Warning: This scene is just a little spoilery though a) the scene itself or any variation of the scene isn’t in the book and b) I don’t think it’s much more spoilery than some of the reviews. But don’t say I didn’t warn you…
“Hallie? Hallie Michaels?”
Hallie looked up. In front of her stood a man she guessed was about her own age. He was tall with broad-shoulders, dark hair cut a shade too long, wearing a cowboy hat, starched blue and red Western shirt, faded blue jeans and boots. For a moment, he looked like Pete Bolluyt and Hallie’s senses ratcheted up. Her head knew it couldn’t be Pete, Pete had died last fall, along with Martin. It couldn’t be Pete. It wasn’t.
She willed herself to relax.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” the man said.
Hallie stood. “I don’t–” she began.
“Will Tolliver,” he told her without waiting for her to finish.
“Wow,” Hallie said, because Will Tolliver had been the skinniest guy in her class and not nearly as tall as he was now. He’d had glasses that were always broken and taped together crooked, a rash of freckles that had made him look like he was blushing all the time and a spiky haircut that his mother gave him every other Saturday at home.
He made a gesture toward a chair, “Can I–”
“Yeah, sure.” She sat back down and gestured toward the other chair with an open hand.
“You want a beer?” he asked and signaled the waitress without waiting for her answer, though when the waitress came he turned to Hallie and cocked an eyebrow. Hallie tipped the bottle in her hand, realized it was still half full and shook her head. Will slipped a ten into the waitress’s apron and gave her a grin full of gleaming white teeth. Then, he turned back to Hallie. “So,” he said, “what have you been up to since high school?”
Hallie looked at him. What was she supposed to say? I died? I can see ghosts? Finally she said, “I left for awhile, but now I’m back.”
He frowned, not entirely sure what to do with that answer. “I’m going to law school,” he said. “Well, not right this minute, but I’m in my second year, out at the University of Washington.” He leaned back in his chair, laughter in his eyes, like it was all good with him, all easy. Hallie remembered easy, she did. It was supposed to be easy now. She had a place to live, not too much work to do, a flexible schedule and wide open spaces. Easy.
“Did you go to college after?” Will asked. “I never heard.”
“No, I–” She looked up, but not at Will. Then she grinned, quick and bright enough, apparently, that Will’s head came up and he turned to follow her gaze. Boyd crossed the floor toward them. He stopped when someone reached a hand out, bent over their table with a serious expression on his face. He wore what Hallie had come to think of as his out-of-uniform uniform–blue-jeans with a barely visible crease down the center of each leg, a button-down shirt ironed with knife-like precision. He had one hand stuck in his jeans’ pocket as he listened to a Sigurdsen hand. Then he grinned, so quick most people would miss it and straightened.
He looked around for a moment, spotted Hallie and approached.
“Hey,” Hallie said.
Boyd looked from Hallie to Will.
“Will Tolliver,” Hallie said.
“Well,” Will shoved himself to his feet. He grabbed Hallie and hugged her, like they’d been friends for years, rather than two people who hadn’t seen each other since graduation. He kissed her quick on the cheek. “See you around,” he said, grabbed the beer the waitress was just bringing him off her tray and sauntered off to the bar.
“We were in high school,” Hallie said, though Boyd hadn’t asked.
A different waitress brought Boyd a beer and a glass without asking, like she’d been watching the door until he came in. And maybe she had. He was the prettiest boy in the room and that wasn’t just Hallie’s opinion; it was one of the first things someone had told her when she came back to Taylor County. He had short dark blond hair precisely cut, like he’d been in the military, though Hallie knew that he hadn’t. His face was refined, almost delicate, his cheekbones were high, though not prominent, his eyes were a dark blue-gray, like storms.
None of those things, though pleasant enough, were why Hallie liked him, though. He was thoughtful and kind, also good traits, but not ‘it.’ He’d backed her when it counted. He listened. And sometimes he smiled, like the sun breaking through.
Tonight he looked a little grim, the lines around his mouth tighter than usual.
“Hey,” Hallie said. She reached across and took his hand. He jumped, like he’d been a million miles away. “I thought you were working today,” she said.
He smiled, then settled himself more completely in his chair and leaned toward her. “Something came up,” he said. “I heard you found a wreck out on route 4.”
“What did Teedt say?” Hallie asked. The band was testing their microphones and Hallie slid her chair toward Boyd and leaned closer.
“Basically, that’s what he said. You found a wreck out on route 4.”
“Has he identified the cars yet?”
Boyd raised an eyebrow.
“No,” Hallie said, “don’t tell me it’s an ‘official investigation.’” Because they’d been through all this last year. If he didn’t want to tell her, she’d find out anyway.
Boyd shook his head. “Well, it is an official investigation. But I can tell you he hasn’t found anything yet. The license plates don’t exist. Well,” he considered, “they exist. Obviously. They don’t appear to belong to anyone.”
“Wow.” Though in a way Hallie wasn’t surprised. “I need to–” she began.
“Dance with me?”
“What?” Her thoughts had been clear out on the prairie, here and gone from dancing.
Boyd smiled, tilted his head as he did it, as if she’d said something surprising. “Dance. With me.”
The band was striking up a slow song, a ballad about cheating wives or dead lovers or old dogs or something. And Hallie did want to dance with him. Wanted to breathe. To listen to him breathing.
She also wanted–needed–to talk about wrecks in the middle of nowhere and disappearing men and dead trees.
“Yes,” she said. “Okay. But, tomorrow?” she said it like a question, though it wasn’t. “Out where the wreck was–there’s something I want to show you.”
“Okay,” he said. “Okay.” They stood and he was so close, she could feel his breath on her neck. She turned and he kissed her, right there, in front of the world. She slid a hand along the small of his back where his shirt met his jeans. He was warm, always warm and lean and…
“Let’s dance,” she whispered it in his ear, like it was a promise, which maybe it was because they’d been dancing around each other for months, mostly because Hallie didn’t want to/couldn’t commit to anything that said–you’re staying here.
But she was staying here, wasn’t she? It was time to get used to it.
As they walked onto the dance floor, she told herself–don’t think–which turned out to be a mistake because it all began to play back in her mind like an unwinding movie reel–red car, grain truck, dead grass, dead trees, birds–
“Hey,” Boyd’s voice was low. “You with me?”
“Not entirely,” she said. “It’s been a weird day.”
“Can it wait?” he said. His left hand rested lightly on her back, his right holding hers. He could actually dance, which was another thing about him, probably actually liked it though Hallie had never asked. She didn’t care much one way or another about dancing itself, but she liked the touch, liked moving together, liked the feel of being together, of letting the world go.
“It can wait,” she said.
Pictures used under CC license:
- Paint Horse by Rachel Patterson CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0
- Frost trees winter by tinkerick CC-BY-2.0
- Prairie house by gripped CC-BY-2.0