Last scene of previous:
E lets out a breath she’d been holding in and heads toward the elevators before stopping short when she sees someone she might know walking out of the far elevator door.
E hops behind a tall plant near the front desk and watches as S casually steps out of the elevator and walks out the back exit.
“Is something wrong, miss Colten?” The front desk lady is watching E stand behind the planter.
“Oh! Umm,” E comes out of hiding, “yes, I just… saw someone I didn’t want to talk to.” She forces a laugh.
“Gotcha. Is someone bothering you? Would you like me to call the authorities?”
The bitch is best caught, but E doesn’t want to cause a scene or become etched further beyond S’s good graces. “No, that’s alright. It won’t be necessary. …Thank you.”
“Alright, we’re always here if you need anything.” The woman looks concerned and hesitates giving up.
“Thank you. Sorry.” E says before making her way to the elevators again. She gets curious and thinks of peering out the thin slot window on the door, and does so from ten feet away, but doesn’t get any closer, lest S should see her, too. She sees her crazy ex dial someone on her phone as she casually walks to a black van in the parking lot. Fucking shit, this woman is crazy! E shudders. God. She suddenly looks down toward the lobby, expecting an hour to have already gone by and see V coming back from lunch, but no one was there.
She decides she needs to hurry with her mission anyways and stop concerning herself with whatever shit S is doing. She presses the elevator button and it lights up. “Come on, come on.” Every second seems like a minute as the elevator makes its way at snail’s pace back to the first floor.
The first one finally dings and opens. She steps in, looking for another crazy person first, and then presses the close button repeatedly until the elevator mozied along and did its job.
Safely behind the closed doors, she let out a breath of relief and rolled her eyes. This was way more complicated than it should be, or even than it needed to be.
As soon as the doors opened again, after a forced and unnaturally peaceful pause, she hurried to the room. Please work, please work. She tested the room key. Brzzt. She could hear the lock turn. Yes. Thank you. Stepping inside, she swapped out V’s backpack for her own, but kept the earbuds. She looked around the room with an inclination to stay, or to keep the sketchbook. My poptart. She went and got it off the bed. She turned around and looked over the room for anything else, but nothing caught her eye as necessary. She stopped again at the door, and looked back at V’s backpack; she could see V’s sketchbook, and that photo taped to the page. But her pause didn’t last very long and she scurried out, leaving the notebook behind.
She bustled past a businessman in the hall, past a mother with a crying infant, and busted through the stairwell door. Bounding down the stairs, she popped out at the main level, took a doubletake down each way and decided last minute to go out the front… she wasn’t going to risk going out the back door and running into S if she had waited to pounce. To stay invisible, once outside, she took the way to the right of the Inn, this time.
Country music played over the speakers in the western-style restaurant as V sat at a booth. She’d been seated a few minutes ago, had looked over the menu, and already knew what she wanted. She let her legs swing under the table and looked around at the Bull skulls and paintings of ranches and forged silhouette decorations of cowboys on bulls, holding a flying rope in their hand. All the walls were wooden, with a black or, on some walls, burgundy, painted trim half-way down the wall—at booth level.
V sat in a center booth, next to a wooden partition which had no trim, so her wall was just polished golden oak. A standup, horizontal, spiral-bound flap-book menu featured different dishes and their stories, famous country singers who had visited and their photo, and various stories from bull ranchers and horse racers across the country. One such story was told by an 85-year old retired rancher, who had grown up learning the skill by his father; pictured next to the couple paragraphs was a black and white photo of a little boy and a maybe thirty-year-old man in a pasture, a bull standing nearby, and the man was kneeled down, handing the boy a cowboy hat. Appropriately, the piece was titled “My First Cowboy Hat”.
V read the last few sentences, curiously. It read, “All of my hats have meant something to me, but, of all the cowboy hats I’ve owned, which are many, that one is the most important of them all. It is the one that told me, ‘boy, you are a rancher!’ And that set my course to prepare me for every next journey, and every next cowboy hat all the way through my life to the time that I would meet my very last cowboy hat.” That’s a special tribute. V thought. Captivating.
A waiter came around after another minute with a basket of warm cornbread biscuits.
“Are you ready to order?” The thin, twenty-something boy asked.
She affirmed that she was and listed off the three sides she could get that summed below twelve dollars.
“I’ll get that right out for you, miss.”
“Thank you.” V says and the waiter walks away, tucking his notepad into his apron. Ooh, yum! V turns her attention to the fresh biscuits and takes one and a pat of putter which was cold. She frowned. They ought to serve warmed butter. But I suppose you at least know it’s fresh this way. She set her biscuit on top of the cold butter packet, picking it up after only 20 seconds to see condensation on the foil wrapper, but to find that the pat was still hard as a rock. Phooey.
She eventually settled to just allowing the cold butter to rip apart her biscuit as she spread it, which she regretted when she then had more crumbs than bites of biscuit. She settled for this. She was just trying to avoid letting her mind fill with thoughts of E,… E Colten, who she greatly worried about.
“Gosh, fuck!” E said, kicking at the grass with her shoe and dropping her backpack to the ground. “Gosh fuck…” She whimpered to herself. She sat down in the grass and cried. Heaving sobs that she tried to contain denied her daily façade and poured out. Here she sat in the middle of a grassy field—a vacant lot—just adjacent to the small city. Sitting with her knees tucked up to her chest, forehead resting against them, she scolded herself, “Why are you like this? Why the fuck are you like this? Getting yourself fucking lost!” a pause and another heave. “God, just stop crying. Stop-,… just stop,…doing this to me! Ugh!” She sat up and adjusted her legs acriss-cross, and wiped her whole face and then just her cheeks. “Stop doing this, E. Just stop, it’s ridiculous…” More tears; that’s what S always said. “shit.” a short sob, and then, “I said stop!” She rubbed her cheeks again and then looked around, red-eyed, at the tiny highway, which was small enough to just be a street; at the house across from this lot; and then at the forest of trees to her right, beyond this field.
A deer perked it’s head up from among the shrubbery of the forest. It looked at her for a moment and then bounded away into the foliage. She saw it, but didn’t envy it at all; it ran from even someone who’d never harm it, not knowing the difference between danger and safety in other beings—and it would probably be someone’s dinner by this evening because it was also nonethewiser.
Upon thinking this, she realized she was probably much more like that deer than she wanted to be. And maybe that is why she did not envy it. She would have never laid a hand on that deer, but it saw her and ran; it ran from arms that would only give it care…and isn’t that what she just did? Ran from V? V who would never lay a hand on her?
The tears came again, welling up thickly in her eyes, her mouth contorting into a smile, and then to a frown. God, V. Her eyes and her face denied her any control, and it forced her to sit in the painful emotion of missing someone who truly cared.
Continue to Part 9