A Fresh Start
A real mess looked back at me from the mirror the next morning. Shaving was
torture. I was bleeding again when I got done. And on my neck---
That woman hadn't been kind. I had to figure she meant to leave her mark on me.
Man, she sure did. Big and purple and impossible to miss.
And Lynn didn't miss it, either, when I walked into her room. I let her get a
good look at my face before I leaned down and kissed her good morning. Her eyes
kept flicking to my neck.
The Rev was already there.
"I suppose you can see I was in a fight."
She nodded, looked down at her hands, over at the Reverend, up at my neck, back
down at her hands.
"And yeah, I got a hangover this morning. Richard thinks the headache is from a
concussion, but who knows?"
She didn't say anything.
"But I'll be fine, thanks for asking."
She didn't even look at me again. After a minute of silence, she started talking
to the Rev.
I know I'm a little slow sometimes. It took me a few minutes to figure out what
she was doing. It took me a few more minutes to accept it, to understand what she
meant by it. And then I waited about another half an hour. Finally I said, "How
long are you going to keep this up?"
"I don't know." Not snotty or anything, just…saying it. When she started talking
to the Rev again, she turned her whole body away from. Turned her back to me.
Turned her back to me. Even the Rev, not the most perceptive man I've ever
met, noticed it, wondered about it. I could see it in his face.
We've had fights, Lynn's been mad at me. Except for a coupla things, whenever
something comes up between us, we have it out. We settle it, if we can. She'd
never totally cut me off like this before. It was like…..being shoved outside the
door, having it slam in your face.
I waited again, about 20 minutes this time. Thought maybe she'd turn around.
Thought maybe she'd let me back in. But she didn't. I had to figure she wasn't
Maybe she was trying to tell me something.
"So," I said, "You still want me to stick around? Or you want me to leave you
"I don't know."
So quick. Just three words. I guess I thought it mighta been a little more
important, something worth talking about. I had to take a coupla deep breaths,
"I suppose if you wanted me to stick around you'd know it."
She nodded. "Yes, I guess so."
Just like that. A snap of the fingers, almost, and we were through. Because of
a fucking hickey.
The Rev looked terribly confused.
It was kinda hard to believe. It didn't make sense. How could she have lived
with me, said the things she said to me, held me the way she used to hold me, and
then just toss me out like this? At Christmas, we were talking about family-you
know, like forever. She was gonna marry me.
'Course, at Christmas, she was pregnant. When she took my ring, she was pregnant.
I asked her again, just to make sure. "You're telling me to get lost, then. You
want me to leave."
She just nodded. I was looking at the back of her head. She couldn't even tell
me to my face. More than a year together, and this is what it came down to.
Another deep breath. Breathe in, let it out. Do it again. "OK."
The Reverend was staring at me. He looked worried. "Lynn….Bud…" he said.
"What's happening here?"
"Lynn figures I went out last night to get laid. She figures I had a hell of a
good night, drinking, fighting, whoring. Kinda like you had figured, right, Rev?"
He had the grace to look ashamed.
I walked up until I was right behind her. "OK, now I'm gonna tell you something
you already know. I haven't been with anybody else that way since I met you."
"You expect me to believe that?"
"I don't lie to you."
She turned around. "What is that on your neck, then?"
"You're right, it's a hickey. That's what it is."
"You don't get those playing pool!"
"Are you asking me about it now?"
She turned her back to me again. "No."
"See, Rev, not only did I get drunk and get laid, now I'm lying about it, too.
So she's telling me to take a hike, cause she doesn't wanna have to look at my
ugly lying mug any more. " I walked out. Just turned around and went out the
door. Got outside in the hall…….and decided I couldn't leave it at that. Couldn't
just let it go. Something else I needed to say, even if it wasn't smart.
When I came back in, the Rev was talking, low and urgent. "Lynn, I was there.
Let me assure you he didn't-"
I interrupted him. "Before I leave, let me tell you the truth as plain as I can.
I haven't fucked anybody but you since I met you in the liquor store. Nobody else.
For any reason."
"Bud!" The Rev was shocked. "Your language---"
"She knows the word. Don't you, baby? And I'll tell you something else. If I
ever did, I wouldn't need to lie about it. I don't lie to you. You won't hear
me saying I was talking when I was really fucking."
I probably shouldn'ta said that and I knew it right away. It was cruel. She
turned paler than she already was. But there was no way to take it back.
She didn't say anything. She didn't so much as turn around and look at me.
"I'm gonna go get my stuff and then I'll take off." I walked back over to the
door. "I told you I'd stick around as long as you wanted me….." I had to stop
and breathe before I could keep talking. "I guess I thought it would be longer
than this. I'll let you know where I end up, Rev." And I yanked open the door
and left again.
Shoulda known. Fucking shoulda known. I believed her …..believed what her body
told me when she was in my arms……..believed the things she said to me…….Forgot she
used to earn her living making guys think she wanted them. I never fucking learn.
Just as damn dumb as I look.
I think I mighta shoved a couple people outta the way as I was walking down the
hall, but I had to get out. Get to the car. Put a coupla dents in the hood, maybe.
Make some other part of me hurt besides what hurt now. And then drive away, out
into the desert, where there was nobody to see me.
I wasn't paying much attention to anything or anybody, but when I was almost to
the door, there was a loud commotion and in the middle of it, I heard my name.
I looked back over my shoulder.
Lynn was at the other end of the hall, where her room was. The old battle-ax that
was on duty that day was standing between her and me. Lynn was trying to get
around her, the nurse had her robe and wasn't letting go. She called my name again.
The doctor came around the desk, grabbed Lynn by the arms. Said something to her.
She began to struggle. He shook her, spoke to her again, shook her again. She
tried to yank her arms away from him. She was looking at me, she yelled my name
again. And then he slapped her.
I know I knocked some people over on the way back down the hall. Grabbed the
sonuvabitch's collar and banged him up against the cold hospital wall.
"Don't you ever do that again. You understand?" I bunched up his clothes
in my fist and lifted him off the floor. He looked pretty scared. He shoulda been;
but I bet he didn't know how close he came. "You don't get to touch her ever again."
"She was hysterical!" he squeaked.
There were hands on my face. "Bud---stop---let him go."
"You all right, baby?"
I let the sonuvabitch slide back down to the floor, and put one arm around Lynn's
waist. She seemed kinda shaky. There were tears running down her face. She
grabbed the front of my jacket
"Don't leave me," she said. "Oh, God, Bud, don't leave me. I didn't mean that.
I don't want you to leave. I'm a horrible woman, and I've done things to hurt you,
and I don't deserve you, but don't leave me, please, please……"
She put her arms around my neck. It was a good thing I forgot about the idiot
doctor and was holding on to her, cause her knees just sorta folded up, and I had
to grab her---pick her up before she hit the floor.
"It's OK, baby, I got you."
"Stay with me." Her eyes were closed.
The Rev held the door to her room open while I carried her back in and put her on
"Bud," she said, and clutched at my sleeves.
The doctor followed us into the room. "Who the hell do you think you are? You
can't manhandle me that way and get away with it!"
"I'll be right back, baby." I turned around and looked at him.
He didn't have enough sense to shut up. "I hope you don't think I'm going to
continue to treat this woman after you-" He stopped talking because I had the knot
of his tie in my fist. I walked him backward. The Rev opened the door for us.
"Get out." I gave him a push, and shut the door behind him.
"Bud….she might still need a doctor….his associates here at the hospital won't be
able to see her….."
"We'll find one. It's just not gonna be him."
"I might know somebody. Let me make some calls." And he left.
I sat down on the bed next to Lynn. She was still crying.
"Hey-come on now-it's gonna be OK."
"Stay with me."
"I'm staying. Only reason I was going is 'cause I thought you were done with me.
You told me to get lost."
"I didn't mean forever. I just meant….for a few hours. I don't want you
to go away."
"OK, then." Kissed her mouth, kissed the tears off her cheeks. Gave her a long
I-love-you kiss that opened up one of the cuts on my top lip; had to wipe the
blood off her face afterwards with the sheet.
"You're right, I don't have any right to be angry with you, anyway, no matter what
Dammit. "I wasn't lying. I don't lie to you."
"Yes, you do."
"Yesterday. When you said it wasn't my fault. You don't believe that. I could
see it in your face."
I didn't know what to say to that.
"If I hadn't been a prostitute, we wouldn't have lost the baby. I can't blame you
for thinking that, because it's true. It's my fault."
Couldn't argue with her. If I was a better person, maybe I coulda lied so she'd
believe me. Or maybe I wouldnt've felt the way I felt to begin with.
I pulled her close and held her tight. After a coupla minutes, I realized we were
rocking back and forth. Comforting each other. Something we maybe shoulda done
"You know," I said into her hair, "if you hadn't been a hooker, I probably wouldn'ta
met you at all. Then where would we be?"
"Back in LA," she said, and gave a choked little laugh.
"Some things aren't easy for me," I said. She nodded. "But I know I wanna stay
She pulled away from me just enough to look into my face, and then she kissed me.
She could say more with her kisses than most women could say with words.
I don't think I heard a sound. I just knew he was there.
The Rev was standing inside the door with one of those looks on his face. Right
now, it was an "I can't believe what I just heard" look, but I thought back over
what he mighta heard, and decided the "How could you?" look was gonna come up
pretty soon. Lynn knew it too. She looked sick.
"Lynn, honey, the Reverend and I are gonna go outside and have a little chat.
Don't worry, I'm gonna be back. OK?"
I took the Rev's arm and pulled him after me out the door. He started to speak.
I said, "Wait." He ignored me.
"I can't believe what I just heard….I've known Lynnie since she was a baby. How
could she possibly-"
"I said wait till we get outside!" I mighta raised my voice a little. And I
walked with him a little faster. Out to my car.
"Now," I said when we were both inside. "You can go ahead and say anything you
I was sorry I said it quite that way before he got done. He went from amazement
and disbelief to outrage to that self-righteous attitude he tried on me after he
found out I'd killed people.
"OK," I said after he ran down. "Here's the deal. She's exactly the same person
she was yesterday. I expect you to treat her the same way you always have. No
questions, no lectures, no judging. You got that?"
"I'm supposed to, what? Pretend I don't know what I know?"
"First of all, you don't know anything. You overheard a coupla words, and now
you're all excited. But you don't understand anything.
"Second, you better not have to pretend you still care about her. She's still
little Lynnie, and you damn well better remember that."
"Bud….you're coming perilously close to threatening me."
I sighed and looked out the window at the sparrows taking baths in the dirt,
flapping their wings, fluffing their feathers. "It's just…..she loves you. You
know? And you got a real bad habit of judging people before you have all the
facts. If you gotta judge somebody, I'll tell you some things that'll curl your
hair and you can judge me. I can take it. Just don't do that to her."
He looked offended.
"And another thing," I said. "While I'm at it, I might as well tell you something
else you won't like. You're not the best at keeping secrets, either. Richard
told me about Christmas before last."
"That wasn't my fault."
"Doesn't matter. I'm telling you, you can't say anything to anybody about this.
Nobody. Not your sister, not your dead uncle George. If this got out here in
Bisbee, I'd have to take her away from here. We'd have to move. And you know
He thought about it for a minute. "So you're telling me I'm supposed to ignore
this. And don't tell me it doesn't make a difference. It does. Lynn isn't who
I thought she was."
"Yes, she is. Didn't you get to know her again after we moved back here last
So you didn't know everything about her. She's still the woman who baked you a
pie for Thanksgiving. You know? She wasn't the pie baker then and the hooker
now. She's still the same. She hasn't changed because you found out something
you didn't know before."
One thing I do like about the Reverend is, he thinks about what you say to him.
He might have kind of a narrow way of looking at things, but if you talk, he
listens and thinks about it. And if you make sense, he'll say so.
"I see what you're trying to say."
We didn't talk then for a while. I let him think. New ideas take some getting
used to sometimes.
"Can I ask you something that isn't any of my business?"
"Did she….do this….very long?"
"Were you a customer?"
"So you didn't know….what she did….when you started seeing her."
"Yeah, I did."
"Didn't it bother you?"
I took a breath. Took me a minute to figure out how to answer that. Went for the
easy answer. "It took me a while to get a handle on it."
"I don't know if I'm going to be able to pretend I don't know."
"I'm not asking you to do that. I'm asking you to pretend it doesn't matter."
"Is that what you do?"
Another one I had to think about a minute. "Yeah," I said finally. "I guess
that's what I do."