Awake

He had lived in that town for over a year when he decided, on a July morning thick with the chant of cicadas, to take care of an errand he had put off for too long.

All winter and throughout the spring Peter hadn’t ventured further than the Price Chopper or Agway, spending much of each day feeding logs to the wood stove in the house he rented. An adjunct instructor of online writing courses, he had plenty of time at home. Now he got the pickup going and rolled the windows open to the cicadas’ ruckus. Shake-shake-shake, a million tiny maracas. To get to the highway (two lanes, view of the Catskill Mountains), he would take the bypass, avoiding Main Street with its decrepit brick storefronts and sagging Victorians and the rowdy, luckless bunch who hung around the bus stop, not because they were going anywhere, but because there was a bench to sit on.

It was a town of three restaurants, an ice cream stand, and a jail. Houses with neon yellow for-sale signs that meant the bank owned them. The movie theater, with its big white marquee, had seemed promising until Peter understood that it hadn’t opened its doors in years.

Other once-grand towns along the Hudson had sprouted a café here, a Pilates studio there. Peter had seen their lights and banners on the other side of the river, where the train from New York deposited exiles like himself, people with degrees from art departments, music schools, creative writing programs; diplomas no one bothered to frame, because no diploma could change the fact of having to move to a place like this to survive.

Over there, near the station, where buildings were bought cheap and spruced up, and weekend visitors browsed antiques and bought éclairs at Manhattan prices, you could tell yourself you were a mere two-hour trip from the city, that this was just a stop along a continuum. Convince yourself that you, too, were on your way out of a slump. But on Peter’s side, west of the river, the buildings were smaller and sadder. The for-sale signs slowly faded until a storm or vandals knocked them down.

It had been Andrea’s idea to move here. She was a copy editor, in her late-thirties like Peter. When he met her, Peter was teaching at three different schools and had been working on a novel for probably too long. Briefly, they shared a diminutive apartment in Fort Greene, with plants that seemed to bloom at Andrea’s touch. And then a married couple Andrea knew bought a house online for twelve thousand dollars. Property owners! Landed gentry! Lots of creative types were trickling in, ones who couldn‘t afford the other, resuscitated riverbank and instead crossed the bridge to come here.

A bridge named after a fairytale. “Rip Van Winkle” made the place sound quaint, enchanted. “We‘re pioneers!” Andrea said. But it was hard to feel like a pioneer when the natives were right there, jobless, sitting on a busted front porch, or hanging around the creek in the center of town, shouting at a boyfriend in front of little kids who probably should have been at school. Then came the brutal winter, during which Andrea decided she was not in love, nor a pioneer, and moved to San Francisco.

She was tired of making decisions for both of them. Didn’t Peter see that life was passing him by? 

It was true he often felt time slipped past him. There were those alarming Christmas cards from friends whose infants appeared to have been replaced, overnight, by prepubescent children, and the online acquaintances who posted photographs of weddings and honeymoons when it seemed mere seconds, at most minutes, since they had announced they’d met someone, or divorced, or were transitioning to a new gender.

“You’re passive,” was how Andrea put it. But wasn’t patience a virtue? Peter was used to waiting. He sent work to journals and magazines and waited forever to hear back. For over a year, one of his stories had been slated for a monthly people actually read—but it kept being held back until the next issue.

Peter‘s friend Dez said he wasn’t passive; he was depressed. To which Peter said: Well, who isn’t?                       

Now he told himself he didn’t need either of them and steered the pickup past rolling hills and farmland. Here was the turn, onto the seasonally treacherous dirt road where a traffic sign warned travelers not to attempt passage between December and April. Up he drove, to the crest of a hill thick with ancient trees, where a wooden board on a post read: DON’S SEW-N-VAC.

Don’s was a one-man operation with a host of near-obsolete services. Don could fix your radio, your camera, and replace the leather on your armchair. He was a large, wheezy fellow with fingernails permanently caked in black. Peter had never seen anyone that hairy.

The trees throbbed with a rattling so intense, it was deafening. Stepping from the truck, Peter crushed more of those cicada carapaces that had been littering the ground all over town. Apparently these were the thirteen-year kind. Thirteen years buried underground, feeding on the sap of tree roots, and then mere weeks in the treetops to court, mate, and live out their destiny.

Thirteen years ago Peter’s life hadn’t been so different from now. He just weighed less and wasn’t yet disabused of the notion that the world wanted what he had to offer.

A frantic barking started up, and a tiny, furious dog came scrambling at him, growling, seemingly unaware of having just three legs. The dog snapped at Peter’s jeans, and now Don lumbered out of the slumped barn that housed his business. “That’s right, Eleanor, you show him who’s in charge.”

Peter swatted lightly at Eleanor and said he had come to pick up his chair.

“That’s enough, Eleanor.” Don scooped up Eleanor and tossed her aside. He was sweating in the heat, the dark hairs of his forearms glistening. Peter reached out to shake his hand, an attempt to make himself welcome. Don professed a great, loud disdain for city transplants like Peter, just as he did for the indigenous unfortunates all along this corridor of the Hudson: the drop-outs, the meth addicts, the pregnant teens. Don hated the white ones, the black ones, and their tea-colored babies too. He had made sure to let Peter know—but by then Peter had already relinquished the chair and it seemed too late to boycott the business.

“A teak armchair,” he reminded Don now. “Mid-century modern? The back needed caning.”

He had spotted it on the street last autumn in front of one of the foreclosed houses. Beat up, the wicker back torn, the wood tacky with grime—but a classic Danish-modern design. A rare hopefulness had coursed through him. He and Andrea had schlepped the chair home, where he scrubbed it clean, the suds turning an opaque gray, and then used some foul-smelling, noxious liquid to remove what was left of the varnish before sanding, first with low-grit paper, for the nicks and scratches, and then gradually higher, with a super fine garnet sandpaper for final smoothing. Andrea said he was using the chair as a distraction to avoid real work. But Peter wanted to do a good job; the chair was proof of possibility, of transformation. Carefully he chose the shade of stain and a pricey natural bristle brush for the application. Two coats, with drying time in between, and then two coats of varnish. Just the caning needed to be replaced.

“Waited for you to come pick it up. Ain’t heard from you. Sold it.”

“Sold it!”

“Had my handiwork on it, and no one to claim it.” Don wiped his thick hands on the canvas apron covered with stains. Even the pads of his fingertips sprouted dark hairs. He was like an ogre, living on the outskirts of town in a little stone house—Peter could see it from here—built into a slope of hill.

“I couldn’t come for it because it was winter.” Peter knew it was a lame excuse. “And then I was going through a tough time, and—”

“Chair was here all along.”

Doing nothing becomes its own action, Andrea had said. Not deciding is a decision.

“That chair was mine,” Peter said. “I found it and fixed it up.”

Don said nothing, just crossed his big hairy forearms over his thick abdomen.

Peter shook his head. But he couldn’t help wondering. “Who’d you sell it to?”

“NYC pothead wuss come out here in his porkpie hat.”

Peter pictured the teak chair in a weekend home on the other side of the river. “Maybe you should pay me back. With what you made on the chair.”

Don gave a big, wheezy snort. The heat was heavy around them, the air vibrating with cicadas. Even the mountains and their dark shadows seemed to shimmer. A thick shelf of black clouds hung low where minutes ago there had been sun.

“All right, you win.” Peter walked back to the truck. Probably there was something else he should do, or ask for, or demand. That’s what Andrea would have said. But just finding the will to get himself here to retrieve the chair—retrieve his old hope, his sense of potential—had wearied him.

He slammed the truck door just as a thunderclap shook the trees. And though he knew that, in the scheme of things, a chair wasn’t worth crying over, he was overcome by a deep, unnamable sadness.

When he pulled back onto the mountain pass, the rain was coming in sheets. Already the road was a rushing gully. Peter turned the truck around to loop back the other way, where the incline was milder, the terrain less rocky.

But now the rain was slapping his windshield like those mops in the drive-through carwash. For a brief, terrifying moment, Peter felt the truck skidding, but he managed to right it in time. Shaking, he pulled over to the shallow ditch where the roadside met the woods. He set the hazard lights winking and turned off the engine to wait this one out.

 

A sound from the back of his throat took him by surprise. For a moment he was startled to find himself there in the truck on the mountain pass, and had to shake his head until he felt fully awake. The sun was out, the air no longer heavy. Peter continued down along the less steep part of the loop, which he was pleased to discover had been paved.

The smooth drive made the fiasco with the chair seem not so bad. Peter thought he might pick up some empanadas at the scrappy outdoor market that had sprung up down by the creek, and pop over to see Grant and Chloe.

They were the ones who had bought the house for twelve thousand dollars. What they hadn’t mentioned, at the time, was that the house had no electricity, plumbing, or doors. Every free evening and weekend (Chloe worked as a massage therapist on the other side of the river, and Grant was a photographer) was spent slowly adding these amenities. And though they now had running water and plenty of outlets, the “bathroom”—a toilet and tub hidden by a plywood wall—still lacked a door.

Peter usually managed to park right next to the farmers’ market, but today he had to leave the truck near the ice cream stand and cross back to the booths. There was a strange ache in his back. He hadn’t been by in a few weeks and noticed that there was now also a food truck, with a long line of people waiting. “What are they selling?” he asked a young woman in the queue holding a chihuahua.

“Vietnamese sandwiches. They’re amazing.”

Maybe he should pick up some of those, instead of the empanadas. He looked around for Velma’s booth. “Velma not here?”

“Velma?”

“The empanada stand.” Actually, Velma was a sculptor who made her living writing grant applications for nonprofits, but she also did swift business with the empanadas.

“Oh, right, I’ve heard about her,” the girl said. “They say she made so much money, she bought a place in Santa Fe.”

“Acapulco,” said a man in front of her in line. Peter didn’t know him, either. “Sort of an urban legend,” the man said. “Took in thousands of dollars cash each weekend, saved up, and moved away.”

Not that they’d been friends, really, but Peter was surprised she hadn’t mentioned it. He looked at the line for the food truck. Too long. Instead he went over to a booth he hadn’t seen before, peddling baklava, and bought some of that, to shake off the sense of having been thwarted.

His lower back twinged again as he walked back to the pickup. He couldn’t help noting that it looked battered, rusty around the wheel wells. How had he let it get so bad? At least it was a different sort of beat-up from the dented cars that roared around town with missing mufflers, or with something dragging underneath, scraping the road—cars that didn’t signal when they turned, not because they lacked a taillight, but because petty infractions were a lifestyle.

He drove to Grant and Chloe’s though it was close enough to walk. It was a small house from the early 1800s, with a grubby swatch of lawn in front. It looked spiffy, though, Peter saw as he parked the truck. The lawn had grown in. Walking up, he heard voices and laughter coming from behind the house. They must have been having a cookout.

Well, they’d been Andrea’s friends, after all. (“Andrea the Opportunist” was how Dez referred to her.) Peter turned to hurry back to the truck, understanding, now, why there were so many cars parked along the street.

 “Hey, is that who I think it is?” Chloe was calling from the side yard, holding a badminton birdie. Peter stopped, feeling awkward with the little bag of baklava.

“Well now look at that!” Chloe said, rushing up to him. “It is! Hey, everyone, look who’s here!”

Peter gave her a hug and said, “You’re looking lovely.” She had cut her hair very short, which showed off her cheekbones.

Grant came over now, saying, “Hey, man, long time no see.”

“Nice whiskers,” Peter said, nodding at the new beard and mustache. “I was down at the market and picked up some baklava....” He felt ridiculous, though, with the heady smoke of grilled meat wafting over. Fifteen, twenty people milled about under the shade of the big oak tree, not to mention the children and toddlers running around.

“Friends of ours are in from California,” Chloe said, “and we thought we’d have a party. In fact, Pete, you should meet Nick. He’s a writer, too.” She called to their friend, “Nick, come meet our friend the novelist.”

Well now, that wasn’t very nice. But Chloe wasn’t a writer and probably didn’t understand the particular, acute shame of being unpublished.

The visitors from California were a tan, fit couple, mid-forties. Chloe told them, “Peter used to live here in town.”

Peter turned to stare at her.

Grant said, “Still wish you’d bought when that prick landlord of yours said he was selling. You know that place sat on the market a year and a half? Guy who bought it totally low-balled him. Anyone could’ve got it, at that price.”

Why would they tease him this way? Was it for the benefit of these friends from California? One of them, the wife, asked, “Where did you move to?”

Peter wondered if he should play along. “Oh, I bought a luxury apartment on Park Avenue.” He laughed.

Grant and Chloe looked uncomfortable. Chloe chewed on her lip, and Grant reached over to give Peter a sympathetic pat on the back. Chloe said, “Peter had to go hide away to do his writing.”

“That’s right.” Grant nodded. “No distractions.”

“He has a story in that book—you know, with the year’s best stories!” Chloe turned to Peter. “We bought a copy as soon as it came out.”

Had he done something to make them want to poke at him like this? Hurt, confused, not knowing what to say, Peter looked at the ground.

The cicada carapaces. Peter’s heart gave a quick hard thump, and his eyes searched the yard. He looked up at the big oak tree, then next door, those other thick-limbed trees. After all, cicadas moved around. But there was no sign of them. The thrumming sound he had taken for granted and those shed outer casings everywhere—they were gone.

The little bag of baklava was trembling in his hand. “I actually have to go, but please take these.” He thrust the bag at Grant.

“You really can’t stay?” Chloe looked genuinely disappointed. “Here, let us at least walk you to your car.”

They followed him out to the truck, where Chloe gently took Peter’s hand in hers. “Next time stay and visit, okay?”

Peter nodded and let himself back into the driver’s seat. He turned the key and pedaled the gas until the engine caught.

Grant reached in through the open window to give him another pat on the shoulder. “I loved your story, man.” He stepped aside to let Peter pull out from the curb.

“Me too!” Chloe said. She was waving now, and as he drove away called after him, “I cried at the end!”

 

He was still shaking as he turned the corner toward his house. It seemed he might have suffered some sort of stroke. Or maybe this was one of those waking dreams, he told himself as he headed down the hill toward the dell.

But the breeze licking at him through the window felt real enough. He turned onto his street and pulled up in front of his house, already aware that it was not the same one he had left that morning. A bay window had been built in front, and the small yard had been landscaped—too pretty. Butterflies bobbed at thickly clustered flowers, while bumblebees thumped about a bush of bright purple blossoms. In the stub of driveway sat a white van.

Probably he should get himself to the ER. But what if they locked him up in some sort of loony bin? A cousin of his had once undergone electroshock therapy, and the idea had frightened Peter ever since (though his cousin claimed the treatment had saved his life).

Peter closed his eyes. When he looked out again, the butterflies and bumblebees were still dipping clumsily at flowers that had not, that morning, existed.

His entire body felt weak. But he stepped down from the truck and walked up the front path. He wondered if the doorbell had been fixed. Yes, a dull chiming. He waited, then stepped over to the bay window and peered inside. The wood stove was still there, and next to it a wrought iron contraption holding split logs. In the spot where he had imagined the teak armchair would go, there was a metal-framed seat of thick brown rough-edged leather that stretched over the frame like a sling. Facing it were a matching metal-and-leather love seat and footstool.

“Sorry, dude, he’s out of town.”

Peter turned to see a lanky guy, early twenties at most, shirt and jeans splattered with paint. He was holding a weed-whacker. “I’m, like, taking care of the place, if you need something.” He looked surprisingly proprietary, considering the fact that he reeked of marijuana.

“Oh, I’m just. Stopping by.” When the kid gave him a quizzical look, Peter added, “I know—knew—the guy who used to live here.”

“The writer dude?”

Peter’s eyes widened. “Yes.”

“Yeah, my lady read a story of his and saw he was local and wanted to, like, interview him for the paper. But I guess he was in a funk or something.”

“A funk?”

“Like, checked himself in somewhere, maybe?” The kid squinted at the sky as if some key bit of information were hiding there. “Or maybe just, you know, shut down for a while?”

There was a terrible lump in Peter’s throat. “Maybe you’d better get your story straight.”

“Sorry, man, just telling you what I heard.” But the kid narrowed his eyes as if having caught onto something.

Peter took a deep breath. Dez had called his mood after Andrea left “emotional free fall”—but he never had a breakdown. He had never been “in crisis” like his cousin (who after the shock therapy had gone on to do quite well for himself, actually). Peter dared to ask, “Well so then… who lives here now?”

“Composer. Like, you know, orchestra music.” The kid nodded slowly, almost proudly. “He’s famous, travels a lot. Abroad. Like, you know, Europe.”

Peter exhaled loudly. It still seemed faintly possible that this was all a joke, that someone had replaced his own scant furniture with that ugly metal-and-leather stuff, and landscaped the yard, and even parked this stoner kid here, as some elaborate prank. But his gaze lingered at the fulsome flowerbeds and perfectly pruned hedges. They were much too full to have been recently planted.

 His mouth had gone dry. “I’m sorry, I’ve got to get going.” He turned to hurry back to the truck.  

“If you’re free later,” the kid called after him, “me and my lady are going down to the river. I know she’d want to meet you.”

Peter clambered back into the driver’s seat and slammed the door. And though it scared him to do it, he reached up for the rearview mirror. He angled it to catch his reflection.

He still had his hair, if markedly less of it. Heavier cheeks, and a sagging around his eyes. Lines on his face where he hadn’t had so many before. Not to mention that dull aching in his back.

He shifted the mirror back in place. Then he turned the ignition key and did the only thing he could think of. Headed down to the river, to find Dez.

 

Dez was the friend Peter had begun sleeping with after Andrea left. He liked her an awful lot, actually, but her ex, a guy named Derek, still showed up every so often, and Peter never had it in him to make more of a play for her. In fact, he had tried to convince himself it was best to stay away. And though in their best moments it seemed Dez had fallen for Peter too, other times he suspected she was annoyed with him.

She was a freelance illustrator who lived in the riverfront neighborhood she jokingly called “Arkansas” because of the shack-like homes with torn screen doors, and tarps raised as canopies over old automobiles propped on cinder blocks, and nasty dogs barking indiscriminately, and occasional out-of-season gunshots in the woods. Really, many of the little houses down there were perfectly well kept, some with window boxes and built-on porches. Others had been sold to developers, who were replacing them with multi-story homes.

The road here was narrow, the river just visible through the leafy trees. Already Peter could see that more houses had been built. He wasn’t surprised when, arriving at the one where Dez lived, he found, with dismay, a demolition permit pasted across the door.

He turned the engine off and for a moment just sat there. Then he got out and began walking along the road, to see if someone might know where Dez had gone.

A few doors down, on the other side of the street, at one of the new multi-story homes, an in-ground pool was being built. A big yellow construction vehicle sat in front, making the place next door—a prefab house with a little porch tacked on—look that much smaller.

There was some sort of yard sale in front of the smaller house. Junk on tables and in boxes. No one around. Peter crossed over to the little onion-grass yard. On the tables were yoga DVDs, paperbacks with Harlequin covers, two pillowcases that said forty winks, and an extensive collection of puppy figurines—$1 each or the entire collection for $15. On a clothes rack hung a closet’s-worth of dresses, shirts, jeans, and skimpy-looking shorts and skirts.

An extremely large woman was squeezing herself out the front door. “Feel free to take your time.”

“I’m looking for a friend,” Peter said, in a rush. “She used to live here. Dez.” He pointed across the street.

“Oh, yeah, she bought one of them lofts.”

“Lofts?”

“Down near the landing. That old warehouse. Some guy from Google turned it into condos.”

Peter realized he was shaking his head. “Okay, thanks.” He turned to leave, but something made him stop. He grabbed one of the dog figurines and handed over a dollar—not as payment for information so much as acknowledgement of the girl whose things these had been. Then he ran back to the truck, to head to the other side of town. Lofts! Near the landing!      

He was still shaking his head as he wound his way down the road, past the duck pond and the cemetery and the empty stretch of land that he was relieved to see remained untamed. Some guy from Google… He turned off at a curving road that led not to the expanse of cracked asphalt and disused warehouse he recalled, but to a neat parking lot and wide patio bordered by troughs of geraniums. He parked and ran up to the brick archway where a shiny panel of buttons listed the names of residents.

Dez’s name was there. He pressed the buzzer, and held his breath.

There was a clicking sound, and then Dez’s voice. Never had Peter been so happy to hear it. “It’s me, Peter.”

“Peter!”

The door buzzed open and Peter rushed inside, up the wide, handsome staircase, two steps at a time. He quickly became winded, and realized he didn’t know which apartment Dez lived in. But it didn’t matter, he could hear her calling from above: “I’m up here, come see!”

She was standing on the third-floor landing, wearing a kimono he hadn’t seen before. Peter bounded up the staircase, nearly out of breath. And now here was Dez’s dog, Henry, a Labrador mix, loping out, greeting him joyously, if more slowly than he used to.

Peter rustled the dog’s head, too hard, he realized, overzealous.

“Well, now, look at you,” Dez was saying. Her hair was wet, and a deeper red than before. “Sorry, I just got out of the shower. Here, come in.” She reached over, a bit awkwardly, to embrace him. Feeling her wet hair against his neck, Peter clung to her, until he realized that she had let go.

“I’m so glad I found you.” He was still out of breath, and there was a gulping sound to his voice. Henry was panting at his feet. The condo was one big room, sun-washed, the ceiling high, the west-facing windows enormous. There was the orange sofa he remembered from her old place, and two lime green bar stools at the kitchen counter. On a small round mat by the door were a few pairs of shoes. Some were large, a man’s.

Dez was looking at him expectantly. Peter realized he ought to compliment the apartment. “It’s fantastic,” he said. “Wow. Great windows.” But he heard how his voice sounded.

Dez must have noticed. The lines around her mouth tugged down at the corners, and she seemed to be searching for something in Peter’s face, warily or hopefully, he wasn’t sure. “Here, it’s cooler out here.” She slid open a glass door, and Peter followed her out to a small balcony, where he could see a beautiful view of the river and of the fairytale bridge, its steel piers glinting in the sun. Below, one of those party boats was chugging by—a squat thing, pulsing with distant music and the clink of voices bouncing off the water.

“It’s beautiful, Dez.” She too was beautiful. Peter decided, despite those man’s shoes in the corner of his vision, to say so.

But Dez was saying, “I don’t mean to be rude”—she said it gently—“but I need to get ready. I’m meeting a client for dinner. But let me get you something to drink.” She slipped back inside.

 Peter rested his sweaty hands on the railing, hoping his heartbeat would slow. He watched the party boat putt along, and looked out at the bridge. He had always found it encouraging: built in the midst of the Great Depression, a five-thousand-foot stretch of cantilevered girders arching over the water. Of course the traffic was audible from here, but that couldn’t be helped. The late-afternoon light refracted off the moving cars and skipped like shiny coins.

“Here, I put a wedge of lemon in it.” Dez stepped back onto the balcony and handed him a glass of soda water. The dog followed her, tail slapping the chair and little glass-topped table. Dez said, “Pete, are you okay? What’s going on?”

He wanted to tell her about hairy-fingertipped Don, and the rainstorm, and Grant and Chloe, and his house with the awful furniture, and the sad junk sale down by the river. But all it seemed to add up to was that he had been through something hard and strange, and was still making his way to the other side of it.

“I guess that’s what I’m trying to figure out.”

Dez gave a small, barely audible huff—of concern, or annoyance? But then she cocked her head and in a soft, hopeful voice said, “I heard things were looking up.”

“Really?”

“Well, I mean, I know your story’s in that anthology, and that you were saving up, and—Oh, don’t tell me your cousin kicked you out.”

His cousin! Peter had vowed never to ask him for help.

Dez bowed her head and said, softly, “I heard the therapy was a success.”

Peter stood there, bewildered.

She seemed to be looking at him through her eyelashes. “Did it hurt?”

Peter wondered. “I guess I don’t recall.”

“Yeah,” Dez nodded. “I hear it can fuck with your memory.”

Peter nodded back. Because it seemed she had been right all along—about him, about what the trouble was.

And if she were right, that meant Andrea was wrong. Peter stood up straighter.

Dez was saying something about “side effects.” Peter nodded along, while next to her the dog thwacked the chair with his tail.

A teak chair. Like the one Peter had found so long ago. Same shade of stain. The wicker back in perfect condition. “Wait,” Peter cut in, “where’d you get that chair?”

“Oh! Steve—the guy I’m seeing—found it in one of those annoying antique stores I always said I’d never shop at.” She gave a little pleased shrug. As if to prove a point, Henry, panting, labored up onto the chair, the cane creaking beneath him.

Peter watched the dog settle into the seat, and began to laugh.

Dez looked perplexed. “What?”

Peter laughed harder, though really it wasn’t funny. “The chair still managed to get here.”

“Oh, please, I know I shouldn’t have it outdoors. Don’t tease. I always take it back in.”

“No, no—the chair is exactly where it was meant to be.”

Dez watched him curiously. “Look, I have to go get dressed. And then, I really do hate to kick you out, but I have that dinner to get to.”

The dog’s tail thumped against the wicker caning. Peter felt his own heart thumping. “I actually might go meet some folks down by the river.”           

Dez had stepped back inside, was heading to the bedroom. “Maybe I can find you there later.”

Down on the river, the party boat was already further away, the tinkling voices fading. On the balcony, the dog sat ensconced in its chair. Peter reached into his jeans pocket for that other dog, the cheap figurine. Some kind of terrier, he saw, turning it over in his hand.

Though it wasn’t much, he set it on the ledge, proof of where he had been.

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