell from Heaven, thrown by angry Jove sheer over the Crystal Battlements.”
Rachel knew the context, the Book of Revelations: The great dragon was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. She said, “Those fallen angels were condemned to never be born into this world, to remain spirits forever. You could not have been one of them.”
Milada smiled at her reassurances. “But I fell softly.”