Charlie remembered the last day that she had thought her far-from-a-fairy-tale would have a happy ending.
She’d sat on the edge of the motel bed, a shiny new buckle in her hand. She stared at it for a long time before fastening it to the end of her belt. It was what she had waited for all season— to make a ride. And not only did she do it, but she won the buckle too. But the victory hadn’t exactly been what she had expected. Cody had thrown a wet blanket on her boastful moment in a helluva hurry. “Don’t know what you’re so damn proud of,” he’d told her. “It was a shit ride, anyway, buckle or not.” When he was the one who’d put her on her first horse, loaded practice bronc after practice bronc— pushed her when she was ready to give up. Now he was barely speaking to her.
She looked at the pair of high heels, lying on the bed. She’d promised the guys that she’d wear a dress out when she won her first buckle. Cody picked up the shoes. “You want to wear those hooker shoes so you can tower over me even more? If it’s for my sake, don’t bother.” He threw them to the ground and stormed into the bathroom.
There wasn’t much to do. She turned the TV on to Oprah, which interested her very little, but it was noise to keep her out of her head, and cracked a warm beer. Finished it, and had another. She stared at the red dress pointlessly. She’d waited all season to wear it. But she’d made up her mind when Cody bitched about the shoes. She wasn’t going to wear it.
She grabbed her belt off the bed, the new buckle attached like a broken toy on Christmas morning, and ran it through the loops of her jeans. Cody had been in the shower for a century and she was getting impatient to join the others at the bar. She pulled her hat down on her head and gave herself a quick glance in the mirror. She wouldn’t suit a dress anyway.
There was a loud thump on the motel room door and it flew open before Charlie had a chance to answer. Riley, Jim and Chester stepped into the room.
“What if I’d been naked?” Charlie asked.
“That’s what we were hoping for.” Chester grinned.
Riley’s eyes were quizzically disappointed. “What happened to the dress? You promised.”
She shrugged her shoulders. It wasn’t worth answering.
Chester was smiling mischievously and Charlie was sure he was still savouring some twisted sort of mental image of walking in on her undressed. “Where’s that man of yours?”
“Yeah, we’re ready to paint the town red,” added Jim.
She pointed toward the bathroom door. “He’s been in there for the last hour. I think he ran out of hot water a couple of minutes ago.”
“He’s just sulking ’cause his woman won the buckle today,” Riley hollered over Charlie’s shoulder.
The bathroom door cracked a hair. “Hey, fuck you Black Bull,” Cody shouted back.
Chester threw an arm around Charlie. “C’mon cowgirl. Let me buy you a drink.”
She turned toward Cody, looking for permission.
“Whatever. You don’t belong to me,” he said, without meeting her eyes, and shut the bathroom door.
The tavern across the street was dark and smelled of fifty years of booze and stale cigarette smoke. The barroom was dark, except for the bright lights that flashed across the stage. A tall busty blonde hoisted herself and swung around a pole, the agility of the manoeuvre a marvel. “Hey, think you could do that Charlie?” Chester teased.
She leveled her eyes on him disapprovingly.
They took a table near the stage. Charlie would have preferred one further from the action, but the place was packed and she didn’t have much choice. She pulled her hat down over her eyes and claimed a seat that wasn’t dead on facing the show.
“Woohoo, ride ‘em cowgirl,” the dancer called from the stage.
“I think she means you,” said Chester.
Charlie twisted in her chair to see the stage. The over tanned blonde gestured like she was lifting up a shirt (hers having been shed a couple of songs back). “Come on cowgirl, show us your tits.”
Charlie blushed and sunk low in her chair.
“Come on cowgirl.” The dancer bugged her. The bar erupted with cheers and cat calls. “You can’t sit near the stage if you don’t show us your tits!”
Charlie shook her head, a polite smile peeking out from under the brim of her hat.
With a wave of her hand, the dancer gave up. The crowd booed.
The waitress who’d taken their orders was slow and Charlie wished she’d just gone straight to the bar. She needed a drink.
“You should have done it,” said Chester, his eyes wide. “Least you could do since you didn’t wear the dress. Besides, you look like you’ve got a nice rack.”
She reached across the table and gave him a playful punch in the shoulder. “Not as nice as your moobs.”
The DJ’s voice cut through the music. “And, don’t forget it’s amateur night tonight. We’re looking for some fresh meat. Any of you gals up for getting naked, just make your way over to the DJ booth. First prize is five hundred big ones.”
“Don’t even say it.” Charlie said, before Chester had a chance to.
“Hey, that’d pay for a few entrance fees,” said Chester.
“Yeah,” agreed Jim.
“I don’t need it. I make pretty good money working with Cody. I’m not stupid enough to go broke ranching like you, Chester.”
A shard of dim light split across the bar room floor. She saw Cody step through the door, followed by an overly giggly barrel racer. Charlie couldn’t stand the girl. It wasn’t that she had any great reason for disliking her, apart from the fact that she just didn’t get women who spent more time curling their hair and painting their faces, than warming up their horses before a rodeo. That and the chick was a grade A slut.
“Well, you finally made it,” said Chester. “And you brought us a dame I see.”
Cody smiled and pulled out Carissa’s chair for her. As if he was a real gentleman? Charlie gritted her teeth. He never did that for her. And why the hell’d he invite that bleach job to join them anyway?
Charlie brushed her knee against Cody’s, looking for reassurance, but he pulled it away. Carissa was whispering in his ear even though the show was over and the music was low. Charlie gave some deep thought to ripping her face off.
Riley gave Charlie a sympathetic smile. It embarrassed her. It was bad enough that she could see what was happening, but did it have to be so obvious to everyone at the table?
She excused herself to go to the washroom, but only made it as far as the bar. “Four shots of tequila,” she told the bartender. He lined them up in front of her. Looking around she checked to see what Cody was doing. His arm rested on the back of Carissa’s chair. “Mother fucker,” she said and downed the first shot. She raised a hand to the bartender waving off the wedge of lime he was offering her. She didn’t mess around downing the others, either.
The rush ran through her. Just what she needed. The beer hadn’t been working anywhere near fast enough.
Making her way back to the table, she could see that Carissa was still moving in on her territory. Sliding into her seat, Charlie ran a hand under the table and grabbed a hold between Cody’s legs. He pushed it away, never once turning his attention from Carissa. Charlie felt her new buckle press into her lean ribs, as she reached forward to light a cigarette.
The volume went up on the music and the DJ announced the next dancer. “I need a pack of smokes,” Cody said, rising from the table.
“Here, have one of mine,” Charlie offered.
“I should really get some more,” he told her.
She watched him disappear through the doors to the lobby, then turned to Carissa and met her eyes, dead on. “So, you know Cody and I are together, right?”
“Together? How sweet,” replied Carissa. Her tone was so fake; Charlie had to take a few deep breaths to keep from knocking her pearly whites right out.
“Yeah. Just so you know.”
“I wasn’t aware that he belonged to anybody. He seems a little old for a mommy.”
Charlie pushed back her chair and rose to her feet. She stepped in close to the overdone bitch. “I’ll happily take a round out of you and your purple Wranglers, right now.”
Riley caught Charlie by her waist and drew her back. “C’mon. How about a two-step?”
She pulled away from him, and turned back to Carissa. “Don’t think I fuckin won’t.”
Riley dragged her toward a small space between the tables that didn’t exactly qualify as a dance floor. “Cody’d be the stupidest guy alive to mess things up with you, especially for that girl. He’s just puffin his ego ’cause you won the buckle today and he bucked off. Let it go.”
She vibrated in his hands. Something told her that everything she had been clinging to was about to come apart. “It’s more than that.” Her voice cracked. She dropped her chin, using the brim of her hat to hide the tears she couldn’t hold back. She clenched her jaw, until she knew her eyes wouldn’t betray that she was about to unravel. “I think it’s over.” The matter of fact tone of her own voice surprised her. And then it hit her. She’d expected this from Cody all along.
Riley shook his head and scrunched his face, as if to say “nah.” He spun her out, and twirled her back in to his body. When they stepped off again she strained away from him. “Hey, how about letting me lead?” He laughed.
An hour passed before the drinks hit her and she had to excuse herself to go to the washroom. When she was finished, she flushed the toilet. It was hard to do her business with the amount of moaning and racket that was coming from the stall next to hers. She wondered what kind of people were so lacking in romance that they would get it on in a public washroom. She wasn’t full of class herself, but she was damn sure that she wouldn’t have had sex with George Straight in a strip club john.
When she saw it in the mirror, while washing her hands, it seemed too surreal to be true. But there it was plain as day. From under the stall door behind her— the cuffs of purple Wranglers and Cody’s red Justin boots. What the fuck? She hadn’t even realized Carissa was still at the bar, she’d been missing for so long, and Cody was supposed to be gone for cigarettes. What the fuck!
She turned her body and booted the door in with the heel of her boot. It swung open, sending Cody and Clarissa tumbling ass over tea kettle on the toilet.
“You little fuckin rat,” she spat. “And Carissa, you can shut the fuck up with all that moaning. Even Cody knows he has a small dick.” She kicked the little runt square in the back, right where he lay on top of Carissa, with her gaudy purple jeans around her ankles.
He didn’t run after her out of the bathroom. Didn’t proffer excuses. That was how she knew he’d done it on purpose— a helluva a way to get your walking papers.
Everything had been turning in her head so quickly. And now the world abruptly stopped. She couldn’t think. She was shutting down with overload. Her boyfriend, her home, her job— they were all gone now. He was the only man she’d ever loved, and this was what she was worth, being dumped like this.
Charlie headed straight for the bar. “Double Crown and water— neat, and two shots of tequila.” She slammed the tequila and carried her drink back to the table.
“You alright?” Riley asked her, as she sat down. “What happened?”
Charlie thought for a long time before answering, scared that if she let the words out she’d break.
Jim placed another drink in front of her. “What’s wrong?”
She closed her eyes and counted to ten, trembling in her own skin. Riley put an arm around her. It seemed to be the only thing that kept her from dissolving into the dirty brown barroom carpet. When she opened her eyes and looked up a few tears escaped them. Confusion broke across her face.
The door to the girls’ room opened and out walked Cody, hand in hand with the barrel racer.
Chester turned toward the spectacle. “What the—?”
“What’d I miss?” asked Chester, returning with a poster from perv row.
Riley nudged his head in Cody’s direction.
Jim’s jaw dropped. “Holy fuckin shit. What’s that about?”
Charlie gulped down her Crown and banged her glass on the table.
Riley caught her by the arm, as she rose. “What’re you doing?”
She wrenched her arm free. “Watch me.”
She smashed her shoulder hard against the slut barrel racer, who wasn’t quick enough to get out of the way. The body check set her on the floor. Charlie could have ripped her to shreds, but it didn’t matter. She was too angry to hang a lickin on her anyway. It was Cody’s balls she was after and she was sure she knew just how to give him a good kick where it would count. She cut a line straight to the DJ booth.
“Can anyone enter?”
“Good. Sign me up.”