Saturday, December 20, 2008

SHUFFLE, Chapter Six

The firemen milled around the place, cleaning their equipment, spraying more water on the field, and talking with us. I wanted to go into the trailer house and feel its air conditioning on my skin, but to tell the truth, I didn’t want to go in if I couldn’t fit all of the firemen in there too.

The four of us stayed with the fireman, watching the pasture for flare-ups. I wasn’t looking forward to viewing my reflection in a mirror. Shade, Whitey, and Angelina all had sooty faces, dirty arms, and blackened clothing so I could only imagine what I looked like. After all, they didn’t catch their hair on fire. It was a pretty safe assumption that my burnt-look would guarantee I’d never, ever be asked out on a date by any fireman in the area again.

After the last of the volunteers had driven off The Barely Legal, Shade led the way into Runt’s house and headed straight to the phone. “The battery’s charged enough,” he said, pushing several buttons, “but the phone’s password protected. We need a five-digit password.” He passed me the phone.

Shade was all business now. Nothing was left of the gentle man who had lain with me on the hot ground just an hour or so ago. Oh, yeah, I thought, remembering why we had stopped dating in high school. Shade could switch from hot to cold faster than any losing streak I’d ever seen at the poker table. One minute he’d be all attention, like a birddog on point and I was his covey of quail. Then he’d be gone. Disappeared. Nowhere around.

Wherever he went during those times, it involved horses and bull riding but it left me dateless. A girl can’t have that in high school! The time we dated in college went pretty much the same way.

I wrinkled my nose in frustration. “Is it just me, or is nothing easy?” I asked with a sigh. “Let me think. If I was Runt, what would my password be?” I thought out loud.

“It could be a birthday,” Shade suggested.

“It can’t be mine or Dad’s because ours are six digits because of the month we were born in.” I tried Runt’s birthday and Mom’s. Neither worked.

“Knowing Runt, it could be anything,” Whitey said, with a chuckle. “How about girls’ names?”

I tried the names of several girls that I knew Runt currently liked, had liked in the past, or might like in the future. Nothing.

“Try one zero one zero one.” Angelina said. I looked at her and raised a scorched eyebrow.

“What the hell? Try it,” Shade said. “We’ve tried stupider numbers and names than that.”

I punched in the numbers and sure enough the cell phone woke up. We all looked at Angelina in amazement.

“What?” Angelina said. “Makes sense to me. “Ranch and dog’s names are about drinking. Why not this too? You know, legal to drink age twenty-one. Ten+ten+one.”

Put that way, the password made sense to me too. I scrolled down to voice mail on the phone. There were several hang-ups (probably me), a message from Mom, and the message from Casey about the trespassers.

Hearing my Mom’s voice made my stomach churn. I hadn’t even thought about telling our parents about the events of last night and today. Or what still might unfold, for that matter. I could only hope Runt would reappear before I had to talk to my folks.

“Just messages from me and mom and Casey,” I told the group as I scrolled through the menu to get to the mailbox for text messages.

“Well, I’ll be deep fried!” I exclaimed. Runt had sent his phone a text from his computer.

“TANA OK B CAREFL STRANGRS FEED HORS RIDIN BACKWRDS TONTO CARE SLOPY,” I read aloud.

“Jeez, I already screwed that up,” I said, thinking about the Sloppy part.

“Well, at least we sort of know Runt’s safe,” said Shade. “But ‘be careful of strangers’ or ‘strangers are feeding horses?’ Probably the first one, considering all that’s happened. Guess we’d better toss the horses some hay before we go, Whitely. ‘Riding backwards’ I have no idea. Do you, T.R.?”

“That means he’s horseback, camping in one of those wild places along the Brazos.”

“You got all that out of riding backwards?” Shade asked.

“Dad always called it that. When Runt went camping as a teenager, Daddy said he might as well be riding backwards on his horse because Runt never knew where he was going ‘til he got there. It worried Mom to death, even though she knew Runt loved living off the land and was good at it.”

“Who knows when he’ll be back, then,” Shade said. “Let’s look around the house and barn to see if anything’s missing. Those two men could have been thieves.”

Shade and Whitey searched Runt’s bedroom. There’re some things a sister doesn’t need to discover about her brother. Angelina went through the kitchen stuff, cleaning up as she searched. I looked through the living room. It was slow going since I didn’t really know what I was looking for. On the upside, I wasn’t worried about time. Poker rooms don’t open until late in the evening.

I was eager to get back to my place, though. I’d been careful not to look in a mirror while searching the house but I did catch my refection in the darkened television screen. I couldn’t see much, but what I did see, wasn’t good. I would need hours of repair work or it’d be poor tips for me tonight. Then again, there’s always the sympathy tip.

My hair is short and spiky but cut that way on purpose, not burned choppy. My platinum spikes were now tipped black in places from the fire, like reverse roots. Somehow, I didn’t think it would become a fad. Too stinky, for one thing, and way too dangerous of a hair treatment. Of course it did get you a roll on the ground with Shade and lots of attention from a fleet of firemen.

The way things were going, I was going to have to start a list just to keep up with all the Shade-details that Casey and Weeba would want to know about.

Runt’s laptop was gone, but that didn’t mean anything. He wouldn’t leave it at home unattended. If he didn’t have it with him, he’d stash it somewhere if he thought he’d be away for a while. He probably sent me the text message by that computer but he could have sent it from anywhere in town. A lot of places offer wireless nowadays.

Other than normal camping stuff, I didn’t notice anything else missing. The others had the same luck I did, which was none at all. We packed our grimy selves into the duelie to head for town.

“Take me to my place, Stripper, so I can pick up another vehicle,” Shade said. I still was driving, although I didn’t understand why Shade so easily relinquished control of Runt’s truck. He gave me directions to his place and we traveled by dirt roads in areas of the county I wasn’t familiar with.

“Turn left on the next road,” he said. “There’s not a sign over the gate but you’ll recognize it by the giant prickly pear cactus at the entrance.”

I suppose it was Goodwin’s place but I wouldn’t have known that ranch if I sat on it. I was very impressed with the big house surrounded by blooming crepe myrtle trees. Hacienda style, it was stucco arches, scenic windows, red cedar, and Texas limestone. Very posh.

Fishing for the name of the ranch, I told Shade, “Runt would love Goodwin’s house.” He looked at me and raised his eyebrows. I guess he was too exhausted to take the bait and I was too tired to press the point. There were smaller houses around the compound and I wondered which one was Shade’s.

“Pull up to that barn, Tana Rose. I’ve got some things to do before I go to your place. I’ll leave here in a couple of hour.” He got out when I stopped the truck. “Whitey, Angelina,” he said, looking into the back seat. “Thanks, y’all, for the help. It was appreciated.” He turned around and started walking away.

I didn’t drive off. I didn’t call out after him. I just sat there looking at his back.

I didn’t want to be alone at my house. I may not like Shade’s possessive attitude but this whole mess had me badly spooked, I’d take the devil himself beside me night and day just so I wouldn’t have to be by myself.

Shade stopped and looked back. I traced my finger around the steering wheel.

“What’s the matter?” he said as he walked back to the truck.

I kept looking at my finger making circles.

Angelina spoke up from the back seat. “She does not want to be alone.”

“Is that it, Stripper?” he asked.

I sucked on my lower lip but didn’t say a word.

Shade took a deep breath. “OK,” he said. “You’re right. I’ll be right over. I can shower at your house. I’ll get one of my men to go stay at The Barely Legal until Runt gets back.” He slapped the hood of the truck, dismissing us, and I drove away.

No one spoke on the way to town. Deep exhaustion had set in and we were all dreading the long night ahead of us in the poker room. At least I was. None of us had gotten much sleep today. We definitely needed showers. Plus I had to do something with my hair.

After I dropped Whitey and Angelina off at their place, the drive to my little house was quiet. I realized it was the first time I’d been alone in almost twenty-four hours. It felt familiar, yet weird. What are the odds on that? I kept looking around, expecting what, I didn’t know. But I knew it couldn’t be anything good.

I pulled Runt’s truck into my driveway and parked behind a wild little red convertible. Shade was sitting on top of the back of the driver’s seat with his dirty boots where his butt should’ve been. How rude to borrow such a tight car and then put your boots on the leather upholstery. Goodwin must be even more loaded than I thought. I was afraid to even touch the paint job.

“Sweet.” I nodded at the car as I walked to the side door of my house and unlocked it.

“Personally, I thought it deserved more than just sweet,” Shade said.

“If it was your car, it would deserve more.”

“It is my car.”

“Yeah, right. For the moment. I’m first in the shower.” I wrinkled my nose, at myself this time. There went my mouth again. Why couldn’t I just keep it shut and be nice. The man’s doing me a favor by staying with me. But instead of turning back and apologizing, I marched into the bathroom, closed the door, and locked it.

The bath and bed situation felt awkward yet familiar. Hadn’t we gone through the same routine last night? As I stepped into the shower, a picture of us as an old married couple flashed though my mind ─ without the good sex. Without any sex at all, come to think of it. The cool running water beat the tension out of my shoulders. It probably wasn’t as effective as a hot shower, but I’d had enough heat for one day.

I don’t know what it is about the enclosed space of the shower and the spray of water but I seem to do my best thinking there. As I lathered the shampoo into my disastrous hair, it hit me. Text messages. Runt sent a message to his phone. Why couldn’t we send an email to his computer. He just check messages on that, since he certainly never checked voice mail on his phone.

Quickly I cut the water, toweled off, and threw on some clothes. As I reached for the door, I caught my reflection in the mirror. Damn, I could’ve gone all week without that view. If only the mirror had fogged up. I had to do something with my hair, other than put a hat on it, before I talked to Shade about my idea.

I grabbed the scissors and began to cut off all the blackened parts I could reach. With a hand mirror I could see more burned parts in the back. I tried holding the hand mirror, finding and holding the hair, putting the mirror down, picking up the scissors, and cutting. That didn’t work well at all.

I tried again. I picked up the mirror, located and held the offending hair, put the mirror down, picked up the scissors, and again tried to cut it. Damn it! I cut my finger. Let’s add a little blood to the mix. OK, I told myself, take a deep breath and try again. Damn!

“Shade!” I yelled through the door.

“What?”

“I need you!”

“Now you’re talkin’,” he said, trying to open the door. “Uh, doors locked, honey. Unlock the door.” Shade’s charm and amusement oozed under the door and into the bathroom.

What? He thought I was naked? He thought I wanted him sexually? Well, yeah, that’s a thought. Just not my first thought.

I looked into the mirror again. I had on no makeup and my hair looked freaky but at least I was clean. This man had seen me much worse and only an hour ago.

“But will you respect me afterwards, Shade, or will I be just another…you know…conquest?” I cooed through the closed door.

“Don’t be silly. Unlock the door, T.R.,” he coaxed.

Yeah, now he calls me T.R. Wow, he sounded serious. “No, really, Shade. Never mind. I don’t think I should. I…I mean, after all…I’m…I’m naked.” I poured it on a little thick with that one. The whole situation had just crossed into the ridiculous. He had to know I was putting him on.

“Tana, just let me in so we can talk about it. Come on, honey. Open up.”

“Will you be gentle? Will you run your fingers through my hair?”

“What? Yeah, sure, Pokerface. I’m a gentle guy. Whatever you want, sweetheart. Unlock the door now, OK?”

How far could I push this, I wondered. Probably not too far since he’d just reverted back to calling me Pokerface. “Shade, maybe we should take this slower, you know, date again. You could pick me up at my door. Take me to dinner and a movie. A nice kiss before we…you know. You’re such a big, strong, handsome cowboy and I don’t know if I could measure up to those cute little cowgirls you’ve been dating.”

No answer. Had I gone too far? It sure was fun!

Still no answer. “Shade?”

A rap on the bathroom window behind me made me jump. I turned around fast. There was Shade, elbows leaning on the windowsill. He one-finger waved me hi, a gotcha look plastered on his handsome face.

“Or maybe I could just go back home and leave you to the bogyman! Naked, my ass!” he yelled through the window.

We both laughed. “Get in here and help me cut my hair!” I hollered. “Are you standing on a ladder?”

“Nope, trashcan,” he replied and disappeared from the window.

We were both still laughing when he walked through the bathroom door. I handed him the scissors.

“Cut off just the singed part,” I told him. “Nothing else! You hear me? Just the singed part!”

Shade picked up my comb and started on my hair. “Hey, I had an idea in the shower,” I told him. “Maybe Runt has his laptop and we could send him an email.”

“It’s worth a try. Do you feel better knowing Runt’s, what did he call it? Riding backwards?”

“Yeah, I guess. I feel just like Mom must have felt when he went off ─ wondering where he is, what he’s doing, how he’s doing, and all that. The funny part is that today, out at his place, I felt he was watching us, like he wanted to be helping us put out that fire but he just couldn’t risk it or he couldn’t get there from where he was or something. Weird, huh? Maybe I just felt that way ‘cause I know how much he loves that place of his.”

“That’s not weird. It’s a great place.” Shade paused in his combing and cutting, then started up again. “It’s a long time since high school.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, in high school Runt was extremely smart but stupid, if you know what I mean. He kept getting into trouble.” Shade was a year ahead of me in school and Runt was a year behind me.

“True.” I kind of laughed. “And mostly over the same thing ─ taking money for changing classmates’ grades.”

“Tana Rose, I don’t think it was the takin’ money that got him into trouble as much as the repeated hackin’ into the school’s computers to change those grades. The principal would have ‘em change the system and Runt would hack into the new system just as fast. That last time, when you were a senior, he got into so much trouble, your daddy had to step in and sell the authorities on the fact that the school should have better computer security. That turned it around and made it the school’s fault.”

“Daddy nothing. It was me that sold the school on that full-of-bull story!”

“Yeah. That’s right. I’d forgotten that. Good thing it happened several years ago. They put people in jail for stuff like that nowadays. They threatened to jail him then, if he ever did it again.”

There was a pause in the conversation as Shade worked on my hair. “Your folks still livin’ in Dallas?” he finally asked.

“Yeah, I’m wondering if I should tell Daddy about this. I won’t tell Mom. She worries about us enough.”

“Well, give the situation a couple more days before you make that decision. By then it all might be just a funny story to tell. Except for Sloppy.”

Yeah, except for Sloppy. I closed my eyes. It felt good to have Shade mess with my hair. I usually don’t like that sort of thing. In fact, I can barely sit still at the hair salon. I’m just tired, I thought.

I sat there backwards on the toilet seat, totally relaxed. Good lord, it seemed like days or even weeks since all this started. Shade and I had been inseparable ever since. How ironic. Just yesterday I couldn’t stand him when he took Runt’s truck and now he’s cutting my hair…

...OFF! I suddenly realized how long he’d been cutting my hair and jerked away from the scissors. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“I’m just evening out your hair here and there. You really chopped it up.”

“No way am I going to let you ‘even out’ my hair! What do you know about hair cutting?” I looked into the bathroom mirror. Front looked good. I grabbed the hand mirror to see the back.

“I got sisters,” he replied. And it did look good in the back, just as good as when Mr. Ricky cut it, really. Kind of shaggy on the neck, just like I liked it. I looked Shade in the eye.

“And I cut my horse’s tail all the time,” he said, his voice low. Quickly he stepped out of the bathroom and closed the door, but not before I saw how red his cheeks were.

Shade blushing? I wouldn’t have thought he was capable of that. Not with his reputation. Horse’s tail, indeed! Would I ever have time to call Casey and Weeba and tell all? I don’t think I have that many minutes on my cell plan! I’d have to see them in person to report everything.

I finished putting on my makeup and exited the bathroom. Shade was lying on the floor watching TV in the living room. “Why are you on the floor? I do have furniture.”

“I’m too dirty to sit anywhere. I made a couple of calls while you were in the bathroom, and I email Runt. Haven’t heard from him yet, though. Called Whitey. He said you can crash at their apartment when you get off work. I’m going to sleep at my own place tonight. I’ll swing by tomorrow after the ropin’ competition and pick you up.”

“No, wait,” I said. “We both have vehicles now. You can’t make me your life’s work. I’ll be all right by myself.” I had calmed down a lot with the help of a shower, but I didn’t really believe what I was saying. I didn’t want to be alone.

The thought of staying in my own home all by myself sent cold crawlies up and down my back. That’s a turnabout for me. Give me a good book and all six of my bed pillows, plus a cold beer on the bedside table, and alone usually seemed like a real good idea.

Shade came over to where I was standing and put his hands gently on my shoulders. Slipping his thumbs under the thin straps of my top, he rubbed little circles on my skin. He smelled like the outdoors, full of wind, horse, earth, and smoke. Lots of smoke.

His hair was out of the ponytail and loose around his shoulders. Tight blue jeans wrapped around his butt, then fell to his boot tips with the typical cowboy wrinkles around his calves. A black belt with silver conchos cinched his small waist. His now-dirty white shirt covered his broad chest and the wide shoulders that topped his v-shaped body.

OK, I realized what all the Shade hoopla was about. Would I be like all those other women and fall madly in love with the Shade-look, the Shade-kiss? Casey told me once that she’d heard that when Shade kissed a woman, her chocha became the burning bush, whatever that meant. I didn’t believe it. Years ago I’d been kissed by Shade, and I hadn’t felt the need to call the fire department.

I braced myself for that blazing moment. Our lips were only a fraction of an inch apart. The chemistry was toxic. The air palpable. I closed my eyes and leaned my face upwards towards Shade.

Seconds ticked by but no kiss came. I felt stupid standing there like that so I opened my eyes. He was looking deep inside me again, like he had when we were on the hot, burned ground at Runt’s place. He bit at his mustache. “I could, ya know. Make you my life’s work, that is.”

I was too stunned to reply. He used his shoulder hold to move me aside. Then he leaned down, picked up an overnight bag, and disappeared into the bathroom.

Why would he say something like that, anyway? He didn’t make me his life’s work when we were together before. In fact, he pretty much took me for granted both times we’d dated.

I walked over to the window air conditioner and lifted my shirt so my chest could catch the frosty air coming from the vents. I might have been just out of a cold shower but I needed to cool off after stepping away from him and his heat source. If I closed my eyes, I could still feel his thumbs making small circles on my skin.

I heard the bathroom door open again and quickly pulled my shirt down. Shade popped his head out of the bathroom.

“By the way, don’t get any ideas about peekin’ through the bathroom window. I moved the trash can.”

To be continued Friday.

7 comments:

  1. Ohhhhh, that chapter was worth the wait. I'm liking these characters better and better. and your spell checker is working again... ~PJ

    ReplyDelete
  2. Is it already Chapter 6? Are you sure?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh, yeah, from one writer to another...I gotta point out a misspell. Principal is the spelling for a school administrator. I was one for 12 years you know! Here...I will use that word in a sentence: Just because I was a principal didn't mean I had principles. :)

    Malisa

    ReplyDelete
  4. You've debunked the myth that it is MEN
    who think about sex every 7 to 14 seconds!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Moonlight Hollow Musings said...
    Dang grammar police!

    I second that! It's corrected! It's corrected!

    If that's all you find, I'd be amazed! I said it needs editing.

    The Texas Woman

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great chapter! I love the bathroom scene when he goes to the window. Is Shade a repressed hair dresser? Kind of like the Zohan...

    -FringeGirl

    ReplyDelete

Your opinion doesn't count, but I'd like to know what it is anyway! Please leave a comment!