Painting by Camille Woods, a working artist based in Austin, Texas.
The Blackhawk hunkers in the pasture by the river like a video game beast, spiky and dark. Mikey slogs toward the helicopter, soaked with tiredness, lugging the baby, her ticket out. She’s ready to lie down in the sopping field, sink her banged-up body deep into the mess left by the flood and skip whatever comes next. But she has thirty-seven thousand dollars waiting for her in New York City.
A bug-eyed town official and a National Guard trooper with tattoos up to his ears scan a clipboard next to the chopper, which hasn’t started up yet.
Mikey holds the baby the way she’s seen other new mothers do it, rapt, like she’s in love. She can’t feel bad for being hell-bent. When the streams overflowed they washed out the roads, the power and phone lines drowned, the cell tower collapsed. The storm made an island of the town—cut the place off from even the nearest mountains. This ride is the only way out.
Mikey says, “We should be on your list.” Who knows if there’s a list. “Mikey Arbiteau?” She makes sure they get a good look at the black-and-blued side of her face. “This baby came during the storm.”
The town official judges her from behind his glasses. His name is Larry something, and he grew up with her father, but mentioning her father will not help.
“We’re supposed to be checked at the hospital.”
The two men look at each other. The National Guard with the multi-colored flames licking his neck says to Larry, “There won’t be another flight until tomorrow.”
Mikey leans for support on pallets of water bottles they just off-loaded.
The men are quiet.
Mr. Tatts-up-to-his-ears says, “The guy’s calmer now.”
Larry takes his glasses off and rubs his eyes and says, “She’s got a baby. We don’t have a choice, do we?”
The flying machine is a man’s space, black and hard, with too much metal—emergency handles, first-aid kits, and a fire extinguisher. The smells of diesel and mud. Mikey guessed there would be others on the flight, diabetics needing insulin, or old dialysis patients. But no way is she ready for Harrison Lenk. The guy she’s always dreamt would rescue her from her life sits by a National Guard trooper on one of the bench seats in the belly of the helicopter, pointing his gaze at her like the state of emergency is her fault.
She says, “Hey,” as if the hostile set of his face is nothing new, and nods at the young trooper next to him.
Harrison rests his head back on the window behind him, but his knees jitter. She hasn’t seen him since the night before he shipped out for Afghanistan, more than a year ago. In the weeks he’s been back, he hasn’t called her.
His cheekbones are wide and clean as a big cat’s. His eyes, usually the color of a classy dark rum, look flat. His shirt hangs unbuttoned. Dog tags nestle in the hollow just above his abs. He doesn’t smile. He has always smiled at her, even when it was only to be polite.
She wears the same T-shirt and borrowed sweats she’s had on for days. Her shiner’s a doozy, and who knows what her hair is doing. Her belly’s lumpy and loose as dough, and then there’s the baby in her arms. Not her hottest look. She tries again with, “Hi,” sliding her husky voice along the word.
Harrison shifts his eyes to the trooper. She eases down into a seat across from him like his ignoring her is no big deal. She shifts the blanketed baby to her other arm, pretending she’s not afraid of it. She asks, “How’d you score this ride?”
As if he doesn’t care how much he hurts her feelings, he looks past her.
She shifts on the seat, trying to bite back her impulse to say something sharp. “If ‘Hello, Mikey,’ is too hard, you could try, ‘Hi.’”
He puts his finger to his lips to shush her.
She’s wearing a pad for the bleeding, and her feet don’t reach the floor. She’s always wanted him—the kind of want that makes her ears ring. No bells now.
He’s wearing a combo of tired plaid and desert camo, which isn’t like him at all.
“Why aren’t you talking to me?”
There’s something more about Harrison than his fine looks, his open face. He never talks much—you get the feeling he is holding something back—but when he does speak, he means what he says. Ever since middle school, in her mind, he’s been a prince, separate from the rest of the dimwits.
Mikey had felt so smoothed out and weightless at the news he’d made it home from the war in one piece, she hadn’t questioned if he was really okay.
“Did you hear what happened?” she asks.
He gives a miniscule shake of his head. He looks at his watch and out the window.
“This baby came in the middle of the storm. I was stuck in the plywood factory while the water rose.”
She waits, not knowing whether to be pissed-off or freaked out by the way he’s acting.
Harrison picks at something on his sleeve.
“What the fuck, Harrison! I could have died.”
He whispers something so softly she only catches the words “bird” and “recon.” His usual smell—wood smoke and salt—has turned acrid. He pretends he is tying his boots, but studies the trooper.
The motor chokes to a start and the baby jerks and begins to cry. Harrison throws his hands up over his ears.
A baby’s cry isn’t anything cute. More like a cat having its nails pulled out one by one. There’s a tiny tug inside her boobs, and milk soaks through the front of her T-shirt. She shakes her head and says, “This is something no one told me about. They did not say, oh and by the way, when the baby cries, your breasts are going to flow with actual human milk that sours the second it touches whatever you’re wearing.”
The trooper steps to the front of the helicopter, flips a switch, and speaks to someone out the window. He doesn’t look old enough to drive a car.
Harrison stands and lets his hands drop. While the blades chop the air, warming up, or whatever they do before take-off, he begins to move his head really slowly, scanning with his eyes, like someone doing tai chi, until he faces the open door with his back to the guard. He raises his eyebrows at Mikey and signals with his fingers, catcher to pitcher. He waits for her… to what?
She laughs a little, knowing it’s wrong but not knowing what’s right. “You’re scaring me.”
The National Guard, the one who looks too young to shave, slips between them to rummage in the back. Sitting on a little jump seat, he changes his socks. The smell of his feet mingles with diesel. She breathes again when he’s laced back up. He asks, “You know the best brand of socks, ever?” He pulls his pant leg up from the knee, and while he says, “Darn Tough, for sure,” Harrison hurls himself out the helicopter door into the horse pasture. The trooper jumps down after him. Harrison is fast. He runs around the tail where she can’t see him. There’s nowhere for him to go in that direction, except into the bursting river.
She slides her fingers over the baby’s nubby blanket. Ashley Winter had said Harrison was having trouble adjusting, but Mikey had thought Ashley was just explaining away why he hadn’t phoned her.
Other vets come into the bar where Mikey works and they drink until their sadness turns mean and they start to fight and their buddies have to drive them home. But when Harrison drinks, he gets sexy and quiet. The last time she saw him, before Afghanistan, he stood in the middle of the river in the middle of the night, reaching for her, his shirt glowing yellow in the light from the Dickinson barn.
The baby’s still wailing. It doesn’t feel right to look at the little thing. She wasn’t ever supposed to see it in the first place. She was supposed to pop the baby out into its mother’s arms at the birthing center in Manhattan, they’d hand Mikey the last check, someone would wheel her to the front door, and that would be that.
Two National Guards, one with the tatts and the young one with clean socks, dump Harrison back in his seat and clamp him into his seatbelt. He closes his eyes, breathing hard. They’ve bound his wrists with one of those plastic zip ties that cinch tight. Junior says, “You doing okay, buddy?” He slips another zip tie through to hook Harrison’s hands to the armrest. “Our ride to Hanover will be easier this way. Their in-patient unit’s the closest.”
Handcuffs humiliating the man she fantasizes about? Now, she’s crying. She wipes her eyes quickly and says, “And oh, that’s another secret no one shared: after you have a baby, you boo-hoo at anything.” That morning she’d cried at a muddy plastic kiddie car tossed up on the riverbank by the flood—and again, at the taste of toast.
Harrison looks at her quick and away, like he’s testing to see if she’s still here.
She asks, “Why are you being airlifted?” And then she wants to suck her question back in like nothing but breath.
He doesn’t look up.
Junior swings around to face front, and the tattooed guard pulls the door into place and jumps into the pilot’s seat. The Blackhawk’s gauges blink red and green like dragon’s eyes. It’s a good thing Junior isn’t at the controls. She tries to concentrate on the pilot testing the throttle, pressing buttons, scanning the view. There are way too many instruments and dials and levers. Everything should be a lot simpler. The side of her face throbs suddenly, and she’s nothing but one mega-bruise.
The helicopter lifts, and for a second, she’s looking at grass. She grabs the seat with her free hand. The air bangs on her eardrums. They level off with a swooping motion and follow the river. She wears her neck out twisting to look out the window. What a motherfucking mess.
Plastic bags and strips of Tyvek and clumps of long grass hang from branches and phone lines above the river. How could the water reach that high? Yanked-up trees, snagged on boulders, have toppled like carcasses along the banks. The chopper swings over a low shingled roof, and it dawns on her that she’s looking down at the Mooselips Lounge where she works, and the parking lot is a mudflat shining in the sun. A house juts into the air where the force of water has taken the bank out from under it. Grasses combed flat hold busted porch railings and boots and gas cans and a lawnmower. The ruin goes on and on: whole stretches of roadway crumpled, bridges missing.
The baby caterwauls like the worst bluegrass. The noise cuts right through the chopper’s drumming. Mikey tries bouncing the baby in her arms.
Harrison slouches in his seat across from her, frowning at the floor. In high school he won the Good Citizen Award every year. He once told her he’s part Abenaki, and she can see it in the planes of his face. She remembers back when she still had friends, and Harrison pulled her into a coat room at Holy Trinity to say, “Probably better for a bridesmaid not to chew bubble gum in church.” He’d offered a tissue for her to spit it into.
They lift away from the wreckage in the valley. The mountains bunch up below as green as ever, like the storm never happened. They fly over Dickinson Farm where a tractor, like a toy, moves through the flattened gray cornfields. Her breakfast is in her throat—maybe because she’s swinging around who knows how many feet in the air with a baby that won’t shut up, and maybe because the poor guy who hit her in the face is probably driving that tractor. She’d lied to him. She hadn’t even let him know the baby came.
“You got any gum?” Mikey shouts to Harrison.
He kicks his feet out. “Are you going to feed your baby, or do I fucking have to?”
The baby’s red, like Mikey can see exactly how deeply pissed off it is. She was never supposed to have to feed this baby.
Harrison has his eyes on Junior. She doesn’t care about Junior—he is looking out the front anyway—but it’s weird to pull her boob out in front of Harrison. The last time she’d been with him, it hadn’t been any baby she lifted her shirt for.
The worst part is that she has to look at its face, the baby’s face, if they have any chance of making it work. After a few awkward tries, the tiny mouth latches on. She isn’t a bad looking baby. She’s shaped like whoever. She met the baby’s parents only once and didn’t really notice their looks, just their fancy-ass clothes, designer shit.
Mikey had pictured delivering the baby in the hospital like she was supposed to as a little reality show. She’d meant to look at the baby just long enough to know it was alive. It would be mottled and angry, like all babies, like something that needed airing out. There would be papers to sign. And then she’d have her new start in her back pocket.
She can only guess what will happen when they land. Nurses will check them over, but is there a bus near the hospital to take her to New York?
It isn’t warm in the helicopter, but Harrison is sweating so bad it drips into his eyes, and he can’t wipe them with his hands locked up. Mikey clicks open her seatbelt and crosses the aisle to plant herself next to him. She wipes his face with a corner of the baby’s blanket. All trussed up in handcuffs and seatbelt, he keeps his eyes on Junior, who says, “Hey! What are you trying to do?”
She says, “Mother of God, I’m just wiping the sweat off.”
“Please buckle up, ma’am.”
Harrison says, “It isn’t right. Breaks all protocol.”
Is he talking about being cuffed, or her wiping his face, or her deal with the baby? Is everyone in town talking about her? Is this whole baby thing just the latest showing of Mikey’s very fine fuck-up skills?
Harrison’s knees bounce like he could tip them all out of the air. She puts her free hand on his leg. The last time she’d been with him was one of those rich chunks of life that don’t happen all that often, at least to her. She’d memorized every minute as she lived it. The truth is that they grew up in the same little podunk town, but where he comes from, a man respects his mother. And where she comes from, respect is a word hurled by the assistant principal suspending you for hooking up in the back stairwell. Harrison lives with his parents who raised him to go to college, work hard, and serve his country. He has always seemed so pure, like a beautiful animal.
“They have to release you,” she says. He squints his eyes tight and makes a painful choking noise. She thinks he’s going to hurl, but his face crumples and his shoulders shake.
She yells over the noise to the guard, “Hey, could you free my friend’s hands?”
“No can do.”
“I know this guy. He’s a US Marine.”
“You don’t know the half of it, ma’am.”
“This man recently came back from serving his country in Afghanistan. Which I doubt you could find on a map.”
Maybe because she hasn’t pulled down her shirt, Junior is memorizing the view out the front of the chopper.
“Aren’t you supposed to be helping?” Fixing her shirt, she tells Harrison, “This guy did nothing but play it safe in the hills of home, a big weekend warrior while you were over there risking your life in that horrible place every minute of every day, and the fucking idiot can’t show a little respect?”
She catches sight of something reflected in Harrison’s eye, and knows it must be herself in miniature—an irritated gnat of a woman on a bad-hair day. She isn’t queen here the way she is at the bar, sashaying outside for a smoke no matter what man is waiting to have a pitcher filled. She isn’t who she was before. The sorry-ass truth is she isn’t the woman she was that last night before he shipped out, when they waded in the river and she was sure she had a chance with him. Now, she would have bounced a diabetic off the helicopter just to trade the baby for a check.
“Harrison, you got a cigarette?” She’s had like three since the dipstick turned pink. That’s something to be proud of, isn’t it?
His nose is running. He slumps to the side like a bag of sand.
It just about rips the stuffing out of her to see him like this. The noise of the Blackhawk’s blades cutting the air goes on and on. The baby squirms and bleats. Maybe she isn’t holding her right. The baby’s eyes close again, disappearing into the puffy creases in her face. She smells sour—in a good way, sort of.
Harrison had been gone for a month when she decided the best way to get ahead was to have a baby. She’d screwed everything up with everyone she’d ever known, pissed off, one by one, the people who’d been her friends, said the wrong thing, been selfish, made the wrong choice so many times, and all she could think about was ways to take her well-deserved bruises and start over.
She could not spend the rest of her life in the valley, tending bar and cleaning houses for people who couldn’t stand her. Those people had their own cars and trucks, owned their homes, or if they rented, they didn’t get evicted— a skill that seemed magic to her. They had friends. They had families, and framed photos on their mantels to prove it. They had mantels. And what did she have?
She had a smart mouth and one friend, Ashley, who was kind of a cow.
She saw what happened when life turned slippery and slid out from under a woman. She’d served plenty at the bar: biker babes in black leather vests with poochy arms, who spent the day on Harleys clinging to the backs of bruisers; hair stylists hacking up their lungs because smoking was about all they did for entertainment; big-eyed teachers in pantsuits cloudy with cat hair; bank tellers with hair permed tight as cauliflower. Mikey had started as a bookkeeper, but her bosses were assholes who didn’t like her tone, or her vocabulary, or didn’t like the way she dressed. They called her motor-mouth, potty-mouth. Then they called her bitch and fired her.
The ad in the Valley Herald said: “Are you the one? Seeking a healthy young woman to be our gestational surrogate. Our hearts are set on starting a family. Excellent compensation.” A PO Box in New York City. She’d seen ads like this forever, infertile city people looking for poor girls where the air is clean.
These people sounded whiny and stiff—deeply rich. She had to google “gestational surrogate.”
She could play the healthy country lass of their dreams. It would mean some inconvenience, going to New York to have the fertilized egg implanted and, at the end, some pain, but she could keep cleaning houses and tending bar, and the rest would take care of itself while she slept. She could make a shit-ton of money and invest in the stock market. She would move to a warmer place. She would buy a car.
She’d decided growing a kid for someone else would be a straight-ahead kind of thing. But giving birth in a beanbag chair in a factory lunch room during a flood so bad you couldn’t really call it a natural disaster—plus this whole endless helicopter adventure that won’t even get her all the way to Manhattan—wasn’t part of the deal. She should maybe ask for more money before she lets them have their baby.
When she hands her over, she doesn’t think it will feel like, “Give us your first-born,” but it probably isn’t going to be like, “Pass the mayo,” either. What expression will she put on her face? She sees her arms stretching out with this small bundle wrapped tight in her blanket.
She tucks the stretchy blue cloth with its pink lollipops and ice cream cones tighter. The baby’s no different from her other relationships. They’ve hung out, and they’ll be moving on. She’ll pass her to the woman in the fancy suit, and she’ll smile at the husband, the couple who thinks they’re so special they can’t go on without a baby made from their own DNA.
Everything was okay while the baby was no more trouble than a goldfish in its bowl. Now she sees the baby’s pulse beating in her scalp. She could touch it.
Harrison is watching her. She imagines him saying, “I didn’t think you’d want kids, Michelle.”
He is the only person who ever called her Michelle. Harrison’s eyes look softer. She wonders what he sees when he looks at her now, other than a black-and-blued storm survivor he once spent a night with.
Before, she’s felt like he was too good for her. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t tell him the baby isn’t hers. She wants to see what it feels like for Harrison to think she could be a mother. In high school, he used to say things like, “When I’m a dad, I am going to coach every one of my kids’ peewee teams.” Harrison’s knees have quit bouncing. Maybe the baby—who lolls like a miniature prizefighter, down on her luck—has put a spell on him. Mikey lifts one of the baby’s fingers. The baby takes hold of her. She is warm, and Mikey likes her weight in her lap. “She has some kind of pull, like gravity. Or ha, maybe that’s just how it feels in a helicopter.” She says, “She’s been nothing but a pain.” Saying that seems mean. Mikey leans her head toward Harrison until their faces nearly touch. The truth is he’d be the good father coaching his kid’s Little League game, and she’d be one of those witchy mothers in the stands who thinks it’s fine to shriek at him. But for a minute, she imagines they’re a family, being airlifted to safety.
“You know when I first noticed you?” she asks. “In about second grade when your family drove past my dad’s junk yard. You were like the only kid who wasn’t an asshole to me in school. You were riding in the back of your family’s truck, wearing a jacket and tie. Seven, eight years old and done up like a little pre-CEO. Remember that? You waved at me as you passed?” That was the year her mother took off, and she wore a canary yellow tutu, pretty much day and night—and red cowgirl boots that were too small.
“I used to wonder what it was like to be in a church-going kind of family.” When his family drove by, she would have been fetching beers for her father’s round-the-clock poker game. The men played under a bunch of broken umbrellas, rigged to make shade between the house and the junk yard fence. Running for their Budweisers was her way to be important. “You called me Michelle, and I felt dignified.”
For months, she’s been telling herself she couldn’t wait to get rid of the baby and get her money, but some things in the future aren’t all that predictable. Like this storm. Maybe she’s meant to help Harrison and maybe the baby is part of that. She imagines him saying, “I wish I could hold her.”
“You want to hold her, really?”
Junior laughs, telling some raucous story, shouting to the pilot. They’re not paying attention. She rifles through her purse and comes up with a wine opener from the bar. “Tool of the trade.” But she can’t open the little knife and hold the baby at the same time. “Can you open it?” She holds it under his bound hands.
He manages to pry it open. Then she has to put the baby down after all, to saw at the ties around his hands and the armrest.
Freed, he rubs his wrists. The curves of his forearms are so smooth she gets a jolt.
She hands him the baby.
“How do you know about holding her head?” she asks. He makes it look easy. “Maybe you could come to Florida with me. I’m going to get a bartending job at the beach. Imagine palm trees, dolphins, and warm sun.”
He doesn’t answer.
“We can throw out our miserable winter clothes and insulated boots and go barefoot.” She can see the glinting waves. How hungry she’ll be for him. Tiki torches will light the sand pathways by the bar where she works.
They sit quietly with the sleeping baby. Maybe he’s going to be okay. She thinks about the summer night more than a year ago, before he reported for duty. That night has come to her so many times while he was gone. They’d been flirting as she closed up the bar. There wasn’t a moon. They left their shoes on the riverbank. He rolled his jeans up. They waded downriver towards the Dickinson Farm, a streetlight in the distance showing the way. That night, Harrison was drunk, but not sloppy. The water was cold enough to curl your teeth, and the rocky bottom made it hard not to fall in, especially where the river curved away from the road and left them in a blue kind of darkness.
“Michelle, I got the moon right here!” he said, and held up a golf ball he’d found in the water. The driving range was close by. “A Titleist moon to light our night.” He held it up in the sky.
They were going to fuck. They both knew that.
“We are something to behold in its glow, aren’t we?” he asked.
She was high on the idea that Harrison wanted her with him. A man’s body gives off that energy. They stumbled out next to a field, onto a beach. Trespassing so close to the farm, it would have served them right to step in cow patties. Light shone out the barn windows, reached across the grassy field, and lit up the river. The ripples looked like the backs of fish fighting upstream.
The hum of a big fan in the barn was the only noise other than cows bumping around beyond the fence. One cow stretched her head between the slats toward them. She and Harrison stood close together, and Mikey knuckled the cow’s head where the horns should have been. The cow reached her tongue out, as if she too wanted a taste of him. She licked Mikey’s arm, her tongue like warm, wet sandpaper. Mikey laughed and held the cow’s long cheeks. She kissed the end of her nose. She wiped her mouth.
Harrison took her hand and dried it gently with his shirt. He held her hand open. He kissed each finger. He read her palm with his tongue, gliding along what felt like her heart line. He followed her head line to her money line until, sure as shit, she would have emptied her pockets for him. He found her life line and followed it home.
A hill comes into view.
Junior makes his way toward the door, using the seat backs to steady himself. He sees Harrison holding the baby. “What the fuck?”
Harrison turns from him and pulls the baby’s blanket up over her face. He tucks it tight, stretching the blue fabric with its pink lollipops and ice cream cones over her head, making it look eerily like Mikey’s pregnant belly. Can the baby breathe? Harrison undoes his seatbelt. His eyes shift wildly to the door, the handle, to the fire extinguisher, to the emergency latch on the window. The baby’s need pulls on Mikey. She feels it in her belly.
Harrison starts to rise.
“Give me my baby.” She scoops her away from him before he’s standing.
Junior says, “Sit down!”
She pulls back the blanket. Mikey doesn’t know what newborns can see, but the look the baby gives her is deadly serious.
Junior stands over Harrison saying, “I gotta cuff you, dude. We can’t land with you like this.” The helicopter slows.
Harrison’s face gives nothing away. Part of her wishes he’d pull some unexpected jiujitsu move and knock the little twit off his pins. Instead, he puts his wrists together and holds his hands out.
“Behind you,” says Junior. “Until you’re safe on the locked ward.” Harrison twists to oblige.
She sits back, walloped with sadness. Harrison won’t meet her eyes.
The hospital building is marked with a big X on the roof. They hover.
The helicopter sets down without a bump, suddenly still. Junior hovers by Harrison while the pilot opens the door. There’s a rush of cool dry air. She shrugs away the hand the trooper offers her. As she steps down, the ground feels too solid against her feet.
Afternoon sunlight clobbers her. Outside the reach of the helicopter blades, she waits for Harrison. Squinting makes her bruised face throb. They are four or five stories up and looking down into the tops of trees. Everything’s clean, untouched by floodwater. A walkway leads to double glass doors. She has this idea that he and she should walk down it together like a processional. They’ve made it out together. A breeze blows and her baby tenses and arches her back. That tiny pink face grimaces. Comfort or pain? One of her baby’s pale arms has escaped the blanket. Her skin seems thin as flower petals. Maybe if a mother spends enough time with a baby, they get to understand each other.
She’s holding what the parents want. They are stupid rich. If they want her so badly, why can’t they get themselves here from New York? She wraps the soft blanket around her better. “I’ve brought you in alive. They can bring the check to me.” Mikey will plug her phone into a working outlet and let them know where they’ll find their baby. She’ll get clean and sleep, and stay here where Harrison needs her. The hospital’s cotton sheets will feel so good.
She almost misses it when Harrison dodges Junior and bolts. Unless he runs through the double doors into the hospital, there is no place for him to go but off.
Junior trips him. Harrison takes a header, no arms to break his fall. He bounces back up like nothing can stop him. Mikey’s legs tingle and go flimsy. The hospital doors burst open and a guy with a gurney barrels toward them. The trooper takes Harrison down again. He comes up bloodied. Both men are on him. They wrestle him onto the bed and strap him in. She has to go with him. Though she can’t feel them, her legs keep carrying her.
Junior steps in her path. “No, Ma’am.”
“Don’t fuck with me.”
He grabs her elbow. “Are you asking for a wheel chair?” He grips her other arm from behind. Holding the baby tight, she can’t budge. He says, “I need you to calm down.” He shouts, “We need a transport here.”
It’s as if the spirit’s gone from Harrison’s breathing body. His eyes are shut, the skin of his cheeks smooth. His muddy boots splay out over the end of the gurney. The National Guard restrains her in some kind of upright half-nelson while they wheel Harrison away.
She hangs on to the swaddled baby, the tiny heft of her. But only for now.
What Mikey can’t let go of— and won’t— is the memory of how, in the cow field, in the yellow light of the barn, Harrison took her hand, and dried it with his T-shirt. How, with his tongue, he touched, so slowly, all the reasons for hope right there in the palm of her hand.