“This,” he said, indicating her pacing. “You’ve got enough on your mind. I didn’t want you to be upset.”
“That’s crap and you know it.” Jeffrey hated giving bad news. As confrontational as he had to be in his job, he was incapable of making waves at home. “Is this why you haven’t wanted to have sex?”
“I was being careful.”
“Careful,” she repeated.
“Hare said I could be a carrier.”
“You were too scared to tell me.”
“I didn’t want to upset you.”
“You didn’t want me to be upset with you,” she corrected. “This has nothing to do with sparing my feelings. You didn’t want me to be mad at you.”
“Please don’t do this.” He reached out to take her hand but she jerked away. “It’s not my fault, okay?” He tried again, “It was years ago, Sara. She had to tell me because her doctor said so.” As if this made things better, he said, “She’s seeing Hare, too. Call him. He’s the one who said I had to be informed. It’s just a precaution. You’re a doctor. You know that.”
“Stop,” she ordered, holding up her hands. Words were on the tip of her tongue, but she struggled not to say them. “I can’t talk about this right now.”
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know,” she said, walking toward the shore. “Home,” she told him. “You can stay at your house tonight.”
“See,” he said, as if making a point. “This is why I didn’t tell you.”
“Don’t blame me for this,” she shot back, her throat clenching around the words. She wanted to be yelling, but she found herself so filled with rage that she was incapable of raising her voice. “I’m not mad at you because you screwed around, Jeffrey. I’m mad at you because you kept this from me. I have a right to know. Even if this didn’t affect me and my health and my patients, it affects you.”
He jogged to keep up with her. “I’m fine.”
She stopped, turning to look at him. “Do you even know what hepatitis is?”
His shoulders rose in a shrug. “I figured I’d deal with that when I had to. If I had to.”
“Jesus,” Sara whispered, unable to do anything but walk away. She headed toward the road, thinking she should take the long way back to her parents in order to calm down. Her mother would have a field day with this, and rightfully so.
Jeffrey started to follow. “Where are you going?”
“I’ll call you in a few days.” She did not wait for his answer. “I need some time to think.”
He closed the gap between them, his fingers brushing the back of her arm. “We need to talk.”
She laughed. “Now you want to talk about it.”
“There’s nothing more to say,” she told him, quickening her pace. Jeffrey kept up, his footsteps heavy behind her. She was starting off into a jog when he slammed into her from behind. Sara fell to the ground with a hollow-sounding thud, knocking the wind out of her. The thud as she hit the ground reverberated in her ears like a distant echo.
She pushed him off, demanding, “What are you-”
“Jesus, I’m sorry. Are you okay?” He knelt in front of her, picking a twig out of her hair. “I didn’t mean-”
“You jackass,” she snapped. He had scared her more than anything else, and her response was even more anger. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I tripped,” he said, trying to help her up.
“Don’t touch me.” She slapped him away and stood on her own.
He brushed the dirt off her pants, repeating, “Are you okay?”
She backed away from him. “I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m not a piece of china.” She scowled at her dirt-stained sweatshirt. The sleeve had been torn at the shoulder. “What is wrong with you?”
“I told you I tripped. Do you think I did it on purpose?”
“No,” she told him, though the admission did nothing to ease her anger. “God, Jeffrey.” She tested her knee, feeling the tendon catch. “That really hurt.”
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, pulling another twig out of her hair.
She looked at her torn sleeve, more annoyed now than angry. “What happened?”
He turned, scanning the area. “There must have been…” He stopped talking.
She followed his gaze and saw a length of metal pipe sticking out of the ground. A rubber band held a piece of wire screen over the top.
All he said was “Sara,” but the dread in his tone sent a jolt through her.
She replayed the scene in her head, the sound as she was slammed into the ground. There should have been a solid thump, not a hollow reverberation. Something was underneath them. Something was buried in the earth.
“Christ,” Jeffrey whispered, snatching off the screen. He looked down into the pipe, but Sara knew the half-inch circumference would make it impossible to see.
Still, she asked, “Anything?”
“No.” He tried to move the pipe back and forth, but it would not budge. Something underground held it tightly in place.
She dropped to her knees and brushed the leaves and pine needles away from the area, working her way back as she followed the pattern of loose soil. She was about four feet away from Jeffrey when they both seemed to realize what might be below them.
Sara felt her own alarm escalate with Jeffrey’s as he started clawing his fingers into the ground. The soil came away easily as if someone had recently dug there. Soon, Sara was on her knees beside him, pulling up clumps of rock and earth, trying not to think about what they might find.
“Fuck!” Jeffrey jerked up his hand, and Sara saw a deep gash along the side of his palm where a sharp stick had gouged out the skin. The cut was bleeding profusely, but he went back to the task in front of him, digging at the ground, throwing dirt to the side.
Sara’s fingernails scraped something hard, and she pulled her hand back to find wood underneath. She said, “Jeffrey,” but he kept digging. “Jeffrey.”
“I know,” he told her. He had exposed a section of wood around the pipe. A metal collar surrounded the conduit, holding it tightly in place. Jeffrey took out his pocketknife, and Sara could only stare as he tried to work out the screws. Blood from his cut palm made his hands slide down the handle, and he finally gave up, tossing the knife aside and grabbing the pipe. He put his shoulder into it, wincing from the pain. Still, he kept pushing until there was an ominous groan from the wood, then a splintering as the collar came away.
Sara covered her nose as a stagnant odor drifted out.
The hole was roughly three inches square, sharp splinters cutting into the opening like teeth.
Jeffrey put his eye to the break. He shook his head. “I can’t see anything.”
Sara kept digging, moving back along the length of the wood, each new section she uncovered making her feel like her heart would explode from her mouth. There were several one-by-twos nailed together, forming the top of what could only be a long, rectangular box. Her breath caught, and despite the breeze she broke out into a cold sweat. Her sweatshirt suddenly felt like a straitjacket, and she pulled it over her head and tossed it aside so she could move more freely. Her mind was reeling with the possibilities of what they might find. Sara seldom prayed, but thinking about what they might discover buried below moved her to ask anyone who was listening to please help.
“Watch out,” Jeffrey warned, using the pipe to pry at the wooden slats. Sara sat back on her knees, shielding her eyes as dirt sprayed into the air. The wood splintered, most of it still buried, but Jeffrey kept at it, using his hands to break the thin slats. A low, creaking moan like a dying gasp came as nails yielded against the strain. The odor of fresh decay wafted over Sara like a sour breeze, but she did not look away when Jeffrey lay flat to the ground so that he could reach his arm into the narrow opening.
He looked up at her as he felt around, his jaw clenched tight. “I feel something,” he said. “Somebody.”