I was sorry you stopped teaching the class, he said. I looked forward to it, those nights.
It wasnt because she said. I meant to tell you on Tuesday. Id already asked for a replacement, because of the drive. They found one yesterday.
Okay, he said. That drive is pretty bad.
A man in a dark suit got out of a silver car and looked over at them, sizing Chet up. Beth Travis waved and smiled. The man nodded, looked at Chet again, and went into the building; the door closed. Chet suddenly wished that she had quit teaching the class because of him, that hed had any effect on her at all. He shifted his weight. She pushed her hair back and he thought he could step forward and touch her hand, touch the back of her neck where the hair grew darker. Instead he shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. She seemed to scan the parking lot before looking at him again.
I dont mean any harm, he said.
I have to go feed now, he said. I just knew that if I didnt start driving, I wasnt going to see you again, and I didnt want that. Thats all.
She nodded. He stood there waiting, thinking she might say something, meet him halfway. He wanted to hear her voice again. He wanted to touch her, any part of her, just her arms maybe, just her waist. She stood out of reach, waiting for him to go.
Finally he climbed up into the truck and started the engine. She was still watching him from the parking lot as he drove away, and he got on the freeway and left town. For the first half hour he gripped the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turned white, and glared at the road as the truck swallowed it up. Then he was too tired to be angry, and his eyes started to close and jerk open. He nearly drove off the road. In Butte he bought a cup of black coffee, and drank it standing next to the truck. He wished he hadnt seen her right away, in the parking lot. He wished hed had a minute to prepare. He crushed the paper coffee cup and threw it away.
As he drove past Logan, he thought about stopping, but he didnt need to. He knew what his parents would say. His mother would worry about his health, driving all night, her sickly son, risking his life. You dont even know this white girl, shed say. His father would say, Jesus, Chet, you left the horses without water all day?
Back at the Hayden place, he fed and watered the horses, and they seemed all right. None of them had kicked through their stalls. He rigged them up in the harness, and loaded the sled with hay, and they dragged it out of the barn. He cut the orange twine on each bale with a knife and pitched the hay off the sled for the cows. The horses trudged uncomplainingly, and he thought about the skittery two-year-olds whod kicked him every where there was to kick, when he was fourteen. The ache in his stomach felt like that. But he hadnt been treated unfairly by Beth Travis; he didnt know what he had expected. If she had asked him to stay, he would have had to leave anyway. It was the finality of the conversation, and the protective look the man in the dark suit had given her, that left him feeling sore and bruised.
In the barn, he talked to the horses, and kept close to their hind legs when he moved behind them. They were sensible horses, immune to surprise, but he had left them without water all day. He gave them each another coffee canful of grain, which slid yellow over itself into their buckets.
He walked back outside, into the dark, and looked out over the flat stretch of land beyond the fences. The moon was up, and the fields were shadowy blue, dotted with cows. His hip was stiff and sore. He had to pee, and he walked away from the barn and watched the small steaming crater form in the snow. He wondered if maybe he had planted a seed, with Beth Travis, by demonstrating his seriousness to her. She wouldnt come backit was impossible to imagine her doing that drive again, for any reason. But she knew where he was. She was a lawyer. She could find him if she wanted.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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