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Jan/Feb 2018 Fiction

Prescribed Burn

by Ames Cain

Textile Photo Art by Jeffrey Trespel

Textile Photo Art by Jeffrey Trespel


For Eden, walking away was simple—no different than deciding what to eat for breakfast, or whether to wear long pants or shorts to work. She had always suspected it would end, which made the whole thing feel natural, as if she were simply giving way to what the cosmos had long ago planned for her.

It happened one day after her 23rd birthday. Eden and Grant sat in the spare room of their rental house, which had been converted into a study for Eden when she moved in. Supposedly she would do her writing there, but she hadn't produced much over the months, save for a few sentences she hoped were true—Hemingway said this was all you needed. "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." But nothing came of Eden's sentences. They were not beginnings, middles, or ends. They were fragments that led nowhere.

Eden sat very still in the swivel chair by the desk and told Grant the one true thing she knew: she was moving out. A few hushed moments followed, in which the ticking of the clock on the wall became thunderous. Then Grant dropped to his knees in front of her and began sobbing.

"What do you mean?"

The crying made him ugly. Eden recoiled, but Grant didn't notice. He blinked. A few tears dripped down his cheek and became lodged in the stubble of his chin.

"Just like that?" he asked. "But there must be something we can do, some way we can save this."

Eden remained still. Another true thing: there was no way.

 

A couple years earlier, before Eden moved halfway across the country to be with Grant, her best friend, Franco, had asked her—in a wishful-thinking kind of way—when she was going to start dating women again. Franco and Eden met at the pride parade in Burlington during their junior year of high school. Back then, Eden was a moody, red-headed girl from the Catholic school; she was deeply in love with her girlfriend of the time, Kathleen, and rarely missed a chance to tell people that she would never go back to the "D." Not even for a million bucks.

Franco's inquiry into her latent queerness didn't surprise Eden. "Oh, I'm sure I'll date a woman again someday," she said.

"Really? Then why the hell are you moving out to Kansas to be with a man?"

To this, Eden had no answer. Perhaps she was in deep denial, or maybe she just didn't see why being with Grant would prohibit her from the occasional exploit. She was not the type of person to close doors, after all. But when she decided to become Grant's full-time girlfriend and subsequently drove from Vermont to the small college town of Manhattan, Kansas, it quickly became clear that being with Grant meant giving up a lot more than sexual adventure alone.

At the beginning of their relationship, Grant seemed to adore all of Eden's "quirks," as he called them—her short boyish haircut, her commitment to veganism, the whimsical vintage dresses she wore on most occasions, and yes, even her nontraditional dating history (which included both women and men in varying configurations of monogamy and polyamory). But all this really meant was that Eden was not like the girls Grant had grown up with: the kind raised on beef and milk, the kind who wore denim and plaid exclusively and claimed they didn't have sex before marriage. If anything, Grant's adoration for Eden was actually a thinly-veiled condescension. Oh, her bohemian ways were cute, but sooner her later he expected her to grow up and normalize like the rest of 'em.

 

Two years of life with Grant had caused Eden's values to shift. For instance, after their first year together, she started to fantasize about marrying Grant. It was a side-effect of living in such a heteronormative landscape as Kansas. It slowly began to enter her mind that this was what she wanted. She was therefore startled on their second Christmas together when Grant's "big" surprise for her was not an engagement ring, but an acoustic guitar. Grant watched the disappointment register on her face as she opened the gift, and he found himself unable to assuage it. Slowly, Grant was revealing himself to Eden as the kind of man who spent so long considering bold life steps that he never actually gathered the nerve to take them. A few days after Christmas, he confessed to Eden that he had thought about buying a ring, had even wandered through Kay Jewelers on a few separate occasions, but in the end he just didn't think they were ready for that level of commitment.

Eden, though, could not help wondering how much more ready they needed to be. In the end, hadn't she given up everything for this purpose? Some of their neighbors already assumed Eden and Grant were married; they'd even referred to Eden as Grant's "young wife." For God's sake, they lived together like a married couple.

One night, a few months after that anticlimactic Christmas, Eden and Grant returned home drunk. They'd been to a party at the bookstore where Eden worked. In the living room they tore off each other's clothing and went at it for a full ten minutes before Grant realized they'd forgotten a condom.

"No, don't stop," Eden said.

He grunted. "I'll just pull out then."

Eden didn't answer. Soon she could feel Grant beginning to throb inside of her, and she grabbed his ass, holding him close.

"Come in me," she said.

"What?" Sweat dripped from Grant's forehead onto her cheek.

"Come in me."

"Don't be crazy."

"Just do it." She raised her hips to meet his.

In the weeks that followed, Eden felt oddly at peace. She was not on birth control (she did not believe in messing with her body's hormones), and so she assumed there was a good chance she would get pregnant. If such a thing happened, there would be no backing out for either of them, no more hemming and hawing, just an obvious decision for the benefit of their baby.

But just as she started to suspect she really might be with child, Eden's lower back took to aching, her breasts became tender and swollen, and the following day her period arrived.

 

During Eden's first spring in Kansas, she accompanied Grant to his hometown of Olsburg. He wanted her to meet his parents.

"They're going to love you," Grant said.

Eden stared at the window as the car bounced down a long dirt road bordered by scraggly trees and occasional fields. She saw the house a good distance off. It sat high on a hill, with gray paneling and a wide brick porch. When they pulled up the drive, two German shepherds ran out to greet them. Eden was a dog-lover. She jumped from the car and knelt down to let them lick her face.

Grant came around the car and tapped her shoulder. "By the way," he whispered, "we don't live together."

"What?"

"Just say you live in your own apartment if my mom asks. I haven't told her yet."

Eden followed him to the porch. She wondered what else she should avoid mentioning. The front door swung open as they climbed the steps. A tiny woman with rosy cheeks stood before them. Her eyes were a duplicate of Grant's, a misty blue, set deep into the skull.

"Well, look what the cat dragged in!" she said.

"Hey, Mom." Grant stooped to hug her. Then he stepped aside, presenting Eden. For a split second, the two women sized each other up. Grant's mother was petite and lively. Everything about her seemed delicate, and when Eden stepped forward for a hug, she was afraid she might squeeze the breath out of her. Yet for such a small woman, Grant's mother was surprisingly strong.

"Hello, Eden! I have heard so much about you!" The woman leaned back and held Eden's hands in her own. "I'm Tammy. And I want you to make yourself at home in this house, you hear?"

Eden nodded. "Thank you, I will."

In the living room there was a basketball game on television. A man with wispy gray hair and pale, almost translucent, skin was reclining in an armchair. When he saw them enter, his eyes bulged, and he struggled to sit up.

"Tammy," he called. His voice was low and waterlogged, as if he were speaking to them from the bottom of a swimming pool.

Tammy rushed to his side. She maneuvered the chair to a normal sitting position.

"Hey, Dad," Grant said. He leaned over and gave the man a hug. "Got someone special for you to meet."

"Hi, there." Eden waved. The man uttered something unintelligible.

Tammy nudged him. "I don't think she heard you, Don." She grinned, as if it were all a gleeful misunderstanding. Eden glanced at Grant. He made no move to enlighten her. Perhaps his father was a drunk, and they were simply accustomed to his incoherence.

Don repeated himself, and this time Eden heard something about an angel.

"He's saying you're an angel for putting up with me," Grant said. He laughed and punched his father lightly on the shoulder.

Tammy and Grant helped Don into a wheelchair, then pushed him into the kitchen for dinner. So apparently he was not drunk, but sick. Grant had never mentioned anything about his father being in bad health, though.

"Gosh, I didn't get to prepare anything special for dinner!" Tammy exclaimed. "What with the cows getting out today, and then Don's physical therapist coming by."

Grant hugged his mother from behind, rocking her back and forth in a gesture Eden found disturbing. "It's okay, Mom, we'll eat anything you have." He kissed the top of her head, and Eden looked away.

Now Tammy opened the refrigerator, combing the shelves. She offered to make them roast beef sandwiches. With a sinking heart, Eden realized Grant had not mentioned she was vegan. He told his mother now, laughing as he spoke, as if this were a minor absurdity they were forced to deal with.

"Oh, okay," Tammy said. "Well don't you worry because I have chicken."

"Um, well, I don't eat any meat at all, or even any animal products."

"Oh, okay! That's all right sweetie. Luckily I know how to make grilled cheese." Tammy giggled, removing a stack of American cheese and a stick of butter from the refrigerator. Eden glanced at Grant, who was grimacing. He shook his head and mouthed, "Just go with it." At this point, Eden remembered that his family raised dairy cows for a living. Thus, out of politeness, she ate the grilled cheese sandwich. Grant's father was served a bland, oatmeal-like cereal he could barely get down. He had a coughing fit almost every time he swallowed a bite, and eventually Tammy removed the bowl, saying she'd help him eat later on.

 

A couple hours went by. Eden, Grant, and Tammy ate dessert, and then all four of them watched basketball together in the living room. Tammy questioned Eden the entire time about growing up in Vermont, as if it were some distant planet. Don interjected with comments Eden could not understand, and Tammy and Grant acted as translators. After an hour of this, Grant and Eden said their good byes and climbed into the car. Eden stared at the rearview mirror as they drove away, watching the house grow smaller.

"Well, I think there's a small chance they liked you," Grant said. He reached over to ruffle her hair.

Eden squirmed away.

"Hey, what's wrong?"

"I don't know. I'm not really sure where to start."

He turned down the music. "Well, you better start somewhere."

She stared straight ahead. "Why didn't you tell me your dad had MS? Don't you think that would have been useful information to know that in advance?"

He squinted as if the question genuinely confused him. "He's just a person like everyone else. There was nothing to tell."

"Well it surprised me. I had no idea what was wrong with him."

"Nothing's wrong with him, hon. He just has a degenerative disease. Sure, it affects his voice and mobility. But I didn't want to tell you because you might go in there with certain preconceived notions about him. You might have approached him differently, you know? I'd rather you just meet him and see him for who he is."

That was fair, she supposed, but she still felt blindsided. "Whatever."

"Whatever? What's that supposed to mean."

"I don't know. It doesn't make sense not telling something like that. It seems kind of crazy, honestly. It's a part of your life, you know? It contributes to who you are."

He shrugged. "It's okay if you don't understand."

Eden looked at him. "I think it's you who doesn't understand, but okay. Also, why didn't you tell your mom I don't eat dairy?"

"Sorry. I forgot to tell her ahead of time, and in the moment she would have taken it really hard. It would have offended her, you know. I mean, we're dairy farmers. It's our livelihood."

Grant reached over and tried to hold her hand, but Eden pulled away and stared into the darkness outside. Sometimes she felt as though Grant lived in another universe, ruled by a bizarre naiveté; it was a universe that alienated her so completely, sometimes she began to think she was the person who was out of touch.

Eden was so deep in her head that the fire, when she saw it, momentarily paralyzed her. One moment it was all darkness, then the car rounded a sharp bend and there, to Eden's right, a wall of fire was spreading across the field. It rose six or seven feet in the air and raced toward the road.

When she could move again, Eden screamed. But Grant chuckled and drove calmly on.

"Fuck!" Eden said. "What is that?"

"Just a prescribed burn. Happens every year."

Eden put a hand over her racing heart. She stared at the flames. "Will it come into the road?"

"No. There's nothing to burn, silly. Does grass grow in the road?"

The fire stretched over the entire hillside, leaving charred black earth in its wake.

"Why do they do it?"

Grant explained that when farmers killed off the old grass and vegetation, everything grew back stronger, more robust.

"It seems so drastic," Eden said. "Just to kill everything."

"Don't worry, it's good for the earth."

"What about the cows?" she asked.

"Oh, the cows know to get out of the way."

They continued down the road in silence. The light of the fire cast shadows into the car. Eden watched the flames come right to the edge of the grass and then fade to embers. A month later, when they again rode to Grant's parents house for a meal, the scorched earth had given way to new blanket of grass, a rich viridian green.

 

For Eden's 23rd birthday, Grant did something uncharacteristically adventurous. In a sweeping gesture of romance, he arranged for one of his pilot friends to fly him and Eden from the small Manhattan airport to Topeka for a birthday dinner.

The idea surfaced out of the blue—Eden already had plans to meet a few coworkers for drinks, but Grant begged her to cancel. Flying to dinner in a private plane, he said, was not an opportunity that knocked on one's door every day. Not only that, it would make quite a story. Maybe she could use it in her writing one day. As was usually the case, when Grant argued for something, he won. Eden did not understand herself why she was so reluctant to go, but she cancelled her plans anyway and went along with Grant.

That evening, with the sky still full of sun, they arrived at the airport to meet Blaze. He was a short, stocky man who made websites for a living and flew planes for fun. Lately, he and Grant had been plotting a website venture that would include a complete events listing for the town of Manhattan. Despite its small size, the town had plenty of events happening at any given time, but no one ever knew about them. Eden had to admit a listing was sorely needed, but she often wondered how likely it was the website would actually happen. When it came to projects, Grant was mostly talk. At Eden's urging, they had begun several creative projects together—writing a screenplay, composing guitar duets, making a short film—but each time, Eden eventually realized she was the only one keeping such efforts alive. Grant might stay interested for a week, but always he was drawn back to his movies and video games. This lack of ambition annoyed Eden. It seemed to contaminate the very environment she lived in, and she often exclaimed indignantly that if Grant refused to do anything compelling with his time, then she would leave him one of these days. (Why he never took her seriously was a great mystery.) With so many failed projects between them, Eden dreaded the day—if it came at all—when Grant and Blaze did realize their website vision; she wouldn't know whether to be happy for him or offended.

"Hey, dude," Blaze said, clapping Grant on the back. To Eden he gave a small wave, then led them onto the tarmac. Heat rose from the pavement, making the line between tar and air appear glossy and warped. A small, white plane sat 20 yards ahead, its door propped open. Eden found herself staring beyond the plane, where the prairie waved and rustled in the breeze. To Eden, the tallgrass sounded like ocean waves, the midwest's version of a sea. Since moving to eastern Kansas, Eden had come to love the prairie, which she saw as the state's one redeeming aspect. She enjoyed the sense of smallness it aroused in her and had become fascinated by the area's geologic history. When she stood on the top of any hill looking out, Eden could envision the ancient permian sea that had shaped the landscape; a sea that had risen and fallen so many times over the past billion years, it carved a shelf-like formation into the hills she stood upon. From afar, these hills looked soft and forgiving, but up close the terrain was jagged with limestone and shale. Eden had to be careful not to sprain her ankle when she hiked off the path.

Inside the plane, Eden sat in the front seat with Blaze. Grant folded himself into the back. A few minutes later, they sped down the runway and lifted unevenly into the air. This part was exciting, the way one could feel everything—each air pocket, each sudden dip of the plane. They flew over the Konza Prairie and saw a herd of buffalo lumbering up the hillside. Nothing came close to this beauty, Eden thought. Not even love. Certainly not love, which selfishly burned everything in its path, while nature went on, just being.

At one point, as they flew over those green rolling hills, Blaze allowed her to take the wheel. She guided the plane below the pillowy clouds for several miles. The sun hung in the sky before her, a giant orange ball edging toward the horizon. It seemed that she could keep following it forever, chasing the last bit of light so as to never experience darkness.

Then the strip malls of Topeka came into view. Blaze resumed his station at the wheel. He landed the plane in an airport that looked identical to the one they'd left in Manhattan. Back on the ground, Eden felt a sort of lethargy come over her body. She followed Blaze and Grant into the air-conditioned lobby. Grant called for a cab, then they lolled about near the vending machines, waiting. Eden stared absently at Grant as he talked Blaze's ear off about a tornado he'd once seen in Olsburg. He had told her the same story at the coffee shop where they met in Burlington. Eden had been working as a Coffee Culture barista for a few months at that point, living with her parents so she could save money to move to the city—she hoped to get an internship at a magazine, or, if she was lucky, maybe even an entry-level job. The New Yorker was on her radar, the The Paris Review, too. So they were a little out of her grasp; it couldn't hurt to dream.

Grant had come to Burlington on a business trip. Every morning during his stay there, he came into the coffee shop and sat at the bar near the register. He would read the paper while Eden pulled espresso and frothed milk. Sometimes she felt him looking at her, and she would glance up and smile, which she didn't do for most men, but there was something safe and warm about Grant that made her want to be friendly.

On a rainy day, when the shop was slow, they finally spoke about something other than the medium cup he ordered every day. She wasn't at all surprised to find out he was from the midwest. He embodied just about every stereotype she had ever heard about that region, namely his excessive politeness and total lack of pretense. She could hear the midwest in his voice, too. Words like "white" and "when" were spoken with a pronounced "h" sound, while the word "roof" came out of his mouth sounding like something a dog might say.

Grant explained he had been living at the Sheraton on Main Street for two weeks, and would probably be around for another couple months while he got his company's new tire store off the ground. They had stores all over the United States, he said. Then he confessed his hotel room was lonely and depressing, which was why he always got to the coffee shop at opening and read the paper for an hour. He wanted to feel like he was a part of a community, even if it wasn't his own. Eden thought that was sweet.

They fell into chatting each morning after the rush subsided, and eventually this turned into a dinner invitation on Grant's behalf, and then another, and another, until Eden was spending every night at the Sheraton (where she saw for herself that his room was, indeed, depressing).

To Eden, the whole thing was just an elaborate game of pretend. For two months, she lived someone else's life, ordering room service when she felt like it, drinking alcohol from tiny bottles that magically restocked themselves when she wasn't around. She told herself that when Grant returned to Kansas, she would simply resume her old life. But then, of course, they fell in love. It was not such a surprising development. In fact, it was typical of Eden to fall in love with someone who was relatively unavailable. In her mind, there was no way she and Grant could continue a romance—they lived too far apart. If Grant had been a fixture in Burlington, their affair may have never gotten off the ground, but the impermanence of their situation made Eden feel secure, and she dove into the affair with great energy.

But then, shortly before returning to Kansas, Grant grew melancholy. He started to say things like he couldn't live without her, and why couldn't they figure out a way to be together? It was this sort of talk for two weeks straight, and in this repetitive way, he slowly planted the seed in Eden's mind. She, too, began to ask the same questions. At 20 years old, Eden didn't know any better. Before long, she was persuaded to move across the country for the sake of her love. Sure, she could follow her dreams and move to the big city, but in the end, that would only make her selfish and alone—these were Grant's words, not her own. At first she agreed with the sentiment, but as time went on, and Grant's words continued to reverberate in her mind, she sometimes wondered if she'd made the right choice.

 

The cab, when it finally arrived, brought Eden and Grant to Topeka's Kiku Japanese Steakhouse, which was sandwiched between a Dillon's grocery store and a shop called The Dance Factory. This had been Grant's choice. When he learned Eden had never eaten at a hibachi restaurant, he was incredulous. He assured her she would love it. When they arrived, he led her inside proudly, as if he had built the establishment himself. The host seated them with a family of four, and over the course of some small talk, it was discovered the chubby, moonfaced daughter in this family was also celebrating her birthday.

"Wow!" Grant said. "It's like this was meant to be." He squeezed Eden's thigh. Eden didn't know what, exactly, was meant to be. In fact, what did "meant to be" have to do with anything? As far as Grant was concerned, everything was meant to be. Their first meeting at Coffee Culture, her move to Kansas, their presence at the Kiku Japanese Steakhouse: all of it part of some larger design they were both apparently ignorant of.

The chef arrived. He noticed a collection of wrapped gifts on the table and asked who was celebrating a birthday. The chubby girl said "me" in a small voice. She was then subjected to a number of questions. The chef wanted to know whether she was turning eight or eighteen, if she had her driver's license yet, and what about a boyfriend? The girl was shy, her answers barely audible. Eden stared hard at the table throughout the interrogation, and Grant, mistaking this for bashfulness, pointed at her and said, "We have another birthday girl here!"

Now the chef was looking in her direction. Perhaps because she was a pretty young woman, and perhaps because it was his job to do so, he teased Eden for the rest of the evening, giving her the largest portions of food and likening the color of her cheeks to the bottle of hot sauce in front of her.

"Isn't this great?" Grant asked throughout dinner, nudging her with his elbow. He was referring to everything, she supposed: the plane ride, the entertainment at the hibachi table, the coincidence of the two birthdays, and the sense that, because of all these things, they were somehow special.

"I still can't believe it," he said. "Twenty minutes on the plane and boom. We're here. Eating dinner." His eyes were shining. Eden tried to smile, but she could only wonder why such things incited so much enthusiasm, while matters of real import never seemed to affect him. He loved being a consumer, this much she knew. Things like the pristine white packaging of Apple products and the intuitive customer service at certain restaurants filled him with satisfaction. He admired the dependability of quality goods and services, but he didn't think about the aching backs of the people who worked tirelessly to bring them to him.

Eden couldn't answer Grant. She looked around the restaurant, unable to avoid the feeling of horror that had been percolating in her gut all evening. Here she was, turning 23 at the Kiku Japanese Steakhouse in Topeka, Kansas, sitting beside a man whose values, she realized now, repulsed her.

The chef was now building a mountain of raw onion rings on the grill.

"Oh, just wait," Grant said.

With a flourish of the wrist, the chef doused the onions in cooking oil and lit them on fire. Flames shot out of the center. Across the table the birthday girl jumped. Perhaps it was her first time here, too. For a moment, she and Eden locked eyes, and Eden felt the need to warn her about something, but she did not know what it was.

 

The night was dark when Eden and Grant returned to the Topeka airport. Blaze was waiting for them on the tarmac. They followed him to the plane. This time, Eden sat in back. While Blaze and Grant talked, she stared out the window at the glimmering lights of houses and street lamps below. After a few minutes, she began to cry. She felt as if her body had known for a good while it was time to move on, and her mind was only beginning to catch on. The revelation was large and overwhelming. She wiped at the tears, and they kept coming. Still, she maintained a level of composure until they reached home, at which point she locked herself in her study, turned the fan on high, and sobbed.

The following morning, Eden awoke beside Grant. She looked at his face. He was sound asleep, completely oblivious to what was coming.

A few hours later, they sat in her study, and she told him she was moving out.

 

Eden was lucky enough to find a one-bedroom apartment, move-in ready. She made all the arrangements despite Grant's protestation. Then, one morning while Grant was at work, she stuffed her belongings in the backseat of her rusted Ford Taurus and simply drove away.

In need of something new, she joined a poetry group started by one of her coworkers at the bookstore. He was a Francophile named Carl who seemed to have a crush on her. At the first group meeting she attended, he read a few of his poems aloud. They were mostly about the Black Hills of South Dakota, where he had spent the previous summer working for a small theater company. There he had fallen in love with a woman named Beth, who later broke his heart. She was all over his pages, the curves of her body compared to the hills where they had made love, lying together beneath the cover of grass. Eden found his descriptions excessive, but they also awakened something long dormant in her. She craved such eroticism, enjoyed the way it made her skin prickle in the swollen summer heat.

Two weeks after leaving Grant, Eden became Carl's lover. Sleeping with him made her wonder why she had stayed with Grant as long as she did. With Grant, lovemaking had been tame and perfunctory. Near the end of their relationship, she was so bored by it that she rarely allowed him to touch her. Carl, on the other hand, whispered things into her ear that made her breath catch. Sometimes he even spoke to her in French.

Carl was due to leave for the city of Rouen, France, at the end of the summer. Eden was both relieved and disappointed by this—it gave the affair an end date, which had its usual advantages, but she would not have minded just a little more time with him. Then, a month after they began sleeping together, Carl asked Eden if she would like to come with him to Rouen. They would live together in a tiny apartment, he said, eating baguettes and drinking coffee. They would write side-by-side all day, and when they needed a bit of fresh air, they could ride bicycles into town. For Eden, it was the realization of a far-flung dream. She said yes immediately and pushed aside any feelings of doubt.

With the summer nearing its end, Eden drove Carl to the Kansas City airport. It was late August, a sweltering day in the high nineties. They stood in front of the terminal, embracing.

"I'll see you in two months," Eden said.

He tapped her playfully on the nose. "Yes, you will."

They kissed and gazed into each other's eyes and kissed some more, and continued this pattern for some time, entirely unconcerned with the passersby who laughed and rolled their eyes at the two lovers. Then Eden leaned on the car and watched Carl disappear into the airport. Her eyes brimmed with tears.

Before leaving for France, Eden had a few things to take care of. She had a car to sell, clothes to get rid of, and she was still waiting for her visa to come through. So she set about preparing for the trip—a trip, unfortunately, that would never happen. After two weeks in Rouen, Carl took a new lover, a Parisian named Jacques. He quickly became Carl's live-in boyfriend, so that, in an interesting turn of events, he ended up being the one with whom Carl ate baguettes and drank coffee and rode bicycles through the countryside.

One day in September, Eden received a phone call from Grant. She was still unaware of the change in Carl's circumstances, so she was engaged in packing when the phone call came. Grant told her that he still had her acoustic guitar if she wanted it. Right away, Eden saw an image of herself and Carl, drinking red wine on a warm evening in France while she plucked a tune on the guitar strings. The instrument would be the perfect cherry to top off their new European life; she stopped by Grant's house the following evening to retrieve it.

When she climbed up the steps to his front porch, she was understandably filled with nostalgia, and the feeling did not abate as she entered Grant's house. There was something lonesome about the drawn blinds and the unswept floor and the dirty dishes on the coffee table.

"It's right there," Grant said. He pointed to the guitar case, leaning against the wall. "Hasn't been used since you left."

Eden put her hand on the case. "I'll use it lots to make up for that."

"Hey," he said quietly. "Why don't you stay for a beer? Just one. For old time's sake."

She hesitated but gave in when she saw his eyes cloud over. She followed him into the kitchen. They sat across from one other at the table that had been in Grant's family since his mother was a young girl. It was small and wobbly but still managed to stand. Grant opened two wheat beers and handed her one.

"So, you're really going to France with this guy," he said.

Eden took a sip. "Yeah. Really going."

"I gotta be honest, I'm a little shocked. It happened so fast."

"Did it though? I came out here to live with you pretty fast."

He laughed. "I guess you have a point there." His mouth began to twitch, and Eden saw he was going to cry.

"You really want to leave, Eden? You really want to give up on us?"

She almost laughed. "I already did leave."

"I mean, this will be final."

"It already is final."

"I know I should've been different. If I could go back, I would change it."

Eden chuckled. "I doubt that."

Grant wiped tears from his face. "I'm so amazed at your ability to just burn it all down."

"What does that mean?"

"You walk away so easily. You set fire to something and just walk away. Like it never mattered to you."

Eden stared at the wall behind him. Maybe that was true, but she didn't know why it was a bad thing. After all, isn't that what they did here in Kansas?

 

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