Bill Feltt

Blue-gray smoke hung high near the textured tile ceiling. A row of black-lacquered ceiling fans above the bar turned lazily, broad blades stirring the smoke.

Sculpted neon, tubes of colored light—liquid coral, yellow, orange, island green, advertising wine coolers, Crown Royal, Budweiser, Malibu liqueur—tossed smudged light onto the shiny rectangular dance floor. A disco globe spun on an invisible wire, its multifaceted surface fractured reflections into hundreds of beams that danced among the shadows and swept narrow tracers over the faces of the swaying bodies beneath it.

Norman lifted his face to the probing fingers of light. Bright diamonds danced across his radiant skin. His eyes rolled backward in their pink sockets and the tip of his pink tongue traced the inside of his parted lips. He could easily be a pagan worshipping the dimpled moon, gathering its cold strength, preparing for a human for sacrifice.

The band came to a clamorous halt. The drummer reached out with one hand and seized the rocking cymbals, cutting short their percussive sizzling. He cocked his chin to his shoulder, crooked his arm, and blotted his sweaty face with his sleeve. The music dead, the dance floor emptied into satellites of round tables. Norman had sought and found a table in the corner, well away from the couples who he could now hear murmuring, laughing and breathing hard from the fast dance. He couldn’t make out faces, nor could they make out his. They all wore masks of darkness. Just fine, as far as he was concerned.

The band blundered into the opening strains of a song he didn’t quite recognize. Finally, he deciphered the notes as the Brooks and Dunn song, “Neon Moon,” one of the only country-and-western songs he could tolerate. It was a curse night after night to have to listen to this drivel but a necessary evil. The lead singer butchered the opening and went downhill from there. The good-ole boys couldn’t quite rise to the occasion, to put it politely.

He dropped his head, blinked twice, clearing away a dreamy film, and scanned the crowd for prey. Pairs of dancers floated onto the floor. No singles that he could see. He’d wait awhile and try the next watering hole on his list. He had a long list and a long night to find what he needed, what he craved, and he was nothing if not as patient as death.

Forty years of seining the shallows had taught him impulsivity led only to a messy, unrewarding end to his task. Forty years. So long. Sure, some might say that at fifty-five he was long past his prime. He knew better and it showed. He lifted weights religiously three times a week. Starting in his late teens, the regimen had forged his arms, shoulders and chest with hard muscle and shot his pale cheeks with a youthful blush. Just For Men hair dye hid the gray and sheared another ten years off his appearance. Genetics had blessed him with only slight crows feet and light horizontal creases across his forehead, both nearly invisible in the dim light.

This was his life. He didn’t work; didn’t need to, never had to. He supplemented the cash he took off his little girls with petty thefts, mostly low-risk residential burglaries. He didn’t need much—gas for the van, rope, wire, duct tape, food. As long as he could feed his appetites.

And, these joints, seedy though they were, bated the trap for him, to feed his most sacred of appetites. Most women and men came here to shop the meat-market. He saw himself as a patient angler, leisurely casting his line, reeling it in slowly... slowly... until the bate was snatched. His eyes lured them. He knew this to be true because so many times had they gazed into his liquid blue eyes until—never ceasing to amaze him—they seemed mesmerized. After that, sheep weren’t as malleable as these obsequious creatures.

Once he got them in his car, he took them on their last ride. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why have you forsaken me? “Shut up,” he said out loud to the screaming voice in his head. The droning of the band covered his voice, and besides, no one sat within three tables to hear him. Had someone been close enough, they would have witnessed the color suddenly drain from his cheeks.

He recognized the voice in his head. A therapist had talked him out of believing it was God who haunted the chambers of his mind and into believing it was his father. After all, daddy dear had been a stickler for the niceties of life: Church every Sunday, Boy! Wednesday evening’s too. Repent, you sinner. Repent! Pray... no, beg for Devine Deliverance. Down on your knees, son.... Spare the rod, sonny. Spare the rod and Norman becomes like the lech who secreted away his MOTHER.

He never missed nor remembered missing his mother. One day, she was just not there when he woke up. Not until he reached twelve or thirteen did he realize that dear old Dad had murdered and buried the pair of philanderers side by side in the basement beneath a four-inch layer of concrete, a rather fitting end, he had come to believe.

He recalled the first time he’d innocently inquired about the ghastly smell. It was the first time his father had beaten him unconscious. The memory of awakening in the dark, his cheek almost pasted to the raw concrete floor by his own vomit and blood, was fresh and a revelation. The affair, the therapist had deduced, had caused Norman to view the female of the species with murderous reality. Women were such treacherous creatures, not deserving trust. Of course, Norman hadn’t told him about the discovery of his mother’s and her lover’s fate. And, he supposed his father hated him because he had his mother’s eyes. Didn’t blame him really.

Of course, he hadn’t dared let the gray-haired psychologist in on his little cravings; he most surely would have called the law. Besides, he had helped him assuage the guilt, quieted that voice, that nagging, nitpicking, thunderously raging voice, that puzzling hypocritical voice. This had been a very freeing experience for him. After that, acceptance of his little secrets became his mantra. He was at peace and could concentrate on finding the perfect partner for his enjoyment without any paralyzing guilt complex afterward.

He knew what he was and didn’t feel a bit bad about it. He knew exactly what he liked and, as of yet on this night, she had not arrived. Sooner or later she would. These dives drew them like... well... like flies. He wondered if it was the music, which, for the most part, he absolutely loathed, or if it was the old lie that these smoke stained walls held the secret of romantic love that inevitably brought a naughty girl within his easy grasp.

The band struck up another tune, one of the many he didn’t know. These fourth-rate bands, off-key instrumentals blasting out of over-sized amps, featured nasally-voiced singers that left him cold. Their pathetic songs turned nothing in him. Nothing. He couldn’t imagine what anyone could find in their sophomoric lyrics. They were always about losing love, drinking yourself into a coma, accomplishing nothing more than repelling any thinking human.

Yet, he was almost never disappointed. Like semi-trucks bound for the slaughterhouse, these side-street bars inevitably sucked in these cows by the herd. The thought of what lay ahead on the wee hours of the night stirred something in his loins. Nearly euphoric, he seemed to rise out of his chair above everyone else. He was ecstatic, in an exquisite mood. On a night like tonight, the end might even come quickly for that naughty girl.

He would wait a little longer for just the right catch. He knew when it was time to go.

Beth racked the phone with a loud clack. She couldn’t possibly go alone. She just couldn’t. The walls of her sparsely furnished two-room efficiency seemed to tighten around her, triggering a brief spate of claustrophobia, but she was able to use the deep breathing exercises her therapist had shown her to decelerate before it really got going. Her fingers lightly traced a continuous circle on the smooth skin of her forehead, and she could feel her heart slow from a full-out sprint to a mere trot. They didn’t always work, the relaxation exercises, but most times they eased the panic attacks at least somewhat.

Sighing loudly, uncharacteristically ignoring her freshly pressed dress, she launched herself backward across the couch, one leg on the floor, one foot resting on the thickly cushioned arm. Her forearm fell limply across her eyes. How long had it been since she’d been out? Two years, three? She really couldn’t remember how long or even the circumstances surrounding the last time. Except for work at the library and church services, she rarely had a reason to venture out into the cavernous world outside her door. A brief dash in then out of a grocery store was about all she could manage. On occasion, she shopped for clothes over the Internet.

That’s what the outside seemed like to her—a cave, a cave without walls but nonetheless bounded, especially at night when her phobias reared up menacingly. Yet on any given warm summer’s day, even the bluest of skies appeared to be a azure ceiling that could collapse at any moment, crushing her underneath its weight. Unrealistic, she knew, but a satellite really could burst through the atmosphere and smash her flat under its solar panels and humming radioactive power source. Remember the Sky Lab? she thought. Logically, these fears made little sense. Ten years of therapy had taught her that.

“Girls night out, huh?” she said out loud. “We’ll have a great time, huh?” The words had come out of Kasey’s mouth, riding a long trail of ringing laughter that was so classic Kasey. Kasey stood out from the rest of the admittedly stuffy library staff, including Beth herself. Beth figured she’d soon toss the tedious tasks of reshelving books and arguing with library patrons over a few measly cents in fines and go elsewhere.

She liked Kasey but really didn’t know why. They were opposites—Beth hesitant and pensive, Kasey outgoing and garrulous, the literal life of the party. Kasey was flighty, not to be counted on. Beth knew that. Still, she found herself inexplicably drawn to Kasey. Nearly everyday, they lunched together in the break room and, on several occasions, Beth had even allowed Kasey to talk her into venturing outside the safety of the marble walls to one of the numerous nearby fast food franchises.

She could kick herself for not seeing this coming. Kasey had planned the whole evening: dinner at Maxine’s then hit the all-night club circuit. Now, Kasey’s ex-boyfriend somehow had become un-exed and wanted to “get together.” Beth struggled with her ire but damn it, she thought (for she would never utter such words out loud to Kasey) she didn’t like or understand being stood up.

Her brown eyes, which she had spent forty-five minutes fussing over, applying and reapplying mascara and eye shadow, shifted from the ceiling to the blank screen of her 19-inch television. Fifty-nine ninety-five at Walmart.com. She had bought it on sale but rarely watched the thing. It pulled in only three channels and no way could she afford cable. Mostly, she kept her nose shoved in one book or another. Her eyes focused on the stack of thick tomes waiting for her on the table, but the anger grew cold in her belly. “No no no no no,” she said. “Not again. Not one more Saturday night feeling sorry for myself or getting lost in yet another Danielle Steel novel.”

As she swung off the couch and jumped to her feet, she already began smoothing the accordion wrinkles from the front of her dress: eight dollars on sale at Walmart.com, she thought. Jeez, she had plenty of money for a night out. Why not go it alone?

Glancing in the mirror (she dared not let her eyes linger too long over her full-ish figure), she sighed and snatched her purse off the top of the television. Before she knew it, or before her phobias would let her know it, she was outside striding along the sidewalk toward downtown. There, a half a dozen establishments proffered only slim entertainment, mostly country-and-western bands or a local DJ spinning golden oldies. She preferred classical music or jazz, but, God, this wasn’t Indy, as Kasey had pointed out when she had planned the evening. But it was a start. But could she go through with it?

She shrugged off the momentary lapse and hummed “Anything But Lonely,” an Andrew Lloyd Webber tune from Aspects of Love. She’d never seen the operetta, couldn’t begin to afford it, but she loved its songs. Her mood immediately improved. Maybe, just maybe, she thought, she’d meet someone—someone special. Stranger things had happened.

Norman slipped a single dollar bill under the edge of the shot glass from which he’d just drained his fifth shot of Crown Royal and stood up, car keys in hand, when the backdoor swung open. His eyes sought her gaze, caught it, but she lowered her eyes at the dark floor in front of her. She pulled at the dress around her waist then smoothed the front of it with the palms of both hands. Like a woman with her hair on fire, she hurried through the crowd of dancers drifting from the dance floor and disappeared into a short hallway that led to the restrooms. Lips coiling into a thin smile, Norman lowered himself slowly onto the chair and waited.

The big one had hit her about a half block from the bar—a pulse hammering, gut-rocking, full-blown emotional crisis. A light dew of sweat still stood on her forehead. She’d had to brace herself against the brick front of a shop until she regained control and forced herself on.

The music died just as she jerked open the door. A wall of cutting cigarette smoke assaulted her. She had to get to the relatively safety of the restroom, spotted the dimly lit sign and strode quickly for it. She pressed the door shut and slid the simple bolt lock home. Her breaths came in huge shuddery gasps, and she could feel her cheeks then her earlobes glowing like hot embers. Her stomach churned. God, she hoped she didn’t break out into hives. They would start at her throat and march up her face. She glanced into the smeared mirror above a grimy lavatory but didn’t see any sign of the raised islands of hot scarlet flesh.

She would have sat down on the stool but trails of brown spatters climbed the outside of the bowl, crossed the seat and disappeared into the dark hole. Someone had vomited and missed. The ghastly smell gagged her. She turned away from it and tried to clear her mind by focusing on a bent nail in the wall above the mirror. Her heart thudded like a wild animal imprisoned within her ribcage. She fought to slow her breathing. First, she drew the foul air into both nostrils, then she forced it out through her pursed lips. Her focus turned first to her face, then descended, tensing a few seconds, holding a few seconds, then relaxing each muscle group, ending with her calves.

After five minutes of the usual routine, she brought her breathing under some control. The animal in her chest calmed down and she felt better. Someone pounded on the door. “You gonna be all night in there? I gotta go bad.”

Beth straightened her dress and her posture. “Just a minute.”

“Hurry up,” the voice slurred.

With some effort, Beth pulled the bolt on the door, yanked it open and found herself breathing the cigarette, liquor-laced breath of a ragged little waif. A cigarette hung from her upper lip and a crop of oily, uneven bangs covered most of her heavily hooded eyes.

“’Bout time,” she said as she shrugged by Beth in the narrow doorway. A brief blast of body odor burned her nose and filled her eyes with water. She tugged a tissue from a pocket on the side of her purse and pressed it to her nose. She took another deep breath and stepped into the large room. She began to think this had all been a huge mistake.

Standing there, she had the eerie feeling that people were talking about her, watching her, then she’d always thought that, no matter how often she’d proven herself wrong. She couldn’t see much, except for the bandstand, a rainbow island in a sea of darkness. A half-dozen black cannons hanging from the ceiling shot multicolor beams that glittered and glared off the chrome and polished wood of silenced instruments. The band was still on break and the pause was filled with murmuring, laughing disembodied voices. An occasional good-natured shout or belly laugh exploded from across the large room. Her eyes gradually adapted to the low light, and the black surfaces of dozens of round tables, disks in orbit around the bandstand, materialized in the barely discernible ambient light.

To her right, a bartender busily slid back and forth behind a long wooden bar, scooping ice and precisely targeting long, thin streams of clear liquors from long neck bottles into glasses.

She spotted an empty table in a dark corner far away from the bandstand and weaved between tables and shuffling bodies toward it. Her palm swept the seat for spills, found none, and she sat down just as she noticed a silhouette in the darkness two tables away. He was looking at her. This time, she wasn’t imagining it.

Her body went rigid and her mind followed. God, if he comes over Her heart hammered as he stood up next to his table, still gazing at her. She began to make out his features. He seemed tall, well over six feet, with a thick upper body, narrow hips and thin legs. She envisioned a plumber or, at least, someone whose work built his upper body but left his lower half in relative atrophy. She hated measuring people by their bodies; she thought she’d learned better by now.

She turned her face toward the bandstand where the lead singer was now strapping into an acoustic guitar and other players settled in for the next set. Each gripped a long-neck bottle of beer of various brands—Pabst, Coors, Budweiser. She didn’t like any of it. She drank so infrequently that she didn’t have a favorite. And, in her mind, the glass of red wine she had each night before bed didn’t count. Good for what ails you, her mother used to say.

Pressure from a hand on her shoulder. She gasped and a short yelp escaped her lips. She leaned away from the contact and her head swiveled. A wide-eyed waitress stood next to her, bringing her open hand to her gaping mouth. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

“That’s OK,” Beth said, though her heart seemed forever lodged in her throat. “I’m OK. Really. Just startled.”

“I’m really sorry. You want something from the bar?”

“No... yes,” Beth quickly corrected. “Uhm. I’ll have a glass of red wine. Whatever you have is fine.”

The waitress nodded and disappeared into the dark, her tight jeans swishing between her thighs with each step. Beth’s attention switched to the band, though a chill of uneasiness filled her chest beneath her palm that had risen there when startled. Again, she took several deep breaths, closing her eyes tightly through them.

Backed up by the bass player, the lead singer charged into a rhythmically flawed rendition of Garth Brooks’ “Long Neck Bottle.” She opened her eyes as the instruments jumped to life under heavy hands. The clear skin of the base drum dimpled with each pumping of the drummer’s foot, and his sticks blurred over the snares and cymbals.

The waitress emerged out of the darkness and dropped a cardboard coaster on the table next to Beth’s elbow and sat a glass down on top of the ad for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Beth handed her four ones and she hurried away without thanking her or leaving change. Beth arched an eyebrow. expensive enough for tonight

But, she gulped half of it in one swallow, the sweet liquid burning as it hit her stomach then spreading an easy glow throughout. It didn’t take long until she felt a buzz in her head, and, for the first time, she began to relax. Yet she was glad of the relative expensive drink. She understood the temptation, understood that her family’s propensity for alcohol made social drinking dangerous. Her father and his father and an uncle never met a drink they couldn’t finish. She still heard echoes of her mother’s bleating at her father for arriving home pie-eyed and late.

Mostly, her father had been a sweet man, spoiling her with gifts of books and hair ribbons, but when drunk, Mr. Hyde couldn’t have been crueler. He didn’t hit Beth; her mother would no doubt have laid him out with a frying pan had he touched her, and he didn’t dare go after her mother. So Beth became a release valve for his repressed rage. It came in sideswiping slices about her boyish haircut or her plump body and countless other remarks that cut Beth to the bone. That he was good at. The personality shift frightened her more than the jabs. He became something else. And though her mother had never said so, Beth had figured out that alcoholism had killed him. She had only been eight but could still remember the egg-yolk yellow skin of his face, the yellowed sclera of his eyes wrapped in nets of leaky blood vessels.

The Brooks’ song ended and the band shifted into low with a Dwight Yoakam song. “I’m a thousand miles from nowhere,” the lead singer crooned. She drained the rest of the glass, shuddering as she carefully placed it on the coaster. She wondered how she knew the titles and performers of all these songs. Yes, her mother wouldn’t allow any music besides country, but those songs came from the age of county fairs and the Grand Ole Opry. Songs from the likes of Merle Haggard and Hank Williams haunted her childhood. Of course. Her clock radio. Every morning she awoke to the sounds of WCRS – CrossCountry, the only station strong enough to reliably pull in. Drifting in and out of slumber, she listened in for a half hour each work morning before she managed to drag herself out of bed.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw movement. God She forced herself not to look. But his silhouette grew in size and clarity until he loomed over her. She’d underestimated his size. He was at least six-six. She leaned back in her chair out of his shadow.

“Can I get you another of those?” The voice that flowed out of that oil drum chest seemed totally out of place, sounding more like the soft articulate voice of an English teacher she remembered from high school than that of a burly barfly.

She almost said no, then wondered why she had come if not to connect? Why did anyone come to these places if not for this? “Maybe one more... please?” On cue, the waitress stepped into their small circle. “You two need something?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said. “The lady will have another... uh...” He glanced down at Beth.

“Red wine, please.”

He tapped the side of the glass with the tips of his index and middle fingers. “Another of these.” The waitress turned and faded into the dark. Beth was quiet.

“You mind,” he said, his chin dipping toward an empty chair across from her.

“Oh... Gosh.... sorry. Please, sit down.” He slid the seat back and lowered his large frame into it.

The band’s struggling with the Yoakam song faded into the background. She was silent.

He leaned forward, offered his hand. She accepted and her hand disappeared into surprising softness and warmth and easy strength.

this is the one mine now a little conversation to your place such fun such fun... great skin feel it split between my teeth “My name is Bob,” he lied. “You are?”

“Beth.” He released her hand. She unconsciously crossed her arms tightly over her chest. relax relax what’s one drink don’t be such a prude seems OK She unwound her arms, placed her elbows on edge of the table and braced her chin with one palm. She found it increasingly easy to look at him. He wasn’t handsome, that was for sure, yet he wasn’t without facial qualities. His paleness set off the brightest of liquid blue eyes, and she found she had trouble dislodging her gaze from them. slow down girl easy now just met this guy

The waitress brought their drinks and he handed her a ten. “You may keep the change.”

“Thanks. Hey, hon, you better nab this one.” Beth blushed.

He smiled. “So Beth. What do you do for a living? When you’re not frequenting local pubs?”

She couldn’t stop the smile that widened across her face. “Oh, no. I... I mean, this is the first time I’ve been out in ages. My friend... Kasey... talked me into it then backed out.”

“Well then. Here’s to Kasey.” He held up his drink and, slowly raising her wine, she met his glass with hers in an audible clink. thanks dear kasey dear just the two of us.

“Oh. I’m sorry. I work at the library,” she said.

“A librarian. I’m impressed.”

“Oh no. I just work there. Part time. Trying to go back to school, though. I do love books—I mean my job—but need something full time that pays better. Thinking about teaching high school English lit.” careful girl of charmers steady steady But she couldn’t deny the deep thundering in her chest or wondering if this time things might be different; he might be different.

She’d never had a boyfriend and dated only on very rare occasions since high school graduation. Prom came and went without her and she could count on one hand the number of dates she’d had in those four years. Then they always ended the same: an embarrassing fumbling in the front seat, a resounding no—she never allowed a boy to talk her into the back seat or even to kiss her.

Besides, the price was too high. Her mother made her so miserable to even have suggested such a fool notion as going on a date, at least until her senior year. Besides, her father’s recording played in her head even today: You’re, well, chunky. Too bad. Some people’s just built that way. Nothing to do about it. Why don’t you do something about that hair?

“What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Well, nothing important.”

“I can’t imagine that.”

Again she blushed. “My parents.”

“And what about your parents?”

She turned away from him. “Just... oh, I don’t know... it’s silly.”

“No. I would like to hear.”

“Just that... Well, my father died when I was young and my mother... Mom... she was very strict after that. She’s in a nursing home.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry about.” She caught his gaze, held it. too intense turn away “She was just trying to protect me.”

“From what?”

She laughed. “I don’t know. Do you always ask so many questions?”

His big face cracked into a wide grin. “I’ve been accused of it.”

“Oh, it’s OK. I’m just not used to... talking about myself.”

“I’d like to hear more.” On the tabletop, his finger brushed the edge of her hand, sending chills through every part of her. Even forbidden areas she’d forgotten she possessed began to awaken. She eased her hand away but left it near his fingers. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings and, besides, she found herself beginning to feel comfortable with the minor proximity. She liked the feelings that coursed through her. Besides, he seemed like a big, harmless teddy bear.

“So tell me. What do you do? What about your family?”

“Ah, you turn the tables on me.... Well, I’m a carpenter, not a good one, I’m afraid. More of a fix-it man really. I enjoy my freedom too much to be tied down to a Nine-to-five. I make enough to get by, but I live simple enough.”

Her smile flattened. Maybe he wasn’t so great after all. Her father had called himself a fix-it man and look where it had gotten him.

He sensed the narrowing distance between them slightly expand. “But... well... Oh, I don’t know.” Jesus, he sounded like a pathetic schoolboy.

“What? Tell me.”

“Well, I have dreams.”

“Tell me.”

“Now who’s the one with all the questions?” come on bitch let’s get on with it i’ve got plans... nice hair full lips uhmmm thick thighs and butt but that’s good that’s why you’re here isn’t it beth you want it you just don’t know how to ask i need more so much more i want to watch the light flicker and burn out in those big brown eyes of yours then more play play play play

“OK.... Well, I’d like to settle down, maybe start a family. Have a home of my own and someone to share it with. You know?”

“Kids?”

“At least ten.”

Her hand covered an incredulous grin. “Oh my.”

He chuckled. “All right. I’d settle for two-point-five kids, a split level in the ‘burbs, a dog and a car, maybe a boat.” He didn’t like the change in tack she had forced upon him. This wasn’t going how he wanted it to, not his style. Rarely did he expose this much of himself, and worse, he found himself wondering if he was telling her the truth, the real truth, or just what he knew she needed to hear. He lost track sometimes. He did most of the talking, not them. He was in control, not controlled.

He’d never thought about it. Maybe he could settle down. Maybe he could stop this little habit of his. Then again, maybe his last had been so long ago that his head was playing tricks on him, though the last had only been a week ago and five-hundred miles away. Many times he had gone this long. Never had he questioned what the outcome would be. what is this stop this

“Do you live nearby?” She couldn’t believe her aggressiveness but managed not to blush and even held his gaze. Her knees turned to gel and her breathing quickened. Gently, she laid her hand on his thick hand. Strange, his hand seemed soft, not like a man who molded wood or fixed things, as he put it.

He was quiet and the seemingly perpetual smile faded slightly. But his eyes seemed to stare through her. Was that her imagination?

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know... I mean... This isn’t like me.”

He shook his head. “Huh?... Oh. Don’t. Don’t be sorry. Don’t ever be sorry. About anything.”

Even in this light, he could see one pearly tear bloom from the corner of her eye. shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit who are you what are you what are you doing to me stop this

She pulled the tear away with her middle finger. “I’m sor... Oh shoot. I almost said it again. I just... I like you.”

no no don’t like me don’t ever like me don’t do this to me stop it that’s not right not what this is about lust don’t like me... why isn’t this what you want what you always want... no i have to be the one not you

She needed to please him and felt his discomfort and decided to change the subject. “Tell me more... about you. “What did your father do? Did you grow up—”

He smiled wanly. “Listen. I have to use the men’s room. Be right back.” He was on his feet moving away before she could say anything and she sensed she needed to say something.

if he asks stay with him tonight not easy for a virgin to think do why not why not him why not us why not now if not now when

A clear voice rose loudly in her head, her mother’s, drowning her thoughts. Don’t you do it. Don’t you dare. Shame on you. You know what happens to girls—

“I’m not a girl, moth-er. I’m a grown woman and it’s time. This feels right. He feels right.” She said this out loud and it felt good to say it out loud.

Around the corner behind her, Norman slid past the bar, nearly upsetting the waitress, who with one palm balanced a large round cork-bottomed tray laden with tall drinks, hit the door at a trot and sprinted to his van. He tried to blank his mind. turn it off turn it off

Something strange and foreign lacerated him, opened his head, making him think things he could not, no, dared not think.

Behind the wheel of his van, he fumbled with the keys, dropped them, scraped them off the floorboard between his feet. go back kill her kill her screw her screw her guts eat her kill her make her hurt feel our pain she deserves it just like the rest get back in there NOW

He pressed his knuckles into his temples. “No, dadd-y. Not her. I’ll find someone else. Promise... right now.” You sick little man. You weak, sick little man. No. Nothing but a sniveling little boy is what you are. What about your mother? Look what she did to us. Look what she did to meeeeeeeeeee.

“No, dadd-y. No. Not this time.” Norman slid the key into the ignition, not an easy task with his hands shaking so much. He hoped she would follow... no, she wouldn’t follow him. He stomped on the accelerator. The tires spun, caught and the van hooked backward from between two parked cars. The van shot out of the gravel lot toward the street, spraying cars with pea-sized rocks and nearly colliding with a passing pick-up.

Beth squinted at her watch. He’d been gone for at least ten minutes. She hoped he was OK. Fifteen minutes. Twenty. Then she knew. She had gone too fast and scared him off. From deep within her chest rose a rueful laugh. “Figures,” she said out loud, clenching her teeth so tightly the muscles beneath the smooth skin of her jaw jumped and wriggled. Ironic, she thought. She allowed her mind to contain the bitterness that began to pour a concrete pall of self-loathing over her. She had to find a way out, to let herself off the hook. “Guess he wasn’t the right one, that’s all.” See. I told you so. Daddy knows best. She sniffled and motioned for the waitress.

©2003 Bill Feltt — All rights reserved
Contact: feltt2000[AT]yahoo.com
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