Authors: Kristen Ashley
Hank’s hand let mine go but instead of moving away, as the others had, his fingers wrapped around my upper arm and he pul ed me gently, but firmly, away from Uncle Tex, toward him. Then more toward him, his hand sliding down my arm. Then more, his fingers circling my wrist. Then more, his hand finding and wrapping around mine. And final y, I was at his side, our shoulders nearly touching.
Uncle Tex looked around, his eyes narrowing on Hank but before he could speak, Hank did. “I know you’re excited Roxie’s here,” he said in a low, soft voice that was meant only for Tex (and, due to my proximity, me). “But maybe you can get a little control so she doesn’t get whiplash.” My heart fluttered and I leaned into him a bit. I didn’t mean to, I didn’t even want to, my body just did it like it had a mind of its own (it did, of course, have a mind of its own, it just wasn’t working at that moment).
My shoulder hit Hank’s bicep. The second it did, his hand squeezed mine and my throat closed with fear that he might drop my hand and move away.
This was good for two reasons. One, if he did, I’d have toppled over like a tree, and two, I liked that he was holding my hand.
Uncle Tex looked at me, then he looked at Hank, then he looked back at me. Then, he took a step back and looked at the both of us. We were standing close, I could feel the heat from Hank’s arm burning through my sweater, his hand tight on mine and I was beginning to feel faint again. My eyes weakly flitted to Uncle Tex’s and when he saw it, he grinned.
“Fuckin’ A, Roxie. Right on!” Uncle Tex boomed and I stared, not knowing what in
he was talking about.
“What?” I asked.
Uncle Tex didn’t answer me, he looked to Mace and Vance and declared, “You boys gotta learn to move faster or al the good ones’l be
To this, I heard Hank laugh softly next to me. I looked at him and his eyes were back to lazy, but now they were also amused and, I could swear, behind them, there was an intensity that made my heart start to race.
I tore my eyes away and looked back at Uncle Tex.
“What?” I repeated.
Again, Uncle Tex ignored me as Nancy moved careful y toward us and then grabbed on to his arm. She leaned into him and he took her weight natural y, as if this had happened many times before. She smiled at me. “Why don’t you and Tex come over to my place for dinner?
Maybe we can talk Jet into cooking for us.” Without hesitation, Tex turned toward Jet and boomed,
“Make those fuckin’ brownies with the caramel, Loopy Loo.
It’s a special fuckin’ occasion!”
I jumped at this latest boom and Hank let go of my hand and moved away. I felt his loss like a physical blow and I closed my eyes tight to push it away.
The last time this had happened to me, I’d lost seven years of my life to Bil y.
It wasn’t going to happen to me again, no way.
No… fucking… way.
I hadn’t even gotten rid of Bil y, I certainly didn’t need the trouble that Hank Nightingale had written al over him.
This trouble was worse. This trouble said loud and clear that Hank would eventual y find out about Bil y and realize what a fucking moron I was and Hank would never hold my hand again. Don’t ask me how I knew this, I just knew this like I knew that Manolo Blahnik made the best shoes in history.
I opened my eyes again and Nancy was watching me.
“You okay?” she asked softly.
I nodded but said, just as softly, “I was going to ask you the same thing.”
“Stroke,” she answered, without hesitation. “Nearly nine months ago.”
I moved toward her and then stopped when Eddie came in my peripheral vision.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, not attempting to get any closer and feeling weirdly scared of Eddie.
“I’m getting better every day,” Nancy told me.
I smiled at her. “That’s fantastic.”
She smiled back, it was a glamorous smile, like her daughter’s.
“Holy cow, Nancy. Jet and you have the same smile,” I said.
“Don’t tel Jet.”
“She won’t believe you.”
Eddie came in close to Nancy and took her weight off Tex when I heard Indy shout, “Let’s have a big old party!” Tex moved away and boomed. “Now you’re talkin’, woman!”
I looked at Eddie and he was watching me, his black eyes no longer blank but active. I glanced away, feeling that he knew my secrets and I wanted to keep them to myself.
It was then, I noticed with alarm, that the
had thrown themselves wholeheartedly into planning the impromptu party.
I wasn’t sure this was a good idea.
“I’m not getting a good feeling about this,” I said to Nancy (and Eddie, since he was there).
“I’m not either,” Eddie said in a tone that made a shiver go across my skin.
Nancy patted my arm quickly then grabbed on to Eddie again.
“It’l be fine,” she said, grinning at Tex.
“I’l make the caramel layer squares,” Jet said, walking up to Eddie, linking her arm through his and putting her head on his shoulder, obviously deciding their tiff was over.
“Damn straight, Loopy Loo,” Tex said.
“I’l get the booze,” Al y said, also arriving at our group.
“Where are we having it?” Indy asked, coming up beside me. Lee materialized next to her and his arm went across her shoulders as hers went around his waist. He was looking at me and he kind of scared me too, both in a general way and in an Eddie way.
“It can’t be at Tex’s place, we’l get cat hair in the caramel squares,” Al y said and I saw Hank come up behind her and he wrapped both of his arms around her neck and yanked her back into his chest, playful and rough.
Gil would do that to me: Gil had done that to me.
They were close, you could tel , al of them, everyone around me, even Mace, Vance and Matt who’d joined our enormous huddle. They were family, and they’d taken in Uncle Tex as one of their own. This made me simultaneously happy for Uncle Tex, because he final y had this, and sad for me, because I never would.
“Cats!” Tex boomed and turned to me. “Roxie, darlin’, you got to meet the cats.”
I looked up at him and grinned. “I can’t wait.” And this was the truth, Uncle Tex had been talking about his cats for years.
“Nancy, you okay with Jet?” Tex asked.
“Good, you al figure it out, tel us where to be. Roxie and me got some catchin’ up to do,” Tex said, grabbing on to me. “Darlin’ girl, we’re goin’ to go meet the cats.” Then Uncle Tex dragged me out of the store.
I hadn’t taken even a sip of my caramel latte.
* * * * *
She cocked her head and smiled a confused smile before I was pul ed through the door. She had no idea what I was talking about but I didn’t care, I had to say it al the same, for my Grams, my Mom, my aunts and myself.
* * * * *
Hank had ceased to exist for me.
He had to.
For his own good and mine.
This is how it got better, and worse.
* * * * *
There were a lot of them. As in,
Some of them Uncle Tex was getting paid to watch, most of them were Uncle Tex’s.
“Is it legal to have this many cats?” I asked, jiggling a laser light on the wal and watching a cat named Petunia, who had splotches of ginger and splotches of white, try to crawl up the wal to get at the red dot.
“Nope,” Tex said standing by where I was sitting on his couch and gazing at my laser cat play like I was the Master Cat Queen and no one could jiggle a laser light as wel as me.
I couldn’t help myself, even with al that was on my mind, I laughed. After al these years, and al our letters, it was good to know Uncle Tex felt the same way about me as I felt about him.
“I thought Hank and Eddie were cops. Do they know about your cats?” I asked.
“Those boys have had bigger fish to fry these past months. What with Indy gettin’ kidnapped and shot at al the time and Jet wrestlin’ with a loan shark carryin’ a knife and runnin’ from a crazy rapist.”
The red dot arrested on the wal as I blinked at Tex.
“Petunia’s goin’ loco, darlin’ girl, jiggle!” Tex said, staring at the wal .
“Kidnapped… shot at… rapist… ” I said, or kind of, spluttered.
Uncle Tex turned to me. “It’s a long story.”
“I think we have time.”
“It’s actual y
long stories” he said.
“I stil think we have time.”
He sat down next to me on the couch, took the laser light away from me and started jiggling it another direction, trying to get a cat named Rocky interested.
“Rocky’s too damn lazy, gettin’ fat,” he muttered.
Then he told me two long stories.
* * * * *
“Not ready for that,” Tex answered me.
I nodded. I’d give him time. Hopeful y, one day, when my love life was sorted out, we’d have al the time in the world.
Then I leaned into him and put my head on his shoulder and, surprise of surprises, he let me.
“You wanna tel me why you’re here?” he asked in his soft boom.
I stiffened then sighed.
“Not ready for that,” I said. “But soon.”
I felt him nod and then he rested his head on top of mine.
“Tel me one thing, you through with him?” He meant Bil y.
I closed my eyes then opened them.
“I’m working on it.”
He nodded against my head. “Good.”
* * * * *
Uncle Tex took me to get my car so I could go back to my hotel room to rest and get ready for the party. When I got out of his car, he told me that in Denver, people wore jeans.
“Give me your cel phone number, so I can get hold of you,” I said, talking to him through his open window.
“Don’t have a cel .”
I stared at him.
Then he slammed War into the 8-track player (yes, I said
) and hurtled down Broadway with “Low Rider” blaring from the speakers of his bronze El Camino. Uncle Tex, I realized quickly, was kind of living in the 70’s and didn’t feel like leaving it.
I went to my hotel, asked at reception where the nearest mal was, drove to Cherry Creek, went directly to the nearest phone store and bought Uncle Tex a cel phone. He could have his 8-track but he was also getting a goddamned cel phone. Not having one in this day and age was sheer lunacy. (Okay, so Uncle Tex was as close to a functioning lunatic as I knew—Bil y notwithstanding—but stil .)
I went back to the hotel, changed out of my fancy Meet Uncle Tex Outfit, and put on a pair of corduroys that were kind of a cross between green and gray and had a silvery sheen because Denver might do jeans but I didn’t, at least not at a party, or, I should say, at least not at a party where Whisky was. Hank may have ceased to exist for me but he hadn’t actual y ceased to exist and I was relatively certain he was going to be at the party. A girl had her pride. I kept the turtleneck and boots and threaded a glittery ribbon belt through the belt loops.
Then I turned on my cel .
Nine cal s, nine voicemails, al from Bil y, al getting steadily angrier and angrier until the last one.
“I’l find you Roxie.”
I knew he would, I was counting on it.
One more time.
* * * * *
“I’ve charged it and put my number in it. You can pass it around the party and get everyone’s numbers.”
“You should have saved your money, won’t use it.”
“Won’t use it.”
“Darlin’ girl, that’s sweet but
I won’t use it
.” I crossed my arms on my chest.
“Okay then, I’l pass it around the party and get everyone’s numbers.”
“Knock yourself out.”
Uncle Tex never seemed stubborn in his letters.
“Bet Nancy has a cel ,” I tried (I could be stubborn too).
Uncle Tex didn’t answer.
“So, what were you doing with Nancy this morning?” Uncle Tex stil didn’t answer.
I looked at him. I could see his blush in the dark.
“You like her!” I shouted (in a happy way).
“Uncle Tex and Nancy, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g…” I sang.
“How old are you?”
* * * * *
It was al the folks from that morning at Fortnum’s, plus Indy’s neighbors; a gay couple named Stevie and Tod.
There was also a very pretty lady who looked a lot, and dressed a lot, like Dol y Parton (including the bodacious ta-tas) named Daisy.
Into this mix was thrown Indy’s Dad; Tom, Hank’s parents; Malcolm and Kitty Sue and Jet’s Mom’s friends; Trixie and Ada.
Add a dash of a Harley guy with long, gray hair in a braid and a rol ed red bandana tied around his forehead named Duke (I’d heard about Duke in Tex’s letters, he worked at Fortnum’s too), a serious stoner named “The Kevster” (The Kevster didn’t work at al ), a couple of Indy and Al y’s girlfriends named Andrea and Marianne and a bunch of guys, some of them cops, some of them worked for Lee (I learned Mace, Vance and Matt al worked for Lee at his private investigation service).