The summer that Megan Moore discovered Gabriel García Márquez she ran six hundred and thirty miles in ten weeks, her father left and shacked up with the ex-Playboy bunny, her mother moved the race-car driver into the bonus suite, her sister Courtney toked up daily in the tree house out back, their little brother John Paul swiped underthings from their rooms, and the city of Dallas recorded seventy-three straight days of one hundred-plus degrees. Megan had ridden her bike over to Books-A-Plenty because the harsh light of afternoon was flaying her nerves, and to be in that house, with those people, made her want to cut off all her hair and flush it down the toilet. Seventeen dollars of birthday money remained to her, and she roamed the aisles of books like a famished feral cat. Until now, her reading had been haphazard, promiscuous. She read whatever came to hand—her mother’s Danielle Steele throbbers, Courtney’s untouched novels from senior English, her father’s Forbes magazines and business-titan biographies. In the pre-internet year of 1990, smart, restless girls with bibliophile tendencies went to the library, or, on really bad days when spending money held out the only hope of relief, haunted their local bookstores.
A cover caught Megan’s eye on the fiction shelves, an enormous, blatantly labial purple flower on which a dark-haired nude reclined with her head thrown back, eyes closed in a showy orgasmic swoon. Love in the Time of Cholera. She inhaled the first forty pages standing right there, shifting from foot to foot and itching with exasperation. It was almost too much, the jangly stimulus of headlong sentences like a minor key symphony that never resolves, or a hot needle poked in your belly button. She read all the way to Dr. Urbino’s dying words—Only God knows how much I loved you—and snapped the book shut. Her chest slowly filled with air. Had she even taken a breath these past thirty minutes? She wanted to scream, or flail about like a girl possessed, or collapse into a deep, dreamless sleep that might last for days.
Home was a sprawling pseudo-Gothic mansion in Highland Park, situated on slightly more than an acre of what was even now, five years into the worst economic bust since the Great Depression, some of Dallas’s most expensive dirt. Megan’s parents, Spence and Cassie, had purchased the house at the height of the boom, when Spence’s real estate empire was in full thrust. “We’re rich!” he chortled several times a day, and for proof they had the big house, the flashy address, his-’n'-hers Jaguars and Harleys, and an ornate billiards table that had once graced the library of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Now, five years later, he was living with his girlfriend in the seventeenth-floor penthouse of his last office building. The Harleys were gone, though Cassie still had her Jag, and she was carrying on with Rand Howard, a man twelve years her junior who’d spent his twenties racing Formula One cars in Europe. As soon as the divorce was final, Cassie was going to sell the house and invest the proceeds in Rand’s exotic-car dealership, which currently existed as a handsomely packaged business plan. Cassie had a second desk moved into her home office, where each day she and Rand worked their list of big-bucks investors.
Tuesday, 7:20 a.m. Megan was reading her book over a post-run breakfast of half a pack of bacon, five scrambled eggs, three slices of toast, two bananas, and a bowl of Cheerios. Florentino Ariza was traveling up the Magdalena River and had just been robbed of his virginity, an episode that Megan, hers well intact, read multiple times in search of salient information. During her run last evening, the rhythm of her lungs and legs had conjured up—no, had musically jammed with—the rackety sound of all those sentences banging around her head. After her run she’d read late into the night, ingesting verbiage to the point that she’d had trouble sleeping, a state of mental uproar that carried over to today. Like a drug, that’s what the book was doing to her, nerving up her awareness to excruciating pitch. Her body, people, objects, the entire world had suddenly jumped into focus, and she was struggling to adjust to this painful clarity. She was still at the table when handsome, sleep-rumpled Rand slippered into the kitchen.