He turned in the corridor and she was coming down the hallway toward him with a coat thrown over her shift, barefoot, her expression one of alarm and curiosity. When she reached him, he tried to think of something to say.

"I still felt like talking," he said.

She looked back at him, her eyes large and dark. "More stories of the Old Country?"

He thought of her on the floor of Primo Alieveri's great hall, the way her flesh would have looked against the marble as the light of the fire played on her dark hair. A shameful image, really, in which to find lust.

"No," he said. "Not those stories."

"New ones, then?"

Danny opened his door. It was a reflexive gesture, but then he looked in Tessa's eyes and saw that the effect had been anything but casual.

"You want to come in and talk?" he said.

She stood there in her coat and the threadbare white shift underneath, looking at him for a long time. He could see her body underneath the shift. A light sheen of perspiration dotted the brown flesh below the hollow of her throat.

"I want to come in," she said. chapter nine The first time Lila ever laid eyes on Luther was at a picnic on the outskirts of Minerva Park in a green field along the banks of the Big Walnut River. It was supposed to be a gathering of just the folks who worked for the Buchanan family at the mansion in Columbus, while the Buchanans themselves were on vacation in Saginaw Bay. But someone had mentioned it to someone and that someone mentioned it to someone else and by the time Lila arrived in the late morning of that hot August day there were at least sixty people going full-out for high times down along the water. It was a month after the massacre of coloreds in East St. Louis, and that month had passed slow and winter-bleak among the workers at the Buchanan house, pieces of gossip trickling in here and there that contradicted the newspaper accounts and, of course, the conversation among the white folk around the Buchanan dinner table. To hear the stories--of white women stabbing colored women with kitchen knives while white men burned the neighborhood down and strung their ropes and shot the colored men--was plenty reason to have a dark cloud drift down into the heads of everyone Lila knew, but four weeks later, it seemed folks had decided to retire that cloud for a day, to have fun while there was fun to be had.

Some men had cut an oil drum in half and covered the halves in cattle wire and started barbecuing and folks had brought tables and chairs and the tables were covered with plates of fried catfi sh and creamy potato salad and deep brown drumsticks and fat purple grapes and heaps and heaps of greens. Children ran and folks danced and some men played baseball in the wilting grass. Two men had brought their guitars and were cutting heads against each other like they were standing on a street corner in Helena, and the sounds of those guitars was as sharp as the sky.

Lila sat with her girlfriends, housemaids all--'Ginia and CC and Darla Blue--and they drank sweet tea and watched the men and the children play and it wasn't no trick at all to figure out which men were single because they acted more childish than the children, prancing and bowing up and getting loud. They reminded Lila of ponies before a race, pawing the dirt, rearing their heads.

Darla Blue, who had all the sense of a barn door, said, "I like that one there."

They all looked. They all shrieked.

"The snaggle-toothed one with the big ol' bush for a head?" "He cute."

"For a dog."

"No, he--"

"Look at that big spilly belly on him," 'Ginia said. "Go all the way to his knees. And that butt look like a hundred pounds of warm taffy."

"I like a little roundness in a man."

"Well, that be your true love, then, 'cause he all round all the time. Round as a harvest moon. Ain't nothing hard in that man. Ain't nothing going to get hard neither."

They shrieked some more and clapped their thighs and CC said, "What about you, Miss Lila Waters? You see your Mr. Right?"

Lila shook her head, but the girls were having none of it.

Yet no matter how much shrieking and jawing they did to get it out of her, she kept her lips sealed and her eyes from wandering because she'd seen him, she'd seen him just fine, could see him now out of the corner of her eye as he moved across the grass like the breeze itself and snatched a ball from the air with a flick of his glove so effortless it was almost cruel. A slim man. Looked like he had cat in his blood the way he moved, as if where other men had joints, he had springs. And they were oiled to a shine. Even when he threw the ball, you didn't notice his arm, the piece of him that had done it, so much as you saw every square inch of him moving as a whole.

Music, Lila decided. The man's body was nothing less than music.

She'd heard the other men call his name--Luther. When he came running in to take his turn at bat, a small boy ran alongside him in the grass and tripped as they reached the dirt. The child landed on his chin and opened his mouth to wail, but Luther scooped him up without breaking stride and said, "Hear now, boy, ain't no crying on Saturday."

The child's mouth hung open and Luther smiled wide at him. The child let loose a yelp and then laughed like he might never stop.

Luther swung the boy in the air and then looked straight at Lila, taking her breath on a ride down to her knees with how fast his eyes locked on hers. "Yours, ma'am?"

Lila tuned her eyes in to his and didn't blink. "I don't have no children."

"Yet," CC said and laughed loud.

That stopped whatever was about to come out of his mouth. He placed the child's feet on the ground. He dropped his eyes from hers and gave a smile to the air, his jaw slanted to the right. Then he turned back and looked right at her again, cool as you please.

"Well, that's some pretty news," he said. "Yes, sir. That's pretty as this here day itself, ma'am."

And he tipped his hat to her and walked over to pick up the bat. By the end of the day, she was praying. Lying against Luther's chest under an oak tree a hundred yards upriver from the party with the Big Walnut dark and sparkling in front of them, she told the Lord that she feared she could love this man too much one day. Even if she were struck blind in her sleep, she would know him in a crowd by his voice, by his smell, by the way air parted around him. She knew his heart was wild and thumping, but his soul was gentle. As he ran his thumb along the inside of her arm, she asked the Lord to forgive her for all she was about to do. Because for this wild, gentle man, she was fit to do whatever would keep him burning inside of her.

So the Lord, in His provenance, forgave her or condemned her, she could never be sure, because He gave her Luther Laurence. He gave him to her, in the first year of their knowing each other, about twice a month. And the rest of the time, she worked at the Buchanan house and Luther worked at the munitions factory and ran through life as if he were being clocked at it.

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