Grace Summer

A book, perhaps the collected works of Shakespeare, propped open the
window. It was after midnight, the moon rising high into the
perpetually cloudless night sky, its luminance overpowering most of
the stars. A nearly imperceptible breeze ebbed and flowed through
the open panes, caressing my skin as I lay on top of the sheets.
There had been no air movement for days, only everpresent heat and
humidity; even a miniscule movement of air entertained my gratitude.

Unable to sleep, I pushed myself from the sheets and stood at the
window. Fields stretched outwards from the house, like an ocean
without end, the moonlight bathing the wilted crops as if reflected
from gentle swells. Somewhere deep in the house, I could hear the
regular breathing of my parents, blissfully unaware of the
turbulence racing through my mind.

Out beyond the fields, a chorus of canine howls echoed across the

While the night appeared calm and peaceful, something was moving out
beyond my ability to see. The night couldn’t remain calm.

Silently, I gathered rough clothing to me and slipped out of the
bedroom. Soft snoring continued from upstairs as my feet
automatically avoided the squeaky floorboards more out of habit than
a conscious desire.

Stepping out into the night and carefully locking the door, I
breathed in the humid air. The breeze bathed me.

Unease filled my soul.


The steeple stood in silhouette, a shadow of deeper darkness rising
upwards, blocking the faint starlight. I stood on the empty road
gazing at the church. To the right of the church, the residence
house lay in darkness, its occupants asleep with the rest of the
town. Standing in front of the church, it felt like I was the only
soul awake in the entire world, time halted by some divine
intervention. My earlier unease seemed nearly foolish, and I
wondered briefly why I had wandered here while the town slept.

Despite my attendance every Sunday, I did not believe any more than
I had back in June when the lazy fans inside had demonstrated their

Ascending the stairs, I tried the main doors, expecting the building
to be closed for the night. To my surprise, the doors swung outward
silently, beckoning me into the dimmed interior. While few in the
town locked their doors, I’d assumed that the churches and other
public buildings would barricade their doors as night fell.

Yet the doors had opened to my touch. The house of the lord,
perhaps, need not fear evil.

I glanced around before stepping into the building. Despite the
silence and peace here, it was difficult to shake off my earlier
premonition of dread.


Moonlight dimly illuminated the stained glass representation of
Jesus upon the cross as my eyes adjusted to the gloom. Red candles
glowed softly, a remembrance of times and parishioners past.

My footsteps echoed as I entered the cloister and then slipped into
my usual hardwood pew at the back of the church. There was not
enough light to open either of the testaments or the hymnal,
although dimly, far above me, the shadows of the fan blades were
visible standing sentinel silently. It was cooler in the church than
outside, despite the absence of any air movement.

Had I believed in a higher power, it would have been an excellent
time to pray. Instead, I closed my eyes and let my thoughts drift.


Low voices awoke me from a shallow doze. With a groan, I sat. Pews
are uncomfortable to sit upon for hours of sermon; they are far
worse to sleep upon. Massaging my muscles, my ears strained for the
source of the sound that had awakened me.

As I was preparing to push myself to my feet and walk home, the
voices sounded again, low, insistent, angry and jovial all at the
same time. A few moments passed until I realised that the voices
sounded familiar, they were very close, perhaps outside the front
doors of the church, and that there was a mixture of voices.

Shaking off the last vestiges of sleep, I considered hiding,
concerned that I might be breaking some law by sleeping in the
church. Perhaps the Reverend had realised in the early hours before
dawn that he’d neglected to lock the front doors and that hooligans
might vandalise the altar or the rock hard pews. Hooligan or not, I
did not wish to be locked inside the church until Sunday.

Wearily, I rose and walked quietly to the front entrance where the
oaken doors mocked me. Beyond them, the voices continued, muted. By
straining, I could tell that the voices were male, perhaps three or
four, none immediately recognisable as the Reverend.

A clatter, as if something had been dropped, some hushed laughter,
and then a soft cry of triumph.

I reached for the door handle, hesitating. A sinking sensation
lodged itself into my stomach. The voices were recognisable, even
through the heavy doors, especially the cruel laughter.

It wasn’t the identity of the hooligans in front of the church that
made me hesitate, but rather the single word that drifted through
the still air.


I closed my eyes and drew a deep breath.

Then I swung open the doors.


Zeke, Bobby and Vincent stood hunched over the church sign board,
Zeke with a canister in his right hand. As the door opened with a
sigh and a squeak, they collectively turned, a strange combination
of guilt, fright and anger passing across each boy’s features. They
reminded me of children caught with their hands in the cookie jar,
or of deer frozen in the headlight of an onrushing transport.

They stared at me and me at them for what seemed like an hour.

Then Zeke laughed, a little nervously.

“Fuck, Flan. You nearly scared the shit outta us.”

Carefully, I stepped towards the group, letting the door swing shut
behind me. The doors closed with a finality, like the gates of St.
Peter upon the damned.

I saw puzzlement, then a shade of open deviousness cross Zeke’s

“What are you even doing here, man? It’s like three in the morning

I cleared my throat.

“I could ask you the same thing.”

Zeke pulled himself up to his full height. He was significantly
taller than me. Then he shrugged.

“We were looking for you, man.”

“I was here.”

“You become a pansy altar-boy?”

Zeke and the boys laughed uproarishly at his witticism.

I shrugged. “I wanted to be alone. You assholes killed that plan.”

Zeke’s eyes narrowed. I gestured towards the sign that they remained
gathered around.

“What you morons doing at a church at three in the morning then?”

My sense of dread intensified.

Zeke laughed.

“We were prayin’, man …”

His comment was followed by a chorus of “Yeah, we prayin'”

“… prayin’ for justice.”

Zeke was slurring his words a little and Bobby and Vincent didn’t
look entirely steady on their feet either.

“Justice?” I’d reached the base of the short flight of steps.
Between their bodies, I could see that the church sign didn’t look
quite right.

Zeke laughed again.

“I told you we’d get her.”

“Who?” Though I had a sinking feeling that I knew.

“The bitch, man. The bitch.”

Bobby and Vincent giggled. “Yeah, the bitch. Fucking bitch.”

Carefully I walked up to them and they parted, exposing their
handiwork. It was difficult to see properly with the shadows cast by
the partial moon, but there was something written across the sign.

In better times, the sign proclaimed inspirational Christian quotes,
usually from Leviticus or Psalms or Genesis.

It would be easier to read in the daylight, but I was reasonably
sure that Zeke had written something less inspirational across its
shiny surface in dark and permanent spray paint, the canister of
which remained loosely dangling in his right hand.

I squinted at the new writing as Zeke, Bobby and Vincent cackled at
their nighttime vandalism.

The only word that was immediately visible: “Bitch”.

I was reasonably sure that the word “burn” also featured in Zeke’s

I shook my head, unamused at the petty actions of the group. A few
months earlier, I might have happily participated, but tonight, as
the moon shone down through the heavy air, it occurred to me that
vandalising a church sign would be a reasonably decent method to
avoid St. Peter’s good graces if one believed in such judgement. A
sure one way ticket to Hell.

Zeke clapped me on the back hard enough to make me gasp.

“And the night is still young,” he laughed.

Still laughing, he dropped the empty can of paint at the foot of the
sign with a clatter. The group of us began to walk across the lawn
towards the church residence, me more out of a sense of morbid
curiosity than a desire to participate. As we walked, my sense of
dread reawakened like a lion hungry for the kill.


Rebecca and her father, the Reverend, both lived at the residence.
The residence sat a short walk from the church; a simple commute for
a sedate profession. It was an ornate wooden home, built around the
same time as the church. The Reverend, with help from some church
members, kept the old Victorian structure and the gardens
surrounding it in pristine condition.

Tonight, the moonlight reflected eerily from the steep roof and
white paint of the porch that led to the front door. I had never
been inside it before, but as far as I knew, only the Reverend and
his daughter lived there. I had no idea what had happened to
Rebecca’s mother, and Rebecca had never mentioned her in all our
lengthy talks that summer.

Zeke carefully approached the steps and extracted a container hidden
beside it. Then he sauntered back to the group. A strong scent of
gasoline drifted from the can as Zeke approached.

I eyed the jerry can and then raised my eyes to Zeke’s face.

“You aren’t serious,” I said quietly.

He nodded. It was then that I noticed that Zeke was more drunk than
I’d realised back at the sign vandalism. His eyes shone with the
insane light of a fanatic.

“That’s some serious shit,” I remarked as coolly as I could.

Again he nodded.

“She laughed at me, man. Fucking bitch.”

I glanced around at the others, but they all wore the same grim grin
that Zeke did.

I reached for the canister of gasoline, but Zeke merely laughed and
pulled it away from my grip.

“She needs to pay for it.”

“She didn’t laugh at you, Zeke,” I said quietly. It was a dangerous
gambit, but this whole crazy night was a crazy gambit.

Zeke cocked his head to one side.

“She laughed at me. When I asked the prissy bitch out.” His tone of
voice implied much more, a deep lack of understanding of why any
girl wouldn’t want to date old Zeke.

“So you’re going to kill her?”

He laughed.

“Maybe. But more likely just a little burn or two. She’ll survive,
but what guy will want to date a burnt up witch?”

I clenched my fists.

“She didn’t laugh at you, Zeke. She laughs when she’s nervous.”

Zeke eyed me, a dangerous understanding penetrating into his mind.

“And how would you know that, Flan?”

“I know.”

“You fucking her? When she wouldn’t fuck me?”

I drew in a breath.

“I just know. Let’s get the fuck out of here. You guys can sober up
and tomorrow …”

The fist came from out of nowhere, striking me in the jaw. I spun
and hit the ground with a grunt of pain. Blood filled my mouth and
trickled slowly down my chin to drip into the soft grass. Above me,
laughter rained down on me. I was expecting another blow, perhaps a
kick, but it never came. Slowly, I raised my head, the world
spinning. Blackness, deeper than night, threatened, but I forced it
from my vision.

Zeke, Bobby and Vincent were standing by the steps. Dancing and
laughing, Zeke splashed liquid from the can across the boards of the

Dizzy, I pushed myself up, swaying and blinking. I swallowed a
mouthful of blood. I checked my teeth with the tip of my tongue.
Everything seemed to be in place.

Stumbling, I approached the group. So intent on their plans and
laughing hysterically, they were unaware of my approach.

Zeke raised his right fist. A silver lighter lay between his
fingers, thumb poised. With a careless flick of his thumb, the flame

For a moment, he stood there like an Olympic torch bearer, his face
illuminated in moonlight. I’ve never seen anyone look crazier,
before or since.

“Burn in hell, bitch,” he muttered.

As his fingers began to loosen to drop the lighter, I grabbed his
shoulder and spun him, my right fist crashing into his jaw. Blood
sprayed as he screamed.

His fingers opened in surprise and pain.

The lighter dropped, as if in slow motion.


And then the night was alight.


As Zeke and the others ran, I turned my face towards the open
windows on the second floor, stepping back from the rapidly moving

Cupping my hands: “Rebecca!”

Instead of Rebecca, a sleepy Reverend stuck his head from the
nearest window. He squinted, not immediately seeing the danger.

“Flan McBride,” he bellowed. “I’ll have you arrested for this.”

Instinct told me to flee, as Zeke and the others had, but instead, I
called out again.


The Reverend began to splutter.


At last, a window halfway down the house opened and Rebecca’s head
emerged, her hair braided, and her eyes at half mast, sleepy.

“Flannery, it’s four in the morning. You shouldn’t …”

“Fire,” I said simply.

Rebecca glanced down, her eyes immediately widening.

“Oh my God,” she whispered. Even over the crackling of the flames, I
could hear her. A similar sentiment echoed from the Reverend.

“I’ll see that you never get out of jail for this, Flan McBride,”
the Reverend said vehemently as he disappeared from the window.

I hesitated, wanting to brave the flames. Help them. Somehow.

Instead, I walked away. It wasn’t cowardice. There was simply
nothing that I could do beyond what I had already done. The flames
had already risen in on the front porch to the point where
unprotected approach was impossible. Rebecca and the Reverend could
escape out of numerous windows or perhaps a rear entrance.


She stood shivering, barefoot, wrapped in a blanket, the Reverend’s
arm draped protectively across her shoulders, watching her home
burn. I watched them from the shadows for a while, until I began to
hear sirens in the distance.

All because of wounded pride.

I sighed, turned, and began to walk.


Our place by the river seemed ethereal in the moonlight. The muted
radiance illuminated the elm, the slow moving river water, and the
dry grass. The distant sirens had silenced as I’d arrived.

I settled with my back against the elm’s bark. It was doubtful if
Rebecca would ever join me here again, and that saddened me.

But for now, it was peaceful and quiet and I closed my eyes,
exhausted and sore.


I winced and opened my eyes as soft fingers touched my jaw.

It was still night, the moon the only illumination. For a moment, I
thought it was a dream.

Rebecca crouched in front of me, her soft features bathed in the

“Why?” she asked. Tears welled in her lids.

I had no idea what she was asking me, then the enormity of what had
happened flooded back into me. I reached for her face.

“Are you all right?”

She nodded slowly.

“I trusted you,” she murmured. “Why, Flannery, why?”

I shrugged, not quite sure what to say.

“It’s all gone,” she said, her voice breaking. “Everything burnt to
ashes. Daddy says that we can rebuild, but he’s going to make sure
that you go to jail this time for good. Why?”

I suddenly realised what her implication was.

“Rebecca, you think I did this?”

She closed her eyes, as if in pain. Slowly, she nodded. That hurt me
more than anything else.

“Why did you come here then?”

“I needed to face you. Understand why.” Her tears fell easily and
unhindered down her cheeks, shimmering in the moonlight. “I want to
hit you,” she said slowly.

I sighed and closed my eyes.

“Okay. It won’t be the first time tonight.”

I lowered my hands to the ground and extended my already bruised
jaw, inviting.

After a time, I opened my eyes. Her hand wavered, somewhere between
striking me and falling to her own side.

“I can’t,” she whispered.

I remained silent.

Her hand finally dropped to her side. I watched her eyes. Confusion,
betrayal, and simple sadness flit behind her gaze. Slowly, she

“It wasn’t you,” she whispered. “You were there, but it wasn’t you.”

I swallowed, allowing her time.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “You saved our lives.”

And she fell into my arms and wept.


Later, she stood, her bare feet planted in the grass either side of
my legs. The moonlight shimmered in her raven hair. Slowly, she
released the braid, her hair fluttering loose about her shoulders.
The blanket, still reeking of wood smoke, she bent and smoothed
across the grass.

She wore a simple white nightgown. It occurred to me that this
nightgown might be the only clothing that she now owned. The cloth
swirled about her body, clinging and releasing as she moved. In the
moonlight, it seemed translucent and angelic.

Rebecca tilted her face upwards. In the muted light, smudges of
charcoal and soot marred the porcelain of her cheeks.

In one quick motion, she lifted the nightgown from her body, over
her head, and dropped it in a heap beside the blanket.

I gasped, but I don’t think she heard me.

Carefully, she stepped onto the blanket, knelt, naked, and beckoned

I watched this beautiful creature kneeling patiently, tears
continuing to pour silently down her cheeks.

Then I went to her.


She kissed me and I could taste soot mixed with the salt of her
tears. Her fingers fumbled insistently with my clothes, nearly
tearing the cloth from my body. Her breathing intensified with each
garment cast into the darkness until I was as naked as she.

Her fingers found my penis, stroking. After a moment’s hesitation,
my fingers sought her breasts. She moaned, pressing her chest into
my hands.

Without losing the connection of our lips, she threw me down,
sprawled on the blanket. Swinging her left leg over me, she
straddled me and without warning, I was buried in her moisture.

Slowly, she began to rock herself upon me, throwing her head back,
gasping at the moon. My hands rose to her breasts, lightly stroking
her nipples.

In the distance, the wolves cried. Rebecca’s voice joined them as
she climaxed. As she clenched, I exploded into her as she collapsed,
still weeping on top of me.


I woke from a light doze as she moved from me. The moon still lit
the clearing and the river, but the beginnings of dawn lit the sky
to the east. The scent of soot and smoke was strong where I still
lay upon her blanket.

I watched her without moving as she settled, still nude, near the
river bank. She drew up her knees, facing upstream.

At first, I thought she was crying there, softly. The urge to gather
her back into my arms and protect her nearly overwhelmed me, but she
wanted and needed her space, and probably wasn’t aware that I was

And then I heard it softly passing her lips.

Amazing Grace.

She sang gently, but a choir of angels could not compare to the
haunting melody passing from her soul. I closed my eyes.

It was the most beautiful experience I have ever witnessed.


She returned to me as the sun peeked above the horizon. Her fingers
traced my bruised jaw, wincing as I winced. The tears had dried,
though she remained quiet and sad.

This time, we made love slowly. The sound of the river, the stirring
of morning birds in the trees, the scent of dew and soot and
Rebecca’s arousal combined to enhance each touch, each caress, each

Afterward, we lay quietly, my arms wrapped around her, watching the
sun rise.

Her song haunted me.


“Rebecca …” I began.

She stirred, her body stiffening.

“… I …”

She flipped over, propping herself on her elbows, her eyes capturing
mine and halting me. Her sadness deepened.

“Flannery,” she whispered. “Don’t say it.”

“But …”

“If you say it,” she continued, “I can’t come back here. Not ever.
And that will happen soon enough.”

“I need …”

She nodded. “I owe you my life, Flannery. My father’s too, even if
he doesn’t know it.”

“Your song …”

She smiled a little, which gave me hope. “Our song,” she whispered.
She watched my face for a while, her smile losing some of its

The sun had climbed higher into the sky, clearing the horizon. It
was early yet, but the day had crowned.

“I have to go,” she said sadly. “My father will be worried sick.”

With a sigh, I nodded. It was time for me to return to the scene of
the crime. It was easy to forget the outside world, here, with

She reached over me, her skin soft against mine, gathering up her
nightgown. In the light I could see dark marks of charcoal upon its
fabric. Carefully, she brushed some of the grass and leaves from its
surface before rising to her feet.

She stood naked beside me, allowing me to drink in the sight of her.
Then she slipped the gown over her head where it settled about her.
I rolled from the blanket and gathered my scattered clothes as she
lifted the blanket where we’d lain.

I dressed quickly and then carefully wrapped the blanket about her
bare shoulders.

“Walk me home?” she asked quietly.

I nodded.

She slipped her hand into mine, kissing me once on the lips. Her
lips warmed me.

It was the only time I ever walked her home that summer.


I believe that Rebecca knew better than I what would happen as we
approached the town. A column of smoke rose from the direction of
the church, but not a soul did we meet as we trudged down the dusty
lanes. Her bare feet silent, my shoes kicking up dust with every
step. Idly I wondered what time it was.

She halted carefully out of sight of her house.


I cocked my head to the side inquiringly.

“I’m leaving before September,” she said.

“Stay. Please.”

She shook her pretty head. I’ve seen the expression before on many
women. There was no hope of convincing her. And in retrospect, I
glad I didn’t try.

“We still have some time,” she said quietly.

She lowered her head, examining her bare, dusty toes. Then she
raised her eyes again.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “For everything.”

I nodded, unsure how to respond.

After a time, she sighed softly. Standing up on her toes, she
reached for my lips again.

“I do, too,” she whispered. Tears welled in her eyes, but she didn’t
permit them to fall. I knew what she meant, but we couldn’t speak
it. Never in that dry and dusty summer.

With that, she grasped my hand and led me into a madhouse.


For a moment, I stood with Rebecca at the edge of the firefighters
and police. The firefighters coiled up their hoses and gathered
their axes. Near the stairs, a small group of police, including the
fire chief, stood examining what looked like a burnt jerry can that
I’d last seen in Zeke’s hands.

Interspersed throughout the small crowd were many silent members of
the congregation, including Miss Fitzroy, looking stunned and
shocked. Some held hands, some bowed heads silently praying.

The Victorian structure that was, now lay wasted: a molten blob of
charcoal and soot. Tendrils of smoke rose lazily from the ruins into
the heated morning air. The central staircase still partially stood,
though it reminded me of a flight to heaven as the second floor of
the home had completely collapsed. The white paint, the spires, all
destroyed. Beside me, Rebecca shivered, but didn’t cry at the sight
of the devastation that used to be her home.


I turned at the sound of the Reverend’s voice, his tone carrying
relief, concern and anger.

Rebecca’s hand slipped from mine and emptiness invaded into my soul.

The Reverend and two big cops hurried towards us. Then people were
shouting, and though it was difficult to hear what they were saying,
my name seemed to pass enough lips that it was clear that the
Reverend’s version of events had convinced most of the parishioners
of my immediate guilt.

And to my credit, I felt guilty as the enormity of what had happened
and what I’d been unwittingly a part of, crashed over me.

In a daze, I felt Rebecca pulled from me, the old blanket swirling
away. The screams and ire of the church folk surrounded me as I
dimly heard one of the burly cops read me Miranda. Handcuffs
encircled my wrists and surprisingly gently, the other cop led me
away from the madhouse towards a waiting squad car.

In the distance, I could hear a voice that sounded suspiciously like
Rebecca’s calling:



The Jumping Jack was a country dive that nearly straddled the town
line. It appeared that I wasn’t the only hooligan in town that
fateful night. A full-fledged bar fight had erupted, resulting in
four drunken and disorderly clients rounded up and placed in the
town’s holding facility. When I arrived, the four were sleeping it
off, and I was more than happy to permit them their dreams. My
temporary roommates stunk of beer and cigarettes and vomit, and two
of them had visible cuts and scrapes.

I wandered to the far edge of the pen, sat down, and waited.

After three hours, two burly gentlemen escorted me back to the front
of the station to book me and interview me.

I gave them what they wanted.

It was me. Alone. A prank gone bad. No mention of the church sign.
No mention of Zeke or the boys. No mention of wounded pride or
prejudice. Only me. Alone.

It was what they wanted to hear. It was the only story they were
ready to believe.

I was charged, temporarily, with arson and attempted murder.


As I was rising to my feet to be walked back to the pen, the
Reverend and Rebecca burst through the station doors, their voices
raised. Rebecca was practically pulling her father into the station.
Behind them, a shamefaced cop mumbled something about trying to stop

Rebecca halted at the front desk, her eyes flashing, almost daring
anyone to tell her to leave. When her eyes passed over me, she
hesitated for a moment, then spoke softly, her voice nevertheless
cutting through the station. She addressed me as if the remainder of
the audience didn’t exist.

“Are you all right?”

I nodded.

“Why haven’t they let you go?”

At this, the cop who had interviewed me stepped between Rebecca and

“Miss,” he said, “I just booked him for arson and attempted murder.”

Her eyes widened. The Reverend smiled triumphantly. I couldn’t blame

Rebecca looked at me, her eyes betraying confusion for a moment.
Then her intellect regained her attention and she worked out what
had happened.

“Tell them,” she whispered. “They won’t stand up for you.”

I shook my head. She was right, but it wouldn’t matter. The
interview cop returned to my side and we started to walk away.
Before we passed into the long corridor to the cells, I turned. My
cop allowed it.

Rebecca had tears streaming down her face as she spoke hurriedly to
her father. Her hand raised to his shoulder and even I could read
her lips. “Please.”

Then the Reverend spoke.

“Can I speak to the boy?”

His voice had lost its fiery edge, though his face remained

After a moment of hesitation, I was brought to the front desk to
face the Reverend. The cops left me there, but I could feel their
watchful eyes resting upon my back.

“My daughter thinks highly of you, Flan McBride.”

“And I her,” I responded quietly.

“She tells me that all is not what it seems.”

I shrugged, trying to ignore the pleading look plastered on
Rebecca’s face. She remained quiet.

The Reverend’s eyes passed over me, peering into my soul.

“God teaches us to seek understanding. Or so Rebecca tells me. God
also teaches us to find mercy, even when we least wish to extend

I didn’t answer him. His face betrayed shock and a very human desire
for justice. Under the circumstances, it was difficult to blame him.

He squared his shoulders and again peered at me. I didn’t lower my
eyes. After drawing a deep breath he spoke quietly. I doubted if
anyone else could hear his question, even though all were straining
to eavesdrop.

“Was it you?” he asked simply.

It would have been so easy to admit my wrongdoing, to stick to the
story and the image that so many of the folks in this small town
expected. It would have been a relief.

I glanced at Rebecca, tears sliding silently down her cheeks. In
the back of my mind, I wondered who else might wake to a merrily
burning porch, or graffiti upon their signs, or perhaps apples
nicked from a carefully arranged display. But it was mostly
Rebecca’s tears and the knowledge that if I lied, she would leave
and I likely wouldn’t be able to even say goodbye.

“No sir,” I whispered.

The tension drained from his face, but he now looked lost, like a
boat adrift upon an unending ocean. As if sensing what had been
exchanged, Rebecca returned to the Reverend’s side and carefully
grasped his hand. Tears continued to slip down her cheeks, but she
didn’t seem as animated or desperate. At least for her, everything
was as it should be.

The cop lightly grasped my arm. As I turned to follow him, the
Reverend raised his voice.



The mid-afternoon air wafted across my face, humid and hot as it
was. It had taken the local constabulary a few hours to determine
exactly what to do with me. Eventually, they settled on release,
especially with the word of the Reverend. It would take weeks before
the remainder of the town felt as generous.

She was sitting in the dry grass at the edge of the stairs, watching
the sparse traffic as it travelled past the police station. She
wore a borrowed pair of jeans and a coarse white blouse, her runners
replaced with a pair of ill-fitting sandals. Smudges of soot
darkened her cheeks.

When she turned, somehow aware of my gaze upon her, she pushed
herself up and ascended the stairs, throwing her arms around me.
People gawked, but I didn’t care. Her lips reminded me of cherries
and honey.

It was a long time before she released me.


The leaves had begun their journey to a colourful heaven. In the
last few weeks of summer, the temperatures had cooled, and even a
little rain had fallen, mostly in the evenings.

She had dressed again, except for her shoes. Standing up on her
toes, her hands on my shoulders, she kissed me for the last time.
Her breath smelled like Jack Daniels and honeysuckle.

“I have to go, Flannery,” she whispered. “My train.”

“I know,” I replied carefully. And I did know. She wouldn’t be
swayed and even a summer such as we’d had together couldn’t change
her destiny.

Lightly, she picked up the bottle of Jack and pressed it into my
hand with a smile.

“Finish it for me,” she whispered.

Then she turned away and carrying her shoes, walked up the lane.

As she was about to disappear from sight, she turned and waved and
blew me a kiss.

And then she was gone.