“I didn’t know the list doing would start so soon,” I say.
It’s the next day and we’re in a booth at Chet’s Bar. The vinyl seats are sticky and cracked. The windows are blacked out. There are peanut shells on the floor. The tangy scent of old beer, cigarette ash and dirty fryer grease permeates the air. The room’s dark and the jukebox plays an old country western favorite. This is as dive as it gets in Stanton. If you’re looking for trouble, or running from trouble, this is where you come. I don’t know which side of the line we fall on. Maybe both.
“I’m hungry,” Dany says. “That’s rare lately. So I’m going with it.” She scans the stained paper menu.
I nod sagely. “What you said earlier…” I pause and consider my words.
“Are you really going to…uh, check out in three months?”
She sniffs and sets her menu down. “No. Didn’t you read my list? I’m going to survive and thrive. Starting with a bacon, onion stack, barbeque burger at my new favorite dive bar.”
“So you’re not—”
“I’m going to live,” she says.
“Alright,” I say. But I have this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that if I get too close to her, or fall in love, she won’t.
“What’ll it be?” a hoarse-voiced waitress asks.
We place our orders and in five minutes the food is plopped down in front of us.
“Oh wow. Look at the grease,” Dany says.
I take a bite of my double bacon burger and chew. Yeah, that’s good. “You said you wanted a dive bar. The grease makes it authentic.”
She takes a small bite. Her eyes widen as she swallows. “Oh, that’s good.”
I watch in awe as she wolfs down the burger. Grease runs down her chin. She dabs it away with a paper napkin. Tea party manners for a greasy burger. I smile.
“What’s so funny?” she asks. Her burger’s already gone.
“I like your enthusiasm.”
“I’ve never eaten a bacon, onion stack, barbeque burger before. I liked it. I really, really liked it.” She’s progressed to delicately licking her fingers. I watch, entranced as she places each in her mouth and sucks.
I clear my throat and throw my crumpled napkin in my basket.
“All set?” I ask in a choked voice.
She shakes her head. “I’m getting dessert. Did you know, I haven’t eaten red meat in almost two decades?”
“Red meat is uncouth. Not fit for proper young ladies.”
I wince. “It sounds like you’re reciting instructions from some freaky 1950s debutante instruction manual.”
She gives me a tight-lipped smile, the devil sparking in her eyes. “My life was a freaky 1950s debutante manual.” Cool as a cucumber Dany waves down the waitress. “I’ll have the deep-fried Snicker balls.”
“Side of ice cream?”
She turns back to me. “I love dive bars,” she says.
“You’re drunk on grease and the second-hand fumes of old beer.”
She tilts her head back and laughs. I stare at the column of her neck. It’s smooth where it meets the pearl buttons of her cardigan. I flag down the waitress for an ice water.
A few minutes later, I watch Dany down the bowl of fried sugar. She pops ball after fried ball into her mouth and licks the vanilla ice cream from the spoon. She moans in appreciation.
“Want some?” she asks.
“No.” I shake my head.
“You look like you really want some,” she says. She holds out the spoon to me.
I shake my head again. This is the first time in my life I’ve had a hard-on from fried balls. I shift uncomfortably in my seat.
“What’s happening over there?” Dany points to the other end of the bar. There’s a crowd of people cheering.
“That’s Chet’s mechanical bull contest. The longest rider on gets to wear the beer cap crown the rest of the night.” I’m talking to myself. Dany’s already off the bench. She strides to the other side of the bar.
I throw forty dollars on the table and follow her.
Her eyes shine. “I’m doing this,” she says.
Currently, there’s a champion on the bull. She has on hot pants and a midriff shirt showing off her six-pack.
“Really?” I ask.
Dany’s eyes shift to the bull. She bites her lips. Tilts her head. I think she’s going to change her mind. Then she pushes her shoulders back and she mutters under her breath, “You’re doing this, Dany. You’re living.”
When she looks up I can tell she’s decided on the bull.
“I’m signing up,” she says. She points to the emcee holding a clipboard.
After she’s signed in we work our way to the front of the sidelines.
“If I win, I also get a twenty-five dollar cash prize and a bucket of peanuts,” she says.
“Heck, maybe I should sign up too,” I say.
She elbows my side.
I try to hold back a laugh, but can’t.
“Laugh now, buddy. But you won’t be laughing when I don’t share my winnings.” She arches an eyebrow at me. I grin back.
Finally, the pro bull rider is bucked.
The crowd cheers.
The emcee silences them. Then he announces Dany.
“Next up, a virgin rider. We love our virgins here. Miss Dany. She’s here to get bucked with a capital F.” The crowd hoots. “If any of you boys have the school teacher fantasy, you might try our girl after she’s had her bull cherry popped.”
I send a glare around the crowd and let them know she’s not available for bucking with a capital F.
I look at her. Her face is white. Is she losing her confidence?
“You can do this,” she whispers. Then, “Just a minute,” she calls. She hustles over to the jukebox and slides in two quarters. When she turns around a 1980s dance song starts to play.
She winks at me and mouths trouble.
The guys in the bar go wild.
She struts over to the bull. She’s nervous, but I don’t think anyone else can tell.
She climbs onto the bull and wraps her legs over the saddle. Her pencil skirt rides up her legs. She has on thigh-high stockings with a dark line up the edge and stiletto heels. I’ve never seen anything more erotic in my life. She rolls up the sleeves of her pink cardigan and sends me a wink.
“Holy shit,” I say.
The emcee turns on the bull.
Her body sways to the bucking. She clenches her thighs and rocks. As the music picks up and the electric guitar and drums play,Dany sends one arm in the air and starts doing the lasso. She sends the imaginary rope to me and mimics pulling me in.
The bull enters its beastly bucking stage. This is when most riders get tossed. I can tell Dany isn’t ready for it. Her arms are up and she’s doing, what is that, the sprinkler dance from the eighties?
The mechanical bull bucks.
The guys in the crowd cheer.
You have to give Dany points for class. As she flips through the air, she tucks under and, dang, she makes it look graceful.
“She’s bucked,” yells the emcee.