Show me what?
The ranch, he said. The cows.
I have to get back, she said. I have to work in the morning.
Sure, he said. She checked her watch. Jesus, its quarter to ten. She took a few quick bites of sundae and finished her coffee. I have to go.
He watched as the low lights of the Datsun disappeared out of town, then he drove home in the other direction. Thursday was not very far from Tuesday, and it was almost Wednesday now. He was suddenly starving, when sitting across from her he hadnt been hungry. He wished hed taken the other half of the sandwich, but he had been too shy.
Thursday night, he was at the school before anyone else, and he waited in the truck, watching. One of the teachers showed up with a key, unlocked the side door, and turned on the light. When more people had arrived, Chet went to his seat in the back of the classroom. Beth Travis came in looking tired, took off her coat, and pulled a sheaf of paper from her briefcase. She was wearing a green sweater with a turtleneck collar, jeans, and black snow boots. She walked around with the handouts and nodded to him. She looked good in jeans. KEY SUPREME COURT DECISIONS AFFECTING SCHOOL LAW, the handout said across the top.
The class started, and hands went up to ask questions. He sat in the back and watched, and tried to imagine his old teachers here, but he couldnt. A man not much older than Chet asked about salary increases, and Beth Travis said she wasnt a labor organizer, but he should talk to the union. The older women in the class laughed and teased the man about rabble-rousing. At nine oclock the class left for beers, and he was alone again with Beth Travis.
I have to lock up, she said.
He had assumed, for forty-eight hours, that he would go to dinner with her, but now he didnt know how to make that happen. He had never asked any girl anywhere. There had been girls in high school who had felt sorry for him, but he had been too shy or too proud to take advantage of it. He stood there for an awkward moment.
Are you going to the café? he finally asked.
For about five minutes, she said.
In the café, she asked the waitress for the fastest thing on the menu. The waitress brought her a bowl of soup with bread, coffee to go, and the check.
When the waitress left, she said, I dont even know your name.
She nodded, as if that were the right answer. Do you know anyone in town who could teach this class?
I dont know anyone at all.
Can I ask what happened to your leg?
He was surprised by the question, but he thought she could ask him just about anything. He told her the simplest version: the polio, the horses, the broken bones.
And you still ride?
He said that if he didnt ride, hed end up in a wheelchair or a loony bin or both.
She nodded, as if that were the right answer, too, and looked out the window at the dark street. I was so afraid Id finish law school and be selling shoes, she said. Im sorry to keep talking about it. All I can think about is that drive.
That weekend was the longest one hed had. He fed the cows and cleaned the tack for the team. He curried the horses until they gleamed and stamped, watching him, suspicious of what he intended.
Inside, he sat on the couch, flipped through the channels, and finally turned the TV off. He wondered how he might court a girl who was older, and a lawyer, a girl who lived clear across the state and couldnt think about anything but that distance. He felt a strange sensation in his chest, but it wasnt the restlessness he had felt before.
Excerpted from Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy Copyright © 2009 by Maile Meloy. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Group, 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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