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John Longbottom

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“Asshole,” spat Lynn as Charlie closed the door.

“I think you got that about right,” saidCharlie as he watched the two cars disappear down the dirt road. As soon as they were gone, Wilbur made a run for the dry shelter of the barn. “Good boy, Wilbur, you were covering our flank the whole time,” he called as he watched his dog disappear into the shadows of the barn.

Lynn’s face was a puzzle to him; he didn’t know it and he couldn’t read it. The sad fact was she was too young to have enough character in her face. You could read a face with character through the etchings of age. Since he’d met her, she’d certainly put him through his paces. She’d made him dumbstruck, not knowing what to say and she’d left him thoughtless, not knowing what to think. Now, she had delivered the coup de grace, he was flummoxed, both speechless and thoughtless.

He walked back to the table almost in a daze and said the first thing that came into his mouth. “Why don’t you drink?”

Looking and sounding incredulous herself, Lynn said, “What? I mean, where the f…” she almost said it, “where the heck did that come from?” 

“I don’t know,” said Charlie, reeling a little at the angry tone of her voice. “I didn’t know what to say and that’s been on my mind since last night, so I asked it.”

Lynn shook her head in disbelief. “I don’t drink, because my mother was a drunk, as was her mother before her, and I’m scared that I’ll have the alcoholic gene as well. So, I don’t touch it.” She spoke this in the same condescending tone of voice she’d used with the FBI agent. 

Charlie noted the tone but chose not to react to it. “My dad was a drinker too, that’s why I limit myself to one a night. I got a bit wild once in my younger days and it scared me. Ellie said something, one time, about drinking being a problem in her family. She didn’t drink either.” Then Charlie sat down opposite Lynn. “I’m glad you don’t drink,” he said softly.

“Yeah. Me too,” she said and smiled.

Strangely, off the wall or not, Charlie’s question had diffused Lynn’s anger and the room’s temperature seemed to drop by a couple of degrees.

“You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Lynn looked at Charlie with her head to one side. Charlie cocked his head to the other side as if to say, “What do you mean?” 

“You asked about the drinking to change the subject, to calm me down,” stated Lynn, pretty sure of herself.

“Nope,” said Charlie and started washing up the coffee mugs and Lynn’s breakfast dishes. He looked out of the window above the sink and said, “Looks like it’s stopped raining and the sun is coming out. Ooh, come here quick.” He grabbed Lynn’s hand and led her out onto the front porch. There, hanging above the river and stretching across the fields was the biggest rainbow she had ever seen. The colors were so bright and vibrant, shimmering in the morning breeze. She had never seen anything like it and the tears just welled up and then the flood gates opened. She started sobbing. She pressed her head into Charlie’s shirt and sobbed onto his chest. He put his arm around her and firmly but gently held her close.

She wept for her grandmother and the child she never knew. She cried for her mother and the mother she never knew, and she sobbed for herself and the family she never knew. The guilt she felt for hating her mother rose like bile inside her, and her tears washed some of that away. Her grief released the tension from striving so hard to be better than everyone she’d ever known. She could feel the heat from Charlie’s body on her face, through his shirt and his strength flowed into her, bathing her exhaustion in its healing glow. She looked up into his weather-worn, craggy face; it was like looking at an old oak tree that had watched many generations come and go. Its wisdom was in its silence, its strength was in its years.

Wilbur, with his uncanny sense of timing, came trotting round the corner of the house, looking very pleased with himself, his tail wagging. With a start, Lynn pulled away from Charlie feeling embarrassed and a little foolish. Her old self was back judging this unusual lack of control. She looked away and started wiping the tears off her face with the back of her wrist. Charlie silently handed her a big red handkerchief then sat down on the steps and fussed with Wilbur, rubbing his head and telling him what a good dog he was. Wilbur looked at Lynn for more confirmation of his good deeds, but she was still busy rearranging herself, so he tapped his paw on her foot to get her attention, which it did. She sat on the steps next to Charlie and started petting and praising Wilbur. Basking in all the glory of this newfound attention, Wilbur started making little doggy noises as he snuggled up against Lynn’s legs.

“I ain’t heard him do that in a long time,” said Charlie. “That’s how he used to talk to Ellie.”

“You miss her, don’t you?” Said Lynn.

“We both do,” he softly replied, and Lynn briefly rested her head on Charlie’s shoulder.

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