I stood. Corinne looked up at me with her placid brown eyes, expecting me to say something more. But at that moment Dante and Chloe appeared, led in by a tall man whose dreadlocks reeked of patchouli oil. I went to find them some food.
The corn harvest started after breakfast, and Chloe, Dante and I headed into the field with our burlap sacks along with everyone else. The work reminded me of my teenage days, planting the vineyard whose fruit I never tasted. I studied the kids for signs of the resentment I’d felt. But they loved the novelty of it, and anyway, all the other kids were working, too; they didn’t want to be left out. We were halfway down our first row, when Chloe asked me if we could invite her daddy and Lucia to come live with us in Selu.
“We’re not going to live here.” I dropped another ear into a burlap sack. “We’re going home in a few days.”
“I don’t want to go home,” Chloe said.
I sighed, realizing that some part of me agreed with her.
“I want to come here with Daddy,” Dante said, “so I can show him my bow.”
“You can bring the bow home.”
“Can I shoot squirrels in the park?”
Dante bent a stalk to reach its fruit. “Why are you so mad at Daddy?”
I let go of the cob I was tugging to study his dust-smudged face. There was tension in his forehead I had no seen until the last week. “I’m not…” I corrected myself. “I am mad at him because he wants to be with another friend and not me.”
“Maybe you could be friends with his friend, too.”
The suggestion made me smile. It was the type of thing I always told him about getting along with his school mates. “Grownup men and women are different from boys and girls,” I said. “Men and women sometimes have one special friend that’s a wife or a husband. You can only have one wife or one husband at a time. Daddy is my husband, and if he wants to have a different wife, then he can’t have me.”
A noxious vision came into my head of me in bed between Charlie and Zulya. “Because…” Because what? Because it’s illegal? Because God said so? Because people aren’t made that way? The answer should have been obvious, and yet it wasn’t coming to me. I’d always seen the failure of my parents’ experiment as proof that marriage should only involve two people, but now I couldn’t explain why. “Because of special feelings that men and women have.” It was the best I could manage.
“I’m glad I’m not a grownup.”
“It’s not so bad. Usually.”
Dante didn’t look convinced.
“Anyway, the most important thing for you to know is that your Daddy and Mommy both love you and want to be with you and you’ll get to see us no matter what happens.” It took courage for me to say that, having harbored so many thoughts in recent weeks of locking Charlie away from myself and my children forever. I half expected some kudos for the effort, but Dante had found a broken stalk and was fashioning it into a spear. “Watch this, Mommy!”