CH. 11: Inherent Risk

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Sunday afternoon was Bloody Mary time in Sunshine Beach. The streets teamed with shambling party people either fighting off hangovers or keeping the party going. A lot of sunglasses. A lot of scratchy voices. And a lot of the hair of the dog.

Mac and her little sister, Gwenie drove in Mac's pick up slowly down Liberty Street, SB's main drag, people watching and musing. The sisters' surfboards- they were both Gwenie's but Mac had borrowed one- stuck out of the truck bed. It'd been years since Mac had surfed and as far as she was concerned, there were no waves like those at Sunshine Beach. Gwenie had been only too happy to go riding with her. They just had one stop to make. The stop Mac had tried to make when she first arrived only to have it aborted by the Selfridge twins.

Paul.

They pulled into the parking lot of Pete's Saloon and Mac threw it in park. She winced and seethed as she opened the door and had to catch her breath when she stepped out of the Ford. Aunt Astrid's healing potions were the shit, but they only went so far. Her ribs were still bruised and her neck was still knotted and tight and her lower back was still throbbing. Still, could be worse. When she was convalescing, she hacked bloody phlegm and spit out a molar, but it could've been her whole jaw. Could've been a shattered eye socket. Could've been a broken neck. Yup, could've been much, much worse.

But, it is worse, she thought, You know what I mean.

"You OK?" Gwenie asked and lit a cigarette. A Marlboro Light 100. It looked sort of funny, the long cigarette poking out between her tiny fingers. Mac keyed in on Gwenie's fingernails. The forefinger and the middle. The red nail polish was chipped. Not enough to necessitate a manicure, but noticeable to Mac's eyes.

"Yeah," Mac said adjusting her chrome rimmed aviators. "I feel great."

You do, too, she thought, a little too great. You're noticing the little things. That couple you passed on the ride over, the girl's multiple ear piercings, the guy's scuffed sneakers. The sound of the waves echoing off the stores and bars on Liberty Street. The smell of the ocean. The way the air tastes of stale beer. The little things. The devil in the details. And oh, how good you feel. Energized. Damn near euphoric. It'd be convenient to pass it off as a side effect of Astrid's potion, but you know the truth. This is an onset of an episode. And the spring can only be compressed for so long.

"Great?" Gwenie asked, eyeing Mac suspiciously. "Like 'great,' or 'Great.'"

Mac smiled guiltily. "Not that great."

"Mac," Gwenie said, but it came out, "Maaaaccc."

"What?"

"Are you having one of your things? You should tell Mom."

"I started to," Mac said, "but, then the Selfridges showed up and then I got my ass kicked and..."

Gwenie raised an eyebrow.

"I'm fine. Just a little, elated. It's probably just being back in town. Seeing my sister. I'm fine."

"OK," Gwenie said doubtfully, "but, if you're all jacked up, you gotta take it seriously. I just don't want to see you hurt yourself."

Mac leaned in and laid her head on Gwenie's shoulder. "I love you, you know."

"I know," Gwenie said, laying her head on Mac's own. "But, you're my big sister. I don't want anything to happen to you."

"Come on," Mac said, smiling and standing up straight. "Let's go inside. You're gonna love Paul."

Gwenie took a final drag and Mac reached in and took the cigarette from her. After taking a drag of her own, she flicked the butt further into the parking lot then the two Wyatt sisters walked inside Pete's Saloon.

Last night, the joint was jumping and jam packed. Now, at noon, it was sparse with afternoon drinkers trudging the road to summer fun. A few bros threw darts. A clutch of coeds nursed margaritas and tried to piece together the events of the previous night. Apparently, the brunette made out with a sketchy older dude. At least that's what it sounded like to Mac. It never ceased to amaze her how heightened her senses were when she when she got like this, then she clamped down hard on the thought, both wishing for more amps and wishing them away. Such was the nature of her condition.

Mac led her sister up to the bar with the hopes of reconnecting with an old friend and, if he turned out to still be cool, perhaps match-making for Gwenie. She talked big but, even four years removed from her, Mac could still see the naive kid standing next her, dressed just like her, in a bikini top and too short jean shorts. Maybe it was just wishful thinking.

The two Wyatt sisters walked up to the fairly empty bar, to the same spot Mac had walked up to the other day in fact, and Mac wrapped on the wood. The bartender, presumably the too young one from last time, but after probably suffering a mild concussion, Mac couldn't be sure, had her back to them. She was leafing through ones and tens and twenties, checking the cash register's count. Her hips swayed back and forth to the country music purring from the saloon's speakers. Humming along even.

"Excuse me," Mac said. "I was here the other day. I was looki-"

"Be with you in a minute," the bartender said.

Mac gauged her. Dyed black hair down to her mid-back. Kind of angular shoulders and broad in the hips. No, this wasn't the girl from the other day. And there was something about her that was off. Whereas the other girl had worn a skimpy tee, this one wore a black tank top exposing her arms. And her tattoos. The fire breathing red dragon down her upper left arm. The white Bengal tiger down her upper right. It was like, but no, that can't be right. But, it had to be. She'd know those tats anywhere.

The bartender turned around and started to ask what she could do for them and all the color drained out of her face. A face that Mac recognized immediately but on another human being. A male human being.

"Paul?"

"Mac?" the bartender said, a mix of hope and fear in her light blue eyes.

"Yeah," Mac said. "It's me. Paul?"

"Uh, it's, a, Rachel now. I guess it always was."

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