The Fable of Us(3)

By: Nicole Williams

Other than the door I’d just come through, there were no windows or doors cut out of the old train car that was just as rusted from the inside as it was from the outside. The lighting was somewhere on the scale between low to non-existent, and I swore I heard the whir of a generator in the background, possibly what was responsible for keeping the lights barely on and the beers, from the looks of the non-frosty glasses, a few degrees below room temperature.

No air conditioning pumped through the space, not that I’d expected to feel any, and even though the sun had gone down an hour or two ago, the heat was still alive and well inside of this tin can. It was a good twenty degrees cooler outside . . . and I’d been about to swelter alive out there.

Swallowing, I took a few more steps inside. The temperature crawled up a degree with every step I took, so instead of continuing toward the empty bar table at the back, I changed directions and snagged one of the empty stools lining the particle board bar, which seemed mostly held together by duct tape and rusty nails.

I shuffled through my memory, trying to find the last time I’d had a tetanus shot. Only five or six years ago, maybe. I was good.

Thankfully, the stools lining the counter were mostly empty, save for one guy at the opposite end who seemed as content to ignore me as I was to ignore him. The rest of the patrons behind me, staggered around the tables and chairs, were staring holes into my back. Fresh meat, fresh meat, fresh meat.

If only my parents could see me now. They’d crap their colons.

The bartender’s back was turned to me for a while as he poured a line of shots from a bottle that was almost the size of my hybrid back in California. If he’d noticed me come in, it didn’t show. As desperate as I might have been to grab a drink or two and get the heck out of there, I knew better than to clear my throat and throw around orders like I owned the place. The Abbott name ran deep in these waters, and just as many people would rather see us sink than swim. I’d changed a good deal from my former debutante days, but still . . . Abbott family photos had been plastered across enough billboards and newspaper articles in these parts to stick to the memories of even the most remote swamp dwellers.

I might have been of the family, but I wasn’t one of them. I had to remind myself of that again when the bartender continued to ignore me and my lack of breathing continued to strangle my waning courage. The bartender delivered the line of shots to a few of the tables, and when he returned, he continued being oblivious to the woman practically bouncing on her stool at the end of the counter.

What was this? A boys-only club? A members-only maybe? Whatever it was, I wasn’t leaving until I’d had my drink, so help me God.

“Hey, Tom, put her first drink on my tab,” the guy at the opposite end of the counter said, startling me. From how still he’d been, I’d been under the impression he’d passed out in his drink. “Any woman brave enough to step foot in this place deserves her first drink free.”

The bartender gave one of those infamous grunts. “Considering the tab you’ve run up here, you’re lucky I poured you that drink you’ve been nursing the past two hours.”

I was about to speak up—something to the gist of thanks, but no thanks—when the man at the end of the bar rose from his stool, took something from his back pocket, riffled through what I guessed was a wallet, and slammed a five dollar bill on the counter. “I said her first drink’s on me.”

“Tom” glanced at the bill, ambled down to that end of the counter, then tugged the five from beneath the guy’s palm. “Still trying to play in a different league? I thought you would have learned your lesson with that Abbott girl, but hell, if you want to spend the last five in your wallet on a girl who wouldn’t let you mow her front lawn, who am I to turn my nose up at your money?” The bartender wadded up the bill and shoved it deep into his jeans, a rattle-like chuckle rising in his chest. “You’ve never been one for learning your lesson, Boone.”

This time I had my mouth open and was in the middle of starting my “thanks, but no thanks” speech when the words froze in my throat. It couldn’t be. No how. No way. It couldn’t be . . . him. It had been years—seven to be exact—since I’d last seen him.

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