“I’m telling you that’s all I know,” Dusty said. “And I don’t know how I know it.” Dusty and Guthrie sat next to each other at the counter. He was leaned in close as if he was interrogating her, but it didn’t feel that way. She was starting to believe that Guthrie and his crew weren’t what they’d been pretending to be.
He nodded, his eyes swimming back and forth as he drummed his fingers on the counter. Dusty took another sip of water—that was really weird, she hadn’t had a drink of anything lacking in caffeine or alcohol in probably the last two years, but water was all she wanted—and put the cup back on the table. Father was outside. Father was hungry.
“You sure you don’t want me to strengthen that?” Kevin said on the other side of the counter. Someone had found an old bottle of scotch in the back somewhere and it was quickly making the rounds. Dusty shook her head. Had any of this happened yesterday, she would have been the one to find that scotch and she probably would have downed the whole thing herself. But she suspected this new zest for life or whatever it was was part of the entire package.
Dusty shook her head and Kevin did a thing with his eyebrows that brought the memory of him of the night in the car with the Evil Motherfucker more into focus. The urge to purge her former boyfriend from her mind had grown to the point of making her tongue itch. She kept wanting to talk to him, to tell her all she knew about him, about that night, about what happened not long after that changed her life forever.
Guthrie was mumbling something, but he appeared to have been talking to himself. Dusty made eye contact with Kevin and inclined for him to follow her. He walked around the counter and joined her at an empty booth, two seats away from Arlene and Todd. Whatever moment that had been between them seemed to have passed. Todd seemed to be his usual, withdrawn self and Arlene was being… odd. She seemed even more withdrawn than Todd, almost catatonic. And Dusty had the feeling it had nothing to do with the shock from whatever happened earlier outside.
“What’s up?” Kevin asked.
“I know you,” Dusty said.
“Well, yeah. I didn’t want to say anything if you didn’t remember. Thought it would be kinda lame.”
“You were Ed’s cousin.” She broke eye contact with him, rubbing at an invisible spot on the table.
“Yeah,” he hung in the air. Dusty felt his feet shifting on the floor. He was uncomfortable too.
They were silent a moment before she said, “It really hurt… what he did. I know it sounds selfish and weird, but I’ve always wanted to know why he didn’t choose me.”
Kevin’s mouth hung open as he stared at her. He leaned forward and closed her hands in his.
“That shit wasn’t your fault, man. That was him. Ed was sick.”
“I know he was sick, but it was such a… betrayal. Did you know we were engaged?”
Kevin shook his head several times. “No.”
“He proposed to me two weeks before he did it.” Kevin was silent and she continued. “We were going to sneak off somewhere to do it. LA or something cheesy like that and live in the wind for a while. I had some money saved and plus my gramma had been giving me a fifty dollar bond every year for my birthday since I was two. I thought we could have done something.”
A tear spilled from Dusty’s eye before she knew it was coming. More followed.
“Do you know why he picked her?” Dusty’s voice was a choked sob.
“I’m sure he was… he was sick. I mean, you couldn’t—you shouldn’t—” Dusty could hear in his voice Kevin had no idea what to say. To console her would be saying he was sorry the Evil Motherfucker hadn’t killed her instead, to entirely dismiss his actions would say how she was feeling right now didn’t matter. He tried again, “Dusty, he killed Sarah. And then he killed himself. I mean, you’re alive!”
“I know I’m alive. But don’t you understand I was in love with him. As deeply as anyone ever could have been. And he chose her.”
It took Dusty a moment before she could continue. “I knew they’d dated, but so what?” she shrugged her shoulders. “I’d had a few exes, no big deal. We made plans, Kevin. The night the we went on that double date with you and Rosette—” that was her name— “was the day before he proposed.” Dusty felt the whole thing spilling out of her now. Tears free-flowed, but she didn’t bother wiping them away and Kevin was frozen in place. With each word, she could feel the bitterness, resentment, and anger that had plagued her these last five years trickle, then pour out of her. She almost didn’t notice Todd slide out of his booth and slowly head toward the kitchen.
“I started buying all kinds of wedding magazines and he looked up hotels and flights for Las Vegas. We were still too young to go to any of the casinos, but just being there with each other was going to be enough. The idea was I’d finish high school and the next day we would catch a plane. After we got married, we’d find a little apartment in California, I’d go to college and he’d hunt down every music exec he could find with a dufflebag full of CDs of his band’s music. As unrealistic as it all was, it was perfect at the time.”
Dusty found herself twirling the fork, unraveled from the paper napkin next to her hand in much the same way she would have with a cigarette, she realized. She continued, “I was with him when he heard about Sarah’s engagement. He seemed… happy for her at the time. I never would have guessed otherwise.” Dusty paused to sort her thoughts and realized she was also waiting for Kevin to say something. She looked at him and saw only confusion registered on his face.
“I don’t know if there’s a way to explain it that makes sense. It doesn’t make complete sense to me, either. I should have been Sarah, but don’t take that to mean I wanted to die. We were supposed to be together forever, but in his own twisted way, he chose her. Does that make sense at all to you?”
Kevin’s head began to move, but before he could answer, someone began screaming. Several someones, in fact. They both looked toward the kitchen as a man hurtled out, crushed the pie dish as he bounced off the counter, and crashed to the floor. The whole restaurant was quiet for just a moment, save for the man moaning on the floor.
“Get that psycho!” Guthrie yelled. Kevin and Dusty rose at the same time, but he tripped after two steps, going down in a howl of pain.
“Dammit, my ankle!” Kevin said through gritted teeth. She wavered between the downed man and whatever was going on in the kitchen. For a moment, Todd appeared in the kitchen entryway with one man on his back and one with his arms outstretched in front of Todd, the giant man-boy holding him by the wrists. Todd was kneeing him mercilessly in the chest, the man bouncing back with each rib-cracking blow like a ragdoll. The giant let him slump to the floor and reached up, peeling the man off his back and flinging him deeper into the kitchen. Several people cried out in surprise and Todd flung himself back in.
“What the hell is going on in there?” Kevin said, struggling to his feet. Just about everyone in The spoon was looking toward the kitchen now.
“I don’t know,” Dusty said. “What should I do?”
“Help me,” Kevin said. He leaned over her and they began limping toward the kitchen. She had no clue what an injured man could do against someone who easily outweighed him by a hundred pounds until she caught sight of the gun holster just inside his jacket. She felt sick at the thought of killing Todd. Whatever had happened couldn’t have been his fault.
“Ay!” one of the biker’s said, coming out of the kitchen. “Gimme that heater.” Kevin made a face, then nodded. He let go of Dusty just a moment, whimpering in pain at even the slightest amount of weight being put on the injured foot, the clasped onto her again. Dusty dug out the gun and tossed it over. Todd or no, he had to be stopped if he was hurting people.
“Don’t kill him!” she added as an afterthought as the man went back in the kitchen. But as soon as the man caught the gun she could see it in his face. He turned to go back in the kitchen and her blood ran ice cold when she smelled the gas.
Everything in front of her eyes exploded.