Margot paused before a coffee shop in the torrent of people surging through Cleveland's airport. Another traveler pulled up beside her, craning his head to inspect the menu as well. She glanced over and then pulled a double take. It looked like Casey, a version of him freighted with sixty more pounds than he carried in high school but otherwise the same profile, the same slouchy cast of shoulders. "Casey Macon?" When he turned she saw it was him, his skin at 34 not as smooth as at 18 but still the same constellation of honest features. Gray eyes squinted for a moment, and he nodded. "Margot Troy. Small world." They shared the only semi-clean table left, her attaché and his briefcase parked on a third chair. The usual ice-breaking chitchat of departure times and destinations, moving from there to what do you do and how do you like it. She'd been a television journalist for ten years, ever since college, and loved it, while he managed stock portfolios in Charlotte and loved the money. He noticed her diamond, so she rhapsodized about her recent marriage to a wonderful man--"I'm Margot Troy Slotkin now"--the son of a giant in the world of television news, about his talent for sales and marketing, for personal interaction. "What about you," she said finally, realizing how she'd dominated the conversation. "Ever visit the old stomping grounds?" He used his coffee swizzle to scoop out a last clot of whipped cream and settled back in his chair. She hoped this wasn't about to turn awkwardly silent. "You haven't changed much." His tone, so neutral. She couldn't be certain it was a compliment. "Thirty minutes talking about how terrific your life is, yet even now you can't just come right out and ask about him. I find that really amazing." Okay, probably not a compliment. "Ancient history, I'd say." "That's your response? Unbelievable. As if love has an expiration date." "Oh come on, it's been sixteen years. No one hangs onto an old flame that long." He laughed and leaned forward. "You filleted him." "It wasn't as bad as that." He looked at her and she went cold, wishing this would turn awkwardly silent. "Do you even know how long it took him to go out on another date after you?" Now a drop of perspiration formed at the back of her neck, her body running quick, disorienting changes of temperature. What was happening here? "I know it took him a while. I know he loved me. A year?" He shook his head. "Two?" "Ten. Try ten years." She sat back as if slapped. It wasn't possible. Nobody could maintain such desire, absent any least shred of reciprocation, for that long. It was freakish. Medieval romantic love. "And don't flatter yourself that he spent all that time pining for you, though he did spend way more than he should've." Unwavering, indicting gray-eyed stare. "I never saw anyone burned as bad as him. He just shut down, at least where love was concerned, closed up shop for a long decade." And then, awkward silence, which of course proved unendurable. "You remember what he was like, Casey, how vain and arrogant." He put a palm against his cheek in mock astonishment. "Shocker. First you and then practically every girl in town creams over him. That'll go to anyone's head, especially someone as shy as he was then." True, she'd been the primary architect of that colossal ego, singing veritable hymns to his beauty during her attempt to coax him into bed. She knew how volatile such blandishments were, that at home he received praise for nothing, was never taught confidence in his abilities--so different from her own upbringing--and yet she plunged ahead. And when he inevitably ODed on ego juice she absolved herself of all responsibility and left him to flounder and sink. "Sure, he turned into an arrogant jerk, no argument from me," Casey was saying. "But did it mean he'd stay that way forever? Hell no."
"Being in love with him exhausted me," she said quietly.
"He just needed time to sort himself out. You have no idea what happened to him, do you?"
"What do you mean?" "I mean, he flunked out of college because all he could think about was you. And what did you do? Mocked him. Made him a laughingstock among your friends, his name a joke on their lips." "Now wait a minute." "No, you wait." Incredible. She saw a vein throb along his temple, proxied anger that seemed fresh, as though weeks and not years had passed.
"You told all your gossipy gal-pals what a nutcase he was. Did you think we wouldn't hear how you were making fun of his heartbreak? Come on, even now it's not that big a city. Hell, I heard some of the dirt you dished on him from one of your ex-boyfriends--David Bartleby ring any bells?"
The track star, right; he hadn't been a patch on Trevor, but she nonetheless told him all about the creepy ex who menaced her. Casey was right, the town wasn't that big back then, yet when Trevor kept crossing her path she informed everyone he was stalking her, ruining whatever reputation he had left. She turned him into a clown. When they unavoidably met at church functions she baited him without mercy, knowing how vulnerable he was. She enjoyed it, too, watching his heart break, and the knowledge now made her cheeks burn. He peered at her, searching, she knew, for any sign of remorse. She just wanted to get on the plane and join her family at the beach and forget about this nightmare encounter. It was all so long ago. "It was all so long ago." Wishing to take back the words as soon as they escaped her lips. He surprised her by speaking gently. "Yeah it was long ago. Do you know why he couldn't get over you?" Numbly, she shook her head. "Because you never told him your reason for breaking it off. You never actually broke up with him."
"No, that's not right, he knew." But now she couldn't be certain. Hadn't she told him? Months after she started avoiding him, at last tired of his fluttering about like some light-blind moth, she arranged for them to meet in the park opposite her house. Two days after Christmas, and it snowed. Damn, that's right, he ran through a blizzard to keep the date, but then refused to come inside her house and talk where it was warm, so she left him there, but surely she told him. Surely.
"He didn't. And if you're thinking about the snowstorm, no, you never got around to explaining why your new order excluded him. Just left the boy there to freeze his ass off. A letter, a God damn memo, anything like that would've done the trick. That's all he wanted." I didn't know, she wanted to say, but he stood up. "My flight leaves in twenty. I think I'll find somewhere else to wait." She stopped him as he turned to throw his coffee cup in the trash. "It may be hard for you to believe, but I really am interested in how he's doing."
His smile had nothing friendly for her. "That's too easy. If you want to know, put in a little effort."
"Come on, don't be like that." When he moved out into the concourse, she raised her voice. "It was sixteen years ago, Casey, damn it. People are supposed to move on." He turned, walking backwards away from her. "Enjoy your great life, Margot. It's what you've always done best." She spent the flight to RDU airport tuning out a chatty Kappa Kappa Gamma with Vogue-worthy hair and wondering at Casey's display of allegiance, vehemence on behalf of a friend after all those years. She wondered if any of hers would do the same. Probably not. For some reason she didn't inspire nearly that level of devotion. It was one of several reasons she'd been envious of Trevor, and maybe that explained why she found cruelty easy where he was concerned. She could admit that now, after sixteen years, on a plane carrying her home.
As promised, her mother left a car in the pay lot and soon she was zipping along the bland wilderness of I-40 toward the coast, drowning out Casey's voice with James Taylor at top volume. By the time her car hit the Duplin County line she was beach ready from nose to toes.
Her mom greeted her with a hug and a detailed report on the current whereabouts of siblings, nieces, nephews, the jetsam of her family scattered all along the beach. "And you said Larry will join us tomorrow?" "He's closing a big deal for the station today, so unless there's some disaster--" melodramatic crossing of fingers "--he'll be here." It was their usual cottage, #411 ocean front, and despite the realty company's best efforts, wind, water, and salt had turned it shabby around the corners: weeping rust marks from every outdoor nail and screw, arthritic hinges, blistered paint. She loved it. A week away from newsroom deadlines and the twice daily imperative of perfect make-up. Nothing to do but drink, swim, play cards, and feud with her sisters. Heaven. Upstairs, she changed into a gold halter top bikini. Tina and Sam long ago waved the white flag of motherhood and climbed into one-piece suits, but at thirty-one she still had her figure. Giving them hell on this score was one of the beach trip's great pleasures. It was good-natured, her ribbing, but unfair in a way: they were much older, after all. Hers was one of those families that sprawled across the years. Growing up, her sisters functioned as learned, often times heartless, oracles in the mysteries of sex, and she'd seen her brother Will with his dates on more than one occasion, some girl wrapped around him out by his car. She masturbated at twelve, gave her first hand job a week before turning thirteen, her first, bumbling, blow job--Chris Borden, the two-timing, nipple-biting rat bastard--five months after that, and was light years ahead of her school friends when it came to what went where. By the time she was in ninth grade, guys her age bored her; the thought of a naked breast alternately petrified and titillated them, and not a one of them could handle the concept of pussy. She needed someone older.
As if conjured from her then sex-soaked dreams, enter Trevor, spotted first at a church youth picnic one August, relentlessly pursued over the course of three weeks, at last bagged in early September. If anyone did some stalking, it was she.
A mouth-watering twelfth-grader, a dangerously beautiful boy who attended public high school, quite a feather in her ninth-grade private school cap. At fourteen she had only one sexual hurdle to clear and was thus in the market for a spectacular first fuck. He seemed to satisfy all her requirements. Someone that handsome must know his way around a girl's body, went her logic, none of the fumbling and confusion about where to put it one got with junior high boys. She wanted to fuck him more than she wanted anything in the world, and for almost a year worked toward that goal. She laughed to remember the embarrassing poetry she wrote him, an ode to his eyes, strophes on the topic of his skin, his sweet nature, the way his hand fit the small of her back as moonlight poured over them.
She hit the sand with a sweating thermos of lime daiquiris, pleased to see the usual smattering of vacationers, the tired dads with their dick lit, the exhausted moms with their chick lit, the crazy flock of kids swooping between tide pools, teen boys in their new muscles and sun-painted skins, teen girls testing their impossible curves with swim suits that trampled modesty. Tina, Sam, and Lara, Will's spouse, welcomed her arrival--or that of the thermos--with hosannas.
Custom dictated a round of catty greetings with the sibs, bloodless but fierce. After her year, wildly successful but trying--the never-ending broadcasts, Larry's extensive travel, and of course their wedding and subsequent honeymoon, work fractured, sporadically romantic--this meow mix ritual acted like purest balm.
They drank, commented on those young boys, drank some more, and let the sun marinate them. In the absence of husbands, under the influence of sweet rum and lime concentrate, hair was let down, and then Margot at the first or second refill told them about her run-in with Casey.
"Trevor Reddick," Tina said with a too breathy sigh. "Now there's a blast from the past."
"What's with the heavy breathing?" Margot said.
"Well, come on. He was your guy, surely you remember what he looked like?"
"I never met him." Sam leaned in for more frozen booze and hot dish, Lara following suit. "He was the stalker?"
"Think Brad Pitt." Tina's smile was evil. "Think Tom Cruise, only with drop-dead gorgeous eyes. Jocelyn at five had the hugest crush on him after he played with her the whole weekend we visited, kept his picture up months after Margot dumped him and took hers down."
No refuting the point. She'd always been resilient when it came to break-ups, and it'd proved laughably easy to toss all her photographs of Trevor, all his letters, a week after dismissing him. She found a new boyfriend one week beyond that. Looking back, she clearly hadn't loved him, despite what she told Casey at the airport, but if that was so, why did his memory plague her with such tenacity now? "He was choice, sure, but Larry--"
"Don't kid yourself, Trevor was without a doubt your high-water mark for male beauty." They paused to inspect a sun-ravished surfer, swim trunks at low ebb revealing the topmost swells of an adorably cleft ass. "Hey, I'm not saying Larry doesn't have good looks of his own, and he's no doubt a nicer guy, if we can believe your tales of young Trevor's ego psychosis--"
"What does that mean?" Margot protested.
"--but while we're getting mildly snockered, let's put it all on the table. Trevor was in a whole different league. Do you deny?"
Down the beach, a crew-cut guy in old blue tattoos, maybe an ex-Marine turning reluctantly to fat, switched on his radio and played an under-amped version of "Take It Easy." One night a snowstorm--a different one, happier--stranded Trevor at her house. They slept in separate rooms, of course, her dad grumbling about the whole arrangement, ultimately giving in to her as usual. She crept to Trevor's bed around four in the morning to lay beside him, marveling at the way dawn sunlight turned his muscles to gold, running her palm down his stomach, twining fingers through his pubic hair, around his cock, thrilling to the power she had over him, the way it pulsed in her hand.
Oh Christ. She shifted in her beach chair, checking with a slight scissor movement of the thighs for lubricated action. Unbelievable. She was sopping wet at the thought of him, sixteen fucking years later.
"Okay, sure, he made for decent eye candy."
Tina snorted. Sam and Lara smiled into their drinks. The radio perpetrated a brittle "Swingtown" on all the beach Aztecs and a fisherman hauled in a three foot shark and the golfer husbands returned from the links and talk turned to dinner plans. Margot drank one last daiquiri, insurance against Casey and his damn Pandora's box.
They decided to eat at a new place near the bridge, indigo tiles on the facade and a rep for creativity, and were piling into cars when Larry arrived, as if conjured by the twitch of a witch's nose, in a rented Lexus.
"Surprise," he said as Margot moved into him for a deep kiss. She needed it in the worst way, but he turned it into a peck, still hung up on excessive PDAs in front of her family. He was just what the doctor ordered, though, and when combined with a couple more drinks, grilled mahi, and one of her father's interminable stories about his patients, she felt herself at last click into vacation mode. And then Tina, who never could let a subject rest in peace, dug Trevor up again and dumped him onto the dinner table.
For excruciating minutes her family reminisced over this long-forgotten part of the past, laughing at the antics of a boy who would for them always be a cartoonish Romeo marooned in 1980, then moving on to more important matters: where to rent jet-skis, the possibility of miniature golf. Larry, hearing the tale of Trevor for the first time, laughed along with everyone else, but it was his wrinkled-brow laugh, never a good sign. And her mom stayed quiet during the exchange, a small worried smile her only contribution.
Back at the cottage, some opted for a walk on the beach and others, including Larry, for pretzel-ante poker. Margot went to join her mom on the gazebo, but Larry, standing up quickly from his seat at the table while her dad counted out mini-twists, motioned her into their room.
"So that Casey guy must've really surprised you today, huh?"
Even now he was in sales mode, never able to get straight to what he wanted to say without a few circling questions. She lacked patience for games right now, though, so she answered the question he'd ask sometime during the next three minutes. "You never heard about Trevor because it was sixteen years ago. Way before you came on the scene."
He scratched a hand through his hair. "But he stalked you, I mean, surely that rates a mention, even if it's just an amusing anecdote. And ten years--that's totally psychotic."
Love-struck though he was, she thought, jealousy had not been one of Trevor's flaws. She tightened her gaze on Larry, fixing him in place so he'd hear what she had to say. "No, it didn't rate a mention because I eventually outgrew my hobby as character assassin."
A blank look: he wasn't following.
"He never stalked me."
"But back at dinner your family said he did."
"Yeah, well, that's what I told everyone." Admitting it for the first time re-opened that year of her life and she saw what her allegations had done to Trevor. Why had he stayed in town after that? Why did he always take the hard way? "I was fifteen, okay? The whole thing was a mistake."
He stood there rubbing his jaw and looking perplexed so she told him to go play poker, dad and the others were waiting, that they could talk about this later if he really thought it necessary. She found her mom waiting on the gazebo, watching lighted shrimp boats trawling the sea.
"Thanks to Tina, Larry's all upset because I never told him about Trevor. Like it's some deep dark secret." A steady breeze fanned through her hair and drew papery rustles from the sea oats. "Am I the only one who thinks a mountainous tragedy was made out a molehill romance?"
"Don't worry about Larry, it just caught him by surprise."
A long minute they rocked in chairs, listening as waves folded against the sand and pulled themselves musically back into the sea through millions of broken shells.
"Have you seen him?" Margot asked when she could no longer stand it. She saw the flash of her mom's smile. "Since then, I mean?"
"He stopped going to church a long time ago, but I've bumped into him a couple of times around town."
"Where?" She didn't want to ask all the expected questions, but it looked as if she would.
"At the grocery store once, the Kroger up on Hillsborough Road, and then, last year, riding his bicycle down Vickers Avenue."
She wasn't going to ask how he looked. No need to. What possible use would she have for that information? None. She drew the line there.
"How'd he look?" Damn. She tried nonchalance, but knew by her mom's sharp glance that she hadn't pulled it off. "Simple curiosity, Mom, come on, give me a break."
"So you say. Well, he still has the most amazing eyes I've ever seen. And he was fit."
"Fit? What does that mean, 'fit'?"
"It means what it means, honey. I'm sure there's a clever slangy word for it these days." She botched a look of innocence. "Oh all right. Ripped, then."
Margot stopped rocking. "Where did you pick up that kind of language?" she asked, and they both giggled, just a couple of girlfriends talking boys. Constant wind off the ocean swept all clouds from the sky and showed them the moon's silver track. This place renewed them, no matter that they hadn't seen each other in six months or a year, continually wove them one into the other, adding husbands and children to the story, leitmotifs of report cards and promotions and first dates. Here a number of her boyfriends passed or failed their big trial: the family coastal inquisition. Trevor being the one notable exception, the boy she most wanted to bring.
"What happened back then?" A young couple walked along the beach, hands slipped down the back of each other's shorts. "You liked him, I remember."
"Of course I did, it was impossible not to. What worried me was his effect on you. You were too young to fall that deeply for someone, even a boy as sweet as Trevor." One hand drifted to her cheek and ligh tly brushed the skin, signifying that careful word choice would follow. "He had a shell around his heart, though, and I think you got tired of trying to crack it open." She brought her glasses to her eyes and peered at the couple strolling away. "Are their hands--oh my goodness."
"Shocking what young people nowadays will do, isn't it?" In her most over-the-top bluestocking voice.
"You're one to talk," wicked humor charging each word, "the way you went into heat whenever he was around."
For a second, confronted with the awful perspicacity of mothers, she lost the power of speech, her face burning with long delayed embarrassment. "How did you know?"
"You mean beyond the fact that the two of you always smelled like barely sublimated sex?" Now she was laughing outright. "Or the fact that whenever you both were in the same room my daughter's eyes glazed over and her eyelids drooped in such an outrageously sultry manner that I frequently had to turn away out of a misplaced sense of propriety?"
She wanted to deny these examples, or at least diminish them as preposterous hyperbole, but vivid memory stopped the words in her throat. Trevor's inexperience puzzled her when they at last began to date--she had to kiss him first, guide his hand beneath her sweater. Had to, one memorable October night when they parked outside her house and lust nearly blinded her, practically shove one of her breasts into his mouth. He wasn't at all the Casanova she thought he'd be, but rather than disappointment she felt only elation. Slowly bringing him under her thumb was intoxicating, and he proved a fast learner. She could do anything with him she wanted. Almost.
"Just make sure it's only idle curiosity." No laughter in her voice now. "And don't indulge it too much. It's dangerous."
The following afternoon, the kids agitated for a volleyball match against what they tauntingly called the "fogeys." They drafted Margot, as the youngest of the fogeys, to even out the teams, and everyone assembled on the beach for their generational rumble.
Larry still looked good in his swim trunks, the ghost of muscles earned at the gym and on the racquetball court evident along arms and calves, but a swell of soft flesh pushed over the edge of his waistband and his hair had undeniably thinned. Fit, but not ripped.
They played a boisterous point that ended with Paul spiking the ball just out of Larry's reach, and she high-fived her nephew. Clearly, her team, with its contingent of teens and twenty-somethings, had better wheels for the sand and would win easily, though Larry and the other fogeys kept up a stream of good-natured trash talk. Her mom had been right: Larry emerged from the poker game poor in pretzels but rich in humor, joking about her secret double-life as a character assassin for hire. He really was the kindest man, and even if her mom's report indicated Trevor was aging better, she had no doubt Larry beat him hands down when it came to accomplishments. Trevor probably ended up managing some sporting goods store in South Square Mall back home or delivering mail, never more than a small town boy.
Her team waltzed to victory, and afterward she dragged her chair beyond the umbrella's protective shade to sit staring across the ocean. The ex-Marine's valiant little radio released "Black Dog" on the beach, that spine-shivering vocal erupting at the start. She crooned softly along with Robert Plant. When he got to the part about honey dripping, Margot was seized with a need to ravish her husband. She wandered across the broiling sand to where Larry scanned the horizon with binoculars for ships, whispered in his ear, "I'm wet and I'm willing. The beach house is empty. Give me a five minute head start," and kept moving, a drive-by come on.
Six minutes later his mouth engulfed her breast and satisfaction seemed imminent, but then she tried to steer his head south and as usual he balked. She knew this about him and had married him anyway. She thought he'd eventually get with the program, but after three years of dating and a year of marriage she still only got special occasion head: her birthday. At the least she wanted holiday head, too, Christmas, Halloween, Easter. Valentine's Day, of course. Arbor Day. And vacations, which were holidays in the British sense of the word. The prospect of oral sex as a scant once yearly event made her so angry she sometimes thought to reciprocate by declaring her mouth off-limits for his cock, her own personal Lysistrata gambit.
He smiled. "Come on, honey, your birthday was last month," and gently bent her over the foot of the bed. As he jackhammered away, she scandalized herself by drawing comparisons rather than cobbling together the expected sounds of pleasure.
She knew she ought to be ashamed, attaching such importance to sex, but she wasn't. Trevor certainly never had a problem with it; he'd lather her to the point of frenzy. She only had to tell him what she wanted and he was on the job. It was like having a life-size sex toy, one with long eyelashes and an excruciatingly divine snake-tongue. Such risks she took with him, including one night when she stretched out naked on her bed, parents obliviously knocking about in the rooms below--she played Fleetwood Mac on the stereo to cover her moans--and Trevor's hands roamed across her belly, cupped her ass, while his head burrowed between her thighs and that tongue danced a fandango on her clit.
She now produced real, violent, paeans to the deity that shocked Larry out of the saddle.
"Oh my God," he said, echoing her recent mantra. "Was that a vaginal orgasm?"
Yes, and you could've had the credit if only you'd fuck me the way I want to be fucked. "I guess it was. How about that?"
That night storm clouds swept in from the sea and chilled the air. They kept the windows open and she watched the curtains dance. Ten years he waited! Ten years before he even dated again. Whatever else you could say about him--head case, nut job--you had to credit the mad love it revealed.
Ten years. Why couldn't he just take that final step with her? Everything might've turned out differently. True, the fact that it would've been statutory rape had very likely been a significant disincentive, but love and lust should have swept such considerations aside. Why did he have to be such an inconvenient Galahad?
Often during that week she imagined the worst: that she once possessed and then abandoned the Hope diamond of boyfriends, that in addition to beautiful and graceful he became kind and gentle once more and would now remain so deep into old age. That he still loved going down on a girl. She hated revisiting the past: it couldn't be changed, and promised only regret. She walked the beach, she played cards and tennis and volleyball, she rode jet skis at twenty dollars a half hour, anything to occupy body and mind. For the first time ever, she looked forward to the end of vacation.
At last it came, and ahead of the others she drove her mom's car back to Durham, to the place where she grew up. In the breezeway connecting house and garage, slid under the screen door, she found an envelope.
It was addressed to her. Inside, a single sheet of airport stationery.
He's been in the book all these years.
She read the message and at once memory shocked her so that she dropped the paper, letting it flutter onto warm ocher tiles. Casey was right, she had dismissed Trevor without an explanation.
Inside of five minutes she was parked across and two houses down from his duplex, a squat gray cinderblock affair with fake shutters screwed into the walls. Clearly he hadn't done very well for himself: maybe he really did manage a sporting goods store, lacing shoes for grotesquely overweight dieters and selling 60/40 blend sweatshirts with hoods to teenagers skipping school. An oak tree rolled cool thick shade across her car. Larry's binoculars, left on her floorboard after a trip during the week to Gator Gulch, allowed her to scrutinize an old woman, Trevor's neighbor, as she planted flowers around a mailbox. Every thirty seconds she staved off a panicked What do you think you're doing? by swearing that contact was of course out of the question, that no one would ever know: Larry was headed directly back to their house in Ohio, mom and dad, observing the speed limit, were an hour behind her at least, more if they stopped to eat.
Just as she told herself that the odds were stacked against any least glimpse of him, just as she was coming to her senses, the old woman smiled directly at her and she snatched the binoculars down, heart turned jackrabbit with alarm. But no, it was a trick of perspective, the woman had reacted to something--
A cyclist zipped past her window and swooped into the driveway, stopping beside the old woman. He still had the shapeliest legs, deliciously furred and tanned, and when he set his bike on the ground Margot knew she'd made two mistakes, one sixteen years ago and one now. If he'd only remained on his bike to chat she could have chalked it up to ordinary courtesy between neighbors, maybe even twisted it into a horribly patronizing act on his part. But no. He had to lay down his bike, a generous act that signaled his willingness to visit five minutes or fifty, however long his neighbor wanted to talk, this elderly woman who was clearly fond of him, who probably wished her own grandson was as considerate.
It only got worse. He took off his helmet, iridescent green, and his hair, though sweaty, was still longish and tousled. Her lost boy--not every woman was lucky enough to have one tucked safely in her past--and here he'd done the worst thing imaginable by retaining that boy's essential coltishness while growing into a thoughtful man. What a bastard.
He and his neighbor obviously had great fun with one another, joking about God only knew what. His chin had remained strong, his gestures much livelier than she remembered, but he wouldn't turn so she could see his eyes, and she wanted to pull him back through the binoculars, into her car, just to look at them once more. This prompted an even more ridiculous fantasy, one strong enough to place her fingers on the door handle. In this fantasy she rushed out of the car, surprising and interrupting them, tripping over her words in a way she never did when reporting the news, as she apologized for never thinking twice about him after breaking his heart, for her thousand little cruelties. In that moment she imagined crossing into a different world, one where she had not so casually dismissed him, where it was still possible to look him up years later and, discovering him lovely in every particular, ask him to dinner. Now such an idea was preposterous. Her hand eased away from the door.
She forced herself to watch the entire conversation, the whole half hour, tears blurring the last five minutes as she tormented herself with every sort of might-have-been and what-if. The sight of him was wrenching, like someone had lassoed her heart and now tried to pull it from her chest, and when the screen door of his duplex rattled shut behind him it was as if someone dropped a heavy iron lid over her life, shutting out the hope of adventure, wild sex, and conversations about something other than advertisment sales and sports.
She should not have come, she understood that now, when it was too late. Mom was right. This was dangerous. Trevor was like a sorcerer, Casey his familiar, and the phone number an incantation, a spell of the past. Now she would never be rid of this memory.
Back at her parents' house, she marched to the kitchen. In a small ceramic jar shaped like Mount St. Helens her mom still kept matches for the fabulously unsuccessful flaming desserts she attempted every Christmas.
Casey's note quickly burned to ash in the sink. She turned on the water and watched the black sludge whirl down the drain. She told herself Trevor had been nothing more than a dalliance, a failed experiment of her youth. That she was happy with her choices, with her life and her husband. She was. She was. This would be her mantra for years to come. She hoped it would be enough.