Rio slides onto the barstool next to her. She gazes blankly at him. “So what’s up? How you been? Kids good?” Rio leans in towards her. She says nothing. Just looks at him. “My boy says Jane’s like a superstar forward on the team.” Anyone listening would think them old friends having an innocuous chat over a casual drink.
“You think they’ll make finals this year or what?” he laughs. Beth stares back at him, face pinched; a deer in the headlights. ‘Good,’ he thinks. She’d bolt soon enough and then he would pounce. He leans in to her again. He can smell her hair. It reminds him of her, Ruby and Annie in a booth in a bar. He remembers clasping her hand in his under the table as she passed him the black duffel of cash. Her hair had smelled the same then; sweet like cherry blossoms and a hint of honeysuckle. Then she’d tugged her hand out of his and leaned back and he’d wanted to put his face in her neck and just breathe her in. The thought makes him angry. He wants to smash something. Instead, he forces levity into his voice.
“Oh, I gotta show you something.” Rio chuckles, slips his hand into his jacket, brings them out from where they’ve been burning a hole in his pocket. For dramatic flair, he rolls the first bullet between his thumb and index finger just below her face. She’s transfixed; his captive audience. He kisses the deformed bullet then slams it down. Waits for her to flinch. She doesn’t.
He punctuates each word with a bullet. He thinks her eyes drift shut for an instant. They’re open when he looks at her face again. They’ve reddened. He thinks if she were any other woman, she’d already be crying. But ‘Nah, not Elizabeth Boland,’ he thinks.
“To your aim,” he raises his glass to her, a mocking look in his eye and drinks. She meets his eyes again. Her eyes are sparkling with unshed tears. He has a sudden feeling that she's not going to let these tears fall for him tonight. “Suit yourself.”
“Bottoms up. You’ve got a lot to celebrate.” Rio nudges her drink towards her. Beth looks at it blankly, seemingly seeing but unseeing.
“You’ve made a beautiful family. Helped out your community and what not. Hell, I’ll bet they name a wing after you at your kids’ school.” He clocks the exact moment she realizes that this is his eulogy to her. Thinks maybe it’s the mention of her kids in it that has finally kicked in her flight response. She starts to slip off the barstool. He grabs her arm, squeezes. He knows his grip is too tight. She’s going to bruise. ‘Who cares when she’ll be dead in a few minutes anyway?’ Rio thinks. So why does he loosen his hold on her?
“Don’t. Do. That.” He bites off each word. Clenches his jaw. She says nothing. He wants to hit something; wants to pound his fist into the bar and rage at her until she’s a crying, whimpering mess. He wants her to break for him. He bites down and swallows his anger. “It just puts off what’s coming.” She looks him full in the face again, eyes wide and his composure slips again.
“Then you gotta wait for it and trust me, that’s…”
He can feel himself coming unhinged. It reminds him of smashing up that fuck-ugly neon corvette. Watching her protect her husband from the knowledge of what she and Rio had done in that bathroom, he’d felt unhinged. Taut. Tense. Until he’d shattered that first window. Aaah, release. He wishes he could do that now; go back in time and just, just…release. He chuckles recklessly. “….trust me, that’s just way worse.”
“You’re my girl.” She doesn’t seem to take that as a compliment. He touches her hair, just barely brushes it with his knuckles. Her breath catches but she doesn’t shrink from him. He wants to do it again, to remind her what they used to be. Before. The words echo in his mind. ‘You’re my girl.’ She is. His Elizabeth.
He’s waiting for her to break. Then he’ll end it and put them both out of their misery. He just wants her to crack. He wants it so bad he can almost taste it. It’s the release he’s craving, like he’s straining for an orgasm that’s just out of reach.
“I’ll do it myself.” She gives him nothing. Her pupils are blown, her nose is pinched but other than that, nothing. Just that look on her face like she’s barely breathing.
‘A’ight then,’ Rio thinks. He is irrationally angry. This wasn’t how this whole thing was supposed to play out. ‘Although,’ in his mind, he scoffs at himself, ‘It’s Elizabeth fuckin’ Boland.’ When had she ever made anything easy for him? He’s almost resigned now; she’s never going to give him the reaction he wants, needs from her.
‘Aight. Let’s get this over with.” He stands. Takes his last shot. Leans in, “What d’you say?” He uses his voice against her, pitches it low, makes it warm, intimate, raspy, like honey over gravel. He uses that voice knowing that it's the one which always throws her just slightly off-kilter, which always gives him a smidge more than a fighting chance against her.
It seems to work because she finally opens her mouth. Only what comes out is the one thing he’s not steeled himself to hear tonight.