“You have coupons?”
The guy’s smile broadened. “You need to see them?”
“Yeah,” Mac said. “I do.”
He turned, walking over to a table that was piled with books, takeout containers, and chargers plugged in but not charging anything. After moving a few things around, he returned.
“Here you go.” He smiled. “I think you’ll see that says we can get two pizzas and two garlic knots for free from your fine establishment.”
“Pizza,” one of the guys, still focused on the TV, said in a robotic voice.
“Free pizza,” his friend in front of us said. Then he looked at me. “It just tastes better, you know?”
I didn’t say anything, just stood there as Mac examined the coupons—back and front—and then pocketed them. When he nodded at me, I handed over the food. “That’s twenty-four seventy-two at full price,” I told him, hoping at least he would tip.
“I know!” he said gleefully. “It’s great. Thanks!”
And then he shut the door. I was so surprised, I just stood there looking at the 2B on it, but Mac was already walking away. As I caught up with him, I said, “I amend my earlier assessment. They are also assholes.”
“Agreed.” He looked so annoyed, I knew to stay quiet as we started across the lot toward the truck. He pulled out his phone, glancing at it. “No deliveries on deck. I need a break. Let’s do something.”
“What did you have in mind?” I asked, pulling my door open.
“We’re near your neighborhood,” he replied. “Want to show me that sinkhole?”
I thought of my brother on the phone, how he’d surprised me by his reaction when I’d brought this up. Like the fact that he saw the story differently—him as stupid, not superhuman—made it seem like maybe it hadn’t happened at all. “Sure,” I said. “Let’s go.”
The path was more narrow than I recalled, and overgrown enough in a few places that I had to stop and bend branches back to get through. It was weird to be in the lead, as I’d always followed Peyton. After about a quarter mile, though, the woods opened up, and Mac fell in beside me. As we climbed a ridge, a hawk soaring over us, he took my hand.
His palm was warm, and my own felt small within it. Protected. We didn’t talk, the only sounds our footsteps as they crunched over leaves and the occasional whisper of trees, swaying in the breeze. I thought of all those other afternoons, walking this same path, and how different it felt now, for so many reasons.
“It should be up here somewhere,” I told him as we climbed another hill. “I remember this clear-cut.”
“Looks like they were going to build here.”
“Maybe. Or just cut them for logging.” We navigated around a bunch of stumps covered with moss and lichen. A couple of beer bottles, half-filled with dirty rainwater, sat against one of them. And then, just when I was wondering if I truly had imagined everything, I saw it, just ahead: a place where the ground opened up, wide like a mouth. We walked right up to the edge.
It wasn’t as vast as I remembered, and no log lay across it. But there was something familiar, in the exposed roots, the layer of red clay halfway down, the suddenness of its appearance, so unexpected.
“I guess it’s not that impressive,” I said to Mac. “Not like the carousel.”
“I wouldn’t want to walk across it, though.”
I smiled. “When Peyton did that, my heart was in my throat. I was sure he was going to fall and die and I’d have to go home and tell my mom.”
Mac leaned over a bit more, peering down. “But he didn’t.”
“Nope.” I looked up at the blue sky over our heads. “I think he had his own saint protecting him back then. Is there one for morons taking stupid risks in the woods?”
“I don’t think so. But there are a few that can be applied pretty broadly. Like the saint of wanderers, travelers, the lost. Or whatever.” He reached up, taking out his own pendant and glancing at it. “My mom’s favorite is Saint Anthony, the finder of lost things. She has this rhyme she says when anything’s missing: ‘Tony, Tony, turn around. Something’s lost that must be found.’”
“Does it work?” I asked.
“Sometimes,” he replied, sliding the pendant back under his shirt. As always, I noticed the give in the chain, the empty length now there. “Doesn’t hurt.”
We stood there a moment, everything silent except the breeze blowing overhead. Looking across the hole, I had a flash of Peyton’s rigid shoulders as he walked over that tree. For once he was focused not on finding the invisible place, but on having everyone’s attention; it was just the beginning of that.
Remember? I’d asked him on the phone that night when I’d mentioned this.
Not my brightest moment.
All this time, I’d thought Peyton saw himself the same way I did, the way we all did. Invincible. Otherworldly. But he’d known he was human, long before I did. Or maybe all along.
Mac turned, looking down at me. “What is it?”
I knew he was asking because I’d made a noise, or a face, thinking this. Or even just gone visibly still. But I took this inquiry wider, stretching it to include everything that had changed since that first day I walked into Seaside. The changes in me.
What is it? Maybe the lives I’d glimpsed in the last hour: the sneaky geeks eating pizza while savoring their resourcefulness, the new bride serving bought fettuccine on her wedding china. Or this place, so strong in my memory, even as I made another memory right now. All I could think was that here, finally, for once, I wasn’t only watching and reporting but part of this moving, changing world as well.