Har­lan and Grace

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - Pa­trick Con­nelly

The place was empty ex­cept for the two of them in their booth and an old man sit­ting at the counter read­ing a news­pa­per. And there was no mu­sic. Har­lan liked that. Not even a lit­tle ra­dio waft­ing from the kitchen. You could hear the wind howl­ing out­side, which was some­how com­fort­ing to him. The wait­ress, who had fad­ing red hair, came over and took their or­der and was short with them when Har­lan asked if she could maybe turn down the thermostat. “Ap­pre­ci­ate it,” said Grace, fan­ning her­self with her menu be­fore hand­ing it over to the woman, who didn’t an­swer whether or not she was go­ing to see to their re­quest, but just looked Grace up and down for a mo­ment and then walked away. It seemed to cool down by the time their food came out, though. Har­lan had to put on his coat, but Grace seemed com­fort­able. “I guess it’s set­tled.” She bit into her or­ange slice. “I’m a clair­voy­ant. You gonna eat your gar­nish?” He paused, but­ter­ing his piece of toast, and nudged his plate to­ward her so she could take his or­ange. He then ges­tured at their sur­round­ings, the diner, with his but­ter knife. “You’re say­ing you saw this com­ing?” “Well, more like I said I wanted ba­con and eggs, and foop, this place ap­peared.” “Ask and you shall re­ceive,” said Har­lan. “First a baby, now a diner. What will she do next?” She picked a bit of pulp out of her teeth and put a hand on her belly, proud of her­self. “Oh, I for­got. What about pie?” Har­lan looked over his shoul­der to­ward the counter where the wait­ress was fold­ing sil­ver­ware a few seats down from the old man who was read­ing the news­pa­per aloud to her. “Ex­cuse me, ma’am,” said Har­lan. The wait­ress showed the old man an in­dex finger and then swiveled around, her eye­brows raised. She wasn’t par­tic­u­larly pleased about be­ing sum­moned so soon af­ter she’d just come around and asked if ev­ery­thing tasted good. “One piece of . . . ” He looked to Grace. “Blue­berry,” said Grace. “Pretty please.”

The wait­ress got up and went around be­hind the counter. A few min­utes later, she showed up at their booth with the slice of pie and a pot of cof­fee. Har­lan handed her his mug. “About how long would you say it is to Leadville?” “Two hours in good con­di­tions,” she said as she poured the cof­fee. “How far along are you two?” “We’ve been on the road for—what?—about eight hours now?” said Har­lan. The wait­ress looked at him like he was stupid. “No—her, the baby.” “Seven months,” said Grace. “Still a lit­tle ways to go.” “Well, you don’t want to get stuck in the weather. You know it’s snow­ing up there?” “We’ll be ex­tra cau­tious,” said Grace. The wait­ress shrugged, then left. Har­lan didn’t feel much like pie. He took a sin­gle bite, then crum­pled up his nap­kin and put it on his plate, which still had some scraps of egg and bits of hash brown on it. He sipped his cof­fee and watched Grace en­joy her dessert. “I have to warn you,” he said. “I’m not good with par­ents.” “My par­ents are dif­fer­ent. They’re nice.” “It’s me that’s the prob­lem. I’ve met a few of my girl­friends’ par­ents in the past. Never went well.” Grace stopped eat­ing. She started pok­ing her fork around at crumbs as if she didn’t want to have to look up at him. “I’m sorry,” he said. “About what?” She reached over and took his plate, re­moved the nap­kin off the top, and started on his left­overs. He’d hurt her in th­ese small ways, al­most al­ways ac­ci­den­tally, and she’d for­give him ev­ery sin­gle time, al­most be­fore he could re­al­ize what he’d done. He looked at her, think­ing this, but didn’t know how to say it out loud. “Why don’t you put that hat of yours on, and go out­side and get us some gas,” said Grace. “Yeah. Okay.” He slid out of the booth with his jacket and his Stet­son—the black one that he never got to wear ex­cept for when it was cold or some kind of spe­cial oc­ca­sion—and started for the door but then came back and went down on one knee. Grace paused with her fork in midair and slowly turned to­ward him, her eyes look­ing about at the empty diner and then at him, like she re­ally couldn’t be­lieve what he was about to do. He kissed her. “I’m sorry,” he said with his face close to hers.

But she looked at him like he had some­thing in his teeth. “You al­ready said that. You can get up now.” “Oh, sure.” He quickly rose, only then re­al­iz­ing how it must have looked.

It had started to snow out­side. The wind was gust­ing and throw­ing the snow up into cir­cles be­fore it had a chance to stick to the ground. Har­lan leaned against the rear side of his truck as he filled the tank, the sleeve of his hen­ley pulled out of the cuff of his jacket and gripped around the metal han­dle to save his fin­gers from the cold. He rested his eyes as the num­bers whirled on the pump. The hose hummed with gas, and the truck softly panged and clicked ev­ery so of­ten, its var­i­ous pieces of metal still cool­ing af­ter all the time it had taken them to get through New Mex­ico. He didn’t hear any­one ap­proach­ing across the park­ing lot. No foot­steps. Maybe a whis­pery shuffle ac­com­pa­nied by a hol­low clank or two. He didn’t think any­thing of it—the wind. But when he opened his eyes, there was a hooded fig­ure of a man hunched over the trash can. Har­lan looked around the quiet park­ing lot and the huge dark­ness sur­round­ing it try­ing to find signs of where the man might have come from, but the lot was empty, same as be­fore. “Any luck in there?” asked Har­lan. The man’s hood flipped off as he straight­ened out, an empty gal­lon milk jug in his hand. “If there is, it’s fuck­ing mine.” His face was dirty, bearded, and tanned, but un­der­neath the travel-worn grim­i­ness, Har­lan could see, he was young, around Har­lan’s same age. The man brought the open mouth of the jug to his nose and then quickly pulled it away, winc­ing at some­thing that must have soured in­side. He dropped the jug back into the trash, took a step for­ward, and stood there, his hands on his waist, look­ing at Har­lan’s truck. “’71,” said Har­lan. The man didn’t seem to hear, de­spite Har­lan say­ing it loud and clear. The man was go­ing back and forth in his mind about some­thing. Har­lan let out a lit­tle, ner­vous laugh. “Got it used in ’74,” said Har­lan. “Pretty good price.” He was talk­ing merely to give the man an­other op­por­tu­nity to re­spond—any­thing, a two- or three-word sen­tence of small talk that would ease the fear that rose in Har­lan’s chest. He glanced at Har­lan, open­ing his mouth like he was about to ask him for some­thing. The tank wasn’t full yet, but Har­lan didn’t want to be tied to it when he said no to what­ever it was that the man wanted, money or cig­a­rettes maybe. He was about to let go of the trig­ger and

leave the tank just short of full, but be­fore he could, the man, seem­ingly aware of all this, closed his mouth and sim­ply looked at Har­lan, like he was em­bar­rassed for him. Then the man turned and walked away. It seemed more and more like a fuck-you as he got farther away across the park­ing lot, through the snow-filled air, headed back to wher­ever he’d come from—the dump­sters it looked like. And then, Har­lan saw it. Ac­tu­ally gasped. There were let­ters scrawled in black across the back of his jacket: THE WALK­ING DEAD 1/9. The noz­zle kicked off in Har­lan’s hand, star­tling him. His eyes were still trained on the back of the jacket as the man left the white light of the park­ing lot lamps about to dis­ap­pear into the dark be­hind the restau­rant. Har­lan left the noz­zle stuck in the gas tank and fol­lowed af­ter, not know­ing what he would say but hav­ing this pow­er­fully im­me­di­ate feel­ing that the man might van­ish into thin air if Har­lan lost sight of him. “Hey, hold up for a sec­ond!” Har­lan yelled and put up his hand to shield his eyes from the blow­ing snow. The man stopped as Har­lan reached him just around the cor­ner of the restau­rant, but he didn’t turn around. “What do you want?” asked the man. His words were barely audi­ble over the wind and sounded as if they were di­rected at the empty field, not at Har­lan. Har­lan had to think for a sec­ond. “What are you do­ing out here? Mid­dle of nowhere, this hour of the night.” The man turned around to face Har­lan. “I’m mind­ing my busi­ness. How about you?” His eyes glinted pale blue and were bright blood­shot, prob­a­bly burnt from be­ing out on the shoul­der of the road all day. Har­lan’s eyes be­gan to wa­ter just look­ing into them. “Fair enough,” he said. “Are you hun­gry?” “Do I look like a beg­gar?” “You don’t.” Har­lan blew into his hands. “I saw the back of your jacket.” The man be­trayed his abra­sive­ness for a mo­ment. His face opened, and he couldn’t help but smile in won­der at Har­lan; it was amaz­ing, the two of them bump­ing into each other off the side of this des­o­late high­way. Maybe it was a sign of some­thing. But then af­ter a few mo­ments of look­ing at Har­lan, siz­ing him up, the man’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity was gone, turned into some­thing else. “Well, hells bells.” He mocked Har­lan’s West Texas ac­cent. “I’ll tell you what, cow­boy. How about you give me a ride?” “No, I can’t do that.” “I didn’t even tell you where I’m go­ing. For all you know, you’re headed there too. ”

“Where are you go­ing?” “Aspen.” “Yeah, that’s not where I’m go­ing,” said Har­lan. “By the looks of your truck, you are. I ain’t ask­ing to wear your hat or noth­ing. I just want a ride.” The man hur­ried over his words like he’d been drink­ing. Har­lan put a hand on the top of his hat to keep it from fly­ing away as a gust of wind came through. “The looks of my truck?” “There’s no snow on it, and it’s got Texas plates. You’re headed north. And if you’re headed north, you’re headed to­ward Aspen.” “I can’t give you a ride. I’ll get you some­thing to eat though.” “Why are you so hung up on buy­ing me din­ner? If you want some hanky-panky, then why don’t you just go on down to the dance­hall and try buy­ing some feller a drink.” “All right,” said Har­lan. “I’ll see you later.” He turned and be­gan to walk back around to the front of the diner. “We’ve got a live one, folks.” The man gig­gled and fol­lowed af­ter. “Come on. You can’t take a joke?” He grabbed ahold of Har­lan’s shoul­der with a pow­er­ful hand and slowed him up. “Don’t be so sen­si­tive. There meat loaf on the menu?” Har­lan shook off the man’s grip and con­tin­ued walk­ing. “I can take a joke. I just don’t have the time at the mo­ment.” “Of course.” The man walked be­side Har­lan and made a show of straight­en­ing up his pos­ture, hold­ing his hands to­gether be­hind his back. “Come to think of it. I re­ally would like some­thing to eat.” Har­lan stopped. He put his hands on his hips and looked at the man with raised eye­brows, wait­ing for him to speak, as if he were ad­mit­ting that the man had called his bluff; Har­lan wasn’t ready to walk away just yet. The man smiled, pleased. He eye­balled Har­lan. “I’m just won­der­ing what it is you’re try­ing to get out of this ex­change.” “It’s not an ex­change. It’s a gift.” “What you just said don’t make no sense.” “Well, I’m not too wor­ried about it mak­ing sense to you,” said Har­lan. “Are you sure you don’t want tur­key?” “Nope. The meat loaf.” “Okay. Wait here,” said Har­lan and started to walk away. “Ex­tra gravy,” the man yelled. “One vet to an­other, I ap­pre­ci­ate it. And think about that ride, okay?” Har­lan looked over his shoul­der but didn’t stop and yell back to the man to cor­rect his mis­take. He was cold, and he was al­ready far enough away; the wind was loud enough that he could pre­tend he hadn’t heard.

If he was go­ing to be hon­est with him­self, it felt good, though, to be rec­og­nized by some­one who had seen the same things that he’d seen. He didn’t want to ruin that by telling the man the truth. The bell hang­ing on the hinge of the door jin­gled as he came back into the warmth. Grace was gone from the booth, and the wait­ress was stand­ing be­hind the reg­is­ter, her eyes on him like she thought he was hatch­ing a plan to run off with­out pay­ing. “And a meat loaf din­ner to go,” said Har­lan. “You ever see those signs that warn tourists not to feed the wildlife?” She stood there just long enough to see Har­lan flum­moxed, and then she van­ished through the doors to the kitchen. He took a deep breath and said “white trash” un­der his breath. Then he took out his wal­let and saw he didn’t have enough cash. “Har­lan, my dear.” Grace cra­dled her stom­ach, one hand un­der and one hand over, like a run­ning back, as she made her way around a Wet Floor sign com­ing out from the wash­room. “Who was that you were talk­ing to out­side?” “You have a twenty, Grace?” he asked just as the wait­ress reap­peared through the kitchen doors. She looked down to the reg­u­lar and rolled her eyes, didn’t even try to hide it. “No,” said Grace in a hushed voice as she pulled out a tat­tered lit­tle roll of bills from her change purse, what looked to be all ones, and handed the money over to Har­lan. “You don’t have any money?” Har­lan counted out what he’d had in his wal­let, plus eleven dol­lars from Grace, try­ing to do the math on the tip for the to­tal plus the meat loaf, and los­ing track of what he was do­ing be­cause he couldn’t help but hear the roof creak­ing and the cook clank­ing pans in the back. He could feel the crusty wait­ress and the sad old man look­ing down on him and Grace wait­ing for him to do the sim­ple math of their bill. It made him feel like a younger ver­sion of him­self, an­gry. He just handed all of it over to the wait­ress. Grace pressed her belly against his hip and looked up at him with her brown eyes. “Har­lan?” He still hadn’t an­swered her ques­tion. “It looks like we’re go­ing to have to give some­one a lift,” he said as he fum­bled for a tooth­pick from the dis­penser and watched the wait­ress close the reg­is­ter and then slip a sur­pris­ingly large wad of bills into her apron for her tip. “A hitch­hiker? Are you in­sane?” “He’s not a hitch­hiker. He’s a ma­rine.” “I didn’t know those two things were mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive,” said Grace.

“We got to talk­ing, and he men­tioned he was try­ing to get to Aspen. That’s on our way, right? Is that re­ally that in­sane?” He was mad at him­self for giv­ing the wait­ress too much money. “It’s out of the way when there’s a snow­storm, and you’ve got a preg­nant woman in the truck.” Grace put a hand on his chin and turned his head to­ward her. “Where’s he go­ing to sit?” “You’re not that big.” “Don’t.” She turned away from him and took a seat at the counter. The wait­ress set a brown paper bag down be­fore Grace and then strode off with an air of vin­di­ca­tion, happy that the two were hav­ing a fight. “Ready to go?” Har­lan put a hand on Grace’s shoul­der and reached over her for the bag. “What’s this?” asked Grace, look­ing to the bag. “This might have been in­for­ma­tion worth bring­ing to my at­ten­tion.” “You were in the bath­room.” “Har­lan. God, you don’t think of no­body but your­self.” “I don’t think of no­body but my­self? I’m buy­ing a vet­eran a warm meal.” “No, that’s just how you’re spin­ning it. The fact of the mat­ter is, I don’t have a win­ter coat, and you’re spend­ing the last of our money on a stranger that you just met in the park­ing lot.” She went past him to the door. She touched the glass and hung her head, like her heart wasn’t in what­ever they’d been ar­gu­ing about any­more. He came up be­hind her and care­fully touched the small of her back. “Didn’t you say your par­ents were go­ing to give us some money once we got there?” “But that’s not for sure,” she said. “Har­lan, we haven’t planned out any of this . . . ” She trailed off. “What are we go­ing to do?” “What are we talk­ing about here? This road trip to your par­ents’ house or the baby? Be­cause we’ve still got time on both counts,” he said, fail­ing to make the words sound op­ti­mistic. With­out turn­ing around and rec­on­cil­ing the fight or com­ing to any con­clu­sion about whether or not they were go­ing to give the man a ride, she pushed the door open and went out into the cold. Har­lan stood there for a mo­ment, stunned, watch­ing her get farther away. She held her­self against the wind and looked around at the night like she’d al­ready let the whole thing go. She didn’t hold a grudge, and at the same time, she wasn’t go­ing to turn around and wave for him to fol­low her out. It was one of the things he was dis­cov­er­ing he liked about her.

Har­lan looked back to­ward the wait­ress and the old man, who both quickly turned away try­ing to pre­tend like they hadn’t been watch­ing. “Thank you,” said Har­lan, com­pletely for­get­ting for a mo­ment that the wait­ress had been rude to him. “All right,” said the wait­ress, taken off guard by his sin­cer­ity. “Drive safe.” Out­side, Har­lan looked around the park­ing lot for the man, but he seemed to be gone. Fig­ur­ing maybe he was be­hind the restau­rant, that’s where Har­lan started to wan­der. “He’s in the truck!” yelled Grace, an­noyed at Har­lan’s obliv­i­ous­ness. Har­lan wheeled around, and sure enough, through the truck’s wind­shield, cov­ered in a thin layer of snow, there was the man’s dark fig­ure sit­ting in the pas­sen­ger seat. Har­lan went up to the driver’s side and no­ticed a ratty old hik­ing back­pack that had been thrown into the back of the bed. It was ly­ing on top of the tarp Har­lan had the lug­gage tied down un­der. Grace came over be­hind Har­lan as he opened the driver’s side door. The man was in the mid­dle of tak­ing the last pull from a plas­tic pint of whiskey, his head cocked back and his griz­zly neck ex­posed, eyes closed. He swal­lowed, grinned, looked at the empty plas­tic pint af­ter tak­ing it from his lips, and then looked out the door like he was get­ting ready to spit out some­thing off­hand and sar­cas­tic at Har­lan. Then he stopped, his eyes trained on Grace over Har­lan’s shoul­der. “Oh, gosh. I must be in your seat.” He yanked at his seat belt, which he al­ready had fas­tened. “Look at me try­ing to steal the safety belt from a preg­nant woman.” Har­lan and Grace watched him fum­ble about with the plas­tic pint in one hand and the un­yield­ing buckle at his waist. He sud­denly seemed lit­tle more than a school­boy. “Some­times that one’s a lit­tle fussy.” Grace went around to the pas­sen­ger-side door and opened it up. “Here.” She reached over him, her stom­ach on top of his lap, and gave the seat belt buckle a try her­self. The man put his hands up in the air like he was be­ing held at gun­point. He un­com­fort­ably caught Har­lan in the eye. “Re­ally start­ing to come down out here.” Har­lan didn’t re­spond. “I saw you for­got to take the noz­zle out—didn’t want you to drive off and blow every­body to smithereens. And then I thought, I might as well sit in here out of the cold.” Then to Grace: “I’m ac­tu­ally not re­ally much of a drinker, for the record, ma’am. I got this bit of whiskey here just to keep me warm.” Grace gri­maced, push­ing down on the seat belt but­ton with her thumbs, fi­nally get­ting the two pieces to let go. “You don’t have to

ex­plain your­self to me.” She came up from lean­ing over him and ex­tended her hand. “Grace.” “Oh, hello. I’m Colton.” They shook hands, and then he went to slide his legs out of the truck, but Grace was still stand­ing there in his way. She pointed. “Don’t be silly. Scoot on over to the mid­dle.” Colton awk­wardly looked over at Har­lan stand­ing on the other side of the truck, not know­ing which one of the two was the boss. “We’ll give you a ride, and you can help us with some gas money,” said Grace. “Of course. I’ve got a few bucks, I think.” Colton slid over to the mid­dle. Har­lan put Colton’s food down on the bench seat and came around to help Grace with the door. “You all right?” She brushed a strand of hair that had flown in front of her face back be­hind her ear. “Yeah, I’m wide awake for some rea­son.” In­side the truck, Har­lan flipped on the scan­ner as he waited for the en­gine to warm up, the wipers in­ter­mit­tently squeak­ing back and forth, as Colton, sit­ting in be­tween him and Grace, ripped open his to-go bag like a kid on Christ­mas morn­ing, in­ad­ver­tently el­bow­ing Har­lan in the ribs in the process. Har­lan was hop­ing to hear some­thing about the weather on the CB ra­dio, but there wasn’t any talk. He turned it off. “No uten­sils.” Colton held up the dis­man­tled brown paper for them to see, and then stuffed it down be­tween his legs and onto the floor. He had the tin­foil pan open and was eat­ing with his hands be­fore ei­ther Har­lan or Grace could of­fer to get out, so he could maybe run back in­side for a fork and knife. Scoop­ing up mashed po­ta­toes with the slabs of meat­loaf, tak­ing big hur­ried mouth­fuls, shov­ing fist­fuls of green beans into his mouth, let­ting out in­vol­un­tary “Mmm’s”: Har­lan was about to tell him slow down, no­body’s go­ing to take it away from you, con­cerned that Colton might choke, but then fig­ured he should sim­ply let Colton en­joy his meal. By the time Har­lan put it into drive and they pulled out of the park­ing lot back onto the two-lane high­way, Colton was al­most fin­ished eat­ing, and it was 12:16, of­fi­cially Thanks­giv­ing. The glow of the diner shrank in the rearview mir­ror, and the shape of the moun­tains rose un­til there was barely any view of the sky.

The road coiled up through a canyon, and Har­lan looked out his win­dow at the side­wall of rock shoot­ing past him, built up like a shoddy set of stairs, dimly red and mar­bled with snow. Their head­lights re­flected on a sign that said FALL­ING ROCK. He drew in his breath, about to ask Colton about the “1/9,” but Grace broke the si­lence a mo­ment be­fore he could find the right words.

“You must have been hun­gry,” she said. “I was, yes, ma’am.” Colton let out a belch. “Ex­cuse me. I owe you and your hus­band a big thanks.” “Oh,” said Har­lan, about to cor­rect Colton’s as­sump­tion, but trail­ing off, think­ing it best to let it go. Colton was wait­ing for Har­lan to con­tinue, though. “What?” Colton took a pack of cig­a­rettes out of his breast pocket. “You mind if I smoke?” “In the truck?” said Har­lan, in­cred­u­lous. “He was go­ing to say, we’re not mar­ried,” said Grace. “Go ahead, smoke, but you’ve got to give me one too.” Colton looked at Har­lan as he slowly of­fered the opened pack to Grace, again not know­ing which one to lis­ten to, and ul­ti­mately sid­ing with Grace. “It’s go­ing to get aw­fully smoky in here,” said Har­lan. Colton reached back into his pocket. There was the clack-shing of a Zippo flip­ping open. Har­lan sneaked a look over at Grace as she leaned in with a cig­a­rette in her mouth, a cupped hand ready to pro­tect the flame. He hadn’t seen her smoke in some­thing like three months. Colton flicked the flint wheel. He flicked it again and again but got only sparks. “Har­lan’s got matches,” said Grace. “There’s a lighter in the dash,” said Har­lan. “I don’t want to wait for it,” said Grace. Har­lan let out a breathless sound of ex­as­per­a­tion as he crammed a hand into his jeans pocket. “Sorry to bother you,” said Colton. Har­lan looked at Colton out of the cor­ner of his eye and couldn’t tell if he was be­ing sar­cas­tic or not. “It’s no bother,” said Har­lan. He handed over the matches and then again glanced over at Grace as Colton went to light her cig­a­rette. She breathed in, and the tip glowed a bright or­ange red; then she leaned back in her seat. Smoke bloomed out into the air. Was she do­ing it to spite him? Har­lan tried to de­cide whether he’d feel more ridicu­lous pulling out his own pack of cig­a­rettes and ask­ing for a light, or con­tin­u­ing to sit there, pout­ing and fight­ing the urge to. Grace put a hand on the dash and leaned for­ward to look at Colton. “Ski­ing in Aspen?” “No,” Colton shiv­ered and put a hand to the top of his jacket. “No.” “Let me guess.” She squinted, try­ing to size him up. “You’re go­ing to see an old friend.” Colton paused in the mid­dle of bring­ing his cig­a­rette to his mouth. He turned to­ward Grace and then put his hand with the cig­a­rette back down in his lap. “How’d you know that?”

“I’m in­sight­ful,” said Grace. “And you’re sur­pris­ing her? It’s a her, isn’t it?” “Are you two hav­ing fun with me?” Colton looked to Har­lan. “Should I smile? Am I on Can­did Cam­era?” “Am I right?” asked Grace. “Yes,” he said, amused. “I didn’t men­tion that to nei­ther one of you.” He thought for a mo­ment, still amazed. “I’m sur­pris­ing her, yeah.” “That’s ro­man­tic,” said Grace. “We’ll see. But wait—huh—that’s re­ally some­thing.” “It was an hon­est-to-god guess,” said Grace. “She does this to ev­ery­one,” said Har­lan. “Sees right through ’em.” “I could tell you were ner­vous, not like you were ner­vous around us, but that you were think­ing about where we were tak­ing you. You wanted to get out when I got the seat belt off of you—didn’t you? I could tell you just needed some­one to tell you to stay.” “Yeah, still, how’d you get all that from me be­ing a lit­tle jumpy? I was hid­ing it pretty good,” said Colton. Grace cracked her win­dow and let her cig­a­rette butt get sucked out into the wind. “So, what’s she like?” Colton handed her his cig­a­rette butt, and Grace took it and let it out the win­dow the same way. “Oh. I don’t know. I don’t even know if she’s still in Aspen, but I saw on the map how close I was, and I fig­ured I’m in the area, I might as well knock on her door and see if she’s there.” “What if she has a boyfriend?” asked Har­lan. Colton didn’t re­spond, and Grace looked over at Har­lan like she couldn’t be­lieve he’d say some­thing like that. “So you’re just pass­ing through, then? Where’s the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion?” asked Har­lan, try­ing to change the sub­ject. “Oh, well, Cal­i­for­nia maybe,” said Colton. “That’s a place that peo­ple go.”

Af­ter com­ing up through the canyon, the road lev­eled off. It seemed, at this higher el­e­va­tion, the storm had stalled against the peaks and was pro­ceed­ing to dump all of its con­tents out into this valley. Har­lan flipped on his high beams, but the ex­tra light only made things worse: the bright­ness re­flected off all the mois­ture in the air and back at their wind­shield. They’d just have to take it slow. He could only see a lit­tle ways down the road and a lit­tle ways off into the sur­round­ing pines, but it was good enough to press on.

It was at some time dur­ing this stretch that Colton folded his arms, put his head back on the rear win­dow, and fell asleep be­tween the two of them. They came to a fork in the road where there was a sign for Leadville. Grace sat up and pointed for Har­lan to go the other way, 82 West. They went by a few dark houses and then a dumpy mo­tel with not a sin­gle car parked out front, the neon blue VA­CANCY ef­ful­gent through the snow. Har­lan flipped on the scan­ner hop­ing to hear some­thing about the road con­di­tions now that they were in a slightly more pop­u­lated area. Grace sat up and looked across at him like she was wor­ried about wak­ing Colton but didn’t say any­thing. Colton con­tin­ued to sleep, undis­turbed by the ra­dio sounds. The scan­ner searched as they climbed a long, broad hill and came to Twin Lakes. The wind was com­ing across the body of wa­ter, and the snow mo­men­tar­ily let up enough so that they could see the moun­tains they were go­ing to have to pass through up ahead, ser­rated and crowded to­gether, ris­ing up like teeth. “All units, code five; all units, code five,” came a noisy voice from the ra­dio. “Twelve, code five, go ahead,” said an­other voice. “Sus­pect party, show­ing phys­i­cal as white male, five-ten, one-eighty, dirty blond and blue, break—” “Go ahead.” “Out of Monte Vista. Break­ing and en­ter­ing. Sus­pect is thought to be hitch­hik­ing north.” “Go ahead.” “Last seen wear­ing a green army jacket and a back­pack.” “Copy. Con­firm.” Har­lan shut the scan­ner off, and they sat there lis­ten­ing to Colton gen­tly snore for a few mo­ments. “There’s prob­a­bly at least a hun­dred hitch­hik­ers out on the road in Colorado tonight,” whis­pered Grace. “With an army coat, blue eyes, and a back­pack?” The road left the side of the lake and be­gan to switch­back up the steep moun­tain­side of pines. “He was prob­a­bly just try­ing to find some­place to sleep. Can’t blame him for not want­ing to freeze to death,” she said. “I know it.” “We can’t ex­actly hit the brakes and ask him to get out on the side of the road.” “Yeah,” said Har­lan. He was quiet for a lit­tle while. “You didn’t even want to give him a ride in the first place.” “What does that mean?” Grace raised her voice.

Colton abruptly sat up and un­folded his arms. “I was just go­ing to jump in the shower.. . ” He searched the cab left and right, try­ing to fig­ure out where he was. Nei­ther Har­lan nor Grace ex­plained that he’d dozed off but sim­ply stared ahead and let Colton col­lect him­self. Vis­i­bil­ity got worse as they climbed up to­ward the moun­tain pass, and it be­came all but im­pos­si­ble to fig­ure out where they were on the greater moun­tain­side. Their head­lights reached only about fifty yards up ahead be­fore hit­ting what seemed like a solid wall of white. All three of them were look­ing out the wind­shield, pay­ing close at­ten­tion to what lit­tle they could see of the road, but no one spoke up about the wors­en­ing con­di­tions. Har­lan was just go­ing to come out and say it; the mat­ter of Colton hav­ing a war­rant out for his ar­rest aside, the road was get­ting too dan­ger­ous for them to con­tinue. Colton was sit­ting for­ward in his seat. “What’s that?” asked Grace, re­fer­ring to the back of Colton’s jacket. “First Bat­tal­ion Ninth Marines,” said Colton. “The bat­tal­ion I served in Viet­nam; it had the high­est ca­su­alty rate.” “In the whole war?” asked Grace. “In the his­tory of the marines,” said Colton. “Ninety-three per­cent.” “Oh, my God, that’s more than nine out of ten,” said Grace. “I couldn’t have said it bet­ter my­self,” said Colton. “I’m sur­prised he didn’t ask me about it.” Colton looked to Har­lan. “Oh, yeah, I’m try­ing to keep my eyes on the road here,” said Har­lan. “That’s all any­body I meet who’s been in the ser­vice ever wants to talk about.” Har­lan turned on the wind­shield wipers. Big fat snowflakes smacked the glass, mak­ing it hard to see. “On my last cruise, I told my­self if I made it home, I’d never set foot in moun­tains again,” said Colton. “Look at us now. I guess th­ese moun­tains are dif­fer­ent though.” “Yeah,” said Har­lan, see­ing this as his op­por­tu­nity to come clean. “I was a re­porter over there.” “Oh,” said Colton. He looked ahead as if he were think­ing about ev­ery­thing that the two of them had said to each other over the course of meet­ing, try­ing to re­mem­ber where the idea of Har­lan be­ing a ma­rine had come from. “Who with?” “Mostly marines,” said Har­lan. “You weren’t with them,” said Colton. “Who were you a re­porter with?” “The El Paso Times,” said Har­lan. Colton coughed, and it sounded like some­thing hard that had been clogged in his throat had dis­lodged. “The El Paso Times?” he asked, rais-

ing his voice and still clear­ing his throat. “You went all the way over there to Viet­nam for the read­ers of El Paso?” “Yeah, well, I free­lanced a bit too.” Colton laughed. “Oh, you free­lanced too?” “I’m sorry,” said Har­lan. “I should have men­tioned I was a re­porter right off the bat. I didn’t mean for you to as­sume... ” “What? That you were a ma­rine? I could see from the start that that was one thing that you surely were not.” “Well, just from the way you put it be­fore, I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea.” “No, I didn’t have any­thing against re­porters over there. Some of my bud­dies did, of course. Called boys like you trai­tor­ous cow­ards, but not me. I per­son­ally think it takes all kinds. Leave the dirty work for the men. Some­body had to write the story about what was go­ing on over there, and it should be a sen­si­tive type. I bet you were good at it. You’re the type of boy we could use more of.” “Boy?” asked Har­lan. “That’s right.” “You’re rid­ing in my truck,” said Har­lan. “Don’t call me boy.” His voice quiv­ered. “Okey­doke,” said Colton, some­what de­lighted by get­ting a rise out of Har­lan. “I won’t call you boy, if it bothers you so much. I’m sorry,” he said very softly. “See. Sen­si­tive.” “Hey,” said Grace. “That’s enough.” She sat up in her seat. “Har­lan, slow down.” Har­lan re­al­ized that his whole body was tensed up, and his hands were clinch­ing the steer­ing wheel. Star­ing wide-eyed into the white­out, he’d fallen into an imag­ined ar­gu­ment in his head, de­fend­ing the role of the press in the war and for­get­ting for a mo­ment that he was driv­ing. And now he was look­ing out at the opaque, tex­ture­less world fly­ing to­ward him, and his brain was un­able to find any cer­tain­ties, the cen­ter­line, and the guardrails to ori­ent the truck’s po­si­tion on the road. He lurched, feel­ing like they were about to fly off a cliff. He took his foot off the gas and braked, lean­ing over the steer­ing wheel, fi­nally mak­ing out a guardrail and then a faint line of trees to con­firm the truck’s rel­a­tive po­si­tion and mo­tion still safe on the road. But he didn’t put his foot back on the gas. He let the steep pitch of the gra­di­ent ab­sorb their mo­men­tum, and Colton and Grace started look­ing around won­der­ing what gave out. Har­lan flipped on the emer­gency lights and pulled over on what lit­tle shoul­der there was that wasn’t taken up by snow.

“This isn’t safe,” he said. He sat with his hands on the wheel, wait­ing for their re­ac­tions. “I’m sorry, Colton. We shouldn’t have given you a ride.” “Wait, no. Where’s he sup­posed to go?” asked Grace. “It isn’t safe. I don’t know. We need to turn around,” said Har­lan. “Do what you have to do,” said Colton. Har­lan started a three-point turn. “No, Har­lan, we need to get over this moun­tain so we can drop Colton in Aspen.” Har­lan didn’t re­spond. He cut the wheel and backed up and put it into drive and started down the moun­tain. “I can’t be­lieve you,” said Grace qui­etly, as if she was too an­gry to speak louder. “He’ll be in no worse sit­u­a­tion than he was when we found him,” said Har­lan, talk­ing as if Colton wasn’t sit­ting next to him. “We drove him into a bliz­zard,” said Grace. “So you agree that the con­di­tions are un­safe,” said Har­lan. “It’s all right,” said Colton, un­com­fort­able in be­tween the two hav­ing it out. “You got me closer to where I was try­ing to get to.” “See,” said Har­lan. “You’re just go­ing to hang him out to dry? Just be­cause you got into a stupid ar­gu­ment? You’re a liar,” said Grace. “You don’t keep your word.” “What prom­ise did I make?”

The way down seemed to take longer than the way up, and the weather con­di­tions didn’t im­prove with the de­scent like Har­lan had thought they might. By the time the road lev­eled off and they re­turned to the curve around Twin Lakes, the dra­matic view of the moun­tains be­hind the lake and the lake it­self had van­ished be­hind a wall of snow­fall. “There’s a rest stop here at the lake, or there’s where 82 hits 24 a lit­tle ways down the road,” said Har­lan. “Right here is fine,” said Colton. Har­lan turned into the rest stop, lit­tle more than a long park­ing lot run­ning par­al­lel to the edge of the lake. It was empty and un­plowed, with at least a foot of snow all the way down to the lit­tle build­ing that housed the re­strooms, where at least Colton could maybe get out of the cold. The last thing Har­lan wanted to do was get stuck try­ing to get across this one-hun­dred-yard stretch, but let­ting Colton out in front of the lit­tle rest stop build­ing seemed to be some­thing of a com­pro­mise. The fuzzy street­light above the en­trance to the build­ing looked like a halo through the snowy air. They slowly rolled into the park­ing lot, Har­lan test­ing the truck’s trac­tion by tap­ping the gas, feel­ing the steer-

ing, and lis­ten­ing to the crunch­ing sound of the tires com­pact­ing the snow. He pushed down on the ac­cel­er­a­tor and the truck pow­ered for­ward, eas­ily cut­ting through the snow, which seemed light and pow­dery, as far as Har­lan could tell through the feel of his truck. They pulled up to the front of the build­ing, and Har­lan saw a snow­drift piled up against the en­trance, like no one had come in or out in some time. The truck hadn’t come to a stop yet, and Grace flipped on the ceil­ing light and looked over at Har­lan, her hair a thick mess around her fright­ened face. “Just a minute. Oh, no,” she said, like she had re­al­ized that she had for­got­ten her purse back at the diner. “What?” asked Har­lan. But he al­ready knew. “I’m all wet down there,” said Grace. “Je­sus Christ,” said Colton, the most alarmed of the three. “You’re not say­ing what I think you’re say­ing, are you?” Grace lifted her waist­band and tilted her head try­ing to see past her big belly down into her ma­ter­nal pants. “Yeah, I think this is it,” she said. “I’ve been feel­ing funny the whole drive.” “What? Why didn’t you say some­thing?” asked Har­lan. “Don’t yell at me. I’ve never done this be­fore.” “Okay, okay, let’s not panic here God­dammit,” said Colton. “Let’s think.” The out­burst si­lenced Har­lan and Grace, and they looked to Colton for his plan. “Let me out,” he said. “No,” said Grace. “You’re com­ing to the hos­pi­tal with us.” “Where’s the near­est hos­pi­tal?” asked Har­lan. “There’s one in Aspen, then there’s one in Leadville,” said Grace. “Leadville it is.” Har­lan went to put it in drive. “Com­ing to the hos­pi­tal with you?” The idea seemed to gen­uinely ter­rify Colton. “No. No way. I can’t be around a hos­pi­tal. Look at me. I’m a walk­ing, talk­ing curse.” Har­lan didn’t lis­ten. He threw it into drive and came down on the ac­cel­er­a­tor, and the en­gine revved, but they didn’t move. “Son of a bitch.” He gave it more gas, turned the wheel this way and that way, and then threw it in re­verse, but the wheels just slipped and spun. “See, this is ex­actly what I mean,” said Colton. “This has noth­ing to do with you,” said Grace. “It’s just bad luck.” “Same dif­fer­ence,” said Colton. “I’m go­ing to call an am­bu­lance.” Har­lan picked up the re­ceiver and turned the ra­dio up to its limit. “Break, emer­gency.” “Cer­tain sins can be for­given in this age, but oth­ers only in the age to come,” said Colton. There was a mo­ment of pause. “What’s that?” asked Har­lan. “The Bible,” said Colton.

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