There's a bottle of Yoo-hoo on his kitchen counter sitting strangely intact amidst the bones of ceramic and wood panelling. Around the neck someone has taped a slip of paper and his car keys sail in an arc right over the pretty picture it makes, skidding too far in the wrong direction before dropping onto the floor.
Bad throw, March admits. He blames the cast. Poor distribution of weight and all that, plus the fucking duck’s been throwing him off balance since the beginning.
He peels the slip of paper free with his good hand, the glass warm to the touch of his knuckles, and mouths the printed word over to himself. There's a handy guide cut up into syllables and everything but before he can master it a voice pipes up behind him.
"Pertinacious," Holly recites, syllable perfect, "meaning to hold firmly onto an opinion or a course of action."
"Ding ding," March pitches high. "That's a ten dollar word. Give the girl a prize." He passes the bottle of Yoo-hoo blindly over his shoulder and the satisfying pop quickly sounds as the seal is broken. Her definition is word for word off the card and so he holds the slip up with a frown while Holly circles around him. "Is this supposed to mean something to me?"
Holly takes a shot of Yoo-hoo then pulls a face only a kid could when the warm chocolate taste hits her tongue. "Some detective you are," she says, utilising the grimace. "Turn it over."
March does and, lo and behold, finds 'I owe you one' written neatly in even spaced letters. No name. No sign off. His frown deepens and with his bulky, duck-clad hand he digs into his shirt pocket for his lighter.
"I think it's for me," Holly says lightly, reaching for the note with dancing fingers. "It was sitting by the door, must have been there all morning."
So they’re back at the rental house; a mutual agreement between them that the hotel room, while nice, was a waste of money. Several days later neither one of them has made much of an effort to clean the place up. A sheet of plastic over a broken window, sure, but the wide spray of bullet holes was not so easy to fix. Someone leaving them a note on the doorstep seems a small courtesy considering they could just as easily have stepped through the fucking nonexistent window.
Now there aren’t many people willing to duck under police tape for them either and March has just enough time to read today's date on the calendar rip-off before Holly plucks it from his hand. She climbs onto a stool, letting her eyes pass over the word of the day again, this time fully appraising.
In the silence March cups his hand and lights up, sucking deep instead of saying anything. Arm propped against the icebox, he watches Holly as she sways left to right, lost in thought and kicking out her feet.
"He was going to kill that guy, Mr. Healy was, until I told him I'd never speak to him again."
March nods. Lifts one shoulder. Drops it. Settles on waiting her out.
Holly takes another slug of the Yoo-hoo and it seems to be a matter of pride that she keeps chugging away at the sun-warmed drink, almost like she'd be letting Healy's supposed generosity go to waste if she didn't. All the while there’s a magnet digging hard into March’s rib cage, a big one, and his burnt hand itches like a motherfucker, but he doesn’t move. He finds himself suddenly pinned down by his daughter’s direct stare as she finally looks up from the note.
“I don’t think he’s one of the good guys,” she says, young and confident, like she was born to read people and March’s marked hand burns more brightly for just a moment. “Not exactly. But I don’t think he’d take my thirty bucks anymore.”
March laughs around his cigarette, a high pitched noise that would have been hysteria on anyone else, but doesn’t disagree. His shaking shoulders dislodge the magnet in his back and his ad flutters to the kitchen floor. He thinks back to the film canister that he’d clutched to his chest, how the bullet had struck its heart dead centre and how maybe it was never him who was invincible in the end. He thinks of Healy escorting his daughter down to her bruised and bleeding father who was camped out against a car tire while a man’s exploded body smoldered not twenty feet away. No, March doesn’t disagree.
He reaches down for the ad but misjudges something along the way because he topples forward catching himself on the counter. A quick save but he forgets the lit cigarette pinched between his fingers. The ashes are white hot when he crushes them against the wood.
“Shit, shit, shit,” he hisses and he’s getting pretty sick and tired of the abuse in all honesty. He drops the rescued ad onto the counter top in favour of blowing warm air over his fingers.
Holly, his daughter through and through, barely gives his whole song and dance a second glance. She pulls a marker from her pocket and spins the ad around to face her. In the blank space beside March’s head she draws a big smiley face so reminiscent of the one half faded on March’s skin that he manages to smile through the pain.
“Are you going to ask him?” she says, blunt with age, while admiring her own work.
March shrugs and reaches for the word of the day, suddenly needing to see the neat handwriting one more time for himself. Healy's tangible bond with his daughter held completely in his hand he says, “Figured I’d do it first and then ask him.”
Holly rolls her eyes but smiles. “Some Christmas present that’ll be.”
Once she’s done with the ad, adding a round head and a scribbled beard, he returns it to the fridge. Clipped safely under the magnet they both stare at a future that could be theirs.
Permanent marker, it turns out, is not so permanent.
You will never be happy.
never be happy.