make Faye laugh herself silly. He’d smoked a couple of times a month since he was twelve and wasn’t hooked yet. Joe figured addiction just wasn’t in his nature.
    Faye said he was being stupid. Yes, tobacco was an age-old tradition, but so was dying young, until the advent of modern medicine. Why did he want to risk addiction and blacken his lungs and maybe die young, for no good reason?
    Now that the baby was coming, she could bludgeon him with the dire effects of second-hand smoke, like low birth weight and asthma and crib death. These arguments were moot, since he only smoked alone at night under the open stars.
    In the past, he’d used Faye’s age to excuse the risk in his mind. She was nine years older, and he didn’t care to outlive her, so what would it hurt if his occasional cigarettes shaved a few years off his life expectancy? If something happened to Faye, his plan had been to start smoking around the clock and see how fast he could choke himself to death.
    Now there was the baby to consider. He wanted to be around to see his child grow up. Beyond that, he wanted to see his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. Once he figured children and family into the picture, he had all the reasons in the world to try to live as long as possible. Long life and cigarettes—those two things didn’t really belong in the same sentence, much less the same life.
    There was no good reason for Joe to be lighting the cancer stick in his hand, but he was doing it. Why?
    Because he was pissed off at Faye, and this was the best way to let her know it.
    If she wanted to abuse her over-stressed pregnant body by sitting in a straight chair all night, hunched over a dusty old book, then she could just go ahead. In the meantime, he’d show her what he thought of that by standing out here and puffing on a cigarette he didn’t even want.
    Within an hour, Joe saw the light go off in their room, and he knew that Faye had done the sensible thing and quit working. She’d made her point by refusing to listen to reason when he wanted her to go to bed. He’d made his point by smoking a cigarette, which had been stupid but it was done and he couldn’t take it back.
    It was time to get rid of these clothes and brush his teeth, so that the lingering tobacco odor didn’t disturb Faye’s sleep. It was time to go to bed. It was time for peace.
    Joe had the eyes of a great horned owl. He could see perfectly well by the light of a quarter moon. He leaned against the trunk of a massive magnolia tree and listened to an armadillo move through the bushes in the far corner of the garden. The bushes’ glossy leaves reflected the moonlight and Joe could track the armadillo’s location by their movement.
    By contrast to the quiet rustling of the armadillo, Suzanne’s headlong rush across the back porch was as loud as a fighter jet. The kitchen door slammed shut, and her dainty sandals clattered on the flagstone walk.
    Joe could see Suzanne clearly in the reflected moonlight, struggling with the door of a garden shed standing between the gravel drive and the manor’s kitchen. She first grasped the handle with both hands and pulled hard, proof that she was familiar with the door and knew how heavy it was before she even tried it. Nothing happened. Suzanne just kept pulling.
    Again and again, she yanked on the door with enough force to make its old wrought-iron hinges creak, but nothing happened. Joe could see her hunched-over shoulders shake, and he knew she was weeping. He took a step out of the magnolia’s shadow toward her. There was no way he could open a door that was obviously locked, but he could certainly escort a distraught lady into the house, where her husband would give her the comfort she needed.
    Fortunately, the radar of the long-married was working, and Daniel stepped out of the same kitchen door that had just slammed behind his wife. He rushed to her side, saying, “Baby, it’s locked, and it’s gonna stay

Similar Books

Dead Wrong

Susan Sleeman


Mel Teshco

The Bargain

Julia Templeton

Resenting the Hero

Moira J. Moore

Golden Christmas

Helen Scott Taylor