The gang gathered around Cole’s kitchen table, finalizing their plans for the next day as they stared at a map of Sitwell.
“Everyone know where they’re supposed to be?” Cole asked.
“Yeah,” Maude said. “I should be on a beach in Hawaii with a Mai Tai in my hand. I’m too old for this.”
Burt, though still a Grover County Sheriff’s deputy, had joined in. “Me too.”
“What if the gator doesn’t take the bait?” Rusty asked.
“I think he will,” Natalie said. “When this all began, Buford sent me a text that stuck with me. ‘I am not in control.’ I’m not sure he ever was.”
“The alligator sounded like he was the boss when I caught them arguing,” Rusty said.
“And I think the alligator was making him text me,” Natalie said. “He loves the limelight.”
“Shit,” Rusty said. “It’s the Kim Kardashian of alligators.”
“Animals get smarter with every generation,” Professor Lambert said. “And yet humans continue to be so arrogant as to assume we are the only intelligent life on earth.”
Moses chugged a beer and burped. “I don’t know about y’all but I think the most intelligent thing to do now is to get some sleep.”
“Agreed,” Cole said. “Everyone rest up. It’s a big day tomorrow.”
The gang milled about Cole’s house as Cole retired to his bedroom. He removed his pants, sat on the edge of his bed, then detached his prosthetic leg. He rubbed his stump and closed his eyes, only to open them when Sharon entered the room.
“Oh,” Cole said. “Sorry, I should take the couch and you can sleep in here.”
Sharon pressed her finger up to her lips. “Shh,” she said as she sat down next to her ex-husband.
Cole reached for his prosthetic only to have his hand pulled back by Sharon. “Leave it.”
“It doesn’t bother me,” Sharon said.
“It bothers me,” Cole replied.
“It shouldn’t,” Sharon said.
Sharon and Cole stared into each others’ eyes for a spell before they shared a deep, passionate kiss.
“We shouldn’t,” Cole said.
Sharon grabbed the back of Cole’s head and pulled it closer to hers. “We should.”
“No,” Cole said as he pulled back. “What’s done is done.”
Sharon sighed. “Why do you think I left you?”
“This isn’t the time to get into this,” Cole said.
“It’s the perfect time,” Sharon said. “If something happens to one of us tomorrow…”
“It won’t,” Cole said.
“But if it does…”
Cole flopped back on the bed. “Fine. What do you want me to say, Sharon? ‘I’m sorry I decided to be the big hero.’ Is that what you want me to say? Do you need me to say our divorce was my fault so you’ll feel better? Fine. It was my fault.”
“I never thought it was your fault,” Sharon said.
“It was,” Cole said. “You married a strapping young man and you didn’t sign on for a gimp with a fake leg. I put myself in danger. I got my leg bitten off by the dog from hell. You didn’t sign on to take care of a cripple for the rest of your life so the second you heard about what happened to me, you ran. I don’t blame you. I blame myself.”
“That’s what you think happened?” Sharon asked.
“I know it’s what happened,” Cole said.
“You don’t know anything,” Sharon said.
“I know had the situation been reversed I wouldn’t have left you,” Cole said. “You could have gotten mangled in a car accident and ended up as nothing more than a talking head and I would have stayed with you for the rest of your life.”
“That’s…gross…and sweet at the same time,” Sharon said. “But mostly gross.”
“I’d of put your head in a duffel bag,” Cole said. “Taken you on long walks across the beach, bought you fresh tomatoes at the farmer’s market.”
Sharon plopped back in the bed next to Cole. “Oh my God. It’s been so long since we’ve been to the farmer’s market.”
“I would have waxed your head,” Cole said. “Propped it up in front of the television…”
Sharon chuckled. “Stop.”
“I would have gotten your head a special pillow…”
Sharon turned serious. “Cole I didn’t leave you because you lost your leg. I didn’t even find out about it until a month later when I read about it in the newspaper – that story about the benefit that Sitwell PD threw to raise money for your medical bills. You ever wonder who donated that five grand?”
Cole’s eyes widened. “That was you? I always thought it was Chief Haskell.”
“Whatever,” Cole said. “Like that makes things better.”
“I put in my application with the FBI during my first year in law school,” Sharon said. “I never heard back from them until a week before I left. They contacted me out of the blue and told me to report to Quantico for training and that there was an appointment to the Miami field office in store for me. I kept trying to work up the courage to tell you but I knew in my heart you love this stupid hillbilly town and there was no way you’d be happy in Miami.”
“Bullshit,” Cole said. “Even if that’s true, you had no right to make that decision for me. I would have followed you.”
“And you would have been miserable,” Sharon said.
“You don’t know that,” Cole said.
“I know it because I’m miserable,” Sharon said. “Bright lights. Big city. Adventure. Excitement. I thought I wanted it all, Cole, but now that I’m forty I’m…”
“Tired?” Cole asked.
“Tired as fuck,” Sharon answered. “I just want those days back where we used to wake up late on Sunday mornings and go to the farmer’s market to buy fresh tomatoes, blueberries, oranges, strawberries and shit.”
“I’m not joking,” Sharon said. “Every day I go to work and there’s a new disaster waiting for me. There’s a new killer on the loose, or some psychopath threatening to blow up a building with all the people inside, or a kidnapping, or a big bank heist. I go to sleep every night and dream about opening up our own booth at the farmer’s market like we talked about.”
“We said that we’d do that when we’re older,” Cole said.
Sharon rubbed her hand against Cole’s cheek. “Newsflash dummy. We’re older.”
Cole rolled over onto his side. “I’m sorry you feel bad about leaving. I don’t think there’s anything I can say to make you feel better, and I can say you shouldn’t have done it until I turn blue and pass out but that wouldn’t make me feel better.”
Sharon rolled over on her side and draped her arm over Cole, spooning him. Cole sighed. He enjoyed it but at the same time, he didn’t. He feared the excitement would fizzle and lead to nothing.
“There was another reason why I left,” Sharon said.
“Oh God,” Cole said. “I can’t wait to hear it.”
“I can’t get pregnant,” Sharon blurted out.
Cole rolled over on his back and faced Sharon. “What?”
“I had a physical a month before I left,” Sharon said. “Turns out I can’t have children.”
“And,” Cole said. “So…what?”
“I knew you wanted children,” Sharon said. “Hell, I wanted children, but I knew you’d be disappointed.”
“I…I wouldn’t have…”
“I know you wouldn’t have,” Sharon said. “I felt like if I stayed I’d be holding you back. If I left, then I could be the bad guy in your mind and you’d be none the wiser. I assumed you’d bounce back quick and find someone else, someone who could give you what you wanted. I never knew you’d…”
“Wallow all alone in a cesspool of my own self-pity for a decade?” Cole asked.
“You said,” Sharon said. “Not me. Cole, you need to believe me, when I left that morning, I had no idea what was going to happen to you that day and after I found out I just…”
“What?” Cole asked.
“It didn’t change anything,” Sharon said. “I still wanted the fast paced FBI lifestyle. I still couldn’t have kids. I figured even without the leg you’d still have no trouble finding someone but…”
Cole brushed his hand through Sharon’s hair. “…but she wouldn’t have been you.”
On that note, Cole and Sharon embraced and kissed wildly, filling themselves up on what they had been missing out on for so long. Sharon removed her shirt and began unhooking her bra when Cole threw out a question. “What about Gordon?”
“What about him?” Sharon asked.
“Is it right for us to…you know…so soon after his death?” Cole asked.
“Why not?” Sharon asked.
“Because,” Cole said. “You know…you two were…”
“We were what?” Sharon asked.
“Intimate,” Cole said. “Why are you making me spell it out?”
“Doesn’t seem like an appropriate thing to make light of,” Cole said.
“Cole,” Sharon said. “Gordon was gay.”
“What?” Cole asked.
“Gordon was gay,” Sharon repeated.
“What?” Cole asked. “No, but he was…”
“Doing naked pushups in the motel room?” Sharon asked. “Yeah, I know. One of his more disgusting habits but hell, he put up with me clipping my toenails and leaving the clippings everywhere. I always meant to pick up later then I’d always forget. He’d step on them, make a big deal out of it.”
“But the wine?” Cole asked.
“I like a little wine in the evening,” Sharon said. “Big deal.”
“You called him studmuffin,” Cole said.
“Because he had a suitor who used to call him studmuffin,” Sharon said. “He used to call Gordon ‘studmuffin’ in front of everyone. It became a nickname.”
“So you two weren’t…”
“No,” Sharon said. “I don’t know, Cole. You know how it is when you have a partner. Sooner or later you spend so much time together you just end up feeling comfortable doing everything and front of each other. You and Rusty are the same way.”
“I would pop a cap in Rusty’s ass if he ever did naked pushups in front of me,” Cole said.
“It’s 2017, Cole,” Sharon said. “Naked pushups are nothing to feel ashamed of anymore.”
Cole seized his love and kissed her. “Maybe it’s time for me to do some naked pushups…”
Sharon giggled. “Oh, Mr. Walker…I thought you’d never ask…”
Cole’s phone was on the nightstand. It began to ring. He grabbed it. “Hello?”
“Cole,” Rusty said. “Callin’ from the other room.”
“I’m busy,” Cole said.
“Yeah,” Rusty said. “Check it, man. I’ve been meaning to tell you, Gordon was gay. I think you’ve still got an in with Sharon.”
“Shut up, Rusty,” Cole said as he flipped his phone shut and hurled it to the floor.
Cole and Sharon engaged in some foreplay for a while before Cole spoke up. “Leg on or off?”
“Off,” Sharon said.
“Fine,” Cole said. “But either you’re going to have to get on top or we’re going to need a big mound of pillows to prop me up baby.”
“That’s the hottest thing I’ve ever heard,” Sharon said.