Last Light over Hayden Rock

I

The girl is dancing, a swift swirl of hair and grace in rhythmic movement across the kitchen floor.

“You make me feel like I can fly!  So high!  El-e-vation!  Elevation!” she screams in a tender voice that understands the words.

Rebecca Logan is smiling from the doorway.  She has come to the house in search of her boyfriend, the young girl’s father, in hopes that he will shed some light on her Existentialism paper.  She watches with a smile as the ten year old girl, Kayce Yale, takes a wooden spoon from the dish drainer and sings at the highest note her voice will hit, a scream of passion and joy for rock and roll.

The words ‘elevation’ continues to slip free from her lips as she moves in a circle and the songs begins to wind down.  On the first twirl, Rebecca backs behind the corner to ensure that is not noticed.  She has taken a strong liking to the young girl and she is certain that she is liked in return, but she does want to seem like she is spying on Kayce and is also, in fact, nervous about having come over unannounced when her father, Bruce, does not seem to be around.

As the drums come up on the next song, Rebecca suddenly realizes that Kayce is not listening to the radio, but rather is listening to a CD and as the words start to come up, Rebecca remembers the song, remember why she has not listened to it over the last few months and she can hear the words echoing in her head before they even escape the speakers.

And love is not the easy thing  /  The only baggage you can bring  /  And love is not the easy thing  /  The only baggage you can bring  /  Is all that you can’t leave behind

The muffled sob from behind her startles Kayce and she turns suddenly.  She sees Rebecca standing behind her, leaning up against the fridge, sees her start to turn so that she is leaning back against it instead and watches as she slides to the floor, the words of the songs softly whispering from her lips.

Kayce is uncertain of what to do.  Her father had left a note that he was out and that he wasn’t certain when he would be back.  Kayce hesitates, then starts to take a step forward.  She turns so that she can see Rebecca’s face and can see, yes, she is crying, but she is also singing “and I know it aches, and your heart it breaks, you can only take so much.  Walk on.”  Kayce starts to move back towards the stereo but Rebecca moves suddenly, sits up, puts her hand out.

“Leave it,” she says.  “Please.  Leave it.”

Kayce hesitates again, thinks that something must be awful for Rebecca to be crying, it has been so long since she has seen tears on anyone other than her own reflection in the mirror.  She starts to continue towards the stereo.

“No, Kayce, leave it.  It’s okay.  You can leave it behind.”

“What?”  Kayce is surprised at her own voice, surprised at the soft squeak that escapes her lips.

“It’s okay.  You can leave it behind,” Rebecca says and then manages to find the words of the song again.  “All that you make.  All that you break.  All that you measure.  All that you steal.  All this you can leave behind.”

Rebecca holds her out to the young girl, motions for her to come over.  This time there is not hesitation.  This time Kayce goes where she feels she should be.

Rebecca holds Kayce, holds tighter than to anything she has had in her hands since crossing the desert into Arizona, holds her close and whispers in her ear, “it’s okay.  Sometimes we all get reminded of things we think we’ve forgotten.  Sometimes a song can make us cry and it can still be okay.  It will all be okay.  You’ve got to leave it behind.  All this you can leave behind.”


Neither of them are drinking.  They sit in silence as the waitress rattles off a list of the evening’s specials.  When she is done they both order from memory without even bothering to look at a menu, the act of ordering itself having become part of the routine.

“This is just fucking bizarre,” Kyle Barton says to his best friend as the waitress walks off.  He looks at Bruce Yale and they both discover that the other is frowning.  “Everything about this day has been strange.  Are we supposed to have nice waitresses here?  I thought the whole thing about Ed Debevic’s was that the waitresses were the rudest people on the planet and should never be allowed to do anything even resembling customer service.”

“Everyone has an off day.”

“Shouldn’t an off day mean they would be even more rude?”

“Kevin was in town last weekend,” Bruce says and Kyle listens because clearly this is why Bruce asked him to come to dinner without Kayce.

“What for?”

“A convention of some sort.  Nerds gathering their flock in the desert.  Maybe they’re tired of Vegas and they couldn’t go to Houston because of the World Series.”

“So how was the visit?”

There is a pause.  It soon becomes a long pause when the waitress returns with their sodas.  After she leaves again, Kyle stares after her.

“And she actually brought the drinks right out?  This is beyond strange.”

“Kevin told me.”

Kyle turns back to the table and stares at his best friend.  It almost a full minute before he responds.

“What the fuck made him do that?”

“He felt the need for closure.  I didn’t ask him to tell me.  I would have probably preferred to continue not to know.  But he told me everything he could remember about it.”

“And?” Kyle asks.

“And what?”

“And what do you want to know?”

“Is it true?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Bruce, you have to give me a little more than that.  I am not psychic.  What do you want to know?”

“Did you really plan to kill him?”

“Well, yeah, that was the plan.”

“And how do you feel about it these days?”

“About Wagner?  I thought that was all settled back at the reunion.”

“He told Jess, you know.  That’s why she wanted to talk to me at the wedding.  Or, one of the reasons anyway.”

“That stupid fucking bastard, can’t keep his zipper up, can’t keep his mouth shut.  Maybe it’s not as done as I thought.”

“Let it go, Kyle,” Bruce says.  Kyle stops.  They stare at each other.  Again the delay coincides with the arrival of the waitress, this time with their food.  When she is gone, Bruce picks up the salt and throws a dash across the french fries and starts eating.  It is one of the few times that he can remember that something he has said has caused Kyle to pause while eating.

“What do you mean?”

“It means, let it go.  Kayce is my daughter.  Gary can think whatever he wants and say whatever he wants and Jess can come up and say maybe she needs a mother and you can be the best uncle in the world for her, but in the end, she is my daughter and I will decide what is best for her.”

“Okay, then,” Kyle answers.

“Okay?  Just that?  Okay and that’s it?  A decade of hatred just down the drain?”

“Oh, I still hate him.  But you’re right.  You are her father.  I had that chance and I gave it away because I thought that Michelle could find someone better suited for the job.  And she did.  Dating a twenty year old might not be the most fatherly like thing you could be doing but then again neither would be running after Jess.  You’ve done a damn sight better than I ever could have done.  Are you planning on introducing me to Rebecca, by the way?”

“Not yet.  I’m trying not to scare her away.  You’ll meet her on Thanksgiving, if you haven’t before then.”

“She isn’t going home?”

“She hasn’t talked much about home, but she definitely sees no need to go back.  I’m letting her fill me in at her own pace.”

They sit together, eating their french fries, looking around at all the various things that hang on the walls of the restaurant giving it such a vibrant feel in spite of its period theme.

“Did Michelle know that you tried to kill Gary?”

“Yes.”

“And what did she say?”

“Almost the same thing you did.  That she didn’t want to know and the past was dead, that there was no hope of going back and trying to set things right again, that we just go on as best we can.”

“The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”

“Yeah, well Faulkner platitudes do not change the facts of the current situation.  Kayce is, indeed, yours.  And I will continue to be around for whatever you may have need of me for.”


He sees the kitchen light on and remembers that he asked Kayce not to wait up, that he didn’t know when he would be in.  The car glides into the garage.  He shuts the door and sits a minute in the darkness, his mind reflecting on his conversation with Kyle.

It shouldn’t matter, he thinks.  It was a long time ago.  The past may never die but we can get past things, we can find new ways of living, Michelle taught me that, made me understand that.  We do everything we can to make everything new everyday.

He gets out of the car and walks into the house.  He sees his daughter sitting in shadow in the kitchen.  He recognizes the way she is sitting, the way her mother, in the year when they first bought the house, when she first started to get sick, would sit, alone in the kitchen, in a bathrobe, one knee tucked up against her body, foot resting on the bar stool, the other draped down along the legs of the stool, her hair pulled back into a ponytail, a cup of coffee steaming in front of her.

“I hope for your sake that’s hot chocolate.  You how how I feel about you drinking coffee.”  There is no response to his statement.  He frowns and reaches behind him and pushes the door shut.  “Kac.  Kayce.”  There is still no response.

I can’t be losing my mind this young, can’t be having visions, can’t be seeing Michelle sitting here, he thinks, I refuse to believe that there are such things as ghosts that can be seen by the naked eye.  There are enough ghosts in my life without the need for them to actually appear.

He walks to her side, reaches out and whispers the word ‘honey,’ as he touches her hand.  In a deep section of his brain, in feelings he has tried to bury deep enough that he can not remember that he ever possessed them he has hopes for what this might be and can not bring himself to utter any more than the word ‘honey,’ a word for him that means daughter and wife all answering to one, and when his daughter turns and crumples into his arms in tears, he is again reminded of the last year with his wife, of the pain in her limbs, of the tears in her eyes, of the few minutes at the start of each day when she would relax all her defenses and not try to be strong.

“Kayce.  Honey.  What’s wrong?” and that is all he says, knows that is all he need say, that she will find her way through her tears, a navigation process he never quite learned properly.  But he has learned that she is strong, stronger than he has ever been and that she has discovered many paths through her emotions that no map could ever unveil to him.

“Rebecca scared me,” she says and he turns, cocks his head at an odd angle so that his eyes can light on hers.

“What do you mean, Rebecca scared you?”

“I was playing a CD.  And there I was, just singing and dancing along, and suddenly when ‘Walk On’ came on, she just freaked.”

“What do you mean by freaked?  Tell me what happened.”

“I heard a cry and I turned and she was crying.  She was leaning back against the fridge and she slipped to the floor and she kept crying.  And I tried to talk to her and she kept crying.  She talked a little but I didn’t understand anything she was talking about, just that there was something about the song that had reminded her of something and it caused her to freak.”

“And what happened?”

“She just cried.  For a long time, she hugged me and she cried, sitting on the floor.”

“Did she go back to the dorm?”

“I think she’s in your room.”

“My room?”

“I think she might be asleep.  She looked really tired,” she says and then looks at her father, the reflection of dried tears in her eyes.  “She didn’t mean to scare me, Dad.  She wasn’t being mean or anything.  She just looked scared and tired.  The way you and Mom used to look when you would talk about bad things.  Things you didn’t want to remember.”

“Are you okay, Kayce?”

“I guess so.  I just wanted to tell you.  I wish you had been here.  Or if not you, then Uncle Kyle.  Someone who would have known what to do.”

“Yeah, well, unfortunately your uncle was with me.”

“What were you talking about?”

“Things we didn’t want to remember.”


He leans against the wall, his eyes fixed upon her serenely sleeping face.  His hands slide into his pockets as his mind drifts, not to his wife, but to a time a few months after his nineteenth birthday, early in the second semester of his second year of college and the first time he ever returned to find a young woman asleep in his bed.  The girl then was twenty as well and he marvels that over a decade has passed and he still returns home to find a twenty year old woman asleep upon his blanket.

It was not her intention to fall asleep, he thinks, I remember well enough what it looks like when someone struggles with exhaustion just waiting around.  What happens when you’re this young to make you freak, to make you collapse upon the floor in tears at the words of a song?  How can life hit you so hard so fast before you’ve really even had a chance to begin it?

He takes off his jacket, hangs it on the end of the bed.  He kneels down in front of her, watches her move gently in her sleep.  He smiles at her, a fresh smile he is surprised to find ready and waiting.

“There’s an ant crawling up your back in the nighttime,” he sings, softly, just under the point where it cause her to spring forth into consciousness, just enough to slowly draw her out of sleep.  “There’s an ant crawling up your back in the nighttime.  But you think that’s okay while you’re sleeping.”

The soft sound of his voice draws Kayce to the door.  She is dressed for bed, the robe traded in on pajamas with the San Francisco Giants logo prominently displayed in the middle.  She hides herself in the shadow of the door so that he does not see her.

“That ant crawls in your head in the nighttime.  That ant crawls in your head in the nighttime.  But you think that’s okay while you’re sleeping.”

Kayce smiles and remembers a long time ago, before there were things that her parents didn’t want to remember, and her father sneaking in to sing to her after her mother had gone to sleep, when he knew that Kayce would still be aware, reading in her bed with a flashlight under her covers.

“Someday, that ant, he will grow up to be president.  Someday that ant he will grow up to be president.  But you think that’s okay while you’re sleeping.”

She remembers the songs he used to sing to her, sometimes nice classics like “Golden Slumbers” or “Mockingbird”.  Occasionally he would sing a soft folk song, many of which she would later find at Zia Records on a Peter, Paul and Mary greatest hits album.  But his favorite to sing were little silly songs, like the one he would sing called “Bob” which was all about what a bummer it was to have the name Bob, or “At the Zoo”, a funny song about the personalities we sometimes give to animals.  But her favorite was always “Ant” and she loved it whenever she would hear the words “there’s an ant crawling up your back in the nighttime.”  It’s been years now, she thinks, I can’t remember him ever singing to me after Mom died, just times when he’ll sing along in the car and he never sings silly little songs anymore, just tries to push out every ounce he can out of rock and roll.

“The president calls your name in the nighttime.  The president calls your name in the nighttime.  But you think that’s okay while you’re sleeping.”

Kayce slides down the hallway, being sure to make no noise and crawls into bed.  She can’t decide as sleep washes over her whether she should be smiling or crying and in the midst of both, sleep catches up and pulls her into its sweet embrace.

“The men ransack your house in the nighttime.  The men ransack your house in the nighttime.”  Rebecca’s eyes are open now and there is a smile upon her lips as he softly lets his song conclude.  “As the ant crawls up your back while you’re sleeping.”

“It’s one busy ant,” she says.

“It is indeed.”

“It’s a nice song,” she whispers.

“It’s better with music.  It’s also better when it’s not me singing.”

“Sounded good enough to me.”

“Been a rough night?”

“You could say that.”

“You can talk if you want,” he tells her.

“I just thought about something I wasn’t ready to think about.”

“Seems like the night for it, apparently.  I was going through the same thing, it’s just that I had more time to prepare for it.”

“Maybe I should tell you about it.”

“You don’t have to say anything tonight.”

“Can I stay here tonight?”

“Are you sure you’re up for that?” he asks.

“You would not be my first,” she answers.  He blushes at her comment, starts to talk, stumbles, then finds himself unable to get a single coherent word out.  Finally he is able to mutter ‘isn’t quite what I meant.’

“It’s what my freak out had to do with.”

“Not a beautiful experience.”

“Not what it was supposed to be.  It was what I needed it to be,” she whispers, turning away from him.  He sits down and runs his hand through her hair, remembers everything that he doesn’t want to remember.

“It’s rarely as we think it should be,” he says.

“I’ll tell you if you want.”

“Why don’t you not, right now.  Just be young and pretty and free.”

“Is it all right if I stay, then?”


“Kayce?”

There is no answer.

“Kayce?” again.

No answer.

She turns the corner.  She sees Kayce at the far end of the room, on the computer.  She is nervous about seeing the young girl in the morning light, about what assumptions she might make, no matter that they might be incorrect.  Rebecca walks across the room, squinting in a hope to see what Kayce is doing at the computer.  She can see the web browser is open and she can hear a small amount of music.  She stops before the young girl can notice she is there.  She listens.

“There’s an ant crawling up your back in the nighttime,” the words sing softly as they come from the computer.

“Kayce,” she says, this time softly, just enough so that the young girl will turn around.

“Oh.  Hi,” Kayce responds when she turns.  “Are you feeling better?”

“Yeah.  Your dad is great at making people feel better.  Or least at making me feel better.”

“He’s really a nice guy.”

“You know, your dad and I, we, we really like each other.  Your dad, he’s the first person I ever met who just loved me, didn’t ask anything of me, didn’t try to make me into anything else, didn’t want anything, just loved me.  It feels really nice.”

“Are you gonna be around a lot, then?”

“I hope so.  I like your dad.  I like you.  I hope I didn’t scare you too badly last night.”

“Just started me thinking.”

“Thinking how?”

“My dad, he talks sometimes about the kind of things that people don’t want to remember.  So I don’t want to remember any of that.  I want to remember all the stuff that’s fun to remember, all the stuff that makes me feel good.”

“So what’s with the song?”

“My dad used to sing me this song when I was little.  It always made me laugh.  But I’ve never heard it anywhere except when he sings it.  I thought I would look for it.”

“You found it.”

“It’s really funny.  Have you heard it?”

“Sounds like a funny song.  Why don’t you play it.”

They sit together in the warmth of a late October morning listening to two geeks from Brooklyn making the world a funnier and more enjoyable place, watched from the edge of the room by one who is both father and lover.

II

She has been running back and forth across the house throughout the day when the doorbell rings again at a few minutes before four.  She knows that Bruce is still working on the dinner and that Kayce is in the shower so she heads to the door herself to answer it.

Rebecca find herself staring and not knowing what else to do or say.  I wish I could look like her, she thinks, wish I could have such perfect auburn hair, such style, such a perfect smile.  I think she might be the most beautiful person I have ever seen.

“Hi,” the woman in front of her says.

“Hello,” Rebecca responds.

“Is Bruce home?  Is anyone else here?  Am I at the right house?”

“Yes.  To all, I guess,” Rebecca replies.  “I’m sorry, but weren’t you in People magazine last summer?  Fifty most beautiful people?”

“Um . . .”

Rebecca wants to smile as she sees that even the most beautiful of women can blush a deep shade of scarlet.

“I was, yes.  If you could try not to mention it to anyone here.  They’re not really the type to read People.  I’m trying to keep that information under the table.”

“Are you a friend of Bruce’s?”

“Yes.  I’m Jennifer Gabriel.”

“Oh, I remember from the magazine.”

“Are you . . .  Oh, you must be Rebecca.”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, it’s my congresswoman!”  Rebecca turns at the shout as Kevin walks to the front door.  “A thousand miles from home and I get to talk to my local representative.  How goes it, Congresswoman Gabriel?”

“Kevin, we are only 750 miles driving distance from home and even less if you flew from SFO.  Do not exaggerate.  And do not call me that unless you would like me to raise your taxes.  Rest assured, I will raise them if you call me that again.”

“You gonna raise the taxes for everyone in Marin?”

“On the contrary, I’m certain Kate would let me know how much you make and I will lower the next highest tax bracket down to your exact income.”

“Now that is a rough threat.  Rebecca, do not mess with this woman.  She is Nancy Pelosi’s protege.”

“Who is Nancy Pelosi?” Rebecca asks.

“She is the House Minority Leader,” Jenn tells her, “and hopefully, if the elections go well next year she will be the first female Speaker of the House.  She is a bright and fantastic woman and she has little use for fools,” she says, eyeing Kevin.  Kevin simply raises his eyebrows in response, so Jenn turns to Rebecca again.  “Are any of the nicer friends here?”

“Paul and Sharon drove in from Orange County today.  They’re at a hotel and will be here soon.  Kate is in the kitchen, helping Bruce and making something she called, I think, marshmallow surprise.”

“God help us,” Kevin throws in.  Jenn backhands him in the stomach.

“Be nice to your wife.”

“Kyle is here.  Maybe?  Somewhere?  He has this weird ability . . .” but Rebecca trails off in mid-sentence.

“To disappear.  Or suddenly re-appear.  Kind of like Batman,” Jenn finishes for her.

“Exactly like Batman.”

“Yes, he’s been doing it ever since college and it annoys the hell out of everyone, mostly because they can’t ever seem to do it, no matter how hard they try.  Is anyone else coming?”

“I think it’s Laura?  Laura, who said she couldn’t come.  Oh, and Jim?  Is that right?  He’s coming, but I don’t know if he’s here or what.  Certainly I haven’t met him yet.”

“A full house then.  Well, it is very nice to meet you Rebecca.  Bruce has told me about you.”

“Has he?  It would be interesting to hear what he’s said.  Apparently everyone has heard a different story.”

“Rebecca, you have to expect that of college friends,” Kevin cuts in.  “No one tells the same story the same way because after a while we all know the stories, so lies and embellishments become the standard.  And Bruce could always tell a story.  He just couldn’t finish them.”

“Daddy,” a four year old boy calls from the doorway to the kitchen, “Mommy says you need to come in here and help.  And that if you make fun of it, you’ll be wearing it.”  Rebecca stifles a laugh and when Jenn turns to turn look at the young boy, Rebecca notices something, a look she can only describe as regret and Rebecca suddenly no longer cares that Jenn is so much more beautiful and so successful, that there are things which people still never end up being able to have.


In an effort not to upset Kayce, Bruce has managed to make two tables fit together as one long curved table so that all 15 places are together and Kayce is not forced to sit at another table with the other five kids, all of whom are considerably younger than she is.

“So, what is this, Bruce?” Jim says.  “No Jeff and Natalie?”

“Christmas is for family.  Jeff’s a friend, but he’s not family.  He’s not one of us,” Bruce answers, his right hand absent-mindedly rubbing the scar in his left palm.

“And Laura?” Kate asks.  “She’s family.”  Rebecca notices that many of the eyes at the table drift towards Paul.

“Why does everyone look at me?  She’s a big girl now, she can make her own decisions.  Besides, it’s not like I was . . .”

“There are children present, honey,” Sharon says before Paul can finish.

“I believe Laura is spending the holidays with her new love interest.  She graciously declined the invitation to come spend it somewhere warm.”

“Job well done of keeping that gender neutral, Bruce.”

“I have no idea what gender her love interest is.  Makes it difficult to place a gender on the person.”

“Anyone know who she’s dating?”

“Someone from her work, I heard.”

“Guy or girl?”

“I heard the name was Kelly.”

“So, again, guy or girl?”

“How am I supposed to know?”

The voices are coming so quickly and from so many different places that Rebecca can do nothing more than just try to sort through the conversation without knowing who is saying what.

“Dad, I’m kind of confused.”

“It’s okay, Irving.”

Paul turns and sees at least three of his friends staring at him as he talks to his son.

“What?”

“At least you didn’t name him Bono.”

“Or Hawkeye.  That would have been worse, I think.”

“I would have thought he’d go with ‘Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye’ Barrett.”

“Oh, come on!  Bruce made his kid’s name up entirely.”

“It makes me a special and unique snowflake.”

“Kayce, darling, we all think you’re wonderful.  Don’t listen to Paul.”

“Thank you, Ms. Gabriel.  Or am I supposed to call you Congresswoman?”

“Please don’t.”

“I suggest you call her beauty queen,” Kyle says softly.  She turns and her eyes lock on his.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” she asks, giving him the perfect opportunity to drop a magazine on the center of the table.  On the cover is a picture of Natalie Portman from Episode III and the words “PEOPLE’S 50 MOST BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE”.  Jenn squeals, but before she can grab it, Jim has swiped it from the table and is flipping through the pages.

“What page?”

“She’s on 87.  Right after Halle Berry.”

“How did you find out about that?”

“Finding out things is one of the primary aspects of my job, you know.”

“Kyle Andrew Barton, how could you possibly bring that to Christmas Eve dinner?”

“Well, I had it with me at the wedding but it seemed that people were being a bit too touchy.”

“Oh, is this when we get our explanation of why Tom isn’t here?”

This time, the eyes at the table float down towards Bruce.

“Well, Tom isn’t family.  Besides that, he’s a . . .” but his words trail off as his gaze drops to his daughter and slowly he finds a word that both encompasses his thought and that will be acceptable “. . . jerk.”

“Nice save, Dad,” she says in response and the laughter is the loudest thing of the night.


“Tell me again this theory,” Sharon says.

“The last three in the game have to do all the dishes.  We’re pitting everyone’s competitive juices against their desire to get out of doing the dishes.  I’m betting everyone plays to win irregardless of the consequences, that the desire to be the winner will conquer all,” Bruce explains.

“Fairly ruthless view of human nature for someone who correctly uses the word ‘irregardless’,” says Paul.

“Oh, I’d say he knows us fairly well,” Kyle interjects.  “Pass three to the right and let’s get this game going.  The faster I stomp all of you the faster I can finish the dishes and enjoy the rest of the night.”  When he stops talking, all eyes turn towards him.  “What?” he asks.  “Does anyone here doubt that I will be one of the last standing?”

“Dad, can we just quit now and make Uncle Kyle do all the dishes?”

“Getting dissed by a ten year old.  Perhaps you are a bit too competitive, Kyle.”

Without moving his head, Kyle’s eyes slowly move up from his cards to the face of the beautiful young congresswoman who has just chastised him.

“I offer no apologies for who I am.”

“I never asked for any,” she replies, her voice softer than any other of the night.  Kyle turns to look, finds her staring at him, lowers his eyes once again, then stops.  He turns slightly, notices Kayce’s eyes attached to his face, following his every movement.

“Something caught your eye, kiddo?”

“I went.  It’s your turn.  You should try to keep your head in the game, Uncle Kyle.”

“Should she be playing?” Jim asks.

“She can probably beat you,” Kyle responds.

“Thus my question.  Should she be playing?”

As the conversation begins to build up around the table, the first hand makes it way across and Rebecca leans and whispers into Bruce’s ear.

“What do you want me to do tonight?  The dorms are closed now.”

He presses his cards close up against his chest and leans towards her ear.

“What do you want to do tonight?”

“Make love to you,” she whispers.

All conversation stops at the table when Bruce drops his cards, many of them landing face up.  There is a long pause before anyone says anything.

“Perhaps, my dear,” Jenn says, “you shouldn’t say things that will shock him when he is holding the Queen of Spades in his hand.”

“There’s no plot necessary for that.  Bruce is not one to be standing when a game of hearts is done,” Jim says.

“Bring it on.”

“I’ll bring it.  We all know you have the Queen of Spades.  You’re goin’ down.”


From where Bruce and Rebecca sit on the roof, the l-shape of the ranch house protrudes into their line of sight and they can see Kyle, Kayce and Jenn doing the dishes.  Bruce smiles as Kayce manages to talk her way out of doing any of the actual work, instead explaining to Jenn as she dries each dish where it must be placed in the cupboards.

“You have wonderful friends, Bruce.”

“Like I said.  They’re family.”

“What about biological family?”

“I occasionally communicate with my parents.  But I don’t see them.”

“What happened?” she asks.  She notices that he doesn’t turn away, doesn’t shy from anything, will meet things head on.  She thinks of the things she has heard his friends saying and wonders if they realize the kind of person he has become, whether he has outgrown them all.

“I had a mother who pushed too hard.  I had a father who withdrew into one drink or another.  One side always pushing, one side always relenting.  My dad wasn’t a mean drunk, just a worthless drunk.  Somewhere in the middle, they didn’t seem to notice when I slipped away.”

“Has Kayce ever met her grandparents?”

“She’s met her grandmother, Michelle’s mother.  She was raised by her when we were finishing school.  But no, she’s never met my parents.”

“Does she ask?”

“I told her once when we were at her grandmother’s, told her that there are good people that you keep around and the rest are just people you once knew.  You keep the good people around you and they’re your family.  Family is who is there for you when you call them, when you need them.  That’s why she calls him Uncle Kyle.”

“And those people in there, that’s the family.”

“That’s the family.”

“And this family somehow shares a scar?” she asks.  He turns to look at her, smiles slightly, knows that she must see more than he ever did.  “I’ve noticed it, you know.  Not just on you.  I thought it was interesting when I met Kyle that you and him had the same scar.  But I saw it yesterday on both the Lanes.  I think I saw it on Jenn as well.  You get too many coincidences and they form a pattern and a pattern implies meaning.”

He doesn’t drift away into memories, doesn’t turn away from her questions, doesn’t do any of the things which come to mind but one.  He gives her the truth about her question.

“Everyone down there has it except Sharon.”

“Is Sharon too young?”

“Sharon is too old.  She was in Texas at the time, had graduated and was off at a conference.  See, it was a promise we all made, a promise Paul extracted from us, standing in front of a fire in the dead of winter, swearing that none of us would ever surrender.  That we would fight until the end.”

“Seems kind of ironic then that you threw the card game.”

Bruce smiles and she can see the smile before it even breaks across his lips.

“I wouldn’t say I threw it.”

“You played the wrong card.  You should be in there with Kyle and Kayce.”

“I thought he could use some time with Jenn.”

“They were lovers, weren’t they, in college.”

“For a couple of years, yeah.”

“Was she yours too?”

There is a pause this time, before he answers.  She has not had to meet Jessica, has only had to compete with a ghost of Michelle, never met a rival face to face and he wonders.  He doesn’t look at her when he answers, looks into the night, feels the Arizona warmth in his skin on a dark Christmas Eve; he looks down and sees the kids playing in the yard, delighting in the winter warmth even though they all live in California and have never had a Christmas in snow.

“For a little bit, right before Sean died, she and I were together.  Then everything started to go wrong and as it happens in times like that, you either stay on your path and find a higher ground or you go wrong as well.  And for us, there was no higher ground.”

“Did Sean kill himself?  Did you make the promise because of him?”

“Sean did kill himself, but he wasn’t the reason for the promise.  That came later, in response to an old girlfriend of Paul’s.  The rest of us had never even met her, but it struck Paul to the core.  He made us all promise.”

He wants to explain more, to tell her of how his wife was there, of how she took that oath, how she was strong and never surrendered and she never forgot that oath, wants to tell of the last push of strength she made to give one last smile for her daughter, so her daughter would not be afraid when she said goodbye; wants to explain how there was someone who couldn’t do it, who was forced to surrender because life became too much for her.  Tonight, though, there are no words to explain all the things he needs to say.  He lets it go, knows there will be time enough.  If she wants it, there will be time enough for all the stories.

She lets the silence slide in and surround them.  She pulls closer and feels his smile fill the night air and when he leans in to kiss her she finds herself smiling in return.  She remembers all the reasons in the world to smile.

III

The morning of the thirtieth breaks over the Arizona sky with a cloud cover, the first in a week.  It is nearing nine in the morning when Bruce comes back from his run, allowing himself to fall back into a leisurely pace.  He sees someone sitting on the front steps of his house and his first instinct is to smile at his lover before he remembers that she is not supposed to be back from the Grand Canyon until the next morning.  He stops cold.  He sees her smile, not standing, remaining where she is and he remembers the last time he saw her, their kiss goodbye on the steps to Rachel’s mother’s house.

His memories are of a September evening, a clear warm sunset and the five of them walking into the room, Kevin and Kate, Sean and Rachel, and Rachel’s roommate.  Kevin and Sean had brought the girls by, wanting to introduce them to Kyle and Bruce, to help cement the growing friendship among the four young men.  Jessica, Rachel’s roommate, was looking around the room, starting to stare at the photos on the wall when the alarms went off.  It was a fire drill, that customary first week drill to help prepare new students for what might come.  When the alarm started it caused her to jump and she leapt into Bruce’s arms.  She stayed there for most of the next two years.

It is less than a mile down the road, past the dorms to where the Rock stands, looming over the stadium and allowing a view for miles on a clear day, which in Tempe, is basically everyday.  Their walk there is fairly quiet with the city in the lull of the holiday season.  They have lost the touch they had for gentle conversation.  He remembers how they would take off down the street, find someplace other than the dorm to be, to talk, to laugh, to feel.  He thinks of the little park in Santiago Oaks where they would go, the one across from the high school, that had the little carousel, not the one he and Jenn went to the one night, but the one he and Jessie used to walk to, to relax, to get away from everything, to hide from all the others.  Now they do the same, he thinks.  They have to walk to find someplace away from everything else because they have never learned to simply relax back onto a couch and tell each other what they are thinking.  So he leads her to Hayden Rock and up to the top and they stand, looking out over the valley for what feels like a long time before anything is said.

“Have you really forgiven me, Bruce?” she finally asks.  He turns to look at her and she adds “or is Bill’s forgiveness of Ellen just part of the story?”

“How long ago did you read it?”

“Michelle sent it to me when it was published.”

“I didn’t know she was in contact with you.”

“She wasn’t.  She just sent me the story and a nice little letter.”

“There really wasn’t anything to forgive, Jess.  You never lied about your plan to leave the Oaks after two years, that you were only there because your parents made you go before letting you go to art school.  I knew what I was getting into.”

“Did you get to feel that Alanis Morissette thrill of forgiveness?”

“Do you have something against how I wrote the story?”

“It was just interesting that you used her words in relation to me again.”

“How do you mean?”

“You wrote me that letter during that first summer after I left.  I used to think of it as the Alanis letter.  The one where you kept quoting the lyrics of ‘Head Over Feet’.”

“You know I had forgotten about that.  The album came out, you know, right after you left.  I kept listening to it and I kept thinking of you.  You even look like her a bit, you know.”

“I never went down on you in a theater.”

“You never went down on me at all.”

She frowns a little and stares at him.  She remembers their physical relationship, remembers what she was interested in doing, what she wanted to have already done before she went off the art school, went off to the larger world of Boston.  She starts to nod, but then gives it up as a meaningless gesture.  He turns away from her and looks back across the valley again.

“Did you ever think of coming to Boston?” she asks, with a soft voice.  He turns and the look in his eyes is somewhere between anger and sorrow, a sort of confusion of pain.  He starts to say something, starts to say everything he wanted to say when she said ‘walk with me’ and he followed her down the street a few months before.  He stops himself.  He turns away and looks down out across the riverbed, dry even in the depths of winter.

“What was that about?” she asks.  He is not looking at her, can not bring himself to speak under the weight of her eyes.  He remembers his last dance with her, remembers the look in her eyes when she said goodbye, then ran across the floor, only to turn and run back, and for a second he believed that she might not leave, that she might stay and they could be in love.  But we were never in love, he thinks.

“I couldn’t understand how you could leave,” he begins.  “I kept somehow clinging to that thought, that you weren’t really gone.  I wrote you that letter, I made you the tape.  I was back in Gilroy and I kept wondering if maybe you would change your mind and when I came back to school I would find you there.  But I didn’t.  And for the first week, people wouldn’t talk about you, wouldn’t ask me anything, tried to find any way they could be around me while pretending you had never existed.  And I knew, there was no way I was gonna get through all of that.  I couldn’t just pretend you might come back and I couldn’t pretend you had never been there.  And then Rachel died.  And none of it seemed to matter anymore.”

When Jessica speaks next, it is nothing more than a whisper, almost as if she has fled far away and her voice can barely traverse the distance.  Bruce can feel the touch of her breath on his neck as she stands close but the voice is still no more than a whisper.

“You loved Rachel, didn’t you?”

He turns and they are close, closer than he has been to anyone other than Rebecca in months.  He moves closer so that their eyes can not meet, so his lips linger in the air just inches from her ear.

“God, Jess, I loved all of you.  You, Rachel, Kate, Jenn, Michelle, even Laura.  I loved all of you with more passion and feeling than I ever would have thought I possessed when I first came to school.  After all, wasn’t that the point?  We all loved you.  That’s why it was so stupid that we all fell into such perfect pairings within days after school started, you and me, Kate and Kevin, Sean and Rachel.  None of the couples made any sense because we were just a large group of people in love, passionately in love for the first time in our lives.”

He pulls back and he knows what expression he has now, a long sad look of lasting regret as he lets his eyes slide into contact with hers.

“I was there, you know, Jess.  I was there in the room and suddenly she just stopped breathing.  Her chest stopped rising.  That line went flat.  And all I really needed in the world was for you to be there.  If not for her, then for me.  But you weren’t.  Jenn was.  And it took the rest of the year and we suddenly knew that we both loved each other and she and Kyle had fallen apart and we both found some measure of comfort in each other.  And you still weren’t there and you still weren’t coming back.”

He takes her face gently in his hands, rubbing his thumbs gently along her cheeks, pushing the tears away at the same rate at which they fall.

“I should have . . .”

“No,” he says, firmly.

“What?”

He steps back and shakes his head, his expression changing to something of determination.

“There is no ‘should have’, no ‘could have’, no ‘would have’.  We don’t play at what might have happened and we don’t look back and we don’t change our minds.”

“Bruce, sometimes we learn different things along the way.  We learn what choices could have been better made.”

“I don’t regret anything, Jess.”

She stops.  A stranger coming upon the scene would have thought he had just struck her, the look of sudden shock and pain with the stopped breath forcing her to sit down.

“What do you mean?” she says, not looking at him anymore, not able to force out anything stronger than a whisper once again.  He comes and kneels beside her, takes her hand in his own, a noble, kind gesture, so much like what she remembers when anything she would have said would have been taken to heart.

“I had someone look at a picture of all of us once, and they said, which one was it?  Which one of these was the one you fell in love with?  And I pointed to you.  Didn’t say anything.  Just drew my finger down along your cheek in the picture.  And they pointed at Rachel and at Jenn and they said, why her, she’s so short, she’s nothing like the catch these two are.  But I just kept running my finger down your cheek, remembering the way that would make you quiver in my arms.  I never learned anything about how to be a lover like Kyle did.  I never had any practice before I met you.”

With that said, he sits in the dust, turns and looks at the late December sun stretching its arc across the morning sky.  He sits and he remembers.

“Jenn told me once what it was like,” he begins.  “She told me about the first time she slept with Kyle.  And I couldn’t understand why her description of what it was like was so different from my experience.  But then I did.  I loved you so much but you weren’t coming back.  It was that night, that horrible night when Rachel was hit, after they put her on the helicopter and sent her to Sacramento.  I was walking with Jenn and I knew I loved you so much and I loved her as well and I loved Rachel and nothing seemed to make any sense.  There was no sense in looking back after you, no sense in hoping you might come back.  So I found Jenn and then later on, when everything changed after Sarah got sick, I found Michelle.  Or she found me.  And Michelle gave me the best thing in my life and she gave me seven years.  I had nothing to regret, nothing to look back on and wonder about.  I really did forgive anything you might have thought you had done.  Because without that, I wouldn’t have had Michelle and I wouldn’t have Kayce.”

“So,” she says, slowly pushing the words out, “so, you and I, we’re, we’re not . . .”

“I don’t even know what you want, Jess.  I can’t say anything about you and I without knowing that.”

“What I want?”

She starts to laugh and were he still ten years younger, had he not grown with her in the two years they had been in love, he would smile and find peace in that laughter.  Her laughter now, the comprehension of the dark undertone in her throat, makes him want to shut his eyes and turn away from the pain of the world.

“I want,” she says, “I want to stop feeling like I’ve failed.  I want to stop thinking about Colin and a marriage that was a mistake, then a joke and eventually a sham.  I want to forget two years of school with people who cut you down so they can stand taller just to go out and sell it all away for a few piddly dollars.  I want to not think about waitressing and temp jobs and finding a little bit of work designing covers for pathetic bands on minor labels.  I want to take someone in my arms and kiss him and hold him and know that it’s not a mistake or a cry for help.  I want to feel loved.  And I want to stop feeling anything other than that.”

He moves before he can think, reaches forward and kisses her, softly, firmly, a kiss she remembers and she gets her wish.  Her wish lasts longer than one minute, but does not quite reach two.  He remembers the way she likes to be kissed, remembers which part of her body match up with which parts of hers.  He falls into the kiss as naturally as he took her hand and walked her down the road.  When he falls out of it, he feels the weight of ten years slowly settle in upon his shoulders.

“I can’t give you what you need, Jess,” he whispers.  “I loved you more passionately than I could have ever imagined and I woke up each morning needing you, needing to see you, to hear you, to feel you, to touch you, to love you.  And I went on needing you long after you were gone.  I wish you every happiness in the world.  But I can’t be this person for you.”


Rebecca pushes harder.  Her heart continues to pump blood faster as her knees move a little higher and her legs go a bit further with each stride.  She feels in shape after her days away in the Grand Canyon and she feels like Hayden Rock shouldn’t be much of a challenge.  She has never been up to the top before, in fact doesn’t know anyone who has, in spite of its presence hanging over the university.  She finally slows as she comes to the top, as she comes around and sees Bruce sitting on a large rock, looking out across the valley.  She checks her watch, five o’clock on the last evening of the year.

She doesn’t say anything as she walks towards him.  She has learned something about his moods in the past few months, has learned when to speak and when to let silence speak for itself.  When she reaches him, she gently places one hand on his shoulder.  His only reaction is to cross his fingers and put his thumbs up to his mouth, resting his elbows upon his knees.  She has seen him do this before and she worries that this something serious.

“I’m going to promise you something, Rebecca,” he says, but does not turn to look at her as he says it.  “I will make you this promise and it is your choice to take it or to leave it by the roadside.”

She comes around to the front of him and kneels before him.  He watches as the blonde hair catches the last light over Hayden Rock.

“Make your promise,”she says and as she speaks she can tell that he has been crying.

“I will never ask you about the song.  I will never make you tell me anything.  I will let you say anything you have to say in your own time, when you feel I should know.  I will never make any choice, at least until she is much older, that will allow anyone to come between Kayce and I.  But I will also never leave you.  I will love you, I will watch over you, I will give everything that I have to give beyond Kayce to you.”

He looks straight at her now, lets his eyes linger on hers.

“You asked me the first time we met if I made a habit of letting chances walk out of my life.  And I said that you wouldn’t be the first.  Because I met this girl named Jessica once.  She jumped into my arms when the fire alarm went off.  And when we finally slept together, I thought, this is it, she can’t leave for Boston now, I’m her first, she’s my first, we’re together forever.  And she got on that plane to Boston and I let her go out of my life.  Then she came sliding back into my life out in the sand in Coronado and then the sand in Phoenix brought her to my doorstep.  And I longer needed to take that chance in my life.”

“She came to Phoenix?” she asks.  In spite of his promise, there is concern, there is fear in her voice.

“Yesterday morning, she and I were standing up here.  And now I have you here.  I’d rather have you.  I will have you, if you’ll let me.”

Rebecca stands and turns to see the darkness encroaching across the sky.  When she turns back she is smiling.

“How does Kayce feel about this?”

“Let’s go find her and ask,” he says.

They are gone before the darkness can settle and they have found their way home before the last light can reach the end of the valley.

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