Active and Grace ferried gear ashore until finally the plane was empty. Cowboy untied the Super Cub, waded into the shallows, walked the plane back until it floated free, then swung the nose around to point across the lake. Okay, you two, Ill see you in a week. Enjoy yourselves, huh? His eyes twinkled behind his steel-frame glasses, and the grin reappeared.
It was not reciprocated.
Cowboy shrugged. If you run into any trouble, just set off your EPIRB, and somebodyll be along to check on you. They nodded, and he climbed into the plane. He cranked up and taxied to the foot of the cliff, then turned and put on full power, filling the bowl with the roar of his engine as he accelerated down the lake. They watched as the pilot got onto step, lifted one float clear of the water, then the other, and cleared the trees at the outlet.
As the red-and-white plane shrank to a dot in the sky, Active put his arm around Graces shoulders, breathing in the scent of lavender. What do you think?
She shrugged stiffly. I dont know yet.
He gave her a squeeze. Dont sweat it. Good fishin, good huntin, good berry-pickin, good weather, good companywho needs the other?
She looked at him with a quicksilver flash from the corner of her eye. Every couple does. Otherwise theyre just. . . .
Dont say that. I hate that word.
Its all right if were roommates for a while, he said.
Itll happen when it happens.
Feel free to shop elsewhere.
Thanks, but no thanks.
She turned into his arms and pulled him down for a kiss. Thank you, she said after a long time.
When they separated, he cleared his throat. I guess we should do something about getting a camp together.
She nodded. Ill organize some dinner if you want to set up the tent.
She busied herself putting up a Visqueen awning for the camp kitchen while he stamped about the mossy floor of the spruce grove, looking for the flattest spot big enough for the Arctic Oven. He found one a few yards off, requiring only that he dig out a few rocks and pitch them aside. Then he tugged the tent out of its pouch and spread it on the moss as the sun drifted below the ridge and the basin sank into blue shadow.
Later, in the tent, came the conundrum of the Woods singledouble. Each half could be zipped into a bag for one person, or the two halves could be zipped together for a couple.
One bag or two, madam? he asked without much optimism.
He studied her face in the buttery light of the propane lantern as she turned it over in her mind. The hunger for normalcy showing as always in her eyes, the desire to please him, and the dread that, if she let him take her, he would be transformed somewhere deep in her wounded psyche into her father, who had been the first man to do so.
One, I think, kind sir, but no guarantees. Like him, she was playing it light, keeping the escape route open. None needed.
He unrolled the bag and zipped it together, stripped down to his shorts and T-shirt, and crawled in. Then he watched her next internal debate: undress with the light on, or off? Put on the long johns, or go for broke in panties and one of his T-shirts?
She looked at him, stuck out her tongue like a twelveyear- old, and closed the valve on the lantern. He listened in a kind of fever-dream as clothes whispered off in the darkness and something was pulled on. Long johns, or a T-shirt?
She slid into the bag, and he felt a smooth, hot thigh against his own. She turned toward him for a kiss. Her lips soft and wet, a flicker of her tongue. But when he slid his hand under her T-shirt, she stiffened, quivering. As usual. He eased his hand off her breast, stroked her hair, and felt her relax. He kissed her cheek and tasted salt.
Excerpted from Village of the Ghost Bears by Stan Jones. Copyright © 2009 by Stan Jones. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. 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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