She nodded. "People who never find themselves out here, never have to go it alone on the street. You make it in the world without even trying. You don't even know how hard it is."
"Is this that much easier?" Phil asked. "You say you were only thirteen since you've been out there. Maybe you could make it now."
Carmen opened her mouth to answer, but no sound escaped her lips. Instead, from behind them rose a noise, and the boy he had seen when he was first scouting Fort Promise was there, watching them from the surrounding high grass. He broke cover and ran, dashing off behind the tall foliage as he went.
"Jimmy," she called after him. "You quit that eavesdropping, you hear?" She turned to Phil and said, "My brother."
They had talked longer than he thought, for the shadows were growing longer, and the winter sun was dropping ever faster in the west. That made him anxious to leave, remembering his friend's warning about being there after dark. He wanted to stay with Carmen, though.
From the first time he'd seen her, he'd been drawn to her. No doubt lust played a part, but he felt there was more than that. Something about her felt like it was pulling at him as surely as a compass tugging the tip of the needle toward north.
"I'd better get going," Phil said.
The path led up the slope to the flat spot at the top of the declivity where he had left his car. Carmen shivered in the light jacket she was wearing, clutching the lapels tight in her fists. Phil opened the passenger seat and motioned to her.
"Get in," he said. "I'll turn the heater on."
The conflict was plain on her face. She froze like a deer in the road, one leg poised like she might turn and run. "I shouldn't."
"Nonsense," Phil said. "It's freezing. Just warm your hands up at least."
The prospect of warmth won out over fear. She started forward and Phil thought about how big a motivator hunger and cold could be. She slid into the seat and put her hands over the vents, gasping in relief as the heat soaked into her.
"Carmen," Phil said. "Are you happy here?"
She laughed. "What's happy got to do with it?" Her eyes wandered, staring at the world outside her windows.
"You're a beautiful girl. There's nothing in the world you couldn't have. It just seems…"
She looked back at him, her eyes haunted. "I've got to be getting back," she said, but her hands stayed over the vents.
"Sure," Phil said, afraid he'd pushed too hard. "Let me drive you back, at least."
"No, that's okay." She opened the door to the car and was gone before he could say a word.
When the car's overhead light turned off, he saw a man not ten feet from the car. He was huge, bearded, and sitting atop a bicycle. He held a red metal pole of some kind in his hand, perhaps an old broom or mop handle, the end cut into a jagged point. The red paint was shaved off to reveal the shiny metal beneath. Backing the car away, Phil could feel the man's eyes on him all the way to the road back to town.
* * *