Violence/Sex: No violence, but a fair amount of sex and lots of big trucks. This story does involve a consensual, loving and romantic relationship between two adult women. It's not graphic, but if sexual encounters in bathrooms or behind lemon shake-up stands offends you, you may want to consider another story selection -- or at least one that isn't set in Indiana.
This is my first attempt at writing a romance, so I hope you'll give it, and me, a shot. I would love to know what you think, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/maxine.redwood.
Copyright Maxine Redwood, April 2013. All rights reserved. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the author.
Bobby Roy's band wasn't playing until nine o'clock, so the crowd was getting warmed up at the Karaoke machine. Normally, this was just too painful to endure for long. Nothing could make the cheap beer in your belly turn sour faster than listening to a bunch of drunken auto workers croak their way through a cover of on "Friends in Low Places" on open mike night.
I sat at a table in the back with T-Bomb and Luanne, trying to ignore the obnoxious music-and everything else. When I first walked into the bar a little bit after six, it was clear that everyone there had already heard the story about Jerry and Misty Ann. A chorus of "Sixty-Thousand Options!" roared out above the music. I tried to just roll with it and not show how much it bothered me. That was generally the best way to get people to drop it and shift their attention to somebody else's misfortune.
I was well into my second beer when I caught a whiff of something nasty and took a look around.
"What's that smell?" I raised a hand to my face.
T-Bomb pushed her chair back and took a look beneath our table. "Oh, hell-it's that damn Lucille."
Lucille was an ancient and morbidly obese Jack Russell Terrier. "He" was a fixture at Hoosier Daddy. Nobody really understood why Aunt Jackie, the owner and bartender, had named her unneutered male dog "Lucille." Lucille was famous for his bad disposition and his righteous gas. The crankiness probably came from two decades of being called by a girl's name. The epic flatulence was the likely result of being fed a steady diet of fried codfish.
"Sweet Jesus." Luanne fired up another Viceroy and blew a plume of smoke across the table to try and mask the odor. "That damn dog is a menace. Shoo him outta here, T-Bomb."
T-Bomb looked beneath the table again. "Too late. He's already settled-in. Now he's lickin' his business."
"Oh god." I finished my bottle of Stella. I didn't go much for the beers Aunt Jackie kept on tap. "That's an image I didn't need."
"Why?" T-Bomb nudged me on the arm. "Remind you too much of Jerry and Misty Ann?"
Luanne snorted. "Hell. From what I saw, Lucille is hung a lot better than Jerry Sneddin."
T-Bomb shook her head. "Cheap bastard couldn't even spring for a motel."
"Hey? A bed's a bed, right?" They both laughed and clinked mugs.
I'd had just about enough of this. "You two aren't helping, you know that?" I looked around the bar. Aunt Jackie was nowhere in sight. I pushed back my chair. "Want another round?"
T-Bomb held up their empty pitcher. "You don't have to ask me twice."
When I got to my feet, I noticed that someone else had taken the stage. It was a woman I'd never seen there before. She was small with short dark hair and a dusky-looing complexion. She did not look like a local. There was a small round of whoops and hollers when she picked up the microphone.
"Hey, everybody," she said. Her voice was low and kind of husky sounding. "I'm kind of new at this, so don't be too hard on me." A man who appeared to be there with her was setting up the Karaoke machine. When he had it set, he gave her a thumbs-up and returned to his seat. The slow, sexy music started. After all the country caterwauling, it turned just about every head in the place.
"You're just too good to be true," she crooned. "Can't take my eyes off of you. You'd be like heaven to touch. I want to hold you so much."
You could have heard a pin drop in that joint.
I'd heard that Frankie Valli song about ten thousand times in my life, but never before had it affected me the way it did right then. It was like her voice had reached right down inside me and wrapped itself around all of my internal organs.
And I noticed that my external organs were acting pretty impressed, too.
"At long last love has arrived, and I thank god I'm alive. You're just too good to be true. Can't take my eyes off of you."
"Who in the hell is that?" Even T-Bomb seemed impressed.
"Her name's El-somethin'," Luanne said.
"L?" T-Bomb asked. "What the hell kind of name is L?"
"E-L," Luanne spelled. "Like El DeBarge."
"Oh." That seemed to make more sense to her.
"She and that good lookin' fella, Tony, are from New York," Luanne added.
I looked down at her. "New York?"
Luanne nodded and made a face. "U.A.W."
Oh, man... It figured. She was a union rep. And she'd have to be hot, too. And straight. I needed to get out of this damn town.
The crowd in Hoosier Daddy was having no problem with her performance. People were on their feet now, clapping and dancing and shouting the chorus.
"I LOVE YOU BABY, AND IF IT'S QUITE ALL RIGHT, I NEED YOU BABY, TO WARM THE LONELY NIGHTS…"
El just kept on crooning. I about dropped the empty pitcher and my Stella bottle when I saw her notice me standing against the back wall. Her voice actually faltered for a moment, but she caught up to the machine pretty quickly.
"Pardon the way that I stare," she sang. I thought I might slide right down the wall and join Lucille on the floor beneath our table.
"There's nothing else to compare. The sight of you leaves me weak. There are no words left to speak."
What was happening to me? I sank back down onto my chair.
T-Bomb was staring at me. "What the hell is the matter with you? You look white as a sheet."
I tried to shrug it off. "I think I just need something to eat."
"Well, here." She shoved a plastic bowl full of redskin peanuts toward me. "Eat some of these, and we'll order some fries."
I looked down into the bowl. It was mostly salt and skins.
"I think I need some air," I said.
Luanne was staring at me. "Honey, what you need is better sense. You stay away from them agitators."
"What are you talking about?" I was mortified that she might have noticed my reaction to the woman singing.
"I saw the way you were staring at her-it was like you'd just seen your first El Camino."
T-Bomb slapped her on the arm. "Good one, Luanne! El Camino. Just like El DeBarge."
I'd had just about enough of these two.
"Excuse me?" a husky voice asked. "I saw that you ladies were dry. I took the liberty of asking Aunt Jackie what you were drinking. May I join you?"
"El" was standing next to our table, and she was holding a fresh pitcher of Old Style and a frosty bottle of Stella Artois. I glanced up at her. She had smoky gray eyes. I opened my mouth to say something, but no sound came out. Up close, she looked like a slightly older version of that dark haired actress from those Northern Exposure reruns that used to be on A&E in the mornings. What was her name? Janine…something.
El continued to stare at me, and I realized that she was waiting for me to say something.
Thankfully, T-Bomb was enough like Mother Nature to hate a vacuum.
"Hell, yes, honey. You put that pitcher right down here in front of me and pull up a chair."
Luanne ground out her cigarette and shook her head. Her bloodshot eyes were fixed on mine. "Don't say I didn't warn you," she said. Then she held up her empty mug. "One more, then I gotta head back over the river."
T-Bomb punched me in the ribs. "What's the matter with you? Get her a chair."
"I'm sorry," I stammered. "Let me get you a seat."
El finished pouring Luanne's beer. "Thanks." She looked at me. "My name's El."
Turner. The actress's name was Janine Turner. El looked enough like her to be her older sister.
I stood up and grabbed hold of the table to steady myself. "I'm Friday…Jill," I said.
"Friday Jill?" she asked. "That's unusual."
"No. Just Friday. Jill."
"Friday? Jill?" she asked again.
I sighed. "Jill. But my friends call me Friday."
She smiled. I thought I might pass out. "I'm Eleanor. But my friends call me El."
"Like DeBarge," T-Bomb cackled.
El looked at her. "Just like DeBarge. Although I never understood why Janet Jackson married into that family."
"Me neither," T-Bomb was holding up her mug. El filled it.
"I always liked her on Good Times," Luanne chimed in.
"She was a sweet girl before she started acting so slutty." T-Bomb sucked the foam off the top of her beer.
Luanne nodded. "Wardrobe malfunction my ass."
"Hey? I say, if you got 'em, flaunt 'em."
"You sound just like Jailissa."
Jailissa was Luanne's teenage daughter.
"What's your last name?" T-Bomb asked El.
El shrugged and sat down on the chair I pulled up for her. "It's complicated."
"It's just hard to pronounce, so I don't use it much."
"Hell," T-Bomb scoffed. "That don't make you unique around here."
El smiled at her. It was like somebody turned all the lights on. "Wanna bet?"
"Sure." T-Bomb took the bait. "Let's hear it."
"It's spelled R-Z-C-P-C-Z-I-N-S-K-A."
T-Bomb and Luanne exchanged blank looks.
"How the hell do you say that?" they asked in unison.
"Zhep-sin-ska," El replied.
"Zhep-what?" T-Bomb asked.
"Zhep-sin-ska," El repeated.
"I see why your friends call you El," I added.
El looked at me. "Be my friend, Friday Jill?" she asked.
Luanne cleared her throat. It sounded more like she was hocking up a hubcap. "How the hell many points do you get for a name like that in Scrabble?"
El laughed. "About two hundred and eighty-if you had two 'Z's' and were lucky enough to hit a triple word score."
"You sound like you done that a time or two," Luanne observed.
"I do all right," El replied. She was looking at me again.
Maybe I was wrong about that straight part…
"We were just gonna order some fries," T-Bomb blurted out. "You hungry, El?"
El smiled again. "As a matter of fact, I think I am."
"Working a room will do that to you," Luanne said.
El looked right back at her. "I guess I don't have to tell you that I work for the U.A.W."
Luanne shook her head.
"News travels pretty fast around here."
"Well, singing Karaoke ain't the best way to keep a low profile, now is it?"
El laughed out loud. "Touché." She held out her hand. "Nice to meet you, Miss…"
Luanne sighed and shook her hand. "K-E-O-R-T-G-E. Luanne Kerr-chee."
"Her name's complicated, too," T-Bomb added. She was getting pretty toasted. It was looking like I was going to have to call Donnie to come and pick her up. "I'm Terri, Jennings," she said. "But my friends all call me T-Bomb."
"Why," El asked. She shook hands with T-Bomb, too.
Luanne tapped out another Viceroy. "Hang around long enough and you'll figure it out."
El looked at me again. "Sounds like a plan to me."
I stared back at her without saying anything. Then I realized that saying nothing was like saying everything. I dropped my gaze to the table. "So…are we going to order some food, or not?"
"Not for me," Luanne took a long drag off her cigarette. "I gotta head back across the river. Bessie Sykes is comin' by to let out the seams in Jailissa's dress. I swear…that girl had to get them boobs from her daddy's people."
T-Bomb looked Luanne over. "Her daddy's people must a had good legs, too."
"Kiss my ass. I got these damn cankles from thirty years of standing up for ten hours a day."
T-Bomb held out her left palm and drew the fingers of her right hand back and forth over it in small arcs. "Know what this is?" she asked. Luanne just glared at her. "It's the world's smallest violin playing 'Who's Sorry Now?'"
I looked at Luanne. "Is Jailissa in the competition again this year?"
Luanne nodded. "That crown had better be hers this time. Jay's gonna go postal if another one of them Hortons walks away with the title."
"What competition?" El asked.
"Pork Day, U.S.A." T-Bomb explained. Her voice had taken on a reverent tone. "Being crowned Miss Pork Queen is the biggest honor of the year over in Albion." She took a big swig of her beer. "Them pork chop sandwiches are mighty good, too-as long as you don't bite into a bone."
"Really?" El asked. Then she looked at me again. Her eyes weren't just gray. They had little flecks of green and gold in them. "Guess it's a good thing I gave up bones a long time ago."
Ever had beer shoot out your nose? Yeah…well that's what happened to me, and it wasn't pretty. I sat there coughing and trying to sop it up off the front of my shirt. This was going from bad to worse in a hay wagon. My face felt hot. I hastily got to my feet and nearly stepped on Lucille, who expressed his displeasure by growling and breaking-off another ripe one.
"I need to go to the restroom," I said. "Excuse me." I hurried away from the table before anyone could notice that I was blushing.
What the hell was my problem? I was acting like a teenager with her first crush. No…it wasn't a crush. I was reacting to El like a sow in heat. It had to be some kind of extreme response to seeing Misty Ann in the back of that truck with Jerry. I needed to get out of there before someone else noticed and doused me with a bucket of cold water. I was just lucky that T-Bomb was feeling no pain. I'd never hear the end of it if she got a clue.
The bathroom at Hoosier Daddy left a lot to be desired. One of its two stalls was permanently out of order, and only one light bulb in the ceiling fixture ever worked. Still, for all that, it was clean and didn't reek as badly of smoke and spilled beer as the rest of the place. Unfortunately, I couldn't say the same thing about my t-shirt. It was sticking to me like a pile of last night's mashed potatoes. All I wanted to do was try and rinse it out so I wouldn't smell like a brewery on the way home.
I walked over the sink and took a good look at myself in the cracked mirror. There I stood: Wayne and Sissy's little girl. Even in half-light, you could tell that I had my father's reddish hair-and the same cowlick on the left side. But in every other way, I took after my mother's people: tall, square featured-with what Grammy Mann called an "ample bosom." And as the condition of my t-shirt now suggested, I had the same unfortunate propensity for ending up in colossal messes. That was pretty typical of the women in my family, too. My mom was fond of telling people that my nickname actually came from "Friday the thirteenth," because I had so much bad luck.
I sighed and turned the water on. When I reached over to pull a couple of paper towels out of the wall dispenser, I realized that it was empty…as usual. Aunt Jackie stored the extra towels on a shelf behind the only working toilet, and when I went into the stall to retrieve some more, I snagged the end of my shirt on the changing station. I stood there wondering for the thousandth time why aunt Jackie even had a changing station in here. I couldn't remember a single time I ever even saw a baby in this joint. Lucille had to be the bar's closest thing to a "child"-and nobody would ever try to lift his fat butt up.
I tried to tug my shirt free, but only succeeded in getting it more stuck. The damn cartoon Koala bear kept smiling up at me from the trap door of the changing station, seeming to suggest that being stuck there was something I should be enjoying. I was about ready to give up and tear myself loose when I heard the restroom door open and close.
"What are you doing?" a voice behind me asked.
It was El. I knew it without turning around. The sound of her voice just did something to me.
"I'm stuck," I explained. I hoped she'd decide to leave me alone and go back out into the bar. Why had she followed me in here?
About a hundred reasons for that one occurred to me, and not one of them felt safe. I gave my t-shirt another frustrated tug. Still no dice. It wasn't budging-and, apparently, neither was El. She was standing behind me in the stall now. The tiny space filled up with the scent of cucumber and melon. Even though it was a nice change from the omnipresent odors of smoke and stale beer, it was making it impossible for me to think straight. I felt like all the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck.
"Can I help?" El asked. Her voice was coming from right behind me now. I thought I could feel her breath.
"No!" I erupted. "Sorry," I apologized. "I'm a little on edge tonight."
She laughed. "I noticed." She leaned against the open door of the stall. "Do I make you uncomfortable, Friday Jill?"
What do you think? I wanted to ask. "Well, right now, I'm kind of at a disadvantage." I tugged at the hem of my shirt again. "It's hard to put your best foot forward when you're being held captive by a Koala Kare changing table."
"I'll have to take your word for that one."
"I'm sorry about this…did you need to use the bathroom?"
"Not really." El drawled. "I followed you."
Oh, god. This was going from worse to catastrophic. "You did? Why?" Oh, that was good…now I sounded as dim-witted as I felt.
El sighed. "Why don't you let me help you get unhitched from that contraption so we can talk?"
She wanted to talk? "Talk about what?" I asked. I tried to shift my body around so I could at least see her face.
"Well, for starters, I suppose we could talk about whether you're as attracted to me as I seem to be to you."
I slammed my knee into the toilet paper dispenser. "Jumpin' Jehosophat!" I was seeing stars-and not just from the pain in my kneecap.
El grabbed the backs of my arms to help support me. "Are you okay?"
I was doubled over in pain. "Do I look okay?"
"Hang on a minute." She maneuvered herself around so she could close the stall door and give us more room. "Oh, this is ridiculous. Why don't you just take that thing off?"
I was incredulous. "My shirt?"
"No…your pants." I heard her sigh. "Of course your shirt. Then we can get it out of that damn thing."
"I am not taking my shirt off." Although I had to admit that the idea of doing so was already shooting excited little text messages out along my…extremities.
"Well then stand still and let me try to loosen it."
"I've been trying to loosen it. It's not budging."
"Move over so I can reach it."
I rolled my eyes. "Move over where? On top of the toilet?"
"We need to open the damn thing."
"I agree-but there isn't room in here." El was pretty much pressed up against me by this point, and there was no way I was going to ask her to leave.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures." She moved in even closer and reached around me with both arms. "I'll hold onto this," she said, "while you pull the tray down."
I was seeing stars. "Um. El?" I managed to croak.
"Yes?" Her voice was coming from someplace right beside my ear.
"That's not my shirt."
I shook my head.
"Oh," she said. "My bad."
I noticed that her hands didn't move right away. I turned my head to look at her. In the dim light of the stall, her eyes looked…scared.
"What are we doing, El?" I asked. I had no idea where my coherence was coming from.
She gave me a shy-looking smile. "Trying to get you unstuck?"
I thought about Misty Ann and Jerry. Getting "unstuck" was exactly what I needed. And getting involved with a stranger who also happened to be an operative for the U.A.W. was not the way to do it. What I was on the verge of doing with El was exactly the opposite of getting unstuck. Grammy Mann would say it was like jumping from the pot into the kettle.
I opened my mouth to say as much, but El decided that maybe words weren't really what we needed right then. She was moving in to present a different kind of argument. Just when her lips connected with mine the walls of the stall started shaking. It took me a few seconds to realize that it wasn't an earthquake-it was someone yanking on the door.
"Will you two hurry the hell up," a gravelly voice demanded. "I have to tap off."
Luanne. Of course.
El and I guiltily leapt apart like we'd been caught…making out in a bathroom stall.
"Oh, fuck…" she whispered.
"Oh, Judas…" I replied.
We pushed and jostled against each other in the tiny space trying to right ourselves, alternately banging into the changing station, the toilet paper holder, the shelf loaded with paper towels, and each other. We were slamming into each other like bumper cars at the county fair.
"Oh, sweet Jesus." Luanne had had enough. "Just open the damn door and get out here. This ain't my first rodeo."
El sighed and finally managed to turn herself around. I looked down and noticed that at some point during our tussle, I had managed to yank my shirt loose from its prison. The bad news was that it was now ripped nearly in half. Great. Like I didn't have enough problems.
We managed to pry the door open and squeeze ourselves out of the tiny stall.
Luanne stood there like Judge Judy, chewing on one side of her lower lip.
"There were no paper towels," I started to explain.
Luanne didn't say anything. I could tell that she was staring at my shirt. I was doing a bad job trying to hold it closed-it was torn open about halfway up to my armpit.
She looked at El. "In a hurry, were you?"
El looked confused. Then she glanced down at my shirt. Her face turned bright red. For some reason, that made me feel a little bit better.
"Not that it would make any never mind to you," Luanne continued. "But your partner out there has a couple of live ones cornered by the keno machine." She jerked a thumb toward the bar. "He asked me to send you back out there."
El looked at me. "I've got a jacket you can use. I'll go and get it."
Before I could say anything, she had pushed past Luanne and hurried out of the bathroom. I stared at the door for a minute before I had the courage to look back at Luanne.
"Go ahead and get it over with," I said.
Luanne was already unfastening the front of her pants. "I got nothin' to say, so I'll just say this," she said. "If you want to be the next Misty Ann Marks, there's a bar full of contenders out there who would be happy to accommodate you-and none of them are workin' for the U.A.W."
"That's not fair, Luanne." She was squeezing her way into the stall now, so I was talking to her broad back. "I am not like Misty Ann."
Luanne didn't say anything right away. I stood there, stupidly, listening to the sound of her peeing. It went on and on. She must've had a lot more Old Style to drink than I realized. Finally, the toilet flushed.
"Like I said," she huffed. "I got nothin' to say. A smart girl like you should have better sense. Here…" One of her hands shot out around the half-open door. It was holding a stack of folded paper towels. I took them from her. "Put those up in that dispenser."
I caught another look at myself in the mirror. My hair was a mess. When the hell did that happen? Luanne was right: I should have better sense.
The door to the restroom opened again and T-Bomb burst in. "What the hell is going on in here?" she demanded. She handed me a lightweight, tan linen jacket. "El DeBarge said I should bring this in to you."
I took it from her. "Where is she?"
"Hell…she laid a patch getting' outta here. She said you could get the jacket back to her some other time." T-Bomb reached out a hand and grabbed hold of the hem of my t-shirt. "What the hell happened to your shirt?"
I sighed. "It's a long story."
Luanne had managed to extricate herself from the stall. "Hurry up and pee, T-Bomb. I gotta head back across the river."
"Well if you'd get your fat ass outta there, I might could," T-Bomb replied.
"Are you both leaving?" I asked. This evening had sure not ended up the way I thought it would.
Luanne was now washing her hands. "I called Donnie and told him I'd drop her off on my way home. He said they'd pick up her car tomorrow morning."
"I told you I was okay to drive," T-Bomb bellowed. "I don't need no damn limo service."
Luanne rolled her eyes and reached for a paper towel. "Just tap it off and be quick about it." She looked at my reflection in the mirror. "Same advice goes for you, missy."
I gave up trying to defend myself and pulled on El's jacket. It smelled just like her…sweet and fresh. Like summertime.
I had a sinking feeling that this one was going to be a tough row to hoe.
"I'll try," I said to Luanne.
"What?" I asked.
"That's what Jay told me sixteen years ago when we were sprawled out across the back seat of his daddy's Buick. Nine months later, we got ourselves Jailissa."
Jailissa: Edwards County's best hope for this year's Miss Pork Queen title.
I supposed the odds could always be worse.