“You want me to drop you here?” Ethan squinted out the windshield at the trees on the left, the Coffeyville City Limits sign on the right.
“Yep.” Regina grabbed her knapsack, opened the door. “C’mon, Killer.”
Sure. Killer popped out of the car and lifted her nose to the air.
“Can you get home from here?” Ethan’s face swam pale and shadowed in the overhead light. He looked about ready to pass out.
“Go find a bed,” Regina said. “I’ll be fine.” She climbed out and shut the door firmly.
Ethan rolled down the window. “This is weird. You know that, right? Dropping a young woman off at the edge of town in the middle of the night?”
She waved at him and began picking her way down the bank to Onion Creek, Killer at her heels.
“Don’t die, okay?” Ethan called after her. “Cuz that makes me the last one to have seen you alive. Do you want me to come back later?”
A smile tugged at one side of her mouth. “Go the fuck home, Ethan.”
He sighed, closed the window, and pulled away.
There was a path, of sorts, down to a little semi-flat patch of rock and scrub where she settled crosslegged and gently rearranged the mostly-withered daisies she’d left two weeks ago. Two and a half. Whatever. Just beyond them was the nearly-empty bottle of Absolut, which she poked with a toe. For a moment she contemplated the inch or so of vodka left but really, what was that going to do for her? It would take a distillery to make what happened tonight bearable.
“Hi, Chris,” she said to the small white cross. It was half-hidden in a clutch of tall dry grass, the paint on the pine peeling and grey. His headstone in Restlawn was polished granite, clean and beautiful, a tasteful, unremarkable compliment to all the tasteful, unremarkable stones that surrounded it, and she’d never visited it after the day of the funeral. “Dad’s okay, I think. I’ve been kind of, uh, busy lately.”
Killer snuffled past her down to the water, her stubby white puff of a tail going back and forth. Smells! she informed Regina.
“I got a dog,” she told the cross. “Well. Stole a dog. Um, ran away with a dog? It’s complicated. Say hi, Killer.”
Killer looked back at her, head cocked. To who?
“Nevermind. Go on smelling, it’s okay.” Regina watched Killer wander on up the stream and then let her head drop back. This far out from downtown the light pollution was pretty minimal and above her the stars punctured the sky with brilliance. Chris had known a few constellations. He used to point them out every time they went camping, talking like he was some kind of an astronomy genius. The Big Dipper, Reg , he would say solemnly, trapping her in a headlock so she had to look. Right there. Ursa Major.
A car passed on the highway and she ducked her head down again. The cross was lit in the headlights for a moment.
“I don’t know if you remember but we used to have that game? That stupid old Disney movie, they did a remake of it with the Rock, remember? Witch Mountain. We’d pretend we were special.” Regina pulled her knees to her chin and wrapped her arms around them. “Be careful what you wish for, I guess. This sucks.” She swallowed tears. “This sucks so fuckin bad, Chris. I saw – someone died tonight. Two people. They crashed their car. And. I know what makes that happen, now. I know what happened. To you.” She clenched her jaw. “Because some asshole didn’t do their job good enough. Except now the asshole is me, and I don’t know if I can –” Her voice skirled upward embarrassingly and she put her wet face to her jeans and let herself cry.
A wet tongue ran across her knuckles. Boss?
Regina looked at Killer, up on her hind legs and peering worriedly through a curly white fringe. She opened her arms and legs, made a space. Killer crowded up against her chest and began to lick the tears off her face.
“Fuckin – gross, man,” Regina complained but whatever her new special thing was, it apparently didn’t allow for the communication of bullshit, because Killer went on bathing her in dog spit and whuffling at her hair. She dug her fingers into fluffy white curls and skritched.
Tired, Killer said.
Regina felt a pang of guilt. It was a good forty minute walk home, and she hadn’t considered the length of toy poodle legs. “I’ll carry you,” you said.
Killer did a complicated full-body writhe that translated roughly as fuck that and squirmed back onto the ground. Walk, she proclaimed.
Regina stood. “Walk half.”
Killer shook herself and wagged her tail. You’re the Boss.
“Is that what I am?”
Yeah, yeah, you’re the Boss. You’re the – and again, it wasn’t fully translatable into English. Something about speaker and bridge and darkness.
Regina looked down at Killer, gooseflesh creeping along her arms. “Wait, how do you know about that shit?”
Lots of dogs know. And poodles are circus dogs. Killer barked once, a shrill yap. I’m ready for action, boss!
“Jesus Christ,” said Regina blankly. “Okay. Right.” She dug the heels of her hands into her eyes. She had work tomorrow, and there was band practice ... fuck, she was going to have to text Connor about the wedding gig this weekend. “Let’s. Let’s just go home.”
Home? Killer heeled her neatly as she climbed back up the bank. Little house dust T.V. mold mice tight hot sad?
“No.” Regina turned north on the highway shoulder and began the hike back to Coffeyville. “My home. It’s cool, you’ll like it, my dad is really ...”
Fuck. She was going to have to talk to her dad.
- Karla Andrich