through a sheaf of feed bills, his broad back turned toward her.
"What is it?" Steve demanded impatiently. "What do you want? Can't it wait?"
"I have to go," Lori blurted.
"Outside." Anxiety flooded over her. "This is the last time. I promise. I won't go again, after this. Okay?" She tried to smile, but her heart was pounding too hard. "Please let me, Steve."
"Where does she go?" Ed rumbled.
Steve grunted in annoyance. "Up in the hills. Some old abandoned place up there."
Ed's gray eyes flickered. "Abandoned farm?"
"Yes. You know it?"
"The old Rickley farm. Rickley moved away years ago. Couldn't get anything to grow, not up there. Ground's all rocks. Bad soil. A lot of clay and stones. The place is all overgrown, tumbled down."
"What kind of farm was it?"
"Orchard. Fruit orchard. Never yielded a damn thing. Thin old trees. Waste of effort."
Steve looked at his pocket watch. "You'll be back in time to fix dinner?"
"Yes!" Lori moved toward the door. "Then I can go?"
Steve's face twisted as he made up his mind. Lori waited impatiently, scarcely breathing. She had never got used to Vermont men and their slow, deliberate way. Boston people were quite different. And her group had been more the college youths, dances and talk, and late laughter.
"Why do you go up there?" Steve grumbled.
"Don't ask me, Steve. Just let me go. This is the last time." She writhed in agony. She clenched her fists. "Please!"
Steve looked out the window. The cold autumn wind swirled through the trees. "All right. But it's going to snow. I don't see why you want to—"
Lori ran to get her coat from the closet. "I'll be back to fix dinner!" she shouted joyfully. She hurried to the front porch buttoning her coat, her heart racing. Her cheeks were flushed a deep, excited red as she closed the door behind her, her blood pounding in her veins.
Cold wind whipped against her, rumpling her hair, plucking at her body. She took a deep breath of the wind and started down the steps.
She walked rapidly onto the field, toward the bleak line of hills beyond. Except for the wind there was no sound. She patted her pocket. The dry leaf broke and dug hungrily into her.
"I'm coming …" she whis-