You looked at her body, tan and wiry, at her eyes, deep blue and honest, and you knew she did. People kept asking how she had the stomach to stay there, on the 45-acre ranch overlooking the lake and the dock. She kept asking, How could I not? You could smell Laurie and Tim's dream, just driving up the dirt road to their house. Fresh-painted horse fence. New cedar barn. New cedar house. Baby oaks. Runt magnolias. Lacy grass. Three little children. A dream all planted and spindly and ready to grow.
Every off-season Sunday morning for three years Laurie and Tim had done the same thing. Pulled the classified ads section out of the newspaper, circled every property that sounded faintly like their dream, eaten a big, greasy country breakfast and spent all day searching. It had to be a place where Laurie could raise horses and Tim could fish bass. Where two grown-up Florida country kids could walk dirt and raise kids. "A safe place," Tim kept saying. Not like Los Angeles, where he had pitched the last six years. Where kids drove Porsches, kids did crack, kids died. It had to be a place to build a family.
They found it one day. They worked on it for more than a year. They moved in in February. A month later Tim was dead. Now Laurie was going to live the dream for them both.
This is what you do with pain. You take it by the scruff of the neck, slap it around and put it to work. More horse fencing to go up. More tomatoes and cucumbers to be picked. More grass and shrubs to be planted. More quarter horses to be bought, sold, fed, hosed, trained. More pets to be taken to the vet. More homework to be done with the kids. More hugs to be given out. It's not healthy to be depressed, she would say, so I won't be depressed. A million people called her each day, but all they ever seemed to get was the answering machine: Hi, it's Laurie. I'm doin' fine. Busy as ever....
She would come back to the house at the end of the day, exhausted, her eyes seeing Tim's maroon-and-silver Ramcharger in the driveway and shooting the words to her brain before she could stop them: He's home! She would lie in her bed at night, the three kids at crazy angles, lie there smelling their skin and their breath. Tricia, the nine-year-old, refusing to talk about it. Shawn, the five-year-old, saying, "Don't worry, Mommy. Don't cry. He'll never be away. He'll always be in your heart." Travis, the three-year-old, telling people, "My daddy's in church. He'll come out when he's done playing baseball with God."
Sometimes Laurie ached so bad to hold Tim that she would go to the closet and smell his clothes. Other times she went into the shower, let the warm water wash away her resolve, just let it all go, and go, and go....
Midnight. Phone ringing. "Bobby? You're not working out yet, are you? Look, I'm gonna hang up this telephone and get on a plane and come out there and train with you if you don't get goin'. You're gonna hate yourself one day if you don't come back. No more pity parties. I'll kick your butt. I mean it."
She couldn't quite put into words why it meant so much to her and Patti Olin, to Tim's parents, to everyone, that Bobby come back. It was almost too big, too genetic. Laurie was the daughter of Dutch parents born in Indonesia, both held for years by the Japanese in a prisoner-of-war camp, both hungry at the end of it all for America. Laurie's father had taken migrant farm work in Florida, anything to survive, earned an engineering degree, carved out a good life. That's what everybody had come for, he figured, to a land full of the children and grandchildren of people who left their families and hometowns behind rather than surrender to circumstance, obey fate. A land full of people who kept turning to sports, to see Bo Jackson dragging his artificial hip back to the plate, Jimmy Valvano dragging his cancer-racked spine back to the microphone, to see men and women overcoming injuries, odds and setbacks, athletes reenacting the national allegory, reconfirming it, taking charge. So where was Bobby in April when Laurie flew to Los Angeles to see the Dodgers' home opener and to visit him at his house in nearby Upland? Bobby's wife, Ellen, shook her head. No Bobby. No trace. Gone.
Two a.m. Phone ringing. It was Patti. Thank god for Patti. Somebody Laurie could tell that she had dropped from a size 9 to a size 4, that her stomach was burning like a furnace, without feeling as if she were asking for a pity party. Some-body she had never even met before that afternoon. The only person on earth who understood. "What time is it, Patti?"
"It's late.... Sorry.... You said if I was going through a bad time to call you no matter what hour."