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The Way the Wind Blows

 
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Ketch Creeley
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 1:50 pm    Post subject: The Way the Wind Blows Reply with quote

Late November, 2016

It had been winding down for an hour. Two patrons left and a stack of glasses that needed polishing. Bottles needed repurchasing. Pays being processed. But instead, Madison found herself distracted by thoughts,and had taken to staring at the door almost wistfully for a distraction from them. Alone on the shift, she couldn't attend to administration anyway, but the rows of washed glasses that needed shining only got her thinking about that .45 under the bed that needed the same. Madison sighed and hit open the till and began going through the bills. A glance at the clock. Maybe a night to close early.

There was a straggler wandering across old floorboards, the scuff of his boots soft and unobtrusive. Ketch’s attention was aimed at the glow of his phone as he backed through the door, thumb pushing through messages he read only the first and last word of. There was nothing in them to hook him in any deeper.

He didn't expect the relative quiet or the figure behind the bar that was decidedly not Fin's. The line of his brow weathered his surprise, twitching low once before smoothing out in forming a slow half-smile of the polite variety as he approached the bar. His seating preference was off-center downbar, so if he angled right, he had a nice panorama of the place.

Of all the boots in all the bars, Madison didn't expect to see or hear Creeley's, but she smiled in turn; that corner-of-the-mouth pocket, always somehow implying a shared joke between herself and the other. Or some kind of appreciation. She shut the till with a brass bell chime and lifted a dark brow his way. The expectation of not seeing him came from all the time that passed between seeing him at all. And he, her and the guillotine swing-swing of her braid. Except that now it had only been a few days since the man of sawdust had been a sight and tonight the dark, sleepless tangle of her hair wasn’t looped and captured but free and decidedly wild with the licks of perspiration that sent wisps of it into static at her hairline—that, or it was her inherent bristling nature when it was late in the piece and someone set their boots through that door. It wasn't always welcome kinds that did, nor was it always the kinds that made her tense. But mostly, it was. "Tequila?" A flash of teeth in her broadening smile. "Or you leanin' towards Jack?"

Ketch made a habit of social absence lately; if prodded he didn't know that he could say for certain what had turned his steps down the path towards Charlie's tonight—though the locale had its appealing traits, the lack of familiar faces being one of those.

"It's a Jack night, I think," he said, sliding into someone else's vacancy. "Tequila's a rarity for me. One of those that bites back hardest in the morning." He couldn't match the breadth of her smile, but a phantom of it danced in his eyes. Maybe partially, too, it was for the skew of those dark wisps of hair looking like they were ready to take off. He couldn't remember ever seeing her with her hair so undone.

Madison leaned there against the counter, like a doctor deciding on the outcome for her patient, and then her smile faltered a touch at his talk of teeth marks in the morning and she turned away to wordlessly find that bottle and not one, but two glasses, tossing a silent wave for Geoff, one of her regulars, as he stumbled out the door patting at his breast pocket for a smoke. She laughed a little and shook her head and placed the medicine between them. Seemed she was self-medicating, too.

"A Jack night. Fittin'." The specter of a smile still haunted his gaze, just at the corners of his eyes, and once the drink was poured, Madison slid the glass across and nodded once. "If you were hopin' to see Fin, you're stuck with me, I'm afraid. He took off early, he was here early this mornin' for a delivery." Then she poured herself a half glass, toasted him in the air and took a sip. "Hell of a week." The old wood called back around them in night time groans and the hollow sound of the echoing jukebox as Cary Ann Hearst wailed about being all torn up.

Geoff, that one Ketch recognized well enough, but their acknowledgments were of the silent kind—which was just as good as anonymity in cities like this one that shrank with every passing day. He watched the man stagger past while his hand idled in a curve atop the counter, waiting to be filled with a glass. Part of him wondered if he should get up and follow the guy out, just go back home, because Fin knew the shifter's silences well, but Madison might actually try compelling some words out of him.

"I wasn't hoping for anything but a drink." He cleared the raw from his throat, scraped his attention off the door and put it back on the brunette before him. It wasn’t as painful a resting place for his eyes as his obstinance might have made it seem. A shake of his head and he met Madison's toast, taking a long swallow that burned the rest of his reticence away. "Hell of a week," he echoed. "That a general conversation starter or personal experience speaking?"

"Both," Madison answered with a little darkness to her tone as she rolled her shoulders under the loose fit of an old, tired-seeming bone-white blouse. "Mostly the latter."

She took another sip, her eyes on his features still. "That concurrin' with me your bein' polite or comin' from someplace? That same place that had you drinkin' Cuervo the other evenin'. Salome perhaps." Because she had seen, just as Ketch may have seen her and Glenn and their awkward equanimity around one another.

Madison eased around the counter and dropped down on the stool beside Ketch with a roll of the neck and a narrowing of eyes as she leaned over her drink and chased a look over to Mikey, a former wrestler who was now gnarled and bent like a weathered oak. And like that man, a shadow of himself, she felt the same. Like some version of herself that was behind the truth. Undone, perhaps. Indeed.

"Mm," it was a sound of acknowledgment and nothing else. It harbored no sympathy, no commiseration, no judgment. But Ketch’s eyes, like hers, were steady between them. Maybe he considered asking something different, but Madison was already dissecting the former comment, which loosed something closer to a genuine smile for her perspicacity—something he'd suspected of her but hadn't ever spent enough time in the presence of to confirm. And also, it hadn't particularly mattered before. That smile got a quick curtain call when Madison mentioned Salome's name, though. Like a flame snuffed in a fist, his expression went dark and closed off, and it took him a few tries to shake it.

"It was initially me being polite and hoping you'd just let it be a passing comment, but then you threw Salome into it and kind of *** that up for the both of us." He toasted her glass and drank again as Madison sat down next to him, something familiar in her scent, but buried bone deep beneath layers of skin and soap and laundry detergent. Something that rose from the marrow.

"Not much for diggin' at souls that prefer to stay buried deep, Creeley. So feel free to tell me to shut the hell up. It's a passin' thing I thought to voice seein' as flames of ours went on to torch elsewhere and we're knowin' of them both." She toasted him back with a smile that curved her mouth, in that way that her voice could find its darkness when she laughed in dry amusement or got to the sharing of the things that brought the heart into her mouth and her eyes. There was a stillness to her, stone-quiet, tree-silent, listening but sending currents into the air, both giving and receiving.

"I have a way of ***' things up. Call it a knack, like my hunch for knowin' you weren't runnin' to and from for the goddamn scenery." That smile, it had no breadth his mouth would have to try and match, nor his eyes, for it folded in on itself and she looked away and down to the drink that she swirled around her glass.

Some things mattered: The portrait that hung crooked on the wall, of lives and loves and things that hadn't been what they had. "Guess I don't make the most polite of bartenders." The bottle reached for and she refilled both glasses, even though they were freshly poured, anticipating that mouths would parch with words that drew the soul out of them on gasoline miles.

“I will,” Ketch said, but he didn’t tell her to go to hell right then. His smile corkscrewed into a smirk, the bitter end of which he fit around his freshly refilled glass. When he finished off the dregs, he dragged his knuckles to the corners of his mouth, then took the liberty of pouring his own refill and topping Madison off while he was at it—half out of politeness and half out of solidarity probably. He immediately drained his glass again. “I didn’t realize the guy was an old flame of yours. Suppose I should have, though, thinking back on it now, the way you two went back and forth.”

He stood, leaned, reached behind the bar and came back with an ashtray. His cigarette pack had worn a permanent shape in his back left pocket. Cellophane crinkled as he set pack and Zippo atop the bar, open invitation. “I have that same knack, except usually I know I’m doing it, and plenty of times it’s on purpose. So maybe that’s more character flaw than knack.” Ketch cut a look up at Madison from under the directionless muss of dark hair. A roll of his thumb sent a flame spitting an orange glow and dim heat between them. It took him a minute to put the end of his cigarette in its hiss; the drag that followed was long and uncharacteristically self-indulgent.

“What makes a polite bartender? Almost sounds like an existential question, really.” Laughter came out of him as if tipped off-balance. "Maybe bartenders aren't supposed to be polite, maybe they're supposed to just be archetypes. But you're sitting on this side of the bar now, so I think you're off the hook."

Madison laughed for his retort. The smile that followed, shadowing the corners of her mouth, an after-image of the expression, a promise of delight at his feeling comfortable, just as Fin was. The Scot had fit into the bar as though he had always been there, and it occurred to her then her own openness and measure of being relaxed beside the tall drink of water. Scarce as she had been, at either bar or home, meeting others had diminished, and for a lonesome soul at heart that was just the way it was. Between cigarette smoke and the stars was where her boots had been placed for an age and then some. So meeting someone else over sensible drinks and shared territory placed a warmth into the woman that had been absent. It made her nearly cold to think it, and it made her smile falter again as she thanked him for the refill and took another long sip. More warmth followed, filling in her gaps and making the inconsistencies appear less.

"Old ridin' partner. Wasn't much of a boyfriend. But he's a flame nonetheless, regardless of the connotatin'; he burns through the world and sears the sky with his livin'. I don't got much to be doin' with that and might be that is why we never got to bein' proper. I do my own kinda burnin' too." She breathed a breath of a smile and placed the glass down, turning it around in her palm as she reached over past the cellophane for a cigarette and then leaned towards him so he might burn too.

"I'm off the hook, Creeley." Head bent, hair slipping forward to curtain her lean, as if they were conspiring with fire against the world. "Don't matter what I think on that, now that I'm sittin' here." Eyes on his, she grinned around the cigarette held between teeth.

(cont'd)
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Ketch Creeley
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2017 10:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The ember of Ketch’s cigarette made an aggressive charge across paper,smoke billowing between them as if the set of their shoulders was a boundary line of some new dominion that existed only as long as the conversation, the whiskey, the wail of the jukebox. Timeless and temporary.

He listened to the way she talked about Glenn, the intimacy and passage of time inherent in how her breath shaped the words; he had his own ideas about what kind of burning a man like Glenn did, but as far as Madison went Ketch wasn’t making any guesses yet, just riding the curiosity as it was born along the uplift of one dark brow. “That’s something on its own, though, knowing the difference.” The Zippo’s flame bowed towards the end of her cigarette and danced.

He found he didn’t mind the way his last name sounded when it came out of Madison’s mouth. There was an easiness in it that appealed to him. When Glenn had caught him off-guard with it in the inn nights previous, Ketch had wanted to put his fist hard through the man’s face, but he hadn’t quite understood why then the way he understood it now. “So you are,” he replied, watching how her grin bent around the cigarette. “Pretty good view from this side, right? I’ve always liked this place.”

And then, after another swallow of whiskey and a bit of thought, he added. “Salome was probably more a spark than a flame. We didn’t get very far,” a hitch of one shoulder. “Still capable of some sting, but at least I don’t think I’m in any danger of burning down to ashes.”

Madison exhaled a few coyote tails of cigarette smoke and looked upwards briefly, watching them disintegrate, and nodded along. "She greeted me by callin' the meetin' a misfortune, so we didn't exactly get off on the right foot. But from what I can see, they're made for each other." It was an ironic laugh. "Both lettin' their mouths get ahead of themselves." Madison laughed some more, a chuckle that was torchy with self-deprecation. "I can get thattaway too, if I get fired up, but I'm better at keepin' it in check these days. Somethin' has to come with gettin' older other than more complications."

Another pull, another swig, another song on the 'box. The music rolled around like a drunk sailor in the corner and worked a hand around to the back of her neck where an old ache lived that now was only a habit. Mikey exited and the room seemed to yawn around them. It was the threshold of past and future, truth and lie, recovery and discovery. She moved her prairie gaze to Ketch’s profile. She spoke on his description of the relationship, her voice quiet as she could be still and stiff and watchful, the way Madison had become listening to him; head crooked to one side, the storm of her mane every which way, but eyes steadfast, serious, a thunder contained in curiosity. "Like you said, knowin' the difference determines so much."

He nodded, breathing in the communion of smoke winding up towards the ceiling and then broke with a chuckle again. They were rarely full-throated things, seemed a sound more lodged in his chest—a poke of a stick through gravel, the stir of ashes— but humored at least. “I think that’s just how she makes first impressions. She wiggled her fingers and threw me out of my goddamned chair second time I ever saw her. She’s hot-headed so if he’s the same, then yeah, they’re probably a matched pair.”

Ketch tilted another look Madison’s way when she mentioned getting fired up. “You look like white cotton and daisies to me,” he said with a wink to suggest he was teasing. Maybe. They didn’t know each other all that well, but you could get a sense of a person through repetition, and Ketch thought that just beneath the surface, Madison’s flame was still a deep blue heat. Self-control just moderated who got to see it, and that was something he could empathize with.

Madison sipped and exhaled as the glass went down and then she rose from the seat to walk over to the jukebox and feed it a few more coins to keep it going a little longer before sliding behind the counter to take a damp towel along the bar top after Mikey's ashes and crumbs. On her way back to her stool, she grabbed a bottle of Talisker.

“I might just be those things, Creeley... to some. Maybe even you, but I suppose after a sip of this here whiskey you'll have your mind halfway done made up. Ever had this?"

Ketch stood up, walking in the echoes of Mikey’s slow steps as the man left. He wore a smile for Madison’s comment as he locked the door behind the man, a comfort in the movement that said he’d done it a number of times before with Mackenzie behind the bar. He passed the jukebox on the way back, running the edge of his thumb along the outward curve of glass and then settled himself at the bar again, picking up the bottle to study the label. “It’s not ringing any bells. You treating me or testing me?”

He locked the door and Madison’s eyes were still that way, pinned to the entry with a skew at the middle of her brow that bespoke of her being so damn lax all day moving in the space between her thoughts. "Thanks for lockin' up." It brought an ease to her, though not the kind that was in how she moved, a walk like sorrow; all slow and calm and with a haunt to her steps like a woman who was expecting only more grim things. The ease that came was a result of his forethought, of his likeness to Fin. The similarity in wit and care. Fin knew all her secrets, even the ones that didn't have names or words to make them real, and Ketch had the makings of a man who might come to learn a few of those, too.

"Guess when you're done makin' up your mind about them daisies you can decide on whether it's a treat or a test." Madison grinned, holding her cigarette aside as she placed the bottle down and held it against her chest to twist off the lid. "Highlands. Scotland. Tastes like the sea and the soil." She held the bottle out for him with a tip of her head that invited him to go for it, then took another pull from the cigarette before stubbing it out into the tray. The cigarette and the peaty liquor swelled together in a way that made her mouth almost water and then go dry straight after. The blue flame within the woman flaring in brightness, in her eyes, once, and then collecting again in the bellows as she watched him with that low slung smirk. "How did you meet Mack? He's spoken of you of course, but I don't believe I know that story."

She took a moment to really look at the burnished skin courtesy of the desert and wondered if Ketch knew more of what she'd seen through his own eyes than she took from him first. He had always been blue eyes and so much height, but now she had the opportunity to learn the details of the man. A place for their palms to be placed face up and fortunes read like bibles. She sensed a shared territory here, a shared landscape made of scars and ghosts, whiskey and violence, dirt and pain under the nails, under the heart. It was a world within the world.

“That sounds like a rebuttal and a challenge at once,” Ketch said, then pushed his glass in her direction, closing his hand over the mouth of it when she picked up the bottle to drink. He liked Madison’s guilelessness, her affect in general and maybe, similarly, there was something that felt easy within him, though time had taught him he couldn’t count on that to remain. But he could enjoy it for the now, and he did, eyeing the cigarette she held out to the side, the arch of her neck and the bob of her throat as she drank. “Guess so,” he murmured, and when the bottle met the counter again, he took it up, considering her description, the part about the sea and the soil, “***, this might be wasted on my palate, then. I’m mostly used to varying levels of flammability. You’re handing over something with substance.”

He bore up under scrutiny, turned into it even, because he didn’t mind being assessed or studied. There was most often a sense of steadiness to him, a feeling that he was rooted and present wherever he happened to be. Part of that was probably his upbringing, the intensity with which he was taught to invest himself in his surroundings until he could become a part of them. But simmering behind that was the tremor of the wild, the spirit that moved through both earth and animal, and the instincts that could upset the balance. He looked at Madison in turn, beyond the shirt she was wearing and the wild fan of dark hair (still such a striking difference to the braid he followed through the inn’s door a year ago), and what he saw there kindled a twitch of a smile, brief, because then he picked up the bottle again for another round.

“I’m going to hold off on any decision making about treats, tests, or daisies for now.” His expression went crooked, a little sly. “The way that friendship got struck up wasn’t straightforward friendliness. I was a little bit interested in his girl at the time, thought I’d scout the territory. Then I ended up getting along with the bastard.”

That corner-of-the-mouth expression, that smile that wasn't quite, that threatened always with a remark or laughter as Madison listened to him concisely explain himself where it came to the Scot. "That's quite the way to meet someone. And come to like them. But somethin' tells me there's a way about that boy that makes it so no matter what, he's someone to like. I... I never did have siblin's, but he's as close as a brother as I have. Part of why I'm findin' myself happy you came in here tonight. For us to get to know one another."

“When I think about it, there’s probably an unsettling amount of things that started that way for me—with ulterior motives,” Ketch squinted, considering that, drifting off for a moment doing a mental tally that led to too many dead ends and tightly-closed compartments. He picked up a new train of thought and rode it back into the present where Madison was featured centerfield, cotton and whiskey and wild, ink spill hair against a backdrop of old wood and restless ghosts.

"Maybe you'll come around for a drink again, and then you can decide. See what a little distance gives to your mind." For as wallflower as she Madison could be, she could also, like Ketch, plant, take root, and bloom where she needed to. If life had made her anything, it was adaptable. She also knew that any drink was as good as kerosene if you were in the mood to set fire with and the way Ketch spoke held her in that line of thought. Especially as she felt, for a few moments, that he was assessing her in turn, taking in her angles and edges, those softened and those honed. It loaned her more weight, more gravity, seemed to substantiate herself as ... well, herself, and not the holes everyone else was asking her to fill, that life had asked her to fill, and some of which still left her feeling as if it all wasn't quite real. There seemed to be, here, a place for flint to spark. For a fire to burn. A place that begged for something to be said that might illustrate all mysteries by its fire. Madison couldn’t explain it to herself, and yet it was all she'd thought about while watching Ketch take another sip, seeming to accept the fate she'd handed him, even if all he was tasting was the soil, the grains and spirit of another time and place, far from here, but one that suited them both. Madison took the bottle from him and knocked it back, hissing through wet lips before holding it back out.

“Maybe,” he agreed, “Distance has a way of clarifying things, yeah?” And when Madison took the bottle back to tip it up again and flood herself anew, there was a fraction of an inch between his grasp on the bottle and the reach of hers. In that space he could feel the outward bow of body heat, of energy. Some called it aura, but energy was what it had always been to him, the flow of someone’s story across their skin. The right kind of touch would unlock it, but he was careful about that these days, found value in the revelations that came piece by piece, peeled away by time, circumstance, and frequency.

The jukebox went silent and Madison threw a look over a shoulder where cotton frayed before returning her eyes to his. "Distance has a way. What it does just exactly I'm still debatin' in my mind." She responded in an even if dry method of speech, with her gaze slung like a lazy man's bullets.

Her regard of him was bold and open, seemed to ask things that her lips didn’t divulge; it was more the feeling of the way she was, as if she was doing a crossword with his soul but never connecting the dots, not fully, for some things had to be revealed on their own.

"Mind if I have another cigarette? I'll show you around the place."

(cont'd)
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Ketch Creeley
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 20, 2017 1:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Sure. We’ll go on some kind of bargaining system,” Ketch said. “You keep sharing that bottle, I’ll share my tobacco. There’s some of Fin’s hand-rolled’s in there.” The soft pack was still on the bartop, the cellophane wrapper butchered and wrinkled from his pocket, silver wisps of paper torn back to expose an array of tan filters mingling with twisted white ends. “He says the rest are ***. I happen to disagree.”

Ketch pulled the bottle back, took a modest swig, and plucked at the collar of his white t-shirt as he turned and rambled toward the jukebox again. He liked the background noise. Tonight it was preferable to the quiet. Maybe part of that was not knowing Madison well enough to share solitude—which was its own kind of intimacy—or maybe it was just that kind of night. He took his time, bent against the glass, thumb running across buttons as he flipped through the selections. Finally, he injected a couple of coins in the slot, mashed a few buttons, and the Appalachian foothills spilled out of the speakers via Gillian Welch’s low-crooning “Tennessee.” The concentrated furrow of his brow diminished as he turned, getting back to her offer of showing him around. “Deal. But I want the insider’s edition and not the tourist version.”

Madison helped herself to another cigarette in the whispered gossip of cellophane and then she passed him the bottle to take up the Zippo. She lit up in the movement of fingertips that told the ghost story—one of many in that closed, quiet bar, where spirits of the past roamed—of her days in that habit and the patience of the act, enjoying it, savoring it.

"Hell of a song choice, Creeley," Madison said as she stood and gave him a grin that was all gunmetal and gunsmoke, all life and tinged with sadness as she seemingly headed over his way like he'd asked her to dance right there on the floor. But instead, she passed him by with a wave over her shoulder as she led around toward the stairs that lead up.

They were dancing—of that Ketch had no doubt, but he tended to view most relations like that: back and forth, give and take, lead and follow. That was how you learned to see beneath poker faces and root out tells. He watched Madison steadily as she headed right toward him like the next swivel of her hips would turn her into a slow two-step against him. He wasn’t a dancing man these days and never was much of one in the first place, but he was a man who knew most of the steps, either way. That went for a lot of things.

He couldn’t remember the last time he asked a woman to dance, and he liked how the almost of it happened effortlessly. Probably he wouldn’t have minded; dancing without an audience was a different thing than what occurred at the few social occasions he’d attended. From behind the vague blue of his thoughts, Ketch decided that dancing with Madison would be something like trying to dance with smoke.

Her bypass was met with neither disappointment nor relief, but that same removed placidity that gave nothing away as she turned towards the stairs. His shadow stepped into hers for a dark mesh of seconds and then trailed her to the landing.

As Madison headed up, another switch was hit and light shouted into the dark. She sang along in a dozing afternoon's voice that seemed to bring out the hollows of the bar at the hour and absence of crowd, the hollows in her heart and the distances she knew existed sure as she had attested to, but wasn't sure what might fill them again or where they ought to be taken. The wood was fragrant with paint more fresh than ancient, and the thick wooden rails unvarnished and still giving up their timber smell. The building grew warmer above than below where the breeze blew in with the night and had all that space to ramble on nimble feet.

Along the hall and she stopped by the door marked Manager and looked down at her fingers on the handle as she turned it and opened the door. More darkness sprang from itself, as if the room were only a well for it—the blue kind, the kind that had eaten up all the moon through the latched window and left its remains to color in the indistinct and indefinable. Rows and rows of shadows leaned like old men.

Her hand went for the switch and paused as she looked back down the hall and stepped into the door to hold it with the press of her body back into a heel. Her hand hovered over the switch and a brow tilted upward above an eye.

"This here's my office. You're one of the lucky few."

The twitch of Madison’s hips, the latticework of smoke, her wrist, her hand where she grasped the rail and then finally the rail itself; Ketch studied all of it, tuned into the whisper of his palm against wood as they ascended. “Lucky few, huh? I’ll mark the day in my scrapbook,” a keen flash of his eyes teased over her half-shadowed features where she stood in the doorway.

“You like being settled?” The question came like a resonation from the wood planking as he stopped in front of the door. Unlike Madison, he didn’t harbor any whims about getting to know someone better. He could walk out of here having shared a shot and three words with Madison and he’d no more consider it than he would a rock under his foot. He excelled in leaving things behind. So it was somewhat unusual for him to be asking such a personal question. Stranger still when he realized he was genuinely interested in the answer.

Then, while her hand hovered over the question of flooding the office with light, he ducked beneath the awning of her forearm and stepped deeper inside, shuffling among the shadows while his eyes adjusted and made finite shapes of them. Crossing to the window, he stared out at broad sweep of moonlight’s path over pavement and dust, settling himself there against the frame, just another leaning shadow looking out into the night.

“Not yet,” he said from across the room, meaning to keep her fingers from dropping to the switch. “If I’m one of the few, let me get a decent look at the view from the top.”

Ketch ducked beneath her arm and joined the other shadows. He leaned amongst them, but like lightning in a lonely, country sky, he broke the monotony with the trailing silence after a question that riddled the air like bullets and made the shadows seem to stretch and the silence become a thin but toying element, as coy as the way Madison felt about the answer and her hand over the switch. He broke the monotony of the darkness by being there at all; an unlikely event, an unforeseen, and his stay of her hand with two words in answer to the arch of her brow did, in fact, have her fingers curl and still.

Madison closed the door behind her and crossed the small room, running obedient fingers across the back of the incongruous office chair in an otherwise bland, wood-dominated, old-world room. Every other piece of furniture was untreated as the railing and the floors downstairs with stains and pockmarks like a criminal's face. The chair and the blue paint of the walls were a rhapsodic blue, the blue of many skies, wanton blue, secret blue, joyful blue, magnetic blue. These things stood out like Ketch Creeley in her office: all height and quiet watchfulness and patterned in moonlight, which didn’t allow him to dissolve into the darkness entirely.

Madison stepped over to the window and joined him in watching the world below. From the frame they shared, staring past the glass, it felt like staring out of another time. The West as it had been and still was in parts. "I don’t know that like is the word for it."

She placed a hand against the glass, the quiet fortunes in her palm meeting the glare of the moon as her words illuminated what a bulb in the ceiling would never be capable of. Her noble, stricken face looked his way. It was as though in mere admission and further quiet with the muted sounds of the juke downstairs playing like some long lost memory, that her hair was further undone.

"I love my family, don't be gettin' me wrong. But my bein' settled brings its own set of circumstantial problems. It seems that settled, even that, is holdin' the wind in my heart against me. So, no, likin' isn’t somethin' I find in bein' settled. Satisfied while it was good. Even when it was bad. But ... I ain't got a place it seems. Not even here." She looked away and inhaled in that stiff way, her face gone statue-still and silent and her body tensing up until the rest of her was also still. Piercing eyes out the window, narrowed in thought.

It was the blue of Madison’s eyes through shadows he’d memorized long before. Now Ketch saw them cut with gray, washed by moonlight, pale and shallow in her stricken face. She was telling this all to a man who’d made a life mission of denying that he had a ‘place’ anywhere. It wasn’t something he’d wanted, and it wasn’t the first time he’d heard the sentiment (Fin shared something similar), but he weighed it as if it was, let an echo of something he thought must be a kind of sympathy unmask itself slowly, faintly, and then disappear just like the fog around her hand on the windowpane. There were about twenty ways to follow up those nine sentences of hers, plenty of them more questions, but the darkness of the room and the slow fade of the jukebox silenced them all into little more than a thoughtful grunt of sound, acknowledging.

The movement that came to her, came naturally. There was nothing forced in it, no break in the rhythm of it. She stepped away from the window, from his side to the desk, her fingers working the buttons loose from her blouse as she shifted her denim-clad behind onto the desk and sat back. Summer-time cotton. Daisy-fleshed. Lightning, some lightning, in her blue eyes. Madison sent a smile into the shadows on the curve of a mouth gone almost weary with the days, loaning her the sadness she carried even in the way she walked. It had always been there.

Peeling open the ruined, off-white, bleached bone cotton to expose the singlet beneath, she asked. "How's that view, Creeley?"

Of those two coins pushed into the jukebox, Ketch had picked the next song blind, went solely by the feel of his fingers over the buttons. He was wondering over that, what the next song would be, when Madison turned away and started for the desk. The woman was another of those RhyDin specials that was hard to look away from. He noticed that in the bar the other night, how his attention kept circling back around, wearing a well-traveled track in his mind. He didn’t let it be any more than an observation, but he watched the movement of her fingers over buttons intently, the way the cascade of dark hair joined shadow. Unabashed voyeur, his own body turned slowly, arms folding over his chest while a warm tension loosened and spread inside him. Not unwelcome. Mostly intriguing.

His amusement threatened to crawl up one side of his mouth but he managed to pull his eyes away before it broke through his frown. When he finally spoke, it was after he’d turned his eyes back toward the window, following the streak of something small and dark across the street. A half-minute, maybe a little more before he said wryly, “Can’t complain.”

Then he pushed from the sill, one-and-a-half long strides to square up to her, the smoke signals still rising above her head forming shapes that dissipated into the rafters. The office wasn’t all that big, and now they seemed to fill it to capacity, the two of them and their smoke and exhales tinged with whiskey and deeper things. Desire, maybe, hopeful or hopeless, disappointment. Ketch wasn’t much for trying to discern which right then. He stood there before her, her denim-capped knees inches from his thighs and the scent of her skin rising, rising towards him the same as the smoke. Music and scents are portals. He kept coming back to that lately. But it was true. He felt it right then between the strains of the juke from below and the woman in front of him. A destination unknown that beckoned the reckless streak beneath his calm demeanor.

Ketch leaned, reached, plucked the cigarette from between her fingers, and drew until the grayed-out ember ripened and spilled fresh orange light between them. His exhale poured up into the rafters, and then he flipped the filter around, cherry a firefly glow in his palm as he extended the cigarette until no more than a quarter inch seperated burning tobacco and his raw-skinned knuckles from her mouth. There was sawdust and grit in the lines of his palm, grease in the nail beds, but his hand was steady where it was. Always steady.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 01, 2017 3:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Maybe it was what she wasn’t, precisely, all he was, in that dark room scarred with moonlight and potential that carried all the things that fused or exploded. He was steady. He was the oak with the roots gone deep and curling into soft, dark, warm earth, spreading further between and beneath and Madison was certain that she was exactly not—not steady, not on her feet or in her convictions. Even as he asked her, she felt the truth of her answers singe her mouth. Her mouth opened as his hand came close. Teeth in a smile that flashed like metal beneath a coat, assigning the belief that maybe the man should be worried, but he shouldn't be. Not when his roots went so deep and her smile was a bite, not a nip, that caught a knuckle instead of the cigarette. She drew her nose along the side of his hand, eyes shut against the smoke rising. Ticking off the minutes.

"Good."

Her mouth, the tip of her nose across Ketch’s knuckles was a streak of heat in the dark, a warm abrasion of teeth, the grit of her smile right up against him, so close to his palm that should he turn his wrist, he could capture it, hold it there, examine it like the curious specimen that it was. He was in every place he shouldn’t be in his mind, filling up the dark cracks with the fury of rampant thoughts. Unclean and uncouth as they often were. Problem was, he liked that feeling right then, liked the way it burned like that first shot of whiskey going down, astringent fire licking at his core, flaming like some burnt offering to the less noble gods of base desires. Someone had to serve them, right? Good, she said, and the word fell between them like something clicking into its rightful place. He wore an expression that gleamed with something unsavory and half-savage.

Head back, so too the smile, taken away like a balm, as the gunslinger shed the rest of the blouse from her shoulders and then tore the singlet over her shirt. Madison Rye sat there in a bra and jeans and old, old boots and looked at Ketch Creeley with sawdust stories on her tongue and her smile, it returned. There is a creosote that blooms once every thousand of years, all spine and poison, and the sight of it can drive a man mad. Looking at the man before her, the man who took over the room in more than height—in miles of presence—she thought of what had been racing in her blood for a long time. How poisoned she had been by things, by people. She wondered if he was sick like her, sick with confusion or that hopelessness that seemed to transcend even iron wills.

The brightness of her shirt dimmed as it fell on the desk then slipped off the end, and Ketch was back to not speaking, just watching the thin fabric moving over her shoulders, the rough unveiling of skin that followed and how what of the moonlight that could reach her soaked her up greedily, laid across her abdomen and curled around the shadows of her ribs, quavering and rearranging with every rise and fall of her chest. His sickness was a madness, a perpetual addiction to the way it moved him through life, to its peaked highs and abyssal lows, to moments like this in an unexpected echo chamber of two disparate souls. He didn’t know for sure where this started—part of him said downstairs, between one song and the next, between cigarette smoke and peat on their breath. He entertained the possibility, though, that its roots, thready as they may be, were anchored in the floorboards of the inn’s porch where his shadow first fell across hers long ago. That made his smile, when it finally came, a wan thing that escaped the reach of light.

Madison tipped her head at him, much as he had her from by the window, then she sat forward and took the cigarette between her teeth from his grip and inhaled. The end of it glowed brightly between them like the light of the train coming up out of the frost and fog, something transmitted only in currents between the eyes and the heart, cigarette smoke and fire.

Once Madison took the cigarette between her teeth, Ketch let his hand drop, natural momentum landing it upon her knee and then he turned it under, taking her calf in his palm and riding the curves down to her boots where the dust whispered stories to the fingertips roaming the shape of their sole as if tracing the miles of road they’ve traveled. And then it was back up, the corner of his thumb traveling the inseam of her jeans, hooked into the denim until the friction of the meeting threatened to burn. Calf to knee to thigh, all the way up where the stitching met and he could curl his hand over the top of her thigh, feel the heat of her bold as a Western sunset.

He plucked the cigarette back from between her teeth, taking a long drag that crisped paper and sizzled in the air between them, then turned the back of his hand loose upon the bared skin of her stomach, watching rough knuckles over a smoother path of moonlit white, a fascination in the imagery, in the dips and valleys between muscle, skin, ribs. There was a quiet but intense near reverence to him; of all his vices, this one vied with whiskey for the label of most addictive.

There were many ingredients that pulled themselves up out of the echo of in-betweens and stirred themselves into life, action, and anticipation. The territory they shared in a room had rapidly become all too small and all the more resonant because of the lack of space, the elixir of desired and unexpected sensory exploration. It was a territory salinated; with tears, with sweat. With whiskey and with hurt. It was a landscape that changed as quickly as distance diminished like dust on boot heels.

Of them both, there was a symmetry of uneven lines and an angularity in history. A rawness, open cuts and more salt still, the ones to wounds that seep in the early hours. There were places in the man and the woman that gave no blood but were sore all the same. But it was blood, it was blood and it was surely the blood to blame here. Not only shadows and songs and old wooden walls that spoke of quiet similarities and why the dance had been taken up the stairs at all. It was in the meeting of blue eyes where smoke dissolved in lazy-wave crashes in the air, curling, curling waves and giving her smile again. But it hitched with a sound from low in Madison’s throat, a gasp and a laugh at once, small and pleased and still surprised at how familiar it was, as though he were not new to her at all, but a flame that had burned once before. His knuckles at a rib, knuckles with the slight indentations of her teeth.

Time was not the essence here, but it passed nonetheless. Madison wished it would stop. Maybe, she thought, they’d make it stop. She tipped her head back to drink him instead of more of the cigarette and curled one hand around the side of the desk while the other pale hand lifted to his chest and rested against it. It was broader than her husband's, it made her think of how she had noticed how broad his palms were at the Inn. And really, looking at the man of sawdust, there, she realised just how small that room truly was. Not only for him, but for them.

For this.

What it was.

Dark brows dived into what seemed at first the make of a frown but formulated itself into consideration; his features, tempered by the ill-lit space and the wan smile that she barely caught, but caught and swallowed. It froze the breath winding up her throat. From chest and down to his ribs, walking the xylophone bones, a dance of fingers, a phantom melody along them through his shirt. Her eyes narrowed. Then they found his again and a day-break smile bloomed as she widened her legs to catch the outsides of his thighs between them. She watched the smoke in the air like it was some kind of magic show. And she realised she'd been bewitched, even if it was her rocks she’d asked he crash on.

The heart that beat beneath the spread of Madison’s hand was steady and strong, same as the breath that rose and fell in his chest. The spider walk of her fingertips from rib to rib came like a harmony played to his pulse and all of it, every *** second that ticked by seemed an echo of the jukebox downstairs, like every passing moment came thumping across the wood bearing its song. What flashed in his eyes when her knees bracketed the outside of his thighs was primal and brief. Brief because a breath later he sank his grip behind the waistband of her jeans, metal closure cold against his fingers. He pulled Madison hard up against him as he ground the hot end of the cigarette carelessly into the top of the desk, an ashen x to mark the spot, mark the moment. That was how time stood still, in its relics and ashes.

He had height, breadth, and magnitude in this room, and it was the sheer force of him that he pulled her against, those deep, solid roots. A man who wasn’t afraid of breaking because he knew damn well how to bend--it was just a matter of stubbornness sometimes. Right then he wanted the whiplash of her body against his, the nettle sting of bad ideas when they were played out skin to skin; he felt damn near starved for the recklessness of it. Their mouths hovered together, one strong inhale from meeting, and when Ketch opened his, what he thought he was going to say was her name as a final warning before the door swung wide and they let the chaos of their heads run wild over them, before he put his mouth on hers and they set something in motion. Because he knew that’s what it would mean, that it would be a kind of ruin the same as it’d be a beginning. That it would be written indelibly into the bones of this place. Sometimes it took a fire to wash the land clean and spur new growth. Sometimes, it was just *** arson. Ketch didn’t know Madison well enough to say which this was for her. For a man like Creeley, though, it was always a little bit of both.

What ended up tumbling out between them instead was a gruff, routed curse that he scraped across her jawline, catching just on the edge of her lower lip. Enough for him to tell it was just the right kind of yielding, enough for him to know that later he’d second guess not taking it between his teeth. His grip on Madison relaxed and fell away with effort, the reflexive curl of his fist giving way to a weary smear across his jawline, and then: “I don’t have any moral qualms about *** another man’s wife, alright,” he started, “And I’m sure as *** not opposed to being the match someone uses to burn down their house--” Ketch trailed off, finding a spot over his shoulder, a point of light in the distance beyond the window. But the rest of the sentence didn’t supply itself even with the distance, and finally he turned back, meeting those daybreak blues with the cool nordic flame of his own. “***,” he said, giving up on the attempt to align his thoughts into some kind of coherence, finding that maybe even if he had an explanation he might not want to share it anyway. “I can’t believe I’m about to stand here and cheat myself out of a *** lay.” There was wonder in the way he said it, of a man who’d discovered a moment in which he didn’t know himself as well as he thought he did.

“Madison-***-Rye,” he said it with a shake of his head (and not unaware that she’d taken a married name. But in this room, at that moment, she was Madison Rye, the woman lurking on the porch a year prior). And then he laughed, not the sound she’d heard before across the bar like something sequestered in a single chamber of his chest. This laughter was bold, sharpened by a sardonic edge, and genuinely humored. “Goddamn,” his final restitution and he was done with it. His boots always knew the way to an exit, and Ketch started in that direction before he could rethink the motivation.

Everything burned brightly. Ultra-real and feral vivid; like coyote eyes in the dark. It might as well be a room in full light. Over-processed. Madison’s pupils growing large. One moment their mouths were almost meeting and she was as close to the man as she could be with her clothes still on and then it was like there were prairie miles between them. He was going, gone from the room.

The sound of the juke returned to her ears where before it had been only his breaths and her heart.

The moment hummed and her bones howled with it. Madison sat forward, jaw dropped and eyes dancing in question and then guilt and then need. Need to follow. She reached around and pulled her shirt on and hit the floor to pursue Creeley. The woman moved like the wind, the wind she'd been running from, the one that wept like the saddest guitar in her ears, and with a tremble of blinks, her shadow threaded with his from behind. There was only echoing music. Only the staccato of mismatched thoughts resounding so loud she was sure they were pinging on her face loud as thunder claps.

"Ketch..." his name all but a breath devoid of its oomph. The daisies and the summer-cotton seemed to shrink back until she was just a voice, all voice. A phantom in the night that spilled his name like a talisman.

"I'm... I'..." but she wasn't sorry, so she couldn't say it. What it meant, where it would go, what he left behind, what he left in her, it had blue eyes widening. His magnitude, the quake he shattered through her world put her on uneasy feet.

Arm into the doorframe at the base of the stairs, she leaned.

Madison caught him downstairs, turned him with the sound of his name half-stuck in her chest. He was framed up in the doorway, thief hands now in possession of a bottle of whiskey, thumb already working the cork free. Not the one they’d been sharing, but a bottle of Jack. Ketch lifted it up, expression lacking guilt for the theft. For any of it, really. Aiming the mouth of the bottle at her, he said, “Don’t do that,” and there was the shake of his head again, this time quick as a cut.

He studied her expression, the way it trembled on her face, and he felt it reverberate along his spine before it steeled once more and he dug into his pocket for a coin. The bottle swayed back and forth in his hand again, demonstrative. “I’m issuing you a verbal IOU.” Maybe he meant the bottle, maybe there was a little leeway regarding what that IOU encompassed. A glance beyond the brambles of her dark hair, where moonlight poured a path to the car he left parked at the curb a ways down. Seemed miles and dimensions away, and he wondered when he opened the door if that would somehow break the seal, if the past couple of hours had even happened at all. He ran the tip of his thumbnail across the impression of her teeth in his knuckles, looked hard back at her, then flipped the coin in her direction, indicating the jukebox with a tilt of his head. “B-115. An old favorite.” He smirked a little, then, self-indulgent. He couldn’t help it. “Take it easy, alright?”

And then the door opened, letting in the night they watched from the window, and Ketch pushed his way out, pushed his way free before he couldn’t.
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Ketch Creeley
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mid-December, 2016

Weeks later, after careful and intentional aversion, Ketch found himself back at Charlie’s again, inspecting some weather sealing Madison claimed was leaking.

“Nothing wrong up there, damsel,” he teased. Madison shadowed his steps down the stairs with a smirk that you could light a match off of.

Ketch was all too aware of her proximity, could probably calculate it within a millimeter. His pace remained unhurried all the way to the bottom step where he stopped, then he offered out the bottle he was carrying on his way to the bar for his cigarettes.

Madison took the bottle back, her hand around his for too many beats with a smile that was all teeth and innocence and then tipped her head back for a swig, stepping behind the counter, all business. "Maybe you could come see the land I'm puttin' my new house on. Tell me what you think. I'll quit the damsel act if you do. I’ve renovated but never built from scratch. I'll work that into the IOU, too. Keep payin' you in free drinks. If you're happy with that arrangement."

Ketch bought the sharpness of Madison’s smile but not the innocence. Where their hands met, the current hummed anew, low-volume, just a ripple across skin. But enough that he flexed and curled his fingers to disperse it. While Madison edged behind the counter, Ketch dropped to a stool, elbows to the bar top, cigarette coming to life around the flame of his Zippo. A long pull of tobacco and then he extended the cigarette across the bar to her, considering offer and request. "I'll come take a look. We can go from there."

There was nothing wrong at all. Whiskey was in her belly and Ketch across the counter and by all accounts, time had stopped again. Another mark, like the one on the desk upstairs, where a cigarette burn reminded Madison of could be's while she processed wages and re-ordered stock.

Ketch studied the look on her face and said, "Don't overthink it." Trading cigarette for bottle, he tracked Madison’s path, eyes narrowed, as soon as she turned away. Her drawl fit her gait, slow across the floorboards, slow back into shared space. Once she was across from him again, Ketch reached for the cigarette on her lip in spite of the full pack under his other hand.

Madison grinned that gunmetal smile and then averted her eyes to the cigarette like a goddamned firefly in his fingers, her eyes on the pack as she drew smoke before holding the cigarette back. Only when her arm was engaged in a full stretch his way did she let her eyes rise to his. There was no threat of blood with him, but she got the sense of shedding something, something more than the clothes that hung loose against her frame, the skin against her bones--colour and history and her future which always sat coiled like a viper.

But best not to overthink it, right? Just like he said before. Her other hand slid into her hair, fidgeting, raking through the darkness, breaking it in two between her middle and index fingers, holding it back from her face. Because dammit if she wasn’t still overthinking everything.

Instead of pinching the filter and taking the cigarette back, Ketch reached, sun-darkened fingers closing over Madison’s wrist, a swipe of his thumb across her pulse and the tendons that made a fine cage for it. He leaned in, mouth to the filter, drawing her in with the smoke, getting a taste for the way they mingled in the back of his throat—pleasant, warm, a darkness to it all that he liked. Then, just as lax as he’d bent inward, he withdrew, a smokescreen left in his wake of pale gray that dissipated between them. He got his own after that, pack upturned into his hand while he nodded to the bottle she'd brought out, checking to see if it was the Talisker they had the other night or if she was of a mind to attempt expanding his horizons again.

"My two shots for your one until one of us taps out or passes out. Deal?" There was that old sliver of slyness in his eyes. A little friendly competition though that was hardly what he was really interested in; it was just a fitting addition.

"I was weaned on whiskey, son." Madison’s hand remained in the air, fingers outstretched, and she wondered if her teeth still echoed in his fist and if her pulse gave her away. Probably, she waged but didn’t fight it much; it only forced that horizon to spread on her face, that smile that met the fight in his, however playful, had an edge.

"But you're at least three of me, so two for one it is."

Once Ketch had gotten his cigarette churning out smoke, he exhaled with a look that chased after the gray coils all the way up to the rafters. Then back to Madison, a sobering of his expression. "So what's going on with you, damsel? Talking about building fresh, working late nights here, letting strange men into your office to check out your view and drink up your whiskey." That last part was accompanied by a flinch of a smile. "It's none of my business unless you want it to be, so feel free to tell me to *** off, but you're putting off enough smoke signals that I'm starting to get damn curious about the source of the fire."

The crook at the very corner of Madison’s mouth flinched. He asked questions and she wanted very much to redirect as she took her hand back and curled it up into a ball on the counter right by the Talisker that she'd selected again, as if for old time's sake. Maybe she was hoping to conjure a spell all over again or maybe, like his roots that went deep, she was looking for that taste of soil, of sustenance, somewhere to find her own.

"Got nothin' to be hidin' from you, Creeley,” she said. “I left my husband because he hates me; his words and now I'm .... " her hands rose into the air and she gestured about her, but there was no refinement in the motion; this wasn’t Jay Gatsby's mansion, this was a quaint bar twice-robbed in the worst part of town. She felt her chest well with a sigh that she didn’t let out in front of him.

"Not tellin' you for pity, you hear. Tellin' you why I let... why I let myself want you."

She didn’t even catch herself. She felt now like she had weeks before sitting on that desk, watching as he cut himself out of the office dark.

"Though ... I did the leavin' after that occasion between you and me, but not because of it. I'm in this new routine because I ain't got a home to be goin' to anymore, and that's all my choice. I can't--" she looked aside, reached for the bottle, and took a swig, wiping her lips clear of traces with the folded cuff of her sleeve. "Don't mind who does the hatin', but I do if it's my husband."

Her fist balled up on the counter and it was like Madison had taken some of the air in the room and wadded it up in there. He’d hit a sour note, or at least prodded in a soft spot, but that was his habit and Ketch didn’t look like he regretted either the timing or the question. For a second, he thought she might not answer, and that didn’t bother him either. If that was the case, one of them would pick up the bottle and they’d drink right past it and if he was none the wiser to her plight, the night would still go on just fine.

But she started talking and Ketch listened, focused without being too intent. Like an off-center gaze, his attention was something that was thoughtful without being overbearingly engaged. Reaching for a tray, he ashed the cigarette and then left it to smolder there. “Good thing,” he said at the end, “I’m not good at pity. Been told I have a *** bedside manner, too.” Once Madison set the bottle aside, Ketch picked it up, following suit with a swallow that encompassed double of what she took and felt like it turned his throat into a channel of fire. It was good, just what he wanted. He thought he could taste the sea in it like she was talking about the last time—an undertone, a sense of salted air and eroded rock faces.

Madison's words turned over in his mind, flip-flopped and rearranged themselves, split apart and came back together again differently, and then his own response stalled out somewhere along the way. Cigarette smoke filled in. Long inhale, long exhale, one hand diving below the surface of the counter to search the pocket of his jeans. It came back filled with coins that Ketch stacked atop the counter one by one, his attention settling on the alignment of uneven edges. Once he had a balanced tower he intended to diminish song by song, there was a quick-draw flick of his eyes upward to land on Madison’s. “Well, I guess that means you and I’ve got plenty of time for drinking tonight, then.” He had more questions, of course, but the atmosphere wasn’t suited to them. They seemed better off left to unfold over the course of later conversations. And he was starting to get the idea that there’d be more of those.

(cont'd)
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2017 12:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ketch picked the topmost coin from the stack and dropped it in Madison’s palm, no lingering touch this go round. He was distracted thinking about how he’d left her last time: the vivid darkness of the office, her eyes paled by the moon looking up at him, the desk warmed beneath her thighs. He’d sat in his car for what felt like a cold half hour, letting the night saturate him like rain and wash the warmth of the bar away, thinking about something someone had said to him a couple of weeks back, wondering if that’s what put enough gravity in his steps to descend the stairs from her office.

"Guess we do." Madison gave him a smile and took a coin as she circled back around to mosey to the juke and slide the coin in. "Hell of a song you left me with last time."

Broken Family Band.The name had hit her like lead and a bad joke. Lyrical divining. Once Ketch was gone, she’d stared at the machine, stared at the woman reflected in the glass and she still wasn't sure who had been looking back at her.

Ketch picked up the bottle to rinse all that away clean and that was when the title and band dawned on him and he huffed a sound that was both amusement and culpability. “Guess you can chalk that up to the whole bedside manner thing. Or else I’ve got a Sight I was previously unaware of.”

Mazzy Star's 'Sparrow' came up next. Lights shined over the name as the song was illuminated in the CD rack that spun around in the faded rotation. Madison bowed her head and swung by the door to lock it and then walked back over where she dropped into the stool beside Ketch and took a long, lazy drag from the cigarette. It wasn’t all slow and cool and easy. She was highly aware of the space he filled in the bar and in her head.

Ketch tipped the bottle back again, listening to the slow canter of a tambourine and a voice coming through the juke that he’d never heard before, drowsy and bereft, like something woken from a dark, dreamless sleep. His mind slipped a frame and he jumped a look over his shoulder as if he half expected to find Madison back there singing. She was on her way back already, though, settling in next to him, all cotton and denim and smoke. Reflexively he shifted as if to accommodate the sudden imbalance of the empty space on either side of him. He swiped at his lower lip and passed the bottle over in her direction.

"Where you from anyways, Mister Bad Bedside Manner? Don't look like a Rhydinite. Never have. Always struck me as someone I might have passed in a bar back down some road I'd walked at one time. Maybe."

That last word, she drawled it slow and laughed a little, enjoying the company, the waves of it, the shared ease of it. She took the bottle for another pull. Peat and smoke. It was so quiet she could hear what she thought was the clock that always moved a minute too slow but then she worked out that it was her heart she was hearing, except that it was a few seconds ahead, wild horses within her chest where every button was done up tight but the one that bared her collarbone. Her thoughts came like black coffee, unsweetened, spilling over the edge of the mug.

"I'm askin' where you're really from. What was home? What was it like growin' up in it?" Madison took another musing drag and then exhaled a round of ghosts. Home was a concept that she liked to think about because she hadn't ever really known it proper. She wondered about what formed a man like Ketch Creeley. She asked with a sidelong stare and an elbow planted by his.

Ketch didn’t look over again, not for her question, at least. He picked up his cigarette, tapping off the half inch of forgotten gray ash, took another long draw from the filter and exhaled a languid billow of smoke. It surprised the hell out of him when he found his mouth opening to answer Madison’s question. He had a theory about people’s stories in this city, how they were mostly the same puzzle pieces rearranged, sharp edges, never a perfect fit, missing pieces, but all adding up to a certain brokenness.

“Navajo Nation. Southern edge of the territory in Arizona near Canyon Diablo,” He thought about telling her the rest, about how it was just a little offshoot subset allowed to stay on the fringes though the ideologies between different tribes had long since split, how you put on a united face if you want to keep what little land you have left. But she wasn’t here for a history lesson. “Had to go the next town over to find a bar, though,” a smile like light bouncing off steel that he turned onto her sidelong stare as he gave a nod to her latter comment.

“You’re going to get me thinking about the concept of home and whether you’re meaning the physical structure or the concept of it.” He stopped there, though, before sharing the actual experience of that piece of his past to draft more smoke towards the ceiling and take another drink of the whiskey.

Between the cigarette and the smoke, the cotton and the denim, was bone and daisy-flesh and prairie veins. Madison marinated in what he said. It had her returning a smile as she thought about him crossing to another town for a bar. Her eyes twinkled with the reminder and the remainder of days that peeked from the gaps of the boards she'd put up to keep at least half the past at bay. Habit, paranoia, reactionary. After a time, she was ready to evaluate what he put there in the air between them and allow it to consume her thoughts, the places in her thoughts that had no restrictions. That night in her office didn’t even figure in because for now she was curious about even before then, before any of it. Before Rhydin.

Madison held the bottle out for his hand as she answered, squashing the end of her cigarette into the tray nearby; tarnished silver with scars of age.

"I'm wonderin' about both. Somethin' on my mind and I like to know what home is to a man. To you, who I hardly know and why it is you got me feelin' like I knew you or people like you, in the days I've been movin' place to place. Like you hear the wind, too. So home..." she nodded encouragingly, gently, offered that smile that wasn’t playing at anything, but broadening with expectation, a lift of brows above her blue eyes that went a little wider, wanting to see it all in the description.

"Siblin's? Your mother, father, what home was like? Concept or reality.. either or. I think home is always a little of both, ain't it? A feelin' as much as--" she made a vague gesture that fanned the cloud over their heads, watching it for too long, even as it faded out . Then she brought those antique-blues to his mouth. "What it is that home is for you." Chin lifted, eyes narrowed on his features, under the dark of his hair, the poker face that she was trying to peer behind with words and drink.

Who are you, she asked. Tell me, who you really are. It rose up in her as imperative as it was on that desk, skin to skin.

“Mm,” a noncommittal grunt sent him to his feet, left hand making a fist, then fingers relaxing along the outside of his thigh. Madison’s demeanor was open and inviting, and this was a woman he’d had his hands on (albeit briefly), but there was unease to the steps that carried Ketch around the bar and behind as he searched out something to search for, a way to diffuse the restlessness that suddenly electrified his extremities and made them feel as if they were jittering. The past wasn’t his favorite subject, not one he’d entertain with many. Fin was probably the only one who had a good portion of his story after two years of friendship, a hell of a lot of whiskey, and a joint or a hundred. The last woman to know the whole thing straight through--but he cut that line of thought off.

Ketch considered making a conversational u-turn while he pulled down a couple of glasses and carried them back with him, but goddamn if Madison wasn’t still sitting there looking earnest. A glass got pushed in her direction, then he took the bottle and poured a shot into each glass.

He thought about things that didn’t cost much—smiles, politeness, laughter—and wondered why he put such a high premium on his past, whether it was warranted or not. Cutting another few coins from the top of the pile into his palm, he left his shot on the bar and wandered to the juke. The coins tumbled into the slot, his fingers hovered over the button, and finally the selections were made. Something about the distance that he’d traveled during that time dropped some of the weight from his shoulders, and the steps that carried him back were a less reluctant drawl.

“I don’t talk about my past a lot,” he started, “which I figure is pretty common here. But the thing is, I don’t like to, either. I figure it’s nobody’s business and that it doesn’t matter much in the scheme of things anyway. We’re here and now, right? Not there and then. I was thinking about why that is, though, why as soon as you asked that question, I bristled like it was something I could knock out of your hand.” Ketch slid atop his stool, situating himself, his pack of cigarettes, his lighter and his mind again, getting them all properly lined up. One hand made a canopy over the rim of his shot glass then moved in slow, carousel turns atop the counter. “I think that’s because my concept of home is in there, it’s the *** I carry with me, the things in my bones. Because the physical place, that was something I needed to leave behind long ago. So I don’t just go doling out the nostalgia like there’s an abundance of it.” He squinted at an array of bottles behind the bar. Poor woman was going to have a lot to parse through. “I think a couple of weeks ago I’d have probably told you to *** off. In a kinder way, probably. But the last month has found me in a different headspace, so to speak.”

Finally, the shot glass rose from the bar, tilted in Madison’s direction in a suggestion of a toast and the liquid sent barrelling down his throat. It spread from throat to his hands, then dropped down to his feet in pleasant spikes. After Ketch finished, he set the glass down and refilled it. “So in whatever the *** spirit it is that’s making up these days, here you go.” Then he sat there at the counter with his hand loosening around the shot glass and told Madison about his childhood on the Res, the woman who’d raised him and the charismatic preacher who’d been their torment.

Ketch couldn’t remember the last time he’d spoken so goddamn much. He reached for his glass like it was grounding wire to keep him there where he was, his eyes focused on the bright wonder of Madison’s. “I never wanted to be tied down or worn down the way I saw the two of them. I try to visit my ma every couple of months or so. She’s in jail in Arizona for knocking off my father--which he deserved. We butt heads a lot, though. She disagrees with about 95% of the choices I’ve made, and considering what her address is these days, I find that a little hypocritical of her. So we’re sorely lacking in common ground, there.” A shoulder hitched upward, perfunctory, solidified in the acceptance of the way things were. It was a recounting that lacked any sense of victimization; that’d be foreign to him. Ketch was calculation and action, forward momentum, avoidant of rust and stagnation.

“That’s just one piece, though, right? And I think what you’re talking about, too, is the way I remember the sky, the oranges and the reds, the dust and the cacti, the way I could lay my ear to a rock and hear the Ancients my mom was always talking about, or the way the wind spoke through the canyon. That’s in there, too. The good and the bad all mixed up together the way it usually is.”

Beneath the skew of dark hair lay the same old topography she’d studied before, the faint lines and map work, the dark scrawl of overgrown shadow along his jaw, a sense of weathering by wind and sun and the sights he’d seen. No poker face to be found. “That’s the gist of it, at least.” There were miles more of road, but there wasn’t any chance Ketch could lead her down all of it in one sitting.

By the end of the first instalment, Ketch’s matter-of-fact prologue wrapped up in his loud discomfort, Madison's mouth was open and she felt like a gulley stripped of everything that had been growing in it, as if he'd mapped out his history on her body, like she wasn’t only taking it all in but that she was taking it all on. The give and the take of it, a measurement more than smoke or bottle. She abruptly, staggeringly, realised how rude she'd been with the man, even if she was right about his running, as she’d said in the inn awhile back. What on earth or in the heavens had made her say that to him within minutes of really talking back at the inn? When had she gotten such a hide? There was a feeling in the air still, that crackle of energy, of ore, of steam, of post-storm ozone. Where the dark looked so bright, so feral, so ferocious. The truth he shared, the story, it was dim at first, all glare, that she actually squinted at Ketch and then looked over to the shot glass and started thinking maybe Salome had a point about her being a bitch.

"Jail, you say." She wasn’t asking but repeating it back because in all he’d said, it stuck with her. She clung to that, poking out as it was, wrapped herself around it and felt it deeply. Let it sink. Engrave. Brand. Score her like a cigarette to wood.

“You’re a good son for visiting. When’s she meant to be gettin’ out?”

Ketch watched the change come over Madison’s face, considered her squint and couldn’t assign blame for it. He figured there was some portion of his story that earned it and the way her mouth sat slightly askew and her shoulders pulled back a little as if meeting a stiff wind suggested the same, but he couldn’t figure out which part of the story it might be. That post-storm silence crackled between them, charged with more static as he added his own quiet to it, eyes narrowing a fraction back at her. Moments like this were another reason he wasn’t keen on swapping stories. People’s reactions were difficult to catalog and he couldn’t figure what his was doing to her, how it was settling in, whether everything he said was something that resonated in her marrow or inspired some undesirable pathos like pity. She was getting so much of the story out of context, too, that it felt kind of like he was just handing her a foreign object, telling her what it was, and just expecting her to believe in it. There was no way for him to put the iron-rich grit of his hometown on her lips or pull her palm across the warm red rocks that played leaning posts for a young half-breed on countless afternoons.

That was his problem with words and personal history; they conveyed but they don’t always carry.

“Prison, yeah,” a grating of sound. He tipped his glass back, held it tight in his fist until once empty until its cool was superseded by the heat of his hand.

He wasn’t a good son, either, but that wasn’t any of her business just yet, so he didn’t correct her on the motivations that took him to and from every couple of months. “Hard to say if they’ll let her go. Parole board denied early release last year. She didn’t make much of a case for herself, though. She’s got this idea that she’s supposed to be suffering in there.” And then came that snarl, a flinch-quick showing of mean, bitter in the roots—not for his mom, necessarily, but for the concept and the way she held onto it like it was salvation. Some evidence that his father’s teachings might have sunk in after all, even if they were hammered there unnaturally. “Apple-pie-American-missionary murdered by a ‘savage’.” He shrugged as if the answer was self-evident. “She’ll die in there.”
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Ketch Creeley
Adult Wyrm
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Joined: 03 Jun 2014
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 25, 2017 9:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

She’d gone and done it again, started scraping away at all the amber wrapped around the DNA making up the man sitting next to her, piecing it together and doing so baldly. "Wait.. I'm... I'm sorry. I'm... I'm gettin' way too ahead of myself. Jesus." Madison brought a hand to one of the braids tucked back behind her head. More habit, more lack of vanity. She didn’t check herself on these things, though maybe she'd fluffed at what strands hung loose around her features or made sure she looked friendly rather than come-hither, before he'd come through the door. He was spilling more than she expected and Madison was aware that maybe this was where she should stop her digging. For at least a song or two.

"I don't know how I get so... so ahead of myself with askin' things like that. I'm...I'm sorry to start askin' everythin' ... You'd be in your rights tellin' me to *** off, Creeley. I... I guess sometimes I forget... where I am." She took that shot back and then licked her lips. "You know, back in the old town, where it don't matter really what you say. Rhy'Din is... well, people hidin' behind people, behind jobs, behind other stories. And I never did like it much. But sometimes I remember how very much I ain't from here... and you ..." she carried her gaze along his features, reading them closely though her body remained as it was--relaxed but always ready to go still, to freeze up, to be watchful and stony. Madison almost had to ask that they check their heels, compare the notches from the road, check tell-tale dust, like dirty signals that say I've been here too.

"But.. thanks for bein' so illuminatin'. That's.. that's .. I know it. I know what it is to roam just to roam. To be lost just so you ain't got anybody's expectations except the judgment of the sky. You're the only witness."

Madison back-stepped as if over hot coals, words skipping from her mouth like stones across water and it was half-comical and half-confounding to Ketch. A tilt of his head to the side, taking it in like theater: that earnest, heart-felt way she was capable of, strands of hair set aflutter around the sweep of her fingertips. It showed in his expression too, a passing bit of vexation and so he leaned in slightly, elbow knocking against hers as the decline of his chin leveled the dead heat of his eyes upon her. Throat whiskey-coated, smoke saturating his drawl when he said with a wink, “*** off, Madison Rye.”

Ketch leaned back, picked up a cigarette he’d lit along the storytelling and made the orange glow dance with a drag. “Better?” He didn’t wait for her reply, but gave a shake of his head like he meant to dislodge the sternness set in his jawline. “Cut that *** out. I still can’t figure out what you’re apologizing for. Right now or the last time, either, but I don’t want it alright? I probably never will. If there’s a real reason to be apologizing, I don’t imagine I’d stick around to hear it, so how about you just put those few words under lock and key. You and I can take care of ourselves without them, I think.”

He didn’t say anything more then, but nodded to the part about roaming and being lost. There was something in all of it that plucked the right chord within him, that one always in tune with the road, that round-the-bend-and-over-yonder kind of curiosity that fueled him, and how a sea of strange faces always reminded him that real solitude still existed.

The breath Madison took in was shaken. It tremored through her though she didn’t know quite why. She had so many more questions.

The next song started like an intermission. His hand by his thigh, the way he'd moved away, added more tracks to this road trip through his past. All of it was something she decided she'd be delicate with. Just the same as his walking away from the office—in effect giving them the opportunity to get to know one another, to not sink straight into a journey.

Those kinds of things could last days, weeks, months, and she was, back then, still carrying another man's name. Now she let it go, like the name of her land, something she couldn’t look at. Ketch was giving her the chance to get to know the man and likewise, the opportunity to share herself with him beyond what anyone else knew. Even Tag.

“If we’re playing the getting-to-know-you game, seems only fair you answer the same.” The last of his cigarette met a quick death in the tray, buried amid the ash of the others. Ketch had another at the ready that he tapped atop the bar but ended up sticking it behind his ear instead and turning his attention sidelong, blue sway of his eyes in that direction prompting an answer while they scoured Madison’s face as if he could determine her roots that way.

Eyes up, on his, Madison said, "Lofton County. Small, bare-bones kind of town. One pharmacist, two bars; more liquor than medicine but mind you.. liquor does better than a pill for people stuck in the country. Makes ‘em forget. Makes some remember. Lived there through my teens and up until twenty-four or so when I left. Before all that, an even smaller, further west town. Twin Cedars. Plain but pretty enough. Learned to shoot with my Daddy. Learned to know which way the wind blew and ride horses. Kind of miss it, there. Sky never looked bigger.”

Her words sketched up a picture in his mind of the offshoot towns he knew outside the Res. The nod that followed was some kind of accord with all that.

"What's funny," Madison said, sliding from the stool to stretch her arms, her legs. "What's funny is I ain't ever had this conversation before. Not.. not about this. About home. It... " She laughed lightly and fidgeted with one of those braids again. She walked a circle that brought her about to face his direction and folded her arms across her front with a tilt of her head to the side.

Something came over her with the tones of the music coming out of the juke. Reminded her of the odd impulse she’d had to dance with him weeks back. But she hadn’t. Not like she meant. Music bruised the quiet in a stroke of strings; fiddle, resonating guitar, banjo. The music of ghost highways, of semi- trucks whining past and low-riding storms. She felt the substance of Ketch’s story traveling across her the same as the music, haunting the boards beneath their feet and biting like the liquor.

Her hand went out and she flashed a warmer smile.

"My mama has got the blood, too. I ain't told anyone that before. Her and I have never been close and I don't even know what kind."

As Madison slid from the stool to stretch, Ketch swiveled atop his, coming around so his elbows dropped back against the bar, loose. His whole body had loosened in spite of all the talk, and he knew it was the drink. He’d been steady with it all night, on a mission to dull. I don’t usually, I haven’t ever. So far there had been a lot of that between them. It got him curious, wheels spinning, but not for too long. Those were thoughts for another time, another night when her hand wasn’t breaking the fold of her arm and reaching out for him. “I’m not all that forthcoming about myself either. The *** you think is wrong with us?” Roughhouse tease and a little bit of genuine query in it, too.

Then his hand engulfed hers in sawdust warmth and sandpaper grit. The thought occurred, Could I still walk out right now? And because the answer was yes, he remained and closed her hand within his.

Ketch made a tsking sound as he stood, “Don’t get any ideas about trying to lead. Some things are tradition.” One last drag and he put the cigarette down, the glass aside, and took up with her instead, let her body fill in the absence of vice, one hand in hers, the other falling to her waist where his fingers spanned its curve and slid down to lay flat against her spine as if they’d always known the shape of it. There was a confident firmness in his touch as undeserved as it was fleeting in duration, a kind of possession that would last only as long as the next song.

He felt that same low vibration between them reignited as soon as he got his hands back upon her. Her skin warmed beneath it, whispering that there were places yet to be unlocked. But there was time. At least it felt that way standing like they were, his feet picking up the tune, pulling her into it the same as he pulled her into him. He meant to ask more—and he would—about her mother, about the blood running through her. It was important. But right then her pulse lulled him, her breath, the sense of wind she carried that rose from her skin as a current he could ease into like a slipstream. There were the ghost highways, old storms, the endless miles of telephone poles carrying voices to and from places lonely and crowded alike; he felt those echoes, too, their own kind of tune. Beneath their feet, the boards start speaking some kind of beginning, some kind of ending, some kind of truth that would last as long as they kept turning upon it.

Ketch razed her guilt and replace it with bravado, because Creeley wasn’t going to take the woman she'd been trying to be any more than she could keep trying to be it. For all her 5'11, she felt much too small and that was when her pluck and her sass came in to make up the rest.

"Don't strike me as carin' much for manners... or tradition. I just can't pick you." But she said it in a voice that came out soft again from back in her throat, like she was some schoolgirl about to get the cane but being a smart mouth anyway. Maybe she was finding that weathering his protests was more real than playful banter, like he'd seen enough of her to know better. She didn’t know what to do with that.

Madison’s boots moved around his in this crooked two-step that sometimes became a waltz. She went so far as to rest her ear against his chest and only once—maybe twice—was there a clumsy kiss of their shoes. They were exact people in their way, so it was likely either the Jack or the Scottish coast running down their legs and into their soles. "I don't think anythin' is wrong with us except that we're ***' crazy, Creeley." Madison laughed and buried her forehead into him, breathed it all in, like the source of him was there in his solar plexus, that scent she'd acknowledged on him, that scent she'd been living in whenever he was around. The man could throw an atmosphere. Maybe Madison hadn’t gotten her hands on red rock, but she wouldn't be surprised to find grains of that adobe grit beneath her nails later, even if it was just from being around him.

Her laughter sunk hooks into him, drew the sides of his mouth up in spite of himself (because sometimes crazy seemed so near a possibility that the humor got sucked out of it). And then Ketch laughed too, quick, like a flashbulb going off, bleach-white amusement that kicked his chin up a little and when he rebounded. That was when their steps stumbled into each other a little. He’d blame that on the Scottish coast because he knew how to walk the line with Jack. With his fingers settled hot in the grooves of Madison’s spine, he felt pretty goddamn good—a little swim to his thoughts, like they were laid back and floating in a dark sound.

As Madison laughed and tossed her head back, just enough to see his face, her expression fell almost dazed with it all, her would-be smile became a sorrowful thing as serious as marble on a tombstone. "I said sorry for askin' you so goddamn much." As they shuffled slowly around, she was still trying to explain, "I didn't think it about myself but then maybe I just....." she makes a sound, "maybe I..." but Ketch didn't seem to mind anything she had done.

He'd come back to Charlie's, hadn't he? He hadn't run off to his car and taken straight off. She heard the peal of car tires a half hour later on that night weeks before and watched from the window the tail lights fade. He'd come back in the door and he’d brought a pocketful of coins and candor.

The fabric of Madison’s shirt bunched up around Ketch’s pinky, riding up with their steps, and he was an impulse shy of giving it an assist when her expression shifted, the flavor of it shading from whimsical to somber like he’d turn-stepped her from the bar into a funeral parlor. The ridge of his brow rose as she spoke, then became a furrow shadowed at the edges. “I know why you said it, Madison. I’m still saying it wasn’t necessary.” He squinted hard at her, mostly for the ‘maybe’s’—unsure of what she was trying to spell out, but certain it wasn’t warranted. Whether it was the way his expression hardened again or some internal shift, the words tapered off as if they never existed and she loosened up in his hold again. Truth was, those moments Madison faltered, the few he’d collected in their time together, had their own appeal.

He had another of those out-of-focus moments as they turned, and it set him on edge briefly: what the *** was he doing? accompanied by the cutting self-awareness of what he thought he was and wasn’t, and the possibility that on a few accounts he was wrong. He was dancing in a bar with a woman who’d just left her husband. He’d had no intention of returning to Charlie’s. Not late at night, not when there was a remote possibility that she’d be there. He meant to keep their meetings public, keep his hands in his pockets and his eyes on a different horizon. For both of their sakes. And yet when she called, by the time he hung up the phone, he realized his keys were already in his pocket and he was halfway over the goddamn threshold, jacket left behind, door swinging shut behind him like he hadn’t had a drink in weeks. It was a feeling, yeah, it was something. He couldn’t call it gut instinct yet. But it was close to that.
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