Authors: Season Vining
Tristan Fallbrook was complicated and just barely a man. At the ripe old age of twenty-two,
he’d suffered heartache, seen his fair share of violence, and thrived as a professional
criminal. His life could rival that of a drafted wartime soldier, including battle
scars and haunting memories.
None of this was planned. His life should be different. Yet here he was, living in
a new place, facing a new direction that still felt faulty. All of his knowledge,
through personal experience and countless books, could not help him. Tristan was alone
and trapped in the foreign city, with only a 9mm and an addiction to literature to
save him. Night after night, he tucked away his one-hundred-thirty-seven-point IQ
and stood behind the bar, wearing his inked armor and crooked smile.
Looks like Bundy is back,” Erin said, sliding her tray onto the bar. “Same as always,
rum and Coke.”
“You got it,” Tristan answered. “Why do you guys call her that?”
“Because she’s really pretty and really weird, in a serial killer kind of way. She
never comes in here with anyone. She never leaves with anyone. She just sits in that
corner, sipping her drink and scribbling in her notebook. Sometimes she draws pictures
on the napkins. I feel like she’s leaving them for me on purpose. Like it’s some kind
of clue I’m supposed to decipher.”
Tristan placed the drink on the tray and shrugged.
“Maybe she’s just shy, Nancy Drew. Did you know Picasso and Warhol both had the habit
of sketching on napkins?”
“So what are you saying? I should be saving them? She’ll be famous and I’ll be rich?”
“Maybe. What’s she drawing, anyway?”
“Usually faces of people in the bar. There’s a sketch of me on the wall in booth twelve.
Some of her finest work, I’d say.” Tristan smiled, amused at Erin’s confidence. “Whatever
she is, she definitely needs some wardrobe help. You should see the ratty old sweatshirt
she wears all the time. My bet is serial killer. That pretty face could lure you chumps
in, no problem.”
Reaching his quota for small talk, Tristan gave her a grin and sent her on her way.
He rested against the shelf of smartly lined bottles and considered the behavior of
Bundy. He didn’t see anything wrong with someone wanting to be alone with her poison
and her thoughts. He wasn’t so sure what solidified her status as a freak. Many nights,
Tristan had found himself half deep into a fifth of whiskey while venting frustrations
to strangers. Vagrants, fellow employees, even customers had been subjected to drunken
rants of pipe dreams. Some offered advice, some only listened. He soon learned that
talking about it never mattered. His life’s course seemed to be fixed.
Tristan watched Erin deliver the drink. He forced himself to focus on Bundy, his curiosity
piqued. She was shrouded in shadows and he could make out nothing but a faint silhouette.
He recognized the intent of her posture and placement. Her hiding was intentional.
Josie did not look up as her new drink was dropped off, her mind preoccupied by the
presence of him. The smell of the waitress’s flowery perfume brought forth an angry
memory she quickly expelled. Then she wondered what he would smell like. His scent
and her memory of it had faded from the hooded sweatshirt. Would he smell of heavy
colognes and aftershaves or just a simple combination of soap and cigarettes? She
scolded herself, knowing that her fascination with this man was unreasonable. She
had no right to want him the way she did.
Josie knew the name the bar staff had branded her with, Bundy. She’d overheard two
of the waitresses talking on their break. They hadn’t seen Josie there as they chatted
about her weirdness and state of dress. She hadn’t been the subject of their conversation
for long, though, easily dismissed as in every other aspect of her life. Her eagerness
to simply be in his presence outweighed any humiliation she’d had to endure.
Suddenly, Josie felt a burning fire on her face, a pull from across the room. She
glanced up to see his eyes on her. He was looking, really looking. Even though she
knew he couldn’t see much, she felt as though she were being dissected in front of
a crowd of spectators.
After weeks of her veiled presence, he’d finally taken notice. His muscled forearms
leaned on the bar and his gaze stayed fixed. Sure, she wanted him, but on her terms.
She wasn’t ready. He wasn’t another man to be conquered and forgotten. He was different.
Josie felt smothered with the need to escape.
Spying no movement from her corner, Tristan finally dropped his eyes back to the bar,
liberating his subject. He knew she was a creature of habit and wouldn’t be leaving
anytime soon. He would wait her out.
An hour passed, steady and unhurried, neither one of the players giving up on the
waiting game. By midnight, Tristan couldn’t take it anymore and needed to step out
for a smoke. He let his coworker know and headed out the side door. The alley welcomed
him with quiet darkness.
When he was out of sight, Josie threw a few bills down, including a generous tip,
and packed away her notebook. She slid from the booth, hastily making her way outside.
When the rubber soles of her shoes hit the sidewalk, she breathed a little easier.
Out here, she could disappear again. Out here, she was anonymous.
Josie turned to make her way home but was met by a familiar form leaning against the
building. She sucked in the crisp air, almost choking, as his eyes worked themselves
up from her feet. Even after all this time, he recognized her.
“You,” he whispered, curls of smoke escaping through his lips.
Tristan dropped his cigarette, crushing it under the toe of his shoe, before shoving
his hands deep into his pockets. Before him stood a girl full of secrets and history,
and he knew that she was alone in the world. He took two steps toward her, expecting
she would retreat. He was wrong.
Josie trembled with some feeling that she didn’t recognize. Her head felt light and
her legs became shaky under the weight of this moment. He moved closer, his beautiful
face contorted in caution. She wasn’t afraid. Their long-awaited reunion outweighed
any unease. Without thought, Josie lifted her hand toward him, wanting to make sure
he was real. She had no doubt that her mind could invent his presence just to mess
with her. She slid her fingers along his jaw. It felt like warmed stones and sandpaper.
Eventually, Josie rested her palm against his face, and he let her.
Tristan leaned into her touch. Their eyes held firm, locked on each other in a battle
for understanding. This bond, this connection was undefined yet all-consuming. In
the familiar moonlight, their breathing had become synchronized and the rest of the
world fell away. Tristan needed to say something but feared that it would end the
fragile moment. He took the chance anyway.
“Josie,” she replied.
A long, silent moment stretched between them. It remained comfortable and reminiscent
of reunited lovers. Tristan’s brows dipped in confusion as her face morphed into a
younger one in his mind, a smiling one. He considered the familiar eyes, measuring
them against the dark and guarded ones before him now. Like a forceful blow knocking
the breath from his lungs, he connected Josie to the girl who had haunted his memory
for the past eight years.
“You look just like a girl I used to know. McKenzi Delaune,” Tristan said. “But that’s
Josie, not having heard that name for so long, dropped her hand and looked down at
the sidewalk. She didn’t associate with that girl anymore, she hadn’t for years. Fear
clawed at her chest as she wondered how much she should say. Something pulled the
confession from her.
“I used to be her,” she answered.
“I thought you were dead.”
Two celestial bodies opposite each other in the sky.
This was Josie’s secret, the only truth that anchored her to a forgotten past. Her
safety and her sanity deemed that she keep it locked away. Josie found herself ensnared
by his statement:
I thought you were dead.
She almost laughed at his half-truth. Categorically, she’d felt dead for years. She’d
survived the tedious clockwork of day-to-day living, physical pain, and emotional
woundings. So many times, especially when she was alone in the quiet darkness of her
existence, Josie had begged to abandon this life. She wasn’t sure if those prayers
had gone unheard or simply unanswered. It no longer mattered, since she’d lost her
faith long ago. These days Josie believed only in things she could see and touch.
At this moment, she believed in Tristan.
“I know you,” he whispered.
Recognizing her face, not only from months ago, but years ago, Tristan continued to
gape. Her touch was gone now, but his skin prickled with warmth where her hand had
been. His brain felt overwhelmed and burdened by the connection. Quickly firing synapses
struggled to keep up with his recollection of this woman as a child. So many questions
formed lumps in his throat, choking the ability for even one to escape.
“You don’t know shit.”
Unable to handle the heaviness of the moment any longer, Josie turned to flee. She
was too sober to deal with confessions right now. She knew it was cowardly; still,
she clutched her messenger bag close as her feet shuffled away. Her retreat was silent.
Long ago she’d perfected the art of carrying her bag in such a way that the paint
cans didn’t rattle. She shifted her eyes down to the sidewalk, divided by lightninglike
cracks in its surface. She wished they would swell open and devour her.
“McKenzi! Josie!” Tristan called out. Josie’s name, the word she’d been so desperate
to hear from his lips, was now tainted by her cowardice.
* * *
After McKenzi had left him stunned on the sidewalk, Tristan raced inside and locked
himself in the restroom. Barraged with conflicting emotions, Tristan gripped the edge
of the sink just to stay upright. Sweat formed along his hairline while his pulse
thundered in his ears. He felt nauseated and betrayed and relieved all at the same
time. Facing his reflection in the mirror, he barely recognized the man staring back.
His skin was pallid, drained of heat and blood. His eyes were dilated and unable to
focus on one single spot for long. They burned with unshed tears as he bit down on
his lips to keep them from trembling. He looked like a sickly version of himself,
a stranger. He looked like he’d seen a ghost.
Hey, man, you okay?” a man asked from behind him. “You don’t look so good.”
Tristan met the man’s eyes in the mirror and tried to focus on his face.
“That’s because I’m trying to fight the effects of psychological shock. My blood pressure
has dropped, making me feel dizzy. Also”—Tristan stopped and tried to take a deep
breath—“my shallow breathing is leaving my body with a lack of oxygen.”
The man cocked his head to the side like a dog trying to understand human speech.
His eyes became slits as though that would help him comprehend. Tristan dropped his
gaze back down to the sink.
“Uh, okay. Well, I’m just going to…”
By the time Tristan looked up again, the man was gone. As smart as he was, Tristan’s
brain was not always successful in navigating social situations.
He was an intellectual conundrum beneath his tough-as-nails veneer, a medical falsehood.
His father had called the condition eidetic memory. Remembering had always come easy.
There was no effort in regurgitating every detail of a photograph or every word of
a novel. Grocery lists, dates and times, even names and faces just seemed to stick
with him. It wasn’t a skill that he’d mastered after years of training or retaining
information using mnemonic devices. It was something he’d been born with. It was part
of his genetic makeup, like eye color or curly hair.
When he was old enough, Tristan had researched the term, trying to understand why
his brain worked this way. With his nose buried deep in his father’s medical journals,
he learned that his ability was swarming with controversy; some even regarded it as
“A myth?” he’d cried.
Huddled on his father’s lap in the leather office chair, he’d begged to be normal
like the other kids.
“Tristan, what you have is not a defect. It is a special ability. You’ve been blessed.
Think of it as being bulletproof or having X-ray vision.”
“Like Superman?” he’d asked, wiping the tears from his cheeks.
Dr. Fallbrook smiled down at his son and nodded. In the amber-lit room, lined with
shelves of books and family portraits, seven-year-old Tristan beamed as he pictured
himself in tights and a billowing cape of recollection.
Eventually, Tristan resumed his post behind the bar, greeted with nothing more than
an annoyed glance from his coworker. He used a clean towel to dry the whiskey tumblers,
a thoughtless action built into his bartender automation. Tristan poured drinks and
opened bottles, but his thoughts were set on McKenzi. From her painted black eyes
down to her curves and endless legs, there was no doubt the girl he once knew had
become all woman.
“Tristan?” He turned to find Erin staring at him. “I
I need a Blue Moon, a vodka tonic, a million dollars, and Ryan Gosling’s phone number.”
“Sorry,” he said. “Coming right up. I can’t help with Ryan. But why stop at one million?
If you had more money, you’d probably have a better chance of getting that phone number
“I’d hate to be greedy,” Erin answered, winking at him. “But I like how you think.”
He smiled and set the drinks on her tray. Once she was gone, Tristan’s thoughts returned
Tristan combed through every detail, starting with the first time he’d seen her up
until the first time he’d seen her again. That night in the dark alley, she’d silently
looked on as he raged. She’d watched him bleed and sweat and give himself over to
despair. When their eyes had met, he’d felt the familiar force drawing them together
but had dismissed it so easily. He understood that pull now and he wondered if she
felt it too.