“That’s amazing,” Ethan said.
“It’s not exactly like I want it. The night through the window doesn’t really look like night.”
“I’m sure it’ll get there. Hey, I picked up a book from the coffee shop today.”
Ben perked up. “What is it?”
“It’s called The Hobbit.”
“I never heard of it.”
“It was one of my favorite books when I was your age. I thought maybe I could read it to you.”
“I know how to read, Dad.”
“I know. But I haven’t read this in years. Might be fun to read it together.”
“Is it scary?”
“It has some scary parts. Go brush your teeth and hurry back.”
Ethan sat against the headboard, reading by the light of a bedside table lamp.
Ben was asleep before the end of the first chapter, dreaming, Ethan hoped, of dungeons deep and caverns old. Of something other than Wayward Pines.
Ethan set the paperback aside and cut the lamp.
Pulled the blanket up to his son’s shoulders.
He laid his hand down against Ben’s back.
Nothing better in the world than feeling the rise and fall of his child’s sleeping respirations.
Ethan had still not recovered from his son growing up in Wayward Pines. Doubted it was something he would ever accept. There were small things which he tried to tell himself were better. Tonight for instance. Had Ben grown up in the old world, Ethan would probably have entered his son’s bedroom to find him glued to an iPhone.
Playing video games.
Twitter and Facebook.
Ethan didn’t miss those things. Didn’t wish that his son was growing up in a world where people stared at screens all day. Where communication had devolved into the tapping of tiny letters and humanity lived by and large for the endorphin kick from the ping of a received text or a new e-mail.
Instead, he’d found his almost-teenage son passing his time before bed by sketching.
Hard to feel bad about that.
But it was the years to come that weighed down on Ethan’s heart with the black pressure of depression.
What did Ben have to look forward to?
There would be no higher learning. No real career.
Gone were the days of—
You can be whatever you want to be.
Whatever you set your mind to.
Just follow your heart and your dreams.
Golden-age platitudes of an extinct species.
When people failed to pair up on their own, marriages in Pines were often suggested. And even when they weren’t, the pool of potential mates wasn’t exactly deep.
Ben would never see Paris.
Might never fall in love.
He would never have the experience of going away to college.
Or on a honeymoon.
Or driving across the country nonstop, spur-of-the-moment, just because he was twenty-two and could.
Ethan hated the surveillance and the abbies and Pines’s culture of illusion.
But what kept him up with his mind racing late into the night were thoughts of his son. Ben had lived in Pines for five years, almost as long as he’d lived in the world before. Whereas Ethan suspected that the adult residents of Pines struggled every day with the memory of their past lives, Ben was very much a product of this town, of this strange, new time. Not even Ethan was privy to the things his son was being taught in school. Pilcher kept a pair of his men in plainclothes on school property at all times, and parents weren’t allowed inside.
Ethan lay awake in his bed, his wife in his arms.
Miles from sleep.
He could feel Theresa’s eyelashes scraping against his chest with each blink.
What are you thinking?
The question had haunted their marriage before, but in Pines it had assumed an entirely new gravity. In the fourteen days they’d been together, Theresa had never broken the surface illusion. Of course, she had welcomed Ethan back home. There’d been a tearful reunion, but five years as a resident of Pines had made her a stone-cold pro. There was no talk of where Ethan had been or of his tumultuous integration. No mention or discussion of the strange events surrounding his becoming sheriff. Or what he might now know. Sometimes, he thought he caught a glint of something in Theresa’s eyes—an acknowledgment of their circumstance, a suppressed desire to communicate on a forbidden level. But like a good actor, she never broke character.
More and more, he was coming to realize that living in Pines was like living in an elaborate play whose curtain never closed.
Everyone had their parts.
Shakespeare could have been writing about Pines: All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.
Ethan had already played a few of his own.
Downstairs, the telephone was ringing.
Theresa sat straight up as if she’d been spring-loaded, no sign of bleariness, snapped instantly to attention, her face gone tight with fear.
“Is it everyone’s phone?” she asked, her voice filled with dread.
Ethan climbed out of bed.
“No, honey. Go back to sleep. It’s just ours. It’s just for me.”
Ethan caught it on the sixth ring, standing in his boxers in the living room, the rotary phone clutched between his shoulder and his ear.
“For a moment, I wondered if you were going to answer.”
Pilcher’s voice. He’d never called Ethan at home before.
“Do you know what time it is?” Ethan said.
“Terribly sorry to have woken you. Did you get a chance to read the surveillance report on Peter McCall?”
“Yeah,” Ethan lied.
“But you didn’t go and talk with him like I suggested, did you?”
“I was planning to first thing tomorrow.”
“Don’t bother. He’s decided to take his leave of us tonight.”
“So maybe he went for a walk.”
“Thirty seconds ago, his signal reached the curve in the road at the end of town and kept right on heading south.”
“What do you want me to do?”
There was a beat of silence on the other end of the line. Somehow, Ethan could feel the frustration coming through like a heat lamp.
Pilcher said evenly, “Stop him. Talk some sense into him.”
“But I don’t know exactly what you want me to say.”
“I realize this is your first runner. Don’t worry about what to say. Just trust your gut. I’ll be listening.”