Raylan drives away from Tramble with a head full of the past, the Harlan roads too familiar under his wheels. He makes the turn without realizing he's going to, not knowing his own mind until he's down even more familiar roads and it's too late to turn back.
He pulls into the drive of his house—his old house—and sets the rental to park. It occurs to him, too late, that she very well might not even be here. He knocks on the door anyway, screen rattling in its frame.
It's a long minute before the door opens, her face scowling behind the screen. Despite, she doesn't look unhappy to see him. "Raylan?" Loretta asks, incredulous.
"Hey, Loretta," Raylan says.
"What're you doin here?"
"Would you believe I was in the area?" Raylan asks her.
"Not particularly." She shoulders open the screen door, crosses her arms over her chest. "What're you really doin here, Raylan?"
"Well, I actually was in the area," Raylan says. "And besides, it's my house. Thought I could come by for a visit."
"Uh-huh," Loretta says, like she's humoring him. But she steps aside, letting him into the house.
It looks mostly the same, and he's not sure if he should be surprised by that or not. He'd cleaned it of most of its debris before trying to sell it, and now oddly it looks more like it had when he was a kid: his mama had never been one for mess or clutter. It seems Loretta isn't either.
He follows Loretta into the living room, where she plops down on the couch, looking demonstratively at home. She looks expectantly at him, but he won't sit down: he doesn't want to get comfortable here. Still, he says, "Ain't you gonna offer me a drink or something?"
"If it's your house, then it's your fridge," she points out: Raylan barely refrains from rolling his eyes. "I got some apple pie in the cabinet, if you want that."
"Tempting," Raylan says, somewhat honestly, "but I'll pass" He looks at Loretta more closely. "She really taught you how to make it? Mags did?"
"She told me," Loretta says, holding her head a little higher, defiant. "It's not quite the same, but it's no better or worse."
Raylan shakes her head. "She never would tell nobody that recipe," he says, conversationally. "People up and down the holler'd try to make it, sell it like it was the real thing, but it never turned out any good."
"Guess I have a knack," Loretta says.
"And the recipe," Raylan says.
Raylan looks around the room, feeling oddly trapped by it: he doesn't like the feeling, all the more because it makes so little sense. "So that's what you're gonna do, huh?" he asks her. "Live out your days here, makin moonshine and sellin weed?"
Loretta shrugs, overly casual, and he wonders if she does it just to piss him off. "What else is there to do?"
"Plenty," Raylan tells her. "Go to college."
Loretta actually laughs. "Raylan, I never ever finished high school."
"So?" Raylan asks. "Take the test, the high school equivalency one."
"Yeah," Raylan says, casual, like it would be easy. "You're a smart kid."
"College ain't the only way to be smart."
"Yeah," Raylan says, looking at her incredulously, "and slingin weed your whole life is?"
They stare at each other long and hard. Then Loretta scoffs a little, shakes her head.
"You don't need to save me, Raylan," she says, and it cuts Raylan close to the bone. "I'm doin just fine on my own."
"I know," he says, "and I ain't tryin to save you," he adds, though he's not sure it's true. "I'm sayin, there's something better than this." He's not sure this is why he came here but now he's started the conversation he wants to see it through: he has some desperate need to explain to her that no one should have to live out their days here, to provide some kind of living proof that you can get away.
"Like what?" Loretta asks, jutting out her jaw a little. "Becoming a Deputy U.S. Marshal?"
"Now, that I'd like to see," Raylan says, and Loretta laughs, short, more a scoff than anything. "No," he says, serious again, "something—steady, something that ain't gonna get you killed." He swallows, wondering if he shouldn't have said that, but Loretta hardly blinks. "Or in jail. Or—or wore out by the time you're thirty, tired of life. I know what happens to people here, Loretta, and I'm sayin I don't want it to happen to you."
She stares down at her hands, clasped in front of her: elbows on her knees, shoulders hunched over, Raylan knows she's learned how to appear bigger than she is. She doesn't say anything.
"I'll do—whatever," Raylan says. "I'll put in a good word for you, write a letter of goddamn recommendation, whatever. I'll help you study for the test myself, okay?"
"No offense, Marshal," Loretta says, and Raylan notices that, the switch back to Marshal, "but you probably ain't the person I want helpin me study."
"Fine then," Raylan says, innocently, "you can study by yourself. That's how you do everything else, right?"
Loretta fake-smiles back at him. "Well, I'd have to find time for it around my business dealins and, tell you the truth, that ain't much time at all."
"Goddammit, Loretta," Raylan says, shaking his head. "You know," he says, turning back to her, "I got a daughter now. Four years old and the most beautiful little girl you could imagine, but she can be a holy terror when she wants to be."
"You got a point?" Loretta asks, eyebrows up.
"Well, I was just thinkin that despite that," Raylan says, "I can only pray she won't give me half the trouble that you have."
Loretta quirks her mouth to the side, an old, familiar expression she used to give him at fourteen years old. Raylan doesn't want to smile back and mostly manages it, but knows his expression goes from irate to overly fond, nonetheless.
"Look," he says, after a moment. He looks around the room, and spots a chewed-down pencil and a block of post-it notes on the counter. He takes the pencil, and scribbles out a note. "This is my number. You don't gotta use it, just." He runs his hand over his hair, suddenly uncomfortable. "Just so you have it."
"I'm feelin a strong sense of déjà vu here, Raylan," Loretta tells him, but she looks more serious.
"Not quite," Raylan says. "I assume you got your own phone this time. And," he adds before he can think better of it, "I know you've made it clear you don't need anything from anyone, Loretta, and with Mags's money I expect that's nearly true, just." He sighs, lightly, mostly at himself for getting himself into this. Exasperated, he says, "Think about what I said. Deal?"
She looks at him, skeptical. He sticks out his hand: wonders if he makes it into a transaction of some kind she'll be more likely to take to it.
It takes another couple seconds, but then Loretta's standing up from the couch. She shakes his hand smartly. "Deal," she says.
She calls him when he's driving back from chasing a lead, still twenty miles from Miami and bored of the highway spooling out in front of him. "Yeah?" he answers, not bothering to check the number.
"I ain't leavin Kentucky," Loretta says, first off, without so much as a hello. "I ain't leavin the hills."
"Okay," Raylan says, slow, trying to catch up with the conversation. "That sorta defeats the purpose. Of gettin out."
"And where did you go to college," she asks, flat. He wonders if she already knows.
He sighs sharply. "UK," he admits. "In my defense, it seemed a lot farther from Harlan when I wasn't drivin it every other week."
"Uh-huh," she says.
"And it ain't the goddamn hills," he adds. "At least get to Lexington."
"I don't like Lexington," she says, sounding, for a moment, like the kid she only barely isn't.
"When have you even been to Lexington to know you don't like it?"
"My foster mom took me," she says defensively. "The second one."
"The one you ran away from, you mean?"
"Yeah," Loretta says flatly. "We didn't get along."
"And here I thought you left cause you had some bullshit drug empire to start up," Raylan says, mostly teasing.
"Anyone ever tell you you ain't very funny?"
"Not as of yet," Raylan says.
"Maybe that's the problem."
They're both quiet then; Raylan counts off three mile markers before Loretta says quietly, "I took the stupid test." Then she adds, "You owe me like two hundred bucks."
"What?" Raylan asks. "What for?"
"The test," Loretta says, like he's dumb. He doesn't take offense: he notices she uses that tone on almost everyone. To be fair, most of them probably deserve it. "And the practice tests, and the damn gas money it took to get to the testin center."
"You're really hittin me up for gas money?" Raylan asks skeptically.
"Fine," Loretta says. "One seventy-five."
"Well, first of all, that's bullshit," Raylan says. "And second of all, I'm willin to bet you make more in a week than the federal government pays me in a month, which is its own special kind of bullshit, and also means that you can afford one seventy-five plus gas."
"I think you vastly overestimate the profitability of the Harlan weed business."
"Even more reason to leave it in your taillights, then," Raylan says neatly. "You apply anywhere yet?"
"You don't even know I'm gonna pass," Loretta says.
"Like I said," Raylan tells her. "You're a smart kid."
"Don't do that," Loretta tells him.
He frowns, taken aback. "Do what?"
"Say, 'oh, you're smart,' 'oh, you'll make it,'" Loretta snaps. "You don't fuckin know that, Raylan. Hell, you don't even know me. I like my life, you ever think a that? And you don't know shit about it, just cause you saved my life once when I was fourteen goddamn years old."
Raylan tightens his hand on the steering wheel, until the skin stretches white. There's an ache started up in his chest, something to do with Loretta's words and something to do with a memory he didn't even know he still had anymore, him and Helen in her kitchen, her saying, Everyone talks about getting out of Harlan, Raylan, but you know, I really thought you'd do it. Him snapping in return, Sorry to disappoint.
"Well?" Loretta says. "You ain't gonna say nothin?"
"I'm sorry," Raylan says carefully. She's quiet on the other side of the line. "Okay?"
She makes a soft sound, almost a snort. "Never thought I'd hear Raylan Givens apologizin."
"Well," Raylan says, tone carefully casual, "I know how it feels."
"The great white hope bullshit," he clarifies, though she probably doesn't need it. "My aunt used to do it to me, drive me crazy."
"Your aunt?" she says. Then, "Helen, right? I think—I think Mags talked about her."
"Really," Raylan says, honestly surprised. "Didn't know they were still friendly, toward the end. Thought all that blood had gone bad."
Loretta's quiet for a moment. "Said she was a good woman," Loretta says finally. "Said it was a shame she married your daddy."
Raylan snorts. "Well, we can agree on that."
Loretta doesn't say anything, stays quiet for so long Raylan's worried the call dropped. Outside his windshield the world has gone all the way dark, and he watches his headlights cut through, waiting for her to speak.
When she does, though, all Loretta says is, "I'll talk to you later, Raylan." Then, "I'm not sayin I'll call you, or anything. It's just an expression."
"I know," Raylan says, and his voice comes out kinder than he expected. "Bye, Loretta."
She hangs up the call.
It's a good month later when he gets a letter in the mail, addressed to him in small, sharp-edged writing. No return address, but it has an Evarts postmark, and he sets down the rest of the mail without looking, sliding his thumb under the flap.
Inside is a gray-and-white photocopy of what he figures out after a moment is a sheet of test results. He squints at it a little more, and finds where it lists the score, what it means. "Atta girl," he says quietly.
From the kitchen, Winona looks up from where she's unpacking a lunchbox of Willa's snacks. "You say somethin?"
"Nope," he says. Willa, who had run to her room the minute she and Winona had arrived, comes running back out, without her backpack of extra clothes and toys: she aims for him, and he bends down to catch her. "You gonna give me a hug this time around, baby girl?"
She reaches out her hands and lets him pick her up, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Hi, Daddy," she says obligingly. "Mama told me to put away my bag."
"Uh-huh," he says. "And I see you took that to heart."
"Huh?" she asks, scrunching up her whole face in confusion; she hasn't quite gotten the hang of idioms yet.
"I see you listened to your mama," he clarifies.
"Uh-huh," she says, mimicking his inflection. He grins despite himself.
Winona comes out of the kitchen, hands on her hips. "Her nose was runnin yesterday, she might be getting sick."
"I'm not getting sick," Willa says obstinately.
Raylan grins at her, then turns to Winona. "Okay," he says. "You got the cough stuff?"
"On the counter," she says. "You good?"
"Yep," Raylan says. He turns to look at Willa. "Are we good?"
"Yep," Willa says, nodding.
"Well, good," Winona says, giving them both her fond, tolerant smile. She crosses her arms over her chest, watching them for a moment; Willa squirms a little and Raylan reaches over to adjust her on his hip, and Winona says, "What's that?"
He realizes that he still has Loretta's letter, of sorts, in his hand. "Oh, just," he says, but can't come up with a lie fast enough. Probably a good thing, he figures, but inconvenient in the moment.
"Are those SAT results?" Winona asks, sounding mystified.
Raylan sighs, resigning himself. Willa is still squirming in his arms, eternally impatient, so he lets her down. Stalling, a little, he'll admit. "No," he says. "GED."
"You remember Loretta McCready?" Raylan asks with a sigh. "Back in Harlan, she was living with the Bennetts for a bit?"
"Oh, right," Winona says: it's clearly taken her a moment. "Sure."
"I talked to her a little while ago," Raylan admits. "Told her to get outta Harlan, go to school. Get her GED," he says, holding up the sheet of paper.
When he looks back at Winona she has a look on her face he can't quite read; he's not sure he'd want to read it even if he could. Part the look she gets when he does something she thinks is sweet, part the look she gets when he does something that breaks her heart, made all the worse because he never knows exactly what he does or says to cause it. "Raylan—" she says, and then stops.
"Don't," he says.
Her eyebrows go up. "I was gonna say, that's sweet."
"Yeah," Raylan says, "and what else were you gonna say?"
Winona sighs. "You know she's not your responsibility, right?"
"She's made that abundantly clear."
Winona just shakes her head a little, looking away. "You know," she says, still not looking at him, "when you took off after her, in Harlan, I went to Art and I asked him to go after you. He wasn't going to, at first. He told me, sometimes you just can't help." She looks back at him.
Raylan looks away. He clenches his jaw against the wave of undirected anger, the revulsion to pity that had been bred into him long ago. "I know that," he says finally, tightly.
Winona nods slightly. Willa runs back over to them, book in hand, and looks between them. Winona looks away from him and it's a relief: for all she complains that she doesn't know him at all he thinks she had always known him all too well.
Winona crouches down to say goodbye to Willa, and then she stands back up, leans in and kisses his cheek. "Bye, Raylan," she says, and gives him a long last look before she goes.
Raylan doesn't hear from Loretta for a while, after that. He doesn't worry about it too much, knows nagging her would only get her more pissed at him than she probably already is. Still, he wonders at where she is, what she's doing, in occasional idle moments.
A few months on he gets another letter in the mail, the time in an orange packing envelope addressed to him in her same scrawled writing. It's just a cardstock college flyer, Southeast Kentucky Community College printed in bright colors with photos of studious-looking young people. He smiles a little, props it up on the side table.
He's not much of a hand at writing letters himself, so he doesn't try and write her back. Instead he picks up a Miami postcard from a dollar store near the Marshals office, sends it to her blank—payback, a little, but he figures she won't mind.
Then it's radio silence for almost two years—a year in he tries calling the number she had called him from once, but it's out of service. Nine months after that, though, he gets another envelope, this time with what looks like a cell phone photo printed out on printer paper, of an AA degree in Business Management granted to Loretta McCready, her name done up in the fancy college cursive.
Only a few months later, it's another packing envelope, this time with a University of Kentucky flyer. He almost misses her scrawl in the corner: Too alike, I guess.
He starts sending her postcards when he's sent places for work—one from Jacksonville, one from Atlanta, one from when he visits Rachel in Seattle. He'll write out a line or two, something meaningless about baseball or peach pie or the weather. He's not even sure she gets them, truth be told, and does entertain the idea he sends them just to make himself feel better.
It's three years before he gets another printed-out cell phone photo, this time of a UK diploma. He buys another postcard, sends it to her with Congrats, kid written on the back.
A year after that it's a Vanderbilt Law flyer: he's alone in his apartment when he gets it, so he doesn't hide the unexpected smile that splits his face at the sight of it. "Goddamn, Loretta," he says appreciatively, and sticks it to his fridge with a Gators magnet.
He gets the picture of the diploma a neat two years later, and then he doesn't hear from her again for a while.
"You've got a meeting at nine on Tuesday, and someone with a State Police email address is reminding you about sending over files. Boring." Willa has her chin propped on her hand, fidgeting back and forth in Raylan's desk chair as she reads through his email. It's Friday, the start of Raylan's weekend with her, but he'd had things to finish up in the office, so after picking her up for school, he'd brought her back here. He does feel bad about it, but also, she's charmed everyone in the Miami Marshals office several times over by now, and they dote on her. "And someone named Art invited you to his birthday party," Willa goes on, as Raylan feeds another sheet of paper into the copier. "Is that one of your feeb buddies?"
"Don't say feeb, it's rude," Raylan tells her idly, looking over as he collects the copied pages—his interest's been caught, hearing Art's name.
"You say it."
"I'm allowed to, I have to work with them," Raylan says, walking around behind the desk to look over her shoulder. Raylan, the email reads, I'm under duress from Leslie to invite you to a 70th birthday thing she's having for me. October 25th. Winona and the kid are invited too. Don't think you're getting out of this. Art.
"I'm not a kid," Willa comments.
"Yes, you are," Raylan tells her.
"So who's Art?" Willa asks, changing tack. She looks over her shoulder at him expectantly.
Raylan shrugs non-committaly, before realizing quickly that will never work. "My old boss," he explains shortly.
"Before Scott? I thought only Dan was Chief before Scott."
"You're kinda nosy, anyone ever tell you that?" Raylan tells her, tousling her hair in a way she's only just started to resent.
"Yep," she says cheerfully, but glares at him as she fixes her hair. "I figure it's a good thing, if I'm gonna be a Marshal one day."
"Very funny, young lady," Raylan says. "And don't let your mother hear you talking like that, you'll give her a heart attack."
"You still haven't answered the question."
For all that Winona tells him that Willa's her father's daughter, in times like this Raylan only sees Winona in her, looking expectant and deeply unimpressed by him. "Art was my boss when I was in Kentucky," Raylan tells her. "Before that, we taught at Glynco together."
Willa nods, accepting this. "So," she says, "can we go?"
Raylan raises his eyebrows at her. "Can we go where?"
"To your old boss Art's birthday party," Willa explains patiently. "It sounds like you're not getting out of it."
Raylan hmms, trying to think of a way to discourage her. It's not that he doesn't want to go, or doesn't want her to go, he tells himself. Only, he admits, there's something bone-deep unsettling about thinking of Willa in Kentucky: Art and Leslie live in the Lexington suburbs, about as far from Harlan as you can get in east Kentucky, but still. He can't and doesn't particularly want to rationalize it, but it's there nonetheless, the twist in his stomach he won't call fear.
"Maybe," he tells her shortly. "Now, I just gotta finish up one thing, then we can get outta here, okay?"
In the end Raylan can't think up a good excuse not to go to Art's party or to leave Willa behind if he does, especially after Willa gets to Winona before he can and gets her to sign off on it before Raylan can make his case. "It'll be good," Winona tells him. "You two, spendin time together."
Raylan makes a vague sound—he doesn't want to disagree, since that much is true. In any other situation he'd love travelling around with Willa, showing her off to the old Marshals office. He doesn't know how to explain to Winona how he thinks of Kentucky, a quarantine zone: just breathing the air is poison.
So he buys two plane tickets and makes sure to get Willa the window seat, emails Art back to say he'll be coming. They fly out on a Saturday morning, get in with a few hours to spare before their hotel check-in. Raylan stops the rental at a Piggly-Wiggly and he and Willa wander the aisles, picking up bags of chips and pretzels to tide themselves over until dinner. Willa goes over to grab the ice cream, and Raylan's debating between twists and those pretzel nugget things when,
"Raylan," he hears someone say behind him, and even before he turns around he knows who it is.
Loretta looks just as surprised as he feels. "Loretta," he says slowly. "Fancy seeing you here."
"I think that's my line," Loretta says, rocking back a little on her heels. She has on the same kind of clothes she wore when she was fourteen and sixteen and twenty, nothing like the lawyer's suit he could never quite picture her in. "What're you doin in Kentucky?"
Raylan shrugs. "My old boss is havin a birthday party," he says. "Thought I owed to it him."
Loretta nods, slow. "Cause I thought, now Boyd Crowder's outta prison, you wouldn't have no reason to come up here no more."
Raylan grits his teeth, but he puts on a smile. "You know about that, huh?" He doesn't like the idea that anyone had known he'd visited Boyd in prison, that somehow it would be less odd that way.
She just raises her eyebrows, like it shouldn't even be a question. He tries his best not to be pissed at her, asks, "So, you work in Lexington?"
"Nope," Loretta says. "I got a store down in Harlan."
Raylan just looks at her, a sinking feeling in his stomach. "A store?"
"Yeah," Loretta says. "Sell a little bit of everything, help people come down from the holler with their draw checks."
Raylan smiles because he can't do anything else, looks away. Whatever he'd felt sinking in his stomach has lodged heavy in his gut, anger and disappointment, in her, mostly in himself. "I thought you were a lawyer," he says finally, teeth still bared in a smile.
"I am," Loretta says. She crosses her arms over her chest. "Passed the bar and everything. I do anything that needs doin in the holler, wills and such, and I'll go to court with them if they need it. I ain't free, but I'm the cheapest you can find outside a public defender."
Raylan just shakes his head. "I thought you were getting out."
"I did," Loretta says simply. "Then I came back."
Raylan just looks at her, uncomprehending. "You went to Vanderbilt."
She shrugs, flippant. "Tennessee sucked."
"Loretta—" he starts, but then from behind him Willa says, "Dad?"
He turns, sees her look between them, a pint of vanilla melting in her hand and a confused frown on her face. "Will," he says, "hey. You ready to go?"
"Yeah," Willa says. She looks at Loretta. "Hey."
"Hey," Loretta says back, and then looks at Raylan expectantly.
Raylan sighs, then says, "Loretta, this is Willa, my daughter. Will, this is Loretta. We used to be acquainted."
Loretta offers her hand to Willa, who shakes it: Raylan knows that will thrill her, always insistent on being treated like an adult. "Good to meet you," Willa says, the height of politeness.
"Well, I better go," Loretta says after a moment. "Good to meet you, Willa. Raylan," she says, and nods at him as she walks by, toward the checkout.
"Dad?" Willa says, and Raylan realizes he's been standing still in the aisle, for probably too long.
"Yeah," he says. "C'mon, let's go."
They get to the party only a little late; fashionably, Raylan insists, when Willa gets antsy. The first person they see when they walk around to the backyard is Rachel, who looks, somehow, exactly the same: a few more lines in her face, a few strands of gray in her hair, but the same straight spine, the same smile. She takes them over to Tim, who's sitting at one of the lawn tables set up, nursing a beer. "Hey, man," he says, shaking Raylan's hand. "How's the swamp?"
"Still no gator run-ins," Raylan tells him.
"Too bad," Tim says. "That'd be funny."
Rachel rolls her eyes at them both, but fondly. Raylan wonders how much she and Tim talk, if they've fallen out of touch the way he mostly has with both of them; at any rate, she doesn't seem surprised when Tim introduces the man sitting next to him with a short, "This is Joe." Raylan can infer plenty, however, and he's trying to find a subtle way to find his way to the topic when Art and Leslie finally free themselves from the knot of people they'd been talking to.
"You ain't popular til you're givin out free food," Art grumbles. "How're you doin, Raylan?"
He and Raylan shake hands, and Leslie hugs him, and Raylan introduces Willa to everyone. They all make the requisite comments about how they haven't seen her since she was just a baby, and Willa tolerates it all with a smile. As it turns out, though, Rachel and Willa take a great liking to one another, which Raylan's glad of: much as she had wanted to come, he was afraid she was going to be bored to death a half-hour in.
Raylan walks over as the party's winding down, taps Rachel on the shoulder. "Hope you ain't talkin up the Marshals service as a career choice, she's already convinced she wants to join up."
Rachel smiles in a way Raylan knows is never good. "She mentioned something about that. How's Winona taking it?"
"She ain't, yet," Raylan says. "I'm tryin to talk her outta it before it becomes an issue."
"Good luck," Willa says, and Rachel gives him a look like she's going to second that.
"Remember when you wanted to be a veterinarian?" Raylan asks Willa. "I liked that phase."
"I was seven, Dad."
"I thought it was a viable career choice," Raylan tells her.
"I could still get mauled by a rabid dog or something, bein a vet," Willa points out.
"I had a friend from high school, she became a veterinarian and got scratched by a cat one time," Rachel adds in her best, who me? Southern belle voice. "She had to get ten stitches."
Raylan glares at her. "You ain't helpin."
Rachel just smiles, as does Willa. Raylan likes to think he at least knows when he's outnumbered, so he just gives Rachel a look, mostly amused, and tells Willa, "It's time for us to go, kiddo."
On the way back to the hotel, Willa tells him Rachel offered to take her shopping, and asks if she can go.
"Shopping?" Raylan asks. "Really?"
"Well, she didn't invite you," Willa says somewhat testily.
"Fair enough," Raylan says. "What time's she want you there?"
So he drops Willa off at Rachel's hotel at nine the next morning, and finds himself facing an entire day to himself, with nothing to do. He half-thinks of driving down to Ava's old house, where Boyd's now living like a ghost: he shakes off the thought as soon as he can, though, remembering Boyd's face when he'd dropped him off there, his first day out of prison. He knows he'll tear open that old wound eventually, but instead, for now, he follows a hunch down into the hills.
He pulls off the main road a few miles past Bennett, follows the dirt wagon paths through the woods until he pulls up in front of Mags's old store. Sure enough, it no longer stands graffitied and broken-down, hollowed-out, but stands freshly-painted and lively.
Raylan lets out a long breath, not sure he can bear to see Loretta standing behind that counter. He came all the way down here, though, so he gets out of the car, walks through the door.
There are a few people inside, all of whom look up when he steps inside, look him up and down. He's not sure all of them know who he is, and there's something damnably disconcerting in that: when he was a kid everyone had known him, first as Arlo Givens's son and later, he'd made sure, as the biggest baseball star Harlan County had seen in twenty years. When he came back it had traveled up and down these hills, so much so that anyone who didn't know the story of how he'd run off and become a Marshal surely knew it by then. Now, he walks into the Bennett store and he's sized up like an outsider. It should feel like more of a victory than it does.
Loretta is sure enough behind the counter, ringing someone up and chatting like she's talking herself out of some situation. Or maybe, Raylan considers, that's the only context in which he's seen her bullshitting before. "Loretta," he says.
She gives him a look, says goodbye to the customer, then turns back to him. "You want somethin?" she asks.
"Yeah," he says. "You got root beer?"
She narrows her eyes at him, like she's trying to figure out his particular brand of bullshit. "Back corner cooler."
"Great," he says. "I'll take one." He pulls out his wallet. "What is it, four bucks?"
He hands her a five, and she rings it up, gives him his change. "That all?"
"Anyone tell you you don't got the manner for retail?"
"Most people don't give a shit," Loretta tells him.
Raylan sighs. "Look," he says. "I realize yellin at you in a grocery store was not the high point of our relationship—" Loretta snorts "—but I ain't apologizing for bein pissed."
"Yeah?" she asks. "Well, you should. You ain't my daddy—you weren't when I was fourteen and you certainly ain't now. You ain't any kind of kin to me, and you judging me for the way I live my life is bullshit."
"I ain't judging you," Raylan says. "I'm disappointed, Loretta."
"'I ain't mad, just disappointed'?" Loretta scoffs. "That's something my foster parents used to pull on me, you know that?"
"What I'm sayin," Raylan says, theatrically patient, "is I don't blame the people who are too trapped or too stupid to get outta here, but you had everything goin for you, Loretta, and you just." He gestures sharply. "Threw it away."
Loretta shakes her head, disbelieving. "You're so full of shit, Raylan," she tells him. "Just cause you got outta here as soon as you could don't mean the rest of us actually want to. I'm glad you made me to go to school, okay? That what you want to hear? That don't mean I owe you, or anyone else, jack shit."
Raylan breathes, not quite a sigh. He looks around the store, trying to compose himself, but before he can Loretta goes on:
"You told me yourself your daddy was an asshole, and I know this place fucked you up, Raylan, but not everyone's gotta think like you. I certainly don't."
"Wait, hold up," Raylan says, finding he's angry again. "You do not get to psychoanalyze me, that is not how this works."
Loretta just cocks her eyebrows. "It ain't analyzin, Raylan, it's just observin," she tells him bluntly. "And I ain't tryin to be a dick, I'm just tryin to get you off my back."
Raylan doesn't know what to say to that, and doesn't particularly trust what would come out of his mouth next. "I'm gettin that root beer," he says finally, and turns on his heel, slams the cooler door perhaps harder than he needs to and goes out to sit on the store's porch.
Fifteen or twenty minutes later, a few more customers have come out, and then Loretta sits down next to him on the edge of the porch. She holds out a bottle opener. He takes it, chagrined, and finally opens the soda.
"I didn't make you go to school," he says finally. "I don't think anyone makes you do anything you don’t want to, Loretta."
He glances over at her out of the corner of his eye, and sees she's smiling, small and wry, and he's pretty sure she recognized it for the apology it is.
Neither of them say anything more for a few minutes, looking out at the dusty parking lot and the edge of the woods beyond. Then Loretta tells him, still looking out and squinting in the afternoon sun, "I'm all grown, Raylan. You don't gotta look out for me no more."
Raylan turns to look at her. "Funny," he says, "cause I was just thinkin, I never did enough of that."
She scoffs a little. "You saved my life."
"Thought that didn't matter no more."
"Course it does," Loretta says. "And you got me to go to school. You done plenty."
Raylan shakes his head a little. "And you still ended up back here."
"I ended up back here cause that's where I wanted to end up," Loretta tells him. "Not cause I didn't have no other choice. You get that, right?"
Raylan tips his hat back on his head, looks out at the trees. "I don't, I guess," he concedes after a moment.
Loretta shrugs. "You don't got to. But I do good work here and I like it. I ain't in prison and I ain't dead. I think I'm doin just fine."
Raylan sips at her root beer, thinks about that. He doesn't get it, he knows, but she looks happy. She seems happy. I'm all grown, she'd said, and he figures that's true, and if he ever had any kind of say he doesn't anymore.
He finishes the soda, and they're both quiet for a long time. Finally, she says, "I better get back inside," and Raylan says, "Yeah, I gotta get back." They both stand up.
"You're headed back to Miami, I'll bet," Loretta says.
"Yeah," Raylan says. "I might make it back up here, though."
Loretta gives him a wry, tolerant smile. "No you won't."
He smiles back the same. "No," he concedes, "I probably won't."
"See you, then," Loretta says.
Raylan nods to her. "See you."
He walks back to the car, opens the door before he turns back. She's still standing on the porch, arms crossed over her chest. "Hey, Loretta," he says to her. "I think you're doin just fine."
She gives him another smile, more real this time. He nods to her, and then he gets into the car, and drives away.