Bullet, Bottle, Or Blade


MacLeod hadn't seen Deborah in nearly ten years. When she called out his name, Duncan stared, dumb struck, at the woman that stood in front of him. Ten years had passed and he barely recognized her. It was only her voice that he knew; not that face, not that body. Even for a mortal, Deborah had aged horribly in a mere decade.

It was plain to see that more than just the passing years had ravaged her. The natural aging process was not that vicious. But bad habits were and they took their toll over time. It was a very hefty, ugly price Deborah had paid to remain comfortably numb.

Joe's juke box blared out a punk rock tune from the late seventies, "Die young. Stay Pretty."

"Deborah? Is that you?" He kissed her cheek and stepped back. Her distorted, bloated face and figure informed him of how she had spent those years since they'd last seen each other. She'd spent them in places like Joe's bar.

Deborah read his reaction. Her eyes dropped in shame as she fumbled through her purse for a cigarette and lighter.

"I know. I look like hell. Meanwhile, you haven't aged a day in ten years. Must be all that clean living of yours, huh? Well, take a good look at me and get it over with." She hoisted herself onto a stool at the bar and paused to light up.

Duncan sat beside her, still a bit stunned by the dramatic change. Taking a deep drag on her cigarette, Deborah's cheeks and lips fell into well worn creases. The skin on her face was as dry and brittle as an ancient scrap of parchment paper. She squinted at him through the hazy smoke.

He was struck by the memory of Deborah's eyes as they had been years ago, intense and full of life. At least they had been nearly sixteen years ago on the day she and Harry adopted Bonnie. Those same beautiful eyes adoringly watched Bonnie grow over the next six years of happiness that followed. Harry, Deborah and Bonnie had been an exceptionally happy little family. Everything had been picture perfect- until the day their world was shattered by a thief's bullet.

Deborah became a widow ten years ago and the single mother of six year old daughter. Now he looked into Deborah's eyes and did not recognize them. They were sunken, dull and watery. Her hair hung limply around her face, a nondescript shade of graying blonde, framing the sad portrait of a faded beauty.

Deborah snubbed out her cigarette after a few drags. While her eyes were downcast, absently watching the faint plume of smoke that rose from the ash tray, she spoke softly.

"I've come to ask you a favor Duncan."

Duncan reached for his wallet. She caught his movement out of the corner of her eye.

"It's not about money this time." Duncan let his hand drop to his side and waited for her to finish. But he soon became impatient.

"Well, are you going to tell me what it is about, Deborah?"

Deborah decided she needed a shot of courage before answering. She pulled a twenty out of her purse, put it on the bar and called Joe over.

"Absolute, with a twist of lemon." Joe avoided eye contact with either of them and silently filled her order. She drank the entire contents of the glass in one long, thirsty swallow.

Joe observed Deborah with a sad familiarity. Helplessly watching people self-destruct was the part of the job he hated most. But he knew only too well that there was nothing anyone could do to stop an alcoholic- if they didn't want to be stopped.

She motioned for Joe to refill her glass. He did. It was slightly less full than the first time. Deborah noticed and considered saying something but Joe had already walked away and was busy chatting with another customer. She finally turned her attention back to Duncan.

"Forget about the favor for now. First I want to give you two invitations." She placed a pink envelope in Duncan's hand. Duncan looked quizzically at the lone envelope.

"I only see one invitation."

"Read it." He did as she asked and his face broke into a relieved smile. Duncan was so entranced by what he read, he didn't notice Deborah polish off her second drink.

"My God! Bonnie is having her sweet sixteen next week? The last time I saw her she was playing with baby dolls." Deborah sighed wistfully.

"That was a long time ago. Bonnie has informed me that she is much too old to play with all those lovely dolls you sent her over the years. She's put them in storage, to give to her own children one day." Deborah got Joe's attention. Focused on getting another drink, she missed the mournful expression that passed over Duncan's face.

Joe refilled her glass, about halfway. Deborah caught on quickly. Joe has been keeping track of her drinks and was rationing them now. It wasn't the first time she'd experienced this treatment. It was the smug, unspoken disapproval she was all too familiar with. 'You've had enough, lady. Time to taper off.', as if it were up to them to decide when she'd had enough. Deborah let it go. She had more important things to deal with than judgmental bartenders.

"I've been thinking about my life a lot lately, Duncan. And I realized that Bonnie was the only thing that ever turned out right. No thanks to me, of course. I've screwed up with her so many times, in so many ways. But she always forgives me. She reminds me of Harry that way, so loyal and devoted..." Deborah broke down.

Duncan pretended not to notice as she turned her head away to wipe off the running mascara with a cocktail napkin. He was beginning to remember that Deborah was a sloppy drunk. The regrets would start to flow even faster than her never ending- or at least it felt that way to Duncan- stream of tears.

"I'm sure she's turned into a wonderful young woman." Duncan put his own hand over Deborah's trembling one. Deborah nodded enthusiastically.

"Oh, yes. She is wonderful. You should see her, Duncan. She is beautiful and bright and sweet..."

"Just like her Mom..."

"Used to be." She waved away Duncan's protest to her self derogatory remark, slipping her hand out from under his and continued in a resolute tone.

"The second invitation is the one that I thought should really be given in person. I owe you at least that much for all you've done." She finished off last of the vodka and looked longingly into the glass for a moment before nervously gazing up into Duncan's eyes. "It is an invitation to a funeral. I don't know the exact date. But it should be fairly soon. I don't think I have very much longer. I'm dying, Duncan."

The pink envelope slipped from his fingers to the bar.

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