“Uh–hi,” I say, surprised. By the look on his face, I can tell he’s not happy with the pace of my writing.
He shakes loose hands in my direction like he’s trying to direct me to an air strip.
“What?” I say, defensively.
“Let’s get goin’, come on!”
“Keep your shorts on, I been busy.”
Eye roll. “That’s the problem, my shorts are still on. You promised me some tail!”
“I laugh disingenuously in your general direction, Cowboy. You know what my year has been like! And you’ll get your tail–you wouldn’t be getting any tail if it weren’t for me.” I snort.
“Oh, I could have tail coming out my ass–”
“Pardon the pun–” I murmur under my breath, but he hears.
“What?” He squints at me with suspicious eyes.
“Tail–ass,” I chuckle. “Never mind–”
“Focus, Jesus! I’ve got plenty of tail, good tail–now–in the present day. I just, you know– I want to see how the whole thing got going in the first place. I mean, how we got this far, here, where we are today.” He points at his feet, but I know what he means. “It’s been like having a wedding but no cake, and nooooo honeymoon! How fair is that to a character? A character, I might add, who has been good to you.” He points a finger and lifts an eye brow at me. “This is, like, the longest foreplay session of all time.”
I wiggle my eyebrows at him. “You can’t say you ain’t been entertained,” I snark in a low voice.
He stares. “Well, no–” He crosses his arms and looks anywhere but at me.
“And has every step been worth it?”
“Yeah. No. Not all the time. Okay, most of the time.”
“So, have a Coke and shut the fuck up.” I cajole, channeling my inner Richard Prior. I blink when it comes out a little harsher than I intend.
He stares, hands on hips. He’s pretty disgusted with me–but he knows I’m right.
“Real life, Cowboy–” I say, with an exaggerated shrug. Then I see his guarded panic and realize there’s something more going on here.
He shrugs with one shoulder. Shakes his head. Throws his hands up in the air; letting them drop, they slap against his thighs. “I know. Dammit. It’s just, I been standing here–in this freakn’ stinky morgue–freezing. And I’m tired.”
Mexican standoff. Tumbleweeds, and a dry whistle in the background–The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. The jangle of spurs floating by on a whisper. The creak of itchy knuckles and parched lips. Another tumbleweed.
“I’m always thinking about you,” I say gently. “I haven’t forgotten about you.”
He crosses his arms and shifts his weight from side to side. The brim of his hat falls forward, shielding his eyes from view when he looks down. For a minute I think he’s about to say something, but he decides to keep it to himself. His restlessness tells me I hit the nail on the head.
I sigh; swallow dryly.
“Maybe I’m a little intimidated by your nightmares. Not looking forward to going there with you.” I pause, uncertainty hanging in the air between us. “But I will. It just won’t fly out of me onto the page in a couple short hours. It’s gonna take work.”
He nods, tapping the back of one heel on the tip of the other boot.
“But I’ll go there with you–you know I will.” I search his eyes when he looks up. He knows I mean it.
“I know–I know you will.” He swallows and furrows his brow; covers his mouth with a palm.
“Maybe you’re a little nervous to go there, too,” I say quietly, looking away for a moment, then back.
He drags a hand across his forehead. Looks at me, hands on hips. “I hate you,” he chuffs.
I chuckle. “You love me.”
He doesn’t answer except with his eyes which hold mine unwaveringly. He knows shit’s about to get real and he’s as nervous as I am. Thing is, I just have to write it–he’s gotta live it. And he’s nervous. I would be, too, if I were him. He knows there’s no way around this. He knows I would not cheat him that way–and that I will give him my all. Because he’s my character and I love him. He also knows what my family went through this year and that I have a wealth of grief to pour into his part–and that’s a little intimidating–for both of us. He’s not sure he wants to go there, and he’s still not talking.
“You know I’ll take care of you, right?” I purse my lips into a tight grimace-y smile.
His eyes drop to the floor. He shrugs with his eyebrows–nods almost imperceptibly. His hat is gone.
Suddenly I’m in a swivel chair, my laptop on the table behind me. “Now go. I think I’m ready to write,” I say. I swivel to face my keyboard.
He walks up behind me silently, and bends to put his arms around me, his forearms resting on my upper chest, my arms are pinned to my sides. He squeezes me with a firm grip, then kisses the top of my head. “Thank you,” he whispers. I almost don’t catch what he says until my brain translates the ghost of his voice inside my head.
“Rock and roll,” I whisper back, gently laying my hands on the forearms still wrapped around me. I squeeze and hold for a moment. I smile. He can’t see it, but he knows me well enough by now to sense it by the feeling in the air between us.
He drops another kiss on the top of my head and releases me, or disappears. I really don’t know which, but I’m ready to move forward. We both are.