The others treated him the way they would if Abe Lincoln got up and walked out of that tent -- with humility, and no small amount of awe, to find him alive after all this time. Az wasn't as old as Abe, but he wasn't off by much. He was 102 or 103 -- he'd stopped counting a while ago. Because he knew the dying language of his people, he was respected as a teacher. Still, his age alone made him a tribal elder, which would have been something, had the Abenaki been a federally recognized tribe.
Az heard the creak of every joint in his spine as he settled himself on a folding chair. He grabbed a pair of binoculars from beside the fire pit and peered at the land, a parcel located at the northwesterly intersection of Montgomery Road and Otter Creek Pass. At its crest sat the big white house, now an eyesore. It would be the first thing to go, Az knew, just like he knew everything about this property, from the surveyor's measurements to the recorded number of the deed plan. He knew the spots where the ground froze first in the winter and the section where no vegetation ever managed to grow. He knew which window in the abandoned house had been broken by kids running wild; which side of the porch had fallen first; which floorboards on the stairs were rotted through.
He also knew the license plate numbers of every vehicle the Redhook Group had parked on the perimeter. Rumor had it that Newton Redhook wanted to build himself Comtosook's first strip mall. On one of their burial sites.
"I'm telling you," said Fat Charlie, "it's El Niño."
Winks shook his head. "It's screwed up, is what it is. Ain't normal to rain roses. That's like a clock running backward, or well water turning to blood."
Fat Charlie laughed. "Winks, you gotta switch back to Letterman. Those horror flicks are getting to you, man."
Az looked around, noticing the light dusting of flower petals all over the ground. He rolled his tongue across the cavern of his mouth, tasting those stones again. "What do you think, Az?" Winks asked.
What he thought was that trying to explain rose petals falling from the sky was not only useless, but also futile, since the things that were going to happen had already been set into motion. What he thought was that rose petals were going to be the least of their problems. Az focused the binoculars on a bulldozer chugging slowly up the road. "I think you can't dig in the ground," he said aloud, "without unearthing something."
This was how Ross had met Aimee: On the corner of Broadway and 112th, in the shadow of Columbia University, he had literally run into her, knocking all of her books into a murky brown puddle. She was a medical student studying for her anatomy final, and she nearly started hyperventilating at the sight of all her hard work being ruined. Sitting in the middle of the street in New York, she was also the most beautiful woman Ross had ever seen. "I'll help you," Ross promised, although he didn't know a fibula from a phalanx. "Just give me a second chance."
This was how Ross proposed to Aimee: A year later he paid a cab driver to take them past Broadway and 112th en route to dinner at a restaurant. As instructed, the man pulled to the curb, and Ross opened the door and got down on one knee on the filthy pavement. He popped open the small ring box and stared into her electric eyes. "Marry me," he said, and then he lost his balance and the diamond fell down a sewer grate.
Aimee's mouth fell open. "Tell me," she managed finally, "that didn't just happen."
Ross looked down the black grate, and at the empty box. He tossed it into the sewer, too. Then he pulled another ring, the real ring, from his pocket. "Give me a second chance," he said.
Now, in a deserted parking lot, he tipped the bottle up to drink. Sometimes Ross wanted to scratch himself out of his skin, to see what was on the other side. He wanted to jump off bridges into seas of concrete. He wanted to scream until his throat bled; to run until his soles split open. At times like this, when failure was a tidal wave, his life became a finite line -- the end of which, through some cosmic joke, he could not seem to reach.
From Second Glance by Jodi Picoult. Copyright Jodi Picoult 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group.
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