Waking up in a fog, for a few glorious seconds, Elsa forgot the horrible start to the day, until the memory of Duke’s battered and broken body came flooding back to her. Disorientated, she realised she was in her bed, covered by a thin sheet. Bill must have carried her here after she had exhausted herself crying against his chest.
Stretching, feeling the aching tension in her neck and shoulders, she lifted herself from the bed and wandered into the kitchen, surprised to see it was 3pm. Looking out the kitchen window, she saw him in the field, his hair golden in the afternoon sunshine, shirt off, sweating as he worked in the heat. She noticed her truck was parked off to the side of the house. Jody had brought it back while she slept. The thought of him made her roll her eyes; what the fuck was she doing? Giving up a successful career in the city to care for her dying father was one thing, but how did she end up still here, a year later?
Pulling on her sandals, she slammed the screen door and ran over to the truck. As expected, Jody had left the keys in the ignition.
“Hey! You alright?!” from across the field. Not waiting to answer, she gunned the engine and left the farm in a haze of dust, heading for town.
Bill walked over towards the porch as dusk settled, tired and hot from making up for the work time he had lost as he comforted Elsa earlier. He saw the truck back, parked at the side of the house, skid marks hinting at haste and carelessness.
He heard sobbing and her huddled form came into view, sitting on the porch steps. She made a pitiful sight; her cut off denims, vest and bare feet gave her a childlike quality. He saw her red, swollen face as she looked up at him, noticed the half empty bottle in her hand and it dawned on him that she had been drinking.
Sitting down beside her, taking the bottle from her and grimacing as he swigged a large gulp of the tequila, he turned to her, silent. Using the heel of her hand, she wiped her tears, leaving smudges of dirt on her cheeks.
“Elsa, how long you been here drinkin’?” he asked, “Have you eaten anythin’?”
“If I eat Bill, I’ll throw it right back up, I swear!”
Hesitant, he put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to his chest, aware that he was badly in need of a shower but wanting to offer her comfort.
“Tell me about him, about Duke?” he asked softly, his lips close to her hair.
“I rescued him when I moved to the city. I wasn’t used to being all alone and my apartment felt so empty and lonely. So, I went to the pound one day and there he was. His big brown eyes just melted my heart and I took him back home with me there and then.”
Bill smiled against her forehead and gently squeezed her shoulders.
“He was probably too big for my apartment, but I got up extra early every morning and we would run in the park together and I only had classes a few days a week, so I spent a lot of time working at home with him at my feet.”
Babbling, it was as if once she had started talking she couldn’t stop.
“Bill, he used to lick my toes! He loved licking my toes, couldn’t get enough of them. In the winter, if I had socks on, he would pull them off with his teeth so he could lick my toes…” she broke down again, the knowledge that Duke would never again steal her socks was just too much.
“Baby…” he whispered, knowing that was probably too intimate but not able to help himself. He wanted to erase her pain, take if from her and hold it himself. Seeing her like this tore at his heart.
Looking down he said, “You know what? Duke was right, you sure do have pretty feet, lady,” cringing at his feeble attempt to console her, to lift her, which he knew was pointless and stupid.
Her eyes turned up to him, shining with tears and she tilted her head up towards him, wordlessly asking for the kiss. He began to lower his to meet her lips until sense took hold.
“Elsa, I believe you are the single most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes upon, and I want nothin’ more than to kiss you, but if I do it, when I do it, it’s gotta be right. This ain’t the right time. Y’understand?” his forehead was creased with concern. He had made more than his fair share of mistakes in the past but this? this he wanted to get right. For once in his sorry life, he wanted to get it right.
“You hate me now, don’t you? I’m a fuckin’ fool!” she cried and pushed him away, stumbling up the steps into the house, “Go! Just go away!” she screamed, and for the first time since he had arrived to work on her farm, he heard her lock the door behind her.
Feeling like a complete idiot, Elsa bolted the door as fast as she could, not wanting Bill to follow her into the house.
“Elsa! It’s ok! I’ll go, but promise me to eat and to stop drinkin’? Ok? Elsa?!” from outside.
“Ok! Ok! I Promise. Just go!” she yelled back, knowing she was telling a lie.
There was no way in hell she could think of eating or stopping drinking. After seeing the dried blood and matted fur on the truck’s fender when she left the liquor store, she knew that she fully intended to drink until she passed out.
Slumping on the floor in front of the old worn couch, she raised the bottle to her lips, sobbing, “Duke…”
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