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In The Beginning, The End
About the Author: Stephen D. Rogers is the author of SHOT TO DEATH and more than 800 shorter works. His website, www.StephenDRogers.com, includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.


Her cheek against his bare skin, she tugged at one of his chest hairs. "Do you remember the first time you saw me?"

"Of course. It was at Malcolm's. I ordered wings, and kept waving you over to ask for a different kind of dipping sauce so you'd stand next to me for a few seconds."

"It's as though you invented smooth."

"I think I did, actually. You inspired me."

"Inspired you to invent imaginary dipping sauces, maybe."

"That was not my fault. Malcolm's only offered three kinds, and I wanted to see more of you than that."

"Your worst idea was jalapeño pineapple. You mispronounced jalapeño."

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did.” She tugged the hair.

"I was younger then. What did I know?"

"Are you saying you didn't know better than to flirt with me?"

He kissed the top of her head. "Some things I knew."

She hummed, the sound echoing in his chest. "You're wrong though. That wasn't the first time you saw me."

The ground seemed more root than soil, as if the trees in this forest clawed at each other, grasping for purchase, holding on for dear life. No matter where she stabbed the spade, she only ever cut through the surface before hitting something unyielding.

She had already spent hours dragging him out here. Was she now going to spend hours digging the hole?

Assuming she could ever get through these roots.

When probably below she would start hitting rock.

In the beginning, she had so much hope for them.

"What do you mean Malcolm's wasn't the first time I saw you? Yes, it was."

"No, it wasn't. You saw me before that.” She pulled at one chest hair and then another.

"When?"

"You were doing laundry."

"No. Seriously?"

"I was out walking. I glanced into the window as I passed the laundromat, and I saw you. I just thought, wow."

"I have that effect on people."

"Then you stopped what you were doing, and you looked through the window at me."

"I did?"

"You did.” She sighed. "Maybe I should have gone inside and talked to you, but I didn't feel the need to do that because I knew I would see you again. I thought, I'm going to make him mine."

"Hmm. I have no memory of this."

"Then one night, some weeks later, you walked into Malcolm's. I thought, is he going to be seated in my station, or am I going to have to trade? The hostess hated when we traded."

"I ordered a beer and the wings."

"You did. Then you ordered an obscene number of dipping sauces.” She dragged a nail back and forth across his skin. "Erin asked if I wanted to switch tables."

"Your friend Erin?"

"She saw right through you. She said, that one has issues."

"Issues? What issues?"

"The wings at Malcolm's don't need dipping sauces. Those wings taste amazing."

"What's wrong with dipping sauce?"

"Nothing if you want to add empty calories and boost your sodium intake so that you buy more liquor, which is where Malcolm's makes their money."

"That's me, selfless. I wanted to keep Malcolm's profitable and justify leaving you a huge tip."

"When you're dead, there will probably be a rush to grant you sainthood.” She pinched him.

"Ouch."

"I wanted to make sure you were still alive."

"You could have just asked."

She had finally found an area free of roots, the spade biting deep. She would push the handle forward. Pull it back. Pry the earth free and lift it onto the pile.

Her breath came quicker now, harsher.

If this were winter, she would see her breath in the moonlight, would see it expand and then shatter into a million crystal shards.

If this were winter, she wouldn't be able to dig, the ground frozen. The trail she'd leave dragging him through the snow could never be concealed.

If this were winter, better not to kill him. Better to wait for spring.



This story appears in our JAN 2022 Issue
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