Here on Earth


Page 35


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"Take my advice," Susanna Justice had recommended when they went out to the bowling alley, which serves the best burgers, last night. "Go home before anything happens."
March had vowed she wouldn't tell Susie about the calls, but as soon as Gwen wandered off with two local girls Susie had introduced her to, March admitted she'd been phoning him.
"It's nothing," March vowed. "It's like a game."
"There are no games," Susie had insisted. "Other than Monopoly."
Susie is a big fan of Richard Cooper's, and she always has been. She's told herself that if she could find a man as good as Richard, she'd marry him tomorrow. But of course, she may have found exactly that in Ed Milton, the new police chief, and what does she go and do but cancel a date with him in order to have dinner with March at the bowling alley. As they dined, they had a perfect view of Gwen and the two girls from town, whose mothers March and Susie went to school with about a million years ago. The girls rolled one gutter ball after another, and from the look on Gwen's face, she was the only one who cared.
"Hollis is bad news, and he always has been," Susie said. How Hollis manages to get his way in this town never fails to amaze her, but he knows who to charm and who to pay off, and in the end, if he wants something-whether it's business zoning at the end of Main Street or the DPW to plow his properties first-he gets it. "You're going to be sucked in all over again."
"He's a whirlpool, is that what you're saying?" March had laughed. "Don't worry so much. I'm married, remember?"
"I remember," Susie had said, pointedly.
"Don't say the rest of that," March had warned.
"Fine."
"Because I do too, Susie. I remember real well."
Today, to spite Susanna or to prove something to herself, she phones Richard three times. But Richard is busy and distracted, and really, all he wants to know is when she's coming home.
"The end of the week," March promises, but already she's thinking she'd like to stay for Founder's Day, which celebrates the night when Aaron Jenkins ran over Fox Hill more than three hundred years earlier.
Gwen has heard all about Founder's Day from the girls who have befriended her, and now when they go for sodas at the Bluebird Coffee Shop, Lori and Chris assume the Founder's celebration is the reason Gwen is so intent on staying in Jenkintown. Those girls would never guess that Gwen rises before dawn so she can visit the horse down the road . They think she doesn't meet them in the evenings because she's afraid to walk across Fox Hill in the dark, but in fact, she has better things to do. She's down in the pasture when darkness falls, feeding a beautiful old horse some fallen apples and the sugar cubes she steals from the coffee shop.
Gwen has no idea that the man who owns the fence she sneaks under, who owns the grass beneath her feet and the horse whose mane she likes to braid, always knows when someone has trespassed. Hollis has found a piece of frayed rope, a makeshift rein he supposes, kept beside the tree stump. He has seen footprints in the frost. He never likes anyone on his property-what's his is his, after all-although when he first saw these signs he thought March might be his trespasser, and he felt truly exhilarated. He felt the way he used to when he'd play cards down in Florida and bluffed someone into letting him win.
Ever since March arrived, he has been keenly aware of her proximity. He goes to stand outside in the dark, cold morning with the knowledge that she is just down the road. Whenever he drives into town he is mindful that he could run into her anywhere-at the hardware store or waiting for a red light to change on Main Street. However it finally happens, she must come to him. That's the way it has to be; that's the way it will be. This is the reason Hollis is biding his time, no matter how difficult this is for him; it's why he stands there in the morning with his desire locked inside of him rather than rushing to knock on her front door. He's not some beggar. He's not some fool. It's the night that causes him problems; that is the time when he can no longer bear the way he feels. That's when he drives over to the hill. He makes sure to cut his lights and engine before she can notice his presence; he parks there and watches the house, the way he has, every now and again, for all these years.
Hollis no longer believes March is the trespasser who is wandering through his pastures. Whoever does leaves cigarette butts on the road and candy wrappers in the weeds. She's careless and thoughtless, nothing like March; a teenager probably, with some silly notion that fenced beasts should be set loose. Hollis is even surer of his theory when he notices that Hank has a flushed, distant look to him when he comes in for supper. On this day, Hank seems to be hurrying with his chores and he turns down an offer of food-a dead giveaway that something's wrong.
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