Tim nodded at her, to her, a simple gesture that spoke volumes. Rachel rose, mirroring his movements across the span of desks.
“Hey, Raylan,” he called, long-striding past her and she fell in beside him, “wait up!”
It had been a week. Tom’s funeral horrid and hot and the three languishing in somber suits, eclipsed by the sickle of uniform blues, badges ribboned in mourning, beside the grave. The widow, the bewildered children. A flag, and a gun salute and Raylan left hovering over the open mawing hole long after the crowd had gone. He stood diminished; Tim could see it from where he and Rachel stood beside their cars, saw his shoulders slump. He turned away, his face stricken, and Rachel reached out a steady hand on his forearm and gratitude surged inside his veins. Raylan had no one to reach out and touch him.
Tim walked back to the grave. “C,mon man, let’s scoot.”
Raylan shook his head and wiped his knuckles across his face, “Somehow. Somehow this is my fault.”
The cemetery empty, the sun falling, the two finally gave up and climbed into Rachel’s car and left without him, watching him shift around the gravediggers and their work but resolutely standing apologetic guard.
The next day was Arlo’s arraignment and Raylan’s desk was conspicuously empty. Tim filled his coffee cup regardless, the steam rising and swirling until the hot liquid finally cooled. Rachel caught his gaze and smiled. He looked away.
Now, five pm, and they were hotfooting it after him, down the short hallway, into the elevator, giving him space. He stared straight ahead. Down into the lobby, the doors dinging open.
He stopped right outside, head tilting, face obscured beneath the brim of the hat. “What?”
“Where you going? You wanta get a drink?” Tim’s voice sounded ridiculous even in his own ears.
“Or seventeen? Sure. You buying?”
Tim laughed and Raylan turned his 100-watt smile on him and the three walked out into the parking lot.
“I know a place,” Tim called, Rachel beside him, moving towards her car. “Follow us.”
They drove and from the corners of his eyes Tim watched Rachel’s knee in black stockings move beneath the hem of her skirt beside him and in the side mirror he watched Raylan driving behind them.
“You know a place, huh?” Raylan had returned from the head, shrugging out of his coat, hanging it on the straight-back chair, sitting at the small round table they had claimed in a far corner, three beers and two whisky chasers and a juke box playing soft.
“You don’t approve?” Tim looked around at the dive, the barflies, the neon.
Raylan scratched the side of his neck and tossed back one of the shots. He settled into his chair and nursed at the beer. Beside him, Tim raised a finger to the bartender.
“I would have thought this was your kind of establishment,” Rachel said, delicately pouring her Corona into a frosted beer glass.
“Mmm-hmmm. Definitely not your kind. Jukebox is all wrong. Mugs are all wrong. At least they had a bottle of that piss handy.” He took another long pull on his dark beer. “Why are you drinking that?”
She reached for a small wedge of lime in a bowl of wedges beside her glass, squeezing it and dropping it in. Raylan mock shuddered and she batted her eyelashes at him over the rim as she drank.
The bartender delivered another shot of whisky and a bowl of pretzels.
“Can you bring the bottle?” Raylan asked him.
Rachel shook her head slightly, glancing over at Tim.
“I’ll be alright, Rachel. One thing I do know is how to drink.” Raylan said, dragging a chair from another table over and dropping his hat onto the seat. “But thank you. I appreciate your concern. And I mean that.”
The three drank in companionable silence and small talk. Two more drafts for the men and Rachel sipping on a glass of ice water. Raylan pouring shots, two for him to every one for Tim. He swung his booted feet up onto the seat beside him.
“Your mommas ever disapprove of your daddies?” Raylan asked after downing another shot. He’d lost track of the number.
“Disapprove?” Tim asked. “In what way?”
“I don’t know. The way women disapprove of men.”
“My mom thought the sun rose and set on my father.” Tim's voice was tinged with disgust.
“And, I take it, you felt differently.”
Tim shrugged. “He could be seriously harsh. I thought he could treat her better, too.”
“But she didn’t mind?”
“Mind? She worshipped him. He could do no wrong. Even the wrong things he did she just would purse her lips like this, real tight, you know, and carry on. She never said a single bad word about the man to him or to any of us. Not one. Not ever.”
“But you think she wanted to? Had cause to?”
Tim looked into his near-empty beer mug, swishing the ale around, drinking it down deep, sniffing. “Probably. I mean, he was a hard man to live with, but she told me after he died that it wasn’t her place to guilt him, or change him, or even fight with him about who he was. She said she’d fallen in love with him, bad habits and all.”
“What about you, Rachel, your momma and daddy?”
“They couldn’t live together. But they loved each other. Pretty fiercely, really. Up until the day he died.” She stirred the lime wedges in the bowl with her finger tip. “I think she still does love him. You know. There hasn’t been anyone else. Ever.”
“Why couldn’t they make it work out at home?”
She shrugged. “He was a drinker, not a mean drunk, more like stupid drunk? My sister asked her once, why she just didn’t lay down the rules and make him abide. She said it wasn’t her place. That relationships aren’t about rules outside of the Golden Rule. She really believes that.”
“You don’t agree?”
“I think some rules, some abiding, would have forced my sister to a better life. Force her to examine some of her choices.”
Quiet descended punctuated by a shuffling that indicated time drawing to a close. Raylan reached for his hat, choosing to ignore the heated looks the other two were flirtatiously exchanging. He leaned a heavy elbow on the table, gently tipped the empty bourbon bottle onto its side.
“What about disapproval of things that aren’t….” he paused, rocking the bottle from side to side, “aren’t bad habits or the usual things folks choose to get pissed off about?”
Rachel raised her brows, shrugging prettily. “Such as?”
“I don’t know. What you do for a living?”
She was sitting on a cement bench outside the jailhouse. Raylan realized his eye had become critical of her, she looked thin and although clean and well-fitting her clothes seemed quaint rather than fashionable. Her hair was catching the sunlight and he knew for a fact she was a natural blonde but he winced with Winona’s voice in his ear laughing smartly at how Farrah Fawcett Majors it was. He wasn’t really sure who Farrah Fawcett Majors was or why Winona found it so funny. He walked over to her and she ground a half-smoked cigarette out under her strappy sandal when she saw him.
“Mind if I sit a spell?”
She shook her head and he took off his hat and set it on his knee as he lowered himself next to her. “Nice day.”
“Boyd here to see Arlo I suppose.”
She nodded again. “They’ll only let one of us in at each visit.”
Silence filled the space between them. Raylan closed his eyes and tried to reach back into the place when he couldn’t keep his hands off her, the girlish waist, the womanly hips, the legs that stretched onto forever, wrapped around him.
He sat up, cleared his throat. “You and Boyd.” He paused. “That’s really working out for both of you, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is. And yeah, I know you’re surprised.” She smiled, a flirtatious warning him off. “You don’t need to trouble yourself about us at all, Raylan.”
“I don’t.” He lied. He leaned back on his hands, tilting his head, looking at her. “You ever wish Boyd was different?”
She pulled a face. “Different how? No.”
“Not different, but you know, some things about him. You ever wish you could change those things?”
“No.” She looked at him closely. “Why would I want to change Boyd? He wouldn’t be Boyd then. I don’t set conditions like that, Raylan. I thought you knew that about me. My momma told me that love ain’t true love if you have to attach conditions to it.”
“Your momma told you that?”
“Before or after Bowman?” Raylan scratched at spot below his sideburn that he’d nicked shaving, smoothing his smile into the movement of his skin.
She laughed and the sound was reminiscent of crystal breaking and he knew he had never heard that sound from her before. “Yeah, that’s something funny. I get it. I do. She told me before, Raylan. But I had to learn it on my own. Stubborn that way.”
“Quite a lesson.”
“It’s still teaching me. Every day. Some days every hour.”
“Some of the best lessons tend to do that.”
“I didn’t want Bowman to change so much as I wanted him to stop wantin’ me to change. I give him credit for trying. He tried real hard.” She shook her head, looking at her hands twist in her lap.
“Well, I ain’t talking about that or about Bowman, Ava.”
“What are you talking about, Raylan?”
“Things that other people do that don’t sit right with you. Things you’d just as soon have that other person stop doing.”
She was thoughtful. “I’m gonna go ahead here and assume you’re talking about partners, folks supposed to be in love with one another.” He nodded. “Like not rinsing out your coffee cup, or putting on a new roll of toilet paper when you were the one to use up the last sheet?”
He smiled at her. “Something like. But bigger.”
“Anything bigger’n that and yeah, you’re back to conditions. I know what you’re talking about. Like if Boyd stays out drinkin’ all night Friday and he’s playing poker and he comes home, throws up in my begonia and pees in the corner of the bedroom and the next day fesses that he’s cleaned out his allowance for the rest of the month. Yeah?”
“Yeah. Like that. Something like that.”
“I ain’t his momma, and I ain’t going to playact that I am. 'Sides which, those are the things couples need to fight their way to a clear spot about. I can’t expect that one of us has all these concerns and the other one don’t. We get to bring some of that to the table, from each side, and sort it out and make it work for both of us. Mayhap he don’t like the way I let Zeke carry out the groceries down at the market for me every Tuesday or he don’t like the way I put lotion on my heels when we’re watching tv.”
Raylan was nodding. “Yeah, I guess that ain’t exactly the kind of changes I’m meaning either. But it’s good to know you two work those things out a’tween you.”
“I wish I could understand your question. You seem mighty set on getting an answer to it.”
“Alright, back when Boyd was working coal. What if you didn’t want him working down the mine? What if you decided being a miner is just too dangerous and you can’t be waiting up every evening hoping he comes home in one piece. And you’re sick to the death of washing dusted clothing, it’s ruining your washer, and you can’t stand the black ring in the bathtub.”
She laughed. “I used to pride myself on how clean I could get his work clothes,” she blushed “and scrubbing his nails in the shower, the insides of his ears.”
Raylan shook his head. “No, I mean, you can’t sit around any longer praying that he doesn’t contract black lung, doesn’t get himself trapped in a cave-in…”
“None of that is my business. None of it. I can’t direct his life like I’m his God. I wouldn’t want to.” Her mouth fell open. She closed it and looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Raylan.”
He suddenly felt pinned by her, he felt completely exposed to her. He crossed his legs and leaned forward, one fist inside the other, pressing down into his thigh.
She put a slender hand on his knee, her gaze direct and sympathetic. “I am so sorry, Raylan. I am so sorry. A man and a woman gotta support one another, stand by one another, through it all. Despite it all.”
A quick whistle from the jailhouse steps and she was on her feet, brushing at her skirt, turning towards the sound, her face alive and glowing with warm anticipation. “It’s Boyd.”
Raylan stood, his fingers threaded, hands pressed against his belly, an agonizing gaping as wide as a shotgun blast to the gut. Somehow he’d exposed the quivering intestines inside of his body to Ava.
Boyd approached them at his slow-hurried pace, tipping his head to Raylan and speaking his name softly, pressing his mouth against Ava’s and winking at her. She fitted herself up under his arm and he held her tight around her shoulders.
Raylan held both hands up - unarmed, not dangerous, nothing left - smiled tightly at the two, set his hat back on his head in a graceful, elegant motion. He stepped around them and walked away.