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Tomorrow and Always

Sample Chapter
Copyright ©2000 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author.

Chapter One

Karissa Mathees sat at her desk, staring at the computer screen. Her eyes were sore and begged for relief, but she had work to finish. Despite the tiredness, a part of her relished the fact that she felt needed and vital—for the first time in a very long time.

Her right hand reached for the mouse as she forced her eyes to focus. It had never been this difficult to concentrate. In the old days in Los Angeles, she had always reveled in the challenge of meeting deadlines and doing her work well. But that had been before moving to this small, confining Alaskan island. And certainly before Jesse and Brionney Hergarter had arrived on Kodiak with their three beautiful little girls. Since then, the last vestiges of Karissa's contentment had vanished, replaced by the secret ache she had hidden for so long.

With her left hand, she pushed back her dark hair that curled in gentle, shiny waves, reaching nearly to her waist. Cut to one length, it often fell to block her vision. She was tall for a woman, and slender, with long, cultured-looking hands and trimmed fingernails. She wore faded jeans, and the shirt was an old one from her husband's drawer—her weekend working clothes. Her narrow feet were clad only in socks, her hiking boots flung carelessly under the huge oak desk.

She tried to concentrate on the screen, but it seemed to reflect back not the new accounts-receivable program Jesse Hergarter had written, but the tiny cherubic faces of his daughters. It was difficult—no, painful was perhaps a better word—seeing Brionney and Jesse with their children. And now Brionney was expecting again. She became pregnant so easily. How could it be so difficult for Karissa?

Her mind refused to stay focused. She glanced above the computer at a framed picture of the Savior with a dark-haired little girl. The picture had been a gift, and the giver had gone through such an effort to visit her at work and to hang it there that she hadn't the heart to object, though the picture often gave her a pang of sadness and resentment. She often took it down and stored it in one of the desk drawers, hanging it again hurriedly when the secretary warned her of a visit from the donor. She had been tempted to throw it away. But even an inactive Mormon couldn't just throw away a picture of the Savior.

And the little girl, with her dark eyelashes and bright eyes . . .

No, better not to think in that direction.

A wall clock fashioned out of a slice of tree trunk polished and lacquered to a brilliant shine hung next to the picture. Malcolm had made it for her when they had married nine years before. It was his hobby, something he did so little of these days. Now he was as absorbed by his work as she had once been with hers.

Why did I ever agree to come to Kodiak? she thought. Sometimes she wanted to scream at how enclosed she felt, how isolated. Most people dreamed of living on a remote island; she dreamed of leaving one.

Last year, Malcolm had insisted they move here, back to the place where he had been born. "Our children will have room to roam, Karissa," he had said. He had always wanted a big family, and the words gave her renewed hope. "The property my grandfather left me is way out in the middle of nowhere," he had added, as if that were all-important. "We'll build our dream house, anything you want. It'll be a great place for filming my commercials. And you'll love the pace there. We'll have time to be together."

What he hadn't said aloud was that their marriage was failing and that moving to Kodiak was a last-ditch effort to stem the leak that slowly drained their love.

His commercials mean more to him than I do, she thought. Sadly, she wasn't sure if she even cared.

The gold-colored hand on the clock read six a.m. It was Saturday morning. The night hours had fled and she still wasn't finished. She turned her head back to the screen, but her eyes wandered to the silver-framed picture of her husband next to the monitor. His younger self stared back at her: laughing gray eyes, straight dark hair, and chiseled features. He was good-looking, and even as she stared, a rush of emotion grew in her breast. She did love Malcolm. But did that feeling belong only to the days before, the days when they had been younger and had hope for the future? To the days when she could still give him a child?

Tears squeezed out the corners of her eyes as she shut them against the pain that seemed to encompass her entire body. Why hadn't she been given a child? Of course she already knew the answer. Guilt ate at her, but her terrible secret had been kept so long that she was unable to give voice to it. Not even to Malcolm. She knew she was being punished, and more importantly, that she deserved every bit of agony the sentence gave her.

The doctors had assured her they could find no reason for the infertility, except for a slightly lower sperm count on Malcolm's part. "Just relax and forget about it," they had told her years ago. "It'll probably happen when you least expect it."

She had immersed herself in her career as assistant administrator of a medium-sized hospital outside of L.A. and had pushed thoughts of a family aside. She and Malcolm had drifted further apart each day.

"Come on, you work too hard." The words Malcolm had said more than a year earlier sounded in her ears, almost as if he were in front of her saying them again. "Let's move to Kodiak. I've seen their ad for a hospital administrator there, and you'd be perfect for the job. That's what gave me the idea, in fact. You'd be your own boss. And since they only have one big hospital on the island, plus a few clinics, it's a pretty important job, too."

The idea had excited her. She knew she could make a hospital run very well under her own authority. And she had done even better that she hoped. In the face of her new responsibilities, she had succeeded in forgetting her deepest longing. She had even stopped wanting a baby—almost. The only problem was that Kodiak wasn't L.A., and life, even as top administrator of the Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, wasn't very exciting. There were no surprises, nothing to challenge or excite her soul, and she soon became dissatisfied.

Her problems intensified when Jesse Hergarter, an old acquaintance of Malcolm's, contracted with the hospital to upgrade their computers and programs. Last month, his small programming team, his wife Brionney, and their three little girls had arrived on Kodiak. Since Malcolm had been the missionary who had first taught Jesse the gospel twelve years ago in Arizona, Karissa had been forced to spend time with the family. Malcolm had even invited the Hergarters to stay with them for two days while they searched for a place to rent. For once, their house had come alive with the laughter of children. But the laughter made Karissa realize how empty her life really was, and how she and Malcolm seemed like strangers.

At least she had comfort in knowing the Hergarters wouldn't be on Kodiak forever. Jesse would finish the work at the hospital in a few months, and then take care of the other contracts he'd picked up in Anchorage. With any luck, they would be gone from Alaska by the end of the year. Until then, she could simply stay away from them and their rented house near the hospital.

"You almost done, Kar?"

Karissa looked up to see Damon Wolfe standing in the open door. She forced a smile. He was on the board of directors, and had flown in only yesterday from Anchorage to see how her new hospital programs were coming along. On Monday, the rest of the hospital board would be here to examine the progress they had made.

Damon looked as beat as she felt. His blonde hair was nearly white under the stark fluorescent lighting, and his dark amber eyes were bloodshot. His face was haggard, and the ends of his short moustache twisted slightly as they always did when any serious changes were made at the hospital. Twisting them helped him think, he'd say. The sharp curves of his face reminded her of a falcon—slightly hooked nose, angular cheeks and jaw, yellow-brown eyes, thick feathery eyebrows. He was tall and strong-looking, and had the magnetism of a man who knew his direction in life. In that respect alone, he reminded her of Malcolm.

"Almost. I've about an hour left," she said.

"Why don't you knock off then? You need a break—and, by the looks of you, some sleep. You can finish Monday morning."

Karissa's smile became real. It said something that Damon, who was part owner of the hospital and essentially her boss, trusted that she would be able to finish the work before the Monday afternoon appointment with the board. "Thanks. I think I will." She certainly wasn't accomplishing anything by thinking about the Hergarters.

Damon nodded, then tossed her something from his shirt pocket. Karissa caught it in mid-air. A pack of Camels.

"Thanks," she said wryly, looking at the full ashtray on the desk. "I'm out."

"I figured you would be. I wanted you to have something to keep you awake on your drive home."

Karissa laughed. "I didn't know you cared."

"Of course I do. With all the money I'm paying you, I can't afford to have you laid up in an accident."

Karissa laughed again, and with a few deft strokes shut down the computer. She slipped on her boots, not bothering with the laces, and snatched her bag from the bottom drawer of the desk. Shrugging on her fur-lined leather jacket, she crossed to the door and reached for the light switch, plunging the room into darkness.

"Maybe I'll come in tomorrow," she murmured, "just to be sure." There wasn't much else she would be doing on a Sunday.

"You can't," Damon said. "You have some homecoming or something, don't you? You mentioned it weeks ago."

Karissa had been opening the pack of Camels when he spoke. A wave of guilt fell over her, and she thrust the cigarettes, still unopened, into her purse. "That's right. I'd almost forgotten." Malcolm's brother had invited them to his son's missionary homecoming, with the traditional family party afterwards. "We usually get out of these things, but this time Malcolm ran out of excuses."

"Don't you like your family? I thought you Mormons were a close bunch."

"We're not supposed to smoke, either," Karissa retorted, her voice taking on a sharp edge.

Damon grimaced. "Sorry. None of my business, I guess."

She sighed. "No, I'm sorry, Damon. I'm just tired."

"Let's get you home." Damon took her arm and propelled her down the wallpapered hallway. Her feet dragged over the smooth tile, feeling heavy, and her eyes burned. It took much longer than she remembered to arrive at the employee entrance.

"I'm not going to be here tomorrow anyway," Damon said. "I'm flying home today to be with the kids. But I'll be back Monday morning, bright and early." The "kids" were Damon's two children, a fourteen-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter. His wife had died the previous year after a long bout with cancer, and though he had a live-in housekeeper and nanny, he didn't like to leave his children for long stretches.

Damon walked with her to her new four-wheel-drive Nissan truck. It gleamed a dark, shiny green against the melting snow in the parking lot. The early morning April air was brisk and fresh, and Karissa zipped up her jacket and rummaged in her purse for her matching brown leather gloves.

"Ciao," Damon said, shutting her door. "See ya Monday. Don't be late." He smiled, knowing that she, more likely than not, would be there long before he arrived.

"Ciao," she repeated. She turned the key, and the engine flared to life. Automatically, she checked the gasoline guage. Since the station closest to her house was a forty-minute drive, it didn't pay to run out of gas.

The sun had just begun to lighten the sky above the ocean, turning it to a pale shimmer of orange and gold. The small city of Kodiak, Alaska, was mostly still sleeping, except for the fishing boats that already dotted the water. She drove through the town, her thoughts wandering.

When she had first moved to Kodiak Island with Malcolm, she had hated the idea of Alaska's cold and barren landscape. But he had been born here, and most of his family lived in Anchorage. He wouldn't give up his dream.

"Alaska means The Great Land," he had said. "And Kodiak is the best part of Alaska."

"What kind of a name is Kodiak?" she asked. "It sounds like film."

"It's a native name. Aleut. They live on the island too. I promise you, once there you'll never want to leave."

Karissa hadn't been sure, but excitement about her new position as administrator at the hospital diminished the unease in her heart.

Kodiak had been a surprise. Due to the Japan Current, its weather was surprisingly mild. The island still became cold in the winter and the snow was very wet, but it wasn't any worse than northern Washington, where her grandparents lived. The snow-capped mountains had a certain austere beauty. In the summer, everything was green, almost to the tips of the mountains. Last fall, Malcolm had taken her to Pillar Mountain to pick lingan berries, small cranberry-like berries that mixed tart and sweet as only nature could. Though everyone on the island called them cranberries, they were so much better than the cranberries she was used to. Her mouth watered as she remembered.

It had all been so strange to her—the boat harbor and canneries on one side of town next to the ocean; the city of Kodiak, with its quaint, nearly all-wood structures nestled against Pillar Mountain; the many breathtaking bays and unique small villages; the ocean going on forever until it curved out of sight over the horizon.

And she hated all of it. Every single bit.

The quiet, fertile beauty emphasized the barrenness of her womb. It was much easier to forget her dark secret in the bustling city life. In L.A., she had always been too caught up in her work; here she had time to think—and to mourn.

The medical center was situated in the Northern outskirts of Kodiak. She lived forty-five minutes away to the south, which meant she had to drive through the small city to reach what she laughingly called their "estate." The land had been given to Malcolm by his grandfather, who was Aleut. Malcolm and his six older siblings each inherited land on Kodiak when the old man died, yet only Malcolm had built on it; the others lived in Anchorage on the mainland.

Their house had gone up quickly, despite the island's remoteness, and for a brief time she and Malcolm had been close like in the old days, when they had first met at the University. Back then they had been so much in love.

Karissa turned the wheel slightly as she hugged the curve of the road. They had been so young in college, and there had still been hope for the forgiveness she craved. Now it was too late, and there was no one to blame but herself.

"Pay attention!" she said aloud, struggling to keep her eyes open as the truck passed the airport and the Coast Guard base.

Thirty minutes outside of Kodiak, she pushed harder on the gas to climb the small hill at Dell Flats where several houses studded the landscape. Here the paved road became dirt. Almost home. Just ten minutes more.

Her neck ached and her body felt sluggish as she drew up to the two-story house they had designed with an architect in the first year of their marriage, long before coming to Kodiak. The gray-painted wood house with the wide double-pane windows nestled among lofty spruce and cottonwood trees. A vast greenhouse stood off the back of the house. The kitchen and family room on the main floor had huge windows facing inside to the greenhouse. On the second floor, Karissa's office had a wall of glass that also faced the greenhouse and its year-round greenery. Originally, she had meant the greenhouse for a playroom, a place where her children could build in the sand and romp among the plants when snow covered the ground outside, or when the rain drizzled for weeks, as it so often did on Kodiak. But now she doubted that her child's laughter would ever echo in the stillness.

Karissa parked in the garage next to Malcolm's black Jeep. She dragged one foot after the other until she climbed the steps from the garage to the kitchen. She inserted her key, but the door was already open. Malcolm almost always forgot to lock up when he arrived at the house. At least the unlocked door meant he had finished his shoot early and had come home.

The kitchen was eerily silent, and though her stomach grumbled, her tired eyes could hardly focus on the rows of white-varnished oak cupboards. She clumsily removed her wet boots near the door. A painting of Jesus caught her eye, one with Him sitting on a rock teaching the people—another gift she felt compelled to keep on her wall. His face seemed to follow her movements. Purposely averting her gaze, she skirted around the eating bar in the middle of the room and headed for the hall that led to their master bedroom.

Malcolm was asleep. In the light of the thin rays peeking through the blinds, she could see his lithe body flung out in abandon over the bed. He didn't wake as she moved quietly to her side of the bed and slumped onto it, sighing and at last shutting her eyes.

Exhaustion plagued her, but though she had slept less than four hours in the last forty-eight, her body would not surrender to sleep. The approaching missionary homecoming reminded her of her own family, most of whom were still in California. She was the fourth of six sisters and two brothers. Months had passed since she had talked to any of her family, and a part of her missed them. She opened her eyes and stared at the dark ceiling. Oh, to be young again and able to make new choices! The right choices.

When she did talk with her siblings or parents, it was hard to abide their preaching, especially the stern disapproval of her father. Of all her parents' eight children, she alone had married out of the temple. She was also the only one in her family who had left the Church completely, and now she felt separated from those she loved by an impassable gulf.

At first she had planned to seal her marriage in the temple, but by the time her education was finished, she was thoroughly addicted to smoking and couldn't give it up. At least that was what she told herself. But inside, she knew the real reason she could never marry in the temple, why she wouldn't go to heaven, and why she couldn't have children.

Karissa squeezed her eyes shut. They still burned, but gradually were soothed by the tears that escaped her tight control. Her thoughts continued wildly, with no hope of suspension until they reached their loathsome end.

God would never allow her to have a child after what she had done. Karissa had committed a murder of the most despicable kind, and for that there was no forgiveness or salvation.

"Karissa?" Malcolm whispered. He sat up, clumsy with sleep, squinting his eyes at the increasing light. His stiff, dark hair was slightly gray-peppered at the temples. The effect usually gave him a distinguished look, but now his hair stood on end as if he had run his hands through it repeatedly, giving him the appearance of a small child rather than that of a grown thirty-three-year-old man.

"Uh-huh," she grunted.

"What time is it?" He squinted at the clock. "Almost seven? Did you work all night?"

"Mm-hum."

"That's not good for your health."

She opened her eyes. "You're a fine one to talk."

He snorted. "Well, yeah, I guess. So did you get the accounts done?"

"Not yet. I'm going to finish Monday morning."

"That's cutting it short."

"I'll manage." She wished he would talk to her about something other than work; that was all they ever talked about anymore. She didn't know how much longer they could go on living as strangers and clinging to the dream of real togetherness. Then he spoke again, and she immediately regretted her wish.

"You do remember the doctor's appointment Monday, don't you?"

How could she have forgotten? It was only the single most important thing on her mind. The only excuse was her gross lack of sleep, but she couldn't credit it to that. No, the truth was she had wanted to forget. The new fertility specialist was coming in from Anchorage specifically to visit them, but surely he could only tell them what the others before him had already determined: there was no physical reason why they shouldn't be able to have children. Yet only she would know the real reason.

"Sure, I remember," she lied. "I'll go in to work early, or back today after I sleep a little. That way I'll be free."

"Maybe this guy'll know what he's talking about." Malcolm's mouth curved in a hopeful smile. "We've let this ride for long enough, don't you think?"

Karissa nodded numbly. How could she tell him the truth? She wouldn't even know where to begin. What would he think of her? Would their marriage be over if he knew? Did she even care?

For the quadrillionth time she wished that she could go back and change the past. Her guilt was heavy and too repulsive a thing to bear. Yet she deserved it, and never could she forgive herself. Nor would God or her family. No matter how much time passed and no matter how she looked at it, abortion was still murder.

Finally Karissa slept, but it wasn't peaceful. The dream came again as it had every so often since coming to the island. She walked onto the balcony, holding the baby. She tripped and watched helplessly as the infant fell over the railing. She tried desparately to cling to the baby's dress, but it slipped out of her hands.

"Why?" asked the baby as she fell.

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