the Lights Go Down in the City
“We’re losing him! Give me a pressure now!”
Dr. Natalie O’Neill worked frantically in the ER. The thirteen-year-old boy on the table had been the third accident victim in two hours. His pulse was thready and he was unresponsive.
“Get him prepped and ready for surgery! Move!”
Natalie sat in the corner of the lounge with her head in her hands. Her shift was supposed to end seven hours ago, but the eight-car pile up on the freeway had caused an overflow in the ER. Normally a surgeon, she hadn’t been in the ER since her internship. But they needed the help and she couldn’t turn them down. The first four victims came in with multiple fractures and serious injuries. Natalie rushed from one exam room to another as she tried to help where she could. Then she found herself treating a small girl with a broken arm. By the time she realized she hadn’t eaten in eight hours, she was sewing stitches in the head of a forty-two year old man that had fallen off a ladder. The last patient had finally taken its toll on her state of mind. The EMT’s had radioed ahead the vitals on the young boy and from the sound of the situation it didn’t look good. The boy had been huffing paint behind his parent’s garage. His younger sister found him passed out in the grass and called 911. He didn’t make it. Natalie had to tell the parents of that thirteen-year-old boy why their son had died. The tears felt hot on her hands as she sat on the arm of the old couch in the lounge.
“You okay?” Dr. White stood in the doorway and sipped a cup of coffee.
“I remember now why I didn’t become an ER doctor.”
“Rough night, I heard.”
“You could say that.” The chief of staff walked across the room and pulled a chair up in front of Natalie.
“What time was your shift supposed to end?” Natalie wiped her face and looked at her watch.
“I was supposed to get off at 9.”
“That was an hour ago.”
“Nine this morning.”
“Ah. How long has it been since you had some time off?”
“What’s that?” Natalie managed a small laugh and rubbed her hands across her auburn hair.
“You’re not going to be any good to anyone if you’re burnt out. Work tomorrow and then I’ll rearrange a few things. Take a week and get your head back together.”
“Yeah right! You don’t have to tell me twice!”
on Ben! Hold her!” Jacky called out as he freed the back hooves of the calf
from the womb. Ray stood frozen as he stared nature in the face. Or more
correctly, in the backside.
As Jacky pulled on the calf, he called out for the rope.
“Tie it around his hand quarters! I can’t pull him free!” Ray jumped into action and slipped the rope around the back of the calf. Once the rope was in place, Jacky raised his hand in the air once again. Sara eased the tractor forward with a grace that only comes with experience. “Easy! He’s almost free! Ray I need you to grab him one he’s free!” The cow bellowed and cried as Jacky guided the calf. He motioned for Sara to stop and yelled at Ray to grab the calf.
“Grab him! Pull him free!” Ray found himself on his knees and cradling a very slimy calf in his arms. Sara stopped the tractor and leapt from the seat. She ran over to Ray and began rubbing the small calf.
“Come on baby. Make some noise. Come on.” Ray could only watch as Sara rubbed and stroked the calf. Jacky motioned for Ben and Mr. Montgomery.
“Let her go! See if she’ll take to him.” Ben and Mr. Montgomery released their grip on the large beast and waited to see its reaction. Jacky lifted the small calf from Ray’s arms and placed it in front of the cow. To his delight, the cow began vigorously licking the calf.
“That is the nastiest thing I’ve seen yet.” Sara sat on the muddy ground next to Ray and laughed.
“It’s beautiful.” Ben sloshed his way to Sara and helped her stand. Jacky turned to Ray and patted a slimy hand on his back.
“Thanks. We coulda lost her.”
“But, why is she tasting him like that?”
“She’s stimulating the blood flow. If she doesn’t do that, the calf could die.”
“That’s just nasty.”
“No Ray, that’s nature.”
“Whatever Fraser. I think I’m gonna be sick. Look at all this freakin’ mud on me.”
“That ain’t all mud.”
“That’s what I said.”
~~~~“Oh my God.” Meg scrunched her nose up at the mud-covered figures walking up the back steps. “What happened?”
“We delivered a calf.”
“Where? In a swamp!?”
“No. In a pasture. This ain’t all mud, Meg. So I wouldn’t stand real close.” Jacky grinned as he started pulling his boots off. Mr. Montgomery pulled his boots off and went around the side of the house.
“Are we gonna go inside, or what?” Ray stood behind Sara and waited for her and Ben to move.
can’t go in the house like this. You just hang on a second.” Ben looked at
Sara with confusion. Surely she didn’t expect them to strip their clothes off
on the back porch. Then he saw what Sara and Jacky were waiting on. Mr.
Montgomery rounded the corner of the house pulling a long green hosepipe.
“Hey that’s cold!” Meg laughed as Mr. Montgomery hosed down Ray. Sara and Ben joined the laughter as they waited their turn at the hosepipe. Meg tried not to seem obvious in her admiration of the shirtless Veterinarian as he waited for his Daddy to spray him off. *This just gets better and better.* Meg looked around innocently so Sara wouldn’t give her a hard time again.
“I’m beat.” Jacky had hosed himself down and returned from taking a shower upstairs. He padded into the kitchen wearing only a pair of Clemson University football shorts. Meg sat at the table and sipped a cup of coffee.
“Where’s Sara and Ben?”
“They went to bed. Your Dad went up to take a shower.”
“Ray get over the trauma of being a midwife?”
“I’m not sure. He’s on the phone with Natalie. I can’t believe you actually delivered a cow.”
“It’s all in a days work.”
“For you maybe. You must really enjoy animals.”
“I love ‘em. You don’t?”
“Oh, I’m an animal lover. I just can’t picture myself doing what you do.”
“We all have a calling.”
“When did you decide to be a veterinarian?”
“I was about twelve and one of the cows took sick. Daddy and I had to carry her over to Doc. Chappel. He was short handed and Daddy and I had to help him. From then on I knew I wanted to be a vet. Sara would take me over to the library and let me check out books all the time.”
“You and Sara seem to be very close.”
“Yeah, I guess. After Momma died, we kinda had to take care of each other sometimes.”
Meg sipped her coffee as Jacky stuffed a Little Debbie Oatmeal Pie in his mouth. Mr. Montgomery joined them downstairs and poured them a cup of coffee.
“You did real good tonight Jacky. Real good.”
“Thanks Daddy. I’ll send you a bill.” The playful grin on Jacky’s face made Meg want to just melt. Mr. Montgomery took a seat next to Meg and poured himself a cup of coffee. Jacky leaned against the counter and opened another oatmeal pie.
“You just ate.”
“I’m still hungry.”
“Meg, how are you enjoying your vacation so far?”
“I’m having a wonderful time, Jack. The ranch is beautiful.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you more relaxed, Meg.” Ben stood in the doorway and smiled over at his superior officer.
“It must be the company I’m keeping.” Ben opened the refrigerator and poured a glass of Kool-aid.
“She and Caroline are asleep. She went to check on her and ended up bringing her to bed with us. The minute they hit the pillow they were asleep. Is Ray still talking to Natalie?”
Meg nodded. “He’s been on the phone since he got out of the shower. I’ve never seen him so taken with a girl before.”
“I know. He does seem to really like Natalie. It’s a shame she couldn’t come with us.”
“Hey, you talkin’ about me?” Ray grinned as he walked into the kitchen.
“She’s had a rough two days. She said she about lost it this afternoon. The chief of staff gave her a week off.”
“Why doesn’t she come down here?” Ray looked at Jacky and then to Mr. Montgomery.
“She’s welcome Ray. Go call her.”
“But, where will she stay? Is there room? You don’t mind?”
“She can sleep with me. The guestroom has a king-size bed. If you can live without her, it’s fine with me.” Meg’s eyes sparkled as she gave Ray a hard time. Ray rubbed his hands through his hair and looked at Ben for guidance.
“She can fly down and then ride back with the rest of us.”
“Dang Ray, go call your girl!” Jacky pushed Ray toward the kitchen door and laughed. Mr. Montgomery shook his head and sipped his coffee.
“That boy sure does need a girl.” Ben smiled at the reaction Sara would have to Natalie coming down.
~~~~Ben slipped quietly into the bedroom. He smiled at the sight of his wife and daughter sleeping soundly in the bed. Ben gently scooped Caroline into his arms and carried her down the hall to the nursery. Dief followed behind him and took his position under her crib.
“Watch out for her.” Dief let out a small whine in reply as he settled down to sleep.
Ben walked softly back down the hall and slipped back into the bedroom. Before slipping into bed beside Sara he made sure the baby monitor was turned on and the volume was set. He smiled to himself at the thought of the baby monitor. It seemed so useless to him. The best baby monitor was a deaf wolf that felt it was his responsibility to look out for the smallest member of the pack.
Sara stirred and opened her eyes slightly. In a weary voice she whispered to Ben.
“She’s in her crib sleeping.”
“Is everyone asleep?”
“Ray’s talking to Natalie. Everyone else has gone to bed.”
“What’s Natalie doin’?”
“Ray’s going to pick her up at the airport on Friday. She’s coming here for a week.”
“Really? That’s great.” Sara yawned and snuggled close to Ben.
“I thought you would like that. You were great tonight.”
“I didn’t know you knew how to drive a tractor.”
“That’s what I learned to drive on.”
“You and Jacky looked as if you’ve had to do this before.”
“A couple times.”
“It was great watching the two of you work together like that.”
“Uh-huh.” Ben wrapped his arms around Sara and pulled her close to him.
“Good night, Sara. I love you.”
“I love…..” Ben kissed Sara on the top of her head as she drifted off to sleep. Ben stared at the ceiling and listened to the gentle sounds of her breathing. He often sat up at night and reflected on his life and the changes he had gone through in the last three years. He sometimes thought about how fortunate he was to have a family and friends. Some nights he thought about the real Ray. He often wondered where he was and what he was doing. Sometimes it was hard for him to talk to anyone about how he felt. He knew he could talk to Sara about anything. But after so many years of holding things inside, it was hard to just open up all the time. With a deep sigh, he held Sara to his chest and closed his eyes. Sleep would overtake him soon and tomorrow would be another day.
~~~Ray stood and waited near the window for Natalie’s flight. Sara had drawn him a map so he could go pick Natalie up without having everyone tag along. Jacky kept cracking jokes about the good mood Ray was in over breakfast. Ray smiled at the memory of Ben’s laughter over some of the comments. He shifted from foot to foot as he waited for Natalie’s plane to taxi to the gate. He rubbed his fingers through his blond hair while the stewardesses opened the door to the gate. People walked briskly from the long corridor and past the blond detective. Then he saw her. Natalie’s hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Her sunglasses were sitting on top of her head holding back the stray hairs that fell around her face. She was wearing loose fitting jeans and a navy t-shirt. He smiled as their eyes met. She dropped her carrying on bag from her shoulder and rushed toward him.
“Ray!” Ray greeted her with open arms and engulfed her in a hug. It took a few seconds for him to realize she was crying.
“Hey, what’s wrong? Hey, easy.” Natalie pulled her arms tighter around him and spoke softly in to his chest.
“It’s so good to see you. I missed you so much. I didn’t realize how much, until you were gone. I had such a hard week. Eight surgeries. Twelve-hour shifts and a seven-hour stint in the ER. I thought I was going to go crazy. All I wanted to do was curl up in one of your hugs and stay there. I…..”
“I missed you too. Calm down. I’m here now. I’m not going anywhere. Shhh.” That was the moment he realized he didn’t want to be without the auburn-haired girl that clung to his shirtsleeve as she poured out a week’s worth of frustration. That was the moment he realized how much he cared for her. That was the moment that Ray fell in love.
Ray and Natalie walked arm in arm down to the lake. Sara and Ben had Caroline on a blanket playing with a large stuffed rabbit. Jacky had convinced Meg to piggyback with him on the tire swing. Turnbull and Debi were lounging on the float in the middle of the lake.
“You made it!” Sara jumped up and engulfed Natalie in her arms. “How was the flight? Did you get your things settled in at the house?”
“Everything was fine. This place is beautiful. It looks like a post card.”
“I hope you have a good time this week.”
“From what Ray told me, I’ll never want to leave.”
Ray took off his t-shirt and shoes. Natalie stood and looked at him with a look of mock amazement.
“You’ve got a….a tan!” Natalie burst into laughter as Ray rolled his eyes.
“It’s just that I’ve never seen you with a tan before.”
“Well, It’s a hundred degree’s down here. What did you expect? Even the Mounties have a little color.” Natalie looked across the lake at Meg and Turnbull and laughed.
“I see that.”
“Are you two gonna talk all day or hit the water?” Sara pushed at Ray and he reached back and tickled her around the waist.
“It’s a good thing you’re here, Nat. Now you can help me fight off this aggravating woman.” Natalie smiled at the two of them goofing around with one another. She could feel herself relaxing as the minutes passed. As she stood near the water’s edge watching Ray playfully pull Sara by the arm, he turned and raced toward her. Before she could react, he scooped her up and ran into the lake. With one swift motion, Natalie went flying through the air and landed with a large splash in the lake. Ray dove in after her and surfaced with her in his arms.
“Well, it seems Ray has taken to the farm quite well.” Ben rubbed Caroline on the back as Sara dug through her diaper bag.
“That’s an understatement. He’s practically ready to eat a moon pie.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Never mind. It would take too long to explain. I’ll just buy you one when we go into town.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“I love it when you talk like that.” Sara grinned and kissed Ben on the cheek. He rubbed a finger down her cheek as they soaked up the afternoon sun.
~~~Natalie floated on her back and let the hot summer sun shine on her face. Ray swam up behind her and gently grabbed her shoulders.
“You look like you’ve relaxed a little.”
“I take that as ‘Yeah, Ray. I’m relaxed. Thanks for asking’.”
“Ben said that Jack was going to make homemade ice cream tonight. He wants to know if there is anything you don’t like as far as ice cream goes.” A content smile rested on Natalie’s lips as she continued to float on her back in the cool water.
“You’re a regular Chatty Cathy, you know that.”
“Uh-huh.” Ray laughed and pulled her to him. He leaned down and kissed her gently on the forehead.
“I’m glad you’re here.”
“Hmmm, I may never leave.”
“I hear ya.”
“You can use the phone at the house.” Sara fed Caroline a bottle as Meg flipped open her cell phone.
“That’s not necessary. The consulate pays for the bill. I need to check on Ovitz.”
“You oughta yank his chain a little. Tell him you’ve decided to extend the trip for another two weeks.”
“The little roach would probably pawn the furniture in the Queen’s Bedroom.”
“Meg, that was absolutely hateful of you!” Meg looked stunned at Sara’s statement and look of shock. Then Sara broke into a large smile. “I guess that’s why we’re friends.” The two of them laughed while Meg dialed the consulate and waited for Ovitz to pick up.
“Ovitz, this is Inspector Thatcher….fine, thank you. How are the repairs and painting coming along? Have you had any difficulties?……Good. I expect to be informed of any situations that require attention. Carry on.”
With a push of a button she disconnected the call. “That should get the little weasel moving for a least an hour or so.”
“You’re such a bitch.” Sara smiled as she whispered the words to Meg. Overhearing her comment, Ben shot her a horrified look. Meg smiled at the two of them as she put the cell phone back in her bag.
“Thank you kindly.” Ben shook his head in disbelief as the two women howled with laughter.
After a long and relaxing day at the lake, the houseguests settled into the living room and waited for Mr. Montgomery to prepare supper. He refused any and all help with the preparation, which Sara knew meant he was making his world famous chicken and dumplings. Sara and Debi had already mixed the ingredients for homemade peach and strawberry ice cream. If their timing was just right, the churns would be ready when they finished supper.
“So how do you like it here on Walton’s Mountain?” Ray stroked Natalie’s hair as she leaned against him on the couch.
“I love it, Jim Bob. I could stay here forever.”
“If I’m Jim Bob, that must make Fraser, John Boy and Turnbull can be Ben and Jacky is Jason.” Ray nudged Ben, who was sitting on the floor, with his foot.
“You’re so funny Ray.”
“Hey, that’s a real good try at sarcasm Ben. Way to go.” Turnbull and Meg thought that Ray’s comment was extremely funny and burst out laughing. Ben looked around the room and decided to laugh along with his friends. Sara pulled at his arm until he was at her level and then soundly kissed him on the mouth.
“What was that for?”
“For a while.”
“I see. Thank you kindly.”
~~~“You children come and eat!” Eight adults and a baby rushed the doors of the kitchen. They had endured the glorious smell of Jack Montgomery’s cooking for the last hour and were now about to starve to death.
Natalie smiled at the large pot of chicken and dumplings on the stove and the stack of plates on the counter. She was going to like it here. No formalities, just a ‘make yourself at home’ atmosphere. This was exactly what she needed in order to relax and recover from one of the worst two weeks of her professional career. Ray caught the look on Natalie’s face and slipped an arm around her waist as they waited in the food line.
“I love it. I really needed this. Thanks for letting me butt in on your family vacation.” Natalie noticed a strange look cross Ray’s face as he stared at her.
“Ray? What is it?”
Ray tucked his head and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. *Family Vacation?! But, I’m not really their family. I’m faking as their family. * Ben had overheard Natalie and Ray’s conversation. He stepped up behind Ray and put his arm around Ray’s shoulder. He had noticed the look on his face as well and he knew what it meant.
you are always welcome here. Ray is part of our family. You are Ray’s friend.
That makes you our friend too.” Ray looked up and met the clear blue eyes of
his best friend. The two of them knew what the other was thinking and were
grateful they didn’t have to articulate it. Ben squeezed Ray’s shoulder and
went back to see if Sara needed any help putting Caroline in the baby seat.
“Thanks Frase.” Natalie rubbed her hand along Ray’s back as his eyes followed Ben across the kitchen.
“Hey! Who’s holdin’ up the food line?! I’m starvin’ back here. Ten more minutes and you’re gonna be able to see a rib on me!” Laughter filled the kitchen as everyone moved forward so Jacky wouldn’t starve to death.
“I’m going to have to work out constantly for the next three weeks to lose all the weight I’m gaining here.” Meg leaned her head back on the couch and placed her hands on her now full stomach.
“I know, but it’s worth it.” Sara grinned as she took up the ice cream bowls they had just eaten out of.
“What are we gonna do tonight?” Jacky stood in the middle of the living room and looked around.
“Do? What did you have in mind?” Ray held Caroline to his chest and rubbed her back as Sara and Ben loaded the dishwasher in the kitchen.
“It’s Friday night. We need to do something. Let’s go to the Holler.” Natalie looked at Ray and whispered, “What’s the Holler?” He looked at Jacky and then at Debi.
“I have no idea. What’s a holler?”
“It’s a honky tonk. You all oughta go.” Sara called from the kitchen.
“Why can’t you and Ben go?” Jacky had started to remove his old work boots in anticipation of getting ready to go out dancing.
“I’ve got a child to look after. I’m not going to go off honky tonkin’.” Sara stood in the kitchen doorway and wiped her hands on a dish towel. Ben stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders.
“Baby girl. You and Ben go out and have a good time to night with everyone. I’ll watch Doodlebug. Besides, she’ll be asleep in another hour.”
“You sure, Daddy? You’re not the built in babysitter you know.”
“This is my grandbaby. You don’t babysit your own grandchildren. That’s for some teenager down the street to do. I’m spending time with my granddaughter. So you and Ben get changed and have a good time.”
“What do you think? Should we show Natalie and Ray what a Holler is?”
“What about Meg and Turnbull? Have they been there before?” Turnbull grinned at the memory of Ben’s bachelor party that ended up at the Possum Holler.
“Oh yes, Inspector Thatcher and I had the honor of attending separate parties at that establishment the night before Ben and Sara got married. That was a very interesting night. After Ben had been painted….”
“Painted?! What?!” Ray leaned forward and rested Caroline on her back on his legs.
“I’m sure we don’t need to go into details, Turnbull.” Ben could feel the blush rising in his cheeks. Turnbull grinned at Ben and then at Debi. Meg shook her head at the memory of the night they had taken Sara out. Jacky was growing impatient with the stroll down memory lane and started walking toward his room.
“So are we going or what?”
“Yeah, we’re going. Let’s get changed.” Sara and Ben shared a look that Jacky managed to see. He hoped his suggestion wasn’t the start of a bad idea.
~~~~“I think they’ll fit. They were a little big in high school, so they should be just right by now.”
“I thought you’d prefer to wear a dress.”
“No, I think you’d prefer me to wear a dress.” Ben and Sara laughed as Ben nodded in agreement.
“You look….well…..sexy in dresses.”
“Uh-huh. But these are my favorite pair of Levi’s. I always went honky-tonkin’ in these.”
Ben left their bedroom and went down the hall to the bathroom to brush his teeth. Sara held the jeans up and looked them over once more before sliding them on. She reached her hips and tugged harder on the jeans. With a twist from side to side the jeans crossed over her hips and allowed Sara to fasten the button. Remembering her t-shirt, she unbuttoned the jeans and tucked in her shirt. With a little effort the jeans buttoned and zipped. “Whew. They’ll loosen up after I wear them a while.” She stood in front of the mirror and smiled at her reflection. *You may have had a baby four months ago but you still look good in these jeans. * She turned and admired the back view of her figure and laughed. She rubbed her hands down her buttocks and took joy in the fact that Ben couldn’t help but notice the fact that she didn’t have any panty lines. Grateful that Ben was still in the bathroom and not standing there witnessing the effort it took to sit on the edge of the bed; she pulled her cowboy boots on.
“Ugh. These babies better loosen up soon or I’m gonna die of suffocation.” Sara knelt down and then up again. She repeated the movement two more times until the jeans started to loosen. “That’s a little better. Oh well, that’s the price you pay for beauty.” Sara ran a brush through her hair and waited on Ben to return.
Ben padded down the hall in his bare feet and entered the bedroom. He stopped in his tracks at the site of Sara’s behind in the very form fitting jeans.
“Good Lord! Can you breathe?!”
“Of course I can breathe. What’s the matter with you?!”
“Can you sit?”
“Can you still have children?”
“Are we going to have to cut you out of them later this evening?”
“No, smart ass. What’s wrong? Do they make me look fat?” Ben may be perceived as naïve when it came to women, but this was a lesson every man learned early.
“Of course not. But, they’re……well…..form fitting.”
“You’re one to talk about tight jeans.”
“I…..my jeans aren’t tight.”
“They’re not loose either.”
“Should I change?” Before Ben could go into his planned speech informing Sara that the mother of his child may like to choose a more appropriate outfit to be seen in, Ray and Jacky walked down the hall.
“Lookin’ good, Sara. You better stick close to your wife Fraser. Somebody’ll try to carry her off.”
“I see you have on the typical Holler uniform.” Jacky laughed at Sara and then looked down at what he was wearing. Levi’s jeans, boots and a white t-shirt. Natalie walked up behind the two of them and stuck her head in the door.
“Damn, Sara. You look pretty good. You lost your baby fat in all the right places. You ready to go?”
“Nat, are these pants too tight?”
“Does the button puncture your spleen when you sit down?”
“They’re fine.” Ben slumped his shoulders and sighed. He hated to admit it but Sara did look really good in those jeans. Too good.
“Meg, are you ready?!” Sara and Nat entered the downstairs guestroom while the men waited in the den.
“Almost. Does this look okay?”
“You need more eye shadow.”
“We’re going out to a redneck bar. You need more eye shadow.” Meg complied with the request and took one final look in the mirror. Her faded jeans were paired with a soft pink tank top shirt. She looked at the others for approval and smiled when Nat gave her the thumbs up.
“You need shoes.”
“Sandals or tennis shoes.”
“I’d wear your white Keds. Those look cute with what you have on. You’re gonna have to beat the men off with a stick.”
“Sara, I really don’t think I’m looking for a man this evening.”
“Hey, if you can’t find Mr. Right. Mr. Right-now sounds good to me.”
The three women erupted in laughter as they made their way to the front door.
“You ladies look wonderful. Even you Sara.” Sara punched Jacky in the arm as they kissed Caroline good night and waved to Mr. Montgomery.
“Let’s go pick up Ren and Debi and get this show on the road.”
~~~The music was loud and the smoke was thick. Natalie looked around in wonder at all the people crowded into the dark but spacious club. As Nat clung to Ray’s arm, Meg decided to stick close to Sara and Debi. Her training told her to always do what the natives do. Ray ran his fingers through his hair and looked at Ben.
“Christ! You’ve brought me to a shit kicker bar.”
“I beg your pardon?” Ray leaned in and tried not to draw attention to himself.
“Rednecks. Country boys. Cow pokes. I don’t exactly fit in here.”
“Ah. Don’t worry Ray. Sara and Deb-I are very well known here. We should all have a good time tonight.”
“Uh-huh.” Ray squeezed Natalie’s hand and they both shared a look of trepidation. Natalie relaxed a little when she saw Debi and Sara drag Ben and Turnbull by the hand and out to the dance floor. Sara waved wildly at the lead singer as he belted out a slow country ballad. Jacky led the rest of the group to two tables on the other side of the dance floor. He placed everyone’s drink orders and then held his hand out to Meg.
“Shall we?” Meg looked over at Natalie and grinned. Natalie smiled slightly and nodded her head.
“Of course.” Jacky led Meg to the center of the dance floor and pulled her into his arms. Ray wrapped his arms around Natalie’s waist and pulled her close to him.
“Whatya say, Nat? You want to hit the floor and show these plow boys how it’s done?”
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Natalie pulled Ray’s hand and chose a spot next to Ben and Sara.
“I hope we have a good time tonight.” Ben nuzzled close to his wife’s ear as they danced.
“Why wouldn’t we?”
“I’m just recalling the first time I ever came here with you.”
“Yeah, that crossed my mind earlier.”
“He’s not here is he?”
“Let’s not worry about him.” Ben pulled Sara even closer in to his frame.
“I’m not going to have you upset. If that man tries anything like he did at our last meeting, I won’t be responsible for my actions.” Sara’s eyes met Ben’s gaze. The determination pierced her stare.
“I’m sorry you have to deal with this.”
“No it is I who is sorry that this man can’t deal with his own issues. I’m not going to have you upset.”
Natalie and Ray couldn’t help but over hear the conversation that was going on behind them. The music was softly lifting above the dance floor as Ray and Natalie moved around the floor.
“What’s all that about?”
“I’m not sure. I doubt Fraser will tell me either. But I know who will.” Ray nodded his head toward Jacky.
The music had changed to a fast song and the dance floor cleared quickly. The younger patrons hurried into groups and began to dance wildly to the music. Sara and Ben returned to the table to find two bottles of water waiting on them.
“What kinda beer did your brother order me?” Ray swaggered over to the table and poked Sara in the side.
“I think those two Bud Lites are for you and Nat. Jacky drinks straight Bud. Debi’s probably drinking Sloe Screws and God knows what Ren is partaking in this evening.”
“Jacky, did you get Meg anything?”
Jacky looked up and grinned. “I didn’t know if she was in the mood to bust loose or not, so I went safe and ordered her a coke.” Meg looked thoughtfully down at the Coke being passed in her direction. She squared her shoulders and allowed a grin to part her lips.
“I think tonight I would prefer something with a little more backbone. If you all would excuse me, I’m going to seek out the bar.” Sara and Natalie hooted and cheered as Meg strolled over to the back bar.
~~~~Meg stood and waited her turn at the bar. She took the opportunity to take in her surroundings and see the various people that walked around her. Finally, the burly looking bartender offered her a quick smile and asked her for her drink order.
“What’s the specialty of the house?” Before the bartender could answer two large cowboys flanked her at the bar.
“Hey there baby. Let me buy that drink fer ya.” Meg swallowed hard and tried to school her features as the cowboy exhaled his beer coated breath in her face.
“No thank you. I can purchase my own beverage.”
“Woowee. Listen to you talk. You’re not from aroun’ here are ya? Did you hear her talk?”
“Yep, I heard her. She sure does sound like a smart one.”
“You smart? I bet a smart gal like you needs a big strong man to keep her warm.” The cowboy pressed himself closer to Meg and reached out for her arm. Before Meg could unleash a tirade befitting her training, a hand reached out and took her by the arm.
“There you are. I’ve been looking for you.” Meg’s steely-eyed gaze softened as she met the warm smile of the most handsome man she had ever seen.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Thanks for watchin’ out for my girl, fellows.” Meg found herself being led out onto the dance floor by this vision of a man. His large brown eyes made her want to melt. He wrapped his muscular arms around her waist and guided her across the floor. She had not yet regained the use of the English language so she just stared at him with wonder.
“You looked like you needed shed of those two. I hope I didn’t overstep my bounds. I’m Jay.”
“Meg.” *My dear God in heaven! *
“Nice to meet you, Meg. I don’t believe I’ve seen you here before. Are you a friend of Jacky’s?” Meg swallowed in an effort to clear her mind and release the knot in her throat.
“Yes. I’m staying with the Montgomery’s.”
“I better not keep you too long then. Jacky might start to worry.”
“I’m a friend of Sara’s.”
“Oh I see. Then I can keep you as long as I want.” A crooked smile settled on his face as the two of them danced across the floor. Meg felt her grip tighten on his shoulder. * Oh yeah, you can keep me all right. *
“Look.” Sara nudged Debi with her elbow and nodded toward the dance floor.
“Is that who I think it is?”
“Uh-huh. Look who’s attached to his hip.”
“Mm-mm-mm. Ooo-baby-Jay Caldwell.” The two women openly stared out at the dance floor. Natalie leaned over the table and spoke loud enough for the entire table to hear.
“Who’s that hunk of man-candy hanging on to Meg?” Sara laughed and leaned over to talk to Natalie.
“Oh yeah, your beer’s workin’. That’s Ooo-baby-Jay.” Ben draped an arm around Sara and chuckled.
“Is that his given name?”
“Earned, actually.” Sara took a long drink from her water as Debi explained the importance of Jay Caldwell.
“He’s a little older than me and Sara. He’s about your age, Ben. He used to ride the same bus to school as we did. He was the best looking thing going in Rock Hill. The best thing was that he didn’t know it. We thought he hung the moon.” Turnbull stared out at the dance floor and wondered what was so special about this man Meg was dancing with.
“His Daddy runs the hardware store on Jackson. Jay’s an electrician.”
“He looks like he could really charge you up.” Natalie giggled as Ray poked her in the side for her tasteless remark. Sara and Debi laughed and nodded in agreement. Ben looked out at the dance floor once more and then back to Sara.
“She seems to enjoy his company.”
“Oh, Jay’s a real sweetheart. But I doubt you’ll see any sparks flying between them.”
“Why would you say that?” Sara sat and contemplated her answer. Debi decided to say it straight.
“He’s dumb as a box of rocks.” Ren looked at Debi in shock.
“Deb-I, that’s not a nice thing to say!”
“Don’t get mad. It’s the truth. Everyone knows it. He’s a great electrician. It’s just that…..well, he’s thick.” Ben looked at Sara for confirmation and knew by the look on her face that she agreed with Debi.
Natalie took the last swallow of her second beer and smiled over at Ray.
“In a way, it makes him the perfect man. Who needs brains to get in the way of all those good looks?” The women at the table laughed hysterically. The men however didn’t share in the joke.
“Oh, you’re funny.” Ray draped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her chin toward his waiting lips. “And I thought I was your perfect man.”
“Oh, you’re perfect in other ways my pet.” Ray stood and led Natalie to the dance floor. Debi and Ren followed behind them. Jacky had disappeared with a tall red head so Sara and Ben were now alone at the table.
Ben pulled Sara close to him and kissed her on the forehead. Sara grinned and kissed him on the tip of his nose.
“I’ll be right back.” Ben gave her a confused look.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Sara, you don’t have to call and check on her. I’m sure your father is capable of taking care of her. Besides, she’s sleeping.”
“How can you be so sure? What if she won’t go to sleep?”
“Why wouldn’t she? Dief is there. Between the two of them, our daughter is fine.”
“I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll walk with you.” A large smile spread over her face as she held out her hand to Ben. Sara and Ben wound their way through the crowd and found Lester, the owner.
“Hey, Sara! Give me a hug girl! Ben, how you doin’, son?”
“Very well, thank you kindly.”
“Lester, we need to use the phone.” Lester dug his large hand into his front pocket and handed Sara a large set of keys. Ben noticed that she didn’t even have to ask which key belonged to the office. Sara led the way to the old and cluttered office at the back of the Holler. Ben reached for the phone and dialed the Montgomery’s house.
“Sir, I’m sorry to call…..yes, I see…..thank you kindly. We’ll be home in a few hours.” Sara reached out her hand to take the phone from Ben. She looked shocked when Ben replaced the phone in its cradle.
“He didn’t want to talk to me?! What did he say?”
“He said, and I quote, ‘Tell that daughter of mine to quit worrying. We’re fine. As a matter of fact, the phone just woke her up. Go have a good time and leave us be.’” Sara sighed and lowered her head.
“Go ahead. Say it.”
“Say what?” Ben grinned and pulled Sara into a hug.
“I love you.”
“And I love you even though you are incorrigible.”
“I thought that was why you loved me.”
“Ah, that must be it.”
“Come on. Let’s go before you get yourself molested in the back office of a seedy honky tonk.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“It seems you are a bad influence on me.”
“Yeah, you like for people to think that. Let’s go. Lester needs his keys back.”
~~~~“Where’d you two run off to?” Debi was running her hand down Turnbull’s arm as he wrapped them around her waist and pulled her into his lap.
“We were making out in the parking lot.” Sara joked and waited for Ben’s face to react. Debi was on her third Sloe Screw and was feeling the effects.
“Oh, Ren that sounds like fun. Let’s go make out in the van!” Turnbull’s face reddened as Debi began to lick his ear.
“Uh…I don’t…..Deb-I…..we shouldn’t…..stop that……We need…..”
“Hussy! You need a cold shower!” Sara laughed as Debi shook her head.
“I need a tall blond handsome Mountie!” Ben tried to contain his laughter but failed once he saw the look on Ren’s face. Sara took that as her cue to make sure Debi didn’t have anything else to drink for a while.
“I’m going to go get you a cup of coffee. Ren, take her back to the table and try not to get side tracked by her persuasive ways.” Ren tucked his head in embarrassment and then picked Debi up by her waist and carried her to the table. She laughed and waved her arms the whole way across the aisle.
Meg had settled nicely into a corner table with the very handsome Jay Caldwell. The conversation was light and friendly. Meg couldn’t help but stare into his large brown eyes.
“Would you like a drink?”
“Please. What so you recommend?”
“Well, Sam makes a mean margarita.”
“Sounds great. Thank you kindly.” Meg watched his perfect form walk over to the bar. She couldn’t keep her eyes off him. She didn’t even notice Jacky walk right up to her table.
“Looks like you wrangled you a man.” At the sound of his teasing voice, Meg snapped her attention to Jacky.
“I do not wrangle.”
“Let me know if you need a house key.”
“To let yourself in in the morning.” Before she could reply, Jacky was laughing his way to the bar. Her irritated expression was quickly replaced by a warm smile when the sight of Jay carrying two drinks entered her line of sight.
“Here you go, ma’am. One margarita.”
“Thank you.” They each took a long swallow and smiled warmly at each other. * Dear Lord, look at him. He’s an Adonis.* Meg’s heart quickened as jay reached out and took her hand.
“She’s in the ladies room.”
“Is she as drunk as Deb-I?” Ray ran his hand through his hair and grinned at Sara.
“I’ll go check on her. This is why I don’t drink anymore.”
“Jacky said it was because you’re a mean drunk.” Sara shook her head and sighed.
“Better than a sloppy drunk.” She kissed Ben on the cheek as she left the two of them sitting at the table. Ren and Debi had moved to a table in the far corner and were cuddling and gently kissing one another. Ren was mindful of the fact that Sara would periodically bring them another coffee or glass of water for them to drink.
“So Ray, are you having a good time?” Ben sipped his Coke as Ray took a long draw from his beer.
“Yeah, this place is alright for a redneck joint.”
“You better not let Sara hear you say that.”
“Yeah, she might have a hissy.” Ray chuckled as he and Ben watched couples dancing on the floor. The band was on a break and the DJ had taken over. As the two of them sat in silence, Sara was being asked to dance.
Ben saw Sara walk out on the dance floor and then he saw the man who had her by the hand. Ray looked over at Ben and saw a quick flash of anger.
“Of course Ray.” Ben’s eyes never left the couple on the dance floor. Ben stared at his wife and the stranger that held her in his arms. He could feel his blood turn hot in his veins as the slow sounds of the ballad drifted around the room. Ray had never seen Ben like this. He could see the jealousy on his friend’s normally emotionless face.
“She’s just dancin’.” Ray hoped there wasn’t going to be any problems tonight. Ben immediately schooled his features and turned to his partner and friend.
“I’m aware of that Ray.”
“You seem….uh….unhappy about that.”
“I’m perfectly fine, I assure you.”
“Then why are you burning a hole through that guy? Don’t you know him?”
“No I do not.”
“Ah? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothin’. Nothin’ at all. I’ve just never seen you jealous before.”
“I’m not jealous.”
“Yeah and I’m not breathin’.”
“Ray, Sara is perfectly capable of speaking with or dancing with anyone she chooses. We are married. Marriage is a sacred…..”
“Yeah, spare me. I know you want to rip that guys head off.”
“I do not.”
“Break his neck?”
“Perhaps.” Ray couldn’t help but feel sorry for Ben. Who would want to see their girl dancing with another man?
“Must be someone she knows.”
“No, Ray. That would be inappropriate and immature.”
“You’re upset. But you shouldn’t be.”
“Look at her. She hasn’t stopped jawin’ since the poor guy got her out there. I don’t see how one person can find that much to say in such a short period of time.” Ben looked at his wife again and this time he saw more than just another man’s arms around her waist.
Ray was right. Sara was talking the poor man’s head off. Ben tucked his head slightly and silently admonished the feelings he allowed to overtake his thinking. The song ended and Sara and her dance partner walked hand in hand over to Ben.
“Hey Ben, this is Gray Lancaster. He and I went all through school together. Remember that picture of me riding the pony? That’s Gray holding the reigns.” Ben felt even more ridiculous and tried to school his features once again. Sara could tell something was wrong. So could Gray. He had seen the looks he was getting from the dance floor.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Ben. I hope you didn’t think I was trying to put the moves on your wife. She and I have been like family for most of our lives.” Ben felt like he was an inch tall. Ray absently sipped his beer while he watched Ben.
“I’ve heard a lot about you Gray. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“I told Gray to stop by the house some time next week so we can catch up before we leave.”
“That sounds nice. You’ll get to meet our daughter Caroline.”
“I look forward to it. I bet she’s grown a lot since Sara sent me her picture. Well, I better get back to Mary. She’ll wonder where in the world I ran off to.”
Sara hugged Gray and waved goodbye as he waded through the crowd. Then she turned her attentions to Ben.
“What was that?!”
“I beg your pardon?”
“If looks could kill, Gray and I would have burst into flames out there.”
“Don’t lie to me. You know what you were doing.” Ben cleared his throat and rubbed his thumb over his eyebrow. Ray leaned back in his chair and settled in to see the fight. Natalie walked up in time to see Sara launch into a speech.
“Ben Fraser, jealousy is not going to be a problem in our relationship. It’s not. Do I make myself clear?! I love you more than I thought possible by one person. You are the light of my life, the air that I breathe. You are the sunshine, in an otherwise gloomy day, so get the hell over it.”
“Understood.” Ben grabbed Sara by the arm and pulled her into his lap. He wasn’t sure why he did it, perhaps to reassure himself of his claim. He pulled Sara to him and kissed her soundly on the mouth. Sara was expecting a short kiss, Ben however had a point to make. He kissed her long and passionately. Ray and Natalie just shook their heads and drank.
~~~~“What time is it?”
“Geez, What time are we leaving?”
“Aren’t you having a good time?” Sara looked over at Natalie and frowned.
“I’m having a great time, but I had hoped to get to spend a little time with Ray this evening.”
“So you two have taken it to the next level, huh?”
“Not the level you’re thinking about. I like to take things slow, remember?”
“Yeah, I know. How’s Ray doing with that personality flaw of yours?”
“I think he’s relieved actually.” Natalie took another long sip of water. Her buzz was starting to wear off and she hoped she wouldn’t have a pounding headache in the morning.
“You could always take him out to the van.” Sara laughed as she looked around for Ben to return from the bar with some more Cokes.
“Deb-I and Turnbull have that covered.”
“Are you serious?!”
“Yep, left for the parking lot a half hour ago.”
“Good thing it’s a rental. I wouldn’t……” Sara’s thought trailed off as she saw an unwanted face appear in the crowd. Natalie noticed the pained look on her face and followed her gaze.
“Sara? Sara? What’s wrong?” Sara could feel her hands start to sweat as she searched frantically through the crowd for Jacky or Ben.
“I’m fine. It’s nothing. Do you see Jacky?”
“He’s over by the back bar talking to that blonde headed girl with the tube top on.” Without a word Sara bolted from her seat and walked quickly over to Jacky. Natalie watched as Sara pulled him by the arm and then said something into his ear. Within a second, Jacky’s whole body tensed and a look of sheer hatred took over his features. The blonde was forgotten as Jacky and Sara walked through the crowd and over to the bar.
think it’s time for us to go.” Ben looked from Jacky’s hate filled face
and then to Sara’s fear stricken one.
“What’s wrong?” Ray was confused and needed answers.
“Trouble just walked in the door.”
“We took care of that problem before.” Ben gave a reassuring look to Sara.
“Yeah, but this time he’s with his buddies and he swore revenge after you all left last time. He didn’t like being humiliated by Sara.” Ben reached out for Sara and put a protective arm around her. Ray pushed his way forward and looked from Ben to Jacky.
“Somebody needs to tell me what’s going on here. Who did Sara humiliate and how?” Jacky kept his gaze focused on the crowd. “Waylan Parks. Sara broke his nose right before Ben knocked him out.”
“You want to back that truck up one more time?!” Sara took a deep breath and faced Ray.
“I’m sure you are aware of pieces of my past. I was assaulted and beaten in high school. Waylan Parks did it. He’s a jerk and now he’s here.”
“You think he’s gonna cause trouble?”
“He did last time.”
that was last time. He’s not stupid is he?”
“Depends on your definition.”
Natalie had watched the group from the table and knew things were not looking good. Debi and Turnbull returned from the parking lot and were walking toward her.
up. Debi, something upset Sara.”
Debi quickly scanned the crowd and gave Turnbull a look.
“Deb-I, what is it?” Natalie was getting concerned and needed to know what was going on. Debi was too busy talking to Ren to explain the situation to Natalie.
“Remember when I told you about Waylan?”
“The guy who beat up Sara in high school and then Ben punched him out when he started trouble a few years ago?”
“That’s right. Well, he’s here.”
“You wait here, I’ll be right back.” Debi took a seat next to Natalie and began explaining the long drawn out story to her. Turnbull made his way through the crowd until he was standing beside Jacky. Ray was about to pop his top.
“Let’s go jump Bogart on this guy.”
“Ray, please calm down. This is not a productive attitude. He hasn’t done anything to instigate a problem.”
“Hey, look at Sara. She’s upset. That gets me upset.”
“Ray, I realize your feelings. I am upset as well, but as the voice of reason, he has every right to be here just as we do. He hasn’t done anything and we don’t know if he will.”
“Why don’t we just leave. I don’t feel like getting into anything tonight.” Sara lowered her head and hugged her arms to her sides. Ben put his hand on his wife’s lower back and guided her through the crowd back to their table. Turnbull, Ray and Jacky followed closely behind. Natalie and Debi looked from one grave face to the other and waited for someone to speak.
“Are we leaving?”
“No.” Ben looked at the others and declared his intentions.
“Why should we? We’re having a good time.”
“If you say so.”
“Sara, would you care to dance?” Ben extended his hand to Sara and gave her a small smile. She took his hand and kissed him on the cheek as they walked out to the dance floor.
As Sara and Ben clung to one another on the dance floor, Jacky surveyed the crowd. He spotted Waylan Parks by the back bar. He and two of his friends were staring out at the dance floor. Jacky nudged Ray in the side and directed his attention to the bar. Turnbull stepped up beside Jacky and nodded his head in agreement. Natalie and Debi followed closely behind. Debi nervously wiped her palms down her pants. * Well, it’s about to hit the fan. *
~~~~The song ended and Ben and Sara started to leave the dance floor. Waylan saw his opportunity and motioned for his friends to follow him. Waylan took two long strides and was cut off from the left by a large blond man.
“You’re in my way.”
Turnbull glared down at the man and refused to move. Ray and Jacky flanked him on either side and dared the other to men to try anything.
“I believe that it is your intention to instigate an altercation with my fellow officer and friend. I’m prepared to extinguish that possibility by any means necessary.” Turnbull took a step forward and allowed the enormity of his size to tower over Waylan. Waylan looked from Jacky to Ray and then back to Turnbull.
Ray stepped forward and poked a finger in Waylan’s chest.
“He said if you try anything with Ben or Sara, we’re gonna kick your ass.”
“Is that right? You don’t look like you’re much of a threat.” Ray stepped back and prepared to swing when Jacky stepped forward and stood in Waylan’s face.
“I’m a threat. Right Waylan? I’m a real threat to you.”
Jacky’s size had grown since the last time he faced Waylan down in high school. Sara never knew about the late night visit he paid to Waylan the day after he found her beaten at the pond. Waylan had laughed in his face and called him a queer. Pure adrenaline was the only thing that saved him that night. That and his steel toed boots. Now Jacky was five inches taller and two hundred and twenty pounds of muscle. He gave Waylan a look that Ray had seen a few times in his career. If Waylan touched his sister, Jacky would kill him. Waylan backed up at Jacky’s glare and looked toward his friends for support. The funny thing about his kind was that not only did he have very little character, he was a poor judge of every one else’s. His friends had decided that Jacky and his very large friend were not something they wanted to mess with on a Friday night. Even the little wiry one looked a bit crazy. Waylan was now alone and surrounded by Sara’s brother and friends.
“You need to leave.”
“I have just as much right to be here as you.”
“I said you need to leave.” Jacky took another step forward and went to push Waylan in the chest. Before he could make contact, Lester stepped in between them.
“Waylan, you piece o’ shit, who let you in here? You know you’re not allowed in here. I banned you for life. Get your sorry ass out of my bar.” Lester grabbed the back of Waylan’s shirt and began pulling him to the front door. Sara and Ben had witnessed the whole exchange from the edge of the dance floor. Sara shook her head and sighed at all the trouble she had caused.
“I hate this. Why can’t things be easy? I’m too old for this crap.” Ben hugged her and chuckled.
“You ready to go or do you want to stay a while longer?”
“Well, I did promise Ray a dance. I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Sara walked through the crowd and grabbed Debi and Natalie on her way to the bathroom. As the three of them were chatting, they tried to make it past a couple making out in the hallway to the bathroom.
“Hey, get a room! Some of us are trying to walk here.” Debi pushed past the couple in the darkened hall. Sara saw a familiar set of shoes and burst into laughter.
All three women stopped and gawked at Jay and Meg practically pulling each other’s clothes off in the hallway.
“Oh my God, Meg! You little tramp!” Natalie and Sara hooted as Debi clapped her hands in approval. Meg quickly pulled away from Jay and tried to straighten the straps of her tank top.
“Oh dear Lord, she’s plastered.”
“Have you met my friend Jay? Jay this is Sara and Nebi and Datalie.”
“She’s smashed! This is too freakin’ funny! I’ve got to go to the bathroom before I wet my pants.”
“Ben is going to wig!” Sara pulled Meg by the arm and tried to pry her away from the roaming lips of Ooo-baby-Jay.
“Where are we going?!”
“You need to go to the bathroom.”
“Yes, you do. Jay, you wait here.” Jay grinned and leaned against the wall as Sara drug Meg through the bathroom door. The three women descended on Meg like a pack of hyenas.
“What are you doing?!”
“Are you crazy?!”
“What?! He’s Mr. Right Now. Isn’t that what you said?” Meg leaned against the sink and brushed the hair from her face.
“You were making out in the bathroom hallway.”
“He’s a great kisser. Not to wet and slobbery, you know?”
“Oh God, she’s talking about slobber.” Debi rolled her eyes and started to laugh.
“You’re one to talk. How’s the van?” Sara pointed a finger at Debi and grinned.
“Shut up! I’m not drunk anymore. My buzz is long gone! What are we going to do with Meg?”
“How much have you had to drink?”
“I don’t know. One.”
“One? Do I look like a moron?”
“Christ!” The three of them stood and giggled at the sight of Meg picking invisible lint from her shirt as she swayed in front of the mirror.
“Yes, we know Meg.”
“He’s got a nice butt too.”
“I bet he has a really big…..”
“Easy cowgirl, you weren’t thinking about finding out now were you?!”
“I wonder if he’s like Canadian men?”
Debi and Sara grinned and then looked at Natalie.
“What’s so different about Canadian men?” Natalie looked at the smiling faces in front of her.
“Well, I don’t know about all Canadian men, but the one I do know about….well….” Sara leered at Debi.
“Let’s just say that they know how to grow ‘em up North.”
“I’m sure your Chicago cop’s not so bad himself.”
“I wouldn’t know about that yet.” Meg leaned over and put an arm around Nat’s shoulders.
are you waiting for? Is there some sort of problem?”
“No nothing like that.”
“I wouldn’t mind doing a little research. Jay would be the ideal candidate for comparison.” Meg took an unsteady step toward the door. Nat reached out her hand and pulled Meg back away from the door. If there was one cardinal rule among women it was never let your friend do something she’ll regret after she sobers up.
“We need to get you home.”
“You need coffee.”
“I need a good f……”
“What?! You think it’s easy? I’ve been in this country for three years now. The only half-decent roll in the sheets I’ve had lately turned out to be an accomplice in an international art theft. I think I deserve a little.”
“My God she’s talking crazy.”
“No she’s just frustrated.”
“Jay’s not the one she wants to go home with.”
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Oh Jesus!” Meg lunged toward an empty stall and heaved the contents of her stomach into the porcelain bowl.
“Oh now that’s real attractive.”
“She’s gonna need something bland on her stomach. Deb-I, go get some crackers from the bar.”
“What did you drink?”
“Well, Jose Cuervo is kickin’ your ass now.” Meg ignored the last comment and felt her stomach lurch again. *Oh God. What am I doing here?! *
Debi pushed her way to the bar and grabbed a pack of crackers from Sam. She waved for Jacky to meet her over by the bathroom door.
“What’s the matter?”
“You’re kidding!” Jacky couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of the uptight Inspector being three sheets in the wind.
“She’s puking her guts out now.”
“So I guess our evening is complete.”
“Pretty much. You better tell Ben to pull the van up front.” Jacky nodded and walked back to the others. Ben and Turnbull looked at him in disbelief while Ray broke into hysterical laughter.
“I’ll get the van. Does she need assistance getting to the door.”
“I’ll take care of her, Ben. We’ll meet you out front.”
Jacky knocked on the bathroom door and waited for someone to let him in.
“All clear. Come on in.” Jacky opened the door to find Sara and Debi giggling at the edge of the stall door while Natalie held Meg’s hair.
“Jay wants to know where his woman went to.”
“Tell him his Cinderella just hit midnight.”
“Very funny.” Meg glared at Debi and then felt the acid in her stomach start to rise again.
“Wooo, sounds like somebody had a big supper.”
Sara punched Jacky in the side.
“Now that’s just gross.”
“Meg, are you ready to walk to the car? Do you think you’re going to be okay to ride home?”
Meg nodded her head and gratefully took the wet paper towel Debi thrust at her.
“I’m fine, really. Oh hey Jacky!”
Meg grinned and pushed the hair from her face.
“Come on, let’s get you home.” Jacky reached out his hand and helped Meg out of the stall.
“Jacky, do you want to dance?”
“Sure, darlin’. We’ll dance right on out of this place.” Jacky wrapped a muscular arm around Meg’s waist and pulled her to a more upright position.
“You’re a nice looking man, Jacky.” Sara and Natalie laughed as Debi held the door. Meg was still pretty looped and now she was hugging up the Jacky.
“What will Jay say?”
“Jay? Oh, he’s good looking too. I wonder if he has a ……”
“Meg! I think you need to eat something.”
“I’m not hungry. I’m thirsty. Let’s order a drink.”
“No, we have to dance, remember.”
Ray and Turnbull were waiting near the front door when Debi rounded the corner. Turnbull was quickly by her side and held her by the hand.
“Your boss is shit-faced.”
“Deb-I! Please don’t refer to Inspector Thatcher in those terms.”
“Look at her! It’s funny as crap!”
Meg was rubbing her hand all over Jacky’s chest and giggling to something she obviously thought was very funny. Sara and Natalie were following behind hoping Meg wouldn’t get sick on the way home.
“She needs to eat something doughy so it will soak up some of the alcohol.”
“She’s going to be hung over in the morning.” Ray grinned as he held the door for Jacky.
Ben waited in the driver’s seat for Sara. He was surprised to see Meg being extremely friendly with Jacky.
“Meg, you gonna be alright to ride home?”
“Sure. Do you want me to drive?”
“No! Ben’s driving. You need to sit in the back.”
“Will you sit with me?” Meg blinked her lashes at Jacky and smiled.
“I’ll sit with you. Get in the van.”
had to practically carry Meg to the van and pour her inside. Ben tried not to
break the emotionless expression he had plastered on his face. Sara and Natalie
had given up on trying. Turnbull was doing his best to help Jacky with his
precious Inspector. Debi thought it was the funniest thing she had ever seen and
Ray had made sure to remember every drunken detail for
future reference. Once everyone was in the van and secured in the seatbelts, Ben started the short drive home. Sara looked back and saw that Meg had decided that she needed Jacky's help in supporting her body in the seat. Jacky had decided that he was just doing all he could to help out a friend. He smiled to himself in the darkness of the van as Meg snuggled closer to him and started drawing circles with her finger on his thigh.
alright back there Meg?"
"Sure! I'm fine and dandy. Where are we going now?"
Sara leaned over and whispered to Ben, "Oh yeah, Jay thought she was fine and dandy too."
effort to not break into hysterical laughter was increasing.
“What a night.”
“You can say that again.” Ray chuckled as Meg started to hum to herself.
“I can’t believe she let Jay get her drunk.”
“In a way, I think she needed to loosen up and just have fun.” Sara smiled a Natalie and then to Ben.
“Oh yeah, it’s gonna be real fun when she wakes up in the morning.”
Ben pulled the van up to the front walk at Debi’s house and let Turnbull and Debi exit the van. The two of them walked hand in hand up the front porch and disappeared into the darkened house. Within ten minutes, Ben was helping Jacky get Meg out of the back seat.
“She’s hammered.” Natalie decided to state the obvious one more time. Meg took an unsteady step out of the van and was swept up in the arms of Jacky once again.
“Easy now. In the shape you’re in, you can’t go hoppin’ around like that.” Meg wrapped her arms around Jacky’s neck and nuzzled into his shoulder.
“Oh good Lord.” Sara rolled her eyes at the sight of Meg hanging all over her little brother.
“Perhaps we should put on a pot of coffee.” Ben held the door open for Jacky and Meg as they entered the house.
“She needs a big glass of ice water. That will help her hang over.” Natalie went into the kitchen and fixed a large glass of water for Meg. Jacky had deposited Meg on the couch and tried to stand. Meg tightened her grip and refused to relinquish her hold on the handsome veterinarian.
“Drink this.” Meg looked up bleary-eyed and grinned.
“Is it strong?”
“Yeah, it’s real strong. Drink.” Meg took the glass from Natalie and drained the contents.
“Doesn’t taste like liquor.”
“Yeah, well your mouths going to taste like a rat crapped in it in the morning so quit complaining.”
“Jacky, carry her on to bed. She just needs to sleep it off.”
“Yes, Jacky, let’s go to bed.” Meg nuzzled closer to Jacky as Ray burst into laughter.
“Thatcher’s a horn-dog!”
“Shhh! Ray, be quiet. My child is asleep up stairs remember.”
“Come on, Meg. Let’s get you to bed.”
“Oh dear.” Ben sat on the couch next to Ray with his head in his hands. He had seen Meg like this one other time and knew that she was an extremely clingy drunk, but this was even more than he could take. Sara had a grin permanently fixed on her face. This was all too funny. She and Ray couldn’t even look at each other without cracking up.
“Do you want me to help?” Natalie punched Ray in the arm for laughing and tried to act as serious as she could.
“I think I can handle her.”
“Yes, I think he can handle me.” Meg collapsed in a fit of giggles as Jacky hoisted her over his shoulder.
“Jacky, you better just put her drunk ass in bed and that’s all, got it?” Sara tried to make the look on her face convey the seriousness of her words.
“No problem. Let’s go Meg. You need to sleep this off.”
“Who wants to sleep?” Meg giggled some more as she held on to the waistband of Jacky’s pants.
Ray leaned back on the couch with a smug grin on his face.
“Let’s review what we’ve learned. Fraser is the non-drunk. Debi and Turnbull are your clingy drunks. Natalie is a silly drunk and Meg….well, Meg’s your basic horny drunk.”
“Jesus!” Sara rolled her eyes and flopped down on the couch by Ben.
“Ray!” Ray laughed at Ben’s shocked expression.
“Come on, let’s get you into bed.” Jacky flopped Meg down on the bed.
“Sounds like a good idea to me.” Before he could straighten up, Meg had wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down on the bed with her.
“Christ! You’re gonna get me in a butt-load of trouble.”
“No, not me.” Meg pulled Jacky closer to her and decided she was tired of playing games. She captured his lips and kissed him deeply on the mouth. Jacky tried to pull away at first and then succumbed to her embrace. * Oh God!* Jacky felt a tightness in his jeans as Meg plunged her tongue into his mouth. Meg allowed a small groan to escape her lips as the two of them kissed on the edge of the bed. Jacky was the first to pull away. He knew that this wasn’t a situation he needed to be in. Plus, Sara would kill him. He knew that Meg would regret her actions in the morning so he wasn’t going to compound things by allowing himself a self-indulgent encounter. He gently kissed Meg on the forehead and covered her up with a blanket. The liquor had finally taken its toll and Meg was on the verge of being out cold.
Meg wiggled her fingers in goodbye and snuggled into the covers. Jacky took a long look at the strong-willed, inebriated Mountie. He couldn’t help but laughed to himself at the sight of her.
*Oh yeah, you are going to be sick as shit in the morning. *
Natalie stood at the door and watched Jacky with Meg. “You’re a pretty nice guy, Jacky Montgomery.”
“I’ve been told.”
“Night, Nat. Holler if you need anything.”
“I’m pretty sure she’s out for the night.”
Jacky rubbed his hand over the top of his head and sighed as he headed to the living room.
“Didcha get her tucked in?”
“Yeah, she passed out.”
“Good, I thought she was going to molest you.” Ray laughed at Sara while he threw a pillow at Jacky.
“Can’t rape the willing, right Jack?” Jacky grinned but didn’t say a word. He pulled his boots off and went up stairs to take a shower. This was a night he wouldn’t forget.
Ben and Sara tiptoed into the nursery. Dief cocked an ear it their direction and gave them a soft moan.
“How’s our girl?” Dief whined a reply while Ben scratched his head. Sara leaned over the crib and rubbed Caroline’s back. She was sleeping like a little angel. Ben slipped his arms around Sara’s waist and began kissing a gentle trail down her neck.
“Mmmm, that feels good.”
“I know something that feels even better.”
“I bet you do.” Ben took her by the hand and led her down the hall to their bedroom. Ray whispered his goodnight as he walked into the bathroom. Sara smiled at Ben as he clicked the lock on the door.
~~~~<smack smack smack> *Oh my God, what died in my mouth? * Meg ran her tongue over her teeth. *Who put sweaters on my teeth? What is that noise?!* Meg pushed her face deeper into the pillow in an effort to drown out the incessant noise. *Oh, God please make it stop.* Unfortunately, the throbbing in her ears was caused by the pounding of her head. Natalie stretched and leaned over a very hung-over Meg Thatcher. In a singsong voice, Natalie tormented Meg.
“Mmmm, smells like Sara is already cooking breakfast. Aren’t you hungry?” Natalie smiled at the disheveled hung-over glare Meg gave her with the one eye that was visible from under the blanket.
“Rise and shine. Do you want the shower first? It’s all yours, just say the word.” Meg could only manage a small groan as Natalie bounced out of bed.
“I wonder what we’ll all do today. What do you want to do today Meg? How about horseback riding? That sounds fun.” Despite her love of horses, the thought of bouncing up and down on a horse made Meg’s stomach flip. The intake of breath was even worse. She could taste her own breath. * Oh God. * Natalie saw the look on Meg’s face as she pushed the blanket from her face.
“Meg, you okay?” Meg slowly sat up and placed her feet on the floor. Then a pain pierced through her stomach and settled in her abdomen. Meg hit the floor at a run. With the swiftness of a cat she moved quickly passed Natalie and into the bathroom. Natalie giggled at the sight of Meg’s bed hair and mascara-streaked face. She uttered to herself as she made her way to the kitchen.
“I don’t know what’s worse, the hang over or the Jose Cuervo’s revenge. I better get her some Pepto-Bismol.”
Sara held Caroline in her arms and walked her around the kitchen as Ben prepared breakfast. Ray was silently cursing the coffee maker for being so slow. Mr. Montgomery and Jacky had long since left the house to check the farm.
“Morning, Nat. How’s Meg?”
“Uh, she had to run.” The nodding of heads made Natalie giggle out loud as she kissed Ray on the cheek.
“You gonna get dressed today?”
“Maybe. I like this vacation thing.” Ray cocked his head and grinned as Natalie took a seat at the kitchen table. Her blue cotton pajamas with little white sheep on them that made Ray think some very adult thoughts about her.
“I can’t shower until Meg gets out of the bathroom.”
“You can use the one upstairs.”
“I may have to. She’s in a world of hurt right now.”
“Well, it’s not going to get any better.” Sara bounced Caroline slightly as she walked around the kitchen.
“Ray’s gonna give her hell, that’s for sure.”
Ben frowned over at Ray as he poured a handful of Smarties into his coffee cup.
“What?! Don’t give me that look.”
“Ray, please refrain from any further torment. It’s…..”
“It’s a moral imperative.”
“That’s a mighty big word, Ray.”
“Shut up Sara.”
“Should I go check on her.”
“I wouldn’t. She’d probably bite yer face off.”
“Ray’s right.” Ben agreed with Ray as he scrambled eggs. “I mean… not that she would bite your face off, but that she would be less than receptive to your inquiry.”
“Uh-huh.” Ray nodded his head.
“She’s not going to be a happy camper that’s for sure.” Natalie took a sip of coffee and heard the sounds of Meg stirring in the living room. All three adults turned to the kitchen doorway and stared at the sight that was Meg Thatcher.
“You look like hell.”
“Bite me.” Meg shuffled across the floor and over to the coffee pot. Sara tried not the break into a large smile as Ben refused to look up from his task of cooking breakfast.
“How’s the head?” Ray grinned a toothy grin at Meg as she poured a larger than usual cup of coffee for herself.
“It feels as if a large tumor has formed in the center of my brain and is now eating its way through my skull.”
“That’s the nastiest thing I’ve ever heard you say, Meg.”
“What’s your point?”
“Heehee, you’re hung over like a dog.”
“Shut up, Ray.”
“Natalie, is there something we can give Meg to make her feel better.”
“A ticket back in time.” Natalie tried to keep a straight face but failed when Meg decided to flip her off.
“Will you people please stop screaming!?”
“I suggest you lay off the coffee, take a few aspirin and stay in bed. It’s the only thing that’s going to make this hangover go away.” Meg nodded and placed her coffee mug on the table. Ray leaned back in his chair and smiled over at Natalie.
“Meg, should we take any messages for you today? I mean if Jay should call.” Meg closed her eyes and took a deep breath. *Oh God. Jay?! Jay? Oh Jesus, Jay! *
“That won’t be necessary. I doubt he’ll call here.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. You’re the best thing that ever happened to that man.” Ben shook his head and laughed at Sara as she taunted Meg.
“I’m going back to bed. Wake me when we’re back in Chicago.”
Meg exited the room and shuffled back to her bedroom. She could still hear the laughter of the three people still left in the kitchen. *I will never hear the end of this. I might as well transfer to Russia. It will be easier than facing Fraser and Turnbull everyday. Turnbull! Oh Christ! The man will probably pop a vein the next time he sees me. I’ll just move. That’s it. I’ll move.*
~~~~“She still asleep?” Sara placed Caroline on a blanket in the middle of the floor. She and Ben had gone into town and done some shopping while Nat and Ray went to the lake to go swimming. They had decided today would be a good day to go their separate ways and spend some time alone instead of in the big group.
“Meg should be fine by suppertime. She’s managed to eat a little lunch. Jacky fixed her a grill cheese sandwich.” Nat and Ray snuggled on the couch and watched an old movie on television.
“Is Jacky here?”
“Nah, he and Jack went to the….uh…to the….something. They took some cows somewhere.” Ray ran his hand through his hair trying to remember what Jack had called the place they were going.
“They went to the Sale Barn?”
“Yeah, that’s it! Sale Barn.”
“Okay. Have you two eaten?” Ben settled into the large recliner as Sara sat on the floor with Caroline.
“Yeah, we fixed a sandwich. Is Turnbull and Debi coming over for supper tonight?”
“I don’t think so. Debi wanted to go into Charlotte. There’s a new restaurant she’s been wanting to try.”
“What are we going to do tonight?” Ben pushed the recliner into the recline position and looked at Sara for an answer.
“Why does everyone look at me? You’re grown. You decide what you want to do.” Ray and Natalie laughed softly at Ben and Sara. Then Natalie decided to add her two cents.
“Let’s just relax here. We’ve got a long drive tomorrow. I’m sure Sara would like to spend some time with her family.”
“Why don’t we order some take out and rent a movie?”
“Sounds good to me. I’ll call Daddy on the cell and he can pick up supper on his way in.”
Meg stood in the doorway of the guestroom and cleared her throat. All eyes turned her way.
“Welcome to the land of the living!”
“Thank you kindly.”
“Are you feeling better?” Meg smiled and took a seat beside Sara on the floor. She gently rubbed Caroline’s back.
“Much better. I think I’ll recover.”
“We were discussing dinner. You feel up to a meal?”
“Sure. I think I need to eat something. What did you have in mind.”
“Let’s order from the fish camp.” Ray looked at Sara and shook his head.
“Run that back.”
“The fish camp.” Sara sighed and rolled her eyes when she realized Ray needed the translation. “A seafood restaurant.”
“Ah, sounds good to me. I could go for some crab legs.”
“So it’s a plan. Who’s going to the video store? Not Ben.” Ben looked indignant at Sara’s statement. Even more so, when everyone else in the room nodded in agreement.
“What’s wrong with my video choices?”
“I don’t want to learn anything tonight. No National Geographic films, no movies about the mating habits of some rare animal, nothing that involves snow. I want a movie that is nothing but pure entertainment.”
“No. I want humor. Romance maybe. A good slasher flick. Maybe Freddy Krueger. But no educational films.”
“Perhaps we should let Ray go then.”
“No Steve McQueen. We’ve seen all of his movies, twice.”
“Then what’s the point of getting a movie?”
“How about this? Meg, Nat and I will go.”
“But you’ll get some sappy chick flick.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I bet they beeline to something with Sally Field in it.” Ray directed his comment to Ben and then laughed.
“You liked Steel Magnolia’s.” Sara pointed a finger at Ben.
“He hated it. All men hate Steel Magnolia’s.”
“What about that new movie with Meg Ryan.”
“The one about the computer.”
“Well, you’ll just have to go with us then.”
“So we’re all going now?”
“Looks that way.”
“Why do I have a feeling we’re not going to be watching a movie tonight.”
“I’ve got to stop by Debi’s before we go to the video store.” Sara pulled out of the driveway and steered the hunter green Expedition toward Debi’s house.
“Do you think we should call first?” Natalie raised her eyebrows at Sara and grinned.
“Nah, there’s no fun in that.”
“Sara, I really don’t think I should barge in on my junior constable in an inappropriate situation.”
“Then maybe you should wait in the car.” The three of them laughed while Sara turned down Debi’s street. “I’ve got a key to her house too.”
Sara stood on Debi’s front porch and rang the doorbell before opening the door and letting herself in. Natalie and Meg followed closely behind.
“Deb-I!! Are you here?!”
“We’re in the back!” Sara grinned and made her way through the house to the sun porch in the back. Meg saw Debi and Turnbull lying side by side in a large hammock. At the site of his superior officer, Turnbull blushed and moved quickly to a standing position.
“That’s not necessary Turnbull.” Meg tried not to look directly at him when she spoke. She could feel his eyes on her and knew his face was giving her that lost little puppy dog look.
“Are you feeling….uh…better, sir?”
“Yes, Turnbull. I’m quite fine, thank you.” Debi smiled at Sara and then turned her attention to Meg.
“You had some night last night. Have you heard from Ooo-baby-Jay?”
“Ooo-baby? No, I haven’t heard from….I don’t think this should really be discussed anymore.”
“The Inspector’s right. Perhaps this whole thing should be forgotten.” Turnbull’s was crushed. His beloved Inspector was portraying actions unbecoming a Mountie and it nearly broke his heart. As if she were reading his thoughts, Meg decided she had had enough.
“Oh, good Lord, Turnbull. It’s not the end of the world. So I drank too much and found myself in the arms of a very attractive man. I didn’t sleep with him or anything so get over it.” Debi burst into laughter at Turnbull’s wide-eyed look and Meg’s stern face.
“Besides, I’m not the one shacking up with my girlfriend for a week. What would your mother say?” Sara and Natalie could tell that Meg was joking, but for a split second, Turnbull felt an enormous amount of guilt.
“I…she…oh dear.” Then a large smile spread across his face as Meg smiled.
“Meg, you’re such a bitch. That must be why we’re friends.”
“Deb-I, that’s a fair assumption.”
“Deb-I, we’re leaving tomorrow and I need to get that green dress.”
“It’s in my closet. You want me to get it?”
“I’ll get it. We’ve got to get to the video store. You two have fun tonight. Ren, we’ll leave tomorrow about eight.” With a large sigh Turnbull nodded his head. Debi took his hand in his and smiled.
“It’s okay. You’ll see me soon enough.”
“We need to go. Ray and Ben are watching Caroline. We talked Ray out of helping us pick a movie so he’s helping Ben.”
“No problem see you tomorrow.” The three women left and drove into town to the local Blockbuster. Debi and Turnbull held each other for a long while before deciding to get up and dressed for their evening out. They wanted to make the best of their last night together before he had to return to Chicago. Debi was determined to give him something to miss while they were apart.
~~~~Six adults and one infant were gathered around the large rental van. Good-byes and hugs were being distributed all around. Mr. Montgomery hugged his daughter and kissed her on the forehead.
“You take care of that grandbaby of mine, you hear?”
“Yes sir. We will. See you at Christmas.”
“Ben, be careful driving back. Call when you get in.”
“Yes sir. Thank you for allowing us to stay.”
“Ben, this is your home. You can come home anytime you wish. You all can.” Mr. Montgomery looked around at the group of friends. He smiled as he thought of how fortunate he was to have such good people in his daughter’s life.
Jacky stood in front of Meg and offered her a crooked grin.
“You better take care of yourself in that big ole city.”
“I believe I am capable of handling myself.”
“Yeah, but if you need anything, you know where to find me.”
“Thanks Jacky. You’re a good man.”
“I’m an even better friend. Bye Meg.”
Ray and Natalie climbed into the back of the van and waited for Turnbull to say his tear filled good bye to Debi. He sniffled and wiped his nose as he climbed in the middle seat. Dief hopped in the back seat next to Natalie as Meg helped Sara secure Caroline in the car seat. Ben took one last look around at the place he now considered a part of him. He looked over to see a tear roll down Sara’s cheek as she hugged Jacky. She took a seat in the front seat while he fastened his seatbelt. As Ben pulled down the long driveway, contented sighs escaped everyone’s lips. Sara sat and stared out the passenger side window as her childhood home slipped farther out of view. Ben placed his hand on her cheek and gently caressed her hair.
“I’m glad we came.”
“Me too. I glad everyone came.”
“That’s what family vacations are for.” A look of joy and warmth reflected in Ben’s pale blue eyes. Sara smiled and then looked back at Caroline. Turnbull was gently wiping her mouth as Meg adjusted her jumper.
Continued in The Road Home is often Longest.