“Tinker is wonderful,” Sam said.
“She’s the best. She wonders why she’s stuck with me instead of with a kid who’ll throw the ball all day for her.”
“I’m sure she adores you.”
“Well, yes, ’cause I’m the one with the cookies.”
Ryan took her hand so naturally that it seemed they had never been apart, and Tinker led them outside, around the building, and up a set of exterior stairs to a second-floor porch.
His apartment was smaller than the one that she’d had on Balboa Peninsula: kitchen and living room in a cramped space, the bedroom positively tiny.
Lunch consisted of cold chicken, cheese, potato salad-“I make a killer potato salad”-fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. Together Ryan and Sam prepared the table on the porch.
Unlike the porch she’d had on Balboa, this one enjoyed no all-embracing pepper tree, but it had a roof. The view was of a baseball diamond and fenced pastures beyond.
“How’s the book doing?” he asked.
“Fantastic. I told you. Didn’t I tell you? You’re no one-hit wonder.”
They talked about the book business, about what she was writing now, and about St. Christopher’s, of which it seemed he might be able to talk for days and never exhaust his supply of charming stories.
She had come to see if he was well and happy, for it mattered very much to her that he should be both. When a man went to the extraordinary length of giving away his entire fortune, you had to worry that he had done so under the misguided romantic notion that he would find his problems lifted from him with the weight of the wealth, only to discover that the world was a harder place without a bottomless bank account. But he seemed happier than she had dared to hope, and she knew he was not putting on a show for her, because he was still as easy to read as any book by Dr. Seuss.
“The days, the weeks, the years are so full here, Sam. There are always dogs to wash, stables to paint, lawns to mow, and always kids who think only I can solve their problems because I’ve got one dog-ear. I love the kids, Sam. God, they’re great, they struggle with such limitations, but they never complain.”
He could have had the ear repaired with cosmetic surgery, but for reasons she could only guess at, he had chosen to live with it. Likewise the scars on his head: Tufts of hair bristled at odds with all the hair around them or didn’t grow at all. Poor nerve response in his left foot caused it to drag a little, but he didn’t limp; he moved with his usual grace, adapting to the foot as if he had been born with the problem. He remained the handsomest man she had ever known, and now he possessed a sweet beauty that had not been his before, that had nothing to do with looks.
They talked through the afternoon, and although Samantha had no intention of asking him what had happened back in the day, when his life had changed so radically, he eventually came to talk of it, and for the first time she heard about all that he had withheld from her-Ismay Clemm, the dreams, the paranoid pursuit of conspiracies that for a while he believed extended to her mother, even to her. He spoke of his blindness and of his mistakes with an ease and humility-even with a slightly melancholy humor-that made this the most riveting narrative to which she had ever listened, no less because of the way these events had so profoundly changed him than because of the events themselves.
She questioned none of the supernatural elements of his story, for though she had never seen a spirit herself, the world had always been to her a place of infinite layers, and all its flawed people a community of saints potential. And most of the time, as Ryan now knew, grace is offered not in the form of a visitation like that of Ismay, but in the form of people just like us. People like Cathy Sienna, who had known Ryan needed to be told the roots of violence, even if he would not consider them until too late, and who later, on that flight back from Denver, had told him that he should offer his suffering and his achievements for the intentions of others, which was now in fact how he lived, with no expectation of ultimate mercy but with the hope that others might receive it.
She had been in love with him once, and still she loved him. This was a different love, emotional and intellectual and spiritual, as before, but not sensual. Through his suffering, he learned to love truth, and on this afternoon she saw that his love of truth led him to an understanding of her that he had never possessed before, an understanding of her so complete that perhaps he alone in the world really knew her. During this astonishing afternoon, her love for him had grown deeper, and she wondered if in her life she would know anything again quite like it.
In late afternoon, when the time came to part, they both knew it and rose together from the table. He and Tinker escorted Sam back across the ranch, past the stables and the riding rings, through the quadrangle, to her car in front of the original manor house.
As they walked, he said, “One more thing I need to say to you, Sam, and I know you’ll want to argue, but I ask you up front to cut me some slack. No argument. No comment. Just listen. I’m a fan of your books, after all, so that ought to earn me a big measure of courtesy. A writer needs to keep her fans happy.”
She perceived in his calculated light tone that what he needed next to say to her was more important to him than anything else they had talked about throughout the afternoon. By her silence, she assented.
He took her hand again, and they walked a few steps before he said, “Looking back on it all, for the longest time, I couldn’t see why a guy like me was so important to the universe that I would be sent Ismay Clemm or be given all the signs that could have prevented me from being a user who now lives with a dead girl’s heart and with her life on my conscience. Why would I be given so many chances when I was so clearly not a guy who would take them or even recognize them? And then one day not long ago, I knew. Reading this third book of yours, I knew. It was you, Sam. I was given all those chances because of you.”
“You promised no comment. See, here’s how it is. You’re a fine person, more than fine, you’re grace personified. And what you’re doing with your life is important. It’s necessary that you’re happy, because in your happiness, you’re going to show so many other people the way, through your books. Be happy, Sam. Find someone. Marry. Have kids. What an incredible mother you will be. Have kids, Sam, embrace life, and write your brilliant books. Because if there’s any hope for me, when my time comes, it’s not because I gave everything away, and it’s not because I live here among monks, not one myself and never can be. No, if there’s any ultimate redemption, it will be because I passed through your life without scarring you, and did not diminish who you are. No comment, now, not a one.”
They had reached her car, and she did not know that she could drive or that she could talk. But she knew what he wanted of her, what he needed. So she found within herself the depth of courage to make no comment on what he had said, and instead to smile at him and find something to say that might end this on a lighter note.
“You never did tell me…what was the William Holden film that you kept waking to and thinking had a message for you?”
By his smile and then his soft laugh, she knew that she had found a right question.
“God must have a sense of humor, Sam. And for sure He became so exasperated with me that He tried to hammer me over the head with a sign only less obvious than a burning bush. It’s not what the movie is about that matters. It’s the title that might have made me think-if I’d taken the clue and bothered to research it.” He paused for effect. “Satan Never Sleeps.”
She found a laugh in that, though of the kind that bruises.
He held her for a moment, and she held him, and she kissed his cheek, and he kissed her brow.
Driving away, she looked once in the mirror and saw him standing in the lane, watching her leave, and she could not look back again.
Along the county road, when she found a widening of the shoulder where she could park, she stopped the car.
An unfenced meadow sloped up toward a trio of oaks. She climbed the meadow to the trees and sat with her back against the largest of them, hidden from traffic on the road below.
For a long time, she wept, not so much for him and not at all for herself, but for the condition of all things and for the way the world could be but is not.
In time, she found herself thinking about nothing more than the birds and their songs, the sound of the breeze in the high branches of the oaks, and the shafts of sunlight, clear and pure, that fell through the trees and found the grass and caressed it.
She rose then and returned to the car. She needed to go home. She had a new book to write. And a life to find.
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