When your life starts to look like a soap opera, it's time to change the channel.
-- Larry Niven
The much-anticipated date for Nancy's big bash has arrived, and Despina, still ignorant of her near-invitation from the sheriff, turns down offers to ride with first Bruno and Horst, then Jacques, and finally, Paul Peter.
I'd rather not be trapped without transportation home if things go astray.
The Stone Circles Reservation teachers travel in loose caravan style to Tex's impressive spread. The barn looks as if it has never held livestock, or more than a token load of hay and straw. Wooden sheets of plywood have been laid down to provide a hard surface to dance on. A live country band plays on a platform raised on top of some mangers.
So many of the stereotypes that I'd laughed at in Aaron Copeland's </i>Rodeo seem to be true, she ruefully notes as she glances curiously around her.
One old grump, evidently the Arizonan equivalent of a Norwegian bachelor farmer, is a perpetual wallflower. He is an employee on Tex's ranch, but Despina has forgotten what he does.
Settling on a bale beside him, she breaks the ice, "You should ask someone to dance."
"Nobody'd wanna dance with the likes a' me," Jones whines.
"I think you're selling yourself short," Despina replies with enthusiasm. "What kind of a woman do you admire?"
"Don't rightly know, ma'am." Jones stares at his well-worn, but highly polished boots.
"Well, what do you enjoy doing?" Despina prompts, putting on her best cheer-up-the-down-in-the-dumps-student voice.
Glancing briefly at her earnest eyes peering steadily at him, Jones flushes. "Well, I reckon the bestest thang's eatin' a good home-cooked meal."
Despina clasps her hands in front of her. "Don't you know any women who are good cooks?"
"Not rightly," Jones stammers.
Seeing Tex approach, Despina breaks off her conversation, preparing to leap away, leery of dancing with him.
Holding his hands out in supplication, Tex uses his sooth-the-spooky-animal voice. "It's okay. I'm not drunk. We need to do this to sort of bury the hatchet."
I can't deny that I've damaged his reputation, she thinks. With a glance in Nancy's direction, she acquiesces.
"Who've you been doing good for lately?" Tex asks, leaving a discrete distance between their bodies without any prompting from her.
"See that farm hand over by the door? The one I was talking to when you came up?"
"Jones? Yeah. What about him?" Tex asks indifferently.
"He thinks nobody'd like to dance with him, so he doesn't ask anyone." Despina's curls flounce with her nod.
Tex laughs lustily. "So, who're you planning to set him up with?"
"I don't know anyone. Who're the single women close to his age and station in life?"
Tex points out seven or eight older women who are either old maids or widows with discrete nods of his head that would seem built into a normal conversation to the casual observer.
Despina tries to memorize the names, qualities and positions of each, but soon realizes it is hopeless -- too much information too rapidly given. With a defeated sigh, she inquires, "Which of them is the best cook?"
"Cook? I never thought of cooking as a competitive sport. Let me take that one under advisement. So, why're you hugging the wall? Shouldn't YOU be out dancing, enjoying yourself?"
Looking away, Despina admits, "I always scare men off."
"Flooring me the way you did WOULD be a bit intimidating." Tex eyes her ruefully.
As the dance ends, Tex reclaims his wife, dancing effortlessly with her.
They really do make a lovely couple.
Several dances later, Tex is back again. Pleading tiredness, Despina sits, with Tex perching beside her. He tells her about Betsy, the most renowned cook in three church circles. Despina adroitly includes Jones in the conversation. Before she can get him started off in the right direction, she sees heads turn toward the door.
There stands Cu.
Tex rises, but Despina stops him with a hand on his arm. "Please don't."
"He wasn't invited."
Despina withdraws her hand and starts forward. Paul Peter intercepts her, pulling out his wallet as he guides her into the shadows against the wall. "If you plan to leave with 'im, you need some protection."
When she sees that he is again offering her prophylactics, not an escort, she hisses softly, but fiercely, "My MOTHER gave me a whole BOX of them when I left home."
"And where are they now?"
"And probably older than you, and as dried out." Reaching into her neckline as he talks, he tucks three down her bra, making her gasp in shock.
Trapped by the barn wall, she cannot take a step back to evade him. Totally humiliated, she pulls away and flees out the closest door. Heading around the side of the barn, she spots Cu, also outside now, and heading her way. His stride is long and angry. Despina slows and waits for him in the dark.
"Qué le da PP?"
Eyes like an eagle!
Wordlessly she retrieves one of his gifts.
Holding the packet up to the light, Cu discards it in apparent disgust, turns on his heel, and returns to his truck, leaving in a plume of dust.
Picking up Paul Peter's unasked-for present, she returns to the shadows of the same wall, now devoid of Jones. Her smiles are gone. She slides over when the sheriff comes up.
"Tough luck. Everyone was just sure you'd go off with him."
"I wasn't invited," Despina admits dejectedly.
"Tex said you told him you scare men off."
Paul Peter, who had come up with the sheriff and stood just out of sight on the other side of him, now steps around him to stand in front of her. "How'd ya manage to put the scare on 'im? He's one tough Indian."
"Actually, it seems to be YOUR fault."
"Me? I wasn't even out there."
Without a word, she hands him the packet in her hand.
"One?" says Mickey. "One? That is a DEADLY insult, for sure!"
Despina refuses to respond. Turning her head, she surveys the dancers, fighting off tears.
Rising, she heads off to make her regrets to Tex's wife.
Last updated 3/10/10 Corrected font color="red">wallflower.</font> 2/25/10 Added "tells"; removed you are. Changed the second Wordlessly to Without a word. 7/23/08, rearranged “Tex approaches, and Despina is” to “Despina, who” (8/9/04 ? 1/22/03.)
Word Count: 1053