The Caregiver

Sammy Stevens | Fiction

The bell rang, and Billy opened the apartment door to Cheryl, the new babysitter. She was straight-backed and broad-shouldered, taller than Billy, and about two decades older than his thirty-five. She wore a mauve cardigan and white turtleneck, her hair, light brown and gray, pulled back in a tidy bun. “And here we have the little pig,” Cheryl said.

For a moment Billy thought she meant him, wondered not so much at the plausibility of being called a “little pig” by a babysitter, but at his own peculiar sense of joy for being recognized as small and porcine so matter-of-factly. His late wife Amy had always tried to change him into something bigger or more manly than he could ever really be.  

But Cheryl meant Thomas, chubby and shy in Billy’s arms. Thomas, the silent little pig. Thomas stopped babbling when Amy died. At his eighteen-month checkup, the pediatrician said that toddlers may regress after a trauma like losing a mother. 

Billy felt as if he too had regressed since losing Amy. Words came out wrong.  

“Billiam,” he said.  

“A tired daddy,” Cheryl said. 

She narrowed her eyes at Thomas, who tucked his face against Billy’s neck.  

“This little fellow,” she said.  

Billy briefed her on Thomas’s mid-day routine. She made “mm” sounds, angled her head, and smiled warmly at intervals. Billy distracted Thomas with a toy ambulance, which rolled through the living area then under the dining room table, where it clipped a chair leg and spun out of control while Billy slipped outside.  


Massaging his neck, dodging snails and puddles on the sidewalk, he walked to the laundromat. Though Cheryl seemed trustworthy, or at least not insane, Amy would never have left Thomas alone like this. She would have scheduled a couple hours to observe the new sitter with the baby. That would have made more sense.  

Well then you shouldn’t have checked out, Amy, he thought. Did you really have to do that? Is all of this really necessary? Like lyrics of a song he’d heard too many times, his questions were not fully conscious. Why am I blaming you? He stepped over a snail, imagining the crunch of its shell underfoot.  

Why? Because blaming her for dying was easier than any other alternative this morning. It gave him strength knowing fallibility could be imposed on random events, even by himself, even knowing, as he did, that her car accident was an accident.  

He could sense her nearby. Since she died, he had felt her gaze on him like a cat’s from a dormer window. Or the crook of an overgrown ash tree, or behind an old tire where someone had planted a rose bush. There were an abundance of hiding places—but didn’t she have anything better to do than haunt his periphery? Didn’t she have a greater purpose, now that she’d shed every last responsibility? 

The laundromat welcomed him with the smell of hot fabric and the low rumble of machines, the neat tasks of measuring, folding, inserting quarters in rows—chuck-chung chuck-chung. The gently curved lips of the orange and tan chairs, curved for tired bottoms of tired parents. The paperback, the promise of a sane narrative, yarns woven more or less predictably, yellow pages dog-eared by someone, sometime.  

His mind wandered. He had forgotten his cell phone at home. He should go back. Cheryl could kidnap Thomas, Amy reminded, or drown him in the bathtub. Dead Amy had adopted a grim suspicion of life, but Billy supposed he would have too, if he had died so suddenly, violently. Maybe this was her greater purpose, to warn him of what could happen. She had been driving home from the grocery store when she crashed. Had she died before or after her car ignited? He was too afraid to ask, but debated it with himself in the middle of the night, piecing the accident together, trying to adopt an omniscient gaze in order to calm the horror he felt at that hour.  

If he could imagine the parts of the accident in detail, including her realization of her impending death, the first lungful of smoke, the licks of flame at the windshield, her cursing, thrashing, calling out, maybe he could arrive at a meaningful conclusion; maybe he could stop tormenting himself. It was like running a needle under his fingernail in order to cure himself of pain. It didn’t work. In fact, imagining Amy’s death became a gruesome routine, a sort of role-play through which to communicate his grief to himself.  

He bought a coffee next door to the laundromat and bummed a cigarette outside. Did her loss demand his unmaking? The steam of the coffee and the smoke veiled the street, the racks where he and Amy had locked their bikes, their sex-smelly laundry ballooning in canvas bags on their backs. Before they bought a washing machine, before they had Thomas, before they moved in together, they brought their dirty clothes here. At the time, it felt romantic coming to a laundromat together, the streaks on the sheets their invisible ink.  

Why was Billy here? Why was he anywhere? Why not her somewhere? The questions themselves bore evidence of decay. A dropped word or a faded implication. Her death was most worrying in its easy erasure of her life, of their life. He sensed the trajectory he could not yet admit. He would move on. He would be moved on. 

But he was here now, and she was not, so he crushed the cigarette, left it on the slick mortar between two bricks to succumb, and finished a paragraph. Then another. Then a whole page.    


Three hours later, he walked back home and found Cheryl reading on the couch.  

“Thomas fell asleep an hour ago after lunch. Sweet boy,” she said. “Is your washing machine broken?” 

“No,” he said, setting down the laundry. “I needed something to do outside the house.” 

“Mm-hmm, I understand. Are these Thomas’s mother?” She motioned to a cluster of photographs over the fireplace. 

“Yes, they are.” 

“I can see her in his little face.” 

“Yeah. She died, so . . . here we are.”  

“I’m sorry.”  


She twisted a ring on her left hand. “Let’s have tea. I think I saw some.” 

She explored the cabinets, then fixed the tea. They sat across from each other at the small kitchen table. She asked questions and listened without looking away from his eyes, a faint line over her eyebrows where the skin had been smooth before. Her attention rushed through him in gentle, electric waves. It was nice to be interrogated. Wild, cowering bits of himself peeped out of their holes, sensing a change in the weather. When she took his hand, he stayed perfectly still. Crimson pulsed behind his eyelids. She leaned forward with both hands snaking into the sleeves of his hoodie.  

“Healing touch,” she said.  

“Right,” he whispered, looking down. In a rush of embarrassment, he realized he would cry, pulled his arms toward his face. But she held him by the wrists. He laughed, twisted his arms to break her grip, but she restrained him. His face seemed to catch fire. He sobbed, and felt his tears vaporize and coalesce in a fat cloud over them in the kitchen.  

“Let go,” he said, a high breathiness in his voice. 

She released him, and folded her hands in her lap.  

He expected her to apologize, but she smiled at him oddly, wolfishly, then composed her face into a neutral expression. His heart thrummed, the force of its beats reflecting off his ribs and into his throat. He waited for her to speak, but she stared at him with no apparent hurry. Finally, he said: “Are you available to watch Thomas tomorrow?” 

“Tomorrow.” Her voice came from her teeth, barely audible. “Tomorrow I can’t come.”  

An odd possessiveness swept over him, but upon identifying the feeling, he banished it.  

Her face sharpened as if she’d sensed his reactions. “But let me know if you’d like me to come next week at this time,” she added.  

“Sure,” he said. “I’ll let you know.” What a casual thing to say to someone who had done—what? What did she do, exactly? He focused his attention on his hands, which burrowed into his pockets, thrusting in every direction. Right—his wallet. He seemed to have lost his sense of time, and wondered how long he stood there, fondling the wallet, before counting the cash and paying her. 

“See you,” she smiled, swiveled her shoulders and dipped into the cardigan, wafting lavender and something else, a hospital scent, a smell like a used bandage or a soiled gown—disgusting, yet somehow erotic. Through the peephole, he watched her cross the walkway to the white sedan and drive away, then for some moments looked around the apartment. Following the strange smell as it diffused through the back of his nose, he discovered a set of standoffish questions, uncomfortable making acquaintances with one another yet forced into close proximity. Instead of answering them, he chose to take a shower.  


Later, when Thomas woke, he was adorably annoyed, shrieking and arching his back at the cold wipes on his testicles, resisting the diaper change. Billy loaded him into the stroller. The walk to the park was a series of familiar tableaux. He and Amy had enjoyed imagining living in the hundred-year-old craftsman homes along the way, many of them beautifully restored and painted in pale pastels. The park had a playground with a blue awning, a weedy baseball field, and several decent-sized oak trees.   

The Jehovas Witness ladies approached him, said what a nice day he was having, and handed him a biblical coloring book for Thomas. Billy liked them. Bright, casual, inquisitive, conversational, extremely observant—they would see him later, they said. The older one cued the younger to retrieve something, and she exposed the inside of her bag, sectioned-off compartments with stretchy straps and accordion folders. She flipped through a few stacks, the older one watching her, and produced a flyer entitled “Love in grief, finding support.”  

Somehow, they had intuited Amy’s death months ago, not long after it had happened, and alluded to it indirectly this way, with flyers or oblique statements on “finding moments of grace” that they followed by reflections on Thomas’s development, the curl in his hair, or was it a more of a wave? The cuteness of his shoes. So small, yet so big.  

Normally, he felt moved by them. In their friendly wheedling they exposed a kind of wonderful vulnerability. But today, they were like echoes or distortions of his time earlier with Cheryl. She wanted something from him, pressed herself on him, then withdrew to a respectful distance, just as these women did. Along with the flyer, they left him with a sugar-free grape lollipop. He wondered what Cheryl would taste like, pushing herself against him, unapologetic at the gentle violence of his head bumping the drywall.  


He called her the next morning. She picked up after three rings.  

“Billy,” she said. “So nice to hear from you.”  

“I wanted to take you up on your offer to watch Thomas next week.” 


“Also, I wanted to see if you were busy this evening. I have some work to do, and if you happen to be free . . . ” 

“Tonight?” She paused. He held his breath. “What time were you wanting some help tonight?” 

As they made the details, Billy balanced on one foot in the living room, toeing Thomas’s dump truck so that Thomas could not quite catch up to it, but not so far that he would lose interest.  

Billy made a pot of coffee and busied himself between Thomas and planning the evening. He would tire Thomas out so that he would fall asleep extra early. Billy would position himself on his computer in the living room and work on something. His thesis. No, his “budget.” The money in & out. Amy’s life insurance was some mysterious force he hadn’t wanted to consider for more than the five seconds it took to see it appear in his bank account. Insurance for life? What could it possibly mean. 

Prone and stupefied by the screen, he would wait. Cheryl would have the opportunity to do something to him. This was what he wanted. By pressing her to babysit tonight after she had clearly said no yesterday, he had invited her to push back. Tit for tat.  

He would resist, he hoped, just enough, and like the moment she clamped his wrists, he hoped she would overpower him. He lost himself in the fantasy, chasing Thomas round and round the table with heavy steps, groaning like a cartoon mummy bent on a meal of plump toddler pudding. 

On each pass—Billy neither gaining nor losing ground on Thomas—Amy stared at him from an 8 x 12, eternally drunk, posing with him at a Christmas party where they had both had three frozen margaritas. She had been shorter than him, but encouraged him to wear cowboy boots so that his 5’6’’ became 5’8’’, as if his shortness were something to hide. He hated the boots, but now that she was gone, he wore them more than ever, and he did not know why. Perhaps so he could engage with this unresolved part of their relationship, her inability to accept him for what he was. Yes, the boots kept a part of her from floating away; they were earthen anchors, binding her to his resentment.   

He baked brownies for Cheryl, centered them on the table then bumped them artfully off to one side. A friend had said fatherhood reduces testosterone levels, promoting a softer body, a softer attitude toward life. Since Amy’s death, Billy had grown love-handles and a little belly. He didn’t quite trust his softer self. What exactly did it want from him? Well, maybe he would have a frank discussion with it one of these days.  

Later that afternoon, passing sinewy twenty-somethings on his stroller walk with Thomas, he felt sloppily genderless, caught between various poles he could not fully fathom. He wasn’t sure whether he missed feeling like a man, or he missed feeling like a husband, or he missed Amy. Missing—what was the point of missing? To identify with the past, morbid, delusional, like staring into a mirror hoping it might change. 


Cheryl arrived promptly at five in a pale green dress cut at the knees. Navy trim and buttons. It had new-dress creases. A light sweater, brown beanie. She breezed into the kitchen. Again, there was that hospital smell. He hadn’t imagined it.  

“Goodness, the two of you together,” she said.  

Billy told her about their busy day, that Thomas would probably need an early bedtime, but that Billy really needed to concentrate on his work so it was such a favor for her to be there in case Thomas needed some more lullabies.   

She nodded agreeably, played blocks and cars on the floor while Billy set to work on the budget and bills, reviewed some tax documents, made serious faces into the computer while watching the clock and typing mainly nonsense into a spreadsheet. Amy had been the spreadsheet maker. 227 dollars saved this month, she would say. As if the spreadsheet made it real. For Billy, a spreadsheet was equal in effect to a tranquilizer. 

They put Thomas to bed together, Cheryl hovering just behind Billy, humming along pleasantly. Exhausted Thomas made no protest. Billy cuddled up to the computer, yawning and stretching when he thought Cheryl was looking over. Easy prey.    

But she sat unmenacingly with one leg under her on the couch to read her novel. After an hour, he made an excuse to go to his car, and, skirting the couch, moved an inch or two closer to her than really necessary, wondering if she might strike. Tempting her, in fact. But she did not move.  

Without any particular purpose, he reclined in the seat of his navy Corolla. Something seemed to have shifted since their first meeting yesterday. Or was this, all of this, his imagination?  

He brought his feet to the dash of the car, his knees butterflied, and he recalled Amy in the hospital bed nearly two years ago, his chanting with the nurse, “Push, push, push.” Amy was on intravenous fentanyl for pain, giggling insanely. Here came Thomas’s bald, pointy head. Billy held a mirror for Amy to watch. He felt scared and inadequate. When he cut the umbilical cord, it was an awful, violent crunch, as much a mangling as a cut, and he had apologized, but to whom he hadn’t been sure.  

All normal feelings, he had learned at the new fathers’ group on a weekly discussion over Zoom. His feelings, it was essential to remember, would change jarringly from one moment to the next, whereas his responsibilities as a father might seem very boring, repetitive, the group leader had said. This was a phase of parenthood, the juxtaposition of boredom and terror, the two states alternating so rapidly that they could appear indistinguishable. 

He left the car, numbed by the memory of the birth, the fathers’ group on Zoom, the spontaneous expulsion and redigestion of sacred milestones.  

Cheryl had not moved an inch. She flickered a smile. He sat on the chaise at the opposite end of the couch and pretended to sort the contents of a folder. Receipts from Amy’s nursing school tuition. Maybe he could fall asleep here, right next to her, perfectly exposed. He closed his eyes, relaxed his face, and reclined against a cushion. Between intelligible thoughts, gaps opened, filled with strange, inviting narratives. He walked towards one, hoping he might just topple in.  

He woke with his head in Cheryl’s lap. It was darker inside the apartment than before. How long had he been asleep? Her fingers explored his temple and cheekbone. She traced the ridge of his nose to the apex and pressed it briefly, testing its tiny resistance, the small fissure between the two halves. Then his lips. Then the cleft in his chin.  

The corner of his lip happened to touch her leg just below the hem of her skirt. She withdrew her hand. He nestled into her stomach and made some noise, a groan or whimper, he didn’t care. She was warm. He was something furry and domesticated.  

“Billy,” she said.  

He turned onto his back to look up.   

She said, “I am married.” She licked her lips, moved her tongue inside her mouth. 

“I assumed. Your ring.” 

“My husband had a stroke seven years ago. We have a live-in nurse.”  

He sat up. “I’m sorry.”  

She said, “No, it’s my fault. It was not right to hold your hands like that yesterday.”  

“No, no, it was okay.”  

“It was just awful. I hope you can forgive me.” 

“It wasn’t. I had just forgotten touch, being touched.” 

“Me too. But it was wrong.” 

“Maybe. But I wanted it to be wrong.”  

She smiled. “Really?” 

“Yeah. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”  


“Because you had me.” 

She swallowed a smile, massaged her temples. “That’s horrible.”  

He laughed. “You had me.”  

“Oh no,” she said, laughing. “Oh no.” 

She pulled his collar. “Come,” she said. 

She kissed his nose, then each cheek, then his lips. He closed his eyes, but peeked out, and saw that she hadn’t closed hers. Soon, her fingers found the button of his pants. Her body was strong and soft. There were two scars on her stomach, one long, horizontal, the other short, vertical. She stood looking into his eyes, then pulled him to the floor, under her, guided him into her. Her muscles tensed and then relaxed, tensed and then relaxed, her head fell backwards and shoulders slumped and fingernails clawed into his ribs. He came with a weak cry, his diaphragm shuddering against his lungs. 


She babysat every other day or so. Thomas began to talk more, which Billy attributed to Cheryl’s presence. Billy looked up old friends and had dinner with them or went for a run while Cheryl stayed home with Thomas. When he returned, they cooked, baked, made stupid jokes, took baths and slept together. She educated him on the plight of the pangolin, the most trafficked mammal in the world. She had been a communications manager for a wildlife conservation charity before an early retirement to help care for her husband. One of the most difficult parts of caring for him was accepting their emotional detachment from each other, she said. In dreams of finding him miraculously cured, her main feelings were guilt and confusion, as though his physical recovery revealed a deeper estrangement that she might have prevented. Billy continued to pay her, though she said he didn’t need to.  

One evening before she was due to arrive, she called.  

“Can you come to my house right now?” 

It was a large house, two stories, in an aging suburb with quiet, curving streets and healthy lawns. Cheryl wore sweat pants and an old T-shirt that said “public radio.” Her hair was strangely messy. She handed him a coffee, taking Thomas so that he could drink it.   

“The nurse had an emergency, and the agency is short-staffed, so it’s just me, and I’m having trouble turning him.” 

“Turning him?” 

“He has to be turned so I can change him and so he won’t get pressure ulcers.” 

She gave Thomas a kiss and led them into the main living area, which seemed to have been converted into a room for Cheryl’s husband. A tower fan whirred. The railings of the bed reflected the yellow fixture. Pictures of young children hung on the walls. There was a smell of disinfectant and a damp sweetness that Billy recognized from Cheryl’s clothes, her hair. He stopped. Her dying husband was her secret smell.  

“Robert, this is Billy. I babysit his little boy, Thomas. Billy is going to help us.” 

Robert did not respond, but stared at the wall of pictures. His arms were flexed like the wings of a baby bird and propped by pillows. Closer to the bed, the smell was stronger. Robert’s expression looked stuck in irritation, or maybe anger, his brows wrinkled and upper lip almost sneering. He seemed about to speak, his neck and jaw quivering, but said nothing.  

“Hello, sir. Nice to meet you.” Again, Robert made no response.  

Cheryl touched Billy’s arm. “So, the way this works is that one of us needs to hold him on his side with the pillows protecting his arms and legs, and the other one has to clean him up. Whatever you want to do is fine with me, Billy, but I think it would work best for me to hold him because he might get upset if you do it, and he might scratch you. He can be a little aggressive with his nails.”  

“No problem. I change diapers all day.” What he had thought of as a sort of joke sounded so insulting. Robert wasn’t a baby, but a grown man, and Cheryl’s husband. But she seemed untouched and, smiling appreciatively, she positioned herself across the bed with her hips braced against the rail and her arms across Robert’s shoulder and waist.  

“The diaper is like a toddler’s pull-up,” she said. “It rips at the sides. First you pull the sheet while I roll him, like this. Put some gloves on.” She directed him moment-by-moment. A thin, yellow fluid covered Robert’s buttocks and low back. Billy sniffed languorously. This fluid was, in fact, the source of the sweet smell, sticky between Robert’s hairless legs, his sharp hip, and all over his testicles, which folded over themselves like hot, red dough.  

“I can get his privates if you want,” Cheryl said.  

“No, it’s really no problem.” He retracted Robert’s foreskin with three fingers, wiped around the head of his penis. Robert flinched, and Billy caught Cheryl’s eyes. 

“I think you’ve got plenty,” Cheryl said. “I’ll sponge him off again later.” 

Thomas fell asleep in an old crib Cheryl brought out of the basement. They drank tea in the kitchen off the converted living room. The table was round, antique, with well-worn varnish and trifid feet. There were four chairs and one place-mat, which Cheryl pushed into the middle of the table to serve as a coaster for them both. In its time, the table must have been the center of her family.  

“I really can’t thank you enough,” she said. “This is not your responsibility. I hate to disrupt your routine with the sweet pig.” 

“It would be nice if we could just move in,” he said. He had intended it as a joke.  

“I don’t think my sons would….” 

“No, I know, not realistic.” She had two sons in their thirties, the older in Phoenix and the younger in Tampa. 

“We actually have the back apartment we used to rent out. But I don’t think…” 

“No, I wouldn’t want to do that. Though it is funny to think about. We would both save money if I helped with Robert, ditched my place and you didn’t need the nurses.” 

She laughed. “That’s a crazy thought, isn’t it?” She took his hand and then let it go.  

They gazed into the semi-dark at Robert. The pillows supporting his arms moved with his breath. His eyes were closed, Billy thought, though in the shadows of Robert’s bony face, it was hard to tell.  


Six months later, when Cheryl didn’t come one night they had agreed on, Billy called her, but she did not pick up. When she didn’t return his calls the next day, he chose to leave her alone. Perhaps Robert had become very ill, or died. She would have a good reason for not calling. But he felt alarmed, though also wondered if Robert’s death might change everything, if Cheryl might move in, or they might move in with her, or she might even decide to visit her sons for a while. Maybe she would need some time alone. The thought scared him. He should come up with an idea to cheer her up. Like travel, some sort of adventure. They could set a date, which would inspire him to finish his degree. It would need to be several months away, of course. Her sons would feel protective. Though maybe they would understand. He searched the internet for flights to New Zealand, where she had said she’d always wanted to go. Maybe they could sublease his place, or fix up her house and rent it out. A pleasing future rolled out in front of him. Then he searched the internet for Robert, wondering if he would find an obituary. Instead, he found one for her.  

She had died the morning after she last left Billy’s home four days ago “at her husband’s bedside.” Her viewing was to be held the following day. “The family has requested that remembrances be made in the form of contributions to The Pangolin Crisis Fund.” He read the post again, called her, recorded a message, deleted it, paced, finally drove by her house, finding a row of cars parked along the street. He thought about knocking on the door, making up an excuse, and even started to unbuckle Thomas, but pulling Thomas’s arms through the seatbelts, he regained his wits and drove home.  


At the viewing there was a man about his age standing near the coffin. He held out his hand. 

“Mark Callaghan.” 

“Billy. And this is Thomas. Cheryl was Thomas’s babysitter.” 

“Mom said she was taking care of a great kid.”  

“She was a huge help,” Billy said. “We had a close bond.”   

Mark shook his head. “We all thought dad would die and she would finally get to do something she really wanted to do. He had a stroke years ago. I don’t think he even knows she’s gone.” 

“How did it happen?” Billy bit his cheek, bouncing Thomas on his hip to distract himself from the hollow feeling spreading from his stomach to his throat. Perversely, he wanted to tell Mark Callaghan how Cheryl had fucked him on the floor, how afterwards they had lain naked together, showered together, and that even after their showers, he could still smell Robert in her hair—that even now, the smell of Robert nearby caused his heart to skip a beat. He glanced around, and wondered if Robert had been brought here earlier in the day, then taken away, because he was not among the present visitors. Maybe Billy had imagined the smell.  

“They offered an autopsy, but what’s the point?” Mark asked. “Aneurysm, heart attack, stroke…what does it matter?” 

Billy inhaled Thomas’s hot curls, leaning forward to glimpse a shoulder in the coffin. He wanted to run to the coffin, to tell everyone it wasn’t her. There’d been a mistake. They were going to New Zealand. 

Mark said, “What gets me is she was up against this clock that no one knew about. Do you know what I mean? Mom had this invisible clock that no one knew about.” For a moment Billy saw a younger, male Cheryl staring at him from Mark’s face. What was he talking about? 

Mark excused himself. Billy stepped toward the coffin, calling to mind the moment he’d first seen Cheryl at his front door months ago. In the coffin, her head lay on a light blue pillow. “And here we have the little pig,” she’d said. Her expression suggested rest but also a kind of hunger, as though her face had thinned, or her jaw slipped slightly out of its sockets. Whatever it was inside him that threatened to burst, he would let it. He was alone again. Another goodbye. Of course, he had never seen Amy’s body, never said goodbye face-to-face. Was it true that in order to say goodbye, to let someone go, you had to see them one last time?   

Thomas screamed, and before Billy knew what was happening, he was outside in the cold again, digging through the car for a toy to distract Thomas. He had so much more to say, so much more to figure out. “I love you,” he murmured, imagining reaching into the coffin, stroking her face. “Thank you. I’ll miss you. I love you.” 

Driving home, he sang to Thomas. Snow covered the windshield, so he pulled into a strip-mall. From the passenger seat, Amy nodded her approval. Surely Thomas would stop screaming soon. Billy told him to look at the snow, to look how white it was.  

The inside of the car darkened. His fingers blanched, still tight on the wheel. It was getting warm in the car, and there was no need to rush anything. Billy reached behind his headrest to Thomas’s car seat, felt around for his head. “Give me your hand,” he said.  

Billy closed his eyes, felt the tiny impulses in Thomas’s palm and fingers, the rippling energy between them. Billy forgot whether he was a father or a son. Where he was. What he was doing here. He felt some great energy ahead, and knew that he must follow, but without following too closely, or falling too far behind. Just the right distance.