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The Promise of Other Things

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It's been a year. A year since we dragged our asses out of the river. A year since Lewis and I were taken to the county hospital in Aintry. A year since we told the police a modified version of events and hoped it would hold up. A year since I'd gone to Drew's wife and told her her husband hadn't come home with us, wouldn't be coming home ever.

A year. A year since I woke up in that boardinghouse, naked except for the bandage on my side, Bobby in another room dealing with his own turmoil. A year since the pain and weakness from ripping myself open, cutting that arrow out of my side. A year of waking in the middle of the night reliving the nightmare. A year living with a scar that will remind me of those days every time I undress, every time I move the wrong way.

A year. A year since Lewis woke up to the loss of his leg -- gangrene at the site of the break so severe they'd had to amputate just below his hip. A year of his wife trying to reach him and finally giving up. A year of me popping 'round more and more to check on him. A year of no one else understanding except Bobby who was long gone to a new life.

***

I entered Lewis's house to silence. If I didn't know better I'd think no one was home. But I did know better. So I walked through the living room -- noticing Lewis's wheelchair and bow sitting together in the corner, a faint layer of dust on both -- and into the kitchen where I stopped to drop a bag of groceries and a bottle of Wild Turkey on the counter before slipping out the backdoor. Lewis was sitting on the porch swing, his one leg pushing just enough to keep the swing moving forward and back, forward and back.

"Hey." Lewis didn't answer. Just nodded, looking past me at something in the trees at the back of the yard.

"Brought us some food."

"She's gone. Ain't coming back."

I already knew, of course. Carolyn had called Martha and let us know. She couldn't deal with Lewis anymore -- the chronic pain, the depression, the drinking. She'd tried, but Lewis hadn't made it easy for her, pushing her way again and again.

I walked over to the swing and reached out, cupping Lewis's jaw in my hand so he'd have to look at me. I leaned forward, pressing our foreheads together, Lewis's long, hawkish nose grazing mine, our lips almost brushing. "It's okay," I whispered. "I got you, buddy."

We breathed each other's air for a moment, Lewis's breath warm and stale. Even though I'd brought a bottle of whiskey, I was relieved to not smell booze on him already. I worried about when he'd last eaten.

I pulled back and reached for the door to the house again. "Gonna get some dinner goin' for us. You hungry?"

Lewis grunted.

I took a deep breath and opened the door, moving back to the kitchen. I put a pot of water on the stove and shucked a couple ears of corn before dropping them into the pot. When I looked out the window over the sink and saw that there was actually a bag of charcoal next to Lewis's grill, I grabbed the matches off the windowsill and popped back outside to get it going for the steaks. I'd expected to cook them up on the stove, but grilled would be so much better.

As I moved around him, in and out of the house, Lewis's gaze stayed fixed on the trees at the back of the property. He was still pretty good with his bow and arrow and I wondered if there'd been deer in the yard lately, if that's what he was watching out for. I'd seen a few does with their young'uns in my own yard over the last few weeks. I thought about bringing his bow outside for him but knew better. If he wanted it, he'd get it himself.

I checked the butter dish on the counter and found it empty, but there were a couple sticks in the fridge. I pulled one out to let it soften up a bit for the corn and tried to ignore that the only other items in the fridge were a mostly empty jar of marmalade, a slightly fuzzy block of cheese resting right on the shelf, and a bottle of ketchup. I'd deal with that later.

When the corn was done and the steaks were marked nice on both sides and cooked just enough to not moo at me, I got everything plated up. I poured a couple fingers of Wild Turkey for each of us and handed a glass to Lewis along with his dinner plate. When he dug into the steak first instead of tipping back the glass, I smiled and nodded my head in thanks to God or the devil or whoever was watching out.

We ate in silence, Lewis on the porch swing and me in an ugly green metal chair a few feet away. The metal felt cool through the heavy weight of my jeans and the thin cotton of my undershirt. I'd stripped off my button-down shirt while cooking, the air hot and sticky even as the sun was easing down behind the trees.

The food was good. The corn sweet and still a little crisp, slathered in butter and salt, leaving my lips and chin slick. I looked over to see Lewis's lips glistening in the orange light of the sunset then quickly returned my attention to my own plate. It did no good to look at Lewis like that, to have thoughts about him. I had Martha and Dean at home and that was that.

I wiped my mouth on the back of my hand, then wiped my hand off on my jeans. I finished my whiskey and went into the house for more, bringing the bottle out to refill Lewis's glass as well. His glass wasn't empty just yet, but surely would be soon.

When we were done, we settled back and let dinner digest. I slouched a bit in my chair, listening to the soft creak of Lewis rocking the swing and the chirping of insects out in the yard. It was comfortable, there was no need to talk. Besides, there was nothing to say really. Carolyn was gone. Sometimes I wondered at Martha still being at my side, especially since I'd never told her what really happened that weekend. Talking about it wasn't going to change things for me or for Lewis.

I was nearly asleep in my chair when a soft "hey" pulled me back to awareness. I looked up to see Lewis standing, crutches gripped tight. He tipped his head to the side and made his way off the porch into the yard, moving to the hammock strung between two old magnolia trees. He glanced back once and smiled when he saw me following him. He sat at the edge and patted the other side of the hammock.

I made my way around one of the trees and pushed the hammock down to sit at the edge. I'd never been particularly comfortable in hammocks, having flipped right out of more than one of them. But when Lewis reached for my wrist and guided me back so that we lay down as one, side by side, I felt more secure than I had in years.

Lewis moved so that our arms and hands just grazed each other, Lewis's leg just a few inches from my own. He shifted a bit more letting our fingertips slip together so they were almost, but not quite, interlaced.

"You're all I got left, Ed." The words were so soft I could barely hear them over the chirping of crickets and the buzz of fireflies. But the weight of those words was deafening. I wondered if Lewis knew. If he'd seen me watching him over the years; if he'd craved the hugs and the helpful hands the way I had; if he'd enjoyed the "accidental" brush of shoulders or hand to hip when we moved around one another on our adventures.

He rolled onto his side, his one leg bent at the knee to keep his balance. He reached over and pulled lightly at my hip, encouraging me to turn to face him. I did. How could I not? This time it was Lewis who brought our foreheads together, let our noses graze, and didn't stop as our lips met for the first time.

I gasped and held still while Lewis's lips moved against mine. He tasted of whiskey and steak and butter. I felt the slick of grease on his chin and smiled. It was so bizarrely normal. It should have been terrifying, but this was Lewis. I relaxed and kissed back and let my leg slide over his as he gripped my thigh and pulled me closer. It was wonderful. This was the Lewis I remembered -- driven, sure of himself, eager to do new things, to face life head-on.

I thought I might never move.

But there was Martha and Lewis's empty fridge and mosquitoes nipping at my back through my undershirt. I thought maybe Lewis was only doing this because his wife had left and he was lonely and thought no one would want him with just one leg. I wondered if this would ever have happened if we'd not gone down that damned river. Would I have had the courage? Would Lewis? Would Lewis ever have wanted me before?

As magical as the moment was, I knew better than most anyone how real the world around us was. I pulled back from the kiss. "What's this about?" I didn't care if it was the kind of thing a woman would have asked, the kind of thing Martha had asked me more than once. I needed to know.

"Does it matter?" It was too dark to read the look in his eye, but his tone was one I'd never heard before. The words were soft and sad and sincere.

Did it matter? I didn't want to be anywhere else, so maybe it didn't.

"No. I don't think it does." I leaned in again and let all thoughts go. It was just me and Lewis at that moment. Nothing else mattered.

The next morning I woke where I had not been before -- in a hammock, with Lewis at my side and the promise of other things, another life, deliverance.