They parked the car and the pickup in the lot behind the building, and Victoria went in with the little girl to find the apartment manager. The manager turned out to be a college girl not unlike herself, only older, a senior in sweatshirt and jeans with her blonde hair sprayed up terrifically on her head. She came out into the hallway to introduce herself and began at once to explain that she was majoring in elementary education and working as a student teacher this semester in a little town east of Fort Collins, talking without pause while she led Victoria to the second-floor apartment. She unlocked the door and handed over the key and another one for the outside door, then stopped abruptly and looked at Katie. Can I hold her?
I don't think so, Victoria said. She won't go to everybody.
The McPherons brought up the suitcases and the boxes from the car and set them in the small bedroom. They looked around and went back for the daybed and high chair.
Standing in the door, the manager looked over at Victoria. Are they your grandfathers or something?
Who are they? Your uncles?
What about her daddy then? Is he coming too?
Victoria looked at her. Do you always ask so many questions?
I'm just trying to make friends. I wouldn't pry or be rude.
We're not related that way, Victoria said. They saved me two years ago when I needed help so badly. That's why they're here.
They're preachers, you mean.
No. They're not preachers. But they did save me. I don't know what I would've done without them. And nobody better say a word against them.
I've been saved too, the girl said. I praise Jesus every day of my life.
That's not what I meant, Victoria said. I wasn't talking about that at all.
The McPheron brothers stayed with Victoria Roubideaux and the little girl throughout the afternoon and helped arrange their belongings in the rooms, then in the evening took them out to supper. Afterward they came back to the rented apartment. When they were parked in the lot behind the building they stood out on the pavement in the cool night air to say good-bye. The girl was crying a little again now. She stood up on her toes and kissed each of the old men on his weathered cheek and hugged them and thanked them for all they had done for her and her daughter, and they each in turn put their arms around her and patted her awkwardly on the back. They kissed the little girl. Then they stood back uncomfortably and could not think how to look at her or the child any longer, nor how to do much else except leave.
You make sure to call us, Raymond said.
I'll call every week.
That'll be good, Harold said. We'll want to hear your news.
Then they drove home in the pickup. Heading east away from the mountains and the city, out onto the silent high plains spread out flat and dark under the bright myriad indifferent stars. It was late when they pulled into the drive and stopped in front of the house. They had scarcely spoken in two hours. The yardlight on the pole beside the garage had come on in their absence, casting dark purple shadows past the garage and the outbuildings and past the three stunted elm trees standing inside the hogfencing that surrounded the gray clapboard house.
In the kitchen Raymond poured milk into a pan on the stove and heated it and got down a box of crackers from the cupboard. They sat at the table under the overhead light and drank down the warm milk without a word. It was silent in the house. There was not even the sound of wind outside for them to hear.
I guess I might just as well go up to bed, Harold said. I'm not doing any good down here. He walked out of the kitchen and entered the bathroom and then came back. I guess you've decided to sit out here all night.
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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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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