Copyright © 2012 by Kristin Hannah
On her forty-first birthday, as on every other day, Jolene Zarkades woke before the dawn. Careful not to disturb her sleeping husband, she climbed out of bed, dressed in her running clothes, pulled her long blond hair into a ponytail, and went outside.
It was a beautiful, blue-skied spring day. The plum trees that lined her driveway were in full bloom. Tiny pink blossoms floated across the green, green field. Across the street, the Sound was a deep and vibrant blue. The soaring, snow-covered Olympic mountains rose majestically into the sky.
She ran along the beach road for exactly three and a half miles and then turned for home. By the time she returned to her driveway, she was red-faced and breathing hard. On her porch, she picked her way past the mismatched wood and wicker furniture and went into the house, where the rich, tantalizing scent of French roast coffee mingled with the acrid tinge of wood smoke.
The first thing she did was to turn on the TV in the kitchen; it was already set on CNN. As she poured her coffee, she waited impatiently for news on the Iraq war.
No heavy fighting was being reported this morning. No soldiers—or friends—had been killed in the night.
“Thank God,” she said. Taking her coffee, she went upstairs, walking past her daughters’ bedrooms and toward her own. It was still early. Maybe she would wake Michael with a long, slow kiss. An invitation.
How long had it been since they made love in the morning? How long since they’d made love at all? She couldn’t remember. Her birthday seemed a perfect day to change all that. She opened the door. “Michael?”
Their king-sized bed was empty. Unmade. Michael’s black tee shirt—the one he slept in—lay in a rumpled heap on the floor. She picked it up and folded it in precise thirds and put it away. “Michael?” she said again, opening the bathroom door. Steam billowed out, clouded her view.
Everything was white—tile, toilet, countertops. The glass shower door was open, revealing the empty tile interior. A damp towel had been thrown carelessly across the tub to dry. Moisture beaded the mirror above the sink.
He must be downstairs already, probably in his office. Or maybe he was planning a little birthday surprise. That was the kind of thing he used to do …
After a quick shower, she brushed out her long wet hair, then twisted it into a knot at the base of her neck as she stared into the mirror. Her face—like everything about her—was strong and angular: she had high cheekbones and heavy brown brows that accentuated wide-set green eyes and a mouth that was just the slightest bit too big. Most women her age wore makeup and colored their hair, but Jolene didn’t have time for any of that. She was fine with the ash-gold blond hair that darkened a shade or two every year and the small collection of lines that had begun to pleat the corners of her eyes.
She put on her flight suit and went to wake up the girls, but their rooms were empty, too.
They were already in the kitchen. Her twelve-year-old daughter, Betsy, was helping her four-year-old sister, Lulu, up to the table. Jolene kissed Lulu’s plump pink cheek.
“Happy birthday, Mom,” they said together.
Jolene felt a sudden, burning love for these girls and her life. She knew how rare such moments were. How could...
Author: Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah is the New York Times bestselling author of eighteen novels. A former lawyer turned
writer, she is the mother of one son and lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.
"Hannah masterfully details the unraveling of a family." - Associated Press on Night Road
"Kristin Hannah is back in top form with...Night Road. The novel grips the reader from the
first appearance of despondent 14-year-old Lexi Baill...[and] will hook Hannah fans from start
to suspenseful finish." - Washington Post