Bloodline Page 2

Yes, I said, finally convinced. Yes, please.

It wasn’t just the byline. After a childhood of moving from one city to another, the idea of settling down with Deck, of belonging, well, it suddenly sounded all right. We packed up our tiny apartment within days, and here we are, humming along the road to a new life. The skyscrapers and stores of Minneapolis almost immediately gave way to lonely swaths of prairie, only the occasional farm to give scale to the emptiness.

I’ve never lived outside a city. Driven through the countryside, to be sure, but never with the intention of making it my home.

The specter of permanence makes the landscape as welcoming as the moon.

I squash that thought, rubbing one of the wounds so hard the scab cracks, leaking crayon-red blood into my pantyhose.

I chose this.

Deck’s tapping his fingers along to “I Can See for Miles.” The radio’s been blotchy the last half an hour, but the music is clear as water now. I wish it weren’t. The Who unsettle me. They’re all sneaky drums and sharp guitar. Particularly this song. It’s too near the bone because I truly can see for miles. There’s not a building in sight, not even a barn, just the forever grass.

“Nowhere to hide,” I say, stroking Slow Henry, the cat purring in my lap.

Deck’s fingers freeze. “What?”

I grin and toss my head, but I’m seeing Frances. My mom. She’s bright-eyed in the memory, years before the cancer fishhooked her. We’re moving, maybe from Seattle to San Francisco? I can’t line them all up. Sometimes we didn’t stay long enough to enroll me in a school.

“I love this,” Mom’s saying as we pull into New Town, its skyline reminding me of a castle rampart.

“Seeing a city for the first time?” I ask. My hair’s in pigtails, so I’m younger than thirteen, the age that annoyance gave way to a warm fizzing when a boy strutted by. That buzz ignited a whole parade of changes. Hair brushed a hundred strokes before bed, until it gleamed, until I was as glossy as a horse, and no way was I going to hide that power in little-girl pigtails. Cheeks pinched and lips licked when I might be seen. My own strut, awkward and unnoticed.

Mom lights a cigarette. The gritty, elegant smell soothes me. Always has.

“Nah,” she says, taking a deep suck. “Not seeing a city.”

I’m studying her profile. I scored her nose. The rest of my features—brown eyes, brown hair, sharp cheekbones—must be from my dad, though I don’t remember what he looked like. I don’t even recall his name, though I bet she’d tell me if I asked. But what’d be the point? I’ve been told he was worthless, a petty criminal, and that was enough.

She blows out the smoke. I lean into it.

“Being in a big city is what I love. Those long, empty stretches of road between? No good. Nowhere to hide. Small towns are even worse. Might as well tattoo a bull’s-eye on your back. Give me tall buildings and a crowd of strangers any day of the week.”

Nowhere to hide.

My mother was given to drama. It grew worse right at the end. I wonder what Deck would have thought of her. We met two weeks after she died. I lean forward to nuzzle my face in Slow Henry’s lush Creamsicle fur. He smells like dust.

“Are we close?” I ask Deck.

“Close as a whisper,” he says, tipping his head toward the windshield. His fingers are tapping again.

I turn down the radio and squint. We passed through the last town ten miles back. It was little more than a cross street with a filling station. Ahead, black sentinel trees have popped up, swallowing the road, a thick forest of pine and oak as out of place as an overnight carnival on this flat plate of earth. There’s a sign, though, a billboard offering big, looping words.

Slow Henry stretches in my lap, gunning his motor. I pet him absentmindedly, struggling to read the message. It takes several moments of tires thrumming on pavement before we’re close enough.

LILYDALE

COME HOME FOREVER

The promise is surrounded by white flowers.

Lilies, of course.

Before I can process the words, we’ve zoomed past the sign and pierced the dark watchman woods, a pop as we push through the skin of my past life, past the trees jutting like swords, and emerge into a new world, bright and solid.

I’m holding my breath, have been since the sign, a child’s game to survive a tunnel.

Hold it ’til the end and make a wish!

I release the breath through my nose, craning to stare behind us. The trees look different on this side. Tire-swing ready. I face front. We’re at Lilydale’s edge. I’m relieved to see it’s significantly larger than the villages we’ve passed through. Houses, clean and tight, immaculate squares of lawn, shops including a real estate office, a barber, a filling station selling unleaded for thirty-two cents a gallon, a clot of kids biking down side streets, lobbing jokes, women in pretty spring frocks strolling in twos, laughing.

It’s everything Deck promised and more.

The rocky knot between my shoulder blades relaxes, finally. I crank down my window and inhale the scent of fresh lilacs.

Slow Henry swats at a lock of my hair stirred by the breeze, and I smile.

It’s a fairy tale, a storybook land. Even the sun seems to be shining brighter.

The prickling worry I’ve nurtured on the drive, the paranoia as the towns grew smaller and the prairie hungrier, it all flows away. Nowhere to hide, my ass. I squeeze Deck’s hand, the other resting on my belly. The baby is barely showing, the tiny swelling easily hidden beneath a loose blouse.

Deck squeezes back. “What is it, darling?”

“I believe I may be the luckiest girl in the world,” I say.

The sun chooses that moment to slide behind the clouds, a gloomy wink, almost as if it hears me.

CHAPTER 2

It’s unsettling how much Deck and his father look alike.

That’s what wallops me when I lay eyes on his parents for the first time.

Deck resembles a crew-cut Jerry Lewis from Three on a Couch enough to get stopped by girls on the street. His dad is nearly a twin other than the gray stippling his hair and the pooching at his belly. A senior Jerry Lewis standing next to his wife. Her brown-silver hair is enormous, a tortoiseshell comb holding the towering haystack in place, two well-chosen tendrils loose, one on each side, curling in front of her ears. She’s wearing a crisp summer dress, one she’s clearly ironed and starched. Her perfection makes me feel filthy in comparison, even from a distance, even from inside a car.

They’re waiting—Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Schmidt—outside a pretty little white craftsman with blue shutters when we pull up. Ronald’s arm is tossed around Barbara’s shoulder. She’s holding a covered Corning Ware dish, a flick of desperation in her wide-set eyes. Our new house is on Mill Street, a short residential lane just off Lilydale’s downtown. The entire avenue is lined with oak and maple trees, a slice of apple pie straight out of the ’50s.

I lick dry lips and smooth my dress, rumpled and covered in cat hair from the drive. Deck I love. Same with the town; I’m going to make myself feel it. Meeting parents, though? Never been my game. I’m having a hard time drawing a full breath.

“You ready, baby?” Deck asks, cranking the car into park.

He’s being thoughtful. He’s so eager to go to his parents that he’s trembling. I’m struck anew by how handsome he is, how uncomplicated his love. I like that about him, that he isn’t slick and quick. It’s a breath of fresh air after the fast-talking guys I’ve been with. Plus, he’s the best damn kisser.

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