Philip jerks his head up. The nurse's smile is more habit than happy, but it's still a smile. He slides the magazine he's been staring at for the last forty-five minutes onto the end table and extinguishes his cigarette.
She takes a step toward him. "You have a little girl."
His chest caves in. "Is she—"
"Your wife and the baby are both fine," the nurse says, nodding.
His mind flashes on Elizabeth in the labor room before they wheeled her off to delivery: her hair drenched with sweat, the muscles in her neck straining with the pain, her eyes squeezed tightly shut. "Can I see them?"
"They're just being taken down to the recovery room now." She tilts her head at the bay of pay phones in the corridor. "You've got a couple of minutes to make some phone calls if you'd like?"
"Right," he says with a nod, and stands. "Thanks." He runs a hand across his face: two days worth of beard.
There's no one to call, of course, but he doesn't want to raise any red flags. He steps into the hall: there's a whole row of phones, just in case they ever have a half dozen new fathers who need to use them all at once. This morning, he's the only one.
A girl, the nurse said. Philip's eyes cloud over, and he stretches out a hand against the wall to steady himself. He has a daughter.
Suddenly he's smiling, grinning, and a laugh tumbles out of his mouth. An orderly drags a cart of equipment past him: the rumbling of wheels on linoleum. A daughter.
The nurse is behind the desk now, and she looks back over at him, her stiff expression melting into something more genuine. Philip picks up one of the receivers and slides a dime into the slot. His palms are sweaty. He wipes them on his pants.
"Mom?" he says to the dial tone. "It's a girl." He directs another laugh into the phone, reckless and giddy. This is a shot of adrenaline more powerful than avoiding detection in the Pentagon. "Yeah, they're both doing fine."
The doctor's at the desk now, and Philip cranes his neck to see him. He's leaning in toward the nurse, almost blocking the hand-cut red and green cardboard letters that spell out Merry Christmas.
"Yeah, I'm about to go in. I'll tell her," he says, just loudly enough to be heard. He rubs a hand on his face. "I will. Love you too." He hangs up the phone and blocks the view with his body while he repockets the dime.
The nurse is motioning to him now, nodding. Philip rushes over, and she tilts her head toward the hallway that snakes off from the waiting room. "They're both still getting settled," she says. "But you can head down now."
His heart is ricocheting around inside his ribs. He makes himself breathe evenly: in and out. "Thanks."
"Just follow me."
The corridor takes them through two sets of double doors, and they stop in front of the room with the sign that reads RECOVERY in stark black letters. The nurse holds the door open for him.
The smell of ammonia hits Philip first, followed by an echo of sweat. Along the back wall, Elizabeth is propped up in one of those narrow hospital beds. Her face is still flushed, but her hair has been pulled back into a loose ponytail, and sweat he remembers from the labor room has been wiped from her brow. The walls are sterile white, and on the table next to the bed there's a machine punctured by a series of yellowed tubes.
Philip's eyes adjust to the dimmer light and fall on the tiny bundle in her arms: a pink blanket, impossibly small. He moves toward them like he's responding to the pull of gravity, and a bald, bright red head emerges from inside of the blanket, a wrinkly face with eyes squinted shut. Then the tiniest hand Philip has ever seen frees itself from the bundle, and the baby lets out a little cry of protest.
His kid. It's a ridiculous thought, but she's right there.
Philip slides into the chair next to the bed. Elizabeth let out a shhh and rocks the baby a little, and the cries first calm, then stop. She's a whole new little person, and they made her themselves. "Hello, youngest person on the planet," he says to her little red face.
Elizabeth lets out a watery, overwhelmed laugh, and he gives her a lopsided smile in response. She shakes her head. "She's so tiny." Her voice is shaky, awestruck.
The baby wrinkles her nose. Philip didn't know noses could even be that small. "She really is," he says.
"Six pounds, fourteen point four ounces," the nurse says.
Of course American doctors measure babies in pounds and ounces. Like meat in a deli. Philip looks up at her. "Is that—"
"It's well within normal range." One corner of her mouth turns up.
He looks back at the bundle, leaning in. The baby's eyes are squinted shut, but she smacks her lips like she's trying to taste the air. Elizabeth's eyes flicker over to him again. There's a nervous excitement humming in his chest.
"I'll leave the three of you alone to get acquainted," the nurse says. "Just buzz if you need anything."
"Thanks so much," says Elizabeth, without looking up.
The door latches closed with a click, chasing the smile away from Elizabeth's face. Philip's senses heighten. "How are you doing?" he asks her, his voice low.
"I'm—" she starts, then cuts herself off, like she's not sure what to say. She pulls the baby closer to her chest, looks down at her. She shakes her head.
"Can I get you anything?"
Then she turns her head toward Philip, and the sudden look of grief in her eyes withers him. All at once the might-have-beens are hanging in the air like you can reach out and touch them: she's never going to get to make pelmeni with this little girl, never going to wave as she climbs into a bus and rides off to pioneer camp. To somebody like Elizabeth, that kind of thing's got to hurt like nothing else.
He reaches for Elizabeth's free hand and laces his fingers through hers, gives them a squeeze. "It's going to be okay," he whispers in Russian.
She presses her eyes shut and drops his hand. "Don't," she says in English, but the raw edge in her voice isn't anger, it's sadness. He leans back a little, but keeps his arm resting on her lap.
He waits, just a moment, then leans in again, reaching up to stroke the back of the baby's head. Her skin is warm, and rougher and drier than it looks.
"You know, we never really talked about names," Philip says, carefully keeping his voice even.
Elizabeth shakes her head. "I guess I assumed the Center would probably give us a boy name and a girl name."
That never occurred to Philip, but it's not unrealistic: they've been told what to do in pretty much every other respect. He nods. He waits.
She looks up at him. "But I guess they've left it up to us." There's a tremor of uncertainty in her voice. Naming a baby is any normal parent's decision, but they're pretty far from being normal parents.
There are days when this life feels so natural that he actually manages to forget he's not some guy from small-town Pennsylvania who moved to the D.C. area to start a travel business with his wife. But right now his mind floods with the Russian names of his childhood: the saints' names from the old calendars, the traditional Slavic names given by parents who didn't mind their children bearing the weight of history.
This is going to be a kid without a history, though. Philip frowns.
American parents name their kids after family members: sometimes parents, sometimes grandparents. Philip Jennings' mother's name is Susan, and Elizabeth's is Deborah. He turns the names over on his tongue, mouthing them: Susan Deborah. Deborah Susan. The last one isn't bad. "We could—"
"Page." Elizabeth's voice is insistent.
Page? No, it's not a word, it's a name. "Yeah?" Philip asks cautiously.
Elizabeth's jaw sets. "It's common enough, but not so common that it sounds generic. And it sounds—American."
Laura-the-receptionist has a sister who gave her baby that name. She brought the pictures in a few weeks back to share them with Elizabeth. There's an I in there somewhere, maybe after the A. "Philip and Elizabeth Jennings and their daughter Paige," Philip says, trying it on.
Elizabeth gives him a vigorous nod. "It sounds good, doesn't it? It sounds real."
He smiles. Paige it is.
"The Center will like it," she adds.
His smile disappears. He swallows.
Paige lets out another murmur of complaint, and Elizabeth lifts her up, kissing her on the top of her head. The worry spreads across Elizabeth's face again, and slowly, Philip reaches for her hand.
This time she grabs hold of it and grips it tight, like she's holding onto a lifeline. Her eyes are wet and full—in the six years he's known her, he's never seen her this close to tears—and her expressions are cycling from joy to pain and back again. His pulse leaps, and a sudden warmth spreads across Philip's face. He can feel a current traveling between them. Between all three of them.
"It's going to be okay," he says again, this time in English.
She lets her eyes fall shut, and for a long moment it's only the steady pressure on Philip's hand that makes him aware that she's not sleeping. Then she opens them again. "She's just so perfect," she says. "And she's not even an hour old, and we've already ruined her—" She cuts herself off, bites her lower lip. She dips her head down.
Philip's heart lurches. He moves closer, clasps her hand between his. "No. It doesn't have to be like that."
Elizabeth shakes her head, looks him straight in the eyes. "How? We're—we can't just be—"
"We'll find ways to give her a past."
Elizabeth's forehead creases. "What?"
He leans in further, his face as close to Elizabeth's as he can get without pressing his forehead against her cheek. "There will be ways that we'll be able to share Paige's history with her. Little things we can say without anyone suspecting—"
Elizabeth drops his hand, and her whole body recoils from him. Paige lets out a little cry. "You promised that we would never tell her!"
Philip sits up straight. "I don't—I don't mean I think we should—"
"No matter what happens to me, you said—"
"Nothing's going to—"
"You promised!" Elizabeth pushes herself up against the back of the bed with one hand, her eyes flashing with alarm.
Philip stands, clenching his hands into fists at his chest. "I won't tell her anything!"
Elizabeth jerks her head away and pulls Paige to her chest again. Paige is crying in earnest now, her little breaths coming in gasps and her eyes pressed tightly together.
"I wouldn't," he says again, more quietly. "I swear."
Elizabeth turns onto her side, her back to Philip, her body curled around the baby. Paige lets out a sputtery cough, and Elizabeth hunches her shoulders around the bundle, blocking it from Philip's view. She lets out another quiet little shhh to the baby, but all Philip can see is the curve of her spine through the hospital gown, the little vertebrae at the back of her neck.
Philip's face is burning like she's slapped him, the veins in his neck straining. He said the wrong thing, something so wrong that he probably couldn't have come up with something worse if he'd tried.
There's a quiet little knock at the door, and then it opens. "How are you three doing?" Philip doesn't look up, but the voice is the same nurse as before. He clenches his teeth.
Elizabeth turns over to face her, instantly all smiles. "We're great."
"Good," she says, taking another step toward the bed. "I'm afraid we're going to have to take little..." Her voice trails off and she gives Elizabeth an expectant look.
"It's Paige," Elizabeth says.
"Oh, that's such a pretty name." The nurse leans in toward the pink bundle. "We just have to run a few tests." She holds up a hand. "It's standard procedure."
Elizabeth nods and carefully hands Paige over to the nurse. She doesn't look up at Philip.
"I'll bring her back as soon as she's done."
"Actually—" Elizabeth's voice is suddenly heavy with an exhaustion that actually sounds real. "I'm pretty tired."
The nurse gives her a matter-of-fact nod and turns to Philip. "Why don't we take you back out into the waiting room, Mr. Jennings. Give your wife a little time to rest."
Philip keeps his eyes on Elizabeth. She doesn't meet them.
"We'll let you know when we bring your daughter back in," the nurse prompts.
Philip forces his shoulders back. "Sure," he says, his tone deliberately casual. The nurse wraps her free arm around Paige as she moves toward the door, and Philip follows her out. Elizabeth's hair is spread out against the pillow like a fan. The door swings shut.
The nurse gives him a tight little smile: a hint of pity. "It was a long night and an even longer morning."
Philip puts on a shrug. "Of course."
"The hormone rush keeps most new mothers awake for a while after the birth, but there are some who fall asleep even quicker than this." She half-turns and takes a step away, her hand cradling Paige's head. "I'll bring her right back."
"Thanks." Philip gestures with his thumb over his shoulder. "I'll, uh, make some more phone calls."
She smiles like she believes him, and then they're gone, disappearing through the set of doors at the end of the hall. Philip watches until the doors stop swinging. He turns and heads in the other direction.
At the entrance to the waiting room, he stops. Elizabeth's not worried that Paige won't be Russian, she's worried that she'll never have a normal life. Or—no, that's not quite it either. He balls a pair of fists at his sides.
Long before his job gave it a label and a clear purpose, Philip was always able to make people believe in him. He managed to figure out just what to say to the party bigwig neighbor who took a liking to him as a child, to the choir director who went on to give him the chance to sing for visiting international dignitaries, to the teacher who ended up recommending him for the English-language school. You find a way to spark that initial baseline of trust, and you build on it later. It's always worked. On everybody he's ever wanted it to, pretty much.
He pinches the bridge of his nose, rubbing at the corners of his eyes. Everybody but Elizabeth, anyway. He's never known what the hell he's supposed to say to her.
Paige has never been cuter, chattering into her plastic phone on the bedroom floor, but Philip keeps looking up at Elizabeth. She opens the top drawer of their dresser, careful to stand in the way of Paige's line of sight, and slips her gun into the interior pocket of her jacket. He's clenching his teeth. He slides his jaw forward and back again, forcing it to relax.
Elizabeth turns to face him head-on. "You know, we did agree that I would take this one." Her voice is level, but pointed, like she's asking for an acknowledgment that she's right.
Actually, she told him she was going to take this one, and he didn't protest. Which isn't quite the same thing. "I do want you to go," he says, careful to keep the worry from slipping into his voice.
She turns her back on him and starts rearranging the contents of the top drawer. "Good."
Philip swallows. "It's just that it's supposed to be a two-person job." He stands, hesitating a moment, then walks over to her. He maneuvers the corner of the dresser between them: he can't come across like he's hovering.
Elizabeth cocks her head at him. "How about we both go, then, and take Paige along." She raises an eyebrow. "Maybe take a picnic."
He feels a little smile play on his lips, then disappear. "The rules are that one of us is supposed to do the deposit and the other one is supposed to keep watch," he says gently.
She twists her hair onto one shoulder, smoothing it. "Since when do you care about the rules?"
He cares about her safety. "I care about not getting caught."
She rolls her eyes. "Philip, how many two-person jobs have you done on your own in the past year and a half? Did you really spend the whole time panicking about the possibility of getting caught?"
Philip pushes out a sigh. She's done her share of transcription and codebreaking from the short-wave broadcasts, but this is going to be her first time actually back in the game since Paige was born. Every time Philip's gone off on his own, the heat of her envy has radiated off her so clearly that he could feel it.
"You're right." he says. He holds up a hand. "I'm sorry."
Elizabeth's shoulders relax a little, and she gives him a little nod. Then her eyes flicker over to Paige, and she moves toward her, crouches down beside her. Paige beams and holds out the phone's receiver to Elizabeth. "Ma!"
"Oh, is that for me?" Elizabeth says and takes it. She holds it up to her ear, lowering herself to the floor and leaning back against the bed. "Hello? May I ask who's calling?"
Paige lets out a laugh: long and full and not quite a baby's anymore. She holds out her hand, opens it wide, and Elizabeth hands the receiver back to her. Paige holds it up to her own face. It's upside down, but one end is definitely at her ear, the other at her mouth.
"She'll be talking on a real phone before long," Philip says. "She definitely knows what they're for."
"Yeah, lately she's been trying to grab the kitchen phone away when I'm talking." Elizabeth cocks her head at him. "Isn't that funny? The real phone doesn't look anything like this one, but she still makes that leap."
"We made a smart one."
There's a flicker of light in Elizabeth's eyes, and they travel over to Paige. "Honey, I'm going to go away for a little bit, okay?" she says, leaning in, pulling Paige toward her and onto her lap. She cuddles Paige against her chest, but Paige struggles to get free, reaching out for the toy phone. She lets out a little cry of protest.
Elizabeth lets go of her, and then all at once there's a battle on her face: a little wistfulness, a little uncertainty. Philip's stomach quivers, and his lips begin to part, but he makes himself say nothing.
Elizabeth pulls her arms in to her sides, her eyes on Paige. "We've got some grapes if she gets hungry."
"Okay," he says, keeping his voice level.
Her eyes lift, land on Philip. The uncertainty is gone now, and all that's left is determination. "They're in the fridge, second drawer down on the right. I've already washed them, but you have to make sure you cut them up."
"I will." Nodding, he reaches for Elizabeth's hand. "We'll be fine, okay? It's just a couple of hours. You go on."
Elizabeth's mouth turns up in a half-smile that starts as teasing, then softens. "I'll be careful." She gives his hand a little squeeze and lets go. "I promise." She stands.
Philip's eyes follow her out the bedroom door. "See you later," he calls after her. If he says it out loud, maybe it will happen.
He listens until he hears the front door slam shut, the tension in his shoulders returning. She's done this dozens of times. She knows what to look for, she knows how to defend herself if something goes wrong.
Because something can always go wrong.
He reaches for Paige, gives the soft curls on the back of her head a rub. She's like a little plant that's grabbed hold of both of them with its roots, binding them even more tightly together. He still isn't sure whether he finds that more terrifying or more exhilarating.
It helps account for this churning, anxious feeling, though, that's for sure. Philip knows exactly when it started: a few days after the Center sent word through Leanne that it was about time for children. They were both still shy about seeing each other semi-clothed, but that morning their eyes met in the bathroom mirror while they were getting ready, and for the first time they didn't immediately look away. It was like flipping a switch: she wasn't just another Directorate S illegal anymore, or an agent who'd sparred with him in training more than once and beaten him, but his wife. And he knew that Philip Jennings was the sort of guy who'd put himself in any amount of danger to make sure his wife was safe.
The two-tone singsong of the doorbell chimes throughout the house, and Philip grins. Paige looks up at him. "Ma."
Philip chuckles and leans down to pick her up. "Yeah, Mama probably forgot her keys, didn't she?" He hoists her up against his chest and heads down the hall.
In the entryway, Philip can see a little boy peering in the tall window alongside the door, his face screwed up and his eyes squinting to see inside. Philip's forehead creases, but he swings the door open, and then he's face-to-face with Mrs. Martinsen from next door. The sky's clouded over now, the warm and sunny morning replaced by a steady rain.
The Martinsens' kid—Lenny? Kenny?—steps back and grabs onto his mother's leg in a sudden attack of shyness. He's taller than Philip remembers, tall enough that the brightly-colored bag over Mrs. Martinsen's shoulder barely clears the top of his head.
"Hey, how's it going?" He gives Paige's leg a little squeeze. "Look who's here. You know Mrs. Martinsen."
"Please, call me Judy," the woman says, holding up a hand in protest. She crouches down a little and leans in toward Paige. "I sure do know you, hello Paige!" she says in a baby voice. Her eyes flick up to meet Philip's. "Is this a bad time?"
"Not at all," he says, pulling Paige toward him and planting a little kiss on her forehead. "We're just hanging out on our own this afternoon." Philip cocks his head at her. "Do you two want to come in?"
"We'd love to." She steps over the threshold, pushing Kenny along. "Kenny was just going a little stir crazy inside with this rain. Elizabeth and I have been talking about getting the kids together sometime, so I thought we might take a chance and see if Paige wanted to play."
"Sounds great." Philip sets Paige down on the ground, her wobbly legs flailing. Kenny runs into the other room, and Paige toddles off behind him as fast as she can go. "You two stay in the living room, okay?" he calls out after her, but she's already gone.
"She's gotten so big!" Judy shakes her head. "Just look at her, all walking around."
Philip gives his eyes a theatrical roll. "Tell me about it. She's been growing like a weed. It's a good thing it'll be summer soon, because she's already outgrown everything we had for spring." He steps into into the kitchen. "Can I get you something? A Coke? A beer?"
"Just water's fine," Judy says, looking around past the entryway and into the living room. "You have such a beautiful house."
"Thanks," he says. He fills her glass and reaches into the freezer for some ice. He pulls out a chair and sits down, giving his watch a quick glance. Elizabeth will probably be just arriving at the safe house by now. She'll prepare everything, pick up a car, make her way to the drop site.
Judy sits down opposite him, and then Kenny is by her side, bouncing on one leg. "Can I show the Duplos to Paige?"
"He means those new big Legos," Judy explains, tapping her cigarette pack on the table and letting one roll out. She lifts her bag onto the table and zips it open. She holds up a bright red plastic brick, waving it in the air.
"I don't think that should be a problem," Philip says to Kenny.
Kenny grabs the strap and drags it into the living room, then dumps it on its side, spilling the blocks all over the floor. He shoots his mother a guilty look and pushes them into a pile. Paige lets out a squeal of delight.
"Look at her," Judy says in a low voice. "She's such a sweetheart." She lights her cigarette.
"Thanks." Kenny hands Paige a big red brick, and she claps it between two hands and slams it against the floor, punctuating the movement with a shout. "We're pretty crazy about her."
"Kenny just loves her. Honestly, if you ever need anybody to watch her."
"Careful, we just might take you up on that," Philip says, arching his eyebrows at her. "In fact, you wouldn't happen to have some time right now?" he jokes.
Judy shrugs. "Of course! Anytime."
Philip's eyes narrow. "You're not serious."
He gives Judy a once-over: she is serious. He glances at his watch again. It's going to be at least another fifteen minutes before Elizabeth will be heading over to the drop site, and if he skips the part about actually stopping at the safe house first—
He gestures toward the door with his thumb. "Because there's this errand that I was supposed to run for work."
"Of course I'm serious!" Judy takes a long drag on her cigarette and pulls the ashtray closer. She taps her ash into it. "You two are travel agents, right?"
"Yeah, and see, there's—there's this client we're trying to win over." The story unfolds into Philip's mind like a movie, and he gives the guy Colonel Zhukov's chin, Gabriel's receding hairline. "He's thinking about using us for his business—and it's a big D.C. company, which would be a real coup for us as a small family-run agency. And he asked me to do up this package for him, kind of as a test?"
Judy's head bobs up and down. "To see if you're good enough."
He points a finger at her. "Exactly." The guy's got a fancy American suit, and a nameplate on his desk with some serious-sounding name. James, maybe, James Miller. "So I've put this thing together, and I'm telling you, it's great. Really great. But if I could bring it by to him in person this afternoon, the day before his deadline, I think I could really make an impression, you know? Kind of seal the deal. But he'll only be in the office another hour at this rate, and Elizabeth is out running another errand, so..." He gives her a helpless look.
Judy shakes her head. "Honestly, it's no trouble at all."
Philip shoots to his feet. "Thank you so much. You're a real lifesaver." He rushes into the living room and grabs their most official-looking file from the coffee table. "I can be back in an hour."
"It's okay, really. Take your time. You can't rush a business deal, right?"
"If we can make this happen, I'm going to owe you big," he says to Judy, crouching down on the floor next to the kids and giving Paige a tight squeeze. "Daddy will be right back, okay?" he says, planting a kiss on her cheek. She wriggles out of his grasp and slams the Legos in her hands together like cymbals.
Philip makes a beeline for the front door, grabbing his tan raincoat and sunglasses from the front closet. "It'll be an hour and a half, tops," he calls out into the kitchen.
Judy grinds out her cigarette and goes to sit on the floor with the kids. "Knock 'em dead!"
There's a bus at ten after two. Philip pulls the door shut behind him and takes off. The rain's let up a little, but it's still drizzling, and his feet splash through puddles as he runs, soaking his slacks through to the skin. He sprints to the stop, struggling into his coat as he runs, and arrives just as the bus is pulling up.
Philip claims one of the seats in the middle: far enough away from the front not to be noticed. He puts his hood up. It's a makeshift camouflage, but it will have to do.
Elizabeth's not going to like that. She's not going to like the fact that he's showing up without discussing it with her ahead of time, either. She's going to assume he doesn't trust her to handle things like this on her own. He curls his hands around the edge of the seat, stuffs the thought away.
Just past the Annandale stop he gets off, jogs over to the park, and follows the footpath that leads up to the bridge. He pulls the string of his hood tight and slides on his sunglasses, letting the raindrops sputter against them as he traces the path through the woods. He does a quick visual survey of the area, but it's the wrong time of day for birdwatchers, and the rain has kept the families away. At the edge of the bridge he stops, leans against the railing, and digs a packet of cigarettes out of the pocket of his coat.
He's smoked his way through the second one by the time he catches a glimpse of Elizabeth approaching the drop site on foot, making her way down along the edge of the dirt road that leads down under the bridge. She's done something with her chin, and she's wearing the wig with waist-length, chestnut hair. A peasant blouse and brown bell-bottom corduroys complete the look. A year and a half out of the game sure hasn't diminished her ease with disguises: Philip wouldn't have recognized her himself if he didn't know what to look for.
Elizabeth hunches forward, her shoulders tensing. She doesn't look straight at him, but she's definitely spotted him. He swallows. Okay, yeah, she's definitely going to kill him.
Then she's close enough that Philip can hear the swish of her footsteps against the damp leaves, and she disappears under the bridge. She's gone only a few seconds, and he turns just enough to see her emerge on the other side: that peasant blouse has a lining thick enough to lose a piece of flash paper in it easily. Then she's at the trail, giving her wig a quick shake just before disappearing down it.
Philip loosens his grip on the railing. They're in the clear.
He draws in a long breath, lets it back out again. She'll come around. He'll explain how Judy offered to watch Paige. And for the first time in a year and a half, they just managed to complete a drop almost entirely by the book: she's going to have to see the benefit in that.
He waits another five minutes, grinds out the last of his cigarette, and continues his way down the path leading to the spot where she'll have left the car. The gravel parking lot is deserted enough that their car's got to be either a blue Buick or a brown 1969 Ambassador. He walks over to the picnic table next to the Buick, makes a half-hearted attempt to wipe the rain off the drenched wood with the sleeve of his coat, and sits down.
And then Elizabeth is there: the tension in her shoulders, the long strides of her walk. She sweeps straight past him to the driver's side of the car, then lifts her new chin. She fixes her eyes on him in a cold stare.
Philip stands, wipes the worst of the rain off the seat of his pants, and opens the passenger door. He climbs inside and pulls the door closed. "Nice disguise," she says, sneering at him from the driver's seat.
He hunches down inside his hood. Yeah, she's not wrong about that part. He takes off the sunglasses and shoves them inside his pocket. "Sorry. It was a little...improvised."
She shoots him a look of sheer disgust. Then she turns pointedly away and roots around inside her pocket for her keys.
Okay, there's no way this is just about the disguise. "I do know you could have done it alone, okay?" Philip nudges her with his eyes. "I just figured as long as we could play by the—"
"What did you do with Paige?"
Philip blinks. "She's—she's with Judy. Mrs. Martinsen." He gives his head a shake. "What, did you think I just left her?"
Her expression doesn't change. This isn't worry over Paige, either, this is something else.
"She showed up on our doorstep with Kenny just after you left," Philip says, trying again. "By the time I headed out, the kids had those big plastic Legos spread all over the living room floor. Paige barely registered that I was leaving."
Elizabeth jams the key into the ignition and starts the car, the muscles in her neck straining with tension. The tires crunch against the wet gravel as she drives off.
She can't actually be thinking that she's the only one who can take care of their kid. Back home—wherever she's from—there's no way most people didn't live in communal flats. Hell, she probably grew up in one herself. "Don't tell me your own mother didn't used to leave you in the capable hands of the teachers at the Detskiy Sad," he teases, letting a hint of a smile play on his lips.
She turns to face him. Her eyes narrow in a glare.
"Because there's no way that back in good old Gryazi—"
"Stop that!" she yells, slamming on the brakes. The tires skid against the gravel, and Philip braces himself against the dash.
His smile disappears. Rules or no rules, sometimes that kind of little reminder makes a soft, faraway look come to her eyes, and she reaches for him. Apparently not today.
Elizabeth puts on the parking brake and turns her head so pointedly away from him that all he can see is the wet strands of the wig down her back. She feels for the packet of cigarettes on the dash, lights one, inhales. She lets out a puff of smoke that doesn't quite mask an angry sigh.
He loosens the string around his hood and removes it with a jerk. He has absolutely no idea what has her so upset. Hell, he doesn't know where she's from, or even her goddamn name.
Elizabeth removes the parking brake and pulls off again, maneuvering them out onto the road, and a silence stretches between them: the kind that means their conversation isn't over. The muscles in Philip's legs tense. He reaches for his own pack of cigarettes and threads one between his fingers. He fiddles with his lighter, rolling the little wheel against his thumb, stopping just shy of lighting it. He waits.
The rain is slapping down against the windshield now, and Elizabeth turns on the wipers. She takes another puff and breathes it out, her eyes on the road. "I can't believe you let her into our house," she says finally.
Philip's eyebrows shoot up. "You mean Judy? What's wrong with—"
"So she's Judy now?"
"That's what she told me to call her." He cocks his head at her, scrutinizing her. "Okay, what's going on here?"
"I just—" She holds her cigarette up to her mouth again and inhales, the fingers of her free hand tensing around the steering wheel. "I don't understand why the neighbors feel the need to try to worm their way into our lives."
Philip doesn't get where this is coming from. "She wasn't trying—"
"And I don't appreciate the fact that the first time I'm gone for more than a few minutes, Mrs. Call-Me-Judy is in our living room, taking care of our daughter." Her head tilts toward him in accusation, her eyes colliding with his.
Philip's defenses snap into place. "She offered to watch Paige."
"And what was in that for her? Did that even occur to you?"
Philip clenches his teeth. He lights his cigarette, raises it to his mouth, and inhales. "She was just being friendly, Elizabeth."
"Yeah, well, let them be friendly with the other neighbors, then." She slides the ashtray open and ashes her cigarette into it. "You can't just be inviting strangers off the street into our home."
"Strangers off the—since when are the Martinsens strangers?" Come to think of it, it's ridiculous that this was the first time that Judy's seen the inside of their house. "We've known them for almost two years."
"There are things in that house—who knows what she might find!"
Now she's being delusional. "What, you think that as soon as I rounded the corner, she headed straight for the basement and started rummaging around inside the crawl space behind the dryer? The lady works in an elementary school, for God's sake."
"Right, and we run a travel agency." Elizabeth shivers: the wet clothes, or maybe the very thought of a neighbor with ill intentions.
Philip pushes a sigh out through his nose. Sometimes Elizabeth's paranoia is useful—if nothing else, it keeps their senses sharpened—but it can go too far. "Look, Paige had a fun afternoon, I got to be your eyes, it all worked out." He reaches for her arm, his hand resting on damp cotton. "Can you just try to relax?"
Elizabeth jerks away, and then all at once her face goes entirely blank. She takes one last puff, lets it out in a quick breath, and grinds out the cigarette in the ashtray.
She's staring at the road. Philip's defenses lower again, and anxiety rushes in to take their place. It's been a long time since she's shut down so hard that he couldn't reach her at all. Since the hospital, the morning Paige was born.
This can't end up like that did. He takes another quick puff on his cigarette. "I'm sorry," he tries.
She looks at him.
"I am." His voice is low. "But I really don't think I understand why this upsets you so much."
Elizabeth's hands tighten around the steering wheel, her knuckles white. "It's just—"
She cuts herself off, and there's a long, loose pause that stretches into a silence. Her face is contorted with effort, and she's shivering.
"I was on top of it," she says finally, and there's real urgency in her voice. "I knew what I had to do, and when, and how, and—and then you took that away."
Philip draws in a long breath. She wanted control over this drop, the control he'd had for a year and a half. Like Paige's grapes. "I'm really sorry," he says, and this time it's genuine.
"You have to promise me you won't invite Mrs. Martinsen in again," Elizabeth blurts.
Philip feels his eyes widen. "What, ever?"
"Promise me, Philip."
"But—sooner or later we're going to have to start making friends, aren't we?" he asks, shaking his head. It's what American families do: in the summer there are always backyard barbecues, and in the winter there are supposed to be dinner parties.
"Philip," she says again.
His fingers tighten around his cigarette. It only takes a few hours of observation for him to have anybody else pegged, but Elizabeth still manages to confound him, even when he thinks he's starting to understand. "Okay," he says, letting go.
"Thank you." Her words are clipped: the closing of a door. She lets the silence stretch between them again, and this time it feels final.
At a red light he leans in to catch her eye, but she turns her head away and stares at the road, clutching an arm to her chest like a shield.
The voice from the television assaults Philip's ears as he opens the front door, and it swells further as he closes it behind him. Mrs. Peters has got the volume turned up again. It's impressive how well the kids always sleep through that.
He steps into the living room. "Hey," he says, pitching his voice loudly enough to be heard over the TV. She's got a sky blue cardigan bunched up behind her head like a pillow, and her eyes are fixed on the screen. That's Mrs. Peters for you: the kind of lady who makes sure to take along a sweater in a northern Virginia summer just in case there might be a draft. She only has ten years on him and Elizabeth, but sometimes it seems more like thirty.
"Hi," she says. She nods at him but doesn't look up. Then it sinks in: the voice is the President's. He's actually doing it. Philip turns toward the screen.
The camera is zoomed in for a closeup in an obvious attempt to make him look sincere, but it only makes the new lines in his face more apparent. He says something about God's grace, and Philip makes a face at the screen. Good thing you've still got your God, Mr. President, you're sure going to need him in the next little while.
As the speech finishes, Mrs Peters stands, grabs her sweater, and walks over to turn off the TV. "No Mrs. Jennings tonight?" she asks.
Philip shakes his head: she's overseeing Gregory's training tonight. "She's got a late-night meeting with a client," he explains, tilting his head at the TV. "So, looks like it's going to be President Ford, huh?"
Mrs. Peters twists a dark brown curl around her index finger. Philip's always pegged her as a Republican, and both the strange nervousness and the grim expression seem to confirm that. "They say they're going to be swearing him in tomorrow afternoon," she says.
"Wow." He and Elizabeth both tried to cultivate sources in the FBI's inner circle a few years back, but she's the one who actually succeeded. All this is probably her baby, in a roundabout way.
"Yeah. It all happened so fast, didn't it?" Mrs. Peters gives her head a shake. "I mean, people have been talking all year about the President resigning, but I didn't think it would actually happen."
"Neither did I," Philip says. This is exactly the kind of thing that moves Elizabeth, gives her the feeling that they're actually making a difference. Philip lets himself smile, then stifles it. Now Mrs. Peters definitely thinks he's a Democrat.
"I don't know how you two feel about him," she says, meeting Philip's eyes, letting the unspoken question linger. She twists a curl around her finger again. "President Nixon, I mean."
"We're not really all that political," he says, turning his half-smile into something a little more apologetic. "It is pretty shocking, though, that the President can just be gone overnight like that." Philip was still a kid when Stalin died, but he can remember the adults all walking around with ashen faces, like it was the end of the world. He hoped becoming a grownup wouldn't mean thinking the world was going to end just because one guy did. "Did everything go all right here tonight?" he says, changing the subject.
"They were great," Mrs. Peters says with a nod. She drapes her sweater across her shoulders. "Henry fell asleep right after dinner, and Paige actually seemed eager to get to bed."
Philip's eyebrows arch. "Well, you clearly have the magic touch, then. With us she's always begging to stay up just another five minutes." He reaches into his pocket and roots around inside for a ten. "You think you might be free next week?" Philip asks, following her to the door. "We might have another late night on Tuesday."
"I think so," she says.
"I'll give you a call."
"Sure. Have a good night."
"Thanks again." Philip shuts the door, locks it.
The ashtray on the kitchen table is full to overflowing: yeah, this definitely wasn't a good night for Mrs. Peters. He reaches automatically for his own pack, then shoves it back in his pocket. Tonight he needs the sleep.
Henry's door is cracked open, and Philip slips inside as quietly as he can. The nightlight flickers a little, sending an eerie yellow glow across the red fire engine bedspread. Philip straightens it against his little bed, tucks it under Henry's chin. He plants a kiss on his forehead and slips back out of the room.
Paige's door is all the way closed, and Philip hesitates for just a moment outside it. He turns the knob slowly, careful not to let it squeak, and slides it open.
The flash of a light, the whites of her eyes. And then she's under the covers, the flashlight from the kitchen along with her. It flicks off. She turns onto one side and presses her eyes closed.
Philip takes a step inside the room. Five sure is turning out to be a sneaky age. "Paige?"
She squints her eyes shut.
Philip bites the inside of his cheeks, trying not to smile. Apparently that's how kids look when they're extra asleep. "Paige, I know you're awake," he says. "I saw the flashlight."
She rolls over the rest of the way to face him and opens her eyes. She hunches down further underneath the covers.
He sits down next to her on the bed. "What were you looking at?"
Paige shifts a little, squirming. "Nothing."
Carefully, he reaches down and pulls back the covers. She's curled up on something that looks like a children's book: square and cardboard. "What do you have there?" he asks, as gently as he can manage.
She squeezes herself into a tinier ball, trying to block the book from view. She tucks her hands under her chin, twisting a finger around the ribbon on her nightgown.
Philip forces his face to set in an I-mean-business expression. "Paige. Come on."
Slowly, she moves to one side, acknowledging defeat. The light from the hall shines down on the book: white, square and hardback, with a little naked cartoon baby on the front and WHERE DID I COME FROM in big block letters.
Philip reaches for it, opens it: a crude drawing of a chubby woman and an even chubbier man. His eyebrows fly up. The cartoon baby's not the only one going around without clothes in this book. It's a far cry from the requirements of the morality of the Soviet man that he was fed.
Paige sits up with a start. "Don't tell Mom."
He pages through it. Little squiggly sperm and— "Where did you get this?" His voice comes out sharp with alarm.
"It's Kenny's. Please don't tell Mom!"
"You got this from Kenny?" Kenny Martinsen's three years older than Paige, which means that he's— Philip's stomach seizes, flushing his throat with acid. "Paige, did Kenny give this to you to look at?"
Her forehead creases. "What?"
He keeps turning the pages, suddenly finding it difficult to breathe. He grabs hold of her shoulder. "Listen. Paige, this is important—" Her head drops, breaking the eye contact. "—no, look at me. When Kenny gave this to you, did he—show you—anything?"
She mumbles something he can't understand. There's a burst of static in Philip's brain.
"What did you say?" He's stroking her arm like it's a frightened animal. "Paige?"
"Hedidn'tgiveittome," she pushes out in a rush.
His anxiety catches on something, retreats a little. "I—I thought you said you got it from Kenny," he says, his voice shaking.
She reaches for the sheet, pulls it up over her chin. She peeks over it at him: two little eyes, not traumatized. Nervous.
"You took it from Kenny." He lets go of his breath. His chest floods with a cold wash of relief.
She drops the sheet, sits up straight again. "Don't tell Mom!"
"Paige." Philip feels the tension in his shoulders slacken, but he forces his face to look stern. "You know we don't steal things, right?"
"I didn't mean to steal it!" She clasps her hands into tight little fists and presses them to her face, one against each eye. Then a jagged sob rips out of her throat, and the flood of tears begins.
Philip's heart churns. "Come on, hey, hey. It's okay," he says, motioning for her to come closer. She climbs into his lap and throws herself against his shoulder, her tears soaking his shirt. He reaches around and strokes her hair. "It's okay. I'm not mad."
"Don't tell Mom," Paige chokes out through sobs.
He runs a hand through her hair. "It's okay. I won't tell Mom," he says, and feels her instantly relax against him. Elizabeth would be so hurt to hear that her first reaction was don't tell Mom. He pushes Paige back to an elbow's length away, tracing a finger around to her chin. "But tomorrow you have to take the book back to Kenny, okay?"
Paige's cheeks are streaked wet with tears. She lets out a red-eyed, shuddery sniff and gives him a reluctant nod.
The book isn't so bad, really. It's pretty American, but maybe that's okay. "And you have to say you're sorry." Philip pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket and dabs it against her face, extracting the book from underneath the covers. He sets it on the nightstand. "Okay? You can't just take things that don't belong to you."
She nods again, her lower lip quivering.
He plants a kiss on her forehead. He stands, shoving the handkerchief back into his pocket. "Now get some sleep, all right?"
Paige's eyes wander over to the book. "Wait, I've got to—" She throws the covers back and slides out of bed, her little feet white against the blue carpet. She grabs the book, clutches it to her chest, and dashes over to the bookshelf. She retrieves a stray Dr. Seuss dust jacket from the bottom shelf and wraps it carefully around Kenny's book. She slides it onto the shelf.
Philip feels his mouth turn up. The dust jacket makes for a pretty impressive passive concealment by five-year-old standards. Not bad by anybody's standards, really. A rush of love flames through him. "Okay," he says, clapping. "Come on, back to bed, quick quick!"
She runs back to the bed and jumps up on it, pulling the covers up to her chest. Philip lies down beside her, rolling onto his side, and she spoons against him, fitting her little body against his like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. "Hey. You know you can ask us anything, right? Anything you want to talk about, it's always okay."
Paige rolls onto her back, and her mouth pinches into a skeptical pucker, her forehead creasing. The expression makes her look old beyond her years: a grown woman's eyes above the little girl's pudgy cheeks. Philip's chest aches.
"That's what Moms and Dads are for," he says, beeping her on the nose.
She gives him a bucktoothed grin, and all at once she's a kid again. She snuggles down underneath the covers, and he tucks the covers up under her chin. "I love you," she says, falling into their routine.
"I love you more." He gets up.
She squirms under the covers, still grinning. "No, I love you more."
Philip takes a step toward the door. "Yeah, well, I love you most."
She's giggling as he pulls the door closed, leaving it open a crack. He flicks the light off in the hallway, leaving just the glow from the nightlight. Her tears have left him drained and he barely manages to get his face washed and teeth brushed before he climbs into bed, feeling the tug of sleep on his mind.
A hand on Philip's arm wakes him the next morning. There's sunlight streaming in through the window, and Elizabeth is bending over him, her hair draped across one shoulder. "Good morning."
Last night's speech bleeds into his thoughts, and he grins. "It really is." He shifts over to the other pillow, making room for her. "Come here," he says, giving the bed a sleepy pat.
She points at the half-open door. "I left Henry in the playpen."
"Just for a few minutes."
She sits down, and then stretches out next to him, relaxing against the bed. The wide collar on her blouse exposes a gold chain at her breastbone, and she props herself up by an elbow. She gives him a little smile.
"Good morning," he says, reaching for a stray strand of hair and tucking it behind her ear. She doesn't pull away.
"I guess we'll probably be hearing from Gabriel today," Elizabeth says, rolling over onto her back.
He gives her a lopsided grin. Sometimes they go months without hearing from him, but this won't be one of the quieter times, that's for sure. "I'd say so."
She lets out a laugh, like she's dizzy with the thrill of it. Then a thoughtful look falls across her face. "There's going to be a new administration. Although Ford will probably reappoint most of the same people to begin with, just for consistency's sake."
"Sure, but he'll want to put his own stamp on things. They always do." New blood means new weak links, and eventually there's going to be a whole lot of them. There's a boost of adrenaline, and he pushes himself up against the pillow.
"We'll want to investigate them." She rolls over and props herself up on her side again, her eyes flashing. "We should get started today. Look at all of the likely candidates, so we'll be ready when they're in place."
Philip echoes her smile back at her. "Okay." He runs a hand down her arm, resting it on her hand. "So, exactly how much of this is your personal triumph, anyway?"
She gives her head a quick shake. "The leaks were Felt's idea."
"Really?" Elizabeth spent at least a year courting the FBI director, though it's true she hasn't mentioned him in a while.
"It's been more than a year since I've even had contact with him," she says absently, her eyes unfocusing. Then her head snaps up, and she looks right at Philip. "You know, this is going to mean a lot more work in the next couple of years."
Philip shakes his head. "That's a good thing, right?"
"It's just—we'll have to be away from the office a lot. And from home. There will probably be some travel."
"I think we're ready for it." Philip rolls his shoulders back, working the morning kinks out of his muscles. "Paige will be in school soon, which will take some of the burden off of you. We'll manage."
She gives him a slow nod, and then her expression sets in a look of contentment. He threads his fingers through hers, and for a long moment they just lie there, the palm of her hand a warm pressure in his. This is why they're here.
Then Elizabeth sits up, stands. "You want one piece of toast or two?"
"Make it two," he says, and she gives him a nod as she heads down the hall. Philip sits up, tossing his legs off the edge of the bed. From down the hall he can hear Paige and Henry playing in the living room.
Half an hour later, dressed, he wanders into the kitchen, twin smells of instant oatmeal and buttered toast reaching his nose. He struts over to Elizabeth, putting on an Irish accent. "Have any of you lovely folks ever seen such a fine mornin as this one?" He leans in and plants a kiss on her neck.
Henry gives him a big grin, banging a spoon against his high chair. "Daddy," he says, like he's announcing Philip's arrival. But Elizabeth leans away, ducking Philip's contact, and doesn't look up. Paige is rooting around in her cereal bowl with her spoon, her face pinched into a pout. Philip feels the smile drain away from his face.
Elizabeth bends down and extricates Henry from his high chair. "I'm pretty sure he needs a change," she says, and rushes out of the room.
An alarm bell sounds in his head. He walks around to the other side of the table, squeezes Paige on the shoulder. "I'll be right back, honey, okay?" He traces Elizabeth's path down the hall.
Henry's on the changing table when he gets to the room, his legs so big now that they're dangling off the edge. An artificially sweet smell almost covers up the lingering sourness in the air, and Elizabeth crouches down, retrieves a diaper from the box. She can sense him there—she can always sense him there—but she doesn't look up.
Philip's shoulders are tense, but he forces himself to look casual. He leans against the doorframe. "So you really never even egged Felt on? Not even at the beginning?"
"He knew Woodward before I even approached him." Her voice is tight. Henry lets out a little stream of nonsense syllables, the kind that sound almost like sentences.
"I just thought you might have planted the seed," Philip said, trying again.
Elizabeth lifts Henry up, pulling the diaper out from under him, and tapes it shut. "When your enemy's already holding a gun to his own head, you don't hand him a sword, you get out of the way."
Philip frowns. Elizabeth grabs a damp cloth and wipes Henry with it. Philip waits.
She raises her head and meets his eyes, but her mouth is pressed in a tight little line. "Listen to the tapes if you don't believe me. You know where we keep them." She tosses the cloth into the laundry, unfolds the clean diaper onto the table, and lifts Henry just enough to slide it underneath him. He lets out a little cry of protest.
Philip rocks back onto one leg, a dark unease settling between his shoulder blades. Something's up. His eyes dart over to the table in the corner: Kenny Martinsen's book.
She found it while he was in the shower, and confronted Paige.
For a moment he lets himself wonder how she managed to stumble upon it: it was a pretty good hiding place. It's not as if it matters now, though. He walks over to the table, picks up the book, and sets it down next to Henry on the changing table.
Elizabeth meets his eyes. She folded her arms. "Interesting reading material our five-year-old daughter had, don't you think?"
A nerve pricks in Philip's neck. If this is going to overshadow the President's resignation for them today, then it's a bigger deal than he realized. But it makes sense—Elizabeth was fed the same lines about this that he was. Of course she's going to want to control what her daughter learns about it, and when, and how.
"You know what she said when I found it?" Elizabeth's expression is dense and granite-hard. "Dad said it was okay."
"Hold on," Philip says, holding up a hand. Henry lets out a little whining noise. "What Dad actually said is that she had to give it back today."
"Give it—that's it? You really think this doesn't merit any kind of punishment?" She picks Henry up, but her eyes are fixed on Philip, the muscles cording on her neck. "Are you aware that she stole the book from Kenny Martinsen? Apparently his parents don't even know she's got it."
"And that's why I told her she had to give it back today, okay?" He shuffles a step back. "And apologize."
"Oh, okay. This will all be fine if she just apologizes." Her eyes bore into him, her head tilted toward him in accusation. "Is that really what you think?"
"All right." He steels himself, takes another step toward her. "Let's think about this rationally for a minute, okay? The stealing, that part's a—a problem."
She glares at him. Henry reaches a little hand up to touch her face, but she moves it out of the way and keeps her eyes fixed on Philip.
"And Paige understands that." Philip leans in toward her. But the book—is it really so bad?" This is one of the things he loves most about Paige, really: her curiosity, her resourcefulness. She's like a tiny version of Elizabeth sometimes. "I mean, of course she's curious. To her, Henry was just there one day."
"She's five, Philip."
Philip picks the book up, turns it over. Age 6 and up. "So she's a little precocious."
Elizabeth sets Henry down on the edge of the table and grabs the book. She opens it: a naked man and a naked woman holding hands. Boy, those illustrations sure don't leave anything to the imagination. He swallows.
"Did you see the pictures in this thing?" she spits. Her face cycles through contortions of anger and disgust.
Philip tries on a shrug. "I thought they were kind of cute."
"Is this really how the Americans want to raise their children? With drawings of little cartoon—" She slams the book closed. "My own mother—" Realization washes across Elizabeth's face, and she clamps her mouth shut.
Philip's heart launches into a sprint. Finish the sentence.
Elizabeth's cheeks are suddenly pink. She sets the book down. She turns away.
Finish the sentence. He tries to rein the words in, but they're a breath he's struggling to keep holding, a pressure building in his chest. "Down," Henry whines, and Elizabeth reaches for him, sets him on the floor. Philip keeps his eyes fixed on her. Finish the sentence. Finish the sentence.
Philip waits another beat, another two, and then it's too much. "What?" he urges, struggling to keep his voice level. "Just say it."
He reaches for her, hesitating, then lets the back of his hand graze her arm. She shakes her head, pulls away, and rubs at the place where his hand was, erasing his touch. He swallows.
She lifts her head a little, but keeps her back turned. "Sexual...pedagogy..." She's hesitating, stumbling over the English words. "We can't overemphasize it like this. It has to be part of the entire social...morality."
He lets go of his breath. She sounds like one of those old pamphlets: Cyrillic print on paper the color of American grocery bags. He waits.
She turns to look at him. "When the time comes, whatever we teach her about this, it has to be about...family." She looks down. Henry is at her feet, fiddling with the laces on her shoes. "About children."
A stray cobweb of memory stretches across Philip's mind: their first attempt to follow through on the Center's most intimate orders. The squeaky springs of an American mattress, his embarrassing attempts to kiss her like a husband, her head turned pointedly away from his all-too-apparent arousal. Heat rushes to his cheeks. It was pretty far from the book's when your mom and your dad love each other.
"You want it to be about love," he says. There's a tremor in his voice.
A wince flickers across her face. "Yes." Her eyes dart over to meet his, then slide away again. "There's just—there's so much ugliness in the world, Philip. I don't want her to know about any of it."
He swallows. Of course there are things Elizabeth has to do for the job, he knows that. His throat tightens, and he shifts his weight from one leg to the other. He wonders what he might hear if he did go back and listen to those tapes of her and Felt. Of her and anyone.
And then the image is right behind Philip's eyes: Elizabeth's hips straining against some old fat American guy, her back arched, her mouth contorted into an O of mock ecstasy. Revulsion swells in the pit of his stomach. Their instructors stressed again and again that this job was exactly the same for a woman as it was for a man, but nobody who's been in the field for any length of time really believes that.
Philip opens the book onto Henry's changing table and pages through it: cartoon drawings of a woman and a man holding hands, sitting together in the bathtub, gazing at each other in bed. Little people are made by bigger people, it reads. He closes it again, holds it out to Elizabeth. "I don't actually see any ugliness here, though."
She doesn't take it. Henry stands, whimpering and tugging at her pants, and she picks him up, strokes his head. Philip sets the book on the table. She turns her back on it.
For a long moment she stands there, her hand tracing little circles on Henry's back. Then she turns to face Philip, tilts her head toward the book, and looks him right in the eyes. "What would have happened if I hadn't found this?"
Philip shakes his head. "What do you mean?"
"How long would you have gone on lying to me? Another day? A week? Forever?"
There's a twinge at the back of his neck. "I didn't—"
"You did, Philip. You and Paige, you were both ready to lie to me. The whole time we were talking in the bedroom earlier, you didn't say a word about it." Her voice is quiet, but firm. "And Paige is a child, but you—" She pulls Henry close, tucking her head in around him, and a curtain of hair falls across them, blocking Philip's view. She stands like that for a long moment. "We're supposed to be on the same side," she declares.
Philip bolsters his defenses. Somehow their side always ends up being her side. It's funny how that works.
Elizabeth lifts her head, and her forehead is creased with pain. There's something raw there. Philip pushes the thought back down, takes a step toward her. He holds out his hands in front of him. "I'm sorry," he offers.
Elizabeth hoists Henry onto her hip and drops her gaze. "Thank you," she says, her voice stiff and formal.
He stares at her, struggling to catch her eyes and reel them back in, but she turns and walks out of the room.
Philip holds the front door open for Mrs. Peters and follows her inside. "It's Daddy!" Paige squeals from the living room, running over to meet them. "Look!" she says, and throws her arms out to her sides in a ta-da pose. Her eyes flash with excitement.
Philip leans back, taking her in: a brown dress with a brown and white striped blouse underneath, and little patchwork numbers that read "415" lined up down her left shoulder. Underneath her collar, there's a little tie. It isn't quite big enough to call it a scarf, but it's the same bright red.
Philip smiles. "Wow," he says, drawing out the syllable.
Paige takes a little leap into the air, clutching her arms in front of her. "I'm a Brownie now!"
"You sure are." His smile expands to a grin.
"Look at you!" Mrs. Peters shakes her head and turns toward Philip. "How can she possibly be old enough to be a Brownie?" she says, and Paige beams.
"Time flies," Philip says, and takes another look at Paige. There probably aren't all that many variations on little uniforms for kids, but the resemblance is still pretty uncanny. He cranes his neck to see into the kitchen, trying to catch Elizabeth's eye, but she's wiping down the table.
"Sarah's a Brownie too." Paige jumps on one foot and then the other, wriggling around. "We're going to be Brownies together."
Sarah's a new friend of Paige's from school, nearly a year older. "What do Brownies do?" Philip asks.
Paige stops wriggling, and a thoughtful expression falls across her face. "Well—they help people."
"That's always a good thing," Philip says with a nod. He walks into the kitchen.
Paige follows him, dashing past him to look up into his face. "Sarah says that this year we're going to collect library books for starving children in Africa."
Not all that different from collecting paper to recycle, really. "Sounds great." Philip sits down at the kitchen table, cocking his head at Elizabeth. She walks over to the sink and shakes out the cloth, not looking up.
Paige leans against the table next to Philip, kicking her feet into the air behind her. "And there's crafts, and cooking, and—all kinds of stuff."
Henry appears at Philip's side, tugging at his shirt. "Dad, why is Mrs. Peters here?" he says in a stage whisper.
Mrs. Peters crouches down, meeting Henry's eyes. "I'm going to stay with you this afternoon while Paige is at Brownies, honey. So your mom and dad can go meet with a client."
His eyes jump from Philip to Mrs. Peters and back again. "Why do you got to meet with a client?" he asks Philip. He stretches his t-shirt up over his nose.
Gabriel wants them to meet with the new guy before they set him up in Boston. "Well, a client is like a friend," Philip says, giving Henry's little bare belly a poke. "A friend you have to spend a long time talking to. And then they give you money."
Henry lets his shirt fall back into place. "Just for talking?"
"Well, for—for telling them things they want to hear."
Henry's eyes bug out. "Dad," he says pointedly. "Isn't that lying?"
"No way, buddy. We never lie to our friends." He glances at Elizabeth, smirking, but she still has her back turned. The hairs on Philip's neck lift. That's not the kind of thing he should probably be joking about in front of her.
Paige runs into the living room, watching out the front window for her ride, and Henry's eyes follow her. "I want to be a Brownie," he whines.
There's an eruption of laughter from the living room. "Boys can't be Brownies, silly!"
Henry sticks out his lower lip.
"When you're a little bigger, you get to be a Cub Scout." Philip gives his arm a squeeze. "If you want."
Henry's pout retreats. "Were you a Cub Scout when you were a kid?"
The songs, the games, the little green hats. The little pins they were all so proud of at first, before they started feeling like just another part of the scenery. "I sure was," Philip says. He was, in a way, they just didn't call it that.
"I want to be a Cub Scout," Henry declares.
The tension in Elizabeth's shoulders dials up a notch, and she turns around. She doesn't look at Philip, but she's sucking in her cheeks, pursing her lips. A nerve pricks in Philip's neck. Okay, something is definitely up.
"You can't be a Cub Scout until you start school." Paige says, twirling back into the room. She slides on the linoleum in her stocking feet. "That's years from now." Henry's face screws up again.
"Paige, come on, be nice," Philip says to her. "And put your shoes on, they'll be here soon." He tucks the front of Henry's shirt back into his pants. "That just means you've got something to look forward to."
The doorbell rings, and Paige skids into the front hall. "I'll get it!"
"Don't forget your permission slip." Elizabeth grabs a piece of paper from the kitchen counter and follows her to the door. She picks up Paige's shoes from the floor and hands them to her.
The front door opens in a flurry: two little girls' excited chatter, Sarah's father's deep baritone, the shuffling of papers. "Have a good time," Philip calls after them, and then it closes again.
Elizabeth hovers at the edge of the entryway. "We'd better get going too," she says, a hand planted on her hip.
"You be good for Mrs. Peters," Philip says to Henry, tucking a stray lock of hair behind his ear. He stands, planting a kiss on the top of Henry's head. He turns toward Mrs. Peters. "We'll be back in a couple of hours."
Outside, the sun is peeking out from behind a gauze of clouds, and it's warmer than it looks. Philip reaches into his pocket for his keys, climbs into the driver's seat. He slides the key into the ignition and looks across at Elizabeth. "Is everything all right?"
She gives him a tight little nod. "Of course."
He runs a hand down his face. Eventually she'll say something, whatever it is. She always does. It's just a matter of waiting her out.
His hand tightens around the steering wheel. He's so sick of waiting her out. "Was it what I said about not lying to your friends? Because that was just a—"
"I'm fine, Philip," she says, tension spooling in her voice. "Let's just go."
He starts the car, feeling his jaw tightening, and pulls out of the driveway. He pushes the visor down to block the sun and flicks the radio on, turns it up just a little louder than she likes. He feels her eyes on him, but keeps his own on the road.
On the radio Stevie Nicks is crooning out something barely comprehensible about a cat in the dark, and Philip drums his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the beat. He reaches into the little space in front of the gear shift for his cigarettes.
"I thought you were going to quit," Elizabeth says, her voice even.
His hand lets go of them automatically, the guilt rising off of him like a bad smell. He frowns. He holds his hand just above them, hovering.
"They say it's not good for the kids," she adds. "There are doctors' studies."
She smoked around the kids herself for years, right up until the day that she decided they were both going to quit. He grabs the pack again. "I don't see the kids here, do you?"
Only the radio fills the long silence, and the car is so full with Elizabeth's annoyance that it feels like it's elbowing Philip in the ribs. He shakes a cigarette into his palm and grabs his lighter. He rolls the cigarette between his fingers, but doesn't light it.
"So I guess Moscow has decided they need somebody new in Boston," he says, his voice artificially bright.
He steals a glance at her. Her head is pressed against the headrest, and she's staring off into space. "I'm thinking it might be a good thing," he continues. "For us, I mean."
With another illegal in the area, maybe they won't be so isolated. He shrugs. "Somebody else to help out. You know, if we ever need it."
She doesn't sound upset now, she sounds distracted. He forces his eyes back onto the road. A yellow sports car pulls up beside him, then passes.
"Do you think—" Elizabeth begins. She cuts herself off.
For a moment it sounds like she's going to ask something about the new guy, but her face is pinched with worry. Philip turns the radio down a little, making a space for her. He waits.
Elizabeth folds her hands together, twisting them against each other. "Do you really think it's such a good idea to let Paige join that—that group?"
Philip feels his forehead crease. "What group?" he asked.
She turns her entire body toward him in her seat, shooting him a meaningful look.
His eyes fly open wide. "Are you talking about the Brownies?"
Elizabeth clutches her arms to her chest. "It's just—I don't know—Paige, in one of those little American uniforms?" Her cheeks are pink. "Doesn't it give you the creeps?"
"You can't possibly be serious."
"And what do we really know about what they're going to be teaching her in a group like that, anyway?"
"Starving children in Africa." He puts on an overly earnest expression. "Sounds pretty scary."
Elizabeth sits up straight, her spine rigid. "You know, they have a pledge." She points a finger at him. "Paige doesn't have it memorized yet, but the part she does know says something about serving God."
Philip shakes his head. "Everybody talks about God here, Elizabeth. Most of them don't actually mean anything by it."
"They earn badges, too. For doing tasks."
She makes it sound ominous, like they're going to be sent out into the fields to harvest vegetables from dawn to dusk. "What kinds of tasks?"
She faces him head-on, the muscles in her neck tight. "That's exactly my point, Philip—do you know? Because I sure don't."
"Let me get this straight." A smile pinches at the corners of his mouth. All of a sudden, you're afraid that our daughter is going to be the victim of indoctrination by the Girl Scouts of America."
Her eyes narrow.
"I mean, when we filled out that little form, didn't it say something about arts and crafts or something?"
"Of course that's where it all starts—they're children! But you and I both know—" She draws in a sharp breath and gulps the thought back. She jerks her head away, looks out the window.
Philip turns off the radio and lets the silence between them thicken with the static of the car's tires on the road. He swallows. This can't have been what Colonel Zhukov had in mind when he issued the prohibition on talking about the past.
"Hey." He lets his hand graze her arm, and she jerks it away. "I'm sorry. I'm listening, okay? Tell me again."
She turns toward him, gives him a long look. She drops her gaze.
"Come on," he coaxes. He reaches across and puts a hand on her leg, and this time she lets it stay there. "I'm sorry."
"They're training them, Philip." Her hands loosen, then clench again. "Maybe—maybe indoctrination is too strong a word. But that doesn't mean there's no ideology there."
Philip withdraws his hand and presses his lips together. In America the ideology isn't something they have to force-feed you, it's in the air that you breathe. Every time the kids watch a toy commercial in between their Saturday morning cartoons, every time their neighborhood friends set up a lemonade stand, every time Mrs. Peters gets out her Monopoly game and teaches Paige strategies for the best properties to buy, it's there. They don't have to join an organization to pick up on any of that.
"Okay. I get it," he says.
A light of hope flickers across Elizabeth's face. She meets his eyes.
"I just can't help but wonder—" He pushes out a little sigh. "Do you really think we can shelter them from that kind of thing?"
The hope is gone in a flash, and her face darkens. That isn't what she wanted to hear from him.
There's a sudden sour taste in Philip's mouth, but he swallows it back. "I mean, even if we decide that we want to try, do you really think we'd have any chance of succeeding? The kids—they're growing up here. In this country."
She levels a glare at Philip that's filled with the kind of contempt she usually reserves for American politicians and overpaid athletes, and then a wall slams down between them. He can still feel the heat of her anger, but her face is completely expressionless. He taps his cigarette against the back of his hand. Frustration pools between his shoulder blades.
Philip turns off the road and pulls up to the parking structure: it's late enough now that the booth is unmanned and the barriers are sticking straight up. The sun gives way to shadow as he pulls inside. He shouldn't have teased her when he knew she was upset.
He fiddles with the wheel on his cigarette lighter, and a flash of anger courses through his gut. There's always something he could have done better. Always some goddamn thing.
He rounds the corner that leads to the basement level. "Okay, listen," he says, turning toward her a little, forcing calm into his voice. "If it means that much to you, we can take her out of the Brownies."
Elizabeth doesn't respond.
He turns around another corner, following the curve of the structure down. It's going to be hell breaking this to Paige. "We can find some excuse. Maybe it conflicts with her dance lessons." She's not taking dance lessons, but maybe she can start.
Elizabeth's lack of response stretches through the car for a long, frustrating moment. "Fine," she says finally. She folds her hands in her lap.
Philip's jaw clenches so hard it feels like his teeth are going to shatter. He pulls into a parking space, stops the car.
She jumps out as soon as the key is out of the ignition, slamming the door behind her. Her shoulders are all angles as she stalks away.
Philip locks both doors and follows her out. "Okay, what was I supposed to say back there?" He strides toward her, rolling his cigarette between his fingers. "Just tell me what you want me to say, Elizabeth. I swear, I'll say it."
Just before the stairwell she stops, spins around. "I just need you to understand," she yells.
Philip stops, his throat tightening. He stares at her.
"Because—" Her voice cracks. "—there's no one else who can."
Her face twists with pain. Then she leans against the door to the stairwell, disappears into it.
Philip stares at the door for a long time, letting himself feel the clutching in his chest until it eases. Then he lights his cigarette, holds it up to his mouth, and sucks back a smoky breath.
The orange plastic bag is sagging around Henry's ankles, and Elizabeth gives it another tug. She tightens it at his neck.
"What do you think?" she asks.
Philip takes a step back, surveys the scene. He looks like a kid wearing a Glad Lawn-and-Leaf bag around his neck. "I don't know," he says. "He's still a pretty skinny pumpkin."
Elizabeth reaches out a hand, flexes it. "Can you hand us some more newspaper?"
Philip walks into the entryway. Elizabeth used to think of the strange custom of little costumed children on the doorstep as a little bit barbaric, and she always left the candy distribution task to Philip. But she ended up humoring Paige through her first few years of costumes, and lately she's actually getting the hang of it. He grabs another stack of newspaper from the pile in the front closet.
Paige's laugh floats around the corner, and Philip walks back into the living room. Henry's bag is lopsided now, a bulbous piece sticking off to one side. "Your pumpkin has a tumor!" Paige shouts.
Elizabeth squeezes both sides of the costume, then shakes the bag again. "How's that?"
"A little better," Philip says, setting the stack of newspaper on the table. "A bit more newspaper, maybe?" He crumples another piece into a ball and sticks it inside the bag at Henry's neck.
"Paige, can you hand me the eyes?" Elizabeth says, tilting her head at the table.
Paige jumps off the couch. "Got it." She grabs the stack of black construction-paper shapes on the table and sets them on her forearms for transport, tape side up. She sticks them on the orange plastic: two triangles for eyes, another for a nose, and a wide, toothy grin. Elizabeth draws the string closed and stuffs it inside the back.
Elizabeth takes a step back, making a face. She crouches down, lifting the bottom of the costume up at Henry's sides, fluffing it a bit. "I don't know. I guess I could still sew something." She stands, takes another step back.
She has enough to do. Philip shakes his head. "Nah, it's fine." He steps back into the entryway and lifts the full-length mirror off the nail on the wall. He brings it into the living room and holds it out for Henry. "Here, take a look."
Henry's face spreads into a grin. He puffs out his cheeks.
Philip runs a thumb across Henry's forehead. "A little orange makeup, maybe a little green hat." Philip leans the mirror against the side of the chair and moves in behind Henry, surveying his reflection. "It'll be perfect."
The corner of Elizabeth's mouth turns up, and she looks right at him. A warm feeling settles across Philip's shoulders. It's her real smile, not the one she uses on the people outside, and it's for him. That sort of thing always feels like a reward: he's made the Tsarevna laugh, so he gets to marry her.
"I'm going to tackle that pile of dishes," she says, and heads for the kitchen.
Philip follows her, stops behind her at the sink. "You know, the costume really is fine," he says quietly, tossing a glance back into the living room. Henry's swaying back and forth in front of the mirror like some lumbering giant, and Philip points at him over his shoulder with his thumb. "Look. He loves it."
"He might not love it quite as much when he sees the costumes his friends from school are probably going to end up with." She stacks two more dinner plates on top of the ones already on the counter. "All those housewives with their sewing machines."
Philip tilts his head toward her. "Yeah, but not one of those housewives can do half the things you can do."
She turns toward him, gives him a grateful look. She shakes her head. "I know it's a silly thing to worry about."
"A little bit," he acknowledges. He reaches for her shoulders and gives them a squeeze. "But it's okay."
In the living room Henry's gazing into the mirror, rocking from one foot to the other and bugging his eyes out. Then a look of uncertainty crosses his face, and he stops. "Hey, you know what Mr. Parker said?" he calls out, lifting his chin to look over at them.
Philip's senses snap to attention. Mr. Parker's an old Christian warrior who likes to regale the kids with stories about his experiences as a missionary in South America. It's gotten to the point where Elizabeth can barely contain her disgust at parent-teacher conferences.
Elizabeth's breath catches. "What did he say, honey?" she calls out.
"We shouldn't actually be celebrating Halloween," Henry says. It's a declaration, but there's a question behind it.
Elizabeth's spine is instantly rigid, her shoulders tensing beneath Philip's hands. "Is that right."
"Can't you just shut up about Mr. Parker," Paige chides from the couch. "You know Mom doesn't like him."
Henry's forehead creases. "Why doesn't she like Mr. Parker?" He steps away from the mirror, turns toward the kitchen. "Why don't you like Mr. Parker?"
"Because he's a dorkhead, dorkhead," Paige adds.
"Paige," Philip says, a warning in his voice. He lets go of Elizabeth's shoulders, moves back into the living room. "Did he tell you why he thinks that, buddy?" he asks Henry, keeping his voice level.
Henry's eyes jump to Elizabeth, then back to Philip. "He said—" He crosses his legs like he has to pee, rubbing his hands together. "—he said Halloween was meant for bad people to celebrate bad things. With all the ghosts, and the demons, and stuff. He said if you're a good person, you don't really need any of that."
Philip flinches, and in the kitchen he can see Elizabeth's expression tighten. Congratulations, Mr. Parker, you are now single-handedly responsible for cementing Elizabeth Jennings' love for Halloween.
"Well." Philip puts on a smile. He tugs on the top of the bag where it meets Henry's neck. "We know what Mr. Parker thinks about ghosts and demons. But did he have anything to say about those horrible, evil, no-good pumpkins?"
Paige leaps up from the couch, grinning. "With their twisty mouths—" she says, turning the pumpkin's mouth around and sticking it back on. "And their beady little eyes." She turns the triangle-eyes upside down, making it look maniacally angry. Elizabeth is leaning against the sink now, her shoulders pushed back.
Philip tugs on the top of Henry's bag again. "How about we get this thing off for now, sport. What do you think?" Elizabeth is stacking all the dishes into neat little piles now, clanking them just a little too loudly against each other.
"Okay," Henry says, pulling the bag down, lifting his feet gingerly through the legholes. Philip holds onto his arm and gathers the bag into a pile, pushing it under the table and out of the way.
He plants a kiss on the top of Henry's head. "Why don't you two see what's on TV, and I'll be back in a minute," Philip says, moving into the kitchen. Behind him the TV flicks on, the channels flipping from one to the next.
Elizabeth feels him come up behind her, and she tightens a fist around a bunch of silverware. "I want him out of that classroom tomorrow," she says. Her voice is quiet, but the anger in it is bubbling to the surface.
Philip gives the living room a be-careful nod and reaches across to turn the water on. He leans back against the counter. "Do you mean Henry, or—"
"Or Mr. Parker, whichever." She drops the silverware into the sink with a clatter. "No, he's the one who should go. We're talking about a public school, Philip, not one of his crazy Christian Bible schools. That man can't just say things like that in a public school. Not to children."
And on top of that, the guy looks like a cross between Herman Munster and a beanstalk. Philip makes a face. "It really is kind of amazing that they hired him in the first place."
"Does the principal really not know what he's like?" Elizabeth moves a stack of dinner plates into the sink and squeezes a lump of dish soap onto them. "Aren't there any other parents who are bothered by this?"
"He does tell good stories, apparently. The kids like that."
"Did you see the look on Henry's face?" She points over her shoulder, into the living room. "That man has him worried that dressing up like a pumpkin and going trick-or-treating is going to mean that he's committing an act of evil." She gives him a look like she's waiting for him to agree.
She needs him to agree, and this time it's not even difficult. "He shouldn't have said that to them," Philip says.
She gives one of the glasses a vigorous scrub that it doesn't really need. "We should say something, Philip. We need to say something. That man should not be in that classroom." She drops the sponge into the water, turns around. "I'm going to say something."
Philip sighs. These days their cover usually feels like the comfort of an old coat, but sometimes it still manages to chafe, especially for Elizabeth. He tilts his head in toward hers.
"What?" Her forehead creases into a scowl. "You don't think this is okay, either."
"I don't. But I'm not going to say anything, and you're not, either."
A look of pure anguish flickers across Elizabeth's face. She turns back around, picks up the sponge again. "There's got to be somebody else who has a problem with this."
"Maybe there is, and maybe there isn't. But you have to let that somebody else be the one to complain."
She picks up a plate. The muscles in her shoulders are tensing. Philip snakes an arm around her waist, resting his hand on her hip. She lets it sit there.
She lets go of the plate and pushes out a long sigh. She rests her hands on the edge of the counter. "They're just so vulnerable at that age," she says quietly.
"I know." Philip leans in toward her. She smells like dish soap, and a little like cinnamon. "I'm sorry," he whispers in her ear.
And then she reaches for him, her fingers warm and wet against his forearm. She leans back for a moment, her head heavy against his shoulder, and closes her eyes.
"I'll go talk to Henry?" Philip looks at her for confirmation. She lifts her head, gives him a reluctant nod, and goes back to washing.
Philip lets go and turns back into the living room. Stray soap suds are clinging to his forearm. He smiles.
The tune on the television is from a Gilligan's Island rerun. Paige is propped up on one of the couch cushions on the floor, Henry sprawled out in the armchair. "Henry?" Philip says.
He looks up.
Philip walks over to the television, turns it most of the way down, and goes to sit on the edge of the couch. "Come here for a sec." He pats the cushion beside him.
Henry climbs off the chair, comes and sits next to Philip. Philip puts a hand on his shoulder. "You know that in America, there are all kinds of people, right? And different kinds of people sometimes believe different kinds of things."
Henry looks up at him. "Sure."
"Well, everybody has the right to tell other people what they believe. We call that freedom of speech. That freedom is the most American thing there is."
The water stops running. Philip looks over into the kitchen, and Elizabeth storms into the entryway, a hand on her hip. A nerve pricks in Philip's neck. He thought they were on the same page about this.
He can't stop now. "When Mr. Parker said that he didn't think you should celebrate Halloween, he was just telling you about what he believes."
Elizabeth tosses her dishcloth onto the counter in a huff.
"He might have a point, and he might not," Philip says, and Elizabeth stomps back into the kitchen. Philip swallows. "You get to decide that for yourself."
"Well," Henry says, making a serious face. "I think I believe in Halloween."
"I think you believe in Milky Way bars," Philip says, giving Henry's shoulder a poke.
Paige sits up straight on the floor. "And Twix bars!"
"And Pop Rocks!" Henry says, laughing.
"And Laffy Taffy!"
"That's the Halloween spirit," Philip says, walking back over to the TV, turning it back up. He heads back into the kitchen.
Elizabeth's leaning against the island, her back turned. He puts a hand on her arm. "Don't," she says, a sharp edge in her voice.
Philip walks around to the other side of the counter, leans across it at her. She's got her head down. "We had to say something," he says.
Elizabeth's head jerks up. "Yeah, well, we didn't have to say that."
There's probably something he can apologize for—there's always something. He pinches the bridge of his nose. Suddenly he feels very tired.
Elizabeth's knuckles are white around the edge of the island. "Couldn't we have at least told him that we think Mr. Parker is wrong?"
Philip swallows. "I didn't think it was a good idea for us to be turning our kids against their teachers."
She stands up straight, her eyes dark with accusation. "So instead you decide to go and help our kids' teachers turn them against us?" She rushes into the living room, walks around to the front of the couch, slides in next to Henry.
Philip watches her drape an arm behind Henry along the back of the couch. He can only see her from the back, but her hand is clenched around the cushion, and she's got that tension in her shoulders that only ever means worry. He knows how she scared she is that the kids could find out about them someday. They've taken enough precautions that it's hardly likely, but one little mistake and it could still happen: a trapdoor left ajar one night, a scrap of flash paper left unburnt.
Elizabeth leans in toward Henry, kisses him on his head. Henry looks up at her, puzzled by her sudden display of affection, but he lets her pull him close.
Philip drops his gaze to the floor. She's scared the kids could find out, but she's even more scared of how betrayed they would feel if they did.
The dishes are drying on the rack. He picks up a plate and a dishtowel, and gets to work.
From the kitchen there's a loud thud against the table, and Philip cranes his neck to see down the hall. "I don't know what to write," Paige yells, for the third time.
"I'll be right there," Elizabeth says, lifting her chin and sending her voice into the kitchen. She brushes a hand against Philip's arm. "We should talk about how we're going to handle this evening," she says quietly.
Philip nods. "Sure." Tonight she's got a fifth date with a high-level adviser in the new Reagan administration who thinks she works in the French embassy.
"I let him take me to dinner. While we're eating, I let him know that I think our relationship has progressed to the next stage." She lets an eyebrow snake up.
"This is bullshit!" Paige's voice sounds like only a teenager's can: heavy with the weight of the world.
"Paige, language," Elizabeth yells down the hall. She turns back to Philip. "I guess if he takes the bait, there's no need for you to stick around."
"But if it doesn't look like he's going to bite, a long-haired vagrant is going to have to confront him after he's had a few drinks and demand that he empty his pockets." Philip presses his lips together. It's the kind of mission he despises most: crude and dirty, with no room for elegance.
There's a ripple of tension along Elizabeth's jawline. "If we do go to plan B, we end up flushing all the months I've spent on him down the drain."
"Hey, I don't like it, either, but at least this way we know it'll work. One way or another." He shifts his weight toward her, leaning in. "You do know he was always going to cheat on his wife, though, right? We're just moving up the timeline."
"Hm. Maybe too much."
"Don't you trust your own charms?" He smirks at her.
She doesn't smile. "You don't know this guy, Philip. He's got a real sense of honor."
"But when I talked to Gabriel, he was pretty insistent that they need the key now." Elizabeth gives her head a shake. "I wonder what the rush is?"
"I'm trying not to think about it." It's this new administration that's making the Center jittery; their orders have been getting more and more erratic for months.
"It must be something really important. They wouldn't risk months of work over nothing." Her forehead creases.
"Hey." Philip reaches for her, squeezes her shoulder. "It's going to be okay."
Her only response is a tight little nod, but he can feel her relax a little.
"Even if it does end up going to plan B, there's always some other high-level government official. And next time I'll be the one to do this part, okay?"
"Ow!" This time it's Henry. He sounds more outraged than injured. Paige lets out a laugh.
"What's going on in there?" Elizabeth yells down the hall, letting a thread of menace sneak into her voice. She glances at Philip. "We're good?" she says quietly.
He drops his hand. "Of course."
Philip follows Elizabeth into the kitchen just in time to see Paige ball up the piece of paper in front of her and toss it at Henry. It hits him in the forehead, bounces off, and skids across the table. "Hey!" There's a flash of annoyance on his face, but it quickly transforms into a playful smile.
Paige smirks at him. "Nice catch."
"Come on, you two," Philip says, warning.
Elizabeth reaches across the table and retrieves the ball of paper. "Well, I guess you're starting that essay from scratch. And you now have—" She glances at the clock on the microwave. "—twenty-five minutes before you have to be in bed." She stands, tosses the ball into the trash.
"Yeah, well, I don't have anything to say about the stupid space shuttle launch." Paige rests her chin on her fists. She takes another blank sheet of paper out of her folder. "What is there to say? It took off. The news guy said a lot of boring things about it. The end."
"What's the assignment?" Philip asks. He sits down next to her.
"Watch the space shuttle launch, write a page about how it makes us feel," Paige says with a sneer. It's incredible how much her mocking voice sounds like Elizabeth's own.
Philip tilts his head at her. "It's for history?"
"Yeah. It's dumb, she's only getting us to write something to prove that we watched it. Which I actually did."
They all got up bright and early to watch the launch together: Philip and the kids on the couch, Elizabeth interjecting the occasional prickly remark from the kitchen. She's been like that all day, actually. She's got a lot riding on tonight.
"Maybe I could just get you to sign a piece of paper saying that we watched it, and you could save me the pain?" Paige's voice is bright with hope.
Philip struggles not to smile. "I think she probably wants you to have your own thoughts about it."
Paige ducks her head again, glowering at the blank page.
"You know what it made me think about?" Philip says.
"What?" Paige doesn't look up.
"How far we've come since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon."
He can feel Elizabeth's eyes on him now, and he presses his lips together. Talking to the kids about the virtues of the American space program is hardly the same thing as turning them against the Soviet Union.
Philip gestures into the living room with a thumb. "You were just a baby then. Your mom and I watched it from that very living room, with you right with us on the couch." He looks over at Elizabeth, and she's got the same look on her face as she did back in 1969: narrowed eyes, tension in her jaw.
Paige is smiling, though, and he's got Henry's attention, too. "So what was it like?" Henry asks.
"Well, for one thing, the TV sets were different back then. So the whole thing was in black and white."
He lets out a little laugh. "Really?"
"Really," Philip says. "But it was still pretty amazing to watch."
Paige picks up her pencil again. "What was amazing about it?"
"Well, it was the first time a guy ever took a walk anywhere but on the earth, right?" Philip stands and walks around behind Paige. He gives her shoulders a little rub. "And that first guy was an American. So it kind of felt like it wasn't just one guy out there, but our whole country."
Elizabeth stands suddenly, like his words have propelled her to her feet. There's a twinge of nervousness at the back of Philip's neck, followed by a ripple of annoyance. He knows she doesn't like this kind of thing, but he can't believe she still thinks they can bring them up any differently.
Philip sits down on the edge of the table, right next to Paige. "It was a little like that today, too, wasn't it? Every family was watching in their own living room, but they were still all watching. Your teacher could give you this assignment because she knew that you and all your friends were going to be sitting here on a Sunday morning with your own families, watching it happen, having your own conversations about it. That's pretty amazing too, if you ask me."
Paige stares off into space, thoughtful. "Maybe I can write something about that."
"You don't have time, now." Elizabeth holds up her wrist and points at her watch. "You've both got to be in bed in twenty minutes, and you haven't even put your pajamas on yet."
"Aw, come on, just a little bit longer?" Henry says with a whine.
This definitely isn't a night where the kids can be stretching out their bedtimes. "'Fraid not, buddy," Philip says. "Not on a school night."
"But I'm not tired," Henry whines. He kicks the chair leg, gets up.
Paige stands. "I'll set my alarm for an hour earlier and write it in the morning. Mrs. Ferguson won't be able to tell." Philip leans in for a kiss, and her lips brush against his cheek. "Thanks, Dad." She heads down the hall.
"Have a good night," Philip says.
Henry follows her. "Don't forget to brush your teeth," Elizabeth calls out after him.
And then he's standing there with Elizabeth, alone. Their eyes meet, bounce off of each other, the tension like a forcefield between them. "I'm going to go make sure Henry brushes his teeth," she says.
"Okay," Philip says, and she disappears down the hall.
While she's gone, Philip grabs a Ziploc bag from a drawer in the kitchen and slips his disguise into it, then slides it into the pocket of his jacket in the front closet. Fifteen minutes later Elizabeth is back. "They're both in bed with the doors closed," she announces.
She walks over to the couch, but she doesn't sit down. There's a cloud hovering around her shoulders, and her eyes are dark.
Yep, she's definitely mad. He pushes out a sigh. "You know, there's nothing wrong with talking to the kids about the American space program. People do that here."
Her eyes are cold on his. "First satellite in orbit, first animal in orbit." She's ticking items off on her fingers, one-by-one. "First man in space, first woman in space, first space-walk—"
He steps over to the TV and flicks it on, turning it up loudly enough for them to talk. "All right, I get it."
"—first space station, no, you do not get it! You didn't tell them about any of those things, Philip. Somehow none of that is important information for the kids to have? Somehow none of it matters?"
"Do you think any of the other parents from Paige's class had even one thing to say about all that stuff tonight? This is for an American history class. All they're going to want to talk about in class tomorrow are the American achievements. And that's what they're going to expect us to have discussed at home, too."
She takes a step toward him. "You and I don't have to actually go so far as to—"
"Yes, we do." He throws an arm out to one side. "We have to go exactly that far. We have to be indistinguishable from every other American family out there."
"Every other American family?"
Philip rolls his eyes.
"That was a telling slip, don't you think?" They're eye to eye now, like she's trying to stare him down.
Something curdles in Philip's throat. She's so sure she has him up against the boards. "It's not good enough to act like them, we have to think like them," he says. "That's how we were trained." He tosses a dismissive hand in the space between them. "I don't have to explain this to you."
She grabs him by the wrist. "Don't try to make this about our training, or our cover. This is about you. You actually like playing house in our shiny American suburb with our big American car and our perfect little American jobs." Her mouth twists in disgust.
It's like she's punched him. This family's so much more than an act, even for her, but she's so committed to the cause that she can't let herself see that. He jerks his hand away and leans in toward her, his face so close to hers that he can feel her breath on it. "Yeah, well, I'm so sorry for actually enjoying my job instead of treating it like some noble burden I have to bear for the motherland."
He knows it's a step too far as soon as it's out of his mouth. Sure enough, a wall slams down between them, and then there's that look on her face: blank, emotionless. His stomach knots, and automatically he starts to backpedal: apologize, rephrase, fall into line. It's what he always does, every time.
Anger surges up inside of him, bumping against his ribs. Being nice doesn't have to mean being a pushover. "You know what? You could have actually done a whole lot worse."
Elizabeth sneers at him. "What?"
At the beginning of illegals training Philip spent six months in a group of just him and nine other trainees. A couple of them were outright cruel, but even the nicer ones were all red-blooded guys. Not one of them would have put up with what Elizabeth dishes out every day. "What you don't get—what you have never gotten is that they could have—"
He stops. She folds her arms.
He shakes his head. "Never mind, forget it." He turns, walks over to the front door.
"Where are you going?" She follows him, her voice thin and reedy.
She's just a step behind him. "So you're going to have a tantrum now?"
"Call it whatever you want."
Her eyes are on him as he opens the front closet, like she's waiting for him to back down, but he doesn't look at her. He grabs his jacket, reaches for the doorknob, swings the door open.
He hesitates, turns around.
Elizabeth's face is frozen with shock. She takes a step toward him. "I'll still see you later, right?" Her voice is low, but there's a thread of alarm winding through it.
He turns away. "I don't know."
He slams the door behind him and bolts for the car. He glances up at the window as he drives off, and he can see Elizabeth standing there, her posture tight with worry. He can still feel the rub of his rage chafing against him, though, and he's glad she's nervous. She needs to know that he chooses to be the guy who she can rely on. She needs to know that at any moment, he can make a different choice.
There's a fog hanging over the street, turning the darkened landscape into something out of a B-grade horror film. Philip drives in circles, past the park where Henry took his first steps, down the street that leads to Paige's old elementary school, around to the front of the parking structure where they used to meet Gregory, and then back again. It's all so familiar by now: fifteen years here have made him a lot of memories.
Fifteen years. A droplet of sweat trickles down his back, and he runs a hand across his forehead. God, he's so pathetic.
At the Denny's where the four of them went after Paige's first and last dance recital, he parks the car, gets out. Inside, the place is a little too warm, and the air smells like fried potatoes and barbecue sauce.
He hesitates in the doorway. There's hardly anyone in the restaurant tonight, and the occupied tables are full of families, not guys sitting by themselves. Then a girl with a blonde ponytail and a Denny's apron walks past. "You can go ahead and sit anywhere you want, I'll be right with you."
Philip claims a booth opposite the kitchen, sliding in against a red vinyl cushion. The back wall ends just above his eyes, and a series of square mirrors are lined up along it like wallpaper. In the kitchen the radio is on, and they're talking about Lebanon.
Another family is sitting in the booth where the four of them ate last time: a mother, a father, and twin girls. All at once his own booth feels too big for him, like he's knocking around alone inside some big empty space. He takes off his jacket, spreads it against the seat next to him.
The same waitress who met him at the door appears at the edge of his table: blonde hair, not that tall, a few freckles. "Will anyone else be joining you tonight?" she asks. The nametag says Rose.
Philip shrugs. "I'm afraid it's just me."
"No problem." She hands him a menu. "I'll be back with some ice water."
He follows her with his eyes: down the aisle first to the booth with the young family, then to the tables over by the window. Rose sure is a smiler. Philip's not sure whether that's an occupational hazard or just a cultural one.
He opens the menu and looks down at it, but his eyes jump from one item to the next without taking any of it in. He's definitely ended up in a place where the drink he'd kind of like to have isn't on the menu, though. Subconsciously, he's already planning on following through with the mission, like a lapdog who keeps jumping back up after it's been slapped.
"Here you go." Rose brushes up to the table, sets his water on the edge. "Can I get you anything else?"
"Just a Coke, I think." Philip hands her the menu.
"You sure?" She takes it. "I'd hate to see you go hungry." There's that smile again.
"I'm sure," he says with a nod.
She tucks the menu under her arm, heads back into the kitchen. They're talking about the launch on the radio again, and the stream of chatter from the staff stops as they all take a moment to listen. Rose leans in toward the radio, her lips parted, her eyes wide. She's got an easy, fresh-faced prettiness about her, the kind where you scratch the surface and find more of the same underneath.
They replay the roar of the engines, then the cheering, and finally, the NASA announcer's joy. Then the staff all go back to their work: the cooks turning back to the stove, Rose making her way back out into the dining room. The reporter is talking about the anniversary of the first manned space flight, and it's hard not to notice that it's all about the timing, not the achievement. Back home the man was always Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, national hero, but here he's some guy without a name, without a country.
Elizabeth would have hated that. It would have launched her into a tirade, and she would have had a point. Philip shifts in his seat, glances at his watch. He's got another hour before he's late.
Rose stops at the edge of his table. She's got his Coke. "Do you need us to turn that down?" She's still smiling.
"No, it's fine. I don't think anybody's had their fill of the shuttle launch quite yet."
Her face brightens even further, like shifting a car's headlights to its highbeams. "It's incredible, isn't it? Every time they talk about it, it gives me shivers."
"It really is," he says with a nod.
"When it comes back, it's supposed to land like a plane," she says, chattering away. "They say in twenty years there will be people living on space stations, and we'll be using these things to fly back and forth."
"Wow," he says. Rose is still hanging onto his Coke. She's flirting with him. "That sounds like something out of Star Wars."
"Yeah, I know." She rolls her eyes. "It's probably a bunch of crap to keep us from questioning where our tax dollars are going, right? But I guess today it kind of feels like NASA could actually make it happen. I mean, they say it was only twenty years ago that we put the first guy into space, and now this."
There's a twinge of annoyance in Philip's chest. His forehead tightens. "The first guy in space was Russian."
Confused wrinkles dart across Rose's forehead. The ice clinks around inside his glass.
He tosses a hand in the air in front of him. "Sorry, I'm being a bore."
She shakes her head. "I'm not bored."
Their eyes meet. A stray hair has fallen loose from her ponytail, and she pushes it back behind her ear. She gives him a long look. She sets his Coke on the table.
"Thanks." Philip reaches for it, pulls it toward him along the table. He tilts his head at her nametag. "Rose."
"Like the flower," she says, tapping it with her index finger. "And you?"
He lifts an eyebrow at her. This is definitely flirting. "It's Philip."
"Nice to meet you, Philip." She gives him a cursory nod, and then she's gone. She slips around the corner, then back into the kitchen.
He takes a sip of his Coke, frowning. Whenever he has a conversation with somebody he's never going to see again, he usually gets to be anybody he wants: a Greek doctor in town for a conference, a recovering alcoholic with a sad story about a dead family, a mathematical genius with a secret desire to be a photographer. This time, though, he's just Philip.
He turns his head, catching his reflection in the wall of mirrors at the edge of the booth. The lines of the individual mirrors distort his face, fracturing it: his nose set off from his mouth, a crease across his forehead. In one of them, new lines catch at the corner of an eye. It makes him look tired.
Of course, he's not really Philip either. It's getting harder and harder to remember that these days, but when it comes right down to it, Philip Jennings is just another creation. He swallows. In his reflection, he watches his Adam's apple bob up and down.
And then Rose is right there again, climbing into the booth across from him. Her apron and her nametag are gone, and so is her ponytail, her feathered hair hanging long and loose and impossibly blonde around her shoulders. She plops a purse down on the table, sets a sweater down on the seat next to her. She smiles.
That was bold. Philip laughs.
"What? You looked like you needed the company." She tilts her head to one side. "Was I wrong?"
He moves his glass around on the table: tiny circles. "Don't you have to work?"
"Oh, I'm off. I was actually just getting ready to clock out when you got here, it's just—" She looks a little flustered. At this rate, it's probably deliberate. "Anyway. My shift ended at eight."
He glances at his watch. Elizabeth has definitely left home by now. He grimaces. He has a decision to make.
Rose's eyebrows snake up, and she frowns, like she was expecting more of a welcome. "Do you need me to leave?" She shifts to the edge of the booth and pushes herself up, leaning forward against the table.
"No, it's fine." Philip waves a hand in the air in front of him.
She sits down again, spreading her arms wide against the back of the booth, making herself available. It's like she's figured out what he needs. He swallows. Seduction works on the same principle as espionage, really: identify a person's vulnerable spot and exploit it.
"So tell me, Philip. What do you do when you're not warming a booth in a Falls Church Denny's?"
He can say anything, be anyone. "I'm in the travel business," he says.
"Really," she says, too interested, like he said he's the President of France. "I bet you get to see all sorts of interesting places."
He shakes his head. "Most of the time it's just client support. A lot of hand-holding."
Rose's arms drop to her sides, and carefully, like she's in slow motion, she reaches a hand across the table. First it's just back of her hand against his, grazing it, and then she turns it over. She meets his eyes, holds onto them. Philip's mouth quirks at one edge. Nice move.
He lets his gaze fall down to their hands on the table. He could actually go through with this: go home with her, give her what she wants. It's nothing he hasn't done with a few dozen sources by this point.
He slides his gaze back up. "I'm married, you know." He doesn't withdraw his hand.
"Yeah. I saw the ring." She gives his hand a squeeze. "But are you happily married?"
He presses his lips together. This hasn't been quite the life he imagined when he first started illegals training: the challenge of the long-term mission, the chance to feel a part of something big and real and important. But the kids have burrowed their way into his heart in a way he could have never foreseen. And then there's Elizabeth. Philip swallows. "I'm not even sure I know what that means."
"Well, I can tell you a little something about what unhappily married looks like." A flicker of anger crosses her face. "Like when there's more passion in your fights than there is in your bed."
Philip's mind flashes back on Elizabeth's own angry expression. His heart constricts. He extricates his hand. "Sounds rough."
"Well, it's over now. The divorce went through two weeks ago." Rose holds up her left hand, wiggles her ringless finger.
Cute, eager, and lonely. When she really gets back in the swing of things, she's going to have them eating out of the palm of her hand. "I'm sorry," Philip says.
"I was too, for a long time. I'm not sure how to feel about it anymore." She chews on the inside of her cheeks, sucking them in. "I thought it would hurt like hell to get that piece of paper in the mail, but instead I just felt kind of numb."
"Hmm." Philip lets the syllable linger in the air, non-committal.
"We never got around to having kids, maybe that was the problem. When you've got kids with a guy, he's always going to be in your life, even if it's just around the edges. But as things are right now, I don't know if I'll ever even see him again." She leans in toward him across the table. "You got kids?"
"Two." There's a tremor of guilt in his gut: they've been left alone, again. For the thousandth time, he hopes they listen to Elizabeth's stern warning not to come wake up Mom and Dad, no matter how bad the nightmare gets. "A girl and a boy."
"So there's one difference between us, at least." Rose plants an elbow on the table, her chin on her hand. "What's the old quote? Every happy marriage is the same, but every unhappy one is unhappy in its own way?"
It's close enough. Philip shakes his head. "Don't know that one."
"Something like that, anyway."
He draws his arms to his sides, folds his hands in front of him. "My marriage isn't quite that bad, I think."
"Guys with happy marriages probably don't end up sitting by themselves in a Denny's on a Sunday night, though."
His mind reaches back, and then he's there in that room that looked like a Tsarist palace, with Colonel Zhukov in his role as some pre-Revolutionary matchmaker. A girl who forced herself to meet his eyes, but there was a curiosity there, too, and finally, after weeks of meetings, a laugh. She's never let him tell her his name, but she'll always be the one who knows where he came from.
Philip holds up his arm, looks at his watch. It's time. "You know, you've got a point there."
Rose's mouth spreads in a grin, her eyes twinkling. Then he stands, grabbing his jacket, and a dark curtain of disappointment draws across her face. Philip digs into his pocket, lays a five on the table. He can hear the breath leak out of her.
She gives him a sour look and stands. "Let me get you your change."
"Don't worry about it," he says, sliding the money toward her. He holds out his hand for her to shake. "Have a good night, Rose-like-the-flower."
She sniffs, an ironic little smile flashing across her face, but her shoulders are sagging. She glances down at his hand, doesn't take it. "Have a good life, Philip."
The Roses of the world will always mean something different by that than Philip does. And Elizabeth, too, for that matter. "I'll do my best."
Outside, the fog has started to lift, and the streetlights are a crisp yellow against the darkness. Philip gets into the car and pulls onto the expressway. He drives a few miles out of his way and pulls off on a dirt road, taking his time to get the disguise right. Then he drives the rest of the way into the city, parks a few blocks away.
On the bench out in front of the restaurant, Philip waits: a Walkman in his lap and earphones on his head, his shoulders hunched forward to let the long hair of his wig fall across his face. Seconds stretch into minutes, and then finally Elizabeth is there: the dark hair of her own wig piled high on her head, a necklace that really could be diamonds. The guy with the real sense of honor has the build of an NFL linebacker and a fancy suit to match, and he puts a hand on her arm, guides her up the stairs. She leans against him, gazing up at him, and he beams down at her like the sun.
Plan A, then.
Pride is the first thing to hit, and then there's a wave of jealousy. Philip takes off his Walkman, sits up, gives his head a forcible shake. It's better this way. Certainly in the long run, and the short run, too, really.
And then Elizabeth turns, just enough to hide her face from the guy's view, and against every rule in the book she gives Philip her little half-smile. He gets the message as clearly as if she's spoken it aloud: it's not an apology, it's a thank-you. She relies on him to be the guy who always shows up. For the work, and for everything else, too.
Philip's breath catches, and then his whole body is humming. It's not everything he wants—he knows it, and she sure as hell does too. But for now, incredibly, it feels like enough.
And as for the rest, well, he can wait.