Chapter One

Andie Phelps could not put the brush to the canvas. The blue paint seemed wrong now on the sable bristles. Brightness could not cover the dark, the darkness was too strong. Just like her sorrow and pain. Brightness and light were nothing more than lies.

Still, Chad had asked this of her. This one thing. By accomplishing this task, she would honor her son's memory.

The chill of January came through the windows, opened because of the fumes. Andie inhaled deeply, filling her lungs with the smell of turpentine and oil paint. She'd need her Ionic Breeze because her husband, even more than most people, hated this smell. Not Andie. To her, it meant release and relief. Usually.

But not today.

Carefully, she touched the brush to canvas. Nothing but perfection would do, and she knew she didn't possess the talent. Still, she had to try. "This is for you, Chad."

Her hand shook and dropped away from the canvas. She slid her chair back.

Focus, Andie. You have to get through this. Once again she looked at the yellow paper beside her easel. At the top of the page, handwritten in blue ink were the words, Chad—notes from last year's chairman. Then followed typewritten instructions, numbered one through twenty, detailing the proper procedures for conducting Climesdale Academy's Wash Your Car, Wax Your Board Scholarship Fundraiser. Number five—Scan school logo onto posters and T-shirts for students—had been crossed out. Beside it, in Chad's handwriting, Boring. Mom can paint something cool.

Two weeks ago, when she'd sketched the outline of grinning old-time convertibles and wagons loaded with surfboards, he had laughed. "How could anyone resist?" Chad, more than anyone she'd ever known, loved with complete abandon. Now she had failed him, and he was gone forever.

She looked at the dates written on the paper. The fundraiser was approaching fast. Time to get started. Chad, I don't think I can do this. She stared at the crown molding around the ceiling. God, help me. Help me.

Perhaps starting with a different color would help. And some surf tunes to change the mood. She crossed the room and pushed a button on her CD player. As Dick Dale and his surf guitar broke like a wave through the room, she selected another brush and dipped it into the sienna on her palette.

The old Woody at the front of the line began to take form, her wrist and fingers finding their own rhythm now. She had been away from it so long it surprised her how wonderful it felt. She realized again how much she missed painting.

The song switched. "Surfin' USA." Andie tapped her foot with the beat, until the Beach Boys sang the praises of Rincon Point. Chad's favorite surf spot.

Her eyes began to burn. She rubbed the left one with her shoulder and went to work on the convertible. She worked the red into the canvas. The brush slipped from her fingers and left a gash of red on the PT Cruiser's door.

An image of Chad floated before her. His pale face spattered with blood, his eyelids fluttering, his white lips whispering final words. "I love you, Mom. You're the greatest person I've ever known." A raspy breath, "Dad … I was on my way to get it back." Following quickly, came another memory—his vacant eyes and lifeless form against stark white sheets in a room that smelled of antiseptic and pain.

Andie blinked and tried to turn her attention back to her work. That sight, those smells, would not go away. A drop of liquid splashed onto her thumb. She looked down at the fallen tear. Strange, she hadn't even felt them start this time. She wiped her cheeks with both hands, and as she did, the paintbrush rubbed against her left knuckles, leaving another wound of blood red in its path.

She screamed out in anguish, an agony she'd tried so hard to keep hidden these last days. "I'm sorry, Chad. I'm so sorry." She couldn't stand the sight of the red paint a moment longer. She threw the brush across the room, where it struck the picture window and splattered to the mahogany floor.