They had left the Motel 6 in Redding at dawn with the air already sweltering and shimmering across the highway. Matt had made one trip north the week before to relocate his work trailer and other equipment. Irene knew he had disposed of most of his tools, given them away or thrown them out. An inconceivable act. But then, nearly every choice they made these days seemed incongruous.

"Where are we now?" she asked.

"Almost to Willow Creek." He glanced at her, his eyes vacant. "Do you need to stop?"

Irene shook her head.

Casey leaned forward, raw impatience in her voice. "How much longer?"

"About an hour," Matt said.

"You hungry?" Irene turned and touched Casey's shoulder, felt a barely perceptible flinch. "We could get a bite."

Casey flopped back against her seat. "Let's just get there."

"There" meant the coastal town of Breakers — their new home. Most people would visit a place before making such a big decision, but theirs had been an act of hasty desperation.

Irene had accepted the first job offered; she'd had no energy to think beyond that. She left all the moving details to Matt. As they rounded another treacherous curve, her eyes caught a makeshift cross half buried in the weeds alongside the road, faded plastic flowers stapled to the wood. The sight snagged her heart, like hide on barbed wire.

There she was again. Falling.

In the town they'd left behind, a poorly banked curve two miles below their home was called the "Trap." Driving down the mountain grade into Running Springs was trying enough — all tight hairpin curves, compounded by three seasons of fog, ice, and sleet. No wonder the fatalities racked up. On more than one occasion, Matt had ushered Jesse and Daniel out in front of the station wagon with a flashlight while he inched the car behind them, locking sight on their waving hands, which looked like disembodied limbs. The road would materialize like an apparition, a foot at a time, out of nowhere. Eventually, there'd be a break in the fog and the boys would stomp the cold from their feet and tumble back into the car, blowing on their hands, wishing for hot chocolate.

The Trap had claimed countless victims over the years, accidents caused by mats of slick maple leaves rotting along the edges of the asphalt and the eerie way the fog gathered and pooled along that stretch of two-lane road. Yet in all those years, Irene never imagined her own family would be added to the grim statistics.

When had it all started to fall apart? That tragic day Daniel got his driver's license? Or earlier — the first time he was summoned to the principal's office in third grade? Or perhaps it traced even further back, to the day she'd met Matt and seen a man so carefully in control of his life.

Irene squeezed her eyes shut. Why hadn't warning bells gone off in her head that night? Why hadn't God stepped in and prevented the accident? Friends at church meant to be consoling, but their platitudes only stoked her anger. The "nonanswers."

We don't know why.

Why God allows some to live and some to die.


Why we can pray for him to protect our children and yet he lets things like this happen. Maybe for a greater glory and purpose.

So the town would now install warning lights and guard rails, and future lives would be spared — Jesse's life not lost in vain, et cetera, et cetera.

Irene clenched her teeth. She'd been over and over this for more than a year now — a tireless barrage of questions that yielded no answers.

She glanced at Matt and saw his blank expression, the stone wall he erected alongside his own raging river chasm. Who was she fooling? Did she think she could salvage a family out of the ashes of disaster? She knew she had to try — for Casey. At least she kept telling herself that, willing herself to believe it.


When they arrived at Breakers, Matt slowed the truck and eased up to a stop sign. Casey leaned forward and smoothed her cropped black hair.