A cricket started up, its chirping sliding through the open window.
Quintessential sound of a peaceful night.
Only it wasn’t real. There were no crickets anymore. The sound came from a tiny speaker hidden in a bush. He wondered if his wife knew that. Wondered how much of the truth she suspected.
“Do you want me?” Theresa asked in that no-bullshit tone he’d fallen for the first time they’d met.
“Of course I do.”
“So do something about it.”
He took his time unbuttoning the back of her white summer dress. Badly out of practice, but there was something wonderfully terrifying because of the rust. Not like high school, but close. A lack of control that had him hard before they’d even made it into the room.
He tried to pull the covers over them but she wouldn’t have it. Told him she wanted to feel the cool breeze coming through the window across the surface of her skin.
It was a good old-fashioned bed and, like the rest of the house, creaky as hell.
The bedsprings squeaked and as Theresa moaned Ethan tried to put the knowledge of the camera above them out of his mind. Pilcher had assured him that watching couples in their private moments was strictly forbidden. That camera feeds were always killed when the clothes came off.
But Ethan wondered if that was true.
Or if some surveillance tech was watching as he f**ked his wife. Studying Ethan’s bare ass. The bend of Theresa’s legs as they wrapped around his body.
Their first two times together, Ethan had come before Theresa. Now the thought of the camera above him cut into the pleasure. He used the anger to make himself last.
Theresa came with a vengeance that reminded Ethan of how good they could be together.
He let himself finish and then they were still. Breathless and he could feel her heart jackhammering against his ribs. The evening air almost cold where it grazed his sweaty skin. It might’ve been a perfect moment but the knowledge of everything elbowed in. Would he reach the point one day when he could shut that off? Just take these unexpected respites of peace for their surface beauty and forget the underlying horror? Was that how people managed to live here for years without losing their minds?
“So we can still do that,” he said, and they laughed.
“Next time we’ll take off the training wheels,” she said.
“I like the sound of that.”
He rolled over and Theresa curled into him.
Ethan made sure her eyes were closed.
Then he smiled straight up at the ceiling and raised his middle finger.
Ethan and Theresa worked on dinner together, chopping side by side on the butcher-block counter.
It was harvest time in the community gardens, the end of the season, and the Burkes’ fridge was loaded down with their share of fresh veggies and fruit. These were, without a doubt, the prime eating months of the year in Wayward Pines. Once the leaves had been burnt with frost and the snowline had begun its rapid descent to the valley floor, the food took a disastrous turn for the freeze-dried. October through March, they could look forward to six months of prepackaged, dehydrated shit. Theresa had already warned Ethan that walking through the town grocery in December was like shopping for a space mission—nothing but shelf after shelf of chrome-colored packaging labeled with the most outrageous dares: crème brûlée; grilled-cheese sandwich; filet mignon; lobster tail. She’d already threatened to serve him freeze-dried steak and lobster for their Christmas dinner.
They had just finished preparing the hearty salad—onions, radishes, and raspberries over a bed of spinach and red lettuce—when Ben crashed through the front door, rouge-cheeked, smelling of boy-sweat and the outdoors.
Still caught in that delicate blink of time between boy and man.
Theresa went to her son and kissed him and asked about his day.
Ethan turned on the vintage Philips—a tube radio from the 1950s in immaculate condition. Pilcher had inexplicably put one in every inhabited house.
Surfing was easy with one station to choose from. Most of the time, it just blared static, but there were one or two talk shows, and always, between seven and eight o’clock, “Dinner with Hecter.”
Hecter Gaither had been a moderately famous concert pianist in his past life.
In Pines, he taught lessons to anyone who wanted to learn, and every night of the week, played music for the town.
Ethan turned up the volume, heard Hecter’s voice as he joined his family.
“Good evening, Wayward Pines. Hecter Gaither here.”
At the head of the table, Ethan dished out servings of their salad.
“I’m sitting at my Steinway, a gorgeous Boston Baby Grand.”
First to his wife.
“Tonight, I’ll be playing the Goldberg Variations, a work originally composed for harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach.”
Then to his son.
“The construction of this piece is an aria followed by thirty variations. Please enjoy.”
As Ethan served himself and took a seat, he heard the creak of the piano bench come crackling through the speaker.
After dinner, the Burkes took bowls of homemade ice cream out onto the porch.
Sat in rocking chairs.
Eating and listening.
Through the open windows of the neighboring houses, Ethan could hear Hecter’s music.
It filled the valley.
Precise and radiant notes bubbling up between the mountain walls that had become ruddy with alpenglow.
They stayed out late.
A millennium without air or light pollution made for pitch-black skies.
The stars didn’t just appear anymore.
Diamonds on black velvet.
You couldn’t tear your eyes away.
Ethan reached over and held Theresa’s hand.
Bach and galaxies.
The night grew cool.
When Hecter finished, people clapped inside their homes.
Across the street, a man shouted, “Bravo! Bravo!”
Ethan looked over at Theresa.
Her eyes were wet.
He said, “You okay?”
She nodded, wiping her face. “I’m just so glad to have you home.”
Ethan finished the dishes, headed upstairs. Ben’s room was at the far end of the hall and the door was closed—just a razor line of light visible underneath.
Ben was sitting up in bed sketching—charcoal on butcher paper.
Ethan eased down on the comforter, asked, “Can I take a look?”
Ben lifted his arms.
The sketch was the boy’s current vantage point from the bed—the wall, the desk, the window frame, the points of light outside which were visible through the glass.