“My parents are there. They attend it every year.”
“It’s dark,” I sighed. “We should stay on the trail. People get lost out here.”
He grabbed my hand. “We’ll hurry past it. My truck’s just beyond that boulder.”
I nodded, and we rushed toward an enormous white tent with hanging lights, the sound of a generator mixing with excited chatter and laughter.
We had nearly made it when I heard William’s voice calling my name. I closed my eyes and felt Taylor squeezing my hand.
We turned, and when William recognized Taylor and then saw our hands, he puffed out his chest, already preparing to lose his temper. Blaire joined us, the swishing of her long gown coming to a halt once she took her husband’s arm. The expression on her face was familiar, one I had begun to relish.
“Falyn, dear, what are you doing here?” she asked.
By the term of endearment, she had revealed herself. She’d only call me those asinine pet names in front of her friends, the fake ones who she’d ruthlessly trash in the privacy of her home. I wasn’t welcome, and she wanted me to leave sooner rather than later.
People were beginning to crowd around my parents, like a small army of judgmental assholes, all listening in to make sure they could hear the juicy details to discuss at the next dinner party.
I began to turn, but William quickly approached. “This has got to stop. You—”
“Dad,” I said, my voice saccharine sweet, “you remember Taylor Maddox. He’s from Eakins, Illinois.”
Blaire touched her fingers to her chest. “Bill,” she said, reaching for her husband, “leave Falyn to her friend. Good night, sweetheart.”
“We’ll discuss this later,” William said, turning his back on me.
I pulled Taylor to the truck, desperate to get into the passenger seat. Once Taylor was sitting beside me, I yanked on the seat belt, feeling like I could finally breathe once it clicked.
“Falyn,” he said, hesitation in his voice, “why do they care that I’m from Eakins?”
“Because they don’t want me anywhere near there.”
“Because I could cause a lot of trouble for a lot of people if I go there.”
Taylor started the truck, and I peered over at him.
He was staring straight ahead into the darkness. “Did you know I was from Eakins when we met?”
“Does it have to do with the fire?”
“Does what have to do with what fire?”
He turned to me, glaring. “Are you fucking with me, Falyn? Who are you?”
I wrinkled my nose. “What fire? What are you talking about?”
He faced forward again. “Do you know Trex?”
“The guy who came with you to the café the first time?”
Taylor sighed and then shoved the gearshift into reverse. “We’ve both gotta work tomorrow. We should call it a night.”
He didn’t speak again throughout the ride to downtown. When he parked in front of the Bucksaw, he didn’t even put the truck into park.
“Th-thanks.” I slowly unbuckled my seat belt and placed my hand on the door handle. “It was a good day.”
“It was,” he said, sighing. Regret was all over his face.
I fished out my keys and unlocked the front door under the lights of Taylor’s truck. Once I was inside and the door was locked, Taylor backed into the street and drove away.
I stood in the dim dining area, alone and confused. Eakins had other secrets, more than just mine.
Taylor or anyone from his crew, including the now mysterious Trex, hadn’t been to The Bucksaw Café in six days. I had gone over what I’d said until my thoughts were sick of themselves.
I tapped on the counter with what little nails I had while chewing on a cuticle on my other hand. Most of the time, not having a phone was liberating, but now that I wanted to Google something, I felt an impulsive need to go out and buy one.
“I thought you were going to quit that,” Phaedra said, walking by with a tubful of dirty dishes.
I pulled my finger out of my mouth, the skin around my nail white and torn. “Damn it.”
Kirby stood by the drink station, picking up clean cloths for wiping down tables even though she hadn’t seated anyone in twenty minutes. Only the loyal regulars were in their seats, ignoring the pouring rain outside.
“Do you have your phone?” I asked Kirby.
She pulled it from her apron. “Yeah. Why?”
“I want to look something up. Can I use it?”
Kirby granted my request. The hot-pink case meant to protect her phone felt bulky in my hand. The days when I’d had a cell phone were so far behind me that it felt like a former life, but the screen looked the same. The icon for the Internet was easy to find.
I clicked on it and proceeded to type in the words, Fire in Eakins, Illinois.
The first page was full of links to articles about the local college. I clicked on the first one, reading about dozens of college kids who had been killed while trapped in a basement of one of the campus buildings. I shuddered at images of sooty faces, looking just like Taylor’s the first day I’d met him. The name Travis Maddox came up more than a dozen times. He was being investigated for being present at the fight. I wondered why, out of all the students present, Travis and one other man were the only two mentioned to be facing charges.
“I don’t know yet,” I said, looking up to scan my tables.
I set down the phone and breezed by the food window. I had perfected fitting plates onto a tray years ago. Only a few seconds were spent loading entrees before continuing to the dining area.
“Ta-da,” I said, standing over my favorite regular, Don.
Don sat up tall, setting his tea down and giving me plenty of room to situate his meal.
“Do me a favor, and cut into that steak, handsome.”
He nodded, his shaking hands carving into the thick meat. He hummed a, “Yes,” and then brought the fork to his mouth.
I put my hand on his shoulder. “How is it?”
He hummed again, chewing. “You’re my favorite, Falyn.”
“You’re mine, but you knew that.” I winked at him and then walked over to the drink station.
The sky was dark outside, and the sidewalks were wet with the intermittent rain that had been falling since mid-morning. Crap weather meant less butts in the seats and less tips in our pockets.
Phaedra brought in a stack of freshly sanitized menus from the back before setting them in a rectangular wicker basket. She crossed her tan arms, her skin leathered from years in the sun. “I’m not going to curse the rain. We needed the rain.”
“Maybe that will help your boy with those fires.”
“We’re going to need a lot more rain than this. And he’s not my boy. I haven’t seen him in a week.”
I shook my head, breathing out a laugh. “I don’t think so.”