Twenty-two years married. It’s an accomplishment, but when I look at Kent reading the newspaper in his leather chair, it occurs to me that I have nothing in common with this man. We were great at parenting, but those years are behind us; now our evenings are mostly spent in amiable silence.
I miss the fellow I married, the one who gave nicknames to strangers and played the accordion for an hour every Saturday afternoon.
He turns a page; an idea occurs to me. “Let’s have a picnic tomorrow,” I say.
Kent looks up for a few beats, then turns the page again. “Hmm,” he says. “Sure.”
We have thirty acres, much of it wooded. The next day we head to a wild field near the edge of the woods and I set out a lovely spread. We share a polite meal, commenting mostly on the crustiness of the bread and the overly ripe peaches. Kent looks toward the house often, and I know he’s wishing he’d brought something to read.
He’s finishing the last of the macaroons and I’m packing up the basket when we hear the sound of something crashing through the trees. He drops his cookie just as a young kid steps out toward us, eyes wide.
I know immediately who he is. The local news flashed his picture last night; he’s only fourteen, and he made a colossally stupid attempt at a robbery of a gas station half a mile from our house. He grabbed more than he could carry, mostly donuts and jerky, and then tried to snag a carton of Mountain Dew on his way out. He ended up dropping it all, then ran away before the startled clerk could dial 911. He’s been missing for three days.
Ronan—that’s his name. Ronan is looking at us, panting, a hand in his jacket pocket. Kent sits up slowly and says, “Well, hey there.” The boy glances past us, sees the house in the distance, then looks at the remnants of our meal. “You hungry, son?” says my husband. I watch carefully the hand in Ronan’s pocket.
The kid sways a little and stares at our food. It’s too warm for the jacket, and he’s sweating, filthy. He’s probably been hiding in our woods since he ran away from the gas station.
I haven’t moved; I’m still holding a checkered napkin in one hand and a few plastic forks in the other. Kent speaks again. “My wife packed way too much. We’re happy to share. Pull up a patch of weeds and sit down, willya?”
Ronan still hasn’t spoken, but his shoulders slump. His eyes dart—Kent, me, the food, the house. Kent is still sitting on the blanket, and he slowly reaches to his left for a third of a baguette. He holds it out as if trying to coax a frightened animal. “C’mon, kid. We’re done, aren’t we, Liz?”
I nod, very still.
Ronan snatches the bread from Kent’s hand and shoves it in his mouth. I’m not sure why he doesn’t run back into the woods until the boy folds down with a sigh, legs collapsing. He must be exhausted. Kent gestures to me: give him something to drink. I reach into the basket for a small bottle of grape juice.
The kid guzzles the drink, then leans back until he’s resting on a nearby tree. His hand is still in his pocket. Kent launches into a crazy monologue—the tire swing that used to hang from that tree, the time he broke his nose, gas prices. Ronan slips sideways, jerks, then crumples to the weeds, eyes closed.
A minute or two passes; no one moves. Kent leans forward and reaches into the boy’s pocket, retrieving a tiny jackknife. The boy twitches, coughs, settles again. My husband stands and takes me into his arms. “Go to the house and call the police,” he says.
“I’m fine, sweetheart.” He hasn’t called me sweetheart in years. “We’ll be fine.”
I rest my head on Kent’s shoulder and he breathes into my hair. I feel a whispered kiss, and I head for the house.
When I look back, I see that Kent is sitting next to Ronan, who is still asleep on the ground. Kent’s back is against the tree, and one hand rests on Ronan’s shoulder, a blessing. They are still there when the police come in twenty minutes, and Kent holds up a hand. “Wait,” he says. “I’ll wake him.”
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