"Go away, Shawn."
Kara tried to ignore the muffled voice outside her bedroom. "Hurry up. You're gonna be late."
"I'm not going." As the door opened, she rolled over on the mattress so her back was to her brother.
"Please don't be like this. You know what happens to draft dodgers."
"I don't care."
Shawn fumbled for words before going silent. She wondered if he had given up the argument and left but learned otherwise when she felt a weight sit on the edge of the bed. "Come on, Kara. I know you're not enthused about this, but at least give it a chance. I mean, you read his profile. You said it yourself - he sounds like a decent guy."
"So did Silas."
The mattress shifted, and he stepped around the bed into her line of vision. He was smirking. "All right. You leave me no choice. Time to pull out all the stops."
"Don't even think about it." She covered her ears, all too aware of what was coming.
"Let's see. Third time's the charm, Silas was a bad apple, never - "
"Oh my God, I give! Shut up!" She flung the pillow at his face and hit her target. By now, though, she was grinning at her brother's antics. "Why the Trust put you up as a writer, I'll never know."
His smirk grew wider. "I've got plenty more up my sleeve if you've got time to kill."
She winced. "Ack! No! Fine, I'll go! Just please quit with the cliches!"
He chucked the pillow back at his sister. "Don't take too long. Mom's almost finished with breakfast."
She stuck out her tongue as the door closed behind him. She loved him to death, but Shawn could really be annoying.
A few moments passed in silence as she tried to find the motivation to face the day. A day that should have been the beginning of an exciting new life for her. A small part of her still hoped for a storybook marriage. But by the third time around, it seemed like nothing more than a childish fantasy. Her first two were duds. Why should this one be any different?
Her gaze wandered to the manila envelope lying on her nightstand. She spent most of the previous night reading its contents several times over. Hell, she could probably quote from it if she had to. Even so, she reached for it again and pulled out some of the papers. It was the government profile of her soon-to-be husband, Travis Kollen. What was in it should have alleviated her fears of facing another man like Silas, but... Right now, it seemed nothing could eliminate the nervous flitters in her gut.
She sifted through the file until she found his photograph. For a few minutes, she sat there and stared at it, trying to imagine the kind of person he was at heart. Not who the government said he was - who he really was. She learned the hard way the Trust didn't always get it right. Her dad used to say one could tell a lot about a person just by looking at him. Then again, her dad was a psychologist. He would know what he was looking at. She could only guess, at best. And she wasn't always the best judge of character.
Travis wasn't the only one in the photo. Sitting on his lap, all smiles and cute as could be, was an infant girl - his daughter Michaela, according to the file. Kara couldn't help grinning a little at the sight. This had to count for something, didn't it? The Trust wouldn't leave a child in the care of a single father if it felt he posed any danger to her.
Thank God she and Silas never had kids.
"Damn it!" She threw the file across the room and hid her face in her pillow. Three and a half months had passed. Why couldn't she move beyond the memory of her previous husband? She knew she had to, but she couldn't seem to do it. She didn't know how. Ever since receiving Travis's file, it was all she could think about. What if he turned out like Silas? Even in death, the scuzzbag still held sway over her.
By the time Kara lowered the pillow, her eyes were red and her face tear stained. Somewhere deep down, she knew it was unfair to compare Travis to a dead man. She didn't want to. She wanted to be able to start fresh. And yet here she was, terrified at the prospect of being married off for the third time in her young life.
The chiming of the clock in the hallway interrupted her thoughts. It was already nine o'clock. Though reluctant, she left her bed and made her way to the bathroom to get ready for the day. Despite what she told her brother, the idea of becoming a fugitive for draft dodging wasn't all that appealing.
But with every step she took, what little resolve that remained began to dwindle. By the time she closed the bathroom door, it had vaporized completely. Soon she was pacing and fidgeting, desperate for a way out of this situation. She had to be at the courthouse in an hour, and every second that ticked by caused her anxiety to spike.
After a moment, she reached into the medicine cabinet for her Xanax. There was no way she would make it through the day without it. She was too agitated. At the same time, a bottle of her mother's pain killers tumbled into the sink. Initially she thought nothing of it. She simply tossed the container back onto its shelf and fumbled with the cap on her own meds. But then she paused.
Maybe there was a way out of this after all.
* * * * *
He winced when he heard the clatter of a plastic bowl hitting the linoleum. Loud excited giggles followed. Michaela was at it again.
Travis had to grin when his infant daughter began to slam her hands against the high chair tray, shrieking loudly enough he was sure the neighbors could hear. "Is this gonna be a thing now?" he asked when she quieted down for a moment. As if to answer him, the girl released another piercing laugh. Man, she was goofy today.
He couldn't help laughing as he turned in his chair and reached down to pick up the Cheerios littering the floor. "I think you just like watching Daddy clean up after you."
He straightened when he heard a knock on the door. For now he left the remaining cereal where it lay and instead removed Michaela from the high chair. Reaching for his walking stick, he pushed himself to his feet and hobbled out of the kitchen. "It's open!"
By the time he made it to the living room, his sister was inside and her smile lit up when she saw Michaela. "There's my girl! Are you behaving for Daddy?"
"You bet. She's redecorating the kitchen again."
Chelsea laughed and held her hands out to her niece, catching the infant as she all but threw herself from her father's hold. "Gosh, Travis, you're still in your pajamas. You have to be there soon."
"It's fine. All I've got to do is change and I'm ready to go."
Half an hour later, he stood outside the front door giving his sister some last minute instructions. He checked to make sure he had his house keys and his wallet before deciding to ditch the tie and stuffing it in his pocket. "All right, I guess I'm out of here." He reached out to tickle his daughter where she sat on her aunt's hip, receiving a giggle in response. "You behave, monkey."
"You sure you're up for the walk?"
"Chels - "
"Humor me, okay? You've barely been out of the hospital a week. You don't want to make your leg any worse."
"It's a twenty minute walk to the courthouse. It's not gonna kill me."
Clearly, that remark didn't make her feel any better. "You'd think the Trust would at least let you heal up before marrying you off again," she mumbled.
He didn't get a chance to respond. Their conversation was interrupted when his cell phone rang. The number, though, wasn't one he recognized. "Hello?"
"This is Jenna Makos with the Berkshire County Justice of the Peace. I'm calling in regards to your draft appointment this morning."
He glanced at his watch. "I'm not late, am I?"
"No, no. Not at all. We just wanted to inform you that your circumstances have been taken into consideration and everything will be available for pickup until the end of the week."
"You'll be at the hospital for the next couple days, I imagine. It's a bit unrealistic to expect you here this morning."
"Hang on. I don't think we're on the same page. I was released from the hospital last Sunday."
"Not you. Your wife."
He went silent.
"Did no one tell you?"
"Apparently not. What happened?"
"We don't have all the details, but it sounds like an accidental overdose. She's at the Berkshire Medical Center."
"All right. Thanks."
Chelsea's concern was evident as the conversation ended. "What was that about?"
"I'm not headed for the courthouse, after all. Think I can hitch a ride?"