The guilt Jo felt upon waking was no longer encouraging. She lay in bed—soon either Micah or the day’s heat would get her up—and watched a family of small brown birds light in the fruitless Pomegranate tree behind the house. Their song rattled through the glass as though backwards, complexity without melody. How they flew into and out of such a tangle of branches and leaves was beyond her, and she tried to follow their snaky flight path—tried, with similar success, to occupy her thoughts with it. Today is the day, she thought instead. She’d see her son tonight, and it made her feel like a failure.
Of course, she also felt betrayed. Micah had lied to her many times over. But her anger with Micah was, even with what she discovered last night, difficult to justify, let alone express. Each moment that passed gave her an opportunity to warn Jack about Micah’s identity, about their goals. He’d already consented to help them, so he was now likely to be in trouble no matter what, but surely she could save him from the worst of it: from imprisonment, from the loss of his land. Perhaps the strangest thing about it all was that here, in the balance, was something finally equal, nearly equal, to the health of her son. She was foolish to have not seen that before. Micah had asked for her help, all the while saying they didn’t really need it, yet they were granting her something much larger, completely disproportionate. Outside, a bird stumbled as it landed. Not even nature is perfect, this seemed to prove. How could she expect it of herself? Her son was getting the care he needed, and this was, in the end, enough. It had to be.
Jo rose, feeling not a shred of conviction, and got dressed. She heard Micah in the kitchen, and smelled coffee. She was vaguely worried that he’d heard her and Jack last night, but she wasn’t sure why she’d care. As she left the bedroom she thought to herself, I’m going to tell Jack the truth, just to see how it felt to say. To think. Micah looked up as she opened her door, and gave her his winsome, innocent smile.
“Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life,” he said.
“Just pour me a cup of coffee, please.”
“Someone’s feeling grouchy this morning.”
“And someone’s an idiot.”
Micah froze, locking Jo with a cold stare, then his face brightened up again, and he chuckled.
“Did I ever tell you about my nephew Paul? He always had a hard time waking up, and then, when he was about fifteen, he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Really sad thing.”
Jo sipped the bitter coffee and shuffled into the living room. Jack’s books were stacked neatly against the wall. He’d always been proud of his books. In the years they were together, she’d begun to read the ones he finished, so she could discuss them with him, but he rarely had much interest. He’d only shrug, saying he thought it was pretty good, or not. He read them either way, so the quality of the book seemed almost irrelevant.
“We live in sad times,” said Jo.
Micah told her they needed to rendezvous with his men, that he wanted Jo to meet them. “Everyone needs to be aligned,” he explained. “Che’s only coming up through the ground once.”
They made their way to the car, and as they passed Border Run! Jo looked around for Jack. She was thankful for their closeness last night, and hoped she’d have an opportunity to speak with him about it. She didn’t know what she wanted to say, only to acknowledge it, to share it again. As she climbed into Micah’s car, she thought of their night together, Jack’s warm, smooth skin against hers, his strength above her, holding her slightly off the bed as she held him inside. It was as though she’d become an extension of his body, her arms and legs taking direction from the movements of his hand beneath her back, her breathing slow, deep, in pace with his larger lungs. It had made her feel alien to herself. Unknown. Yet with this distance she’d seen herself ecstatically, as part of something larger, where understanding was unnecessary, where she’d already been convinced.
Jo had a long look at the gathered men and women as they drove slowly up the driveway and took a left. The crowd was nearly silent, and though the number seemed to have reached its peak, there was a solemnity that, even with the burial, hadn’t been there the day before. She looked for the man who’d lost his son, and while looking began to wonder what Jack’s father would have thought of her. It was something she’d wondered many times before, though of course not recently. They pulled off the road and were soon joined by Paco’s car, which pulled up behind them. She’d never really understood why Jack hadn’t let her see his father’s body. In the absence of explanation, she’d assumed the worst, assumed that Jack hadn’t thought his father, even in death, would approve. As though the man could have judged her from beyond the grave.
Paco was with two men who, in their behavior and even appearance, resembled Micah. They were carefully insouciant, if there was such a thing. From afar she would not have taken them for lawmen, but up close it was unmistakable. They eyed her but did not say hello. They spoke about their plans, and reminded Jo of her singular role, but she was miles away in thought. She’d seen the toy box Jack had rescued from under the house, and she was picturing Jack as a child, perhaps Alex’s age, watching his father bent over a block of wood with a chisel, fashioning from it a rough car. In her mind, Jack looked at it impassively, showing no sign of appreciation or approval, but took it and, with a small skip, went immediately to apply its crooked wheels to the packed earth beside the house.
The men had finished their meeting and she was again alone with Micah, and for the first time it occurred to her that, in essence, her job was done. The role she was to play had been played. The event had been set in motion. She was no longer living in the present, but in the past and future at once.
Feeling a strange and sudden panic, Jo asked to be let out of the car. They were driving back, and Micah was in the middle of another anecdote about his family. He looked hurt by Jo’s request.
“Don’t you want to know what happened to Uncle Pete?”
“No,” she said.
They were already close, so the walk was more symbolic than practical, but she needed her moment alone. She climbed out of the car and started walking without even closing the door. As Micah leaned over to shut it, he called out after her.
“He had to walk on stage without his pants!” he said.
Then he drove off down the road.
Jo watched his car as it sped up, then slowed down, then turned right into the driveway, which was only a quarter mile away. A cloud of dust burst into the air as the tires touched gravel, and the white car disappeared behind it, a magic trick in reverse. It occurred to her that she could probably learn more about Micah’s family in a week than she’d learned about Jack’s family during the five years she’d been with him. The absurdity of it hit her all at once, and Jo started laughing.
Then her laughter turned into sobs. She walked down the side of Warsaw Canyon Road, sobbing audibly, tears running down her cheeks and falling to the dry pavement, leaving small dark spots behind her like leaking oil. By the time she made it to the driveway her crying had stopped, but her eyes were itchy with dust and her nose was running. She saw Jack talking with Larry by the gift shop, and she saw him see her. She did not want to speak with him until there was no more evidence of her unhappiness, so when he waved she ducked behind a carriage. A young couple was standing beside it, and they looked at her with amusement.
“Will you give us a hand?” asked the girl. She was a beautiful brunette, with large blue eyes and smooth, freckled skin.
“Sure,” Jo said.
The girl smiled, revealing a toothless mouth.