Chapter 22: No regrets
Cassie lingered in front of Miss Jean’s Western Apparel, hesitant to go inside. Wanting the perfect outfit for tonight’s date with Jacob, she had googled “ladies western apparel” on her laptop while enjoying her morning coffee. When Miss Jean’s popped up as the nearest in her area, she decided to check it out before going on to the mall in Baton Rouge.
Mark had invited her and Jacob the afternoon before to join him and Margo for a night out at a place called The Rusty Rose Saloon, a trendy hangout for locals in Gramercy, a small community located on the East bank of the Mississippi River fifteen miles from Vacherie. Gramercy had originated as an Indian and French settlement and was now the home of Zapp’s Potato Chips and Louisiana Sugar Refining.
Jacob had at first declined, explaining that he didn’t think Cassie would be comfortable in such a place.
Mark had merely shrugged his shoulders. “Whatever you think. Margo’s been there several times and loves it. We thought it might be fun for the four of us to get together for some dancing and drinking.”
When Cassie said she was game to do it, Jacob had given in.
“Okay. We’ll give it a try.”
Mark had been pleased. Cassie had laughed. “Double dating with Margo. That will be a first! Should be fun. Interesting, anyway.”
Now, she suddenly wasn’t so sure of any of it, especially going inside this store. She often shopped small, local boutiques, but none that ever included the word “Rhinestone” or “Cowgirl” in their store logos. This one would go down as another first.
She took a deep breath as she reached for the door handle. She’d experienced overwhelming firsts since turning forty and, so far, had managed to handle them all. Shopping out of her comfort zone was nothing, a piece of cake.
The moment she entered the shop, a tall, slender woman, most likely in her early 50′s, approached her.
“Howdy, ma’am. I’m Miss Jean, how can I help you this morning?”
Cassie cleared her throat as she focused on the woman’s choice of outfit for the day—a copper-colored, beaded ankle-length skirt with wide matching belt and black Tee-shirt tucked into the full skirt. A large turquoise necklace adorned the woman’s long, slender neck. Thin silver bracelets dangled from one wrist while a wide cuff bracelet on the other wrist matched the necklace.
“Umm—I’m not sure,” she finally managed to reply, touching her neck, acutely aware of the nakedness of it having worn no jewelry for the day’s outing. “I’m looking for something to wear tonight to go country western dancing. And I have no idea. A dress of some sort, I guess.”
“What length did you have in mind, dear?”
“Short. Not too short, though. Knee length, I guess.”
Miss Jean appeared to study her for a moment. “I think I have just the thing for you.” She walked over to a clothing rack in the middle of the store and immediately pulled out a short, black, sleeveless, scoop-neck dress covered with fancy embroidery on the front bodice and around the curved hem.
Trying not to wince at the woman’s selection, Cassie replied, “Umm—that’s very lovely, but maybe something a little less lavish in decoration?”
“Oh—okay. I gotcha, girl. Simple, but sexy. Right?”
Cassie smiled. “Right.”
The store owner thumbed through the rack of dresses, finally pulling out a second choice. “How about this one? With a wide belt at the waist, maybe.”
Cassie studied it. “I like that.”
“Want to try it on?”
“That’s perfect!” Miss Jean exclaimed as Cassie stood in front of the three-way mirror, having tried on the dress and selecting a belt to go with it. “Now, how about cowgirl boots to go with it? I have just the right pair.”
“Yeah—I don’t think so.”
“No boots, dear?”
“Then perhaps some sandals like I’m wearing. They’re incredibly comfortable, and all the rage.”
Cassie glanced down at Miss Jean’s thick, brown, rhinestone-covered version of what she considered flip-flops.
“Those do look quite comfortable, but my date is quite tall. I’m pretty sure I have some heels at home that will work better.”
The lady smiled. “Your date! How fun! Is he special?”
Cassie smiled back at her, taking a few seconds before answering, recalling Jacob’s concern Tuesday afternoon when he hadn’t been able to reach her, and his hug of relief that she was okay.
“Yes, he is."
Several hours later, Cassie stood in front of the full-length mirror hanging on the inside of her closet door, in need of one last look to make sure everything was perfect before Jacob arrived. She was pleased with her choice of dress. The khaki colored, tiered, full-skirted dress with boat neck and fitted bodice and cap sleeves was much more her style than the fancier black dress Miss Jean had first selected, as well as the outfit the store owner had been wearing, although Cassie had found the woman quite stylish in her outfit. But August was way too hot for a full-length skirt. Plus, well aware of how much Jacob admired her legs, she had no desire to hide them under so much fabric. The wide faux snakeskin belt with round brushed metal buckle with raised designs Miss Jean had suggested added just the right touch, as well as the long Grecian bead multi-rowed necklace. She had chosen simple heeled sandals the same brown shade of the belt.
When the two couples arrived at The Rusty Rose Saloon, they found the place crowded, the music loud, and the clientele rowdy.
Jacob informed Cassie soon after they were seated at a corner table that, while he loved country music, he had never been comfortable dancing to it. She assured him that was fine; she doubted she would be able to follow him anyway. Cassie loved to dance, but hadn’t in years, finding Phillip an unwilling partner.
She took great pleasure in watching all the other couples on the sawdust-covered, parquet dance floor, including Margo and Mark. Mark proved to be an excellent dancer, and Margo had no trouble following him, especially to the slower songs. Mark held her as close as it seemed possible, and the two seemed to glide across the dance floor as one.
Cassie was thrilled for her friend; seeing the two of them together this evening she had no doubt they were madly in love. She would have never thought it before tonight, but Mark was absolutely a perfect match for Margo.
Margo seemed to fit in perfectly with the crowd, dressed in western jeans that fit low on her hips and a red leopard print long-sleeved, western shirt with rhinestone snaps. She had left the top three unsnapped, displaying a long silver necklace that hit in the middle of exposed cleavage. Matching dangle earrings completed the incredibly sexy look.
But then Margo had always managed to fit in, whatever the situation or atmosphere, and Cassie had always admired and envied her for it.
Mark looked equally stylish in western jeans, black leather belt fastened with a broad, rectangular, silver buckle, and black long-sleeved western shirt with red front and back yoke and diamond shaped pearl snaps. His black cowboy boots matched Margo’s.
Cassie sat close to Jacob, who had dressed much simpler than Mark in western jeans, a light blue and white plaid western shirt, and brown western boots, enjoying the music. Jacob had his arm around her and leaned over often to kiss her. He was downing the beers pretty quickly. Cassie enjoyed the taste of it on his lips, the smell of it on his breath. She was going down on the wine, tonight not minding that it had come in a plastic cup rather than a stemmed crystal wine glass. Tonight it didn’t matter. She was enjoying it as well as the evening itself.
When the band left the stage for a long break, Margo and Mark finally sat and visited with them as music played on a jukebox.
Slouching in his chair with his arm draped around Margo’s shoulder, Mark took a large swallow of his beer, then clonked it down on the table.
“I believe Lee Brice had us in mind when he wrote this song, don’t you think, boss.”
Jacob chuckled. After taking a swig of his beer, he replied, “Yep, I think he did.”
Mark began singing loudly with the music.
“We’re up when the rooster crows. Clock in when the whistle blows. Eight hours ticking slow, and then tomorrow we’ll do it all over again.”
He took another sip of his beer, then continued singing.
“I’m a member of a blue-collar crowd. They can never, naw, they can’t keep us down. If you gotta, gotta label me, label me proud.”
Then he turned to Margo. “Sing it with me, woman!”
“We belong to the drinking class, Monday through Friday, man we bust our backs.”
Jacob laughed at them, shaking his head. Then he turned to Cassie, pulled her closer, and kissed her forehead.
“I’m great,” she replied.
Once the song ended, Mark pushed his chair back and stood. “Come on, Cassie. Time for some bull riding. Let’s see if you can outlast Margo.”
Confused, Cassie replied, “Umm—did you say bull riding?”
“Yep! Come on!”
Margo, who was also now standing, waved her up. “Come on, hon; it’s fun.”
Cassie turned to Jacob for an explanation.
He also stood, then reached his hand out to her.
“Mechanical Bull. In the back room.”
Though hesitant, Cassie took his hand, and the two of them followed Mark and Margo into a back room. Sure enough, in the middle of it stood a giant mechanical bull, very much like the one ridden by Debra Winger in the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy starring John Travolta.
“Which one of you ladies is going first?” Mark asked.
“Go ahead, Cassie,” Margo said.
“You’ve got to be kidding! There is no way I’m getting on that thing!”
“Come on! It’s fun!” Margo insisted.
“Yeah! Right. You go right ahead. I’ll watch.”
“Come on, baby, show ’em how it’s done!” Mark said to Margo.
When Margo climbed up on the large bull with Mark’s assistance, a small crowd gathered around to watch her. As she leaned back with her right hand tucked up under the belt around the bull’s belly and her left arm high in the air, she shouted out, “Let her rip!”
Mark hit a button, and the bull began bucking and turning, first slowly and smoothly, and then more aggressively. As the crowd cheered Margo on, Cassie stood watching in awe. Jacob, standing directly behind her, slid his arms around her waist, pulling her close. She felt his warm breath on her neck as he whispered in her ear. “I love you.”
She leaned back and closed her eyes, content in his embrace where she always felt safe and secure as if wholly protected from everything and everyone terrible in the world. She opened her eyes when the crowd began clapping, just in time to see Margo get bucked off of the bull, landing in the muscled arms of Mark, who immediately devoured her mouth with his own.
When Mark finally released Margo, he turned to Cassie.
“Your turn, boss lady.”
“Next time, then,” she said, letting her off the hook.
“Yes, next time. Absolutely.”
They all laughed, and then headed back to their table, just in time, as the band had returned and were announcing their next tune.
Standing outside Cassie's front door at the end of the evening, Jacob kissed her goodnight, his arms tight around her waist, hers around his neck. Though he had no problem driving home, it was obvious he was feeling the effects of the numerous beers he had consumed during the evening. Cassie felt her wine as well, her head dizzy, her heart pounding, as she allowed Jacob’s hands to explore more than usual. His breathing grew heavier as his aggressive kisses and roaming hands mimicked Cassie’s dream.
When she made an effort to push away from him, he refused.
“Cassie. No. Not tonight. I don’t want to say goodnight at the door. I love you so much. Don’t send me home tonight.”
“Cassie. Please,” he whispered as he pulled her tighter, burying his head in her neck.
Trying to catch her breath, she whispered, “I just need to get my key out.”
She held him off long enough to locate her house key in her small handbag and unlock the door.
As soon as they were inside, Jacob shoved it closed and then pinned Cassie against it.
Cassie stood in her kitchen, pouring her second cup of coffee. She had woken early, quietly tiptoed into the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth, taking a few extra moments to run a brush through her tousled hair, apply a small amount of foundation and lipstick, then dressed in a pair of shorts and tank top before heading into the kitchen to start the coffee.
When she turned around, she was surprised to see Jacob standing on the other side of the bar from her, dressed in his clothes from the night before.
Startled by his presence, she jumped, almost spilling her coffee.
“I didn’t realize you were awake.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. And, I’m so sorry about last night, Cassie.”
Surprised by his apology, she asked, “Why?”
“Because I drank way too much last night. We both did, and I took advantage of it, even though I knew you weren’t ready.”
“Jacob, you didn’t take advantage of me. We both had too much to drink, yes. But that’s not why last night happened. Last night happened because I wanted it to, just as much as you did. I knew what I was doing. I wanted to be with you.”
“So—no regrets this morning?”
She shook her head. “No. No regrets. Last night was wonderful.”
His apologetic frown quickly turned into a beaming smile. “It was pretty wonderful, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. It was. Now, how about some coffee?”
“I’d love some.”
She turned, reached into a cabinet for a coffee mug, and poured him a cup. When she turned back around, he was standing in front of her.
“I love you,” he said, and then kissed her before accepting the coffee mug.
“So how about some breakfast to go with that coffee?” she asked.
“I don’t want you to go to any trouble.”
“Jacob, it’s no trouble to fix breakfast. I would have already started it, but I had no idea how long you would sleep. Sit,” she said, pointing to one of the barstools, “and drink your coffee, and I’ll get it going.”
Sitting on a barstool across from him several minutes later while they ate the breakfast she had prepared, she asked, “So, what’s on your agenda for the day?”
“I’m tied up with the MacFarland’s all afternoon, including dinner.”
“The MacFarland’s, huh? You know, I haven’t even met these people, and I am beginning not to like them.”
“Because they take up too much of your time on the weekends, time away from me.”
“Well, it shouldn’t be a late dinner. I could come back here for a while afterward—“
“I’d like that.”
“Me, too,” he said, reaching across the bar and taking her hand in his. Glancing at the clock on her microwave, he said, “I need to get going. By the time I get home and clean up, it’ll be time to meet with them. I’m pretty sure we’ll seal the deal today.”
“Good. As long as it doesn’t take you away from Tara too much.”
“It won’t. I promise you that.” He leaned over the bar and kissed her, then started gathering up their plates. “Let me help you with clean up before I go.”
“I have all day to clean the kitchen. Go. Seal your deal. Enjoy your dinner. I’ll be waiting here for your return.”
Cassie sat in her living room later that evening, watching an old black and white movie with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, waiting to hear from Jacob. She was looking forward to seeing him, to being with him again, to sharing her bed with him once more. Their night together had been incredible, even more so than in her dream. She had stayed awake long after he had passed out with his arms wrapped around her as she lay with her head resting on his chest, feeling more fulfilled than she thought possible.
When her phone rang, she checked the screen, then quickly answered, smiling.
“Hey, where are you?”
“Hey, Cassie. I’m almost across the Sunshine Bridge. Just checking in to see if it’s still okay for me to come by,” he replied.
“Of course it is.”
“Good. I should be there in about—What the hell?”
“Jacob, what’s wrong?”
“Jacob! What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
She could hear what sounded like tires squealing, and then loud crashing sounds.
And then more squealing, and finally a horrendous thud. And then nothing on Jacob’s end. Nothing but dead silence.