Hank turned. The sharp motion took JD by surprise, and he started a little.
“Here, JD,” Hank said. His voice seemed a hair tighter than before. “You’re probably going to need this a lot more than I am while you’re here. Why don’t you hang onto it, and give it back to me later? You can hold onto it until you’re finished in there.”
JD looked at the card key, then met Hank’s eyes.
“This really frightens you, doesn’t it?”
Hank swallowed. “It’s more than that, JD.” His eyes welled. “There’s a lot of Mark in there too. We lived there with him, he played there, woke us up in our bed there, we rolled around on the floor and tickled him in there, we -“
His voice choked off, and a tear tumbled from each eye when he blinked. He inhaled deeply and composed himself.
“Sorry,” he said, his voice husky with emotion. “Yes, what happened with Carl’s hat scared us, but it’s so much Mark’s presence … or his absence. He’s gone. Gone, and never coming back. Gone forever. Everywhere he was burns me like fire now, JD. If you ever have children of your own, you’ll understand better. May God forbid you ever lose them, but you’ll understand.”
JD watched in pain. He couldn’t find anything to say. At length, he cleared his voice.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. “That aspect never occurred to me. I guess I never … I’m sorry.”
Hank smiled and sniffled. “It’s okay. Really. We’re coping.”
“I didn’t mean to …”
“No, of course not, don’t worry. You didn’t. But … now you understand, it’s not just fear.”
JD nodded. “Yes, I understand. Thank you.” Hank offered the key card again and JD took it.
“Can you find your way back all right?” Hank said, running the heel of his hand over his reddened eyes.
“I’ll be fine. Will you?”
Hank paused. “No. I’ll never be fine again. But I’ll manage. I always do. And Phoebe does, too.”
JD nodded. “When we take the equipment out of the room, I’ll return this to you. How can I tell it apart from the key to my room?”
Hank chuckled. “It’s a lot more beat-up. You won’t confuse them.”
JD smiled. “Okay then. Thanks, Hank. For everything.”
“In just the short time you’ve been here, JD, we have more to thank you for than you have to thank us for. I’m going to go back and check on Wayne and then Phoebe again.”
“How was she earlier?”
Hank looked embarrassed. “I don’t know … I never left Wayne. After what happened, I didn’t want to see her while I was rattled, and have her be worried. But I’d better get back to her and see how she’s doing.”
JD held the card key up and smiled. “Thanks again.”
“My pleasure.” Hank paced away around the corner, and JD was alone in the hallway.
The solitude suddenly started unnerving him. A growing, creeping sensation ran up his spine like a shiver.
He knit his brows, shook his head, and went to the suite door. He passed the key over the reader and the LED faithfully flashed green. The lock clacked and he rushed in.
He whipped around, certain someone — or something — was right behind him, reaching for his back, ready to snatch him in its talons and …
Nothing. An empty hallway, nothing more.
The room felt colder than the hallway, colder than any other area he went through. JD scanned the suite for an explanation. The curtains were open, and long sheets of unobstructed glass allowed the gray-white winter day in. He stepped to the same tall thin pane he’d looked through the night before. There was no view then, but daylight revealed a forest abutting this wing of the hotel. It wrapped around the rear of the hotel, hugging the exterior adjoining hallway attaching the Kiley’s room to their son’s. The evergreens spread their canopy over the roof. This section of the hotel had no fourth- or fifth floors, and in summer, he imagined the added density of the deciduous tree foliage shaded the room heavily. The ground below sloped away from the building, rolling down to a huge, clear spot of flatness, an unbroken expanse of snow surrounded by more hills and forest.
“The lake,” he whispered, though he was alone.
looked down and noticed a deck circled the lower floor. Its bannister erupted through the thick quilt of snow.