“Well, then I hope you both enjoy your vacation. Your try-out vacation. Seems like it could be a little more relaxing, if you ask me.”
“It will be relaxing to be alone with Julia.”
Marianne’s step-grandparent’s driveway is out of view from the workshop. Julia walks on its white gravel now frozen with melted snow. Instead of a loose, cushioning feel, not exactly, but similar to the beach, she thinks, it is firm beneath her feet, like an old city street, neglected for years and in need of repair. Kate waits for her, standing still facing the cars on the frozen ground, one hand on the stair’s railing.
“We can leave right now, go anywhere you want.” Kate says this without looking.
Julia still holds the devil. She is smiling stupidly at the sound of Kate’s voice finally coming, the air numbing her nose and cheeks in such a short span of time. She says, “We can’t.” The hazy gray cloud of her breath. She is rubbing the devil’s slick cape between icy fingers, forcing herself to think about the fabric, not Kate from behind, the words from behind, the nylon jacket cropped short to her waist, the seat of her pants, her ass, her thin legs, brown hair half-caught in the collar of her jacket. She is thinking, Like this, you are at your most vulnerable, but she is saying, “No, we can’t.”
Kate kicks, sending frozen snow in all directions, not stopping until she loosens some rocks. “My mother will take her back to the city. He’s gone for the week, maybe more. I don’t know.”
When Julia was nine, she nearly drowned in a neighbor’s pool while her mother ran inside for potato chips and cigarettes. She can feel now the panic of that moment, the sudden fight for life, the humidity and afternoon sun, her muscles tight and limbs stiff as she fought off the water that had started cool on her skin, but then became heavy with the need to have her down inside it. Embarrassed by her quick breathing, she says, “Why are you here?” and again, more forcefully, with different emphasis, “Why are you here?” using Marianne’s words, unable to think of better ones on her own.
Kate takes the stairs and doesn’t look, doesn’t answer. Inside the house, the door shuts behind her, gently, without anger.
For Julia, this moment is over too quickly. Without the hole left by Kate in the snow, she’d be convinced it never happened.