She is not found that month or the next. Edward, wary of the police after their suspicions about him, hires two men who claim to be Lakota trackers but he refuses to pay them when they conclude that Elise wasn’t in the desert for long. Probably made her way back to the road and was picked up, they say. After three awful weeks at the adobe motel, I take the boys back to Des Moines on a Greyhound. Leaves are already turning golden across Nebraska and we’re late for the beginning of the school year. Clyde meets us at the station in his car. He brings the suitcase he packed upstairs with the other luggage.
Our housekeeping together in the weeks that follow is not play. Clyde and I enter a rhythm of life I’ve never known: we awaken and set a plan for the day; we breakfast with the boys; I cook, he cleans up when they’ve gone. We wash and fold, we visit the supermarket, stopping for the pleasure of coffee and a bun at the lunch counter there. In the afternoons, we separate, careful not to kill our new tenderness with irritation. A little past five, Clyde strolls into Grace’s yellow kitchen to ask me what help he can give. We make love every third day on Grace’s big bed, but return to my room afterwards to sleep. At first, I think he must’ve been like this with his wife, but he wears on his face a concentration that shows me the truth: he’s trying to correct some old failure.
The neighbors fill the house with food, but most ignore us after the first week, as if our loss is catching. We keep Elise’s door shut as if she were away at summer camp, but I speak her name at least once a day during breakfast or dinner. The boys go silent and, more than once, Hugh screams at me to shut up.
Clyde says, “Don’t force it on them,” and we have our first real fight.
Grace calls every other day to make a report and speak to the boys. She’s terse with me but kind to Hugh, James, and Clyde. Though the police have called off the active search, Edward refuses to leave the area. He believes she is somewhere near, perhaps in captivity, and spends his days driving through the nearby towns in the Cadillac, drinking in bars where locals gossip. Grace convinces the motel owner to let her work at the desk so her days aren’t passed in idleness.
Hugh goes out for football, which his father would never allow, and comes home bruised and quiet. James bursts through my door after school and spends hours digging through my closet or poking his hands into the cubbyholes in my desk. James won’t enter Elise’s room, but Clyde finds Hugh sleeping there some nights and gently leads him back to bed.