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LET GO OF ME.


I glanced down; I was not touching her.

Claire circled the words again; and this time, I understood.

Suddenly I remembered something Kurt had told me once: you could only save someone who wanted to be saved; otherwise, you'd be dragged down for the count, too. I looked at Claire, but she was asleep again, the marker still curled in her hand.

Tears slipped down my cheeks, onto the hospital blanket. "Oh,

Claire... I'm so sorry," I whispered, and I was.

For what I had done.

For what I knew I had to do.


Lucius

When I coughed it turned me inside out. I could feel the tendons tangle on the outside of my skin and the fever in my head steaming against the pillow. You put ice chips on my tongue and they vanished before I swallowed isn't it funny how now things come back that I was so sure I'd forgotten like this moment of high school chemistry. Sublimation that's the word the act of turning into something you never expected to become.

The room it was so white that it hurt the backs of my eyeballs. Your hands were like hummingbirds or butterflies Stay with us Lucius you said but it was harder and harder to hear you and I could only feel you instead your hummingfly hands your butterbird fingers.

They talk about white lights and tunnels and there was a part of me expecting to see oh I'll just say it outright Shay but none of that was true.

Instead it was Him and He was holding out His hand and reaching for me.

He was just like I remembered coffee skin ebony eyes five o'clock shadow that dimple too deep for tears and I saw how foolish I had been. How could

I not have known it would be Him how could I not have known that you see God every time you look at the face of the person you love.

There were so many things I expected Him to say to me now when it counted the most. I love you. I missed you. But instead He smiled at me with those white teeth those white wolfs teeth and He said I forgive you Lucius I forgive you.

Your hands pounded and pumped at me your electricity shot through my body but you could not reclaim my heart it already belonged to someone else. He spread the fingers of His hand a star a beacon and I went to h i m. I am coming I am coming.

Wait for me.

Maggie

"I wouldn't have called you in here on a Sunday, normally," Warden

Coyne said to me, "but I thought you'd want to know... " He closed the door to his office for privacy. "Lucius DuFresne died last night."

I sank down into one of the chairs across from the warden's desk.

"How?"

"AIDS-related pneumonia."

"Does Shay know?"

The warden shook his head. "We thought that might not be the best course of action at this moment."

What he meant, of course, was that Shay was already in an observation cell for slamming his own head into a wall-they didn't need to give him even more reason to be upset. "He could hear about it from someone else."

"That's true," Coyne said. "I can't stop rumors."

I remembered the reporters glorifying Lucius's initial cure-how would this turn the tide of public opinion against Shay even more? If he wasn't a messiah, then-by default-he was only a murderer. I glanced up at the warden. "So you asked me here so I could break the bad news to him."

"That's your call, Ms. Bloom. I asked you here to give you this." He reached into his desk and removed an envelope. "It was with Luciuss personal effects."

The manila envelope was addressed to Father Michael and me in shaky spiderweb handwriting. "What is it?"

"I didn't open it," the warden said.

I unhinged the clasp of the envelope and reached inside. At first I thought I was looking at a magazine advertisement of a painting-the detail was that precise. But a closer look showed that this was a piece of card stock; that the pigment wasn't oil, but what seemed to be watercolor and pen.

It was a copy of Raphael's Transfiguration, something I only knew because of an art history course I'd taken when I fancied myself in love with the TA who ran the class sessions-a tall, anemic guy with ski-slope cheekbones who wore black, smoked clove cigarettes, and wrote

Nietzsche quotes on the back of his hand. Although I didn't really care about sixteenth-century art, I'd gotten an A, trying to impress him-only to discover he had a live-in lover named Henry.

The Transfiguration was thought to be Raphael's last painting. It was left unfinished and was completed by one of his students. The upper part of the painting shows Jesus floating above Mt. Tabor with Moses and

Elijah. The bottom part of the painting shows the miracle of the possessed boy, waiting for Jesus to cure him, along with the Apostles and the other disciples.

Lucius's version looked exactly like the painting I'd seen slides of in a darkened amphitheater-until you looked closely. Then you noticed that my face was superimposed where Moses's should have been. Father Michael was standing in for Elijah. The possessed boy-there, Lucius had drawn his self-portrait. And Shay rose in white robes above Mt. Tabor, his face turned upward.

I slipped the painting back into the envelope carefully and looked at the warden. "I'd like to see my client," I said.

Shay stepped into the conference room. "Did you get the verdict?"

"Not yet. It's still the weekend." I took a deep breath. "Shay, I have some bad news for you. Lucius died last night."

The light faded from his face. "Lucius?"

"I'm sorry."

"He was... getting better."

"I guess he wasn't, really. It only looked that way," I said. "I know you thought you helped him. I know you wanted to help him. But Shay, you couldn't have. He was dying from the moment you met him."

"Like me," Shay said.

He bent over, as if the hand of grief were pushing hard on him, and started to cry-and that, I realized, was going to be my undoing. Because when you got right down to it, what was different between Shay and everyone else in this world was not nearly as profound as what we had in common. Maybe my hair was brushed, and I could string words together to make a sentence. Maybe I hadn't been convicted of murder. But if someone told me that the only friend I really had in this world had left it,

I'd sink to my knees, sobbing, too.

"Shay," I said, at a loss, approaching him. How come there were no words for this kind of comfort?

"Don't touch me," Shay growled, his eyes feral. I ducked at the last moment as he swung at me, and his fist punched through the double pane of glass that separated us from the officer standing watch. "He wasn't supposed to die," Shay cried, as his hand bled down the front of his prison scrubs like a trail of regret. A small army of officers rushed in to save me and secure him, and then haul him off to the infirmary for stitches, proof- as if either of us needed it-that Shay was not invincible.

One year in junior high, during a sex-ed unit, our teacher discussed the painfully obvious fact that some of us would not mature as quickly as our classmates. This was not a lesson you had to teach someone like me, whose waistline was larger than her bra size; or Cheryl Otenski, who had gotten her period in full view of every other sixth grader during an assembly where she happened to be wearing white pants. "Late bloomers," the teacher called it-that was close enough to my last name for me to be the butt of every joke for the remaining week.

I had told my mother I had the bubonic plague and refused to get out of bed for three days, spending most of it under the covers and wishing

I could just miraculously skip ahead ten or fifteen years to when my life surely would be more pleasant.

After seeing Shay, I was sorely tempted to pull the same act. If I stayed in bed when the verdict was read, did that mean the plaintiff lost by default?

Instead of driving to my house, however, I found myself pointing in the opposite direction and turned into the emergency entrance of the hospital. I felt as if I'd been poleaxed, which surely qualified me for medical attention-but I didn't think that even the most gifted physician could cure a skeptic who'd come to see the light: I could not remain as emotionally unattached from my client as I'd believed. This wasn't, as I'd told myself, about the death penalty in America. It wasn't about my career as a litigator. It was about a man I'd been sitting next to-a man whose scent I could recognize (Head Shoulders shampoo and pungent industrial soap); whose voice was familiar (rough as sandpaper, with words dropped like stepping-stones)-who would, very shortly, be dead.

I did not know Shay Bourne well, but that didn't mean he would not leave a hole in my life when he exited his own.

"I need to see Dr. Gallagher," I announced to the triage nurse. "I'm a personal..."

What?

Friend?

Girlfriend?

Stalker?

Before the nurse could rebuff me, however, I saw Christian coming down the hall with another doctor. He noticed me and-before I could even make a decision to go to him-he came to me. "What's wrong, sweetheart?"

No one except my father had ever called me that. For this reason, and a dozen others, I burst into tears.

Christian folded me into his arms. "Follow me," he said, and led me by the hand into an empty family waiting room.

"The governor denied Shay's stay of execution," I said. "And Shay's best friend died, and I was the one who had to tell him. And he's going to die, Christian, because he won't let me try to find new evidence to exonerate him." I drew away from him, wiping my eyes on my sleeve. "How do you do it? How do you let go?"

"The first patient who died on my table," Christian said, "was a seventy-six-year-old woman who came in complaining of abdominal pain after a meal at a posh London restaurant. A half hour into the surgery, she coded, and we couldn't bring her back." He looked up at me. "When I went into the family waiting area to speak with her husband, the man just kept staring at me. Finally, I asked him if he had any questions, and he said he'd taken his wife to dinner to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary." Christian shook his head. "That night, I sat with her body in the morgue. Silly, I know, but I thought that on one's fiftieth anniversary, one didn't deserve to spend the night alone."

If I hadn't been swayed before by Christian's charm, good looks, or the way he called the trunk of his car a boot and the hood a bonnet, I was now completely smitten.

"Here's the thing," Christian added. "It doesn't get any easier, no matter how many times you go through it. And if it does-well, I suspect that means you've lost some part of yourself that's critically important."

He reached for my hand. "Let me be the attending physician at the execution."

"You can't," I said automatically. Killing a man was a violation of the

Hippocratic oath; doctors were contacted privately by the Department of

Corrections, and the whole event was kept secret. In fact, in the other executions

I'd studied before Shay's trial, the doctor's name was never mentioned-not even on the death certificate.

"Let me worry about that," Christian said.

I felt a fresh wave of tears rising. "You would do that for Shay?"

He leaned forward and kissed me lightly. "I would do that for you," he said.



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