“You’ve got to come with us,” he said to Frank. “I told you this town is nowhere.”

It was growing dark. Frank had good night vision, but it was difficult going for the other two. They stumbled over rocks and their clothing snagged on thornbushes. When they reached the car, the sky was inky. Jesse reached for his keys, but dropped them in the underbrush. “Fuck,” he said.

“Your brother’s a city boy,” Tia murmured to Frank. He noticed she smelled like vanilla. Perfume drew mosquitoes to you. It was hot and buggy, and Tia raised up her length of blond-white hair in one hand and fanned her neck. Frank felt dizzy looking at her.

Jesse was still rooting around in the tall grass for the car keys when Frank heard the bear. He was used to quiet, so he took notice of the sound of the bushes being flattened as the bear headed their way.

“Get on top of the car,” he told Jesse and Tia.

“If I had a lighter, I could see,” Jesse complained.

Tia was looking at Frank.

“Do it now,” he said. “Be quiet.”

Tia scrambled up.

“I think they’re over by the tire,” Jesse said, still searching through the brush.

Frank leaned close to his brother. “Shut up and get on top of the car.”


The intensity of his tone made Jesse get on top of the Jeep, fast.

Frank had his gun, but he didn’t want to use it. He’d shot at squirrels and practiced with targets. In the winter he’d have no choice but to go after rabbit and deer, but he’d never entertained the notion of shooting a bear. There was something wrong about that. Something unmanly. He stood with his back against the Jeep and watched the bear amble along the logging road. There were overripe blueberries and wild raspberries. The bear was an old male, big. He was so close they could hear him grumbling to himself, the way some folks hum when they’re going about their business.

It was true twilight now, darker by the instant. The mosquitoes and midges were something you had to get used to on the mountain or you could easily be driven mad. The bear looked at Frank standing there. He made a deeper growling noise and stopped. He moved his head back and forth the way bears sometimes did before they charged. Frank could hear Tia making little sobbing sounds even though she was covering her mouth with her hands.

“Shoot it,” Jesse urged in a whisper. “Go ahead, brother.”

The bear smelled like leaves and mud. He was so close that his musky scent was already clinging to Frank’s clothes. The bear hadn’t seen the other two, flattened against the Jeep’s roof. He was just looking at Frank.

Frank thought of the way the snow had been falling when he was walking down the road before the car spun out and hit him. He thought of how the cold water in the Eel River had been such a shock to him when he dove in with Simone and Rose, floating in dreamtime. He felt ready to be over with something, although he wasn’t sure what that something was. All at once, there in the buggy twilight, he felt intensely awake.

“I know this place is yours,” he said to the bear. “I’m just passing through.”

The bear stayed on for a moment, then went in the other direction, rambling up toward the meadow, where there were dozens of honeybee hives in the fallen oak trees. Frank waited in silence for several minutes, then he climbed onto the roof of the Jeep. The three of them looked up at the sky.

“Los Angeles, here I come,” Jesse said.

Tia and Frank didn’t say anything. They watched the stars appear. Frank took out a joint, which they shared, and afterward Jesse fell sound asleep.

“He talks about you a lot,” Tia said. She was lying between them, her arms crossed behind her neck, cushioning her head. “He says you’re the good one.”

“He’s wrong,” Frank said.

Tia raised herself on one elbow and kissed him. It was the most delicious, hot, crazy kiss Frank had ever experienced. He felt as if he could fuck her right there on top of the car. He wanted her so much he felt certain he’d become the victim of temporary insanity.

Soon, though, he pulled away.

“He’s right about you,” Tia said. She kissed him again, but it wasn’t as good the second time because they both felt guilty.

They slept on the roof with Tia sandwiched between the brothers. In the morning, Frank found the keys in the grass. Tia and Jesse were covered with bug bites. They couldn’t get out of the woods fast enough. Frank drove into town with them. When they got to the house, his mother cried and hugged him and his father took him aside and told him he was glad Frank had gotten it all out of his system and had snapped out of it at last. Frank took a shower and let his mother wash his clothes. He was sitting at the desk where he used to do his homework, staring out the window, when Tia slipped into his room. She came to sit on his lap even though he was naked and the whole family was downstairs. They kissed for a while. They did things they shouldn’t have done. It seemed like a dream and then it didn’t.

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