Every morning was a 6:30 wake up call.
Didn’t matter when I went to bed, because Thelma and Louise simply did not care about me and beauty sleep. It started at about 6:25 with Thelma nudging my leg with her nose. And a nudge from a 130 lb Mastiff was more like a shove. If I didn’t move fast enough after that Louise got into it and the chihuahua wasn’t subtle. By 6:30 she was on the bed, making herself comfortable — right across my face.
“I’m up, I’m up,” I muttered pushing Louise off my head. I gave her a little head scratch as she went. “It’s a good thing you’re cute.”
When I sat up, my legs over the side of the mattress, Thelma put her front paws on my knees and bathed my face with sticky dog tongue. “Okay, Okay. You’re cute too. You’re both very cute.”
They weren’t. Unless it was the they’re so ugly they’re cute category, in which case. Maybe.
“Come on.” I pushed her off. But gave her a little chin scratch as I did it.
I slipped my feet into my flip flops and shoved my hair out of my face. The apartment I rented above a store front was on the far edge of Main Street. On one side of the building was The Bar. The only bar with actual seats in Dusty Creek which only barely made it the best. The other side of my apartment was heavily forested ravine at the bottom of which was the Creek the town was named after.
Not at all dusty, so I’m not sure why it got that name.
Anyway, I checked to see if I had pants on because I’d made that mistake once or three hundred times when I took the dogs out. This morning, I did not in fact have pants on, but my shirt was plenty long. So, I went down the narrow stairs that opened up onto the side door and the dogs raced out into the ravine where they went to the bathroom.
“Be quick,” I told them. Which they usually were. Sometimes Thelma would get distracted by a squirrel but the promise of breakfast kept her on task.
“Morning.” My sister Sabrina called out as she walked over from her bakery Sweet Things, across the street. Sweet Things was cute and her cupcakes were delicious, but I didn’t tell her that. The only reason I didn’t curl my lip and hiss at her as she crossed the street was she was bringing me a cup of coffee. She’d started doing this lately. Bringing me coffee when she saw me out here, from the big front window of her bakery.
Ronnie asked her to do it. To be nice to me – nicer, anyway. Just like she asked me to give Sabrina a chance. To try.
These coffee dates were us…trying.
They were awful.
“Hey,” I said. She handed me the mug and took a sip from hers. Both of us looked at the ravine like it was interesting. I wondered if she was hoping it might spontaneously burst into flames so we wouldn’t have to make our awkward small talk.
Because I sure as hell was.
“Air smells good,” I said. Taking a big sniff of it. “What are you making?”
“That’ll do it. You’re covered in flour,” I said.
“It’s my new look.”
“It’s in your hair.”
She put her hand to that high bouncy ponytail, giving it a shake. Sabrina used to be a reality TV star, one of the most beautiful people in the world – all the magazines said so. And she looked completely different than she used to. Looser, happier, less rigidly perfect So different, you wouldn’t even recognize her.
A few weeks ago, I told her she was prettier now than she ever was before.
Which you wouldn’t think would cause a fight. But you would be wrong.
“Clayton and Ronnie are coming out to the Ranch, at the end of the month for dinner.” She very carefully was not looking at me.
“Sounds nice.” It sounded like having all my skin stripped off and being dipped in alcohol. Surrounded by my sister’s and their husbands and all their love?
“You could come?”
“Is that an invite?”
She sucked a deep breath through her nose. “I’d love you to come. You could bring a date.”
“I don’t have a date.”
“Bea King without a date?” She shot me a laughing look over the edge of her mug.
I held my arms out wide. “No date.”
No date in over year. Since Travis. Since Ronnie fell in love. Since Dad died and our lives fell apart. I hadn’t so much as sniffed a man in a year.
“I’m taking a break from being Bea King,” I said.
“Yeah? How is that working?”
“Great,” I snapped. “Just great.”
Frankly, it was nice not being me. The fuck up. The King most likely to fail. It was nice not needing Ronnie to bail me out.
But sometimes it felt like I was going to twitch out of my skin. Sometimes it felt like I wanted to pull every fire alarm in town. Start a fire in main street just to…relieve this feeling in me. This pressure.
This awful, awful boredom.
The sense of not being myself. Of having lost myself when I tried to make everything right.
“Bea,” she said and that tone of her voice, that – let’s be friends so you can tell me all your problems and then I’ll mock you mercilessly for them – tone. Yeah, I wasn’t here for that tone. For the sisterly love.
I had one sister for that.
“Thanks,” I cut her off. “For the coffee.”
“No problem.” Ugh. Her smile was the fake one I recognized from her television show.
“You don’t have to do it, you know,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said. “I know.”
See, this was Sabrina and me. A nice gesture could lead to a fight with one left turn.
“I’m just saying I appreciate it.”
“Yeah. I can tell. Bring me the mug later.” And then she was gone. Back across the street. She had two white flour hand prints on the butt of her cut offs.
The apology that would make so much of this go away, the apology that might actually start the two of us being friends, was right on the edge of my lips. But I didn’t say it.
I couldn’t give her the satisfaction. Because she never gave me the satisfaction.
And that was pure Bea King.
There was a giant crash just on the other side of the wall behind me. I jumped and sloshed coffee all over the place and then there was another. A thud, a crumble, silence and then repeat. Steadily. Over and over again. Dust rained down from the ceiling of the vestibule.
Shit. The demo work. Jack had told me about that. He’d bought the building where I lived next to The Bar with plans to take over the first floor and expand the dining space. He gave me a discount on the rent because I was basically going to be living over a construction zone.
Demo was starting today. And apparently at dawn. I should probably get grumpy about that, but I couldn’t really manage it. I could sleep through anything but the dog’s routine. But the noise would probably stir Thelma and Louise up earlier and earlier.
It really was time for a new place. I needed to get serious about looking, this ravine was keeping things manageable for now, but I couldn’t keep a chihuahua and a mastiff in a two-room apartment forever.
You know you’re rich. That’s what my sister Ronnie had said last time she visited me here. Looking around at my second-hand furniture with her nose wrinkled. A portion of the inheritance that my Dad left us had been divvied up and I currently, after paying off all my debt and the money my sister loaned me – with interest after the Travis debacle. I had roughly three and a half million dollars in my bank account. With the promise of more to come.
It was already more money than I knew what to do with. So much money in fact that I was kind of terrified of it. It was giving me anxiety. Me! Bea King, the rebel child. The guaranteed good time.
I was not supposed to have anxiety, but this money was giving it to me.
It was a life changing amount of money and I was determined not to waste it. I just needed to figure out what I wanted my life to be before I spent any money on it.
And that was a harder question than I’d thought. Or maybe it was the answer that was hard –whichever. I couldn’t make a decision. That money had been in my account for three months and all I’d done was buy a used Jeep, rent a cheap apartment and buy my dogs really good dog food.
Ronnie wanted me to go back to school, which, sure…made sense. I didn’t have a degree. Degrees were useful. But a degree in what?
Sabrina said I needed to travel. See the world. Get some perspective, those were her words. But I think she just wanted me out of town.
In the aftermath of my Dad dying, both my sisters found the things that made them happy.
Why the hell couldn’t I?
What was wrong with me?
I tried to shake off this feeling but it lingered like a bad smell.
When the dogs came bounding up from the ravine we all went back upstairs where I filled their bowls with kibble, and the dogs sat side by side next to the sliding glass door that led to the deck, pretending they were well-behaved.
“You’re not fooling anyone, you know,” I told them.
I wondered if I was? Fooling anyone. This new, not Bea, Bea.
The door let in plenty of light and the deck was literally in the middle of all those trees. It felt like the most private, secluded placed in the world. I put some privacy fence along the side of the deck that faced the street, because sometimes a girl liked to sit in the sun with her with her top off, you know?
And my backyard was dominated by a giant Texas live Oak. It was a beauty. Had to be hundreds of years old, with branches that absolutely filled the blue sky with green leaves. It was covered in all kinds of moss.
The tree was so big I couldn’t get my arms around it. Two of me probably couldn’t get my arms around it. And the branches dipped, some close to the ground, before rising up to the sky. I worried every time there was a good storm, that part of that tree was going to take down my little deck.
But it was rock solid, that tree.
And it was easily the best privacy screen ever made.
I could do naked yoga out there and no one would ever know it.
I should do more yoga. Would yoga help me make a decision? Would yoga make me happy?
“Hold on to your boobs,” I told the girls who whined at me to hurry up and get their breakfast. I set the dog bowls on the counter, opened the door and all but threw the bowls down on the concrete pad of my second-floor deck. I went back in for my cup of coffee and the dogs went after the food like it might run away from them.
It was why I fed them out here. It was a full top to bottom kitchen clean up when I fed them indoors.
I had a little planter stand filled with flowers I was trying to kill with my attention and love. I drank my coffee and picked off all the dead blooms.
And when the dogs went in doors I bent down to get the bowls but then, decided what the hell and tried to press my hands flat to the ground. The breeze came up behind me and pushed my shirt up over my ass.
“Sorry…I just…you’re not alone out here.”
I glanced up and realized through the spindle of my wrought iron fence I could see parts of a man through the leaves of the Oak tree in the back corner of the yard, where he seemed to be making a pile of debris.
“I’m almost done,” he said and then he tossed an armful of wood into the pile. “And you can go back to…you know.”
Bending over without pants on. Right.
“You can see me?”
“Parts of you.”
His laugh was low and dark and I could see he wore blue jeans and a sweaty tee-shirt. I couldn’t see his face. But he was strong. And he had a nice laugh.
“Well, if you don’t mind me saying. I can see the good parts.”
Yeah, I bet you can cowboy. He lifted his hat off his head and ran a hand through his hair, which I couldn’t see. But I could see that forearm. Tan from the sun. Corded from hard work. There was flecks of sawdust stuck in the sweat.
It was a very nice forearm attached to a thick strong wrist. With a big hand at the end.
A man’s hand.
My skin itched and my body twitched and I felt that recklessness roll right through me. Which was the only reason – well that and the small connected muscles in his forearm – that I said: “Yeah, I can see the good parts too.”
He went really still and I had the rarely felt sensation of having gone too far. A step over the line. I’d shocked my polite cowboy with jacked forearms. Well, I was out of the business of apologizing or trying to make a man comfortable with who I was.
A losing proposition every time.
So, I turned my back to him and bent back over. I had to bend my knees to get my hands on the floor but I did it. Aware all the time of how my ass must look in the red silk underwear I wore.
Good. My ass was fucking top-notch. He was the luckiest cowboy in Dusty Creek to be getting this show from Bea King.
You don’t like it cowboy, you can leave.
He didn’t. Of course he didn’t.
I stood back up, nice and slow, laughing a little in my throat, because this was a surprising good time.
“You’re the guy working downstairs?”
“Yeah, sorry if I woke you.”
“You by yourself?”
“Yeah…it’s just me.”
I hummed like I was considering something and he was just going to have to wait to find out what it was.
“I’m not –“
“Don’t talk,” I said. Because if I knew him, or he knew me, this shit would get ruined fast. And I just wanted a few more minutes.
He cleared his throat, instead of saying anything. Smart guy, he caught on fast. He was just lucky enough to see me. That was all. Lucky enough to have looked up and found me on my balcony.
He could be anyone. And so could I. He could be a prince. A hit man. A construction worker with a dirty dirty mind. He could be dangerous. A really dangerous guy with dangerous plans. He could see me up here and decide he had to have me.
I could be anyone. A stripper working my way through college. The wife of an abusive man who kept me locked up here so I’d never leave him for another man.
I could be the kind of person people counted on and I came through for them.
I could be happy.
Something like grief tore through me. Something strange and painful and I wanted it to go away. A million years ago when I was Bea King, I’d get drunk or start a fight. I’d pick a handsome cowboy out of the crowd and let him fuck me until I could be happy again. Just for a few minutes.
But all that was behind me and I needed something else.
Teasing this cowboy might work. Might be just the thing. For a minute or two.
My nipples got hard under my shirt. Between my legs there was a buzzing that I liked. I liked it very much. This…what I was thinking, was ridiculous. And dangerous.
And that was why I liked it.
The silence in the backyard was charged and wild. I was charged and wild as I sat in the deck chair where I liked to drink my morning coffee.
And I spread my legs open just a little bit.
From this angle I really couldn’t see him much at all. His hand. His hip in blue jeans. That fucking forearm. It was obscene that forearm, that way it rippled with muscle and narrowed down to the bones of his wrist. I could imagine grabbing onto that wrist with both hands while he did…whatever the fuck he wanted with that hand.
I wanted to ask him to take a step to the side so I could see him better but this was good. Better. Fantasy, in my case was always better than reality.
And he must have been able to see me because he didn’t move. Not a muscle. And he cleared his throat again, like it was a signal.
Go ahead. I’m here.
It had been a lonely year and I wasn’t ready to invite some stranger into my house. And I wasn’t about to engage in some masturbatory dirty talk. But I liked the thrill his eyes gave me.
My big oak tree gave us the right amount of mystery. And privacy.
Voyeurism. Who knew?
The buzzing between my legs changed tones and got deeper. Brighter. I spread my legs wider and ran my hands up from my knees to the silk edge of my panties. I did it again and then again until finally I ran my thumb over the damp spot, hitting my clit on the way up.
I gasped and he groaned and I imagined he could see enough to get turned on. Or maybe he couldn’t really see anything and just sound of my gasp was enough to make his forearm clench up like that.
Or maybe he saw my face and he knew exactly who I was, but he wasn’t interested in me knowing him.
This was going to work just fine for both of us.
I slipped my fingers under the top of my panties because I liked the way that looked. Dirty and secret. Like I didn’t know he was down there. But I didn’t want to be seen. I was a teenager with my hands under my desk and he was a teacher who shouldn’t have been looking.
No. I didn’t like that one and quickly pushed it aside.
My knuckles rubbed up against that wet spot and I could smell the musty sweet smell of my arousal in the air.
Could he? Did he like it?
He still hadn’t moved. That forearm of his was rock solid so I knew he didn’t have his own junk out. He was just watching. Just waiting. To see what I would do.
I was a fucking Queen, that’s what I was. And he was some lowly soldier who could have his eyes taken out just for seeing me this way. But he risked it…because I was amazing.
Something about this turned my crank pretty hard and when my thumb hit my clit I saw sparks and it was like every blood vessel in my body was dilating past what I could stand. The orgasm was coming fast and it was going to be hard.
“Fuck,” I breathed, stroking my thumb over my clit again, just the way I liked it. A little harder on the downstroke. Faster. I bent my head, braced my foot against the wrought iron fence. I watched the sweat drip down his arm and I stroked myself until I came so hard I saw stars against the back of my eyelids.
But when I opened my eyes and looked down, he wasn’t there. I couldn’t see him anywhere in the yard.
Suddenly cold and just a little embarrassed I closed my legs.
“Hello?” I called out.
And then he was back, he took a step to the side and I saw that forearm again, the navy blue sleeve of his shirt hugging his bicep. His hat was in his hand and I saw some blonde hair.
“You’re…fucking beautiful,” he said.
I laughed with the magnanimous humor a good orgasm could give a girl. “You want to tell me your name?” I asked.
He was quiet for a long time and it was just the wind in the Oak tree and the sound of my heavy breathing. I wondered what secret he was keeping and why he wanted it kept. But frankly I wasn’t interested in telling him my name either. Nothing like the name King in this town to ruin a flirtation. Shit got weird when boys found out they might be able to fuck a King.
“No names,” he said. “No faces. No talking. I’ll be back here tomorrow morning.”
And then, my cowboy voyeur was gone.