The postcard from their son’s college arrived with a flyer of local coupons, two credit card offers, and a UNICEF receipt. Helen sorted them in the shade of her porch as she tipped the mailbox lid shut with her elbow. She noticed the postcard last. Dozens like it had lined the racks in Brian’s campus bookstore, the same logo and historical colonnade that appeared on all the promotional materials: red bricks, white pillars, blue sky. She swiveled her wrist to read the back as a minivan rumbled past. She didn’t recognize the driver through the open window, but the woman was nodding, so Helen nodded, too, smiled, before looking down again. The back of the postcard read: “Your son raped me.”

Helen sank to the bottom step. Her head twisted toward the neighbor’s driveway, their screened porch, the empty street. No one was there. No one could see her. She read the card again. The girl had addressed it to her, to “Mrs. Butler.” Obviously it was a girl—or one of her son’s fraternity brothers, or a boy from a rival fraternity, playing a horrid, unforgivable prank. She pressed the card against her bare knees, framing the words between the webs of her thumbs. The handwriting was not girlish, not delicate and looping, but it was feminine. It was precise. The ink was from a cheap blue ballpoint pen.

Helen’s eyes rose at the rumble of an approaching car, before she rocked to her feet and went inside, clicking the door against her back. She shoved the postcard and envelopes and flyers into the bills slot in the hall secretary. Hank wouldn’t see it before they left tomorrow. He wouldn’t have time to overreact, try to confront Brian on the phone, cancel their weekend to hunt him down. It was lucky they were going away. Helen would tell him afterwards, on the ride home, after she’d had time to think it through. It was some sort of mistake, obviously, a misunderstanding. Brian hadn’t raped anyone. Helen creaked the face of the secretary up and caught its weight on her fingertip to stop it from slamming.

. . .

She had worried that hank might pay the bills that evening, instead of on Sunday, because of their leaving, but he worked late and went to bed early. When his alarm bleated the next morning, he didn’t move. Weekdays he slapped it in seconds, a kind of chivalrous panic, but Helen had to rock her weight against his belly as she stretched to click it off. The blunt edge of his pajama button dug through her nightgown. Then his arms slid around her, one on her spine, the other along her thigh, then along the edge of her panties. She held her breath, motionless, as his fingers searched and then pressed inside of her. She was dry, but when she concentrated, when she wiped her mind of Brian and the blue indented letters on the postcard’s back, sex became possible.

It occurred to her in the shower that Hank might never find it, that she might have shoved the card too far into the wooden slot above the pencil drawer and that when he grabbed the thicker envelopes the postcard might remain. Other bills might push it deeper, bend it into the back of the slot to go unnoticed for months, for years. Helen wanted to believe that the girl had acted rashly, that in the clearer light of morning she already regretted mailing it. She did not necessarily doubt that Brian and the girl had slept together, but they probably also had both been drinking a great deal. The girl had woken half-dressed in a strange bed and panicked. It wasn’t as if Brian had pinned her against a car hood and pried her knees apart.

They were on the road by nine, listening to the local jazz station tremble out of range. Some dank and thumpy rock band emerged an hour later, as Hank drove past the exit for Brian’s school, and then petered as the highway tilted into the mountains. Helen kept picturing Brian naked, flinching at the memory of his tiny erection through bath suds, the semen-stained underpants in the laundry, the nest of pubic hairs she still scooped from the drain of the guest shower whenever he was home. Years ago, she had found a pornographic magazine taped inside a Sports Illustrated cover in his closet. She told Hank but never asked him what he’d done about it, how he’d spoken to Brian, the exact words he had used.

. . .

They arrived before noon. There was no downtown to speak of, no shopping area, but she directed Hank around each of the half dozen streets while reviewing aloud the itinerary she had printed from the web site: lunch at the restored mill with the functional waterwheel, hike the grounds of the ritzy resort, dine at the casual but gourmet restaurant, wade in the star-lit stream before retiring. Tomorrow the bathhouses Thomas Jefferson built, the one Robert E. Lee and his crippled wife used to visit. It was the sort of little spring getaway that bored Brian, enraged him practically—that week in Chincoteague. He was seventeen then, but Hank took pity on him and badgered their waitress into serving him his first beer, threatening to stiff the girl if she refused. He only left five percent afterwards, because of her attitude, he said, and Helen had to sneak a five onto the table as they left.

Hank rolled past a stop sign and turned to her, free hand gesturing. “When they say functional, do they mean it’s actually working, it’s actually functioning as a real waterwheel, turning and producing electricity? They couldn’t really be milling anymore. Though it would be a great attraction, don’t you think?”

Helen knew he would like the historic bed and breakfast, the way the doors along the second story opened onto nothing, the balcony missing. Hank loved old buildings, hodgepodges of sloping rooms mated by ad hoc renovations, queer niches, accidental spaces, closets behind closets. He had tried to force Brian into architecture, but Brian didn’t have the grades either. It was Helen who had to balance the checkbook, decipher the hash Hank made of the columns—withdrawals never entered, numbers out of order, always an error somewhere deep in the math.

Hank perched the suitcases at the edge of the black metal grate spanning the foyer and peered down, commenting on the likelihood of a coal furnace still working, how poorly it would have heated, the inevitable filth. A pile of unopened envelopes rested in a bowl on the sideboard. Helen wondered if the mailman let himself in, if that was the routine, if everyday he shouted a greeting as he stretched from the doorway to set new deliveries in the decorative bowl. Helen’s carrier did not call her by name, could probably not connect her face to her address. There was no reason to imagine that anyone else had read the postcard. If the girl’s accusation were real, she would have signed her name to it, or sealed it inside an envelope at least. She had practically slopped letters across their front lawn in gasoline. A rapist. You raised a rapist.

Helen did not realize that she had booked two rooms, a kind of suite. The second was smaller, a corner area with no separate entrance, but a second bed. “In case he snores,” the white-haired owner explained. She was using a stage whisper, so Helen laughed, though Hank seemed actually not to have heard. He was feeling inside the fireplace.

“This is bricked up, right?”

He insisted on a tour and studied the exposed beams, the half steps at thresholds, the window that looked into the ex-porch, now an interior hall. If they passed by a door, he opened it: linens, cleaning supplies, exposed plumbing. Helen pretended to skim a shelf of ratty paperbacks before she trailed off to their room to unpack.

She had brought enough layered contingencies for three distinct temperate zones. The now nearly empty suitcase folded onto itself when she set it upright on Hank’s side of the bed. She’d reminded him to bring nice slacks for dinner, which he had, though she only looked into his side to retrieve their shared toiletry bag. She was arranging their toothbrushes on the bathroom shelf when she heard the crash, a heavy hollow crash from across the house. Hank crept in while she was touching up her make-up.

“What was that noise?”

“There’s a, it’s a trap door sort of, up to the attic. I tipped it closed by accident. It’s fine. I didn’t break anything. It’s huge up there.”

She watched his face in the mirror, the half smile, the widow’s peak, the tuft of gray at his throat. The glass warped in the center, so his body bent when she moved, one arm crumpling, the other warping outward.

“You’re just like Brian,” she said.

She meant that he was incorrigible, but the grin widened. A toddler’s grin. There were snapshots in the baby book like that, the same calculating innocence, that certainty of forgiveness. Brian once swung a garden brick against Helen’s temple and then played in his sandbox while she pressed rag-wrapped ice cubes against the gash. He was only two. She lied to Hank afterwards, said she had tripped on a rake he’d left out.

He chattered about the relative shapes of the rooms, how theirs was largest because of the oblong floor plan, and then he brought up renovating Brian’s room again, adding that exterior staircase he was obsessed about, and cutting off the extra bath, installing inexpensive kitchen appliances and making a private apartment to rent. Helen thought Brian should live at home after graduation, for a year or two, so they could help him save money, keep an eye on him.

“You seriously think he would go for that?” Hank asked.

Helen said that she needed lunch, that her head hurt, low blood sugar.

The tavern in the restored mill was not open—Hank pointed at the creek and said the waterwheel wasn’t moving anyway—so they ate across from the ritzy resort in a restaurant decorated with golf memorabilia. He joked loudly with the waitress, who was large-breasted but not especially pretty. Helen complimented the zigzag part of her blonde braids while debating whether Brian would be attracted to her. She was college-aged, trapped here catering to tourists. Or she might still be in high school. Helen couldn’t remember the name of Brian’s prom date, Linda or Laura. She didn’t know if he was a virgin when they unloaded the trunk outside his freshman dorm. That was Hank’s job.

When Hank splattered himself with Tabasco, the girl brought a half-tumbler of soda water and a fresh napkin. She hovered, empty-handed, watching him dab his chest as the fabric darkened. Maybe she was pretty, beautiful even, though only in the way that all young people are beautiful. Helen did not want to imagine her having sex, eyes clenched, Brian’s white hips shoving into her. The girl waited until Helen thanked her before trotting away. A stain dotted the center of each dark circle.

“Leave a nice tip,” Helen said. “Twenty percent.”

He agreed, but they squabbled over the addition, Hank insisting that rounding up would mean almost twenty-five. Helen grabbed her purse as she stood. “My god,” she said. “My god.” Her face was hot. “Why do you have to be so cheap about every little thing?”

She wove to the back of the restaurant, searching for the women’s room, but it was a maze, bricked windows, split hallways. A waitress, another teenager, looked up from behind a metal kitchen shelf. Helen didn’t need to pee anyway. She didn’t need to see her make-up and wrinkles under a whining row of fluorescent bulbs. She found a cushioned chair in front of a blocked doorway and perched on its edge, knees tight, purse dangling. Brian wouldn’t have dated the waitress, but he would have flirted with her. There were always girls giggling in the parking lot when Helen came to pick him up from whatever team he had made that season. Sometimes Helen sat for minutes, car idling, waiting for him to look up, to notice her staring through the fogging windshield.

Hank was chewing a toothpick beside the cash register.

“I’m sorry,” said Helen. “I guess it’s that headache. I’m sorry.”

Hank nodded, then held out his hand. “Want one? They’re peppermint.”

There were two individually wrapped toothpicks in his palm, and she took both, one for her and a second for him whenever he asked for it later. She slid them into the front of her purse.

The resort was all red bricks and white pillars and shorn green grass, a place for rich people to golf and play tennis and bathe. Hank asked if the water was really hotter than the pools near their B&B, which he would have known if he’d read the e-mail she had sent him at his work. They strolled through a row of bungalows renovated into resort shops, with a day care and playground at the far end. Steam rose through quarter-sized circles cut into a sewer lid.

“Think that’s natural?” Hank asked. “Because of the springs, I mean?”

Helen was watching a young couple with a toddler playing on the bright yellow slide. A stroller stood abandoned at the edge of the grass, the front wheels mired in mulch chips. Brian had hated his, had shrieked and scratched whenever Helen buckled him in, the full force of her hand on his tiny chest. School drop-offs were worse. The aides would eventually pry his fingernails from the meat of Helen’s arms as he shrieked in the doorway, and then Helen would have to sit in her car checking her face in the rear view mirror until she stopped crying. It was hard on him, taking turns, sitting on rugs, not punching, not biting. Teachers want girls who play tea at stunted tables and finger picture books one page after the next. Sometimes Helen had wanted that, too, but Hank would never have known what to do with a girl.

The walking trail branched from the top of the resort parking lot. Helen handed Hank the camera and her purse and knotted her sweater around her waist before they reached the woods. It wasn’t as rustic as she had imagined. Power lines crisscrossed overhead, and a highway hummed through the tree line. They could walk like this at home.

“Did you pay the Sprint bill?” she asked.

Hank stopped speaking to look at her. He had been debating aloud whether the fence around the horse pen was as old as it appeared or whether the resort had imitated the design from colonial sketches.

“I was going to go through them when we got back.” He was angling his head, trying to catch her eye. “Is there something on your mind?”

If when they arrived home Helen snuck the postcard back into the mailbox while Hank lugged the suitcase to the bedroom, she could pretend that she had never seen it when he fished it out with Saturday’s deliveries. She would get to be cool-headed, composed, laugh away Hank’s panic. Of course Brian hadn’t raped anyone.

It took nearly two hours to complete the loop, then another fifteen to drive back to the B&B. She tried to nap in the room, in the smaller back room, with the door mostly closed, while Hank read something. She wasn’t sleepy. Brian’s prom date had been named Linda. Laura was the girl he dated in tenth grade. Helen had walked in on them kissing on the old couch in the rec room. The girl was on her back, knees spread, Brian on top of her, only their shoes off, the TV on. Helen stammered and struck the doorframe backing out. She found Hank in the garage and sent him in, but the girl was jogging red-faced to the hall bathroom. When Brian swerved around Helen on the stairs, his cheeks were dark too, his fists clenched. Helen pressed her spine against the wall as though pinned.

They ate an early dinner at the gourmet restaurant three doors down from the lunch tavern. Only the folding chairs were a disappointment. It was still light enough for a stroll afterwards. The B&B owner said they needed shoes to walk in the creek, and a row of mangled sneakers stood in a tight row on the back stoop. Helen wouldn’t consider slipping her foot into one. The creek didn’t feel that warm when she dipped her fingers anyway. Better than the air, but still only tepid. The yard, the whole town stunk of sulfur.

She had assumed Hank would make a pass at her in the room, but they’d done that already, which was fine. He dug a book from his suitcase and settled on the bed to read, still in his shoes. One of the heels left a dark streak on the spread.

“What’s that?” Helen asked.

He flipped the cover as though uncertain. “I found it on the shelves out there.”

“But you put it in our bag?”

“It’s just some old paperback. Look at it, it’s falling apart.” He yanked a wad of yellowed pages from the spine and slotted them back. “Go find something for yourself.” He gestured with his chin at the closed door. Helen had already changed into her nightgown, her good one with the lace and cleavage.

“I’m not decent,” she said.

Hank said nothing. He was reading.

She brushed her teeth, scrubbed and moisturized her face, with bathroom door open at her back. At home she always locked it, ever since Brian had blundered in that time, both of them mortified by her half-nakedness. She had asked Hank if they should buy a book for him, before Brian started middle school, but Hank laughed it off. Boys figured that stuff out on their own—though of course he would be there if Brian had any questions. Helen’s own mother had done less, promised her that she would know when she was ready, when she was in love, it would change everything. But nothing had changed, not until Brian. It didn’t matter what he did, what he deserved or did not deserve, Helen was required to love him. The cut on her temple had required four stitches. She drove herself to the ER, shouting at Hank to shut up, to stop trying to touch her, she was fine, it didn’t matter.

. . .

When Helen woke the next morning, the antique tub was rumbling with water and Hank was on the floor doing push-ups in his underwear. Normally he grunted behind the door, but this bathroom was too small. The first ten he performed expertly, spine and hips flush, his chin and the bulge of his briefs grazing the floorboards in unison. The next ten required a slight but noticeable effort. He exhaled the numbers then sucked them back in. Twenty-one through thirty were work. He groaned, then paused, groaned louder, then paused longer. His face was red and veined, and his left arm trembled. Every morning he did this. He sometimes masturbated in the shower, but he had no idea that she overheard. The grunts were similar, the long straining rumble in his throat. The last ten she couldn’t watch.

They had strawberry pancakes with the owner and a married couple, the only other guests. The young wife asked about ghosts, but the owner could report no personal experiences. Hank was curious about the foundation and got the owner talking family history while Helen went upstairs to pack. If they were going to swim together, they had to hurry. The spring pools were segregated after eleven o’clock. Suits optional.

She collected her toiletries and set the zippered bag on the sink edge for Hank to brush his teeth. His laundry sat in a pile in a corner by the tub, and she balled it with her own. When she stuffed the soft mass into his empty half of the suitcase, her fingers brushed something thin and cardboard. She pulled out a postcard, blinked at the colonnade and logo, before turning it over. She was sitting on the edge of the chair when he came in.

“Hank?” she said.

He saw the card in her hand and rubbed his mouth. He took a series of deep breaths.

“It was stuck to the back of one of the bills. I was going to show it to you in the car on the way home. I didn’t want to ruin your weekend.”

Helen nodded, and then Hank nodded again. The door was open behind him.

“Look, I know it’s upsetting, but you don’t have to worry. I’m handling it. I’m going to call him when we get home.”

“Do you think Brian knows who sent it?”

Hank exhaled hard through his nose. “I imagine he does.”

Helen was studying the photograph, the way the colors had been artificially brightened, flattened, to resemble a painting. “Well, you should still get a list of names from him.” The shreds of a cloud in the corner she hadn’t noticed before. “That way,” she said, “her parents can’t claim she was targeted.” She turned the card over again and held it to her face to read the postmark. It was a regular stamp, an American flag, wind-wrinkled. “Maybe the dean can get exam books or something to compare handwriting?” She was pretending not to see Hank, how the hinge of his jaw kept slipping open.

“Helen. I don’t — what does … ”

She rubbed her thumb across the ink, across the word son, but it didn’t smear. “The school has a responsibility to us, Hank. They have an honor code down there.” She checked her skin anyway, for any hint of blue. “She’s probably going to get thrown out.”

“For getting raped?

Now she was looking around the room, at the fireplace, the bed, at how she had pulled her side of the spread neat. Hank’s was a jumble.

“For libel.” Her eyes wandered the pattern of the bedspread, the jagged florals in alternating purples. “You should phone our lawyer when we get home.” Her gaze kept sinking, to the spread hem, the floorboards, to her lap. “The one you used to badger the neighbors about property line infringements?” The fabric of her denim skit blurred, reformed, blurred.

Hank blinked, held his lids tight for an instant. She knew he was deciding which emotion to use. “Helen,” he said. It was his empathic voice.

She stood and shoved the postcard at him, stabbed it at his rising hands. “What if she goes to the administration? Or the police? She obviously can’t prove anything, but that won’t stop her from ruining Brian’s reputation. This is his future, Hank.”

He grabbed the postcard where she slapped it against his chest. “But we don’t even know — ”

“You’re going to let that little—” Helen’s open hands swirled beside her head. “Cunt,” she said. It wasn’t the perfect word, and it formed awkwardly in her mouth, but she wanted to shock him, to slap reason into someone. “Some little cunt defames Brian to his own mother, and you, you want to protect her?”

Her hands were hot, her whole body. She didn’t want to be here, in this room, anywhere.

When Hank didn’t say anything, she seized and stuffed the rest of the laundry into his half of the suitcase. The boards creaked where he paced in place. She breathed shallowly, watching the movements of her arms, her hands, the way the joints of her fingers bent and straightened. She picked things up. She placed them in the bag. She pictured where each would go when she got home.

Eventually Hank started packing too, grabbed his good slacks, his stained shirt, crammed them in. He worked a wide circle around Helen. He told her twice that it would all be okay, that he would get to the bottom of it, that she just really shouldn’t worry about it right now, not until maybe she had time to think it through better.

“Just shut up, Hank.” There were still the baths to do.

The car radio blared when he turned the ignition, and they listened to half of a country hit on the way. Hank hummed part of the chorus, tunelessly, to indicate that they were done fighting now. She stared at her window, at the reflection of the dashboard in the glass, until the bathhouses came into view. They were wooden, whitewashed polygons that Hank said looked like UFO’s, what someone in the nineteenth century would think a UFO looked like. He was being conversational now, friendly, modeling the way in which one puts a conflict behind oneself. Helen considered asking what a real UFO looked like. She considered asking him whether Brian knew the difference between an IUD and a diaphragm, a hysterectomy and an oophorectomy, a vagina and a cunt.

The air outside felt frigid as he trotted beside her. “Do you really want to go in the water?” he asked. Helen was carrying their swimming suits in her purse. The flap wouldn’t close.

“That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? That’s why we came, isn’t it?”

They paid and walked to the larger of the two buildings. Two couples floated in the water, one with a pair of blonde children, young teens, all staring at Helen. She chose the nearest dressing room and pulled the shower curtain as Hank dropped his pants. She changed quickly. When she dipped her foot in the pool, she was surprised by the mildness and plunged down, to hide her body in the refraction. The middle schoolers were giggling. The girl was touching the boy’s hip under the water. Maybe they weren’t siblings. Maybe they were boyfriend and girlfriend.

The step railings looked acid burnt where the water lapped. Hank pushed off, trying to float on his back, but his spine kept bending, kept shoving his hips under. Helen stared at the rescue hook behind him, at the unlit spotlights on the rafters, then she tried to close her eyes, tried to keep them closed. The reflection of the ceiling windows wrinkled on the water but remained recognizable if she held still, if she let the floating noodle hold all of her weight, if she didn’t move at all. It would be best not to move at all.

“See how bubbles come from between the rocks?” Hank’s voice was the loudest in the room. “We’re actually in the mouth of the spring.”

Now she felt the bubbles clinging to her calves and thighs like carbonation. When she closed her eyes again they were fingertips, erotic and unwelcome. Hank kept talking, pointing at the support beams, joking about the way the extra floating noodles fit into the wall frames, the foresight of the founding father.

“Can you imagine that, Thomas Jefferson floating naked right here?”

“Hank,” she said, “I’m trying to relax. I came here to relax. Okay?”

He frowned and splashed toward the deep end—no, it was no deeper. The cord across the center of the pool was for holding on to. It didn’t divide anything. This was just a hole in the ground. They were all just bobbing in a useless hole. The water was warm, slightly above body temperature, the web site said, a very light fever. People used to drink it, but that wasn’t recommended now. Nobody was ever cured of anything here.

A man, one of the husbands, appeared from a side room, slapping his drenched hair back from his forehead as he stood dripping on the planks. He cupped his hands to be heard over the thrum: “You have to try it. It’s amazing. Like living under Niagara Falls.” A cheap, silver-lettered sign above him read: Water Massage. His wife shrugged shyly.

“I’ll go,” Helen called.

An open urinal rusted beyond the doorway with a set of soaked steps descending beside it. Three quarter turns and she was under the platform, where the floor planks gave way to exposed rock and more slime-thick Astroturf. She lowered herself into the run-off stream with her back to the wall and waited. The attendant shouted, the wood clacked, and the water erupted. Her hands clawed at beams and rock as her suit straps flung off her shoulders. The force frightened her. She pictured little Brian in a public restroom shrieking over the roar of a toilet.

Her feet learned where to wedge themselves. Her waist tilted to lessen the force on the numbing spots across her back. It wasn’t relaxing so much as obliterating, nothing but the habit of holding on. She hadn’t noticed how taut her neck was, or her shoulders and back, her stomach, like strands of twine snarled into a fist-thick ball, every end pulled to breaking. Her fingernails pulsed as she pictured Brian’s shoelaces, the impossible task of loosening mud-dried knots, digging at the weave, before giving up, before jamming his naked heel in as he squealed. She could do no better. She’d wanted him closer, at one of the commuter colleges, but Hank wouldn’t hear of it. You can’t control a boy forever. No one could blame Helen. She was innocent. Everybody was innocent.

The girl was angry, vengeful even, but it was Helen she chose, not a dean, not some acne-scarred town deputy. Helen wanted to hate her, wanted to call her every silly name: bitch, slut, whore. She was probably pretty, too, a flirt, the kind Brian enjoyed. It was partly her fault. Helen wondered what she had been doing when the girl was copying Brian’s home address from a student directory, choosing the right mailbox to drop it in, isolated, but not too isolated. It had probably happened last weekend, so she’d slept on it a couple of nights, had seen a counselor already, a nurse maybe.

Helen tasted salt on her lips, and snot, and she would have wiped at her face, but her hands, her arms, everything was drenched. The head of the unconscious girl kept rocking open-mouthed with Brian’s thrusts. Or maybe she hadn’t passed out. Maybe Brian and his brothers hadn’t spiked her glass, or poured her cup after new cup. Maybe her eyes were wide open. Helen’s head tipped forward, and water spilled around it, over it, leaving her only a wedge of air. The girl was gasping Brian’s name, slapping at him, pleading.

Helen wanted to keep rocking under the weight of the collapsing water, but the wood clattered, and then she was just squatting in a half-stopped stream again. Her back was dead, the skin nerveless. She wasn’t moving.

“Ma’am?” It was the attendant’s voice. “Ma’am,” he called. “You got to come out now.”

Helen drew herself up. Her body was heavy, her flesh like soaked clothing, a drenched parka. She steadied her weight on each stair, scuffing her toes when she didn’t raise a foot high enough. The wood was old and dank and beginning to rot. The whole platform would need to be replaced soon, the whole building.

Everyone in the pool was staring at her—the father, the other husband, the middle school boyfriend, and Hank. “You have to go now, ma’am,” the attendant said. He was pointing at a plastic kitchen clock hanging from a high nail. The other women and the girl were gone. The men and the boy bobbed, their arms and shoulders and chests, everything above the water, naked.

“Helen,” said Hank. “We still have twenty minutes. Go try the girls’ bath.” He must not have thought she’d heard, because he called louder. “We paid for the time,” he yelled. “We might as well use it. I’ll meet you in the car after.”

Helen scurried to the dressing room. Her suit clung as she tugged it down her ribs. Then she realized she would only have to change again, so she tugged the straps back up, before wrapping herself in the tiny white towel and gathering her clothes and purse. She didn’t look at Hank or the other men, but the boy was floating nearest the exit, with his arms spread along the edge of the planks. His forearms and biceps were thin, puny, but he seemed unaware of the fact, unselfconscious. He stared up at her with his wet and pocked face.

She was wincing over gravel before she saw she was aimed not at the other bathhouse, but the car. The passenger door was unlocked, and she climbed in and slammed it. Her keys, the spare keys, were at the bottom of her purse. She could dig them out. She could go anywhere, home, to Brian’s dorm, back to the B&B. She pictured Hank finding her there, the way she would be posed in the chair beside the fireplace, hands folded in her lap, her bathing suit soaking into the antique upholstery, the same way the car seat was growing damp under her right now. If she leapt up, it might not be too late. She could blot the seat, run in for a second and a third towel, before the moisture spread any further, wetting whatever she changed into. It was her own fault. It would be a horrible drive home, but if she acted quickly, she might improve it. She could at least make the ride bearable.

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