Copyright 2021 Tracy BroemmerAlys Holland rested her head on the lounge chair and closed her eyes only to open them immediately. She’d only just arrived in Palos Verdes earlier in the evening—after a four-hour flight, a thirty-four-minute wait at the rental car counter, and a quick stop at a liquor store in Redondo Beach. The next two weeks that stretched out before her beckoned, invited relaxation, respite, healing. The trouble with that being that she would need to tear the scars away and dig into the pain to heal completely. She wasn’t willing to do that. Not for Iva. Not for Fletch or Claire. Not even for Ledger. Still, her chest felt squeezed, painfully so. Gasping to breathe, Alys leaned forward, coughing hard at the tightening sensation. Shoulder and neck pain were sometimes symptoms of a heart attack in women; she had read somewhere that coughing could save someone suffering a heart attack until help arrived. She wasn’t having a heart attack, though. If Iva were here, she would tell her that. She would roll her blue eyes and laugh at Alys, though usually Alys laughed, too, and laughing together took the sting out of Iva’s words. No heart attack, though at her lowest points—and there had been so many now—she would have welcomed it. Death, sure. If there was a God, Alys would have died two years ago. The fact that she hadn’t, that she still woke in a comfortable bed every day, was why she quit believing. She would take death, gladly, and she would take the horrible pain and die in the most horrible way possible. If only. She heard music in the distance. Someone trying to sing an old Foreigner song, though the voice most definitely did not belong to Lou Gramm. Was it still the same band who had played at the bar two years ago? The bar—Howie’s, no use pretending she didn’t remember the name—was just north of the main hotel where she was now. Where she and Fletch had stayed then. Still part of the resort campus, it was a family friendly bar and grill, and when they had wandered there, hand in hand one night, there was a summer festival going on. Perfect for enjoying live music and cold beer while you waited for a table. She and Fletch had grabbed a beer—Fletch was into weird IPAs at the time and he had ordered a Firestone Walker Mind Haze, while teasing her about her simple, safe lager—and wandered over to the fence to watch the sunset bleed dark purple and a deep, flushed pink over the ocean, already black with night. Alys thought the music was mediocre, but mostly, she remembered that incredible sunset and the feel of Fletch’s warm, solid body at her side. She sipped from her thick glass tumbler. The glasses—everything—here was nicer than her own personal belongings. Which was saying something, because she and Fletch had done well together, and they had amassed a lot of nice things. Lost some, too.