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PART FIFTY-FOUR

Loren returned with a smile, asking, “Change your mind? Get you some dinner?”

The women looked at one another and shook their heads. “No, thank you, Loren,” Suzann replied. “I think just refills, please.”

“Okay, great,” the server said. “Other West Coast, Moscow Mule and Yuengling, correct?”

“Correct,” Suzann replied.

“Wait!” Stacie said. “Change mine to unsweetened tea, please. I’m driving, and one pint of West Coast was plenty.”

“Iced tea,” Loren replied.

“No,” Karla objected, “I can’t drink more of your beer if you’re having tea. Change mine to tea, too please.”

Suzann scowled. “And leave me to drink alone? Tell me, do you want tea, or do you want beer? Because you are not driving, Stacie is.”

“Stacie?” Karla asked.

“Oh, for goodness sake! Please, have another if you’d like. If I wasn’t DD I’d join you. I’m just a light-weight and so I’m conscientious about how much I drink.”

Karla smiled and winked at Stacie before turning to Loren and saying, “Yuengling, please.”

“Got it. I’ll be right back.”

“She seems nice,” Karla said of the retreating Loren.

“Yes, she is,” Stacie replied, nodding. “She’s at Sean and Tyler’s a lot.”

“Steven Tyler’s,” Suzann corrected. “I’ve decided that your friends get to keep their names, but henceforth their digs are to be called Steven Tyler’s. And you’re both light-weights. What do you weigh, Karla? Ninety-nine pounds?

“You said that you took Skylar away from Gadsden while Caleb was in prison. Do you mind telling me why he was incarcerated?”

“One-oh-five. And which time!? He started with drug charges. Heroin. His daddy’s uncle or some such had a big ole local lawyer name a Wishnatsky’d already got him off on drug paraphernalia an possession with intent to distribute a couple times but the cops caught him with heroine. This Wishnatsky fella couldn’t get him off on that, but Caleb said he’d be out on parole seeing how as it was his first conviction. Well, ole Judge Wallace weren’t having none of it, and Caleb got a year. Not much, considering. I mean, weeds one thing, but heroin?

“So, he’s locked up in prison and Skylar’s getting big. Baby changes a lot in a year, you know? And Skylar ain’t the only one who changed a lot. He comes back changed. Real changed.

“Went from being a charming, abusive, manipulative asshole to a self-righteous, abusive, violent one. He’d smacked me before when he was drunk or high or whatever when I’d sass him, but it was different. He just turned goll-darn mean. Got to be pins and needles for me. Egg shells, you know?

“I don’t know if it was just prison or his Elohim’s Army crowd, because that’s where he fell in with them fine, fancy gentlemen. Some weaselly fella named Farmer got ‘em hooked up. He was tight with those boys from the get go and it only got worse. Local leader’s name was Bishop Scudder. I never did know if his mama named him Bishop or if that was some nickname. Anyway, meets up with this Scudder fella and next thing you know they’re thick as thieves.

“So, Caleb and Scudder and the Army are out at night doing God knows what. I know he’s selling drugs and he comes in with bloody clothes and bloody knuckles plenty a times. And then,” Karla emphasizes the ‘then’, “he brings heroine home. I tell him, ‘Nu-uh! Not in this house! We’re not having that around Skylar! You want DHR to take our baby?’ and I was scared, cuz I didn’t know how he’d respond, but it wasn’t too bad. I mean, he whacked me one for punctuation, but he didn’t bring it home no more. I mean, it ain’t like I was some saint. I’d smoke his weed, but heroine? No, ma’am!

“One thing I gotta admit though is that I never seen him raise a hand to Skylar. He’d tell her all this Elohim’s Army bull-shit but he never hit her. I think she was too young to even understand what he was saying but after that first time in prison he just turned plain mean ugly and itching to smash heads.”

The conversation stopped as a handsome, dark haired man returned with the drinks and picked up the empties. “Stacie,” he said, beaming at her before turning to Suzann. “Ma’am,” he asked, “Is your name Mrs. Layher?”

Suzann tilted her head and raised her eyebrows. “Yes?” she said replied, elongating her s. “Have I had the pleasure of meeting you before? Did you attend Lake Myrtle, perhaps?”

Tyler smiled and shook his head. “No, ma’am. I went to Mittye P. Locke Elementary. Tyler Hinnenkamp. But that man over there did,” He said, pointing at a blond man sitting at a far table with a small Hispanic woman who held a toddler in her lap. “He said his name’s Adam Harrison and if you’re Suzann Layher he’d like to but you a drink.”

“He is!? He did? How lovely. I am, yes please, and would you please let Adam know that I’ll come see him, okay?”

“Will do. You want the drink now, or shall I wait?”

“Oh, go ahead and bring it,” Suzann said with a laugh. “After all, Stacie is driving.”

“See ya, Tyler!” Stacie called after the retreating man.

“Did I say Sean was cute?” Karla asked. “Cuz that Tyler’s adorable. I’d watch out for him.”