He wound up moving out there with them, getting stoned every night, sampling mushrooms, peyote, hashish. He took to drugs like an eel to water, but he also took to physical labor. He worked like a madman on building the house, splitting logs in the sunlight with his shirt off, aching from the hard work. He was glad to be doing something—anything—that let him stop wondering about what he had forgotten. He went swimming with his new friends in the Eel River late at night, sinking into the mud and cold water, floating and looking at stars. He took them climbing on Hightop Mountain and showed off the deep, blue view. All three women fell in love with him. He had become that kind of man—edgy, a loner, the sort of mystery man women thought they could save. As it turned out, Rose and Pete were a couple, as were Rattler and Jenna, so it was only natural for Frank to be with Simone. Simone had curly dark hair and a beautiful smile. She had been at NYU before coming to Blackwell and was the one with the inherited money, the main reason she’d been invited along. She didn’t seem to know the others that well. Technically she owned the Farm, not that she believed in ownership. Simone didn’t talk much, and that was fine with Frank. He didn’t want to talk. He just wanted to be. There was something wrong with him, some kind of emptiness, as if he had been turned into a shadow on the night of his accident, as if he had snow in his veins rather than blood. He remembered who he was, all right. He just didn’t feel a thing.

People in town wondered if it had been wild Jesse who had kept Frank steady and if in losing the memory of his brother, he had somehow lost himself. When Frank drove into the village for supplies, they could hardly believe he was the same Frank Mott. His hair was down past his shoulders, he was deeply tanned, and his arms were huge and muscular from all that work he was doing out on the Farm. He could lift a two-hundred-pound bag of cement despite his bad leg. He always wore the same jeans and a T-shirt, along with a pair of cowboy boots he’d inherited from Rattler.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing out there?” his father said to him when they met up in the parking lot of the hardware store. Bob Starr, who owned the place, had phoned Leo to give him the heads-up that his son was in town. The loss of both his boys had worn Leo down and confused him.

In response, Frank shocked his father by embracing him. He remembered his father teaching him to ride a bike; he remembered how they would fish along the banks of the Eel River on summer afternoons. He knew that Leo Mott was a good man who deserved a better son.

“Don’t worry, Dad,” he said. “I’m fine.”

It was generally agreed that he wasn’t. He seemed so obviously different it was entirely possible that he’d fallen under a spell. Girls he’d grown up with wondered why they’d never noticed him before. Guys he’d hung out with his whole life passed him on the street without recognizing him. When he brought his new friends to the Jack Straw, nobody talked to them, and a few people grumpily whispered that New Yorkers would be better off in New York. There were little digs about the Yankees, and what a crappy team they were, as if anyone from the Farm cared about baseball or recognized that what was said was meant to be insulting. That’s what they called their commune, the Farm, not that they’d managed to grow a thing out there in that swampy acreage. Rattler got pretty smashed at the bar that night and quickly turned obnoxious, talking loudly about the little people in the world, which he meant to be a compliment to the workingmen of Blackwell, but which really got some folks’ dander up. If Frank hadn’t been a local boy, there probably would have been a fight out in the parking lot.

“Hey, Frank. What are you thinking?” the bartender muttered as they were leaving. He was Jimmy, one of the Kelly cousins who’d known Frank forever. “Go home. At least you have the option.” Jimmy handed over The Blackwell Herald. Brian Link, René’s husband, had been killed in Vietnam, buried on the previous Monday.

A few days later Frank went to pay his respects to René. She was living with her mother and her little girl in the house where she’d grown up. When Frank knocked at the back door, René looked over her shoulder and stopped what she was doing in the kitchen to slip outside. They stood in the shade of an oak tree. Frank thought he remembered coming here to pick her up when they were young. He’d sit in the car and honk rather than come up to the door.

“I just wanted to say how sorry I was,” he told René.

“For what? Breaking up with me?” René had a catch in her throat.

“For Brian.”


“I killed him,” René announced.

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