The Fable of Us(4)

By: Nicole Williams

His voice sounded different, yet similar in the way a person could never forget the color of the walls in their childhood bedroom. Boone. It wasn’t a common name, even buried this deep in the belly of the country.

Still, I couldn’t help grasping that last strand of hope that it wasn’t the Boone as my head turned to take my first full look at the man sitting at the other end of the counter. I didn’t need more than a moment to confirm who it was.

The Boone. Similar to his voice, he looked different, yet the same. The same dirty blond hair ever in need of a haircut, though now it was just long enough to be pulled back into the messiest ponytail I’d ever seen. The same wide shoulders and imposing frame that had made boys give him a wide berth. That had apparently transferred into manhood, as evidenced by the rest of the patrons staggered everywhere in the bar save beside him. The same way he held himself, like he was always ready for a fight, fists semi-curled, shoulders partially tensed.

The same way his Adam’s apple bobbed before he turned and looked at me . . .

His eyes locked onto me, boring through me in a way that made me wish I’d worn body armor before stepping into this place. Unlike the rest of him, Boone’s eyes had changed. They were still the same chestnut shade, but the lights in them had burned out. That spark of trouble or excitement or whatever emotion he’d ever felt had gone out, leaving something dull and lifeless behind.

“On second thought, I’ll take that five back, Tom.” Boone’s eyes stayed fixed on me as he held out his hand. “This woman’s taken enough from me for this lifetime and my next ten. I’m not giving her anything else, the last five in my wallet included.”

Tom grunted at Boone, shoving the bill deeper into his pocket before grabbing a shot glass and pouring something into it.

When I swallowed, my throat burned—parched from the memories I had of the man ten feet down from me, painful from the unpleasant memories that outweighed the pleasant ones. “That’s okay. I can go.”

I stood from my stool as Tom slammed the shot in front of me. It smelled like the cleaner my mom used to insist the maids use to clean the showers with—the same stuff the FDA later banned after discovering it blinded people if even a splash of it wound up in their eyes.

“No need to leave on my account, Miss Abbott. We all know you and your family come and go wherever they want, as they want, whenever they want.” Boone’s voice took on the sharp edge I used to hear him use with others but rarely with me. “Besides, you’re an expert at pretending I don’t exist. It’s been a while, but I’m sure it’s just like riding a bike. Carry on ignoring me. I’m confident I can return the favor.” He twisted around in his seat until he was hunched over in the same position I’d found him in.

I’d known this trip would be a disaster of record-breaking proportions, but I hadn’t factored in running into Boone Cavanaugh at The Hide and Seek. I didn’t need another complication in this already-complicated trip home. I needed to get in, get out, and get moving on.

The frustration that was more owed to fate vented out and latched on to Boone. “Oh, give it up, Boone. Your same old ‘The Abbotts Are the Root of All Evil in South Carolina’ speech is old. Find some fresh material.”

My eyes squeezed shut when I realized what I’d said. Usually I was a seasoned pro at biting my tongue and remembering my manners, but with Boone, that well-honed skill had never worked. Years later and it still didn’t. I said what was on my mind before thinking it through—that was always Boone’s and my way.

“You’re right. I am in need of fresh material, something that’s never in short supply when it comes to your family.” From his voice, I could imagine the look on his face—one side curled into a scowl, the other flat with apathy. “How about this for fresh? ‘Little Sister Abbott Weds Big Sister Abbott’s Old Sweetheart and All-Around Buttplug Rumored to Have Been Fucking Them Both Until Big Sister Found Out and Dreamed About Castrating ButtPlug, But Instead She Flew in To Wish Them Well in Their Forthcoming Nuptials.’” Boone cleared his throat. “How’s that for new material?”

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