Myra settled into her favourite armchair a few minutes before eleven, chamomile tea and VCR remote close at hand. She didn't usually watch the eleven o'clock news--she preferred to get her news at six as she made supper, volume turned up so she could hear it in the kitchen, and counted on Canada AM to alert her to anything that happened later on--but Don had told her there might be reporters at the airport and she wanted to record it for him if he made it on TV. He was always so fond of those moments in front of the camera.
The news logo had just flashed up on the screen when the doorbell rang. Myra tensed automatically--a cop's wife's reflex--and then relaxed as she remembered that Don was safely in the air on his way to Alberta and Jenny upstairs in bed. Probably not an emergency, then, although she couldn't imagine what else would have someone ringing her doorbell at this hour. She started the VCR recording, just in case Don came on early, and headed toward the door. The anchor's voice followed her down the hall, too faint for her make out what he was saying.
She opened the door to reveal a grim-faced uniformed officer whose expression softened into compassion when she saw Myra. Myra swallowed hard, trembling. But he's in the air, her mind protested as the officer stepped inside. Safe. Don was supposed to be safe tonight. Let it be something else, she prayed desperately. Another threat. Another warning to head north, to go into hiding. Let it be anything but....
"I'm very sorry to have to tell you this," the officer began gently. Myra looked down as the woman continued to speak, only half taking in the words. She realized she still had the VCR remote in her hand. How absurd, she thought as the world began to blur with tears.
Myra's mother had encouraged her marriage to Don. A nice Catholic boy with a good, steady job...what was there not to like? Her father had been less enthusiastic. Too loud, he said. Too immature. His daughter could do better than a man who spent his days directing traffic. Smart, her mother had countered. Motivated. And Toronto was growing. The police force would grow with it, and Don would move up fast. Neither of them ever brought up what it would be like to sit home alone day after day--or night after night--jumping at the sound of the doorbell. Neither of them ever talked about what it would be like to open the door and see an officer in uniform waiting for her.
"Is there someone I can call for you?" the officer asked.
"My sister," Myra began, "but...." Her voice trailed off as realization hit. "I have to tell Jenny." A fresh wave of desolation washed over her. "What do I say to her?"
The officer waited downstairs while Myra went up. Outside of her daughter's door, she raised her hand to knock and then hesitated. Dropping her arm, she pressed an ear to Jenny's door. There was no sound of movement inside. No sliver of forbidden light peeked out beneath the door. Did Jenny really need to be woken for this? To find out immediately? Surely it would be kinder to have one last night of peaceful sleep before her life changed forever. Stepping away, Myra turned down the hall toward her own bedroom. Just hers now, and the tears started up again at the thought. She sat down on the bed, shivering, and looked around the room at the collective evidence of fifteen years of a shared life. Don's dresser was directly across from her; his clothing hung in the closet. She'd have to...Myra stopped. She couldn't bear to think of that yet.
She jumped at the knock on the door.
"Detective Schanke's partner is here," the officer said quietly.
Myra had never quite understood Nick Knight--liked him, yes; with all that charm and good humour and old-fashioned courtesy, how could she not?--but he'd always seemed somehow detached, as if he didn't quite live in the same world as everyone else. He was nothing at all like any of her husband's other partners, or the other cops Don invited over to the house from time to time. Nick never came over for dinner or invited them to his place for a barbeque, never joined Don and the other detectives at the bar for Saturday night hockey, never participated in any social activities as far as Myra could tell except for official police functions. But tonight...tonight his expression was a mirror of her own, and it occurred to her as he stood in front of her, stumbling over his words with a discomfort that she'd never seen in him before, that if there was one person in the world who might come close to understanding what she was going through, it was her husband's partner.
A lot of people stopped by in the days leading up to the funeral. Don's old captain. A couple of the officers he'd worked with. Various police spouses, whom Myra knew from precinct ballgames and picnics, and who came bearing hugs and baked goods, and carefully-hidden gratitude that they weren't the ones receiving the visits. Myra tried not to resent it--either their good fortune or their reaction to it. She'd felt the same way on the handful of occasions she'd made similar visits.
Nick came every night, before or after his shift, always somehow managing to stop by at a time when Myra was awake. The vulnerability she had seen the night of Don's death never resurfaced, but she found his presence comforting. He asked after Jenny, chatted with Myra's older sister about what to do with the abundance of casseroles that had been dropped off at the house, and made a few minor repairs that Don hadn't yet gotten around to. He regaled her with stories of Don's quirks and habits, and encouraged her to share her own stories, nodding and smiling in recognition long after everyone else's eyes had started to glaze over.
The only time Nick mentioned the job was when he told Myra that the man who had killed her husband was dead.
Don's funeral was well-attended. As much of the force as could be spared was out in uniform--nearly all of Don's precinct--supplemented by representatives of other police forces around the province. Even the RCMP sent a contingent. Afterward, Myra stood, one hand on her daughter's shoulder, guarded on either side by her sisters, as officer after officer stepped up to offer their condolences. She recognized many of them as people who had worked with Don. Former partners. Former academy classmates. Even support staff. The only person not present was Nick. Photodermatitis, she reminded herself, and tried not to resent his absence at the time she needed someone the most.
"Nick's very sorry he couldn't make it," Natalie said, giving first Myra and then Jenny a hug. "He said he'd stop by later."
"After the sun goes down," Myra said, and there was a bitter bite to the words, because if it hadn't been for that, it could just as well have been Nick on that plane. Probably would have been Nick--Nick, who had no family waiting for him at home, and so was in a better position to be gone for a week. To be gone for...Myra stopped herself. She'd promised herself she wouldn't go there. No what-ifs. No regrets. Not like that. And it wasn't as if Nick wouldn't have traded places with Don if he could have. If he'd known. As inscrutable as he was, she knew the man well enough to know that.
"After the sun goes down," Natalie agreed gravely, and there was a weight to her words and expression that Myra wondered about.
Myra had thought things were hard in the first days after Don's death, but it was after the funeral that life truly became difficult. The long line of visitors dwindled. There was nothing to prepare. Nothing to plan. Nothing to do, except a series of hobbies that all suddenly seemed meaningless. All she really had left was an empty bed, a fatherless, fast-growing daughter, and half her heart buried beneath the ground. Money, at least, wasn't an issue--between Don's police benefits and a private life insurance policy she hadn't even known he'd had, they were well set. She used the extra insurance money to pay off the mortgage and set up an account for Jenny's education, and the rest of Don's benefits covered their day-to-day expenses.
Nick was one of the few who continued to stop by regularly. Most of his visits were short--dropping off a book he thought Myra might like, or offering to fix something he'd noticed was broken--but occasionally he'd sit down and chat with her. One evening he ventured a comment about a case he was working on, and when she asked for more detail, he started sharing stories from work, just like Don had once done. He told her about his nights on the street, painting lively pictures of suspects and witnesses, and filled in what Don would have thought of those cases if he were still around. Occasionally, Nick spoke about loss. About people long gone. A woman named Alyssa. A woman named Erica. A nameless sister and her nameless son. Parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles. Myra began to realize that the reason he spoke so little about himself was because he'd lost so very much.
"How long does this go on?"
Nick cocked his head quizzically. "What's that?"
"Feeling like you're missing a limb."
He hesitated, staring off into space for so long that she wondered if he'd forgotten she was there. "It gets easier," he said at last. "It takes a while, but it does get easier." To Myra's ear, he didn't sound entirely convinced.
A few months after Don's death, Myra organized a Skin Pretty party. In years past, her skills as a Skin Pretty saleswoman had been a source of pride for her. After two hours of sympathetic looks from friends of friends who had all clearly heard her story and didn't quite know what to say to her about it, she swore off all future events. She didn't want to run a business on pity purchases. The next day she ordered some program information from York and began perusing the course offerings.
"How's Tracy working out?" Myra asked one night. Nick looked startled at the question, and she suppressed a smile at actually managing to surprise him. She'd noticed that Nick rarely spoke about his new partner, deftly avoiding her existence even when recounting stories of the job. Myra thought that it was time they moved past that.
"She's fine," Nick said, recovering quickly. "She works hard and she has good instincts. But she's still pretty raw. Definitely not Don."
"But she's a good partner?"
"Yeah," he said thoughtfully. "She is."
"Don would be happy to know that," Myra said. "He'd want you to have a good partner."
"I learned a lot from him, you know," Nick said.
Myra wasn't entirely sure that was true--careful parsing of Don's stories had suggested that Nick had a pretty good handle on the job long before the two of them were teamed up--but she smiled anyway. "He did love to tell people how to do things," she said.
Nick chuckled. "Yeah, he did."
"I'm glad you'll have a chance to pass that knowledge on," she said. "Help bring up the next generation of cops. The commissioner's daughter, even. Don would have been so proud to know he had that kind of effect."
"Yeah. Yeah, he would have." Nick paused a beat. "I still miss him."
"So do I," Myra said. "But a wise man once told me that it gets easier."
"Maybe he wasn't that wise," Nick said pensively.
"I think he was," Myra said, laying her hand over his. "Because he was right. It is getting a little easier." She pulled back her hand and reached for her tea. "So tell me more about your new partner."