“What did you say?” I turned my head to Danny, watched as he drained the life out of the cigarette trembling in his bruised hands. Smoke quick-stepped around his sharp jawline and five o’clock shadow before dissipating into the night. He extended his hand, offering me the last viable puff of his disintegrating American Spirit.
“I said it’s getting late. It’s almost three.”
I glanced down at my watch. It was 2:55 AM.
“I hate when people do that,” I exhaled. “It’s not late. It’s two fifty-five in the morning. It’s technically early, quite early actually.”
“I hate when you do that.” Danny forced a chuckle from his heaving chest. “You get so deep when you’re anxious. I told you, there’s nothing to worry about. You need to trust me.”
“I do trust you,” I whispered. The lie lingered on my lips like the taste of menthol and regret.
Danny clenched the steering wheel of his 1969 Ford F-100 as he stared blankly through the windshield. Acting as stage lights, the pickup truck’s foggy high beams set the scene for what would soon be a horror of a production. The barely audible beats of the Oldies station slinked through the FM bandwidth, the soundtrack of the show.
Slivers of headlight and moonlight wavered on the surface of Otter Lake, dancing along to a crooning Louis Armstrong. Pine trees lined the theater in anticipation.
Without a word, Danny shoved his door open, throwing himself out into the empty night. I glanced into the rearview mirror. His silhouette gripped the truck’s tailgate. I knew I had to help him. He couldn’t do it alone.
I slipped out of the truck. Stepping on gravel and lipstick-stained cigarette butts, I joined Danny by his side. He lowered the tailgate in one fluid motion; the hinges snapped like breaking bones.
Without warning, tears pirouetted down my cheeks like drunken ballerinas. Danny turned to me, and reached for my face in his clammy hands.
“Don’t cry. Just, don’t cry. Everything will be ok. No one will ever know. No one will even think to look for him up here.” He pressed his lips against my forehead.
Danny’s words provided little consolation as he released me, and pulled the shovel from the bed of his truck.