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“Earth to Tucker? HELLO?!”

“What woman? Holy hell. Take it easy with the yelling. I’m right here.”

We’re currently sitting in the food court of the Legion Mall, which is about an hour and a half west of Woodpine. Cj convinced me to come with her to pick up an record player. She promised me we would stop by Fleet Farm afterwards so I could grab a couple new flannels and work jeans. I don’t need them right now in the late July heat, but it’ll be nice to have them before winter hits.

“You weren’t responding. Had to make sure in your golden years you weren’t going deaf.”

“Ahhh yes. Ripping on my age never gets old for you, does it?”

She picks up a saggy french fry from the red basket on the table and pops it into her mouth. “Not usually, no.”


We’ve been texting and hanging out almost every day for the past month. It’s been nice having someone to talk to, even if I never say much. She usually gabs enough for the both of us.

“Let’s walk around the mall for a while. I wanna stretch my legs a bit.”

Rolling my eyes, I stand up and dump the rest of our meal into a garbage container. “You’re hilarious.”

“Damn right. Let’s go.”

I walk next to her past a couple of stores advertising women’s wear. Looking down at her, I feel my cheeks flush. Her auburn hair is pulled back into a thick, curly ponytail. She’s wearing a pair of tight fitting jeans, a white tank top, and a dark blue flannel pushed up to her elbows. The smokey black and grey of her tattoos pops against the ivory white of her skin.

I’ve seen her in a tank top often enough now to memorize the patterns. On her right arm, she’s got a beautiful nature scene. A forest covers most of her forearm, followed by a lake wrapping around the top of her elbow, snow covered mountains around most of her bicep, and the northern lights make an appearance near the top of her arm. On her left arm, three purple roses circle her shoulder, followed by a gorgeous mandala. Near her forearm is a hunting scene, with an elk, a timber wolf, and a black bear.

I thought over the past month the butterflies would disappear whenever I saw her, but they’re always there.

“Hey. Do you wanna stop in here? You said you enjoyed traveling. You could buy a huge road map and do that cute Pinterest thing where you put pictures in all the states you’ve visited. Hang it up in your cabin. It’s a little bare.”

Looking up, I notice that we’re stopped in front of the Green Creek & Company store front. It’s really more of an outdoors outlet than anything else. A couple of fake ferns and a flannel clad mannequin in a kayak sit in the store window. Further in, I see a bunch of camping supplies.

“Sure. Ladies first.”

“You’re too kind.”

“I know.”

Cj immediately wheels for the clothing section of store. Heading for the back, I come across all the tents and camping supplies. A couple brand new cast iron pans hang from sturdy hooks along the back wall. Rows of water bottles line the other end. Sleeping bags and camping chairs adorn every other available surface.

Hiking boots and socks are across the store, along with a row of backpacks that Cj’s checking out. There’s a men and women’s section at the front filled with colorful flannels and jeans of every possible denim wash.

That’s not what I’m looking at though.

Placed in a spinning rack are road atlases and maps. I pick one of Wisconsin off the rack and examine the back. Nothing very exciting. That’s when I notice the Rand McNally United States interstate map. Plucking it off the shelf, I open it to the full length. Every imaginable highway and interstate is on here.

I don’t know what possesses me to buy it, but I walk over and place two of them on the counter, pulling a crumpled ten and two singles from my wallet. I hand them over to the grumpy old cashier with the name “Neil” on his name tag. Neil takes my money and grumbles about how “kids these days don’t put money in their wallets properly.”

“Oh! You found a couple. It’s gonna be so nice not to see the bare walls in your cabin.”

Turning around, I see Cj smiling behind me, a purple and orange woven backpack in her lap. I grab the maps and stuff them hastily into my back pocket.  

“Yeah. I decided to put one in my truck too. I’m directionally challenged sometimes.”

“I’ll agree to that.”

She finishes paying for the backpack, which is honestly the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen, but I’m not gonna tell her that. Never judge a woman’s fashion sense. They get angry.

We head out of the store and back out to her truck, where it’s broiling hot out. She struggles out of her flannel and sets it down on her lap. Once she finally gets buckled in, she cranks the key and backs the truck out of the lot.

Clearing my throat, I lift my butt off the seat and retrieve the maps from my back pocket and set them on the dash. “How far have you made it out of Wisconsin?”

We’re on the freeway now, putting miles between us and the mall. I see her stiffen out of the corner of my eye. She silently lights a cigarette while I roll the window down for her and sighs. “I made it to California once, but Kasey and I didn’t really stop in any of the other states. She was my high school best friend. She wanted to get to the coast as soon as possible. I mean, we stopped for bathroom breaks and to switch off driving, but we never really visited anywhere else. Why do you ask?” She exhales and flicks ash out of the window, turning to look at me.

“No reason. Just curious.”

“I wanted to travel, but after everything that happened, I just felt like it was a moot point. I was, and still am, the town freak show. No one wants to travel by themselves, and no one wants to be friends with a circus performer.” She turns the radio down and tries to switch the subject away from herself. “Where have you traveled to anyways?”

Letting out a breath I didn’t know I was holding, I pick up one of the maps and open it. “Ohh, here and there. Nothing too fancy.”

“Quit lying. Out with it.”

Sighing, I keep my eyes ahead on the road. “I’ve been everywhere except Hawaii and Alaska. Once I was discharged, I didn’t want to stay in Virginia. So, I took that time to travel a little bit.”


“I saved most of the money I earned while in the Marines. I don’t drink very often or chase tail, so it was pretty easy to do.”

“Jesus. Have you ever done anything exciting in your life?”

“Traveling by myself was exciting enough. I got to see the world’s largest twine ball in Kansas, I’ll have you know.”

Cj groans, tossing the cigarette butt out of her window before rolling it up. “I knew you were a square, but I didn’t know it was this bad.”

“What? The world’s largest twine ball isn’t that breathtaking?”

“No, you idiot. You should have visited the Grand Canyon, or the Petrified Forest, or the French Quarter, for fuck’s sake. Not a goddamn twine ball.”

“Why are you getting so mad? I’m just trying to make conversation,” I growl out.

“Because you’re perfectly able to get around, and you waste your time traveling seeing stupid shit that every other white tourist in America has posted to Facebook multiple times. If you’re going to travel, make it worth your fucking while,” she roars, slamming her fist against the steering wheel and glowering at me.

“How do you know I haven’t seen any of those places? You’ve never asked me about it until today,” I shoot back.

The cab remains quiet for a minute while she silently simmers. Another ten minutes pass by before she’s ready to speak again. “I’m sorry for getting angry, Tucker. It’s just frustrating to watch other people live and talk about a life I’m never gonna have.”

“You could though, if you were to travel with your prosthetic. Lots of people carry on their lives with one. Are you just scared to leave Wisconsin, or what?”

“It’s not that easy. On one hand, wearing the prosthetic isn’t that comfortable, and imagine how warm and sweaty it gets in the hot weather. On another hand, I don’t want to wear shorts and have everyone staring at me like I’m Bionic Woman. It’s just easier to sit in my chair and Google all the places I want to visit. Then I never have to leave the comfort of my home.”

Rolling my eyes, I fold the map back up and leave it in my lap. “Yeah. Being the town recluse is awesome. Sign me up.”

Seeing the hurt and guilt flash across her face, I know I’ve taken it a step too far. I take a deep breath before continuing on. “Cj, c’mon. That comment wasn’t very nice, but you can’t stay cooped up in your cabin for forever. You’re going to have to venture out of the house eventually.” I pause as a thought comes to mind. “What were you doing out and about the day we first met?”

“That’s an exception. Stewie was being an asshole and tracked mud across the design I was supposed to finish for Joe. I couldn’t have him fucking it up anymore, so I had to work on it at the library if I didn’t want it completely ruined.”

“See? And here you are, a month later with me. I didn’t think any less of you for missing a limb, so why would anyone else? Not every social interaction you have is gonna be horrible. What about the time we met in the grocery store?”

“Great. There’s no one else I’d rather be with,” she snorts and lights another cigarette, keeping her eyes on the road. “As for the grocery store, I didn’t particularly feel like starving. Excuse me.”

“So why is it any different going out of state?”

“It just is, okay? That shit costs money I don’t have.”

“Right. But you can afford a new tattoo every couple months. My bad.”

The steely silence that follows is deafening in the truck cab. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her this angry, but then again, I’m pretty mad myself.

“My tattoos are a form of self expression I use to cover up the disgust I feel every day looking at my deformed nub of a fucking leg. It’s been six goddamn years, and I still feel the  revulsion I first did in the hospital when they told me they had to cut it off. So, unless you have something else you would like to add, please do me a favor, and shut the fuck up, Tucker.”

Tears are streaming down her face, and I know I screwed up big time with this one. Trying to backpedal, I open my mouth, but the words don’t come out. When they do, they’re not the right ones. “Cj, I’m really sorry for making you angry, but--”

“Save it, Tuck. I really don’t wanna talk to you right now.”

When she pulls into my driveway, I clear my throat. “I know you don’t want to talk to me, but please just text me when you make it home. I wanna know that you made it there safely.”

Her eyes are red rimmed and she doesn’t bother looking at me.


I grab the maps off the dash, and turn around. “I’ll talk to you later.”


With that, she slams the truck in drive and guns it out of the driveway, spraying me and the house with a wave of gravel. Crap.

I slowly walk up the steps and retrieve a Busch Light from the fridge before gently taking a seat on the glider, pulling out my new phone, and setting it on the cushion next to me. Watching the sunset, I open one of the maps and start studying the interstates, highways, and cities in front of me. Baton Rouge, Denver, Sacramento, Red Lodge. All the names blur in front of me the longer I examine it. It turns out it’s just the tears clouding my vision.

To hell with this. Why am I so mad? She’s the one that has a right to be.

I stalk out to my truck with the map and beer still in my hand, climb in, and slam the door. Growling, I turn the key and fly out of the drive, sending loose gravel flying the way Cj did ten minutes earlier. Slamming the beer and throwing it out the window, I hear the glass shatter on the blacktop before I take a sharp curve going forty five. I’ve gotta get out of here.

My redemption comes in the form of Grumbly’s, the bar ten minutes away from the cabin. Parking my truck, I sit there for a few minutes, debating going in. The road map sits in the front seat, crinkled up. One of the pages has a two inch tear in it.

Fuck it.

Inside, the bar is refreshingly cool from the air conditioning. There’s almost no one here, except for the bartender and an older gentleman sitting at the end of the bar. Fine by me.

I’m studying one of the buck mounts above the alcohol shelf when the bartender strides over to me, a white rag thrown over her shoulder. Brown hair tumbles down her back, and she’s wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt and jeans. “What’ll it be, honey?”

“Jack and Coke, please.”

“Comin’ right up. That’ll be $3.50.”


Setting a ten dollar bill down on the bar, I watch as the older gentleman exits the bar for a cigarette with his drink. My attention is returned when the brunette sets my Jack and Coke on a Budweiser coaster. Raising it to my lips, I feel the fire ignite in my chest as I drain the glass. The brunette raises an eyebrow and fills it up again.

“Take ‘er easy this time, buddy. I’ve got more of it if you need it. You got a name?”

“Tucker Boone.”

“Nice to meet you. Name’s Allie Peterson.”

“Nice to meet you.”

She cocks her head to the side, trying to place my accent. “You’re not from ‘round here.”


“Where down south are ya from?”


“Not very big on words either, are ya?”


“That’s alright. People ‘round here have a habit of talking way too much anyways.” She picks up a glass and wipes it down with a towel. “What’s eating you?”

I take another drink. “Women trouble.”

“You and me both, toots. What’d you do to piss her off?”

“It’s kind of a long story,” I mumble.

“You’re obviously not going anywhere.”

“Touche.” I sigh before drinking the rest, pushing it further onto the bar for another. “The woman that I’m currently friends with has a lot of tattoos, and we were talking about traveling. I made a comment about how she should save her money to get out and see the world before spending that much money on ink.”

Allie snorts and rolls her eyes. “Yeah. Like you have a lot of room to talk.”

“Okay, fair point, but she never gets out of her house. She had an accident of some kind, and the way she makes it sound, she’s never left Wisconsin since. We’ve become close in the past month. I just want to see her happy.”

Allie stops scrubbing the glass and narrows her eyes at me. “You’re talking about Cj Rivers, aren’t you?” she finishes quietly.

“Cj Rivers? Her last name is Keats. That’s what she told me anyways.”

“No. Her last name is Rivers. Short, lots of tattoos, curly red hair, great ass, and got a hell of an attitude?”


“Yeah, that’s her. She doesn’t get close to a lot of people, and for good reason. Consider yourself lucky.”


She swings the towel back over her shoulder and grabs a Bud Light from the cooler, popping the top off and taking a drink.

“A lot of people made fun of her after what happened. She pushed everyone away and doesn’t talk to hardly anyone, except for her ma. She probably gets along with you because you don’t know her past.”

“Which is…?”

She remains silent for a moment, studying the top of the bar. “It’s not my place to tell. If you wanna know, you’ve gotta ask her. You could ask anyone else in town, and they’d tell you, but that’s not the honest way of going about it. Everyone talks enough shit here, so if you want the truth, you’ve gotta ask her yourself.”

“Fair enough.”

Allie looks me in the eyes and frowns, leaning against the bar and crossing her arms. “You should know this, though. The woman you know as Cj never used to be like that in high school. Her sarcastic, bitchy attitude is all a front she put up after what happened. She used to be the sweetest, most innocent girl in our grade. She was someone that lit up the room when she walked in. The girl next door type that was always smiling, always laughing. Half our class was in love with her. I think I had a crush on her at one point, come to think of it.”

“Why such a turn around though?”

Allie shrugs. “She was bitter and angry, and she’s probably still hurting, even though it was how many years ago. However, she has every right to be. No one’s ever tried to just be her friend after all the shit that went down. Everyone’s treated her like she has the plague instead of just missing a leg. She’s probably mentioned that before. I know I would have. You’re most likely the first one that hasn’t made her feel like a freak show oddity.”

She glances at my empty glass. “You need a refill?”

“No thank you. I’ll take a water though, please,” I mumble.

“Sounds good.”

The old timer comes back in and takes a seat at the other end of the bar by the flat screen TV. Allie walks off to serve him as I feel my phone vibrate. Fishing it out of my pocket, my eyes flit back and forth across the message.

Made it home safe. I’m sorry for blowing things out of proportion. It’s just a sensitive subject. I don’t like talking about it.

I glance back at the bar, where Allie is making the man an old fashioned. I punch a message out before she comes back with my glass of water.
Glad to hear you made it home safe. All good. I don’t blame you for being upset with me. Thinking back on the conversation, I would have been angry too. I’m sorry.

My thumb hovers above the send button for a moment before I press it.

“Here you go.”

“Thank you.”

Allie grins at me before setting the water down on the coaster. “Try not to feel too bad. You’re a newcomer. Before you know it, you’re gonna know all the town secrets like every other asshole around here.”

Submitted: July 01, 2018

© Copyright 2023 A. R. Currson. All rights reserved.


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