pump of her truck’s engine had broken. Mitch walked alongside her and his mouth was, as usual, open:
“I told you not to buy a piece of shit Japanese truck.”
Laney was a couple of yards ahead of him and she muttered, “Fuck you, you lame-ass rodeo has-been.”
“What was that?”
“I said, ‘fuck you.’” She stopped and turned to him, looking at his narrow face.
“And what else?”
“I think ‘fuck you’ about says it all.”
“You know, I didn’t have to come with you.”
She laughed and again with her back to him said, “I didn’t ask you to come. I told you to stay. I didn’t ask you to walk to town with me either. You can go back now if you want.” In her pocket she fumbled with the string she had used to measure the pump belt.
Mitch caught up with her, matched stride with her.
She looked over at him. He wasn’t a bad-looking idiot, but an idiot nonetheless and it was laughable that he considered himself to be tagging along as protection. She wasn’t sure why she had first gone out with him, much less why she had agreed to let him come along now while she bailed out her good-for-nothing brother.
“Laney, I’m sorry. Okay?”
“Sorry for what?”
Mitch looked down at his sneakers hitting the highway. “I don’t know, but I am. I don’t want to fight, that’s all. I’m really tired of the fighting.”
“Then take your stupid ass back to the truck and wait there.”
“Why do you talk like that?”
“I’m not talking like anything. Why do you hear like that?”
“Like a damn sailor.”
“See,” Mitch said.
She glanced at him quickly, then looked back at the highway. He was too tall and too skinny and his hair was retreating, showing more of his face, a face not aging well. His mustache at least worked as cover. She took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said, “no more fighting.”
Mitch nodded. He looked behind them. “You’d think one car would go by.” He kicked his heels as he walked. “Your brother has a drinking problem.”
“He’s a low-life scum. Of course he has a drinking problem. But he’s my brother.” She sighed and rolled her head to loosen her neck. “Whatever the hell that means.”
“Can’t choose your family,” Mitch said.
“That’s true up to a point,” she said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Figure it out.”
The sun was on full and Laney was sweating. The dry air was stealing away the moisture and any possibility of coolness. She was thirsty. “I wish I’d brought a canteen.”
“Yeah, me too,” Mitch said, then, “I mean, I wish I’d brought one, too.”
“Christ, Mitch, calm down.” Laney couldn’t believe she had ever let this guy touch her. It wouldn’t happen again, she assured herself.
The service station was one of those no-name kind with a gravel yard. The pumps were old and dusty. It was still several miles to the town, so Laney hoped it would have the belt she needed.
No one came out as they approached the station and there was no one in the office. Laney parked her face over the water fountain and let the stream wash her forehead. The water was barely cool, but it felt good. She drank slowly, then stepped away to allow Mitch a turn. She called out, “Hello!”
Mitch stood, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Nobody home?”
Laney observed the belts on the far wall, narrow loops of black wrapped midlength with paper and hung on hooks. She pulled the circle of string from her pocket. “At least I can find out if they have what I need.”
Mitch stepped through the open door into the garage.
Laney pulled down a couple of belts and compared them to the loop of string. One was close enough that she believed it would work. She called to Mitch.
“What?” He stepped back into the office. “Find it?”
“I think so.”
“You didn’t find the attendant? Did you check the rest room?”
“No rest room,” Mitch said.
“There’s got to be one.”
Victoria Green, Jinsey Reese