Walked up an old stone path to the porch.
The steps creaked under his weight.
Then he stood at the front door.
He could hear voices on the other side.
A part of him didn’t want to knock.
He rapped his knuckles on the glass of the outer door, took a step back.
Waited a full minute, but no one came.
He knocked harder the second time.
Footsteps approached. He heard a lock turn. The wood door swung open.
That broad-shouldered man looked at him through the glass.
“Can I help you?”
Ethan just needed to see her up close, under the porch light. Confirm it wasn’t her, that he wasn’t going mad. Move on with his myriad other problems in this town.
“I’m looking for Kate.”
For a moment, the man just stared at him.
Finally, he pushed open the glass door.
“Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
“An old friend.”
The man stepped back into the house, turned his head, said, “Honey, could you come to the door for a minute?”
She responded with something Ethan couldn’t make out, and the man said, “I have no idea.”
Then she appeared—a shadow at the end of a hallway leading into the kitchen. Passed briefly through the illumination of an overhead light, and padded in bare feet through the living room up to the door.
The man stepped aside and she took his place.
Ethan stared at her through the glass door.
He shut his eyes and opened them again. He was still standing on this porch and she was still, impossibly, behind the glass.
She said, “Yes?”
“That was my maiden name.”
“Oh my God.”
“I’m sorry...do I know you?”
Ethan couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“It’s me,” he said. “Ethan. I came here to find you, Kate.”
“I think you’re confusing me with someone else.”
“I’d know you anywhere. At any age.”
She glanced over her shoulder, said, “It’s fine, Harold. I’ll be in in a moment.”
Kate opened the door, stepped down onto the welcome mat. She wore cream-colored pants and a faded blue tank top.
A wedding ring.
She smelled like Kate.
But she was old.
“What’s happening?” Ethan asked.
She took him by the hand and led him over to the swing at the end of the porch.
Her house stood on a small rise with a view of the valley, the town. House lights were everywhere now and three stars had popped.
A cricket, or a recording of a cricket, chirped in one of the bushes.
She put her hand on his leg and squeezed, leaned in close.
“They’re watching us.”
“Shhh.” She motioned toward the ceiling, a slight upward gesture with her finger, whispered, “And listening.”
“What’s happened to you?” Ethan asked.
“Don’t you think I’m still pretty?” That snarky, biting tone was pure Kate. She stared down into her lap for a minute, and when she looked up again, her eyes glistened. “When I stand in front of the mirror and brush my hair at night, I still think about your hands on my body. It’s not what it used to be.”
“How old are you, Kate?”
“I don’t know anymore. It’s hard to keep track.”
“I came here looking for you four days ago. They lost contact with you and Evans and sent me here to find you. Evans is dead.” The statement appeared to have little impact. “What were you and Bill doing here?”
She just shook her head.
“What’s going on here, Kate?”
“I don’t know.”
“But you live here.”
“For how long?”
“That’s impossible.” Ethan stood, his thoughts swarming.
“I don’t have answers for you, Ethan.”
“I need a phone, a car, a gun if you have—”
“I can’t, Ethan.” She stood. “You should go.”
He held her hands. “That was you when I lost consciousness on the street last night.” He stared down into her face—laugh lines, crow’s-feet, and still so beautiful. “Do you know what’s happening to me?”
“Stop.” She tried to pull away.
“I’m in trouble,” he said.
“Tell me what—”
“Ethan, now you’re putting my life at risk. And Harold’s.”
She tore away from him, started toward the door. When she reached it, she looked back, and for a moment, standing out of the light, she could have been thirty-six years old again.
“You could be happy, Ethan.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You could have an amazing life here.”
She pushed open the door, stepped inside.
“Am I crazy?”
“No,” she said. “Not at all.”
The door closed after her, and then he heard the dead bolt turn. He walked to the door and stared at his reflection in the glass, half-expecting to see a sixty-year-old man, but he was unchanged.
He wasn’t hungry anymore.
He wasn’t tired.
Moving down the steps, down the stone path, and onto the sidewalk, he only felt this tightness in the center of his chest, a familiar sensation that used to hit him just before a mission—walking out to the chopper as the ground crew loaded the fifty-cal Gatling gun and the Hellfires.
* * *
Ethan didn’t see a car until the next block—a mid-1980s Buick LeSabre, its windshield plastered with dried pine needles and sitting on four tires that could have used some air.
The doors were locked.
Ethan crept up onto the porch of the closest house and lifted a stone cherub from its perch under a window. Through the thin curtains, he saw a young boy inside, seated at an upright piano, playing some gorgeous piece of music, the notes drifting out onto the porch through a four-inch crack where the window had been raised off the sill.