Welcome to Whiterock, Oregon, where Sally Carruthers nurses her dying father, and dreams of the day she can go back to her real life. Where Gus Loring seeks forgetfulness, but to find it, he'd have to do the impossible and forgive himself.
Whiterock is a town where people are from, because there's nothing to hold them there. Every year more of the stores on Main Street close, and every year more of its young people leave to find their fortunes somewhere else. Where what you see today may be different tomorrow.
Maybe that's why the town persists. Because there is more to Whiterock than its 639 residents, the elk statue by the park, and the Bite-A-Wee Café. More to it than a place where Gus and Sally find temporary passion together. Whiterock is more than just a town. A lot more...
"Nice night for a walk," she called.
He stopped, dead still. Turned. Peered into the dark, although she didn't know who else he expected to see sitting on her front steps at eleven at night.
"Come walk with me." His voice was velvety, enticing. "It's too nice a night to waste."
Sally didn't acknowledge the mental voice that told her she was setting herself up for a fall. She just smiled. "Just a minute, while I check on my father."
Pop was sleeping soundly. Surely he'd be all right if she escaped for a little while. He'd never awakened once his pill took effect.
She grabbed a sweater from the hall tree and stepped back outside.
"The creek's running high," Gus said when she joined him at the edge of the road, "and the bats are hunting in the park."
He took her hand, and once again the contact shot through her body like a jolt from a live electric wire. She did her best to ignore it, and forced her voice to remain steady.
"I used to go down to the park when I was a kid and listen to the creek sing."
"We had a brook," he said, as they walked along Fifth Avenue, "on my grandfather's farm. It had some ordinary name--Hayden's or Hardin's or something--but to me it was always the Singing Brook because of the way it sounded as it bounced along on its rocky bed."
His voice was soft, thick with memories. It lacked the harsh note she'd often heard in it before.
"Hackberry Creek used to be dammed for a small grain mill," she told him. "My great-grandfather built it. The rocks that make it sing are all that's left."
The mill had been torn down long before she was born, but somewhere, in a box in the attic, were old sepia-toned photographs of it when it ground all the grain for Whiterock, Harper and Westfall.
Their footsteps slowed as they approached Main Street. At this time of night there was no need to watch for traffic, but both stopped and looked both ways before crossing.
The elk's antlers held sparkles of moonlight at their tips. It stood tall and stalwart, guarding the entrance to the park as it had for almost three-quarters of a century. Sally was glad someone had decided to restore it.
I wonder why I didn't hear about it.
"Do they ever have concerts there in the summer?" Gus waved in the direction of the old bandshell.
"No, not anymore. It's not…" Sally looked again. She would have sworn she'd seen gaping holes in the stucco facade the last time she'd been here, but the roof was intact, the facade unbroken. Oh, the paint was streaked, and the two old-fashioned light sconces held only broken globes and gaping sockets, but those could be easily fixed. "Not for a long time," she amended.
I'm not crazy! I just wasn't paying attention. She hadn't really looked closely at the bandshell the last time she'd walked here, that was all. And who was to say her own sense of devastation hadn't colored her perception of the world around her?
She looked again.
"Gus, you're around town more than I am. Has anyone said anything about fixing up the park?"
"Just that they had a work party a couple of weekends ago, to spruce up after the winter."
That must be it. They'd fixed the elk, patched the bandshell. She really hadn't been imagining the deterioration.