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A Shade Against Tomorrow

by Willow Kendrick Chapter One

Once, in the days when the horizon seemed nearer and the roads seemed longer, when love unrolled from an infinite coil, I knew a boy. He knew the short way to my heart, and he touched my life in every room. This is that story. It is mostly for my children, especially my daughter, who has noticed in my eyes at times a distant focus, as though I am seeing something that is not there. She has not asked because there is no question. Urbandale It happened in Iowa, in a small town in a smaller time. In those days the town of Urbandale, Iowa was laid out like a calendar with only one week. It was a town with no traffic lights, though there was one four-way stop sign, which was more than the neighboring town of Clive could boast. U.S. Highway 6, which would take you west to Omaha, flashed through Clive without stopping. On quiet, windless summer nights you could sit on a south-facing porch in Urbandale and just hear between the crickets and the dogs the rhythmic hum of huge trucks making their way east or west. Urbandale wasn't on a U.S. highway, but it did pride itself on the four-way stop. Local humor held that everyone stopped in Urbandale. It was at this intersection with the stop sign that Urbandale roosted. Perched on the crossed poles of 70th Street and Douglas Avenue, Urbandale was a chicken coop of a town. Douglas, the main street, lay parallel to Clives Highway 6 but a few miles north. Douglas may not have been a major highway but it reached further than you could see either way, from the river on the east to the corn fields out west, hinting of possibilities beyond. Douglas was important enough to local commerce to have been paved all the way from the river through town and on out to where it became just another graded country dirt road west of the Ward place. Between 68th and 70th, Douglas had what passed for curbs in Urbandale in the early 1950s contoured rims you could easily bicycle over that gave the two-

lane road the appearance of flowing in a shallow concrete ditch. On the northeast corner of 70th and Douglas sat the longest building in town, a low, flat-roofed, shallow, red brick structure with several doors and wide windows and a continuous awning that covered Urbandales only sidewalk. The mud puddles started again at either ends of the sidewalk. After summer rains tadpoles in the puddles were thicker than freckles, though I never saw or heard a frog. Between the sidewalk and the paved road a dirt parking area allowed for as many as a dozen or so automobiles shoulder-to-shoulder all at once, though there were seldom more than one or two. Urbandale was small enough that most people walked "uptown", as it was called, to buy bread or cough syrup or get a soda at the fountain in the corner drug store. Parked cars collected mostly toward the end of the day, to the east end of the building, outside Stormy's Tavern. The structure housed more than half of Urbandales merchants, including the drug store with its pharmacy, sundry goods and soda fountain. My brother Dale, who was three years older than me, worked at the soda fountain after school when he wasn't building the model rockets that he would launch from tubes out into the corn fields. He had started more than one grass fire that way and the town council, encouraged by an irascible neighbor who had lost a portion of his corral gate, had at one time considered a special ordinance against the practice of propelling home made rockets without a permit, no matter the importance of the research. If Dale hadn't been an honor student famous in Polk County for his science fair projects the proposal may have had a better chance of passing. Sometimes Dale would give me a free squirt of cherry syrup in my Coke, then wink at me as if to say don'ttell-anyone. It made me feel good that my big brother liked me that way. I never did tell anyone. Secrets are safe with me. The soda fountain was about the only place kids could meet in Urbandale and have anything to do when the roller rink was closed, which it always was except on Wednesday nights and weekends. The roller rink, with its high round roof, rivaled the high school gymnasium in size and was a block north up 70th St. The drug store also had the only newsstand in town, which was popular with some of the boys. You could find more than news on the newsstand. Magazines could be found there, too, some with photographs of bare-breasted and bare-bottomed women. Words spread quickly when a new photography magazine came in and the older boys would try to get a peak when they thought no one was looking. Once in a while the girls would sneak a look, too, though we had to be dead certain absolutely no one would notice. It was surmised generally that other women had taken the

photographs, since we could not conceive of the possibility that a woman would stand naked willingly in front of a man, no matter if he was your husband. Especially if he had a camera. Under the same red shale roof and one door east of the drug store was a grocery store and butcher shop owned by two old German brothers named Eisenstadt who were grim and silent about things that no one spoke of. Next to the Eisenstadt store was Hartsook's Hardware, and next to it Smitty's Barber Shop. The barber shop had two barber chairs, the one closest to the window for Smitty, the other for Dorsey, a blatherskite who wasn't needed much except on some Saturdays during the school year but was kept around it was supposed to keep Smitty company. Both men smelled like Witch Hazel even when they weren't cutting hair. Dale and my dad, and almost every other man in town, complained that both Smitty and Dorsey fastened the paper strip and sheet too tight around customer's necks. Stormy's Tavern sat at the east end of the building. The tavern windows were painted green on the inside so no light could get in or out. Even when the door was open it was always cave-dark in there and had the tempting damp reek of brew and smoke and sins to come. The only time kids were allowed in the tavern was at Halloween, and then you had to go to the back door off the parking lot and reach in almost blindly when the candy bowl was offered. City hall was on the northwest corner of the intersection and could be distinguished from Doris' Cafe and the dentist's office only by the United States flag that hung inside the window. The flag was never taken down and hung as loose and muted as an old table cloth. No one was ever in City hall, except for Mrs. Mott, a typist who came in once in a while to organize the minutes of the meetings the town council held one night a month to decide important things like whether to purchase a new garbage truck, when Roseland Drive would get a street light, and how to finance paved parking for the 'business district. Local businessmen made up the town council and also served as volunteer firemen. The mayor's job was rotated between the councilmen, my dad said, because no one wanted the position - since it didn't pay anything extra. Urbandale had no doctor or library, although we did have Doc Reynolds, the dentist. Books came in a bookmobile once a week during school months. The closest doctor was in Beaverdale, a few miles to the east, past the monastery at Merle Hay Road. On the south side of Douglas, Seller's Phillips 66 station occupied the east corner. Fred Fry's older brother was building a hot rod in a shed behind the garage. Around the corner to the east poking out of an earthen berm like a gun

bunker was a walk-up ice cream vendor who also sold bags of salted peanuts and frozen Pepsis for a nickel each, a price popular with teenagers. Some of the boys like to tear the peanut bag open with their teeth and pour as many peanuts in the Pepsi as would fit, and then try to consume the fizz that boiled from the bottle in the chemical reaction between the salt and whatever Pepsi was made of. An air raid siren, the only evidence aside from our Weekly Reader that the Cold War existed, clung to a yellow pole that reached above the street lights and power lines next to the ice cream stand where 69th Street would have been if it had come through from the south that far. The siren was tested for readiness exactly at noon every week day. It would shriek for five seconds, then for the next minute or so it would wind down. People set their clocks by it. No matter how many times I heard it it always brought a start. It seemed always far too loud. It was also used to summon the volunteer fire department to the town pumper whenever that became necessary. We were never sure when the siren went off at any time other than noon if someones barn was on fire or World War III had started. The volunteers would come dashing from their various directions and meet behind the city hall where the old red truck would be cranked to life and set off clanging and honking in search of smoke. The fire truck was exciting to watch and was always a part of the Fourth of July pancake breakfast and civic celebration. There was another standing joke in town, this one about the volunteer fire department, that if your house ever caught on fire you could count on the old red truck to arrive way before the ashes blew away. Smitty the barber was the fire chief, by virtue of being the volunteer who worked closest to City Hall. The high school, bigger than the community church, was on the remaining corner of 70th and Douglas, the southwest. For years it contained 11 of the 12 grades under the same roof. It was a featureless three story brick rectangle the color of a November sky. The bottom floor was half way underground, as though the entire building had been slowly sinking under the weight of the bricks, leaving a row of epigeal windows to peer out at playground level from behind a buckling of sparse, unfriendly bushes. Concrete steps, worn white and smooth like old bones, were stacked against the front wall between cement banisters so wide they served as ski jumps for the braver boys after ice storms. The stairs lead up from the bald, flat earth to heavy double wooden doors that opened onto the second floor hallway, directly opposite the Principals Office. It was a milestone in one's life, like learning to ride a bike or question the existence of Santa Claus, when one could pull one of the wooden vault doors open without help.

The original one-room school house, later called The Annex, sat nearby, next to the playground. When I was in grade six the Annex was used by the seventh grade. That's where Carver Daniels was when most of this happened. He's the boy who found the pathway to my heart. I helped him find it. I noticed him before he noticed me. I guess you could say I left the gate open for him. I noticed him first because he came by my house every day. He was our paperboy. Twice a day he delivered our newspaper. Thirteen times a week he came by my house on 67th Street on Route 305X. He told me once later that the X meant the delivery truck left the bundles of paper he was to deliver on the corner. He brought The Des Moines Register in the morning, before school, and The Des Moines Tribune he delivered after school. That's when I noticed him, in the afternoons, pacing his route past my window, across the yards. I don't remember when I started watching him. It now seems like I had been watching him forever, unseen in my bedroom, hiding behind the curtains by the corner windows that looked out north toward the Rybergs. I pretended he was coming to see me, that I was his special girl. I wasn't in his class at school, because he was a year ahead of me. I think that made him even more mysterious and alluring. He never knew it but I could have delivered his papers without missing a customer, at least on my street. I knew his path down 67th as well as he did I would hear the thump of the papers landing on the porches up the street. That was my signal to hide in the house. I could hear him coming when he was way up past the Daugherty place, then it was over to Ryberg's, then down the middle of the block to my house, on next door to Yeater's, then down to the corner where he'd launch a long shot across Chase's wide yard. Eventually he would disappear around the corner up Oliver Smith Drive, heading east. Sometimes I would stand at the window for a while and listen to how long I could hear the papers plop, my mind tagging along as he pulled papers out of a dirty canvas bag the color of old corn that hung from a wide sling and rode on his hip like a papoose. Without looking he would expertly fold the paper long ways in half, then in thirds, tucking the right side into the slot created on the left, resulting in a pad the size of a thick square Belgian waffle that he could fling sidearm on a reaching arch that rarely missed its target. He did this with so little effort he seemed scarcely to notice what he was doing. He aimed, he once said, for the door mat, if there was one, by the front door. The paper would skid less then, and was thus less likely to tear. Also, mats muffled the sharp plop of an arriving newspaper. He was considerate about things like

that. It was one of the things I liked most about him. I guess I loved him all those days and he never knew it. I guess I probably didn't either. Every other Wednesday after supper he would come to the side of our house, to the door just off the driveway. For a long time this too would send me behind the curtains. He would rap his knuckles on the door frame two or three times. If the weather was warm and only the screen door was closed he would announce "Paper boy" through the screen. "Collect," he would call. If the weather was cold or rainy and we remembered our manners we would let him stand inside the door in the mud room while somebody rounded up the money, which my mom would hand to him in exchange for a receipt no larger than a postage stamp from the REGISTER and TRIBUNE Company, which he tore carefully from a sheet held in a two-ring binder with gray metal covers. I studied it once, before he started to pay attention to me. One page of 26 receipts for each customer for each year. His route number had been neatly written on each one, along with where to call if one of the newspapers he delivered was ever missing or damaged. Finally, one Wednesday, I got up the courage to pay him myself and from then on it was my chore to pay the paperboy. I made sure of that. I still have the receipts he pressed into my palm. He doesn't know that. I still remember his telephone number, though I never called it. Crestwood-70503. He told me once later that he had learned something about people from that paper route. He said very few people had bothered to thank him personally for finding a dry paper inside their storm doors on mornings it was too nasty, cold or wet to let the dogs out. Carver learned something about himself, too. He hadn't expected any thanks from anyone. Delivering papers, and delivering them dry, was his job. It didn't matter what the weather was like. There was no exemption for the storms and blizzards that would howl across the plains, gripping Urbandale with a fist that was frozen stiff. I liked that about him, too. Once, one spring while my brother was trying to find enough money to pay for the paper, I asked Carver Daniels if he wanted a cold Pepsi while he waited. "Sure," he said, smiling, and sat down at the gray Formica table on the chair closest to the door. That became a ritual for us after that. The attraction we felt for each other grew out of those brief moments we shared in my kitchen by the back door. He would come collecting every other Wednesday, I would offer a cold Pepsi and he would sit by the door for a few minutes drinking it while I did the dinner dishes and my mom pretended to look for change. Then he would leave. He never had much to say but I liked having

the company. I liked the way he smiled. Sometimes his whole face would smile. Even his eyes. Maybe especially his eyes. That's how I knew he liked me. That, plus I had asked his best friend, Tim, who lived next door to me. Tim had gagged at the thought that any friend of his could possibly want to have anything at all to do with a skinny, screechy girl like me. It was Tim, though, that arranged the kiss. The First Kiss The kiss happened the summer of 1955, following my sixth grade. It became known to us as The First Kiss, though technically it was not the first kiss for me. But it was our first kiss and it changed the direction our lives would flow. I was 12 year old, almost 13. He was already 13. It happened in Tim's orchard. Tim's house was a steep two story, claret-colored slate home on a deep acreage. There was a small, flat barn in the rear, past the vegetable garden, in a small pasture with a white wooden gate but no fence. The barn was meant originally to be home to a horse, but as far a I could remember a horse had never been kept there. An orchard of plum and crab apple trees occupied the lot between Tim's house and my house. One of my bedroom windows looked into the orchard. In a clearing near the middle of the trees a pole had been planted to support a basketball hoop. Sometimes when I was supposed to be caring for the kennel of dachshunds my family bred for extra money out back I would hide and watch Tim Ryberg and Carver Daniels play games of H-O-R-S-E. I hated cleaning up after those dogs and was easily diverted from my chores. If Tim caught me spying he would hurl the basketball at me. Carver never threw a basketball at me. I could hear the boys out there on summer nights sometimes, too, making bracelets and rings from dandelion stems and sacrificial abdomens plucked from lightening bug bodies. Sometimes, when there were other kids around, like the Williams boys from the slough by Carver's house across the fields on Roseland, Dennis Daugherty from across the street, Caroline Yeater or one of Carver's cousins from over on 68th Street, they would let me play tag with them, hide and seek, or Simon Says. I always lost, but that was okay because I was the youngest. I was also a girl. The boys didn't like to get beat very much at H-OR-S-E or at tag by girls. Any girl that was consistently good at their games could be pretty sure she wouldn't be included for long. Some games the girls were good at the boys didn't seem to mind losing as much. One of those games was a daring game. One night that summer I found myself included in a variant of the game of H-O-R-S-E with Tim Ryberg, Carvers cousin Donna and Carver Daniels. In a charitable moment sometime earlier, Tim had consented to contriving a kissing game whose

principal purpose was to provide an opportunity for me to kiss Carver Daniels. Thus, the game was rigged. I was Carver's partner that night. The losers at H-O-R-S-E had to kiss. On the lips. I was paired with Carver ostensibly by virtue of geography. Tim hated me because I was his neighbor and the thought of having to kiss me revolted him. Tim and Donna lost first trying to duplicate Carver's left-handed lay up, and, following the rules, kissed each other on the lips. Tim took her by the shoulders, yanked her toward him as though he were about to shake sense into her, then kissed her quickly. No other part of their anatomies touched. Their eyes barely had time to close. It wasn't much for form but it did fulfill the rule. Then, as if by design, Carver and I lost the next game. I never was good at free throws. Only one other time had a boy kissed me deliberately and that had been three years earlier and was memorable only because it was my only prior experience. It scarcely counted on any but the strictest scale. A boy from Storm Lake had visited the neighborhood that summer. I was nine years old and he and I had ended up alone in the falling darkness, leaning against the pasture fence out past the kennel, doing nothing other than wondering what to do next. After stumbling through an awkward conversation that lasted too long to say so little he started to leave, leaned quickly toward me and kissed me, quite to my surprise, on the lips. I was so surprised I didnt have time to pucker. This kiss with Carver, though, was entirely different. This kiss was to be performed using lips, on purpose, with the element of surprise removed. Tim and Donna disappeared, following the invocation of Rule Two, which provided that the winners were not to stand in sight of the losers and gawk, comment, or laugh at the losers kissing, thereby making an already difficult situation impossible. That was Carver's rule. Thus, were Carver Daniels and I left standing face to face, an arm length apart, at the foul line in a clearing in Tim's orchard in the steamy Iowa August twilight. For a long moment we only looked at each other. Neither of us moved. It was as if we were aware in some remote way that the next gesture would define a destiny for us as certain and predictable as the tides. Crickets made music in their orchestras in the tall grass behind us under the grape vines clinging to the wire garden fence. Lightening bugs flashed slow motion signals, like sequins on steam drops. Carver Daniels was the very picture of adolescent masculinity, the All-American boy. His hair wasn't long or short and wasn't blond or brown, but somewhere in the middle of both. It was never combed and never needed to be. He

was all boy, wound tight and even. He was bound for stardom. You could tell that just by looking at him, by the way he moved with the fluid, graceful confidence choreographed in the best athletes. His shoulders were already broad and he had the strong V-shaped back of a swimmer, which came not from swimming but from working on his father's part time garbage route during the summer. He had none of the puppy-like clumsiness of Tim, who had never had a job on a garbage route and who had never delivered newspapers twice a day. Their roles were defined early. Tim, chunky and always a little soft and overweight, was destined to be a football lineman. Carver, standing before me taut and poised in scuffed jeans and simple white t-shirt, would become the next varsity quarterback for the Urbandale Blue Jays. Everybody said that. Though he was only in the seventh grade he had already caught the eye of Coach DeWitt, who had begun grooming Carver Daniels to take the place of Danny Boales in two years. Carver Daniels was a leader who wasted no words, who was catquick and wasted no motion. On this night in Tim Ryberg's orchard he was barefoot and about to lead my heart so far away I would never get all of it back. My breathing deepened and then became still with the wonder of anticipation, constricted behind the brassiere I didnt really need and was still conscious of wearing. It was concealed under a plain yellow blouse that was stuffed down into white cotton shorts that covered a bottom as round and firm as the basketball Carver still held in his hands. One day, many years from then, Carver would make that same discovery for himself. On my feet were dusty white anklets and new blue Keds, out of which grew legs tuned to a perfect girlish pitch. The lower part of me seemed way ahead of the top part of me and I wore the brassiere out of a hope, and a fear, that the top somehow would catch up, maybe all at once. My hair, the color of flowing honey, was combed straight back on top and collected in a barrette, the sides falling in cloudy wisps framing a grin that made dimples that embarrassed me. Carver looked right at me, not at the dirt and not away into the fields. I heard the basketball bounce away and come to rest against the grape vines. His eyes seemed to twinkle in a thousand places, like the night sky. I think somehow he knew that, while he was trying to win the game of H-O-R-S-E, I had instead been playing by different rules, that I had been trying to lose it all along, that to make the charade convincing I could at least have hit the backboard with my foul shot. His stiff-lipped, one-sided grin said, "You could have made that shot", but his eyes said, "I'm kind of glad you didn't." I think

he knew I had in mind to kiss him that night, and I liked it that he wasn't threatened by this notion. I liked it that he wanted to kiss me, too. That's why he was looking at me like that. Though we had no way of understanding it at that instant, we were right then on the precipice of a romance whose love sloped away to the far horizons of our lives. We moved together simultaneously, as if on cue. He reached out, taking me in his arms, his right arm snaking expertly over my left and around my shoulders, as smooth and easy as a breeze, as if he'd done this a thousand times, cradling my head against his shoulder. I was swallowed up completely and disappeared into him. When I raised my head slowly his emerald eyes had already found mine and our gaze met again, then closed to this world, our lips finding each other in another, and we held each other tightly and kissed - an eternal, breathless, indelible Hollywood kiss. I felt his lips press against mine and in that union I sensed the grace and power of human sexuality. Drawing even nearer I felt the form and pulse of him. Peeking from behind a nearby plum tree Cousin Donna exclaimed, "Wow." Then she giggled through her fingers. The kiss continued. It wouldn't end. We kissed on and on, exploring a sweetness never before known to either of us. Many years later he told me something about the kiss that night, that starting it was only one problem, that it had lasted so long because he didn't know how to stop it or what to do once it ended. Maybe. But it was much more than that, I think, though we scarcely sensed it at the time. A bond formed between Carver Daniels and me that night on that foul line drawn in the dirt under a canopy of leaves green with promise. It changed us. It was as though our minds melded into one, and on some important level we became one person, fore we would never again be far from the thoughts of the other and our lives were lived with the certain knowledge that love existed and was attainable, and that we had found ours. There were more giggles from the orchard and finally the kiss stopped. What began then was the story of our lives together and apart, of our love, and of its heartbreaks. Height implies depth and we found both. Six months later Carver Daniel's mother became too ill to live in Urbandale and she and Carvers younger siblings left for California to stay with relatives already there, where her asthma was not aggravated by the dust from the cement blocks the house they lived in was made of. Carver remained in Urbandale with his dad that last year and attended to his games and his paper route. And he attended to me. We made each other laugh and it was the smiles I remember most. It seemed like we were always smiling. He loved how I grinned at him, with my head cocked just so, as he called it.

Then, too soon after that, his father packed an old red stake-bed truck purchased from Smitty the barber, tied a faded gray tarp over the top, and Carver Daniels moved west, to California. We had one entire school year plus two summers together as childhood sweethearts. Together, we explored the pathways of love. We learned how to touch and be still and how to cry and be soft. The Goodbye The last kiss was the same as the first kiss, long and close. Carver Daniels liked reaching his arm around my neck cradling my head against his shoulder while he kissed me and I liked having my head there. I felt safe in his arms. I felt safe in his life. We shared the same dream, the same vision, the same certainty. Carver Daniels would earn 16 varsity letters in four years of high school. You couldnt get more than that. His heroes were Mickey Mantle, and Bobby Morrow, a sprinter from Abilene Christian College he had once seen run at the Drake Relays. Carver dreamed of leading the Iowa Hawkeyes to the Rose Bowl, then playing for the Chicago Bears or the Detroit Lions. One day we would be married and Id be Mrs. Carver Daniels and after his sports career we would settle in a suitable small town like Prairie City or Fort Dodge and he would coach championship football teams while I taught school or music and gave him healthy, beautiful babies. He said I should raise dogs, too, for extra money, since I had experience and was so good at it. Those dogs were just about the only thing we ever disagreed about. I belonged in Carver Daniels' life. I was as certain of that as I was of any assumption of living. We were drawn together with a magnetism whose needle was steady, pointing without quiver to a future sparkling bright, held to a pole by a force we never questioned or resisted. I was destined, it seemed from the very beginning, to be the woman in his life, that his route past my window was not so much to deliver newspapers as it was to find the perfect mate for himself. Yet, impossibly, one night in September, 1956, he had come to my house not to collect, but to say goodbye. We knew it was coming for weeks. First Carver's dad had bought Smittys old truck, then fashioned a tarp for a cover. Their house was put up for sale. Winter things, like sleds, mittens and parkas - useless in California - were donated to the church rummage that summer. Finally, inextricably, the time had come. It was a Friday night. The truck was loaded. In the morning they would unplug the deep freeze and pull away, and Carver and his family would leave Urbandale, heading west on Highway 6. When the sun came up Sunday someone else would throw his papers. His

cement block house on Roseland would be empty. And so would my life. My mother fixed a special dinner in his honor that night. It was the first time she had done that. He was uncomfortable, I could tell, though he tried his best to chat amicably with my mom and my brother. They wanted to know all about where he was moving and where he would be living and what school he would attend. His brave grin was suspended under unattached eyes and I knew he would really rather not talk about those things. He was moving to Los Angeles, he told them, and that was really about all he knew about it. He didn't know where in Los Angeles - "L.A.," he called it - he would be living or even what school he would be going to. He tried to make it sound like this didn't bother him. He talked about it as though he were talking about someone elses life, with an interest that was disengaged. He said he thought his parents were looking for a house in Downey or Bellflower, where they knew a family from Iowa. Mom and Dale didn't probe too intently. They were merely being polite, trying to make conversation. Daddy wasn't there. He never was in the evening. The grocery store he owned on the other side of Des Moines he kept open until 9 p.m. and then he had books to keep. I rarely saw him during the week. Dale and Mom seemed to understand the gravity of the move, how the weight of it pressed down on both of us, Carver and me, more than even we realized. They had watched us over the course of our alliance. We had been sweethearts by then for over a year, almost a year and a half, and though they occasionally dismissed it as a crush or puppy love, on this night they respected our friendship just as we did. After dinner they busied themselves elsewhere, leaving the veranda to Carver and me. That's where the record player was and Carver and I sat in the porch swing, like we had dozens of times, shoulder to shoulder, quietly holding hands, staring out passed the kennel into the cottonwood groves beyond the corn fields, into the closing darkness. We would never sit here again, holding hands with such sweet innocence. Tomorrow Carver Daniels would be gone. It was more than I could grasp. It was so unbelievable we couldn't talk about it much, beyond our promise to write to each other everyday. Over and over we listened to "Don't Be Cruel" spin under the bobbing, scratching plastic arm. After a while we stopped requeueing it and just sat there, swinging easily to the rhythm of the crickets, enjoying each other's company the same as always. But it wasn't the same as always, of course. There was an advancing gloom, a dread that surrounded us and lurked nearby, a shade pulled against tomorrow. Even the dogs seemed to

know something was different this night. For once they were quiet. We sat there rocking for the longest time, then found ourselves outside the mudroom on back porch. It was late. It was time for him to go. I turned off the porch light and put my arms around his waist, laying my head against Carver Daniel's chest. Dale had come out and shaken Carver's hand, wishing him "Goodbye and good luck," then gone back in and thoughtfully closed the blinds on the south window, leaving us in privacy. He had never done that before. We kissed, more tenderly then ever, and then just hugged for a long, long time. Neither of us spoke. Words were often superfluous between Carver Daniels and me. Somehow we seemed connected on a level that was beyond the reach of words. This night there was nothing to be said that hadn't already been felt in all those places where pleasure and pain pool. I looked at him and tried to smile. "I love you, Carver," I said. He drew me to him and held me while the tears came. "Oh, Willow," he whisperd. Then he squeezed me harder and cried with me. Then suddenly he let go of me. Suddenly he was gone. He moved slowly down the drive, carrying his chin out, as though if he lowered it more tears would spill. He didn't take his usual short cut across Yeater's yard. This time he went all the way down the drive to the culvert, pausing at the mail box. For a moment he continued to look straight ahead, into the night, searching perhaps for answers to questions he was unable to ask. If anything, this was even harder on him, for not only was he leaving his sweetheart behind, he was leaving behind his future as well. His dreams were dashed and his heart was heavy and he would have to go on alone, among strangers in a strange place. At least I would be home, amongst family and friends, though it was cold comfort. Uncontrollable tears streaked down my cheeks. I covered my mouth with my hands, to mute the sobs, scarcely believing that this time had come. With his hand on our mailbox he looked back across his arm, up to the porch where I stood frozen in the awful truth of the moment. My cries were audible now. I wanted desperately to run to him, to go with him or bring him back, to put him away so no one could find him. He raised his hand to wave but it became more of a reach. Then he smiled slightly through closed lips, turned away broken and headed out of the light cone under the street light and into the darkness toward the path that crossed the fields that lead him away from my life. Then Carver Daniels disappeared into the night. My heart and my life were suddenly empty. I stood

alone on the porch, my shoulders heaving with each sob. I waited and waited for him to reappear from the shadows but only the wind responded, stirring the willows to snap and bow. After a while Dale came out to get me. I ran into the house, somehow finding my room through the tears and threw myself on the bed, weeping an anguish from deep inside. I didn't know such pain existed. I had never felt so alone, never felt such desolation, such desperation. My heart was broken. I was scared. I pounded the bed in utter frustration, sobbing into my pillow. I was left alone for the most part. Mom held me for a bit, stroking my forehead. I think she cried a little, too, from seeing me so devastated. Dale tried to explain something about rockets to me, to distract me. It all made me cry harder. I cried and cried and finally when sleep came I dreamed I was a little girl lost at the state fair, alone in the swelling, swirling crowd. I didn't leave my room all the next day. I could scarcely move. I couldn't stop crying. My mom brought food into me a couple of times and tried to get me to eat something but I couldn't find any interest in eating. I just poked at it and moved it around the plate, wondering where Carver was at that exact second, somewhere in Missouri or Kansas - and then I would bawl out loud. On Monday I made it to school, but just barely. Mom insisted that I get up and get moving, that I would feel better if I got busy. Everyone at school was kind to me between classes and at lunch. It almost made it worse, to be patted on the arm, or hugged. Twice my pals Linda and Paula cried with me. All day all I could think of was how far away he was now - Oklahoma or New Mexico - and I would start to cry, tears purling over my cheeks like wet cords. Every time I cried the further away he got. The further away he was the more I cried. I could see no end to it. After school I raced home, streaking for the mail box, hoping, however unrealistically, that there would be a letter for me. I knew it was too soon, that even if he had written already there was no chance for a letter to have reached me in just one day. Still, I couldn't stop myself. It was a way of connecting with him. It was the beginning of a ritual for me. Every time I would pass the mailbox I would peak in, on the hope that there would be a letter for me from him. The rest of my life was like that, measured by mail from Carver Daniels. To my complete surprise there was an envelope in the box with my name on it. I snatched it with a disbelief only joy can generate. It was from Carver but he hadn't mailed it. There was no stamp or even an address on it. Just my name. Willow, printed in his perfect, precise handwriting. He must have come back Friday night or early Saturday morning just before his

family left to deliver it himself. I dropped my books and tore at the envelope. Inside was a note and taped to the note was a little, golden heartshaped locket. The note said "I don't know what will happen now, but I do know that I will always love you. This is to help you remember that. I'm the one smiling. C.D." With trembling fingers I opened the beautiful little gold heart. Inside was a tiny picture of Carver Daniels, no larger than my fingernail. He was smiling at me in that way he had. It took my breath away. I sank to my knees on the grass and held it to my chest. Then I cried some more. "Oh, Carver," I sobbed. "I miss you." The smiles were gone. I cried every day for a week, maybe longer. My eyes were puffy and red when I woke up, like I had been crying in my sleep. I felt empty and afraid and nothing anyone said to me or did for me to cheer me up had much effect. I was 13 years old and my heart was broken. For all I knew I would feel this way forever. My one sure comfort in all of this was the little locket that hung near my heart. My hand seemed always to hold it. It was my treasure. I didn't cry forever, of course. Time does have a way of healing all wounds, even the broken hearts of little girls. And, while it took longer than anyone thought acceptable, I finally did stop crying every day. September passed into October and then October into November. The first snow came that year just after Thanksgiving. Linda and Paula looked after me at school and on weekends, making sure I had something to do besides moping around the house. I went to class but often found myself starring out the window or doodling absently. My book covers were inscribed with the initials C.D. in every font and size I knew how to invent. Linda and Paula made me talk to them about Carver. They wanted to know if I'd gotten a letter that day, if I had written one myself, what his new school was like, did he go out for football, how many times he'd said I Love You in this one. They'd giggle and poke and shake their heads. Slowly, I recovered enough to rejoin the human race, as they put it, though I felt sometimes that a piece of me was missing. Carver wrote to me every day. I wrote back everyday, sometime more the once. We pledged our undying love and loyalty in missives that passed in the mail. It would have been clear to anyone else that we weren't so much communicating as we were grasping and clinging. We refused to let go of each other, but our grips were empty. We were clawing at a dream, holding to a fantasy. There was nothing of substance there any more. There was nothing to touch but a sadness. Our futures had been removed. We were

amputees, in a way, crippled by chance, by fate, stumbling along. Inevitably, we stumbled apart. We used up all the words in a few weeks and before Christmas our letters were not much more than pages of XXXs and OOOs. Anything else was just too painful. The details of his life were hard for him to share and were painful for me to read. It was the same with me. Telling him the minutia of life in Urbandale, without him in it, was excruciating. It was hard enough to live it. To recreate it for him on paper was too much for me. The letters became shorter and shorter and by the end of the year they had mostly stopped altogether. It was best, I was told. I knew that. I couldn't mourn my loss forever. Life goes on, I was also told. And on it went. Before long I found myself having fun, going to parties and basketball games and dances that spring and holding hands with some of the boys who tried to take the place of Carver Daniels in my life. I smiled and had fun and danced and skated and less and less did certain sounds and certain shadows remind me of him. Once in a while I would let a boy kiss me at a party or after a game. It did me good to be distracted in these ways and sometimes almost an entire day would slip by without me thinking about what he was doing in California, of how life was for him without me in it. All I had of Carver Daniels hung around my neck in the little gold locket with the tiny picture. I never took it off. Not once. The locket remained suspended near my heart, like my love. Time passed. It didnt seem to move but somehow the days turned into weeks. I lost myself in schoolwork and dog chores, though I stopped reading the paper or even bringing it in the house. I never noticed who tossed the paper up the drive, but one day I did notice there were two papers in the bushes near the Yeaters front stoop. Both were soaked. I rarely drank a Pepsi. Eventually, enough time passed that I stopped talking about Carver Daniels to my friends. I still hurt inside but it was pointless to dwell on it. Linda and Paula tired of trying to cheer me. They didnt understand. How could they? They still had their hearts. Their hearts were still in their chests. Mine had been torn apart. Part of it had ridden away in a an old red truck.. Other boys eventually became interested in me, handsome, bright boys who probably suspected when I looked at them I saw someone else. It was a strange time. Every boy was Carver Daniels, yet no boy was Carver Daniels. It didn't stop them from asking me to parties or to skate with them at the roller rink. I was cute. My mom said I was cuter than Paula and

Paula was cuter than Debbie Reynolds. The top of me was finally catching up with the bottom of me. I found myself laughing and having fun again and by the summer following the seventh grade a boy named Dennis had become my steady boyfriend. I liked him. He was kind and gentle, and cuter than anyone else in my class. Still, it seemed in some way like it was always Carver Daniels whose hand I was holding and Carver Daniels that I let kiss me. It seemed I would never get over that boy. I never did. When he came home four years later, in the springtime, the smiles broke out all over again, as abundant and predictable as blossoms on cherry trees. ###

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