Tuesday, December 11, 2007


The following is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, third time down, to get caught up.

January 10, 2004

A week after Gillam's 13th birthday, Ginny and Myra invited Pat, Patty and their sons over for dinner. They had missed them over the holidays. The day before the dinner, Margie came to Ginny and said, "I've been invited to a party tomorrow night. I know it's last minute, but I really want to go."

"Whose party is it?"

"A girl named Stephanie. I've only just started to know her. She's really fun to be around, and I want to get to know her friends."

"What kind of party is it?"

"Summer in Winter, it's called. It's a pool party." Before Ginny could object, Margie rushed on. "Her family has a heated pool, with a big poolhouse and an enclosure with these torch gas heater things. Her parents will both be there the whole time, I swear."

"Will there be boys?"

"Yeah, some. But it's not that kind of party."

Ginny wondered what kind of party she meant. "Truitt will be disappointed to not see you."

"He got invited to this party, too, but turned it down. He doesn't like her friends, calls them jocks and junior leaguers."

Then why do you want to go? Ginny wanted to ask. "Give me her parent's phone number and I'll talk it over with them, then Myra."

In the end, after talking to Stephanie's mother, they gave their consent, although Myra had the same questions Ginny did.

"The boys can all hang out together after dinner in the living room, watch something, while we grown-ups go back in the study and catch up" said Myra.

Friday night they ate late, not starting until 9:00, because Pat walked in with a new board game and they decided to play a round of it first. The pot roast would only get better for resting in its juices. While they were all sitting around the table, demolishing the garlic mashed potatoes, the front door opened and Margie came in. Her face was drained of color. She was trying to smile.

She walked to the hall and said "Hello" in a strange voice. She looked right at Myra and said, "Myra...could I talk to you?" Then she headed for the stairs.

Ginny looked shocked. Myra thought She's never called me Myra. She stood up and cut through the kitchen, all but running up the stairs, and still Margie was way ahead of her. When she got to her bedroom, Margie was sitting pushed up against her headboard, hugging a pillow. Myra closed the door behind her, then sat down on Margie's bed facing her.

"What happened, honey?" she said. Margie's knuckles were blotchy where she clutched the pillow.

"Something bad" Margie whispered, then stopped.

"Did somebody say something? Did they treat you shabbily?"

Margie choked out a single laugh, then began sobbing into the pillow. Myra put her arms around her, and Margie leaned on her but did not embrace her back.

"That's it, let it all go" murmured Myra.

After a while, Margie slowed down enough to blow her nose. Myra got her toilet paper from the bathroom and sat next to her again.

Margie kept looking around the room, not at Myra. Finally she said, "There was this boy there...Kevin. I kind of like him. Liked him, I mean."

She started crying again, a weird kind of cry.

"Did he hurt your feelings?" said Myra.

Margie laughed that bizarre laugh again. She reached out and took Myra's hand, and her grip was painful.

"He raped me."

Myra's heart stopped. Her brain stopped. Her breath stopped. She tried to remember what to say. No doubt, don't express any doubt. She put her arm around Margie and said "No, no. Oh, god, I am so sorry. I am so sorry this happened to you."

Margie let go again, and this time the grief was completely shared. After she slowed down, Myra said "Ginny. We have to tell Ginny. She's frantic downstairs, I know it."

"Nobody else!" begged Margie. "Don't tell anybody else down there, not even Gillam."

"Okay" said Myra.

"You have to promise!" Margie was on the verge of hysterics.

"I promise. You're in charge here, I promise." Myra moved to the side of the bed.

Margie wailed "I don't want you to leave me!"

"I'm not. I'm just going to the door, but I won't leave the room. One of us is going to be with you, constantly, until the time you decide you want to be alone again. I swear."

She opened the door and said out toward the stairwell, "Ginny?" She didn't even raise her voice. She knew Ginny would hear the faintest signal, was waiting. Within a minute, Ginny was there. Myra put an arm around her waist and said into her ear, "Ginny, it's really bad. Our baby girl got raped." She felt Ginny sag against her.

"How?" said Ginny.

"I don't know yet. We can't leave her alone. You stay with her while I go downstairs and talk to Gillam, will you? We're going to have to take her to get help. She doesn't want anyone else to know yet, so I have to deal with our guests. I'll ask them to stay with Gillam. Will you be the one to get her ready for the hospital?"

Ginny pushed past her into the room. Margie began crying again as Ginny reached her.

Myra had to focus on her walking to get down the stairs. Nobody was eating. All their faces turned to her as she came in. Gillam's forehead was a mask of anxiety. She went directly to him and kneeled beside him, as if he was still a toddler. She took his hand and said, "Sweetheart, Margie is okay but she's been hurt. She's going to be all right, but we have to take her to get some help. It needs to be just me and Ginny, just her moms, for right now. So we will have to leave you at home with our friends."

"What's wrong?" said Gillam. "What happened?"

"I know this is hard, but I can't tell you right now. It's Margie's right to tell you, and she can't do that right now. She will, I promise. And I promise you she's going to be okay. Do you hear that, Gillam? Look at me: I promise you we are taking care of her and she's going to be okay. Ginny and I are on it. Can you believe that?"

His brown eyes were buried in hers. Finally he nodded.

She looked up at Patty then. Patty knew. What else could it be? She said, "We'll stay here as long as you need. Don't worry about a thing."

"Bless you." Back to Gillam. "My cell phone is there on the breakfast bar. Make sure it's on and keep it with you. We're going to take Margie to the hospital. Whenever we know anything, we'll call you first from Ginny's cell. If I don't know anything yet, I'll still call you every hour. If you need to call me, then do. Keep the line open, okay?"

It was a lifeline, and he grabbed it. She heard footsteps on the stairs, and stood up. So did Gillam, and she held her arm across his shoulders to keep him in place for a moment.

Margie didn't look at them. She had on her coat, and Ginny was flanking her. Gillam called out "I love you, Margie." Margie held up her hand in the sign for "I love you" and he choked back a sound. Myra kissed him, hard, and said, "In an hour or less." On her way by the breakfast bar she grabbed Ginny's cell phone and unhooked it from the charger. She saw Gillam behind her, reaching for the other one. She followed Ginny and Margie out the door.

Ginny sat in the back with Margie. On the drive there, they took turns telling her what it is going to be like at the hospital. At one point, Myra pulled over and called their friend Pam, who was one of the cofounders of the Seattle rape crisis center. She was dizzy with relief when Pam picked up. Pam said she would meet them at the hospital.

Myra dropped Ginny and Margie off at the emergency room door, then went to park the car. As she was walking back across the lot, coatless, she saw Pam ahead of her. Pam was older than Myra, African-American with a large torso and an air of extreme competence about her. When they met up, Pam put her arm through Myra's and said, "Are you ready for this?"

"I don't know if I can bear it. I really don't."

Pam gave her a shake. "None of that. Sisterhood in action. If you don't know what to do, follow my lead."

They had to wait over an hour to be seen by a doctor. Myra called Gillam at the hour mark. He answered before the ring was finished. She reassured him as best she could, asked him to pass on the no-news to Patty and Pat. He said they were watching Braveheart, the boys' selection. He didn't sound like he cared. Myra didn't either.

Myra heard the whole story at the same time the woman doctor and nurse did, behind a pale green curtain, sitting on the bed beside Margie, Ginny on the other side. Pam was in line of sight with Margie's eyes.

Margie drank two sips from someone's hidden flask at the party. She said she was not drunk, but it made her feel a little funny. This boy Kevin kept teasing her in the pool, touching her arm with his arm, her leg with his leg. After they got out and got dressed, some of the kids were dancing. Not slow dances. Kevin told her there was a great view of Seattle from the hill behind the poolhouse. They sneaked back there to look. There was a hedge, and beyond it a little clear space where they sat down and looked at the light. Margie was cold, so Kevin took off his coat and put it around her. Then he kissed her. She liked the kiss, kissed him back, then stopped. But he did not stop, and she could not stop him. He kept his hand over her mouth.

The doctor asked then to look in her mouth, and when she gently pulled back her lip, there were wicked cuts inside from her teeth where they were pushed into the mucous membranes by his hand.

Afterward Kevin pulled her pants back up and took his coat, saying "They are going to miss us from the party. I'll go back first, so they don't get suspicious. I'll call you tomorrow."

She had hiked down the hill and found a bus stop. Came home.

The doctor turned to the nurse and ordered blood work, including a blood alcohol level, and an acronym that Myra knew must be a rape kit. She asked Ginny if Margie had ever had a pelvic. Ginny said no. The doctor asked if Margie had showered or cleaned up. Ginny said no again.

Pam went out, saying she would wait to talk with the police when they arrive. The nurse got Margie into a gown and positioned her back on the table. Myra and Ginny were still flanking her. Myra did not look at the stirrups or the instruments on the tray, just Margie. Margie kept her eyes closed. There were camera flashes.

After the vaginal exam, the doctor took photographs of Margie's mouth, then took swabs inside her lips. Pam stuck her head around the curtain, said the police were there.

It was a man and a woman. They had a satchel with them for taking more evidence. Myra insisted that Pam stay in the room, too. Margie had trouble remembering Kevin's last name, but finally did. The woman cop asked Ginny if they were going to want to press charges. Ginny said "Absolutely."

Myra's cell rang as the cops were leaving. She told Gillam, "We've finally seen a doctor, and are waiting to talk with her. I'll call you back in half an hour one way or the other. Love you."

With the worst over, Margie broke down. She crawled into Ginny's arms, crying at the top of her lungs. Another doctor bustled in, a short young white man with pale hands. He barked at the nurse, "Get me some Ativan." Myra, without thinking, stepped square in front of him. She pulled on a glinty green aura and arched her dragon-tail over her back, pointed down at him like a scorpion stinger. She said quietly "She does not need to be medicated. She's crying because that's an appropriate response to what has happened. If she needs drugs, we will let you know. She's not bothering anybody."

He blinked, like a Stormtrooper who had just talked with Obi-Wan Kenobi. He cancelled his order and left. When Myra turned around, Pam gave her a small thumbs-up.

They got home at 2:30. Myra had talked to Gillam four times. He was still up, on the couch with Patty. The others had gone home. Margie went over and hugged Gillam, which was a magic elixir for him. Then she went up to her room, Ginny beside her. The bath water started.

Myra couldn't thank Patty enough. She drove Patty home and took Gillam with her. Patty wanted to ask questions but did not. After she got out of the car, Gillam slid into the front with Myra. It was a different city this time of night.

"Can you tell me now?" he said very quietly.

"Somebody hurt her. Hurt her bad. Her body is a little hurt, but most of it is emotional. I have to get her permission, still, before I tell you the details. But I'll get it by tomorrow. In the meantime, she needs us to be her family, to be normal, to not be all weird."

"Okay" he said.

When they got home, Ginny was in the kitchen. "I think I can get some food in her" she said.

"You know what? I'll join her" said Myra. "At least some tea."

After a few minutes, Margie joined them. "I know you won't want the pot roast" said Myra, "but the corn fritters are to die for."

"Okay" said Margie. Gillam sat on the breakfast stool next to her. He bumped her with his elbow, and she bumped him back. God bless him. He said, "We watched Braveheart."

"How is it?" she asked.

"Well, it was fun to see Mel Gibson the big homophobe in a skirt. But if you ask me, he's still ugly even with a blue face."

Margie laughed. She actually laughed.

After whatever meal this was, Margie asked "Mom, are you going to paint?"

Ginny was startled. "I don't usually start this late. Or early, I guess. I'm here for you, whatever you want."

"I thought if you were going to paint, I'd curl up with a blanket on your daybed. Like I used to do when I had the flu, and all I could manage was to watch you paint."

Ginny swallowed, then says "Good idea. I have a canvas that needs some work, but I won't get sucked into it." They walked back into the studio.

"Well, that's my cue" said Myra.

"What do you mean?"

Myra looked at him, decided to let him in some family secrets. "We take turns, me and Ginny. This means she's taking the first shift of looking after Margie. Whenever one of you kids has trouble, we take turns so one of us is always fresh. This means Ginny is going to crash in about eight hours and need a long rest. Which means I need to go to bed, so I can take over."

"What can I do?" She was so lucky to have this child.

"Why don't you sleep with me, like when you were little and had the flu. And tomorrow you can be Robin to my...Wonder Woman."

She went in to give Ginny an extra pillow and blanket, tell her Gillam would be in their bed so she should take Myra's daybed if she got a chance to sleep. Margie was awake and reading, with the spot on over the easel, the rest of the room dark. Ginny and Myra hugged for a long time. Ginny whispered "When you faced that doctor down -- If I wasn't already hopelessly in love with you, that would've done it."

Myra lay down beside Margie on the daybed and pulled Margie's head onto her shoulder. Her forehead smelled like strawberries. Myra said "I can stay here with you if you want. I'll even read aloud to you about -- what does it say on that cover? -- the latest look in city sophisticates." Margie didn't quite laugh, but said "No, I'd rather sleep. And Mom's here."

Myra paused, then said "Sometimes terrible things happen for no reason at all. Random is part of how the universe is organized. This is not your fault, and you're wasting time if you try to figure out how it was." Margie didn't answer, but she met Myra's eyes. Ginny appeared beside them with Rescue Remedy, and Myra went on to bed.

Gillam was a little embarrassed about getting into bed with Myra. She said, "It's been years, hasn't it? I hope you don't kick as much as you used to." It got him to laugh.

"I don't feel like reading you a story tonight" she said, and he laughed again. Then he said, "I've got my own book. Can I use Mama's clip-on light?"

"Sure. What's that book you've got there?"

"The Golden Compass. It's better than Harry Potter."

"Wow, that's one he--heck of a recommendation. How far into it are you?"

"Second chapter."

"Would you be willing to start over again at the beginning and read it aloud to me as I go to sleep?" Myra settled back on her pillow.

He was thrilled, turned to the front of the book, and began reading in his lovely voice. When she woke up at 5:00 to pee, Gillam was curled up against her back, his breath palpable on her T-shirt. After she came back to bed, he had turned over. She spooned him from behind, as if he were still four years old. He sighed lightly and stayed asleep.

She woke up again at 11. Not eight hours, but enough. She walked barefoot into the kitchen, where Gillam was eating leftover pie and still reading his book. He looked up at her and said with a grin, "You snore."

She walked back into her study. Ginny was sound asleep on her daybed. Looking around the corner, Margie was asleep too, her arm across her eyes to block out the sun.

Myra returned to the kitchen and started making blueberry pancakes with deviled eggs. Gillam said, "I only had one piece of pie, can I have some of those?"

"Yes, but be forewarned, it will make you snore when you grow up."

She woke up Ginny first, lying down half on top of her and kissing her slowly. She felt the moment when Ginny remembered what had happened. Ginny said, "I need some time with you. Just you."

"Boy howdy. Later today. For now, there is your favorite breakfast and after that, another chunk of sleep in our bed. I'll hang with the kids."

"How's Gillam?"

"Okay, so far. He needs to hear the whole story, and I don't know how he's going to cope with that."

"I don't know how I'm going to cope with it." Ginny sat up and went to wake Margie.

Margie said she wasn't hungry but would sit at the table with them. She took a drink of milk, then reached out and picked up a deviled egg, looking at it closely for a minute. She ate it in two bites. She pulled over her plate, lifted one pancake on it, and covered it with way too much syrup. Gillam glanced over Ginny, but Ginny had no reaction. Halfway through her pancake, Margie took another drink of milk and asked Gillam, "You know that boy Kevin who's a senior?"

Myra stopped chewing. Gillam said, "Maybe. The one who plays football? Has blond hair that sticks straight up?"

"Yes" said Margie, holding her milk glass in both hands. "Last night he raped me."

Well, fuck. Leave it to Margie.

Gillam was stricken. Myra said quietly, "Do you know what that means, Gillam?"

"Yes" He only had eyes for Margie. "At that party? Wasn't anybody else there?"

"Not when it happened."

"Did he hurt you?" Stupid question, except not really.


Now he looked at Ginny and Myra. "What are you going to do about this?" His eyes were dark, dark brown.

Myra said, "What would you like to do about it, Gillam?"

He didn't hesitate. "Let's take my metal baseball bat and break every tooth in his head."

Ginny stared at him. Myra said, "My inclinations are along similar lines, except my tools of choice would be a white-hot branding iron and razor blades."

Ginny kicked her ankle. Margie laughed briefly.

"Unfortunately, that would only make things worse for all of us, in particular for Margie. And my main focus now is on taking care of Margie. So, we get to have the feelings we need to have, but in terms of behavior, we have to be responsible to one another as a family." Myra said to Margie, "What would you like from us? Besides what's already going on?"

Margie thought this over. "I feel like I just want to sit in a hot bathtub for hours. Does that make sense?"

"Yep. There was a time in my early 20's when I took three and four baths a day, while I was working through something hard. You can do that as much as you want" said Myra.

"Do you want to see any of your friends?" Ginny asked Margie.

"I'd like to talk with Truitt. That would be great. But I don't want to be the one to tell him. Maybe you could call Patty?..." said Margie.

"Glad to" said Ginny.

Myra said "One more thing. Margie, I know we've said this already, but I want to say it as a family: You didn't do anything wrong. There is no way on earth you brought this on yourself." Margie was playing with her fork. "It's not your fault. You are not the cause of other people's behavior, especially violent behavior. I'd rather you not have had a drink, but it bears no connection to what happened later -- I think that would have happened if you had not had a drink. The fact is, I'm incredibly proud of you." Margie looked up then. "You have amazed me with what you did."

"What?" said Margie.

"You left a place of danger. It must have been terrifying to walk, injured, down that hill in the dark. To catch a bus and face strangers. Then, when you got home, you asked for help immediately. I am so grateful..." Myra's voice broke and she started crying.

Ginny took her hand and finished. "You did everything right, everything that a self-loving woman would do. And that means you are going to heal very quickly." Margie licked the last of the syrup off her tines, her eyes shining, and said "Okay."

Gillam cleared the table. Myra was pretty sure he was going to sneak a drink from the syrup bottle. She went to her desk and called the three therapists whose names Pam had given her. She got answering machines for all of them and left messages. She could hear Ginny at her worktable, talking with Patty. She wished she could reach Allie directly in Portland instead of answering machines. She wished Chris and Sima were not at Chris's sister's house in Colville. Instead, she called her counselor Leesa and got through. They talked for a while and she made an appointment for Monday evening. Her chest was not as tight when they finally got off the phone.

After a minute, she called Pam and asked for the name of an appropriate lawyer. Then she called the lawyer and left another message. While she was doing that, a call came through. When she checked her voice mail, it was the first choice of the therapists, Sheila Kant, returning her call. She talked with Sheila and got Margie an appointment for 2 p.m. on Monday.

Gillam was on her daybed with The Golden Compass. She heard Ginny's cell ring and Ginny answer. She said to Gillam, "I don't remember anything you read me last night except for the fact that the kid had a demon, only not the kind of demon we think is bad."

Gillam said, "This is such an awesome book. I'm too far into it now to start over, you'll just have to wait. But it's the first of three books."


Ginny came in a few minutes later and said "That was the police. They've arrested that farcockteh shegetz and he's posting bail."

Gillam looked up. "That's a new one. Yiddish?"

"Yes. Truitt is gone until late tonight. I'm going to talk to Margie, see if she'd like Amy instead."

Myra knew what an effort it was for Ginny to make that offer.

As she left, Gillam asked "If Amy comes over, could I ask Carly, too?"

"Yes, but only if."

"What are you going to do now?" Gillam was ready to be Robin.

"I don't think I can write, I'm too tired to be creative. The garden is dormant. The house is relatively clean since we had company last night. So, what to do that keeps me home and available?" She sat staring out the wall of windows into the back yard. After a minute, she stood and walked over to the nearest window, peering at it closely.

"What do you see?" said Gillam, getting up and joining her.

"Grime. We haven't washed these windows since you before you were born. If you would care to join me, go put on heavy sweats and then get the stepladder from the storage room."

Gillam sighed. He'd rather have The Golden Compass, but he trudged off. Myra got two buckets from the broom cupboard, filled them with hot soapy water, and then went out to the car to get the squeegee.

On the way back in, she saw Ginny heading into their bedroom. "Sweet dreams" she called out. "Wake me in four hours" said Ginny.

Margie came down and lay on the studio daybed again with her blanket, watching them clean the windows and pointing out spots they missed. At 2:30 they stopped to watch Myra's favorite cooking show on PBS. Then she swept the upper deck, vacuumed the pool and did two loads of laundry while Gillam went back to his book and Margie just lay in her thoughts.

At 4:30, Myra went in to wake Ginny. They lay and cuddled for a while, until they heard the doorbell ring. "That'll be Amy" said Ginny. Myra went out to greet their guest, who retreated with Margie to her room. Myra began assembling a tray of sandwiches the kids could munch from all evening. A little while later, Patty dropped off Carly, who went upstairs with Gillam to his room. Patty and Ginny sat for a while in the living room before Patty left.

Myra made a tray of crudite with some of her homemade mayonnaise dip, and then, channeling the girl in her who had won the Betty Crocker Homemaker of the Year award her senior year, she made brownies with dark chocolate. The smell drew all the teenagers downstairs. Ginny took a brownie and a glass of milk and went back to her studio. When Myra joined her, Ginny said "Have you heard anything about the weather today?"

"No, just the usual cold and grey."

"Something weird is up." Ginny was staring at the sky through the windows. "Something's blowing in."

"How can you tell?"

"The light is all wrong. Here --" Ginny opened the sliding door and stepped outside. She came right back in, staring up at the ceiling. "Did you switch out the lightbulbs?"

Myra started laughing. "No -- Gillam and I washed the windows."

Ginny inspected them. "My god, it's like a different solar system in here. My work will be so changed, they'll have to call it the 'Clear Glass Bates Period'." After she sat back down, she said "Both visitors are spending the night."

"Okay. That means you and I get to sleep together again."

Ginny flashed her a smile. "Indeed."

"Well, I'm going to lie down over here and steal Gillam's book that he thoughtlessly left on my daybed, and read as much as I can before he discovers it's missing."

At 9:00 Margie came back in with Amy and said "Can we stay up and watch Saturday Night Live?"

Ginny said, "Yes, but you have to let the boys watch too, if they want to." She called Gillam and Carly in and gave them the option. Gillam said "Wahoo!"

"Here's the rules" said Myra. "We're going to bed early, so I'm going to set the alarm. Which means if you go outside, even on the deck, we will have the security company showing up at our door. Turn off the TV as soon as the show is done and go to bed. Gillam" -- she pointed at him -- "you and Carly must not pass gas in front of the girls." Gillam blushed intensely. "Margie" -- she pointed at her -- "you two don't pick on the boys." That was mostly for Amy's benefit. "Eat whatever you want but somebody put the leftovers away before you go upstairs."

They all nodded. She stood up with The Golden Compass in her hand. "Hey!" said Gillam. She handed it reluctantly to him.

"I'm going to bed. I'm whupped."

The next morning Ginny and Myra woke up early and talked.

"Does she see this therapist by herself or with us?"

"I didn't ask" said Myra, "But I'm willing to bet it's mostly on her own."

"That motherfucker is going to say she lied."

Myra followed Ginny's shift of subject. "I think you're right. If he's a football player and part of that pool party crowd, Margie is going to get smeared at school."

"What do we do?"

"I honestly don't know yet. Maybe Truitt can help, he's extremely popular and a year older."

"Myra -- she's got bruises all over her. I put arnica on them." Ginny's tone was agonizing for Myra to hear. She wished Ginny would just cry until it was all out of her, but she didn't really know when that might be. She pulled her in tight, wordless.

Another shift from Ginny. "That period when you took baths all the time -- was that when you started your incest work?"

"Yeah. I couldn't get clean."

Ginny squeezed her. "How long did it last?"

"At least a year. But I don't think it will with Margie. I hope you're right about her being able to get through this quickly."

"I said that for her benefit. I'm terrified it's not true, Myra."

"I'm terrified, too. And homicidal, at least for stretches at a time."

"Stay with me...okay?"

Myra leaned back to look at her. "What do you mean? I'm not going to leave you."

"I mean emotionally. I mean, don't do this on your own."

"I have no intention of doing anything without you, except on an emergency basis or with your consent." Myra was a little miffed.

Ginny squeezed her again. "Okay. Let's get through today."

Amy left shortly after breakfast. Margie watched Ginny paint for a while, reading magazines, then departed for the living room and began watching old movies. She ate little lunch, and Ginny didn't push her. After lunch, Margie sat on Myra's daybed and finished her homework as Myra and Ginny dealt with bills. Gillam and Carly laid low. Ginny didn't pick up the phone when her father called.

That afternoon, Myra went to the freezer in the storage room and began looking through her options. She pulled out five cornish game hens, all they had left; a spinach lasagna; and a pear-apricot pie. When she walked back into the kitchen with these piled in her arms, Ginny looked them over and said "Margie's favorites, I see."

"With cornbread-pine nut dressing for the birds, yes, it will be. Plus your broccoli-squash casserole. And a fresh loaf of rosemary bread."

Myra set the hens to defrost while Ginny began making cornbread. Margie was stretched out on the couch, watching Annie Oakley for the umpteenth time. Carly and Gillam were quiet upstairs. When Myra heard the front door open, she stepped to the end of the breakfast bar, wondering who it could be.

Chris and Sima strode in, grinning. "We were driving back from Colville and couldn't remember what we had in the refrigerator at home, so we thought we'd crash your place and beg for dinner" said Sima. "Heya, Margie, whatcha watching there?"

Margie sat up, mute. Her hand slowly went to the remote and she put her movie on pause. She looked at Myra in a silent appeal for help.

Chris stopped and looked between Margie to Myra, then Ginny. Myra crossed to Chris and hugged her, then said "Will you two come back to my study for a minute?" Ginny followed them and sat down on the daybed next to Sima. Chris remained standing, her entire body on edge.

"What is wrong?" she demanded.

Myra sat down in her desk chair and clasped her hands together for strength. "Margie...went to a party on Friday night. A boy there persuaded her into a secluded spot, alone. He raped her. She managed to get home and tell us."

Sima gasped and began crying. Chris turned on her heel and walked rapidly to the living room. Margie, still sitting up, watched her coming with an expression on her face that Myra had not seen in years, an expression of extreme vulnerability. Chris sat down next to Margie and picked her up, as if she weighed only as much as a child, setting Margie into her lap and wrapping her arms around her. Margie melted onto Chris and began crying, really crying, like she had in the emergency room. Sima was not far behind; she sat down next to Chris and pulled Margie's legs into her lap, kissing Margie's cheeks. Myra sat down in the easy chair with Ginny on the arm beside her, pressed together. Myra felt, again, the molten urge to get in her car and go find the boy, kill him with her bare hands. She stuffed it back deep once more.

Once Margie could talk again, she began whispering to Chris, telling her the story, their eyes only inches apart. Myra felt like Chris could actually hear it better than she could. She stood up and went back into the kitchen. Ginny followed in a moment, and they resumed cooking. After a few minutes, Sima joined them and began helping chop herbs, sitting at the breakfast bar. She and Ginny talked in low voices. Myra listened to them, but also to the tone of the whispers in the living room. She felt a tendril of relief, a slight lessening of weight from her shoulders.

Once Ginny's cornbread was done, Myra made dressing and stuffed the hens, rubbing their outsides with garlic-infused butter. She put them in the oven to bake, along with the lasagna and pie. Sima was making a salad, and Ginny was well into the broccoli-squash casserole. The bread would be done by the breadmaker in an hour. She was out of things to do with her hands.

She went back into the hall and looked at Chris and Margie. Margie was still on Chris's lap, her head on Chris's shoulder. Chris was singing something, not in English. Margie's eyes were closed, and it looked like she might be asleep. Chris met Myra's eyes. Myra felt like she had never loved Chris more.

She walked upstairs to check on the boys. They were lying on a single bed, their heads at opposite ends of the mattress, reading anime and listening to music that made the room throb. She told Gillam that Chris and Sima were here, and she'd yell up at them in an hour or so when dinner was ready. He nodded, then asked if Carly could spend the night.

"Tomorrow's a school day" Myra said.

"He's done his homework, and I can loan him something to wear in the morning" said Gillam.

"Call your moms, Carly, and ask them if its okay. It's all right with me, and I'll talk to them if they want me to" said Myra.

"Thanks, Mama" said Gillam. "We'll do the dishes -- it's Margie's night, but..."

"Good for you, buddy. Listen -- "

Gillam looked at her expectantly. He found the remote for his stereo and turned the music off. She walked over and sat down on the other bed.

"There's going to be a lot of gossip, about what's happened, at Margie's school. Some of the kids there will have little brothers and sisters at Meany, where you two are. It's going to come up, I'm afraid."

"What do you mean, gossip?" asked Gillam. His brown eyes were challenging.

"The boy who raped her is going to say it wasn't rape." Myra saw this hit Gillam like a blow.

"Then he's a fucking liar!" he said.

"Yes, he is. But some people will believe the lie. And they are going to say bad things about Margie."

Carly sat up, his fists clenched. "They better not. Me and Truitt, we won't let them."

"I'm glad to hear you'll defend her. What I ask of you, both, is that you -- lean on each other, lean on us. Keep telling me, Ginny, your moms, all of what you're hearing, no matter what it is. Let's figure out what to do together, and keep revising our strategy as necessary. A team effort. Will you do that with me?"

Gillam sat up, too. "Of course. Can't we make him not be able to go to her school any more? Or maybe she should stay home for a while."

"No, the best way to get through unthinkable situations is to keep going. As intelligently and with as much heart as we can manage. Between all of us, we can do a good job here." Myra hoped she was convincing them.

"Mama...Is Margie going to be -- okay?"

"Yes. It's like a broken bone, it will take some time to heal, but she'll be as good as new eventually." This time, she saw that she did convince him, the relief that flooded his face was obvious. "You two are good brothers, just exactly what she needs. I'm glad she has you."

Myra kissed them each on the forehead and went back downstairs. She told Ginny and Sima about the conversation, and basted the hens. Ginny and Sima were setting the table. She still didn't know what to do with herself. She was walking into the living room, to sit down and just watch Margie, when a single knock came at the front door, followed immediately by it opening to reveal Allie saying "It was locked, but then I found my key".

Myra stared at her. "I thought you weren't coming back until tomorrow" she said.

Allie grinned. "Edwina had a big university event tonight, for faculty only, so I caught the train back early. Thought I'd surprise you. You left a message on my machine, sounded like you maybe wanted to talk before I go home to check on Ma. Damn, but it smells good in here." She noticed Chris, then, on the couch, and Margie in her lap. Margie was opening her eyes, and when she saw Allie, she just reached out her arms in the same way she had as a baby when Allie arrived. Allie paused for a moment, startled, then sat down next to Margie, looking at Myra with suddenly flat eyes. Chris let go of Margie, then, and said quietly to Allie "Our girl got raped this weekend."

For a moment, Myra thought Allie was going to scream. Maybe the only reason she didn't was because she had to hold Margie. Ginny appeared next to Myra, her arm around Myra's waist. Margie wasn't crying with Allie; she seemed to be cried out, thank god. But she was drinking in Allie's strength and comfort. Allie's knuckles were pale where she was gripping Margie.

Chris stood up and came to stand in front of Myra. "You and I need to talk" she said.

"Okay." Myra didn't know where to take her, but Ginny said "Go in our bedroom. It's safe there." Myra felt a flicker of unease at that. Ginny went to sit where Chris had been.

In the bedroom, Chris closed the door and remained standing. "You're locked down, aren't you?"

"You mean -- yes, I guess I am. I have to be."

"Not now. Not with us here."

"Chris...I'm afraid of what -- " Myra couldn't go on.

"You might kill him, yes? Or go crazy?"


"I'll haul you out of any hole you squirrel into. I'm not worried" said Chris. "I want to kill him, too, but we both know we won't."

Myra looked at her for a minute. "Close the bathroom door, then, and the closet, too. I guess we're going to find out how soundproofed this room really is."

Chris returned to stand in front of Myra. Myra shut her eyes and let the monster out of the cage. Within seconds, she was screaming at the top of her lungs. Rage threatened to buckle her knees. She sat down on the edge of the bed and kept screaming. She imagined plunging a knife into the boy's chest, over and over again. She imagined holding him underneath water, watching him panic as he drowned. She imagined pouring gasoline on him and lighting a match. Nothing was too grisly.

After a minute, she began coughing as the screams tore at her throat. She leaned forward on her knees to catch her breath, and suddenly she was crying, still coughing as well. Chris put a hand on her shoulder, and Myra kept going.

When she was finally able to stop coughing, she lay back on the bed and put her arm over her eyes. Her adrenaline plummeted, and she felt like maybe just going to sleep, on the spot. Chris lay down next to her, and Myra put her head on Chris's shoulder. She did drop off, then, with Chris's steady breath on her forehead. Fifteen minutes later, Chris woke her up, saying "My? We should go join the rest, I think."

Myra sat up, blinking, and stared at Chris. "Thanks" she whispered.

"No sweat. You've done it for me."

Myra suddenly remembered the first six months she knew Chris, and how familiar this was, only the roles had been reversed then. She leaned over and kissed Chris, right on the mouth. Chris was a little embarrassed and said "I don't know who'd hurt you worse if they saw that, Sima or Ginny."

"Oh, the answer to that is Ginny, hands down" laughed Myra.

"Sima's got way bigger arm muscles" argued Chris.

"Ginny wouldn't need muscles" said Myra. "She can break skin with just her eyes."

"You are whipped" laughed Chris.

"Happily so" agreed Myra. They stood up and came out of the bedroom. Gillam and Carly were just coming downstairs. Myra went into the kitchen and pulled out the pie to cool. She did a head count and realized it wasn't enough for dessert. She turned off the oven -- everything else was done -- and went back to the freezer. She found a container of lemon bars she'd made a month ago, and brought that back to the kitchen, setting it in the microwave to defrost. Ginny met her there and Myra asked in a low voice "Did you hear me screaming?"

"No" said Ginny, startled. "Like, screaming screaming?"

"Oh yeah."

"Feel better?"

"Immensely. Will you get drinks together while I cut the lasagna?"

Ginny gave Myra a kiss and whispered "We are so lucky, to have these women in our lives."

"Our children are the luckiest ones."

They began setting out dinner.

Allie had to leave right after dinner, to relieve her mother's caregiver. Chris and Sima stayed for an hour, playing poker with the kids while Myra cleaned the kitchen and Ginny made school lunches. Chris was a consummate gambler, and her ability to bluff was legendary among her friends, but she put her skill to use that night in losing, steadily and with apparent exasperation, to Margie. Margie wound up with most of the chips piled in front of her and a flush on her face. She really did like to win.

After Chris and Sima left, Myra shooed the boys up to bed with hugs and admonitions to not stay up past 10:00. As Margie boxed up the cards and chips, Ginny put an arm on her shoulder and said "You wanna sleep in our bed tonight? With one or both of us?"

Margie looked embarrassed, yet instantly relieved. Then she laughed and said "If I was five, I'd say 'Can I be in the middle?'"

"You sure would" said Ginny. "I know, let's me and you henna our hair. And put on some of that face cream you've got. And do our nails. We'll have a spa night, okay?"

Margie's face lit up. "And a pedicure!"

"Get your accoutrements" said Ginny. Margie flew upstairs. Ginny looked at Myra. "What did you scream about?"

"The urge to kill" said Myra.

"Ah. Listen, I'll grab the middle and you can slide in beside me when you come to bed, okay?"

"Sounds good. Wake me when you get up, I want to go with you to drive her to school."

They kissed lingeringly until they heard Margie coming back downstairs. Then Myra went to her study and, after ten minutes of not knowing what to do with herself, she started a blank page on her computer and wrote a letter to her mother. When she was done, she added it to the file of letters that would never get sent.

The next morning, after dropping off Carly and Gillam, Ginny and Myra parked at Margie's high school and went in to talk with the school counselor and Margie's principal. Truitt and Amy, along with a couple of other friends, were waiting for Margie out front, and she peeled off to walk in with them, looking a little less like a wreck than she had all morning. The school counselor was enormously sympathetic, knew of the therapist Margie was scheduled to see, and said she'd make sure Margie's teachers for the afternoon would excuse her absence.

The principal was not quite as friendly. He had not yet heard anything from the boy's parents or the police, and was rattled by this fact as well as the news. He felt it necessary to point out that Kevin played for the football team, which is when Ginny put her arm on Myra's as if she might need to hold her down. Myra said "We will be prosecuting this case to the full extent of the law, and if the school fails to protect our daughter from absolutely any kind of difficulty, it will be easy to add your name to the list we're giving our lawyer." That more or less ended the conversation.

When they got home, the lawyer had returned their call, and Ginny spoke with her for a while. Myra lay down on her daybed and tried to think of something besides retribution. Ginny came to stand beside her and said "We have an appointment for 12:30, that okay with you?"

"Yes. We have to be done by 2:00, no matter what, to go pick up Margie and take her to the therapist's."

"I know, Myra. Nancy says she could see me at 5, can you make dinner and hold down the fort while I'm gone?"

"Yes. I should get in to see Leesa, too. I'm not sure I'm coping. I have a headache now."

"I'll make some tea. Take some ibuprofen, try to head it off."

The usual ease, the give and take between them, was missing at the moment. They were going through the motions but Myra wasn't quite able to take comfort from Ginny -- she was too aware of how hard this was on Ginny as well.

Myra's headache was not entirely gone by the time they left for the lawyer's, despite an early lunch and another dose of ibuprofen. The lawyer gave them a worst case scenario as well as what might go right. Ginny made notes and said they'd have to talk with Margie before making a final decision. When they drove up to the school, Margie was waiting out front, pale and agitated.

Once she was in the back seat, Myra asked "How was it?"

"Awful. Everywhere I went, everybody was whispering about me. Amy said he wasn't there today, but I didn't find that out until lunch."

Ginny was turned around in her seat, her hand on Margie's knee.

"You've done nothing wrong, Marjorie."

"Doesn't feel that way."

"Yeah, I know. Eventually it will, though."

Margie looked out the window.

The therapist, Sheila, only met with them all together for ten minutes, and Myra felt as if she was under an intense microscope. Which was a good thing, she decided. They went outside and waited in the car because Sheila's waiting room was tiny. They were having a hard time to talking to each other. Myra leaned her seat back and closed her eyes.

When Margie came out, 45 minutes later, she actually looked normal again. It was clear she'd been crying, but her color was back. She didn't want to share what they'd discussed -- "Not yet" she said. Myra drove back to Meany and picked up Gillam, who got in the back seat popping gum and saying "There's a bake sale on Friday and I signed up to bring your peanut butter brownies, will you help me make 'em?" Myra felt relief at how ordinary he was. He punched Margie on the upper arm before he suddenly remembered what had happened and looked horrified. She punched him back and said "You have Mr. Kalinek for science, right? Has he done that thing yet where he blows up a column of sugar in a beaker?"

"Oh my god, yes, stunk up the whole room" said Gillam. "He's a freak, isn't he?"

"If you memorize the geological ages in order and work them into your essay question answers, you'll always get an A with him. He lives for geology."

After a pause, Gillam asked "Was that shithead there today?"

Myra and Ginny looked at each other, but nobody said "Language."


"Were people weird?"


"There were a couple of kids saying stuff at school, one of them's the little sister of a jock."

Margie's eyes were dark and smudgy. "What? What did she say?"

"When I walked by, she said 'Is your sister a lesbian, too?' And all the girls around her cracked up."

"What did you do?" said Ginny, turning to face him.

"I didn't have a chance, Carly was there and he said 'Anybody would be a lesbian if the alternative was your rapist brother'. Which was so flawlessly cool, you should have seen their faces. Plus, it being Carly, you know, who is like Mr. In Crowd, all the teachers and the nicest kids like him. And he never mouths off, but when he does, boy does he make it count."

Myra grinned and raised her eyebrows at Ginny. Margie was laughing. Myra said "Do we have time to stop for ice cream?"

"If we get it to go" said Ginny. The kids cheered.

Margie had a second appointment with Sheila on Wednesday, and took with her the questions posed by the lawyer to resolve for herself. On the drive there, Margie said "Truitt asked me to go sea kayaking with him this Saturday."

"Sea kayaking?" said Ginny in alarm, looking in the rearview mirror at Margie.

"Well, just in the Sound. It's off Alki, and you go along the downtown waterfront for a few hours, not open ocean. But after you get trained enough, you can go on these orca-watching kayak trips in the San Juans!" Margie was extremely animated.

"You've only done crewing at school" said Myra.

"I know, Mom, that's why I need this beginner thing in kayaking before I do bigger stuff. Truitt's done it twice with Pat, he says it's a piece of cake. The instructors are certified and everything."

"Saturday, you said?" asked Ginny.

"Yeah, starts in the morning. It costs like $35 I think for the half-day. I'd need to wear the kind of gear I do for crewing, and bring my own lunch."

Ginny looked at Myra, who shrugged.

"We'll have to talk with Pat, but if she's good with it, so are we" said Ginny.

Margie went on talking about orcas, their biology, social organization, and Native legends about them until they reached Sheila's office.

After they picked up Gillam and got home that evening, Margie said "I want to go through with pressing charges, and taking him to trial."

Myra let out a breath and sat down at the dining table. "Okay. I've said this already, but the American criminal justice system is not necessarily your source of justice, and it won't be your, or our, source of resolution on this issue. Not emotionally. We'll have to do that another way."

"I understand that. But it's still the right thing to do" said Margie.

"I agree" said Ginny. "And we, your extended family, we have the resource to get you through this."

"I'll call the lawyer tomorrow and set up an appointment for you to go in with us" said Myra. "Maybe Saturday afternoon, after you're back from kayaking, since you're missing school already for therapy."

After Margie went upstairs, Gillam, standing in the kitchen eating an apple, asked "Will he go to prison?"

"I'm not sure" said Myra. "Maybe juvenile detention instead of regular prison."

Gillam was trying not to show any emotion on his face.

"I don't want anybody to get locked up" said Myra. Ginny stared at her. "I do want him to be so sorry for what he did that it changes him utterly, and there are times, daily, when I want to punish him myself. Directly and violently. But, the bigger part of my heart says that putting him in jail won't heal him or make the world safer, not in the long run. I don't know how to resolve it."

Gillam finally let his fear and worry show on his face, for a few seconds. Then Ginny said "I'm not liberal about this, Myra. I -- I'm surprised to hear it from you, frankly. He doesn't deserve our compassion." She got up and walked back to her studio.

Gillam now looked a little panicked. "It's complicated, Gillam" said Myra. "It's okay, we're in the middle of this. Whatever you think and feel is okay, just go with it. As, clearly, your Mom and I are." She got up and hugged him briefly, then carried the compost outside, standing for a while in the winter twilight to cool her body down.

When Myra came back in, Ginny was just leaving for her Al Anon meeting. She kissed Myra goodbye in a perfunctory way. Myra started making riso salto and roast chicken for dinner. Allie showed up a few minutes before Ginny got home. They all ate together, then Allie and Ginny went back to her studio. Margie had a paper in World History due, so Myra let her use her computer for research. She sat at the breakfast bar and talked Gillam through the recipe for his bake sale brownies. They made an extra two dozen, one to freeze and one dozen to put on a platter for sharing with everyone tonight.

After Allie left, Myra sat down on her daybed with a new poetry quarterly and read, or tried to, while stealing glances at Margie. She felt like she wasn't doing enough as a mother. She wished Ginny would come and cuddle up with her, figure out a way for them to talk. Instead, her children eventually went to bed and Ginny said she was going to varnish a canvas. Myra pulled out one of her standby books, Life Among The Savages by Shirley Jackson, and went to bed, reading herself to sleep quickly.

She woke up late the next morning. Ginny was gone and must be driving the kids to school. She called Leesa from the bedside phone and left a message asking if she could get a session with her that day. She rolled over and went back to sleep. She didn't wake up until 11.

After making herself brunch, she wandered back to Ginny's studio. Ginny was stretching a canvas and looked distracted. When the phone rang, Myra answered and it was Leesa, telling her she could come in at 3:00. Myra told Ginny and reminded her this meant she would have to be the one to pick up the children. Ginny frowned and said all right, then fished the travel alarm from her desk drawer and set it for 2:30. At least one foot was already in Painterland.

Myra went to her desk but she couldn't write. Not even rewrites. She cleaned up her e-mail, defragged her disk, and played SimCity until it was time to get ready for her session. She kissed Ginny goodbye and Ginny barely registered it.

During her session with Leesa, Leesa kept asking questions about how Myra's mother had handled the ongoing crises in her family when Myra was growing up. Myra didn't see the point of this exploration, it wasn't getting underneath the disconnect she was feeling, and when their hour was over, she was frustrated at finding no release. Leesa said she could see her once a week, which didn't feel like enough, either.

When she got home, Carly had come back with Gillam and they were kicking a soccer ball around upstairs. Margie was on Ginny's daybed, reading. Ginny was stripped down and sweaty. Myra ordered Chinese food delivered; she didn't feel like cooking. She set out plates and utensils, then poured herself a glass of milk and put Aliens in the DVD player. After the food arrived, she made herself a plate and the Coke she'd ordered to go with it and returned to her movie. Gillam and Carly joined her. After a few minutes, so did Margie.

Before Myra went to bed, she made lunches for the kids. She set the alarm for the time Ginny usually got up to make breakfast and take the kids to school, in case Ginny didn't come to bed. But Ginny did crawl in with her, around 3:00, and got up again when the alarm went off. Myra woke up at 9:00, couldn't come up with a reason to get up, and went back to sleep.

At noon she ate and got some food into Ginny at her easel. Tonight was shabbos, thank god -- her friends would be over. She pulled out a pot roast and flounder from the freezer, then made a three-layer Italian cream cake. She picked up the children from school and listened to their banter with gratitude. Carly caught a ride home with them again, asking to stay for shabbos prayers. Myra had him call his mothers as soon as they got back to the house.

Ginny had not made challah, so Myra got out two frozen loaves from the freezer and set them to thaw. She made potatoes au gratin, thinking of Margie, and asked Margie to help her with the salad. They worked together companionably. She told Gillam to vacuum the downstairs and bring down all his laundry for the week. She had Carly set the table and feed the animals.

Chris and Sima were the first to arrive, and Myra lingered in their hugs. They focused a lot of attention on Margie, which perked her up. Once the main courses were ready, Myra made a plate for Ms. Schevitz and sent that plus half a loaf of challah over with Gillam and Carly. Allie arrived as they were walking out the door. Myra suddenly found herself crying as she filled a pitcher with ice and water.

Allie came into the kitchen and put her arm over Myra's shoulder. Myra didn't feel like she could really afford to cry the way she needed to right now, not with Margie there in the room. She leaned against Allie briefly, then wiped her face and choked the rest down. Sima opened a bottle of nonalcoholic wine and walked back to roust Ginny out of her fog for dinner.

Standing at the table, hearing the voices of her children and even Carly as they recited prayers, sent Myra into tears again. She squeezed her eyes shut, ate the bread and drank the wine, and focused on setting platters on the table. She looked at Ginny, at the other end of the table, but Ginny was not looking her way.

Allie had to leave early because she was going back to Portland for the weekend. Sima went upstairs with Margie, and Ginny returned to her canvas with indecent haste. Myra took a second slice of cake and put Alien Resurrection in the DVD player. Chris joined her on the couch, looking keenly into Myra's face for a minute. Gillam stood uncertainly in the hall, then asked "Could we have seconds on cake, too?"

"Why not?" said Myra. The boys grabbed plates and settled on the floor in the living room with them. After finishing her cake, Myra lay her head on Chris's shoulder and slid her hand into Chris's big hand. A few minutes later, she was asleep.

She woke up when the movie was over and Chris was getting up to leave with Sima. She felt like all she wanted to do was go back to sleep. Gillam and Carly put the leftovers away, but Myra said they could leave the dishes. She kissed them all goodnight, waved at Ginny who didn't see her, and went to bed. She didn't wake up when Ginny came to bed past midnight.

When she woke up the next morning at 9:00, the house was quiet. She got up and couldn't find Ginny anywhere, finally remembered that Margie was kayaking and Ginny must be driving her to the waterfront. She began cleaning the kitchen, and just as she finished loading the dishwasher, Ginny came home.

"Thanks for taking her" said Myra. "Have you had breakfast?"

"Some tea and toast" said Ginny.

"Are you okay?" asked Myra. What she really wanted to ask was "Are we okay?" but she was afraid of the answer.

"Yeah, Myra. Just mid painting. The usual" said Ginny. She gave Myra a quick hug and walked back to her studio, pulling off her shirt as she went.

"Bye" said Myra under her breath. She began making what her mother had always called One-Eyed Egyptian, fried bread with a hole cut out of the middle into which an egg was dropped. As she was finishing two of these, Carly and Gillam pounded down the stairs.

"You're up late" she remarked.

"Yeah" agreed Gillam. "What are those?"

"I don't know a politically correct name for them. You want 'em?"

"Heck yeah" he said, opening the fridge and getting out milk. Carly was already peeling a banana.

She handed them plates and set about making two more for them, then two for herself.. She also cut some grapefruits in half and handed those to the boys. By the time she sat down with her own plate, they were nearly finished.

"Did you get enough?" she asked.

"No, but you eat" said Gillam. He went to stand in front of the open fridge door, finally returning with cashew butter, strawberry jam, and the last of the bread. They made themselves sandwiches and drank another glass of milk apiece.

"We want to go rollerblading down Broadway" said Gillam. "There's a comic store that gets the new Shonen Jump on Saturdays."

"Okay" said Myra. "Take a cell and call in. Get some money from my wallet. I'll need to go to the store later, so call the other cell instead of the home line if you want to reach me. Carly, when do you have to get home?"

"By dinner" he said.

"Do you two have homework?"

"Yeah, some. But can I do it tonight, after Carly leaves?" asked Gillam.


The boys cleaned up the kitchen and left in a clatter of rollerblades on wooden floors.

She went through the fridge and pantry, making a grocery list. After telling Ginny where she was going, she headed out for Pike and Rainbow, in that order. She bought several loaves of bread, not feeling like baking this week. She went by the house where they got their raw milk and loaded that into the car, too. She still didn't feel like going home, however, so she stopped by the little bookstore where Annie worked now. She and Annie chatted for an hour, in between customers, and Myra left feeling a little more balanced.

When she got home and put away the groceries, she tried to think about dinner that night -- Margie would be ravenous after the day's exertions. And Gillam ate enough for two lately. Finally she settled on timbales with smoked salmon, rounds of brown bread, red onion and Gala apple, interspersd with fresh mozzarella and cured zucchini slices. She also made potato leek soup which could be heated up later, and a spinach salad. At the last minute, she rolled out dough and made blueberry-cream cheese empanadas for dessert.

She sat down to a late lunch of pot roast sandwich, then remembered Ginny had not eaten and made a second one, sitting beside Ginny and feeding her bites. Ginny didn't eat beef very often, but she hardly noticed what Myra fed her when she was painting and Myra figured she could use the extra protein right now.

Margie got home at 3:00 and wolfed down two of the empanadas with a glass of juice as she raved on about what she'd seen and done that day. She then went upstairs to shower and change, and Myra dragged Ginny into their room to do the same. She called Gillam on the cell and told him they'd be home from the lawyer's by 5:30, to wait on dinner until they got back.

The lawyer was much less dire with Margie than she had been with them, which Myra appreciated. She explained the steps involved and had Myra and Ginny sign contracts, took a retainer, and cautioned Margie about gossiping at school or to her friends. By the time they left, Margie's kayaking high had completely disappeared.

On the way home, Margie asked if Amy could come over and spend the night.

"Fine with me" said Myra. Margie called her on the cell, and they swung by to pick her up on their way.

After dinner, Ginny returned to her canvas. Myra left kitchen clean-up to Margie and Amy, and reminded Gillam about his homework. She avoided her desk entirely, and finally put the original Alien DVD into the player. Gillam rushed his homework so he could join her. After it was over, he said "Shall we go whole hog and watch Alien3?"

"No, I can't" said Myra. "Let's scare ourselves silly with Rear Window instead." She was in the mood for Grace Kelly. He got up to put it in. It was past his bedtime, but she pretended not to notice; she wanted his company on the couch.

She went to sleep without Ginny beside her and woke up a little chilled, still alone. Although Ginny had been there, she could tell by the pillows. She wanted to sleep in, but got up because of the children and Amy visiting over. Margie and Amy were already at the dining table, eating cottage cheese and fruit. Ginny was at a canvas. From the kitchen, Myra could tell that Ginny was humming. Coming into the home stretch, then. She leaned on the breakfast bar and said "Gillam up yet?"

"He was going into the bathroom when we came down" said Margie. Myra poured herself a glass of orange juice, wishing it were Coke, and sat down wearily at the table with them.

"What's your plans for today?"

"Amy has to go home by noon. I have a paper to finish. Otherwise, blah" said Margie.

Gillam came downstairs with wet hair and a cheerful whistle. Myra looked at him and said "How's about you and me go out for pancakes?"

"Hot diggity" he said. She asked Margie and Amy if they'd like to go, too. "You can have a second course" she said.

Margie looked at Amy, then shook her head. "Nah, we're going to go through my closet, and update Amy's website. Can we use your computer if you're not here?"

"Yes." Myra got up and headed into the bedroom to dress. Before they left, she put a note on the counter telling Ginny where they were.

As they got in the car, she asked Gillam "Voula's or Glo's?"

"Voula's" declared Gillam. "Their hashbrowns rock."

"That's my boy" she said. She got a Coke and a refill with breakfast, and let Gillam order a Dr. Pepper in addition to his milk. She bought a Sunday paper from the box outside and they read contentedly, demolishing stacks of honey pecan pancakes. She remembered her single days, doing this with Allie every Sunday.

When they were done, Myra felt a vast reluctance to go back home.

"You up for a ride somewhere?" she asked Gillam.

"Sure, where?" he asked.

"I dunno. Just out of the city. Here, take the map, pick a direction. Countryside, maybe with farm stands so we could buy some fresh eggs."

"If we see a go-kart place, could we go there?"

"Sounds fun. Or bumper cars. Let's have an adventure."

She used her cell to call home. Nobody answered and she left a message.

As he directed her east and south, leaving traffic behind, he asked "Can I turn on the radio?"

She almost said yes, then changed her mind and said "I'd rather just talk. Or watch the passing scenery in silence, if you don't want to talk."

"You wanna hear about the comic strip me and Carly want to draw?"

"Love to."

By the time they were an hour outside the city, her head was clear and her heart was right again. Gillam was talking a blue streak, animated, gorgeous, a miracle boy every time she looked at him. They had found no go-karts, but did stop at a yard sale that had an array of rusting junk sitting in the intermittent rain. They bought a couple of old parts that Gillam declared he could make into a sundial, or maybe a bird bath, for the back yard.

"Sundials, not the most useful things in Seattle" laughed Myra. "But art is art, right?"

"Chris has a soldering iron, she'll show me how to do this" said Gillam.

"Can I sit in and watch?"

He liked this idea, her being the watchee. "Sure."

The two-lane road was clean and dark with wet. It felt really good to drive, not too fast but going somewhere. As he was singing the chorus of a song he especially liked at the moment -- though she could not imagine why, it sounded moronic -- he suddenly said "Hey, stop!"

She obediently hit the brakes. There were no cars around them. "What did you see?"

"Turn around, go back to that farm we just passed." He pointed to a dirt drive behind them.

As she made a U-turn, she said "Eggs?"

"No, something else". She started down the drive and then saw the sign: "Puppies -- Golden Labs".

She slowed down and said "Oh, no, Gillam, we can't take on a dog right now -- "

He looked at her urgently and said "For Margie. She's never stopped missing Juju."

How could she resist that? She parked in front of the trailer at the end of the drive and waited a minute. A fat woman in stretch pants came out of the trailer and walked to a metal carport where they could see a honey-colored labrador with hanging teats, standing in a big cardboard box and wagging her tail beseechingly. They met the woman at the carport.

"Saw your sign for puppies" said Myra, shaking her hand. Gillam was already bent over the box, cooing and gushing.

"They're full blood but I don't got any papers on 'em" said the woman. "Twenty-five bucks."

"Have they had any shots?"

"Just the first set" said the woman. "Three boys and three girls."

"Oh, Mama, they're wonderful!" cried Gillam, a puppy in either arm.

"Can you point out the ones that are smarter?" said Myra. This took the woman by surprise.

"Well, depends on what you mean by smart. The biggest one, a boy, he's full of sass, always up to something. And this girl here is real quiet, well-behaved, like." she said.

"Which one was the first one to try and make friends with you?" asked Myra.

"Oh, this darlin' here" said the woman, pointing to one of the puppies Gillam was holding. "We call her Britney 'cause she's a little too eager to please."

Myra laughed. "Gillam, tell me what you think of her. Do your animal mojo."

He put the second puppy back in the box and held up the putative Britney, looking her in the eyes. She whined once, then stared at him intently. He set her down on the ground and she waddled around his feet, curious at every little rock and twig but not making a run for it.

Gillam looked at Myra and said "What will Mom say?"

The woman registered confusion at the mention of a second mom. She thought she had their relationship sorted out.

"Well, buddy...I'm inclined to go with your thinking on this one. You know your sister as well as we do."

Gillam flushed with gratification. Myra reached into her pocket and pulled out a twenty and five ones. "Can we have your phone number, in case we need to call you?"

The woman looked wary now, but the money overrode her hesitation. She gave Myra her number. As Gillam picked up the puppy, she said "So this isn't for your son?" She was fishing for confirmation.

"No, our son is choosing this as a gift for his sister." Myra deliberately used the word "our."

"Okay, Gillam. Let her say bye to her mama, and then let's get her home before she has to piddle again."

As they got into the car, Gillam tucked the puppy inside his Pendleton, laughing at how she tickled him. He talked to her all the way back into the city. Her fur was a little darker than her mother's had been, more of an amber than a honey color. They stopped briefly at a small park and let her trundle around the grass for a few minutes. She peed and then chased Gillam clumsily as he backed away from her, saying "C'mon Britney! Here, puppy, puppy."

Myra said "We are NOT calling her Britney. Margie gets to name her."

Gillam laughed, consumed with puppy adoration.

When they got home, Myra led the way into the house. Ginny was in the kitchen, gulping down a glass of juice. The painting was finished, then. Margie was lying on the couch, watching TV. Gillam had buttoned up his jacket and was keeping the squirming lump out of view with his hands. Myra sat down at the breakfast bar, facing Ginny and the living room, and said "Margie, we got you something. You need to come over here so we can give it to you."

She pushed the remote and got up languidly. Once she was standing beside Ginny, who was trying to catch Myra's eye, Gillam unbuttoned his jacket and the puppy's head popped out.

"She's seven weeks old, a golden labrador, and she has no idea what's going on" said Myra. Gillam pulled the warm puddle of flesh from his chest, a bit reluctantly, and handed her to Margie. Myra added "This was all Gillam's idea. He picked her out for you."

Margie saw nothing but the puppy. She clasped her to her chest, just under her neck, and the puppy licked her chin exuberantly. Margie began laughing.

All the protest that had begun gathering in Ginny dissipated. She looked at Gillam and said "Way to go, honey boy." He almost wriggled in happiness.

"Her hair is just the color of Aslan's fur" said Margie.

"Well, you get to name her, do you want to call her Aslan?"

"No, she's more than that" said Margie. She was kissing the top of the puppy's glossy head over and over. "I'm going to call her Narnia."

"We need to get her some food and water, as well as a place for her to relieve herself. Gillam, would you be willing to ride your bike to a corner store and buy a can of puppy food?"

Gillam scrambled out the door.

"Margie, you and Narnia go research online what we'll need to do to make her feel at home. I'll set up a box for her to sleep in."

Margie looked argumentative and said "She's sleeping with me."

"Yes, but not in the bed all night. For one thing, if she falls off, it could break a bone. But she also isn't potty trained yet. So you can keep the box she's in right next to you. We'll put in one of your old stuffed animals with a ticking clock inside it, so she thinks she's still with her brothers and sisters, and a warm comfy bed."

"Okay" Margie relented. Tucking Narnia inside her shirt as Gillam had done, Margie went toward Myra's computer.

Ginny watched her leave with a huge smile on her face. Myra realized she had hardly seen Ginny smile in a week. She said to Myra, in a low voice, "It's perfect, isn't it? Something to love absolutely, who needs all the attention she can give it. A focus outside her own misery."

"Leave it to Gillam" said Myra. "Plus, she really is old enough now to handle the care of a pet. We get to have another dog in the house without taking on the complete headache of a puppy."

"I hope you're right about that. Yoko still hasn't stopped talking about her week at the hands of Margie the Monstrous" laughed Ginny.

Myra saw Dinah sidle in the pet door and began a low-bellied stalk into the study. She called out "Margie? Dinah is hunting your puppy."

Margie turned in the desk chair and said "Hey, Dinah? A new friend for you." She held Narnia out in her hands.

Dinah froze and every hair on her body stood straight out. She backed up a step, then wheeled and skittered through the kitchen and up the stairs. Everybody laughed, and Ginny said "Be sure to keep your door shut tonight when you go to bed."

Ginny came around the breakfast bar and pushed her way into Myra's arms. Myra held her tight, overwhelmed with how much she'd missed her flesh, her smell, her openness. After a while, they kissed, and the kissing got a little serious. When the front door opened, Myra thought it was Gillam and continued the kiss. But then she heard Chris's voice saying "Hey, lovebirds!"

They turned to see Chris and Sima carrying in a bag of groceries and two small pumpkins.

"We come to make you dinner!" said Sima.

"And pie" added Chris.

"Oh, bless you" said Myra. Chris began emptying the grocery bag onto the counter. Ginny stayed pressed up against Myra. When Margie heard their voices, she walked in from the study, holding Narnia like a baby in her arms. Sima noticed first, and said "Whoa, whatcha got there, Marjorie Rose?"

She and Chris put their faces down to the puppy, accepting kisses and marveling at her. Margie told them about how Narnia had arrived. When Gillam got home a few minutes later, Chris went to him and enveloped him a hug around his waist, lifting him briefly from the ground which made him crow with delight. "You are the BROTHER" declared Chris. Sima kissed him on each cheek. He handed his bag to Margie, who said "Okay, I'm going to get Narnia's dinner, bed and toilet boxes ready." Gillam asked if he could help, and Margie accepted with a tone that made it clear she was in charge.

Chris and Sima washed their hands, about to make dinner, when Ginny said to Myra "You want to see it?" Myra had forgotten about the painting. She said "You know I do" and slid off the barstool, saying to Chris and Sima "New painting in the back." They all followed Ginny into her studio. Myra sat down on the daybed; she usually needed to be off her feet to see Ginny's work.

This canvas was yet another kind of shock. It was pure abstract, without a single identifiable element in it. Most of the background was white or white with subtle color streaked through. Myra leaned forward to make sure none of the white portions were bare canvas; all was covered with paint, paint with texture and pattern in it. The central field was -- well, it was hard to describe. Sometimes geometric, sometimes fractal, and the colors were muted, bled into each other, and not the rich or bright hues she associated with a lot of Ginny's work.

"Wow" said Myra. She looked at Ginny. "Did you have a brain transplant?"

Ginny's expression was a little disturbed. "Do you not like it?"

"Oh, hell, Ginny, I love it. But it's like you're a completely different painter. I mean, can't you see the difference?"

"Yeah, I guess. It's the same for me, it's what I see and put down in a permanent way, as usual."

Gillam had come back to join them, and he sat down next to Myra, his mouth open. "You know what it reminds me of? Like a stsho interior would be."

Myra exclaimed "Exactly."

"What's that?" asked Ginny.

"It's from a science fiction series, by C.J. Cherryh. This race called the stsho. Wow, Gillam, you nailed it."

"And that's good, right?" asked Ginny.

Myra pulled her down onto her lap. "It's magnificent, Ginny Bates." Chris and Sima, finally finding their voices, jumped into reassure her as well. Myra felt Ginny relax against her. "You must be exhausted" Myra murmured in her ear.

"I am, but I'm hungry for everything, I just want to be with you all and eat and talk, until I drop over dead asleep" said Ginny.

"Good plan" said Myra.

When they returned to the kitchen, Chris insisted that Myra sit at the breakfast bar and not lift a finger. "I know you've been running your engine hot this week" she said. "Have you written anything?"

Myra said, trying to weed out any bitterness, "Not a single line."

Ginny was shocked. She came to stand by Myra again.

"Since?" prompted Chris.

"Since -- it happened."

"Are you sleeping?"

"Too much, actually."

"Are you dreaming? What are you dreaming about?" continued Chris.

"I don't remember my dreams right now."

"Are you getting therapy?"

"Yeah, but it's not working" said Myra.

"And I know you didn't get to Al Anon this week, because you were picking up kids and making us dinner" continued Chris.

Myra nodded. Every answer she gave was landing on Ginny with an impact, she could feel it in Ginny's body.

Chris began cutting up pumpkin, saving the seeds, as Sima began on the soup. Ginny rested her head next to Myra's. She didn't seem to know what to say.

Then Chris said to Ginny "Have you talked with your folks yet? Your dad?"

Ginny didn't look at Chris as she answered "No. I haven't told them yet."

"You need to get him here. Ask him to come stay for a week" directed Chris.

None of them had realized Gillam was still in the room, sitting at the dining table, until he spoke. "I'd like that, a lot, actually."

Ginny faced him, guilt on her face.

"I'll call him tomorrow, first thing" she said.

Chris relented then, and let regular conversation return. She asked Gillam to wash the pumpkin seeds and roast them with the coating he preferred, tamari and cayenne. She kept her side pressed against him at the sink as they worked together. His cheeks were still red from all the good works he'd done that day. When Margie rejoined them and proudly announced Narnia had eaten and pooped, her cheeks, too, were their beautiful Bates red. Myra kept Ginny pulled against her and took one long breath after another.

After dinner, they all played with the puppy in the living room until she was worn out. Dinah watched from the stair landing, her eyes glittering with hate. Chris sat next to Myra on the floor, and her warmth traveled through Myra like a tonic. Ginny got Gillam to sit in her lap, leaned back against her, and he couldn't stop giggling at everything that was said. Sima pulled off one of her own socks and persuaded Narnia to grab it in her mouth, then put the other end of the sock between her teeth and, lying on the floor, played tug of war with the puppy, growling fiercely. The rest of them howled with laughter. Except Dinah, whose expression indicated she had suspected all along she was living with a pack of wolves.

Allie called at nine, to check in and ask for a ride from the train station the next morning. Ginny said she'd get her, after she took the kids to school. After she hung up, Sima asked "You're still driving them to and from school?"

"Well, on therapy days" said Ginny.

Gillam spoke up, saying "I can ride my bike again, if you want to stop being a chauffeur." But Ginny and Myra looked at Margie.

"I...I'd rather ride in the car, still" she said diffidently.

"Of course" said Ginny.

Myra sent the kids to bed at 9:30, and as soon as they were out of the room, Ginny began to droop physically. She scooted into Myra's lap and was asleep within five minutes. Myra continued talking with Chris and Sima about their lives until 10:00, when they kissed her bye and left. Myra remained sitting on the living room floor, drinking in the feel of Ginny in her arms, until she realized she could still have that feeling, only in a comfortable bed. She got Ginny up, then, set the alarm, turned off lights, brushed her teeth, and joined Ginny in bed, dropping off happily.

The next morning Myra was up and eating breakfast, Narnia exploring under the dining table, when Ginny returned. Ginny stood behind Myra's chair and wrapped her arms around Myra's neck, saying "I'm going to call Mother and Daddy. Wish me luck."

"Luck" said Myra, crunching granola.

Ginny went back to her studio to place the call, which Myra was glad about. Myra fed Narnia and carried her outside for a pee. Half an hour later, Ginny returned, putting water on for tea before turning to Myra and saying "Mother only just managed to not blame us for what happened to Margie."

Myra got sick to her stomach. She should have seen that coming.

"Daddy said he'd make reservations for about ten days from now -- there's some shindig that Mother can't miss. But I'll eat my fucking easel if she shows up here. Anyhow, he said he definitely wanted to be here for my birthday, so he should be here at least a week."

Myra had forgotten that was coming up, which was another jolt. Ginny would be, what, 47?

"What kind of a party would you like to have?" asked Myra.

"Oh, god, I can't think about that right now. I'll get back to you in a few days, okay?"

"What are you going to do now?" Myra wished they could just go back to bed. But Ginny answered "Laundry, mop this floor, check the upstairs plants -- all my share of the chores I've not done for days, now. How about you, are you going to write?"

"I don't know if I can, Ginny. I guess I'll try."

Ginny was in efficiency mode and didn't listen to this carefully. "I offered my Nancy session this week to Margie, and she took me up on it. That's Wednesday afternoon. I can drive her to Sheila today, as well. When are you seeing Leesa again?"

"Not until Thursday" said Myra. She got up to rinse her dishes. "I guess I'll go take a bath, soaking sounds good."

Ginny was pulling a bucket and mop out of the cupboard. "I won't start the washer until you've got the hot water you need, then. Will you take Narnia with you?"

When Myra was bathed and dressed, she placed a call to their vet and was told she could bring the puppy in right away for an exam and shots. She decided to not wait for Margie, and headed out the door with Narnia in her arms. While there, she bought good puppy food and looked at their array of collars and leashes, but tore herself away -- that was for Margie to select. She took Narnia back home and delivered her to Ginny.

"I'm going to take my laptop to a quiet cafe, have lunch and see if new surroundings will help with the writing. I can go get the kids afterward."

Ginny looked up from sorting clothes and said "Well...okay. Don't forget about Sheila."

"As if I could, Ginny." Myra left.

She ordered a bacon cheeseburger with fries and a Coke. Once the first Coke was in her, she felt her energy pick up. She began going over the timeline for her new novel, and while she didn't actually write any new passages, she spent two hours making notes and doing online research. It felt like progress. She had set her laptop alarm to chime when it was time to go pick up Gillam.

He was waiting out front, his hands shoved in his pockets, no Carly in sight. When he slid into the front seat beside her, she saw the hollow look around his eyes. He hadn't been crying, but he clearly needed to.

"What happened?" she asked, having to drive off because of cars behind them but searching for a place to pull over.

He swallowed, started to speak, his voice cracked, and he clenched his jaw, both hands gripping his seatbelt. She found a spot next to the curb and stopped, turning off the engine. "Gillam, honey, what is it?"

"Carly" he choked out, then began crying in earnest. Myra took his hand.

"Did you two have a fight?"

"No!" he shouted. "He's leaving! They're fucking moving!"

"Who's moving? Patty and Pat? Where?"

"To Olympia. Because Pat got a fucking promotion with the Microsoft division there, and Patty doesn't want her to commute."

Myra was floored. She hadn't heard anything about this, and guessed that Ginny didn't know.

"Gillam, are you sure?"

He glared at her. "Hell, yes, it's all decided. They just told Carly and Truitt last night. Pat's leaving in March, and the rest of them will follow after school is out." He began pounding on the inside of the car door. "I can't stand it. We don't have any control over our lives, we just have to do whatever fucking adults come up with, just eat out their goddamned asses!"

Gillam's rage was new for Myra. She felt numb, not sure what to do except keep listening. After a few minutes, as he began choking back his tears, she suddenly remembered Margie.

"Oh, shit. Gillam, you can keep talking, but we have to pick up Margie."

She started the car and drove off in haste. By the time they got there, only a handful of teenagers were left on the school grounds, and Margie was pacing.

When she got in the car, she said "I'm going to be late for Sheila!"

"I'll walk in with you and explain" said Myra. Gillam had his face pressed against the window, eyes closed. "We got some bad news, and it slowed us down."

Margie's face went stiff in Myra's rear view mirror. "What? What happened? Is Narnia okay?"

"Narnia's fine -- actually, she had her first puppy check-up today, and she's in great shape. No, Gillam just found out that Carly's family is moving to Olympia this summer."

"What?" said Margie. "Why? Oh, this is just fucking perfect."

Gillam wasn't talking. Myra explained what she knew to Margie. When they got to Sheila's office, Margie said "You don't need to come in, I'll tell her about it" and slammed the door. Myra parked and faced Gillam. When she put her around his shoulders, he opened his eyes and looked at her dully.

"Don't just say no to this automatically. Okay, Mom?"

She nodded. He went on, "Can Carly come live with us? Like, full-time?"

"You mean after they move? Oh, Gillam..."

He looked away from his, his expression closing off.

"I'm not saying no, Gillam. But I can't imagine that Pat and Patty are going to say yes. I mean, I wouldn't let you go live with them."

"Of course not" said Gillam. "We're still your property." His tone was so bitter, he sounded grown-up.

"Under the law, Gillam -- I wouldn't call it property, but we are responsible for you." The minute it was out of her mouth, she felt like a hypocrite.

"And we know how much the law means to you" he bit out. Before she could backtrack, he opened the car door, staying "I can't just sit here for an hour. I need to move. I'll walk home, or catch a bus. See you later." He slammed the door, too.

Myra let him go. He had never, in his life, walked out on her. She was frozen for several minutes. Then she dialed home. When the voice mail came on, she hung up and tried Ginny's cell. Ginny didn't answer that either. Goddammit. Myra left her a message about what was happening, called back to the home line and left the same message.

She wanted to call Allie, but Allie would have to be home tonight to make up time with her mother after being gone all weekend. She could call Chris and Sima, but they had done extra last night. Finally, she just sat there, waiting on Margie. Who was silent on the drive home.

Ginny was in the kitchen, chopping kale. She said hi, then added "Gillam's not here yet. I got your message and called Patty; it's true. She's applying for positions at Evergreen."

Margie went upstairs. Myra asked "Did you try Gillam's pager?"

"No, I thought I'd wait for you."

"My guess is, he's with Carly. Was Carly home yet when you talked to Patty?"

"I didn't ask."

"I'll call over there." Myra dialed and Pat answered. She especially didn't want to talk to Pat right now, but kept her voice friendly. Carly wasn't home yet, either. Myra asked Pat to call if they showed up.

"How upset was he?" asked Ginny when Myra got off the phone.

"More than I've ever seen him. Furious and hostile. Blaming it on adult oppression, which I can't really argue with."

"That's not fair, Myra -- none of are trying to mess up their lives or keep them apart."

"Well, for not trying, we're about to do a good job of it. I -- It seems possible to me that they may run away."

Ginny looked panicked. "I can't believe he'd do that, Myra. Did he say anything like that?"

"No. But he looked desperate."

"He'll talk to you. He'll come home to talk to you" said Ginny. "Have you told Allie?"

Myra explained her hesitation about calling on their friends once again.

"Well, that's silly, of course we have to tell them, they'll want to know. I'll go call them" said Ginny.

"I'm going to page Gillam" said Myra, picking up her cell. She left a message saying "Cm hm, brng Carly 4 dinr, talk."

She walked out to the deck and poured charcoal into the grill. She lit it, then came back in the house and pulled T-bones out of the freezer. Ginny, still on the phone, widened her eyes but made no comment. Myra started some potatoes boiling and then tried to think of what to fix for Margie. She went back to the freezer and pulled out scallops. While they were defrosting, she made an angel food cake and cut up pineapple to go with it.

Ginny rejoined her in the kitchen and said "Garlic mashed potatoes?"

"Yes. What did they say?"

"Allie can't leave tonight. She said to have Gillam call her later. She also asked to bring her mother for Friday night dinner."

Myra stifled any remark she had about that. "And Chris?"

"She's got plans tonight. Sima said they could come tomorrow night."

"Looks like I was right, then, not to call" said Myra. Ginny frowned and said "Is that aimed at me?"

"Oh, never mind, Ginny. I'm going to put snow peas and lemongrass with the scallops, is that good with you?"

"And tarragon. Yes. I'll start on the salad."

As Myra was pulling the cake from the oven, she heard the front door open. Gillam and Carly appeared by the breakfast bar. Gillam's mahogany hair was windblown, and his brown eyes were serious above cold-reddened cheeks. He had on a maroon Patagonia jacket, and looked entirely dark and somber, especially standing next to fair Carly, with his yellow hair and Windex-blue eyes accented by a pale blue sweater. A study in contrasts. Myra was lightheaded with relief.

"Thank you, both, for coming" said Myra. "Carly, call your moms and let them know where you are, will you? Tell them we've invited you to dinner and will drive you home later. If they need to talk with one of us, just ask." Ginny walked back with Carly to Myra's desk phone, her arm over his shoulders.

Myra pulled Gillam into her arms and tried not to cry. He wasn't resisting, but he wasn't completely welcoming either. She leaned back to look into his eyes, which were almost level with hers. In another year, he would be taller than her.

"Gillam...I know you feel dicked with. Whether or not that's what we mean to be doing. I know how much Carly means to you. I'm going to do everything I can to help here."

A flicker of something crossed his face. "You're my only hope, Obi-wan Kenobe" he said softly.

"No, there are four of us who will work on your behalf" said Myra. "Mothers really are motivated by love, rather than the quest for control."

His eyes went dull again. Still very quiet, he said "Patty does what Pat wants. Pat cares more about her job than her family. And Ginny -- well, Ginny is worried about Margie first."

Myra went cold. He never referred to Ginny by her name, and this bald statement, said without rancor, was worse than his previous anger.

"If I believe for an instant that was true, I'd -- I'd scream my head off. Yes, we've both been focused on Margie -- "

At that point, Ginny and Carly came back in the kitchen. Gillam shrugged away from Myra and said "Are those steaks for tonight? Can I be the one to grill them?" When Myra nodded, he and Carly carried them out to the deck.

Ginny turned off the fire under the steamed kale and said "Shall I do the spuds?" When Myra didn't answer, she started draining the potatoes. Myra finally began preparing the scallops for sauteeing. Margie came down a minute later, with Narnia, and Ginny asked her to set the table.

Dinner was quiet. Myra was glad to see Margie eat two helpings of scallops, and of course the boys demolished their steaks. Afterward, Margie let Narnia worry at one of the steak bones while the boys cleaned up. Myra was unable to decide whether to tell Ginny about what Gillam had said. Finally, when Gillam had started the dishwasher, Myra said "We should all go into the living room and talk."

"I have to be home by 8:00" said Carly.

"All right."

"Is this about -- no offense, Carly, but if this talk is about your move, well, I just can't handle that right now" said Margie. "I have homework to do, can I go upstairs and do that instead of talking?"

Ginny said yes, and Margie walked away with Narnia in her arms. Myra didn't like this decision but held her peace.

Ginny sat down next to Carly and said "I talked with your mom before you got here, and she told me about the move plans. I'm really sorry, honey. I don't think they're going to change their minds, but if they do, it'll be because of something that gets talked about in your family, not in ours."

Myra saw Gillam's jaw go rigid. She jumped in and said "Not that you aren't part of our family, too, Carly."

"Oh, yeah, right" said Gillam sarcastically. "We're supposed to be brothers and all that except of course when it gets in the way of what the women want."

Ginny turned on him. "That was uncalled for, Gillam -- "

"None of this is called for!" he yelled. "None of this was discussed with either one of us, you're talking with us now just to cover your ass, everything's already settled and nobody's going to rock the boat, tell them they can't fucking rip us apart! Where's the protest about this, where do I sign up to boycott this kind of fucking with our daily lives?!!" He was pushed as far back in the big chair as he could go, as if the back of the chair held some sort of secret exit.

Ginny was momentarily speechless. Carly's eyes were full of tears, something Myra hadn't seen in many years, and he was scowling. But Gillam's fury was what was most mesmerizing. Myra pulled the hassock in front of him and sat down on it, saying "You have a right to your feelings -- "

"Oh, FUCK you and your feelings!" he screamed. "What needs to happen here is ACTION, not feelings, not therapy so I can just figure out how to lie down and take it. You're betraying us, and the least you could do it admit it." He was beside himself with anger.

Myra put a hand on his knee, knowing he might shove her away. She said quietly "You're right. You are being betrayed, both of you. I do admit it, and I do feel responsible, although I'm not sure I really am responsible. I don't know -- "

But Ginny interrupted her. "I'm not responsible for this decision, and I haven't betrayed anybody, you better make it clear if you're gonna talk out your ass, Myra, that you're only speaking for yourself."

Gillam jeered at her "Yeah, big surprise, you need to save all your real energy for painting and Margie, the rest of us are supposed to lie low, right?"

Ginny stood up and strode toward him. "You better clean it up right now, mister, you do not get to speak to me that way."

"Or what? You'll give up on your grand experiment of raising boys in a vacuum?" he replied, unflinching.

Ginny turned to Myra. "Are you just going to sit there?" she demanded.

"Yeah, Myra, it's your job to keep me in line, have you forgotten?" he jeered. He was completely out of control.

Myra kept her hand on his knee, and he let her. She said to Ginny "I want to hear what he has to say, I asked him to tell me -- "

"Right, then" said Ginny, her face now as furious as Gillam's. "Go right ahead. I'm done. I'm going to bed. Take all the abuse you want, you apparently crave it." She stalked into their bedroom and slammed the door.

Myra lost her bearings for a couple of seconds. Gillam said, half taunting, half begging "Aren't you going to chase after her? That's your cue, go take care of her."

She looked at him levelly. Underneath the rage was terror, she could tell. "No, I'm really here to listen, Gillam. If there's any way you can tell me what's going on inside without being quite so mean, it would help. But if this is the best you can manage, I'm still not going anywhere."

He stood up then, shoving himself upright aggressively and almost leaping over to the couch, next to Carly, not quite touching him as he sprawled back and savagely shoved his feet onto the coffee table. He closed his eyes, his fists buried in his pants pockets, and breathed heavily for a minute. Myra pulled the hassock next to the couch and sat back down, waiting.

When she saw the pulse in his neck begin to slow, she said to both of them "One of the deals Ginny and I made, before we had children, is that we would never move you. We were going to stay in one place until you were grown and left under your own steam. I was moved from place to place as a kid, over three dozen times, and I know how badly this hurts, I really do. So, Gillam, I want you to try to be fair about assigning -- well, not blame, but at least cause here. It's not me and Ginny."

She looked at Carly. "I don't mean to dump on your moms, either. I know, beyond any doubt, they think they're doing what's best for your family. And possibly they are, despite how much this is really, truly hurting you both. I can't make that judgment call. You can, but I can't. However, I will do everything I can to keep you two in contact."

Gillam was looking at her by this time, and he snorted violently. "Bandaids" he said.

"Best I can offer" she replied. "There's a train that runs back and forth between here and Olympia at least twice a day, there are buses, and the commute is just over an hour. It could be worse than it is. I'll make sure nothing from our end ever gets in the way of you two visiting each other -- as long as you both keep up your grades, and your obligations to your families. I'll pay the expense of any tickets, I'll advocate for you, I'll do whatever I can. Gladly. And, I will talk to your moms, Carly, about you living here with us for whatever length of time they will allow. Don't get your hopes up -- I'm pretty certain they are not going to give up custody of you to us. They love you and want you with them, it's not ownership, it's love. But summers, holidays, whatever we can work out, you're with us. Or Gillam can go live with you when he's not in school."

"Have you talked that over wth Mom?" asked Gillam, not yet allowing hope inside.

"No. But I will. And, if she should happen to disagree, well -- I will have my way here" said Myra.

Carly moved his arm so it was touching Gillam's. Myra saw Gillam relax, not completely, but enough so that his face softened, too. She looked at her watch and said "Carly, it's 7:45, I need to get you home. C'mon, I'll drive you both."

On the way to Carly's house, she said "Shall I come in with you tonight and talk to Pat and Patty?"

"Nah -- it was pretty tense last night. I prolly hafta face the music alone first" he said.

"Then call me tomorrow and tell me how it went. Me, directly. And we'll figure out strategy from there" she said. She reached out and took his hand. He squeezed hers in return, shyly.

She said "I'm going to ask a question, and I'm hoping you'll be honest with me. I offer immunity -- no penalties for telling the truth: Have you two discussed running away from home?"

She saw Carly react in guilty shock. He wanted to turn around and look at Gillam in the back, she guessed, but instead he gripped the arm rest on his side and said "Yeah. Kinda."

Gillam's voice came from behind her "How did you know?"

"It's what I would have thought about" she said, praying to god she was doing the right thing here.

"Is that what you would do?" asked Gillam.

She grinned into the rearview mirror. "Now, what do you think I'm going to say to that?"

She heard a chuckle. She asked "Did you reach a decision?"

"We decided we couldn't pull it off" said Carly.

Gillam leaned forward, and she could see his face in her mirror. "The thing is" he said, "I've heard you talk and I've read stuff about what happens to runaways. And -- there's sexual predators out there, you know? And Carly is way good-looking, and he'd be hunted, like. So I said we shouldn't."

She was almost overwhelmed with relief, with the poignancy of his explanation, with his naked belief in Carly's beauty. She wanted to tell him he was just as beautiful, but maybe just this one time she could let it slide. She said, instead, "Well, thanks for telling me, and thanks for not doing it. It would really kill me if you did. If it gets to that point, please find a way to talk to me first."

Carly looked at her. "Okay" he said.

She waited until he was in his front door before she drove off. Gillam had transferred to the front seat. On the way home, she said "We're going to have to do some clean-up about a few of the things you said tonight. But not right now. Tomorrow night, we'll have a family meeting."

"Something to look forward to" he muttered.

"You and me both, cowboy" she replied. He managed a smile.

At home, she said "Do you have any homework that has to get done?"

"Yeah. Math and science both" he sighed.

"Well, why don't you bring it down here to the dining table? I'll sit with you, either helping or working on my own stuff, keep you company."

"When I'm done, could I have another piece of cake?"

"Yes." She wanted him to hug her, but he trudged past her upstairs.

At 9:30, she sent him off to bed. This time, he did hug her, a little diffident but she still exalted inside. She set the alarm and went into her and Ginny's bedroom. The room was dark and Myra began crossing to the bathroom to get ready for bed, but Ginny's voice stopped her.

"What have you been doing all this time?"

"Dealing with our son. And our son by proxy."

There was a rustle of bedclothes and the bedside lamp came on.

"Listening to them complain about how nobody understand them, beginning with me?" said Ginny caustically.

"What the hell is up with you, Ginny?" Myra sat down on the foot of the bed.

"I really don't appreciate you letting him play us off against each other" said Ginny.

"That's not what's going on" said Myra.

"He hasn't said anything about how you're the only one he can depend on?" demanded Ginny.

"Yes, he did. Right after he and Carly got here." Myra repeated Gillam's assessment of the four mothers. She saw it hit Ginny hard.

"And you fell for that hook, line and sinker" said Ginny.

"No, I argued with him about you. I said if I thought you weren't as much there for him as you are for Margie, I'd raise holy hell. But I have to say now, Ginny, I'm thinking maybe it's time for me to do that."

Ginny stared at her in disbelief.

Myra went on. "I have to ask -- is part of what's going on here some of that gender role shit about how boys are tougher, their emotional problems don't go as deep as girls? That he needs to just shake it off, so what if the only male intimacy he has day in and day out is disappearing?"

"How dare you accuse me of that! It looks to me like you're maintaining the Southern female tradition of coddling your sons, they are so fragile and can't deal with deprivation like girls can" Ginny flung back at her. "Well, look where that got Gil, and you're trying to doom Gillam to the same fate."

As soon as it echoed in the air, Ginny's face registered dismay at that she had said. Myra stood up, her knees weak.

"I can't believe you -- " Myra began, but she was unable to finish her sentence. After a few long seconds, she turned and walked out of the bedroom, closely the doorly quietly behind her.

Margie was in the kitchen, getting a glass of milk. She watched Myra stand in the hall, unsure of what to do, and then said "The bathroom door was ajar. Are you two -- are you fighting about me?"

Myra went to her. "Absolutely not. Any difficulty that Ginny and I have with each other is never your fault, or Gillam's. The responsibility for our communication lies with us, always."


"When a family has a crisis come up, Margie, it's the job of the adults to weather it. When they fail -- and we're having a bit of a hard time, me and Ginny, I'll admit it -- it really doesn't matter what caused the crisis. The way we love you, your presence in our lives, is always a plus, always a source of strength and joy." Myra was firm.

"I'm sorry I didn't stay down here for the talk" said Margie.

"I'll be honest, I wish you had. Your viewpoint is always useful" said Myra. "What you can do to help make up for it is go talk with your little brother. He's in real heartbreak, I think. And I'm not sure I can fix it..." Her voice trailed off as tears welled up in her throat.

"Oh, god" said Margie. "Are you going to be okay, are you and Mama -- "

"We're fine" said Myra. "We're rock solid. We fight sometimes, when we have to figure out a turn in the path, but we know how to do this. Better than anybody I know, actually. And yeah, I need to cry, but that's all. I'm going to go do that, baby girl. I'm going to take care of myself, get some sleep, and have a new day with a fresh look at things. I'm going to follow your example, now, and get some milk. In fact, I'm going to steam mine with hazelnut syrup, would you like to do that with yours, too?"

Margie hugged her briefly and began helping with the steamer. They chatted about Narnia, how old she would have to be before certain kinds of training could begin as the puppy gamboled around the kitchen floor. They made a second glass of hot milk for Margie to carry up to Gillam. Myra helped her balance the two glasses in one arm, Narnia in the other, and kissed her goodnight. Then she turned off the house lights, got her book from the study, and walked to the spare bedroom. It felt musty and cold. She left the door ajar, in hopes that maybe just once Dinah would feel like human company. It took her an hour of reading before she fell asleep, book propped on the pillow beside her, light still on.

She woke up in the morning feeling stiff and hollow inside. She realized it was the sound of the front door closing that had awakened her. After peeing and checking their bedroom to make sure Ginny really was gone, she went back to the spare room and picked up the phone, calling Chris at her job.

"What's up? I should warn you, I've been at work ten minutes, can't talk long" said Chris.

"Ginny and I had a major fight last night. About Gillam. I slept in the spare room" said Myra. "I know you're at work and can't talk, but I just wanted to tell at least that much to somebody."

"Whoa" said Chris. "Listen, I'm sorry I couldn't call last night -- "

"That's okay, Kash-Kash, you're not responsible in any way for what went down. I -- just am not sure what to do." Myra's voice was defeated.

"Hell, Myra. I never hear you like this. You wanna meet me for lunch? Noon, at the deli downstairs?"

"Are you sure that's not going to mess with your day?" said Myra.

"Wow, you really are lost, being all passive like that. Yes, I'm sure. Go eat hash browns and talk with Ginny, if you can. I'll see you in a few hours" said Chris.

"Okay. Thanks, pal."

When she hung up, she brushed her teeth and changed clothes. Ginny's cell was on the breakfast bar, so she couldn't call her. Narnia was in a box next to the bar, whining at her. Myra held her for a few minutes, took her outside to see if she needed to pee, then returned her to the box regretfully. She went back and forth about leaving Ginny a note -- she was still furious inside -- but finally she wrote "I'm out for the morning, having lunch with Chris, back after noon" and then added her usual XXO. She left it on the breakfast bar and drove to a diner for breakfast.

She left her cell ringer on, but Ginny did not call her. After eating and reading the paper, she went to Horizon Books and browsed her way through the biography, natural history, and science fiction sections. She arrived at her meeting place with Chris fifteen minutes early and got them a table in the corner. She wasn't hungry again yet, but got a Coke from the fountain.

Chris's frame filling the doorway looked so good, she fought the urge to cry at the sight of her. Chris waved at her, then got in line at the counter. When she got to the table, she said "You order already?"

"I lingered over breakfast, this will do for now" said Myra. Chris kissed her cheek, and Myra felt the contact deep inside her.

"You talk with Ginny?" asked Chris.

"No. I haven't seen her this morning yet. And she hasn't called."

"Have you called her?"

"No. Chris, I'm so pissed at her, when I think about any kind of conversation with her, all I can imagine is screaming at her."

Chris laughed. "Well, that must be a new one for you. What set this off?"

Myra filled her in, ending with "I really think she's letting Gillam down. I don't remember ever feeling that about her before."

"And she's sure not gonna want to hear that from you, any more than you would want to hear it from her" said Chris equably.

"Well, what do you think?" demanded Myra.

"I think -- Gillam is up against it. He can't believe this is happening to him, and he's too young to know he'll survive it. And you and Ginny want there to be somebody to blame for how your kids are being hammered, but you two are the closest targets in reach" said Chris.

Myra stared at her. "I can't believe you aren't on my side" she said.

"Of course I'm on your side, stupid. What I just said proves it." Chris bit into her crunchy dill.

Myra said again "But I don't know what to do."

"Sure you do. You have to talk with Ginny. The two of you have to do this together, you can't function as mothers without each other. Suck it up, Josong."

"But she's not being fair!" argued Myra.

"Probably not, but honest to god, Myra, it won't be the first time. Just maybe the first time you're aware of it. Injustice sucks, and you can still have a good life in the middle of it. That's what you have to model for Gillam. Start with going back to Ginny. You know, leaving the room in a lather looks great on TV, but it's never worth the dramatic exit. Not if you really can manage to stay and talk."

Myra's Coke was empty. She got up to refill it at the fountain, and by the time she returned to the table, she was able to accept what Chris had said.

"Okay" she said, sitting down. "Okay, dammit. Thanks for listening to me."

"No problem. You want me and Sima to come over tonight, act as referees?"

Myra thought about it. "No, probably needs to be just us. Including the kids. But Allie is bringing her mother to dinner on Friday night, I should warn you."

"Prayer meeting and shabbos rolled into one" laughed Chris. "Okay, I'll pass it on to Sima."

"So -- tell me about this gathering you were at last night." She ate one of Chris's chips and leaned toward her to listen.

On the way home, Myra kept reminding herself that even if Ginny was making mistakes, it wasn't her fault that their children were in such pain. When she could wrap her mind around it, the anger inside would give way to fear. By the time she walked in the front door, she was good and scared -- but it was a much better way to come at Ginny than pissed off.

Ginny was in her studio, and came to meet Myra in the kitchen. She stopped in the doorway, her eyes wide and clear, as Myra kept coming and wrapped her arms around Ginny's waist. After a moment's hesitation, Ginny linked her arms around Myra's neck and pushed full against her.

"I missed you like fucking hell last night" she whispered.

"Me, too" said Myra. She kissed the side of Ginny's head but kept holding her tight. She was trembling, and couldn't tell if Ginny was also. "I'm so sorry, Ginny, for not figuring out how to do this with you. I'll try harder. I never meant to make you the bad guy, what a dumbass thing to do."

Ginny pulled back her head so she kissed Myra lightly on her mouth, over and over. "We've both been dumbasses. I talked with Gillam a little this morning. He told me about the running away thing, how you asked and what they answered. I went cold all over, you know?"

"I know."

"Can we go lie down and talk, now?"

"Yes." They curled up on Myra's daybed, pulling a blanket over them because Myra was still shaking a little. Myra shared everything, starting with what Chris had said and going backward. When she was done, Ginny said "I must be channeling you somehow, I want to make a list."

Myra reached over to her desk and grabbed a pad and pen. "Here, have at it."

"Well, first, we have to talk with Pat and Patty. Let's call and make a date with them."

"Okay" said Myra. "The four of us at once, right?"

"Yeah. If we can't change them moving -- and the fact that Patty didn't keep me informed about them even discussing it until it was a decision they already made doesn't give me much hope, there -- then we at least need them on board about maintaining contact between Gillam and Carly, the commuting idea."

"Ginny, do you think this move is connected to issues in their relationship? Pat and Patty's, I mean? Are they having problems?"

"I think so, that's my best guess. Which means the boys really are being shut out, you know how we close ranks when we feel worried about each other."

Myra laughed dryly. "Unless we lash out at each other."

"Flip sides of the same coin. Okay, so -- we also have to deal with some of the stuff that came out of Gillam last night."

"No kidding. The one I remember most is the comment about the experiment of raising boys" said Myra, feeling bruised.

"In a vaccuum, were the exact words. Also -- there's the issue of betrayal" Ginny was writing fast, "Me only having priorities for painting and Margie, your job being the one to keep him in line, and that crack about 'what the women want'."

"Plus the running away idea" added Myra. "Lot of shit boiled up at once."

Ginny paused, clicking the pen in and out, looking into Myra's eyes. "I am so sorry I said you craved abuse. Not just that, but also labeling Gillam that way. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, but that just means I haven't been listening -- he's so good, he works so hard to meet us halfway, if this stuff is in there and has been shoved down, and now..." Ginny began crying.

Myra pulled her to her chest, pad and pen mashed between them. "I know. The reason I could hang in there is because I could see how scared he was, underneath. What Chris said, about how he doesn't know if he can survive this -- it's the biggest loss he's ever experienced, the first real grief of his life. And he's thirteen, which doesn't help. I don't like it that the best he could do was trash us, but it's not his usual habit to blame, he really has escaped that piece of male conditioning. So we have to ease him around this corner, somehow."

Ginny wiped her eyes and said "I remember when they were little, when I imagined their adolescence, I thought it would be like something out of a Madeleine L'Engel story, you know, where all the kids talk with the adults and care about each other and their challenges are things like time travel, not -- "

"Rape and abandonment" finished Myra. They lay in silence for a minute.

"Okay, back to the list" Ginny said.

"One of us needs to talk with David and tell him there is no excuse for backing out of his visit next week, he absolutely has to show up this time. Tell him why. I'll be happy to call him if you don't feel up to being strict" said Myra.

Ginny glanced at her as she wrote and said "No, I'm on it. Although if you want to jump on the bandwagon, be my guest."

"Allie's bringing her mother Friday, and we need to prepare for that. Allie needs to know we're just as much there for her family issues as she's here for ours, that we really are a blended family. I think we should talk with the kids about that, too" said Myra.

"Allie's having a hard time, isn't she?" asked Ginny. "I mean, she's in love, but that's a stressor all its own."

"Yeah. Suddenly her intimate life is crammed to the gills with demands, both good and bad. I wonder if having Ms. Schevitz over for dinner with us would help, adding in someone else Ms. Billups' age, or just be one more white person for her to face. I'll ask Allie, see what she thinks" said Myra.

"We're supposed to meet with Margie and Sheila on Thursday after school, and I can't remember, do we check in with the lawyer this week or next?" said Ginny.

"Next. But write down asking Sheila about counseling for Gillam, if there's someone she can recommend. I don't want him to go to her, he needs his own resource" said Myra.

"Will he even go to a counselor?" asked Ginny.

"I don't know. We could also offer Nancy, he likes her, right?"

"Yeah, he went with me a few times for my herbal and aromatherapy sessions when he was little -- mostly he played with her kids, but he really connected with her, too. Let's ask him" said Ginny, writing steadily.

"You need to decide exactly what kind of birthday celebration you'd like, I'm not up for a surprise party this year" said Myra.

"Me, neither. Okay, anything else?" asked Ginny.

"I have a deadline coming up at the end of February, and I'm not writing enough. Don't write that down, I'm just letting you know" said Myra.

"Why not? If it's bothering you, it's a family issue" said Ginny. She kissed Myra again, taking her time about it, and said "I wish we could just go to bed for the next several hours."

"Me, too. Did you sleep at all?"

"Only a couple of hours. What time is it? We could get maybe half an hour's nap right now, if we turn off the lights and curl up."

"Better than nothing" said Myra, setting her watch alarm and rolling over so Ginny could spoon her from behind.

They made it through the next several days with lots of talking, checking in, limiting sugar, maximizing sleep, and making Chris-style jokes about the tension. Gillam and Ginny reconnected, and Carly was more or less glued to Gillam's side. Having the focus not completely on her seemed to give Margie permission to rebound faster. Friday night dinner turned out to be fun, with a wild game of charades afterward wherein Ms. Billups and Ms. Schevitz demonstrated skills of mimicry no one would have ever guessed.

On Saturday after lunch, Myra and Ginna drove over to Pat and Patty's house. A realtor sign had appeared in their front yard. Myra wondered if GIllam had seen it yet. They sat down in the living room with hot drinks, Myra deliberately sitting apart from Ginny so they might not appear as much like an adversary. Ginny kicked it off by saying "So, your house is already on the market. I just can't tell you how sorry I am, for so many reasons, that you're leaving Seattle."

Patty said "I know, I'm heartbroken about moving. But we each have old friends in Olympia, and as hard as it is on Truitt to leave halfway through high school, he'll still have two years to re-establish himself there. He's smart and popular, he'll find his crowd again. And it'll be a lot better on Carly to have all his high school years in one place."

Myra thought about how Carly and Gillam had already planned out their high school careers, and now would have to do it without one another. She couldn't think of anything to say at the moment.

Pat said "Plus they can go to college at Evergreen, and with Patty being a professor there, we'll get a tremendous break on the tuition. It really will bring us all closer as a family."

Ah, then that was one of the rationales for the move, thought Myra.

"I'm glad it will work out for you all" said Myra. "And tough decisions are harder on kids because of their lack of maturity, I know. But Carly and Gillam, they consider each other brothers, and aside from my own sense of loss, I'm more concerned about helping them through this transition."

Pat said "Carly has a brother, a real brother. Family takes precedence over friendship."

That word 'real' brought red to Myra's vision. She thought of a dozen replies, none of them wise.

Ginny said "We're not asking you to choose sides. That's the point, we want to help them not feel like they're being forced to made divisions more than is necessary. They want to stay in close contact, and, well, if I had the chance at a friendship which had been there since I was born, I'd want to keep it intact, too."

"Of course we'll stay in touch" said Patty. "We'll all visit, we won't be that far away. And Carly mentioned something about taking the train or bus -- that could happen sometimes, as long as one of us could drop him off and you could guarantee picking him up. I don't want him traveling without a close eye on him."

"We'll also be glad to let Gillam come down there whenever he's welcome" said Ginny. "We're going to buy rail passes for them both. And there are summer vacations, spring break, other holidays -- "

"The point of the family being able to go forward together means Carly'll need to spend holidays with us" said Pat. "Maybe a short visit here and there, but he's not going to be away from home all the time. And he'll need to be focusing on making friends there, not mooning after someone up here."

Patty was not going to argue with Pat in front of them, and Pat took full advantage of it. Myra finally just clamped her mouth shut and kept turning her attention onto Gillam, think about what's best for Gillam.

As they walked back to their car, Ginny looked at Myra and said "I'd better be the one to drive." Myra handed her the keys grimly. Once they were around the block, Myra said "Not straight home. I'm not ready to be fair yet."

Ginny parked the car and turned to her. "They're closing ranks."

"Is this just freak-out about Gillam, or Gillam and Carly, or what?" ranted Myra. "Is this a reaction about Margie getting raped, gone all twisted? Is it a desperate attempt to handle some huge pile of shit between them, and the kids are bargaining chips? I mean, having Pat in charge of family decisions is just about the worst idea I ever heard of."

"I agree, Myra" said Ginny, her face stony. "And let me say right now, I'm incredibly impressed with how you kept your cool in there. When I heard that 'real' brother line, I couldn't help but think about the time Truitt informed Margie you weren't her real mother. Now we know where that thinking came from."

"And this is what comes of trying to imitate the hetero model, instead of redefining things for ourselves. Pat the Ward Cleaver wannabe, the only reason she's a lesbian is because she craves pussy, no politics at all in her thinking" continued Myra.

"Well, politics is what we're going to have to practice here" said Ginny. "We have to make sure we don't seem to be pushing any more than we absolutely must, because the lines are already drawn. I mean, I'll talk with Patty one on one, dig for the truth and see if we can't at least connect like we used once did." She sighed.

"What are we going to tell Gillam?" asked Myra.

"The truth. He'll smell any kind of lie, and see it as us ganging up against him. He's old enough, we let him in on the awful seamy side of adult stupidity -- as if he doesn't already know -- and enlist his help in planning secret paths through the jungle. Him and Margie both" said Ginny.

Myra looked at her with relief. "You're right. Thank god we have each other, Mom."

"You ready to head back?"

"Yeah. I know we've had no desserts the last few days, just fruit, and I agree with it -- but I think picking up some ice cream for later would be some small reward for how hard this talk is going to be" said Myra.

Ginny sighed again. "I'd rather not, but I won't argue about it. Let's get as healthy a version as we can, okay?"

"It's the working class way" said Myra.

"I thought the working class way was beer and meth" said Ginny.

"That, too" said Myra. "But ice cream is cheaper."

When they got home, Allie and Edwina were there.

"Hey, I thought you two were going to a hotel for a romantic interlude" said Ginny, hugging Edwina gladly.

"We were. We are, later. But we decided to come by and see how things are going" said Allie.

"You're the best" whispered Myra, hugging Allie.

Gillam appeared on the landing, looking down at them. "Get Carly and Margie, come on down" said Ginny. She put the ice cream away and said to Myra, "I definitely don't feel like cooking tonight. Unless you're inspired, let's get take-out."

"Coastal Kitchen?" offered Myra, pulling open the drawer with menus.

"Bless you, yes" said Ginny.

As the children came downstairs, Myra took orders, then called it in and said they would pick it up in about an hour. Ginny put water on for tea and joined the children at the table. Myra sat down next to Allie, and looked directly at Gillam.

"We didn't change any minds, and we may have pissed each other off" she said bluntly. Gillam's shoulders sagged, and Ginny put her arm around him.

"They're not as keen on the idea of long visits and lots of commuting as we are" continued Ginny. "I'm hoping that will loosen up over time -- and you two need to behave yourselves. As you already do, I think you're great young men."

Margie said "Why are they being so -- weird? Used to be, all they ever wanted to do was get free childcare."

Allie laughed at that.

"We have a few scraps of information, and then some theories. And this is stuff you are not going to be able to repeat to your parents, Carly, so if you want to opt out of this discussion, now's the time to do it, I can well understand choosing to stay out of it" said Myra.

Carly got the mulish expression on his face she had not seen since he was much younger.

"I want to know, and I can keep a secret" he said. He grinned enigmatically at Gillam, who gave him a high five.

"We think this is some kind of move to repair ruptures in their relationship" said Myra bluntly. "Huddling together is what people do when they're scared about losing each other. And it's hard to watch your children grow up and make their own lives without you. It's our job, as parents, to make you independent, and we whine and moan about how much work it is taking care of you, but then when you start looking elsewhere for your closest connections, it panics us. So we try to roll back time. Moving to a new place will make you all much more dependent on each other, at least for a while. And I think that's not just an accidental effect, I think they're hoping it will help them be closer, too."

"Well, that's just fucked" said Gillam.

Ginny shook him gently. "Language. You've been on a roll lately, try thinking of other terms, okay?"

He shot a sideways look at her. "Unjust, short-sighted, and manipulative, then."

Everybody laughed. "See how much better that nailed it?" said Ginny, grinning at him.

"What do you think, Carly?" said Allie quietly.

He studied his nails for a minute. His cheeks were unusually red. "Something's been going on...they're fighting a lot. And all of a sudden, Pat's doing a lot more of the hands-on kinda stuff, instead of being buried in her computer. Truitt likes it, but I don't. I figure, if she'd rather be online, well, I got other things to do, too." The upwelling bitterness of the last sentence caught them all off guard, and Myra's heart ached.

Ginny said "Have they considered -- counseling, some kind of help? Maybe Patty could talk with Rabbi Rachel..."

"Pat doesn't believe in therapy. She says it's for people who don't want to do the work of taking care of themselves" said Carly, not looking at them. "And she also -- hates people who talk all the time about their private lives. She says they're trying to get all the attention."

Into the deep silence that followed this, Myra said cheerfully "Well, my little brother Gil used to tell me if he fucking wanted to talk about something, he'd fucking well bring it up, so why didn't I just shut my pie-hole and watch the TV." Everybody roared, Carly most of all. She added "There's more than one right way to lead a good life, Carly. Everybody is doing the very best they can."

Which was way, way more generous than she felt. But he was out on a limb, here, and the look Gillam gave her was her reward.

"So, here's the nuts and bolts" said Myra. "People who are having a hard time and trying to fix it don't want to hear they're doing the wrong thing from people who are not having that same kind of hard time. We don't get to set in judgment on Pat and Patty. Whatever we feel inside" and she looked directly at Gillam, now, "we have to let them choose their own way. Which, I know, Gillam, is not all that's happening here because their choices drag Carly and Truitt along with them. That's the evil of children being the property of their parents under, so far, every legal system in the world. But we can't change that in the next few months, now, can we?"

Gillam didn't answer her, but he wasn't about to blow up, either.

"And -- you two could have it a lot, lot worse. Maybe that doesn't matter to you at the moment, but the bigger view is always useful to have. There are ways you are extremely lucky."

Gillam began chewing his lip.

"In the meantime -- we have to play a game here. We have to wait while they see if their choices are good ones, without standing around saying 'wrong move, blockhead' or any version thereof. Because if they're making a mistake, it would be best if they figured it out sooner rather than later, and you can only do that when you're not under pressure. Also, and I hope you can understand this scrap of psychology, when you can bond together against a perceived enemy, you're more likely to continue a mistake longer than if there is no enemy, real or imagined." Myra waited for Gillam and Carly to sort through that. Carly was watching her now. He opened his mouth, then closed it again.

"Say it, Carly, go ahead" offered Myra.

"Like when somebody is picking on you -- the more you show it bothers you, the longer they'll keep doing it?" he said.

"Oh, god. I guess that's part of it. More to the point, resistance needs to be effective. If it's just resistance so you can splash around your feelings, but it only makes them more determined, you're screwing yourself" said Myra.

Gillam looked at Allie. "Shucking and jiving" he said softly. Allie laughed in delight and said "You got it, boyfriend."

Margie said "I can't believe you're giving us a lesson in how to go underground and lie to adults."

Carly looked at her and said "Only when they're lying to us first and not willing to treat our needs with respect."

Gillam gave him another high-five. Ginny said "And, of course, you'll never use this kind of tactic on us, right?" Her grin was mirrored by Margie, who said "Of course not."

"So you have this entire spring together" said Ginny. "To be good little boys who don't upset the women." Gillam wheeled to look at her after this last remark, as did Margie and Allie, but Myra began giggling and then Gillam did, too.

"We'll figure out about the summer when it gets closer" continued Ginny.

"Can we all check in about how things are going, like, at least once a week?" said Myra.

"Maybe we should create our own code" said Margie, not completely making fun of the idea.

But all the children nodded. Gillam looked normal again, like he had safe ground under his feet.

"And for those of you who want to admit your weak character and talk about your private feelings with someone, I'm always available" said Allie. Carly laughed out loud, his eyes bright again.

"So, Gillam, Carly, would you be willing to walk down to Coastal Kitchen and pick up our order?" asked Ginny, pulling out a credit card.

"Heck, yeah" said Gillam. "Can we have dessert tonight?"

Ginny grinned at Myra and said "We got frozen yogurt. Four different flavors."

Cheering, the boys put on coats and left.

"Mom" said Margie. Myra and Ginny both looked at her. "Truitt asked me to go kayaking again tomorrow morning, and then hang out with him and a couple of friends afterward, is that okay with you?"

Ginny and Myra consulted with a glance, and Ginny said "Sure. Call us when you get out of the water, to let us know you're okay."

Myra said "Is all your homework done?"

Margie said "Maybe half an hour's worth left."

"I want it done before tomorrow. And I have a treat for after dinner, so you can be excused from clean-up tonight and get your homework finished fast then."

"Okay -- what's the treat?" asked Margie.

"After dinner."

Margie went upstairs to get her notebook and do what she could now. Myra and Ginny set the table while filling in Allie and Edwina on the details of the conversation with Pat and Patty.

As everyone was eating, Allie cleared her throat and said "We have an announcement." She gestured to Edwina and herself. Myra already knew about it; she and Allie had talked it over two days before, but she looked expectant with everyone else.

"We're moving in together, come the summer" said Allie.

Ginny leaped up and came to hug them both, exclaiming to Edwina "We get to live in the same town!" The children cheered.

"What about your job?" said Ginny to Edwina as she sat back down.

"I'm applying to U-Dub" Edwina replied. "I'll have to start the tenure track all over again, which will be really hard to face. But they'll jump at the chance to have me, I'm sure, and I don't think I'll lose much income."

"Wow" said Ginny, looking from Edwina to Allie. "This is it, then."

"Been it for a while now" said Allie, her face radiant. "Just had to say it all out loud."

"You'll need a bigger place" said Myra. "If you're ready to buy instead of rent, we could look at the houses around us." Her voice was hopeful.

Allie laughed. "You won't give up on us all living on top of each other, will you, prairie dog? First of all, I ain't moving into this neighborhood. Second, I'm not sure if we'll need a bigger place. I talked with Mom last night, and she wasn't thrilled about Edwina moving in. But, to be honest, she's not thrilled about living with me. We so different. Her friend Serena who got Mom in her church, Serena lives in this hoity-toity old folks place that don't seem anything like a nursing home. Everybody has their own little apartment, but just down the hall is a dining room with three damn good meals a day. Plus there's maid service and, when you need it, nurses on staff. That's where Mom is right now, over to Serena's to play cards with the women there. Almost all the staff and a good portion of the people in there are folks of color. So, she's thinking about putting her name on the list to move in."

"Halle-fucking-lujah" said Myra.

"Amen" said Allie, laughing with her. "The thing is, when she come to the point where she need more serious care, she can stay right there, just get more help. That's really calling to her. Plus, it's way, way nice over there. I could still see her for lunch and one or two evenings a week; she'd see me as much as she do now, given my work schedule and you all and, o'course, my heart's desire." She kissed Edwina's cheek.

"How much will it run you?" asked Myra.

"At least four grand a month, plus extra for nursing. Medicare won't cover but maybe half of it. But it probably won't be more than what I'm paying now for 75 hours a week attendant care, at the higher rate I'm paying to get someone good. She likes her weekend guy, he's training to be a minister and he don't mind her pushing him around, but when he gets out of school, he'll be gone. So...let's hope she don't kick up her traces, let's hope she decides living with old people might be more fun than living with me." Allie's face, tired as it had been for the past two months, had a light in it now that Myra couldn't stop grinning about.

"Back to the house thing" said Ginny. "Why don't you buy, whether or not your mother stays with you?"

"We're talking about it" said Edwina. "We'll see."

"But not next door, Myra" added Allie. "I like Queen Anne, I been there for 25 years."

"Okay, okay" said Myra, holding up her hands in surrender.

"Are you going to have children?" asked Margie, her tone with a shade of something undefinable in it.

Allie stared at her, then guffawed. "No, we not gonna have kids" she said. "We got our hands full."

"This means you'll be our second godmother, or fourth mother, or whatever, I guess" said Gillam to Edwina.

Allie laughed even louder. "You wanna make that into a request, Gillam?" she said.

But Edwina reached her hand across the table, a charmed smile on her face, and said "I'd be honored to be your second godmother, if you want me to be" she said.

"I do" said Gillam. "Me too" said Margie. Now Allie looked like she might cry. Myra looked at Carly, who was keeping silent, and said "Jump on in, Carly. Play your cards right, and you'll be the first person in history to have 20 mothers."

He giggled, and Allie gave him a thumb's up. Myra said suddenly "Now I know who you remind me of."

Everyone looked at her, and she pointed to Carly. "It's been bugging me for the longest time, he looks so familiar, and I just figured it out: You're like a teenage Matt Damon."

Everyone's head swiveled to look at Carly, who blushed deeply.

"I see it, yeah" said Ginny. Carly put his hands up over his face and said "Stop staring at me, everybody." They laughed and looked away, talking of something else.

Allie and Edwina took off after dinner. Margie sat down at the dining table with her notebook, trying to finish her homework, while Myra and Ginny cleared. Myra told Gillam and Carly to haul out the trash, carry out compost, turn on the pool heater, and put away folded laundry. That bought Margie enough time to finish her assignment. When all three kids joined Myra and Ginny, who were sitting on the couch in the living room, Myra held up a DVD case: "The Blair Witch Project" she said smugly.

"Holy moly" said Gillam. He grabbed a cushion and threw himself down on the floor, facing the TV. Carly joined him.

"I've been wanting to see that since it came out, and I never have" said Margie, grabbing the easy chair and making a place in her lap for Narnia.

"I know" said Myra. The DVD was already in the machine, and she handed the remote to Ginny. "You should run the controls, since you don't like scary movies very much" Myra said.

"This is really scary, right?" said Ginny, pushing play.

"Pee in your pants scary. You can sit in my lap if you need to" said Myra. Ginny dimpled at her.

By an hour into the movie, Margie had come over to squeeze in between Myra and Ginny, and both boys were sitting up, leaned against Myra and Ginny's legs. Dinah walked silently behind the couch, curious about the level of fear she could smell in the air. During a particularly frightening scene, Dinah leaped up, landing mostly on the couch, but one foot slid off into Myra's hair. Myra gave a bloodcurdling scream which created ripples of screams from those near her as they saw her swiping at her head but no sign of what might be attacking her. Dinah was now long gone. When they were finally able to make sense of what happened and were done laughing hysterically, they took a bathroom break and got more yogurt before restarting the movie.

When it was over, Gillam kept saying "Oh my god, oh my god". Ginny got up, turned on lights, and said brightly "Okay, kids, straight to bed with you."

They turned as one and looked at her in disbelief. Myra giggled. "Good one, Ginny."

Ginny grinned and said "Gotcha. Seriously, though -- you should go swim or do something to work off the adrenalin in your systems."

Myra said "Swimming is what I had planned, anyhow. How about we have a relay race?"

Ginny said "I'm going to check e-mail and do some things at my desk, the rest of you go on."

Myra and the three kids romped in the water until every last bit of horror was out of their systems. Ginny brought them out towels she'd warmed in the dryer and said "This time, for real, bed for the under-20 set."

They dashed through the chilly night into the house and scampered upstairs. Myra turned off the pool heater and went to her bedroom, taking a quick hot shower before drying and pulling on socks and T-shirt. Ginny, coming into the bedroom, said "What's the T-shirt for?"

"I'm still a little cold" said Myra.

Ginny shut the door. "I'll warm you up" she said, pulling the drawstring on her pants.

When Myra woke up late on Sunday morning, she still had on her socks. As soon as she left the bedroom, she could tell Gillam was home -- his stereo was blasting upstairs. She assumed Margie was kayaking and Carly had been taken home by Ginny on her way to drop off Margie. She made toast, added cottage cheese and a banana to her plate, and wandered back to Ginny's studio. Ginny was stretching a canvas. Myra sat down in Ginny's work chair to eat her breakfast. As she was peeling the banana, she saw something new on the gecko wall. It took her a minute to recognize it as a tiny pentagram made from twigs and straw. She turned to Ginny, chuckling, and said "I hope you're saving all the gecko ephemera."

Ginny grinned at her and pointed to a papier mache box on the shelf above her head. Myra stood up and lifted its lid. She fingered through it as she ate. "Someday, this will baffle the person writing your biography" said Myra.

"Not if the world progresses toward liberation for all geckokind" replied Ginny. She got the corners done and set down the canvas to come kiss Myra.

"I'm just the slightest bit tender today" she murmured.

"Yeah, I was -- overeager last night" Myra admitted.

"No complaints here" said Ginny. After another kiss, she said "What's on your schedule for today?"

"Chuck roast for dinner, so slow cooker. And we have leftover chicken from night before last -- maybe chicken kiev for you?"

"Mmm" said Ginny. "Plus that chard. And we're low on bread."

"Okay. Aside from going back and forth to punch down dough or check on simmer, I need to write, and I finally feel up to it."

"If I start a painting and you need me to stop because of the kids, will you tell me so in no uncertain terms?" asked Ginny.

"Yes. But before you drag out the paints, we're almost out of yogurt, and this is the last of the cottage cheese. I picked up a milk order yesterday -- if you'll start a culture going and set the timer, I'll pull it out when it's done."

"Deal. Also, Gillam needs to turn the compost during the middle of the day. And Margie did not vacuum yesterday, or mop the kitchen."

"I'll remind her when she comes in from seeing Truitt" said Myra. "Is he going to give her a ride home?"

"I don't know. But if she calls and you don't want to be interrupted, just let the machine get it and she'll know to catch the bus. Oh, and I called Daddy this morning, we can cross that off the list."

"Thanks, Ginny. Inch by inch, row by row..."

"Hand me your plate, I'll take it into the kitchen for you. You go sit at your desk and write for an hour while you're fresh, then you can start the bread when you need a breather."

"Where's Narnia?" Myra called after her.

"With Gillam, having her puppy eardrums damaged" came the reply.

Myra actually got two hours of solid work in on her manuscript before coming up for air. By that time, Ginny was stripped down and the smell of pigments was strong. Myra made a large sponge for nine-grain bread, and also put the ingredients for oatmeal bread into the breadmaker. She seared the chuck roast, along with onions and carrots, into the dutch oven and poured a mixture of beef stock and non-alcoholic red wine over it, setting it to simmer. Just after she had stored the new cottage cheese into the fridge, the phone rang, and when she saw it was Margie's cell number, she answered.

"Hi, sweetie. I thought you'd be with Truitt longer than this" said Myra.

"Yeah, we're at his house, but could I bring him and our friends over there instead?" Margie's voice was little muffled, like she was trying to be quiet.

"Sure. Have you had lunch?"

"Yeah. But if you have snacks for later..."

"That can be arranged. You'll have to deal with Gillam's rock concert upstairs."

"Oh, god, his music taste is so lame" said Margie. "And -- Mom -- can you make sure Mama is wearing clothes, these other kids aren't used to that kind of thing."

"Will do. See you soon."

Myra went to their bedroom and got a pair of sweatpants plus a T-shirt for Ginny. She walked back to the studio and put her hand on Ginny's arm, getting her attention. "Suit up, Godiva. Margie is bringing her friends over here instead."

Ginny handed her brush to Myra, dressed distractedly, and retrieved the brush, never really looking away from her canvas.

Myra went back to the kitchen and pulled out a bag of puffed rice, cashew butter and marshmallow creme. She made a tray of cashew bars and left it to set. She also cut up celery and carrot sticks and arranged them on a tray with plums and figs, putting it on the breakfast bar. She made a pitcher of red zinger and left it out as well. Gillam appeared downstairs, carrying Narnia outside for a pee. When he came back in, he said "Is that lunch?"

"No, those are snacks for Margie and Truitt plus friends, who are due to arrive any minute. What do you want for lunch?" she asked.

"What's that great smell?" he asked.

"Bread, cashew bars, or chuck roast, take your pick" she answered. "Do you want a sandwich with the last of the bread? There's a few slices of that maple-cured ham left."

"I'll make it" he said, handing Narnia to her. She put the puppy on the floor.

"You need to turn over the compost while there's sun out" she told Gillam. "And is your homework all done?"

"That's what I was doing upstairs" he answered. "Can I have a cashew bar with lunch?"

"One" she said. "I'm going back to writing, unless you need me."

He glanced back at Ginny in the studio, then said "Okay. After the compost, I'm gonna be online in my room. Which friends of Margie's are coming over?"

"Don't know. If they snub you and you get lonely, come hang out with me."

He grinned at that. "Are you gonna offer to be my date to the senior prom?" he said.

"You should be so lucky" she retorted, punching him on the shoulder and returning to her desk, Narnia in her wake.

A few minutes later, Margie and her crew arrived. They all came back to say hi, Truitt plus another gangly boy and a girl with thick glasses and short hair, the kind of makeup-spurning swot Myra would have had a crush on in high school. Myra told Margie she could take the snacks up to her room. As they were all leaving, she motioned Margie back to her and said, in a whisper, "Leave the door to your room open."

Margie was outraged. "We're not that kind of crowd, Mom, sheesh."


"But Gillam's up there!"

"Ask him to keep his door closed" suggested Myra. "And -- why are you here, anyhow? I'm glad to have you, but did something happen?"

Margie looked uncomfortable. She whispered "Pat and Patty were having this fight in their bedroom, and you could hear it all over the house. Truitt was so cheesed."

"Oh. Well, it's good you skedaddled, then" said Myra.

"Plus, they were fighting about you" added Margie.

"Wait -- about me? What were they saying?"

"Pat was all like 'I'm so sick of hearing about Myra Josong, from you and from Carly, she's' -- " Margie stopped suddenly, not sure how to go on.

"It's okay, Margie, tell me" said Myra.

"Well, she said you had a shitty reputation way back when and then she said 'Leopards don't change their spots' -- I'm not sure what that means. Anyhow, I wanted to go in there and clock her, Mama" whispered Margie.

"I did have a shitty reputation, Margie, I hate to say. But I cleaned it up. If that's all she's got to hold over my head, I'm not worried" Myra whispered back. "Again, I'm glad you came here. Are your friends staying for dinner?"

"No, just me."

"After dinner you need to vacuum, then. And mop the kitchen" said Myra.

"I forgot. Okay, I gotta go upstairs now."

Margie scooped up Narnia and hurried off.

Myra leaned back in her chair and thought about being mad. But she was tired of drama. She wished she could go interrupt Ginny and talk it over with her. Instead, she punched down the sponge with unnecessary force and covered it to rise again. Then she returned to her writing and put in another good hour of work before needing to stop and cut the sponge into loaves and rolls to bake plus two pizza rounds to freeze. She pulled the oatmeal bread from the breadmaker and set it on the counter to cool. She made a salad, cut up the chard for steaming, and boned the chicken for its dish. She wrote another hour until the bread was baked, set it out to cook while bagging the oatmeal bread, and was beginning the last stages of dinner when Truitt and his two friends came downstairs to leave, saying goodbye to her on the way. Margie followed them and took Narnia out, then washed her hands and set the table, telling Myra about their kayaking excursion.

When dinner was ready, Margie went to call Gillam and Myra walked back to Ginny's easel.

"Gin? We're gonna eat, and I think you should eat with us this time" Myra said. Ginny looked around at the window and the dark outside.

"Wow. Okay, let me clean my brush and wash up."

Myra set out a bowl of stewed apples for dessert, since the children had finished off the cashew bars. When Ginny sat down at the table with them, they joined hands and closed their eyes. Myra thought "One more day under our belt." They began to eat.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild


Liza said...

that was wrenching.But why do I love it so when ginny and myra fight? They seem so much more real to me. And Gillam's anger towards them? Loved it. It seemed so accurate. Little twerps are often so manipulative with just enough truth to their arguments to make them impossible to ignore.

kat said...

I didn't re-read this excerpt, but this was one of many parts of Ginny Bates that made me cry in a serious way. Not only the subject matter, but the way in which the characters are so brilliantly, completely, three-dimensionally crafted. Like Liza, I'm particularly astounded at how real they've become.

You're bloody brilliant, ya know.

Maggie Jochild said...

This section was one of the hardest to write (two were harder, yet to come), because the characters were driving the story and I didn't entirely want to go where "they" were telling me I had to go. Still, I always give in to their voice.

Ginny and Myra usually appear through Myra's lens, which is not entirely reliable. My omnipotent presence appears only intermittently and is often sardonic, but Myra is entirely earnest. The fact is, clues to the reality of the relationships in this book (including the unhealthy aspects) are scattered throughout the narrative, and only become in-yo-face when tension breaks through. At least, that's my hope. We'll see when the book is done.

Chris could wax eloquent about Myra and Ginny, but culturally is much more able than Myra to allow others to learn lessons the hard way.

Yeah, Gillam's stew was ready to boil over. You know, Myra is the only main adult character who grew up with a brother and had a "little boy" intimacy in her life. Which isn't enough, of course, but it keeps her with a line in to Gillam.

I'll confess, one of the influences playing a heavy role in my development of Gillam's character (aside from the real children he is based on) is Alix Dobkin's insistence that having low expectations for boys does them no favors. The writing off of males as "less than emotionally capable" than females occurs just as frequently in the lesbian community as in the world of straight women. Gillam's been raised to be a whole human, not a masculine pastiche, and when he realizes how little understanding there is for him "out there", well, of course you blame your parents first.

I think these characters ARE real. Liza has said I'm channeling them. My godson thinks if we walked the Capital Hill neighborhood of Seattle long enough, we'd be able to find them, they're just waiting for us. He's very convincing in this belief. (And he is the best of both Gillam and Margie.)

We reach points on our trails through the wilderness where all the tools we've backed become just so much dead weight and must be jettisoned so we can find new tools, new ways of going on. Few of us are brave and intelligent enough to do so; hence, the term baggage. For me, the enduring symbol is the Mann Gulch Fire, where a group of young men trained to fight fire head-on with shovels and Pulaskis reach a point, in their run, where they need to drop their equipment if they are to have any hope in reaching safety. But a smokejumper is taught to NEVER, EVER lose their equipment. Only two of the boys, plus the crew leader, managed to believe the unthinkable had arrived and ditch their packs in time to live. The rest held onto their gear, some of them dying with it seared to their flesh.

Myra and Ginny are at one of these junctures, their first time as a couple (but not the last).

Kat, I love your icon, hadn't noticed it before. And thanks for the "bloody brilliant", the "bloody" made it really sink in. From my toddler years in India, that was one term I held onto and used periodically, usually to the complete confusion of the Texans and Cajuns around me.

kat said...

thanks maggie. according to the golden compass site, my daemon is Albus, a crow, which I found very apt. Albus is right next to me now.

In the last couple of days I've heard enough crap about "girly girls" and "oh, he's such a bow" from otherwise enlightened individuals....it's making me nuts! I think that it's not even in the lesbian community, but in general, folks think that boys are automatically a certain way. It's setting them up for failure...or intense pain. or both.

Oh, man, I should stop internetting and go make some dinner...I'm hungry as hell...

shadocat said...

That was so...powerful ,Maggie. You know my story, so I won't repeat it. But it brought me back to that time, with my own girls--just made me shake. And yes, I too love it when Ginny and Myra fight like real, live couples. Oh, and I can't forget that ER doctor and the Ativan---reminds me of my own bad hospital experience. I only Myra wish had been with me that night! Of course, reading this, I can see I could use a friend like her to give me advice in lots times when I feel like my life is circling the drain...

Anonymous said...

Maggie, When you post a new section of the book, I HAVE TO read it. That's why it's 2:45am here and I'm still awake.

I find Ginny & Myra-Land completely real (except for the lottery win). Your characters are three-dimensional. The relation-ships are realistic.

You are a phenomenal writer!!

Maggie Jochild said...

Thanks ever so, Anonymous. Where is "here" that you're up at 2:45 a.m.?

The next section of Ginny Bates is actually being written by me present time -- there was a gap in the manuscript draft and I just hit it. So for the past two days, I've been filling it in. Kat, take note, this is one of the parts you wanted to know about. Hopefully I can finish it soon. Tough to write.