A Fresh Start
Lynn looked good, looked like she felt pretty good. Be good to have her home again.
"I've been thinking….we should give the Reverend a definite date---you know, so he
can plan. I was thinking maybe a month from now. Whaddya think?"
"Are you talking about the wedding?"
Her eyes filled up with tears. Man…..not again…..
"You didn't change your mind, did you?"
She shook her head.
"I'm sorry it has to be a secret. Sorry you can't have the fancy dress and the
reception and the whole thing."
She looked down at her hands. Got real quiet. Something important was coming.
"You don't know how many years I thought no man would ever want to marry me at all,"
she said, real soft. "And now to have someone like you say he wants me, good and
bad, forever……..you can't possibly understand what that means to me.
"I want to be your wife, and I don't care so much about the how. Except for the
wedding night. We need to be able to have one of those----"
"Oh yeah," I said, and I kissed her. "We need one of those." Another kiss. "As
soon as we can have one of those----" Damn, it'd been a long time. "---that's when
we're getting married." I was suddenly real hungry.
Not for food.
I mighta got a little carried away.
You might think it was sorta callous of me to start thinking about getting married---
and other things---right after sending a dead boy off in the wagon to the cooler in
the basement of the hospital. Kinda cold.
I know death. I've smelled it, seen it, felt it next to me. Thought it was gonna
get me more than once. I know, as much as anybody, and maybe more than some, that
it can come anytime, and take anybody.
You forget that. Going to work everyday, seeing the same people, doing the same
things---you forget it can all change in a minute. You don't have forever.
I was thinking about that, driving back to the hospital. If death came for me or
Lynn, like it came for the Smith boy, what didn't I have done? What would I regret?
Marrying her wouldn't change that much for me---but I wanted her to have that piece
of paper. I already knew, before she told me, what it meant to her.
And maybe it meant something to me, too, after all. Maybe it did. If something ever
happened to either or both of us, I guess maybe I wanted to have been her husband,
not just one of her lovers. The one she married. You know?
Yeah, I mighta got a little carried away. Be glad when we can make out in our own
house again, where we won't get interrupted every ten minutes.
"Hello, you two." Graham coming in the door, bluff and talking loud. "I see it's
a good thing I stopped in tonight. None of that yet."
I took a deep breath. "When?" Leaned my forehead against Lynn's and shut my eyes.
Tried to get my body to calm down.
He chuckled. "Soon."
Dammit. "You can't give me something more definite than that?"
He chuckled again. "Maybe six weeks. Maybe."
Six weeks. Damn. I was gonna die. "OK, baby," I said. "Six weeks. That
OK with you?"
She nodded. She made that little happy noise she makes---not a giggle, really, just
a too-happy-to-be-quiet noise.
I went to stand by the window.
Graham gave her all kinds of instructions, 'cause he wasn't gonna be around in the
morning before she left. Told her to make an appointment to see him in about two
weeks. And then he motioned me to follow him out into the hall.
"How's that eye?"
"A little better."
"Ahhh….I expect I'm being a busybody, but….Arbutus McAphee was asking a lot of
questions about you when I was there today. I couldn't tell her anything even if
I'd wanted to, but I'm sure she'll find out what she wants to know."
"She say why she wanted to know?"
He shook his head. "Can I ask you a question?"
"How'd you find the boy's body?"
"Looking around. Smelled it."
"You don't act like it bothers you."
"Finding the body? I've found dead bodies before. You're a doctor, you get to
see bodies. Does it bother you?"
"Do you stop and cry about it every time?"
"No. I guess I don't do that."
"Maybe it looks to other people like it doesn't bother you. You suppose?"
He nodded his head. "All right, I take your point. None of my business, either."
He looked at me sideways out of the corners of his eyes. "James said I should
disregard my first impression of you. He said you were interesting."
"I'm beginning to see what he meant."
He turned around and walked away before he told me why. 'Course if he's like the
Rev, it coulda been something I don't even wanna know about.
Stayed with Lynn till late. Tried to keep my hands off her. She found a quiz in
one of those stupid magazines Patty brought, about whether you and your prospective
mate were compatible. So she asked me the questions, and answered all of 'em for
me, and the magazine said she would have to have extraordinary patience with me if
our marriage was to succeed. Surprise.
She didn't usually do things like that. I thought she seemed nervous, or something.
Smiled a little too much, maybe. Didn't seem comfortable just being together, that's
why she started that stupid quiz, I think. Couldn't figure it out. Asked her once
if everything was OK, and she said yes. Decided finally she just needed to come home.
Woke up once in the night and didn't know why. Listened, but couldn't hear anything.
I went downstairs, even down in the basement, but didn't find anything. Went back
to bed and lay awake, listening. I suppose I was waiting for Jeannie.
Lynn was really nervous when I got there. Could hardly look me in the eye. Kept
trying to find stuff we'd already decided she didn't have with her.
She called Patty.
After Patty got there, I could tell Patty was wondering what the hell I'd done to
Lynn to get her in this state. And I came to a conclusion during the night that
might upset her, but there was nothing I could do about it.
"Lynn…..hey, honey…..stop and listen to me---" I had to catch her by the arm and
make her stand still.
"Listen, I know we've been looking forward to you coming home today, but you know,
we haven't caught up with whatshername yet, and I think maybe it'd be better if you
went to Patty's until we catch her."
She looked at me then, eyes wide.
"Don't worry, we'll get her, it's just she's been in the house, and I'd feel safer---"
"OK," she said.
I looked at Patty, and her forehead was all wrinkled up like I figure mine was.
Then Lynn decided there were a bunch of things she needed from the house, and she
wouldn't tell me what they were.
"Fine, just get ready, we'll stop there on the way to Patty's and she can go in and
get this stuff for you."
I thought I was never gonna get her in the car.
I got out with Patty when we got to the house. I told Lynn to stay in the car. I
was afraid if she got out, it'd take forever to get her back in again.
Patty was offended. As we were walking up to the door, she said, "What's the matter,
you don't trust me to go in by myself? I'm not gonna steal anything, you know."
I opened the door and she went in. I was gonna tell her off-she annoys the hell outta
me-when she stopped dead still. Coming down the stairs was somebody I only vaguely
remembered, but there was no question who it had to be. And she had my gun in her
hand. And she looked pissed.
I grabbed Patty and pushed her behind me.
"So, who is this, ya big jerk, your girlfriend?" She sounded funny, her words were
kinda slurred, but her eyes weren't the cloudy eyes of a drunk, they were alert and….
"Patty, get in the car and drive away," I said.
"What? What are you-"
"Just shut up and do it!"
I backed up toward the door while Patty scurried out and down the sidewalk.
"I think you better stand still." Jeannie lifted the .38 and pointed it at me. I
raised my hands. "I heard your wife was in the hospital. So I thought I'd come and
see you." The shotgun I borrowed from Herbert was leaning up against the wall next
to the back door. No good at all.
"You want something?" I said, and began walking slowly back toward her.
"Yeah, I think I do. I think I want an apology first."
"For what?" The front door was standing open. I heard my car start and drive away.
"You asshole-you know what. You better stop where you are, or I'm gonna have to
kill you first and listen to you later." She giggled.
I stopped. Heard another car drive up. Too soon to be anybody that'd do me any
good. Heard the car door open and shut.
"You interested in talking? That what you're here for? I thought maybe you wanted
something else." People talking behind me. I was afraid she'd hear them, but she
didn't seem to.
She went quiet and looked at me for a minute. "Yeah, I'd be interested in something
else. I didn't hardly get a taste of you."
"You want another taste? Why don't you put that gun down? Maybe I'll give you more
than a taste."
"I might have to shoot you first. Keep you from running off."
"Why would I wanna run off? Richard dragged me off the other night. Didn't you see
that?" No talking outside now. No sound at all. Wish to hell I knew what was going
"Yeah…..you always run off. I don't have to put up with that any more."
"Hey….I'm not going anywhere."
"Yeah, that's right. You're not going anywhere. You're gonna stay with me."
"Where? We staying here?"
"Where's your girlfriend? Is she outside? I bet you didn't tell her about me and
"Yeah, I told her."
That mighta been a mistake. Made her really mad. "You tell her how you led me on?
You tell her how you run away?"
From the back of the house, Arbutus McAphee walked in on bare feet. Saw her out
of the corner of my eye. Tried not to look.
"That what happened with the kid? He was running off?"
She looked at me kinda strange and said, "What kid?"
"That kid that was with Donny the other night. We found him at your place."
It was like her eyes lost their focus for a minute. "Oh. He said he loved me. So
I knew he was an asshole, too."
Arbutus raised Herbert's little 12-gauge shotgun over her shoulder by the barrel, and
swung it like a baseball bat. Hit Jeannie in the head, and knocked her across the
room where she ended up slumped against Lynn's record cabinet. I picked up my gun
and stuck it in my waistband.
"Mrs. McAphee." I held out my hand. She took it. "Thanks very much, ma'am. I
owe you." She dropped the shotgun on the floor.
Jeannie was still breathing, but didn't look too good. Figured I better call an
ambulance before I did anything else.
I found out later Patty drove to the Rev's house. He called Richard, Herbert, and
the VFW. Pretty soon we had bunches of old guys with guns stumbling around the house
getting in the way of the volunteer ambulance drivers loading Jeannie up to take her
to the hospital. Good thing they didn't get here when Jeannie was still armed. That
coulda been bad.
I told the Rev just to call Arbutus the next time, and forget the veterans. He
looked at me funny.
The stock on Herbert's little 12-gauge was cracked pretty bad. I told him I'd replace
Arbutus and Donny were still standing in the living room after everybody else left.
"You look like you're about to fall down, Donny. Why don't you sit on the couch
there?" I said.
His mother said, "No, we came here because Donny's got something to say to you, and
he's gonna say it." She gave him a shove.
Donny gritted his teeth. "I'm sorry I started a fight with you."
"I found out Donny started the fight," Arbutus said. "I figured you were just one
of them drunken bums my son hangs around with, but Ned said you weren't. And Dewey
down at the hardware store told me about your wife being in the hospital, and you
losing your little baby. And if a man can't go get drunk in peace after something
like that, then there's something wrong with the world. Donny come to make his part
of it right."
She gave him another shove.
"I already said I was sorry, Ma."
"Wouldn't hurt you to say it again."
"OK." I stuck out my hand again, this time to Donny. He looked down at it, up at
me, and back at his mother.
She gave him another shove. "Act like a man and shake his hand."
He did that, and then Arbutus let him go back out to their car. "I think his daddy
done ruined him," she said. "But we're gonna see what we can do about it."
"Mighta been the best thing in the world for him, getting the shit beat out've him."
I called the Rev's house, and told Lynn and Patty it was safe to come back. I tried
to straighten up before they got there; all those veterans had tracked in leaves and
Only took them about 5 minutes to get back. Lynn came in first. Patty rushed in
next, dropped Lynn's suitcases on the floor, rushed over to me, and threw her arms
around me. "Are you OK? That was the bravest thing I've ever seen. You could have
She stood back, and damn if there weren't tears in her eyes. "If she woulda shot,
you woulda been killed. You saved my life."
"She didn't shoot."
"You didn't know she wasn't going to shoot. It was just like in a cowboy movie,
where the hero stands in front of the heroine and shields her from danger."
"I have a deputy's badge," I said. "Wanna see it?"
I made her go home right after lunch. If I wasn't such a hero, she probably woulda
been pissed at me.
She treated me like a hero for about 3 weeks. Then it wore off, I guess, and she
went back to being snotty. Nice while it lasted.
Lynn looked real tired. She held my hand all the way through lunch---made it kinda
hard to eat the sandwiches I made. I thought maybe she'd wanna go up and lay down
for a while after Patty left, but when I suggested it, fat tears rolled down her
"Aw, baby, don't do that…..Everything's OK…..Jeannie's not gonna bother us again…..
everything can go back to normal. What's the matter?"
"I don't know. Maybe I'm just glad you're all right," she sobbed.
OK. I got us comfortable on the couch so I could put my arms around her and she
could cry on my shirt if she wanted to.
"Doctor Graham said I might have some moods. I guess this is it." She wiped at
"Oh." I was gonna have to have a talk with Graham. He coulda said something to me.
"Anything I can do to make you feel better?"
The tears started again. "I'm sorry I'm such a problem. I don't want to be."
"You're not a problem. I just don't know what to do."
We sat for a while. Lynn finally fell asleep. I'm not sure how long she slept,
but the arm that was around her went to sleep, too.
Her eyes opened while I was trying to move my fingers. "Sorry, baby, I didn't mean
to wake you up….."
She had that look. The one I like.
There's nothing like making out in your own house, where nobody can bother you.
Except of course your friends.
Richard and Nancy showed up with covered dishes and stayed until suppertime; Nancy
heated up the food they brought and they ate with us. It was nice.
Can't say I was sorry when they left, though. I locked the front door and barred
the back one with a chair and a cement block. "If anybody rings the doorbell, we're
gonna ignore 'em."
I held Lynn close and let her know what I was thinking about. Then I thought she
might think I forgot we still had to be careful, so I said, "I know we can't make
love, baby, I just wanna be with you. I missed you. But I made up both beds, so
if you don't feel good, and you wanna---"
"No." She looked in my face. I almost felt like she was trying to tell me something
else, but I didn't know what it was. "I don't want to sleep in separate beds." She
put her arms around my neck. Wasn't just a hug, it was kinda…..desperate. "I want
to be with you, too."
After that, after we went upstairs, things seemed a little off. Not sure how to
explain it. Her kisses didn't seem quite the same; her smiles stopped with her mouth.
She insisted on unbuttoning my shirt and taking it off me. She pushed me down and
climbed on top of me. That's alright with me, I kinda like her to be on top, but---
I don't know, there was something different about it.
It all seemed a little too pat. Too….efficient. Almost rehearsed. I won't say she
wasn't making me hot, but sorta uneasy, too. Hard to explain.
Her mouth was making its way toward my bellybutton.
She ignored me.
I grabbed her forearms and pulled her up, so she had to look at me.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to make you feel good. Why don't you lay back and let me take care of
you?" That was patter. Impersonal. Something you said when you wanted the customer
to shut up and let you do your job.
"Gonna take care of it for me, huh? I thought we talked about this."
She tried to pull her arms loose, but I wouldn't let go.
"Or are you going back to work, and this is just practice? If that's what you're
planning, I wish you'da let me know."
Dammit. I don't know when to shut up. The look on her face made me feel like a
heel. I am a heel.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I said that. But tell me what I'm doing wrong here, Lynn---
how come you think you gotta blow me like I'm a goddam john?"
Tears started plopping on my chest. She didn't answer for a long time. I just waited.
"……..I don't want to lose you."
I wrapped my arms around her. "Why would you lose me? You know how I feel about
you. Don't you?"
"I'm damaged goods. I know you think about that. I can't manage to give you a child.
And now I can't have sex, either. I don't know why you even want me."
That didn't sound like the Lynn I knew at all. It sounded like self-pity. Maybe the
"moods" Graham talked about. And I'm such a heel, the thought ran through my mind
that most of what she said was true……but then, in my head, I could hear Marlene
saying, in her pouty voice, "I am who I am……Don't be mad at me."
I coulda said all sortsa things to her, then, about how pretty she was, and smart,
and all of that, reasons why I love her, but what if those things went away? Would
I not love her then? That was the point, wasn't it? Things were different than when
we first got together, and she was afraid all my reasons were gone.
"You know, I'm not a prize myself. I'm not very smart. Not too good-looking. Only
had a coupla things going for me when you met me, and one of them was that I carried a
gun. If I wasn't so good in bed, nobody'd want me for anything."
She was silent for a minute. Then I heard a muffled laugh against my chest. I rolled
her over so we were side by side.
"It could be that's why you said you'd marry me. 'Cause I'm so damn good. Or maybe
because of my equipment."
"Yes," she said. "That's why."
"OK, I'm trying to make a point here."
"I know." She kissed me. "But I do like your equipment." She kissed me again and
I forgot what I was saying for a minute or two.
"Hold up and let me talk. What I'm saying is, if you tell me you want me around, I'm
not gonna argue with you. Not gonna ask you for reasons. And I'm not gonna give you
reasons why I want you. I just do. And you're just gonna have to believe me."
"OK." I almost didn't hear her. She snuggled close. I played with her curls.
"I'm not saying I don't like sex."
A little snort. "You're a man."
"I don't think you know very much about men."
She raised her head. "Are you kidding? I probably know more about men than you do."
"You know about men that use hookers. I'm not sure you know very much about the
rest of us."
She thought about that. "Are you trying to tell me you've never paid for it in your
"No. I did once. When I was overseas. Wasn't crazy about it. It was OK, I guess.
I just didn't like it enough to wanna do it again."
She laid back down and didn't say anything.
"I been thinking I mighta made too big a deal about the wedding night," I said.
"Let's just forget about that. OK? We'll get married, and not worry about the rest."
"We should have one."
"We don't need one."
"Yes, we do."
"'Cause you want one."
"Lynn…..let's not do things just because I want to. Like today….." I didn't know
how to make her understand. "You know how you always say you can see whether I'm
telling the truth or not by my face?"
"That's something I can't do. I trust you to tell me the truth. I need you to do
that. If you pretend you want something when you don't….I don't know it till later,
till it's too late. I was stupid, I guess, I didn't realize I was making you feel
like sex was the most important thing to me, and now I think you've been pretending
with me. Maybe you've been pretending all along, and I just couldn't tell. You know
how that makes me feel?"
"Oh, no, baby, that's not so……don't even think that. Tonight was the first time and
it was just because I was scared." She kissed me.
Have I mentioned how much I like kissing Lynn? I think I'd rather kiss her than eat.
"I know making love isn't as important to you as it is to me. No, don't argue with
me," I said when she opened her mouth to do that, "I know it. Hell, 2 or 3 guys a day,
5 days a week for how long?---it can't be that big a deal to you." She closed her
mouth and just listened. "It is pretty important to me. Something special between
you and me. But it's not everything. It's not even the most important thing. If
we couldn't ever do it again, I'd be sad…..but I'd still be here. If you don't always
feel like it, you know, I can handle that. Just don't pretend. OK? That ruins it.
Makes me feel like---"
"Bud---I don't pretend. I don't. It's important to me too because it's with you and
I want to be with you. I just did it tonight because I was scared. It was stupid."
"Don't be scared." I kissed her some more. "No reason to be. And you're not damaged
goods. You're just exactly right for me."
You know what? I wasn't lying. It was the truth now.
We talked a long time, about L.A. and Ed and Marlene, and lots of other stuff, too.
Then we kissed a long time. And when Lynn headed south again, I felt like it was
because she wanted to. A good thing, too, 'cause there's no way I coulda stopped
her this time.
"Two weeks. How about that?"
"Two weeks? Are you nuts? I've got to get a dress, and a suit for you----"
"I've got a suit."
She raised her eyebrow. "And a suit for you…..and I know it has to be a secret,
but there might be somebody we can invite, and I want a cake, and---"
"You can't be ready in two weeks?"
Lynn was smart enough to know the wedding wouldn't really change much, but I guess
she felt like it might. She was happy all the time (when she wasn't crying
or throwing things-we had a few more of those days) and talked about it in bed at
night. I just listened.
I guess we both used it as an excuse to forget about all the hard stuff in the past.
We tried to tell ourselves it would be like the beginning of a different life together,
that once we were married, we'd live happily ever after, no problems, no mess.
It was nice to think about. But you can't do it, and deep down, we both knew it.
You can't do it. You can't leave your past behind, no matter how hard you try.
It always fucking follows you.
Once in a great while, that's good……
I am who I am…..don't be mad at me…..
Eight years later, I finally understood what Marly was trying to tell me. I understood
why she didn't stay with me.
If Lynn hadn't spent those years screwing for a living, who would she be? Somebody
She's pretty smart about things and people. She knows a lot, but I think she's wise,
too, most of the time. Maybe if she'd had an easy life, she wouldn't be.
I probably woulda never met her. If I did, she wouldn'ta given me the time of day.
I was just a bum with a badge and a suit then. She woulda been way outta my league.
She still is, but she doesn't know it.
We're here together, and she loves me. That's pretty close to a miracle. I've kinda
decided that if anything woulda been different then, everything would be now.
And I wouldn't want that.
So what about those hundreds of guys that paid Lynn's bills year after year?
Piss on 'em. I got more important things to worry about.