The title was in a passage of a story I read recently, unfortunately that's the only thing that stuck, or I'd give credit.
Looking around the room, I couldn't help but smile. Jerry deserved this happiness, he'd had a rough couple of years. I was surprised I was here at all. I called him when I got the invitation.
"You sure about this?"
He actually laughed.
"Yes, I'm sure. After all, if it wasn't for you I would never have found Anna. I owe you, if you had been a different person I could be dead or in jail by now. You helped me when the most natural thing in the world would have been to turn your back."
So I went to his wedding. Even sat at the main table, though I had no part in the ceremony. His new wife hugged me when we met, whispering in my ear.
"He told me all about your history, but I'd like to hear it from you. I've never heard anything quite like it."
I smiled, watching them. He was forty two and she was forty-six, but they acted like teenagers around each other. I wished the best for them.
I was dancing with the bride when I saw her. I just stopped moving. Anna looked up in confusion, and followed my gaze. I was trying to get loose but she had a death grip on my arm.
"Calm down. Please don't ruin my wedding."
I exhaled loudly, trying to center.
"What the fu... , what is she doing here? Does Jerry know? If he doesn't it probably will ruin it."
"He knows. He actually invited her. He says he did it for you. Now calm down and let's finish this dance."
We did. I was thinking about just walking out, but Jerry was waiting at the table. I got right in his face. "I can't believe you'd invite your exwife to your wedding. What the hell was going through your head?"
He was shaking his head, smiling slightly.
"I didn't invite her to the wedding, just to the reception. And I invited her for you. One way or another, sometime tonight, you're going to sit down and talk to her, for just a few minutes.
I don't want you to do this for me. I want you to do it for you. And her. Neither of you will ever get over it if you don't. But I gotta tell you man, she really does love you."
I sat, I brooded, I fumed. Jerry and Anna alternated staying with me to make sure I didn't leave. I know I must have pissed them off whining, until Anna snapped.
"Will you please just shut the hell up! For man who went to war, you're sure a pussy when it comes to her. Man up, talk to her, get it over with. Then leave if you want. You're bringing us all down, and I want my memories of tonight to not be of babysitting a whiny little bitch disguised as a big strong man."
I was shocked, more from her using the words 'pussy' and 'bitch' than anything else. Then I realized she was right. Plus she had fed me four really strong drinks pretty close together.
SHE choose that exact moment to appear beside me, tears in her eyes and hand outstretched.
"Dance with me? Please?"
I could have been an asshole and screamed at her. I could have sat there and ignored her. I could have gotten up and left. I took her hand.
We swept out on the dance floor, her achingly familiar body molded to mine as we slowly twirled to the song the band was playing. I felt her shake a little and looked down to see the tears falling onto my jacket. I started to disengage, trying to speak. She raised a hand to my lips.
"Please, don't talk. Just hold me, and let me pretend, just for a moment, that you still love me."
And that was the heart of my problem. I did still love her. So we moved slowly across the dance floor, each lost in our own memories and thoughts.
I reviewed all the women I thought I loved, including her, wondering why she had to be the one. The ONE. The one I wanted. The one I intended to spend the rest of my life with, only to find out she was never really mine. That's why it hurt so badly. I held her and let the memories continue to flow.
I saw it coming, I just didn't believe it.
He was about five seven or eight, and weighed under one fifty. And he had to be in close to forty. I was thirty one, six two, two hundred ten, mostly muscles.
He rushed up to me, two of his friends trying to slow him down. I was feeling pretty good, it was a Thursday, I had just gotten paid, and my girl was supposed to meet me for drinks and dinner out, followed by dessert in. I had started early, a couple of beers while I waited and shot the breeze with my friends.
I didn't know him, never saw him before in my life. He planted himself directly in front of me. I was wondering what he wanted, when I saw his arm move.
It started somewhere around his knees, gathering momentum as it traveled. I saw his hand ball into a fist, he was moving so slowly I could tell he'd probably never made a fist before.
I remember thinking whatever he hit better be soft or he was going to hurt his hand, when he connected with my eye. I was just so fascinated watching it never occurred to me to defend myself. Down I went, and he started trying to kick me.
I'd been out of the sandbox long enough to let him slip under my defenses, but not so far that instinct and training didn't kick in full force. I rolled and did a leg sweep, dropping him to the ground beside me, quickly grappling him into a submissive position. I may have gotten a kidney punch or two in, judging by the grayness in his face.
His two buddies tried to jump in but they were outnumbered and outgunned, so they resorted to calling for the bartender to get help pulling me off him. My cousin was the bartender and owner, had seen the cheap shot, and just kept polishing the glass he was holding. I got my breathing back to normal and snapped at him.
"What the hell is wrong with you, dude? You got some kind of death wish, jumping on strangers half your age and twice your fuckin' size? I ought to knot you up some, send you home to the wifey bruised and contused!"
He continued to struggle.
"Let me up, you lowlife motherfucker! You need a lesson about fucking married women."
I looked at him, wondering if he was high or just delusional. Shoving him away, I jumped to my feet.
"Mister, I don't trespass on private property. That being said, if you come back at me, I guarantee you a first class ass whipping. Do you understand me?"
Apparently he didn't, because he came up screaming and swinging. I jabbed with my left, and landed a roundhouse to his jaw with my right. He dropped like a rock and laid there. I looked at his buddies.
"Haul his ass out of here, and I think I can speak for management when I say he needs to drink elsewhere. And tell him that jumping younger, stronger, meaner strangers is a sure way of not living to a ripe old age."
They wanted to argue, but the bartender cut them off. Finally they carried him out, and we laughed a few minutes before my date showed up. She saw the beginnings of my shiner and went into mother mode.
"What happened, honey?"
I made a joke of it.
"Some guy came in and accused me of sleeping with his wife. He punched me before I could react. Sad, really. He had to be in his forties, was small, and had no idea how to fight. He had nerve, though. If some guy is screwing around with his wife, he'd best watch his back."
Her face had gotten paler as I recounted the episode. I noticed and tried to reassure her.
"Relax, honey. I'm fine. However if you feel the need to kiss it and make it all better, I won't object."
She immediately covered my face with light kisses, before pulling back with a smile.
"There now. Did Momma make it all better? No mean old man gets to hit my honey. He had to be a pretty big man to attack you. Did he not notice all those lovely muscles?," she cooed, as she rubbed my bicep. I found out later she was just wanting me to describe him again.
"Actually, he was an older guy, short, with a bit of a belly. He had no skills but plenty of nerve. If his wife is cheating on him, it might be pretty bad if he finds the guy."
Melody got quiet again, before excusing herself to use the restroom, saying she didn't feel well. My cousin Bob, the bartender, had heard most of the conversation.
"It's always the quiet ones, you know? He was probably living his version of the American dream, happy as a clam, and he finds out his wife is a slut. Those are the ones you have to watch, the ones that could kill you in a fit of rage. I've seen it to some degree a hundred times or better, I hope you straightened him out enough to leave you alone."
I nodded, agreeing totally. "I hope he finds the motherfucker and kicks his ass. I saw a few men go down when they got Dear John letters while I was in service. Still, he better get his facts straight and be careful, he ain't much of a fighter."
Melody reappeared, looking sad.
"Sorry honey, the hospital called. There was a big wreck on the interstate and they're shorthanded. They begged, so I have to go in. I'll call tomorrow, if I'm not too tired. Love you."
She kissed my cheek and dashed out. This had happened before, as she was a trauma nurse at the local hospital. Luckily for me, she worked twelve hour shifts during the first of the week, so she was available from Thursday until Saturday.
Me, I worked out of town, a lot.
No, I don't have a high paying executive job that has me jetting around the country, solving problems for megacorporations or saving the world for the government. I lay stone.
That's right, stone. Big rocks, you follow?
My father was the guy I just talked about, jetting around the country and occasionally the world, making his company big bucks. He was almost never around. so Mom raised my sister and I pretty much alone. And did a damn fine job in my opinion.
When I was twelve, my dad decided he didn't need a middle aged, middle class housewife on his arm, and traded her in on a newer model. She was heartbroken, but my grandfather, who had never really liked him, was furious. Dad tried to rush the divorce, cutting off funds for leverage. Pops stepped in, spent some of his own money, got her the second best divorce lawyer in the state only because the first was too busy, and burned him to the ground. Dad was fighting tooth and nail until Pops threatened to bring suit against his company for violation of the morals clause. His new woman had at one time been his assistant.
Seeing his high flying career in jeopardy, he folded like a cheap tent, and Mom came out smelling like a rose, even if she was heartbroken.
Dad moved to the other coast, and we basically never saw him again until he attended my high school graduation, offering me a full ride at a top ranked west coast college, if I would agree to move. I politely turned him down until he pushed, then I got loud and physically threw him out of our house. I haven't seen him since.
Mom had remarried, a decent man who loved her dearly. Surprisingly, she turned up pregnant, and I became a brother at fifteen. I admired the man, and my sister worshiped him. He offered to help pay for college, but didn't push when I opted not to continue my education just then. Instead, I became part of the big green machine, and spent four years in service, with a year each in both sandboxes. When I got out I was more in tune with the way the world worked, so I used military money to go to school part time while I worked for my grandfather.
You guessed it, he was a Master stone mason, all he'd ever done his whole life. Even at sixty two he had a body most thirty year old gym rats would kill for. My dad couldn't get away fast enough, but I was hooked by the time I was old enough to pick up a stone. Pops would put a pile in the backyard of his home, and reward me based on how fast I could assemble them. Sometimes I put it together in a way he never envisioned, but they always held together by the time I was thirteen.
I became his apprentice at fourteen, working summers and after school, if he worked close to home. In Afghanistan, especially the part I was in, there was no shortage of rocks, and I would relax myself by building walls, especially around our positions. When a wall I built saved a few lives, including our captain, the guys were soon avid helpers. We always had the best fortified positions in the area.
The Afghans were excellent stonemasons, and I studied their techniques, occasionally working beside them to build schools and hospitals. I learned from them as much as I could.
Pops took me into the business as soon as I got out. Soon I was running jobs for him, usually just me and a helper or two. He usually handled the big jobs.
One of the worst days of my life came when he passed, victim of a kid texting. He crossed the road and hit Pops head on. They estimated he was doing sixty five when they collided. Pop was in his sixty six Ford pickup, no airbags, no headrests. He suffered a broken neck, the doctors say he probably died instantly. Didn't matter how he went, he was gone at sixty six.
He was retiring as soon as he got his current job completed. He and Grams had bought an RV, intending to travel the country. Because of the impending retirement, he had gradually moved the company into my name, so I didn't have a lot of paperwork to deal with. I was twenty seven.
Stone masonry is a fascinating field. A master mason could make a lot of money, depending on the work. My company specialized in the building and restoration of dry walls, walls built without mortar, depending on the size and way the rocks were placed to retain shape. It was a skill not easily learned, and we were the best in the region. My grandfather, before he passed, had struck a deal with the state university system to repair the walls on their five oldest campuses. Some of them were over three hundred years old, in disarray or completely fallen. I had a crew of two master masons and three to four apprentices at each site. The apprentices were in it for training, and we paid fifteen to twenty dollars an hour, depending on their skill level. As they progressed, their pay increased. Of course, it took years to be considered a master, but as I said, the pay was excellent.
There was a question of me keeping the contract, but I convinced them to have faith in me.
"Look, Pops was pretty much just an administrator before he passed. The same masons with the same skill levels are still on the job. I guarantee the work will not suffer."
In the end they kept us, mostly because the company was in my name by then and they'd never complained before, and they knew it would be hard to replace us. Stone masons are kind of rare, really good ones even rarer.
I hated being a manager, not getting to lay stone on a regular basis. I solved my problem by hiring my sister Becky. She could actually lay stone pretty good, and she could spot shoddy work a mile away. She had just graduated with a business degree, and there weren't that many good jobs out there, so she took it for the experience if nothing else. Still had to have meetings and review the books, which we scheduled to coincide with our weekly family dinners.
My stepfather Jerry was an accountant, and Pops liked him so much he gave him our business when he married Mom. Gram would always be there, and she and Mom would participate in the discussions, having years of experience to fall back on. My younger brother Jerry Jr. was fifteen, and I had already promised him a job next summer. He would start at the bottom, hustling rock like all apprentices. He had a fantastic head for numbers, and I was pretty sure he wouldn't end up a Mason. Didn't matter, accountants were valuable people too.
I was thirty years old when I met Melody. She came into the bar one Thursday night with some friends. It was an immediate attraction, almost lust at first sight for both of us.
Billy, my cousin and owner, had live bands on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The place was blue collar all the way, so it was mostly country, and some of them were even good. I watched Mel dance a few fast numbers, admiring her grace.
She came up to the bar just as the band started a slow song, ordering a round for her table. When the music started, she grabbed my hand.
"I hate to waste a good slow song, and yes, I'd be pleased to dance with you. Thanks for asking."
I was so surprised I couldn't even talk, and stumbled along behind her while my friends laughed. Slow dancing with Mel should have been a requirement for graduating seniors, just to show how it should be done. Of course, if it happened, there would be a lot of wet spots on a lot of jeans. The woman would just mold herself to you, letting no space get between, moving with you so gracefully it was like you were alone, except for the extremely pleasant warmth and feel of her body. I think I loved her before the first song was over.
She was tall, around five nine, and when she wore her five inch heels she could look me in the eye. Not model thin, but not thick either, the perfect size. Her chest was full but didn't sag, and she possessed the largest green eyes I'd ever gazed into. Honey blonde hair cascaded in loose curls down her back, stopping just above an ass that no skin tight jeans could ever do justice to.
When the dance was over she refused to let go of my hand, pulling me over to her table. I met her friends but to this day couldn't tell you their names. The band stopped forty five minutes before closing time, and we could actually talk without yelling. Her friends got tired of waiting and were tugging on her to go home.
"Damn it, Mel, kiss the guy, you know you want to, get his number, and let's go," said one of her friends, so she did.
You never forget the first kiss of someone you're attracted to. Hers was soft but firm, no tongue, but held hints of really great things to come.
"Be here tomorrow?," she asked as she pulled back.
I just nodded.
"Meet me out front at seven thirty. Take me somewhere nice for dinner. Bye."
And she was gone, leaving traces of her perfume on my body and the taste of her lips on mine. I got up and wandered back to the bar, where I caught hell from the guys.
"Way to play hard to get, Bandit," laughed Billy.
"If she had pulled out a hoop, I believe you'da jumped through it."
I got the nickname because my real name was Jesse James. My dad picked it, saying he admired his Robin Hood ways. I looked him up once. He is recognized by many historians as the first recorded criminal sociopath in American history.
I didn't care why. I didn't care how. I just cared she'd chosen me. But I was incredibly wary.
You see, I didn't have the greatest track record with women. I'd had two serious relationships since high school. The first ended when she told me in no uncertain terms she wasn't going to wait on me while I was in service.
"I'm nineteen. You may not come back. I don't want that future of uncertainty. I care a lot for you, and if I'm still single when you get back maybe we can start up again."
Well, I hated it but understood it. We did hook back up when I got home, but we had both changed and the magic wasn't there anymore. We recognized it pretty early and parted friends.
The second I met in college. She was the star of the volleyball team. Tall, muscular, attractive, and the most arrogant woman I'd ever met. Someone told her she was special once and she believed it for the rest of her life.
The volleyball team was back to back national champions, in a school where the basketball and football programs sucked. It made her queen bee, and staff and students alike kowtowed to her every whim. Everybody in town knew who Cindy Tolliver was.
I wasn't a troll either. Six one, thanks to my military training and job I was solid as the rocks I lay, even had an impressive six pack, not that I ever took my shirt off except when I was working. Sandy brown hair with hints of red from being outdoors so much, and blue eyes that were so pale they were almost gray. Also thanks to being outdoors so much I had a perpetual tan. The beauty of dry wall construction is you can do it even if it's cold, because you don't have to worry about mortar setting right, so we worked year round unless the ground was so deeply frozen we couldn't set the stone properly. I took most of my classes in the winter.
Cindy was so used to getting her way it shocked her when someone actually refused her. It so happened that day I was the one refusing.
We were at an popular off campus bar and grill. The food was good, reasonably priced, and at happy hour it was really packed. I was sitting at a large table alone, everything else was taken by the crowd. They had really good food, and I was about halfway through a great cheeseburger when she and her entourage entered. Two more women and four guys. Looking around she soon recognized that I had the only empty table. She came over.
"My friends and I need a table, and you've got the only one available. Would you mind giving it up so we can sit?"
She was giving this big fake smile, assuming I would be happy to disappear for her pleasure.
"Yes," I said, with a smile, before continuing my meal. She assumed yes meant I'd leave, but yes meant I did mind, so I continued eating. After a minute or two she snorted.
"Are you gonna leave or what? We're waiting."
"When I'm finished or a smaller table comes open, I'll give up the table gladly. Or, seeing as how I have so much room, you could all join me."
"You could go stand at the bar" one of the guys said loudly, puffing up a little. I grinned.
"Boy, don't you know standing while eating makes your feet bigger? I'm already having a hard time finding a decent fourteen, I don't need to push it."
"Maybe I should make you go," he snarled. He looked to be about five ten and in pretty good shape, but his posture and attitude told me he had no skills.
I looked at him for a moment before taking a big drink of my tea, eating a few fries, and sighing.
"All right, I see three possible outcomes here. One, you kick my ass, and people think you're a jerk for starting a fight with somebody minding his own business."
Two, I stomp the dog shit out of you in front of your friends, which everyone will think you deserve for being a first class asshole."
"Or three, you could leave me alone while I finish the last two bites, and I'll be on my way. Why don't you let your friends sit while you go order a round of drinks? I'll be gone by then."
He puffed up. Cindy had been watching the exchange in amazement. She held up her hand.
"Stop it, Brian! I think it might end badly for you if you don't. Do like he said, order our drinks. We'll be right here, IF this gentleman is willing to share."
By then I was done. I stood up, pulling out the chair for the girl nearest me.
"Please, take the table. I'm done anyway. Enjoy your evening."
I reached behind the column near the table and got my cane. My foot was in a cast, the result of a too eager apprentice trying to show off for me. He ended up dropping a sixty five pound stone on my foot, breaking two bones. That's why I needed the table, I couldn't stand at the bar. Her eyes widened.
"Please, stay and let us buy you a beer."
"Thanks for the offer, but I have to decline. I can't drink right now because it would interfere with my medications."
Brian came back, saw the cast, and smirked. I knew then he thought I'd be easy. Sure enough, he followed me to my truck.
"You think a cast is going to save you? It just makes it easier. I'm gonna..."
I heard enough, so I turned, wincing at the sudden movement, and drove the point of my cane right into the soft tissue above his groin. He dropped like a rock, making a sound that resembled a balloon deflating, pissing all over himself. I turned back to my truck.
"Don't get up until I'm out of the parking lot. If you do I'll take it to mean you intend to do me harm, and you won't like my response. Grow up, pussy boy, before someone not as patient as me gets hold of you." He was still lying there when I hit the street
I didn't know it, but Cindy and her friends had noticed him missing and had come out to save me. They managed to witness our little discussion. They pulled Brian up, dusted him off, and Cindy pumped every one in the restaurant for information about me.
Cindy made it a personal quest to find me. She didn't have much luck because I took night classes mostly, and didn't socialize with the college crowd. I was older, much more mature and goal oriented thanks to my time in service, not looking for the 'college experience'.
She finally tracked me down by staking out the bar and grill. When I came in she stood, indicating an empty chair.
"Good, you're here. I've been saving you a seat."
She pointed at the only empty chair at the table. I looked around the room, there were other seats available and I was about to head for one when she placed a hand on my arm.
"Please," she said, a word she didn't use much, "just for a minute. We owe you an apology. Brian was an idiot, one of the many reasons he doesn't hang with us anymore."
I thought I detected sincerity in her voice, so I sat.
To my surprise, I discovered she and her friends weren't air headed jocks. One was a political science major with a good job offer from a lobbyist group when she graduated, another was prelaw and had already been accepted by Yale, and the other was going to work for her father after she got her MBA from Wharton.
Cindy was majoring in sports psychology, a degree she would use after her career as a pro volleyball player was over.
It was refreshing watching them fend off admirers while debating the profitability of new sports in context to their futures, asking my opinion from time to time. If I could, I answered their questions, if I couldn't I said so.
I told them I was too busy running my business to watch many sports, especially the newer extreme types. This led to questions about my occupation, especially from the business major.
"Wow, talk about a niche market. Is it good money? What's your business plan? How much market do you control?"
I held up my hand to stop her.
"It's excellent money. I'll probably never be filthy rich, but I'll be very comfortable. My advertising is by word of mouth, and my type of work is not affordable to everyone, I work on multimillion dollar properties most of the time. Right now I have two big projects going for developers, plus the restoration contract for the state college system. With the crews I have now, I'm booked almost two years out. And I fly out tomorrow to talk to the college system two states over, to do the same thing for them I'm doing here. With the crews I have now, that would add another two to three years work. I'll probably interview and hire a few local masons there, to start the project in a timely manner. Even when the economy went bad, since I tend to work for the wealthy, I still had steady work."
All of them sat back, surprised. Becca, the business major, was the first to speak.
"Wow. I'm in the middle of a paper on the viability of niche businesses. I think I'm gonna scrap everything I already have and do one solely on your business, if you'll let me. Please?"
I thought about it for a second and grinned.
"Sure, it'll be more free advertising for the business. Just a warning though, a lot of the work is away, so you may have to travel if you want an in depth analysis."
She grinned. "Not a problem. One of the perks of having rich parents is available funds, especially if I tell them it's school related."
Cindy frowned at the idea of her following me around but wisely said nothing at the time. I found out later she tried to talk her out of it. Becca refused.
"It's a good opportunity, Cin. The report will really look good on my application to Wharton. And I don't plan on hooking up with him." She smirked a little before continuing. "What he plans may be a different matter."
Let's face it. She was a beautiful, determined woman used to getting her way. I was more laid back and nonconfrontational, tending to flow along unless it went against my values. The inevitable happened and we slept together, starting a pretty intense two year relationship.
I led her on a good chase, recognizing early the only way to keep things equitable was to keep her off balance. If she got too comfortable her 'my way or else' side came out.
I spelled it out to her.
"You may be the queen at school, but you're just another girl to me. Oh, you're beautiful, and I am attracted to you, but I'll never be your flunky. I look on serious relationships as a partnership, with give and take, each with their strengths and weaknesses. In a perfect relationship, the weaknesses and strengths should balance each other, each partner taking the lead from time to time as needed. Understand?"
She gave me a smile that was half smirk. "Oh, I understand. And I intend to be your queen before we're done, just as you'll be my king."
It was the words I needed to hear, so for eighteen months I climbed the mountain, only to discover there was nothing at the top but a sheer cliff.
I believe she would have been willing to sleep together on our first date if I had pushed it, but I made her wait, part of my plan to keep her off balance. We got pretty involved with hands and mouths, but I always stopped short, frustrating her badly.
She finally got tired of it. One night, when I led her right to the brink and stopped, she exploded.
"Damn it, Bandit! Time to man up and do me. What's wrong, don't think I'm any good? I can give you some references. Or is it that you're afraid you won't be man enough to please me? Don't worry, baby, I'm willing to train you just the way I like."
I think she knew she'd overdone it, judging by the look on her face. She started trying to apologize but I cut her off.
"Don't worry about it, Cin. I've already had a few of your references describe in great detail how skilled you are. I'm not nearly as EXPERIENCED as you are, but I've never had any complaints. It's so kind of you to offer to share your expertise with me. Just like your volleyball, the more you practice, the better you are. And we already know how good you are at that."
I paused, thinking I may have overstressed 'experienced' just a bit. "And as kind as your offer is, I think I'll decline. You have a good night, now."
She was begging and pleading as I left her apartment, even trying to physically stop me. She was a big girl, strong, but I had been lifting rock for too many years, and I easily broke her hold.
I didn't see her for two weeks, despite her calls, texts, and emails. As it happened, I was on a deadline and had to work through the weekends anyway. Her last two emails were kind of nasty, she wasn't used to rejection and didn't handle it well.
Back in town, I ran into Becca, the business major, and Carol, her prelaw friend, at the bar and grill. I was sitting by myself when they plopped down at my table. Carol had a big grin on her face.
"So is it true Cindy dumped you?"
Becca saw my face tighten up and snickered. "Look at his face, Carol. I bet if truth be told, he dumped her. Isn't that so, Jess?"
I assumed a bland demeanor. "I'd say it was a mutual parting. Let's just say our ideas about relationships were just too far part."
"Ha!," she said, "I'd guess it was more along the lines of her telling you to jump and you explaining how you didn't like hoops. Whatever it was, it shook her pretty bad. She's been a screaming bitch since you disappeared. Coach threatened to bench her if she didn't get her head out of her ass. Well, well, speak of the devil."
Cindy had just entered, a basketball player on her arm. She looked at us sitting together and snapped. Leaving the basketball player in the dust, she stormed up to us. He trailed behind, trying to take her hand. The second time, she snarled at him. "Let go of me! What part of just friends didn't you comprehend?"
The look on his face told me that wasn't exactly what she'd implied.
"What the fuck, Cin? Why are you mooning over this redneck? He was already dumb enough to dump your ass once already. He's a loser, I bet he could never keep you in the style you deserve, like I could."
Becca almost fell off the chair laughing.
"What is it Bugs Bunny used to say? Oh yeah, 'what a maroon.' You're not even out of school yet, and your chances of making the pros are thin at best. Depending on your major, it could be years before you make decent money. Right now, Jesse owns his own very successful business, and has for years. He makes well into six figures and it goes up every year. Not bad for a redneck, huh Dustin?"
He was about to make an angry retort when Carol jumped in. "Dustin, whatever you're thinking, stop. Look at him, he didn't get those muscles in the weight room. He's also done two tours of combat, so he knows how to hurt and kill people. Probably wouldn't bother him to take you apart and put you back together again a foot shorter. Maybe you'd like to sit at the bar while he and Cin talk? Come on, Becca and I will keep you company." They led him off, complaining. Cin plopped down and just looked at me for about three minutes before speaking.
"The worst thing about people spoiling you is it works. I know I'm arrogant and a total control freak. I know I can't stand to be told no. But, Jess, I'm a good person. I'm in college damn it, surely you know I can learn. Can we start over?"
I sat, considering. She was one of those people that couldn't appreciate silence, so she started again.
"I'm sorry about the other night. I'll admit, I've never gone without sex so long since I entered college. I've been brainwashed into thinking I was a great gift, and should be appreciated as such. I know I'm just a girl. A pretty girl, but there are plenty of prettier, better built, smarter, more understanding girls around. Becca and Carol, for instance. They've made no secret that if we're really through they were interested.
But they'll never love you like I do, Jess. They'll never melt the way I do when you touch them. If you want to wait, I'll wait. You set the pace. I'll follow."
Ninety minutes later we broke her bed. We rode it down, laughing. I even kept stroking because she was almost there, again. We finally collapsed together, the bed sagging around us.
"Sorry, babe," I said, lightly stroking a nipple on her small, muscled breast. There wasn't an ounce of fat on her anywhere. "I'll buy us a new one tomorrow. A new suite, if you want. Think the store would let us stress test it first?"
She raised up over me, her long hair falling into my face. Her expression was unreadable.
"Us? A suite?"
I brushed her hair back so she could see my face and know I was serious. "Yes babe. Us. You know I stay with my grandmother when I'm home. I live in an RV most of the time, so it doesn't make any since to waste money on an apartment or house. So what I'm asking, in an incredibly awkward and roundabout way, is if you'd like to live together."
She cried, but I'm pretty sure there was a yes in there somewhere. We got up, took the broken bed apart, and slept on the mattress that night, when we slept. It seemed she liked traditional furniture, picking a massive oak, four poster bed, even insisted we bounce up and down on it a few times, while the saleswoman blushed and grinned.
Four months later she wanted to see where we were heading. They didn't win nationals that year. She blamed it on me, saying I took her away from extra practice and kept her energy levels drained.
She was due to graduate, and had a very attractive offer to join a seasoned professional on the beach volleyball circuit.
It paid fairly well, but she explained the money was more in the endorsements, personal appearances, and television. She wanted to do it for three years, to save enough to continue her schooling all the way through the PhD level.
After several long talks, we decided the most sensible thing was to get married. She actually fainted when I popped the question and gave her the ring.
We decided to wait until after her first year on the circuit to marry. I was hoping by then she'd have enough and quit to concentrate on her schooling. I could afford to pay for it. She came from a single parent home and her father couldn't afford to help her.
We spent a glorious month together. She traveled with me from job site to job site, experiencing the cities we were in while I worked, then concentrating on keeping me drained and weak every night. For the first time in my life I struggled to lift the larger rocks. My crew snickered and told me if I slacked up on after hours exercise I'd get my strength back.
"That's why I pay you flunkies, to do the heavy lifting. No way I'm giving up my exercise program. Now, get those rocks over here."
It really sucked when she left. She clung to me and cried like a baby. I had to almost pry her off me so she could make the plane. It was really hard because I didn't want her to go.
"If you don't like it honey, come on home. You know I have the money for your schooling, so you don't have to worry."
She sighed and hugged me tighter. "All my life people have taken care of me. My Dad. Then the school. Now you. Just once, I need to prove I can take care of myself. Besides, I signed a contract. I HAVE to do this season."
I didn't like it, but I understood.
The first year was rough for both of us. She did really well, she and her partner were first runner up in the points standings. As they won more, their money increased. I watched her on television, and really didn't care for the almost thongs they wore.
"It's in the contract, honey. The maker has offered us an advertising campaign because of our popularity. It's a nice number honey. You don't mind, do you?"
How could I not support her? It took time away from us but we dealt with it. It got to the point we were only together about once a month for three days. I was counting the days until the end of the season.
She came home, and we tried to make up for lost time. Mom was hinting around about grandchildren, seems my sister and I had something in common. We both liked girls. That explained why she hung out with us so much, she was looking to hook up with some of Cindy's friends. Two of her teammates were gay, and another was openly bisexual. Beck managed to hook up once, but they parted because neither was wanting to settle down. She eventually found a nice, quiet girl, and they married. Besides nagging me, after she got over Becky's choice, Mom started hinting to her to either adopt or go invitro. They were thinking about it.