I wake up first, early in the morning, just after the sun comes up. Lynn's laying on her back, her face turned toward me. Her mouth is open, a little drool glistens on the pillow. She can be so glamorous when she wants to, but when she sleeps, she drools. That makes me smile.
Slow and careful, I pull the blanket down off her body. I don't wanna wake her up, I just wanna look. I could tell, last night in the dark, that she's different. Now I can see it as well as feel it.
She's still beautiful. Her breasts are larger, fuller, blue-veined, her hips are wider, she's…..voluptuous. And that belly……it looks bigger still this morning. It's smooth and hard and a surprise under my hand.
I'm so interested in running my hand over those different places that I don't know when her eyes open. When I look up she's watching me.
"I'm huge," she says.
"You're beautiful." I set my mouth over hers and kiss her as deep as I can. My hand wanders down between her legs.
I raise my head just a little. I say, "I like it," into her mouth. Her eyes are shut. My fingers are busy, doing what she likes. I feel that little purring sound she makes inside my mouth. Her body rises up to meet me……
Suddenly she's pushing me away, her eyes are open, she grabs my hand. She's breathing hard, she's glaring at me.
"Stop it, stop it, I can't do that. That's one of the things Doctor----"
I'm kissing her before she's done talking, but I don't think she really minds.
"It's not fair," I say, putting my knee between her thighs. "Are you sure you can't do it just once?" I kiss her just under her ear.
"Oh, God, stop it, I already did it once last night….Bud…..the baby….."
I kiss her a couple more times and then roll over on my back. Take a deep breath and let it out.
"You could," she says.
"I'm already aheada you. It's OK."
"It's only a little while longer."
I nod, and hold her next to me, her head on my shoulder.
After a minute, she says, "I was a little worried….about what you would think. I look like such a cow."
"You look like love to me."
I say that without even thinking. She's very quiet, very still. Then she raises her head and looks right at me. I don't have any idea what that look means. OK, maybe I shoulda thought a minute before I said anything, I probably shoulda said something more like how pretty she looks, insteada something dumb like-----
"I am." She says that right before she moves up and gives me one of those serious kisses that mean something..
When I wake up again, she's already awake, she's looking at me now. She's touching the pattern of scars on my upper chest, studying them. I wanna push her hand away and sit up, but I don't. I guess it's her turn. I hope this isn't how she felt when I was looking at her.
"This is a design," Lynn says. "Yesterday I thought it was just….random. But it's not."
She's thinking about it. She's figuring it out. She knows I'd never do something like this to myself. I can almost see when she knows how it must have been.
Tears spring into her eyes, and she takes her hand away. "Oh," she says. And then she says it again. She turns away from me and grabs her hankie off the nightstand, covers up her mouth.
She said she wouldn't care what I looked like. That's what she told me.
She turns back to me and says, "I'm sorry." Still teary.
"It's OK. It looks pretty bad."
"No, baby, you know I don't care about that. It's just..….for somebody to do this to you ………..it's horrible."
"Hey….don't cry, OK?"
She nods and sniffs. "Why? What was the reason?"
"Can I see your back?"
I have to take a deep breath before I sit up and turn my back toward her. I can't see her face. I know she's studying me….then her fingers touch.
"This. This isn't part of the design."
I try to look back over my shoulder. "That's a scratch from a rock." She moves her fingers to another spot. "Those are claw marks." As soon as I say that, I think probably I shouldn't have.
She asks me all kinda questions then, wants to know about the mountain lion, about everything, and I answer a couple, and then I just can't answer any more. I can't talk about the rest of it.
I figure while she's looking, she probably better get a good look at my leg, so I uncover it and let her look. It's easy to see where the bone's displaced, where the muscles are stretched and where they're bunched and twisted.
"Does it hurt?"
"Not right now."
She hugs me then, and says, in my ear, "I'm so glad you came back to me."
I know she said before she didn't care what I looked like, but I guess I didn't really believe her till now..
I let Lynn in the shower first. She comes out dressed in one of those big maternity dresses with a big bow at the neck. I have to laugh.
"You just shut up, mister," she says, and then she laughs, too. "It is awful, isn't it? Aunt Sophia got it for me."
I kiss her as I pass her on the way to the bathroom. "Honey, you make anything you wear look glamorous."
She rolls her eyes.
Before I turn on the water, I hear a knock at the door, and then Patty's voice, and then I lose myself in the luxury of hot water on my shoulders.
The door to our room opens and closes several times. When I shut off the water, I can hear both the girls talking, then the door closes and I can't hear them anymore.
I comb all my wet hair back away from my face. The barber's gotta be the first stop this morning. Lynn acted like she kinda liked my hair longer, but I'll be glad to get rid of it. I haven't liked my hair long since I lived with my aunt Mabel. It's better short.
The door opens and closes again.
My clothes are laid out on the bed. I forgot to bring anything in the bathroom with me, even my underwear. I hope Lynn didn't get in a hurry and pack everything up and take it out to the car. I open the bathroom door and walk out into the room……..
"Lynn, did you leave---"
……and stop and look into two very wide eyes that don't belong to Lynn.
She only looks at my face a second. Then she's looking at something else while I'm backing up into the bathroom. My crooked leg makes it hard to pivot, and it makes me slow, too, so she gets a better look than I woulda liked.
Behind the bathroom door, I'm listening, but I don't hear anything. Not sure what that means. Then I hear the outside door open and close, and Lynn's voice. A few minutes later, Patty's talking, and Lynn's laughing, and I'm getting impatient.
Well, hell, she's already seen everything there is to see. I wrap a towel around my waist. The conversation stops when I walk into the main room. Patty looks at the towel first, then up at my face, and then somewhere kinda in the middle, and blushes hotter than I've ever seen her blush. Red as a ripe tomato. Even her ears. Kinda cute.
"Hi, Patty. Whatcha doin'?"
I was wrong. Now she's red as a tomato.
"I'll wait in the car," she says and she's out the door. Zoom.
"I suppose now I'm gonna have a tough time with her again."
"Oh, I don't think so," Lynn says. "She was impressed. She's been dating Lloyd, remember."
"I don't think I wanna know about that."
"She said she didn't realize until just now what she was missing out on."
"Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and make jokes." She laughs some more while I get dressed. My stuff outta my coat pockets is in a pile next to the suitcase of clothes Lynn brought for me. My old clothes are a little big on me now, but they feel good.
Then I notice what's not there. "Lynn, where's the clothes I was wearing?"
"I threw them in the garbage. You didn't want them anymore, did you?"
She's fussing with something over on the dresser, and not looking at me. Her purse, maybe.
"You just threw them out?"
"Yes, I just threw them out. Did you want them?" She turns around and looks at me. "They're pretty nasty."
For a minute, I think there's a funny look on her face, but then it's gone. I can't ever tell what her face is saying; and probably I'm wrong, probably there was nothing there in the first place.
I was gonna throw the letter away, anyway. "No, I don't need 'em.".
The girls drop me at the barber's, go for a soda, then come back and park across the street.
When I'm walking out to the car, I can hear them talking before I get there.
"That's just silly," Lynn says, and giggles. "Why would you think that?"
"Some guys do. I just thought probably he did."
"Nobody does that. Not really."
"Yes, they do."
"Well, Bud never would. Why would he?"
"I know that, now. He doesn't have to, does he?"
Lynn giggles again. I lean in the window of the car. "Bud doesn't have to do what?"
Total silence. More silence.
Lynn says, "Umm….."
"Bud doesn't have to do what?"
They look at each other. "Walk," Lynn says. "……….because………we're going to drive you." Patty looks relieved. Until she looks at me, and turns red again.
"No," I say. "Bud's gonna drive himself."
Patty looks relieved again, and hops outta the car. Lynn slides over on the seat, and I get in on the driver's side. "I'll be back in a while. You wanna meet me at the drugstore about three?"
"Where are you going?"
"I've just got some things I need to do before we go home."
"I'll just ride along with you."
"No, I'll come back for you."
Lynn opens up her door and says, "Patty, get back in the car."
She leans the seat forward, and Patty climbs in the back.
"You're not going with me."
"Why not? What are you going to do?"
"I'm just gonna ask some questions."
"Then there's no reason we can't go along."
"You're not going. Period."
She doesn't even bother to answer me. She just settles back in her seat and looks out the front window. Then the side window.
I realize I'm going about this all wrong. I should know better by now.
"It's gonna be boring. You're just gonna be sitting in the car."
"You could have lunch while you wait for me. I can hear your stomach growling from here."
"You don't have a driver's license. I wonder if the sheriff knows that."
Patty's not saying a word.
I take a deep breath. "OK, tell me why you have to come along."
She doesn't answer right away. She's looking out the window, then she looks back at me. She has tears in her eyes.
"And what if you leave us here and drive off and never come back? What then?"
"I'm coming back, baby."
"Unless someone kills you this time."
"Nobody's gonna kill me."
"And why don't you want me to go along? Is it too dangerous?"
This is one of those questions where I can't win no matter how I answer it.
"If it's too dangerous for us to come along, it's too dangerous for you, too." She turns back and looks out her window. "We're going with you or you're not going. We could all have lunch instead.".
I let her drive.
We drove by the house. It seemed empty. I had Lynn go around the block and then park across the street. We sat and watched for a half an hour or so. Patty, in the back seat, began to fidget.
"If I ask you to stay in the car, will you do that?" I say.
Lynn has to think about it for a minute. She says, "Give me one of your guns. Don't argue with me, I know you have them both in the back of your pants."
"I don't think that's a good idea." Scary, is what it is. "If anything happens, the best thing would be for you two to find a phone and call the sheriff. I don't think I've ever seen either of you out at the target range, and I'd just as soon not have you shooting in my general direction. You know? And I don't think anything's gonna happen, the house looks empty to me. I just wanna make sure."
Patty pipes up. "Look for clues."
"Maybe. It'd just be easier for me if I don't have to worry about you two. OK?"
I get out of the car and start across the street. I think of something and have to go back and lean in the window.
"If anybody comes toward the car, don't talk to 'em, roll up the windows and drive away, and find a phone. Understand?"
Both the girls look a little spooked. Good.
No cars anywhere, in front or out back. The back door's not hard to jimmy.
I leave footprints in the dust on the floor. Been a while since anybody was in here. I work my way through each room, looking through what's here, what's in the trash, just looking at everything. They left a lotta stuff, but nothing that tells me where they went. I'm not done yet when I hear the back door open, and footsteps coming toward the room where I am. I pull my .38 and just about fall down turning too fast----but it's Lynn and Patty.
"I thought you were gonna stay in the car."
"You've been in here a long time," Patty says.
"Uh-huh. Well, you can go back out, I'm fine. I'll be out in a minute."
Lynn walks past me and opens the door to the room I left for last.
It looks pretty much the same as I remember it. The guys picked up their gun-cleaning supplies, but that's about all they took outta here. Well, and me.
Lynn walks in and looks around. She'd make a good cop. She notices things. Like the brown smears on the back of the chair----she reaches out like she's gonna touch them, but doesn't quite. The scissors on the floor---she picks them up and looks at them. She looks at me. She gets really pale.
"Come on, baby, we better get you outta here before you faint."
We make her sit down on the back step and put her head down. She can't put it between her knees 'cause her stomach's in the way.
I take the scissors she's still got in her hand and give 'em a toss.
"I think maybe you need some lunch," Patty says.
Lynn makes a funny noise and covers her mouth with her hand.
"Maybe not just yet," I say.
She says, "Can we leave?"
"You didn't find any clues?" Patty asks.
We're sitting in the car in front of the drugstore. I went in to wet my handkerchief to put on the back of Lynn's neck, and to get her a soda, for her stomach.
"Nah, not yet. Gonna ask Miss B. when she gets back." I motion toward the storefront.
Patty nods. After a minute, she says, "What were we looking for clues about?"
"Where the people in the house went."
I hesitate. If Lynn hasn't told her anything, then maybe she doesn't want her to know. "I wanna find 'em."
I look over at Lynn but she's got her eyes closed. If she doesn't want me to answer the question, she'd better let me know. "'Cause they tied me up and threw me out in the snow to die. I wanna know where they are."
"But….you're not a policeman anymore. You can't arrest them. What are you going to do when you find them?"
"Worry about that then."
I can almost hear the little wheels going around in her head.
"Are you supposed to be carrying guns around if you're not a cop?"
"You were in the service."
"So you killed people in the war."
"Did you ever have to kill anybody when you were a policeman?"
Lynn's doing a pretty good job of pretending to be asleep.
"Yeah. Why all the questions?"
"I don't know. I guess just because even though I've known you for a while, I don't know very much about you. I don't know anybody else who carries a gun."
"Sure you do. Jones has a rifle in the window of his pickup all the time."
"That's not the same." She's quiet for a few minutes. "If they wanted to kill you, why didn't they just shoot you? And why did they want to kill you in the first place?"
"Patty," Lynn says. "Enough questions." She sounds tired.
In the rearview I watch Patty's face fall.
"Leave it till later, OK?" I say. "When Lynn's not feeling so rough.".
Miss B. is a real nice lady. She knows everything that goes on in Arrowhead. Almost. She doesn't know the truth about my crooked leg.But she filled in for the postmistress for a week, and so she does know where
Tony's mail was forwarded to, and she doesn't mind telling me.
I'm drinking my soda and listening to Miss B. The girls said they needed some aspirin. Patty's looking at fingernail polish. Lynn was in the perfume section. Now she's sitting at the counter eating a sundae. They haven't gotten to the aspirin yet.
Down the counter from Lynn, talking to the soda jerk, is the woman. She sees me in the mirror behind the soda fountain. She gets up off her stool, and walks over to the booth where me and Miss B. are sitting.
"Well, Aggie, we don't often see you in town, " says Miss B. "And how is your man?"
"Don't know," Aggie says. She looks at me and doesn't say anything. We don't have anything to say to each other. I suppose I owe her something, but conversation's not it.
I stand up. I know Lynn's gonna notice, but I can't help that. "I ate some of your supplies. I can pay you for them." I get the cash outta my pocket that Lynn brought with her, and peel off a fifty. "That cover it?"
"And what about the aggravation?"
Fine. I peeled off another fifty. "You more aggravated than this?"
"Yeah, but don't worry about it. Who're the women you came in with?"
"None a' your business."
She looks at me outta the corners of her eyes, and then walks over to Lynn. I watch her start to talk to Lynn, point at me. I watch Lynn look back at me, answer the woman's question. The woman glances at Lynn's belly. For a minute, I can't breathe, my chest hurts, I'm afraid I'm seeing everything important, everything I care about, going up in smoke. Then the woman walks away and Lynn turns back to her ice cream.
Relief makes me kinda light-headed. Another lucky break.
Yeah, I'm a helluva lucky guy.
And I feel like a sneaking, lying weasel. Maybe it woulda been better if the woman woulda told her. Get it over with..
Lynn's never expected much from men. You know?
I tried to be better than she expected. Tried to be worth everything she's had to put up with from me. Thought maybe I could do that. Take care of her. Make her happy. Make myself happy, too.
I suppose she won't be very surprised. Disappointed, maybe.
Didn't want her to be disappointed in me.
I don't know if she'll leave me or not. There's the baby to think about. And it'll be just about what she expects, anyway. Gotta figure she won't trust me again. Nothing'll ever be the same.
Can't lie to her, even though that's what she said she wanted me to do. I love her too much to do that.
But I don't know what I'm gonna say. I've been thinking about it a long time, and I haven't figured it out yet. How'm I gonna tell her that I trashed my big stroke of luck for something I didn't want and somebody I don't even care about?
I don't think I can.
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