Do the things you’ve done in the past add up to the person you are now? Or are you endlessly reinvented by the choices you make for the future? I used to think I knew the answer to those questions. Now, I’m not so sure.

I was cutting a slice of lemon meringue pie and watching the door out of the corner of my eye when my past walked into the forgotten desert diner where I’d been waiting tables.

"Angel?"

No one had called me by that name in ages, but when I heard that familiar, sand-blasted South Side voice, I’ll admit I felt a tiny fishhook tug in my heart. I used to love hearing that voice say my name. Then I hated it. Right now, I didn’t know how to feel about it.

The last time I saw Thick Vic Ventura, it wasn’t pretty. Neither was he. Twenty years of crank had cooked him down to bones and ashes. That was nearly two years ago, in another lifetime. I don’t know what the hell I was expecting to see when I turned to face that voice, but what I did see grabbed hold of the hook with both hands and twisted.

I saw the ghost of the old Thick Vic. What little was left of his hair had gone steely gray, chopped short by an unskilled hand. His face looked ten hard years older than it should have but the young Vic was still there in his eyes. The same Vic I’d fallen for, back when we both believed that nothing really bad could ever happen to either one of us. Standing there by the register with his hands in his pockets, he looked clean and earnest. He’d put fifteen healthy pounds on his lanky frame and his skin looked warm and pink, like it actually had red, living blood running underneath. His dark eyes looked calm and sane and more than a little melancholy. I wondered what he saw when he looked at me. I had no fucking idea what to say to him.

"Hey, Vic," I eventually said, for lack of anything better.

For a long, uncomfortable moment, neither of us spoke. I looked down at the cheap yellow filling leaking from the slice of pie on the plate in my hand. Vic looked everywhere but at me. He was the one who spoke first.

"I heard...well..." He paused, pulled his hands out of his pockets, looked down at them and then put them back in. "I heard a lot of crazy rumors about...what happened."

That line of conversation went nowhere fast. What was I supposed to say? Well, Vic, I was raped, shot and left for dead so I hunted down the bastards who did it and killed them in cold blood. That sort of thing doesn’t exactly make for nice casual catch-up chat.

"You look good," I said. At first I just said it because I needed to say something, but once it was out, I realized that I meant it.

He shrugged and cocked his head with a self-deprecating smirk that was vintage Thick Vic.

"Yeah well," he said. "I’m not trying to kill myself with a needle anymore. I’ve been sober for a year and two months. This time I think it’s really gonna take."

I thought maybe I should say something like congratulations, but wasn’t sure, so I said, "How did you find me?" instead.

"I didn’t." Vic looked over at the corner booth and then down at his hands. "See that kid sitting over there."

I looked over at the kid Vic was talking about. He was barely eighteen. Broken nose but still way too handsome for his own good. Intense hazel eyes and dark hair buzzed down to the scarred scalp. Lean, athletic build under an expensive white t-shirt printed with trendy rococo designs, silver skulls and wings. His long, sinewy arms were already sleeved in unimaginative tattoos. There was a red and black motorcycle jacket slung over the back of the booth and a brain-bucket style helmet on the table beside him. He was trying a little too hard and wore bad-ass like a brand new pair of boots that hadn’t quite broken in yet. Hed ordered nothing but black coffee and flirted with me every time I came around to fill his cup. Told me he was waiting for someone, but not a girl because I was all the woman he’d ever need. Cocky, like some hot young gun who thinks he doesn’t need Viagra for his first scene. But underneath the bad-ass and the heavy-handed Lothario charm, I got the feeling that he was anxious about something.

"What about him?" I asked.

Vic wiped his dry lips with the pad of his thumb and swallowed hard.

"That’s my kid," he said.

"Your kid?" I frowned.

Vic nodded, smile fading.

"I’ve never met him." He wiped his thumb across his lips again. "I mean, at the time I knew that Skye was knocked up, but she told me she was gonna get rid of it."

"Skye?" I asked. "You mean Skye Blue?"

Vic shook his head. "Skye West."

"Natural blonde, kind of a hippychick amateur look? Shot mostly for Metropolis but wouldn’t do girl/girl?"

"Yeah, that’s her."

"No shit," I said, looking back at the kid in the corner booth.

Now that Vic had mentioned it, the kid did bear more than a passing resemblance. He was a few inches shorter, a little prettier and much more muscular than his beanpole father but the crooked, charming smile and that cocky, big dick swagger should have been a dead giveaway.

"I found out about him five years ago," Vic said. "But at the time I was too strung out to care. My life is different, now, so..." Again, that familiar self-deprecating smirk. "I got no idea what to say to him."

I didn’t either, so I said nothing.

"Well..." Vic said.

"You really had no idea I was here?" I asked. "Your kid just happened to pick this diner to meet you?"

"Small fucking world, eh? Of all the gin joints in all the towns..." More silence, then, "I’d like to see you again, Angel."

And there it was. I had kinda seen it coming but it still caught me off guard. We weren’t exactly in love back in the day, but I suppose it was as close to love as a couple of callow, narcissistic twenty-somethings who fuck other people for a living can ever really be. Anyway it’s the closest I’ve ever been. Whatever you call the way I used to feel about Thick Vic, I was sure I’d buried all those feelings the day I kicked him to the curb. Right around the time that kid in the corner booth had been conceived.

"Look," Vic continued. "I know you got no reason to give me the time of day, not after the way I fucked everything up between us. But I just want a few minutes of your time, to make amends."

"Amends?" I looked over at the old guy at the counter, waiting for his pie. He was starting to look annoyed. "It’s ancient history, Vic."

"Indulge me, Angel," Vic said. "It’s part of my recovery."

The old charm was pretty threadbare but it still made me smile despite myself.

"Is a blow job for old time's sake part of your recovery too?" I asked.

He cracked a grin that took years off his weathered face.

"Come on." He put his hand to his heart, mock offended. "What kind of guy do you think I am?"

"I know exactly what kind of guy you are," I told him. "That’s the problem."

"Just a few minutes, Angel," Vic said. "Please? The blow job is optional."

I laughed and rolled my eyes.

"Go talk to your kid," I told him. "I’m off at midnight, okay?"

He looked back at the kid and his smile evaporated. The kid was drumming on the table and looking out the window.

"Miss?" said the man waiting for pie, one gnarled finger in the air.

"Go on, willya?" I said to Vic. "You’ll be fine."

I walked down to the end of the counter and set the pie in front of the old man, who scowled down at it as if it were the pie’s own fault that it had taken so long to arrive. I turned to grab the coffee, surreptitiously watching Vic as he made his way over to the corner booth. He stood there with his back to me, shoulders hunched and uncomfortable under his beat-up leather jacket. He was saying something I couldn’t hear. The kid stood and offered his hand.

As I poured coffee for the old guy, Vic looked down at the kid’s offered hand and then slowly reached out to take it. They exchanged an awkward handshake and then Vic let go and reached up to push back long hair fifteen years gone in a nervous gesture that was painfully familiar. The kid was looking up at Vic like he was Santa Claus and not really paying attention to the three jittery Mexican guys who walked right past the "Please Wait To Be Seated" sign. I was staring into the mouth of the coffee carafe and wondering if I might actually fuck Vic again after all when one of those Mexican guys made the choice for me. He pulled out a gun and shot Thick Vic in the back.

Copyright © 2011 by Christa Faust.

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