Igniting the Wild Sparks, Book 3

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Chapter 16

“What the fuck?” Rod shoves the door open further, assessing the bar. “She actually thinks this is gonna be a hot spot? More like a hot damn. Shit.”

I walk in behind him and stop, frozen in my tracks, déjà vu, not a friend of mine. The bar is a dank, musty, and dreary place screaming for a wrecking ball’s mercy. Dust and grime cover everything from top to bottom. The seating upholstery is shellacked with a smoky, grayish film. Even though I’m almost certain North Carolina banned smoking in bars a while ago, the smell of cigarettes lingers in the air, and the windows remain. I don’t think this place ever became acquainted with a bottle of Windex.

I tug on Rod’s arm. “Holy shit. I dreamt about this place.”

“You mean like this is your dream bar? I think they should’ve done a CunT scan on your head.”

“No. I mean, I had a nightmare about this bar. You were in it.”

“Gee, thanks, Hadders. I’m forever in chicks’ nightmares.”

I cling to Rod’s arm and apprehensively look around. “It’s not exactly the same, but it’s damn close. Are there pool tables in there?” Walking further into the main room, Rod angles his head and then nods to the smaller room off to the side. “If that’s what you wanna call those things, then yep.”

From somewhere in the kitchen behind the bar, a muffled voice yells, “Greg, is that you?”

Rod shouts back, “Can I pretend it’s not, Aunt Amy?” I smack his arm, and he snorts, which makes him choke on a cough from inhaling the acrid air. There’s no way Eden can be here until this hell hole is scrubbed and then scrubbed again.

Amy orders, “Don’t go anywhere!”

Rod answers, “Not even if you tied me to a broken toilet and beat me with wet newspapers!” I wrinkle my nose, partly for his comment and partly for the foul air.

“What?” Amy yells.

Rod walks us closer to the bar, and instead of repeating his earlier answer, he loudly asks, “Where’s Dad?”

“He left.” A brunette teen with freckles and an unruly scowl appears from the hallway. “It’s Aunt Amy, Colt, Tabby, and me.”

Rod sighs. “Fuckin’ fabulous.”

She smirks at his agitation. “What? Colt?”

“Yep.” Rod explains, “Colt is Aunt Amy’s asshole son. He’s a proctologist’s wet dream.” Rod’s gaze swiftly roams up and down my body. “I’m gonna warn you now. He will hit on you.”

I cross my arms, as usual, when scrutinized. “He will? Why?”

Rod narrows his eyes and frowns. “Shut up.” He jerks his thumb toward the girl. “By the way, this is my sister, Josie. Jo, this is Hadley, a friend of mine.”

She grins and waves her finger at us. “Are you two dating?”

Shaking his head, Rod impatiently sighs. “Nooo. I just said we are friends. Why don’t you orbit elsewhere, Venus?”

“Screw you. I’m not that dense, scumbag.”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

“Like that’s hard to do.” Does everyone have the smart mouth gene in his family?

“Don’t you have a small village to burn?”

The swinging door behind the bar opens, and a woman blows in from the kitchen, wearing a tattered white T-shirt, and old blue jeans. Covering her is an apron that says, No bitchin’ in my kitchen. Her short white hair sets off her blue eyes even under the dim lighting. “I also have beer in a cooler!” She turns to me and asks, “Whom do we have here?”

Rod answers, “Hadley. She’s a coworker and friend.”

Smiling jovially with red cheeks, she says, “Nice to meet you, Hadley. I’m Amy. So, what do you young people think?” She waves her hand like Vanna White, and I’m compelled to give the dump another once-over.

With hands on his hips, Rod says, “Undecided. Frankly, Aunt Amy, I’m not sure what you can do with this place. What’s your plan?”

“Opening a bar. Duh. Who’s Venus now?” Josie scoffs.

Rod shoots Josie a side glare. “Put a sock in it, whorebang.” He looks back to his aunt. “I meant, is there a theme to set you off from the rest?”

She clasps her hands together. “I’d like to have dancin’ in here! That would be a hoot!”

“Um, yeah. A hoot wasn’t the first word that came to mind.” Rod points to the right, and we all look. “Anyway, you could turn that room into a dance floor. Take out the pool tables.”

“I love it! Tell me more, Greg!”

His eyes widen, in fear, I think. “Well, brighten up the place. Make it colorful. Add lights everywhere. Change the name to something fun and cool. And for the love of Almighty God on His throne, get rid of the roadkill smell.” Amy eagerly nods.

Amy says, “There is an old jukebox over there. Most of the songs are from the eighties and nineties, but I think there are some current ones.”

He mutters, “I’ll need more than music to forget this place.”

“Greg!” A younger, brown-haired girl hurdles out of the kitchen.

“Hey, Tabs.” She runs to Rod, slamming into him. “Criminy!” he gasps. “You ’bout broke my liver!”

She inquisitively nods to me. “Is that your girlfriend?”

“No. That’s Hadley. She’s a friend of mine.”

She smiles at me and shrugs. “Oh, okay. I have the kitchen. Where do you wanna start?”

“Richmond.”

I grab Rod’s hand and pull him to the bar. “We’re here to clean.” I turn to him and whisper, “Your aunt has invested a lot of time and money into this.”

Rod grumbles, “A tetanus shot would’ve been a good investment.”

“Stop.” Tugging the box so I can peer into it, I take a pair of gloves, a sponge, and some cleaner. “Has anyone scrubbed the booths?”

Walking to us, Josie shakes her head. “I’m not touchin’ ’em. Probably sperm everywhere.”

Rod’s face crumples. “You would know the whereabouts of sperm.”

“Get bent, Greg.” She huffily spins and goes behind the bar, angrily pushing the swinging door open. Rod giggles and goes over to the questionable-looking jukebox.

Grabbing a few things out of the box, I venture behind the bar. There, I find a bucket, filling it with water and then carrying it to a corner booth to get started. Wringing out my rag, Salt-N-Pepa’s Shoop thumps against the walls as I wipe down a neglected red bench seat. Emerging from the kitchen, Josie twirls around, swinging and swaying with a mop as her dance partner.

Glancing at the jukebox, I Rod bobs his head above it as he peruses the likely scant selection. At least he’s calmed down since his collapse at the hospital. I was helpless, hugging him on the floor until he quieted. After that, he didn’t talk about it.

Josie mops the wooden floors, reviving them somewhat. The scent of Lestoil fills the air, lifting our spirits as we cleanse this soiled place of its past sins.

I get into a rhythm of scrubbing and singing softly, and losing myself in my thoughts of Finn. I wonder if he’s thinking of me, and if he is, do I want to know what he’s thinking?

“Why, hello there,” a slick voice says from behind me. I jump and spinning around, I grab onto the table to steady myself as I examine the man in front of me. Shorter than Rod, he has blond wavy hair. His beard is scruffy, and his blue eyes are beady and wandering. The blue jean jacket he’s wearing with the sleeves cut off doesn’t help validate him, nor does the brown T-shirt with a silhouette of a naked woman across it. Even his cologne is offensive.

“What’s your name, baby doll?” Is he for real? With the small gold hoop in each ear, he easily could pass as a castoff extra from a high school production of Easy Rider.

“Baby doll?”

His eyes fall on my chest. “Honey or cutie? Whatever you want.”

“Her name is Hadley. Back off, Colt.” Rod appears and swiftly stands in front of me.

Still trying to catch a glimpse of me from behind Rod, he licks his lips. “I’m just messin’ with you. Don’t blow out your diaper, Greggie.”

Rod reaches back and grabs my wrist. As he tows me away from the table and his cousin, he glares at Colt over his shoulder. Turning to me, he says, “Sorry. I told you he’s a mammoth asshole.”

“Thanks for rescuing me, good sir.” I giggle and squeeze his arm.

He smiles. “Gladly. It’s no big deal.” When we stop at the jukebox, I get an up-close view of how dirty it is. Cobwebs would make it look more presentable.

Rod yells to anyone who’s listening, “Any requests?”

Jessie’s Girl!” Colt trills. “It’s a dedication to you, buddy!” Colt laughs and beats his hands on a table, kicking up puffs of dust, in triumph at his stupid joke.

“Fuckin’ dick,” Rod grouses to the cloudy jukebox glass.

“Ignore him.” I prod his arm, and he unwillingly smiles.

After scanning the songs, a huge smile floods his face, and he shouts, “Josie, I have a special one for you!”

“What?” she asks, squeezing dirty water out of her mop.

Jermaine Stewart’s We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off plays. I turn away, so she doesn’t see me laugh. He imparts, “Let this be your anthem when you go to college!”

“Ass clown!” She petulantly sulks, which only makes Rod laugh harder. He finds my hand, pulling me to the semi-sparkling floor of the former billiards room.

Looking around the bare room, I ask, “Where’d the pool tables go?”

“Colt and I moved them. They were just cheap pieces of shit.”

I continue to gawk at the emptiness. “I must’ve really been into cleaning tables.”

Rod laughs. “You were.” He raises his arm above my head, and I twirl. As I dance around him, he says, “We don’t have to dance. Your stomach hurts.” The inflection in his voice reveals his chronic guilt for hitting me.

“I’m okay.” I come back around and put my arms around his neck as we get into the groove, his hands moving to my hips as I twist. My stomach objects, but I soldier on. I need to have a little fun after my fight with Finn. However, just thinking about him makes hurts my heart, which is ineffectual for being pain-free. I wish I hadn’t messed up his plans, but I wish even more that he hadn’t lied to me.

Letting go of Rod’s neck, I grab his hand and whirl away from him. He swiftly spools me back, and as much as I want to, I can’t get into dancing. I’m much too distracted thinking about my Sparks.

“You okay?” Rod asks, stooping to look at me.

I sorrowfully shake my head. “Not really.”

“Your stomach?”

Giving him a knowing look, he nods. “You said he wasn’t mad after you talked.”

My lips pull to the corner, remembering what Finn told me. “Well, he wasn’t happy.” I omit how much it upset Finn. “He had made plans for us to stay at a cabin in Kentucky starting Wednesday, and we were staying until Sunday. I didn’t know.”

Rod’s face falls. “Aw, Hadders. I’m sorry.”

It’s not your fault. I wanted to be here.”

“I can see why he’s pissed off.”

“Yeah.”

“Why don’t you call him? Try to smooth things over with him before you go home.”

“I will. I owe you a dance first.” The next song is a faster one, and I swivel my hips, causing the rest of my body to follow suit. Rod catches up with me, and I dive my head at him, in which he follows my move. We stomp one foot and then alternate with the other, like we’re square dancing, almost. Twisting around, we dive and stomp again. Though we always make up the dances on the fly, we’re always in tune with each other, picking up changes fast. Vaguely, I notice our audience, which instantly unnerves me. Josie even records us with her phone. How embarrassing!

Rod grabs my hand, and we swing and dance on the scuffed, wooden floor. Pulling me, so my back is against his chest, he sings over each of my shoulders, making me giggle.

He twirls me again as the song ends to applause and whistles.

“You kids are fabulous!” Amy squeals. “Greg, remember how I used to dance with you and the girls? You’ve improved so much since then!”

Rod shrugs. “A little.”

Amy suddenly dances over to Rod. “Come on, Greg. Let’s groove like old times!”

Colt dodges out of the room. Ten seconds later, The Divinyls’ I Touch Myself fills the bar. From his expression, Rod panics as Amy sways around him.

Colt circles his hips mockingly. “Move, Greggie! Sway those sexy hips! Whoo!”

“Go, Greg!” Tabby cheers.

Amy bumps her hips against Rod’s leg, while he stands stock-still. He finally puts his hands up in defeat. “I can’t do this.”

“Oh, yes, you will! Move what Lizette gave you, Gregory!” Amy swings her butt near Rod’s crotch, and he jumps back with a horrified grimace.

“Could you please?” he sourly gripes. Amy rolls her arms and throws them out as she gyrates in front of Rod. I try not to laugh, but damn, it’s funny. I giggle until tears fill my eyes from the ultra-uncomfortable look on his face.

“Greg, dance, or you and Colt will be locked in a room to hug it out!” Definitely not wanting that, Rod shoots her a dirty look, but sways his hips halfheartedly. Those dancing Santa Clauses have more swagger. Amy shimmies against him, and grabs his hand, swinging their arms together. Amy’s dull clothes contrast Rod’s dark blue jeans and the gray Take That shirt he’s wearing, loosely tucked in at places and displaying his shiny silver belt buckle. Despite the random and odd T-shirts, he wears, Rod always looks cool. No wonder Rhonda has the hots for him.

He glances at the door in vain desperation. “Aunt Amy, I think I’m done.”

When the song is over, he throws his hands into his hair and breathes an enormous sigh of relief. Except for Rod, we all laugh and clap as Amy takes a gracious curtsy.

I leave the room, giggling. When I return to my bucket, I pick up the rag to resume washing when someone says, “How ’bout I give you a whirl?”

Since I had a weird feeling Colt would follow me, I’m not startled. Without turning around, I reply, “Um, no thanks. I need to finish cleaning.”

“Oh, come on! I’m better than my cuz here in a lot of ways.” Eww. I doubt that.

I face him. “What?”

“We should see a movie. Or we could skip a movie and do something else.” He raises a smug eyebrow and creepily eyes me. My skin begins to bristle, not from fear, but from his smarminess.

From nowhere, Rod is blocking me again, jolting his cousin away from me, his eyes flashing with anger. “I told you to leave her the fuck alone.”

Colt throws a hand up, pointing at me. “What, cuz? I thought you told me you were just friends. So it’s okay if I ask her out, ain’t it?”

Rod growls, “No.”

Colt goads him, “Why? She’s not yours.”

Rod steps up to him, eye-to-eye, and he snarls, “I lied. She’s mine. Back off.”

“Oh, so Greggie Poo finally has a girlfriend? And it’s her? I think she needs a huge upgrade!”

Crossing my arms, I laugh. “And it’s you? Ha!”

“She could do so much better.” He laughs, and Rod sucks his bottom lip in and clenches his fists. I’ve never seen Rod get physical with anyone, but maybe he would.

Rod irritably sneers, “Fuck you, cuz.”

I push Rod’s shoulder to back him away before things get out of hand. “Okay. That’s enough. Your sisters are here. Watch your mouth.” I then turn to Colt. “You. Stop with the gross come-ons and the disgusting stares.”

He motions to Rod with a dubious scowl. “I can’t believe you’re dating him.

“Like I would date you?”

A conceited smirk lifts his lips. “I bet he can’t make you happy if you know what I mean.”

Putting my hands on my hips, I retort, “Are you serious? You saw us dancing. Yes. He’s that good. So, yeah. I’m extremely happy. Therefore, take your lame ass over to the bar instead of harassing my boyfriend and me.”

Colt’s eyes pop open. “Whew! You’re a hot one!”

From behind the bar, Amy crows, “Colt! Get your dumb ass in here and finish spacklin’! Quit being a ding-dong and wastin’ my time! Damn it! I’m sick of your shit!” Her face turns redder as she points at him and yells, “You make me so mad I could spit nails into a brick wall!” She pounds her fist on the bar.

Colt ultimately relents, moping to the kitchen, where his mother waits for him in the doorway. When he passes her, Amy smacks him on the back of the head. He protests, but she roughly shoves him forward.

As soon as he’s gone, Rod squeals, “Oh, God!” We both laugh uncontrollably, gasping for air. “I’m gonna croak from laughing! Son of a bitch! That was fucking awesome, Hadders! I can’t believe you said that shit!”

I giggle. “I can’t either. Not sure where it even came from. I didn’t like him picking on you.”

“He’s always been like that. I’m used to it. I don’t like him hitting on you, though. Your boyfriend would’ve pounded his face in.”

“Which boyfriend?” I laugh again as he snorts.

After dinner at Rod’s father’s house, sitting on the guest bed, I call Finn. However, he doesn’t answer. I call three more times, but nothing. I leave him a quick message to call me back, and that I love him. I hope he’s not ignoring me or drowning his sorrows in a bottle of Jack and is too wasted to pick up his phone. I’d go home, but then his jealousy wins. Will he now get jealous about Shane or Ivan? Crick? Grant? Would he get mad if he saw me talking to Ricky? No. Ricky’s different. He trusts Ricky implicitly. It’s me he doesn’t trust. Although he’s the one risking his life and keeping it a secret from me.

This has to stop.

Whatever that is.

I again cry myself to sleep, missing Finn, and worrying about what is next for us.

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