Wednesday’s Word/Fiction: Powder on Arch Mountain

standing-on-the-snowy-mountain-at-aletsch-glacier-fieschertal
Photo via Good Free Photos

The fire was steadily burning, a comfort to see even from a distance. As Virginia Li Taft, better known as Gin-Li, took her place in the half-circle about it, she found the group smaller than expected. Or it just felt that way, tightly drawn of six kids she’d known to one degree or another her whole life. They sat shoulder to shoulder; you had to squeeze your way in if you weren’t one of the gang–she’d seen that happen.

She thought some must have paired off, left for other places. It was the last of the afternoon, and without thinking she glanced to see if Robbie was there. Of course not. He’d be the last one in; his snowboard was about everything to him. Who could compete? Good thing she didn’t need to; she and Robbie were best friends. Just like she and Liz were, though Robbie was a male, yes. Some of the other girls said, “No, that one’s an actual man, right?” and then further emphasized with eyes widening that they were pleased one of the guys finally was. Gin-Li had noticed but it wasn’t relevant; Robbie was just Robbie. They were all sixteen or seventeen and it was true, though, that plenty of guys acted and looked like they’d gotten stuck in mid-to-late middle school. If Gin-Li was there, they didn’t bother her with speculations about him. He was single the past months but she was immune to his charms and there was no help for that.

Gin-Li felt relief change her limbs into jelly when she scooted closer to the mammoth fireplace. Sinuous flames flick light across shadowed skin. She sank into the rise and fall of laughter and chatter, though she remained quiet. Quietness, even stillness (despite the fact that she was a decent athlete) that caught people’s attention, was a hallmark of her personality–and  as defining of who she was as her sleek, dark hair and almond eyes.

Or so her mother said often enough. The statement sometimes held a resentful, even sharp edge, as if every time she saw Gin-Li she had to be reminded of her father, long gone, sorely if sadly remembered. As if Gin-Li was responsible for her continued irritation. But then it would pass as she spoke of other things–until next time. He’d been her mother’s hero, “The One”, until he’d left for the ill-fated rafting trip in Peru. He drowned and left Marley Taft, Gin-Li’s mother, pregnant and unmarried. Mostly Chinese and a tad this and that, John Li was a respected biologist and eager adventurer. Marley Taft, his fiancée, was a geology professor at UCLA. Things changed fast after his death. And after twelve years, Gin-Li had no memories and Marley had fewer good ones of California but they had fashioned a very good life in Colorado. Even though Marley hadn’t yet found another partner that seemed worth keeping.

Arch Mountain Ski Resort was close to the city so a bunch of kids piled into a couple of vehicles with parents at the wheel (they’d drive at least one more year, they all agreed). It got to be a regular trip on week-ends for some, even most of the time for Gin-Li and Liz. They weren’t, perhaps, top-notch skiers but enjoyed it. Gin-Li loved snowboarding and was getting pretty good at it. But they also liked the group camaraderie as they hit the runs, reconvening during breaks. It was a feast for the senses up there, the work out fun, even amazing. You could see the Continental Divide and the brisk sharp air revived Gin-Li even on her less thrilled days. Her mother skied, too, they noted each other in passing which was more than enough.

“You want a coffee or tea?” Liz asked as her elbow poked her friend’s ribs.

Gin-Li shrugged and she stared at the fire. Liz was getting on her nerves lately, always talking about Phil or Denny or Gavin. She knew Liz was going to get caught up in talk if she spotted one of those older boys; Gin-Li might not get her tea until it cooled off.

“Okay, peppermint tea, thanks.”

Then Frieda pressed a shoulder into hers as the semi-circle closed in Liz’s absence. “Frieda the Needy One”, Gin-Li often thought but she could be fun.

“Gin-Li, I’d watch out for Liz if I were you,” she hissed in her ear. “She’s going the wrong direction with those other guys. Better to stick with what we know, right? At least when we’re in school.” She winked. “I saw a guy from Newfield last summer awhile, a senior!”

“She’ll do what she wants. Liz has strong preferences.”

“Yeah, older and wilder. Not like Robbie who is about as mellow as you can get, right?”

She threw Frieda a questioning look. “Well, he’s my best friend.”

“What? More a best friend than Liz? You’ve known her since third grade. You give preferential treatment, too!” and giggled her childish giggle.

Gin-Li hunched her shoulders, hugged her knees and let her hair fall forward to blot out Frieda. She was the kind of person who could make something of nothing with little encouragement and Gin-Li chose to ignore her a bit as years went by, though Frieda was nice to her. She in fact told her she got smarter and more pretty every week; their school lockers were just two apart so she was hard to ignore. Liz suggested archly that maybe Frieda was flirting with her but Gin-Li knew she was lonely and wanted to be noticed. She didn’t have close friends as she gossiped a lot or maybe that was why she did, thinking people valued her speculations when the opposite was ultimately true. But she skied well and was a good sport. People liked that, Gin-Li did, too, even though her alluding to her bi-racial features–Frieda just had to use the adjective “exotic” more than once– could burn inside her. It was how it was. Some people never understood and how could they? Gin-Li was who she was and, in fact, that wasn’t entirely clear to her sometimes. Good thing she had a couple of truly trusted friends, who knew her insides about as well as she did.

“Here’s your tea,” Liz said as she made her place in the loosened group before the fire. A few had clearly gone back to the slopes. “I saw Robbie about to come in, from what I could see from the window. But he sure looked good out there–we all know he’s talented.”

Gin-Li smiled to herself and sipped. He’d taught her a few things that improved her own form and speed. He’d show her a few more things before they left, or tomorrow if they both came back. They’d dissect the moves and tricks, even into the early morning hours if they felt like crazy insomniacs. She yawned; Liz followed with a bigger one. It was either get back out there soon or get drowsier but the fire was so welcoming. If she was going to return tomorrow, she might as well rest now.

“I’m done being lazy, up and at ’em!” Frieda said as she rose and started toward the door.

“Watch this,” Liz leaned her head sharply toward the other girl. “Have you even seen this yet?”

Frieda nearly ran right into Robbie and she apologized with great flair, her hand on his shoulder, her face upturned. He looked down, briefly smiled back and kept on walking. Frieda scowled at his back and left.

Gin-Li saw it, drank her tea. When he got to them the piney mountain air came with him and she shivered with pleasure.

“Hey, you guys, more snow coming in!”

His voice boomed and others looked his way, waving, calling out.

“I want you to come out again Gin-Li, to show you something.”

“I’m tired. Maybe I’m getting a cold.”

“Of course you aren’t, you’re just out of condition, just coming twice last week. A trial to start over this winter, I get it.” He crouched down to her level, the snow melting, water beading and rolling off his pants. “The powder remains excellent and the lights are now on!” he added with a gentle force he used trying to persuade her. “Everything is blue and white out there, see? You know you love that, come on, slouchy girl!”

Gin-Li looked at his chiseled and pinked cheekbones, his lively blue eyes and almost got up. “Nope, six hours off and on is enough today, are you trying to make me suffer? You’re the snowboarding addict so go for it.” She gave him raised eyebrows with a smirk and inched toward the fire’s magnetic heat.

“Party pooper! You should let yourself give in, you’ve got such talent.”

His palm slid across her shoulders then lightly smacked her back so she reached out and slapped him on the leg as he moved away.

“Hey, Robbie, wait up!” Ted from the end of the line called out.

“Yeah, we’re coming.” Two more got up. The small group broke apart like a natural phenomenon.

“Did you notice he didn’t ask me?” Liz gave a short laugh. “I’d be left behind so fast he’d forget I was ever there, I’d be lost in the spray.” She got up, looked around. “Where did Frieda go?”

Gin-Li stood, as well, then walked to the huge glass wall of windows where she could see all. Evening draped the snow in a watery but deep blue. She could track Robbie going up the slope and she suddenly wished she’d joined him. But there would be tomorrow. She would see him dazzle his way down soon. Meanwhile, her mother was just calling it day and chatting with others. Frieda and a bunch of girls had their heads together, all animated, then they started for the lift. She was half in- and half-out the circle, ever seeking her place. Gin-Li was glad she felt mostly at home with what and who she knew and loved. She had learned that during last winter, an event she tried to not think about, anymore.

When she searched for Liz, she saw her at a table with a plate of burger and fries. Gin-Li wasn’t hungry yet but she was warmed up, felt strong and limber even if her muscles  and joints did ache a bit. She really could snowboard more, should have taken Robbie up on his tutoring.

But she took in the mountains’ jagged peaks, the snow bright and dark as electric lights more fully illuminated the scene, and that wide star-embroidered sky and all those people, and she was thinking of her father and how she might not have inherited his gene for daring, after all. Or maybe it would light her up tomorrow or next year or in her twenties. Wasn’t he twenty-six when he took off for Peru? Was he thinking that he’d be glad to hurry back to her mother or was he thinking nothing of the sort, only living in each moment until…he could no longer do so? She should try that, embrace it all more heartily rather than just sit with the moment. She wasn’t afraid, though. She was observing. For one example, for drawings she would make later in her candle lit room after her mother turned in. She would take all this and make it open up and tell her secrets  as her hand was moved by the pencil. Or so it seemed.

What would John Li think of it? He’d kept travel journals, made sketches of what he saw, too. She had taken one from her mother’s old trunk, hidden it in her closet. It was what she had of him. His eyes and  hair, yes, but even more, those rich words and pictures. So she could imagine him just a little better, live what he lived.

The scene below was perfect, astonishing in its beauty and it gave her the tingling feeling that told Gin-Li the whole universe was alive and busy with mystery. And then in the center of that expanse of opulent snow one person appeared in the distance and came forward and down and down and then a singular action multiplied and transformed into something else.

A snowboarder had completed a frontside 360 off a kicker, then landed wrong. Thudded–she could almost hear the body and snowboard, feel the vibrations enter the earth–and bounced once and slid and crumpled hard on the fast descent. Her hot hands pressed against the chill glass and she could hear shouts inside and out. Down the slope the body tumbled and then it stopped.

That unearthly stillness.

Gin-Li grabbed her jacket and raced out the building before Liz could call to her and Gin-Li down the stairs and out the doors, past her mother without seeing her and then slogged through snow partway up the slope where so many had stopped and were looking, gawking, reaching down and recoiling.

“No, don’t come close, we’ve called for help, stay back!” someone yelled at her and then more shouted but she knew what she saw and she was not stopping.

“Robbie!” she cried out and knelt in a twilit pillow of snow beside him, his body all zigzag. With three bare fingertips she smoothed away tiny crusts of ice like snowflake tattoos on the hair on his forehead, along his jaw.

His lips were perfect, chapped. His eyes were closed and his gaunt face, white as the moon but for flaring cheeks, said nothing to her but pain. He was hovering, she knew it, she had felt this last year after her bad car accident, such pain lifts you to another plane and leaves you there when all around people are doing things or not doing anything. Robbie was quieter than a hiding fox, quieter than the snow falling. More still than ever he had been unless he was sleeping in the ratty hammock or tents they’d set up in the woods and even then, she watched him breathe.

More still even than when he’d come last year to sit in the hospital with her, to keep watch as her own agony leaked out, as she ranted and raged about the meanness of rehab therapists. But she did not believe he could die, not now. She held him in her heart and told him so.

“He’s breathing, eyelids are twitching.”

Gin-Li took his freezing hand in hers and blew on it. Where was his glove? Robbie did not speak to her but he was telling her to just hold on, he was only floating nearby. Sudden lights flashed like mad carnival colors on whiteness. The siren wound down.

“Move aside, miss,” the EMTs said and touched him to find where and what things were doing as his eyes started to move behind his eyelids, as he started to come back to the pain.

She let go with the cry of an alarmed bird.

“Come, Gin-Li,” her mother said, arm about her. “We’ll follow the ambulance.” She had to keep blinking to not see John Li’s face looking back at her before he left for Peru. She squeezed her daughter’s hand and prayed.

Liz barely kept up with them she shook so hard. Not again, not another friend she might lose.

******

After the back surgery to put things together that threatened to come apart via fractured vertebrae and left shin that cracked, he came uneasily into consciousness. In the recovery room she stood behind his parents but Gin-Li kept well away from his bed to let his mother weep his father twist his cap. She was waiting until he could spot her and knew it might take a while. She waited all night and into early morning as her mother fretted, exhausted, with Liz in the waiting room. She now realized how her daughter felt. She so feared they would lose this good and kind one, too–her father, now Robbie. But Liz said she knew better, she felt it would be okay and Marley held onto this small thing.

It was just going to be like this, Gin-Li saw that at last. The difficult things he insisted on doing, the happy abandon he gave to all because he was an optimist. The risk taking. The near misses, downright failures and eager new beginnings. He wanted to find and push limits, “pursue the heart of living”, he’d confided in her as they’d hiked along a ridge that felt close to the sun. And she was willing to be there, cruising or working alongside him or quietly watching, whatever worked best, because she believed in him and he, in her.

He’d told her this last year after her own accident. And now she could not deny it.

“Gin-Li?” Robbie’s groggy voice made its way to her.

“I’m right here for you, my daredevil friend, dear Robbie,” she said as she leaned over, touched her lips to his forehead. His eyelids lowered; he smiled and slept. It was likely that she embraced all these possibilities because she was Gin-Li, the only honorable daughter of John Li, respected biologist and cheerful explorer of wild places (who missed her even now, as she missed him).

Chase and Taylor: a Riddle

Photo by William Eggleston
Photo by William Eggleston

“Chase, where you going? Mom will be mad you left without telling her.” Sharon watched him over the top of their fence.

He tossed a frown over his shoulder, not so much at Sharon as at the windows to see if her mother was even tracking him. She was not.

“Aren’t your parents coming home in two days?” Taylor called out. “Are we meeting up with the gang this week-end, anyway?”

She grabbed the fence links as if considering catapulting over. He waved at her, sped up, crossed the Beckley’s yard, then the Hart’s and cut between the houses. Sharon saw his shirttail and one brown hand vanish as he zipped around the corner.

“Never mind, he’s just being Chase.” Sharon turned to the little ones–JB,  Jean and Darla– who scattered, then picked up a dirty, mashed tennis ball to play toss. “We’ll hear from Mrs. Braden.”

“What do you mean?” her sister asked.

“I mean, dummy, if Chase tells his mom his feelings got hurt she’ll be on the phone asking why are we always picking on him? Is it because he’s not the same? she’ll say. Or because he’s so smart and special? That’s what.”

“Oh, be quiet. We never pick on him,” Taylor said, “you do. You better watch out, you’re acting racist lately. Besides, his parents had something important to do, they left work early to catch a flight somewhere for business. So that’s why Chase came over after school today, just until his mom’s friend, Janet, comes to stay with him a couple days. He wanted to stay with Justin, he said, but no deal.”

Sharon gave her the evil eye–that she should know so much, too often!–then shrugged and went inside. Taylor finished the lime sucker JB had given her and thought it over. Chase would never run home and whine to anyone, Sharon was wrong about that. His mother could be protective,  she could think stuff was wrong that wasn’t then ignore stuff she should pay more attention to according to Taylor’s mom’s jaded opinion. Taylor knew him, though; this time he was bored. Chase often got a notion there was something better to do elsewhere and he’d wander about. He was usually right, but he might have taken her along.

She and Chase knew her older sister was a bully. Now that she’d just turned thirteen, more so. Taylor didn’t get it. Sharon was their dad’s favorite–except for JB. Taylor was second in command at eleven and a half, JB was seven, and the twins were five–but she felt last in line sometimes. Even though she was the one who did most chores. Sharon acted like she was perfect while shirking her part.

“I’m a bit distracted,” their mother would say if Taylor complained. “I’m pulled this way and that. You can’t manage things?”

Taylor saw their dad worked too many hours; he wanted order when he got home. He had “deputized” Sharon because she was the oldest, he said, to her dismay.

“That’s not right,” Mom said and scrubbed the Dutch oven harder, strands of her hair falling into her eyes. Her soapy hand would shove it back and it would cascade down again.

Taylor wondered why she didn’t just pin back the mass of dark blond hair. It always seemed to blind her. Taylor was more like her, though, skinny and pale and fast on her feet, quieter than the rest unless she was outdoors. A book lover; her mother was not that. Sharon looked like their dad–broad, dark hair, a great throwing arm when they played football or baseball. Big mouth.

Chase had it easier by far, Taylor used to think. He was the only child. Mrs. Braden had tried to have other kids but they hadn’t made it into the world. Her husband moped around more than she did, her mother said, until they finally had Chase. Then he was gleeful, announcing the news to neighbors at six in the morning, shoving cigars into hands. (“I hate cigars”, their dad told him years later, “but what the heck, you were due respect–a boy finally making good!”)

Chase was half Black, half white. Mr. Braden was Black, his wife white. Chase was a medium chocolate brown with ebony curly hair he kept cropped close.

“He met Mom at Northwestern, ” Chase confided in Taylor. “He said it was like that,” and he snapped his fingers sharply. “He was going to have a career in finance and she wanted to teach high school. They were a perfect match even though she was white so they just made it legal, graduated, went to work and moved to western Idaho. Smack in the middle of Nowheresville. And finally had me. They seriously suspect I’m some magical being because I survived when others didn’t.”

They were sitting on a picnic table under the willow tree at his house. Chase talked like that most of the time, direct, open, bigger sentences. As if he wanted to make sure people were correctly informed. Taylor wasn’t bothered but some were. It was one more thing that didn’t get or accept.

“Well, it’s true you’re smarter than even me, ha. And can play piano like a grown up. And your mom did almost give up on having kids so you are their one and only.” She threw a stone she had taken out of her shoe earlier but it hit a tree trunk with only a tiny thud.”My mom had five and none of us are that fantastic.”

Chase shook his head. “I know, I know.” He turned to Taylor and laughed. “No, I don’t mean you guys aren’t, uh, I meant that I hear that all the time but it drives me crazy.”

Taylor shoved him with her shoulder.”I knew what you meant.”

“I’m supposed to be someone else, you know.”

Taylor squinted at his deep brown eyes.”Meaning?”

“You know, a jock, not that great at school, somebody who can rap or something–”

“I happen to know you sing, even dance pretty well–”

“–and entertain everyone. Taylor  you’re not slow, come off it. You get it. I’m Black in this white town. But not one hundred percent. It is–I am–a kind of conundrum.”

“Wait, wait don’t tell me…a conundrum means: a problem.”

“Well, it can mean a riddle, puzzle or problem, yes.”

“You’re not a problem to me, a riddle, yes, but way beyond color…”

You’re pretty strange, you know. You create your own comic books, watch old horror movies alone and make cheesy videos with Justin, Audrey and me. Geek Central.”

“Yeah, a regular club member, please save me! Hey, we’re making another video this week-end, right?”

“Ten o’clock Saturday, my house. We’ll do it in the rec room, the basement.”

“I still have wigs, sword and candles; Justin has the other stuff.”

But though they were friends from way back, Taylor knew she could only make a weak attempt at imagining how it was. Chase was one of three students of color; the other two were Japanese. She’d seen them all harassed and if she stepped in she was shoved about, too, amid disgusting names aimed like arrows at their targets. Chase eluded them most of the time, got beat up some. If only they took the time to know Chase, she thought, how funny and nice he was mostly. Interesting. He had his moods. He didn’t like Idaho much, especially after the family had gone on trips to Los Angeles, then Hawaii. He’d sent Taylor pictures from his phone and it all looked exotic, like those movie sets with honeyed sunshine flowing and turquoise ocean waves, people milling about in their beautiful bodies, skimpy swimsuits. Chase beamed at the camera, his bare shoulders squared and bronzed. He was almost like a different person. He nearly blended in.

“I want to live there someday. And you can come visit, if you want,” he’d said the last time he came back from a trip to see relatives in LA. “But don’t think you’re my girlfriend just because I said that.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

But every day she wondered what he really meant. And that word–“girlfriend”–was from another language she might want to learn.

Sharon would never understand such things, even if she was older. No one could, not even Audrey. Not in her town. It stayed Taylor’s secret, burned like a very small, unsteady fire.

******

The videos they made were a combined effort but that didn’t mean they created anything without conflict. It was to be about twelve minutes long when completed. That might be too long, Taylor thought, to hold people’s attention. She and Chase would edit it, as always.

Justin adjusted his scruffy penny red wig and stood tall. He liked wearing it, it changed his shy demeanor. “I’ll be in the laundry room, right? With my sword and cape readied for entrance. Red Lion Strikes Again!”

He stood atop a table brandishing his silvery hard rubber sword. Taylor poked his own brown hair back in, smoothed his cape. He looked more like a boy playing a homely Musketeer but could appear decently ferocious.

“Audrey, you need to float down the stairs with candles lit in each hand,” Chase directed, “and Tay, curl yourself up behind the workbench with your precious painting, be fabulous Marie. Prepare for Justin to discover you and attempt to flee with your painting.”

“How many segments does this story have? Is The Red Lion dying this time for good? We’ve done two videos already.”

Taylor ignored Audrey’s complaining and hid behind the workbench with a large painting swaddled in a paisley scarf. It was to be secreted away in dark underground tunnels–the large, multi-roomed basement–and The Red Lion was going to dash after her. It was a million dollar piece of art. She had to elude him but the basement wasn’t that big.

“Ready? All in your places?” Chase yelled into a cardboard megaphone. “Scene 2, Take 1!”

Chase was Detective Charles Dubois in the next segment but he was always stage and music director. He had recorded some of his piano compositions, appropriately spooky with a classical touch–he couldn’t help himself.

“I can barely see you, Chase,” Justin said. “Move a little.”

“Of course you can’t. I’m in the dark except for one low wattage bulb over there and soon the candles. We all are, it’s called ‘atmosphere’.”

“Yeah but you’re darker, you about disappear…”Audrey responded, “and I don’t want to stumble over you as I come down the stairs and break my neck!”

Silence fell. They could hear each other breathing, see faint outlines of bodies.

“Well, that’s me, just living in the shadows alongside you geniuses! Come on, Audrey, just watch where you’re stepping. A little candlelight makes darkness brighter but you have to look confident.” Chase said. “Take your place, be the wicked accomplice. Everybody ready? We’ll make it a rehearsal this time.”

Their story unfolded as Chase directed the heck out of it.

Taylor thought as she listened for her cues: this is the best year of my life but Chase can’t stay here forever. Someday we’ll all say we knew him.

The thought stung a soft spot in her center, the spot where where such things dug in and didn’t let go. She clutched the oblong painting of red roses and lilies-of-the-valley some family or person had in their house for decades, and then one day the owner died and it was put in an estate sale where everyone could touch it and dicker over it. And now Taylor owned it, had begun to like it. She hoped Justin wouldn’t successfully damage it. It meant something to her.

“Action!” Chase called.

This time they got it together and made what would be the next-to-last of their childish videos. Taylor sensed nothing could remain the absolute same. She knew she was going to undergo change, too, like something sticking its nose out of the earth to find a whole other world out there. Like it or not.

******

“We’re moving,” he said. “In two months, after school is out.”

“Where?” She then held her breath; she didn’t want it to escape into the moonlight, not yet.

Chase was sitting by her on the second floor balcony of his house. It overlooked his large back yard and several others. She could almost see hers. He had brought a bowl of popcorn and two sodas. They’d eaten their fill on an ordinary blooming spring evening.

“Los Angeles. My dad got a job transfer, a bigger bank. My mom will look for another teaching position.”

“Oh.” Air hissed from between her lips, hot then cool.

“I’m going to a private school, Taylor, oh man!”

“Makes sense.” She hugged her knees close, felt them press into her strong, wing-shaped ribs.

“There’s a famous piano teacher there, that’s the thing. I’ll learn so much. I’ll play more!”

“Right. I know there isn’t any fine teacher for you here, not anymore.”

“Not so much is here, in general, for me. I do like the grand mountains, our house. My three friends.”

“Yeah, love our mountains, too, and maybe there’s more here for me. Or not, now you’re leaving.”

Taylor glanced at Chase to see if he agreed but his eyes told her he was already dreaming of another life. They were wide open, struck by moon rays that glanced off large black pupils then high cheekbones, full lips. He was silver and gold yet only a hint of the man he would be. And he shared with her a tender night full of things she didn’t understand and didn’t have to, perhaps. Taylor wished he would leave tomorrow–or not for a few more years. Maybe if it happened either more quickly or took longer it would be less maddening. Desperate feeling.

They sat closer to one another, her left and his right arm side-by-side. His brown arm and her white one. His large hands tapped a rhythm on his knees, an answer to some inaudible tune, then the right hand moved over to hers and rested there, dry and warm. She caught his little finger with her thumb and he hooked it tighter. The scent of lilacs rose from beneath them, that flourishing bush he and his dad had planted when he was barely five.

“I’m afraid, Tay…of leaving. Of not being around you. That huge city. Of failing. How will I fit in, in LA of all places? Growing up…yuck, I don’t like those parts.”

“I know, I know, but we’ve been afraid of things before, Chase. Both of us, right, fighting off the creeps, coping with the parents, getting hurt. But we’re okay, so we’ll stay okay, right? Conundrums, riddles, puzzles or not.” She laughed, more a funny whimper. “Or we can make up some new parts.”

“Yeah.” He sighed. “That’s right. Smart.” He looked right at her. “I’ll call. Write. Skype. I’ll record my piano pieces if you want…”

“Oh, Chase, really, what’ll I do in Idaho?”

A tiny tremor ran through her and he felt it. She lay her head on his shoulder; his rested on hers. She liked the smell of his warm skin, the feel of him close. If time could please just stop or jump forward ten years. Please God.

Five night birds stirred in the top of the willow tree, took wing as Chase and Taylor raised their hands at once to say farewell to them, to praise something bigger than themselves, to usher in the coming of the beautiful unknown. But she saw his hand meld with deepening night sky. Knew he would not be around to walk it with her. They would have to figure it out, each their own way. Somehow.