*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*
You can read parts one through ten HERE!
“Neither if you begged me, William.” Gladys says with a strength she summons from somewhere deep within.
He’s still behind the counter, but stands up straight now, staring her down with eyes that, after all these years, still feel like icepicks pecking at her chest.
Apart from the two of them, the shack is empty. A static-distorted radio floats an Eagles song through the saloon style doors and she realizes he’s humming it under his breath. He always did know how to unnerve her.
“I’ve been trying to reach you. Did you change your numbers or something?”
“Nope. Not in fifteen years.” He says smugly.
“That means you’ve simply been ignoring me, then.”
He shrugs, maintaining eye contact and continuing to hum.
“Been busy, Gladys. What can I say?”
She looks around the dusty, vacant room.
“Sorry. You could say sorry.” She feels her face prickling as a rush of blood makes its way to the surface of her thin skin.
“Sorry for what?” His humming has stopped and his arms are now folded across his narrow chest. “For giving you what you wanted?”
“This is isn’t how I wanted it, Will. You know that.”
“You’re better off, Gladys. No me to mess things up.”
“We were working on that.”
“You were working on that.”
Gladys looks at the floor. He’s right. He had never had any interest in changing. Standing here with him now may as well have been fifteen years ago. Time had done nothing to him. He hadn’t even aged for God’s sake. His tanned skin is rugged and vibrant and his salt and pepper hair feathers down over his ears, swooping the nape of his neck, making him appear both boyish and sophisticated all at once.
What must he see…deepened crow’s feet and tiny veins beginning to burst around her nose, her hair wiry now that she has to cover rapidly sprouting greys and a well-weathered cleavage line peeking out from the V-neck t-shirt she’d chosen that morning.
She allows these thoughts to distract her, but not for more than a moment.
“I need you to sign, William. It’s the only reason I’m here.”
“Got time for one more? It gets pretty lonely ‘round here.”
She mustn’t look as bleak as she believes.
“You’ve never had any trouble finding company and I’m sure that hasn’t changed either.”
It’s his turn to look away and she almost thinks she sees shame cross his face.
“My social life stopped being your concern years ago.” His voice is hard.
“I’m not getting into it, Will. Not interested. I’m tired. No, exhausted. Just sign and be done with it.”
“I ain’t signin’ nothin’. All’s I need is black and white proof I’m a douchebag. She already hates me.”
“How would you know? It’s not like you’ve ever bothered to ask her.”
“Children don’t hate, William. Their hearts just crack right down the middle.”