Author's Note: My thanks to findingmyvoice for her editing. Any errors you find are mine because I can't keep my hands off the story after it comes back from her! Also, there's no graphic sex in this story so if that's what you're looking for, you outta skip this one.
And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I'd of had to miss the dance.
– The Dance, Garth Brooks
Spring 2015 – Brownwood
It was a Friday night at the City Lights Dance Hall and I was already busy behind the bar. Three little coeds from St. Catherine's were seated at one end and were trying to make my life even more complicated. They weren't being bad customers, in fact only the tall brunette was actually a customer. The other two were underage, or at least I'd bet my license on it.
Still I kept feeding the drinks to Bernadette, the brunette, and turned a blind eye to whoever she passed them off too. Let's face it, having three hot college coeds partying in your bar was always good for business. I looked back over at them, okay ... having two hot coeds and the other one, Grace, being kinda pretty but extremely well endowed was good for business.
How were they making my life difficult? Simple, it was their non-stop flirting. It was very distracting, especially the pretty, bubble-headed blonde named Lacy. I realized they were just practicing, getting ready for the deluge of guys that would be here within the hour. Being located right across the street from the battery plant made it easy to tell when the second shift clocked out.
Even with the early crowd and the added distractions from Lacy, I knew instantly when she walked in. It's hard to forget someone you'd planned to spend the rest of your life with, the one you'd fallen head over heels for and married. It's also hard not to remember they tore out your heart and stole your little girl. Yeah, those are the people you never forget.
She walked down to the opposite end of the bar and took a seat away from the little gaggle of coeds. She was still attractive even though she looked like she'd been ridden hard and put away wet.
She wore a little crop top under a sheer blouse and jeans. It showed off her trim body and a small tat on her abs, which was new. At least it was to me. Other than the concerned look on her face, she appeared to be ready for a night of dancing and fun. I wondered instantly if she was going to bring her date here.
Surely she ain't that stupid!
I quickly reined in my anger. It'd gotten me into more trouble than I cared to remember.
Taking a breath, I noticed she'd changed her hairstyle again. She was growing it long, closer to the way it'd been when we were first married. Gone was the short, spiky hair. The style she'd worn for him.
I'll admit I was curious. I hadn't talked to my ex-wife, Connie, but a handful of times in the last three years. It'd been sixteen months since I'd even seen her or my daughter, Susie.
My thoughts were pulled back to the present by a syrupy, sweet voice.
"Oh Tee Jay!" the pretty, young blonde sang out.
"Hmm? Yeah, Lacy, what do you need?"
"Other than having a certain cute bartender show me a good time tonight?"
Bernadette and Grace giggled.
"Lacy," I said, giving her my undivided attention. "You know, Maury isn't here yet."
The stunned look on her face spawned an outburst of laughter from her friends. I grinned at the thought of her with my closing bartender. Maury was a five foot, eight inch, 150 pound, banty rooster of a cowboy in his early fifties. He really was a cowboy, since he ranched during the day and then tended bar most nights.
My grin turned into a smile as I watched her discomfort. Apparently that wasn't the bartender she'd meant. I saw the joy drain out of her face as she began to get embarrassed.
"Come on, Lace," I said, laying my country drawl on thick. "You know a night with you would ruin me for all other women."
It was like flipping a switch as the life sprang back into her face. She flashed me a huge smile.
"Don't I know it, but oh what a night it would be," she said, trying to sound seductive.
"Come on, Lace," Bernadette said, rolling her eyes. "Let's get a good table. TJ, would you send a waitress over?"
"Sure thing, Bernie."
Bernie and Grace began walking over to an empty table, but Lacy slid slowly down the bar until she was in front of me. She leaned forward, making sure her frilly blouse gaped open, exposing the deep valley of her two young, ample breasts as they tried to escape. She smiled and watched me take in the view.
"You know, TJ," she said in her most sultry voice. "I really would make it memorable. I'd love to rock your world."
"Thanks, Lace," I replied in my sincerest voice. "But my world is just beginning to settle back down. And unless you're ready for a long-term commitment, I'll have to pass for now."
"Well don't wait too long, my offer won't last forever."
She slid back off the bar, smiled and winked. I noticed she put a little extra swish in her gait as she hurried over to her friends.
Another satisfied customer, I grinned to myself.
I guess I should introduce myself, my name is Jacob Carlton. Jake or TJ to most people, Texas Jake to those few who know me as some wanna-be country singer. My two business partners and I own the City Lights Dance Hall, and a club known as the Strobe down on the Brownwood Town Square. We also have a handful of sports bars down in the City. Not too bad for a twenty-eight-year-old, country boy.
Of course I'm a minor partner but I pretty much run the City Lights. Theodore Hawthorne, the main financial backer of the group, oversees the Strobe. While Martin 'Buck' Caldwell, ex-State University football star, fronts the sports bars.
I know, Theodore Hawthorne just sounds like an English professor or writer and what's funny is Theo looks the part! He's fortyish with a bookworm appearance but with his sharp business sense and the Hawthorne name and old money, he's the heart of our little partnership.
I met Theo while I was tending bar at the Hawthorne Hotel. It wasn't much of a bar, mainly there to cater to the hotel guests. If the guests wanted a real bar they'd go a few doors down to O'Malley's Irish pub. If they wanted the club scene, they'd go over to the Strobe.
Buck is a local celebrity and is the face of our group. He was the star running back for State University about thirty years ago. I don't think there's a person he hasn't met in this state.
With Buck's name, Theo's money and my newly found talent for day-to-day operations, we've been more than little profitable these first two years. It's been one of the few bright spots in my life since my divorce three years ago.
We initially connected with Buck through his nephew, who I spent time with while in the Johnson County Correctional Facility. His nephew, Ricky, was doing a little stint for drugs while I ... well the reason I was there was now sitting at the end of my bar.
"What are you drinking, Connie?" I asked, trying to keep my distain in check.
"The usual please," she relied meekly.
"Sorry, fresh out of rat poison. How bout some arsenic?"
She paled slightly. I guess I don't hide my feelings very well.
"A mojito please."
I nodded, made her drink and put it in front of her. She took a sip and smiled weakly.
"Extra mint, you remembered."
"I remember a lot of things. Now what do you want?"
"I need to talk with you. Could you spare a few minutes."
"Connie, I'm working."
"It's important, Jake."
Typical Connie, I thought. Always about what she felt was important.
"You should've called," I said flatly.
"Would you've answered?"
"Probably not," I smirked and then relented.
"When my extra help arrives, I can take a short break."
"Thank you," she said softly.
I went back to tending bar for the next half hour before Maury and my extra barmaids showed up. Connie led me over to a table. I'll admit, I was admiring the way she filled out her jeans and her tribal tramp stamp, another new addition.
She scanned the place and a gentle smile formed on her face. It was a face I would've once killed to wake up to. Now, killed sounded pretty good.
"How's the singing career going?" She said, ignoring my obvious glare.
"Hanging by a thread. I still do several gigs a month but just locally. I did talk to a guy here in town who's formed his own label. His name is Ron Beck and he was pretty straight with me."
"Does he think you can make it big?" She said, smiling warmly.
I couldn't tell if she was actually interested or if she was just being sarcastic. I didn't care what she thought so it didn't matter either way.
"Yeah he does. He said I was good enough but so are a thousand other guys. He told me to keep punching but keep my day job."
She scanned the bar again and nodded.
"Seems your day job is doing pretty well."
"Yeah, things are starting to look up. Now ... why the hell are you here?" I said, unable to hide my sneer.
"I'm trying to right a wrong."
I watched her closely, trying to determine if she was sincere or if this was just another attempt to screw with my life. I immediately realized if I could've told that, I wouldn't have been so blindsided when she left me.
"Which wrong is that?" I said, tasting bile in the back of my throat.
"The wrong of hooking up with an old boyfriend at your sister's bachelorette party and flushing our three year marriage down the drain? Or was it cheating on me with that asshole for the next year before you blindsided me with divorce papers? Or maybe it was baiting me into attacking him that night?"
I had to smirk at that painful memory, a brief moment of revenge followed by years of pain. She and Big, Bad Brad, her ex-flame in high school, had ambushed me here after my shift at the battery plant. They knew I came here after work for a couple drinks with my friends to unwind. While my divorce was going through, those few drinks usually turned into several.
I was already pretty well lit by the time they arrived. The asshole had started taunting me almost as soon as they got there.
Later I figured they were trying to get me to lose my temper and give them some ammunition to use in the divorce. I gave them a WMD. Bad Brad seemed to think of himself as some kinda bad-ass and he was certainly much bigger and heavier than my six foot, 175 pound frame.
I'm not sure if he was stupid or just arrogant but he looked over at Connie while he was making some smartass comment to me. I sucker punched him and then proceeded to kick his ass. Was it a fair fight? Hell no! Was it fair when he trashed my life behind my back?
My ever faithful, soon-to-be ex-wife jumped into the middle of it and got punched in the face. Did I feel guilty? Yeah, a little bit ... but not enough to lose any sleep over it.
I was alternating between kicking him in the balls and stomping on his face when some of my friends finally pulled me off him. The damage had been done. Asshole ended up drinking his meals through a straw for the next couple months and Connie had a broken nose.
I think their injuries played a big part in Judge Knox's sentencing. Even though he was sympathetic, I got six months for aggravated assault.
While I was in county lockup, Connie pretty much got everything she wanted in the divorce. The only thing she wanted but didn't get was I still had parental rights to our daughter.
When I got out, I got hit with two surprises. The first one wasn't really much of a surprise since it was a restraining order. The second one, though, almost put me over the edge. I was being accused of molesting my four year old daughter! If the restraining order hadn't been there I might've killed them. It took me months to legally wade through that bullshit but by then they'd poisoned my little girl against me.
When I finally got to see Susie, she screamed in terror and ran from me. I was now a monster. The lady from child protective services didn't even bat an eye as they stripped the rest of my parental rights from me. That was the last time I saw either Susie or Connie.
It took me another month to get the court to look deeper into those allegations. When they did, they determined she'd been coached. They hardly restored any of my parental rights but they did effectively block Brad, now her new husband, from adopting Susie.
I'd like to say it's been a nightmare, but with those you wake up. I had no choice but to start over, since I'd lost my wife and daughter, been fired and now had a fresh felony record. I got on at the Hawthorne Hotel, tending bar by taking the worst shifts. But over these last two years I'd finally begun to put my life back together.
Now Broomhilda was here.
"Which wrong were you hoping to right?" I said, trying to control myself.
"Well, as many as possible..." she said, staring at me with her pale green eyes, pleading.
"But I was going to start with our daughter. She needs a good man in her life for a father."
"What happened to Mr. Wonderful?"
She looked down at her drink.
"I would've thought you'd heard by now."
"Connie, I haven't heard shit about you or Susie in over a year. Those few friends I still have left after what you and asshole did to me, knew never to mention your name to me."
She sighed and I thought I saw a tear in her eye.
"Brad left me six months ago. He cleaned out all our accounts and took off with some other woman."
I couldn't help but laugh.
"You mean your bad boy lover cheated on you, treated you like shit and left you? Classic!"
"I know I deserve that."
"No, what you deserve is to be burned at the stake with the other witches."
"Jake, I'm sorry. I can't even begin to ask you to forgive us ... to forgive me. What I did was so cruel, it makes me sick knowing I was a part of it."
"So why were you then?"
She looked at me confused.
"Why were you a part of it?"
She dropped her head and became quickly fascinated with her glossy, red fingernails. I continued.
"I never had a clue. I knew our marriage wasn't perfect but I never knew you were so unhappy, not until that last year."
"I wasn't, Jake," she said in a soft, broken voice. "I wasn't that unhappy. Things were hard because of our finances but I knew things would get better and I knew you were trying. My sister's bachelorette party was an escape for me from our everyday problems. I hadn't planned on ending up with Brad ... it just happened."
I snorted and started to say something but she interrupted.
"I know, I know. That doesn't excuse it but I really hadn't gone down there planning to cheat on you. After it happened I knew you'd never forgive me, and Brad made me feel special. I was so torn and confused that next year. I knew our marriage was over but I couldn't let go of it. My guilt and mood swings brought out your anger and between us our home life was miserable. I grew more and more dependent on Brad for my happiness.
"Soon I knew I had to do whatever I could to ensure his ... our happiness. That included finding a way for him, Susie and me to be a family. Jake, I never wanted to hurt you any more than I knew I already had. It was Brad who needed you completely out of our lives. I'm ashamed I went along with it. I'd have never dreamed I could've been such a cold-hearted bitch. I'm so sorry Jake.
"Well at least that's something we can agree on."
She looked at me puzzled.
"That you were a cold-hearted bitch!"
She recoiled slightly at my anger and grew silent.
"This was a mistake, coming here," she finally whispered.
I took a deep breath trying to calm myself.