This is the first half of Chapter 1 of The Incident Under the Overpass.
The sound expanded in her head, empty at the moment, except for a feeling akin to bliss.
The heavy, rhythmic thud echoed like a church bell. It’s telling me I’m complete, Lacey thought.
The breakdown will commence once she is aware. But in that final instant before cognition, the lovely density of the noise and the euphoric feeling teased at some great truth just outside Lacey Becnel’s grasp. Unbeknownst to her, memory of that feeling will be, at times, the only thing to sustain her in the month ahead.
Her eyes opened to a soggy darkness. Another ga-dunk, a slight echo, and then silence. Between long pauses of the sound, she could hear the trill of crickets. Ga-dunk again. It worked like an alarm clock.
It was the smell that finally roused her. The smell of fresh, dew-topped grass, and a faint scent of urine. She flexed her hand and felt a clump of earth yield to her touch. Her back was wet, tickled by the scrubby undergrowth.
She savored the feeling for a moment, before she realized its meaning. She felt her sides, then her chest, and then her legs. Her clothes were gone. Not in tatters, or in half-measures, simply gone.
She was lying somewhere outside, naked.
Fear paralyzed her. She crossed her arms over her breasts, but didn’t dare sit up. She strained her neck toward the sickly glow of a light directly ahead. Beyond, about one hundred feet away, a faint pool of light shimmered around a sodium vapor street lamp. Lacey’s heart broke as the vestiges of that rapturous completeness slipped away, replaced by a rising sense of panic.
She looked up toward the sound. Huge concrete beams sailed high above her. I’m underneath a bridge, she thought. Those are cars passing overhead.
The air was warm and languid, but still she began to shiver. She tightened her arms across her chest and wanted desperately to find her clothes. She turned her head away from the light, searching.
Lacey gasped and bolted upright. Inches away, a man lay on his back—fully clothed, eyes closed, a peaceful smile on his face. He had a laceration along his right cheek. His jacket was torn and bloody at the right shoulder. He looked familiar.
Her memory was patchy. Whatever had happened to her had shot holes through her faculties. What the hell had happened, and why couldn’t she remember? She willed her brain to recoup and repair. Quickly. She took a deep breath, and her shivering slowed. The pungent smell of the outdoors revived her.
Her arms and legs twisted into a pretzel, Lacey looked at the man more closely. He looked tall—she knew he was full head taller than herself—she remembered that from speaking to him. Where? A handsome face, a full head of sandy blond hair, and a kind expression. How did she know he was kind?
She also knew he was strong. Broad shoulders and chest, no pudges peeking out from the T-shirt he wore underneath his linen jacket. Solid, lean muscles. He had a solidness her husband did not have.
The memory of her husband at home crashed in on Lacey, another panic-inducing rear-end impact. Her heart leapt into her throat as adrenaline surged through her. She had an overwhelming instinct to flee. Running away from here naked may complicate the situation, she thought. She lay back down and took another deep breath.
What time is it? Lacey had no concept of how long she had been in this state. It could have been forever. She tried to concentrate. Long intervals elapsed between the passing cars overhead. It must be very late or very early. She remembered the month. June. Whatever time it was, daylight would arrive sooner than later.
Where am I? She looked to the area behind her and the sleeping man. She could just make out some picnic tables. Ashen concrete picnic tables. She knew where she was. The I-610 overpass, not three minutes from her house. She could slink away, try to slip into her house undetected, and pretend this whole . . . whatever it was . . . never happened.
What about Fox? Will he hear me come in?
Lacey took another deep breath. Her husband, Fox, wasn’t home, she knew. She knew because he had died fifteen months ago.
It still happened to her sometimes, usually upon waking. She would forget about his death and all its circumstances for just an instant, thinking he might be in the living room, asleep on the couch. All the burden of his legacy lifted for a moment of ignorant bliss, when she returned to a time when she adored him unequivocally. It happened less frequently as time wore on.
Headlights approached from the direction of the lake. Her lungs deflated and she was on the verge of hyperventilation as she waited for the car to pass. She exhaled loudly when its red taillights sped down Marconi, and then out of sight.
She wouldn’t dare sit up again until she had some clothes. They were only about twenty feet from the roadway, easy enough to be spotted by any more passing cars. Whoever the familiar, sleeping, kind man was next to her, she needed his jacket.
Lacey reached out and placed a tentative grip on his right arm. She was blasted with an overwhelming déjà vu as soon as she touched him. Déjà vu and heat, an interior heat, radiating from the base of her sternum. A voice echoed in her brain: This is it, this is what was always supposed to happen, this is where you were supposed to be at this very time. The flash disappeared as quickly as it came.
She pulled her hand away and rubbed her palm to her temple. The frustration of her memory loss manifested into a physical pain. Nathan, she thought. The man’s name is Nathan. She didn’t know how she knew it, but she was certain of it.
The sleeping Nathan adjusted his position so that his right side brushed up against Lacey. This made her ache even more.
She tried to focus on her surroundings and develop a plan. She closed her eyes, and an amalgam of “Amazing Grace” and the Memorare prayer flowed through her head: ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved . . . Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary . . .
Remember. That combination of song and prayer had helped her cope with Fox’s death. Fox. The love of her life, and the source of her biggest heartbreak. Lacey let out a slight laugh. Considering her current situation, the impact of all Fox’s actions felt small, or at least smaller, for the first time since his death.
Another car approached on Marconi. She held her breath. It passed out of sight, just as the previous one had. Her exposure—their exposure—loomed as Crisis Priority One. It was time to wake up Nathan.
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