Thursday, January 22, 2009

SHUFFLE, Chapter Twenty

A blast of water hit me straight on, almost pushing me back into the vehicle. I put my hands out to protect myself and heard Casey’s evil laughter.

“Hey, T.R., you’re all wet.”

“Casey, you bitch!” I dived for the hose, pulling it away from her and pointing the spray of water right at her chest. She screeched as the cold water hit her.

“Shhh. You’ll wake my neighbors.”

“So? Who they gonna’ call?” she said, as she wrestled me for possession of the hose. “The police? I am the police.”

“Oh, yeah? You’re just a pistol-packing dispatcher!” I twisted her arm, trying to make her let go of the hose. Water sprayed everywhere.

“Ow. Ow. Ow. No fair.” Suddenly Casey stopped struggling and stood looking towards the street. I stopped fighting too. I thought for sure the cops were at the end of the drive but I was facing the opposite direction and couldn’t see what had caught her attention.

“Don’t look now but Runt’s duelie’s pulling into your driveway ─ probably with Shade at the wheel.”

“Oh shucks Miss Minny Mitchell!” I said. I don’t know what that means but my Grandmother Josephine always said that when confronted with bad news.

I didn’t turn around. I walked over to the faucet and turned off the water.

“We can’t let him see us with all this blood. He’ll tell Ralph and Miss Minny will really hit the fan,” Casey said.

I still hadn’t looked Shade’s way. “Casey,” I said. “Look at us. We may be wet but we’re not bloody anymore.”

She took a good look at me, then down at herself and burst out laughing. “Ah…hey,” she said, sobering. “It’s been fun, T.R., but I’m walking home. You two need to be alone.”

“No, wait. I’ll take you. It’s late. It’s the least I can do.”

“No, I’ll walk,” she said. When I protested, she added, “Hey, I’ve got a gun. And I know how to use it.”

“Thanks, Casey, for…you know…for everything.” She gave me a wet hug and started walking down the drive, saying hi to Shade as she passed the truck. Casey only lived a couple of blocks away. I knew she’d be safe. Like she said, she carried a gun, like most Texans ─ at least it seemed to me that most Texans carried guns.

I heard Shade open the truck door and then slam it shut. I ignored him and finished rolling up the water hose.

“T.R.? You all right?”

“Shade, hi…I…I….” What could I say? He put his hands on my shoulders and turned me around to face him. He tried to hug me but I put my hands on his chest and gently pushed him away.

No. “I..I..I’m wet,” I stammered.

“I don’t care. I’ve been so worried. I’ve driven up and down every street in this town lookin’ for you or a monster truck with flames. Toni said they were lime green but you can’t always believe what she says.”

He tried again to pull me close but again I resisted.

Damn, Runt! You jerk! You spoiled everything with your stupid tricks. You even spoiled what I almost had with Shade. How could I ever trust any man again? How could I ever believe a man when he tells me he loves me? I wanted to. And maybe I would eventually. But to love a man meant I had to trust him and I couldn’t right now.

“Listen, Shade. I’ve had a rough twenty-four hours. I just want to go into my own house and get into my own bed.”

“Then let’s go, Pokerface.”

“No. By myself. You see Runt…. I mean…he…he….” My voice died out.

I tried again.

“Shit…you see…Runt…he…he….” I searched for words to explain about Runt, to describe the events of the night, but it would take a couple of hours to replay all that had transpired at the warehouse and Sirlo’s offices, let alone verbalize the bubbling cauldron of my emotions ─ which I hadn’t even sorted out myself.

“You trying to tell me this mess with Runt is cleared up? That it’s all over?”

I nodded my head yes.

“Nobody’s after you anymore? You’re safe?”

Again I moved my head up and down.

“Thank God,” he said, putting his finger on my chin.

“No, Shade. Not now. Not tonight.”

“Pokerface, we’ll get though this. You and I together.”

“No, Shade. Not together. I need to get through this by myself. I need time alone. I need to find me again. I don’t need you to fix me.”

I needed to find my heart again and somehow forgive Runt. I knew I couldn’t move on until I did. I needed to get back to being a loving and trustful friend and family member. My mind was too full of emotion right now and I couldn’t forgive Runt with Shade by my side. He’d want to handle all my problems for me.

I needed to handle my own problems, in my own way, even if my way was totally wrong. At least it would be my way.

“So you want me to just walk away.” He dropped his finger down to my breastbone.

“Yeah, pretty much. That’s what I want. For now. For tonight. For however long it takes.”

At least that was what I thought I wanted tonight. I knew tomorrow I might hate myself for sending him away but I had to live in the now. Right now. And that’s what I wanted right now.

“Do you realize what you could be losing? We might both move on, go our separate ways, as they say. We might not be able to get back together again…this time.”

“Shade…I…Shade…Oh. Go. Just go. Some of it’s been fun and I really appreciate what you’ve done trying to help me. And to help Runt. But it’s over. It’s finally over.”

“I can’t believe this. It’s been fun, but it’s done, huh?” He smiled at me, a sad, wistful smile, not the arrogant Shade-smile. My mind flitted to my memory of how safe I’d felt with him holding me on the hot, burned earth. Shade taking my hand as we worked our way through the landmines of truck mirrors at the roping arena. The Shade-kiss behind the police station.

“I’m not happy about this, T.R., but I know better than to argue with you,” he said. “Every time I let you into my life, you walk away from me. Tana, a guy can only take so much rejection, can only wait around so long, then he’s…” Shade lifted his hands into the air, palms up. “…gone. Damn, I can’t believe this!”

I heard a car door slam somewhere out on the street. A cat meowed over the fence. A breeze rustled the leaves in the trees around us.

I sucked on my upper lip, trying to keep my emotions in check. I had been through so much in the last several days. I was afraid if I showed one emotion, the rest would come tumbling out after it and I’d cry all night. All tomorrow. All next week. I’d be a total train wreck. Right then I could hold myself together but if he didn’t leave….

His finger drew a line down my cleavage.

“Ahem.” Someone cleared his throat nearby. I jumped at the noise and Shade jerked his finger away from my breasts.

We’d thought we were alone.

“Am I interrupting anything?” Dante asked.

“As a matter of fact, you are. Get lost.” Shade said, turning his gaze back to me. Shade might charm the women but his charisma didn’t seem to extend to Dante.

A full minute passed but Dante didn’t move. He was still leaning against my house, arms folded in front of him. Finally he spoke up.

“I came to apologize to T.R. about something I said at Sirlo’s tonight when this thing with Runt went down.”

“He was there?” Shade asked me. He didn’t bother to give Dante a look. “He was there when all this crap came down on you and Runt?” The hurt in his eyes made the pain in my heart turn a different twist. Shade took a half step away from me.

Well, this was what I wanted, I thought to myself, what I needed. For Shade to back off and let me lead my own life in my own way. But I didn’t want to hurt him. I wanted to be able to change my mind. Woman do, you know.

“Don’t worry, Shade. The flack all came down on Runt,” Dante said. “No fallout hit T.R. I was there to make sure of that!”

“Sh..Sh..Shade,” I stammered. “It’s not like it seems. Dante was there but….”

Shade stepped backwards again. This time a full step.

“But it’s not like I invited him.”

“That’s not what my text message said, T.R.,” Dante spoke up again. I looked his way and the self-satisfied grin on his face told me he was enjoying the torment Shade was going through.

“Dante, damn it.” I looked back at Shade. “Shade, I didn’t just TM him. I TM’d all my regulars for help. Dante was just one of several poker folker who responded to the message.”

“Just one of the guys, T.R.? That’s all I mean to you? What about that kiss at Texas Way the other night?” Dante asked.

Shit! The dirty look I shot Dante should have knocked him on his backside. Damn him!

“You were at Texas Way the other night? You told me you were with Casey and going to the movies. And you kissed this creep? You wanted his help instead of mine?” Shade spoke very fast and sounded totally wounded. Suddenly he didn’t seem ten-feet tall and bullet proof anymore. He seemed normal for once. Normal and hurt. Not the kind of man urban myths are created around. Just a guy whose life wasn’t going the way he thought it should be going.

“I…I did go to the show with Casey. T-T-That was after Casey dropped me off at Texas Way. I just went to Moss’ to collect some money Dante owed me. Tonight I didn’t have time to text message everyone personally,” I explained to them both.

“I just needed witnesses….” My voice dribbled off.

Well, I wanted to be alone. If this conversation didn’t chase both men off, I didn’t know what would. Why didn’t I feel good about the way this whole situation was going down?

“Let’s get back to the kissing part.” Shade jerked his thumb Dante’s way.

I shot a look at Dante, hating him for making a bigger mess out of this than Runt already had. Dante still had that same grin on his face. I remembered how good his kiss was. Not chocha-catch-on-fire great, but still very good. I also remembered how great Dant smelled and how good I felt after the kiss.

God, I was so mixed up!

“Well, it was just one kiss.” I defended myself. “Exactly the same number of times you’ve kissed me lately, Shade, not counting that strictly-for-show one at the roping arena the other day. What right do you have to be jealous?”

“Jealous? Me?” he protested but then long seconds passed where none of us said a word, none of us moved. Finally, I walked between the two men towards the house. Both of them reached out and took hold of my arms, a man on each side of me.

There I was, soaking wet, suspended between Shade and Dante. I looked from one to the other and they respectfully removed their hands from me at the same time. I almost feel over.

Both Dante and Shade made another grab at me. This time their hands touched.

“Shit!” they both said and jerked their hands away from the male contact. Over my head each man gave the other a guy look, one that said, “Mine!”

“Don’t you have some place you have to be?” Dante asked Shade.

“Isn’t it past your bedtime?” Shade asked Dante.

“You sleepin’ with him?” they both asked me at the same time.

“Sure!” I responded. “I’m sleeping with both of you. On alternating days!”

They both knew that the part of my statement concerning each of them was untrue. I hoped they’d realize it was also a lie about the other guy as well. Being they were both so macho, I probably shouldn’t have held my breathe waiting for them to figure that out.

Like I cared what they thought!

Dante took me by the neck of my shirt and pulled me backwards so I wouldn’t be between the two men. The tug plopped me down on my butt in the wet.

They squared off, as men do right before they take on one another in a fight over something stupid.

“I think she was giving you the brush off when I interrupted you two,” Dante commented. His chest was puffed out and his hands had turned into fists.

“Well, I don’t see her inviting you in for a beer.” Shade swelled up like a rooster in a cock fight, which wasn’t too far off the mark for them.

I held my breath, waiting for them to come to blows. I hoped I was keeping the smile off my face. Part of me was delighted at the prospect of a fight. Men have never fought over me. I’ve always been one the boys myself, sort of a sister to guys. It was exciting to have these two studs going at each other, chest to chest.

Jeez, what was I thinking. I struggled to get to my feet in the wet grass.

“Ca-rap, you guys. We’re not in high school anymore. If you two have to fight, it won’t be about me. I’m going to bed.”

That stopped them in their tracks.

Shade took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His fists uncurled and became fingers again. He reached out and lifted my chin and made me look him in the eye.

“OK, you’re right. This isn’t between me and Dante. This is between you and me. Like you said, the fun is done. I’ll respect your wishes,” Shade said. He paused and swallowed hard.

“You’ll love somebody someday, Pokerface. You’ll love’em so much you won’t let’em walk away from you. It might not be me, damn it. And it won’t be this jerk,” he added with a look towards Dante. “But it’ll be somebody, I guarantee it. And you’ll know when you’re ready for love. Yeah, you’ll know. You’ll see the signs a mile off. Good thing Texas is mostly flatland.

“I’ll have a couple of my men return Runt’s truck tomorrow.” He paused again as he looked at the big yellow beast in the driveway. “Whose Hummer is that?” he asked.

“It’s a long story.” I was grateful things had turned civil again but my feelings were still very confused. It was good to focus on the Hummer. I was clear about my feelings towards the bright brute. “Could you have your men return it to Sirlo’s when they bring me Runt’s truck tomorrow? I don’t want to see those people again.”

“Sure.” He started to walk away.

“Oh. Wait.”

Shade turned his face back to me and lifted an eyebrow hopefully. “When your men return the Hummer, could they do it in the morning so they could go by Sirlo’s warehouse? There’s a monster truck in there that needs to be moved. It’s sort of blocking the door of a bathroom and…ah…er…there’s some people kind of stuck in there.”

“Ta-a-n-n-a-a Ro-o-s-s-e?”

“Morning’s soon enough. Honest. I’d bet on it.”

“I’ll bet you would. I love you, T.R. I always have. I hope I always will.” Shade turned and walked away. Not even a Shade-goodbye-kiss.

“See ya around, Shade,” Dante said, all arrogance and attitude.

“Go home, Dante!” I said and walked into my house, slamming the door behind me so both men would know the night was over, at least the part of their night that involved me. Leaning against the back door, I waited until I heard two truck doors slam and two vehicles take off down the street.

Damn, I never even told him that I loved him.

I wondered to myself which man I meant.

To be continued.

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