Patrick Longmeier was infuriating.
Even after drinking an entire glass of water and consuming far more than my share of the appetizer he ordered—jalapeño poppers—I felt off-kilter. I wasn’t sure whether to attribute that feeling to the moonshine or to my proximity to Patrick.
“So, tell me what you’ve been up to, Taylor.”
He turned to face me and had one elbow on the bar, his hand under his chin. His eyes held a mixture of mischief, humor, and something more serious.
“It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” I said. “I’ve been working at the Bugle.”
“Are you seeing anyone,” he said.
“Do you care?”
“Just curious.” The humor and mischief had disappeared. He now looked genuinely interested.
“Why are we having dinner, Patrick?” I said.
Just as he inhaled to answer, the bartender returned. “What’ll it be, you two?”
We ordered, which apparently gave Patrick just enough time to devise a way to change the subject.
“So, Nicky Wright,” he said. “Do you think his girlfriend did it.”
“I have no idea,” I said.
“Do you think it was the wife,” he said.
“Do you? You’re the one who talked to her.”
“Nah,” he said. “She doesn’t feel strongly enough about him to have killed him.”
“But they’re married!”
“Doesn’t mean she feels strongly about him.” Patrick stuck one of the remaining jalapeño poppers in his mouth.
“But shouldn’t it?” I said. Then, a realization hit me: “That explains a lot about you, Patrick.”
Now he shrugged. “We’re not talking about marriage. We’re talking about murder.”
When I would have spoken, he held up a hand, pointer finger in the air, and said, “We’re not talking about feelings. We’re talking about business.”
“And are we? Somehow, this conversation is very fitting.”
“It was ten years ago, Rosie,” he said. “Don’t you think it’s time you let it go.”
“I had,” I said. “And then, here you are. I think I deserve an apology.”
“We were kids.”
“Is that what you call an apology?”
Our food arrived. Patrick must have had some kind of deal with the bartender. Patrick started eating, and I looked at my watch. “My deadline’s in two hours. Midge will be getting anxious. I’ve got to get back.”
“You could always get your food to go,” Patrick said. Both of us knew I wouldn’t. I took another bite of my quesadilla, and Patrick continued speaking. “Midge probably breathes down your neck just like Patsy breathes down mine. I think the two of them have some kind of secret rivalry going on.”
“It’s no secret,” I said.
“You must know why they hate each other.”
“Actually, I don’t.”
“I’m surprised Midge never said.”
“Something about Patsy screwing her over in a business deal,” I said.
“Huh,” Patrick said. “See. Business.”
After a long pause, he leaned an elbow on the bar and said, “Rosie.”
I looked at him and when our eyes met I felt a jolt of electricity (in the form of arousal) run through my body. I waited for him to continue.
“I am sorry,” he said. “About—what happened before. I was young and dumb and I didn’t realize it would hurt your feelings.”
I wanted to ask whether he realized he completely lacked morality. But I didn’t. I wanted to say it wasn’t about my feelings, that it was actually about being a decent human being. But I didn’t, because my throat was starting to constrict and I was afraid that if I spoke, I might cry. And I’d sworn a long time ago that I wouldn’t shed another tear over Patrick Longmeier.
I remembered the week I’d spent closeted in my bedroom, alternately crying and sleeping, before Gram fortified me with Fireball and dragged me out of the house (it was the first time she withheld the cinnamon candy and gave me the real stuff. It was a slippery slope, I thought now, as I touched the flask in my pocket).
Finally, I spoke: “I’m not sure how to answer.”
“You don’t have to. I just wanted you to know I am sorry.”
I looked at my plate and realized my food was gone.
Then I looked at my watch and remembered our deadline was nearer than ever. We’d have to leave now if we had any chance of meeting it.
But when Patrick stood up, leaned toward me, and whispered in my ear, “Let’s get out of here,” I forgot about the deadline and the Bugle and the Daily News and my broken heart. My body remembered what he’d done as clearly as my mind did, and my body had its own opinions about Patrick Longmeier.
I followed Patrick to his car, which was the complete opposite of what I’d expected. I anticipated leather and wood and lots of horsepower, and was surprised to find he was still driving what he had in high school: an old pickup truck saturated with the smells of oil and gasoline.
I climbed into the passenger seat, the sensory input bringing recollections to life. And my imagination, apparently, I thought as I pictured what Patrick could do to me when we got wherever we were going. He turned over the engine and the entire truck vibrated. I nearly came undone.
Patrick shifted into reverse, and my legs moved automatically to the right, away from the gearshift, like they’d done millions of times. Memories flooded my mind and my bloodstream./perfectpullquote]
One evening, we ordered fries and milkshakes from the Burger King drive-through, and then we drove up the winding roads of the redwood forest to a lookout point where we could watch the sunset.
On a different occasion, he’d showed up first thing in the morning, stocked with coffee and donuts, and taken me to the ocean to watch the sunrise. We sat in the truck, side by side, sipping coffee and talking about nothing at all, before realizing the windshield had fogged up past the point of seeing out, and it was well past lunchtime.
The first time we made love in the truck, Patrick murmured into my hair, “Thank goodness for bench seats.” It became a running joke. From that moment on, I always sat in the middle seat, and we kissed at every red light. We wished for bench seats at the movie theater, lamented that the biology lab wasn’t outfitted with them. I giggled every time we talked about those bench seats, and Patrick just smiled at me like he was afraid to actually laugh.
He’d always been a thoughtful lover, I recalled now as the truck lumbered through town. With skillful hands and a gentle mouth. I shivered.
His profile, illuminated in the orange lights from the street lamps, looked exactly as it always had.
Exactly as I’d remembered it time and time again after things ended between us.
“You okay, Taylor,” he said then. He reached across the bench seat and patted the top of my thigh. “I can practically hear your wheels turning in there. I admit, they’re sounding a little rusty.”
I let out a strange sound, something between a laugh and a sigh.
“Where are we going?” I said, not because I cared, but because I needed something to say.
He shrugged. “Someplace we can be alone.”
A list of our favorite places to be alone paraded through my mind, then: there was that cave in the forest off Skyline Trail, and the parking lot behind the bowling alley. On one or two occasions we’d broken into the Coffee Hut, a drive-through building with just enough room to get horizontal. We were too old to do that now.
“What are we doing, Patrick?”
Now he looked over at me, one eyebrow raised. “What do you think we’re doing, Rosie.”
I took my flask out of my purse, but found it empty. When had that happened? I lit up a clove cigarette instead. After cracking my window, I turned in my seat so my back was against the door.
He shrugged. “Old times’ sake. Why not.”
Before I realized what was happening, his hand was on my knee. He leaned over to slide it up my thigh. The first alarm started going off, still quiet in the back of my mind. But my entire body was waking up, too, every little nerve ending rising in anticipation to meet his fingertips.
It would feel good, so good, to do old times’ sake with Patrick. I closed my eyes, picturing what it would be like when he stopped the car and climbed on top of me. Meanwhile, his palm caressed my thigh and his fingers skimmed the edge of my panties.
I almost exploded.
Get a grip, Rosie.I should open my eyes. I should tell him to stop, to let me out of the truck. Really. I should.
But I didn’t. Instead, I scooted slightly closer to Patrick, my shoulder blades still against the passenger door, but my lower half right in the middle of that bench seat, my right arm extended to prevent me from burning myself with the cigarette I knew I should put out.
His fingers were so dexterous. They moved my panties aside and he began stroking my clit with his thumb while his fingers entered me.
Then I really did explode, arching against his hand until the quaking subsided.
“Wow, Rosie,” Patrick said, his grin devilish in the orange light. “I thought you’d at least want to wait until I stopped the truck.”
He did stop then, pulling into the dark, deserted parking lot of a small business complex. He was already unbuckling his seatbelt, shrugging out of his jacket.
But now that the moment had passed, I came to my senses. What was I thinking? Even as my lower half throbbed with aftershocks, I knew I had to get out of there. Before he could get any closer, I sat up and pushed the door open.
I made the mistake of giving him one final glance before I got out.
The expression I saw on his face was interesting: a mixture of triumph and regret.
I bailed, slamming the door behind me and starting to run.