“I don’t know how close he is to your mother, except that he told me once he did move to Angel Butte because she was here. He said she was the only family he had.”
“I assume he isn’t married or you’d have invited his wife, too?”
“Never has been, as far as I know. I suppose he could have been before I knew him. He’s got to be mid-fifties. Pretty much a loner. I think he’s got a lady friend over in Portland. He gets over there regularly.”
The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” he said, kissed her cheek and left her in the kitchen.
Felix was on the doorstep, Duane just pulling in. Felix and Colin waited while he parked his car next to Nell’s small red one and crossed the yard.
“Felix,” Duane said as the two shook hands. “Bet you’re glad to see your sister.”
“Yeah, having her back is pretty amazing.” It was obvious her brother meant what he was saying.
“You two don’t look much alike,” Colin observed.
Felix shrugged. “Never did. She got her looks from Mom, I got mine from Dad.” He cocked his head and studied Duane as the two divested themselves of outerwear. “Come to think of it, you don’t look much like Mom, do you?”
“Same deal as you two, I imagine. Then there’s the fact that your mother colors her hair....”
Felix elbowed him. “You mean, she’s kept her hair, don’t you?”
They all laughed.
Nell came from the kitchen to meet them, her gaze on Duane although she first hugged her brother. Duane held out his arms and, after an almost infinitesimal hesitation, she let him hug her. Her reluctance wasn’t obvious, but Colin saw it. No wonder, he thought—hugs probably weren’t plentiful in her childhood.
She crossed her arms in front of herself when she stepped back. “You’re Mom’s brother.”
“That’s right.” Duane seemed shocked. “You really don’t remember me.”
“I’m afraid not. There’s...a great deal I still don’t remember.”
Colin wished she hadn’t put that still in there, with its implication that her memory was coming back.
“Damn,” Duane said, shaking his head. “Colin told me, but I guess I didn’t believe it.” He searched her face. “He said you remembered Helen and Marc.”
“Only flashes. But I must have spent a lot more time with them than I did with you.”
His expression darkened. “I knew your mother was hard on you. I tried to give you some extra attention to try to make up for it. You and I were good friends. I thought seeing me might bring that back.”
Nell shook her head, something panicky in the tight movement. “I’m afraid not.”
Colin stepped closer to her, laid a hand on her back. “Do we need to work on dinner?” he asked, keeping his voice relaxed, easy.
Her eyes flashed to his, grateful, he thought. “Oh, no! The rice is probably boiling over. Excuse me for a minute.”
She fled. He offered drinks and ended up getting beers for all four of them. He paused in the kitchen. “You okay?” he asked her quietly.
“Yes,” she said. “Just...” She didn’t finish. He waited a moment but she didn’t continue.
As the evening progressed, he worked damn hard to keep Felix and Duane from noticing how withdrawn Nell was becoming. Something was going on in her head, but he had no idea what. She didn’t blank out the way she had a couple times, which was his only consolation.
At first he thought Felix was oblivious, the way he kept teasing her, trying to make her laugh, but then Colin began to wonder if her brother wasn’t trying as hard as he was to keep conversation ongoing and light.
Duane, in contrast, kept trying to dig out memories that weren’t there—or were burrowed deep and unwilling to lift their heads.
Half a dozen times, he started questions with, “Do you remember when...?”
“I’m sorry,” Nell kept having to say.
Understandably enough, Duane wanted to know about her life since she’d disappeared, too, and she answered some questions and was politely vague about others.
“What part of Seattle? Oh, like most renters I move every so often. Rent goes up, I shop around.”
Duane asked for another beer, and then another. His bafflement and hurt were plain, giving away enough to make Colin feel sorry for him. As long as he’d known Duane, the man still kept his private life just that. Colin had guessed he didn’t have much of a life off the job. He hunted and fished with some buddies his age, neither activity interesting Colin. Colin had been to his house and seen how bare it was. For twelve years, Duane had mourned Maddie, but now she was here and he meant less than nothing to her. Yeah, that wouldn’t feel good.