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He was an all-American, with the tight, lithe body of a boy who’s spent his entire life in the fields both football and farmland. He was fourteen years old when Halie first started to notice him. That was when he hit his growth spurt, when testosterone drove his voice lower and packed muscle onto his frame, when the soft, childlike roundness in his cheeks disappeared.

She saw him walking through the corn fields alone, the way he always did with his blue eyes far away, fixed on some distant, metaphysical issue Halie could never follow. The stalks hit his shoulders and brushed back, whispering over his head with every step he took.

She could see him from her upstairs window, see the sun shining off his blond hair, turning his skin bronze. A mother was not supposed to love one child better than the others but Tilden was smarter than the other boys, and gentler, and wiser. He walked with a peculiar grace inherent to neither Halie nor Dodge, something he’d possessed all on his own since infancy.

And it was only natural, Halie supposed, for her to notice these things.

At night, she held Tilden’s hands in her own and traced her way down the lines on his palms, over the calluses on his fingers, over his blunt nails. He was always covered in cuts and bruises, Tilden not from clumsiness, like Bradley. His scars all came from work; the shallow gore-marks on his forearms from a careless bull, the scrapes on his hands from hauling wood, the skin taken off his knees from kneeling so long on hard surfaces.

Painting the trim on the windows, cleaning the gutters, clearing the woodlot, tilling the fields. It was Tilden who did these things, not Dodge Tilden who did a man’s work.

Tilden who shared her bed, his sweet head against her breasts, his mouth soft, his fingers kind.

Halie bared herself for Tilden, for Tilden’s lips, for Tilden’s hands. He took her nightdress and dropped it over the side of the bed, so it landed like a silk puddle on the ground, with a sound almost like a whisper. And then Tilden’s eyes were on hers, wide and blue and innocent, and he asked her in a voice barely louder than a nightdress falling on a wooden floor,

“Mama? Is this alright?”

It was more than alright. Tilden’s touch was everything Halie would ever need. But she couldn’t convince him with words no matter how many times they did this, her words meant nothing so she put one hand on the back of his neck and pulled him closer. She brought his lips to hers.

“It’s alright, baby,” she said.