The detritus of a night gone wonderfully wrong lay about us: A crumpled bag of NASCAR-themed barb-e-cue Fritos, a spent bottle of Yukon Jack, a crumpled patriot-blue camisole and a pair of Jimmy Chou pumps that cost more than my vintage Impala–one under the chair in the corner, the other dangling from the lampshade beside the TV.
I lay on the bed, pulling deep off a wrinkled Gauloise, absently tracing my hands over the swollen bite marks on my thighs and abdomen, when the bathroom door clicked and swung halfway open, releasing a cloud of steam. I grinned, rolled off the bed, stepped on a beer cap and almost knocked over an open, half-eaten styrofoam take- home box of ribs and gravy-soaked fries from Applebees, limping to the door to watch as she did her lips, the heavy coat of eyeliner. Her bright red dress hung from a hanger on the towel rack–an open bottle of Smirnoff on the sink, hair of the dog.
She looked so beautiful, in the steam; I raised my phone to snap a picture. She tried to block me, but too late. There were enough pictures of her in the word, she’d said once before. Modest, to a fault.
“You can’t.” She shook her head. “I can’t. Not the picture. Not us. Never again.”
“You said that the last time.”
“There’s too much at stake. I’m not getting any younger, and the money won’t always be like it is now,” she sighed. “My family. America. They need me more than you do.”
“Leave it all.”
“It’s too late. I’ve already called them.”
I looked up towards the door even as the shape of a large, black vehicle skidded to a stop beyond the worn, gauzy draperies. A second later, the door burst open and two large, glowering men burst through, the first with a blackjack in his gloved hands.
I whipped around for one last look. Her moist eyes were sad, but not sorry: determined, resolute.
So that’s how it was.
“You broke my heart,” I said, thumbing the SEND button on my phone.
“You betcha,” she smiled. The blackjack swung down on the back of my neck, stars exploding in my skull, like the fourth of July, like the stars I’d touched in her aching, desperate embrace.