Here’s a little more on the background of Rachel Thompson, the main character of the book. Ed.
Rachel stood by the tall windows looking out onto the river in the late twilight.
On this winter evening the river would remain dull grey until nightfall when it would shine black like the wet pelt of a muskrat. Tonight there would be no reflections from the red and blue lights of pleasure boats or from fishermans’ campfires along the banks that lit the summer nights. The river was alone and silent now and its flow, though constant and perceptible, seemed pointless – an escape from darkness into darkness.
She stared at the river, longing for its solitude. She had come here tonight, to this last of the restaurants and clubs that once lined the riverbank in the town of Walhonde, at the invitation of Rhonda Pauley, a friend who had not informed her that David Dunn would be in attendance at this gathering. She had not confronted the friend about that. It was possible but not likely that she may not have known that he would be there. But if she did know, it was certainly wrong of her not to tell Rachel. Rhonda Pauley, of all people, knew the story between David and Rachel in every detail and knew of Rachel’s continuing resolve to stay clear of the man forever.
When she had decided to walk away from Jacob Eaton, David Dunn was a convenient means of doing so. It was David Dunn, two years her senior and then home from college, who was there at Rhonda’s party and who played the role of whisking her away that night. Her doing. No doubt about that. In fact, she had never denied it, even to herself. What had happened that night had happened according to her plan. This was her way of sending the message to Jacob that their affair, brief and formless as it had been, was over. What she had come to realize over the years was that her treatment of Jacob – leaving him alone at the party with only the most perfunctory of good-byes, was simply unconscionable. She was young then, but she knew better. She could have been fairer to him. She could have talked it out with him. He deserved at least that much. Her callous course of action was based not on ignorance or naivete but on laziness, cowardice and arrogance.
What she had not planned on was what went on between Jacob and David after that. Jacob had gotten the message, loud and clear, and had held his temper and grief like a man. She had only one more encounter with Jacob – the senior prom. They had agreed to go there together some weeks before and that being the last and highest ritual of the world they lived in then rather than a mere date that could simply be broken, they went on together in terrible tension, neither of them speaking of the elephant in the room.
When she and Jacob left the dance that evening, they saw that the hubcaps and all of the lug nuts had been removed from the wheels of his father’s car. And there she was, standing on the asphalt lot in formal wear and heels at midnight with rain starting. As fate would have it – so she believed in the moment – David Dunn happened to be driving by just then and offered to take her home, out of the rain. This time she got Jacob’s okay on the matter – what else could he possibly have said – and on the way home she heard a rattle in the back of David’s car and looked around to see the twenty lug nuts from Jacob’s father’s car in the floor of the back seat.
Where things otherwise might have gone between Rachel and David no one knows, but once she saw the lug nuts it was the end of the line for him. Not only had he humiliated a young man for whom she had genuine admiration, even a kind of love, he had made her complicit in the crime. She never accepted another phone call from Dunn though he telephoned her house every night until his summer job took him back out of town. She never spoke of the matter to Jacob. How could she have credibly parsed through what parts of the multiple injuries were her responsibility and which were not. Her break with him, that she had before that night hoped would eventually soften and heal, was now absolute. She never knew how much he might have learned or what he may have surmised about her own part in the scheme.
The outrage and shame she felt that night had never abated. She had never sought forgiveness or attempted to explain. She had hoped that she would never see David Dunn again.
But there he was, across the long dining room, standing, drink in hand, chatting and laughing with a trio of his old high-school buddies. It had been so long now that she could not really tell whether his comfort and joy in that conversation was unfeigned or if it was, as it had so often been before, his deliberate attempt to show himself, once again, as one at ease and comfortable in the world, one who had long forgotten old failures and mistakes, one who had no regrets and whose triumphs in life had given him complete confidence in his own strength and wisdom.