by Steve Frederick

Watching his breath steam the frozen air, Wyatt considers tugging loose the tumbleweeds one by one and burning them in a barrel. Weeks of hard frost and winter wind have stuffed the wire fence along his property line with the long nest of tangled debris. After struggling with a few of the prickly spheres he decides instead to burn them where they sit. In his work shed he finds a can of gasoline and some newspapers. While inside, he lifts a pint of vodka from a drawer and pauses for a few long swallows.

At the fence corner abutting the county road he wets a corner of the paper with gas and strikes a match, ignites a few of the weeds and steps back. The oily twigs sputter and flare, the fire creeping along the fence like a lit fuse. He drops the smoldering paper, stamps it out and hustles to the side of the house to get a hose running.

When he turns the faucet handle, the water won't come; it's frozen inside the coils. Pulling the hose straight he's startled by a pop from the gas can, followed by a whoomp from the fuel that sends a fireball rolling across the lawn, the heat hitting him in the face and pushing him stumbling backward. Amazed, he watches as the spreading fence fire reaches the dead cedar near the house and climbs the outer branches. In moments the entire tree erupts with a towering roar.

His wife, Dawnell, runs from the house screaming. Wyatt turns desperate, yanking on the hose in panic. She yells, "Stop it, Wyatt! You idiot!" The hose breaks off the spigot and water streams onto the lawn. "Shut up!" he yells.

Dawnell stands agape, watching the cedar throw off coils of flame, and runs screaming into the house. Wyatt jerks on the broken hose till it saps his energy, then stands helpless, holding the useless end. Derailed by indecision, he considers running for a bucket or an unbroken hose; but instead he lights a cigarette and watches as the fire on the lawn begins to subside.

The blackened fence wire smokes with smoldering strands. The cedar wood crackles and flares, expelling plumes of white smoke. Wyatt feels the abrupt bite of the cold. The stink of the calamity steams from his jacket. He stamps into the house, where Dawnell is breaking down and weeping over the kitchen table. "You stupid, stupid fool!" she wails.

"You take care of it then," he says. He slams the door, revs his pickup and throws gravel down the length of the driveway.


Two hours earlier, as the sun cleared the horizon, Wyatt was already pouring bourbon into his morning coffee. The weekend had begun dry and cold. The yard was a mess—Dawnell had been on him about it for days. He had the dead cedar to cut down. He intended to clean everything up. He just needed time to brace himself.

By the time Dawnell got out of bed he was watching the Discovery Channel, spinning his kid's globe, taking note of nations that no longer exist. Dawnell stalked into the living room and frowned. "Stop doing that!" she said. "You'll wear it out. You make me dizzy just watching you."

"How about a vacation?" he said. "Let's all go someplace we've never been."

Dawnell rested her fists on her hips. "With what money, Wyatt?" she said, bobbing her head. "You're always on vacation these days."

His daughter, Amy, still in her flannel nightie, peered from behind her mother and smiled. Her brown eyes sparkling, she stepped between them and hugged him, squeezing hard. He patted between her shoulders, felt his heart revive, remembering when those eyes filled the tiny universe of her face, when he'd lift her up and her baby legs would curl underneath.

"America's peacekeeper," he said, smoothing her hair. "Someday you'll run the United Nations, little girl."

The child waited for him to smile. "Let's have waffles!" she said. She pulled the remote from his lap and changed the channel.

Dawnell's gaze fell on the bottle. She folded her arms and glared.

Wyatt set his teeth. "What, dammit?"

"You're off to the races already? I can't believe this."

He rose and opened his arms to gather her in, but she edged past him without a word, pulling along Amy, who rolled her eyes and shook her head. Dawnell turned back at him. "You lied to me," she said, her voice steady and cold.

He hoisted his mug. "About this?"

"About the yard. About everything."

He bit back his answer, tightening his lips. Amy ducked into her room.

"You want me to just ignore it?" Dawnell asked. "Is that it?"

He raised the glass with a dry smile, as if proposing a toast. "There you go."

"Not this time, buddy. Not on your life," she said. "I told you. I fucking warned you. This is it, mister. This is the end."

He put a palm to his temple and closed his eyes. "Warn, warn, warn. You're always warning me," he said, his tongue going thick. "I haven't done anything,"

"Of course not! That's the problem, Wyatt. You never do anything," she said. "You really don't get it at all, do you?"

She shook her head and turned away toward the kitchen. He followed, pulling his jacket from its hook. "No problem, Dawnell. I'm on it. OK? I'm on it right now."

Then he went outside, puttered in the shed awhile, and, despite his best intentions, set half the yard ablaze.

~ ~~

Barely slowing for a stop sign, Wyatt turns off the county road and onto the highway. Before the heater has time to kick in, his cell phone rings. He sees his home number on the display, flips the phone open without speaking and shuts it off. He drives eastward for two hours on the rural highway to Ogallala, smoking cigarettes and talking to himself, and rolls onto Interstate 80 with no destination in mind. The hypnotic four-lane, carrying freight trucks and impatient cross-country travelers, stretches before him, steady and monotonous across the Platte River bottomland. He stops at a convenience store for a quart of beer to pass the time and drives for two more aimless hours, letting a Garth Brooks tape cycle twice before ejecting it and tossing it out the window.

"Bitch," he says out loud. How could he still be with her after half a decade? She wasn't the girl that he'd fallen for, that was certain, not the demure predator that his high-school buddy, Simms, had dropped into his lap on a double-date road trip to Thermopolis. Dawnell had played all her cards at once—tinted contacts and tight jeans, a gauzy red bra under her thin white T-shirt. She laughed at his jokes, ran crimson nails across his thigh. Along the way a cold drizzle gave way to heavy snow. Simms' date, using her mother's credit card, booked them all into a room with a fireplace and two beds. Simms took a look outside, yanked off his clothes and led them whooping and naked across the deck to a steaming outdoor tub. Dawnell floated toward Wyatt in the dark, letting her nipples brush his thighs. "I won't tell if you won't," she whispered. Wyatt tipped back a jug of lukewarm chablis and then held it to Dawnell's lips.

"The snow's piling up on your head," he said.

"That's good," she replied, her hands busy under the water. "Otherwise, I'd be naked."

Two months later they married, embryonic Amy tagging along on the honeymoon.

~ ~~

Wyatt turns on his cell phone and pecks out a number. "Simms, you wild man!" he says. "I'm on my way. Get your ass to Swede's tonight and buy me a beer."

Wyatt slaps himself to sharpen his wits. A night on the town might lift his spirits. But the sun's still high overhead and already he's wearing down. He pulls off the interstate at a truck stop, heaps two cold donuts onto a napkin and fills a quart-sized soft-drink cup full of coffee. He leaves the busy freeway, crosses the shallow Platte and turns east onto the Lincoln Highway. The old two-lane runs parallel to the interstate, threading tiny heartland towns, alongside barns pitched askew by prairie wind, fenced country headstones sticking up like bad teeth. Wyatt passes a corral of tiny burros huddled beneath the sunburst vanes of a gray wooden windmill, among them a forlorn zebra, chilled and mystified, half a globe gone from the Serengeti.

~ ~~

Wyatt had found himself baffled by how marriage had transformed his life. He'd quit pounding nails, hired a crew and advertised himself as a contractor. Simms became "that goddamn buddy of yours." Dawnell took a job in town, worked late keeping Wyatt's books.

When the time had come for Dawnell to deliver Amy, she cramped and cursed for 16 hours. Wyatt held the baby first, marveling at her downy lightness, the way her gray skin filled with pink before his eyes. "That's it for me," Dawnell groaned. "You're doing the next one."

At Dawnell's insistence, he had a vasectomy. A year later, in the throes of intimacy, he agreed to have it reversed. On the evening after the second operation, alone in the bathroom, he dabbed at his twice-bruised scrotum with a chilling washcloth and taped gauze alongside each testicle. He hobbled to the bedside, rolled in gingerly and rested his head in his hand, tracing the curve of Dawnell's hip with his fingertips. Even in sleep, she recoiled from his touch.

In time, Wyatt learned to cook and clean with inept fervor, changed messy diapers, memorized toddler doggerel featuring brown bears and velveteen rabbits. But after Simms left town to find work, Wyatt's drinking hit high gear. He held boozy poker games in the work shed with Dawnell's brother Coyd and anyone else who'd show up. An all-night game brought an end to that. Sneaking into the house, he crunched a wooden flute under his heel. Dawnell, who'd given it to Amy as a present, spat curses. Amy howled until Wyatt promised her he'd buy her anything, anything she wanted. The bawling stopped. She pulled tiny fists from her eyes and smiled.

"I want waffles," she said. They'd laughed then and eaten waffles together at the kitchen table, winter closing in, steam fogging the windows.

With the card games banished, Wyatt began drinking alone in the work shed. Coyd, who had joined the sheriff's department, nearly lost his job for driving him home unticketed after a minor crash. After Dawnell insisted that he dry out, Wyatt sat her down to tell her what he'd learned. She poured herself a cup of tea and settled in to listen.

"It if wasn't beer, it'd be something else," he said, going over a theory he'd been developing. "Everybody's addicted to something—drugs, medicines, food, even religion. That might be the worst one of all. Even some old-timer who spends all day carving wooden ducks doesn't give a shit about carving or ducks. Sometimes it's because he watched an army buddy blown to bits in front of his eyes."

Dawnell stirred her tea. "Fair enough," she said. "Let's talk about your reasons."

In an instant the notion came unstrung. Try as he might, he couldn't think of a single one.

~ ~~

Along Wyatt's route the broken towns linger in their dreary infirmity, each with its unkempt wooden churches, erector-set water towers and long-abandoned five-and-dimes. When he reaches Crane Prairie he turns at its single traffic light and idles into the crumbling downtown. All but a few of the quaint brick buildings are boarded up, the commerce moving south long ago with the coming of the Interstate. Pickups fill the spaces around Swede's Steakhouse. Inside, a menagerie of mounted beasts, all horns and fangs, peers down from the walls. A mountain goat sports Ray-Bans, a cigarette tucked in its hardened lips. The bartender draws Wyatt a foamy beer.

Hours later, Simms enters with a flourish, tossing back the hood of a fur-trimmed parka, stamping snow from his boots. "Damn! The stuff you see when ya ain't got a gun," he yells. Farmhands and implement peddlers and big-haired women look toward Wyatt, who feels a sudden chill, imagines himself in their cross-hairs. Simms throws an arm around Wyatt, introduces Darla, tall and square-shouldered, her Nordic presence magnified by a red down duster and riding boots. Wyatt needs a long glance to take her all in.

Simms grins. "Where's the little woman?" he asks.

"Home with the kid. Just passing through. Wondering what you were up to these days."

The three take a booth, where a robust barmaid deposits a pitcher and frosted mugs. Simms pours a round, his eyes swimming as if he's already had a few, and starts telling stories. Darla hangs her coat and scarf on the rack of an elk, drapes a thick blond braid alongside dramatic cleavage.

"I got pissed off this morning and decided to get the hell out," Wyatt says. "I don't know what's going to hit me when I get home."

Simms laughs and slaps the table. Darla eyes him sideways, runs a finger around the rim of her glass. "This fool could have had all the chicks," Simms tells her. "Look at him. Had to fall for the first one I fixed him up with."

They finish one pitcher, then another. Cold creeps in the doorway as the place fills up. Darla feeds the jukebox and pulls Simms to his feet to shuffle with her around the hardwood floor, lifting his hand from her ass when he starts clowning. Wyatt backs against the wall, stretches a leg across the seat, his appetite gone. He notices a woman, thin and wiry, wearing a leather jacket and sweatpants. She stands with her back to the glowing woodstove, wine glass in hand. Her raven hair is thick and bunched, her dark, narrow face obscured by owlish glasses. Darla steps out of Simms' grasp and leans toward her to whisper. When the song ends, they bring her to the table. "Wyatt," says Simms with a wink, "this here's Mel."

Wyatt, revived, hears himself introduced as Simm's lifelong buddy, a big-shot contractor. He banters with Mel and buys tequilas all around, and when Simms and Darla rise to dance again he nudges her from the booth. The floor crowds quickly, and he slides his hand to the small of her back. She gives a jerk and mashes against him. "Whoa!" she says, "Sorry. I've been getting a tattoo and it's still a little tender back there."

She grabs his wrist, drops his hand lower. "That side's OK," she says, catching his eye, pressing against him during the dance, her perfume lingering under his chin after the music stops.

Wyatt orders another round and pulls Mel into the booth beside him. He lights a cigarette and shakes the match until it smokes. When turns to Mel, she's holding a cigarette and waiting. His matchbook's empty.

Darla holds a lighter a cross the table, "Here you go, Melania," she says.

"Melania?" Wyatt says, looking her over. "That's one I never heard before."

"It's Spanish," Mel says, her dark eyes steady and expressionless.

"I get it now," he says, nodding. "Kinda like Melanie then. It's a pretty name." "Not Melanie," she says, pulling the empty matchbook from his hand and writing her name in capital letters, handing it to him to read. "MELANIA," she repeats. As he's reading, she plucks the matchbook away, lowers her eyelids and scribbles some more—a phone number under the name—and hands it back. Wyatt smiles and tucks it into his pocket. Later, on the dance floor, he lets his cheek rest against hers. His breath stops; he's never cheated on Dawnell. Mel brushes her lips across his. "Let's go get some air," she whispers.

They jog through a biting wind to her Suburban. She drives a few blocks and parks in the shadows of a railroad overpass, leaving the motor on to run the heater. From a kit in the glove box she sorts out some gadgets and stuffs a brass pipe with a pinch of marijuana. Soon he's giddy and daring, tasting tequila and smoke on the tip of her tongue.

"Can I see it?" he whispers. She draws back and looks up at him. "The tattoo," he says. "What is it?"

She turns her back toward him and slides up her blouse, revealing the coils of an ornate dragon. Feeling daring, he presses her shirt even higher, unhooks her bra, encounters a swirl of vivid hues and scaly ferocity. Her welted skin rises under a green leg and a row of demonic fingers tipped with curved black claws. He's never touched a tattoo, never seen one this close. "My god!" he says. "How far does it go?"

She ta/kes off her glasses, turns on the overhead light, gets her knees under her and slips down the sweatpants, revealing a curling reptilian tail adorning her right buttock. "That's amazing," he says, tracing the outline with his finger.

"Hurry," she whispers, wagging her hips, pressing against him. "It's cold." "Here?" he says.

She looks back at him, her face inverted, framed in her armpit. The dashboard lights glitter in her eyes. "We can't go to my house," she says. "I got kids."

Wyatt slips out of his jacket, pulls at his belt, loosens the buckle. The dragon appears to writhe on the dusky canvas of her skin. Wyatt's throat tightens. Bursts of light fill his eyes, and he slumps backward against the door.

Mel turns her face toward him. "You feeling OK, sweetie? You don't look so good."

"It's just the weed . . . the combination," he says, blinking. "I need a minute." He leans across her, resting his head for a moment between her shoulder blades. After taking a few breaths he puts his palms on her shoulders and lets them slide down the curves of her waist. "I'm not a big fan of tattoos," he says, "but I could get used to this."

She lowers her face until her cheek rests against the seat, lifts her rump again. "What do you got against tattoos?" she says.

He ponders an explanation, his thoughts growing vivid and disordered. "Nothing, really. I guess I'm just kinda old-fashioned," he says. "They're OK, but I'd never want my daughter to get one, you know? There's nothing skankier than some old grandma with a tattoo that's gone all faded and blue and shit."

Mel stiffens. She turns to face him, glaring. "Skanky?" she says. "Really?"

Wyatt looks at her dumbly. Her hand flicks and he flinches, turning his face aside. He expects a slap, but she catches him high on the cheekbone with a hard fist, lands a second one on his nose before he can cover up. His nostril lets go a gush of blood. She brings her feet around, the sweat pants still at her knees, and begins kicking at him. "Fuck you, you bastard," she says. "Who do you think you are?"

Wyatt, startled by the onslaught, grabs for the door handle and tumbles onto the street. She throws his coat after him. The Suburban drops into gear with the engine winding, tires screeching as she drives away.

Wyatt's head swims. A gust of cold prairie wind cuts through his thin clothing. He picks up a dented can from the gravel and throws it after her. "What the hell kinda name is that?" he yells, his ragged voice echoing from the abutments.

Wyatt feels his left eye swelling shut. He holds a finger alongside his nose and walks out to the main road, following the street lights back toward the tavern's rainbow of neon. It's near midnight and the streets are empty. Simms and Darla are still in their booth; she's nuzzling him as he holds a cigarette over the table.

Simms looks up. "Jesus, Big Boy," he says. "What the hell happened to you?"

Darla stares at Wyatt. "Where's Melania?" she says.

"The bitch went crazy," he says. "I swear, I never touched her."

Darla gets up and trots across the dance floor, punching numbers into her cell phone.

Simms howls and bangs the table. A few sullen drunks look over from the bar. "This is too goddamn good, Ames," Simms says. "You better take that shiner home to Mama. Looks to me like you done screwed the pooch around here."

~ ~~

Battered and despondent, Wyatt drives toward the freeway and buys a bottle of bourbon at a truck stop counter just before 1 o'clock. He checks into a room that smells of bird dogs and cigarettes, the paper bag tucked under his arm. He listens awhile to the low whine of freeway traffic before turning on the TV. A long swallow of whiskey lingers warm in his throat. He tips back the bottle again, and his chest fills with a hollow ache.

After sleeping awhile he awakens on top of the bed, shivering. A train horn blares; rail cars clatter in the night air. The television glows. "You'll have flatter abs in seven days," says a perky, spandexed woman. "CALL NOW!" blinks in neon orange across her breasts.

He sees himself in the mirror next to the closet, the image startling. His eye is puffy and blued; a crust of dried blood clings to his upper lip. He wets a wash cloth and cleans himself up. Finding the bottle standing open, he caps it and drops it into the trash. He checks out, fills a pair of coffee cups, turns up the country radio and drives hard through the darkness with nearly 300 miles between him and home.

When the morning sun begins rising behind him he's fit to burst and pulls off at an interchange for a break. Nearby sits a small wrecked building near a grove of trees. Planks cover the windows; daylight sifts through holes in the roof. Inside, tires lean against the walls. Empty beer bottles, some of them in shards, litter the floor, along with heavy gear wheels, rusty farm tools and the hard iron teeth of machinery built for ripping up the ground. In one corner a fire has burned through the floor, climbed the wall and charred a broad smudge across the ceiling. Wyatt walks over and uses the hole as a urinal.

When he's finished he steps back and begins looking around. At the back of the building the floor rises two steps higher across the width of the room. Ornate arches top the boarded-up window frames. A shaft of sunlight illuminates the back wall, where four bolts emerge in the shape of a cross. Wyatt wonders how long it's been since he's been inside a church. He stands in the center aisle and looks up at the ceiling, feeling weary and ill but overtaken by this sudden concealed majesty. His carpenter's eye admires how the rows of heavy, tight-grained beams intersect precisely across the peak of the roof. He faces the space where the altar once stood and lets his mind settle, closing his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he can see Dawnell in her wedding gown, Simms in his dark jacket and tie. Within moments, he's among people he hasn't seen in years, their voices joined in a soothing murmur—old church folks who knew his parents, his Sunday school teacher, friends from his childhood baseball team. He's a kid again, airy and disembodied, and the voices, consoling, fill him with a sense of yearning. "Mister?" one them says.

Wyatt opens his eyes and turns around. An old man stands between him and the door, bundled in grimy insulated coveralls and a hat with dangling ear flaps. He's short and thick, his face puffy and etched with age. "Mister?"

Wyatt stares at him until his head clears, murmurs, "It's a church."

The man looks at him steadily, his hands thrust into his pockets. "I know what it is, pal," he says. "This here's my property."

Wyatt gathers himself, brushes his clothes and squares his shoulders. "Then I guess I owe you an apology. I just came in to look around."

The man's look softens. "I get a lot of that—photographers and such. But the kids come in and monkey around too. I'd padlock it but for the cemetery. You got family up there?"

"No. I didn't see it. Is there a cemetery too?"

The old man grins and folds his arms. "Out by the windbreak," he says. "You can't haul off a cemetery, can you?" He tells Wyatt how a half-century earlier the congregation had moved the church, built a new one in town, taken away the steeple and the pews and the stained glass. A few of the old-timers, he says, still tend the graves in the tiny fenced burial ground.

"You come in off the freeway?" he asks.

"I'm heading home to Scottsbluff," Wyatt says, assuming his businessman's voice. He finds it a comfort to speak with someone sober, someone he can understand. He talks about places he's seen during his travels: abandoned houses, ghost farms 20 miles from the nearest towns, sprawling dirt-scratch ranches in the treeless Sandhills grassland, where cattlemen pull winter calves in the hard crystal air, a hundred miles from good medicine. "It fills me with wonder," he says. "And a place like this, it's hard to imagine what it must have been like."

The man takes his hands from his pockets and puts a match to a wooden pipe. He sits on the edge of a tire and gestures for Wyatt to join him. He tells a story about farming before the Depression, when some of the rural counties held twice as many families, about squatters on homestead claims struggling through barren winters before hard times drove them off. He pauses and waits for Wyatt to look up. "Looks to me you got your own hard-luck story to tell."

Wyatt remembers his mangled face in the motel mirror and touches his swollen eye. "Yeah, I guess I partied a bit last night."

The cold settles in through the roof as the wind picks up, swinging the door on a rusty hinge. "Thing you gotta remember," the old man says, "it wasn't like today. A lot of them pioneers left the cities or the old countries to come out here—on foot, some of 'em—and lived in dugouts in the ground, or in shacks made of stacked prairie sod." He catches Wyatt in a level gaze and taps the cinders out of his pipe. "Imagine that, son. Live your entire life without leaving your mark, not even a headstone to remember you by."

Wyatt shivers. He entertains a stray thought about offering to fix up the building, but lets it go. He stands and shakes the old man's hand. "I won't keep you any longer," he says. "It was real good talking with you. I hope you keep this old place going."

The man chuckles. "Tell you the truth, I ought to burn the damn thing down. To me it's just storage, and more trouble than it's worth," he says. "It ain't been a real church in years."

~ ~~

Back in the truck, Wyatt waits for the heat to build and rubs his hands over the dash. He yearns to be home, to get himself organized again and get back to work. Back on the freeway he begins an inventory of plans. He'll make things right. He'll plant a tree for Dawnell—that'll come first. After that he'll start painting, maybe paint the whole place a new color, or a palette of new colors. He imagines doors that he'll shave, windows that he'll seal, cabinets he can fit with new handles and hinges.

He shifts his hands atop the wheel, rolls his shoulders to loosen up. He passes farm trucks on the rural highway, drivers lifting a gloved hand off the wheel in greeting. The sun breaks through the dull clouds, casting an amber glow on the snow-dusted grasslands. The quiet order of the furrowed fields fills his chest like raw oxygen. He veers south to the freeway to make better time, darts around semis, passes the twin stacks of the coal-fired generators at Sutherland. The hours pass in a quiet frenzy until he rolls past Chimney Rock, past Scottsbluff's smoking sugar factory. He speed-dials home, gets no answer.

By the time he gets to the house he's hungry. The driveway's empty. He begins making waffles, stacking them hot on a plate in the oven. After Dawnell drives in, she sits for a moment, making a call on her cell phone. Wyatt watches her study his truck and look toward the house. After a few moments she gets out. She's wearing white gloves and a hat with a veil. Amy's in a blue dress trimmed with lace. He smiles—he'll go to church with them from now on. He begins thinking about all that he has to say. Minutes later, Coyd pulls into the driveway in his patrol car.

Wyatt steps outside. "Dawnell," he says, "what's going on?" Coyd steps between them.

"I want him out of here," Dawnell says.

"Look, there's no need," Wyatt says. "I'm OK now. We just need to talk."

Coyd holds up his hand. "Put the spatula down, Wyatt," he says. "She's got a protection order. Judge Davis signed it last night. You got to be out of here."

Wyatt's heart jumps. He feels his fists tighten. "What the hell, Coyd? You think I'm fixing to flip her to death?" he says. "This is my goddamn house. Dawnell? Honey? What's this about?"

"Figure it out," she says.

Coyd turns to Dawnell. "We talked about this, Dawnell. Now get in the car."

Dawnell turns away, pushing Amy ahead of her, climbs inside and slams the door. Wyatt's swollen eyeball throbs. A starling lands in the cedar, setting loose a drizzle of blackened needles.

Coyd puts a hand on Wyatt's shoulder. "The whole damn volunteer fire department was out here taking care of that tree, Wyatt. You think you can just burn the whole place down? Look at you, man. You stink! You're all busted up. You gotta get yourself squared away. Now let me get you out of here."

Wyatt stiffens, tapping a cigarette pack against his knuckle. "What are you saying, Coyd? Am I under arrest?" He watches the car as Dawnell glares back through the windshield. Amy looks over the dash, fury burning in her eyes.

"Not as far as I'm concerned," Coyd says. "But you're not staying here. I can't let you. Dawnell packed you some bags and set 'em out in the shed."

Wyatt pulls a cigarette from the pack and reaches to his pocket for a light. He pauses, stares at the empty matchbook, and the fight in him drains away. He stands with the unlit cigarette in his lips, squeezes his eyes shut, lifts his face to the empty sky.

Coyd takes his arm. "I can cuff you right now, Wyatt," he says, hardening his tone. "What happens next is up to you, buddy. Now what's it going to be?"