Dawn Cavendish lounged in her deck chair, trying to read. Outside, the air had turned cold and sharp. Snow had fallen once already this year, right after Halloween, but not stuck. All that remained of it was the promise of more to come. It was going to be a bitter winter in Mannsborough.
Here, inside the hothouse, it was always summer. Running from the main house to the guest house, it covered the pool area completely, a framework of semi-rigid plastic that kept the warmth inside. Dawn felt odd, swathed in SPF 45 lotion, wearing a bikini in late November. But, she thought she could get used to it.
She stared blankly at the book in her hands and realized she'd been doing so for at least the last five minutes. She picked up her bookmark and thrust it between the pages. For some reason, she just couldn't focus today.
She looked down at the cover. The picture of a black cat looked up at her. "The Book of Night with Moon," had been one of Scott's suggestions, a bit more fanciful than she would have chosen for herself, but it would give them something to discuss.
She looked up when she heard the door of the main house open. Jonas emerged wearing only knee-length swim trunks with a red, orange, and black palm tree pattern. Seeing Dawn, Jonas gave her a vaguely apologetic half-smile. Dawn smiled back. She'd been confused by the ambivilent gesture the first time he'd given it to her, particularly with the way that his eyes seemed to unfocus for a moment when he did it. When she'd realized what was going on, she'd laughed out loud, alone in the privacy of her own room.
When Jonas gave her that smile, he gave it to her hairline, avoiding both eye contact and the risk of staring at some other, more prurient part of her body. What made it so funny was that Jonas was a dyed-in-the-wool gentleman of the old school. Dawn could have stripped naked and thrown herself at him and gotten nothing more than a polite and embarrassed refusal. The next time she'd seen that smile after recognizing it for what it was, she'd been unable to hide her smirk. Over Jonas's shoulder, his wife Holly had given a smirk of her own as if to say that she knew her husband well enough to find it amusing too.
As she watched Jonas swim, Dawn lamented that Jonas was such a gentleman. He wasn't quite forty and had kept himself in great shape for his age. He wasn't built like Thule, who lifted weights to relax, but she could see the muscles rippling under the skin of his arms and back and imagine what it would be like to be scooped up in those arms and held against his firm chest.
Realizing where her thoughts had gone, Dawn sat bolt upright. If Jonas hadn't been under water, she would certainly have alarmed him with the abrupt motion. As quickly as she could, she gathered up her things and fled into the guest house.
Ever since she'd gotten involved with Thule and Marigold, Dawn had known she was in uncharted romantic territory. There were no hard and fast rules for how you were supposed to behave when your boyfriend and girlfriend were away at college together. But, she was pretty sure that lusting after her girlfriend's stepfather while living under his and his wife's roof was right out.
Pulling her cell phone out of her purse, she decided she was going to have to do something soon. She just didn't know what.
Thule Roemer was tired. He'd thought he knew what it meant to be tired last year when he had to juggle finishing high school, two jobs, two girlfriends, and an elaborate revenge plot. Then, he'd come to MIT, the college whose unofficial slogan was, "Grades, friends, sleep: pick two." Unfortunately, the slogan had little advice for the freshman who was balancing a new business and also the star witness in what was already being called the trial of the century (in spite of it only being 2001.)
It felt like he'd just closed his eyes when his cell phone rang. Of course, Thule always seemed to be waking up with that impression.
Glancing at his alarm clock, he saw that he'd been asleep for nearly two hours. The alarm was set to go off in another twelve minutes. He cursed whoever had robbed him of those twelve precious minutes before flipping his phone open. He didn't bother to sit up.
"Yeah," he said groggily.
"Thule, it's Dawn. Have you got a minute?"
He wanted to say no. He could get back to sleep and have another nine blissful minutes of oblivion before he had to get up. But, this was Dawn. She called only once a week or so. If he couldn't give her twelve minutes, what sort of a boyfriend was he?
"I've got twelve before I have to head to my next class," he said. "What's up?"
"I need to see you two. I'm going crazy."
"Crazy horny," admitted Dawn.
Thule laughed. He couldn't help it.
"Thule," said Dawn, her voice strident. "It's not funny. I caught myself fantasizing about Jonas today."
Thule stopped laughing, "I'm sorry, Dawn. I'm not laughing at you really."
"What's so funny, then?"
"Wildcat, I don't even have enough energy to think about sex right now. In between work, the trial, and class, I'm going on about three hours of sleep a day. If I tried to fuck you, I would die."
"Oh..." said Dawn. "What about Marigold?"
"If I tried to fuck her, I would die too."
Dawn laughed, "That's not what I mean. Do you think she would have time to visit with me?"
"Probably," said Thule. "She's only going to Harvard."
"Could you ask her?"
"You're going to have to ask her yourself," said Thule. "I'm in my dorm room."
"You have a dorm room?"
Thule nodded into the phone, "It saves like twenty minutes each way and makes sleeping between classes practical."
Dawn made a sympathetic noise, "Is MIT really that tough?"
"Not exactly," said Thule. "It was tolerable until nine-eleven. Our CEO had been predicting something similar since the last attack on the World Trade Center. All of a sudden, we're antiterrorism specialists. We can't hire good people fast enough. We're packed in like sardines. Joe's a great CEO, but only a moderately good people person. Right now, he's got two dozen ex-FBI agents and a dozen ex-Mossad agents glaring at each other across the aisles. I have to help or it's all going to implode."
Dawn made another sympathetic noise, "Do you have any idea when you'll have some free time?"
"Summer," said Thule automatically. "Maybe a few days around Christmas. I really don't know. I wish I did."
"Hey, don't sweat it," said Dawn. Thule could hear her forcing herself to be cheerful. "Will you have time to come by and give me a hug if I come to see Marigold?"
Thule chuckled, "I'll make sure of it."
Dawn sounded a little bit happier, "I love you Thule."
"I love you too, Wildcat," said Thule. "And Dawn..."
"When you call Marigold, I wouldn't mention the whole 'lusting after Jonas' thing. Our girlfriend needs enough therapy she's not getting as it is."
As he closed the phone, his alarm clock began to beep insistently.
"Shit," he moaned, sitting up and slapping the clock. From the desk they shared, his roommate stared at him. Thule had yet to sit down and talk to the young man. One of these days, they would have to be properly introduced. Not today, though. Today, he had to get to class.
Dawn called Marigold on her cell phone. Marigold was at the house in Cambridge and had plenty of time to talk. Dawn told her story again, omitting the part about Jonas.
"Oh, sweetie," said Marigold. "I wish you had called last week."
Dawn's heart sank, "Why?"
"I'm unbelievably busy getting ready to go to Ghana."
"Ghana?" asked Dawn. "Why would you be going to Ghana?"
"I'm going to help Dr. Anton oversee the creation of a program to grow genetically modified crops."
"Like... Frankenfood?" asked Dawn.
Marigold laughed, "Yeah. Except that I would get some mighty harsh looks around here if I called it that."
"You mean the stuff when you put rat DNA in tomatoes?"
Marigold laughed again, "That's what protestors say we do. Nobody mixes plant and animal DNA for actual planting. All we're doing in Ghana is planting some legumes that can survive the harsh weather better and have more protein than normal."
"I don't know," said Dawn uncertainly. "I just remember hearing a lot of bad stuff about genetically modified food."
"Me, too," said Marigold. "But, I'm learning not to believe everything I hear just because it comes from someone who thinks they're saving the world. I've done as much research as I can on this without going into the field and I think it might be what I really want to do."
"Instead of being a doctor?"
"Yeah," said Marigold, sounding a little bit sad. "Doctors can only save one person at a time."
Dawn sighed, "Now, I feel bad for wanting to interrupt your grand adventure. How many millions of people are going to starve to death to feed my lust."
"God," said Marigold. "There's something really hot about the way you said that. I wish I had time to do something about it."
"Me, too," said Dawn.
"Well, do something about it soon. If you don't, Jonas might start to look good. And, I don't think my mother is as amenable to sharing as I am."
Dawn was too dumbstruck to answer. Fortunately, Marigold didn't seem to notice. Instead, she said, "You must have somebody you can drag into bed in case of emergency."
Dawn thought about it, "No one comes to mind."
"What about Scott? You two seemed to be hitting it off pretty well this summer."
Dawn laughed, "I couldn't do that to Scott. I still feel bad about bullying him into taking me to the prom when I was seeing you two. I couldn't just use him for sex, knowing I'm joining you guys in June."
"If you say so," said Marigold, sounding skeptical.
"I couldn't," said Dawn again. "Could I?"
"Don't ask me, sweetie," said Marigold. "Ask Scott. As I remember, he seemed awfully happy to be at the prom with you, even though he knew you were leaving with me and Thule."
"I'll think about it," said Dawn.
"You do that."
"Ioke, I'm going crazy."
That was how Dawn introduced herself on the phone. No "hello." No name. Of course, neither was necessary. Dawn was always uniquely Dawn.
"You went crazy a long time ago," said Ioke. "Have you found a new variety?"
"Ummm..." Dawn paused. "No."
"Stir crazy? Boy crazy? Kill crazy?"
Dawn sighed, "I miss Thule and Marigold."
"Ah. Sex crazy. I should have known."
Kale looked up from her bed, eyes opening only a little from sleep.
"Yeah," said Dawn. "That's it."
"Well, I'm flattered you called me," said Ioke. "And, I've told you, if I ever decide to swing that way, I'll come to you first. But, I'm still a one-man, one-woman, no-woman kind of girl."
"I know," said Dawn. "How do you stand being away from Kale for so long?"
"Well," said Ioke. "I wait for times like this, when he's here."
"He's here already?" Dawn asked.
Ioke laughed, "Yup. He got in last night."
Dawn paused for a moment, "Can I borrow him?"
Ioke laughed again. She turned to Kale, covering the receiver with her hand, "Dawn would like to borrow you."
Kale smiled, "Tell her to ask again when I'm around for more than a week. You and I have a lot of lost time to make up for."
Ioke uncovered the phone, "He says maybe next time. We're sort of booked solid this week."
"I imagine that an afternoon at the mall wouldn't hold a lot of appeal then?"
"Maybe after Thanksgiving," said Ioke. "Kale is flying out on Sunday."
"All right," said Dawn. "I won't keep you two, then. Just promise me one thing..."
"What's that?" asked Ioke.
"Don't give me any details afterwards. I don't think I could stand it."
Dawn called Oksana next. The phone rang and rang, but no one answered.
Dawn got dressed and went down to the garage where her car sat. Turning the key, she was satisfied to hear a contented purr from the engine. It had taken her more than a hundred hours of work to get that purr. At work, Hans had said that he'd worked with plenty of mechanics who couldn't get a twenty year-old car into that kind of shape, no matter how long they worked on it. Dawn still blushed with pride at the thought.
Pulling out of the garage, she navigated around the matching, cream-colored BMWs Jonas had bought for himself and Holly on their most recent anniversary. Dawn kept meaning to explain to them that you really weren't supposed to park on your circular driveway. It just blocked traffic.
Of course, there wasn't a lot of traffic other than Dawn. Until July, the estate had belonged to Ivan Vandevoort. Jonas, who had lived in a modest middle class home until then, had claimed to be buying it because he didn't want the other people who were looking at it to move to Mannsborough. Dawn had assumed it to be a justification. She believed it now. The last party held here had been the housewarming. One of the three buildings was closed off. Jonas and Holly lived in three or four rooms of the main house. Dawn lived in what had once been Randy and his brother's house, but only used about half of it.
It seemed like a waste of space to Dawn not to hold some sort of events there. But, considering what had gone on in parties held by the previous residents, maybe the quiet wasn't so bad.
Dawn drove without any particular destination in mind, taking the road away from Mannsborough's residential area, up into the mountains. As the trees flowed by on either side of the car, she went through a list of people she knew in her head. Originally, she'd thought she would just focus on school and work this year, then join Thule and Marigold in June. After all, she reasoned, she'd gone without sex for more than eighteen years before getting involved with them. How hard could it be to go another nine months?
She'd lasted three weeks before she started to realize that it was not going to happen that way. She hadn't realized what a blessing it had been to not know what she was missing. She'd called and had a long talk with Marigold, then a short one with Thule. Marigold had encouraged her to take advantage of being almost single. Thule had responded more philosophically, but it had amounted to more or less the same thing with the request that she "not get involved with anyone I'm going to hate."
Since then, she'd been asked out and even been on a few dates. As a minor celebrity, she'd drawn plenty of attention. Unfortunately, everyone seemed to think they knew what her part in Thule's story had been. Very few got it right. And no one that got it right understood what it meant.
Of course, that was only fair. Dawn didn't really know what it meant either. Over the summer, she had vacillated between feeling like a third wheel and feeling like the glue that held Thule and Marigold together. Her lovers were two very different people. Before they'd gotten involved with each other, Thule had been consumed with plans for revenge against Marigold, the Vandevoorts, and a few others. To hear it talked about in the press, he'd become some sort of teenaged action hero in the process. Marigold had been sheltered, studious, and pious, unhappy with her own body, ashamed of her past. As the last six months had gone by, they seemed to have passed each other personality-wise. Thule was weighed down by his responsibilities, both at school and work. He'd said often enough that he felt responsible for a lot of the people who now worked for him losing their jobs at the FBI. So, it was very important to him that he was able to provide them with jobs now.
Marigold, on the other hand, had gotten in touch with her sexuality and been making up for lost time ever since. To see her today versus a year ago was the difference between night and day. She was the one who had seduced Dawn, then pushed her into Thule's arms. Otherwise, Dawn could have kept flirting with him until the end of time and not gotten anywhere, in spite of their mutual attraction. Thule had always been a lot like Jonas in that way.
And now, Marigold was giving up on the idea of medical school to go to Africa to plant genetically modified crops? Dawn didn't understand. But, she'd gotten used to not understanding Marigold's motivations most of the time, so she let it drop.
Unfortunately, that meant going back to her list of romantic prospects. She had to admit that she'd already exhausted her best options, more or less in order. Of people who had displayed an interest, all were disqualified for one reason or another. A lot of them she had no interest in because they were born sycophants. They had been cronies of Randy, Ian, Brianne, or June Kane. With those four out of the picture, they had gravitated towards Ioke, Dawn, and the new quarterback, Lenya Barakov. Lenya had been Ian's best friend last year and had the potential to be an asshole. But, under Ioke's guidance, many of the popular girls at Mannsborough High had made it clear that they were not impressed with boys who spent their time abusing the less popular.
It wasn't a perfect system, of course. There was still a pecking order at Mannsborough High. Those at the bottom still took a certain amount of abuse from those in the middle. But, at least for this year, the upper social echelons seemed to be above all that. And, at least to Dawn's knowledge, no one had gotten raped or murdered over it so far.
After the sycophants came the people who assumed that Dawn was either a homewrecker or a slut because of her relationship with Thule and/or Marigold. One of those had actually slipped under her radar and gotten a first date. He'd left that date with a sprained wrist and an object lesson in making assumptions about people based on limited information.
Then, there had been the people who wanted to save her--either from eternal damnation or self-delusion. She toyed with blowing the mind of one of the former. They may be good, Christian boys. But, they were still boys. She shook her head to clear that idea out of it. There were too many possibilities of entanglement.
There were a few boys who were sure she would be happier in a monogamous relationship with them than a polyamorous one with Thule and Marigold. If she ever met one that had been in a comitted relationship for more than six months at a time, she might take them more seriously.
And then there was Scott. No matter how many times she crossed that name off the list, it kept rising in her mind. Scott had been her escort to the prom last year, a convenient senior she had liked well enough to ask to come with her so she could be there with Thule and Marigold. Mannsborough High had no provisions for triads coming to the prom.
Scott had taken it with equanimity. With only a small amount of prompting from Dawn, he'd admitted that he may have wanted more, but he was at the prom with the prettiest girl in school and would be a goddamned fool to turn down the opportunity because of what it wasn't.
At the time, Scott had been a shy, quiet, slightly pudgy boy who worshipped Thule. He and Dawn had become friends after that. He'd referred to the prom as a watershed event in his life. He'd asked out the girl he'd quietly lusted after all through high school. She'd turned him down. So, he'd asked out another girl. She'd also turned him down. The third and fourth girl had, too. Each time, he'd come to Dawn to ask questions about his approach. Each time, he'd honed it. By the time he asked the fifth girl, Thule had become headline material and geeks were all the rage at Mannsborough. Scott had become rather smooth in his approach. The girl had agreed and even seemed eager.
In the four days between asking and the date, Scott had gone over every detail of his plan for the date until he had it hammered down like a military operation. It had gone off brilliantly. Marnee (the fifth girl) had become completely enthralled with Scott. Scott, on the other hand, had discovered that, sometimes, the people that have nothing to do with you throughout high school do so because you have nothing in common. Out of politeness and optimism, he'd taken her out a couple more times.
"God," he'd said to Dawn. "Why did I ever want to date a cheerleader?" Dawn had thrown her pom pom at him.
But, Scott was at RPI up in Troy, almost as far away as Thule and Marigold. More importantly, they were friends now. Asking him to stand in for Thule once when they were acquaintances had been questionable. Asking him to do it a second time now that they were friends... She just couldn't do it.
While she'd gone through the list, her hands and feet had chosen a location for her. Looking around, she said out loud, "With instincts that require no conscious thought, the young American female returns to her hunting ground again and again."
Parking her car, she played with the idea of finding someone from out of town for a one-night stand. But, as much as she might want to be, she just wasn't that sort of girl.
Dawn was wandering sort of aimlessly around the mall when a display window caught her eye. She'd seen the t-shirts a hundred times before: ten reasons shopping was better than men and ten reasons beer was better than women. She'd tried shopping and found it lacking. She wondered if beer would yield better results.
"They don't really seem like your style," said a voice behind her.
She whirled around, recognizing the voice, "Brute Squad!"
Jake hugged her hard enough to draw her off her feet. "How have you been, Wildcat?"
"When did you get into town?" Dawn asked.
"A while ago," said Jake, putting her down.
Dawn looked up at him, "How long?"
"A couple of weeks," Jake admitted.
Dawn punched him in the shoulder, "And you didn't visit me?"
Jake rubbed his arm, not that it could have hurt, "I've had things I had to take care of."
Dawn looked up at his face. As usual, he was wearing dark aviator glasses, even inside the mall.
"Jake, you sound like something's wrong."
Jake shrugged, "Hazel moved back here without me and brought Darwin with her."
Dawn looked up, laying a hand on Jake's broad chest, "Oh, Brute Squad. I'm so sorry. What happened?"
Jake shrugged again, "It's... complicated."
Dawn looked around, "Do you want to get something to eat, talk about it?"
Jake raised his head. Dawn couldn't see his eyes, but suspected he was looking somewhere a long way away.
"Yeah," he said. "All right."
Jake seemed to be walking as if in a dream. He narrowly avoided trampling a few people on the way to the food court. Finally, Dawn took his wrist in both hands and led him to a table.
"Have a seat," she said. "I'll get you something to eat. What do you want?"
Jake smiled, "Surprise me."
"Okay," said Dawn. "Wait here."
Dawn got food quickly, trying to watch Jake at the same time, as if he might wander off. She wasn't entirely sure that he wouldn't. She'd never seen her friend like this. He was always so sure of himself. Now, he seemed like an accident victim, shuffling along.
It didn't take long to get him talking about what was going on, though. Dawn wondered if he'd talked to anyone else about it.
"Hazel was never happy about me working for Ivan Vandevoort, but she understood," said Jake. "When I took the job, we had a baby on the way and neither of us were working. I'd spent a year looking for a job as an architect and gotten nothing. When Ivan offered me a job, I thought it was Heaven-sent. I knew about the Vandevoorts and thought that, if I got in good with them, they would help me get a job in my field eventually."
"Obviously, I didn't know the Vandevoorts as well as I thought. But, even as I learned more about them, I thought that Ivan would respect his promise that I wouldn't have to be muscle. When Thule slept with Mrs. Vandevoort, Ivan told me to kill him. Eventually, he calmed down and rescinded the order, but a line had been crossed."
"Jake," said Dawn quietly. "You wouldn't really have killed Thule, would you?"
Jake shook his head, "Of course not. If I had to, I would have gone to the police, not that it would have done much good. What the command did was make me realize that I had to get away from Ivan Vandevoort and, when I realized that Thule was trying to bring him down, I threw in my lot."
Dawn nodded and didn't interrupt.
"Hazel didn't approve."
Now, Dawn interrupted, "She didn't approve of you wanting to break away from Ivan Vandevoort?"
Jake shook his head, "No. She knew I was unhappy there and told me regularly that I should quit. She didn't understand that you don't work that closely with a man like Ivan Vandevoort, then just quit. I would have put her and Darwin and myself in danger. When it came out what I had done to help Thule because it was so dangerous."
Dawn's eyes flashed, "But..."
Jake held up his hands, "Whatever inconsistency you're going to point out, I've already pointed it out... repeatedly. It didn't matter. What I had done was stupid and foolhardy. And, when a woman says to you, 'Do you want your son to grow up without a father?' she's not really listening to reason. She wanted me to break off all ties with Thule. I thought she was becoming more reasonable when she told me I should write his book, but she was just thinking about the money."
He sighed and took a drink of the Diet Coke she'd brought him before he went on, "When Thule asked me to help get RSS off the ground, Hazel and I agreed that I would work there for a year and then find a job as an architect, like I went to school for."
"Okay," said Dawn. "But, it hasn't been a year yet."
Jake chuckled, "That's true. But, even when I made the promise to only work there a year, I knew that it would be tough to keep my word. I like the security business. I'm good at it. I can't imagine how I'm going to be a junior architect after what we've been doing. But, I would have done it."
"So, what happened?" asked Dawn.
"Nine-eleven," said Jake.
Jake gave a mirthless chuckle, "Yeah. Oh. I've got to tell you, kiddo. I never really thought of the world as being divided into good guys and bad guys. But, I figured out two things after the attacks. The first was that Thule, and everyone at RSS, they're the good guys."
Dawn didn't prompt him, let him take his time.
"The other thing I figured out was that I had been one of the bad guys."
"But..." Dawn started to speak. Jake held up his hand again.
"I know," he said. "I didn't know what I was signing up for. But, I did know what was going on around me a lot of the time that I worked there. I could have gotten out a lot sooner. I stayed because the money was good and..."
"... and because somebody needed to be there to protect Mrs. Vandevoort from Mr. Vandevoort. And that is definitely not something a woman wants to hear about her husband, especially when Sveta Vandevoort is involved."
"Anyway, I decided that it was time for me to be one of the good guys for a change. But, Hazel doesn't get that. She's not wired that way. When we met, we were, philosophically, very simpatico. But, somewhere along the line, I changed and she didn't."
"You're losing me," admitted Dawn.
"By the time you got to Mannsborough, was Mr. Gaspare still teaching Rand in the tenth grade."
Dawn nodded, "Yeah. I even entered the essay contest."
"Me, too," said Jake. "I also read just about everything else she'd written. Hazel had too. It gave her an architect fetish. Everybody at school thought she was completely untouchable. I... used my knowledge of the books to get past her defenses. In her eyes, I was the second coming of Howard Roark. That's... a lot to live up to."
Dawn leaned forward, "Is that why you had so much trouble finding work? Because you were trying to live up to her image of you?"
Jake didn't respond. He was, after all, a poker player. Instead, he said, "That's not really important to the story. Anyway, I broached the subject of staying on. I tried to explain my reasons. She didn't get it... at all. We had a huge fight. When I came back from work the next day, she'd left, come back to Mannsborough, and taken Darwin with her."
"It took me a few days to find them. I took all my vacation time and came down after them. I've been staying in a hotel. We've been talking for about two weeks now. We're in marriage counseling. I'm not sure that it's going anywhere. Today's my last vacation day. I know that Thule would probably let me take as much time as I needed, but I need to decide whether or not I'm going back to Boston or staying here to work things out. Hazel won't budge on the idea of coming back with me so that I can work while we try to work it out."
"So, I'd been thinking about what I'm going to do all day. Finally, I decided to go Christmas shopping as if I could find one perfect gift and it would all work out, sort of 'A Very Ayn Rand Christmas.'"
"No luck, huh?" asked Dawn.
"I'm beginning to think that, whatever that gift is, it's probably not here at the mall."
Jake pushed around the lo mein Dawn had brought him with his fork for a minute before he said, "But, enough about me. What have you been up to?"
Dawn was forced to fully form a thought she'd been kicking around since Jake had started talking. She'd known him since she was ten, first as a friend of her older brother and then as her own friend. When he'd met Hazel, Dawn had been fourteen. She'd had a crush on Jake at the time, but knew she would certainly have been no competition for a college girl.
In some ways, it would be the perfect solution for both of them. Jake would be free of Hazel, who Dawn had never liked in the first place. He could go back to work like he clearly wanted to. And, Dawn really liked Jake. He wasn't that much older than her, really. In fact, other than Thule or Marigold, he really would have been a better candidate than any she'd considered so far today.
Jake looked so lost, Dawn knew that all she had to do was say the word. But, she couldn't do it. He was a married man still trying to make it work with his wife. As improbable as reconciliation might sound to Dawn, it wasn't for her to judge. Besides, he had a kid to worry about.
It took her only a few seconds to think it over. Once she had, she said, "You know me. Just the usual. Shopping and killing time."
Dawn was nearly home when her phone rang. Recognizing the number, she picked it up.
"Heya, Scott. What's up?"
"Not much," Scott said. "Just checking in on you. Any plans for Thanksgiving yet?"
"Well," said Dawn. "I was supposed to spend it with Jonas, Holly, Marigold, and Thule. But, at this rate, it'll just be me and Marigold's parents."
Scott laughed, "Are you home?"
"No," said Dawn. "But, I'll be there in a few minutes. I'm just getting back from the mall."
"A productive shopping trip?"
Dawn laughed, "I forgot to buy a damned thing."
"Really?" asked Scott. "Something on your mind?"
Dawn laughed, "Something like that."
"Something you want to share?"
Dawn debated for a moment, then asked, "Can you keep a secret?"
"Sure," said Scott.
"I... miss Thule and Marigold."
"No secret there," pointed out Scott.
"I miss them and I was hoping to go see them, but they're both incredibly busy. And now..."
Scott caught on, "You're incredibly horny and there's no one there for you to take it out on?"
"Exactly," said Dawn.
"How bad is it?" asked Scott.
Dawn laughed, "Let me put it this way. If you were here instead of four hours away, I'd probably jump your bones."
"Really?" asked Scott. "It's too bad I'm not there, then."
Dawn was pulling into the driveway as Scott said that. Suddenly, she was momentarily blinded by high beams coming on. She skidded to a halt...
... and realized that the headlight's were Scott's.
Dawn got out of her car, "Scott, what are you doing here?"
"Blowing off classes to come see my family," said Scott. "And my friends."
Dawn wrapped herself around Scott, hugging him tight. Scott returned the hug.
"So, why were you starting your car?" Dawn asked.
Scott blushed, visible even in the dark, "Well..."
Dawn's face fell, "I..."
Scott waved his hands, "No. No. No. I mean that I knew you said what you said because you assumed I was too far away to do anything about it. I was going to go home... so as not to embarrass you."
Dawn looked him in the eye, "You're serious. Aren't you?"
Dawn moved in close and kissed him on the cheek, "You're unbelievably cool. Do you know that?"
"Sure," said Scott. "'Unbelievably cool' is my middle name."
"Well, come on, then, Scott 'Unbelievably cool' Collins. Let's go back to my place and catch up."
She took Scott by the arm and led him around the main house. Scott looked around, "So, you're really living on the old Vandevoort estate?"
"Yup," said Dawn. "And I've got Randy's old house." She led him inside.
"Ah," said Scott, looking around. "I was wondering what this wretched hive of scum and villainy looked like from the inside."
"You call it a wretched hive of scum and villainy. I just call it home."
"Cool," said Scott. "You have a pool table. Did you want to shoot a few rounds or should we just get to the part where you jump my bones?"
Dawn flushed crimson, "I thought you didn't want to embarrass me?" she said weakly.
"Well," said Scott, picking up a pool cue. "I figured, since I'm here..." He chalked the cue.
Dawn picked up her own cue, "You're awful."
Scott nodded, "Eight ball or nine ball your game?"
"I don't know," said Dawn. "I've never actually played pool before."
Scott stood up, "How long have you lived here?"
"Ummm..." Dawn thought. "It's hard to say. We all stayed here when the Tarrs bought the place. I half lived here and half lived with Thule until they went away... to Boston. I've been here since."
"All that time with this table and you haven't played pool?" said Scott. "That's criminal."
Scott showed her how to hold her stick, how to shoot. They played for a while. Scott turned out to be much better at pool than Dawn would have guessed. After the first game, Scott stripped off his overshirt.
"Wow," said Dawn. "Look at you. Have you been working out?"
"A little," said Scott. "Mostly, I've been swinging a broadsword."
"SCA?" said Dawn. "I thought you said that was silly?"
Scott shrugged, "I followed a girl there, the first week of school. By the time I realized she wasn't right for me, I'd sort of gotten hooked on the sword fighting."
Dawn felt his bicep, "You didn't get all that from sword fighting, did you?"
"All right," said Scott. "I may have been working out more than a little. Actually, I started this summer."
Dawn looked puzzled, "You did? I don't remember."
Scott shrugged, "I wasn't sure I was going to stick with it. After you guys cleared out all the assholes, the weight room at the high school was pretty much up for grabs."
"So," asked Dawn. "Why didn't you mention it?"
Scott shrugged again, "Some of the guys who started working out were friends of mine. But, some of them were looking forward to becoming the next wave of assholes. I didn't want you to think I might be one of them."
"Scott..." asked Dawn. "What do you think of me?"
Scott stood up from the shot he was about to make and looked down at her, "I like you, Dawn."
"I know," said Dawn. "But, what do you think of me?"
Scott put his cue down, "That's a pretty big question. Where should I start?"
Dawn shrugged, "Wherever you want."
"Well," said Scott. "I suspect the first subject would be your relationship with Thule and Marigold. Right?"
Dawn nodded, "All right."
Scott picked up his cue again and lined up his shot, "I think it's cool."
Scott took his shot, sinking the five ball, "Yeah. Cooler for Thule than for you, but still cool."
Dawn put a hand in the middle of his chest as he tried to walk past her, "Wait a minute. Why cooler for Thule?"
"Well," said Scott. "I... uh... that is..."
Dawn laughed, "To tell you the truth, I think I've enjoyed it more than Thule has."
Scott backed off so he could go the other way around the table, "Fair enough."
"I'm just curious to know why you think Thule got the better part of the deal than I did?"
"I don't know," said Scott. "I guess I find it easier to imagine being involved with you and Marigold than being involved with Thule and Marigold." He fired and missed an easy shot.
Dawn walked around the table to line up a shot, "So, by canceling out both sides of the equation, you're saying that you'd rather sleep with me than Thule. If you didn't think so highly of Thule, I might not be sure I could take that as a compliment."
She tried to shoot. Her cue bounced off the side of the white ball, moving it about three inches into the side pocket.
Scott went fishing for the cue ball. "Yeah. But, I don't think of Thule that way."
"And, do you think of me that way?"
Dawn hadn't meant to ask the question. Scott stared at her across the pool table, the cue ball still in his hand. He didn't speak for so long, Dawn was about to apologize for even asking.
"Yes," said Scott finally. "Frequently."
If he'd come for her without answering, Dawn might have fled. Now, she came around the table so she could stand right in front of him, "Scott, I'm sorry. I shouldn't be flirting with you like that. I'm just having a little trouble keeping it in check right now."
Scott reached out and stroked her hair, "It's all right, Dawn. I understand."
Dawn trembled at the light touch, "Oh, Scott. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I'm not attracted to you. It's just..."
Scott's hand in her hair slid around the back of her head, pulling her forward. His lips came down, parting hers in a kiss. Dawn gasped, her arms first going around his chest, then coming back and pushing against him feebly.
When she pushed, Scott broke the kiss. She whispered, "Scott, stop."
Scott was breathing heavily. He blinked a couple of times, rapidly, then wiped his mouth with the back of his arm as if he could erase the kiss.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I was doing all right until you said you were attracted to me. Christ, Dawn."
"Sorry," said Dawn. Her own breathing was heavy, her heart pounding in her chest.
Scott took a couple of steps away from her, "All right. I think I'm braced now. What were you going to say?"