Michael scrapes the metal tines of the fork against his teeth as he pulls off a stem of broccoli, chewing with his mouth open. He stares at the plate of food before him and quickly stabs a piece of meat.
He hopes his mother didn't use garlic. He sniffs it and scrunches his nose. She did. He pushes the meat off his fork with his knife and attacks another mouthful of broccoli. He's going into town later. His father is letting him take the truck. He told his parents that he's going to visit Jim but he's really going to see Sarah Jane. He'd spent the entire four days of the trip looking forward to seeing her again, and he isn't going to spoil it with garlic breath.
He hopes his mother doesn't find out where he's going. His dad his cool but…his mother can be so uptight. He wonders if it's the Italian heritage and if all Italian women are overprotective and clingy. He wants a little space. He wants to live his own life. He wants his mother to let go and let him be a man.
Carolyn hums along to the pop song on the radio, pushing the broccoli around her plate as if it's dancing in time to the music. She feels eyes on her and looks up to see her father giving her The Look. She straightens up and eats her vegetables.
She doesn't want to be sitting at the table. She wants to be elsewhere. She wants to be back at the fair. Life moved faster there; that's what she wants. As a woman of sixteen, she's anxious to grow up and leave. She doesn't know where she'll end up, but it won't be Iowa.
She peers over at her mother, who is staring at the screen door and playing with the wisps of hair that are too short to be pulled up into a twist. She looks sad. Carolyn can't imagine what her mother would have to be sad about. It's not like they're still gone. She should be happy now that they were back, shouldn't she?
It occurs to her then that her mother has never really looked particularly happy. She's always looked…complacent. Motherly. Carolyn doesn't know, can't put her finger on it.
As she chews on a potato, she decides that she doesn't want to end up like her mother. She wants to be happy.
Richard shifts his weight in the chair as he takes a long, healthy gulp of iced tea. A droplet escapes the lip of the glass and slides down his chin, dropping onto his shirt before he has a chance to catch it with his napkin. He hopes Franny didn't see.
He watches her. She's not eating. She's barely touched the dinner she spent an hour cooking. He wonders if she's sick.
He thinks again about the ribbon Carolyn won and a flash of pride erupts in his chest like a more pleasant bout of indigestion. He wonders if this news will make it into the local papers. His mom and pop would sure love the clipping.
As he opens his mouth to accept a heaping forkful of food, Richard thinks about the new tractor part that he needs to pick up at the general store in town. Maybe he'll get Michael to go with him; he'd love his boy to take a more active part in the workings of the farm. He does as he's told, but it's clear to Richard that his attentions are elsewhere.
He looks again at his wife. Franny sure does look a bit down. After dinner, he'll talk to her. If he remembers, maybe he'll even rub her shoulders.
Francesca's stomach rumbles but she cannot eat. Earlier that day, after attempting to eat lunch with her family, she couldn't keep it down. She knows this will be the case now and sips her iced tea instead.
Food tastes different now anyway. It's only been less than a day since she's seen Robert and flavors now seem dull.
She can't stop herself from looking from time to time at the screen door. She allows herself to fantasize that Robert will drive up at any moment and save her from the life she's settling for. She knows he never would compromise her by showing up at her home and yet every fiber of her being yearns for it.
A drop of perspiration rolls down her neck and collects at the damp hem of her blouse. A fly buzzes nearby. Her children and her husband eat quietly. The radio plays.
She hears nothing, sees nothing, feels nothing but Robert.
She wants to cry but can't. She buries the tears and smiles wanly at Richard. She asks about the fair and when he begins to talk, she tunes him out and allows herself to daydream. What if Richard were to grow tired of her? What if, when the children are grown and out of the house, Richard decides to leave? What if she were set free?
Richard will never leave. Kind, sweet Richard will always expect her to remain close.
She can pray for her freedom to be with Robert, but it will never come. She's given up her only chance at happiness in order to stay trapped in a life of obligation.
What has she done?
She made the only choice she could.
Robert sits on the bed in the poorly lit motel room, passing his thumb over the back of the medallion in his hand. He'll wear her name out in no time.
Robert's not accustomed to crying. He's only done it on a few occasions in his life. He can't hold them back now. He has the distinct feeling that he may never see Francesca again. The thought of it tears him apart. He feels nauseas and weak and jealous and more lonely than he has ever felt in his entire life.
He never imagined that he'd fall in love again. Now that he's found her, he can't stomach the fact that she's lying in another man's bed. It kills him to know that the lips he kissed not 24 hours earlier will now only be kissed by another man. He feels like he should have kissed her more. They had four days together and he wasted so much time not touching her or looking at her. When he acknowledges the fact that the opportunity will never, ever present itself to him again, another fat tear rolls down his cheek.
Everything is changed now. He needs someone for the first time in his life.
He's always been so eager to go wherever life decided to take him. Now, he feels as though he's rooted here. He'll always be looking over his shoulder and will always be disappointed to realize that she's not by his side.
He wonders if she'll get over him. He wonders if he was just a spark of excitement in a monotonous life of details. He wonders if her heart is as broken as his.
Robert looks again at the medallion. He knows better than to question the sincerity of her love. Nothing like this will ever happen again to either of them. He loves Francesca more than he's ever loved anyone.
He decides then that he will go to Barre next year. If he can never return to Iowa, to her, he'll go to the one other place that they share.
He wants to be angry with her for staying but finds that he can't. He understands why she's made this decision and, as painful as it is, he will support her. He presses the silver cross to his lips, remembers the faint scent of her perfume, and cries.