“Actually, the pool isn’t whether you will. It’s when.”
“What’s your bet?”
They had come round to the front door. It was the original one, the very first door in town. In the winter, snow came through the cracks. In summer, hornets nested in the wood.
“I don’t make bets,” Johnny Mott said.
“Go to hell,” Louise said to him again, and again he was stunned. Louise couldn’t care less. She felt insulted and something more. She hurried inside and locked the door, not once but twice, even though everyone in town knew that the door to the Brady house was so unstable every time there was a storm it got knocked down.
SOON AFTER, LOUISE went to the Blackwell Museum, which was right across the street from the bookstore. The museum was in an old house, and one energetic elderly woman sold tickets, ran the gift shop, and gave guided tours twice a day. Louise remembered going there as a child, examining the few items still left from the Brady expedition, their spoons and forks, some pots and pans, a tilted wooden wagon wheel. There was also an exhibit of taxidermy, a glass case of local wildlife trapped a hundred years earlier: beavers, red squirrels, foxes, a wolf that was so poorly sewn together you could see the black crisscross of thread down his back, some old moth-eaten bats.
In a corner there was a case of fossils. One of the bits of bone looked very much like the one Louise had found.
“Were there dinosaurs around Blackwell?” Louise asked the ticket taker, who was having a tuna salad sandwich at her desk. She had the same thing for lunch at 10:30 a.m. each day.
“You bet,” the old woman said. She was Arlene Kelly, whose son, Tim, and three grandsons ran the Kelly Gas Station. Someone from the Kelly family had always owned the station, and Arlene had bought it from her cousin Carla when Carla retired early on disability to Delray Beach. “Louise Partridge, right? How’re you feeling, hon?” Arlene had put her money on September 7, which happened to be her birthday. She herself always went a little crazy right around then, and she figured Louise might flip out on that day.
“I’m fine. Thank you. What kind of dinosaurs?”
“Eubrontes. They were carnivores. We’ve found tracks. It’s all over there in the prehistory case.”
After she took a look, Louise got back in her mother’s Jeep and drove home. Lately she had been getting the kind of phone calls where someone hung up as soon as you answered. At first she thought it was someone calling from The Blackwell Herald, trying to sell her a subscription. But more recently she had come to believe it was Johnny Mott. Why a good-looking man who thought she was about to go crazy would be calling and hanging up, and acting crazy himself, she had no idea. But she could feel something through the phone, a kind of yearning. When she realized she was the one doing the yearning, she stopped answering and let it go on ringing.
Louise sent a formal letter to the dean’s office at Harvard. She wrote that she was an alumna, more or less. She didn’t mention dropping out or being so miserable in Cambridge. Before long she was connected to the paleontology experts at the Peabody Museum to whom she explained her situation. Three days later a graduate student named Brian Alter arrived in a Volvo station wagon filled with equipment. There were just a few stray flies around then and the days were getting hot.
“Beautiful area,” Brian said, after shaking Louise’s hand when she came out to the driveway to meet him. “Great house,” he enthused.
“Yes, except for the bones in my garden.” Louise led him around to the back.
“In my line of work, that’s great, too.”
They went up the stone steps, past the gardens Louise’s mother and aunt had planted in summers gone by, predictable plots of land where nothing unusual ever happened. The old garden, however, was a riot of red. Everything was blooming so fast and so hard that the white picket fence had nearly disappeared into a tangle of bean runners.
“Wow,” Brian asked. “What kind of vegetables are those?” He pointed to the blood-colored runners.
“Green beans,” Louise said.
When she showed him the soil and the piece of bone, Brian pursed his lips. He did not make jokes about basset hounds. See! Louise wanted to shout, had Johnny Mott been anywhere near. He doesn’t think it’s ridiculous. She wondered if perhaps her garden had become red for a reason, the way maps turn up in your glove compartment right before you get lost. She wondered if the reason was Brian, and if the garden had brought him to her, magicking him along the Mass Pike right up to her door. In many ways he was a perfect fit: nice looking, Harvard educated, a scientist, clearly a gentleman. Maybe fate had sent her one true love.