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  • Writer's pictureThe Virtual Dept

DRY RIVER Novel Excerpt - summer 2023

PART I


MILL VALLEY, CALIFORNIA

2007


Five Years Ago

October 2007


Chapter One


That business about my marriage; it went something like this: I decided to walk to the library, up the winding hill and in the shade of redwoods, where it was lovely and cool and the ferns had not yet faded. It was mid-October and the season had changed. The kids were in the stroller; Mark was two, Jacob not yet four. He still had a penchant for running ahead, so he was just young enough that it was maddening having him walk. And I was especially on my guard after that last incident. So I insisted Jacob stand behind Mark on the back end while I steered that tank-of-a-stroller up the hill.

A man overtook us. He smiled, taking in my load and said, “Well, that’s a haul up the hill. Where on earth are you going with that?” This made me laugh.

“To the library,” I said.

“Do you want a push? I could just push it. I mean, I’m going up there too. It’s not like it’s a problem.”

“Nah,” I said. I didn’t let just anybody hold onto my kids’ stroller.

He fell into step with me all the same. He was dressed in jeans and a short jacket and had blond, close-cropped hair. He was almost exactly my height. I was thirty-eight and he looked my age or younger and not like the typical Mill Valley lawyer or banker type. His stride was quick, his pace energetic, and I liked that about him, instantly.

“You live around here?” I asked.

“Yeah, down by the old library.”

“Sure, I know the area. What takes you to the new library?” My world was obvious; the stroller said it all. But I was curious about his world.

“I’m a builder,” he said. “But I do my own design. Like an architect but a lot cheaper.” He grinned. “I’m taking a look at the library—they’re thinking about expanding.”

“Oh? Like another wing, or something?”

“Sort of. I’ll find out what they’re thinking in about fifteen minutes. I’ll let you know what they say,” he said. “These your kids?”

“Yeah,” I said with a laugh. “Why, have any kids of your own?”

“Ah! No, I know better than that madness.” He said this, but then he couldn’t take his eyes off my boys. Jacob turned around to face him. His eyes narrowed; the man narrowed his eyes right back at him. He didn’t do all the usual things like ask what their names were or pretend to engage them just to get my attention. Just then Jacob leaned his belly against the strap designed to hold him in, but the snap was jammed.

“Hey, don’t lean too hard on that, cowboy, or you’ll fall out. You need to fix that strap,” he said, reaching forward to free it and re-fasten it. “You okay with this?”

“Sure.”

Jacob held the strap beside the man’s hand, the big hand and the small one together. His hand was tanned, the fingernails neat. Jacob said, “Who are you?”

“My name’s Zeke. Ezekiel.”

“What kind of name is that?” Jacob said.

“Jacob, honey,” I said.

“That’s okay. I get that a lot. It’s a Biblical name,” he said. “Who’s your brother?”

“Mark.”

“And your mom?”

“Sara.” Jacob liked being the little big man, calling me by my name.

“Sara.” Zeke turned to me just as the breeze picked up. The sun was warm, the air deliciously cool. “Sara—anything?” he said.

I smiled. “Sara Greystone.”

“Greystone, that’s a nice, strong name. I’m Zeke Harris.”


That night when my husband Tye came home, I didn’t mention Zeke, but Jacob did. “He was nice.”

“Oh?” Tye said, raising a brow. “And who is he?”

I hid my smile. “A new neighbor,” I said. “A builder doing some work for the library.” I tore up the lettuce, tossed it into the spinner, but pulled the string too hard. It broke. “Drat,” I said, dropping it in the trash; there was no fixing it. It meant another expenditure. “Yeah, it was really a hassle getting the stroller up the hill to the library. I won’t do that again.” Actually I was already thinking about doing it again.

“Okay day?” Tye asked. He leaned against the counter, and stared past me to the magnolia tree outside. It was holding onto a few blossoms still.

“Sara?” he asked, to my silence.

Because by then we’d become increasingly silent. Whole days would pass without our saying anything of real import. It was all logistics: the kids’ day at preschool, Jacob’s dental check, Tye’s IT boss insisting the client had fifty-four new requirements they’d missed.

Jacob was bouncing around in front of us, though Tye didn’t see him. He was watching my face. I looked away. I didn’t say that this chance encounter made my day because there was no sense to it. There was no isolating this feeling, there was no knowing if there was any deeper feeling there at all. Or just curiosity.


(c) 2023 Alicia J Rouverol

Extract from Dry River, published by Bridge House Publishing

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