Double Standards

Andrea Mullery felt lost in the city, a woman alone and with a problem. From early morning she had wandered the sidewalks of New York, through the dim skyscraper shadow. Her neck had grown stiff from looking up, not at the buildings but the sky. These buildings had none of the charm of those on Beaver Pond, the family house and the barn that curved into the sweep of their land. She missed her home, the dirt where she played as a child, the farm that had sheltered her till she was too old to hide.

Andrea was only a hundred miles from that home now, but she might as well have been a continent away. She sensed no warmth in the summer surliness, and saw only isolation in the crowds. The sophistication she had heard about seemed nothing more than a cultivated indifference. When she saw the group ahead, she felt almost relieved. Even against the stains of a city alley they had a familiar look, a knot of men who nudged each other and stared as she approached. The small-town boys back home looked exactly the same without the flash.

Stan Draper stood among them, in a cloud of overworked cologne. His thumbs pulled authoritatively on his belt buckle as he spoke. “I saw her first, remember,” he said. “Lay off if ya know what’s best.” His warning didn’t stop the others from shifting subtly into the proper pose.

Stan avoided such pretension, himself, though he understood it was necessary for those who weren’t sure how they looked. Better to ignore their petty posturing and concentrate on his ride-to-be . . .