The City of Mirrors (The Passage #3)(8) by Justin Cronin

Lore looked at him sharply. “Peter, don’t be dense. What do you think he’s doing out in that stupid boat of his? Three years since she’s gone, and he still can’t get her out of his head. Maybe if she were still around, I’d stand a chance. But you can’t compete with a ghost.”

It took Peter another moment to process this. A mere minute ago he wouldn’t have said that Michael even liked Alicia; the two used to quarrel like a couple of cats over a clothesline. But underneath, Peter knew, they were not so unlike—the same cores of strength, the same resolve, the same stubborn refusal to be told no when an idea stuck in their teeth. And, of course, a long history was there. Was that what Michael’s boat was all about? That it was his way of mourning the loss of her? They’d all done it in their own fashion. For a time, Peter had been angry with her. She had abandoned them without explanation, not even saying goodbye. But a lot had changed; the world had changed. Mostly what he felt was a pure ache of loneliness, a cold, empty place in his heart where Alicia had once stood.

“As for you,” Lore said, rubbing her eyes with the back of her wrist, “I don’t know who she is, but she’s a lucky girl.”

There was no point in denying it. “I really am sorry.”

“So you’ve said.” With a pained smile, Lore clapped her palms on her knees. “Well, I’ve got my oil. A girl could hardly ask for more. Do me a favor and feel like shit, okay? You don’t have to drag it out or anything. A week or two is fine.”

“I feel like shit now.”

“Good.” She leaned forward and took his mouth with a deep kiss that tasted of tears, then pulled abruptly away. “One for the road. See you around, Lieutenant.”

The sun was just rising as Peter made his way up the stairs to the top of the dam. His hangover had settled in for the long haul, and a day spent swinging a hammer on a blazing rooftop wasn’t going to improve it any. He could have done with an extra hour of sleep, but after his conversation with Lore, he wanted to clear his head before reporting to the jobsite.

The breaking day met him when he reached the top, softened by a low-hanging stratum of clouds that would burn off within the hour. Since Peter’s resignation from the Expeditionary, the dam had become a site of totemic importance in his mind. In the days leading up to his fateful departure for the Homeland, he had brought his nephew here. Nothing especially noteworthy had occurred. They had taken in the view and talked about Peter’s journeys with the Expeditionary and about Caleb’s parents, Theo and Maus, then gone down to the impoundment to swim, something Caleb had never done before. An ordinary outing, yet by the end of that day, something had changed. A door had opened in Peter’s heart. He had not understood it at the time, but on the far side of this door lay a new way of being, one in which he would assume the responsibilities of being the boy’s father.

That was one life, the one that people knew about. Peter Jaxon, retired officer of the Expeditionary turned carpenter and father, citizen of Kerrville, Texas. It was a life like anybody else’s, with its satisfactions and travails, and he was glad to live it. Caleb had just turned ten. Unlike Peter, who at that age was already serving as a runner of the Watch, the boy was experiencing a childhood. He went to school, he played with his friends, he did his chores without much prodding and only occasional complaint, and every night after Peter tucked him in, he drifted into dreams on the cushioning knowledge that the next day would be just like the last. He was tall for his age, like a Jaxon; the little-boy softness had begun to leave his face. Every day he looked a little bit more like his father, Theo, though the subject of his parents never came up anymore. Not that Peter was avoiding it; the boy just didn’t ask. One evening, after Peter and Caleb had been living on their own for six months, the two of them were playing chess when the boy, hovering over his next move, said, simply, with no more weight than if he were inquiring about the weather, Would it be okay if I called you Dad? Peter was startled; he had failed to see this coming. Is that what you want to do? Peter asked, and the boy nodded. Uh-huh, he said. I think that would be good.

As for his other life: Peter could not say quite what it was, only that it existed, and that it happened at night. His dreams of the farmstead included a range of days and events, but the tone was always the same: a feeling of belonging, of home. So vivid were these dreams that he awoke with the sensation that he had actually traveled to another place and time, as if his hours of waking and sleeping were two sides of the same coin, neither one more real than the other.