The family gathered afterward at Wilson’s mother’s house. It was hard not to feel the eyes of his relatives on him, just as it was hard not to notice the pats on the back Wilson received. Lopez had been well coached and sought Wilson out to thank him for his service. Danny wanted to leave and told his mother so, barely two hours into the get-together. He’d greeted politely all the relatives he recognized, and those who didn’t come up to him, he figured didn’t want to be re-acquainted. Not like Wilson.
As a youth, just hanging with Wilson would have normally been enough to make the afternoon interesting, but today, with the frostiness between the two cousins, it was forcing him into a dangerous place even the sweet recollection of the night with Luci couldn’t heal. Making matters worse, Wilson had watched as he dropped Luci back to her car at the Blue Coyote and made an off-color remark that irritated Danny further.
The two ignored one another until somehow they wound up waiting to use the only restroom in the house.
“Your mom says you’re ready to go home,” Wilson said to his cowboy boots.
“I honestly don’t know why you came in the first place, Danny.”
Danny’s right eye squinted a little. “We never liked these things, Wilson. You know that.”
“You’ve been gone, what, eight years or more?”
“Okay, then. Ten. And you can’t spend an afternoon giving these people the time of day?”
“I don’t belong here, Wilson.”
Wilson nodded his head. “Oh yeah. Forgot. You’re the one that got away. You trying to rub my nose in it, huh?.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“So what are you saying?”
“I’m saying I don’t want to be here. I’ve done my farewells, and now it’s time for me to adios.”
“You might consider the feelings of your mother.” Danny drilled him with a look that picked a scab.
“You hear the voices? Does the chanting get to you, Wilson?”
He could see his cousin was thinking about this carefully. It surprised him that Wilson didn’t give a quick answer no, which meant he heard the voices, too.
“Holy fucking shit, Wilson. You hear them, too. Just like I do.”
Emma Barnowl opened the bathroom door and their nostrils were hit with room deodorizer, which did a poor job of masking the smell she’d left behind.
“Fuck me,” Wilson said under his breath. “I’m going out back.”
Danny followed his cousin, and within thirty seconds, was standing next to him, pissing on his aunt’s tomato plants, just like they used to do when they were boys of five. To this day, Danny hated tomatoes, especially home grown ones.
After they were done, they sat in metal lawn chairs. Wilson offered Danny a cigarette.
“I don’t smoke, and neither do you, or you didn’t,” Danny corrected himself.
“That’s funny,” Wilson said as he casually lit up and put his lighter and cigarettes back in his rear pocket.
“How come you didn’t wear your uniform?”
“It’s my choice. I didn’t think he’d like it.” Wilson took a long drag on his cigarette and blew it right at Danny’s face, but the wind carried it away.
“Thought you were proud of being a Navy boat guy.”
“I am. Got nothing to do with it. Kind of felt like it would be bragging or something, you know?”
Danny wondered about Luci, halfway expecting she’d drop by the gathering. Was he disappointed she’d stayed away? He couldn’t get the touch of her body against his out of his mind. That might be a reason to stay an extra day or two, but that would be a dangerous road, full of emotional potholes and entanglements. None of his liaisons ever turned out to last, so he figured it was better to remember her the way he’d left her. He saw her proud straight shoulders and those tight jeans encase thighs and a world-class ass as she walked toward her car and didn’t look back once. He knew the only good ones were the ones who didn’t look back.
“Look, Danny, I’m going to say this once, and then let you go. I’m sorry we got off to a bad start after so many years.”
“I was surprised you were around. Didn’t expect it.”
“So I was right, you’re not happy to see even me.”
“Again, putting words in my mouth.”
Wilson looked down, eyes landing on the scuffed cowboy boots, which were a mismatch to the clean suit pants and white shirt he wore. “I left this place with a lot of demons. I think I got just as many, maybe more than you, cuz.” Wilson took a final drag, stomped it out on the patio, and then threw the pieces into his mother’s vegetable garden.
A slight breeze shivered its way down Danny’s spine. A little group laughed from inside the house. He heard the tinkling of glasses and silverware, the sounds of cars arriving on the crushed rock roadway in front of his Aunt’s house, a doorbell ring, and the buzzing of a small plane overhead. The place looked and smelled and felt dangerously normal.
“I learned to tame those demons in the Navy, Danny. I’m not going to lie to you, but serving in the armed forces is giving me skills I can take out there in the real world.”
Danny found himself chuckling in spite of the fact that it was going to piss Wilson off. “Yeah, don’t see many rubber boats around the res, cuz. You training to be a white water rafting guide in the Canyon? Shit, you coulda done that in high school.”
“Except I was getting stoned in high school, Danny. So were you. I heard you were a real mess.”
“Rumors of my demise have been over exaggerated. I look like a mess to you?”
Wilson abruptly stood. “No, Danny, you look like a fuckin’ hero just like your grandfather.”
His cousin left and joined the gathering inside the house.