Chapter 16 – Two Conversations
It was autumn again, and a pattern was emerging. Bodies had been identified, and it was now known that the victims had all disappeared from towns and cities on or near I-70. Autopsies had revealed a characteristic cause of death: extreme blunt force trauma to the head, force sufficient to collapse a skull at the point of impact. Signs of sexual assault were another constant. Law enforcement agencies in various jurisdictions began communicating with one another and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Information was gathered, collated, and interpreted. Based on different coroners’ estimates of times of death, a steady progression eastward was eventually indicated, and the trail of tragedies extended through Colorado and into western Kansas.
Southwestern Missouri was prone to fairly dramatic variations in weather during the fall. It could be rainy, snowy, or dry, cold, hot, or moderate. On a given date in different years, highs in temperature were in the twenties through the low eighties. The ecological climax community of this region was oak hickory forest, and the colors – mostly dull red, yellow, and brown – were drier and fainter looking than the brilliant reds and oranges produced by the beech maple forests east of the Mississippi River. Due to its more southern location in the state, the town of Nevada experienced later autumns and earlier springs than many other parts of the country.
On a characteristic, uncharacteristically warm day in late October, Adam and Eve, now early risers, came to breakfast and noticed that Jonathan was not present. Janice hurriedly prepared them something to eat. As she did so, she gave them their instructions for the day.
“Eve, your sessions with me have been completed. If you were a client, I’d stop taking your money and wish you well. Right after lunch, Jonathan would like to speak with you. Let me warn you. It could take a while.”
“What does he want to talk about?”
“He can explain it better than I can. He has certain ways of putting things.”
“Why isn’t he eating breakfast with us?”
“He’s already had it. He’s preparing for your discussion in his sanctuary – and, Evelyn, he’s nervous.”
“Janice, where’s this sanctuary?”
Her cook smiled with the feminine familiarity that comes from living with a man for multiple decades.
“That’s what he calls the garage. He likes the atmosphere out there.”
Adam, remembering the interior of the smaller building out back, looked a bit befuddled.
“I’ll go see what he needs me to do after we eat.”
“Actually, he’d rather not be disturbed right now. We’d like to give both of you the morning off. You haven’t been able to talk as much to each other due to Eve’s counseling sessions, and I appreciate that you honored my request. Why don’t the two of you go upstairs to the library, take a walk, or do whatever else appeals to you? Just be back in time for lunch.”
“Then I assume that’s when Jonathan will tell me if there’s anything I should do.”
“I can tell you now, Adam. I’m going to cut your hair out on the back porch if you’ll let me. It will be warm enough by then.”
The offer was made with such kindness, that he felt it would be wrong to refuse.
“Uh, okay… but it won’t be easy. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Quite. I have a theory that you’re a remarkably handsome young man. There is nothing wrong with having an unusual appearance. I think you’d look even more impressive with your hair short, and while we’re on the topic, I have a question for you. Do you think veined marble is ugly?”
“Then neither is your skin. You can spend part of the morning shaving.”
“You want me to shave?”
“I bought you a new shaving kit. It’s in the top drawer to the right of the sink. You haven’t forgotten how, have you?”
This was a purchased gift, and, again, he could not refuse.
“I’ll do it,” he sighed, “if only for you.”
“Good. I’d like to see what your face really looks like. Hair and whiskers grow back, Adam. If I’m wrong, or if you don’t like the results, you’ll recover soon enough.”
After lunch, Eve followed Jonathan out to the garage. Though she had lived at this address for over a year, she had never seen the small building from the inside. To her it was a sort of sacrosanct domain for the men, a place for them to bond over common labor. He opened the door and, with gentlemanly if not outdated etiquette, waited for her to go in. What hit her first were the smell and the still silence of an old building. Jonathan flipped a switch so they could see. Two light bulbs strung from the rafters lent an impression of warmth to the unheated structure, which was cooler than the air outside.
The place had an aesthetically appealing functionality. There was plenty of room around the car, and part of it was filled with a lawnmower, a wheelbarrow, and other items such as bags of grass seed, mulch, or road salt. The bare, wooden walls were hung with rakes, shovels, hedge clippers, pruning sheers, and other tools in an orderly fashion. Within not-so-easy reach, exposed beams ran from wall to wall beneath the gabled roof, and coiled hoses and electrical cords hung from some of these. On the other side of the car stood a crude but sturdy table stacked with cabinets for smaller tools, screws, nails, nuts, and bolts. Jonathan pulled a couple of folding chairs from under this piece of furniture.
“Please sit down, Eve.”
“I can see one thing Adam can do,” she giggled slightly. “He can easily reach anything you need.”
Through the four panes of a window, she could see a large tree, and she intuitively understood why Jonathan liked it here. It gave her a calm, hidden feeling.
“I’ve been trying all morning to come up with how I would introduce this,” he began, “but the best way is probably to dive in. From what you’ve told us about yourself and your past, Janice and I suspect that your nervous system might have some uncommon functions. Have you ever wondered if you could achieve simultaneous vision?”
“I don’t know what you mean by that, but I’ve already told you that I’m very aware of my surroundings.”
“Let me put it another way. Have you ever thought you could see more than you were seeing?”
“Do you mean literally?”
“Not necessarily. Tell me what you have in mind.”
“Well, I can see more in a situation than most people. It’s more than sensitivity to stimuli. Sometimes I can tell what’s going to happen next when it’s not obvious to others, you know?”
“Yes. What I’m getting at is a step beyond that. Because of what has happened to me, I’ve wondered whether the brain is a source, a transmitter, or both. The discipline I worked in has grown more abstract. It’s looking more like philosophy, even theology. After my visions of you and Adam, it became impossible for me to remain a reductionist.”
“Physical versus nonphysical,” she asserted. “That dichotomy came up in some of my philosophy classes in college.”
“Correct. If you’ll remember what I said about binary thinking the first night you were here, I can’t think of any reason why something can’t be both or why physical phenomena couldn’t have consistent, nonphysical causes. If this is true, that says something extra about brain function, and the function of neurons as well. How might their structures, biochemical activities, and arrangements fit into this concept if those factors aren’t enough by themselves?”
Eve nodded uncertainly.
“Yeah. One of my professors gave us a statement to read. It was by someone in the field of consciousness studies.”
“That’s a syncretic field, to say the least. You’ll see everything from neurobiologists, psychologists, and molecular biologists to philosophers, theologians, and people who wear healing crystals. Francis Crick, one of the co-discoverers of the double helix, joined that camp before he died. I’ve read that their conferences can be a real circus of humanity.”
“But it was what this investigator wrote that stuck with me,” Eve recalled. “She claimed that no matter how much scientific detail we uncover about brain function, we’ll never truly understand the subjective nature of consciousness.”
“That’s actually a surprisingly widespread opinion in academia,” Jonathan agreed. “At least it shows some sense of humility. The nature of consciousness presents us with one of the greatest unanswered questions in science. To get back to what I was trying to say, I’m wondering if an exceptional nervous system – yours, for example – can do more than others. This is all speculation, but maybe you can train yourself to ‘see’ more than light. That’s what I mean by simultaneous vision. You could call it fuller or more complete vision.”
“Would it apply to other senses, too?”
“I can’t think of any formal reason why it shouldn’t if it’s real. I was using sight as an example. Then again, I could be making all this up, in which case I’m a batty old professor who had to retire. I’ve seen it happen. Some people fail to come up for air.”
“I doubt that,” Evelyn stated. “That wouldn’t explain you seeing what happened to Adam and to me. So let’s stick with sight. How would that work?”
Jonathan gathered himself for a moment.
“Let me back up a little. Vision is indirect. You don’t really see an object. You see the light that reflects off of that object. It passes through the pupils of your eyes and stimulates their retinas. Electrochemical impulses shoot through your optic nerves, and your brain interprets this sensory information to identify the object off which the light bounced.”
“I get it,” Eve answered. “If it’s a familiar object – you, for instance – my mind adds more information from my memories. In a way, I see more than just your image, right?”
“That’s not quite what I meant,” Jonathan corrected, “but you’re moving in the right direction. What if you don’t have memories to attach to a visual stimulus?”
“Like with an unfamiliar object? Okay, but it could still remind me of something with which I am familiar. Don’t repeated experiences help us interpret new situations?”
“Closer still,” the physicist encouraged, “but we’re still talking about very common abilities. Try to imagine something that doesn’t give you those cues, or something you manage to see through despite its outward appearance. Some situations can be very deceptive. How do most people deal with that?”
“Ignorantly. They can really get hurt.”
“What about people who have more experience but are still in a visually unreliable situation?”
“That sounds more like me, maybe. I’m skeptical, cautious. I assume the worst until I have proof to the contrary.”
“Let’s take that a step further. Imagine seeing more with your mind than can be recorded by your retinas or stored in your memories. What if this were instantaneous in spite of your cautious tendencies?”
“I don’t think I’ve done that.”
“I suspect you could. You might have already without knowing it. If something you can do is intuitive, you might not notice it as anything unusual.”
“So if I can do this, what would it look like?”
“That’s impossible for me to predict. I’m thinking of something that happened when I was in college. I was always an imaginative kid. Perhaps that’s why physics didn’t bother me as much as it did a lot of my classmates. While still an undergraduate, I had a dream. Within it, I was viewing a magnificent mountain landscape – extremely colorful and vivid. It was a much enhanced version of scenery I had visited on family vacations to Colorado. The landscape of this dream was so beautiful that it made me ache. It was like something was pulling on my chest. I could feel the geographical contours. Overlooking a deep valley was a rustic, wooden shed.”
Evelyn instantly thought of why Jonathan liked being in this garage.
“I entered it,” he continued, “and I looked through a window on the far wall. I found that I could also see through the walls. I saw everything beyond them with perfect clarity, but I could still see the walls. It was as if they were opaque and transparent at the same time. Neither perspective conflicted with the other, and I wasn’t frustrated or visually distracted. When I awoke, I was disappointed that I was no longer in that setting.”
“Do you think I’d experience something like that?”
“That’s probably an inadequate example. You might not see anything at all. You might only be aware of something invisible. I think ordinary people may carry this vague awareness of something more, but it would be more acute, more definite, in you. It would be identifiable on some level. You’d also be fully conscious. This mild version of what I’m guessing at happened to me in my sleep, and I would be irresponsible if I didn’t mention that you could see terrible things – but also wonderful things. I’d tell you that it’s possible to choose not to go down that path, but I’m not sure that’s true. Can you choose not to sense light or sound?”
“Well, yeah. I could close my eyes and cover my ears.”
“You mean seal yourself off from your external environment.”
“Sure – not that I’d want to.”
“How safe would you be if you did?”
“Not very. I’ve made mistakes in judgment before, but at least I’ve learned the importance of vigilance.”
“Forgive an ingrained, professional habit, but I want to summarize a little. Remember what I said about whether the brain is a source or a transmitter. If it’s the latter, if it can detect, communicate with, or express the nonphysical, then this would have some unorthodox implications for the properties of neurons. The physical characteristics of those neurons are genetically established and environmentally modified.”
“And I’ll bet I’m loaded with mutations,” Eve added softly.
“Beneficial ones, from what I can tell,” Jonathan reassured her. “From what Janice and I have learned about you over time, your neurons are exceptional as indicated by the acuteness of your senses. What if they have additional capabilities as well? Again, this whole train of thought could apply to other senses, especially hearing. Your mind might be able to hear more than your ears can detect.”
Jonathan halted. He was played out.
“Well?” was all he could think of to say.
He exhaled and waited. Eve scrunched her comely features briefly.
“You’re not batty,” she responded warmly. “When you first came up to us at Walmart, you said we were trustworthy. So are you. What you’ve told me is intriguing, and the way you explained it seems logical.”
“Then this went more easily than I’d expected. I know Janice told you to forget about what your purpose might be until you were recovered, but now she’s given me permission to tell you what I just did. What we’ve been talking about might help you find your true calling. What do you think?”
“Even if you’re wrong, what could it hurt? I’m in. What comes next?”
He gave out a soft, one-syllable laugh.
“I haven’t gotten that far yet. I was focusing all my attention on figuring out how to persuade you to embrace your potential. Some people would refuse. Others might go insane. You I’m not worried about. You’re one, tough kid.”
“Are we done, then?”
“I suppose so, for now. I can’t tell you where this might lead.”
“So, I’m tough, yeah?”
“Yes, you are.”
“Then why don’t give me something to do out here for a while?”
Jonathan stroked his chin and furrowed his brow as he looked over at the car.
“Tommy and I were planning to take a look at the carburetor…”
During the discussion in the garage, Janice was carefully attacking the dense growth on Adam’s head. It took a while to figure out her approach. In addition to being of different hue and texture, the shafts grew out of his scalp at different angles on different parts of his head. She made her examination and deductions while he sat on a stool low enough for her to see and reach the target areas as she stood and moved around him.
“To make this look right, I’ll need to cut it very short.”
“Do your worst, Janice. I can take it.”
She draped a towel around his neck and patted him on the shoulder.
“Such a good man, and so brave. If you like the way you look when this is over, it will require frequent attention to maintain it.”
Her scissors began snipping out a rather monotonous song. A perfect autumn day had transformed the yard beyond the porch into a comfortable backdrop for conversation.
“Could a trained counselor ask some questions and offer some advice while she works on this tangle?”
“Janice, I wouldn’t think of denying you a peek inside my head. It’s kind of strange in there. Tread carefully.”
He glanced at the garage. What were they talking about in there?
“Please hold your head still,” Janice reprimanded gently.
“Sorry. You were about to ask me something.”
“How have you coped with the violence and rejection of your childhood?”
A trace of a frown crossed his features and was gone.
“You probably know most of the stories from talking to your husband about his dreams. Sometimes I tried to resist, sometimes not. When I got big enough, I did something about it. Ever since I put my foster father on the floor, I’ve been able to take it off people. It’s kind of satisfying to know I’m letting them live.”
This admission revealed more about him than he realized. Janice recognized the pride with which he insulated himself for what it was: a vulnerability.
“But you have lost your temper in the past.”
“Well, sure. Whenever I get to the point of taking action, I’m mad – scary mad because I can’t tell how much.”
“Under what circumstances has that happened?”
He could tell he was being guided, but he didn’t mind. Janice could be trusted. She wouldn’t turn his words against him.
“It boils over when I see someone else getting hurt.”
“Do you find satisfaction in defending others?”
“I don’t know that it ever satisfied me, but it made me feel better when I thought about it.”
“I’m sure you’ve noticed the connection between this motivation and the abuse you suffered as a child.”
“How could I miss it?”
“Does it lessen the impact of the abuse?”
“It puts me on top of my memories, I guess.”
“Are you afraid of losing control and doing something you’ll regret later?”
“Ever since I injured some guys in a fight during high school, I’ve kept the rage more under control. It’s been easy while we’ve been living here. The calm environment helps.”
“Tell me more about getting on top of your memories.”
“I’m not sure there’s much more to say. I wondered if that was what drove Eve. When she told me about herself, she said we were alike. I didn’t understand how right she was when she said that.”
“Now, if I may be so bold as to venture into another area of your life, why were you attracted to Evelyn?”
“That depends on what you mean by attracted.”
“Whatever it means to you.”
“We’re not romantic or anything, but I’d like to think we’re more than just friends.”
“But what was your original response?”
“That’s easy. She talked to me, and she wasn’t put off by my appearance. The second time we talked, after I stopped four thugs from attacking her, she even leaned against me once. It was like she trusted me.”
“I gather that was unique for you.”
“Completely. Women hardly ever talked to me. The only ones who did were trying to hook up as some kind of weird statement.”
“And by the tone of your voice, it sounds like you accepted more than once.”
“Let’s just say I’ve made a few statements. I stopped after a while. It hollowed me out.”
“And that was your only physical contact with members of the opposite sex. I imagine it was distorting.”
“It was. I turned a few down, and then Eve happened.”
“Like a hurricane happens,” Janice commented. “She’s very affecting. You said that you rescued her.”
“That was what I thought, but interrupted is more like it. She was pretty upset with me. I found her again about two months later – after she’d finished her… task. Not long after that, we were here with you. You saw what she looked like.”
“I’ll never forget.”
“She looked much worse when I found her. I took her to a…”
“You don’t need to tell me any more,” she interrupted. “Eve and I have gone over each incident in excruciating detail several times.”
“Good. I’d rather not.”
“Adam, you’re well read, aren’t you?”
“I’m not sure – probably more than most. You already know I didn’t finish high school.”
“But you spend a great deal of time in our library, and you’re tackling some pretty weighty material. People don’t just pick up difficult books without some type of background. There are different ways to be educated.”
“Some more expensive than others,” he snorted. “My informal training didn’t cost a dime.”
“There’s always a cost. Yours was very high. Let’s talk about fiction for a moment.”
His face brightened a little.
What kind of descriptive narrative do you think is most effective?”
“Excuse me. I got distracted by your question, and I moved.”
“No harm was done, no divots taken. I’d like to hear your answer.”
“Now that I think of it, I guess I prefer narratives that aren’t overly descriptive, ones that have an economy of words yet still manage to put images in my mind. Robert Louis Stevenson was good at that.”
“And why does that appeal to you?”
“It allows me to fill in the blanks with my own imagination.”
“Men often approach women that way, Adam. A mysterious woman can be alluring in the manner of an open narrative. Some men are attracted because they can give her imaginary qualities without taking on the responsibility of truly knowing her. They interact with an illusion. A real relationship is much harder work.”
“Do you think that’s what I’ve done with Eve?”
“Not entirely and certainly not deliberately. It would be hard to avoid. She’s an intriguing puzzle, but I think your motives are honorable. There’s a darker side to what I’ve been talking about, a side that can apply to how someone might see her.”
“I’m not sure I want to hear this, but you’re not finished cutting my hair. You’ve got me.”
“There’s nothing wrong with an attitude check, especially for one as conscientious as you are. A woman who has been traumatized can fit into that mysterious category. Decades ago, I read in a magazine the story of a girl who was sexually assaulted and disfigured. You see, I had a personal, intensely emotional interest in such things back then.”
“Eve told me. I had a hard time believing it.”
“Thank you. I’ll take the compliment. Once this girl’s ordeal became publicized, she received offers of marriage by mail from men she had never met. Perhaps their protective instincts were aroused. Perhaps they had lurid fantasies and couldn’t separate sexual assault from sexual pleasure in their own minds. Many people are fascinated with rape for that reason alone. They don’t permit themselves to consider the ugliness, the devastating effect it has on the human psyche. The point is that these men couldn’t see a victim’s character apart from her abuse, and that separation is exactly what she needed. Eve has a new identity, now. She’s better than she was when you met her.”
“Janice, I liked her before I knew any of that. She was beautiful and intelligent, and she loved great books. Our relationship started with conversation. It’s all we have right now. I hardly even touch her.”
“That’s commendable. I’m a survivor, too, so I know the importance of this from my own experience. Jonathan and I started with conversation, and it forms the foundation of everything else that we do together. That’s not a bad prescription for any couple.”
“Eve was interesting without all the trauma. I was disappointed when I found out about the rest. At first, I thought she was immoral, and then I thought she was deluded or even insane. It meant something to her to convince me otherwise, and I’m glad she tried. Something in me wanted to believe her. I stayed with her in spite of her dark side. Even then, I was drawn to her principles and her commitment. I was just desperate to find another way for both of us, a way to enjoy what normal people have.”
“That’s what she wants, too. What I’m saying underneath all of this is that a close relationship – an eyes-wide-open relationship – with any woman requires patience, discipline, and perseverance. That immature sense of mystery is replaced by familiarity. It can be tedious at times, exciting at others, but it uncovers a far deeper mystery.”
“Jonathan says I’m even more surprising than when he met me, that at the most unexpected times, he discovers new things about me. It’s like that when you live with someone for as many years as we’ve been married. Familiarity breeds further mystery. You get to know each other better, yet you’re always learning.”
“I’d like to know what that feels like,” Adam commented wistfully. “I’ve never known anyone for very long.”
“If you want to, you can know Jonathan and me for as long as we’re alive, but that’s different, of course.”
Janice continued combing and clipping.
“And you keep growing,” she emphasized. “By the time two spouses think they’ve figured each other out, they’ve changed. Then it starts all over again.”
Adam became pensive, comparing her words with his own experiences.
“Before I met Eve, I felt like I was repeating the same experience with different women.”
“What you want is a lifetime of different experiences with the same woman. I’m not being critical of you. Your relationship with Eve has the potential to be dysfunctional and toxic. Any relationship does. At its core, though, what the two of you have looks healthy. Any bad elements can be stripped away, but it takes commitment. You can turn your head now. I need to get at this side.”
The main garage door opened, and they heard the car start. The variegated man set his jaw, and his eyes were fixed on the garage. Since it was set catty-corner from the house, the angle of view from the porch did not permit him to see inside. The sound of the engine accompanied their voices, and they both had to speak more loudly. These were almost absurd circumstances for such an intimate exchange.
“I’d be willing to do what you suggested – with Eve, I mean. Right now, all we have is friendship, and I don’t want to mess that up.”
“Then you’ve made a good start. I’m certainly not trying to push the two of you together or apart. You’ve convinced me that your expectations won’t undo the good she and I have accomplished. Please continue to be careful with her.”
They made small talk after that. The noise abated, and they could hear the sound of the car hood and then the garage doors closing. The music of Evelyn’s laughter drifted toward them.
“That’s good timing,” Janice announced, removing the towel from around his shoulders and shaking it over the porch rail and into a flower bed. “We’re done, and I was right. You have a perfectly-shaped head. Let me whisk you off now, and we’ll see what they think.”
Eve was walking up to the porch. Her skin was smudged and blackened almost to her elbows.
“That was fun. Jonathan’s going to show me how to get this off. I’m starting to resemble you, Adam.”
Her hand went to her mouth and dirtied her face. She was mortified.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. You know I don’t…”
Her talking ceased. This was her first look at the exposed face of her friend, and she was astonished by how uniquely handsome he was. Janice broke the silence.
“Do you approve?”
“Very much,” Eve replied rather weakly. “I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the way he looked before, but can you do the same for his wardrobe?”
Chapter 17 – A Polite Refusal
The monster grew uneasy. Its movements were not only being followed. They were being anticipated. Even while hunting, it knew it was being hunted. The radio of the vehicle in which it was riding had revealed that pertinent information had been released to news agencies in the interest of alerting and protecting the public. Tips and leads were being sought, rewards offered. Investigators had discovered the killer’s instinctive pattern, and they were drawing in the net.
There was a pause in the killings. The terror did not strike in eastern Kansas, and the inhabitants of the Flint Hills were spared. Manhattan, a college town and good hunting ground, was bypassed altogether. Money was running low, and the monster’s physical embodiment needed to be sustained. A series of burglaries failed to draw the same amount of attention as the previous abductions, rapes, and murders. Connections between the two crime sprees were not identified. Changing direction, the monster turned south on I-49 after reaching Missouri. It smoldered with resentment as it left behind the abundant game trails of Kansas City.
Adam squirmed in his casual outfit. He was unaccustomed to clothing that actually fit. Additional shopping bags had been left on the bed in his room. Janice had taken him to the Big and Tall store in Joplin, and Eve had gone along as a consultant. When asked if he would care to go along, Jonathan had muttered something about a preference for having his teeth pulled without anesthetic, so Tommy was relegated to the mercy and supervision of the women. Based on the amount of money he was comfortable spending, they had settled on three combinations of interchangeable shirts and pants, all in neutral colors. Two pairs of shoes, low cut trail hikers and something a bit dressier but still comfortable, had taken more time and several stores to find due to the size of his feet. The errand had taken an entire Saturday.
Now, he was trying to decide if he liked how this felt. He was self-conscious in the manner of someone who wanted to present himself, and he decided that it was preferable to being unable to hide. Janice and Eve had gone back to the kitchen to prepare supper, and Jonathan had fallen asleep in his favorite chair in the living room. Still in the front hall, Adam was thinking about going upstairs to read when Evelyn came back while tying on an apron.
“Get that expression off your face, I’m not turning into a 1950s homemaker. We’re getting ready to cut beets, and I don’t want to stain what I’m wearing.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything. It’s kind of cute.”
“Yeah, sure. The reason I came out is that Janice and I want you to keep your good clothes on for dinner. We think you look nice.”
“Thank you for helping me. I really couldn’t tell…”
She laughed softly.
“You looked like such a lost, little boy in those stores. Look, the colors all match, so you can’t go wrong. You can dress yourself without any directions from us.”
“You might need to tell me when.”
“Oh, we will. After that, you’re on your own.”
He had been thinking for a few days about saying what he said next. His reasons for doing so had been weighed carefully, and alternative responses had been prepared, depending on the answer. The present setting was as good as any, so he decided to try his idea. From her perspective, it was sudden and unanticipated. Nervously, he moved closer to her.
“Evelyn, may I kiss you?”
She looked up at him apologetically.
He smiled self-effacingly.
“Can’t blame a lost, little boy for trying. I was on my way up to the library when you came out here. That’s where I’ll be if nobody sees me.”
“Okay. One of us will call you down for dinner.”
Her voice had an odd quality to it when she said that. Adam walked slowly up the stairs, down the hallway, and into the library. His finger rested on several books before he finally picked one out. Smiling to himself, he sat down. It was an old volume he was holding, and the cover felt good in his hands. He needed a good story, and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins held forth great promise. He could read in peace now that he had done the right thing.
He had not been reading long when he heard footsteps drawing nearer in the hallway. He nodded to himself. About the right interval of time had elapsed. The door opened, and Eve entered the room. She was still wearing the apron, and her left hand held a paring knife. Her face was blank, her eyes wide open and blinking.
“You stopped when I said no.”
“That was your answer,” he replied.
“And I meant it.”
“And I thought you’d say it.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“You deserve to have a man accept your refusal. I couldn’t think of a better offer.”
She thought this over for a full minute.
“Thank you. That was different.”
On her way back down to the kitchen, she wiped her eyes with her apron.