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Laura, it turned out, was plagued by mistrust, mostly because of other men who had met Laura long before they could understand how lucky they were. Alex understood them, which made Laura nervous. Why do you condone them, she would cry, how they treated me? Alex had a hard time explaining himself, that he hated that anyone had ever hurt her, but that she should understand they were boys, they were busy making every single action of their day, every encounter, a proving ground. He himself had been the same, before Laura came into his life. But Laura would shake her head at this, walk stiffly from the room. Alex would call after her, Laura, look at me, I am a man with the capacity to say yes, forever to another human being.

calmly, “Laura. I’m here.” He walked up the steps and knocked on the door. He stood back, sure Laura would finally realize how late it was, that it was probably Alex knocking, and unlatch the screen. He closed his eyes and slowly counted to five. Then to ten.

there it was again. Her voice. “Laura?” Alex pulled on the locked door, rattled

sat down on the porch steps in the cooling shadow of the limp wisteria. He felt watched, hoped he was. Hoped Laura was peering out at him, her ex-husband, sitting patiently on her front steps, waiting.

He hated doing it, but he tried the knob and

it, slammed his palm against it. “Laura!” Silence. He inhaled deeply to calm himself, and

He stood on the sidewalk and said aloud,

Alex didn’t want to cry, not out in public on this, his old porch. Action was needed. He decided to walk back to MarDel’s and try to call her again, keep calling until she finally picked up the phone.

doing when Alex walked in. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m trying to see Laura.” “Oh,” Mary said. “Laura never comes in here

anymore. Right, Dell? We never liked her anyway.” Mary grinned.

was here yesterday.” Alex wanted to ask if she had been alone,

Dell laughed. “She’s joking. We love her. She

but didn’t. He also wanted to ask how she looked. Was she tired? Had she eaten?

on the counter and shook her head, looking Alex dead in the eye.

Mary read his mind. She planted both palms

one pancake. One bacon. I charged her one dollar.” Alex’s head hurt, from Mary’s cigarette

“Skinny broad, that one. Yuk.” Dell shouted over his shoulder, “She only ate

smoke, the noise of the exhaust fan, the heat. Maybe he needed to eat. Maybe she had turned off the phone, the ringing hurting her somehow. Or maybe she was counting, too.

And waiting for what, he began to wonder. For the sound of the lock turning, the creak of the door, the relief of the darkness inside their home, Laura, wrapping her strong slender arms around his neck, pressing into him? His eyes watered with the thought. Would she be frail? Was the air conditioner working still? The one he had replaced and then repaired and then repaired again against the Southern California heat? He would ask her that. About the air conditioner and the wisteria, once she opened the door.

to come to the door? Had she forgotten, if not him exactly, then the day or the time? Or worse—but no, he wouldn’t even entertain for a moment the thought that she might be deliberately trying to hurt him. Not now, not after so long. She had called him, after all, given him one more chance with her thin voice and her terrible news. One more chance in the muddle of lonely dull days since she had told him she would never recover, from him.

20 He tried to think rationally. Was she too weak

twinkled at him, slapped a napkin and fork before him. Poured lemonade from a pitcher and filled the glass with ice. “Dell! Get this guy a sandwich!”

and Mary sometimes just gave you what they thought you needed. It was the strangest behavior he had ever witnessed in a diner, even one as tiny and obscure as MarDel’s. Laura’s love for the place was iron-like. Unmoving, unbendable. Alex often thought it was the mere presence of the sweating couple, so clearly at home with each other, they were like sister and brother.

fire the first year, seemed to melt before his eyes, transforming into constant accusations and later, when the accusation was finally true, a brief, sullen silence ending with Alex heading east to a new life. As Alex chewed on his BLT, mayonnaise dripping

Her love for him, however tender and on Alex had forgotten that part—how Dell

“May I please have a couple of eggs?” “Oh sure, you gonna eat now?” Mary

Mary and Dell stopped what they were

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