Saturday, July 2, 2016

Chapter 19


“Gypsy!” A bubbly top heavy blond called, running across the barroom, dodging tables and chairs in her six inch stilettos. She threw her arms around Charlie, nearly knocking her over. “I didn’t know you were back up here in Fort St John. Where are you working? Not at Grinder’s, I hope. The tips really suck there. I haven’t seen you in ages.” She paused just long enough to catch a breath. “What happened to your face?”

      “Nothing. Yeah, no. I’m not working. Not dancing anyway. I’m working out on a farm, actually.”

      “How are you these days? Wow! I’ve missed you. How long has it been? Ages hasn’t it? Still riding bucking horses?”

      Divinity hadn’t changed a bit. Still talked a million miles a minute.

      “Yeah, still riding broncs. I thought you’d quit dancing, settled down with that guy, the minister. What was his name?”

      “Well, you know how it is. I loved him, he loves the Lord, and the Lord loves me, but I love the road.” She pulled Charlie by the sleeve, toward the bar. “I couldn’t give it up. And you know, where better to spread a little of the good word than a place where people need it most.” She winked, then turned and extended two fingers to the bartender. He responded silently by pouring them a couple of tequila shots. “To the road!” she said.

      “To the road,” Charlie repeated. She slammed the empty glass down on the bar. “I’m soo ready to go back on the circuit. But...”

      “But what? Oh. I get it. Who’s the guy?”

      Charlie felt like she was back in grade nine. Grinning and blushing like a schoolgirl. “I’m not sure it’s anything.” She tried to shake it off, that feeling of new love that could lift you up and drown you all at once.

      “Come on, girl. I know you well enough. We’ve covered a lot of miles together. It’s something. Now give up the goods.”

      “Well...” Shit, Divinity was never going to let it go. She’d have to tell her now. “You’ve met him before.”

      “Yeah?”

      “OK. Remember that that prick who cheated on me in the bathroom?”

      “Yeah. The classy one. You’re not getting back with him are you? That’s not the guy is it?”

      “No. No. Remember his friend?”

      “Jim? How could I forget? Yeesh….”

      “No, not Jim.” Charlie laughed. “The one who tried to talk me out of going with you.”

      “Oh yeah, I sure do.”

      “Yeah,” Charlie said, looking at her feet to hide the red in her cheeks.

      “Wow! He was yummy and sooo sweet. I could tell he was in love with you back then.”

      “You could?”

      “Oh heavens yes,” she said adjusting her gargantuan boobs in her far too tight of fitting bra. “The way he just wanted to save you. I expected him to saddle up his horse, sweep you up and ride you off into the sunset.”

      “I’m not sure it’s anything,” Charlie repeated.

      Divinity pointed a hot pink manicured nail toward Charlie’s face; as she tipped back her shot with her other hand. “He didn’t do that, did he?”

      “Oh, no. Horse accident.”

      “Well then, how will you know if it’s anything if you don’t give it a chance? The road will always be there.” She gestured to the stage, “But you know and I know, relationships don’t make it when you’re doing this.”

      “Yeah.” It was a truth. Charlie hadn’t had anything even remotely worth mentioning since she’d started on the road with Divinty a couple years before.

      “Listen, I’ve got the next show. I could just stay here and chat with you forever. I missed you so much. We have so much to talk about. Well, I better go get ready. We can catch up after ’kay? So good to see you again. I can’t believe I ran into you tonight. Eeeh.”

      Charlie giggled to herself as Divinity made a sprint in her six inch heels toward the door. It was good to see her again. They’d put on a lot of miles together.

      Scanning the room, Charlie saw a group of old cowboys that she recognized. They were hunched over a table in the back corner, sipping on draft beer and swapping yarns of BS. One of them noticed her and waived for her to join them.

      She could tell by their speech, as she approached the table, that they’d been at it all day, but she was happy for the company.

      “Well hey there, bareback rider. Take a seat,” said the man with the Doc Holliday mustache who’d waived her over. “What’re ya drinkin?”

      The music was turned down to a between show volume of quiet, so when the door opened, the creak of it could be heard across the barroom. And in walked the last son-of-a-bitch she wanted to see. Charlie slid down low in her seat, hoping Cody wouldn’t see her. Her heart pounded and the more she resented the fact that just his presence could have an effect like that on her, the faster it got.

      She watched him from beneath the brim of her hat, each step bringing him closer. She downed her drink and prayed for the waitress to hurry back with the next one.

      “Imagine seeing you here,” he said to her. “Oh, that’s right. You dance here now, don’t you?” Without asking, he took a seat beside her.

      One of the busted up old cowboys reached across the table and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, Cody. I heard you were back in town. Saw your dad the other day. Said he sold that nice stud of his.”

      “Yeah, he bought a better one.”

      “Oh, shh boys,” said the man with the mustache. “Here she comes.”

      The music pumped against the walls, making them rattle, as Divinity hopped up onto the stage. Perky as ever.

      “Hey, you know that gal?” Cody asked, drooling like a coy dog. “Can you introduce me?”

      “I don’t think she’d be interested in you?”

      “Oh, yeah? Why not?”

      “She was there for the purple pants. The one I left with?”

      “So, what’s going on between you and Black Bull now?”

      “His name isn’t Black Bull and it’s none of your business.”

      “Woah. You seem awful touchy about it. Black Bull, Red Calf, same thing.” He leaned in close enough that she could feel his breath in her ear, and down her neck. “If I were him, I wouldn’t have left without you tonight.”

      “Not without another girl to take home, anyway.” She made the mistake of turning to face him square on as she said it. And who did he think he was? Little prick, sitting there staring earnestly into her eyes.

      “I just want to make sure that he’s treating you right. I’ve known him a lot longer than you which means I probably know things you don’t. I think you deserve better. Just saying. I’d hate to see you get caught up in…well… I mean, if you two are a thing now, why didn’t he stick around tonight?”

      “He’s taking his nephew fishing tomorrow.”

      “Or maybe he has a habit that needed feeding.” Why’d the music have to be so loud? Cody was using it as an excuse to lean in closer.

      She had to think about that one. No. It had to be bullshit. Riley had asked her to go home with him. “You’re just stirring shit. Riley is definitely not on drugs.”

      “Oh, you didn’t know Black Bull likes to drop crack in his peace pipe.”

      “Fuck off. You’re just fucking with my head.”

      Not a muscle moved on Cody’s face. “Am I? So, how’d you end up with Black Bull anyway? Last I’d heard, you were shacked up with that hunting guide from the States.”

      He was milking her for details. She knew it. She knew whatever she said would be used against her. But she couldn’t shut herself up. “I work for Jacob. That’s it. And, there’s nothing going on with Riley.” Her mouth twitched at the corners, betraying her.

      “I can tell you have a thing for him. I just want you to be careful. I don’t want to see you get hurt. Funny, I never thought of him as the type of guy to end up with a stripper, but then again he’s a not exactly who he pretends to be. I could be wrong, but it looks to me like he’s playing with you. A white peeler is a pretty good prize for a buck like him.”

      “You’re forgetting, we’ve been friends a long time. And speaking of friends, that’s a real nice way to talk about one of yours.”

      “Friends for a long time… And what do you know about him? Maybe it is love. Who am I to say? I just don’t want to see you get messed up with the shit he’s into.”

      He knocked the breath out of her and she couldn’t hide it.

      Cody took the opportunity to place a hand on her knee.

      “Would you just shut up already?” she said pushing his advances away.

      “I care about you Charlene. I’m only looking out for you.”

      A slow song came out of the speakers. The old boys grabbed their rolls of loonies and got up to move to the long table that wrapped around the stage. “I’m gonna win me a poster of that little filly right there,” one of them said.

      When they were alone, Cody slid closer to her. “Charlene, why’d you leave? We could have worked it out. Was all this really better than being with me? Look what you’ve done to your life.” He caressed her neck with his fingers. It made her skin crawl. “You’re better than this aren’t you? I know I made some mistakes. But Christ, you threw it all away to spread your legs for half of Canada.”

      An electronic pulse came from inside his jacket. He pulled out his phone. “Hello. Oh, hi Ken. Oh, me? I’m at the ‘Dill having a drink with my ex. She’s a peeler, now.”

      Peeler. That word made her cringe. And he’d used it twice in the last two minutes.

      Charlie left the table before he was done his call. She couldn’t get away from him fast enough. She ducked into the bathroom, not because she had any urge to go, but because it seemed like a safe place to hide, until she could get her head screwed back on.

      She fixed her hair about a million times, and repositioned her hat another million, before coming to the decision that she would just say a quick good-bye to Divinity and get the hell out of the bar.

      “Gypsy!” Divinity squealed, noticing Charlie coming out of the washroom. “Come sit. These guys,” she said, indicating the old timers and Cody, “have ordered us some drinks, and we’ve got shots on the way, too. I can’t wait to hear about your new beau.”

      Cody snorted.

      “I’m sorry, I have to go,” Charlie said.

      “It’s been so long. I really want to catch up. I missed you. Besides, we have drinks on the way.”

      Damn sweet-hearted Divinity. Charlie sat down.

      “So, I was thinking, I’m flying out to Toronto next week to go and feature. How about you come with me? I can get you booked in some great clubs. They’d love a real live cowgirl.”

      “I bet they would,” said Cody.

      Charlie picked up the drink the waitress had just set down in front of her. “No, thanks. I don’t do lap dances. I’ll stick to the Western circuit.”

      “Yeah, but the money is killer in Toronto.”

      Charlie could feel Cody rubbing his knee against her thigh. She had to keep on track. She swallowed the rest of her drink. “I’ll stop in to see you tomorrow. When’s your last show? Maybe we can go out after?”

      “I’m done at 10.”

      “Great. Well, I’ve got an early morning tomorrow. I better go.”

      The blonde batted a pair of long, thick black eyelashes. “So soon?” She rose to her feet to hug Charlie good-bye.

      “That guy is the one. My ex,” Charlie whispered in her friend’s ear. “Watch out for him.”

      “It’s OK,” she whispered back. “I like my men to have all of their teeth.”

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