Treasure Me
elegant suit. The woman smelled of roses. She was shouting and someone took Birdie by the wrist to tug her out of the way. It was impossible to grab hold of the nebulous threads of the memory but it left her feeling oddly blue.
    “The wife took her boat out on Lake Erie right before a storm,” Hugh continued and she wheeled her attention back to him. To his hands, which he clenched and unclenched, his knuckles white. “They said it was an accident. She drowned.”
    His guilt looked overwhelming, which was something she understood. Didn’t she feel the same way every time she lifted money from a wallet?
    Rising, he collected the plates and deposited them in the sink. Clearly he’d lost his appetite. They both had.
    Absently, he dumped the eggs into the wastebasket and filled the sink with soapy water. He attacked each plate with a dishcloth, scrubbing with single-minded purpose. The set of his jaw was hard. Yet his eyes were vulnerable and Birdie found herself on her feet, walking toward him. What was it like to hold yourself responsible for a death? None of her transgressions compared, not the robberies or the petty thefts. She’d never owned a gun. If it ever came down to risking a life in the commission of a crime she’d walk away first. She’d walk away gladly.
    She came up behind him, unsure of how to comfort a man who was little more than a stranger. His back was to her and she noticed his hair was too long even if he did carry it off well. His shoulder blades worked beneath his chambray shirt as he let out the water, then dumped in scouring powder and began scrubbing the sink. Why hadn’t she noticed his height? Standing this close it was easy to see he had a good three inches on her, maybe four, and she was a tall woman.
    Rub his back? It was how a friend offered comfort. Yet the gesture felt like an invasion. Her hand froze in mid-air, her confusion unnoticed by the man who’d dried the dishes until they squeaked and rattled them into a stack inside the cupboard. He polished the forks and flung them into a drawer. When he’d finished he gripped the edges of the counter and stared out the window above the sink. She understood suddenly what he’d meant by a play-by-play. His dream, or nightmare, rather—the image haunting him—was a play-by-play of the woman who’d drowned, the woman he believed he’d sent to her death with an article written in his youth.
    Offering solace with a phrase was inadequate. It’s not your fault .
    Hugh wasn’t to blame—people did all sorts of crazy things. Hadn’t Birdie’s own mother shaken out a handful of heart-shaped pills on the day she’d threatened suicide? The Valium looked pretty, like candy, but it threw a wall up in their tumultuous relationship. And how could a teenager convince her mother not to die? Birdie had felt responsible; she knocked the fistful of Valium from her mother’s hand, sending the pills scattering across the motel’s filthy bathroom floor. On hands and knees she scrambled after them. Every last pill landed in the toilet while her mother clawed at Birdie’s scalp, yanking hair out by the handful. You bitch, don’t you dare throw my drugs in the toilet. Seared by the belief she was responsible for her mother’s mental state, she’d barely felt the hair wrenched from her scalp.
    Did Hugh carry the same remorse?
    “Hugh, it’s all right.” She rested her hand on his back. He tensed, a fierce little movement, and her heart clenched. “Fourteen years is a long time to punish yourself. Let it go.”
    His arms lowered to his sides. “If you were in my shoes, would you let it go?”
    “I’d try.”
    “You don’t know what it’s like. Wondering if you could’ve done more. Wondering if everything would be fine if you’d done nothing at all.”
    Flinching, she saw herself at sixteen, when she had given up on trying to live with her mother. The canvas tote bag stolen from a boutique was stuffed full of everything she held dear. The

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