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A Year of Women

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"Life is a jest;
Take the delight of it.
Laughter is best;
Sing through the night of it.
Swiftly the tear
And the hurt and the ache of it
Find us down here;
Life must be what we make of it.
-- Edgar A. Guest, "Life Is What We Make It"

 

January
The tyrannosaur's gory feast had only just begun when an eclipse shadowed the prehistoric desert through which it had stalked its elusive prey. It roared a warning to the circling scavengers whose shadow obscured his feast, great jaws flexing, blood dripping in deep red trails from the yellowed, flashing teeth. The shadow stayed, and the tyrannosaur prepared to defend its kill from-

"You're hogging up the whole sandbox," Nancy Bishop told Alan, arms crossed over her chest and red hair sticking up in a frizzy hallow around her freckled face. She looked like Little Orphan Annie, but Alan wasn't going to say that, because when Roger Brown said it, she'd frogged him hard in the arm.

"I am not even!" Alan stared down at the little plastic dinosaurs in his hands, hoping that if he ignored her for long enough, she'd go away. She was a girl though, and they never did what you wanted them to do, so she just sat down opposite him, feet kicking up sand over the plastic corpse of the wounded triceratops. "Stop that!"

Nancy ignored him and reached to pick up the triceratops, poking experimentally at a horn that had somehow gotten bent into an s-shape during the tyrannosaur's vicious attack. "She looks sad."

"He's a he. And he just got all eaten up. So he's mad. Go 'way," Alan grumbled.

Nancy shook the sand from the triceratops' back. "She doesn't look eaten." She tilted the toy the other way, and then faced it toward the tyrannosaur. She roared, loud enough that the younger children beside them on the swings all turned to stare. Nancy ignored them, and jabbed the triceratops toward the tyrannosaur, spearing him with the plastic horns. "Take THAT for eating me!"

"It's what he does! He's a CARNIVORE," Alan informed her. The tyrannosaur was the King of Lizards, and some girl jabbing him was beneath him. But he roared back and bashed the dinosaur out of her hand, anyway. Nancy's brow knitted together in confusion, and Alan rolled his eyes, wriggling his fingers in the too-big mittens his mother insisted he wear. "It means he eats MEAT. And the triceratops eats VEGETABLES. So it just has to be eaten. It's what's 'sposed to happen. Only dumb girls don't know that."

Nancy scowled, picking the toy back up. "I'm not dumb! Girls aren't dumb! And so what if she's supposed to? What if she doesn't want to? Maybe she's really strong! Or maybe she just likes meat too! How do you know?"

"Because that's how it is! Scientists say so!"

"How do THEY know?" Nancy pursued.

"Because. . . because they do. They dig up bones and the bones all says that tyrannosaurs eat everything, and triceratops gets ate, and that's just how it is."

"I bet even if she got eaten, she's probably still really smart, and she has horns, and she probably jabbed him, and he had to have friends to eat her." Nancy paused, lips pursing. "So she's dead?"

Alan nodded sagely. "Uh huh. So give-"

"Then she should get buried. So someone can find her bones and they can say that she fought hard, and was smarter than the dumb dinosaur that killed her. Close your eyes." Nancy had to order him twice more before Alan reluctantly gave in, listening to the sand sifting beneath her feet as she moved around the sandbox. "Okay," she finally said. "Now you gotta find her and dig her up."

Alan picked up his little plastic shovel and dug through the sand, unearthing the triceratops eventually while Nancy watched. "So how did she die?"

Alan hesitated. "I just TOLD you," he started to say, finally, but she started to scowl, and Alan changed his mind. "She was attacked. By a tyrannosaur. They were the fiercest, worst dinosaurs ever, and they could eat anything, and she. . . she tried to fight, a little, but she was old. So he ate her."

"I bet she had babies, and she was protecting them, and the babies grew up and ate the tyrannosaur," Nancy told him, reaching for the t-rex.

"They don't EAT other dinosaurs!"

"Says you!" Nancy pointed at him. "Close your eyes again."

Alan closed them right away this time and that was how the game began. Every Monday, his mother would bring him to the playground, and Nancy was there. He brought his dinosaurs, and they would bury them and unearth them, over and over, the stories of what happened changing each time. They fought and died and, once, had a spaghetti dinner that the triceratops and the tyrannosaur kissed over, because Nancy had just seen Lady and the Tramp. Alan told Nancy about the books he had, with pictures of dinosaurs with big teeth and giant feet. When Nancy came over to visit, they poured over the books and sounded out the words that they could. Nancy called the Triceratops Betsy, and she was her favorite. The sandbox became theirs, and not even Roger Brown would come over while they played.

The thick coats and mittens of January gave way to the warmth of spring, and then to the heat of summer. Alan missed a Monday when he was dragged shopping for too-hard shoes and too-big trousers for school, another when he had to go to the doctor for a shot in his arm, the purple sucker he got afterward a poor compensation for the sting of the needle. The last Monday before the start of school, Alan brought his lunchbox (shiny red with stickers of dinosaurs and a picture of a cowboy) to show Nancy. Nancy's red hair was cut shorter, and she buried the new stegosaurus in the same place twice. Alan hadn't even gotten to ask her about what her lunchbox looked like before her mother took her by the hand. She dragged Nancy away with a disapproving frown and left her with a group of girls a year younger who sat by the teeter-totter, playing with dolls.

School seemed big, when Alan got there, though he'd walked by on the way to the playground a hundred times before. He sat in the back, because it was closest to the door, and that meant he could be outside faster than anybody when it came time for recess. Nancy sat in the front row, her usual worn overalls traded in for a neat dress, her hair in careful pig tails. At recess, Alan took his dinosaurs from his cubby, and carried them to a sandy spot in the grass, waiting for Nancy. When she didn't come over, he went to stand where she sat with the other girls, her freckled face crinkled in some expression Alan didn't recognize, but knew meant she was sad. "My mommy says I can't dig in the dirt with boys no more, now that I'm at school," she told Alan. He held out Betsy, and she hugged the plastic toy, now scarred from battles and endless digs in sand, to her chest, then shoved it into her bag before the other girls could see.

Behind Alan, the boys snickered at him for talking to a girl, and finally he wandered away as Nancy sat, still and careful on a bench, trying not to dirty her new dress.

He left the tyrannosaur buried in the sand the next time he went to the playground, hoping maybe Nancy would dig him up, and then come play, and tell Alan how he died, but she never did. Summer rolled into autumn and one day he found Betsy under his desk, a note wrapped around her tail, lettered in careful print that was neater than Alan had managed yet, no matter how hard he practiced. You r rite. He is a boy. He can play in dirt.

He kept Betsy by his bedside until he got too old for toys, and tucked her away in a box beneath his bed.

~~~

February
The wind outside the schoolhouse kicked up little clouds of dust from the construction site outside. Alan watched the swirl of white specks instead of the near-empty classroom, looking past them now and then to try to catch sight of his mother's battered Galaxy coming to get him. "Alan," he looked up at the sound of Mrs. Henderson's voice. She smiled tiredly. "It's nearly four - should I try to telephone your mother?"

Alan shook his head. "She was out today." She'd had errands to do, and she'd had to go and get his sister's dress for her recital, and she forgot what time she was supposed to pick him up, sometimes. He wished she'd just let him walk home, but she always told him that he couldn't until he was bigger. "I can just go wait outside, Mrs. Henderson."

"Don't be silly. It's cold enough in here, let alone outside," she answered. She drifted closer to the windows, touching the frosted glass. "It will be nice next year, when the new buildings are finished, and the cold doesn't just drift in." She smiled at him again. Alan didn't know why she always looked sad when she smiled. He'd asked his mother once, and she'd made the tut tut noise she always made when she talked about his Aunt Jenny, who wasn't married and lived in California, and sent him postcards with too many stamps. Some people are never happy with what they have, his mother told him. He hadn't understood that, either, but he hadn't asked again.

"Have you done your homework?" At his nod, the teacher drew her cardigan a bit more tightly around herself. "We could play one of the games?"

The stack of worn board games and Lincoln logs hadn't held any interest for Alan in months, but when she reached for the jigsaw puzzle behind her desk, he sat up, looking at it. The box proclaimed 500 PIECES in bright print, a picture of a waterfall beneath it. The box beneath it said the same, its picture a green field that looked nothing like the gray, withered field outside where they played ball in the summers. "We could start one of these?"

Alan was dubious. "They'll only come in and mess it up tomorrow." Alan liked puzzles, the intricate, painstaking task of assembling the pieces into a bigger picture appealed to him. Few of his fellow fourth graders shared that view.

"We'll put it aside where they can't get to it," Mrs. Henderson offered, and Alan found himself nodding, pulling his chair up to her desk while the two of them sorted out corners and she taught him how to separate by colors, and speed the process along. When his mother's familiar, harried voice sounded from the doorway, an hour had passed and the skeletal outline of the puzzle was already assembled. Mrs. Henderson smiled at him, and ruffled his hair before he pulled a knit cap over it. She carefully set aside the puzzle in the box and hid it in her desk. "We'll finish another time," she promised in between careful, bland chit-chat and apologies from his mother.

Alan's mother was late often enough on her own, but Alan started to find reasons for her to come later, staying after school to piece together pictures of places he'd never been. When they'd finished the first two, Mrs. Henderson brought a third of vast same-colored sand with a pyramid sitting proud in the center.

The Monday of the 29th, Mrs. Henderson wore a blue wool sweater with a high collar, and she sat stiffly all through classes. Alan thought he saw her crying once, but she hid her face behind a lesson plan. His mother was late, again, and the rest of the kids all filtered out into the cold and back to their houses while he sat beside her desk, searching for the last few grains of sand to seal the picture. "I always wanted to see the pyramids," she told him quietly. Her hand shook as she moved the pieces, and Alan could see the blue of her veins through the skin of her fingers. "Isn't it funny that we won't see this day again for years? Wouldn't it be strange to have your birthday today? You'd only celebrate every four years. In the end, you'd look so much older than you really are."

"I would just have my birthday on the 28th," Alan answered, frowning as he looked through the remaining pieces.

She smiled at him. "You are very practical sometimes, Alan." At his quizzical look, she shook her head. "It's a good thing, really. Some of us spend so much time daydreaming."

"I do that all the time. I think about places, and things, and what I want to do, and things that might have happened, or could happen." Alan touched the blank spot on the puzzle where the peak of the pyramid would still be. "I looked up the books on pyramids and things. I'm gonna go. Someday. You could come with me."

Mrs. Henderson looked startled, and then she smiled her strange, sad smile. "I'm afraid it's a bit too late for me to find my pyramids."

"Why?" Alan didn't understand too late. Why was it ever too late to do something? Maybe it was too late if you wanted to watch a program on television and it was over, or something like that. But to go places, or do things, especially old things like pyramids, how did it ever get too late? They'd been there forever, they'd be there forever. It was just taking the time to go see.

"It's just how it is," Mrs. Henderson told him. "We're almost finished - just the last few pieces."

Alan couldn't find them though. They searched the table, the boxes, the floor beneath them, but the last three pieces were just gone. "I guess we can't finish."

Her slim, shaky hands touched the blank spaces again. "Maybe we can." She reached into the desk, pulling out the boxes of puzzles they'd finished, and started sorting through, pulling out pieces close to the shape they were missing.

"But it won't look like it should," Alan protested.

She pushed hard on a section of green meadow, forcing it into the space where a pyramid should be. "Sometimes, things don't have to be just like the picture says they should be. The pictures don't always have to be what we expect them to be." She bit her lip. When she leaned over the puzzle, the thick collar of her sweater fell away enough for Alan to see the blue of a bruise creeping over her shoulder.

Alan didn't know what to say, so he just reached for the puzzle pieces. He dumped them out onto the table, and starting to carefully examine shapes. He joined bits and pieces from different puzzles into new outlines, creating a mush of water, sand, and grass. "What are you doing?"

"Making it something new," Alan answered. She smiled at him, a little of the heaviness clearing from her eyes as she started to help. By the time his mother arrived, they'd managed to assemble the vague shape of what Alan thought might be a duck out of the multicolored pieces. His mother peered over his shoulder, a puzzled Alan, that doesn't look like anything, escaping her like a sigh as she tried to trade apologetic smiles with Mrs. Henderson.

"It looks like something new," Mrs. Henderson told him. She waved through the window as he left with his mother. On the last day of school that year she gave him all of the puzzles, a stack of boxes, the pieces all mixed inextricably together. He reassembled the duck that summer, gluing the pieces into place on a sheet of cardboard and then cutting out around it, hiding the finished shape in the box beneath his bed.

~~~

March
"She made you clean this five times before I got here, didn't she?" Aunt Jenny asked, taking a puff from the cigarette in her mouth and then dangling her hand over the edge of the porch swing they sat on. At his nod, she laughed, braying and sudden. "That's your mom for you. It's not even about the cleaning you know. It's about showing me how clean it is. Like maybe if the house is neat enough, it'll be contagious. You remember when your mom and dad came to visit me that summer two years ago? I thought she was going to bust something trying not to clean." She flicked the ash into a potted plant next to the swing, making a shushing motion at him and winking once. "She means well your mom. I mean she's a great lady and all, but she doesn't get it. That the whole world's changing and all of that. The world needs to change. But she was a mom even before she was your mom. She practically raised me. Which is probably why she can't forgive how I turned out." Jenny reached out to pat his knee. "Don't worry about it though, kid. It's different for you."

Alan nodded again. It was usually best to just let Aunt Jenny talk, he'd figured out after her last visit. He usually liked listening to her anyway. She blew out another puff of smoke. "God I hate this place. It's goddamned March. Why the hell is it so cold?"

Because it was March, not June, Alan thought, but didn't say. "You're just used to California."

"Now that's just the truth there. Even when it's cold there, it's not like this. You'd love California. Everybody loves California."

"Not mom," Alan answered.

Jenny threw back her head, laughing too-loud again. No one laughed lately, and Alan couldn't help but flinch away from the sound, like it was wrong. Her hair was the shame shade of brown as his sister's had been, but cut short. It curled unevenly around her face, like she'd cut it herself with the dull scissors Alan used to cut out his construction-paper projects for school. Alan thought it looked pretty, though he'd heard his father complaining that Jenny looked like a man. "I brought you something, you know. Well two things. You can't show your mom and dad one though, deal?"

"Okay," Alan agreed. It wasn't the first gift Jenny sent that his parents weren't supposed to see. The long ropes of licorice he'd hoarded for a month and eaten after dinner, the heavy tribal drum with the animal carvings on the sides, the little chocolates with liquors inside she'd sent him from her trip to France - Alan had a space under his bed for gifts from Aunt Jenny. He kept them with Betsy, who his father thought he was too old to play with now, and the doodles he did in class when he was bored.

Jenny got up, disappearing inside for a moment. Alan heard the tinny cheering of the crowd from Ed Sullivan, and his mother calling to ask what Jenny was doing out there in the cold. He caught himself automatically listening for the sound of his sister, laughing along with the television, and felt guilty for forgetting for a moment that he wouldn't hear it again.

His aunt said something back to his mother, emerging a few minutes later with a bulky wrapped package, and another slimmer one tucked under her arm. She handed him the bulky one first. "You can show your mom this one when we go in." Alan pulled the paper off to find a sleek pot, the fired colors catching dim sunlight reflections and giving it a rainbow sheen. One side was a deep riot of blues and purples, the other a carefully barred array of yellows coming to a green center. Where the two color schemes met, they muddled and battled, disappearing into one another. When he turned it over, he saw the JT engraved there that proved it was one of Jenny's pieces.

"That's your mom," Jenny told him, pointing to the yellow half, then the blue. "And that's me." She ran a finger along where the two met. "And this is what happens when we're together long enough."

"You fight," Alan surmised.

"Nope. Well yeah. Like cats and dogs. But long enough together, and we look alike. Your mom starts to get mad more often, and think about things she never did, and I start to wonder what the hell I'm doing with my life, and why I can't remember to wash a damn plate after I eat. People say familiarity breeds indifference, but that's not really how it is. Sometimes, you spend enough time with someone and you start thinking that's who you should be, even when deep down you know you're not."

Alan thought of Nancy, who had moved last year and wore dresses and giggled whenever she talked to boys, just like the other girls she sat with. "Is that why you moved away?"

"Guess so. That and the damn cold."

"I like it cold. Or hot. I hate when it's neither," Alan told her. He liked the cold frigid enough to turn your breath into a puff of white wind, or hot enough that you could feel it baking up off the pavement as you walked. It was the in-betweens that bugged him. Like the world couldn't make up its mind what to be.

"Here. Don't show them this one." The flat box opened up into a set of charcoal and little tubes of paint, a flimsy fold-away easel tucked into small box. "Vicky said you liked to draw."

Alan looked over his shoulder automatically. No one mentioned Vicky. They talked around her in vague terms. They said your sister or your poor mother, after what happened. They never said Vicky's name. Like dying meant you had to forget who they were, or upset people. Like everyone didn't remember every day that Vicky had gotten sick and died. "Sometimes," he mumbled. "I drew her things, sometimes."

"Your dad doesn't like it." Alan shook his head no. His dad didn't mind it, if it was for school, but otherwise, his dad thought he should be playing ball, or studying, not drawing pictures of long-dead lizards, or the fanciful unicorns that Vicky had liked. Jenny leaned over and kissed his forehead. "Your mom used to draw, you know."

"She never told me that."

"She probably never told your dad, either." Jenny shrugged. "You don't have to, if you don't want to. But don't let go of the things you love, Alan. You'll be happier if you don't. So if you like to draw, then draw the stuff you want to."

"So you're happy?" Jenny went to California, she cut her hair and she traveled and cast pots and did everything she wanted.

"Most of the time. But there's things I gave up, too. You just have to figure out what you can let go, and what you can't and do the best you can with it."

Alan touched the little tube of blue paint. "I miss her," he told Jenny, hearing the sniffle in his own voice and feeling the sting in his eyes, trying to wipe them surreptitiously on his sleeve.

"I know," Jenny told him, and her voice softened, sounded more like his mother when she was at her calmest. "But you knew her. All the little jokes and her favorite foods and you'll remember her, and miss her, and it won't hurt as much, eventually, but you'll still remember her."

Jenny squeezed his shoulders. "Come on, let's put this away and then go cook dinner for your mom."

"You can cook?" Alan asked sniffling again, but letting Jenny tug him to his feet.

"Let's find out. How far away is the fire station, just in case?" Jenny asked, and Alan laughed, stopping when he realized that he had, eyes widening as if he'd done something wrong. Jenny just smiled at him though, and Alan relaxed, following her back into the house, showing his mother the pot and hiding the easel and paints beneath his bed.

~~~

April
The winter had finally broken enough that the air was beginning to warm and the first hints of spring were showing themselves. Alan worked most afternoons for Mr. Callister, whose sons were both off in Vietnam, helping the old man keep up with the customers in his shop and deliver orders. The lack of cold made his job easier, but Alan still missed it.

In between customers, he would sit on one of the stools beside the counter and do his homework or sketch in the pad he kept hidden there. Susan Raymond came by most days, and she wore his pin and borrowed his jacket and kissed him hello with her pink lips. She doodled his name in her notebook with sketches of birds around it. He'd copied the elegant lines of their wings a few times, using it to refine his own sketches, and she'd laugh at his dinosaurs, and make him tell her what each one was.

Susan loved birds. She loved animals and ice cream and a lot of things, but birds filled her head the way dinosaurs still filled his. Her drew her a picture of her dog, Baster, after he was hit by a car, and she cried and hugged him. When Alan brought her home for dinner, his father winked and his mother asked her to help bake brownies for the bake sale.

Susan was sweet and smart and sometimes, when there was no one else around, she was funny. Alan didn't know what to say to her parents when they had him over for dinner, and when he told them about the drawings, Susan stared down at her feet and her father laughed and asked her if she was still drawing all over everything. I thought you'd outgrown that, he said, and Susan said it was just when she was bored.

She drew hearts around his name after that, and Alan missed the sleek birds she'd always drawn. He gave her the flimsy easel Jenny had given him, and she kept it, even after they broke up, and Alan asked out Francine Orwin, who stepped on his feet at the Spring formal and never smelled of flowers and pencil dust, the way that Susan had.

He went away for his first year of college and didn't think to ask about Susan until he was home for Christmas, when he saw a sketch he'd kept under his bed. His mother sniffed her disapproving way. "Oh that girl. Engaged, the whole thing planned, and she runs off to some art school in New York. Her mother says she's marching in protests and dating a singer, now, the poor thing. I honestly don't know what she could be thinking."

Alan smiled and went into town the next day, getting her address from her friend Patty and sending her a postcard that read Good for you. She never wrote back, but Alan kept the sketch she'd done.

~~~

May
"You married me," Alan told her, and grinned, wide and pleased. The tropical sun beat down on his shoulders, and the drink in his hand had an umbrella. For once, he wasn't worried about the dig in Nebraska, or the funding for it that he was pretty sure was about to fall through in a spectacular fashion. He was sitting on a beach enjoying a honeymoon he couldn't afford, and he couldn't be happier.

Gloria leaned back on her hands, her black hair so perfectly arranged that he couldn't help but reach out and muss it a little. She laughed a protest and smacked him across his bare stomach, but it turned into a caress. "Huh. I guess I did. What was I thinking?"

"I thought you'd keep saying no."

"Only until after I'd finished school. I told you that."

"I thought you'd change it until after I finished school." He was in his last months as a grad student, so it wouldn't be long, but Gloria had been determined to do things her own way, and Alan had suspected that she'd find another reason to put it off.

"Well, I couldn't very well penalize you for being slow," she answered, and smiled at him, moving off of her towel to curl up beside him on his, half pushing him into the sand. He wrapped his arm around her and kissed her deep and long, tasting the daiquiri on her lips and smelling the deep scent of the cocoa-butter sunscreen on her skin.

He looked up as a deep voice cleared his throat. "Would Mrs. Grant like another drink?" the server asked, politely bored.

"Dr. Michaels-Grant, actually," Gloria corrected, and the blank stare she got in response made Alan smother a smile. "A banana daiquiri, please," she told him, punching Alan in the shoulder again when the server bobbed a nod and wandered away, clearly taking his time. "It's not funny," she told him, though Alan knew enough to know when she was really mad and when she wasn't. "This won't happen to you, you know. No one will wonder if Mr. Michaels wants another drink."

"I can call myself Mrs. Dr. Michaels, if you want. I'll wear an apron to dig sites."

"You are an insufferable ass. Why did I marry you?"

Alan kissed her. "Because you love me. Dr. Michaels."

"That must be it. God knows it wasn't the money." She got up and dragged him toward the white surf. "Come on, it's boiling. Why did we come to the Caribbean?"

"Because that's what people do on honeymoons." The sand squished beneath his toes and the water washed up around his calves until Alan planted his feet, refusing to go further until he could pull her in for another kiss.

"We're not people, Alan. We probably would have been happier on a dig in some godforsaken corner of Montana." She kicked water at him, splashing warm salt spray across his belly.

"Not this time. No bones, no digging, just us." Alan paused and grinned. "Our second honeymoon we can go dig somewhere."

"We'd only argue over whether to dig for dinosaurs or humanoid fossil sites." Gloria's answering grin made him laugh as she snuck a pinch to his ass. "But next honeymoon, it's a date. I'll probably have a man on the side by then, of course, so I'll have to schedule time well in advance."

"So long as it's not Dr. Chen." Alan laughed when her face screwed up in disgust. "What - just because he's 80 you're not interested?"

"The fashion is to find younger men, not older. "

Alan tugged at the strap of her one-piece white suit. "And you're always so fashionable."

"We can't all live in khakis and denim." Gloria pulled him deeper into the waves, and Alan followed, chasing her through the water and kissing beneath the surf until she waded back out. She claimed the daiquiri left by the towels for her and carried it with her, motioning for him to follow her back toward the hotel with a wink and a sway of her hips.

They made love in the bath, washing the tang of saltwater from their skin as they moved against one another. By the time they were ready to leave, Gloria had called to check on the state of her grant money five times, and Alan was pouring over the photos he'd taken at the dig before they left. They were who they were, and they sat side by side as they worked, one or the other dragging them away from papers and phones and back to bed for a last time before they ran to catch the plane.

Alan's doctorate was official a few months later, and Gloria's dig ended as Alan was offered one in Nebraska. "Bring the Mrs," the head of the paleontology department told him when he invited them to dinner. "The trust includes a rental house nearby."

"It's Doctor, not Mrs.," Alan said, since Gloria's lips had gone white. "And we'll probably be commuting back and forth some weekends while she works out of the university."

They juggled for almost a year. Every lecture Alan attended, every event he had to hob knob with investors at, the invitation read Dr. Alan & Mrs. Grant. It stopped being funny quickly, and she would complain afterward, as she took off her earrings for the night, letting Alan take down her hair. It's like they think all the work I did disappears as soon as I'm married.

He corrected them before she could see, when he could. His Aunt Jenny met him at an airport for drinks and handed him a gift for Gloria. She laughed until she cried when she opened it and handed him an apron with Alan neatly printed on the ties and Mrs. Michaels on the skirt. He wore it whenever they were in the same place long enough for him to make breakfast.

May came around two years after their honeymoon. Alan had meant to plan a trip somewhere, just for them, but the money and the time never came together, and then Gloria asked him to come with her to the doctor. The doctor called her Mrs. Grant, and said how sorry he was, and neither thought to correct him.

Later, they sat side by side, work in front of them, but neither doing anything about it. "So much time," Gloria says, touching the bone fragment at the edge of the table. "But we got so little of it."

Alan had never resented time, or the brevity of their lives compared to the bones beneath the earth and the sheer enormity of the scope of the planet, but for once as he gathered her in close and felt the new thinness of her ribs that he'd somehow missed before this, it wasn't answers he wished for, it was time.

He wore his ring for years afterward. When he finally took it off, he slid it over Betsy's tail in the box he still kept beneath his bed.

~~~

June
After the funeral, Alan thought he needed space and time and something mindless, for a while, but two months into the one-year teaching job he'd taken in San Francisco, and he already hated it. The students in his classes were academics, not a one of them knew how to work with their hands. Most of their parents made too much money, and their kids had too little sense, and Alan didn't know why the hell he was bothering at all. He liked kids, he liked teaching, but he didn't like talking to brick walls.

He couldn't afford to skip out before his year was up though, so he spent most of his time in the library, or in the school's lab, working on his own projects. When he wasn't there, Alan was in the cramped living room of his one-bedroom apartment, phoning up universities and grant-sponsors to try to secure funds for a dig in Montana, next year. The conversations never went well. Somehow, Gloria had always managed to talk people into donating money, but it wasn't Alan's gift. She'd helped write the proposals for his first digs, and he found himself floundering without her as much in his work as he was in the rest of his life.

The one-bedroom seemed to get smaller and smaller as the year dragged on, and Alan spent less and less of his time there, lingering in the library until it was late enough that his eyes drooped, and then making his way home to fall into bed. It became his routine. Aside from the Dean and students, the only one he spoke to regularly was the librarian. The summer sessions in his un-air-conditioned apartment and stuffy, still lecture hall seemed somehow worse, but she always had a smile for him, even on days when Alan felt like he'd forgotten how to smile at all. He'd tried to guess her age, but still wasn't sure. Sixties, he supposed. Her glasses were huge, her eyes owl-wide beneath them, and late nights she'd fix him a cup of tea, warning him not to spill, and not to tell any of the kids she let him have drinks inside.

He woke one night in late June to her hand on his shoulder. "You're drooling on my books," she told him, but she smiled, handing over the tea and slipping into one of the seats next to him. "So what are you here working on every night?"

Alan sipped the tea, he'd never had the heart to tell her he preferred coffee, and shook his head. "A grant proposal. Not that it'll do me much good."

She reached up, snagging the papers from him before he could protest. She pushed her glasses up her nose, scanning the first sheet and then frowning. "Oh. . . well this won't do at all." Alan stared at her and she shook her head. "Do you think they just hand over money for the library? Of course not. The department head is a dear, but he wouldn't know how to secure funds, even if he could just pluck bills from a tree, never mind trying to squeeze it out of the tightwads that run this school. No, it's all in the wording. Libraries don't make the school any money, of course, so you have to word it right. Tell them what you want the money for, but make it more about WHY you want it. What it will do for them. A new wing for the science department's research won't bring in any funds, but it might help our budding scientists to publish papers or earn accolades which WILL bring in new donations. You're telling them all about nests of. . .

"Hadrosaurs," Alan supplied.

"Right, hadrosaurs, but they're not going to care about that. They're going to care about what they can DO with it, and what it will do for them. So if you found these nests, what would happen?"

Alan hesitated, thinking. "We would be able to learn about the behavior of family units, and juvenile dinosaurs, something we know almost nothing about, right now, and possibly prove a number of theories on parenting instinct, and dispute standard concepts of dinosaurs as inattentive parents," he finally decided.

"See, now that's good. New things mean papers, which means universities get to brag. And proving OTHER university experts wrong is even better. You need to put that in here." She went on, and Alan found himself taking notes, jotting things down, even adding a few names to his list of people to contact. When he asked how she knew, she just tutted at him in a way that he found reminiscent of his mother. "You don't have to GO to school to learn, ducky. And I've been around for a long time."

It was nearly midnight when he gathered up his things, realizing belatedly that he didn't even know her name. "Thank you again. . . I didn't even catch your name, I'm sorry."

"Katherine. Most people call me Old Kate, around here. There's a young girl who shelves things called Kate too."

"I'm Alan G-"

"I know who you are, Dr. Grant. Your students think you hate them, you know. You should try to smile a bit more in class. Most of them are good kids." Kate patted his shoulder and gave him a sympathetic look. "This place won't hold you for long, anyway. I can tell. You're the sort who likes to do something, not teach about it."

"Can I walk you home? It's late."

"I live just down the street, ducky, don't worry about it. You go on and get some rest. Let me know how it goes," she told him.

He left, after a few more protests that she brushed cheerfully aside. A month later, when his proposal was accepted, he sent her a dozen roses and a new tea kettle. He tucked the first draft, with notes in his hand and a few in Old Kate's in the box beneath his bed.

~~~

July
Ellen Sattler was his third grad student, and the first female he'd had outside of lectures and his brief stint teaching. She'd already spent a summer in the field with Dr. Lanshing's team, and she was bright, capable, and good with the investors, which Alan still both hated dealing with, and wasn't very gifted at.

She was blond and built and beautiful and Alan noticed, because he had eyes, but it never really mattered to him. He was in the minority though, and he noticed more than a few leering jeers and barbed practical jokes amongst the team. When he tried to crack down on them, Ellie stopped him. I can handle myself, she'd told him.

Three nights later, they'd gotten the last skeleton on a hadrosaur clutch out, and took a rare night out to the nearest bar. Alan bought the first round, and the fifth. Ellie bought the second, and by the fifth, there were only four left drinking, the others having stumbled out with one of the local boys or girls they'd befriended. The locals were arguing over a football game in the corner, and the six of them sat at a round table, arguing over their favorite dinosaur. "Raptors," Alan said, "were the perfect pack hunter."

"Yeah, but you can't argue with a T-Rex man. I mean, they're epic," Cameron, Alan's other grad student, slurred.

"Crocodiles," Ellie said, slugging back half of her beer. Cameron squinted at her, and she went on. "Raptors, Rexes - every other example of Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous life, excepting sharks - they altered in fundamental ways, or died off. They grew wings, they went extinct. Crocs, they stayed what they were. Through millennia they stayed the same. They did what they had to do to survive. The whole world changed, and they kept going. Sometimes, you have to change to make it through. But now and then you stand your ground and be exactly what you are and you get through, too. Usually, the world changes you but sometimes, you get to tell the world to fuck off, and you change it, instead."

Alan smiled at her, and she smiled back as Cameron blinked again. "To crocodiles," he offered, holding up his drink.

She clinked her glass against his, and then finished off the last of the beer. She chased it with the shot still on the table and then leaned forward looking square in Cameron's eyes. Slim, strong fingers plucked a bottle cap from the table and flicked it with unerring accuracy between Cameron's eyes. "The thing about crocs is they will kick the shit out of you if you screw with them, you know," she told Cameron, and then clinked her teeth, and grinned.

Cameron let two of the others shuffle him off to the cheap motel next door, and Alan shook his head as they left. A companionable quiet settled over them once it was just the pair of them left at the table. Ellie propped her feet on Cam's abandoned chair as both of them switched to water to ward off a hangover. "Nicely done," he told her, breaking up the quiet.

Ellie shrugged. "Most of them have the same mentality. They kiss up until I say I've got a boyfriend, then they try to run me out. They figure out it doesn't work and they give up. At least it doesn't run all the way up to the top on this dig. Lanshing was a dick."

"We worked together in Nebraska, a few years back," Alan said, not arguing with her opinion. Her grin said she realized it. "So a boyfriend? He in the field?"

"Cardiologist," she answered. "He doesn't always get it, why I want to run off and dig somewhere. It can make things hard, but he's supportive. Plus I was dating fossilized plants a long time before him, so I think he knows it'd be a damned pointless argument, even if he didn't like it. What about you? No wife? Girlfriend?"

"Not for a while. She was an anthropologist," Alan answered.

Ellie grimaced and the silence stretched out a moment too long before she offered and awkward, "sorry." Alan shook his head to say it was fine and added. "It wasn't much easier with someone in the same field. Or similar fields."

"I think it's just hard period." Ellie tapped the bottle on the table twice as she spoke, and then set it down. "He doesn't get it, but he gets me. He wouldn't try to change anything."

"He'd get bitten anyway if he tried," Alan observed with a wry smile.

She laughed and stood, surprisingly steady and offered him a hand. "Come on. I don't know about you, but I can't drive, and I bet they've got a party going on in one of those crap rooms by now. We should join in." Alan started to shake his head and Ellie gave him a tug. "You hang out alone too much. Time to rejoin the world, Alan," she told him.

Alan gave in, paying the tab (You're better paid, so you can have it, she'd told him, grinning when he'd tried to half-heartedly talk her into it) and following her outside. He picked up the bottle cap she'd flicked at Cameron and slipped it into his pocket on a whim.

~~~

August
When Tim graduated from college, Alan got a handwritten invitation and a note that read: He'd really like you to come. - Love, Lex. So he pulled himself away and took a week to travel to Connecticut.

Tim had grown out of his gawky teenage youth into a broad-shouldered, good-looking young man. He still wore glasses, but his hair was neatly cut and he held himself with a confidence that hadn't been there when Alan first met him, or the few times he'd seen him since. There'd been more letters than visits, and when he shook Tim's hand, there was something oddly satisfying about seeing the man he'd become. "I'm doing grad work starting in the spring, but a friend and I are taking a semester in Europe first."

"Way to cliche," Lex told him, and Alan bit back a smile at Tim's answering eyeroll. Grown up, but still siblings, he supposed.

There were pictures and hugs and when the family broke up, Alan somehow found himself in Lex's car as she drove them back. "Mom's having sandwiches, but they're pretty much crap. Is it cool if I stop by Dairy Queen?"

Alan found himself with a blizzard full of M&M's and sitting at a booth in the back. Lex was seventeen and she held herself with hunched shoulders, fidgeting with the hem of the dress she wore as if she wasn't comfortable in it. The little girl Alan had known had been cute, swaybacked and apple-cheeked in the way little girls were. The young woman sitting opposite him was beautiful, but awkward with it, like she still didn't know how to wear the new body she'd grown into. "How've you been, Lex?" he asked.

She dragged a fry through her sundae and shrugged. "Okay, I guess," she told him. "It'll be weird, having Tim gone. He stayed at home like a loser during college. I don't know why."

"I guess you don't plan to, when you go to college next year?"

She made a face. "No. Not if I can help it."

She was a teenage girl, and an alien creature because of it. Alan remembered teenage girls, and he hadn't understood them all that well even when he was a teenage boy. He recognized the fidgeting at least, saw the way she kept hesitating over a bite, as if she wanted to say something and didn't. "Something wrong?"

She sat back, spoon starting to stir the ice cream into a sludge of fudge and vanilla. "Do you ever think about it? The Park?"

"Sometimes. I try not to, but sometimes."

"I can't help it. I do all the time. And so does Tim, but it's different. It's like. . . I don't know. It's like it made him realize who he was, but it just made me not know. Or something like that. After we got back, the newspapers all wanted to talk to me, and I'd talk about the Mets, or something, because they always wanted to know who I was, and the stories would always come out about it, and I would just be this little scrawny boy-girl that got saved. And that' show it was - god, I was such a brat - but I don't know. It was all my dad and me had to talk about, the sports and stuff. And after that, I'd try to talk about the stuff I had nightmares about, but he wouldn't get it, and then I got older, and he started not wanting me to talk about ball, or sports or anything else I liked anymore. Like I was supposed to act like a girl because I was older. And Tim still had dinosaurs on the brain, but he went to college and was getting good grades and suddenly it was okay. "

Lex bit her lip. "Sometimes, I feel like all I am is how I look and where I've been. I go to my dad's for Thanksgiving with his new wife and their two moron kids, and they ask Tim how his classes are going, and whether he thinks he wants his doctorate. They ask me who I'm dating, if I have a boyfriend, if I'm going to prom. It's like there's this box I can never climb out of, and I didn't used to be in it, but now I am. I'm the kid who saw dinosaurs, or I'm the tomboy who won't grow up. I told my mom I wanted to be a reporter, you know? A sports journalist. She told me that they don't hire girls for that."

Alan wasn't sure what to say, but he wanted it to be the right thing. He leaned forward, and then admitted quietly. "I think about the Park all the time. You know, there were a lot of people there. A lot of smart capable men, mostly. And you know who got out of there? You did. Ellie did. Maybe you were just a kid, but you still kept going, and didn't give up, and you were a damn smart little kid. You did something that most people there couldn't do. I don't think there's anything you can't do if you want to."

"Everyone says that. But then when you try to tell them what you want to do, they ask you if you're a dyke," Lex told him bitterly. Alan winced at the harsh word, and she looked up and flashed a wry smile. "I'm not. I just like the things that I like."

"So do I. So does Tim. So does Ellie. She's married now, she has two kids, and she takes them to dig sites when she works in the field. She was the only female grad student I had, when she came to work with me, and she was better than any of them, and there a lot of people who told her she shouldn't be there. When I was a kid, the world looked a lot different to girls, and it took a long time for me to realize that. There were things girls were supposed to do, and things boys were supposed to do, and people didn't like it when we broke those rules. But it's changing, and you shouldn't let people who don't understand that tell you not to be who you are." Alan smiled uncertainly. "No matter what that is." Even if it meant she was interested in other women, though Alan didn't think that was the case, as he'd seen her eyes following a few of Tim's classmates when they came by to congratulate him.

Lex looked unconvinced, but she peeked up at him and smiled. "So if I graduate from journalism school, are you going to come then, too?"

"I'll hop the first plane there, and try to look like I understand what a designated hitter is," Alan promised, and she laughed. "Tim always writes me, you know. You can too. I'd like that. Maybe I can save them and sell them when you're a big time reporter, interviewing the Yankees."

"Ugh. Yankees." Lex wrinkled her nose, and for a moment she looked like a little girl again. "I'll write," she promised.

They lingered over melting ice cream for another half an hour, and then drove on to Lex's mother's house, where Alan talked to Tim about his majors, and his plans.

His first letter from Lex came two weeks letter, and she talked about football scores he barely understood, and Tim's inability to pack without bringing twenty extra bags. He tucked the letter away with the others he'd saved over the years, adding a new one to the pile every month or so, the tassel from Tim's graduation cap that he'd handed him as he left nestled beside the letters.

~~~

September
San Francisco was still fresh in the media, and Alan had to let Billy screen his calls so he didn't have to turn down all the requests for statements and interviews. The press liked Malcolm for quotes year round, but they only came to him when something newly horrific happened, and they wanted more coverage. So it was just chance that Billy was out and Alan answered the phone when Cronetik Labs called, requesting a consult on a discovered lizard they'd located in Central America. Alan almost said no, but then he remembered Billy's dire predictions about their financial status, and quoted a ridiculous price for a day's consult instead. He was chagrined when they agreed and refrained from telling Billy, if only because he'd end up telling Alan to fish for more work, and that was the last thing he wanted. He was reluctant to leave the site, the September chill due to give way to a November freeze at any moment, but he went anyway.

He'd expected to see something he'd seen before, something he'd rather not see again, but what he found was both exactly what he'd assumed, and infinitely worse.

A week didn't pass that Alan didn't dream of raptors. The sounds they made, the speed of their rush, the thud of their feet as they landed from a jump, or the green glow of their eyes as they'd lined up to await the boat that would have taken them away from the island and into the world, when he slept he remembered every detail. In his dreams, they always came in packs. For every one he saw, his dream-self was aware there were more somewhere, waiting. He woke from his dreams with his hands clutching imaginary eggs, trying frantically to calculate how to roll them closer, the ring of a distant Tyrannosaur roar still in his ears, far enough that it was a nebulous threat, but near enough that he knew it would be too close soon.

The cage they showed him held just one raptor. Her hide was the deeper green of the raptors who'd been born, not bred by InGen. Her eyes were dull and dim, the gleam of intelligent menace he'd spent so many nights remembering was softened by captive misery. The cage was small enough that she couldn't turn, the curving, menacing claws on her feet were gone, a scabbed stump in their place. She wore a collar that had chafed the skin of her neck, and a tight wire dug into her snout, holding her jaws closed. "They have incredible power in their bites, but it's considerably less to hinge the jaw open instead of closed," Dr. Jetty enthused. "As you can see, a relatively weak amount of force can be used to muzzle her."

Alan crouched down in front of her, and the raptor's eyes followed him. She hissed, the sound muffled by the sealed jaw. "You only found the one?" he asked.

"There was a juvenile with her as well, but he was injured, and died in transport. We have the remains, and would love you to give your opinion on them as well."

"What exactly are you looking to have me do here?" Alan asked.

"InGen was, as you know, remarkably tight-lipped about their creations. The records are still largely sealed, and there is no definitive genetic markers for any of their dinosaurs to compare to those we've found in the wild. We'd like a statement from you saying that this is a match for those seen on Isla Nublar, and Isla Sorna, to the best of your knowledge. If we can make a valid case that these ARE the same creatures, then we can reopen the case against InGen and subpoena for their records, as there will finally be physical proof of the public health menace caused," Jetty explained rapidly.

Trapped in a cage, the raptor seemed so much smaller and more fragile than his memories. So much more like the delicate bones he had to carefully chip from the earth. It hurt to look at her. "I'll have to examine her more closely."

"Of course, we have a lab ready."

"She'll be sedated?"

"Of course."

"I'll want more on hand, in case she wakes up."

A half hour later the raptor lay on the table in front of him, breathing shallow and slow. When he pressed his hand against her chest, the heartbeat was definitely steady and true. Even hopeless and miserable and millions of years out of her time, she clung to life until after he'd injected another dose of the sedative, steady thudthud of her heart slowing reluctantly.

Dr. Jetty was too late, and Alan handed the syringe to him, slipping the velociraptor's collar into his pocket. "These are likely the offspring of animals bred by InGen. I'll sign something that says as much. If you catch another one, kill it. Don't let it die in a cage."

They sent him home without his consultation fee, and on he flight home he was cramped into a coach seat. They had been sidestepping the EPA by consulting him first, so the lawsuit Jetty threatened never came to pass. Alan told Billy he'd flown to visit Ellie, and shoved the collar in the box beneath his bed, at the bottom where he wouldn't have to see it again.

~~~

October
The first time they met, it was over lunch in New York, two years after the San Diego incident. He was doing a lecture at NYU, and Sarah was there for an interview with Larry King. "It's like a support group whenever any of us get together. InGen ought to foot the bill," she joked. He asked about Malcolm and her smile tightened a little. "We never got to the ex-Mrs.-Malcolm stage, at least. We're still friends."

Her skin was permanently tanned from years in the sun, and she squinted when she read the menu. Alan felt like he was looking into a mirror of himself, if he was twenty years younger and female. "Why predators?" he asked, after she told him about the three months she'd just spent freezing her ass off and studying the effects of environment erosion on polar bears.

"Why dinosaurs?" she'd shot back, and then laughed, a little grim. "Because they told me I couldn't, at first. When I was still a grad student every one of my advisers was steering me toward something else. Away from predators, away from danger, away from field work. I sat for a lecture once, before my first time in the field, and there were thirty guys and two of us women, sitting there listening, and someone asked about advice for first timers. The guy laughed and said to make sure and get some pussy before we left." She pushed long red hair back behind her ear, and she grinned. "I guess I've just never liked being told what I couldn't do. Predators are. . . elegant. They don't pretend that they don't eat one another to get ahead, then knife you in the back the first time you turn around. They are what they are, and half of what we know about them is assumed. I wanted to break the assumptions. And to hell with them all, I wanted to get my hands dirty."

"And play in the dirt with the boys," Alan said.

She gave him a quizzical look. "That's one way to put it." She fiddled with her fork. "Even with how much we don't know though, there isn't a lot of new ground to break. That's why I wanted to go to the Island. Break new ground. Answer old questions. I thought I had something to prove." She leaned back. "Pretty stupid, huh?"

Alan thought for a moment, and then shook his head. "I wanted the same thing, when I was younger. To prove everyone else wrong, have my name known."

"You dug up bones though, you didn't chase monsters."

"I just consulted for the company that made them," Alan countered. He hadn't known what InGen was doing, but he'd never tried to find out until the day the EPA came sniffing around, and then Hammond whisked them off to Isla Nublar. He wasn't blameless, and he'd come to term with that years ago.

She leaned forward again, voice dropping. They all did that when they talked about Jurassic Park, or Site B. Like they were afraid someone would hear, and think they were crazy. Even after San Diego, there were some people who did think it was all some elaborate hoax. Alan was pretty sure it was the same people who called the moon landing fake. "How much do you think is real? That's what gets me. We went over there to study them, they've pronounced that damn place a preserve, now - and I still don't know if any of it is real. All those people dead, and I still can't tell if we could have learned anything from them, or if they're just bad copies."

"InGen made monsters, not dinosaurs," Alan said. "But that doesn't mean they weren't accurate monsters, in some ways. Everything I've found since then supports raptor intelligence. Bakker unearthed a preserved Rex nest that supported them as involved in the rearing of young. We know the apatosaurus wasn't swamp-dwelling, the mummified compy found in '96 supported their bite as poisonous." Alan was quiet a moment. "I think that the facts are there, but it's the Hollywood version. What we saw wasn't the truth anymore than Titanic tells the truth about how the ship went down. The facts are the same, but that doesn't make it true."

"God, that movie. My ass hasn't been that numb since I had to watch Ian lecture," Sarah told him, startling a laugh out of him. "I wish it wasn't at all true. That we could just ignore them, and say what we saw wasn't real."

"But we can't. The past is still there, and we can still learn from it, but InGen changed the world, for better or worse. And those creatures are part of it now."

"A few million years from now, something will dig up their bones and be confused as hell about why they don't look old enough," Sarah observed.

Alan grinned. "At least paleontologists will still have a job then."

She laughed, loud and shameless, and Alan smiled. "You want to get out of here?" she asked him. They hadn't eaten, and Alan lifted an eyebrow at her. "What, you've never been picked up before?"

"Not for a while."

"It all still works the same. Come on, I've got a suite." Sarah took him to her hotel, navigating the trains with the ease of a native, but always breathing a sigh of relief when they got back into open air. This city, it gets to me after a while. Alan agreed. He was still a creature of dirt and open air. He always felt caged in big cities.

The room was generically stylish, and Sarah's luggage was strewn around, battered and worn looking, the room messy and the bed unmade. She kissed him with a hunger he'd half forgotten he could be capable of, and when she tugged her top off, he couldn't help but laugh. "I promise not to tell Malcolm."

Sarah's smile was sharp and a little wicked. "Don't bother. I'll tell him myself. Your last book outsold his, you know."

Alan did know, and couldn't help a smug grin. She rolled her eyes and pulled him toward the bed.

Later, Alan traced the tan lines on her pale skin, kissed scars as she told him where they came from. They each had a line along their chest that almost matched, they each murmured raptor and then didn't go any further, leaving the memories untouched.

They met at a hotel, the next time, and again the time after that. She came to visit once, when he'd stopped traveling, and neither could say what changed, but they never made it to bed, and instead spoke for hours about his latest paper on the evolution of late-Triassic herbivores over a six pack of beer. She called a cab to take her home and asked him if he still loved what he did. He wasn't sure. "Yes," he finally said quietly. "But not in the same way. Before I was looking for answers. Now I'm looking for answers that are different from the ones I saw."

She smiled and kissed him goodbye. He wasn't surprised when she moved back to Africa for a long-term study, but kept the postcards she sent in a box beneath his bed.

~~~

November
Alan still couldn't believe that he had an actual office, sometimes. It felt like selling out, a little, but he figured at his age he's earned that right. His knees can't take as much time out in the field anymore, and he gave in and bought a house in Montana, a two bedroom that he converted into an office. He'd even gotten a damn dog. (Or rather, Ellie had shown up to visit with a half-grown Labrador in tow. I'd tell you to get a girlfriend, but you won't listen, so get a dog, and don't argue.) He'd named it Horner, since he'd been fresh off another argument with him about the status of a T-rex as a hunter, rather than a Scavenger.

Alan spent most of his time in research and papers, and he only went onto sites once or twice a year. Most of his information came from Billy, who only called him in for the big moments. Alan knew it was mostly a professional courtesy at this point, since Billy could handle anything thrown at him, but he appreciated it nonetheless.

A Montana cabin wasn't exactly a high-visibility location and he had few visitors, even fewer in the freezing cold of November. So the crunch of tires pulling up in front had surprised him. The woman stepping out of the SUV even more so. Amanda Kirby had grown her hair out longer. She wore what looked like eight layers of clothing, and her lips were blue from cold from the moment she stepped out of the car.

He let her in, settled her at the small table while Horner laid his head on her knee, begging for treats. She petted the dog's head and held a slip of paper out toward Alan. He read the number on the check, and blew out a surprised breath, sliding into the chair opposite her. "Mrs. Kirby-"

"I should have called. I don't know why I didn't. I just. . . I thought you might not want to see me, and I needed to give you this. It's not all that we promised you, but it's something." Amanda leaned forward, looking at him, an urgent note in her voice. "We were wrong, how we got you there. But I have a son because we did. And people died because we did what we did, but my son didn't. I don't. . . you should have something."

Alan didn't know what to say to that. "Where did you get this?"

"My father died." She waved him off as he started to apologize. "He was ill, and it was a long time coming. I make a good living, Dr. Grant. My ex-husband does too. We provide for our son. I don't need this money. I want you to have it. Use it to dig up dinosaurs, or to add a wing to your house or take a trip to Bermuda. I don't care. I just need you to have it."

She was different than Alan remembered her. The frantic energy and desperation he'd seen on Isla Sorna was gone. She was calmer, older, more haunted. Alan recognized the look. They all had it, the little members of InGen's support group, as Sarah liked to call them. The survivors of Jurassic Park. Survivor's guilt, Alan supposed. They'd all left people behind, one way or another. "Your ex-husband, still?"

She smiled ruefully. "Once no one was in danger of dying, Paul and I remembered that we loved each other, but that didn't stop us from driving each other crazy." She shrugged. "Things don't work out the way you want them to, sometimes."

"No, I suppose they don't. Mrs. Kirby-"

"Ms."

"Ms. Kirby. You know I can't take this, don't you."

"Why not? You still need money for your digs, don't you? And we owe you."

"That doesn't make it right."

She pushed the check back toward him when he tried to hand it over. "I need you to take this."

"Like you needed me to find your son, no matter what I wanted?" Alan sighed at her stricken expression. "Erik is a good kid, and I'm glad he's safe, I really am. But alleviating your guilt over what happened isn't part of my job."

She sagged into the chair. "You're right. I"m sorry. It's just. . . Erik's almost 16, did you know that? He has a girlfriend, her name is Rachel, and I think she smokes, and I can't stand her, but everyday I look at her and I think that he's only alive thanks to you, and then I think of all the people who aren't alive at all. I'm not even really sorry, because I have Erik."

She dropped the check onto the table. "I didn't just fly out here for this, you know. I'm not completely insane. I had a layover and I took it here."

"I didn't say you were. Can I get you a coffee, while you're here?" Alan doubted there was any flights that laid over in the tiny Montana airport nearest his place, but he didn't argue, just got up and fixed her coffee, and made them both eggs when the snow started falling too heavily to drive back to the airport. She slept on the pullout, and in the morning Alan drove behind her to make sure she made it, wincing every time she took a turn too sharply on the iced roads.

She left the check on the table, and Alan tore it in two, but saved the pieces. When he told Billy, Billy groaned, but didn't argue with the decision. Amanda called him two days later to say she'd donated the money to a grant program that funded archaeological digs.

~~~

December
Alan feels the cold all the way down to his bones these days, but he refuses to leave Montana, no matter how Ellie or Billy nag at him. When two kids filming a documentary contact him to appear in their piece on InGen and offer two weeks in California for interviews he takes the opportunity to escape the chill of December. He leaves Horner with the girl who fixes his car the three times a year it breaks down and flies to San Francisco. He hasn't been in California since his last visit to Jenny, a year before she died, and he finds he still hates it, but he at least appreciates the weather a bit more.

The girl interviewing him is barely over twenty, and beautiful with her wild dark hair dyed with streaks of red and a small ring in her nose. She has dinner with the lot of them, he and Malcolm and Ellie reciting familiar war stories while Billy takes regular breaks to walk outside with his two year old daughter and Sarah calls in via satellite phone to say she won't be in until next week. After enough beer and stories, things start to seem surreal - barely remembered campfire stories instead of the nightmares they'd really been. "I still can't believe they got you back to Site B," Malcolm says, shaking his head. "And here I'd thought you were the only one of us with sense."

"You're just bitter his book outsold yours," Ellie reminds him, and laughs, chugging her beer in one gulp, the way she had when she was twenty and no one's mom.

"His book outsold everyone's. Even Sarah's," Ian answers. "It had better pictures."

"How come you never wrote a book, Dr. Sattler?" Rochelle asks. Her beer is barely touched, and she's making avid note of everything they say, but Alan decides he doesn't care. Nothing they're saying is a lie, or anything they haven't said before.

Ellie shrugs. "No one ever asked me to. Paleobotany's not the most exciting field. And people had already heard everything they wanted to about Isla Nublar."

"Do you think you were given less opportunity to speak about your experiences because you were a woman? Dr. Harding insinuated as much," Rochelle asks.

"Everyone is so hung up on gender. It's a new age. Kids these days hold entire relationships over Facebook. The world's interaction is made up of remnants of binary code and awkward cybersex. Gender concerns are obsolete in the modern world," Ian says.

"They're obsolete when you're not a woman. When you are, you still get paid a dollar less on the hour and have to deal with men who tell you not to bitch about it," Ellie shoots back, and Malcolm laughs, lifting his beer in a silent salute.

The next morning he's more hungover than he's been in years, and Rochelle's hair is pulled back in a neat bun. She asks him the questions he's been asked a dozen times before, and he answers, talking about InGen, John Hammond, and the days he spent in Jurassic Park. He tells her about his letters to Tim and Lex, and how he feels about the continued status of Site B as a nature preserve.

Finally Rochelle sits back and she looks at him. "It's been a long time since the events on Isla Nublar. In retrospect, is there anything you haven't said about the incidents that you wish you had?"

Alan chuckled. "A long time? It's been a blink of time. Not even a moment, on a planetary scale. It's all retrospect, isn't it? When everything's said and done, all we have is what we leave behind. It all comes down to bones and history. Someone a few thousand or hundred thousand years from now will dig me up and say that I was a man, and that I lived, and they'll tell how old I was, how I died, if I had cancer or had ever broken a bone. They'll know that my arm never healed straight, and that my spine was bent from hunching over fragments for hours on end. They won't know what I liked to have for breakfast, or what my favorite song was, or all the millions of paths I could have taken, but never did. They won't know who I loved, who I hated, what I believed in. All they'll know is that I was here. I wrote what I was onto my bones, because I was lucky enough to do what I loved. And I'm the only one who will ever know how many people never had that chance, or how lucky I was, despite everything, to have gotten there."

"InGen changed the world. One man changed the world, and he did it in horrible ways, but he still changed it. He didn't understand a damn thing about the world, but what he set in motion altered the world forever. I'm not sure what that means, but I still know it's true." Alan looks at Rochelle, and he can tell she doesn't get it, but he doesn't mind. "What did you want to be when you were little?"

Her mouth quirks in a smile. "A movie star. When I got older, I decided I wanted to make movies, not act in them."

"That's good. You know what I wanted to do? I wanted to play in the dirt with my hands. And that's what I did. I was lucky. It's easy to forget that, but most of the time, I try to remember. I keep little pieces of my history, and I remember all the people who've drifted through my life."

She smiles and thanks him and asks if there's anything else he'd like them to know. Alan thinks of the box beneath his bed at home, but he just shakes his head no and gets up with a creak of bad knees, heading back inside to find Ellie for a drink.

~~~