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“It’s not a religious objection,” Cathy corrected. She told Sara, “We both remember how devastating it was for you when you found out Jeffrey was catting around. It’s just hard for your father to see you broken like that and then have Jeffrey waltz back in.”

“I’d hardly call it a waltz,” Sara said. Nothing about their reconciliation had been easy.

“I can’t tell you that your father will ever forgive him.”

Bella pointed out, “Eddie forgave you.”

Sara watched as all the color drained from her mother’s face. Cathy wiped her hands on her apron in tight, controlled movements. In a low voice, she said, “Lunch will be ready in a few hours,” and left the kitchen.

Bella lifted her shoulders and gave a heavy sigh. “I tried, pumpkin.”

Sara bit her tongue. A few years ago, Cathy had told Sara about what she called an indiscretion in her marriage before Sara had been born. Though her mother said the affair had never been consummated, Eddie and Cathy had nearly divorced over the other man. Sara imagined her mother didn’t like being reminded of this dark period in her past, especially not in front of her oldest child. Sara didn’t much like the reminder herself.

“Hello?” Jeffrey called from the front hall.

Sara tried to hide her relief. “In here,” she yelled.

He walked in with a smile on his face, and Sara assumed her father had been too busy washing her car to give Jeffrey any serious grief.

“Well,” he said, looking back and forth between the two women with an appreciative smile. “When I dream about this, we’re usually all naked.”

“You old dog,” Bella chastised, but Sara could see her eyes light up with pleasure. Despite years of living in Europe, she was still every inch the Southern belle.

Jeffrey took her hand and kissed it. “You get better looking every time I see you, Isabella.”

“Fine wine, my friend.” Bella winked. “Drinking it, I mean.”

Jeffrey laughed and Sara waited for a lull before asking, “Did you see Dad?”

Jeffrey shook his head just as the front door slammed closed. Eddie’s footsteps were heavy down the hallway.

Sara grabbed Jeffrey’s hand. “Let’s go for a walk,” she said, practically dragging him out the back door. She asked Bella, “Tell Mama we’ll be back in time for lunch.”

Jeffrey stumbled down the deck steps as she pulled him to the side of the house and out of view from the kitchen windows.

“What’s going on?” He rubbed his arm as if it hurt.

“Still tender?” she asked. He had injured his shoulder a while back and, despite physical therapy, the joint continued to ache.

He gave a half shrug. “I’m okay.”

“Sorry,” she said, putting her hand on his good shoulder. She found herself unable to stop there and put her arms around him, burying her face in the crook of his neck. She inhaled deeply, loving the smell of him. “God, you feel so good.”

He stroked her hair. “What’s going on?”

“I miss you.”

“I’m here.”

“No.” She leaned back so she could see him. “This week.” His hair was getting long on the sides and she used her fingers to tuck it behind his ear. “You just come in, drop off some boxes and leave.”

“The renters move in Tuesday. I told them I’d have the kitchen ready by then.”

She kissed his ear, whispering, “I’ve forgotten what you look like.”

“Work’s been busy lately.” He pulled away a few inches. “Paperwork and stuff. Between that and the house, I don’t have time for myself, let alone seeing you.”

“It’s not that,” she said, wondering at his defensive tone. They both worked too much; she was hardly in a position to throw stones.

He took a couple of steps back, saying, “I know I didn’t return a couple of your calls.”

“Jeff,” she stopped him. “I just assumed you were tied up. It’s no big deal.”

“What is it, then?”

Sara crossed her arms, suddenly feeling cold. “Dad knows.”

He seemed to relax a bit, and she wondered from his relief whether he had been expecting something else.

He said, “You didn’t think we could keep it a secret, did you?”

“I don’t know,” Sara admitted. She could tell something was on his mind but wasn’t sure how to draw him out. She suggested, “Let’s walk around the lake. Okay?”

He glanced back at the house, then at her. “Yeah.”

She led him through the backyard, taking the stone path to the shore that her father had laid before Sara was born. They fell into a companionable silence, holding hands as they navigated the dirt track that cut into the shoreline. She slipped on a wet rock and he caught her elbow, smiling at her clumsiness. Overhead, Sara could hear squirrels chattering and a large buzzard swooped in an arc just above the trees, its wings stiff against the breeze coming off the water.

Lake Grant was a thirty-two-hundred acre man-made lake that was three hundred feet deep in places. Tops of trees that had been in the valley before the area was flooded still grew out of the water and Sara often thought of the abandoned homes under there, wondering if the fish had set up house. Eddie had a photograph of the area before the lake was made and it looked just like the more rural parts of the county: nice shotgun-style houses with an occasional shack here and there. Underneath were stores and churches and a cotton mill that had survived the Civil War and Reconstruction, only to be shut down during the Depression. All of this had been wiped out by the rushing waters of the Ochawahee River so that Grant could have a reliable source of electricity. During the summer, the waterline rose and fell depending on the demand from the dam, and as a child, Sara had made a habit of turning off all the lights in the house, thinking that would help keep the water high enough so that she could ski.

The National Forestry Service owned the best part of the lake, over a thousand acres that wrapped around the water like a cowl. One side touched the residential area where Sara and her parents had houses and the other held back the Grant Institute of Technology. Sixty percent of the lake’s eighty-mile shoreline was protected, and Sara’s favorite area was smack in the middle. Campers were allowed to stake tents in the forest, but the rocky terrain close to shore was too sharp and steep for anything pleasurable. Mostly, teenagers came here to make out or just to get away from their parents. Sara’s house was directly across from a spectacular set of rocks that had probably been used by the Indians before they were forced out, and sometimes at dusk she could see an occasional flash of a match as someone lit a cigarette or who knew what else.

A cold wind came off the water and she shivered. Jeffrey put his arm around her, asking, “Did you really think they wouldn’t find out?”

Sara stopped and turned to face him. “I guess I just hoped.”

He gave one of his lopsided smiles, and she knew from experience that an apology was coming. “I’m sorry I’ve been working so much.”

“I haven’t gotten home before seven all week.”

“Did you get the insurance company straightened out?”

She groaned. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay,” he said, obviously trying to think of something to say. “How’s Tess?”

“Not that, either.”

“Okay…” He smiled again, the sun catching the blue in his irises in a way that made Sara shiver again.

“You wanna head back?” he asked, misinterpreting her response.

“No,” she said, cupping her hands around his neck. “I want you to take me behind those trees and ravage me.”

He laughed, but stopped when he saw she was not joking. “Out here in the open?”

“Nobody’s around.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“It’s been two weeks,” she said, though she hadn’t given it much thought before now. It wasn’t like him to let things go this long.

“It’s cold.”

She put her lips to his ear and whispered, “It’s warm in my mouth.”

Contrary to his body’s reaction, he said, “I’m kind of tired.”