Suzanne sipped her tea looking out her back window over her sink. Three deer, all young, maybe a year old were standing in the grass looking right back at her. Two females and a young buck with spike antlers. It was a quiet morning, with dew covering everything and a light mist hovering just over grass. The stillness made it look like a snapshot of a moment. She wondered if she was meant to remember this moment forever. Was that why she was so aware of how permanent the scene felt, as if it was a moment in time, captured for eternity, as if she could peel it off the space in front of her, a four by six inch rectangle and put it in a photo album, tucking the corners into sticky backed edges to keep it in place. What would she call this moment? “November 1, 2006.” Just the date? Would she remember this date had significance? “Deer at breakfast.” Although, that title would be obvious, wouldn’t it? Redundant. She liked to name her pictures something both factual and suggestive, something that would call forth the memories and awaken the whole story of why the picture was taken. In that case, she was glad it wasn’t a picture at all and just view from her back window. “November 1, 2006. The day Honor Caswell moved back to Holly Ridge” was not a day she thought she’d want to reminisce.
The buck spooked at something, turned his head quickly then bolted off. The females froze for half a second then bounced away into the treeline. Suzanne closed her eyes and prayed. “Dear God don’t make me have to face him today. Give me a few days. Give me strength.”
Honor and Suzanne were high school sweethearts. They were inseparable from fifth grade as Honor’s granny lived two houses down and was always kind to Suzanne after her father died. Her mother worked long hours and often late into the night so if she was home, she was usually asleep. Suzanne would get off the school bus with Honor and walk down Bay Shore Lane with Honor to his house, go inside for an after school snack and to tell Granny about all the goings-on about school. Honor was quieter than Suzanne. He would sit there eating a biscuit or an apple, slouched over in his chair, his shoulders rounded and head hanging down so it seemed like he barely had to lift his food to his mouth to eat it.
There was no snack waiting at Suzanne’s and she’d have to be extra quiet if her mother was sleeping. She got to unwind a bit at Granny’s house. She’d even sit at the kitchen table with Honor doing her math problems, coloring sea life on a worksheet, or curl up on the couch with Granny’s cat Pinball to read Where the Wild Fern Grows. Honor would go back to his room to play with legos or out to the garage to work on a project he’d set up with his Dad, usually miniature race cars that they took to a race track one Saturday a month. Suzanne had never been to these events but she felt like she had by the details Honor, a usually quiet boy, would go into when they came home.
At the end of ninth grade, their walks home together got more tense as their friendship developed romantic currents. Honor would look at her longer than he ever had, his eyes fixed on her mouth, or he would look away quickly and get distant when she suspected he was looking at her breasts which had grown noticeably over Easter break. Her breasts would jiggle in her shirt and she held her books tightly against her chest when she walked in school, always leaving one book out of her backpack to hold tight against her, even on the bus home, even on the walk to Granny’s. Her mother hadn’t taken her to buy a bra. Her mother hadn’t been awake while Suzanne was home since Christmas. Her mother started disappearing for a couple days at a time, though Suzanne hadn’t confessed this to anyone yet.
Suzanne was as adept at hiding her mother’s absence as with hiding her new breasts. About the same time Honor caught on to her new breasts tucked behind Elements of Algebra, Granny also started to suspect something had changed at home with Suzanne.
“I heard your mother has a boyfriend now. Jase Edens. Have you met him yet? He’s not from around her but I suppose he’s nice enough. He works at CJ Automotive as a mechanic. What’s he like?”
“I haven’t met him yet.” Suzanne told her, when this was the first she’d heard of him. Her confusion must have been written plain on her face because Granny looked at her long and said, “I see.”
By the summer between ninth and tenth grade, Honor had given in to his desire for Suzanne and kissed her in her kitchen, pushing her against the refrigerator and pressing his body against hers, moving his hand over her shirt to feel her heavy, braless breasts in the palm of his hand. By the time school started they’d explored each other’s bodies with the same dedication they’d given to exploring the marshes and creeks for fish and crawdads as kids. They’d gone from awkward middle schoolers eating peanut butter crackers at Granny’s to passionate lovers, walking straight to Suzanne’s empty house after school to make love, skipping right past Honor’s house in a single summer. Then Honor grew a foot in a year and Suzanne’s hips rounded out and her breasts got even larger, her lips fuller and they looked as old as any adult despite feeling inside like they might still just be kids on most days.
For the rest of high school, they were never far apart. If Honor was playing football, Suzanne was in the stands. If Suzanne was babysitting, or tutoring, Honor stopped by to check on her. He drove her to school every day in the Mustang he rebuilt with his father. Other couples formed and faltered but Honor and Suzanne were as consistent and reliable as the sun and the moon.
“I’ve joined the marines,” Honor told Suzanne, a week after senior prom.
He was excited and talking fast.
“I thought you were going to work for your Dad,” she said, not really asking, not really saying. Her words squeaking out with less than half her breath as her chest got tight.
“Well, that was an option,” he told her, “but I wasn’t completely sold. I’ve always thought about being a marine, like my Dad. It was always a thing, a possibility.”
He said it as if it were obvious as if they’d talked about it a million times as if Suzanne’s questioning of him was unfair. He said it as if she should know better as if her question was a betrayal of the obvious. Of course, he would join the marines, like his Dad. But Suzanne only remembered the times Honor said he would never join. They’d screwed his dad over. They gypped him of his disability pay. They took his Dad away for so much of Honor’s childhood, and then he was away again when Honor’s mother got sick. He wasn’t even there when she died. No way would he work for the government and be owned. No way.
That’s what Suzanne remembered. Honor was holding his enlistment application in his hand as if those conversations never took place. As if instead they’d been talking for all these years about the opportunities of joining the marines, the travel, the education, the future!
He sounded like a commercial.
Suzanne grabbed her bag and walked out, holding her bag against her chest the way she’d held her book, though this time she wasn’t containing her breasts, she was trying to keep her heart from falling right out of her body. She couldn’t breathe. She walked right out of her own house, leaving Honor in the living room holding his enlistment papers. Without a car, she walked right into the treeline in her school clothes, hugging her purse to her chest. She didn’t know where she was going, nor did she care. She was just going as far away from Honor, and her life, and that moment in her house where he took away everything that mattered to her. She would just vanish forever if she knew how to. She just kept walking, and crying, into the woods. Away from everything.
Suzanne had successfully avoided him seeing him for the next two weeks. If he came by the house, she slipped out the back. If he came by her work, she told Jessica to tell him she wasn’t there. When Granny came over to check on her, Suzanne just stared at the wall. “Honey, he’s got to make these big decisions for himself, don’t you see? He will have more of a future with the Marines than staying in this town. He will come back. You just need to wait and see. He loves you.”
Granny’s words were unconvincing. Suzanne was cold to them. Everything she and Honor had ever said to each other in the quiet hours, through notes passed in class, in his car driving to school, and even as kids walking home from the bus was now suspect. He’d twisted reality to suit himself and squeezed her out of the story like water wrung out from a rag.
“Just talk to him,” granny said, as if adding more meaningless words to the situation would help. She had no idea. “He’s leaving tomorrow,” she said. Then she moved toward Suzanne to give her a hug. Suzanne pulled away and looked away, so Granny turned to leave.
“This too, shall pass, little one,” she said.
November 1, 2006. Suzanne thought, her tea mug so heavy in her hand she had to set it down. The day Honor Caswell returned to Holly Ridge to bury his father. The day Honor Caswell returned to Holly Ridge with his wife Kristine and their daughter Penelope.