"What are you going to school for?"
"Stone-wall building. I'm learning how to make walls . . . like the one you're sitting on."
"Why? We've already got plenty of them."
Andrew could see the door opening to a very long discussion, one he wasn't really prepared to enter, especially with an inquisitive little girl. The plain fact was, at least part of his brain worried that he was simply running away from his grief. That, and what he was sure were the unvoiced theories of friends and colleagues about why Kat had left him--was he a wife beater, a lush, a failure in bed? Why, he realized, was a very complex question. So he dodged it.
"Would you like a cup of tea?"
"Had some already."
"Like some more?"
"Nope. Gotta get going. Busy day." And with that, her curiosity apparently satisfied at least for the moment, the girl hopped down and dashed off across the meadow beyond the wall.
And ever since Wednesday, that's how their days had begun. He'd throw open the top half of the door and shout, "Good morning, madam!" (She liked that.)
"Guess what, Drew?!" she'd begin, hopping off the wall and skipping to the door. Lee seemed to think every new thought needed to be introduced this way: "Guess what?! The cat's had kittens." "Guess what?! Gonna rain later." "Guess what?! Dad's movin' the calves today."
Andrew had taken to answering. "I don't know, what?" just to tease her, but she just ignored him and launched right into the latest bit of local news. It was better than any morning newspaper. The news was always varied, interesting, and unexpected. It was a delightful way to start the day: a cup of hot, sweet, milky tea, and Miss "Guess What?!"
That's how today, Saturday, had started.
"Guess what, Drew?!"
"I don't know, what?"
"It's a good day for you to have my famous and ex-clu-sive guided walking tour of the river valley. Complete with sacred wells and witches!"
"Famous is it?"
"It is. Far and wide."
"How often have you conducted this tour?"
"Loads of times."
"Hmmm. Doesn't sound very exclusive."
"A few times, then?" he ventured.
"Nearly once!" she said, giggling behind her hand.
"Ah, now that's what I call exclusive. When do we leave?"
"Soon's you finish that tea, because--Guess what?!--Mum's taking me to Wadebridge this afternoon to get new wellies; my feet've got too big for these ones." She hopped around on one foot and shook the other by way of emphasis.
"Well, then, I guess I'd better get a move on. I'll just get my boots."
When he emerged again, a day pack slung over one shoulder, she was waiting by the gate.
"Where shall we begin?" he asked.
"At the bottom, of course. In the village."
Given that he knew there was a back route from the farm directly into the valley, this seemed odd to Andrew, but he didn't argue; he liked the girl's company too much. "Right, then. Down to the village it is!"
Excerpted from Water, Stone, Heart by Will North Copyright © 2009 by Will North. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart Books, 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
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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