On the outside of the window a gentle summer rain began to fall and the droplets tapped on the glass persistently, having the effect of chucking train wheels for lulling him into a deep sleep with its rhythmic serenity. The milky sky was covered with a mess of hazy white clouds scattered in rare instances with tiny patches of blue. In less than two hours he awoke to the sound of a hard driving rain pounding on the window. It sounded like hail, common during the Colorado summers, and his first thought was whether the truck was safe. Hailstorms tended to do incredible damage to vehicles during the rainy season. He opened his eyes, got up quickly and peered out the front window to see if there were any large balls of ice falling from the sky. No, it was just a hard, hard mountain rain. Phew! What a relief. He sat down and sipped some of the now cold coffee he’d left on the table. It didn’t matter. While replacing it on the flat surface, he almost upset the coffee mug, causing him to doubt his waking coordination. Outside, the rain quickly died down to an amiable drizzle and the fog rose and drifted in the valleys like wandering ghosts. Already, the birds were beginning to flitter and chirp in the trees with renewed vigor and the clouds spread wide apart to reveal large patches of blue.
He searched out the window for the hunters from the wildlife department and saw no one. He expected to find Terry in the outer office when he got up but guessed he had already gone home. He shrugged his shoulders, sat down at the front desk, mug in hand, staring at the clock: 9:30. It was dark outside. The hunters would be searching for the bears in pitch black. A dangerous and unpleasant prospect in any case, considering the hazards of the animal, but it had to be done, in spite of the risks. The hunt couldn’t be put off until daylight. The trail had already gotten cold since the last sighting of the bears and the dogs would encounter tremendous difficulty in tracking them down.
His thoughts drifted back to the image of a black bear hunt many years ago in Utah when he and two other rangers were seeking a problem animal in the forests at night. Buried in dense, waist-high undergrowth, with only flashlights to help them see, and shining their inadequate beams ahead, they had been searching all night and were growing weary from the effort, when suddenly, without a sound, and before any of them could react, a bear hurled itself at them from behind a patch of trees and began delivering vicious blows at anything within range. It was all a terrible blur in the darkness and no one ever saw anything that was happening, but when it was all over, Falcon knew he’d received a twenty-inch gash on the leg that put him in the hospital for weeks and left him crippled for months. His closest friend, meanwhile, died from massive head trauma and excessive blood loss on the way to the hospital. The other ranger got away. No one ever fired a shot. Falcon never got over how they walked right into an ambush and couldn’t help thinking that if it had been daylight, they might have had a chance, but bears certainly have the advantage at night.
He heard the sound of a truck motor getting closer and knew the hunters had arrived. Several car doors opened and slammed after the motor stopped and the front door was opened a few seconds later. He faced the first man: a chubby man with a rancher’s gait and wide, enveloping grin. The other two were marksmen, he guessed. They were young, fit-looking men and carried themselves with a confident swagger. They entered carrying their rifles and gear.
“Hi, I’m Don,” the first man said thrusting his thick hand at Falcon. “We’re from the Department of Wildlife and Game.”
“We came as soon as we could,” the man said boisterously, “Guess you’ve been having quite a bit of trouble around here lately.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the kidnapping of the little girl a few months ago and now this.”
“Yeah, I guess we have had our fair share of excitement,” Falcon unwillingly agreed.
“Well…” the hunter assured him, “…you needn’t worry about these ones, we’ll get ’em for you, just tell us where you last saw ’em and we’ll take it from there.”
Falcon studied his oddball expression. He struck Falcon as too cocky for his own good.
“There’s one thing I’m concerned about,” he said. “It’s dark out there and you’ll be at a distinct disadvantage because of it.” He gazed at them wondering if any of them comprehended the dangers of hunting at night.
“Ever hunted in the dark before?”
“Yes,” the older one said hastily, “I have. Not these gentlemen, but I’m well aware of the risks.”
Falcon wasn’t satisfied, the man sounded careless. “You have to be mindful of your situation at all times. If they lead you into blind terrain where you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you, let the animals go.”
The hunter stared at him curiously. “Let the animals go? That would be a first for us.”
“Well, I would rather you compromise your lofty principles than have another disastrous situation on my hands. Don’t put yourself in too much danger. If you get him—fine, but if it looks too dangerous, let ’em go.”
“Well, Cap’n, it just goes against everything we’ve ever been instructed to do, everything we’ve ever done, in fact,” said the man with a discernible whine.
“Dammit! Just do it!” Falcon shouted impatiently, “The federal government is crawling all over us right now, just looking for an excuse to shut down us down because of the attacks. This one I’d like to keep a secret.”
The hunter stared at him with some measure of understanding. “I didn’t know,” he said softly. “Alright, we’ll be extra careful—I promise.” He turned around toward the marksmen.
“Boys, you heard the man, this isn’t a do or die mission anymore.”
They nodded, without liking what they were hearing.
“I assume you know, bears that only cause damage to property are not to be killed unless there’s no other way to capture them. Shoot them with a tranquilizer gun and then arrange to have them transported out of the area.”
“Southern Colorado or Wyoming is where we usually send ’em.”
The old hunter nodded and reached out to shake Falcon’s hand, which he grabbed, saying, “If you have any problems call me directly.” He scribbled the number onto a piece of paper and handed it to him. “Alright, let’s get going. I’ll take you to the place where the bear was last seen and introduce you to the elderly man who defended himself against the bears. He may be able to give you a description of the animals. By the way, the other parks in the area have been notified that a nuisance bear is on the loose in the area and you can expect their full cooperation if you need to follow the trail outside park boundaries.”
“Great,” he replied with uncomplicated enthusiasm and turned to face the marksmen. “Tell him, boys. Are we going to do a good job for the man?” They responded with a synchronous method, like yapping puppies: “We always do.”
Though their tough, yokel confidence was less than inspiring, Falcon judged them to be capable men anyhow. Besides, if they weren’t prepared for what they were getting into, that was their own problem. Fair warning had been given.
Falcon lifted his coat from a row of hooks along the wall and made his way to the door, holding it open for the others to pass through.
“Follow me,” he called to them just prior to climbing inside. “When we get there, I’ll call one of the other rangers to meet us down there. Mel took the initial report and he’ll be able to fill you in lot better.”
The hunter nodded, then stared solemnly up at the night sky, where the moon was shining its misty, gleaming rays after the rain. A primitive fear pulled his face back as if drawn to a point at the center of his skull. He seemed to be reading something fateful in the image.
Falcon hopped into the truck and glanced quickly into the rear view mirror as he turned the key and started slowly down the hill. He pressed the accelerator gently to remain just slightly ahead of the others so they might stay close in the darkness. The road was washed over with thick mud and loose rocks from the recent downpour and it made the way down a considerable adventure; the tires spun, lurched and skidded side-to-side, forcing him to adjust and correct his steering the whole way down. He managed to keep the tires more or less inside the well-worn wheel wells cut in the road, visible only as brown puddles of water now, but at times the slippery sidewalls ejected him out and a concentrated effort was required to return them. As he drove into the campground the first thing he noticed was Mel Jaspers sitting in the same spot he was several hours ago.
“You’ve been here the entire time?” Falcon hurled at him in complete surprise.
“Yeah, you don’t mind, do ya?” Jaspers replied innocently. “Nothing’s come up on the box and me and Mr. Albert have been having a nice little chat. Been swapping war stories. Turns out, we’re both WWII veterans and very near to being in some of the same campaigns together.”
“No, it’s alright, as long as there’s nothing going on,” he sighed, too distracted to be angry. Besides, it was difficult to get mad at Mel.
Mr. Albert smiled easily under his white fisherman’s hat and bright print shirt, lounging comfortably in a green canvas lawn chair and sipping iced tea. Jaspers, meanwhile, occupied a chair just opposite from him and was holding onto a mug of coffee. Mrs. Albert was nowhere in sight. Presumably, she had already gone to bed. A flickering fire crackled and spit ash into the air from a circular concrete pit in the center of the campsite, casting a bright orange glow upon all their faces.
They heard the hunter’s truck approaching after a few minutes. It slowed to a stop and parked behind Falcon’s truck and the three hunters got out and came over and joined them. They could hear the team of dogs barking in their cages as the truck got closer and stopped. The barking got quite loud for a while then died down and started up again at intervals without provocation. Don walked up and gave a general greeting to everyone while the other two men stood silent and expressionless behind him. They folded their arms across their chests like somber mercenaries.
“What happened to you?” Falcon said to them. “I lost you around the last turn and I was getting worried you might’ve driven off a cliff or something.”
“No, nothing as serious as that,” the old hunter said, “We had to stop and let the dogs resolve some of mother nature’s own divine presence, that’s all. They had to take a leak.”
Laughter swelled to a roar in the group at the hunter’s unwittingly colorful description of this most commonplace function. He reacted defensively, apparently not comprehending why they were laughing. “They had to go real bad,” he said. He must have believed they were laughing at the action, not his description of it, and to justify himself he pointed toward the guilty parties, presently poking their noses through the bars and gazing at them, provoking another round of uproarious laughter.
“Don’t worry about it, Don, we get it,” said Falcon slapping him on the back and suppressing a wide grin.
“By the way, this is Mel Jaspers,” Falcon explained to him. “He’ll take it from here, fill you in on all the details and what not. If you have any questions, he’s your man.”
The hunter studied Jaspers relaxed position and his casual attitude for a moment, not appearing too impressed with what he saw.
“Nice to meet you,” he said out of the corner of his mouth.
“Likewise,” said Jaspers.
“Maybe Mr. Albert will give you a description of the bears,” Falcon said looking at the elderly man, “What do you think, Mr. Albert?”
Mr. Albert studied Don and the marksmen, making up his mind slowly and deliberately—one of the prerogatives of advanced age—but Mel Jaspers interrupted before he had a chance to speak.
“Mr. Albert has already given me a more than adequate description of the bears’ weight, size, color and identifying marks. I’ve even made up a quick sketch.”
“Nice work, mind if I see it.”
Jaspers handed Falcon a neatly drawn profile of a two black bears with their heads turned slightly toward the viewer. One was clearly larger than the other and the page was split in half with one bear on either side of the page. The “roman” noses with their black tips were pointing up in the air as though sniffing the surroundings. It was very lifelike.
“Mel, I had no idea you were such an artist.”
“Well, it’s a little hobby of mine…” he replied, embarrassed. “I used to be pretty good in school, before the war…even thought about making a profession of it. The war ended that.”
Mr. Albert added gruffly, “I will tell you this, one bear had two missing claws on its left paw and some fur missing on its right shoulder. The other was a lot smaller and much lighter in color.”
Falcon was equally impressed with Mr. Albert’s powers of observation. “Thanks,” he said, “That should help a lot.”
They discussed the hunt for a half hour; going over details, descriptions and strategies before Mel Jaspers and the hunters entered a private conversation that involved divvying up specific tasks. The two young marksmen did very little talking. Feeling that he was no longer needed, Falcon was struck with an overwhelming desire to return home.
It was 11:45.
“I’m gonna get going,” he announced, letting his gaze drift from Jaspers to the old hunter, to Mr. Albert. “You know where you can reach me if you run into any problems. Just remember what I told you. No putting your lives in unnecessary danger. If anything happens, the shit comes down on me.”
The hunters nodded. He climbed into the truck and drove away. The last image he saw of them being the hunters removing the dogs from their cages and a lot of animated barking.
Driving up the hill to his house he was challenged by scores of rabbits fleeing across the road in front of his headlights. From time to time, a chipmunk would chance the perilous journey to the other side of the road, shooting out of a darkness that was interrupted only by the sharp outline of his lights. He didn’t squash any of them this time, an unusual occurrence and one he judged to be a good omen. As he rounded the last turn, the cabin came into view and the lights were still on in the window, a welcoming sight, meaning Laura was still awake.
‘Good,’ he was thinking, ‘I could use someone to talk to right now.’
Upon entering, he was engulfed by the sound of vibrant music. It was a love song he’d heard before but couldn’t place right away.
“Laura!” he called, closing the door gently behind him with the song blaring out a sad, stirring melody that caused a burning sensation in his chest—the fire of amorous anticipation. He immediately went to the refrigerator and grabbed the makings of a late night snack: sliced bread, lettuce, cold cuts and mayonnaise and slapped them together. He hadn’t eaten anything since noon. He also grabbed a beer and popped the top off, taking a long, greedy gulp and plunging himself into one of the overstuffed chairs. He set the beer beside him on the table and took a huge bite off the sandwich, washing it down with another huge gulp. He heard the rush of the shower in the upstairs loft sounding like a miniature rainstorm. He hadn’t noticed it before. The noise had been drowned out by the music, which was now waning. He finished the sandwich and beer and tossed the bottle in the trash, then rinsed the plate and placed it in the dishwasher. He sat back in the chair and began reading a book he’d recently picked out from the bookcase. It was a spy thriller he’d tried delving into for weeks, so far without success. He switched on a small reading lamp that hung over the back of chair and waited for Laura to come down.
By the time she did he was midway through the first chapter. He peered over his shoulder as she came up behind him in a thick white cotton robe, open at the throat, revealing her fragile, pretty neckline. Her hair was wet and she smelled faintly of roses. Sashaying up by his side she said, “Wow, howdy stranger, finally managed to get away?” He reached over the arm of the chair and grabbed her around the waist.
“God, it’s good to see you,” he said heavily, “I’ve missed you so much.” He buried his head into her side; clutching her tiny body so close she nearly lost her balance.
“Stop that,” she squealed playfully trying to push herself away. “Give a girl a chance to adjust to all this human affection. It’s been awhile.”
He stared at her in awe, all fresh and pretty, as though seeing her for the first time, taking in all her girlish poise and the curve of her slight body beneath the soft cotton robe. The lushness of the fabric enhanced the essential presence of her body. She swung herself quickly behind his chair, reaching her arms around his neck and running them down to his chest. Her hands caressed him ever so gently and Falcon submitted to the titillating sensation of her touch. It wasn’t difficult after weeks of hardship.
He groaned with pleasure. “Oh, that feels wonderful. I’ve been away too long.”
“Is it finally over?” she asked hopefully, brushing her hair attentively out of her face.
“It’s gradually winding down but it ain’t over, yet.” She plunged deeply and sadly into his eyes.
“What do you mean? I thought the last of the researchers left today?” She pulled herself away, disappointed, carrying herself over to the sofa and plunking down sulkily. She stared at him, all business now, her elbows resting limply against her thighs. The throat of her robe fell open, revealing her tiny collarbone as she leaned forward, propping herself up on her arms.
“What do you mean?” she repeated, after receiving no immediate response, making her hurt obvious, and inflaming his stomach like an ulcer.
“Well,” he explained gingerly, “There was another bear incident today. The call came in as we were returning from seeing the last team of scientists off and as I was just beginning to enjoy my freedom again.” Pausing, he studied her face, trying to decipher her reaction before continuing. “A couple of bears tore into a campground and began terrorizing an elderly couple.”
She brushed the hair off her face with a surprised expression and allowed it to fall down again. “Oh my god!” she shouted, forgetting her own feelings a moment. “Was anyone hurt?”
“No—thank god! But now the problem is making sure no one finds out about it, especially the National Park Service and the newspapers, or they’ll shut us down for sure.”
“What happened exactly?”
“Two black bears began stealing food from different campsites, damaging things, then advanced threateningly on an elderly couple who happened to be in the area. The old man fired some shots at them and eventually scared them away but it took quite a few attempts. These bears weren’t very easily discouraged.”
His eyes glowed with the fire of suspenseful storytelling and his mind became preoccupied with thoughts related to the event. Her glance meanwhile was fixed upon him, drooping at the mouth in rapt expectation.
“We-ell?” she demanded at last. “Don’t leave me hanging like this!”
“The old man seemed to believe the bears were reading his thoughts or something like that; as though…as though, they recognized he had no intention of killing them.”
She looked puzzled.
“—But nothing else happened,” he quickly resumed, “The bear barreled through the couple’s campsite, knocking over a table and ransacking some of their goods, that’s all.”
An image of what the terrifying scene must have looked like suddenly collapsed in on his consciousness, confronting him with the considerable downplay his mind had applied to the event in its own defense. All at once it struck him how close they had come to another horrible tragedy!
“I’m glad of that, at least,” she exhaled nasally, “After everything that’s happened these past few months...” her words trailed off, narrowed by regret, gazing sadly at the traces of weariness on his face.
“Nothing happened this time,” he hastened to add, “But it doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods, yet.” Again, she stared at him with a questioning gaze.
“Dr. Intinman called today…” Her face assumed a noticeable change in quality, influenced by his tone.
“From the first team? What did he want?”
“He said the bears at White River have the elusive gene they’ve been searching for, in other words, our bears have tested positive for it. This is what I was leading up to when I said it wasn’t over.”
He wasn’t looking at her, but down at the book as he spoke, now lying open between his legs with the pages fanned out. He averted his eyes from her deeply troubled stare, worried that his own despair might betray him and add to hers. For a long, intolerable moment, she sat looking at him, utterly terrified.
“What does it mean? What’s going to happen to us?” she pleaded. Her sharply slanting eyebrows twisted in anguish under the deeply trembling indentations on her forehead, awaiting an answer she already knew.
“Please don’t get upset over this, hon’—Not yet!” he said in his best consoling manner. He gazed longingly at her, hoping to hell she hadn’t grasped the full meaning of the situation yet. Then again, putting off telling her wouldn’t make matters any easier in the long run. Sooner or later, she would have to know the truth and delaying it ’til later couldn’t serve any purpose other than to make the subject harder to face in the future.
“He notified me of the possibility that the park might be shut down, eventually. And once that’s done and it’s placed under federal control, the EPA will employ different methods for capturing and destroy the offending bears.”
“But…what’s going to happen to your job? To…to our lives?” she trembled in a helpless rage. “What’ll happen to us?”
He shook his head profoundly, softly murmuring, “I don’t know, everything’s rather up in the air at the moment. Dr. Intinman promised he would do everything he could to prevent the closing of White River, but he wasn’t certain whether the prospects were any good. That was the impression I got, anyhow. I’m afraid we’ll just have to wait and see.”
His voice failed and his throat seized up with a rush of phlegm that threatened to cause a fit of violent coughing as he observed the cloudy sadness in his wife’s eyes. The pain struck him like a crushing blow to the chest. He rose from his seat and sat down beside her on the sofa, circling his arm around her and pulling her close and whispering softly in her ear. He faced her directly with an expression that was a glaring apology.
“There is more I haven’t told you,” he said reticently, “But I don’t feel like telling you right now, unless...” He searched her face in an attempt to read her emotions.
“Unless what?” she whispered faintly, letting her head drop down and her hair fall across her face, concealing the ruby redness borne of misery.
“Unless you’re ready to hear it.”
She stared at him firmly, raising her chin in a gesture of amassed resolve. “Yes, tell me,” she said, looking straight at him. The light fell across her face, concealing half of it in a patchwork of checkered light and reflecting the beads of sweat gathered in the hollows of her eyes.
“Honey, Dr. Intinman informed me that some pretty horrible things may happen if the park is closed. If it is, we won’t be coming back, ever, because there won’t be anything to come back to. The threat to the bear population isn’t the only thing at stake here.”
“What do you mean? What else can they do?”
He felt her distress rising again, but the door was already open and the groundwork laid, and now he could do nothing but pass through.
He sighed, “I know you love this place as much as I do, which makes this even harder to say: hunters by the hundreds are generally brought in to shoot down every last living bear in the park, as you already know, to root out the problem, but the other methods that are used are really quite shocking: toxic chemicals, poisons, destruction of food supply, and brutal trapping methods are also used to destroy them. During the process, everything else is laid to waste. I’ve been told that when the whole process is over there’s nothing left but a barren wasteland where nothing grows and nothing lives. No plants or animals or birds or trees—nothing.”
She shook her head violently trying to dispel these thoughts and causing her hair to spin like a twirling umbrella. “No—No! What you’re saying isn’t possible! I don’t believe you. They couldn’t, they wouldn’t!”
She faced him, terrified, helpless, with shadows playing upon her face like feisty demons in the shifting light. He gazed at her, tenderly, sympathetically, helplessly, wishing he could take back the words that caused the pain.
“I’m terribly sorry,” he said simply, “I didn’t wish you to know unless it was likely to happen. I was beside myself, in fact, about whether to tell you at all, and finally decided it would be better to tell you now than wait and let it come to you as a total surprise, later.”
She put her head on his shoulder, sobbing, “I appreciate that even though I’m not in any condition to appreciate anything right now. I’m so filled with fear…and rage.”
“I understand, you love this place as much as I do and don’t want to see anything happen to it; but what may be the greatest surprise of all, is that I agree, to a certain extent, with what they are planning to do! Honestly, the bears at White River are dangerous and do need to be contained. Just one week ago, in fact, I checked the files and the frequency of bear attacks has been on the rise in the past few years.”
She stared at him in disbelief, her anger slowly navigating toward a more familiar object.
“You mean before the attack on little Amy?” she said, facing him, her eyes clear and direct, and listening intently.
“Yes, going back three years, maybe more, the records became spotty after that. I was curious, so I looked into the old files and noticed there was a definite pattern with a higher than normal occurrence. Frankly, I’m surprise I didn’t notice it before.”
“Well,” she said defiantly, “You can’t mean you agree with devastating an entire forest over one dangerous animal?” Her attentions seemed attuned now to every nuance of his response.
“Of course not, I would never go along with such unbridled madness, but you can’t argue with the fact that the bears in the park are dangerous and need to be controlled in some manner. Some of the government’s methods may be barbaric and overkill, to say the least, but there’s no denying the bears are a serious threat to us. After tonight’s attack, I’m not certain the park shouldn’t be shut down right away, even though the thought scares me to death.”
“But…how can you say that, Jack? What about our life here? Our home? Where would we go? What would we do?” For an answer, he placed his hand on the back of her neck and stroked it gently, hoping the physical sensation might calm her a bit.
“Frankly, I don’t know where we’d go if we lost this place...somewhere, anywhere, I guess,” he answered vaguely. “What else can we do?”
She studied his tired and despondent face with its creases that seemed deeper and more prominent than she had ever noticed before and eyes that were ghastly, darkened caverns. Her emotions began to turn, projecting outward instead of in, and she suddenly felt herself morphing into someone able to offer assurances where they were needed.
“Well, as you said, none of this has happened yet. We mustn’t worry until something actually does.”
“Exactly,” he replied looking at her strangely, “But we must be prepared. I’m going to put out some feelers, see what’s out there for supervisory openings. I want to have something to fall back on if the worst should happen.”
“Good idea,” she said softly, caressing his arm.
“I didn’t mean I wanted the forest to be destroyed, of course,” he explained, feeling the need to clarify this particular sentiment. “I only meant the bears must be prevented from harming people, destroying an entire forest is something I’d never go along with.”
“I know dear. How could you? It’s what you always lived for.”
“Dr. Intinman seems to believe the federal government has no idea what it’s doing with regard to the Superspecies problem, that it’s simply acting out blindly. In a sense, though, I can understand why, bureaucrats are not scientific researchers and shouldn’t be expected to be. Their lack of experience in this highly unusual situation leaves them without a reference point.”
She studied him, looking puzzled and trying to follow the sway of his thinking.
“Just because it’s not their job doesn’t stop them from sticking their long noses in every place they don’t belong though, does it? Screwing things up seems to be the government’s particular forte, and total ignorance of an issue doesn’t deter them one bit.”
She had him there and he knew it.
“There’ve been too many close calls,” he mumbled vaguely, dwelling on the point. “The attack on Jerry Pickney came nearest to a fatality but the other events weren’t nearly as bad. There’s little Amy, of course, but she was more shaken up than anything else. The hardest part about that was her being so young and not knowing what happened to her. The incident today, though, really drove home the point that the problem needs to be confronted before it’s too late.” Then more to the point, he added, “The park should be closed until it can be determined what to do with these bears, but since the EPA is committing environmental devastation on a major scale, instead of handling the situation reasonably, I’ve chosen to keep the latest incident under wraps. No one else outside the park will ever know about it. I can’t see any other way.”
She shrugged, saying nothing.
“Dr. Intinman should be a great asset in a fight against the government. He seems to be utterly opposed to the destructive program and its results and his influence might help sway things in the right direction, toward a moderate approach in dealing with the bears. Capturing and studying them or something reasonably humane.”
“I hope so,” she whispered softly, not knowing for certain whether his faith was well placed or not.
“Above all, we’ve got to be reasonable. The bears are dangerous, that is clear, but the rest of the animals aren’t a threat to anyone. Close the park, if they must, but don’t destroy all the other animals in the process.”
“Why don’t we go to bed?” she said, clearly tired of the subject.
“Sorry, Laur’, I must be boring you,” he said, sliding his hand swiftly into hers. “Want me to carry you upstairs?” he asked pointedly. “I’m sorry to keep raving on about my problems.”
She lowered her eyes in response: it was ‘yes’. He could see her struggling to keep her eyes open and whispered in her ear on the way up how lucky he was to have her to listen to his problems.
She was sound asleep by the time he laid her on the bed and climbed in beside her, staring up at the skylight above and thinking. The sky was a bundle of clear and saturated ribbons of sweet stars, blinking and laughing far out of reach of the worst laid plans of men and mice. They winked down at him, favorably, blending together with Laura’s placid exhalations of slumber and creating the perfect sensation of homebound contentment. His concerns and fears merged instantly into a chaotic stillness that lived for the moment in a sort of suspended animation and ended in an undisturbed sleep that night.