Apologies for the long delay.

I should note that the process of getting an I.D., etc. is probably much harder and more time-consuming than portrayed here. All the information I could turn up online assumed that the petitioner had a birth certificate or Social Security number but no hard copy, or at least knew the name of the hospital in which they'd been born. There wasn't a scrap of info for people who simply don't have any of that information.

I almost ended up calling one of the state agencies to ask, but that seemed excessive. So I'm eliding the effort for my own convenience.


February

Dear Clyde:

I have to say thank you again for the books you gave me for Christmas. I am trying not to stay up too late to read them, but it's frustrating going so slowly when I want to find out what happens next! They are so good. I started crying in the middle of the second one because it's just so sad and amazing, and then it turned out to have a happy ending. I love them so much.

Yes, I did get a microwave. The thrift store finally had one that wasn't burned out. It's so heavy I almost couldn't carry it back home, but it just fits on the counter. And I fixed the fridge, so now I can actually start taking home some of the damaged cans from the grocery store. I can't run the stove, it needs propane and I can't afford that, and also my bosses don't want me to have an open flame in the trailer. But with the microwave I'm fine!

I miss you guys too. I really like your family, they're all so nice. It was such a surprise, a happy one, when you showed up that night.

I'm glad your therapy is going well. How is your job? Are you selling a lot of the new beer?

—Rey


Dear Rey:

That's real good that you got your kitchen set up. Mellie was talking about sending you this fancy hot chocolate she wants to share, so I bet she'll do that now. Don't your bosses know you're careful? Seems to me they should trust you.

My family liked you too. Well, you know how Mellie feels, but Jimmy keeps asking about you, and Sadie says she's doing another comic for you. Don't worry if it don't show up. She gets hooked on a thing for a while and then switches to something else, and she's about due.

The job is fine. The beer's selling okay. I like something lighter myself, but I don't have to drink it. Not so many customers right now, but the owner says that always happens this time of year, it's cold so people don't go out as much.

What's happening with your appointment about an ID? I remember you said it was last month. If you need any help with it let us know. Mellie knows just about everybody in our town and she used to date a lawyer. I'm sure she can find someone who knows something.

Yours - Clyde


Dear Clyde:

The appointment actually went really well! I told the lady why I didn't have anything and gave them the numbers for my school and Luis' parents. I said I knew it wasn't much but she said this sort of thing happens a lot more than people realize. I thought maybe she would think I was lying because of my accent, but I guess she didn't. It's going to take a while before I hear back, but it's a step forward.

It's a little warmer here, but I hardly notice because of the rain. I never thought I would miss the sun! I don't miss the desert but sometimes it would be nice if things were dry for a while.

The car wash let a bunch of us go, so I am looking for another job right now, but don't worry. If I can get the ID, Rose promised they would hire me full-time as a real employee, and then I won't have to have three jobs. Don't worry. I'm okay for right now.

I think they don't want me to run the stove because it would be bad for their insurance. I mean, officially I'm not here anyway, but if something did happen and there was a fire, they might not get paid. I don't mind. I've got everything I need.

I hope you get more customers soon. Did you get snow yet? Send me a photo if you do. It hasn't snowed here yet.

—Rey


Dear Rey:

I hope you liked the photo. It wasn't much snow and it didn't last long, but I saw little kids making snowmen anyway. It don't take much to make a kid excited.

You know I'm going to worry no matter what. Did you find another job? Something closer to the garage I hope.

My appointments are still going okay. Doctor Min says I may never be done with the mess in my head, but she also says I can keep getting better too. That don't look right on paper, but I get what she means. So long as I get good enough to go back home, I'll be all right.

Jimmy was here last weekend and we went to shoot pool. Duct Tape has tables, but I don't generally have time to play, so I was out of practice. But I'm better than Jimmy any day, so we had a good time. He says hello, and so does Sadie.

I wanted to put up the weathervane, but there's no yard here. Mellie had a brainwave and brought me a big old flower pot, and we filled it with pebbles and stuck the pole in. I guess it's kind of funny to have it in my living room, but it looks real good.

Tell me how the ID thing is going? If you want to.

Yours - Clyde


Dear Clyde:

I got real stationary! I finally had time to go to the bookstore and use the gift card Jimmy gave me, but when I got there it was too much. I couldn't decide! I must have spent two hours looking at different books, reading bits of them to try to make up my mind what to get. So I finally just closed my eyes and picked. The stationary was on sale and there was just enough money left on the card for it. Paige says that the flowers on the edges are cherry blossoms, but I just thought they were pretty.

The snow looked beautiful. I've read about making snowmen. Someday I want to try it, even if I'm not a kid anymore, just once. Can you send me a photo of the weathervane? I'm curious to see how it looks.

I'm glad your therapy is working! It doesn't matter if it takes a long time, it's worth doing. You deserve to get better. I know I said that before, but it's still true.

I bet you are better than Jimmy! Maz didn't have pool tables, she only had a couple of old video games. Sometimes she would let me play before opening. I had to stand on a chair to reach.

I'm still looking for another job. I keep trying at grocery stores and convenience stores because I would rather work inside if I can. It helps that I can speak Spanish but there isn't much right now. People say it will be better when it gets warmer. Don't worry MUCH.

—Rey

P.S. I haven't heard back from the ID agency yet.


March

Dear Rey:

If you think that's going to keep me from worrying, you got another think coming. But I take your point. Doctor Min says I'm allowed to worry about you, you know.

The paper's real pretty, and the envelope that goes along with it, you made a nice choice. A whole bunch of cherry trees blooming is quite a sight. Like snow, but it's warm out.

What books did you get? Are they ones you read already? The library here has almost all of Heinlein's early stuff, so I'm working my way through those. Sometimes I decide not to finish one, though. They don't always work too well anymore, if you know what I mean.

It's starting to warm up here, and sure enough, business is picking up. It's kind of interesting, the differences between this place and Duct Tape. Most of my patrons are regulars - we do get a little traffic from folks passing through town, but most nights I can name everybody who walks in. This place sees a lot more people just dropping by. Of course, these people have more money too, but in the end beer is beer. You can slap a fancy label on it and charge the earth for it, but that won't make it whiskey.

Duct Tape has a few pool tables and dart boards, but I never got any video games, my customers aren't really into that. I did have an old-fashioned pinball machine for a while but it busted and I couldn't find anybody to fix it.

I guess I kind of miss the place. But I'm not quite ready to go home yet. It's a funny feeling.

Yours - Clyde


Dear Clyde:

I've read some Heinlein, but I think the only one I liked was the one about the kid who won a spacesuit. I tried to read Fridaybecause the cover looked good, but I ended up wanting to throw the book through the library window, so I stopped. I like Andre Norton better.

I have good news! The ID agency called me back. They have to talk to my school and the doctor Maz took me to, but it looks like I will be getting a Social Security number soon! They told me I will have to pick a last name and a birthday. It sounds weird, but I don't actually know when my birthday is. Maz and I always celebrated on July 3, because it was almost as far from Christmas as we could get and there would be fireworks the day after. We didn't pick July 4 because it was always a very busy day for the bar. I'm not sure I want to keep that day, though. Isn't it a funny idea, getting to pick your own? I'm not sure how I'll decide.

One of the customers at the garage brought their parrot when they came to pick up their truck. It was big and white, with a crest, and it sat on the guy's shoulder without even a leash. He had a perch rigged up in the passenger seat for it - when he opened the door, it just climbed in like it did it every day. I've never seen a parrot before, not in person. They're BIG.

Do you have any pets? I kept a whiptail for a little while when I was a kid but it escaped.

Thank you for the weathervane photo! That's really clever.

—Rey


To: reyreyreyrey

From: queenoftheroad

Hey, honey, I just wanted to give you a heads up. Clyde caught himself a cold and he's not feeling too good, and he wanted me to let you know his letter might be late this week. He's real worried about it. I'm hoping it makes him stay in bed instead of pretending he's not sick, he's like a little kid that way.

Wish you were here - you're about due for another trim after the one I gave you at Christmas. Make sure you use the scissors I sent when you fix up your bangs, anything else ain't sharp enough.

Love, Mellie


To: reyreyreyrey

From: queenoftheroad

Well, looks like Clyde has the flu. I TOLD him to get the shot, but Mister I'm-Too-Busy-To-Listen-To-My-Sister says he just forgot. Now, don't worry, he's not bad sick, but it's going to take him a little while before he can write again. I'm staying at his place to keep an eye on him until he's back on his feet. Unlike SOME people, I got the damn shot.

Clyde says thank you for the get-well card. He got one from Sadie too, but he put yours up on his bedside table so he can see it all the time. Though mostly he just sleeps. Can you send him another letter? It was the first time I saw him smile since he got sick.

Sadie sends her love!

Love, Mellie


Dear Clyde:

I'm sorry you got the flu, that really sucks, but it's good Mellie can come look after you. I hope you're feeling better by now. You should rest! You can't get better unless you do.

I just finished the fourth Wizards book. It's set in Ireland. Have you ever been there? It sounds so pretty. I've added it to the list of places I want to go someday, which is getting very long.

A bunch of us from the garage went out for dinner again yesterday. I like going with them, but usually they want to go for drinks, and I can't do that without an ID. But sometimes we all go to a burger place, if we have time. It almost breaks my budget, but it's so much fun. I wish I had more time to spend with them - but I probably will when I become official. I did pick up a temporary job as a cleaner, the company mostly does restrooms for restaurants and coffee shops, and I will be glad to give that one up. People are gross. Especially men!

I'm still trying to choose a birthday, I didn't expect it to be this hard. I kind of want it to be a date that means something. I mean, I could just pick something at random, but somehow that doesn't feel right. I can't change it once I do, so I have to be sure! When is your birthday?

I know this is only a small step, but it's an important one. I'm very excited.

Make sure to rest and get well soon! I know it's very boring being sick, so I will send you some postcards since I don't have a lot to talk about in letters all the time.

—Rey


Dear Clyde:

Mellie says you're better, but you make sure to take it easy, okay? If you try to do too much you'll just get sick again. I had the flu once and Unkar made me work, and I actually got pneumonia. It was awful, I don't want it to happen to you.

It's starting to get warmer here but it's just as rainy as always. It's a bit of a problem because stuff just won't dry out in the trailer. I end up using the space heater a lot but it just kind of makes it steamy. What I really need is a vent fan, but I think I can rig one up from scrap parts if I can find the right ones. Wiring is easy, it's the fan itself that's specialized. But the Ticos don't care if I go through the trash for parts, which is really nice of them.

I got a letter from Sadie! It's mostly little cartoon drawings and it's so cute. She actually addressed it to "Wonder-Rey" and Rose laughed herself sick when she took in the mail, but not in a mean way. She asked if I would put the letter up on the bulletin board in the bay so everyone could enjoy the pictures, and of course I said yes.

The cleaning job is still really gross. I keep thinking about those truck stops and how much worse it must be there. I know cleaners don't get paid enough, but they should get paid a lot more than they do.

I don't think I said that I plan to keep Maz's last name, Kanata. I guess Plutt wouldn't let her adopt me, but I've used it all my life that I can remember, and I know she wouldn't mind. I wish you could have met her; she would have liked you.

—Rey


April

Dear Rey:

Thank you for your letters and the postcards. They meant a lot, especially while I was sick. They were sometimes the only thing I looked forward to all day. I'm glad Mel was there, but sometimes she's kind of a lot, you know? I'm better now though, so she went home.

I've never been to Ireland. I hear it's real pretty though. I hope you get the chance to see it some time. You should get to go wherever you want.

My prosthesis is acting up again. I went back to the same place to get it fixed up, and the lady there was telling me about a newer model, with more features than I got now. I admit I'm kind of tempted to get one. She works with the V.A. sometimes, so it might be possible to get it that way. It's not one of those fancy ones that hooks straight into your brain, which is good because I do not like that idea, but it is pretty nice.

We had dogs when I was growing up - just regular dogs, nothing fancy. Most of the time they belonged to us kids, but our big old shepherd mix Duke loved our mama like nothing else. There was usually a cat too. Mellie had a rabbit once. I like dogs best, but I got to admit there's something about a cat on your lap while you're reading.

My birthday's November 25, along about Thanksgiving time. Jimmy used to joke that Momma should just stick candles on the turkey.

Did you choose your day? What did the ID place say, have you got your papers yet?

I wish I could have met Miss Maz too. She sounds pretty amazing.

Yours - Clyde

P.S. I am considering going back to Eunice to give Plutt a serious piece of my mind, which would include me breaking various parts of him. Say the word and I will.


Dear Clyde:

I'm official! I have a Social Security number and a card and a government ID and everything. Not a license, because I haven't taken any courses (though I do know how to drive, I can even drive manual), it's the other one for people who don't drive. I'll get a license eventually, when I have the time (and money) for the classes, but for now this is plenty.

I picked August 8, because it's the day I left Eunice. It was the first day I was free, so in a way it's kind of like a rebirth. I know that sounds a little silly, but it's true. I slammed Unkar Plutt in the junk, I ran, I escaped. And I met you! So a very good day. Officially I will be 23 this year.

The Ticos hired me for real the day after I got my ID, too. Though Paige pointed out that I will have to find another place to live soon, before someone notices that my address is an auto shop. They're not being mean! Don't worry. It's just I had to give an address to get the ID, and that was the only one I had. I don't want them to get in trouble, they've been so nice to me. But she said I can have some time to save money and look around, and they still aren't charging me rent. Rose said I can take the trailer with me when I go, but I would need a car, and someplace to put the trailer, so I probably won't.

I'm so glad you're better! I was kind of worried even though Mellie said you would be fine. But you should still take it easy for a while. It can take a long time to really get over the flu.

I kind of wish I could take you up on that offer! But I got away and that's enough, plus what you did to him at the motel that first day. He won't forget that. He'll still be an asshole, but I won.

—Rey


Dear Rey:

Congratulations, that is purely wonderful! It must be a real relief to have all that stuff now. I'm real glad for you, and you getting hired proper at the shop. The Tico ladies are smart to snap you up. And that means you'll only work at one place, right?

I don't like that they're kicking you out, though. How long do you have? You know I'm happy to help if you need it.

August 8 is a good day to pick for your birthday. Not that my opinion's important, but I agree with you. It was a good day for me too, and not just because you knew how to fix my engine. You should tell it to Mellie, she'll make sure you get a card like you should.

I kind of got good news myself. Dr. Min thinks I'm in a pretty good place, and I'm about ready to go back home. She's offering to set me up with online sessions, or helping me find another therapist that's more local.

Part of me misses home, but part of me's a little scared, I don't mind admitting. Mellie says she's been telling folks I've been gone for medical treatment, which I guess is true in a way. But I know some people won't be satisfied with that. Well, some folks will ask nosy questions no matter what, they're just like that.

It'll be nice to get back to my place, though. I got books there that the library here can't get, and I do miss the bar. It's kind of funny to say that, maybe, but I like my job.

I'm real glad you're official now.

Yours - Clyde


Dear Clyde:

I'm so glad you're feeling better enough to go home! That's wonderful. And that your doctor is helping you set up to keep going. I don't blame you for being scared, you've been through a lot and people can be so mean sometimes. But I bet most of them will be nice.

You should go ahead and get that new prosthesis. Then if anybody gets nosy, tell them you were gone to get it made. They won't know how fast it was. And it'll be true, too.

When are you going? Make sure to send me your address so I know where to mail stuff.

It's so weird, working at the same place all day! I like it so much. I even canceled my bus pass because I only need to go places maybe once a week, so it's cheaper just to pay for each trip. I'm getting more rest too, even though I work hard in the shop. I got my health insurance card in the mail yesterday and I could hardly believe it. Now if I get sick I can go right to the doctor! Paige said I should get a tetanus shot, but I already have one of those. It was one thing Plutt did do. Probably because he didn't want to lose a worker if I got lockjaw, but I was happy to get it.

And now I can go out with everybody when they go to the bar. I still don't spend a lot, but I can get a beer, and it's fun to hang out with them all. Yusuf actually asked me on a date, but I said no. He was nice about it though.

Sometimes I still think I'm dreaming it all, but I'm not. It's real.

I wouldn't have it if it weren't for you, you know. I mean, I would probably be somewhere safe, and working, that was my plan from the beginning. But I never would have got as far as Seattle, that's for sure, and I never would have met the Ticos or got my trailer.

I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm sad that you were hurt and had to run, but I'm glad we found each other.

—Rey


Dear Rey:

I'm heading home next week (the address is below). That's a great idea, telling folks I was gone because of my arm, and I'm going to use it. The lady at the repair place is setting me up with the newer model - the shop handles the insurance and stuff. I'd have to come back for a fitting or two, but that's fine. Normally it would take months, but apparently they have one that someone decided they didn't want, and it's the right size for me. It's got actual fingers instead of a pincer. I'm not too sure how it works, but I guess I'll find out.

I'm real glad you're only working at the one place anymore. It's not so worrying. And that you can see a doctor when you need to - that's real important. When you find an apartment, you'll really be fixed.

I guess I am looking forward to being home again. It's not a big place and the people aren't fancy for the most part, but it's familiar and comfortable, sort of. Being closer to Mellie is sometimes a plus and sometimes a minus, you know? But she'll be happier.

I've been thinking that someday I'd like to go traveling again, just for fun. I mean, I went the length of the entire country and I didn't see most of it, seems a pity. I did do a bit when I was in the service, but there wasn't a lot of sightseeing with that.

It's real kind of you to say that, about us meeting. It was a very good thing for me. I do know what you mean, it's kind of like what the minister says in church, that good can come out of evil sometimes, and it sure did that time.

It's good that you're going out with your friends too.

Yours - Clyde


May

Dear Rey:

Paper letters are Clyde's thing, but Jimmy and I have got a proposition for you, and I wanted to lay it out where you could see it instead of reading it off that little phone screen.

We've got a friend named Earl - known him for years. He got a little windfall not too long ago, and he's decided he wants to retire early and move someplace warm, enjoy life while he's still young enough to do it. So he's selling his business, which is an auto shop.

Now, Jimmy and I were looking to invest in some property, but neither of us has time to run another business - hell, Jimmy's not even in the same state any more. So we were wondering if you might want to come take charge of it for us.

Before you say anything, we know you don't have any management experience, but Earl's place isn't a big operation. He mostly has one other employee, sometimes two. And I'll be honest with you, it's not in the best shape - kind of run-down around the edges.

But it's got regular customers, and Jimmy and I both think that someone with a little more push could really make something of the place. We're willing to put some money into it, if we can find someone who can tell us what it needs besides a new coat of paint.

I know this is a lot and you're going to need time to think about it. Trust me, we won't be hurt if you say no - you got a life and things are opening up for you, and it's natural if you don't want to leave all that. But we all like you, and when this came up you were the first person we thought of. It'd be nice to have you here - it's no big city, but it's a pretty place and the people are mostly good.

We could definitely pay better than what you're likely making now, and if you accept or even just want to check it out first we'd be happy to set you up with tickets and a place to stay, just like a big company doing interviews.

I included some paperwork about the place and some photos - Earl never got around to putting up a Website, but he got good reviews on Yelp.

Call me if you got any questions.

Love, Mellie

P.S. Clyde isn't involved in this, most of his investment's in the bar. But I know he'd love to see you too.


Home smelled like…home.

Clyde shut the trailer door behind him and looked around. The single-wide was pretty much like he'd left it, except dustier; quiet and comfortable.

He walked to his bedroom to dump his duffle and the extra bag he'd needed, then went back to the front door to unlace his boots and leave them there. The place felt weird and familiar at the same time, but Clyde knew that feeling - it was the sensation of coming back after being away for a while, of fitting back into one's own space.

He headed into the little kitchen, which showed signs of being wiped down recently, and the fresh food in the fridge proved it - Mellie had been by. Clyde knew she'd cleaned out his perishables when she'd got back from San Jose, but apparently she'd made another trip, and he couldn't resent it.

He reached in and grabbed a soda pop, something to drink while he unpacked and sorted out his clothes. There were about twice as many as he'd left with, thanks to Mellie again, but most of them could go directly into the compact washer in the tiny utility closet.

When that was done, his toiletries back in place in the bathroom and the bags put away under the bed, Clyde emptied out his old satchel and put that stuff away too, behind the little hidden door in the bedroom paneling that he'd had Jimmy put together for him. It wasn't all of his share by any means, but it was enough that he didn't want it anywhere obvious.

He'd never actually admit it, but prison had given Clyde one benefit, and that was introducing him to slip-on shoes. He'd started keeping a pair by the door for little chores like taking out the garbage, and now he put them on and headed back out to the car. There was one more thing he wanted to do.

The post-hole digger was still in the little shed out back of the trailer - all cobwebby now, but that was easily fixed. Clyde carried it back out to the front and chose a good spot near the sidewalk and within view of the living room window, then dug the hole; it was a bit clumsy to use his forearm on one side, but he was used to it.

He opened the Pontiac's trunk and lifted out Rey's gift. The pole went in the ground, sturdy and straight, and Clyde carefully fitted the weathervane on top, the simple directionals and the balanced arrow with its Pontiac silhouette.

There was no wind at the moment, but when Clyde nudged the arrow it turned easily, ready to point when the breeze picked up.

Something caught his eye, some irregularity, and he squinted at the pointer.

Oh.

The W punched through one arm had something else beneath it; a tiny star cutout, smaller than his fingertip. He hadn't noticed it, likely because Mellie had helped him set the weathervane up before.

Now it blurred in his vision, the little symbol dancing and wavering until Clyde swiped his hand across his eyes, moisture cooling on his fingers.

West.

It was Rey's voice in his head, this time; no demon, just a memory. Someone who'd looked past all the things wrong with him, and named him, and given him a purpose.

He traced the W, picturing the thousands of miles that lay past that simple iron point, all the way to the far coast. The gap had never seemed wider.

She's where she belongs, he told himself, and meant it.

But when Clyde stepped back inside his trailer once more, home seemed overshadowed by lonely.


The water was still scary.

Rey leaned on the railing and looked out at the sound. The waves were a deep blue today, bright and dancing under the uncommon sun, but it was still a lot, and she carefully didn't think about how deep it must be under the flashing reflections.

It was beautiful too, though, and the wind was strong and cool, and Rey liked to watch the boats gliding or speeding past. She'd planned this trip meticulously, pinching pennies for weeks to cover the bus fare out and back, and she meant to savor every moment.

Even if Mellie's astonishing offer kept trying to distract her.

It was a novelty, having a day off on a regular basis. For all her new job, Rey was still desperately poor, and she knew she was still far too close to an edge that would be all too easy to fall over. I'll probably have to pick up a second job again to be able to make rent, unless I can find someone to share with.

If she didn't accept. If she -

Rey firmed her lips and pushed away from the rail, starting down the boardwalk at an easy stroll. She wasn't going to be so extravagant as to buy lunch at any of the little shops by the water, but she figured she might indulge in an ice cream cone at some point.

It was a deliberate decision, this visit to the water. Rey had spent all her recent years working hard, her time almost never her own. Now that she had her I.D. and a legitimate job, her foot firmly on a path that she hoped would become security, Rey meant to enjoy her life too, even if only in small ways. Whether it was a new book, or a takeout meal, or a trip to see the sound.

Maybe someday I'll get as far as Whidbey Island. If she could talk herself into crossing that water, anyway.

The Ferris wheel was running, spinning slowly in the sun, and wasn't it odd that she knew now what the city looked like from the top of its arc?

The memory of Christmas week always made her smile. It was vivid and warming, and Rey kept every detail as carefully as she could, every moment with the Logans and their casual, enveloping welcome. Family. It had given her the taste of what could have been, and sometimes that hurt, but Rey would not have passed it by.

Family, and Clyde. Because as much as she loved Mellie, and enjoyed playing with Sadie and joking with Jimmy, Clyde was closer. More central.

Dearer.

His letters - his friendship - was the bright thread running through her days, some of which had been pretty grim, or dreary. Or both. A touch of warmth that kept out some of the cold.

Things were better now. Rey liked her job, more than she'd ever thought she would like working - but it made a difference when it was her choice, and something she liked to do.

How could I run a garage? I've never run anything.

But she couldn't deny that the idea was enticing. To be her own boss, or almost - to live in one of the apartments Mellie had sent links for, or even one of those pretty little houses she'd seen online - to walk out every day into a landscape so green and lush that Rey almost couldn't picture it.

To be close to the Logans. Well, Mellie and Clyde mostly, but still.

To be close to Clyde.

She veered back towards the water, running an idle hand along the railing. His bout with the flu had worried her, almost more than Rey was comfortable admitting to herself. Stupid. He's healthy otherwise and Mellie was looking after him.

But it had still felt wrong, troubling, to know that he was sick while she was so far away. It's not like you could have done anything anyway, she reminded herself.

And yet.

A gull cried overhead, and Rey tilted her head back to watch it glide past. They were severely handsome, those scavengers, with their crisp white throats and skeptical eyes. Rey had seen people feeding them, but their beaks looked sharp enough that she was wary of allowing one that close; but she could admire them from a distance.

They were another new thing. Sometimes Seattle seemed so alien as to be almost a different world, though less so as time passed. Hopefully I can see more of the city now that I have a little time.

I wonder what West Virginia is like.

Rey sighed, half exasperation and half amusement, and pulled out her phone. A couple of quick texts later, it rang in her hand, and Rey lifted it to her ear. "Hey Mellie."

She could hear Mellie's smile. "What do you want to know?"


"You did what."

Clyde eyed his sister over his dining table, scarcely believing what he'd just heard. Mellie gave him an unimpressed look right back. "You heard me."

"I'm hoping I didn't." Clyde ran his hand through his hair, not sure if what he felt was anger or a weird kind of fear. He'd invited her over for a thank-you meal, not unwelcome revelations. "You invited Rey to come here, and take over Earl's place?"

"Jimmy and me both did." Mellie examined her nails, which he knew meant she was squaring up for a fight. "The garage is a good investment - "

"I ain't arguing that." Clyde let out a breath through gritted teeth. "What I don't see is why you should talk her into moving. Seattle's got life, it's got opportunities, schools - it's, it's wide open!"

The ache that had sprung up behind his breastbone at Mellie's explanation of their scheme was spreading. "I know you love our town, Mellie, and I do too, but there ain't nothing here. It's a dead end. Someone bright as Rey shouldn't get trapped here."

Mellie rolled her eyes. "You're actin' like setting foot in the county means she can't leave again if she wants to. Yeah, Seattle's got a lot. But even if Rey's official now, she's still at the bottom of the ladder. If she takes our offer she'll be making more money, and it costs a hell of a lot less to live there."

Clyde opened his mouth, and Mellie glared. "Now don't tell me she can't handle it. That girl's got a spine of steel, she can handle just about anything you toss at her."

"I wasn't," Clyde said with some dignity, and huffed. "Mel, I know you mean well. But she means to get her GED and maybe go to college someday. That's a forty-minute drive one way, and that's only if she's willin' to settle for a community college - "

"Oh, for pity's sake, Clyde, get with the twenty-first century." Mellie tossed up her hands. "Most schools offer online courses these days. She could get three degrees without settin' foot outside."

Clyde clenched his fist. "It's still not right. What if it don't work out?"

"Then she'll find something else. She's a clever woman, she won't have too much trouble."

It was Clyde's turn to roll his eyes. "In a backwater town during a recession. If your plan fails, she won't have nothin' left."

"Now you know that's not true." Mellie's voice was gentle. "She'll have us."

"Mel - "

"She needs a family," Mellie added. "Why not us?"

The question stopped him cold. Clyde pursed his lips, unable to muster words but unwilling to concede, because surely there was a flaw in her argument somewhere.

"Anyway, it ain't your choice to make." Mellie fixed him with a stern look. "Rey's a grownup, she can make up her own mind."

Clyde pushed to his feet. "I gotta think about this," he bit out.

It was rude to just leave Mellie at the table, but Clyde knew she'd let herself out when she pleased, and he needed some time alone to go over what she'd told him. He strode out his door, but he wasn't to the street when he heard it open behind him, and he glanced back.

"Take all the time you need, Clyde Logan," Mellie said, looking stern but sounding much less angry than he expected. "But you might think on just why you're so opposed to Rey coming here."

Clyde scowled, and started walking.

His neighborhood wasn't large. He circled through it a couple of times, nodding at a few neighbors who greeted him, chewing over what Mellie had said. It's a damned stupid question. She knows why.

Clyde knew his concerns were real. Mellie was too practical to see life through rose-colored glasses, but she didn't see what he did, the regular customers whose lives were as narrow as the mine shafts they worked in, the increasingly desperate faces looking for jobs that simply weren't there, who drank to block out the despair for a little while.

But Mellie was also right; Rey would have a job waiting for her, one that - between Mellie's savvy and Rey's determination - would be almost guaranteed to succeed. If Rey wanted to move to a place with fewer opportunities than Seattle, she had that right.

So what is the rest of your problem? Why did he feel almost panicked at the thought of Rey being close by?

It should be a good thing. He'd be able to see her often, to reassure himself that she was okay. She'd be in a much better situation - if his siblings didn't set her up with a good place to stay, he'd see to it himself. And if things went south with the garage he could make sure she had some kind of safety net.

Clyde walked almost a block before he was ready to admit it to himself. It's gonna hurt.

in all their conversations, Rey had never mentioned a boyfriend or girlfriend, and it was easy to guess that asshole Plutt had never let her have the time for one. The closest thing seemed to have been her friend Luis, but if they'd been more than friends she'd never said a word about it.

But now that she was working just one job instead of scrambling to survive, Rey would have the time. And the opportunity. And he wasn't such a fool as to think someone with her smile, her kindness, her shining spirit wouldn't have suitors lining up.

It was there in her last letter, in fact, the one Clyde kept in his bedside table instead of with the others she'd sent him. She'd already been asked out - sooner or later someone would come along and she'd say yes.

It would be a whole lot easier to bear if he was three thousand miles away.

Now you're just being a coward.

It was none of his business who Rey chose to spend time with - if she chose at all - it never had been. Clyde was older. He'd learned self-control from the best. He could step back and not interfere.

It would hurt like hell.

But then, he understood pain.

When he got back to the trailer Mellie was gone, the dishes piled neatly in the sink and the leftovers boxed up in the fridge. Clyde put the dishes into the washer methodically before pouring himself a glass of ice water and going down the narrow hall to his little bookroom.

He knew exactly where to find the book he was thinking of, and pulled it off the shelf before sitting down in his comfortable old reading chair. It was a bit tricky scanning through a paperback without tearing the pages, but Clyde was an expert by now.

Yes, there it was, the quote that had sprung to mind as he wandered the darkening streets.

Even though he knew it not, surely such love would hover around him all his life like an invisible benediction, not understood but dimly felt, guarding him from ill and keeping from him all things of harm and evil.

Clyde knew better than many that love couldn't really keep harm away. But this he could do - love Rey silently, keeping it as secret as any treasure, deep in his heart. He could make her life a little easier here and there, even if she never knew it. He could be what she deserved - someone to care about her and look after her, without expecting anything back for it.

He could see her settle into his family - oh, Mellie had the right of it there - and he could watch her bloom. It would be enough.

It would have to be.