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NIGHT WOMAN

FROM CHAPTER 27:

They sipped whiskey in the dim light from the kitchen. “It’s just a story,” she said.

“That’s right,” Paul said.

“I’ve worked on it for a long time,” Mary said. “It’s good. I ought to know.”

“You’re an excellent judge of fiction.”

“I’m a good writer,” Mary said, looking into her empty glass. Paul filled it again.

“Of course you are! You’ve worked with Randal.” Paul’s voice hushed a little. “He’s the finest writer of the twentieth century—that’s what they’re saying about him.”

Rain dripped from the eaves in the dark.

“I have to make some money,” Mary said at last. “And I want to tell you what nobody knows yet.” Paul thought he heard a catch in her voice. “I only decided today after I’d talked to Randal’s agent one last time. After we’d discussed my…story.”

Paul said nothing. She seemed to be struggling with her words.

“There’s a new book of Randal’s,” Mary said. “He dictated it to me before he died—dictated the way he always did, night after night, never sleeping—“

“A new book?” Paul cried. “A book by Randal?”

“I only decided today,” Mary said. “It will sell if it’s Randal’s book. It will sell—“

“It will!” Paul jumped to his feet.

Mary stood up, too. “His agent said so. I need money for the children, and for me.”

“Of course you’re upset,” Paul said, and put his arms around her. She laid her head on his shoulder, and he held her close and murmured,” Never mind…it will be a wonderful book.”

“I know!” Mary cried. “I know! I ought to know!” She was trembling; Paul held her tight. When she turned her face to him, he kissed her, and her arms tightened around his neck. Then she pushed herself away and ran upstairs.

He waited. He walked back and forth in the dark living room. Perhaps she was up there crying.

Paul listened for a little while longer, then climbed the carpeted stairs. Mary’s study door at the end of the hall was shut, but her bedroom door stood open to the sound of soft sobbing. A dim glow from the front-yard light fell through rain-silvered windows.

“Mary?” Paul said, sitting near her on her satin bedspread. “Mary?” He could feel the bed shake slightly with her sobs. He reached out and began to rub her back. “You’re tired,” he said.

“Yes,” she said, her voice muffled. She stretched out on her stomach, her head under pillows, and Paul massaged her shoulders and the long column of her backbone. The shirt she wore got in the way; he pulled it up and stroked, kneaded, circled.

Paul pushed a pillow to one side and touched her cheek, brushed her tear-wet hair away, smelled her perfume. Bending over her in the dark, he whispered to that wet hair and cheek, “I love you—you know that. You’ve known it for a long time. Marry me.”

She turned over then, warm and damp and fragrant in his arms. He kissed her wherever his hands bared her skin, pulling her clothes off, pulling his shirt and shoes and pants off to hold her wet face against his, her body against his. Nothing but Mary’s wet face was cold—suddenly she gave off the same electric energy she had when they talked, touched, laughed—

Their breathing slowed at last. Their heartbeats slowed. Paul kissed her over and over, then reached across her to turn on the bedside lamp—

“No!” Mary cried.

Paul gave a low laugh, his face in the sweet scent of her hair. “The dark lady of the sonnets…woman of the night? Marry me…”

Mary sat up to run her hands over his furry chest and through his thick hair, then bent to kiss him. “I can’t marry you unless I tell you…” she stopped, then went on. “Randal didn’t write his books—“

“Of course he didn’t,” Paul said, his lips close to hers in the dark. “You wrote it down, saved it—where would he have been without you?” Paul’s words came out in a rush: “And I need you as much as he did—I’ll keep this job because of you, and be the Randal Eliot scholar because of you!” He shook her gently by her bare shoulders, then pulled her down to lie in his arms again.

Mary lay very still; they heard rain drive against dark windows. “You’ll be proud of me—just like you were proud of Randal,” Paul said softly. “We can keep Randal from being forgotten. You’ll see me taking his name all over the country, and you’ll know you’ve made it possible—just the way you stood behind Randal.” He kissed her again and again, until they fell asleep listening to the rain.