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I don’t mind that you did

“I don’t mean to bury you in our troubles, but things have been pretty hard here, Eugenia. We were worried sick after all that mess last year. With the other one.” He shakes his head, looks down at the glass in his hand. “Stuart, he just up and left his apartment in Jackson, moved everything out to the camp house in Vicksburg.”

“I know he was very . . . upset,” I say, when truthfully, I know almost nothing at all.

“Dead’s more like it. Hell, I’d drive out to see him and he’d just be sitting there in front of the window, cracking pecans. Wasn’t even eating em, just pulling off the shell, tossing em in the trash. Wouldn’t talk to me or his mama for . . . for months.”

He crumples in on himself, this gigantic bull of a man, and I want to escape and reassure him at the same time, he looks so pathetic, but then he looks up at me with his bloodshot eyes, says, “Seems like ten minutes ago I was showing him how to load his first rifle, wring his first dove-bird. But ever since the thing with that girl, he’s . . . different. He won’t tell me anything. I just want to know, is my son alright?”

“I . . . I think he is. But honestly, I don’t . . . really know.” I look away. Inside, I’m starting to realize that I don’t know Stuart. If this damaged him so much, and he can’t even speak to me about it, then what am I to him? Just a diversion? Something sitting beside him to keep him from thinking about what’s really tearing him up inside?

I look at the Senator, try to think of something comforting, something my mother would say. But it’s just a dead silence.

“Francine would have my hide if she knew I was asking you this.”

He looks exhausted by it all, tries to smile. “Thank you, darlin’. Go on and see my son. I’ll see y’all out there in a while.”

I ESCAPE TO THE back PORCH and stand next to Stuart. Lightning bursts in the sky, giving us a flash of the eerily brilliant gardens, then the darkness sucks it all back in. The gazebo, skeleton-like, looms at the end of the garden path. I feel nauseous from the glass of sherry I drank after supper.

The Senator comes out, looking curiously more sober, in a fresh shirt, plaid and pressed, exactly the same as the last one. Mother and Missus Whitworth stroll a few steps, pointing at some rare rose winding its neck up onto the porch. Stuart puts his hand on my shoulder. He is somehow better, but I am growing worse.