It was one of those days that started out… not so great. I happened
to have a couple of cats in residence and while it was nice waking up with
company again (it had been ages since Reason had just gotten too big for
the bed), sometimes it only served to remind me how alone I was.
One of those days where it was going to be more likely that
I sat staring at the wall, than actually doing anything constructive.
But, as designed by either the resident vet, the resident
busy-body, or maybe just my sub-conscious… I did have obligations
to take care of. So I hauled my ass out of bed, fed the cats, pulled on
some clothes and went out to take care of the rest of my menagerie. Reason
is my dog, and always will be, but I also had a couple of fosterlings in.
A couple of shepherd mixes, one of them a big black that would chase a ball
for as long as you were willing to throw it, and a buff colored one that
showed quite a bit of husky in the blood-line, and had a dark ‘mask’
that always made him look faintly concerned about something. Nash and Bo
respectively, because Miss Deirdre said that every run down shack needed
a dog named Bo.
As soon as I stepped outside, Reason was right there at my
heel, following me as I scooped the dog food out of the metal trash can
that was the only thing that kept the mice out of it, and fed the boys.
Nash dug right in, but Bo had to have his pats first. Reason opted to follow
me out to the barn while I checked on Buckshot; he was our first horse and
my dog hadn’t quite decided that it wasn’t something I shouldn’t
be protected from.
There’s a lot to taking care of animals, and I guess
that was the whole point. I spent the morning either putting food in one
end of them, or cleaning up what came out the other. It’s a never
ending cycle. Reason went to eat once Buckshot was out in the paddock, but
was right back on my trail as soon as he was full. Not a year old yet, and
his head damn near came up to my waist. Never ceased to amaze me when I
thought back to the little ball of fluff he had once been. I suspect that
Miss Deirdre lies awake some nights because she’s laughing so damn
hard, just thinking about it. I hadn’t had a clue.
I finished up the morning’s chores as I always did,
in front of the corner post in the paddock fence. The thing is grey with
age, solid as a rock and probably older than anything on the property except
the damn rocks. I pulled out my utility knife and marked another score in
the wood. Another day. Another sunrise. Tallying my new life in neat little
rows. I’d started doing it when I realized I was losing track of time
and couldn’t even have told you the date. Didn’t know the day
of the week. It seemed important not to let myself drift completely, though
now it was more of a ritual of some damn kind. Just some record that I’d
made another day.
Maybe it was a mark of triumph?
With the chores done, I actually considered just going in
and going back to bed. The cats would come and curl up with me and I could
probably manage to sleep for a few more hours, but I kind of knew what a
bad idea that was… I’d gotten my sleep patterns messed up before,
and had to deal with bouts of insomnia.
There really just wasn’t much else to do in the house
since the electricity had been cut off. I could probably spend part of the
afternoon brushing Reason, but it had only been a couple of days and I just
didn’t feel up to the job. Though it made me think about the pillowcase
full of collected fur I had in the house and I decided I’d drive into
town and drop it off for Dutch’s wife. She spun the stuff into yarn
and had promised to knit me a scarf in exchange, before winter set in.
I think it was that part of my brain that knows when I need
some human contact. It had probably been a week since I’d bothered,
and I guess I knew on some level, I’d been avoiding it. I could end
up becoming a hermit all too easily and I was well aware of it. And the
longer I stayed isolated, the more I thought and the more I thought…
well, it was just another of those endless cycles.
Maybe I could even cut a deal with Dutch for some cat food
if he was still having problems with his old car. I was getting down to
where I was going to have to buy some, and the funds were in less than great
I ran my hand down the fence post, not having enough energy
to count the days, and smiled down at Reason. ‘Wanna go for a ride,
His great flag of a tail wagged enthusiastically and he bounced
off toward the truck before I even headed that way. It still amazes me sometimes,
just how smart animals can be.
Bo and Nash, stomachs full, would spend the rest of the day
lazing in the barn or chasing the ground squirrels in the back field, and
the cats were safe in the house, so Reason and I climbed into the truck
and headed for town.
‘Maybe we’ll run into Dutch’s cousin and
I can see if he’s got work again,’ I mused to Reason and he
wagged his tail, though he didn’t pull his head in the window. I don’t
really get what dogs see in that wind rush thing… I’d tried
it once, but I just swallowed a bug.
‘We could sure use a bit of cash right now,’ I
continued, mentally going over our financial situation. I really didn’t
have that many bills to deal with, not since I’d said screw it with
the power. The heat was from the wood stove anyway, and the water came from
a well. It was kind of a bitch having to heat water for baths and stuff,
but the rest of it was really no big deal. Television just depressed me,
and if I needed light I just went the hell outside. Food for me and the
boys was about it. A bit of gas money. But things had been getting a little
tight since we’d taken on Buckshot. Horses can not live on grass alone,
and the scrub grass out there wasn’t that plentiful anyway. I’d
worked a deal with Old man Sutton for a load of hay, but the grain I’d
had to buy. Especially early on, when we’d had to mix a mash for him.
It will never cease to shock me what people are capable of doing to animals.
Poor old thing was pretty well recovered though, and I was kind of hoping
that Miss Deirdre might have some ideas about where he might find a permanent
home. It had been something of a kick having a horse around, especially
once he’d recovered enough that a personality had started to come
out, but I really just couldn’t afford it any more. I’d miss
him, but I knew I’d get over it… I always did.
I glanced over at Reason. ‘Except for you, boy…
right? You’re here to stay?’
We passed the Richardson’s farm just then, and their
greyhound mutt raced the truck to the edge of the property, and Reason barked
at him as we sped by. I liked to imagine that they kept score. It made me
laugh, and it surprised me how… odd it felt. Reason looked at me,
as though it surprised him too.
I parked in front of Mrs. Taylor’s place, because I’d
end up there before I was done in town. Woman would kill me if I didn’t
stop in at least to say hello. Reason couldn’t really go into the
stores with me, but it was cool enough for him to wait in the truck, especially
with both windows rolled down. It didn’t seem to bother him; I think
he just liked the new sights and smells, because he always seemed content
to sit there with his head hanging out the window, sprawled across the seat
like he owned the truck. It kind of made me wonder if there wouldn’t
come a day that he’d get too big to ride in the front with me.
I did manage to score some cat food from Dutch, though it
wasn’t for fixing his car. Instead, it was for settling an argument
between him and his oldest over math homework. Dutch is way too old-school
to half understand what the poor kid was learning, so things get…
tense when the boy needs help with his school work. I happened in just before
the stomping and yelling part, and managed to derail things before they
got ugly, and then explain the problem well enough that the kid actually
got it. Dutch was thrilled and I took his offer of something on the house,
to make sure the cats would eat the following week.
‘Damn new math,’ he muttered to me after the boy
had left the room. ‘Nothin’ the kid is ever going to have to
use. Why can’t they teach them something practical?’
I just laughed at him, it was an old argument, but since I
wasn’t planning on going into teaching, there wasn’t much I
could do about it.
‘You lock your place up?’ he suddenly asked, as
he accepted the pillow case full of fur, totally changing gears and taking
me off guard.
‘What?’ I had to ask, and then almost chuckled
to realize that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d bothered.
‘Not much to worry about getting stolen,’ I quipped. ‘And
besides… the boys are there.’
‘Well,’ he told me conspiratorially, leaning on
the counter. ‘Some city slicker come into town the other day, and
keeps kinda hanging around. Don’t seem to want nothin’, but
don’t seem to be movin’ on neither.’
I snorted, gathering my sack up and smiling at him. ‘Another
idjit suckered in by those ‘haunted’ legends, no doubt.’
He chuckled in return, shaking his head and rolling his eyes.
‘No doubt. Gives Stella a bit of business, I suppose.’
‘Take the money and just smile and nod wisely,’
I advised, making him laugh.
‘A fool and his money…’ he snickered and
I reflected that it applied to suckers too.
I dumped the cat food in the bed of the truck, not trusting
Reason not to eat it bag and all, gave him a pat and then headed into the
The day’s special was some kind of fish and it smelled
so damn good when I opened the door that I almost doubled over from the
growl that cramped my stomach. I mentally counted the money I had with me
and had to sigh… probably about a dollar short.
‘Duo!’ Mrs. Taylor greeted me as I settled on
one of the stools at the counter. ‘Where have you been keeping yourself?
You here for lunch or just to say hello?’
I grinned and tried not to drool over the pie display on the
counter. ‘Can’t stay,’ I hedged. ‘Reason’s
in the truck and I hate to leave him there for long.’
She gave me a mock frown and swatted at me with the towel
she always seemed to have in her hands. ‘You need to slow down and
eat now and again! You’re wasting away!’
‘Who has time to slow down?’ I teased her and
the mock frown shaded over just a bit until I wasn’t sure if it was
real or not. It took her a moment to respond, and I could practically see
the gears going around.
‘While you’re here, maybe you could do me a favor?’
she ventured and there was that sly tone in her voice.
‘Sure,’ I replied, because who the heck is going
to say no to the woman that supplies meals on a fairly regular basis.
‘I have this new recipe,’ she told me. ‘And
wondered if you might try it for me… see what you think?’
I’m sure she saw the blush, but she chose to ignore
it. I agreed, because what else was I to do, but it was rather embarrassing.
I didn’t for a minute believe she needed an opinion and I wanted to
protest that I freaking had food… just not terribly attractive food.
If nothing else, there were still some late season tomatoes in the garden.
I hadn’t damn well resorted to sharing with the dogs yet.
It turned out to be some sort of casserole dish, and I did
my best not to scarf it down so fast I couldn’t even offer up that
asked for opinion. ‘It’s really good,’ I told her around
a mouthful. ‘Is that ham? Bet it would be good with bacon too.’
We were discussing the pros and cons of crumbled bacon when
the little bell over the door tinkled, announcing a new customer and we
both looked that way.
If I had not already been sitting down, I might well have
fallen down. As it was, I just about choked to death on the mouthful of
potatoes and ham I’d been in the process of ingesting. Mrs. Taylor
pressed a glass of water into my hands and I gulped at it, clearing my throat
while I stared at the man in the doorway.
I actually wondered if he really had ended up all the way
out in nowhere land looking for hauntings. Somehow, even I didn’t
believe in that kind of coincidence.
‘Duo?’ he asked and I’m sure I had to be
imagining the rather hopeful sound in his voice.
‘Heero?’ I stammered out and kind of wasn’t
at all sure how I felt. There was a lurch in my chest that felt a little
like… like relief. Like I suddenly realized some part of me had always
been hurt that nobody had ever come after me. But there was another part
that was kind of… not happy. A little afraid that the accusations
and the anger and the betrayal had followed me. ‘What are you doing
here?’ is what I managed, and it came out just a bit flat.
Heero looked uncertain, and took a slow step in my direction.
‘I… came looking for you,’ he told me carefully, and I’ve
gentled enough animals to recognize the tone. It kind of pissed me off.
I wasn’t the one who had been screaming obscenities. I really didn’t
think I was the one who needed gentling.
‘So you found me,’ I heard myself say and kind
of wondered that my voice stayed so steady when my insides were anything
‘Yeah,’ he confirmed inanely. ‘I found you.’
It was sort of funny how we just kind of stared at each other.
I suspected he might have had other things to say if Mrs. Taylor hadn’t
been standing right there. But I wasn’t sure yet if they were the
‘I’m so glad I found you’ kind of things, or the ‘You
asshole’ kind of things.
I guess I pretty much missed my cue, because I suppose that
should have made it my turn in the conversation thing, but I was too busy
remembering the last time I’d seen him, and just why I was not his
biggest fan. Remembering what he had thought me capable of. Besides…
just parroting my own words back to me shouldn’t really count anyway,
so it was still his serve on a technicality.
Mrs. Taylor apparently had a problem with awkward silences,
because she opted to take the next turn, and I realized that if Heero had
been in town for a couple of days, as Dutch had hinted, then he’d
probably been in the diner before. ‘Are you here for lunch, Mr. Yuy,’
she asked politely, though she stumbled all over his name and it came out
sounding more like ‘you’.
Heero ducked his head, the corner of his mouth twitching just
a bit, and then kind of looked at me in a calculating way. ‘Well,
maybe I could buy an old friend some lunch…’ he began and it
sort of clashed with what Mrs. Taylor had just done and screamed ‘charity’
in my mind. I frowned and stood, heading for the door.
‘Can’t stay,’ I blurted, having to step
around him and I looked at the floor rather than meeting his eyes. ‘My
I heard him call after me, but I didn’t slow down, I
wasn’t really surprised when he followed and snatched at my sleeve.
‘Duo, please wait…’
I guess I was embarrassed, and a little panicked, and still
just totally in shock at seeing a face I’d thought I’d never
see again. There were parts of me that were fighting to be thrilled, and
parts of me that were sneering in bitter derision. Parts that wanted to
believe that he’d really been hunting for me all that time, and parts
that were waiting to get yelled at. Accused. Scorned. God knows what the
hell my face was doing, because I just wasn’t paying that much attention
to it, but apparently other people were.
‘Is there a problem here, Duo?’ a voice asked,
all casual and calm, with that hint of threat that only a law-enforcement
officer can manage with a smile in place.
I looked up to find the Sheriff standing there, pointedly
eyeing Heero’s hand on my arm. ‘No…’ I stammered.
‘Not… not really.’
It just made his eyes narrow and I knew he wasn’t going
to back off until Heero did. ‘You sure?’ he asked quietly. ‘Because
it sure looks like there’s a problem here.’
Heero let go of my arm, at least, and I took a step back,
both relieved and… oddly upset. Then Heero pulled out his wallet and
flashed his damn Preventers’ badge.
‘Everything is fine, officer,’ Heero began and
I could see Sheriff Tom’s eyes widen just a bit despite himself. It
made me see red. How the hell dare the son of a bitch barge into my life
and then try to turn me into grist for the rumor mill.
‘You asshole,’ I growled. ‘What are you
doing, trying to imply that I’m some sort of escaped criminal or something?’
Heero had the good grace to look shocked, panicked almost,
and he put the badge away as quickly as he’d pulled it. ‘No!’
he blurted, not sure if he should be talking to me or to Tom. ‘I was
just trying to prove I wasn’t… wasn’t some damn mugger
Tom might be the town Sheriff, but he’s no more immune
to the lure of good gossip than the next person. I could tell he wasn’t
planning on walking away from our little scene as long as something interesting
was going on.
‘I have to go,’ I ground out, feeling the tops
of my ears stinging from the embarrassment and I turned to stalk away.
‘Damn it, Duo!’ Heero called out, frustration
plain in his voice. I didn’t answer, just jerked open the door to
my truck and started to climb in. Then Heero’s voice took on a different
tone. ‘I’m not leaving until you talk to me, Maxwell!’
he blurted and I had to sigh.
‘You got a God damn car?’ I growled, knowing he
had to, because there’s just no other way to get yourself to Devil’s
Palm. Not like there’s an airport. Or even a bus stop. You have to
go up to Twin Forks for that.
He was striding away to get it before I had the truck door
slammed shut. Tom came to lean in the passenger window while I waited for
Heero to come back, absently ruffling Reason’s ears while he asked,
‘You need any backup, son?’
It made me smile, though I imagine it was a bit wan. ‘Nah,
I’m good. But thanks,’ I told him. ‘Just… a bit
of unfinished business from my old life.’
He snorted and gave Reason a last pat. ‘Your old life
seems way more interesting than I ever woulda guessed.’
It made me laugh. Twice in one day, I remember thinking, how
He headed on into the diner and a moment later, a sleek black
rental pulled up in the street beside me. I wasted no more time and headed
for home. And if I made sure the clouds of dust I threw up were as thick
as possible… can you really blame me?
Go to Chapter six:
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