Authors: Kristen Ashley
“To hel with him, darlin’,” Uncle Tex wrote with his usual brutal honesty, “He sounds no good. Cut him loose and find yourself a real man.”
* * * * *
We’d rented a loft that I loved. I was close to Wrigley Field (what can I say, I’m a Cubs fan) and I was only four hours away from family.
No way was I going anywhere.
So, I told Bil y he could go but I was staying.
We got in a big, old fight that ended in tears; my tears, I was a crier, I cried al the time. I’d cry at a card with a picture of a cute, little kitty on it and I didn’t even have to look at what the card said, and we stayed.
This happened a lot. Bil y would want to go, I’d want to stay, we’d have a rip roarin’ fight, I’d cry, and then we’d stay.
Then Bil y came home late one night and said we
to go. I could tel by the way he was acting that things I didn’t understand, things I’d closed my eyes to al those years, were bad as in real y bad.
I didn’t care. I dug in my heels. It hadn’t been the same between us since the first time I refused to go. We’d been in a slow decline and I hated it. I wanted Bil y to be a good guy and do right by me (and himself) but I was beginning to realize this wasn’t going to happen. It broke my heart because we’d had good times, no, great times, and I’d miss him. But there was only so much a girl could take. I hated it that everyone was right about Bil y but when you fuck up, you have to admit it, deal with it and move on.
I was ready to take Uncle Tex’s advice and cut him loose.
When I told him this, Bil y backed me up against a wal , his forearm against my throat, his pretty-boy face contorted and ugly with a rage I’d never seen before. He hissed at me, “Where I go, you go. You belong to me. We’re never going to be apart, you’re fuckin’ mine… forever.” Needless to say, this scared me. Bil y had never acted like this. I didn’t like to be scared. I never watched horror movies, ever. I didn’t
I knew at that point it was over. Any residual hope I had for Bil y and me was gone in a blink. Firstly, I didn’t like his arm at my throat, it hurt. Secondly, I didn’t like the look on his face; it freaked me out. Lastly, I wasn’t anyone’s, but my own.
In other words, fuck… that.
Somehow, we stayed in Chicago and whatever it was that had Bil y in a panic calmed down.
I didn’t. I packed his shit, put it in the hal and changed the locks.
This did not go over wel . He broke down the door with a sledgehammer.
This did not go over wel either. I had a conniption fit.
We had another rip roarin’ fight and he talked me into taking him back.
Don’t think I was stupid or weak. I had no intention of real y taking him back. I had long since realized that Bil y was exactly what Bil y was and I didn’t want any part of it. I’d loved him, yes, it was true, but he wasn’t what I thought he was (or what I tried to convince myself he was). I was beginning to fear the stink I sensed on him would start to transfer itself to me.
But a sledgehammer was serious business.
I was going to have to be smart (final y).
Therefore, I was building what I liked to cal my
with the Enemy
I started to save money in a new account Bil y didn’t know about. I stashed newly purchased clothes Bil y had never seen and would never miss at Annette’s place and I left.
First, I went to my folks’ house.
Bil y came and brought me back.
I expected this. I was stil stashing money and clothes at Annette’s, biding my time.
Then I went to a girlfriend’s in Atlanta.
Bil y found me and brought me back.
Again, I waited.
Then I went to a hotel in Dal as.
Bil y found me and brought me back.
This plan took a long time and this was unusual for me. I wasn’t the most patient of people and I felt, acutely, that my life was ebbing away day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year. I had to see it through though, and I’m kind of stubborn so I kept at it.
It was the last time to leave Bil y, a two-part end of the plan. I was going to go to the last place he thought I thought he wouldn’t look, knowing (like al the others, when I’d left breadcrumbs) he’d eventual y look. Then, after he brought me back, I’d go there again, having set up the plan beforehand and getting help (I hoped) while I was at it.
Though things got kind of fucked up, mainly because Bil y’s stink had settled on me, just like I’d feared.
See, it was then that I went to Denver.
I went to Uncle Tex
And, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you looked at it, I looked at it both ways; fortunately, because I’d remember it with bittersweet clarity for the rest of my life and unfortunately, because it would never last) it was then that I met Hank and my plan got total y fucked.
* * * * *
He deserves better than me.
I just hope I can figure out a way to make Hank agree.
This is how it began.
* * * * *
My Uncle Tex had been incarcerated for hunting down and then nearly beating a drug dealer to death. Now, several decades later, he was making fancy schmancy coffee.
How weird was
He seemed to like it and his letters were fil ed with stories about al the people that worked there and the regulars who came in, especial y the lady who owned it, India Savage (but, according to Uncle Tex, folks cal ed her Indy).
In his letters, I could tel that Uncle Tex liked everyone, especial y Indy (and, lately, another girl named Jet). He said Indy had “spunk” and Uncle Tex liked spunk. He also liked mettle, which he told me Jet had, even though (he said) she didn’t know it. Lastly, he liked sass which he said another girl he worked with, Al y, had (apparently, in abundance). In his letters, I could also tel that this Indy person had kind of adopted Uncle Tex and that it was changing him, for the good.
So, I worked Denver into my plan, thinking maybe this Indy had performed some magic and Uncle Tex wouldn’t close the door in my face (like he did with my Grams when she tried to visit al those times, and with my Mom, when she and my aunts went with Grams al those times).
Therefore, I decided to add a second agenda item to my plan, getting Uncle Tex back to the family: kil ing two birds with one stone.
* * * * *
I arrived early in the morning, got a hotel room (with cash, I didn’t want Bil y to find me just yet), showered and did myself up. It was, to my thinking, a special occasion, meeting Uncle Tex for the first time and furthermore, I loved clothes (wel , I loved designer clothes). Mom said I wore my designer threads like armor. Dad said if they were armor, they weren’t working because they acted more like a magnet.
I wore my hair to just above my shoulders and got it cut at a place that cost a fortune so that it was al soft waves and little flippies at the ends. I did up my face and put on a charcoal gray wool, to-the-knee skirt that fit like a second skin, cupped my ass, straight at the front and flicked out in kick-pleats at the backs of my knees. I wore this with a black, figure-skimming, wool turtleneck sweater and a pair of gorgeous, spike-heeled black boots that cost so much money that I feared Bil y was going to have a seizure when he saw the price on the side of the box. At my ears, I put in a pair of diamond studs that Bil y bought me, likely with dirty money but they
diamonds and he didn’t often help with the rent, so I kept them. On my wrist, I put on my silver Raymond Weil watch with its mother-of-pearl face and finished the ensemble with my black, Lalique glass ring.
I couldn’t afford al this, not with taking care of Bil y and me. To feed my passion for labels, I saved and trol ed for al my treasures, careful y hoarding money or trawling nearly new shops (not to mention, I was addicted to online auction sites) for other people’s glamorous cast-offs. I did it as a hobby. I did it because I loved nice things and lately, I did it to remind myself of the life I’d left behind when I let myself fal in love with Bil y. This also served as a reminder of why I had to find a way to get rid of him.
I spritzed with Boucheron, threw my little Fendi bag over my shoulder (bought for a third of its retail price, never used, from a soon-to-be divorcee at her pre-divorce yard sale), programmed the address in the sat nav and headed to Uncle Tex’s house.
He wasn’t home.
I was surprised, it was Sunday and, for years, Uncle Tex had never left his block. Now he had a job but I didn’t reckon he was to the point of gal ivanting around Denver.
Though, in his latest letters, it sounded like he was doing a fair amount of gal ivanting.
I waited for a while and he didn’t come home. So, I went to a phone booth, looked up Fortnum’s bookstore and programmed the address in my sat nav.
I found a parking spot on Broadway and walked up to the door, which opened at the corner of Bayaud and Broadway.
It looked like a cool store, hip but not in a trendy way, in the way that only long-standing, cool-ass establishments could be hip, that is to say, natural y.
Then, I walked into the store.
And I loved it immediately. It smel ed musty from what looked like acres of disorganized books shelved, from what I could see, wil y-nil y at the back of the store.
I loved to read, loved books, libraries and bookstores and this, I could tel right away, was one of the best.
The front of the store was made up of the book counter to the left, on the right was a big espresso counter and al through the middle were tables and chairs, armchairs and comfy couches with low tables on which to set coffees.
I’d stopped when I’d entered and then my breath left me when I scanned the couches.
Sitting on the couches, al drinking coffee, were a bunch of men. Not just any men. It looked like
was having a convention and al the best looking guys had decided to have a coffee at Fortnum’s before going to seminars on how to cope with being real y, unbelievably, fucking gorgeous.
There were five of them; two looked a lot alike, like they were brothers. But, of the lot, it was only the one with the whisky-colored eyes that got my attention. They were al looking at me, but the minute my eyes hit Whisky, I felt light-headed and had to stand stock stil or I’d have fal en over in a dead faint.
I knew what it was, it had happened before when I saw Bil y, that fatal attraction. But either it had been a long time or I didn’t remember how huge the feeling was because it hit me like a freight train and I was thrown for a loop.
To cover this, I looked away and tried to walk calmly up to the espresso counter where a female version of Whisky was serving and was her own, feminine brand of gorgeous.
She was watching the guys then she looked at me, grinning like something was deeply amusing.
“Can I help?” she asked.
I’d forgotten why I was there, looking for my Uncle Tex, so I did what anyone would do when confronted with an espresso machine, I ordered a skinny latte with caramel syrup.
“Gotcha,” she said then went to work on my drink and I realized I was holding on to the counter for dear life and utilizing al the powers I had not to look back toward the couches to see if Whisky was stil checking me out.
Please, God, let Whisky still be checking me out,
Then I gave my head a firm shake to get rid of my idiot thoughts. I needed Whisky to be checking me out like I needed someone to dril a hole in my head, which was to say, not at al .
A fantastic redheaded woman, who I knew from Uncle Tex’s descriptions had to be Indy, walked behind the counter.
She smiled at me.
I smiled back, and, as Whisky was no longer in my line of sight (although I could actual y feel him in the room), I remembered why I was there. I opened my mouth to say something to her when the bel over the door went.
“I’m not speaking to you,” a woman said in a voice that was both angry and obviously ful of shit and I turned to see who had come in.
It was like Fortnum’s was For Gorgeous People Only.
They needed a sign so normal people wouldn’t wander in unwittingly and develop immediate inferiority complexes.