Like all things ephemeral, she was both irresistible and incomprehensible. A regular at McCoy’s, she boasted a smile that filled the bar; mien light, laugh effortless. She didn’t hesitate but to sidle up alongside the most crusty of the old regulars and wink at them with a playful grin. Nor would she stop telling stories of her adventures even as the toughest men blushed and the most daring were made to feel they’d been wasting time.
She only ever seemed to trip when a new man would step in, catch a glance of her dark curls and flashing blue eyes, and ask the bartender Mel to send her a drink with his regards. Her eyes would go slate, and then she’d wave it back with an apologetic smile. It didn’t matter who he was; tall and dark, or curly blond with dimples to spare — banker, boxer, stock car driver. Nothing else about her was shrouded, but a simple advance snuffed out the flame.
One night, I followed her out of the bar, watching as she shrugged her leather jacket to let it to slip the last few inches to her shoulders. I trailed along behind her, and then finally jogged up and made conversation. She was cordial, but she deftly dodged every one of my intentions. Still, I tried, dizzying punch drunk on love against the wall of her disregard.
Finally, we reached her door. A piece of bric-a-brac stuck out; Huckleberry Hound wearing a ten gallon hat and holding a sign that read, “I’m your Huckleberry”. My resolve almost wavered, but I asked her if she was free the next day for a drink.
“Sure.” Her tone was guarded. “I’ll be at McCoy’s tomorrow.”
“Well, I was thinking something a little less… usual? A cup of coffee? But wait — you own a coffee shop. You’re probably sick of coffee…”
She interrupted me with a crooked smile. “Really? Haven’t we known each other too long for this?”
“I know.” I rubbed the back of my neck. “Call it hubris. A boy’s crush. Whatever. I had to try.” I paused. “There has to be someone, of some kind, who floats your boat. I thought that since tall, dark, and handsome wasn’t it, well, maybe it could be me.”
She laughed, a light and familiar thing that put me at ease. “If I told you something, would it never make it past us?”
Intrigued. “Of course.”
“Come in.” She took me inside. I was surprised to find her whole living room done in a southwest theme. I’d expected something a little more typical of a young woman who owned an organic coffee shop — echoes of the Far East maybe — but where I’d pictured a jade Buddha I found a cactus; where I’d thought a book of yoga poses, I found a battered old Louis L’Amour.
She sat me on the sofa and brought out steaming mugs.
“We got our drink,” I said, shooting for sweet, hoping I hadn’t hit goofy.
She rewarded me with a half-smile but sipped at her own mug and looked at me levelly. “I don’t accept drinks, not with charming strangers, not with cute McCoy’s regulars…” I grinned dumbly. “Because I’m in the ring with cancer, and it’s been called a loss.” My humor dried up, quickly and without warning.
I realized my mug had begun to shake. “I would never have…”
“What? Guessed? I don’t act like a dying woman?” Her eyes were mischievous. I wasn’t sure what to say.
“No, you don’t.”
“I’m not living to die. I’m using what time I have… Living, and minimizing the impact of my departure. My debts are paid off. I bought my mother a dog. My sister is getting the coffee shop and its minions. My accounts are settled.” She looked at me significantly. “I’m not opening new ones.”
She fingered the edge of her mug and looked at me apologetically.
“I see,” I said, finally. “Well, what if I was to say that didn’t matter? What if I said I could handle it?”
It was her turn to look floored, and mine to awkwardly molest my coffee.
I shrugged. “You say you’re not living to die. I’m saying: prove it.”
For a long time, she only stared.
Then, ever so slowly, a smile.
She made love like no one I’d ever known. She thrust every spark of life into her hips, kissed with every breath she wouldn’t take. I sometimes panicked she’d slipped away, and realized I’d just lost all sense in the moment.
But time passed. She got weaker. Her breath took on a sweet smell, and then she wouldn’t kiss me anymore. I nuzzled her spine, her hips, her arms, pressing my lips against further emerging bone structures.
When she was bound to a bed in the intensive care unit, I brought her a dozen yellow roses. She smiled at me, eyes crossing as she tried to focus. When a tear splashed on her hand, she whispered, cracking, “Thought you could handle this.”
“I can. I’m just not sure I want to yet.”
She touched my hand, her fingertips both rough and fragile. “You don’t get away with living for me to die anymore than I did. Go on, my pre-mortem fuck buddy. I don’t want to see you back here crying for me.”
She shoved at me, though it was like a thrust of leaves thrust by a soft wind. I turned, and then glanced back at her, hoping for something, what I couldn’t say. But her eyes were closed, breathing shallow.
She died within the week. I didn’t go the funeral. It seemed nothing good could come from having to explain how I knew the deceased, but within a week, her sister showed up at my door. She gave me a quizzical look, the Huckleberry Hound, and a note on paper printed with tumbleweeds:
“Account settled. All my love, T.”
Lindsay Morgan Lockhart has the rare fortune of making her way in life filling virtual worlds with stories, but it has not subdued her raging desire to put her own stories to the page as well. Her fiction can be found cluttering like cobwebs throughout the internet.