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Right. Because women become lesbians all the time just to piss off their mothers.
“I don’t think that’s a feasible alternative for you, Mel.”
“Yeah.” She sighed. “I like men too much.” Four years of college hadn’t improved Melody’s grasp of sarcasm. “Speaking of men—let’s go out!”
She and her last boyfriend had broken up a month ago, and she knew the whole ugly story of Mitchell, but going out sounded more tiring than tempting. I’d hoped she’d catch me up on her personal life and local gossip like the adult women we were—while sharing a bottle of wine and lounging in yoga pants. I wanted to spend time with her before she left town though.
In high school, we were so night and day yet so connected that someone had dubbed us the yin-yang twins. That nickname likely resulted from our diverse outward appearances—even with her summer tan, she seemed paler and blonder next to my olive skin, dark hair and eyes. But to me, our bond, our yin-yang, was internal. We’d grown apart over the four separated years of college. I missed her.
“Melody, I’m not really in the mood to—”
“No worries—I’ll drive!”
“I’m jumping in the shower. Be there in an hour. Ha! I made a rhyme. See you around nine.” One, two—“Hey, I did it again! TTFN!” She snorted and hung up before I could Mel her a second time.
I had to laugh. Nothing like a high school friend to drag you back to high school behavior. Melody, more popular, more outgoing, more everything—had always decided our social agenda, and I had always followed. We’d parted activities in one instance that surprised no one, however. While she tried out for the cheer squad junior year and was head cheerleader senior year, I joined study groups, volunteered at the marine-science center, and was our class valedictorian.
If nothing else, I could try my confession out on Melody before I handed it to Mama. Melody would be the one to understand my anxiety over disappointing my mother.
“Me-OW,” Tux complained, purring like the brat he was.
To hush him up, I plopped a scoop of cold mac and cheese in his bowl—his favorite meal right after seafood. “You are so weird,” I told him. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get ready for a night on the town. At least it’s midweek. Hopefully the bars will be deserted.”
Chapter Three
Tourism had been the town’s number one economic resource forever—even fishing came in second. But the flow of cash didn’t stop the locals from bitching whenever hoards of out-of-towners showed up and invaded restaurants, crowded roads and the one grocery store, and jammed the beaches with sweaty bodies, Styrofoam coolers, and useless umbrellas that were demolished in the first stiff airstream off the gulf.
If you wanted to go out and avoid tourists this time of year—good luck with that. But your best shot was to hit a butt-ugly dive bar off the main strip. No bright tropical exterior, no palm-treed landscaping, no view. The sort of place nonresidents would either overlook entirely or take one look at and think, no way. Like the Saloon.
After a basket of onion chips, a half-pound burger, and a couple of beers, I challenged Mateo Vega to darts on the pockmarked board hanging close enough to the door that there were stray dart tip holes in the door. As I lined up my throw, the door swung open and in walked Melody Dover, a girl I’d known since my hellish repeat of third grade, and Pearl Frank, who knew me better than anyone in this town. I hadn’t seen either of them since they’d been home on winter break, more than four months ago.
“Oh, fabulous,” Melody muttered, glancing at me before checking out the near-vacant room. “Remind me why we’re here?”
The other two guys in my group—Randy Thompson and Vega’s cousin, Bart—lounged at a table a few feet away, and a couple of old-timers sat side by side at the bar. There’d been a few other regulars in earlier, but they’d cleared out.
I ignored Melody—a skill I’d honed over the years until it was all reflex—but I couldn’t ignore Pearl. She looked damned good, even in those sensible little clamdigger pants and flat shoes. Her hair was less wild than it used to be, but it still ran past her shoulders and down her back like a dark current. I tipped my chin as soon as her eyes met mine, and her answering smile was subdued but genuine.
She returned her attention to her friend, smile widening. “We want a quiet place to talk, Mel. This is perfect.”
Melody, hot as ever and aware of it as ever, glanced at me over her shoulder. “That remains to be seen—all it takes is one loudmouth to ruin the peaceful ambiance.”
“You should know, Dover.” Sinking a dart just left of the bull’s-eye, I refused to look at her.
She gasped but sounded more like a riled-up purebred than a grown woman. It took everything I had to hold back a laugh. Before she could spit out the smart-ass answer she no doubt had on the tip of her tongue, Pearl asked her a question and Melody turned to march toward a table along the back wall, yakking about some new job and forgetting to fire back at me.
Mateo’s cousin Bart, who was nineteen going on idiot, leered across the rough plank floorboards, which were scattered with discarded peanut shells—the Saloon’s idea of down-home decoration. “Thought you said there weren’t no hot pieces of ass in this town, Téo,” he said, all but drooling at the sight of Melody’s backside in shorts and heels.
That boy had no idea how close he’d come to a dart in the forehead. He could stare at Dover’s legs all he wanted, but one word about Pearl and he’d have been sporting a skull ornament.
“Shut it, dickwad.” Mateo swatted the back of his cousin’s skull. “Those two are so far out of your league they might as well be on the moon.”
Bart rubbed the back of his head, eyes following Pearl’s best friend as she walked up to the bar. “Maybe. But it looks like they’re slummin’ it tonight, primo.” He was up and swaggering her way before any of us knew it.
“This should be interesting,” Randy said, settling back in his chair to watch. He crossed thin arms over his skeletal chest, chuckling, and I was glad to see him smile. He’d been released from prison a few months ago after serving time for running a meth lab in a trailer that blew to hell a few years back. He’d have been inside a lot longer if anyone had been there at the time. That or dead. He’d convinced the parole board he was determined to go straight, and so far, he was sticking to it. The same couldn’t be said for his little brother, Rick.