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By John Everson
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2010 John Everson
All right reserved.
The rock skipped across the waves like a bullet, skimming the surf and bouncing once, twice, three and four times before it finally hit its match, a whitecap with attitude. The stone disappeared without a fifth leap into the unrelenting ocean.
Evan shrugged and picked up another stone. An oblong one. Gray and smooth. This time, he only got two skips before the rock was stolen by the waves. Arm was tired, he told himself, and left the next stone where it lay.
The ocean stole everything. Leaning down, he picked up the hook of a crab claw and flung it into the foam.
Evan wiped the tear from his cheek and walked on down the beach. The night hung on him with its own rushing silence, but Evan could still hear the sounds of his past. He could hear Josh out there, in the waves. His son. His baby boy.
Dad! Josh had called, voice filled with sudden panic. And then, Dad?
And then there'd been no sound at all.
"Stop it," Evan screamed, as he did nearly every night, angry at himself for more things than he could describe. But fear certainly topped the list. A long list of words came to mind actually: fear, coward, chickenshit, weak, pathetic, loser, scumbag, fuckhead ... the words degenerated further with the acid heat of his tears.
Evan picked up another rock from the beach and flung it into the waves. But this time, he didn't stop to see how far it went before it fell. Instead he turned back toward the lights of home.
The rock skipped seven times.
The sound system overhead played a Georgia Satellites song and Sarah smiled to herself, because as she looked around the bar she thought that she might be the only one old enough to remember the Georgia Satellites. When the hick twang of her youth faded into the raspy growl and twining guitars of Foo Fighters, she saw the heads of several guys around the single pool table begin to nod with more gusto. The kids knew this one.
Somehow rock had left her behind thanks to an invisible anchor around her heart, holding her back. She could never escape her past. And wasn't that why she was here?
"Can I buy you a drink?" one of the pool boys asked her, and Sarah stared into the hopeful's eyes, not with honor, but with a simple question. Why?
Her days of one-night stands were two decades past, and she knew the lines along the sag of her jowls and the silvering web in her hair were just the most obvious indicator that time was not on her side. No guy with jet-black hair and pecs that dared his belt buckle to try to cinch tighter could possibly have an interest in her. Still, that guy did stand at her side, and put his hand on her shoulder, and offered her another beer.
What the hell? she thought, and asked for a Guinness. Maybe he saw the ring as her hand slipped easily around the glass.
"You married?" the man said, pulling up a stool. He didn't take his hand off her. Instead, he let it slip from her shoulder, across her back, to grip familiarly on her thigh.
She nodded. "For about as long as you've been alive," she said with a grin. She looked up at him with weary eyes, and maybe something there sent a chill of reality down his spine, because his easy hand slipped away. He threw down a couple bucks on the bar, nodded and slipped back to the pool table. From behind, Sarah heard low voices and laughter. She didn't turn around. There was only so much heartache you could absorb in your life, and she had had her fill. If someone were making fun of her now, for sitting here old and empty in a bar ... she wasn't going to eat that. She wasn't going to do anything at all, except take one more pull on the edge of her glass. Okay, maybe two.
And then she'd go home. Home is where the heart is, she thought. "But where has my heart gone?" she answered herself aloud.
The sound system-whatever happened to jukeboxes-now pumped with the beat of Britney, and the voices in the bar around her began to pick up in volume. It was amateur hour, Sarah thought. Time for the adults to go home. She looked into the neon lights of the bar signs above her head, and smiled sadly at the sexy tattooed thing behind the bar who made no bones against sticking out her rack and flirting with the pool table boys for tips. Sarah looked back to her beer.
The foam on the latest pull of Guinness made her laugh. She couldn't have explained why, exactly. It just struck her as funny ... all this dark, heavy liquid coloring the bulk of her glass and then this white wreath of bubbles trying to hold it all in. She knew about holding it in. That's why she was here. She held it all in.
"Something wrong with your beer?" a voice asked from behind her. Sarah turned slowly, afraid that the pool boy was back. But then the tenor of the voice sunk in, and she saw the hard line of his jaw, and the soft care in his deep-set blue eyes, and she shook her head.
"Nah," Sarah said. "The beer's just fine." She lifted her glass and drained half of it in one desperate pull.
"Let's go home, huh?" Evan said, and pulled her off the stool. She only stumbled a little, as the bells of the door rippled to announce their exit, just as they did nearly every night. Behind them, the bartendress with the rack rolled her eyes and cleared the bar. She gave little thought to why the old girl had to be escorted home every night. She just pulled her T-shirt tighter to smile falsely at the boys drinking Bud as they shot eight ball.
Damn drunks never left a good tip.
Excerpted from Siren by John Everson Copyright © 2010 by John Everson. Excerpted by permission.
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