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A guy turns into me and then backs off. I don’t say anything; I just keep pushin’ my way through the swaying masses of blue jeans and tee shirts and work boots. Hall’s is crowded tonight. The stools at the old, wooden bar top are full. The few tables scattered around the bar are also occupied, and the little space left is taken up by stragglers, craning their necks to get a glimpse of one of only two small TVs in the whole place. The game’s on—third game of the World Series. And that’s why I’d like to get my order and get the hell out of here. At least back home, there’s a TV screen that isn’t straight out of the 90s.
I turn back toward the voice. It’s the man I just ran into...or who just ran into me; I don’t know. He’s staring at me, but I don’t recognize the guy. He’s got this funny grin on his face, and he’s wagging a finger at me.
“You...and Ashley Westcott...” He nods his head as if he’s just put two and two together.
“No,” I say. “Wrong guy.”
I turn back toward the bar even though I’m pretty sure he’s still starin’ and pointin’. Karen notices me and holds out a brown paper bag.
“Here ya go, Rem.” She gives me a motherly kind of smile. I know she heard the guy, and she probably heard what I had to say to him too, but I don’t care.
“Keep the change,” I say, handing her a bill.
I reach for the bag, but she keeps a firm grip on it and settles her gaze on me.
“It gets better.” She smiles and lets go of the bag.
I don’t say anything, and I try not to react either. I just tip the bill of my cap and head straight for the screen door in the corner of the bar.
Seconds later, my hand is pushin’ against the old, wooden frame. The door squeaks open and then slams shut behind me.
Outside, the October air is cool. I feel it sink deep into my bones, and at the same time, a shiver runs up my spine. And I’m not really sure if it’s the cold or the thoughts runnin’ through my head that cause it. Either way, it feels a whole hell of a lot better out here than it did in that crowded bar; that’s for sure. At least, out here, there ain’t anyone makin’ any assumptions. Out here, no one’s givin’ me sympathetic smiles or coverin’ up their whispers. The black night doesn’t care she’s gone.
I stop and rest my hand on the door handle of my truck, and I let my head fall back. The sky is darker than dark, but the stars are bright.
We had this whole town fooled. Every. Last. One. Even now, they just don’t know what to think. Half of them constantly have a question on their tongues, but it’s as if they just can’t quite get it to leave their mouths. And I’m convinced the other half already has their minds made up—even though I’m pretty sure not a darned one knows the story.
I level my head and catch a star dyin’ out in the distant sky. In an instant, it’s there, and then it’s gone. I lower my head and laugh a little. Just like us, huh?
Then I sigh and pull on the handle right before I toss the bag onto the seat and slide into my truck. But as soon as I get the key in the ignition, I stop, and I think about the guy in the bar. And I think about her. Her.
“Damn it, Miss Westcott,” I whisper under my breath. “I swear I can’t go anywhere without you. Everywhere I go, you’re always just a rumor away.”
I let a lungful of air fall onto the steering wheel as I put the truck in gear and let off the clutch.
You left, but then again, you never really left.