You pull it out of the drawer in your little white-painted writing desk: the last letter you were carrying that November, really no more than a terse note, from your mother. The thin slip of airmail paper had been folded in the side pocket of your backpack; you grabbed it, along with your turquoise bracelet from Susie, before hiding the backpack in the little quickly-constructed nest in the woods. “For the dogs to find,” Michael had said that afternoon. The wind wasn’t blowing; it was barreling through like a freight train, the mildness of the south turned to northern discipline in the matter of a day. This is why Michael insisted you come home to stay with him and his mother, that first day. He laughed at your plan of nesting in the forest near the tourist lodge. “The forest is free,” you told him. He saw you were a little hurt at his laughter, and apologized.
You returned five days later to the forest having exchanged your California-girl denim for sensible woolens and knits borrowed from Michael’s mother (the trousers were only a bit long so you rolled the cuffs). You wonder now: why would she have agreed to such a thing, really? But at the time, filled with the arrogance of youth, you assumed that your logic was unassailable. Still, as you dropped your denim jacket carelessly on the ground near the backpack, and the jeans not far from that in a place where a weekend walker could spot them, you wavered. It felt like a little suicide, or maybe a little murder; you were leaving Jenny there with the discarded Levi’s, for all intents and purposes killing her, the little girl who’d played a tastefully antiqued piano in a quiet room above the smog. You felt cruel, and if Michael hadn’t been there you would have shouldered your pack again, shed the new clothes, and headed back south to the life you knew.
“Judy came again yesterday with Emily,” the letter from your mother reads. “Such a quiet child, so unlike her active cousin! I opened the piano for her and let her try the keys, after she washed her hands in the hall bathroom. After a tentative minute she began to bang on the instrument and I told her it was time to close it up. She did not protest!
“Which leads me to inquire again, if you have been practicing your piano? You do have such a lovely touch with it, dear.
“Susie came round the house asking after you and I told her I had absolutely no news! So I am dropping this quick line and hoping to get it in the mail before the post-office closes for the weekend.
“All my best,
“p.s. I do hope the money I transferred a few days ago has been deposited in your account.”