“What? Did you select Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits or something?”

“Well, I tried,” he licked his lips. “But these were the only two songs. I’m afraid it’s Poison after this so you should probably enjoy this dance while you can.”

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We started moving to the music again, the slow build at the beginning.

“You really like Billy Joel, don’t you?” I said.

He brought me closer to him and smiled broadly, his cheeks rising. My goodness, he was handsome when he smiled. “He’s all right. But I figured you might dance with me if I put this on. Only fair that I get to dance with my wife.”

“A good wife would dance with you to anything,” I pointed out. “Especially with you. You’re a modern day Gene Kelly.”

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He laughed. “Years of theatre school and that’s the only thing that sticks.”

I didn’t know what to say to that so I just shook my head slowly to myself. Theatre school was a surprise but then again what the hell wasn’t. If Dex told me that he used to work for NASA, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. In fact, I could imagine him wanting to check out aliens on another planet.

Finally, I said, “You’re going to continue to surprise me, aren’t you?”

“I hope so. The element of surprise is all I have,” he surmised.

Then he grabbed my ass.

I’m not kidding. He full on grabbed it, squeezed it with one of his hands. I looked at him, shocked, but he was looking at Bird and Maximus, grinning like an idiot and giving them the thumbs up with his other hand.

“What the hell, Dex?” I hissed. I wasn’t mad, just…well, surprised. He had that.

He let go but still held me close in that general area.

“What? I’m allowed to grab my wife’s ass. She’s got a nice one.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “What would Jennifer think?”

I didn’t mean to bring her up at all but it was the first thing out of my mouth. I knew ass-grabbing wasn’t really a major offense in the rule book (unless it’s one of your drunk uncles, now that shit is out of line) yet it seemed wrong. Probably just as wrong as that “I love you” thought that danced across my head only moments earlier. Things, once again, were getting way out of control.

Dex didn’t seem too put out by the mention of his girlfriend, though his eyes grew serious and he calmly said, “There is no Jennifer in this scenario.”

I had to admit, I kind of liked that scenario. But…

“You’re skirting dangerous territory, Dex,” I told him while hoping he would just get it and not have me plunge into an explanation.

“What do you mean?” he said innocently, widening those eyes of his to perfect circles.

Of course. And what was I going to say? That he was trying to lead me on? Was he even? Did he know I liked him, let alone….eh, I didn’t even want to finish that thought.

“Your girlfriend is awfully trusting of you, that’s all,” I said, even though it was very clearly not all.

Our stare intensified for a split second. Then Dex did that lazy grin of his.

“We have a relationship based on trust. Just like you and I do.”

Oh, why did he have to add that last part in there? I nodded anyway. It was true and it was foolish for me to speculate on their relationship. Didn’t mean I was going to stop though, least not in my head.

“Looks like you’re attracting some yokels at ten o’ clock,” Dex said. I looked over my shoulder. Sure enough there was a pair of guys blatantly leering at me. They weren’t wearing cowboy hats like the rest of them. Instead, they had simple jeans and t-shirts and the appearance of surly dispositions. One of them had his neck taped up with all sorts of bandages, the other had a black eye. Probably your typical aimless twentysomethings who went around their small town making trouble. I hoped that their leering wouldn’t soon translate into a fight with Dex. But Dex didn’t seem to mind all that much. And why should he. I was just his fictional wife.

“Lovely pair,” I said to him. “Are you suggesting I go for them?”

“Only if you wanna add another cut to that cheek,” he replied and spun me around.

When the song ended Dex decided it was time for the bathroom and left. Maximus had already gone to the bar to get us a round of other drinks. So I sat down beside Bird and wished the beer I had left was cold, and still full.

“I think those are the fellas that were attacked on the Lancaster’s property,” Bird said, nodding in the direction of the douchebags. I stole another glance. They were still looking over at me with intensity. It unnerved me even more.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yup,” Bird said and leaned back. “Want me to go ask them some questions?”

I shook my head absently. If anyone was going to get answers, it was going to be me.

“Let me handle this,” I said confidently. I started to get up but Bird reached out for me.

“Be careful Perry,” he said, his eyes pleading. I couldn’t upset Bird. I would be careful. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen to me in this bar with all these people around? I wasn’t an idiot.

I gave him a reassuring smile and made my way over to them, doing the strut I only do when I’m feeling either confident or drunk. The latter was winning out at this part. This was going to be my greatest acting mission ever.

I stopped just in front of the guys who were perched at the bar ledge that surrounded the dance floor and put on my bimbo face.

“Say, would you two be from around here?” I asked them, my voice several octaves higher than usual.

They both perked up, then played it cool.

“Yeah,” the one with the black eye said. “We’re from here. You’re not.”

“No, I’m not,” I smiled bashfully. “I’m here visiting some friends of mine. You have a lovely town. Do you come to this bar often?”

“Only bar we have,” the guy said, looking me up and down. He exchanged a look with his friend. “Can we buy you a drink?”

“Sure. Coors Light would be great, thanks,” I replied, not wanting to get anymore drunk at this point. His injured friend hobbled off to the bar. He definitely did look like he was attacked by something. I turned my focus back to the dude in front of me. He was about 6 feet tall, well built, with black curly hair that was on the longish side. His eyes were so dark that they almost looked entirely black. He didn’t look native but was certainly tanned and his hands were rough enough to indicate he did a lot of outdoor work.

“What’s your name?” I asked. “I’m Perry.”

“Perry,” he laughed. “That’s fucking weird.”

I smiled stiffly, resisting the urge to punch his lights out. “And you are?”

“Daniel,” he said. “That your boyfriend?”

He was pointing past me. I looked and saw Dex making his way back to the table with several drinks under his arms in Neil Hamburger fashion.

“No,” I said hesitantly. I should have mentioned that he was actually my pretend husband but I thought that might interfere with my fake hitting on them. I was grateful that my wedding ring was at my side and out of his sight. I contemplated taking it off and slipping it into my pocket.

Daniel and I managed to make some small talk though until his brother Hank came back and handed me my beer. Not that it made a difference, since Hank barely said two words. Both of them were brothers and mighty strange ones at that. Hank seemed ill almost and was constantly itching his neck. Daniel was lewd, rough and reluctant to talk about half the subjects I approached him with, even innocent ones like where he went to school and what he did for a living. Most I got was that they likened themselves to modern day Indiana Joneses. Thank goodness for the free beer, drinking it was pleasantly distracting.

Then the questions about me came. Who was I visiting? Why was I here?

“Oh, family friends,” I said. “The Lancasters.”

They both tensed up at that. Interesting.

“You know them?” I said, baiting them.

Daniel nodded, “Everyone knows everyone here. One big incestual family.”

I smiled awkwardly. My face felt kind of funny, like my lips didn’t want to move.

Daniel went on to say the Lancasters were on hard times, as was everyone else in the area. He didn’t sound sorry about it, though.

I listened while he talked, though I felt more and more removed from the situation. I put my hand up to my forehead. It felt hot as hell and I was starting to feel dizzy. My fingers felt numb too, which was strange. Maybe I should slow down with the drinking, I thought. I was running on adrenaline and barely any sleep. It had been the longest day ever.

I put my beer down on the ledge. It was only half full, something I noted with strange concentration.

“Our beer not good enough for you?” Daniel questioned with annoyance.

I shook my head and tried to explain, “It’s been a long day.”

Except I slurred most of that. I looked around the room. The people laughing, yelling, singing…they all came in and out of focus. The room seemed poised to start spinning, like horses at a starting gate. I looked at Daniel. He looked vaguely concerned.

“Are you OK?” he said putting his hand on my shoulder.

I nodded, trying to ignore it. It was hard. I felt like I couldn’t even think straight. It was all the workings of one of my panic attacks. Strange, I thought disjointedly, since I had no warning signs.

Yet my head felt like it was a sandbag. I was having troubles keeping it up as I brought my gaze over to the table. Dex and Bird were drinking and talking. I didn’t know where Maximus went. It didn’t matter.

“I need fresh air,” I said slowly, trying hard not to slur. I did not want them to think anything was wrong. It was too embarrassing.

I very carefully got to my feet and smiled as if I weren’t swaying to the left helplessly. They both got up in unison and gripped both my shoulders.

“Do you feel sick?” Daniel asked.

I mumbled something in response.

They took hold of my arms and took me around the dance floor and to the back corner of the room where there was an emergency exit door. I tried to keep focused on Dex and Bird but when we passed their table, they were too occupied to notice me. And I was too incompetent to say anything to get their attention. I just watched hopelessly as I passed them by, my neck wobbling back and forth, like overcooked spaghetti.

The boys opened the door, the emergency sign was glowing this unnatural, oversaturated red that took over my vision.

Next thing I knew I was outside. It was freezing cold and dark as anything. For a second I felt completely sober, like the chill was enough to shock me slightly into a better sense of comprehension.

But then I lost it. I fell to my knees, the cold dirt a terrible landing pad.

Just leave me here. Leave me here on my all fours like a dog and I’ll be happy. My thoughts felt distant, like someone else was thinking them for me. I just wanted to crawl away somewhere and sleep but I stared at the dark dirt between my hands, focusing on every grain, on every molecule. It fascinated me. All I could think of was the dirt and the cool feeling of it against my sore hands. In the bare light from the bulb above the door, it almost looked like the dirt crystals could be stars and when my vision started to blur, they sparkled like far off galaxies.

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