Jed snapped his fingers and shuffled into his room, and gave a spin. He flipped his covers up from his bed. Motes were enlivened in the September sunlight, like rising bumble bees. He dove under his bed and yanked a shoebox out from the darkness. He rubbed the layer of gray dust off the lid. The box was filled with notebooks and loose papers, and he took out a small journal from the bottom. The cover was bound with cow-hide, and the yellowish paper felt intimate to his fingers. He put the journal into his leather satchel and buckled the flap tightly.
Outside in the warm air, Jed pulled his bike out from the woodshed and slung his satchel over the handlebar. He swung up and pedaled across the grass to the lane. The sun was like golden syrup, sliding down the back of his neck and into his collar. Even his spine-bones were warm. He squeezed the handlebars, and he heard his mother holler out the back door,
“Sunny, you want toast?”
“What,” mooed his six-year old sister back. Sunny was kneeling in front of the barn, with burned bare knees, her hands in a mud puddle.
“You heard me.”
“I didin!” -- eyes on the mud.
“What did I say?”
“I don’t know."
“I said, you want toast.”
Jed sped by in a blur as Sunny pocketed her thumb into the center of a mud island -- “Nawr.”
“No, thank you!”
“No, thank you,” behind him, the highest note of a reed-pipe on the wind.
Jed spun by the house. “Well. You have to be polite in this world, Sunny,” said Mrs. Spearman, twisting a dishrag and slamming the screen door, and her son hated her voice. Jed felt something squish in his stomach, cozy and angry, but he ignored it. He stood up higher on the bike pedals and careened down the driveway and veered into the lane. It was cooler under the leafy trees.
He pedaled – unnecessarily hard -- until he reached the meadow in which stood his writing tree.
“The boy sometimes didn’t know what was happening,” he wrote in the typewriter space of his brain, “even when he was in the middle of it. He felt like he knew nothing about life right then: only the blue sky and creamy clouds.”
Riding down the meadow road, Jed searched for the footpath by the sassafras bush. He passed it, and turned around. When he saw it splitting the bracken, he braked fast, and turned aside.
Long tangles of vines and weeds. His bike rumbled and bumped. The woods smelled clear and clean, like live potpourri.
Finally the footpath ended at an intersection with a wider road, but still a dirt lane. The girl had not told him to go left or right. He struck off left, by intuition.
He followed the lane for another mile. There were no houses around, only trees and the squawks of birds, long accustomed to empty places. One crow swooped by, and he heard the wind rustle like oiled silk through its feathers.
At last the forest opened into a small hollow, and Jed saw a skinny girl walking the plank of a fence. He squeaked to a stop, something like relief and maybe happiness ballooning in his lungs. He felt out of breath. He closed his eyes briefly, and then he opened them.
Aggie's fence was jagged and splintered. It racketed around needle-less pines. Encased was also small gray house, hipped with a broken porch. The roof was sagging in the middle, and sprouted a central chimney like the stem of a gourd. The yard was both dirt and patchy grass. An oak grew by the house, wretched like an ogre’s backbone.
Aggie saw him, gave something like a yelp or caw, and jumped down, toes together. She strode up to him, and he opened his mouth to say something, but she interrupted,
"Jed! I guessed you'd be coming around now. Do you have time? I want to take you somewhere you've never seen."
He coughed. "Well," he laughed, kicking himself off his bike, "I have time, but I've also been here twenty-one more years than you have, and I'm pretty sure I've seen all of Moguncoy." He leaned his bike against the fence. “Gee, this is a splinter fest.”
"You haven't seen this place, I warrant."
"Then I'm going to be really surprised." He adjusted the handle bars. "I've walked everywhere here. All the way to Plymptom in the west. All along the railroad to the east. And north to Woodville, and south to Lakeville."
"Have you seen this part of town?"
"Well, no, actually." He surveyed the wooded hills, hugging the house, and the waspish trees. The air felt broken and cozy. He smelled cigarette smoke, wafting from somewhere, and the almost medical odor of the pines.
"I knew it. Then it's something secret. It's mine. Oh, and your book. I hope snails haven't eaten it."
The novel was on the ground against the fence post, under some waxy ferns.
"Gee, thanks," said Jed. He fished up the Camus, unbuckled his satchel and shoved it in. Inside, his fingers brushed the buttery leather of his journal. He swallowed.
"You got treasures in there?"
"Never far apart from my writing materials," he said. "And I have a picnic for us if we're hungry. Are you hungry? It's just bread and apples."
"Not now; but thanks."
"But I'm so glad you think of practical things. Well! Shall we actualize?"
Jed followed Aggie. He watched her back: she wore plaid flannel, this time a phlox-blue. As he walked behind her, he felt as if a spider's thread was tied from his chest to her ribbed back. They began to climb a wooded hill. Aggie wore the same trousers and loafers. He sensed that her bone-poking soul was an unbelonging gypsy: but the soles of her loafers were indelibly a homesteader’s.
She turned her face to him. "I work on a farm over this hill," she said, "because the farmer was paralyzed in an accident."
"No, he's a mean man."
At the top of the hill, the land flattened into grassy wideness. Cows moaned, munching under sporadic apple trees.
"I see no barn,” said Jed. “Or his house." There were purple stripes in her blue plaid. Aggie's black hair hefted out of her collar, as if the hair breathed.
"You can't see them," she said. "They’re on the other side of the woods. No one can see us here. We're all alone in the world." Shrouded by oaks. In the center, the field sloped up again. "We're going up that hill."
He was being drawn into a fairy tale. He forgot her, almost. The lumpy climb rose from the flat land, sectioned with a colonial fence, and dappled through with hunched fruit trees. Jed looked at the long grass brushing his legs, mixed with goldenrod and spotted joe-pye and asters. He smelled the clean dry grass, saw damselflies zip. His felt as if they had found some intimate place of Moguncoy, and his shoes were hushed, nuzzling against the land.
And when they reached the tip of the hill, he knew he was at the crown of a spiral of grass, and the winds went around him, and wended his hair back from his brow.
Ringing this spinning circle were acres of forest, reaching hands into the sky, not to claw but to press yellow fingers into the oil-painted clouds.
"Well,” his breath taken, “look at it."
She watched him through the corner of her scarab eyes.
"This place feels ancient. I mean, even look at this rock,” said Jed. “It’s at the very center." It was the stone nucleus of the hilltop -- square and flat and flecked with mica. "It's an altar. This is a pagan hilltop."
"Exactly! You understand."
"It really is."
And Aggie said, "It is a hecatomb."
"Then I'm going to sacrifice a woolly bear," said Jed, reaching into the grass.
"No, spare him," begged Aggie, as he picked up the bronze prickles.
"There are no substitutes. I see no grasshoppers or ants." In his palm, the caterpillar wound itself up into a thimble. "It must be done," Jed said. "Unless you're prepared to put yourself in his place." He moved to lay the caterpillar on the rock.
But Aggie cupped her hand under Jed’s, and with one gentle, quick brush of her other hand, swept the woolly bear into her own palm. Her skin did not touch his. She plopped the caterpillar into the grass as if sowing grain. Then she splatted herself down on the rock -- "Give it to me. Quick." The toe of one of her loafers was broken: the sole mouthed open.
“Noble,” said Jed. He picked a reed. "Therefore I do hereby beseech the autumn gods to accept this replacement in the woolly bear's stead, and that this woman's holy sacrifice will call down upon our settlement --"
"-- a plentiful nut-fall."
"A plentiful nut-fall," said Jed.
"Quick!" Her toes bounced up.
Jed traced the tip of the reed across her open neck. Aggie gagged, gargled, wailed once, and knocked her head to the side and was still.
"Thus may her blood rise like a pleasing incense to the sky," he said.
"No, you botched it." She rolled over to her side with a cough. "Cruel high priest. I'm still alive," clutching her throat. "No gumption to finish the job."
"I'm too gentle of a soul."
“No. No such thing as a gentle killing.” Taking her hand off her throat, she crawled over to the grass. “Sometimes it’s better to be dirty.” Aggie touched the woolly bear, still frozen in a ball, under clover, and whispered something to it. And Jed sat down, holding his wrists across his shins.
The world became very still. The wheel of oaks around the field were grounded butterflies -- saffron monarchs.
"This really is primordial," Jed said.
"I'm so happy you sympathize with this place." Aggie sat up and turned to face him, tangling her legs together. She flapped her knees up, then down. “I knew you’d understand it.”
"There’s a lot of peace here."
"Mm. Say.” Aggie’s fingers crawled up to her chest – brown like woolly bears, themselves. “Look. Well. What is this.” She pressed her hand against her breast pocket, then snuffled her fingers inside.
Jed glanced over at her.
"I wonder what do I have -- what did I bring --"
"What is it?" asked Jed politely. There was a square, folded packet of papers in her pocket. Aggie’s phlox flannel collar was dingy. The collar was open; some buttons were unsnapped. Jed glimpsed two sharp collarbones, the color of tulip bulbs. Nugging out of balmy soil, shiny with sweat or oil. Her skin shimmered. He logged these details as she pulled out the papers and unfolded them. She scattered her words –
“I just brought this – I don’t know how it ended up there – I forgot it – I thought maybe this would be a good reading place. I don’t know –”
“No,” said Jed. “I thought of bringing something, too. Believe it or not.”
“You did? You did! Did you really?”
“It was impulsive.”
“Mine was impulsive, too! Mine was, too. Oh, Jed. Look at us.”
“Well, I’ve never shared my things before. But you were brave to bring it. So go on.” Jed kicked himself back, crossing his boots and leaning on his elbow, stringing his fingers together. “Read yours.”
“Excellent! This is what I always fantasized about. Reading to someone –”
“ – on top of a pagan hill.”
“Right,” as if she was coiled for a thousand years and was just now releasing the spring. Something felt mechanical and impersonal to him. “Right when I saw this hill, I knew it was for reading to someone, but I didn’t know to whom.”
“Tell me if you understand it. It might be hard to understand.”
So Aggie read. And then there were colorful wings. And zig-zags, and purple shoelaces. Cement, sweat, rubber, money. Skyscrapers and seedy transactions. Car windows that cried in the rain. A mucousy nose, a wooden crate, and some peeling paint.
“Did you get it?” Aggie asked, crunching the final page and looking up. “Did you get the ending?”
“Yes! -- Well.” Jed stirred and cracked his fingers. “I didn’t quite understand the part about the shoelaces. But everything else was – well, you’re a really visual writer. Wow, really.”
“The purple shoelaces were an integral part of it. The andiron of the whole story!”
“Then explain it to me again. Maybe I was distracted by the imagery. Or, no, no, I think I see. It was about rum-running, right?”
“I thought that was obvious from the start.”
“I guess it was.” He expelled a cough. “But I know nothing about that world. So I hesitated in assuming. If I knew, I would have guessed immediately. Oh, Aggie, you’re a great writer.”
“Do you think so?”
She crinkled her papers in a buzzing grip. Spit bubbled over her two bucked teeth. “Thanks. Alright!” She folded the papers over again and engulfed it with surprising energy into her pocket, annexing it. “Thanks. Thank you. I’ve always wanted to do that with someone.”
They walked back together through the woods. They passed a grove of mature birches flicking their snowy fingers. They were virgins kissing the oaks.
Jed asked suddenly, “Do you like to climb trees?”
The oaks were green and beginning to blush with fire.
“How can you ask me?" Aggie said. "I told you I was lesser evolved in that aspect.”
“Then go climb that tree.”
“I don’t know. Pick one. Somewhere over there,” he pointed.
She followed his finger. Then she ran. And while she ran, her stovepipe trousers folded like velvet deer hide, and she grasped a thick birch. As he had witnessed two days before, Aggie was not graceful, but vulgarly strong, with short stringy thighs. Her legs scrunched like inchworms. Her blue flannel shirt jerked. Her arms kept reaching, reaching, brown. Using branches, sometimes only the pole and her tendons – twisting, sweating, as she went. Her face was fawn-colored. Her hair was lichen. Wrists glistened.
Half-way up, the tree finally gave to her. It caved, bowing like a woman washing the hillside. Aggie continued climbing and the birch tree continued dipping, until she had her back toward the earth. When she was ten feet away from the ground, she released her legs. She dangled for a moment, and Jed saw the moon-arc of the birch, anguished and submissive. Prima ballerina assoluta. Aching to its farthest reaches, the crescent at last eased her to a five-foot drop. She let go and landed easily. But the birch snapped back viciously. It waved and lurched in the air. Aggie stood still a moment. Then she bent her knees, rolled her shoulders, and shook some blue dust off. She returned to him.
"I've been doing that since I was six or seven."
Aggie stood before him, like something was supposed to happen, and they looked at each other. Jed pushed his hands deep in the pockets of his slacks. Aggie’s loafers shivered. Her arms were ready: cocked, with her elbows bending away from her body in the joints of a raptor. Her hair was erratic like it was alive, scattering backwards with every heaving breath. And Jed said,
"I wish I had known you as a kid!" He was instantly jealous of everyone who had ever watched her doing handstands and jumping out of trees and crushing her bones. He was jealous of every person who had ever seen Aggie when her eyes were liquid-wide, her ears were larger and petal-soft, and her cheeks were becoming angry with bubbling acne. "Why didn't we meet then?"
"We are still then," she said. "We are the same. It doesn’t matter, because we’re the same people."
"I'd like to think I'm basically the same. I still have my soul's spark." She tapped her fingers on her flannel pocket.
“I lost mine."
"No," she said. "No, Jed, no."
"Well. Who knows. I feel like the time I was most myself was when I was a kid. After that, I don't know what happened." Then again with quickness -- "I will show you something, actually. Yes, next time I see you."
"Let that be tonight," she slurped.
He laughed. "Not tonight."
"Phoo. Why ever not?"
"I’m not able to."
"We can do whatever we like in this life, Jed. We are grown-ups, didn't you notice. We say when and where. We make the rules now."
"Yeah, except what I have to make is dinner. And to help with homework and put the girls to bed."
"No,” he laughed again. “My sister Virginia will be out, so no one will be there to watch the younger girls. My father works nights," he added.
“Then your mother.”
“Is she –”
“Nights aren’t her time,” he said.
And then Jed paused, and his life of accuracy and carefulness began to bleed like a watercolor -- his lines of sectioning and scheduling, they seeped out and blurred – and he said,
"But tomorrow. What are you doing tomorrow?"
Aggie replied, "Oh, tomorrow I'll be having some face-time -"
"Oh, sorry --"
"-- and soul-spilling with my good friend Jedidiah Spearman."
"Ah. Alright, then. Tomorrow. Soul-spilling, it is!" There was a fire burning in the base of his throat, turning him raw with the rightness and realness. He reached down and picked up a stick. “Sometime in the afternoon. Say, one. I work mornings.”
"You know what,” said Aggie, “it would have been so nice to meet you at thirteen or fourteen.”
“Well, but then again, maybe I don't wish that,” said Jed. “What would have happened if we had met then?"
"I would have fallen madly in love with you. -- You're turning red! Well, I would have. Why wouldn't I have? Intellectual boy, with a poetic eye and a good heart. Not part of the tribe, like I was. We are both outsiders. We would have bonded like magic."
"No," he said. "We wouldn’t have. I wish, but, no. I would have been scared of you."
"What! Scared of me."
"I was ferociously religious at the time."
"But, wait. Wait, no. Wouldn't you have sympathized with my sensitive conscience?”
“What about my sense of kindness and justice? We would have been united on that front."
“We wouldn’t have," said Jed. "Again, I wish. But I was scared of so many people and so many different things at that time. I saw in black and white, and I was protective of myself and my – I don’t know.”
"Ah," she said, and her teeth were sharp. "So I would have tainted you."
"You wouldn't have, of course. But I was afraid to have contact with anyone who wasn't. . . You know. Who was. . ."
"A pagan, like me. I see. So why now? Why are you daring to speak with me now?"
"Aw, no. Come on. No."
"No, really. I mean it as a serious question. Why now?"
“Because I’m at a crossroads."
And when he said it aloud, it became real. The word ‘crossroads’ seemed perfectly representative to him, and he saw his feet before two diverging paths. One of them was glowing, and beyond his veil of consciousness.
Aggie grinned at him. She swooped down and picked up a stick and began twirling it in her hand. "So is Jedidiah Spearman ferociously religious now?"
"No.” He dragged his foot through the decaying leaves as they walked, making a soft trail of dirt. “The opposite of ferocious. My mind is flimsy and bending.”
“Sometimes our minds break down before we can reconstruct them.” She knocked her stick against a trunk.
“I think I’m becoming that dreaded word they told us always not to be. Lukewarm. That gets us spat out. I mean, I do believe in God. I believe in some higher force of power and love, that created me and that I'll join in the end. I still go to church, because I like –”
She looked at him, too eagerly, so he studied the rod in her hands. Black birch, with flecks.
“— belonging. But I am questioning everything right now. I've softened. Opened. I'm confused about a lot of things."
"Well, well, well. This is a fascinating development. I've never spoken to a religious person before. Or even a questioning religious person.” She javelined her black birch away and it landed in a thicket. “I guess I was sectioned off myself!"
"What,” laughed Jed, “am I some exotic bird to you, with rare plumage?"
"And aren't I to you?"
"Yes, actually,” he said, and he stopped to think. "A noble pagan."
She held out her hand. “And an inquisitive Christian. A boy who is willing to examine his own beliefs.”
“I’m more than willing. I do it.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir."
"Charmed, madam," he bent his forehead to her hand. “The pleasure is all mine."
Then she pulled her wrist away and spun around, grabbing fistfuls of leaves and throwing them into the air. "Think about the discussions we're going to have!" Aggie cried. "Oh, Jed, beware. I am going to pick apart your brain. I'm going to scrub your inner nodules until you've nothing left but bone. Let's begin the conversing as soon as possible. We are never going to end. I just see before me a feast and a feast and a feast --"
"But when I'm all bones?"
"Bad analogy. You're not bones. You're the ocean. You're the infinite and ceaseless ocean. That's what your brain is. I could never drink you all."
"You flatter me way too much," said Jed, wringing his twig between his fingers, feeling the silk idly. It was stripped of bark. "But even the ocean has a floor."
"Yes, and underneath that floor is yet another layer. It's sand. It's rock. It's the earth's core, flowing with molten lava. It's a million things to discover. So, alright, it's finite, but I don't care. I won't reach the end of you in my lifetime."
"Well," shrugged Jed, "you may be disappointed. I’m not that much of a treasure-trove, so don't set me up too high. All I know is that I know nothing."
She perked up. "Who said that?"
"Socrates. Of course."
"Yes -- yes -- yes!" She picked up a stick and hurtled it up into the sky. The stick went winging until it knocked against a tree branch with a wooden clank.
"You knew that," said Jed. The stick thudded in a pile of leaves. "You just wanted to see if I knew."
"Exactly." Then she looked him in the eye. "I am not, nor will I ever be, disappointed." Her eyes were iridescent, almost like silver.
Jed suddenly said, dropping his own twig,
"Actually, no, I will read you something. I will read you what I brought."
They were out of the woods, and they approached the fence. Jed reached for his bike and unclipped the satchel hanging from the handlebar. Aggie was surprisingly quiet. Jed took out his journal and opened it up.
"It's only something simple," he said, "but I just felt like sharing it. I don't know why."
"I can guess why."
"Can you? I can't quite understand the instinct, myself." Jed leaned his elbow on the top rung of the fence and crossed his boots on the ground. Then he uncrossed them. "I've never shown a private journal to anyone in my life. Never even occurred to me or tempted me."
"I'm listening to you." Aggie poked her chin into her hands, her hands resting on the fence. He felt her gaze but he did not glance her way.
"Here goes," he said. "This is something I wrote at fourteen." Jed swallowed, and suddenly his head swam with hot fish, with dancing spots of light. He read the words as if he had written them that morning.
"‘I wear a mask that is honey-flavored. I try to express only what is good, and I show no other feeling. I am watery. I adopt the words and mannerisms of people around me. I feel like I don’t know who I am. Am I just undeveloped? I wish I was already older and knew who I was. But worse than this, I often feel that there are two of me. Now, this is a bit sinister. I am going to talk about what I usually don’t, because it is very spiritual. But this is the vision. Here I am in golden light. It’s my real self. It’s not named Jed at all, but that secret name that will only be revealed after death. Call it soul, spirit. I call it my golden core. That’s who I am. Sometimes I feel like myself, and that is the highest happiness. (I fell asleep once in the woods, in the middle of the day. In leaves, in the sun, in the middle of a fort I had built.) But next to my core, I see something darker. It’s a shadow that’s shaped like a human, and it looms above me. It’s maybe myself, too. It’s in blackness, and insubstantial. Yet it follows me everywhere I go. It’s chained to me. I can’t get rid of it. No matter how hard I try, I can’t unlink it. I can’t be free, forever this one person, my real self, my golden core. Like St. Paul said, “I do the things I don’t want to do, and what I do, I don’t.’ I am trapped.’" Then Jed lowered the journal. "Well. So what do you think? That was me, at just fourteen. Can you believe I thought like that, at only fourteen?" He tried to laugh. He chucked the journal into the bag.
"Oh, fascinating mind," Aggie crooned, "oh, gorgeous soul. At fourteen, I mean," she shook herself. "I mean, at fourteen, to be thinking like that. I was, too. I was the same. Do you know what I used to do at that age? I used to save my nickels to buy opera records. And I would sit at the kitchen table and listen to them. Stravinksy’s Perséphone and The Wandering Scholar. When other girls were polishing their nails and thinking about which boy they were going to force to buy them a chocolate malt. My dad was embarrassed about me. Every time he walked by me, he mocked me. Maybe to try to break me out of it, and make me more like a regular teenage girl. He failed, though."
"I'm so sorry, Aggie," he said. "You didn't deserve that. I'm glad he failed. Of course he failed! What is regular anyway? We were just what we should have been. But it hurts to be misunderstood."
"Because of it, I became tough. I had to. Sensitive girl on the inside, with a thick outer shell. But not cynical, I promise you. Never bitter."
"I know you're not. You seem ever-green with hope. And so yourself. You rejoice in yourself."
"I rejoice in myself more easily when I'm around s-soft -- when I'm with people who --"
Jed hastily said, "I understand. Of course it's so much easier when people are gentle and kind. When people see the good in us, and toss up streamers for us. I feel that way."
"Yes! That's it. Exactly."
But the sun was caressing the tips of the trees, and Jed stepped down from the fence onto his bike.
"Aggie, I feel like I'll never go unless I just fly away, instantly. Rip off the Band-Aide. So that's what I'm going to do right now. Really fast. I have to meet the girls' school bus, anyway." He shoved the journal into the satchel. He struck off on his bicycle. "I'll see you later, comrade."
"Till tomorrow, my new companion," she called.
Jed pedaled back suddenly. "Do you know what companion actually means? It's ‘com’, and ‘pan’ -- it's Latin --"
"You speak Latin? Of course you speak Latin."
"No, terribly; but I can read it a smidgen. But you know what it means?"
"It means bread for the journey. Full, warm. Comfort food. Sustenance. Sharing. Bread."
"That's thrilling. Thank you for giving me that piece of knowledge. Having a sup as we stop along the miles. Examining each other's notes. -- Alright.” She pulled herself up on the fence. “Fly, fly, my companion."
"Farewell, bread." And just before he sailed around the corner of the road, he turned to wave, and he saw her walking the top pole. Hands outstretched, fingers reaching. The setting sun was turning her phlox blue a crème orange and gold. Then his vision was washed out by pines.
"This is impossible. Who came up with this ritual in the first place." Jed leaned against the bathroom counter. "That's all I want to know. Who!"
"I don't know," said Virginia. Her head was under the sink.
"I mean, think about it. Why couldn't it have been a gnome who crawls under the window and leaves something on the ledge.”
“I don’t know.”
“Or on a bookshelf. Or in a boot. Instead, I have to flippin’ put my hand under her pillow. Under her very pillow, Virginia. And you got the most crinkly-sounding wrapped-up candy I've ever heard. What were you thinking!"
"Jed. Do you want me to do it?"
"No. You're curling your hair. Gosh. I feel like I'm about to perform brain surgery. Except if I fail, a child's entire belief in fairy world will be shattered. These stakes are way too high. And what if they have set a trap for me? You used to do that. Because you were an evil child.”
"Jed. I ask again." Virginia spoke with a bobby pin in her mouth. "Do you just want me to do it for you?"
"No. I'll do it. I'll do a sweep of the room with a flashlight for strings. Pans."
Virginia wound a snarl around her finger into the back of her skull. "Yeff," she mouthed, "eceff Funny is chu,” she took the pin out, “uncorrupt to do something like that.”
“Minnie and I didn’t believe in Santa or the tooth fairy at her age." She lifted her head.
"Sunny believes," said Jed.
"Then I wouldn't worry.” Virginia snapped the final pin in. “Alright, I'm off."
"Where are you going again?"
"It's so nice that you can go there with your hair being curled. Not all sweethearts are on that comfort level. When will you be back?"
“Oh.” She tied a silk pink handkerchief around her head. "I don't know when I'll be back."
"That’s fine. I don’t care.” He pressed his hands into the door frame. “I just wanted to know if I should lock the back door or not."
Virginia stepped back to look at herself in the mirror. “No, don’t lock it.” She smoothed her palms over her belly, flattening the shirtfront and the skirt pockets. "-- Best one can do," turning on her toes.
"Gee, you're really beautiful, Ginny," said Jed. "I hope you know. I would give you a flower from a bouquet I picked today, if I thought you'd want to wear it. But I don't think you would."
"You're pretty enough as-is."
She turned once more. Patted her thighs. Scrubbed her hands up and down on her skirt. "Yeah. Well, I'll be late." She turned to walk past him, and Jed opened his arms for a hug.
"Bye," he said.
Virginia mewled; twisted like a wildcat. She dug under his arm, and battered down the stairs.
I'm putting these up as chapters, but the book itself is written without chapters: I separate scenes using only the asterisks. But I'm posting mainly based on word count, so if the "chapter" pacing is awkward at all, I apologize. It's going to be unavoidable sometimes... Thanks for reading! <3 Sarah