Four years ago a born-again folk duo came through Pulverdale, gigged at the harvest festival, and knocked up Cici Carver's older sister, Dane, a 16-year-old atheist with a weakness for men who sang harmony. Dane would never tell which Christian folkie was Trevor's father, and Cici suspected that Dane wasn't sure herself. Rona Carver bore her teenage daughter's pregnancy with the cultivated stoicism she'd been honing since she divorced Dane and Cici's father years before. Kit came and went and came and went, and there was always a spot at the table, and no one Rona'd rather welcome into her bed, but she was no longer naive enough to expect anything from the man. From Dane, Rona didn't expect much but disappointment.
Dane did manage to graduate Pulverdale High with Rona watching Trevor during the school day, so in love with her first grandchild that if she'd been able, she'd have nursed him herself. Caring for Trevor was a way to care for Dane without actually caring for Dane. Thus, a situation that might have torn their family apart served instead to broker the only peace Rona and Dane Carver ever really knew. And then, one afternoon that July after she graduated, Dane left. With the baby. Without a word.
.................. THREE YEARS LATER Rona's house was a-buzz and a-bang with preparations for Cici's wedding when an unfamiliar car came up the drive. Cici, 18 and newly graduated, had been out back helping Kit and Bear build the dance floor, but the afternoon sun was making her queasy, and she'd started inside for something to drink. She was almost to the porch when she heard a car engine's protests and saw the enormous rusting-white Mercedes lumbering up the rutty drive. For all the drilling and hammering, no one else had heard the heaving engine.
Time seemed to pass according to alternate principles: spatially, barometrically. The car was a thing of the distance, and then it was so close, Cici felt the heat coming off its hood like fever. And then a person--Dane!--was flying out the door, engulfing Cici, submerging her. She breathed in cheap, buttery shampoo, and beneath that was the smell of Dane: rich, ripe, somehow feral. Dane's pull on people was more than just attraction--and it wasn't just men, and it wasn't just sexual. Men, women, prepubescent boys, adolescent girls, family, and people who didn't know Dane from a Mormon missionary. People wanted her. They wanted to be near her, to touch her, to breathe her in like air.
From within Dane's embrace Cici had the sensation of being watched, and she struggled up--like swimming, out of breath, for the water's surface. The sisters clung to each other as Cici pivoted them toward the car. One rear passenger door now stood ajar, wide and white as an airplane wing, and there beside the door, standing where the driveway dirt met scrappy, mossy lawn, was Cici's nephew, Trevor Winston Carver, in a grimy yellow T-shirt and long red shorts, and a pair of high-top Velcro sneakers so dirty you almost couldn't tell they were girls' shoes. Once a Weeble of baby fat, he'd become a solid, upright, freestanding child, and Cici peeled her body from Dane's and went to him. She wanted to seize Trevor up like Dane had seized her, to hold his little body and try to understand how this was the baby she'd once known.
Cici moved with blind and urgent instinct, and Trevor didn't flinch, just stood there bobble-headed and glassy-eyed, his strawy hair stuck up in spots from sleep. She stopped herself just short of tackling him, and sank to her knees in the dirt, looked into his soft, drooly face, the crusty corners of his lips and eyes, the sweaty mat of yellow hair, the dark brown Carver eyes that had won out over the nameless folksinger's genes. Trevor looked back at her, not scared or confused, just concentrating. Finally he moved his gaze over Cici's shoulder to his morn, and when Dane spoke, Cici realized it had been three years since she'd heard her sister's voice.
"She doesn't look so different, does she, T?" Dane said. "You know Cici, don't you?"
Trevor looked back to his aunt, and relief seemed to spread through his body. His face opened in glee. "Soccer!" he cried.
Dane smirked. "He's kind of a genius."
The photo Dane and Trevor had of Cici was a clipping from the Pulverdale Post's sports coverage of her ninth-grade JV season, and if Trevor--genius or not--recognized his aunt from that shot it wasn't because Cici hadn't changed in four years but because that clipping was the only family photo Dane had.
Cici didn't notice the hammering had stopped until she heard her father's voice behind her. "Well, fuck me!" Kit said, and Dane ran at him like she might fling herself into his arms and wrap her legs around his middle like when she was a kid and he'd land on their doorstep, again. Dane was their father's girl; Cici was their mom's. That's how it had always been.
Close behind Kit, Bear nearly got dominoed over. Cici watched Bear, afraid he might simply turn back around, snub Dane the way he felt she'd snubbed her family. But he just waited near Kit like a patient footman and hugged Dane in turn, good-naturedly, if with reserve. "Long time no see, girl," he said, and this seemed to satisfy his desire to admonish her. Bear and Dane had dated, briefly and long ago, the summer when he was a just-graduated senior, she about to be a freshman at Pulverdale High, a small-enough school in a small-enough town that to have dated all the boys in your class, or even most of the high school, didn't necessarily mean you were slutty.
Cici was still on the ground beside Trevor, and then Kit was there too, awkwardly saying hello. Kit hadn't been around much the year Trevor was born. Unsure what to do with a grandkid, then and now, he got to his feet again and returned to Dane. "So, how'd you hear about the wedding?" he asked.
Dane only asked questions, didn't answer them. "I couldn't miss my baby sister getting married, could I?" Then she sang, Heard it through the grapevine, honey honey yeah, teasing the man who'd taught her those coy, flirtatious ways.
The song petered out, and Dane now looked toward the house. Rona had emerged onto the porch, wiping her hands on a dishtowel like this was a scene from...