Baby Michelle slept like a kitten against Sheila’s chest, Nick’s white crew hat completely covering her face so it was hard to tell she was anything other than part of the baby sack. Nick lifted the edge of the hat with his thumb, but all he saw was the hat’s arcing shadow; even her tiny red fists had disappeared into folds of cloth. “Hey there, Little Buddy.”

“Stop calling her that,” Sheila said.

The air smelled of butter and corn and meat, and the cacophony of twenty or so bands playing at once stirred Nick, the rhythm like a pulse. He wanted to jump up and down in a crowd close to the stage and the speakers which thumped like his insides thumped, to hold his arms in the air and shout above the deafening sounds of a grunge or punk band, to bash his body against the bodies of others.

“But that’s my Gilligan hat,” Nick said, stepping in place so as not to get ahead of Sheila. He’d gotten the hat on a trip to the coast to visit his aunt and uncle. They were always giving him gifts. As a child he’d loved them more than he’d loved his own parents, a love that eventually turned to shame the more he grew to dislike his parents. He’d grabbed the hat along with the one small duffel bag of stuff he cared anything about—his coolest shirts and surfer shorts, some books Sheila’d given him, and a couple of giant moon shells—when his parents had “recommended” he move out. “We just can’t take it,” his mother had said, meaning, we don’t want to be responsible for your baby. He should have been glad his life with them was over, but instead he’d hated himself for not leaving sooner, hated himself for waiting until he’d gotten his high school girlfriend pregnant and moved out only by default.

“Hey, Gilligan,” Nick said to the hat.

“She’s a girl.”

A clown man on stilts, his face divided into four squares, each painted black or white, stalked toward them, three small children running around his wooden legs.

“I bet he falls,” Nick said.

“I need to sit down.” Sheila stopped and waved her hand in front of her red face.

One of the children grabbed at the clown’s pant leg, and the clown struck the child in the side. Stunned, the child backed away, holding one arm against the spot, shocked perhaps by the solidness of the leg inside those airy, spotted pants.

“But Super Deluxe—”

Sheila wandered off the sidewalk and into the shade of a tree. Nick followed and stood over her as she lifted Baby Michelle out of the sack and drew her up toward her shoulder. The baby bag hung off his shoulder as if it were a new appendage to his body. The baby’s mouth was opening and closing and her arms were bent up toward her face, her fists slightly clenching and unclenching. She was like someone’s science project, a larvae with eyes shut tight. “She’s hungry.”

“How can you tell?” He heard a faraway crowd screaming and clapping, and he knew Super Deluxe had just been introduced in the outside arena. Sheila opened her shirt, and Baby Michelle latched onto her breast—it was like something out of the Animal Kingdom. Nick looked behind him, at the path to the outside arena. Some people were walking fast and others were running. He stood with his hands in his pockets.

“Nick,” Sheila said.

“Yeah?”

“I’m tired.”

He looked away from the suckling at the trampled grass, at a corndog stick and a paper plate. The ground hummed with the sound of an electric bass—Super Deluxe. If he answered her, she might want to go back to the studio, and that was the last thing he wanted, to spend another day in the hot studio while Michelle and Sheila slept on the mattress, or walk aimlessly around Pioneer Square with no cash, bumming cigarettes from the junkies in the park, and finally coming home to Sheila and Michelle, their faces red and glistening with sweat. Or, if he were lucky, he could sit on the curb smoking with Rusty and Madrella and laughing as Madrella chastised people on street: “Get a life, man,” she’d said to a guy whose spotted dog wore a bandanna and a harmonica around its neck while the guy shook a can of change.

“Why won’t you just sit down?” Sheila asked.

But he couldn’t sit down. He watched a boy, waist high, playing “Dust My Broom” on a small metal guitar; a woman in a long paisley skirt dropped a dollar in his open guitar case.

“Can I get you something?” he asked, thinking he was supposed to do something. After all, he was the father, though this fact didn’t make him feel any different than he’d felt three months ago, before Michelle was born, except that he no longer lived at home. Home was a funny word. To some people, he supposed, it meant a place where two people could raise a child—toys buried in the backyard, coins hidden behind the radiator, a window filled with a giant oak branch, the sound of lawnmowers on the weekends, and the smell of fresh cut grass; maybe for others a cabin in the woods with a sturdy front porch and curling black-and-white photos of generations of children tacked to the walls and a neatly stacked woodpile outside covered with a blue tarp. But home had never been any of these things, not for him, and not for Sheila.

For Nick home had been one tiny square house after another, cardboard houses, he called them, the early ones on the south side of Seattle nailed together when Boeing had first come to the city promising jobs for all. This “promise” was lost on his father who’d long been laid off and hadn’t been able to hold down work nearly all of Nick’s life so that each year his parents moved farther and farther out: Federal Way, SeaTac, White Center. For Sheila, home had been crappy apartments her mom kept losing—she’d grown too old for the temporary labor pool. Even if Nick could hope for some sort of home in the future, he couldn’t actually imagine it. What he knew of home now was a mattress on the floor of a friend’s art studio, although it wasn’t actually an art studio—there was no artist. It was a place he and Sheila and the baby and his so-called friends Rusty and Madrella could stay for cheap, and it wasn’t like it was permanent.

“Just sit down,” Sheila said.

“How about some corn?”

“We’re broke, Nick.”

“It’s only two dollars.”

“Stop it.” Sheila tried to pull Baby Michelle off her nipple. “She’s got some strong gums.” But Michelle dug her hands into Sheila’s chest and hung on tight with her tiny mouth.

“You want something to drink?”

“Do what you want,” Sheila said.

He fingered the bus change in his pocket and clasped and unclasped the single key that opened the studio. “It’s worse at home,” he said finally. “Don’t you want to see Super Deluxe, Sheila?”

Michelle shook herself loose from Sheila’s breast, and Sheila held her against her shoulder and patted her back until she belched. A woman in a tie-dyed skirt and white T-shirt was painting a vine of flowers on a small girl’s arm. When she finished, she pulled out a tube and sprinkled sparkles on the wet paint. The girl, white blonde hair falling across her forehead and into one eye, examined the arm. “I like it,” she said finally. He tried to imagine Baby Michelle turning into this girl, but could not. She was a mole with Xs over its eyes, a kitten still slick with the wet from its mother’s uterus.

The first night back from the hospital, he’d lain on his back, Michelle sleeping in the curving space below his collarbone. When he closed his eyes, he couldn’t tell the difference between Michelle and Mittens, the family cat who used to curl up on his chest and purr. He’d listened to the whir of the window fan and felt the heavy weight of boredom.

“These tickets are really expensive,” Nick said. His friend Kyle had given them the tickets to Bumbershoot because he had to go to his grandmother’s funeral in Massachusetts. “We’re really lucky to have them. Kyle’d be bummed if we just left.”

“I didn’t say anything,” Sheila said.

“Okay, I know. Sorry.”

Last year Nick and Sheila had gone to Bumbershoot together, and the year before that, and the year before that, and even, he thinks, the year before that. Some years they’d gone as friends, and then they’d gone as boyfriend and girlfriend, and then they’d gone knowing. Last summer they’d sat on the edge of the giant fountain, an upside-down cement dome as big as a basketball court where water sprayed out of thousands of holes. In the daytime, kids ran around it as if through a giant sprinkler, and at night teenagers hung out around the edges. Nick and Sheila had run through the water and soaked their clothes then sat on the cement lip, and he’d gotten stoned. Sheila’s thin lips, purplish from the cold, quivered, and Nick held her against his wet body. She said, “I do believe in a woman’s right to choose, and I choose a baby.” He’d loved her then, as much as a new high school graduate could love the girl who’d been his best friend for years.

Now he wondered as he watched her long, tight face rimmed with sweat. She was wearing his polka dotted button-up shirt because she didn’t have any button-ups. Sheila wore mostly tight shirts with frills on the edges and denim skirts. He’d always thought her sense of style was so awful it was charming. His friends, though, hadn’t found it so charming. “Frumpy,” Rusty had said when Nick first told him he and Sheila were going out. That broke everyone up—who says frumpy? “She’s gonna drag you down, man,” Rusty had said. “You’re gonna be hanging out around the high school like some letch when you graduate and she’s still finishing up.” And when he brought Sheila around his friends, he could see them close up, shut him out. Except for Kyle. Kyle thought Sheila was all right. He didn’t care if she didn’t have any friends besides Nick, if she had bad acne and liked medieval role playing. “It’s all different in college,” Kyle’d said. “Smart girls like Sheila get to be cool.” Maybe that was true, he thought now, but any ideas about college had disappeared a year ago. Not that Nick had any real ideas about college, although now it sounded like some great escape.

“I got an idea,” Nick said.

“Great.” Sheila’d mastered sarcasm quickly, a wit that had been foreign to her until she started hanging around Nick.

“No really, Sheil, you’ll like it. We could go back by the art rooms and hang out by the wading pool with the rocks. There’s a stage back there, so we could listen to music and you and Gilligan—”

“Stop it, Nick.” Her voice quivered.

Nick withdrew. “Michelle, could hang out in the shade. You could put your feet in the water.”

“Fine,” she said. “Just don’t walk so fast, okay?”

“Sure, Sheil.” He wished she’d acknowledge the fact that he’d given up the Super Deluxe concert; instead, she got up slowly, as if she were following him for his sake, as if he wanted to hang out by the kiddie wading pool. “You could check out the art rooms and the book fair.”

“I said okay.”

In the hour they’d been there, the crowds had gotten increasingly thicker, and walking took most of his concentration. Nick pushed ahead, as if parting the crowd for Michelle and Sheila, but more often than not the crowd closed up after him, and next time he’d look back Sheila would be lost. Passing a four-way intersection, food vendors in all directions, was the toughest, but Nick moved through the crowds like an expert, sliding his body sideways and pressing around people as if he had someplace important to be, refusing to be caught still among them all. It was a game with him, how quickly could he move? Soon he was touching old ladies on the back, ’scuse me, ’scuse me, winding his way out of the intersection and up the wide steps away from the food vendors and the center of the park, through a crowd circling a mime, and into one of the back corners of the festival.

By the time he got to the wading pools, he’d lost Sheila completely. He claimed a shady spot at the end of the pool and against a wall from which a small waterfall fell. Large rocks were strewn about the pool. A toddler in red shorts waded in the knee-deep, white-green water, and a little girl in a Big Bird bathing suit sat on a rock, her hair slicked back with water, her knees drawn up into her body. Nick looked down the outdoor corridor lined with vendors selling jewelry and flowing patterned skirts and wooden instruments from Eastern countries. The air smelled of incense. The crowd, still at least ten people wide, snaked out like a forked tongue into the masses of people pressing up against the food vendors he’d just left. Sheila was in there somewhere. He searched for Michelle’s white cap, for Sheila’s polka dotted shirt but could see neither. He stood up on the edge of the pool and looked over the tops of the heads and finally spotted the little white Gilligan cap as if it were a hat on a doll pressed against Sheila’s stomach. Sheila’s head was down; she was moving slower than the people around her. Two young girls pushed past her, and a boy in shorts came after as if chasing them. Nick hopped down from the rim of the pool and pushed through the crowd toward her.

“Here,” she said, when he got close. “Take her,” and she thrust Michelle into his arms. “Keep her head out of the sun. She’s still sleeping.”

Nick couldn’t see Michelle’s face, but when he rested her against his shoulder, her hands instinctively clutched the cotton of his T-shirt, and her cheek fell neatly into the cup of his shoulder. She felt heavy and hot. “Over here. There’s an empty spot in the shade right near the rock waterfall.”

“Fine,” Sheila said.

“It’s a great spot, Sheil.”

“I believe you.”

“We’re lucky no one’s taken it,” he said when they got back to the spot by the waterfall. The shadows of leaves formed squiggly lattices on the pool’s shallow bottom and spotted the cement edge. Spray from the waterfall clung to Sheila’s pale, unshaven legs. Michelle tried to lift her head, and Nick supported it with his palm. But before she even opened her eyes, she began to wail, her face rapidly turning bright red, and he was reminded of a Jane Goodall film he saw in grade school of gorillas being born. What helpless, hairless little blobs, he’d thought, though Jane Goodall fondly compared them to human children. Even Michelle’s neck was bright red, her eyes pinched shut. The scream reverberated inside him, striking his pulse like a flare of panic. He looked helplessly at Sheila, who held out her arms.

A woman folksinger was playing on the stage behind them, and there was a long line to get into the beer garden. Nick didn’t want to even try, though the thought had crossed his mind more than once. Michelle’s screaming rattled inside his head; it made him feel so weary, it might as well have been three o’clock in the morning and still deadly hot in the studio, Nick curled up on the mattress, naked and sweaty despite the window fan, watching Sheila pace around the mattress because there was nowhere else to go. He’d glance at Rusty and Madrella, Rusty always dramatically covering his head with a pillow. Madrella would eventually get up and stomp to the bathroom or get a glass of water, as if to make sure they knew Michelle had woken her. He’d lie awake the rest of the night wondering what they’d do if they were kicked out; then he’d worry about work. The restaurant had cut back his hours, and he couldn’t find the time to search for another job. He’d bummed around Pike Place Market asking friends, but nobody had anything that would pay as much as the restaurant or that would work around his hours. He’d lie awake at night listening to the occasional outbursts of arguments in the streets, watching the lights of cars on the wall of the building across the street through the studio’s grimy windows, panicked inside; still, the extent to which things had to change, not by default but by intention, hadn’t yet completely occurred to him.

Sheila walked slowly back and forth while Nick sat on the edge of the pool, his elbows over his knees, his chin in his hands, and watched. Her palm moved in slow circles across Michelle’s back while Michelle choked into her shoulder. It was early evening, and even though the sun was still hot, soon it would sink below the perimeters of the park, and night would descend on the festival; people would be twirling glow sticks and dancing barefoot. The Space Needle would be lit up, and the Ferris wheel lights would circle like stars. Maybe he could still catch the drum circle. A drunk woman clung to a tattooed man, and a dog on a rope rested his nose on the cement behind a booth selling tie-dyes.

“Nick, the bag. I need a diaper.”

“Oh, sorry.” He stood up and took the bag off his shoulder and began to riffle through it.

“The quilt, I need that too.”

“Here’s the diaper.”

“I need the quilt first.”

But when Nick couldn’t find it right away, Sheila pulled the bag away from him, Michelle weeping into her other shoulder, and, without even looking, pulled out the thick baby quilt his aunt and uncle had given them. It was one of the few generous gestures anyone had made since Sheila had gotten pregnant. It came with a $100 bill and a plea to bring the baby for a visit. But Nick put the money toward rent—Sheila’d held it momentarily, as if she’d wanted to object. She’d only met his aunt and uncle once, when they’d visited Seattle, before Nick and Sheila were even dating. Sheila and his aunt had launched into a long discussion of The Once and Future King, a book Nick, at fifteen, had had no interest in, although admittedly the fact that Sheila had carried around such a fat, dog-eared book had been one of the things that had impressed him about her. Sheila was the realistic one—even if she had wanted to go visit the coast, she wouldn’t have said so. Instead, she’d stared wistfully at the bill. As for Nick, visiting his aunt and uncle in Port Angeles had ceased to be an escape hatch years ago. After all, he’d grown up and spent less and less time at home and more and more time exploring the city with his friends—it was too late to be rescued. His aunt and uncle had called regularly over the past five years inviting him to visit, but there was always a concert he’d miss, a club opening he had to be at, or a party.

The last time he visited, he’d spent most of his time sneaking around so he could get stoned. He’d wander up and down the shore staring at the slow and rhythmic waves thinning on the sand, wind echoing in his inner ear as if there were no other sounds. He could see the disappointment in their faces when he hadn’t been back on time for his aunt’s dinners—dinners in the past he’d relished, Northwest dishes with wild mushrooms and venison and mussels. Fresh vegetables from their garden. They must have known he was stoned, and he suspected they saw him just as his parents saw him—trouble.

“Sorry,” he said as Sheila handed him the quilt.

“It’s fine. Lay it out.”

He spread the quilt across the cement, and Sheila lay Michelle on her back. She grew instantly still, surprisingly accustomed to the routine.

“She’s gotten really good at this,” Sheila said.

“That’s my Gilligan.”

This time, Sheila didn’t even look up.

He stood awkwardly over the two of them, watching a patch of light slip across Michelle’s leg.

“It’s okay, Nick, you can go check things out if you want. We’re fine here.”

“I can stay.”

“You’re making me nervous,” Sheila said as she taped the last Pamper wing to the front.

“Oh.” Since when had she become the boss? He shuffled away from them, his hands in his pockets, then turned back for a moment. “I won’t be gone long.”

“Take as long as you want.” She dipped a hand into the water and wet the edges of Michelle’s face and neck, then turned her over on her stomach on the quilt. A boy in cutoffs stood up on the cement ledge behind Sheila and shouted, “You little whore!” and a tank-topped girl with glitter on her eyes screamed back from the other side of the pool, “Fuck you, asshole!”

“See you, Sheil,” Nick said weakly, but she didn’t seem to hear him.

He knew he should stay close, so he wandered through the book fair, browsed at the comic book tables and the zine tables. He watched five film shorts, but when he walked out, he couldn’t recall what they’d been about. In the first art room was a display of slashed and bloody Barbie dolls encased in a mixture of glass and wooden boxes. In one, Ken was raping Barbie with a white plastic picnic knife. So what, he thought, and left.

The next room was so dark Nick felt suddenly thrust into a blind world. He walked slowly, his palms behind his back touching a black curtain that helped the room seem as if it had no end, as if it were some infinity in space, except for five circles of color projected onto one wall. He couldn’t see the projector. The circles were cut with lines and seemed to open and close like geometric representations of eyes. They spun and moved to the rhythms of atonal noise, the computerized plucking of strings, percussive and irregular, like the sounds in a German industrial club. Nick, being drawn to industrial noise and easily hypnotized, sunk into a corner and watched. The shapes floated in a darkness so visceral even the shapes of people sitting on the floor around him or leaning against the wall were hard to make out, and he was so drawn to the shapes that he didn’t even try to see them. He stared at the spinning circles, jolting and stopping and spinning again, opening and closing; he saw them multiply such that if he looked away a new one would appear momentarily hanging in the blackness and then disappear. His breathing slowed so that his entire body became aware of the breathing. And then everything fell away from him; he had no girlfriend, no child, no parents, no life. Even his body lost its tightness and floated away from him. There was a new space inside him, a dark, quiet space where he could lay his mind, take off his shoes, forget the crashing impossibility of getting through every day, the heavy boredom, the worry, the building fear: in pushing away from their parents they’d ended up worse off. He breathed this knowledge out of him. It was as if for months he’d simply forgotten to breathe. And now the sound of his breathing synchronized itself with the spinning of the circles and the off-kilter pinging of atonal rhythm. When he closed his eyes, he saw the discs as if forever after he’d see those discs every time he took a deep breath and looked inside himself, and he’d feel comforted by that.

When he stepped out, blinking and floaty, the sun had gone down, and a thin moon hung in the darkening sky. A jazz band with a crazy electric bassist played discordant music on the stage where the folksinger had been, and smoke from smokers in the beer garden rose in shafts of light. Sheila was leaning against the wall, the baby bag supporting the small of her back. Her shoes were off, and Michelle rested against her shoulder. For a moment, Nick imagined a different world: they live in a cabin on the Olympic Peninsula, and in the daytime Sheila and Michelle sit by a mossy waterfall, Sheila occasionally diving into a bright green pool while Michelle sleeps on her stomach on a mossy bank. Nick, having just split wood for the woodstove, stands at a distance, watching them, enamored and at home. Behind Sheila’s peaceful face he heard the tinkling of the waterfall; he pictured a little red bed for Michelle in their cabin, and the stars at night forming a wide belt of light across the sky cut only by the jagged tops of cedar and fir and hemlock. All of this he saw in her sleeping face.

“Sheil?” he whispered finally. Far off, he could hear Bumbershoot’s nighttime drum circle. It was like a pulse beneath the jazz band and the busy chattering of the people.

Sheila’s eyes fluttered open, and she stared at him a moment, as if waking up from a dream. “Where am I?”

He sat down and rested his chin on her knees which were drawn up toward her body.

“She’s sucking her thumb,” Nick whispered. Just like the baby gorillas.

“Can we go home?” Sheila asked. Her face seemed to change, from the peace of sleep to an expression of veiled angst that was new to him, either because he was seeing it for the first time, though it may have been there all along, or because she was closer to the point of breaking than he had otherwise suspected.

“You okay?”

“Sure,” she said. “It’s just, my shoulder hurts.”

Nick took Michelle as Sheila put on her plastic jelly shoes. Then she took Michelle back, and he took the bag, as usual. The crowds had thinned. Sheila didn’t speak to him. They passed a juggler and a clown, the clown wandering precariously under the juggler’s bowling pins, then squeaking a handheld horn and acting like he hadn’t noticed how close he’d come to being knocked out. A woman in a tank top, her eyes red from crying, stood and watched shyly, and a fat man paused, bit the top off a corn dog, and walked on.

“Got a cigarette?” asked a magician sitting on a low cement ledge, his legs crossed at the knees, his hat crumpled. He looked drunk and mean.

“Sorry, man,” Nick said. “Just out.” Which was true. He hadn’t had a cigarette for hours, which made it easier for him to think about going home. There was at least an old, dried-up package of Drum in the studio, if Rusty hadn’t gotten to it.  

A giant dragon on the back of five unicyclists snaked down the sidewalk past the food booths. Nick held Sheila’s arm, and they stepped aside and watched the blind unicyclists pedal by, silver spots like mirrors along the dragon’s side reflecting the lights of concessions stands. A reggae band played and the sound merged with the sound of drumming, which got louder the closer they got to the exit. Papier-mâché monsters hung on sticks beside a small acrobatic stage where a woman spun horizontally in circles on a man’s back, and a ring master clapped from the wings.

They were walking straight toward the drumming circle. Nick gazed at the silhouettes of twenty or thirty people leaning over their drums and imagined their pulses jumping out of their crazy rhythms and steadying, pressing away the rest of the world with their collective beat. They turned at the corn stand, passed the Bagley Wright Theatre, and passed the boy who was still playing “Dust My Broom.” Just looking at him made Nick weary. A man at the gate asked to stamp their hands; Sheila said no, but Nick held his out.

“We can’t go back,” Sheila said.

“I know, I just,” but he didn’t have an answer for her. He just wanted to? Wanted to what? Send his girlfriend and child home on a bus alone so he could go back and join the drum circle? Or hang out around the beer gardens he couldn’t get into? 

“Nicky!” Rusty stood wavering on the curb, his face deep red with sunburn and alcohol. “What’s up man? Y’all goin’ home?”

Madrella was selling “fresh” raspberry lemonade, a favorite scam of hers where she mixed Kool-Aid into cups then acted like a she’d made it herself. The plastic cups were lined up on a cardboard box. “Hand-squeezed today!” she called out to passersby.

“Sheila’s beat,” Nick said and immediately regretted blaming her. But then, Sheila seemed to have given up on him and was walking slowly down the street toward the bus stop. Fuck her. He felt like the mean magician in desperate need of a cigarette. “You got a smoke?”

“No way, man. We got one left between the two of us.”

A couple walked by, and the woman glanced at Madrella’s drinks briefly.

“Fresh squeezed!”

The woman quickly looked away, as if trying not to be sold something.

“Fuck you!” Madrella screamed, and Rusty laughed, the light falling across his face turning him into a creepy clown.

“Fuck you, too!” she yelled at Rusty.

Maybe Nick should laugh too, but inside him was a space of silence, and that silence had a new protectiveness; it pressed Madrella and Rusty out. He felt a deep sense of shame, and that’s when he saw Sheila crossing the road in front of the offended couple. He pushed the baby bag further up on his shoulder and ran toward her.

Sheila was slumped against the wall of a cement office building next to the bus stop. From far off, she looked like a bag lady, Michelle and the baby sack just another layer of junk covering her body. When he reached her, she was crying. He took Michelle out of her arms and Sheila leaned forward draping her arms over her knees and bawled at the ground, which smelled of dust and cigarette butts and piss. Michelle’s arms and legs flailed about as if she were blind and lost until they settled on his chest.

“Sheila?” He bent beside her.

“I’ll never go to college,” she said finally through tears. “I can’t do this. I didn’t know it would be so hard. I really wanted to go to school.” She held her hands up to her face as if embarrassed by her tears.

“You’ll go, Sheil. You’re the smart one, remember?”

She looked into his face, and he could see that the earlier angst had turned to panic had turned to fear had turned to vulnerability. “I’ll never go.”

“We’ll figure something out,” he said.

“We don’t have any money.”

“I can try harder to get work,” he said.

“It won’t be enough,” Sheila said, rubbing her eyes with the base of her fist. But the tears leaked out the edges of her eyes still.

Michelle’s fists grabbed Nick’s shirt as she adjusted her head on his shoulder. He felt the shirt pulling across his chest. The baby bag still hung off his other shoulder.

“Maybe we could talk to my uncle in Port Angeles. There’s a community college there.”

Sheila studied him carefully. She wiped her face with her sleeve. “You’d talk to them? Even though we spent their money on rent?”

This was not an option Nick had considered until now. And there was no way of knowing whether it really was an option, but then deliberate change hadn’t seemed an option until now. Until now, Nick had spent his life waiting to see what would happen next: would his father lose his job again? How blasted would he get? Would he even come home? Where would the family move next? Nothing he had done, like comforting his mother when she wept, had made a difference, and so he’d waited. Until now, he couldn’t imagine the thought of leaving his friends, of not being king of the city he grew up in, not having the clubs or the festivals or the concerts, not following the rush of every moment’s beat as if devouring every moment were about pushing the past and the future farther away. But watching Sheila slumped against the grimy stone of some anonymous office building surrounded by the smell of exhaust and the far away sharp laughter of drunks piling in and out of bars surrounding the festival, it seemed to him that something he couldn’t imagine might be exactly what was necessary.

“They like you, Sheil,” he said finally.

“You’d leave Seattle?”

“Sure,” he said. “I’m not saying it’ll work, but we could try.” He thought of the quiet curve of Sequim Spit, the way the wind in his ears made sound disappear and the perfect discs of sand dollars and the spiraling circles of moon shells he’d found there.

The bus pulled up, and Nick helped Sheila off the ground. She took the bag, he put his arm around her, and as they stood in line she rested her head against his shoulder, just as she had that hopeful night when she was pregnant and they watched drops of water shoot into the air and disappear. She had not completely stopped crying, but at least they were on their way home.

The bus sighed as the door squealed shut. The floor moved beneath him. Sheila leaned her face against the window. Her sobbing stopped, and soon her head fell back, and he could hear her deep-sleep breathing. Michelle lifted her head, and he supported it with his hand. “Hey there, Little Buddy,” he whispered, taking off the hat. She looked up into his eyes, perhaps fully for the first time, and stared at him as if she had never actually seen him before. She didn’t blink, even as the city lights passed across her tiny face. It was as if she were hypnotized by him and he by her. He imagined they were playing a game of who can stare the longest when quite suddenly he saw a person looking back at him, gazing into his eyes, curious and trusting and open.

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