KILL ME FIRST Excerpt:
A Shepherd's Life
Jonathan Shepherd's death was not so gruesome as many that Sarah later witnessed, but it was her first and it was the one that shifted her life, like a switch thrown on a railroad track.
The day began like countless others before it. Both Jonathan and Sarah were early risers, and they were up by six. Sarah put the kettle on the stove and the slices of bread in the oven while Jonathan brushed his teeth. Then they switched places and he set the tea to steep and buttered the toast while she dressed.
After breakfast, they sat in the living room and read the paper. Jonathan settled on the couch, his legs propped on an ottoman, a patched quilt over his knees. He spread the newspaper across his lap and traced the lines with a forefinger as he read. Sarah took the armchair, the paper creased and folded into a manageable square.
Dust motes floated gently, disappearing as they wandered in and out of bars of sunlight. The silence was broken only by an occasional hiss from the radiator and the rustle of newspaper as they turned pages or retrieved a new section.
Jonathan folded the paper on his lap and shuffled through the remaining sections on the coffee table. He flipped through again. Finally he said, "Sarah?"
"I'm looking for the 'Week in Review' section. Happen to notice it around here anywhere?"
She unfolded the paper on her lap, turned the page, and recreased it. "Maybe." Her eyes crinkled at the corners.
"Hmmm." He sat, frowning as though deep in thought. "Any chance you might have it?"
She took a sip of cold tea to hide her smile. "Maybe."
"Would you consider a trade?"
She put down the paper, and crossed her hands over it protectively. "What do you have to trade?"
"The front page?"
"Already read it," she said.
"Arts and Leisure?"
"I know," he announced. "The Sports section."
She laughed. "Deal." She gave him the Week in Review, but declined the Sports section. When Jonathan finished with the paperhe always took longer to read than she he said, "Ready for our walk?"
"I've been ready for about fifteen minutes," but she said it with a smile. She went to the closet, and emerged with their hats and coats.
On their walk Jonathan greeted the people they passed. Sarah kept her head down, watching the sidewalk. Often she took his arm to steady him where the tree roots buckled the concrete squares into crazy little hills and miniature cliffs.
After lunch they sat in the living room with the windows cracked open to a light wind and the faint roar of passing cars. Jonathan chose a straightbacked chair next to the couch and read aloud from a book he held in one hand, thumb and pinkie splaying the pages open.
Sarah perched on the couch, rubbing his bad knee. While listening to Jonathan's voice she rubbed more and more slowly until she stopped.
Jonathan jiggled his leg.
She didn't seem to notice.
He jiggled again. Finally he lowered the book, looked pointedly at her, and cleared his throat. She rolled her eyes, but bent her head over his leg and began kneading again.
He didn't go back to the book, but gazed at her a moment. Her silver hair glowed in a shaft of afternoon sun, and her profile was smooth and almost youthful.
"You are so beautiful," he said. "Do you know how beautiful you are?"
He shook his head, smiling. Then he picked up the book and resumed reading.
Sarah interrupted. "You already read that part."
"Well then you'll hear it again." He calmly continued.
Jonathan read until the light turned grey. He closed the book with a snap. "I'm starving," he pronounced. "What about you?"
Sarah smiled. "I'll get the keys, you get the coats."
Every Tuesday night they drove to a small restaurant called the Blue Swan, which offered twoforone dinners. That night they both ordered the roast chicken and they ate contentedly off the familiar chipped china.
Full and sleepy they stepped out into the parking lot, where a light rain misted the pavement. Sarah unlocked the passenger door first so Jonathan wouldn't have to stand in the rain, and then she ran the engine for a few minutes to warm up the car.
Sarah was careful backing out of the parking space and she drove slowly to the exit, but when she pulled out of the parking lot she forgot to look both ways. It happened in a split second.
The other car was traveling at fortyfive miles per hour and the driver didn't even have time to touch the brakes. They collided with a flash of sparks and an awful noise like pots crashing to the floor. The teenage driver and his girlfriend were killed on impact; the whole front end of the car crumpled, their dashboard ending up inches from their back seat.
They hit the passenger sideJonathan's side. His body was rammed against Sarah's. The force of it broke her hip and a couple of ribs, but he cushioned her from the sharp, crumpled steel and saved her life.
Sarah and Jonathan rode in the ambulance side by side. Sarah was conscious; her mind felt like it was balanced on the edge of a razor blade. She could see every pore in the paramedic's face as he leaned over her. She rolled her head to the right and saw Jonathan on the stretcher next to her. His skin looked grey and his mouth sagged open, but otherwise his face was untouched. He was snoring gentlyhe could have been sleeping, but for the fact that the sheet that covered him was soaked through with blood. The snoring stopped before they reached the hospital. They didn't pull the sheet up, but when they unloaded the stretchers they took Sarah down the hall one way, and they wheeled Jonathan in the opposite direction.
Sarah and Jonathan had been married thirtyone years. Their life together had been quiet, regulated, and ordinary. It was a life suitable to a seventyone year old person Jonathan's age when he died. Sarah was almost two decades younger, but she had adjusted to Jonathan's way of life without a thought.
That night, lying in the hospital bed, she felt as though her life had ended with his. She couldn't imagine a future for herself. That was just as well. In her wildest dreams, she never could have imagined what lay in store for her.
Early the next morning the first of the bodies were found out in South Dakota.