Excerpt­ed from The Hours Count: A Nov­el by Jil­lian Cantor.

On the night Ethel is sup­posed to die, the air is too heavy to breathe.The humid­i­ty clings to my skin, my face wet with sweat, or maybe tears. It is hard to tell the dif­fer­ence. To under­stand one thing from anoth­er any­more. It’s as if the world were end­ing the way I always imag­ined it would. And yet I’m still here. Still dri­ving. Still breath­ing, some­how, despite the heavy air, despite what I have done. The sky is on the edge of dusk. No mush­room cloud. No bod­ies turned to dust.

I’m dri­ving Ed’s Fleet­mas­ter up Route 9, the road to Ossin­ing, along the swel­ter­ing Hud­son. There are a lot of cars, all head­ed the way I am, slow­ing me down. I push anx­ious­ly on the gas, want­i­ng the miles to speed along, want­i­ng to get there before it’s too late. I hope the car will make it, that I haven’t dam­aged any­thing that will cause it to stall now at the worst pos­si­ble time.

I wish I could’ve left ear­li­er, but I had to wait until I was able to take Ed’s car. I sup­pose you even might say I’ve stolen the car, but Ed and I are still mar­ried legal­ly. And can a wife real­ly steal a car from her own legal husband?

So much has already been stolen from me, from all of us. From

Ethel. And that’s why I’m dri­ving now.

My stom­ach turns at the thought of what might hap­pen to me when I tell the truth at last. And I glance in the rearview mir­ror at the back­seat. For so long, I have tak­en David with me every­where, and it takes me a moment to remem­ber he’s not here. It’s just me in the car and David’s gone.

But Jake will be there, at Sing Sing, I remind myself. He has to be. And if I can just see him one last time, one more moment, then it will make every­thing else I am about to do, every­thing I have lost and am los­ing by doing this, all worth it.

I think now about the curve of Jake’s neck, the way it smelled of pipe smoke and pine trees, just the way the cab­in on Eso­pus Creek smelled. I inhale, want­i­ng him to be here, to be real and in front of me again. But instead my lungs fill with that thick air, the dank smell of the Hud­son, a humid sum­mer after­noon turned almost evening. A few fire­flies begin to gath­er just out­side my win­dow, their bod­ies glow­ing, a lit­tle ear­ly. It’s not quite dark. Not yet the Sab­bath. I’m almost there, so close, and I will the dark­ness to hold off. Just a lit­tle longer.

Up ahead, there are dozens of red tail­lights and I real­ize that traf­fic has come to a stand­still. I stop and put my head out the win­dow. Far­ther up the road, it looks like there are bar­ri­cades set up. Police with flash­lights, though I’m hop­ing FBI, too. I switch on the radio and lis­ten anx­ious­ly, want­i­ng so bad­ly for there to be good news. A last-minute stay. A deci­sion to halt things until after the

Sab­bath has passed. More time.

I switch the sta­tions, anx­ious for some­thing. Any­thing. But all I get is music: Ella Fitzger­ald singing Guilty.” It feels like a cru­el joke, and I switch again. At last I find news, but it’s not good. Pres­i­dent Eisen­how­er has denied a stay of exe­cu­tion, say­ing Ethel and Julie have con­demned tens of mil­lions of peo­ple to death all around the world. No. Ethel and Julie are still set to die at eight p.m. An hour from now.

I switch the radio off, pull the car to the side of the road, and kill the engine. I take a cig­a­rette from my purse and light it with shak­ing hands. I inhale the smoke and for a moment con­sid­er not get­ting out of the car but just wait­ing here in the line of traf­fic. But I know I can’t.

I push open my door and step out into the steamy air. I stomp out the cig­a­rette with my worn heel. I stare at the back win­dow and pic­ture David there on the oth­er side, star­ing back at me, his round brown eyes like the pen­nies he so loved to stack. Come on now,” I would tell him if he were here. We have to hur­ry if we’re going to find Dr. Jake.”

His mouth would twitch slight­ly at the men­tion of Jake’s name, and I’d won­der if maybe it might even be a lit­tle smile.

Jake’s here, I tell myself instead. All I have to do is find Jake.

And I shut the car door and begin run­ning up the road.

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Pub­lished by arrange­ment with River­head Books, an imprint of Pen­guin Pub­lish­ing Group, a divi­sion of Pen­guin Ran­dom House LLC. Copy­right © 2015 Jil­lian Cantor.

Relat­ed Content:

Jil­lian Can­tor has a BA in Eng­lish from Penn State Uni­ver­si­ty and an MFA from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona. She is the author of award-win­ning nov­els for teens and adults, includ­ing, most recent­ly, the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed The Lost Let­ter, The Hours Count, and Mar­got. Born and raised in a sub­urb of Philadel­phia, Can­tor cur­rent­ly lives in Ari­zona with her hus­band and two sons.