Excerpt from Boundaries: A Love Story

An Excerpt from Boundaries:

Wading through a pathway overgrown with tall grasses, Kaia could feel the pebbles through her thin buffalo-hide sandals. She caught the odor of wood dust from Mark’s sawing and sanding, blended with the minty smell of pines and the waft of alfalfa and fertilizer from neighboring farms. The air wavered over the fields, the deep-green trees at the edge a blur; a few violet clouds flickered with lightning.

When she strolled back toward the cabin, Mark was sawing a piece of wood, his bare back a breadth of earthy tan. He turned around and kept his eyes on her as she approached, then followed her wordlessly into the cabin. She watched as he washed his face in the bathroom basin.

“Let’s go for a drive,” he said, drying off with a towel. “We need to get some supplies in town. We can have lunch, too.”

They drove in the pickup past the grassy fields with their backdrop of pewter sky, the endless barbed wire fences the only sign of restriction, softened by cornflowers and purple lobelia growing along the roadside. They could go for miles without seeing anyone, Kaia thought, even in the midst of summer. And in the winter, neighbors would come in their snowmobiles to dig you out of your cabin. She wouldn’t have to be thinking constantly of her next move, planning her career path, trying to maneuver around other people’s hopes for her. Here life was seasonal, lush and pure—so different from her California life in every way. And of course she would be here with Mark. It had seemed an impossible fantasy, before she’d arrived.

“You’ve changed, Kaia—you seem more careful these days,” he remarked, glancing at her. In the shadowy cab, his eyes were a darker, pure blue, his forehead polished bronze.

“I guess I am different. I’m not so adolescent anymore.” She kept her eyes on him. “You’ve changed, too, Mark. You seem more settled now.”

“I’m a small-time farmer and occasional carpenter,” he said with a grin. It sounded like a line he’d rehearsed, a designation he’d chosen for himself.

“I don’t quite see you that way. You’ve always loved being outdoors, I know. But there must be other ways you see yourself.”

“I don’t spend much time thinking about it.”

“I guess you don’t know many women around here,” she couldn’t help saying.

“I’ve formed no outside attachments of that kind, Kaia,” he said quietly.

“That’s good.”

“Right,” he said, with a questioning glance. “I suppose it is.”

After he parked the truck in Beaulieu, he glanced at her short dress and bare legs, then placed his hand on her knee. As he leaned closer, she caught a whiff of his salty scent. “Don’t tell anyone you’re my cousin, okay, Babe?” He kissed her on the cheek.

“Jesus,” she said, letting out her breath. “You make it sound so illicit.”

“It’s nobody’s business, that’s all. This is a small town.” He got out of the truck and went around to open her door.

She held her hand to her throat for a few seconds, then climbed out. Maybe it was better to be discreet, but it felt wrong somehow; it tainted everything, just as the secrecy had all these years.

She followed Mark up a stairway to a café above a shop. The place was crowded, with the smell of fried fish in the air. As they walked to a booth in the back, a few people glanced up to watch them, tracking them with deadpan stares. One man in overalls checked out Kaia, then winked at Mark. A white-haired woman frowned almost imperceptibly at them as they passed her table. Was the town really that provincial, that people always noticed you?

Kaia remembered the drive with Mark to Half Moon Bay when she was sixteen, the two of them tumbling windblown into the pizza parlor, their faces raw from the ride in the open car along the coast. The look of rebellious, masculine triumph on Mark’s face must have been apparent to everyone in the place. And she saw herself overflowing with happiness at that moment—they were a pair of exotic birds, synchronized and brilliant. Had there always been some visible chemistry between the two of them? Why couldn’t they have been together all these years? Why had she let her parents hold her back?

by Christine Z. Mason

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