I have gone marking the atlas of your body with crosses of fire. — Pablo Neruda
Somewhere outside of Youngstown I fell asleep at the wheel. The car rocked as the tires left the road and slid over gravel and grass, and I woke to a phone poll looming whitely in the mist. I yanked the wheel, the car veered, and one headlight shattered with a sound like thin ice breaking. The car rocked to a halt and I sat in the dark until my hands stopped shaking, watching giant moths flapping drunkenly in the light, and feeling sorry for myself. It was summer and I was fleeing my aunt's after a misguided effort to reconnect with my family. Dad had been deployed again and I hadn't been back since school started in the fall. My aunt was preoccupied, my sister was sullen, and my cousins seemed, if possible, even more small-minded than the last time I'd seen them. No one was particularly glad to see me, nor I them, and I'd packed up the last of my boxes, bought a used Civic at the auto mall, and left before the week was out. Five miles past the phone poll my one remaining headlight swept over the girl.
She was standing on the shoulder next to a Mercedes with California plates. The car had a flat, but she wasn't trying to fix it; there was no sign that she'd looked for the jack or even taken the instruction manual out of the glove box. When my headlight washed over her, she was leaning on the front door, looking into the blue-black distance, a wheeled carry-on beside her. I pulled over and got out and she straightened her back and touched the handle of the bag with the tips of her fingers. Even in the stark light she was beautiful—not voluptuous beautiful like a Penthouse model, but ethereally and disturbingly beautiful like a 12-year-old growing into her body. She was older than that though, maybe 18, alone in the dark on an empty road and as calm as if she were standing at a bus stop in daylight.
"I can change that for you, or call a tow," I offered, and she pushed the handle of the bag forward so the weight settled on its wheels.
"It's not my car," she said.
For a moment I thought, shit, it's a set up. I've stopped to help the girl and now some guy is gonna jump out of the woods and beat me to a pulp, but there was only her, the light bleeding into the darkness, and the wave-like rise and fall of cricket-song in the heavy air.
"I didn't steal it," she said. "It was mine to drive."
"It's none of my business," I said.
It wasn't my business, but I did want to know—how she came to be there, how she could be so serene—yet something about the way she held herself kept me from asking. She seemed poised and, aside from being stranded, so in control. As well, I'd never seen a girl so fair, and part of me was wondering what she'd look like naked. The headlight flattened her slight features into a waxen plain and her skin seemed almost translucent. I wondered if the down on her body would even be visible, and then I felt bad, because she was alone and maybe in trouble, and because I had a girlfriend at last, Kate, and it would kill her if she knew what I was thinking.
The Mercedes girl stared.
"I'm heading east," I said, "way east," and she nodded. She pushed the roll-on forward a few inches.
"I've never seen the Atlantic," she said.
It was late, there were no other cars on the road, and it seemed natural that I should take her bag and stow it in the back of the Civic. It seemed right that she would slide in beside me and lean silently into the curved leather seatback, trailing a hand out the open window. We drove on, the car smelling of damp grass and unseen flowers, and I turned the radio down and concentrated on the single circle of light on the road.
An hour later we stopped at a Motel 6 and she stood quietly by while I paid for a room. She didn't offer me money. Maybe she was broke. Maybe she was tired. She could have expected me to take care of her. I couldn't be sure. I'd asked her name and where she was from in the car, but she'd answered in such a flat, distant voice that I'd fallen into silence. I still knew nothing about her.
When we got to the room she showered, and I sat on the bed with my back to the headboard trying to watch TV while the water ran and I imagined her soaping herself under the spray. I practiced what I would say when she finished, how I'd give her the bed and offer to sleep on the floor, how I would do the right thing, and I made myself picture Kate—the shy way she covered her mouth when she smiled, the maze of freckles that spread across her face. But the girl came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel and sat on the bed, her shoulder touching mine. Then she unwrapped the towel and lay on the bedspread beside me with the same calm look she'd had on the road. She was still and willing and I leaned over her and kissed her and she didn't object, only made a slight noise when my belt buckle dug into her side. I thought, Jesus, I've won the lottery, and I pulled off my clothes and pressed against her. Her skin was damp and smooth and she smelled like soap. Then I was in her and moving and I stopped thinking. I opened my eyes to see the expression on her face—I like that, seeing the jammed up look a girl gets when she loses control—but her eyes were open and she was staring blankly over my shoulder. I paused and realized she wasn't moving or making a sound, just lying there and taking it. Then her eyes focused and she did look at me, really looked at me, and I felt myself shrinking inside her. I rolled away and lay sweating in the dim yellow light.
I wanted to ask, am I as bad as that? Am I a terrible lover? Kate was appreciative but she was inexperienced, and the others might have faked it. In truth, there were only four of them and once, twice even, we'd both been pretty drunk.
"Was that all right?" I said finally. "I mean, did you enjoy it?"
She said, "I don't do that," and she reached over and flicked off the bedside lamp. Cars hissed past on the highway and the ice machine in the corridor clattered. We climbed under the covers, the stiff sheets rustling, and she put her hand under her chin and curled around herself like a pillbug. "It's nothing you did or didn't do. I'm just not that way." I nodded and I might have said something encouraging, but she was already asleep.
We drove straight through to the Sound. I'd thought about bringing her to my apartment, but Kate might have called and, anyway, I couldn't picture this girl sitting in my room, waiting for me to get home from work. It seemed to me that she should be on display, like a work of art or a giant pearl. She was the most striking female I'd ever been with, and I felt an adolescent need to show her off.
We caught the ferry and drove to the Jansen's beach house. When I pulled into the driveway it was packed with Lexus convertibles and Beemers, and my roommate Trey, Edward the Third, was out back with a bunch of his old boarding school cronies and their gravelly-voiced girlfriends. There was a half-empty pitcher of gin and tonics sweating on the sideboard and a line of empty beer cans on the railing. Trey was shooting skeet off the porch and laughing like a loon, but he stopped when he saw the girl. She kind of floated across the painted boards, barefoot and braless in a thin cotton shirt.
"Shoot?" he said in greeting, and handed her the shotgun. She held it like she didn't know what it was for and he said, "You just shout 'pull' and squeeze."
Someone behind me sniggered.
The gun was too heavy for her. She hoisted it and the barrel wavered in the general direction of the empty sky. "Pull," she said in that flat voice and the jerk from Andover who was handling the trap sent not one but two targets arcing through the air.
It was beautiful the way she shot them. The first shattered while it was still on the rise and she led the second for an achingly long moment, catching it just above the tree line so that a shower of chalk rained on the pine needles like snow. Two neat shots: bang and bang. She handed the gun to Trey and looked at me, and I said, "This is Ellie and she'd like to go for a swim."
I'd known from the start that the Jansen's had money, but I hadn't understood how much. Trey wasn't pretentious and he didn't act the way I'd always imagined a rich kid would. Maybe he was more directionless than some people I knew, less motivated, but there wasn't much reason for him to apply himself. The house on the Sound was only one of several family homes. Trey had grown up in a restored Victorian overlooking the Hudson, a house so sprawling that the first time we pulled up to it I thought he was joking. "Mi casa es su casa," Trey had said and he meant it; we had the run of the place. We drove down weekends from school when we had time, threw a football around the grounds and played tennis or swam in the pool. Trey's father, a lawyer, would be on endless phone calls with clients and his stepmother would wander in and out in disconcertingly revealing outfits. She was 20 years younger than Trey's dad—not much older than us—and she was nice to me but made Trey crazy trying to be friends. His actual mother lived in Paris or Milan—she moved a lot—and sent a card on his birthday with a pristine bill in the fold.
The house I grew up in—all of the houses I grew up in—would have fit in the Jansen's living room. My sister and I were army brats and we moved every few years until my mother died. After that, we stayed with my aunt and her four kids. The room I shared with Trey at school, narrow and dark and spotted with mildew, felt more like home than anywhere, including the cramped sublet I'd taken in New York for the summer. I had an internship at a magazine and weekdays I made coffee and picked up the editor's dry-cleaning before pulling a shift waiting tables. When Saturday came around I took the train to hang out with Trey, who was spending the summer mowing the lawn and getting stoned. But I was tired of work and school was only a couple of weeks away. I was ready for a break when Ellie materialized.
When we had a moment alone I told Trey all I knew about her, which was next to nothing, and we kicked around the idea that she was a runaway or a hooker. She had an ease about her that didn't gel with either notion and there was the Mercedes to consider.
"So she's a thief," Trey said.
"Or people just give her things. You've seen her. Maybe men just give her presents."
"OK, but who dumps a fifty-thousand-dollar car?"
"Maybe she didn't like the guy who gave it to her."
"Still, shouldn't we be phoning someone? The cops?"
"And say what? Officer, I'd like to report that a beautiful girl slept with me."
"You're right. No one would believe it," Trey said, and I was cuffing him when Ellie came back into earshot.
The morning after we arrived, the three of us played a few rounds of tennis while we waited for the twins, Peter and Paul, from school. Trey was only a passable player but Ellie lifted him to new heights. She ran like a kid, throwing her body into every swing, and it was so sexy I couldn't believe she was the same girl who was practically comatose in bed. He kept her diving cross-court until her t-shirt clung to her and we could see the dark areolas around her nipples through the wet fabric.
"Tell me she isn't out of your league," Trey said as we watched her walk ahead of us to the house. "No disrespect intended, but tell me you're not in over your head."
The twins drove up then, shouting and honking their horn. They'd been painting houses for the summer, and they were lean and wild. Their hair was down to their shoulders and flecked with paint, and Peter had a green baseball cap with "Kiss My Bass" pulled low over his forehead.
When the truck pulled up Paul saw Ellie and his face went tight for an instant, then slack as if he'd put on a mask. Peter saw Paul's reaction before he saw Ellie and shot me a what-the-hell questioning look. Then Ellie came into view, in a tank top and a pair of my shorts cinched at the waist, and he took off his hat as if we were in church.
"Ellie," I said in summary and she gave a little wave. "She's been traveling with me."
Paul said nothing, though his eyes never left her. When she looked at Peter he put his hat back on and said too loudly, "Who's pouring?"
Trey, watching the scene unfold, slapped me on the back and said, "Trainer, because he's so fucking brilliant."
By the time we got to The Pequod that night we were already wasted. The bar was jammed, but Ellie walked in first and opened a path through the sweating bodies as if she were Moses. We had a few beers then we made a space on the floor and danced around her. She danced the way she played tennis and it was difficult not to stare. Peter drifted away before the first song finished, but Paul, Trey, and I kept circling her like planets.
After a few songs, a couple of guys tried to elbow us aside. Paul shoved one of them and things went bad from there. We ended up out on the grass, Paul with a bloody nose, Trey with a black eye, and me with a torn shirt. Ellie was breathless but unscathed, and Peter was still missing in action. We found him lying on the hood of the car. He'd bought a tab off the bartender and he was out of his head. We loaded him—still rambling—in the back seat and I drove us home at five miles an hour.
When we got back, the three of us carried Peter up the steps and dropped him on the sofa. Trey went to his room and Paul disappeared with a bottle of whiskey. I was tired and dizzy and went straight to sleep, Ellie curled up beside me. Sometime later, around three or four, I woke with a headache and a dry throat. I felt my way to the bathroom and drank from the tap until my stomach was hard. On the way back to bed I saw a light at the end of the hall and I went toward it thinking maybe someone else was up.
Peter was lying where we'd left him, wrapped in a throw, and Ellie was on the couch with Paul. They were naked and Paul's body was so slick he seemed to glow. A board creaked under my foot and he looked up, his body still rising and falling in an unmistakable rhythm. The skin on his face was unnaturally tight, his eyes were wide, and sweat was running into his dark hair. The expression on his face was somewhere between anger and frustration and I stepped back into the hallway and leaned against the wall. My chest was tight and I balled my hands into fists, thinking, the son-of-a-bitch. I'd known from the moment he saw her he'd try something, but that didn't make it easier to take.
I left them and padded back to my room. Paul knocked a few minutes later and stood in the doorway, tugging distractedly at his wet hair. He'd put on his jeans but his shirt was off and he looked smaller in the darkness than he did in the light. I could have counted his ribs, and the thought gave me a measure of comfort.
"Trainer," he said. "She came on to me."
I knew the instant he said it that it was true, that it had probably happened the same way with him as it had with me, but I was still angry. He'd wanted it to happen and he hadn't discouraged her, I was sure of that.
"In your dreams," I said.
"She did. She came on to me."
"It doesn't matter."
"Just so you know."
I shrugged. He shouldn't have done it anyway and he knew it. He left, shutting the door carefully behind him. I went back to sleep and when I woke up Ellie was under the covers with me, her hands by her face as if she'd fallen asleep sucking her thumb. I wondered if Paul knew where she was, then she mumbled something in her sleep and shifted closer. The warm skin of her back was against my chest and I decided I didn't care.
We ate breakfast with the TV on and spent the afternoon messing around at the beach. Trey dragged the Sunfish down to the water but it was dead calm, so we flipped it and took turns shoving each other off the smooth hull. Someone mentioned Jaws 2 and the sailboat scene and Peter said we should make a giant raft. The twins got a bunch of bungee cords from their truck and we lashed together everything that could float: the Sunny, a couple of Styrofoam surfboards from under the house, and a bunch of blow-up pool toys. We paddled it three feet then gave up and floated around drinking beer and eating bologna sandwiches. If you left your feet in the water long enough, skinny, little brown fish snapped at them and left tiny stinging welts.
"It's like Peter Pan, you know, and the lost boys," Trey said, and we bickered about who would make a better Hook.
"Wendy or Tinker Bell?" I asked Ellie, but she only blinked.
"Tinker Bell flies, but Wendy's a babe." Trey said.
"Please, Julia Roberts," Paul said. "Pretty Woman. And Wendy's a friggin housewife."
"There's that Indian chick, and the mermaids."
"And the dog, right?" I said. "In the original, you know, a Saint Bernard."
Ellie looked at us like we were crazy and slipped into the water. When she surfaced she had her bikini top in her hand. She tossed it on a bobbing surfboard and swam to the shore with sure, easy strokes. We watched her walk up the steps to the house topless.
"Mermaid it is," Trey said reverently.
"Watch it," Paul said.
Trey blinked. "What?"
"Watch it, that's all."
"What's he talking about?" Trey looked at me.
"Paul did it with Ellie," Peter said.
"How do you know? You were out of your head." There were slashes of red on Paul's cheeks.
"I saw it in a vision," Peter said. "No really. Here's one sofa, here's the other: three feet apart. I was tripping, not comatose."
"You degenerate. You listened to them?" Trey said.
"What? Trainer watched."
Trey looked at me. "You sick bastard. You watched your girlfriend do it with another guy? That's warped. That's talk-show crazy."
"I didn't watch. It was a mistake. Anyway, she's not really my girlfriend."
"Damn straight," Paul said.
"She's not yours either," I added and instantly regretted it. Paul's cheeks darkened and the skin under one eye twitched.
Peter sighed. Trey looked from Paul to me and back again and I wondered almost idly if the two of them would be able to pull Paul off me if he snapped. Then Trey leapt to his feet, making a cawing, chicken noise, like a demented kung fu master.
"Evil ones, you have broken the code of the brotherhood and you must be punished." He chopped the air and squawked in our direction.
"Trey, Jesus," Paul said, but he shook his head and lay back on the sand and I let out the breath I'd been holding. Trey hopped in a circle around us, kicking the air and making barnyard noises.
After dinner, we watched TV. The movie Happy Gilmore came on and we did shots each time Happy threw his golf clubs or swore and Shooter said "unbelievable." Then we watched Entertainment Tonight. The camera switched to celebrities at a party and Ellie giggled.
"That guy is so funny," she said pointing at the screen. He's got this thing for dogs. He has like 10 of them, and they have their own chef and everything. They even swim in the hot tub. He's crazy."
"You know him?" I asked and she looked away.
By eleven, we were all pretty gone. Trey was under the throw and Paul was cradling a bottle, eyes half-closed. Ellie was sitting between Peter and I and when she turned to me I shot a quick look at Paul and leaned in and kissed her. Fuck you, Paul, I thought: easy come, easy go. Then she turned to Peter, half smiling, and kissed him too.
"I'm Peter," Peter said, a little groggily, and Ellie said, "I know." She lifted his bangs and with a finger traced the small scar beneath that set the twins apart. Peter shivered.
When she turned back to me I kissed her again, a voice in the back of my head going, this is so messed up, this is unreal, but at the same time not stopping it. She turned back to Peter, who looked uncomfortable but let her kiss him again. Then she stood up, stepped out of her clothes, and walked out of the room without speaking.
"You sons-of-bitches," Paul said, straightening in his chair.
Peter held his hands up. "Not guilty. Not guilty."
"She came onto him," I said. "Now where have I heard that before?"
Paul glowered. I was pushing it. If it hadn't been for Peter beside me, Paul would have taken a swing, I knew, but he rose with drunken dignity.
"I'm going down the hall now and I don't want either of you following me." He walked unsteadily out after Ellie.
Peter picked up Paul's bottle and took a long drink. He handed it to me and I drank too, the liquid burning my throat and covering the taste of Ellie. We passed it between the three of us until it was empty.
"Is it Christmas? It feels like Christmas," I heard Trey say, and then I passed out.
When I came to it was early morning and the house was still. There was a hint of light on the horizon, a dull glow, and the ocean was flat and oily. My head ached and my tongue was furry. I took two aspirin with a cold cup of coffee and pressed my forehead against the glass sliding doors watching the line of light thicken over the water. I heard a noise on the porch and I saw Trey by the railing. He had his back to the beach and he was leaning against the wood slats, his hands resting on a chair. He was rocking slightly, his eyes were closed, and his face was wet as if he'd been crying. Then his hands moved and I saw that it wasn't a chair in front of him but Ellie crouching down. He had his hands in her hair and I looked away. He was crying, I thought, but I couldn't have said precisely why.
By tacit agreement none of us talked about winter vacation freshman year, the New Year's Eve Trey broke into the science tower and walked along the narrow roof's edge shouting incoherently. There was no one in the street below to hear; the dorms were closed and we'd been climbing padlocked gates to get into our rooms. The twins had told their parents they were staying at Trey's, Trey had left a message on someone's machine, and my father had just started another tour. It was a perfect New England night, still and bitterly cold, but I was sweating under my parka.
"He's gonna jump," Peter said. He'd pushed his cap back to see better and his scar shone blue in the tower's fluorescent light. "He's gonna do a header."
"He's too chicken shit." Paul's teeth glowed. "Hear that Trey! You're too chicken shit to jump."
Trey turned, wobbling.
"Shut up, Paul," Peter said.
I edged closer, my hands open in front of me like some TV cop, picturing the wind rising and Trey being swept into space. I thought if I made a grab for his ankles he'd fall backward and I'd lose my grip. "Seriously, buddy, scaring the hell out of me. Just come down."
"That's so sweet," Trey said slurring. "Trainer, you can come to my funeral."
"You pussy, Trey." Paul climbed up on the ledge. "Shit, this is high."
"You know who is gonna be at my funeral? The president, and the president's wife because I am that important."
"You are not dying," I said.
"Paul, get off there."
"Paul, get off there," Paul said mimicking Peter's voice. "On three."
"For God's sake, you'll both fall," I said.
"How ya doin'," Paul said, and put his arm around Trey's shoulders.
"You can come to my funeral, too."
I reached out for Trey and Peter lunged toward Paul.
"Three," Paul said and pitched forward onto the rooftop with Trey in his arms.
The four of us fell in a heap.
"You are such a jerk, Number Three." Paul brushed himself off. "All that money and no brains, it's criminal."
"You idiot Paul. Mom would have killed me if you'd fallen."
"Mom would have killed me. I'm surrounded by idiots."
Across the quad, the bells in the church tower chimed midnight.
"Happy fucking New Year," Paul said.
New Year's day we drove to the White Mountains, with Trey puking out the window of the twins' four by four. Everything was closed. We stopped at a state park where the powder was hip deep but sledders had packed the hillside into a sheet of ice. There were cracked saucers and flattened cardboard boxes abandoned in the parking lot and we slid down the hill hooting, our voices bouncing off the trees.
I tried to write Dad about it. I wanted to say, Trey's parents never called, that they didn't seem particularly interested in what he did. But I kept picturing Dad reading his email in a tent somewhere, tired and dirty after a day on patrol, and nothing I wrote seemed right. I thought he might take it all personally, that he'd think I meant I was lonely or upset that he was gone, but it wasn't true. I missed him, but I didn't blame him for being away. He had a job to do. I knew it was hard for him to leave us, my sister and me, especially with Mom gone, and I didn't want him to worry. So I didn't write. I thought about what he'd tell me to do—make sure Trey didn't hurt himself, make sure he wasn't alone—and I did it. That was back when I could still clearly remember the way his voice sounded and the careful way he put words together. That was two years ago and I was beginning to forget.
In the morning, it was overcast and we were out of sorts. Paul worked on the truck and Peter ran on the beach. Trey stayed in his room reading and I went to town for the paper. Only Ellie seemed herself, lying on the porch, low scudding clouds reflecting in the dark wrap-around sunglasses she wore that were too big for her face.
I brought pizza back for lunch and we ate it at the table without looking one another in the eye. Then Paul found a deck of cards and we spent the rest of the afternoon playing poker. Ellie played like she had no sense, losing no matter how much we cheated for her. We broke for dinner then Paul, Trey, and I went back to playing cards and Peter got out his sketchpad. Ellie came around behind him and watched him work, and after a few minutes she said, "Draw me." Peter nodded and started to sketch her, but she shook her head and said "No. Draw on me," pointing to his collection of colored markers and stretching out on the kitchen table. We looked at one another, set down the cards, and gathered around. Peter looked perplexed.
"Draw what? You know, I don't know if this ink is gonna come off."
"Anything," she said. "Pictures. Words."
He looked at Paul.
"You're the art major," he said.
"Flowers or something," Trey offered. "Something feminine."
Peter took a red marker and drew the outline of a rose over her hip. The skin around it broke out in goose flesh.
"Bigger," she said, "and harder. I can barely feel it."
Peter started sketching in earnest and her stomach bloomed. He drew sunflowers on the swell of her abdomen and ivy along the length of an arm. Ellie shivered as the pen ran over the soft white skin above her wrist and she made a sound low in her throat.
"Wait," she said. She sat up, pulled off her top and wiggled out of her shorts. She lay back on the tabletop in just her panties. "More."
Peter hesitated then drew a giant blue flower across her chest, winding around her breasts. Ellie arched against the pen. "Press harder," she said. Peter drew purple birds like sparrows flying from one shoulder to another. The pen scraped her skin, leaving deep colored channels and Ellie trembled. A bead of sweat rolled down Peter's face and fell on her belly. The colors ran together. He moved down the side of the table and drew on her thighs, stalks that looked like flowering wheat, tall grasses, dense and dark. The pen went back and forth over her skin, color flowing out behind it and bleeding into the white of her cotton panties.
I looked at the faces around the table, almost eerily intent, and I thought, Trey was right, I am out of my league. None of us know what we're doing. I wondered what my father would say if he could see us, and I realized there was no way I could tell him about the past few days. Even if Ellie had been willing, even if she was the instigator, there was something wrong with the way we'd been treating her. Maybe something was broken in her that we'd taken advantage of, or maybe she was fine and we were broken. I wasn't sure. Everything was twisted up in my head. Her face was lit up in a way I hadn't seen before and she was spread out on the table like a gift. I reached out, my palm hot and slippery, and took hold of Peter's wrist and squeezed. I wanted to press his hand against her, to watch it slide against her rainbow skin, but I just held it there, raised above her. I held it still.
Peter tried to pull away. Then he looked down at our hands, my white fingers and his tanned ones, floating above the shivering tattooed map of her body, and he relaxed his grip and dropped the pen.
"What the fuck," Paul said, scooping it up from the floor. "Keep going."
"I think we're done," I said. "I'm pretty sure."
"I'll tell you when we're done," Paul said.
And Peter said softly, "Enough."
Freshman year, Paul had an encounter with a vending machine in the basement of the library after some girl dumped him: he punched it until his hands were hamburger and its Plexiglas front was shattered. We took him to the emergency room, and while he was in x-ray Peter and I sat under the buzzing hospital lights thumbing through old People magazines. I made some joke about Paul and impulse control and Peter told me about the scar. He said when they'd been kids their mother had dressed them in identical clothes so no one could tell them apart, and Paul had convinced him that even their parents had mixed them up.
"They call me Paul now, but I'm really Peter," Paul had whispered at night from his bunk. "I remember when they used to call me Peter. Then they stopped and I forgot. But now that I remember I'll have to tell them."
"We were only kids. It was a joke. But it scared the shit out me," Peter told me. "I knew I was Peter. I remembered always being Peter, but I really thought he'd manage to convince them."
The next day he cut the cross in his skin. By the time their mother discovered it under his hair, the edges were puffy and red and the slits were weeping. Years later, there was still a smooth patch of hard, white above his eyes. Physically, it was the only thing that set them apart.
"It's why he is the way he is," Peter said, worrying the tired pages of the magazine. "Every day, I remind him. My face does." He ran a finger over the raised mark. "He can't let it go."
At school, on Halloween, Paul would draw the outline of a cross on his forehead in ballpoint and whiten the center with correction fluid.
"You're such a jerk," Peter would say, the scar carefully hidden under a wig or a mask.
"What?" Paul would say. "I'm Harry fucking Potter."
From the kitchen table, Ellie stared up at us wildly. "Why are you stopping?" I gathered her clothes off the floor and handed them to her.
"You need to get dressed now," I said.
She looked confused for a moment, then her lips turned down, and for the first time since I'd seen her on the road she looked angry. She grabbed her clothes and climbed off the table. She stalked out of the room and we heard the bedroom door slam. We looked around the table at one another, rubbing our eyes and stretching our backs as if we were just waking. After a moment, Trey suggested we go for a swim, and we all agreed it sounded like a good idea.
In the morning, Ellie was gone. For a while we debated calling the cops—maybe she'd drowned or gotten lost—but her bag was gone too and, anyway, what would we have told them? More than likely she'd set out for town and someone had picked her up.
The twins took off. School was about to start and Kate took the train down for a last visit. We swam and played tennis and while we were walking on the beach she asked me if I'd ever thought about having children. We broke up that afternoon and Trey drove her to the landing to catch the last ferry. When he got back, we sat on the porch drinking beer and watching the sun sink into the Sound. Trey said, "Trainer, with my money and your brains, the two of us could make one rich moron."
Then my dad finally got a call through to my cell and the sound of his voice made my throat swell. He asked how my summer was going and I wanted to tell him, but I was blubbering like a baby and couldn't get a word out. It felt like I'd been holding my breath for months just waiting for that moment. He kept talking, even though I didn't say anything back, just kept saying he'd be home soon, that everything was all right, and he'd be all over me if I didn't keep my grades up. Then the call ended, the line filled with static, and I sat on the porch cradling the dead phone.
Trey who'd been pretending politely to be deaf and blind, said, "OK?" and when I nodded he struck a pose and intoned, "Grasshopper, your many sexual adventures have left you weak and vulnerable. Now I must use my karate voodoo to kick your dumb ass." I chased him down the hill to the water and we ran along the beach, laughing like idiots until it hurt too much to breathe.