What about your father?
I dont know him.
Thats a sad story.
No, its not, she said. Its a happy story. Im a lawyer, see, with a wonderful job driving to fucking Glendive every fifteen minutes until I lose my mind. She put down the burger and pressed the backs of her hands into her eyes. Her fingers were greasy and one had ketchup on it. She took her hands away from her face and looked at her watch. Its ten oclock, she said. I wont get home before seven-thirty in the morning. There are deer on the road, and theres black ice outside of Three Forks along the river. If I make it past there, I get to take a shower and go to work at eight, and do all the crap no one else wants to do. Then learn more school law tomorrow night, then leave work the next day before lunch and drive back here with my eyes twitching. Its better than a hospital laundry, maybe, but its not a whole fucking lot better.
Im from near Three Forks, he said.
So you know the ice.
She dipped her napkin in her water glass and washed off her fingers, then finished her coffee. It was nice of you, to bring the horse, she said. Will you take me back to my car?
Outside, he swung her up onto the horse again, and she put her arms around his waist. She seemed to fit to his body like a puzzle piece. He rode slowly back to the school parking lot, not wanting to let her go. Next to the yellow Datsun, he held her hand tight while she climbed down, and then he dismounted, too. She tugged her puffy coat where it had ridden up from sliding off the horse, and they stood looking at each other.
Thank you, she said.
He nodded. He wanted to kiss her but couldnt see any clear path to that happening. He wished he had practiced, with the high school girls or the friendly secretaries, just to be ready for this moment.
She started to say something, but in his nervousness he cut her off. See you Thursday, he said.
She paused before nodding, and he took this for encouragement. He caught up her hand again and kissed it, because he had wanted to do that, and it was soft and cold. Then he leaned over and kissed her cheek, because he had wanted to do that, too. She didnt move, not an inch, and he was about to kiss her for real when she seemed to snap out of a trance, and stepped away from him. She took her hand back. I have to go, she said, and she went around to the drivers side of the Datsun.
He held the horse while she drove out of the parking lot, and he kicked at the snow. The horse sidestepped away. He felt like jumping up and down, in excitement and anxiety and anguish. He had run her off. He shouldnt have kissed her. He should have kissed her more. He should have let her say what she wanted to say. He mounted up and rode home.
Thursday night he drove the truck in, no cowboy antics; he was on a serious mission. He was going to answer her questions honestly, such as the one about why he didnt eat. He was going to let her say the things she intended to say. He didnt wait for the crowd to arrive before going into the classroom; he went in early and took his seat in the back. The class filled up, and then a tall man in a gray suit with a bowling-ball gut came in and stood behind the teachers desk.
Miss Travis, he said, found the drive from Missoula too arduous, so I will take over the class for the rest of the term. I practice law here in town. As some of you know, and the rest of you would find out soon enough, Im recently divorced and have some time on my hands. Thats why Im here.
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
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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