’72 Skylark, 18

“Excuse me?” the brother snarls. He’d shoot me, I guess, or threaten to, but he can’t afford to move the gun.

“She’s here. You’re here. Ask her yourself.”

“That wasn’t our arrangement,” he says. “What, are you afraid to hurt a girl? Coward. You’ll get nothing from me.”

I want to laugh, that he’s calling me a coward of all things, but I just shake my head. “Don’t want it,” I say, but before I can stand, my hand is pressed to the table. Miriam. Her hand’s harpooned out to mine, pinning me as best as she can.

“Don’t go,” she says.

“I bet you’re faster than you look,” I say to her, and I set my knife down on the table with my free hand, a few inches from her spread fingers. All things considered, I’m acting very calm.

“What are you doing?” asks the brother, who doesn’t interest me anymore.

“Brett,” she whispers, still frozen by the gun at her back. “Please.”

“It’s Rick,” I say, grinning. “I’m a changed man, and this isn’t my fight.”

“Rick.” She’s trying to hold me in place with her eyes. If she had a gun, I think she’d point it at me right now, despite what I’m doing. “Help me.”

“I am,” I say, sliding away from the barstool. “I’m being the best version of what I am. Like you said.”

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