And all at once she understood: no one was looking.
That day, Frida stood under the weak stream of water, never as hot as she wanted. It was the end of summer, and the only thing this world could promise them was that it would get colder, which would certainly crush their morale further. The finality of their situation sat on her chest like a brick and pushed. No one was looking. Her audience was sucked away, the ones keeping her safe with their concern, keeping her okay, keeping her the same as before, and she was spit out as if from a Wizard of Oz tornado. She felt like she and Cal were really alone.
She'd been wrong, of course: they'd met Sandy and Bo soon after. But maybe that was why Frida didn't like to think about that moment, because the Millers, who had seemed to be watching over them those first few months, weren't here anymore. Now she and Cal really were alone, and her old fears were too dangerous to revisit. Some feelings were hard to recover from.
She needed Cal. Her darling husband. She would call him in from his digging, tell him she was late, and he would remind her to breathe, and smile at her with his gentle, beautiful eyes.
She grabbed her hat and pushed open the door. Though it was overcast, there was still a glare, and she wished, yet again, for sunglasses. A breeze rustled the woods, and a far-off twig split from a branch.
Across the yard, Cal was pushing the shovel into the ground, his back to her. Behind him, the garden looked crowded and lush; the squash had come in, and once it was harvested they'd plant the lettuce and peas. The land had not given up on them, thank goodness. They had both been relieved when the rains cameand the house hadn't flooded. They had already lived through two winters here, and their third would be upon them soon. Frida would help Cal plant the garlic, if they could get it. If nature continued to cooperate, they would be okay.
Frida watched Cal push the shovel into the dirt and scoop it out. There were piles of dirt all around him, and the latest one was still small, the size of a science project volcano. Cal was muttering to himself, which meant he was worrying about something, unknotting some problem. She smiled and crouched behind the outdoor stove. She put her hands to her lips and whistled.
Cal lifted his head immediately. He looked past the crops to the line of trees there. Most were still green and lush, but some were starting to turn. Fall.
Frida whistled again, and Cal dropped the shovel. He was looking for a bird. She had fooled him. She saw him smile.
"Hello?" he called out.
Frida waited, her heart beating faster.
"Hello?" he said again.
Frida whistled back, Hello, darling, and this time Cal started. He slowly reached out his hand. Was it meant as an invitation? Did he think he was Saint Francis, that a bird would come to him?
She laughed and stood up.
"Fuck," he said when he saw her, and shook his head.
"I can't believe you fell for that." As she approached, she put her lips together and made the sound again.
"You got me. Good one."
She could tell she'd shaken him. "I'm sorry," she said. "Can I help?"
He shook his head. "No, but keep me company."
Frida nodded and sat down right on the dirt; it was cold, and she moved quickly to a kneeling position. She'd finally given in and worn one of Sandy's long dresses. It was made of denim and looked vaguely cultish, but it was comfortable and, with leggings beneath, warm.
She kept her eyes on the shovel.
"How deep do you need to go?"
He shrugged. "Deep enough."
She rolled her eyes. She hated when he offered vague, poetic answers to her questions.
Excerpted from California by Edan Lepucki. Copyright © 2014 by Edan Lepucki. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. 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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