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10

On Founders Day the wind rises up from the Marshes and shakes the leaves from the trees. The night is so black it seems to Gwen that if she reaches into the air shell wind up with a fistful of coal dust. She let Lori and Chris talk her into going to the dance at the high school, and now her mom and Susie Justice have driven her over to Loris house, even though Gwen would much rather be down at the barn; blustery weather like this makes Tarot nervous, and now shell be worrying about him all night long.

Actually, she has a good excuse to stay home; her teachers have sent a huge manila folder full of school work she has to make up, since shes been absent for two weeks. But Gwens mom seemed so excited that Gwen was doing something as normal as going to a school dance, what could she do? Gwen has to act the good girl and do as shes told if she wants to achieve her goal: stay in town and buy Tarot. This objective has caused her to go easy on the eye makeup and spiked-up hair; its the reason why shes heading into the windy night with two girls shes not even sure she likes very much, en route to a high school she doesnt even attend.

My fathers in there, Chris says casually as they pass the Lyon Cafe, which is overflowing with people in various stages of inebriation. Drunk as a skunk.

Chris is seriously pretty, with a rope of blond hair and creamy, pale skin, but now she goes right up to the window and makes a supremely goofy face. Lori and Gwen both peer in through the glass as well, and thats when Gwen sees that Hollis is inside. Only Hollis isnt at the bar, where theres a party atmosphere and bowls of plum pudding, supposedly the Founders favorite treat. Hes over at the last table, drinking a Coke, speaking to no one. He glances up, and maybe he sees the girls peering in the window, but if he does he looks right through them. Seeing him from this distance, Gwen realizes that he really is handsome, surprisingly so, because theres definitely something peculiar about him; Gwen is always relieved to find hes not around when she goes to get Tarot. He seems cold-blooded, somehow; someone youd want to avoid.

Lets get out of here, Gwen says.

Definitely, Lori agrees.

They stagger through the night, tilting into the wind, their coats blowing out behind them; they cant help but laugh at the effort it takes to walk two blocks.

Oh, God, look at us, Lori cries after theyve reached the high school and have gone to the girls room to comb their hair. It takes a while before theyre ready to present themselves to the world at large, and Gwen decides to put on mascara and eyeliner, although in her opinion, nothing will make her look good compared to beautiful Chris and trendy Lori, who is wearing a short red velvet dress and silver beads threaded through her dark braids.

The gym has been hung with crepe paper, like something out of the fifties, and its so noisy you have to yell to be heard.

I cant believe it, Chris says. Hanks actually here.

Gwen looks toward the refreshment table and there he is, with a group of the boys who are clearly the most popular, since they all look so pleased with themselves. All except for Hank, who appears to be rather anxious, and who is wearing a new white shirt he got at the discount shop in the basement of the Red Apple supermarket and boots he spent over an hour polishing.

He never comes to these things, Chris confides. Hes always working or something.

At first, Gwen and Hank avoided each other whenever they ran into each other at the barn, but they dont do that anymore; now, they actually talk. Usually, its impossible for Gwen to let down her guard, but it was too hard not to be nice to Hank. He said they were related somehow, which made it okay for her not to be nasty. Though shed never admit this, Gwen feels good just being around him, and this is not the way she ordinarily feels when confronted with human life-forms. But all that may change. Hank may prove himself to be nothing more than another jerk, after all. Here he comes, and Gwen is fairly certain that Chris is the one hes after.

I didnt know you were going to be here. Hes walked right up to Gwen, and either hes nervous or hes choking, because he keeps putting his hand into his collar, as though he needed more air.

Gwen glares at him fiercely. What is his comment supposed to mean? That she doesnt belong here?

I thought you hated people. Hank goes for a joke, but it falls flat. Gwen blinks her heavily mascaraed eyes and looks blank. Well, anyway, Hank says-what the hell, he has nothing to lose-you look great.

Chris and Lori elbow each other, and then they elbow Gwen too, who suddenly seems to be dead on her feet. She looks like hell, with her horrible haircut, a pair of black jeans, and an old white sweater she borrowed from her mother. What is wrong with Hank? Is he stupid or blind or what? No one says things like that, especially not if they mean it, and from the way Hank is staring at her, he appears to be sincere.

Thanks. Gwen says. So do you.

She must be out of her mind. She has never been this civil in her entire life. Shed never say a thing like that to a guy, and certainly not in front of her friends. But here she is, smiling, agreeing when he asks her to dance. As soon as he circles his arms around her, she feels like shes having a heart attack. She doesnt even know if this is possible for someone her age, but by the end of the dance shes certain that shed better take a break.

I have to go outside, she tells Hank, and who can guess what he thinks, although he follows her through the door and stands there watching while she takes a few deep breaths of fresh air.

Theyve both left their coats inside the gym, but they dont notice the low temperature or the wind from the Marshes. The weird thing is, Gwen had sex with her last two boyfriends on their first dates, if fucking someone in his fathers car can be considered a date. Shes always been wild, shes never given a damn, and shes the one whos currently a wreck. Her hands are sweating, and her heart continues to go crazy; shes in the middle of thinking she might as well give up, just leave the dance and walk home by herself, when he kisses her. He kisses her for a really long time, and even though her heart is still pounding, she no longer feels she is suffering from some sort of attack. Shes seen the way he looks at her when she comes to take Tarot out to the field; all along shes been wondering if he was attracted to her or if he was merely an idiot. Shes genuinely shocked by the depth of her pleasure now that she knows the answer.

Do you want to go back inside? Hank asks.

They can hear music playing and theres a wash of light when Lori and Chris open the door and call out for Gwen. Gwen shakes her head no; she doesnt want to go back. She waits on the bleachers while Hank goes in for their coats.

I told your friends you were sick, Hank says when he comes back.

Good one, Gwen says. Not that theyll believe it.

They walk back to Fox Hill together, taking the long way, but thats all right with them. They cant wait to be on a dark, empty road and out of the village, which is so crowded for the Founders Day celebration. They pass right by Dimitris, the restaurant where March and Susanna Justice are having dinner, but they skitter by like leaves, and even though March is looking out the window, she doesnt see them.

Did we really order all this? March asks when more food arrives.

Their waitress, Regina, has already brought over lasagna and baked stuffed shells, and now shes delivering the crab-and-mushroom pizza they ordered.

Were pigs, Susie says, and she asks for a second bottle of wine.

Although March would never have placed her, she and Susie went to school with Regina, who recognized March as soon as she walked through the door.

I dont remember anyone, March says when Regina has gone off for their wine.

Yeah, well, you had one person on your mind and he took up a lot of space.

Now March recalls why she hated Susie when they were kids.

Youre judging me. It must run in the family.

Im not at all. Okay, I used to, but Im not anymore. Im only saying that you were in a Hollis-induced fog. Susie sprinkles Parmesan cheese onto a piece of pizza. You never seemed to notice that my father was over at your house constantly.

For several days, March and Susie have been dodging around this subject, on the phone and in person; its definitely not a comfortable topic for either of them.

He was always at Fox Hill, allegedly on business. Susie sighs. Why do you think I hated you?

I thought I hated you. March sticks out her tongue and Susie laughs, but then Susie looks sad and she pushes her plate away. You knew about them all the way back then? March asks.

I knew right after your father died. My dad kept going over there, every single night, for weeks. Maybe he was in love with her for ages before that, who knows? Maybe theyd already been lovers for years. But I knew because one night I saw him when he came home from your house. It was about ten oclock and I was supposed to be in bed, but I was looking out the window. My mom was downstairs listening to the radio; she was used to him being out late. He turned off the headlights of his car; then he got out and he walked over to the roses, which were especially beautiful that year, and he ducked his head to smell them, and I knew. He looked like someone else entirely, standing there. He looked like someone who was in love with a woman he couldnt have. I cried myself to sleep, because I knew.

No wonder we hated each other, March says. She reaches across the table and takes Susies hand.

All I can say is, Im glad my mother never found out. Susie squeezes Marchs hand, then withdraws it so she can get a Kleenex out of her purse. Ive really tried not to be angry at him, but I dont think I could have been so generous if my mother had known.

Have you ever talked to him about it?

Him? My father? Susie wipes her eyes, then blows her nose. Are you crazy? You dont talk to my father, you listen.

Regina brings over desserts-on the house: chocolate mousse with sugar cookies wedged in along the side of the bowl, and a helping of plum pudding, in honor of the Founder. Regina sits down with them for a minute to talk about old times and discuss her pet project-the Harvest Fair down at Town Hall. Somehow, before Regina goes back to work, March finds herself announcing that she would consider running a booth that will raise funds for the childrens section of the library.

Why did you do that? Susie asks, when theyve gotten their coats and paid their bill-with a thirty percent tip for Regina. Theyve left behind half-portions of everything they ordered, and are stuffed all the same. You wont still be here for the Harvest Fair. If you want my opinion, you should go home right now.

Well, thanks, March says as they go outside.

The wind has died down a bit, but its still a raw night.

When you come back to a town like this, people think youre staying, Susie says.

March wraps her scarf around her throat. I dont care what people think.

Okay, forget people. How about Richard?

Who? March teases.

Youre deranged. Susie links her arm through Marchs. Youd better get serious.

Ive been serious for so long I cant stand it. If she hadnt been so serious, would she have agreed to come back to him, even though she was in the seventh month of her pregnancy? By then, shed already lined up a baby-sitter and a diaper service; she had registered in a new mothers exercise class. Could she have booked a flight to Logan anyway? Could she have tried? I need a break from my life, thats what Ive realized.

This, of course, is what shes been saying to Richard-its only a break; its nothing, only a little time apart.

The definition of a break is a rupture, Richard said to her, only yesterday, an answer which, of course, drove March completely crazy.

What if Richard jumped on a plane? What if he arrived in the middle of the night and said you had to leave with him?

Hes taking his graduate students into the field next week, and hed never disappoint them. Even if he wasnt scheduled to do that, he wouldnt appear in the middle of the night. He wouldnt tell me what to do. Richards not like that.

Exactly, Susie says. I should have married him.

They head for Susies truck, parked down the street from the Lyon Cafe, which is all but overflowing.

What a party, March says.

Every drunk in town. Except for Alan. This is Holliss turf.

Thanks for sharing that.

March gets into Susies truck and slams the door. Just hearing his name stirs everything up for her. Its even colder in the truck than it is out on the street. March turns up her collar; shes had too much wine with dinner, she realizes that now.

Susie comes to sit behind the wheel. Look, if you want to kid yourself, fine. If you want to put something over on Richard, okay. But dont think youre going to fool me. Youre here because of Hollis. I dont understand it, but I guess I dont have to. Maybe you need to see him, to make certain he doesnt mean anything to you.

Im glad that being a reporter for The Bugle entitles you to psychoanalyze me.

March opens the door, and without a look back, she heads off down the street. Shes furious, but when she really thinks about it, shes angry because Susie is right. March is drawn to the Lyon Cafe, only a few steps away now, in hopes of seeing Hollis. Susie knows her far too well, although March herself isnt certain whether or not shell really have the courage to act on her impulse, until Susie honks her horn, trying to get her attention. Thats when March walks through the door.

When March was growing up, the Lyon was a place other peoples parents went to, and only occasionally. It was an embarrassment to be a regular here, something no one wanted to admit. The draw of the Lyon certainly wasnt the decor, which is still Naugahyde and wood paneling, with three deer heads attached to the wall above the rest rooms and public telephones. You came here to get drunk, simple as that.

Tonight, the place is packed; there isnt a table to be had, so March makes her way to the bar, excusing herself politely, and when that does no good, finally pushing her way through. She signals to the bartender, and once she gets his attention, shouts her request for a glass of red wine.

It takes a while to adjust to the noise level. Theres a Celtics game on the TV above the bar, and a loud, cheerful argument going on right next to her-something to do with borrowing a motorboat-which may well turn nasty as the night progresses. Theres a jukebox going too, although all anyone can hear of the music are the drums and the bass, pounding. March grabs a stool when one of the guys next to her finally leaves, and at last, she can sit down and look around. Maybe Susies wrong; March cant imagine Hollis in this drunken crowd, playing darts or debating the merit of the Celtics back court.

Susie has come into the Lyon, and she easily makes her way to the bar, since she knows most of the people drinking here tonight. Hey, Fred, she says to the bartender. Ill have what shes having. What is it youre having? she asks March. An anxiety attack? Sheer lunacy?

Red wine. March grins.

Thats what Ill have, Susie tells Fred. You know, she says to March, if you had your own car, I would have left you here. For spite.

You could, you know, March says. Im perfectly fine. And besides, hes not even here.

Oh, yes he is. Susie nods to a comer. Hes right there.

Be careful what you wish for, Judith used to say to March all the time. But it seems that March has already decided not to be careful. At least, not tonight.

At the last table.

Hes got his chair propped up against the wall, and although there are five other men sharing the table, he doesnt appear to be in the same universe. Certainly, hes not listening to those men. Hes been watching March Murray ever since she walked through the door.

March turns away so quickly that she knocks over her glass, then has to wipe at the spilled wine with a cocktail napkin.

Its not too late to leave, Susie urges.

March would have missed him entirely if he hadnt been pointed out to her, but now that he has been, she realizes that the difference between him and the other men at his table, most of whom are employed by the Department of Public Works, is not so much in what can be seen. Those men are also wearing old boots and jeans, and like him, they havent bothered to remove their coats, since people who come to the Lyon like to pretend they wont be staying, even if theyve settled in for the night. The difference is that the air around him seems charged, perhaps by anger, by heat and light. The difference is the way he can look at someone, the way hes staring at her right now. One look from him is more substantial than the wooden bar shes leaning her elbows upon. Its realer than the bottles of whiskey lined up behind the counter; realer than the pull of fabric as Susie tugs on her jacket.

You dont want to finish this game, Susie shouts, because the argument next to them concerning the motorboat is getting more heated. Lets get out of here.

At the moment, March doesnt need much convincing. Shes shaking, she really is. Shes putting something on the line, and shes frightened by her own actions. Wanting to see Hollis and actually being in the same room with him are two different things entirely. Now that theyve decided to leave, its not easy trying to make their way to the door. The place is packed, incredibly crowded and smoky. Susie is waylaid by Bert Murphy, the sports editor at The Bugle, and while Susie is enmeshed in some newspaper gossip, March looks back at the far end of the room where Hollis had been sitting, in spite of her resolve to get out of the Lyon with no damage done. But hes not there, and the effect of his absence is that her heart drops into her stomach, where it stays until she realizes that hes walking right to her.

It is sometimes possible to look at a person and see inside, although this happens so rarely its always a shock, like a form of electricity traveling from one soul to another. It can only be glimpsed for an instant, but in that instant you can see the core of a person, even in the middle of a crowded barroom, as he comes up beside you, while the jukebox is playing a country-western song youve never heard before and will never forget. It happens quickly-seeing all that hurt and disappointment-its as fast as a breath drawn and released. Just as fast, he closes up; you couldnt get inside Hollis for anything now. Not with a hammer or a chisel; not by begging on your knees.

I never thought Id see you here, Hollis says. For some reason, March can hear him perfectly above the din. Not your kind of place, is it?

Maybe it is, March says. Its not as bad as I thought it would be. She wishes she had thought to wear something other than this dreadful black sweater and an old pair of jeans; she wishes she had combed her hair. I hear youre letting my daughter ride one of your horses.

Is that your daughter? Hollis acts as though he hadnt the faintest idea.

As if you didnt know. Why is it that he still has to look so good? What gives him the right to talk to her with such arrogance, as though after all these years he continued to be the most important thing in her universe, the single shining star?

Did she tell you I was still waiting?

Oh, sure. March tries to be lighthearted, but thats not the way she feels. And Ill bet you never looked at another woman again.

People are pushing by them and theres absolutely no privacy, so when Hollis nods March follows him over to a less populated space, beneath the mounted deer heads. The only people who crowd them over here are those weaving past on their way to the rest rooms. One guy, whos quite loaded, greets Hollis and thanks him for his support on the town council, but Hollis doesnt even acknowledge the council-mans existence, and March is so distracted that if she were ever asked to identify the guy in a court of law, she wouldnt be able to. She didnt even glance at him. Standing there, she can feel the reverberation of the jukebox in her legs. Susie is right-shes crazy. Shes completely deranged.

Youre the one who didnt wait, Hollis says.

Over by the door, Susie spots March and she waves like mad, but Hollis has moved closer, blocking Susie from view.

Me? March says. Why didnt you write or call after you left here? Why didnt you come back for me?

Shes done it without thinking, and theres no way to take those words back. She should have said, Screw you, I waited plenty, I waited years, and even that was too long. Instead, she has admitted some sort of defeat; she can tell because Hollis still smiles the way he used to whenever he won.

You went to California, Hollis reminds her. You were the one who got married.

You got married too, March reminds him right back.

Hollis drinks from a can of Coke, which is warm by now, not that the taste bothers him.

That was nothing, he says.

It was definitely something.

Hollis comes closer. No, he tells her. It wasnt. I got married because you wouldnt leave him. That baby was more important to you than I was.

It wasnt like that, March begins.

It was exactly like that. Hes even closer now; March can feel the heat from his body against hers. Or maybe I was more important but you couldnt admit it.

Susie has finally joined them; jostled by the crowd, shes taken forever to get across the room. Now, she leans against the wall and observes Hollis in what she believes to be a nonjudgmental manner.

Fancy meeting you here, she says.

Hey, Sue. He nods without interest. Shes a bitch whos never been on his side; he doesnt intend to pretend otherwise.

I was telling March how Alan cant come here, not even on Founders Day, because you frequent the place.

Oh, yeah? Hollis gives March a look. Hes extremely pleased; first March admits how much he hurt her, and now Susie reveals that she and March had been discussing him. Unless Hollis is mistaken, and he doesnt believe he is, the only reason March came to the Lyon was to look for him. She came to him.

Where couldnt you go because of Alan? Lets see. The dump? The liquor store on Route 22?

A bitch, just like he thought.

Alan made his choices, Hollis says.

Thats crap. Susie is getting all self-righteous, but she cant seem to stop herself. He decided to lose everything that was ever important to him-have it all taken away-so he could drink himself to death in a shack? Some choice.

You feel so bad for him? Hollis says. Go visit him, Sue. I bet hed love to celebrate Founders Day with you.

Fuck you, Susie says. Her cheeks are bright red.

Im shocked. Hollis shakes his head, but hes smiling. Its so easy to rile people like Susanna Justice; theyre like push-button dolls.

I mean it, Susie tells him. Fuck you.

Susie, March pleads. Hollis and Susie were always like this; you couldnt keep them in the same room for more than a few minutes before they started in on each other.

I think Ill have to be the one guy in town to pass that offer by, Hollis says.

Are you staying here? Susie Justice asks March. Because Im leaving. Susie already has her keys in her hand, and she jangles them like a bell. She takes a good look at March. Youre going to stay, arent you?

Im having one more drink. March is making certain not to glance over at Hollis. Thats it.

Susie leans forward, so she can whisper. Youre insane. I hope you realize that. Be smart when you leave. Call Ken Helm for a ride. Dont do this all over again.

She never liked you, March says as they watch Susie make her way to the door.

Not one bit, Hollis says. You did, though.

March looks away.

You still do, Hollis tells her.

Oh, really? March laughs. Shes always been surprised by his vanity and his pride. With anyone else shed be repelled, but with Hollis emotions were so rare that whenever one showed, March couldnt help but be charmed.

I knew youd come back, but I thought I might be eighty before you got here, hobbling around like Jimmy Parrish, Hollis says, nodding to an old man at the bar.

What nerve, March thinks. Believe me. Ive done perfectly fine without you.

Marchs voice is cold; in another instant, shell stomp away, as she sometimes did when she was a girl. Hollis must sense this, because he puts his hand on her arm.

Well, I havent, he says. Not without you.

He waits till that sinks in, then lets go of her. If shes going to walk away, shes going to do it now. But instead, she goes on looking at him. And then he knows, just as hes always known. At the core, theyre identical. People who didnt know the family often judged them to be brother and sister. It was their dark eyes. Darker than midnight, thats what people used to say to their faces. Black as whatever hole he crawled out of, they used to whisper when they thought Hollis couldnt hear.

As the hour grows later, the clientele of the Lyon has become more disorderly. Conversations are incoherent; misunderstandings have begun to arise. Before long, there is sure to be a brawl, as there is at every Founders Day celebration. The bar is now filled past capacity, and people keep right on coming. There is Regina, the waitress from Dimitris, who waves when she sees March. Theres Larry Laughton and his wife, Harriet, who own the lingerie shop, and Enid Miller, who works at the library and can hush small children with a single look, and Mimi Frank, who styled so many heads today at the Bon Bon that she has a perfect right to down a few beers.

There are a dozen boys and girls that Hollis and March went to school with, all grown-up and drunk as can be, but March doesnt notice any of them. Hollis is leaning toward her-he has to in order to be heard above the din, or at least, thats what March is telling herself. Surely, hes not doing it solely to get close to her; thats all in her mind. Her extremely warped mind, since shes got everything to lose and nothing to gain. She tries to remind herself of that, the life she leads, the responsibilities she has, and yet when he says, Lets get out of here, she nods as if she were a rational woman. She lets him grab her hand so he can lead her through the crowd.

The people they pass by are enjoying the party; theyre not bothering to think of tomorrow or even today. But that doesnt mean several women whove set out to have a good time dont notice whats going on. Mary Anne Chilton elbows Janice Melnick, and over at the bar, Alison Hartwig turns away when she sees Hollis and March together and she orders another whiskey sour. These are just a few of the women who know that when Hollis drives, he keeps the windows in the truck rolled down, no matter how raw the weather. If he cant take you back to your place-if youre married, or living with someone, or if you and the kids have been forced to move back in with your mother-hell bring you to Olive Tree Lake, and park in a spot where its so overgrown you cant see the stars.

But any of these women would be foolish to think that being acquainted with a mans habits or having sex with him in a parked truck is the same thing as knowing him. They dont know Hollis, and they never will. They wouldnt even guess, for instance, that Hollis actually goes around and opens the door of the truck for March. Hes parked on the far side of Main Street, beside the Founders statue, which for tonights celebration someone has dressed with an olive wreath on his stone head and a long, flowing cape tied over his granite shoulders. March touches the Founders cold knee for luck, the way all the children in town do. She knows that shell think about this moment when Hollis opened the door to his truck for her, over and over again. Shell remember the stars and the feel of granite. This, after all, is the instant when she did the exact right or wrong thing, depending on what happens next. Will she wonder if she was thinking straight? Will she guess the orange moon above affected her decision, or was it the cold weather, or the way he looked at her, or the wind that was shaking the trees?

You build your world around someone, and then what happens when he disappears? Where do you go-into pieces, into atoms, into the arms of another man? You go shopping, you cook dinner, you work odd hours, you make love to someone else on June nights. But youre not really there, youre someplace else where there is blue sky and a road you dont recognize. If you squint your eyes, you think you see him, in the shadows, beyond the trees. You always imagine that you see him, but hes never there. Its only his spirit, thats whats there beneath the bed when you kiss your husband, there when you send your daughter off to school. Its in your coffee cup, your bathwater, your tears. Unfinished business always comes back to haunt you, and a man who swears hell love you forever isnt finished with you until hes done.

As they drive through town, March watches Hollis carefully; everything about him is both completely familiar and absolutely alien. When she knew him he didnt have these lines in his face, and the nervous cough he seems to have now. She thinks of the moment when she first saw him, the way he squinted his eyes in the sun, how dark his hair was, how ready he was to run. It is that boy who is beside her in the pickup truck. That boy who kisses her when they stop at a red light. March is nearly forty; beneath the drugstore tint she has those same gray streaks plaited through her hair which appeared the winter he went away, but this boy doesnt seem to mind. He wants her not only for who she is, but for who she was: The girl who never got over him. The one who knew him inside out.

The women at the Lyon can only imagine how deep Holliss kisses are, since he never kisses any of them, at least not on the mouth. His embrace is hot and greedy, exactly the way March remembers. When the light turns to green March pulls away. She has always considered herself a loyal sort of person, but loyal to whom? Richard knew what he was getting into when he married her. It was Hollis back then, and maybe it still is. Maybe shes no longer a woman with everything to lose. Shes a girl again. Shes March Murray, whose father is everyones favorite lawyer, whose big brother is lazy and drinks too much. Shes the one with dark hair and too much confidence, who does whatever shes not supposed to when no ones looking, when no ones around.

Ive been waiting a long time, Hollis says. That much is true.

He smiles, that same predatory grin which always frightened other people, but only served to convince March that she knew him best of all. The difference between a lion and a lamb, some might suggest, is in the naming, not in the beast itself. Both are warm-blooded-isnt that a fact? Both close their eyes when they settle down to sleep for the night.

As they turn onto the rutted dirt road, Hollis has to switch on the wipers to keep wet leaves from sticking to the windshield. There are tornadoes of leaves, and fallen branches are scattered across the road. Its getting colder by the minute; its the sort of night when pumpkins will freeze on the vine, and grapes will turn hard and become far too bitter to use for jelly or pies. Its a night when any sparrow or dove foolish enough to nest in this town for the winter will realize a mistake has been made, and survival will depend not on skill but on plain blind luck.

All over town tonight, the wind will drive women from their beds. Theyll think of their first true love and search through their jewelry boxes for trinkets-gold lockets, ticket stubs, strands of hair. March would be one of those women, but instead shes here, on the road where there were once so many foxes. If truth be told, shes been here all this time, in this dark and windy place, like a ghost trapped inside the location of her memory.

Hollis pulls over beside the quince bushes, where he parked the other night when he watched March walk the dog. He turns the key in the ignition, and once he does that the wind sounds ferocious. They used to hide and do this whenever they had the chance: pretend there was no one else in the world. Hollis has his arms around her, beneath her coat. He begins to kiss her, the way he used to, but before March can respond, she hears a sound and pulls away. Someone is out on the porch.

Shit, Hollis says. What is she doing there?

From this distance, Gwen looks like a girl March has never seen before. Shes wearing her black jacket, but under the glow of the yellow porch light, she could be anyone. Gwens face is flushed, but the color in her cheeks isnt from the cold. On this night, when the Founder ran over the hill, she seems to have fallen in love. She cant stop thinking about Hank-everything he said, everything he did. He held her hand all the way across the hill; before he left, he kissed her goodnight, and she cant get that kiss out of her mind. In truth, she hopes she never will.

Shes going inside, March whispers to Hollis as Gwen fumbles with the door. Once Gwen goes into the house, they wait for her to close the door, but instead she reappears with the dog. How surprisingly responsible. What bad timing.

Shes taking the dog for a walk, March says.

Hollis groans and leans his head against the seat.

March laughs, then leans close and kisses him. Who is the child here? Who is the reckless girl? She kisses him again and again. as if daring fate, as if she hadnt a care in the world.

Thats right, Hollis whispers to her, as if she were still that good girl she used to be, only too ready to please. Give me more, he tells her.

Just then, Sister turns in the direction of the parked truck and barks, a long yip that is usually meant for rabbits. The dog is staring at the quince bushes, which March hopes can hide Holliss truck from Gwens view. Thankfully, Sister is on a leash, and Gwen gives the dog a tug in the other direction, back toward the house.

You have to go where youre taken, dont you? You have to follow where youre led. Dont think, dont stop, dont hesitate. Maybe this is destiny; its the hand of fate against your skin, the love of your life. If theres a warning to be heard, March wont listen. Shes like those foolish doves who have stayed on to nest in the chestnut tree this fall, and who will probably freeze to death before the New Year. Shes kin to the rabbit who dared to cross Sisters path, then decided it might be best to lie silent, rather than break and run.

Hollis has his hand inside her jeans now; hes pushed her down so that her back is flat against the seat. She knows the way he likes it, as if love was a secret; or at least, thats the way he likes it with her. Other women, the ones from the Lyon, would say he prefers to get his business over with fast, and maybe its just as well. Hes so intense he can scare some women. Alison Hartwig fainted the first time Hollis fucked her, and now she calls him every day on the telephone, so she can hear his voice and imagine that he loves her before she hangs up.

All this time, March is the one Hollis has wanted. Shes the one who made him miserable, and he hasnt forgotten that for a moment. Night after night, hes come here and parked in this same exact space, to stare at this house. Over and over again, hes anticipated the hour when shed come back to him, and how good it would be to have her be the one to beg, but maybe hes waited too long. Maybe all that waiting has tainted things, and left his love with a sour taste. Its always been this way for Hollis; the more he has of something, the more he wants. Maybe he can never be satisfied, but he knows how to satisfy March; hes doing it right now, shes there at the edge as he moves his fingers inside her slowly. He doesnt stop when she tells him to, and then he stops just when shes about to come. He kisses her then, he leaves her longing for more; desperate is exactly the way he wants her.

By now, Gwen has unhooked the dogs leash and gotten herself a soda from the fridge. Maybe shes wondering why her mothers out so late, as she goes into the sewing room, where her bed is made up. Maybe she thinks she sees something, there behind the quince, when she looks through the window. On any other night, March would have worried about her daughter, alone in the house, but she cant think about that now. Shes already agreeing to see Hollis tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that. Sometimes love is like a house without any doors. Its a sky filled with so many stars its impossible to see a single one. Out in the front yard, the mourning doves are chattering with the cold. Their pale gray feathers are no comfort in the wind, yet they stay. Its too late, after all; they made their choice at the end of summer. Theyll just have to accept the consequences.


| Here On Earth | c