Since the day she’d come back to town after her escape, as she had often described it, to the Marine Corps, she had ceased to fit in.
Why? The townsfolk couldn’t explain it, but she’d “seen the world” and now it seemed as though she just couldn’t actually come home and be. She was someone else now after the two tours in Afghanistan, and the little girl who had once worked the farm with her aunt and uncle, rode her little pink bike to the small school at the end of town and sang in the choir at Our Lord’s Blessed Redemption at the age of six had been replaced by a stranger.
She hid behind the bug-eyed sunglasses she’d picked up in New York City on her flight home, and the way she wore scarves was reminiscent of those old black-and-white movies. She was a regular Aubrey Hepburn, all slender hips and elegance, a smile for most but little else as if she was just a Hollywood starlet swinging through town to get a glimpse at the simple folks of Two Forks for an upcoming role.
Dot – she was named after her grandmother – hung out at the farm most of the time. She was all that was left of the family after Emily and Jake Gale passed away in a terrifying car crash while on their way to church only two weeks after she’d returned. She was something of an oddity, to say the least, but she was polite when she came into town twice each week – one trip for supplies, another to sit quietly in the back of the church as if she felt some sense of duty to her mother, who had always preached the Lord’s good word. Dot always had a smile for the locals, of which she was still one, and she stopped by the lone fire house every time to chat with the boys - they knew something about risking lives, but her smile never quite extended beyond the end of her nose, as if its true warmth was reserved for someone else.
Perhaps part of it was the Colt .45 caliber she often toted around with her. Not one for a purse, as such, she often had it holstered on her waist as if she were Annie Oakley herself, ready to pull it free and take out the nearest outlaw gunman. The law stipulated that she could legally carry it like that, and she had remarked more than once that there were often critters out at the farm and low-lifes in town that necessitated its wear. She was half-right about each, although it was unlikely the various jackalopes and prairie foxes were much of a threat. Certainly Andy and Mikey were more threatening and more annoying. Dot stayed clear of both types of animals and kept Toto – she called the Browning “Toto” – close-by. His bark, she liked to say, was nothing compared to his bite.
Luckily for her, she could handle herself pretty well without Toto, or our story would have turned out right different. Andy, having finally convinced Mikey that Dot had the hots for him, led the way out to the old farm about three miles down old Kansas 171. They were both lit after a few drinks at Ace’s Booze Barn and Drive-Away, and while Mikey had preached common sense and the long walk home, Andy would have nothing to do with it and promptly fired up his new Mustang, brow-beat Mikey into the passenger’s seat, and tore off down 171 at a steady weave.
The problem with Toto is that he didn’t give much warning being a pistol and all. His bark and bite were ferocious, but only if Dot knew that he was needed. She never saw the Mustang pull up in front of the old farmhouse, never heard the boys whispering amongst themselves and scrambling around back to the unlocked kitchen door. She was sitting at the old desk with her headphones on, iPod blaring ACDC, checking Weather.com and wondering about the storm coming on in a hurry across the plains. She didn’t hear them at all, but the years of hand-to-hand training she’d swung in the Marines paid off when they grabbed her and pulled her to the floor.
Andy got out of the house right quick, screaming and clutching his bloody face. Mikey vomited twice, his crushed testicle sending him sobbing into the cornfield out back. Dot, however, laid solemnly on the floor, her blouse ripped open, denim skirt pulled up over her hips. She was no longer in any danger, but the blow to the back of her head had proven too much, and she lay inches away from Toto, “Highway to Hell” still squealing in the background, Andy’s left eye clutched in her bloody hand.
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