Hate to Lose You

By: Penny Wylder



Are they watching me? I don’t turn around. I know better than to draw attention to myself. I reach for another candy bar at the counter, not because I’m particularly craving a Snickers, but so I can surreptitiously check the rounded mirror overhead, positioned so the clerk can keep an eye on anyone who’s lurking too long in the distant corners of the store.

There. Two men, with matching tattoos creeping up the left sides of their necks. I can’t see the whole design, but from here, it looks enough like a scorpion’s tail to set my nerves on edge. The men wear low-slung hats and cheap T-shirts. One of them is carrying a six-pack of beer. The other catches my eye in the mirror for a split second when I glance his way, then he taps his friend on the shoulder and they both head for the counter.

Fuckers. But I’m not about to start a fight right here. I’m smarter than that.

I drop the candy bar and shove the rest of my change, uncounted, toward the cashier. He calls after me, something about my change, but I’m already on my way out the door by the time those two make it to the register to buy their beer.

You’re being paranoid, a voice in the back of my head whispers. They can’t find you here. Nobody knows you’re here.

And with good reason. I’m pretty sure this sleepy little suburb of Atlanta, Georgia is the last place in the world anyone would think to go hunting for the notorious Bronson Burke. The people searching for me are busy scouring the streets of Vegas, New York, LA, or hell, maybe Reno or Atlantic City if they think I’ve gotten desperate.

Nobody will check here.

That’s what I tell myself, anyway. But my eyes are locked on my rearview mirror as I pull out of the gas station parking lot, and sure enough, just as I’m turning onto the main drag through town—if you can call the four-street intersection that passes for it here a “town”—the two bruisers poke their heads out of the convenient store and squint after me.

I whip around the corner, cutting off another car that honks angrily. I hope I moved fast enough to obscure my license plate from anyone watching.

You really need to calm down, that voice says. The practical voice, the one that tries its best to reassure me that I can relax now; I can finally rest.

But I can’t listen to that voice because it’s not the one that’s kept me alive for the past four months.

I pull into the first parking lot I pass, a grocery store called Wayfield’s. Never heard of it, but there are plenty of cars parked out front and enough of a crowd bustling through the lot for me to blend in. I park in the back, reversing into the spot to hide my plates just in case, and then I turn up the collar of my jacket—a little heavy for the unseasonably warm late fall air, but it does the job—and fall in with the crowd marching into the store.

A glance around reminds me that it’s Sunday. Everyone’s in their churchgoing best and pushing shopping carts filled with oversized purses and screeching children. The people trickling out of the store are hauling enough food to feed small armies, and I realize it’s football Sunday, at that. Everyone’s prepping for their tailgates later, in a rush to shop before the coin toss.

I sidestep into the crowd, my heart still racing from the encounter at the gas station. The back of my neck itches with the urge to turn and check behind me, see whether those guys drove after me and followed me into this lot. But I know better than to give them a full view of my face, just in case they have.

I’m busy cutting across the flow of traffic when I feel my side collide with something soft and pliable. Something soft that lets out a yelp, as we crash into one another.

Blinking, I turn just in time to catch a woman’s arm. She grabs onto me, her fingers digging into my bicep through the thick wool of my coat, and her baby blue eyes are wide with surprise.

“Hey, watch out!” she shouts, an annoyed frown creasing her brow as she jerks her arm from my grasp. At her feet are a couple of shopping bags which she seems to have dropped in the collision.

A few other people around us grumble in agreement as the traffic is forced to part around us to continue its march into the store.

As for me, I can’t tear my eyes from her face. Or, well, I can. But only to have it snag on the rest of her, because damn, I didn’t know they made curves like that anymore.

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