Walt had no idea how to dress for a bonfire at Randy Strickland’s parents’ farm, but he’d missed Molly enough during her remaining weeks in Saratoga Springs to say yes to going with her before thinking it all the way through. He knew Randy and his older sister Charlene; farm families were like that. Randy was a few years younger than he was, enough so they hadn’t been in school together. The Stricklands had a few dairy cows, goats, pigs, and chickens, but their main enterprise was found in acres and acres of Liberty and Northern Spy apples.
He zipped a sweatshirt over a Thornton Union High School t-shirt and laced up his cleanest pair of work boots, hoping they was the right thing to wear to a bonfire with Molly Sanders. By the time he made it out to his truck, he was glad of the parka, hat, and mittens he’d grabbed on the way out the door.
As he drove away, Walt realized he hadn’t left the farm—or interacted with anyone save Murph, the farm hand who was nearly as old as his father—in three days.
As old as his father had been.
The mental correction caught in his throat. Generally, he’d been content to get up early with the herd, see to their needs, spend the day marking off the never-ending list of chores the farm required, but he missed his Pop.
Anxiety rode shotgun on the drive south through town. What if he was making too much of Molly’s payphone calls from her dorm? What if he was making too much of kisses and Christmas trees and a lightness that warmed his grieving heart?
Molly Sanders was sitting on her parents’ front porch steps in the same bell-bottom jeans she’d been wearing the day they met. He noted boots and her pompom hat. Down vest, wool sweater, scarf. Desire shot through him, burning away the jitters. Before Molly, he’d dated a couple of girls in high school, but the farm was a demanding mistress. What this girl did to his insides was new.
She stood when he eased the truck in behind the Ford station wagon he now knew was her father’s. He liked the way her body filled out the ski sweater and vest, but more he liked her wide, easy smile, the dusting of freckles on her nose, and the laughter in her eyes.
“You’re on time,” she said as he jumped down from the truck cab to meet her.
The darkness outside the pool of light from a lamp over the Sanders’ garage was deep and cold. Walt could have stayed in that amber-white puddle of light forever, but his date had other ideas. She stretched up and kissed his cheek. “I like on time.”
He led her to the truck, and Molly Sanders climbed into the passenger seat like she’d been doing it all her life. He closed her door, and took the long way behind the truck bed, stopping to consider the way the flat flood light through the windshield turned her cinnamon curls into a halo.
His sister was right. He was a goner.