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  • Writer's pictureJill Marie Denton

His Three Friends | Mar 28, 2020

Part Three

The trip to Mark’s gave me an excuse to see some beautiful country. The roads were single lane out here, with huge farmhouses dotting the horizon between my car and the slowly rising sun. Birds swerved and sailed overhead, chasing each other out of sight. Buggies full of Mennonite families dipped off and alongside the main road as I kept my foot on the gas.

I kept my wardrobe casual, homey, for this call. Soft flannel top opened over a narrow cami, snug jeans, diamond studs. My target was a simple man.

The sunny yellow lingerie underneath would be my secret, at least for an hour or so.

He’d be arriving just after me. So far there’d been no delays, no traffic to speak of out here in the rural part of the county. And according to his most recent online post, he couldn’t wait to get home. Last night had been his seventh shift in a row and his last before a four-day reprieve from duty.

He wasn’t the best at keeping his friends up to speed, but his social media was a reliable source of info. Too many hours on-shift, sitting in a squad car with no calls to go on, filled his feeds quickly. His job as deputy sheriff in the one-horse town was as mundane as he’d made it out to be the year before when he’d stopped by the house to tell us about it. But he’d wanted a slower lifestyle, a better shot at making it to retirement, and so the county’s police department had accepted him and his extensive experience with open arms.

On that unannounced visit, he’d shown up in uniform with a bottle of bubbly, ready to celebrate. Imagine my delight at seeing the dirty blonde stud dressed like a real authoritarian badass, ready to booze up and cut loose. I’d bought a set of handcuffs after that particular visit. Sam had been more than happy to play along with my escapades then, too.

These memories were becoming inconvenient.

Mark’s house came into view as I turned a corner onto narrow pavement. Still and dark, the house waited for its owner to return. A few birds dotted the roofline, chirping as the sun began to warm the black tiles. Emerging from the car, I took in the peaceful surroundings, wishing I felt the same on the inside.

I leaned against the car door as I contemplated my approach again. Mark was a generous soul, as considerate and doting as they came, but with a tough edge that made him fantastic at scaring the crap out of the local riffraff. No one with a brain crossed Mark. Once he was riled up, there was no turning back.

And his girlfriend? Jesus. What a disaster. One dramatic episode after the next as far back as I could remember. When she wasn’t getting fired from a job, she was picking fights with her family. When she wasn’t out drinking all night with her worthless friends, she was guilting Mark into spending what little time he had off work nursing her back to health. Nowadays, she was trying her hand at being a flight attendant, jetting off and leaving her dutiful boyfriend behind to support her travel and lifestyle.

Sam never gave him one bit of grief about her, though. We’d discussed it a million times and I’d insisted Sam say something. I’d even offered to bring it up, to help Mark see past the blinders she’d strapped on him. But Sam always talked me out of it. He’ll see it when he sees it, he used to tell me. And as of yet, he’d yet to see a damn thing.

But I’d always seen it. I’d always known Mark could do better. I’d done much better.

Sam never treated me like a second-class citizen. Never once did he pit his family against me, nor any of his friends. Arguments were nonexistent, disagreements infrequent and apologies abundant. I was beautiful in his eyes. I wouldn’t have considered taking a job that kept me away from that kind of love for any length of time.

That kind of love, the kind I’d just lost, was one I’d never find again.

I didn’t even notice the police SUV pull up behind my car, or the figure approaching me, until his arms were around me. I buried my misty eyes in his shoulder as he held on.

“Hey, hey,” Mark murmured. “It’s all right. Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out. Come on inside.”

His keys rattled in the lock as he pushed the heavy door open, guiding me in with a solid arm. He kicked the door shut behind and wrapped me up again as the waterworks continued.

“I wish you were happier but I’m glad you came to find me,” Mark confessed, pulling back a little to stroke my hair. “What brings you way out here?”

“I,” I began after a deep breath. “I wanted to see you. I didn’t mean to break down in your damn driveway though. I’m so ashamed.”

“Stop it,” he cajoled, nudging his heavy trooper jacket off his broad torso and tossing it to the nearby armchair. “You’ve been through a lot. It’s understandable. I just would’ve come to you. Lights and sirens, I can be there in twelve minutes.”

I couldn’t help snickering. “It’s outside your jurisdiction, Serpico.”

He laughed aloud, the jovial tone ringing out in the quiet rancher. “Now that’s better. I was worried about you for a second there. Weeping widow isn’t a good look on you.”

I really am beginning to hate that word.

“I appreciate you trying to lighten me up. I’m just not feeling it right now. I thought I was doing okay this morning, but I guess not.”

“No judgment here and no need to put on airs. Can I get you some coffee or something? I’m about dead on my feet and could use some myself.”

“Oh, I forgot you worked all night,” I fibbed. “I should really go.”

“Not a chance, kid,” he replied, flashing that ne’er-do-well grin he’d perfected. “You need a little company and I’m happy to oblige. Just give me a minute.”

He stepped away, loosening his duty belt with a long exhale. He hung the heavy leather band and holster on a hook just inside the kitchen entryway and stretched his broad frame on the way to the coffeepot. The khaki uniform top and snug white tee underneath, atop the narrow dress pants and heavy work boots, made my mouth water. I knew what awaited underneath.

I’d never been shy about men in uniform. And this one was a particularly amazing specimen. Not as heavily muscled as Shawn or Rex, but with a swimmer’s build that narrowed intriguingly south of the shoulder. He’d been a champion diver in high school, continuing the exercise routines in the years that followed to ensure he’d get into the police academy on his first try.

The memory of him on the diving board in the tiny swimsuit, with his tight thighs and muscled calves on full display and single-minded intensity burning his irises, still drove me crazy.

Even though I’d bagged his best friend, he was still quite a sight to admire.

But I hadn’t intended to cry in front of him, at least not right away. The weeping widow routine, as he’d called it, had been Plan B, but there was no time to strategize. Fortunately, he was in a sympathetic mood after such a long stretch of workdays.

I exhaled, clearing racy thoughts as he returned to me. The coffee pot hummed to life over his shoulder. “It’ll be a few but it’s coming. Have a seat. I haven’t seen you in a bit.”

“A few weeks.” I replied noncommittally, dropping onto the sofa where he gestured. “Maybe the night of the police escort of his remains? I’ve lost track.”

“I wish they’d let you bury him already,” Mark scowled, lowering himself alongside me. “You’ve waited too long for this. It’s cruel. No one wants to drag this out any further. Least of all you, I’m sure.”

I had a choice then. I could’ve played it off with bravado. I could’ve played it off like it didn’t matter at all. I could’ve broken down again in a fit of tears. Instead, I just sat with my eyes down, waiting for Mark’s next move.

As if on cue, he sunk to his knees in front of my spot on the sofa and took both my hands in his. “I’m sorry. I just… It’s hard for me, too. I hate this. I hate all of it. But I told you I’d do what I could for you, so I will. Coffee’s first, then whatever you want.”

Whatever I want.

I nodded solemnly, lifting my pinkened eyes to meet his gentle, hazel-hued gaze.

He nodded at me once for confirmation and slowly rose. His lap and the fly separating it from my nose came dangerously close as I closed my eyes. He clearly had no idea what he was in for.

{Part 3.1 Coming Apr 4, 2020} <3 JMD

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