Operation Oleander (9780547534213)

Operation Oleander (9780547534213) by Valerie O. Patterson

Book: Operation Oleander (9780547534213) by Valerie O. Patterson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Valerie O. Patterson
at the Scotts’ house is gone. Did Meriwether do that? Or was it her dad? Or some stranger who came to the door? Someone’s also taken down most of the ribbons from the porch railing, but the wreath on the front door remains. So does the American flag, though it hangs limp in the humid air.
    Suddenly, the world is still. Airless. Not a breath stirs.
    I imagine it’s this way only around Meriwether’s house. Nowhere else.
    I knock, feel the weight of the photo album in the bag on my shoulder.
    The curtains don’t move on the inside of the windows.
    I wait and knock again.
    Come on, Meriwether. Please open the door.
    Without warning, the door flies away from me.
    Mr. Scott stands there, one hand still on the doorknob. Cool air from inside flows toward me like water.
    â€œJess,” he says. “I didn’t expect you.”
    Does that mean he doesn’t want me here?
    â€œI’m sorry.” Those are the only words that will come out of my mouth.
    â€œI am too,” he says. His face has no muscles, his eyes no expression. “And about your dad. I hope he pulls through.”
    I nod. We both nod.
    â€œIs Meriwether home?” The afternoon heat presses down on me, even though the clouds are building overhead, silent and towering.
    He looks away. “Meriwether’s not here right now.”
    We stand on opposite sides of the door. Neither of us moves.
    â€œIs she coming back soon?” Maybe she went to the pool. Or the beach. Maybe I can find her there.
    Mr. Scott rubs his face, hard. “Jess,” he starts. He stops.
    I wait, my skin absorbing the heat from the sun the way it does when I sit in a hot car for too long. Melting hot. The colors in the photos might run if it stays this hot.
    â€œI don’t . . .” His voice fades.
    â€œI can come back,” I say. “Maybe tonight.” She’ll be home then.
    He shakes his head. “Maybe you—”
    Something inside the house howls in frustration like a caged animal. “Forget it, Dad.”
    Her voice calls from deep inside. From her room. “Tell her to come in.”
    She’s home after all.
    The album burns a hole in my tote bag.
    Mr. Scott opens the door wider and shrinks back to let me pass. I have to walk through.
    My legs don’t want to move. Coming here was a mistake.
    One foot and then the other through the door. The cool air envelops me. I am radioactive—that’s what Meriwether is thinking.
    At the doorway to Meriwether’s room I pause. Suddenly, it seems stupid, this gift I’ve brought.
    The throw pillows have been tossed everywhere, as if someone was looking for a valued object hidden in the room. Meriwether has her back to me. On her bed, a roll-on bag lies unzipped. The comforter underneath it half drags onto the floor. The blue medallion sheets have pulled away from the corners. No one could bounce a quarter off the sheets the way army recruits are supposed to.
    â€œWhy did you come over?” Meriwether asks.
    â€œYou’re my friend.”
    Meriwether’s laugh is strangled.
    â€œYou’re coming back, right?” I have to ask.
    â€œWe’re leaving in a couple of hours for Dover. I told you that. Dad wants to get there before the plane does.” The plane with her mother’s body in it.
    I remember footage of a jet arriving at Dover months ago with bodies of fallen soldiers inside. An honor guard meets every plane and escorts each casket from the plane to inside the waiting area, then to a hearse, then to a commercial flight that takes the fallen soldier home.
    In my head I see the tarmac when the plane arrives with Meriwether’s mother and Private Davis. The sun will have gone down, but the asphalt will still feel summer-soft underfoot. I imagine I am with the Scotts, waiting for the slow march of soldiers’ boots to the aircraft. The steps in

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