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When we were well away from the house and no way Daddy could hear, I asked, “Tuck, what’s the matter?”
He let me go but he didn’t stop walking. He walked to a tree, slammed his opened hand on it then slammed his shoulder into it and turned around. He then slammed his back against it and slid down to his behind, pulled his knees up and dropped his head.
Oh yes. This was something bad.
I rushed to him and got down on my knees beside him.
“Tuck, what happened?” I asked.
“Sheriff brought Mom home.” He told his lap, stopped then kept going, “Again.”
I got it then. His Mom got drunk all the time and she got pulled over for driving that way. Tuck told me they took her license away. Now she had to walk, take a bike or get a ride everywhere. It put her in a bad mood and she took this out on Tuck.
I got closer and put my hand on his knee. “Oh, Tuck, I’m sorry.”
His head came up, turned and his eyes came to me. “She lost her job, Sylvie. Two days ago.”
I didn’t know a lot about these things but I knew that wasn’t good. They didn’t have a lot already. I knew, Mrs. Creed without a job, now they’d have less.
“Tuck,” I whispered.
He shook his head. “Not Tuck. Creed.”
“Sheriff’s deputy had a partner. They got Mom in on the couch but I heard ‘em talkin’ outside. Said they didn’t get it. Said she was a mess. Said she always was a mess. Said, ‘cept her bein’ pretty, they didn’t get why Dad liked her. Said she was trouble. Too much. Not worth it. Even too much for Brand Creed. Said she was good for nothin’. Said they hoped her boy, me, was more like Brand than her.”
He stopped talking so I whispered, “Okay.”
“Mom gave me the name Tucker,” he told me. “Dad used to tease her. Said she was crazy, namin’ me Tucker. ‘Least I gave him Creed,’ he’d say, laughin’, grinnin’ big at her, makin’ her roll her eyes right before she’d giggle and give him a hug. So that’s who I am. I’m not what my Mom gave me. I’m what my Dad gave me. I’m Creed.”
“Creed,” I agreed.
He looked away and muttered, “Done bein’ Tuck. Done bein’ crazy, drunk Winona’s boy. I’m Brand Creed’s boy. I’m Creed.”
“You’re Creed,” I told him.
He turned his face further away and I had a feeling he was trying not to cry or not to let me see him cry so I gave him that. Boys did that and I didn’t know why but I did know it was important.
I sat next to him though, got close, shoved my shoulder into him and started wiggling it so he had to put his arm around me. When he did, I pressed even closer. He got kinda stiff for a second then he relaxed and his arm curved tight around me so I rested my cheek against his shoulder.
But I didn’t say anything. Sometimes, when I was trying not to cry and someone said something, it’d make me cry.
So I just pressed close.
We stayed this way a long time. It wasn’t comfortable but it was warm and it still felt good.
Finally, he said something.
“You know, I lost him too.”
“I know Tu… I mean, Creed.”
“She acts like she’s the only one.”
“It’s been years and I still find her drunk, smellin’ bad and passed out on the stupid couch with a stupid bottle, booze drenched in the carpet, his picture in her hand.”
I pressed closer.
“I lost him too,” he whispered.
“I know, Creed.”
He pulled in a loud breath.
Then he said quiet, “You gotta get home.”
I didn’t want to but I agreed, “Yeah.”
We got up and he took my hand as we walked back to the gate. He stopped me like he always did outside. Then his eyes dropped to my throat, his hand let mine go and he lifted it and twitched the pendant there.
He looked back at me and grinned. “You’re always wearin’ one ‘a those.”
“Even if they don’t match your outfit,” he kept talking.
I grinned back. I liked it that he noticed. It felt good.
“I like them,” I said. “And they’ve never turned my skin green.”
He shook his head, still grinning and told me, “You’re a goof.”
I shoved his shoulder and told him, “You’re a goof.”
He shoved me back and replied, “You’re a bigger goof.”
I smiled big and said, “Yeah.”
“Go to bed, goof.”
“Okay. You go home, goof.”
He shook his head again then opened the gate for me.
I started to slide through but turned back and looked up at him.
“Creed is the best name ever,” I whispered. “I always thought so. Always. I’m glad you’re Creed but you always have been, you know.”
I heard him pull in another breath.
Then he whispered, “Go to bed, Sylvie.”
I grinned up at him. “Okay, Creed.”
I slipped through the gate, hearing it latch quietly behind me.
Then I stole through the yard, the house, took off my warm clothes, changed my nightgown that had mud stains on the knees and seat, hid the dirty one under my mattress and I went to bed.
You Can’t Breathe without Me
Present day, four days later…
My eyes opened and all I could see was Creed’s tattooed back in front of me.
The last four days I woke up alone to Creed making breakfast in the kitchen. Clearly, he was an early riser. I was not but did it for Charlene, though I got up at the last possible second.
Last night, though, we went out. I got a shade past tipsy and when we came home, I attacked. It had been energetic, or more energetic than usual. It had lasted a long time, or even longer than normal. And it only stopped when we both passed out, or when I did.
I must have done him in. Now, he was out.
Sleep slowly leaving me, recent memories moved through my head.
These were mostly about working and spending time with Creed. Learning he wasn’t good at his job, he was very good. He was a good partner, communicative, amusing, alert, sharp. Working with him was a lot like working with Ron, my dead partner. I could trust him because he knew what he was doing. We worked shit through, planned our moves, broke stuff down and when we did, he listened to me. I wasn’t just another gun, someone he was putting up with or a liability. I was a colleague. He treated me with respect, wasn’t overly protective and never acted like I was a girl.