"Cade has a shop in town," June said, her voice cutting through my thoughts. "Just opened it not too long ago. Does custom paint jobs on bikes."
"It's nice to have something like that," I said. "I've always thought it would be nice to be able to create something from nothing, you know?"
"I admire that about creative types," June said. She looked at me, her expression searching, but she didn't say anything else. "We stay in the house right there. If you don't need anything else tonight, I'm going to head over there with little Stan. I'll be back in the morning, bright and early. I usually bring by breakfast around nine, just muffins and things like that, but if you want something later than that just let me know. The kitchen's all stocked up, too, so you should be set."
"Nine sounds just fine," I said. "And June?"
"Yeah?" She asked, turning and stopping before she walked back inside.
"Thanks," I said. "All of this is wonderful."
"You're more than welcome to stay here as long as you like. This is the kind of place where you can keep a low profile." She paused. "I love romantic comedies, by the way."
She knew who I was.
If anyone else had said something like that, it would feel threatening, dangerous. But when June said it, it felt comforting, like a promise that this was a safe place.
It was a strange feeling.
I drove through town on the way to my house, down along Main Street, passing the little coffee shop, and the ice cream parlor, and the stores that sold all kinds of country knickknacks. West Bend was the kind of small town you see in movies, with a downtown that looked like it had been transplanted straight out of the fifties. By all appearances, it was a quaint little place, the kind of place where nothing bad happened. If you were just visiting West Bend, one of the tourists who came through during winter ski season, that's definitely the impression you would get.
That's what River thought, I knew that much. I could see the expression on her face, when we were driving out here, and then pulling up to the bed and breakfast.
Of course, a visitor didn't know West Bend like I did. A visitor had no history here, the kind of history that comes from growing up in a place where your brother did what mine did. A place where your parents were who mine were.
A place where you were a f**king pariah.
Memory never fades, not in a small town like this. Your sins only become more amplified, cautionary tales passed down from generation to generation.
We lived on the outskirts of town, on a couple of acres my father had purchased before the town was the size it was now. Size it is now was really an exaggeration. There were maybe a couple thousand people in West Bend. But when I was younger, it was even smaller. Even more closed off and closed minded.
There were some more stores and more rich people with second homes here, and more tourists coming down here during ski season, but the town hadn't changed all that much. At least not out where my family's house was. Out there, out on the edges of town, it was still folks eking out whatever kind of existence they could. Out there, it was people like my father, who owned a tiny patch of dirt and worked the land for whatever they could get from it. It was the way he had done with the coal mine on our property.
People think of coal mines as these big places run by mining companies. But the truth is, there's people who, at least when I was a kid, got away with mining on their own property. It was kind of like bootlegging, almost – except legal. My father had the permit he needed went we were kids, and it wasn't some complicated operation. It was pretty straightforward – him putting blasting caps on the side of the mountain on our property, blasting away a little bit at a time. He sold coal the way that people sell firewood, this business that provided us just barely enough to scratch out an existence.
And then he drank away most of what he earned, came home angry, ready to lay into whoever crossed him.
Then the shit happened with Silas - the trouble with the explosives, when he set them off unauthorized and my father lost that mining permit - and there was no more mining. My father became a janitor in our high school.
Then we were the kids of the drunk high school janitor.
To say I was happy to leave West Bend was a f**king understatement.
I was running from West Bend full throttle as soon as I could get gone.
It’s funny the way life works. Things always come round full circle when you least expect them to. I swore to everything I believed in that I’d never come back here again. The one time I returned, to make sure my brother Silas wasn't f**king dead, only confirmed that I needed to stay the hell away from this place.
Ahead of me, the house stood in stark contrast to the houses I’d passed on the way out of town. My parents hadn’t kept up with the repairs, I could tell that much, although I guessed the repairs on the piece of shit would have been more than the house was worth. It hadn’t been a nice place when I was growing up, and it was even less of a nice place now.
A dog wandered up to the car. I wasn’t sure if it was a stray or not.
The door to the house opened and a figure stood in the frame, shadowed by the overhang of the doorway in the mid-afternoon light. She shielded her eyes from the sun, but I could see her squinting at me. She stepped outside, wearing a satin bathrobe and heeled slippers, rollers in her hair, waving at the dog. “Get away from the car and leave him be, you mangy mutt.”