They returned to the house and came out with Victoria and the little girl. On the porch Victoria paused for a moment, her dark eyes welling with sudden tears.
What's the matter here? Harold said. Is something wrong?
She shook her head.
You know you can always come back. We're expecting you to. We're counting on it. Maybe it'll help to keep that in mind.
It isn't that, she said.
Is it because you're kind of scared? Raymond said.
It's just that I'm going to miss you, she said. I haven't been gone before, not like this. That other time with Dwayne I can't even remember and I don't want to. She shifted the little girl from one arm to the other and wiped at her eyes. I'm just going to miss you, that's all it is.
You can call if you need something, Harold said. We'll still be here at the other end.
But I'm still going to miss you.
Yes, Raymond said. He looked out from the porch toward the barnlot and the brown pastures beyond. The blue sandhills in the far distance low on the low horizon, the sky so clear and empty, the air so dry. We're going to miss you too, he said. We'll be about like old played-out workhorses once you're gone. Standing around lonesome, always looking over the fence. He turned to study her face. A face familiar and dear to him now, the three of them and the baby living in the same open country, in the same old weathered house. But you think you can come on? he said. We probably ought to get this thing started if we're going to.
Raymond drove her car with Victoria sitting beside him so she could reach into the back and tend to Katie in her padded chair. Harold followed them in the pickup, out the lane onto the gravel county road, headed west to the two-lane blacktop, then north toward Holt. The country both sides of the highway was flat and treeless, the ground sandy, the wheat stubble in the flat fields still bright and shiny since its cutting in July. Beyond the barrow ditches the irrigated corn stood up eight feet tall, darkly green and heavy. The grain elevators in the distance showed tall and white in town beside the railroad tracks. It was a bright warm day with the wind coming hot out of the south.
In Holt they turned onto US 34 and stopped at the Gas and Go where Main Street intersected the highway. The McPherons got out and stood at the pumps, gassing up both vehicles as Victoria went in to buy them cups of coffee and a Coke for herself and a bottle of juice for the little girl. Ahead of her in line at the cash register a heavy black-haired man and his wife were standing with a young girl and a small boy. She had seen them walking at all hours along the streets of Holt and she had heard the stories. She thought that if it weren't for the McPheron brothers she might be like them herself. She watched as the girl moved to the front of the store and took a magazine from the rack at the plateglass windows and flipped through it with her back turned away as if she were not related in any manner to the people at the counter. But after the man had paid for a box of cheese crackers and four cans of pop with food stamps, she put the magazine back and followed the rest of her family out the door.
When Victoria came out, the man and the woman were standing in the tarred parking lot deciding something between themselves. She couldn't see the girl or her brother, then turned and saw they were standing together at the corner under the traffic light, looking up Main Street toward the middle of town, and she went on to where Raymond and Harold were waiting for her at the car.
It was shortly after noon when they drove down the ramp off the interstate and into the outskirts of Fort Collins. To the west, the foothills rose up in a ragged blue line obscured by yellow smog blown up from the south, blown up from Denver. On one of the hills a white A was formed of whitewashed rocks, a carryover from when the university's teams were called the Aggies. They drove up Prospect Road and turned onto College Avenue, the campus was all on the left side with its brick buildings, the old gymnasium, the smooth greens lawns, and passed along the street under the cottonwoods and tall blue spruce until they turned onto Mulberry and then turned again and then located the apartment building set back from the street where the girl and her daughter would now live.
Excerpted from Eventide by Kent Haruf Copyright© 2004 by Kent Haruf. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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