THIS ISN’T THE WAY by Kaye George

I’d thought of walking out a lotta times. Things had gotten so rough between us, I knew we were headed for a breakup. I just didn’t know this would be how it was.

When I got the tip on the pony in the fifth race, I had that golden feeling. So golden that I put everything on him that I’d made sweeping up the crap at the mall last week. I didn’t dare go home when the nag pulled up short halfway around the track. I knew we were outta groceries. She’d had to practically scrape the plastic off the side of the peanut butter jar to make the kids’ sandwiches this morning.

The kids had to be fed. I knew that, even if she yelled about me not thinking of them. At least I had a half tank of gas. I drove to the rest area right outside town and waited until it was empty. Then I realized I didn’t have my jimmy any more. I’d sold all my tools last month. Still, maybe I could pry the candy machine open. No matter how hard I banged the thing, nothing moved. Since they’d put those bars up, I couldn’t smash it with the truck like I used to.

Next stop, the ATM. I did have a chain and a hitch, at least. When I got there, it was dark and the streetlights were starting to flash on. When did they put such bright lights next to the damn ATM? It used to be in a little ole dim corner of the parking lot, last time I pulled it off and hauled it away.

There was nothing else to do. I pulled on my hoodie and stuck my finger out, inside my pocket, as I sauntered into the convenience store. The gun was home since she said she needed it there for protection. I saw the kid reach under the counter as soon as I got inside, though, so I hightailed it outta there.

I drove over to Jake’s. He was never flush, but maybe he could spare a tenner or two. Just enough to get lunch for the kids. Jake was a straight up dude. Driving past the fast food burger place, on the way there, my drool almost ran down my chin. My bad luck was holding. The jerk wasn’t even home.

It was time to face the music. I drove home and dragged my feet up the stairs to the apartment. Stopping outside the flimsy door, I heard a man’s voice inside. What the hell was Jake doing in my apartment?

“I gotta go. He’ll be home any minute.”

“Don’t go yet, babe. The jackass got a tip on a horse this morning before he left. I guarantee you he’s lost all his wages and is looking for a way to scrounge up some green. He doesn’t know about the stash I keep in the freezer.”

“You do?”

Jake sounded just as stupid as he always did. But I was getting smarter by the minute.

“I like to play him.” I could hear the smile in her voice. Those pretty red lips would be curled into an ugly sneer. “You should see how hangdog he looks when I tell him the kids ain’t got nothing to eat.”

That was it. I smashed the door off its hinges and stood in front of them with my fists tight, trying to decide which one to hit. I couldn’t hit her, just couldn’t. So I lit into Jake. I aimed a jab just above the lipstick on his cheek. Landed it to his right eye. Then I split his lip with my right follow up.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her grab the gun from on top of the fridge.

Jake yowled and doubled over, trying to hold the blood in with his two big hands. I got ready to knock him clean over.

That’s when she shot me.

I never saw the flash. In fact, I didn’t hear the bang, either. But I hit the ground with a god-awful pain in my gut.

That was it. I was leaving her. But this wasn’t the way I wanted to go.

Kaye George is the bestselling, award-winning author of: Imogene Duckworthy mysteries, Cressa Carraway Musical mysteries, People of the Wind mysteries, and, as Janet Cantrell, Fat Cat cozies. Her short stories appear various places and in her own collection, A Patchwork of Stories. She lives in Knoxville, TN.

Copyright © 2016 Kaye George. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. 

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