One afternoon, as he nears his yard, a truck he had not noticed behind him honks, and as he checks his mirror he can see a man there, waving him over to the side of the road. He doesn’t recognize him from anything he did earlier that day, but he can tell this is someone who followed him from the booths. He keeps driving, past his yard, heading around the curve of the road and out of sight of the house. Ed pulls over just before the bridge crossing the creek. He stays seated on his bike.
The truck pulls in behind him and a silver-haired man steps out of the cab. He smiles. “You didn’t go to church.” Ed looks hard at him and still can’t remember him: a handsome Anglo, blue-eyed, his teeth large and white, his skin smooth, as if he is a youth surprised by the passage of time. He is wearing a T-shirt and jeans, a huge steel watch on his wrist.
“No,” Ed says, “I didn’t.” He squints back up in the direction of his house in his sideview mirror. The yard as he passed it was empty of cars and the house seemed empty. “How long have you been following me?”
“A few weeks.” He looks at his hands as he says this, and then back at Ed.
Ed wonders if this is a lie. “You follow me to church? You’re no Catholic, I think. Why are you here?”
“Do you really not know?” The man steps closer, smiling, confident.
Ed says nothing. He looks out across the handlebars and stays motionless.
“I think you know.” He smooths back his hair, looking around to the road and then back at him. “Look.” He smiles at Ed. “Look, OK? I’m not . . . here to hurt you. Or nothing like that. I just thought we could maybe, I just wanted to . . . I mean, don’t you get sick of all that?”
Ed tries to think. It had never occurred to him that anyone would follow him away from the place. That any of the men there existed outside of the store. He begins to panic but keeps the tremor out of his voice when he says, “I don’t get sick of it. I like it that way.”
The guy’s smile fades. “I like it to be there,” Ed says.
“I think you don’t mean that. You’re . . .” He walks over to Ed, up close, and reaches a hand toward him.
“Don’t do that,” Ed says. His eyes are burning, he is almost crying with fear and anger, but he feels powerful now. “Just get out of here now. You’re wrong, you made a mistake. I’m not that guy.”
“Something wrong?” From up the road, walking slow, it is Loreta, her air rifle in her hand. She takes her time, squinting at the two of them until she pulls even.
“Is there something you didn’t understand about what my brother just said?” She straddles the back seat of Ed’s bike, the barrel of the rifle waving in the air like a finger. “Hi,” she says. She smiles at the man brightly.
Ed’s visitor’s eyes are glassy. Loreta pauses. She had meant to be meaner, but she pauses: Something in a man always stays soft, like the skin in between your fingers, and no amount of roughness ever reaches it. This always did her in.
“You got a home, you got a place to park that truck. Go home, cowboy.” The man steps backward until he reaches the hood of his truck, and then he spins around the front of it and climbs into the cab. He does a three-point turn in the road while Ed and Loreta sit on the bike, watching him until he drives away.
Ed does not look back at her. He sits still, waiting for her to speak.
“Did you know him? Did he owe you money?” she asks. He feels her shift to pull her gum out of her jeans’ front pocket. She hands a stick to him, and he opens his hand to say no.
“Nope,” he says. Through the afternoon the sky had filled with thin papery clouds, pulled out into sheets by the wind, and now the sun shines through as if through gauze.
“I came down because I saw you drive by and slow down as that truck waved at you. You must have stopped because you recognized him or something. Who was he?” Loreta chews her gum fiercely, snapping it now and again. “I got all day.”
“I never saw him before. Honest,” Ed replies.
“Why was he reaching for you?” She stands and gets off the bike. Ed looks at her, her jeans sliding off her hips and her T-shirt too small for her. The gold cross around her neck flickers in the sun. “If you don’t know him, why’d you pull over, and why here and not in the driveway?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t want him to know where we lived,” he says. He watches himself in the reflection of his gas tank. When he turns back up to her, she is wrinkling her brow, one leg pointed off to the side, disbelieving. She brings the gun up to her shoulder and aims down the sight, back over his head toward their house.
“You’re full of shit, mi vida. But you’re my brother, and you’re OK. You just got to watch out for these white-boy cowboys in their big trucks,” she says, and turning away from her target, she winks at him. “Don’t just be pulling over for them every time they give you a wave hello. Shit, Ed, this is West Texas. You did grow up here.”
She swings the gun down and levels it, as if to fire at someone’s stomach. “Pow,” she says. “C’mon. Don’t give me that sour face. I am your goddamn sister. Let’s go get something to eat.”