First Page: Unpublished Vermont love story
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With all the crisp clarity of the Indian summer afternoon, he saw her, black and white against the intense blue of the sky, the trees in red and gold, the spruce-green clapboard siding he’d painted a year ago. The truck coasted down the slope to its usual spot in the shade of the big maple, where it apparently parked itself on the carpet of fallen leaves. The brakes, the key – he couldn’t remember touching either one. He saw only the woman at the house across the road, unloading groceries from the back of a shiny new SUV. She was a slight thing, not short but thin. His mother’s words came out of nowhere, her assessment of the first girl he brought home from college – “best choose someone else to bear your children.” Though why on earth he should think of that now…
Her pale blonde hair contributed more white than gold to the landscape. She wore black jeans and a long-sleeved button-down top, white, like a man’s dress shirt, but with a soft sheen to it. And beautifully fitted, slithering to her hips. With a couple of plastic Hannaford bags looped over her wrist and a box balanced on her forearm, she stretched up and pulled the trunk lid down. The movement exposed a narrow strip of skin at her waist. He imagined the silky feel of that fabric, the softness underneath…
The lights flashed, once. She’d learn that folks who lived here in Terbury Falls never locked their cars, unless they’d just been to Bennington to buy a new TV and had to run into the Jiffy Mart for something on the way home. She climbed the stairs to the front porch, then disappeared inside.
His throat tightened, and his chest, even his groin. How ridiculous was that? He was past thirty, for Christ’s sake, way too old to have that kind of reaction to a stranger he’d seen for less than a minute from twenty yards away. Or that’s what he’d thought. Anyway, he’d never really gone in for the skinny ones. That ass, though…
He should have been expecting her. Aunt Matty had said she’d be arriving today. But he’d been with a crew in the orchard all morning, picking good apples for sale and blemished ones for pressing, and had never thought about their new tenant at all. It would sure help to have someone paying rent again over there – they’d spent a bundle on the place since the last people left.
He dropped his dirty boots beside the mat on the back porch and pushed open the screen door, stepping into the kitchen in his socks. Like the ones they used to make those sock monkeys out of back in the day. Still did, apparently, since Tracy had given him one last Christmas, along with the socks. They still made him smile sometimes. But right now, most of his mind was still out in the street.
“There you are, Brendan.” His aunt sat at the old oak table with one of her romances from the library. She’d probably read it three times already – the library’s selection of large-print books was pretty limited, and she couldn’t read anything else without magnifiers, which made her dizzy. Her empty lunch dishes had been pushed aside. She flipped the book over to keep her place and yawned. “I put your sandwich under the bowl over there.”
“Thanks.” He stopped to acknowledge the dog, part-retriever part-whatever, tail thumping a welcome against his bed in front of the heat register. “Hey, Migo.” Brendan rubbed the dog with his foot. It was supposed to get down in the thirties tonight – they might actually need the heat, though it hardly seemed credible right now. He turned toward his aunt, and Migo sighed and went back to sleep.