It's a terrible debt to repay. He's choking up every last cent.



As he did every Saturday morning at 11:00 AM, Martin Bowman, 19, parked his compact pickup in front of 9077 Crestbury Lane, which ran north-south through the center of Pecan Groves, Texas. He knew the occupants were away when he saw the empty driveway.

The Lornes never used their garage. Inside, Martin knew, caged in cobwebs and smothered by dust, stretched a musty plastic tarpaulin. The tarpaulin, in turn, covered something Martin would rather not consider at the moment. The Lornes avoided it, as well, because they rarely entered into that room to disturb so much dusty time.

The absence of the tidy home's residents would not deter him, however. After all this time, Martin expected to mow this lawn rain or shine, show or no-show. After he pulled to the curb, shifted to 'P' for 'Park', and set the little truck's parking brake, Martin checked the street for traffic, and then pushed open the driver's side door, which creaked and groaned.

Behind his truck, Martin pulled a small trailer, which carried his lawn equipment. He sighed unhappily to ponder his task. With a mechanical force of habit, he stalked to the rear of the little trailer, let down its tailgate, and rolled his mower onto the street. Raising its front wheels, he pushed it onto the Lornes' lush St. Augustine lawn.

The cloying scents of a warm spring morning lay heavily on the air. He breathed it deeply, and forced himself to smile, if only to honor the day's maker, however briefly. As quickly as he pressed it onto his lips, then, the smile faded. This unfortunate business had little to do with smiles. Smiles, in fact, must appear… unseemly.

He fixed a grim mask onto his face, as he stooped to prime the mower's little two-stroke motor, before he yanked it into life. It sputtered and caught on the first try, testament to Martin's care for his equipment.

As his mower idled, warming to its task, Martin pulled a squashed cap from the back pocket of his shorts and a pair of sunglasses out of the breast pocket of his Hawaiian-style shirt. The former he pulled over his head, and the latter he slipped onto his nose and ears.

Thus prepared, he started around the yard in ever shrinking circles. After he mowed, he trimmed the curbs, sidewalks, and landscaping. Next, he tidied the shrubbery and pulled weeds from the flowerbeds.

As he raked and swept the clippings, his hosts returned home. They arrived, the three of them, in a modest sport utility vehicle, their faces hanging ghoulish and white behind the truck's shaded windshields.

Martin paused working to straighten his posture and respectfully await their emergence. The family, in turn, fussed with shopping bags, purses, wallets and other human sundries, as they prepared to make the transition from automobile to home.

First, Papa Lorne's door swung open with a solid, mechanical report. Robert Lorne was a tall, thin, dark man, much taller and thinner than Martin. Though the corners of his eyes wrinkled with the unmistakable impressions of laughter, Robert Lorne's eyes remained tepid and flat. He seemed incapable of laughing these days. Martin met those gray orbs once, briefly, before the younger man lowered his head to examine the remains of wet grass sprinkled across the tops of his sneakers.

Next out of the vehicle, Mrs. Lorne dropped her tiny, well-shod feet to the concrete of the driveway. Nessa Lorne resembled nothing so much as a 1950's television rendition of the perfect mother. Her neat, contemporary clothing, trim figure, and poise spoke of preparatory schools and dance lessons. On first glance, she appeared the type to laugh loudly at the occasional cocktail party or perhaps sing the brightest in church. A second, closer inspection revealed another impression, however, as her sparkling green eyes sparkled less from a vivacious personality and more from enmity. Unlike her husband's, Nessa Lorne's eyes never seemed tepid or flat, instead, they shined with a piercing, burning hatred.

Martin wondered if they only shined this way for him, or if everyone met with the same, subtle expression of mocking disgust. Once more, the lawn boy let his gaze drop sharply to examine the wet clippings clinging to his sneakers.

Mom and dad crossed the walk to their front door, their eyes alternately avoiding Martin's sidelong glances or staring with startling animosity directly into them. As a lost afterthought, Martin hurried to remove his cap, so he could hang his head properly, shamed and regretful.

Last out of the SUV, eight-year-old baby sister Lorne appeared, her arms, as always, filled with various books. She alone of the three paused to acknowledge Martin's presence. Slamming the passenger rear door of the truck, her green eyes met the lawn boy's resolutely. Her brow wrinkled, as always, and her nose twitched, as though sensing something rotten and foul on the air. Scowling, she crossed the lawn, kicking through Martin's neatly raked piles of clippings, until she stood an arm's length in front of him.

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