Something about the stranger’s interest made me cautious. After passing the Dahl’s
place, I pulled off the gravel road onto a two-track I remembered that travelled
into the woods a way then petered out at the spot where an old cabin had burned before
I was born. As a teenager, I’d found it a great place for private time with my boyfriends.
It served my current purpose, hiding my car from view of the road. I got out, closed
the door quietly, and headed through the woods, cutting off the last corner before
my driveway. I stopped a few feet back from the clearing where my house sat, seeing
what I’d suspected I’d find.
A black Hummer sat in my driveway. The man I’d seen in town was doing as I’d done
the day before, circling the house and peering in the windows. I tried to recall
if I’d left any sign of my presence, but I didn’t think so. I hadn’t been inside
that long. There were tire tracks in the drive, of course, but the house still looked
Looking for one of Marta’s foster children, he’d said. A female. Was he a reporter
who’d trailed me all the way from Richmond? Probably not. His license plate said
he was from West Virginia.
As he came back around to the front of the house, I saw his face clearly. He looked
like an outdoorsman, the kind who’s confident he can handle whatever Nature throws
at him. He was handsome, his face deeply sun-tanned. Wide shoulders filled out his
jacket in a way his tailor must have appreciated. Hearing his steps on the wooden
porch, I noted expensive boots with square heels and narrow toes.
For some minutes the man surveyed the yard, as if taking in details of the closed
outbuildings and the unbroken quiet. His gaze swept the tree line, and I froze as
it seemed to stop at the spot where I stood. No, I told myself. He didn’t see you,
and if you keep still, he won’t. It was hard to fight the urge to run, to avoid trouble,
whatever this particular sort of trouble was. Beth urged calm, but Loser wanted to
turn and flee, to keep running until she found anonymity in a big city with a park
for sleeping and alleys for hiding.
In the end, Beth won, or maybe she delayed action long enough that it became unnecessary.
The man made a move that signalled decision, pushing himself away from the porch
post and heading for his vehicle. He drove onto the lawn to turn around rather than
backing down the driveway. His tires spun ruts in the grass as he accelerated and
then disappeared from sight.
I waited until the dust cloud he’d made settled and then turned back, making my way
quietly through the trees until I reached my car. I sat in it for a while, wondering
who the man had been looking for. If it was me, I couldn’t think of a reason. All
of Marta’s foster children were at least a decade gone. What had brought a stranger
to the little town of Beulah and beyond it, to my front door?