Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dancing on a Slab

It was 2:30 in the morning, but traffic was unusually heavy westbound on Interstate 280. It thinned out after the Caldwell exit. The brutal grill of a Dodge Ram remained in Lacy’s rear view mirror. The truck’s headlights flashed. She was not about to pull over. Whenever Randy did something like this he was drunk. When he was drunk he was mawkish or violent – sometimes both. Whichever way, he wasn’t pleasant company.
Lacy had slipped out the door of the club earlier in the evening while he was chatting up one of the other girls. She hadn’t been in the mood to deal with him.
It was awkward when he showed up at the clubs where she danced, but he did it often. It always angered him to see her flirt with the customers, and he let her know it, even though this was her entire job. Meantime, he bought drinks and lap dances from the other go-go dancers. He was tall and blond with classic good looks, though alcohol was beginning to take a toll on his features and fitness.
Her Honda Civic jerked as the truck, equipped with a V10 engine freshly tuned at Lacy’s expense, touched her rear bumper. She maintained her speed and the truck fell back. Suddenly the Ram was alongside her on the left. It edged slowly into her lane. Lacy knew she would lose this battle. She pulled onto the shoulder. The truck passed her, veered onto the shoulder, stopped, and then accelerated in reverse. She fully expected a collision, but as she fumbled with the gear shift, the truck tires screeched and the Ram stopped within inches of her hood.
Lacy closed her eyes and caught her breath. Randy was at the door pulling on the handle. “Open the door!”
“Open the fucking door!”
No police were in sight, of course. They seemed to appear only when she was driving more than 6 mph over the limit.
“No! Calm down!”
Randy kicked at the door and quarter panels.  The car rocked as his steel-toed boots put dents in the body.
Lacy put her car into reverse and hit the accelerator. She crammed the shift into first, turned onto the highway and sped past Randy as he scrambled for his truck. Lacy took the first exit and then made two random turns. She knew he wouldn’t be able to find her in the maze of back roads. She was safe at least until she reached home.
Even without Randy, the night had not been a good one. Dancing was not as lucrative as it once was. When she was 18, $500 was an ordinary night. Many nights were well beyond ordinary. She was able to buy a house at age 26. Lately there were nights when she didn’t clear $100. Her credit cards were nearly maxed and she struggled each month to pay the mortgage, which she suspected exceeded the actual value of her home after the recent decline in the housing market.  What little money was left over after minimum payments, utility bills, and tuition was “invested” in Randy’s business. He bought, refurbished, and resold motorcycles. She provided the capital but had yet to see a return. He told her he had expenses.
Randy didn’t live with Lacy. He lived with his wife and two kids.
To Lacy’s relief, her driveway was empty when she reached home, a tiny two bedroom Cape Cod on Lake Shawnee. New Jersayans are generous with the term “lake.” In most places Shawnee would be a pond, big enough for rowing but too small for powered craft.
Her dog, a squishy faced shiatsu with the inappropriate name Clyde, greeted her at the door. She stumbled her way to the kitchen as he bounced around her legs. She opened an Alpo can and Clyde’s attention shifted to his bowl. A dog door to a fenced portion of the backyard allowed him to attend to the other necessities of a dog’s life when she left him alone for hours.
She walked into her bedroom and looked in the vanity mirror. She fingered her long natural light brown hair and looked closely at her face. Gray and wrinkles were satisfyingly absent. There was, however, a slight crinkle to her eyes when she smiled broadly. She wasn’t sure if this was a recent development. She was pleased she had resisted getting tattoos. She also was free of piercings except for the one in her navel that she had acquired one tipsy evening. Lacy decided she looked good, though the dreaded age 30 was only months away.
The thought startled her. She couldn’t believe she had been dancing for more than a dozen years. She wanted out. She was doing something about it, too. She was enrolled in the Nursing Program at the community college.
Back when Lacy was a teenager, her mother, during non-alcoholic moments, had encouraged her to pursue nursing. It was one of the few good pieces of advice she ever had given. Lacy had left home for good at age 16 when her mom’s new live-in boyfriend made a pass at her and her mom chose to believe his denial. Her father (or, more precisely, her father’s new wife) said he had no room for her at that time, so she temporarily moved in with a girlfriend. She got a fake ID and started to dance. She had lived on her own ever since.
Lacy changed into PJs and crawled into bed. Clyde crawled in alongside her. She drifted to sleep.
She was awakened by the rumble of a V10. She kept her eyes closed and pretended to sleep. She heard keys turn in the front door lock. Then there were footsteps. Clyde jumped off the bed and crawled underneath it. She heard Randy breathing in the bedroom. She smelled his cigarette and heard him sip a beer. The bottle clunked on the floor. Lacy was airborne. Randy had seized the mattress and upturned it. Lacy landed hard on the floor. Randy’s kick caught her in the thigh. It would leave a bruise.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again!” he shouted.
“Do what?”
“Run away! You can’t run away. I love you.  I’ll always love you. I’ll kill you before I let you get away.”
“Get out! Leave me alone! I’ve had enough of this shit!”
He grabbed her just under the shoulder, roughly pulled her back up on the bed, and held his cigarette as if to put it out somewhere on her. Instead, he took another drag on it and crushed it out on the end table. He sat down on the bed. He was conciliatory, even seductive.
“I’m sorry baby. I don’t want to hurt you. I love you so much. You know that. You just talked to that guy too long at the bar. It made me crazy. Then you split. You knew you did something wrong.”
Though fearful of provoking more violence, she answered, “It’s my job!”
“Don’t talk back to me! I’m trying to apologize!”
“I’m sorry.”
“That’s better.”
He rubbed her shoulder with one hand and unbuttoned his shirt with the other.  Lacy hated herself for responding to him sexually, but once again she soon was doing so. When he was done, Randy quietly dressed, returned to his truck, and went home to his wife. Clyde re-emerged from under the bed and snuggled up to Lacy.

The phone rang in the morning. Still groggy, she groped for it.
“Hi, this is Dennis, from across the street.”
“Oh, hi.” She knew this neighbor and his wife only in passing.  She had no idea why he would be calling. “What’s up?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. I have a favor to ask. Could you go across the street and check on my wife?”
“Barbara? Why?”
“She left an odd message on my phone at work and she doesn’t answer now. I’m on my way home, but it will take some time for me to get there.”
“What was the message?”
“I’ll go take a look.”
She hurriedly put on jeans and a tee shirt. She reminded herself to count her birth control pills. She couldn’t remember if she had taken one the day before. They added up properly.
Lacy hurried across the street. It was a narrow strip of asphalt that circled the lake and carried little traffic. She banged on the neighbors’ door. Their daughter Ashley, age five, opened it.
“Hi, Ashley.  Could I speak to your mom?”
“She’s sleeping.”
“It’s important, so I’ll just come inside and talk to her.”
Ashley ran back into the small in the small living room and sat close to the TV on which cartoons played. Lacy climbed the narrow stairs to the second floor. She tapped on the bedroom door. There was no response. She took a breath, pushed on the door, and peeked inside. Barbara in a nightgown lay sprawled face down across the bed with nylons wrapped around her neck.
Barbara turned her head and stared at Lacy. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Dennis called me and asked me to look in on you.  He’s on his way home.”
“And how does my husband know your number?”
“I don’t know. He looked it up, I guess.”
“A stripper has a listed number?”
“Customers don’t know my real name.” This was true. Her real name was Lara but no one called her that or “Miss Drekker” except her instructors at the college. She also never had mentioned her job to Barbara or Dennis, but apparently word had gotten around the neighborhood. Now that Barbara mentioned it, it did seem odd to Lacy that Dennis readily knew her listed name.
“This is none of your business,” Barbara continued, “and you need to keep your mouth shut about it.”
“Right. Sorry to bother you.”
Lacy retreated down the stairs. She obviously had walked in on a staged scene with which Barbara had meant to upset her husband.
Dennis pulled into the driveway as she walked out the front door.
“Is she OK?” he asked as jumped out of the car.
“See for yourself.”
He frowned and hurried into the house.
Behind her, she heard Ashley say, “Hi, daddy.”
Lacy walked home and fell back into bed. In ten minutes the phone rang again. She reached over to the end table and picked up. It was Barbara. She was screaming.
“Did he tell you he has a fucking girlfriend?!”
In the background she heard him saying, “I don’t have a girlfriend!”
Lacy neither knew nor cared what the truth was.
“Like you said, it’s not my business.”
“Isn’t it? Are you his girlfriend?”
Lacy hung up. In the past she often had envied Barbara for what looked like a happy marriage and family life.
She glanced at the stack of bills on her dresser. She needed to make more money. She buried her face in her pillow and tried again to sleep.

Of the four clubs where she commonly worked, Cleaves was closest to her home. It also was close to Randy’s home. For this reason, it was the one club he didn’t enter. He didn’t want people he knew seeing him with Lacy.
“It could get back to the skank,” Randy told Lacy one time referring to his wife. “I don’t ever want her to have an excuse to take my kids.”
Lacy put on her skimpy red cocktail dress in the dressing room of Cleaves. It wasn’t her favorite outfit, but it usually brought her the best tips. She stepped into clear plastic shoes with five-inch heels.
A tall black dancer named Tanya entered the dressing room. She and Lacy got along well. Tanya was starting a new job as a paralegal at the end of the month. Lacy would miss her company. One of Tanya’s eyes was puffy.
“Are you OK?” Lacy asked.
“Better than little Miss Allison.”
“Your girlfriend Allie?  What happened to her?”
“I happened to her. And she’s not my girlfriend.  Caught her with some blonde Russian bimbo.”
“Oh, sorry.”
“Yeah. Well, that’s life.”
The DJ, apparently having a nostalgic moment, put on the song Love is in the Air.
Lacy went to the stage to start her set. Seated at the bar was a middle-age guy who had taken a fancy to her in the manner common to middle-age men who take fancies to attractive women too young for them. He hadn’t let himself go, but he was no heartbreaker and clearly never had been. He was polite and tipped well, which was what mattered in here. He never appeared in any club but Cleaves, so at least he wasn’t a stalker. He said his name was Monty, but she didn’t believe that. She figured he was married and that Monty was the name he used in clubs; he should have chosen something more credible. From the stage she smiled at him – and at several of her other regulars. She would sell some lap dances tonight.
At the end of the set Lacy stepped off the stage to make her rounds. The five-inch spike heel twisted and she felt something snap in her foot. There was a stabbing pain when she put weight on it.
She limped to a bar stool next to Monty.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
“I hope so. I twisted my foot.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Anything I can do?”
“Buy a lap dance. Several of them. I need to make some money tonight.”
“Sold. I need some cash from the ATM.”
The ATM was by the door to the “VIP room.” The VIP room was out of the line of sight of the patrons seated at the bar, but it was in no sense private. Properly speaking it wasn’t a separate room at all. The space contained a dozen leather chairs where the lap dances took place, and a couple of them were in use almost all the time.
Lacy limped alongside him to the ATM. She watched him slide his VISA card. She caught sight of the name.
Montgomery is really your name?” she asked.
“Yeah. My mom was a fan of Montgomery Clift.”
“Actor. Before your time. Don’t you like it?”
“Sure. It’s kind of classy.”
“Well, I don’t like it particularly, but I feel like a fraud if I use anything else.”
“Why don’t you like it?”
“For some reason the kids at school always found ‘Monty’ to be a vastly amusing name. I never quite understood why, but they tortured me on account of it.”
“I like the name Monty. I promise not to torture you unless you ask me nicely or tip really well.”
He retrieved $200 from the machine. He handed $100 to Lacy.
“I know it’s not what you paid for, but I don’t want to put strain on my foot. Is it OK if we just sit and talk?” she asked.
“Yeah, OK.”
Monty always was willing to talk amiably, especially about old movies she had never seen from the 30s and 40s. He obviously had money. She guessed the money was inherited because he didn’t have the hard edge or business sense common in people who earn it themselves. She began to suspect he was single.
Monty sat in the nearest empty chair of the VIP room.  She snuggled into his lap.
“How is it you are not married?” he asked.
“How do you know I’m not?”
“Are you?”
“No. You?”
“Why not?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I nearly was once, right after college. She called it off and ran off with someone her father hated.”
“Did he hate you?”
“Maybe that was the problem.”
“Maybe. Anyway, I just never got involved seriously after that. I was happy enough alone. What about you?”
Not wanting to talk about herself, she changed the subject.
“You know, you don’t seem to belong here,” she said.
“How so?”
“You haven’t once complimented my ass, for one thing.”
“Was I supposed to?”
“No. I mean you don’t talk like most of the guys in here.”
“Where would I seem to belong?”
“Maybe at a Trilateral Commission meeting,” she said.
“Oh, no. They never have dancing girls. You seem a little out of place yourself. No other dancer ever has referred to the Trilateral Commission in my presence even once.”
“What do they refer to?”
“Well, the young lady out there in the camouflage bikini told me about the guns she inherited guns from ‘World Wars One, Two, and Three.’”
“The third one was with the Terminator?”
“I think so. How are your nursing classes?”
“I mentioned them to you? Hard. Biochemistry is a bitch. I’m such a dumbass.”
“Dumbasses don’t take biochemistry courses, much less pass them.”
“You were an A student I’m sure. Don’t even try to deny it.”
“Someone had to be. That was a few years ago.”
Harvard Business School?”
“NYU. Classical humanities.”
“Money in that, is there?” she asked.
“None. What’s worse, the liberal arts are really bad for one's character.”
“I can tell.”
“Lacy!” the floor manager bellowed.
“Our time is up. Want to stay longer?” she asked.
“Sure, we can’t have you stressing your foot tonight.” He pulled out the remaining $100.
After Monty left Cleaves she tried doing another set, but her foot was too painful. With much grumbling, the manager told her she could go home.
Lacy limped into her house. Clyde noticed something was wrong. He refrained from his usual rollicking welcome and sniffed around her legs instead.
Lacy was worried. She didn’t see how she could work with her foot like this. Yet the bills already were piled up. She was near the limit of her credit. It was a measure of her concern that she decided to call her father for help.
Her father’s wife answered the phone.
“Hi, it’s Lara. Can I speak to my father?”
“He’s watching NASCAR, Lacy” the woman told her, pointedly using her stage name.
“Well, we can’t bother him then, can we?” Lacy hung up.
Randy’s truck rumbled into the driveway.
“Great,” she muttered.
Randy swung open the door and strode into the living room.
“Hey Babe, I was just passing by.”
She wondered why he would be passing by this early. Did he spy on her house at odd hours?
“What are you doing home?” he asked, suddenly suspicious. “You with someone?”
“No, of course not. I came home early. I hurt my foot.”
“Oh. That sucks. But it means we have some time.” He placed both hands on her posterior. “Did anyone ever tell you that you have a nice ass?”
“You’re the first.”
Randy left a quarter hour later. He hadn’t been abusive this time. Maybe he was getting better, she thought. She didn’t even consider asking him for financial help though. He always was short of money. One way or another, she would have to work. She was scheduled at Cleaves again on Friday.
The next morning she stopped by the local Immediate Care Medical Center, maxing her last credit card in the process. An X ray confirmed her fears. She had broken a bone in her foot. She declined a cast, so the doctor wrapped the foot. He told her to use crutches and stay off it for a month.

On stage at Cleaves, Lacy did little more on stage than hold onto one of the poles and wiggle. She wore classic go-go boots with normal heels rather than spikes, but her foot still hurt.
She saw Monty come in. He usually didn’t show up twice in the same week. Once her set was over she sat next to him.
“Hi. You are still limping,” he said.
“Yeah. I‘m surprised to see you.”
“Have I exceeded my welcome?”
“No. Want to go to the VIP room?”
They picked out a chair and once again she snuggled into his lap.
“You look worried. Is it the foot?” he asked.
“Yes. No. Sort of. I’m so behind on my bills I don’t know what to do.  And I can’t work like this. I don’t even know if I can get through the rest of my sets tonight.”
“The bills can’t be that bad.”
“Yes they are.”
“I mean I’m sure I can help.”
“I can’t let you pay them, if that’s what you’re offering.”
“Yes, you can.”
“And what do you want in return?” she asked, stiffening a little.
“No, I don’t mean that. No obligations.  Spoiling attractive young women is fun.”
She looked at him curiously.
“Well, I suppose I shouldn’t deprive you of your fun. Should I bring my bills to your place?” she asked.
“That would be wonderful.”
“Wonderful, huh? I never thought my bills were that. Tomorrow?”
“It’s a date.”
“It’s not a date.”
“You sure you want to do this?”
“OK, write down your address for me. Is four o’clock OK? It’s after classes. Or will you be at work then?”
“Four will be fine.”
She guessed Monty didn’t really have a job.
When she got home that evening, Randy’s truck was in the driveway.
“About time you got home,” he said when she walked in the door.
“Well, I’ll be home more often for a while. My foot is broken and I have to take off work.”
“Shit. Do you still have any spare cash? I’ve got my sights on a Triumph bike. I can recondition it and make some money.”
“I’m broke, Randy.”
“Well that just screws me up royally.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, well, come on. I don’t have much time. I got to get back home.”
Within ten minutes he had finished and left.

The following afternoon, Lacy located Monty’s driveway in a place called Bedminster. The area was upscale with lots of fences, fields, and horses. Most of the houses were huge. The long driveway led to a big white colonial farmhouse. It was old but classy, a bit like Monty himself. She picked up her papers from the passenger seat, limped to the front door, and rang the bell. Monty opened it.
“Hi. It’s great to see you. Come on in.”
She walked into the wide entrance hall. At the far end was a horseshoe-shaped stairway. Each room to her right and left was larger than the entire footprint of her little Cape Cod.
“I thought you said there was no money in classical humanities,” she commented.
“There isn’t,” said Monty. “Fortunately, my grandparents and parents were a bit more practical.”
“Do they live here too?”
“No, they’re all gone. I know it is kind of silly for me to stay in this big place by myself, but it’s home.”
“I understand. Sort of.”
Lacy heard a jazz score in the background. “What are you listening to?”
“Watching. That’s the soundtrack of a movie. I was watching a DVD of It.”
It? The Stephen King movie?”
“No, the silent one with Clara Bow.”
“Oh, you’re one of those. I’ve never seen a silent movie from start to finish.”
It is a good one if you want to try, even though there is a character named Monty who doesn’t get the girl. Perhaps there was something Freudian in my picking it off the shelf today. ”
“Well, maybe I can watch some of it with you. We’ll see. But…”
“Oh. Yes. Let’s take care of those bills first.”
“They are over $2700.”
“Oh, I was expecting worse.”
He led her to the dining room where a checkbook lay on the table. The table was an old dark antique with a dozen matching chairs. Her chair creaked when she sat in it. He wrote out one check after another. He didn’t blink at the numbers.
Afterwards, she snuggled on the couch with him in the media room as he re-started the movie. He said it used to be the drawing room. To her surprise she liked the movie. When it ended, she turned and kissed him on the mouth. He responded. It wasn’t hooking, she thought to herself. Not really. He didn’t ask for this, and she liked this guy. She also surprised herself by being nervous. She hadn’t been with anyone but Randy in so long.
“May we?” he asked.
“We may.”
He led her upstairs to a room with a big old four-poster bed on which the mattress seemed too high. The lovemaking was far different than with Randy. It was gentle and nice.
Afterward, as they lay side by side, Monty stroked her hair. She could see in his eyes he already was head over heels for her. He was completely different from the good-looking bad boys she always had dated. Monty was un-bad, un-pretty, and no boy. He had his attractions, financial security obviously among them. He was the kind of guy she always told herself she would pick after she turned 30. But now that 30 stared her in the face she wasn’t so sure. Randy, for all his faults, gave her an adrenalin rush. Monty didn’t, and she wasn’t sure she was willing to do without that. She decided to see Monty again though, just to keep her options open.
For the next month as her foot mended, they saw each other twice each week. He took her to dinner and to Broadway, where she hadn’t been in years.  He promised to take her riding when her foot was better. Monty took care of a second set of bills.
Randy didn’t notice anything amiss during this time. On two occasions she had come home from a date with Monty to find him in her house, but Randy accepted her explanations about visiting a girlfriend and her father with no more threats or suspicions than usual. He didn’t ask how she paid her bills without working. Her finances never concerned him, except to the extent she could “invest” money with him.
One day Lacy gambled; she allowed Monty to pick her up at her house. This was dangerous, since Randy was liable to turn up at any time, but she felt it necessary in order to maintain the fa├žade of being unattached. Clyde liked Monty, which counted for something with Lacy, too.
Well into the second month after her accident, Lacy decided to go back to work. The first night at Cleaves was uneventful. Her foot ached but the discomfort was tolerable. Monty stopped in briefly to see how she was getting along.
Trouble struck at her next gig, The Blue Room in Totowa. Randy at the bar when she stepped on stage. He was sitting with one of the other girls. After her set on stage, Lacy circuited the bar for tips. She came to Randy’s seat.
Ignoring his drinking partner, he growled “You took long enough. Are you avoiding me?”
“I’m just doing my job, Randy.”
“Is screwing some old fart your job, too?”
Apparently gossip about her and Monty had found its way from other dancers to Randy.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” she said.
“Don’t lie to me! You’re mine. If you give away what’s mine, I’m taking something else from you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Fuck you, Lacy.”
He picked up his Sam Adams bottle and threw it at her. She had time to jump back so the bottle glanced off her shoulder. It hurt but didn’t do any damage. The bar’s bouncer stood up from his stool near the door and moved toward Randy.
“Back off buddy!” Randy told him with a raised hand. “I’m leaving. I got no argument with you.”
Randy got up and walked out the door. The bouncer returned to his stool.
Randy’s threat gave Lacy a bad feeling. She approached the bar manager.
“You’ve got lots of girls tonight. You don’t need me. I’ve got to go.”
“Lacy,” he said in a stern voice, “I don’t want this in my club. Don’t dance here again unless your friend stays away. I don’t want him back here.”
“OK, Bill.”
She stopped by her locker. She put on a light jacket but didn’t change. She hurried to her car carrying her street clothes. She sped out of the parking lot and reached home in record time. Randy’s pick-up truck was parked on the street. She ran inside her house. Randy was sitting on her couch drinking a beer from the refrigerator. He seemed calm.
“Randy, I think you should leave.”
Instead of the explosion she expected, he smiled.
“You know, I think so, too.” He sauntered out the door and climbed into his truck.
Something was wrong. This was too easy. She suddenly realized what was missing. She went to her bedroom and looked under the bed. Clyde wasn’t there. She hurried to the kitchen and opened the back door. No Clyde. She ran to the front door and opened it. She saw a canine silhouette in the truck next to Randy. The Dodge started.
“No! Stop, you son of a bitch!”
Lacy ran to the truck and pulled on the passenger door. It was locked. At least two of the neighbors exited their doors to watch the commotion. Clyde barked when he saw Lacy.
“Bye Lacy,” Randy called out.
Lacy jumped in front of the truck and placed her hands on the hood. Randy put the Ram into gear. The vehicle lurched forward several inches. She fell backward and hit the pavement hard skinning her wrist and twisting her injured foot yet again. Staring up at the grill she almost hoped to be run over, but Randy wasn’t done torturing her. He raced the engine.
Red and blue flashing lights illuminated the street.  Randy backed his truck along the curb into a parking position. For once, the police had arrived at a useful moment. Lacy assumed a neighbor had called them. She stood up shakily.
An officer stepped out of the car. Another remained in the patrol car, in order to run the Ram’s license plate through Trenton.
“Alright, what is going on here?” the patrolman asked.
“He has my dog!” Lacy shouted tearfully.
The officer stared for a moment at Lacy. Her jacket was open revealing a skimpy red top, bare midriff, and ultra-short skirt over go-go boots. He walked to the truck and tapped on the driver’s window. Randy opened it.
“Sir? Do you have the lady’s dog?”
“This is just a domestic argument, officer. Nothing more.”
“That’s more than enough. Is this your husband ma’am?”
Still in tears, she nodded.
“He lives here?”
She shook her head no.
“Did he hurt you ma’am?”
She shook her head again.
He stepped over to Lacy, took her by the arm and led her away from the truck. Randy watched closely.
“Ma’am, I’m asking you again. Did he hurt you in any way?  Did he threaten to hurt you?”
“I just want my dog.”
“Tell me exactly what happened. What did this man do?”
“Nothing. I just want my dog.”
“Did he steal the dog?”
The patrolman was sympathetic but exasperated. “Ma’am, obviously you’re fighting about something, and I’m sure it is something we can arrest him for. Let us do it. I see these situations all the time. If you let him get way with this, I guarantee it will happen again, and worse. I am very afraid that, the next time I see you, you will be on a slab. So, I am asking you to tell me what is going on.”
“Nothing.  I just want my dog.”
“You won’t press charges against this man?”
The officer walked back to the truck where the second officer now stood checking Randy’s documents.
“Sir, give the lady her dog. Leave this street and don’t come back for the rest of the night. If I have to come back here tonight I’m arresting both of you for disturbing the peace. You owe this lady a huge favor for not pressing charges. I’m still going to talk to the neighbors about what they saw.”
Randy opened the truck door. Clyde jumped out and ran to Lacy.
“It was just an argument, officer.”
“Count yourself the luckiest man in town tonight.”
Randy started the truck and drove away.

The next day she didn’t hear from Randy. She heard nothing from him the day after that. She resisted the urge to call him. More days passed. Lacy tried to push him out of her mind. She was not altogether successful. One evening she nervously ate her way through an entire pan of homemade lasagna while worrying. The lasagna had been given to her by the one neighbor on the street she liked. Larry and his current boyfriend “Bud” lived five houses away.
Lacy walked along the street to Larry’s house, carrying the empty lasagna pan. There was no answer to her ring of the doorbell, but Larry had told her to let herself in at any time. If the door was unlocked, someone was home, he had said, and she was always welcome. He often didn’t hear the doorbell because of his iPod earphones. She tried the doorknob. The door opened. She decided to leave the pan just inside the door and then leave. She announced herself as she set down the pan.
“Larry? Bud? It’s Lacy. I’m just returning the lasagna pan.”
A head popped up on the other side of a sofa back in the living room. Lacy realized she was interrupting something.
“Oops. Sorry, Bud.”
“Oh. Don’t worry about it.”
“I’ll just let myself out. Sorry.”
She backed out the door. She closed the door and turned to leave. She walked into Larry.
“Oh. Larry.”
“Uh. Hi.”
“Not very articulate today, are we? Something wrong?”
“No. I just dropped off the lasagna pan.”
“Well, thank you.”
“Thank you.”
“Are you sure nothing is wrong?”
Lacy had no quick answer. Larry looked at the house.
“Will you excuse me just a minute?”
Larry entered the house. Lacy wanted to leave, but somehow she couldn’t. Lacy waited for fireworks, but none went off. Larry returned to the porch, still calm.
“So tell me, how was the lasagna?” he asked.
“What? Oh. It was great. I’ll have to starve myself for a week. Uh, is everything OK?
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“No reason.”
“You thought I would be upset about Bud cheating on me with the lawn man?”
“I guess you have an open relationship.”
“Not really.”
The lawn man, a well built young fellow with a snake tattoo on his right arm, exited the house and hurried past them. Larry ignored him.
“Well at least you are calm about it,” she said.
“Oh yes. I simply called the police.”
“What? Why?”
“Did you know Bud was once arrested when he got a little rowdy at a bar in Hoboken?”
“No. So what?”
“So, he never showed up for his court date, which means there is a warrant out for him. You know, the police often don’t waste time tracking down no-shows for minor offenses. They figure they’ll catch the person eventually at a traffic stop or something.”
“Or when his roommate calls to say, 'Here he is. Come get him.’”
“I can’t believe you did that!”
A patrol car approached. The same officer whom Lacy had met a few days earlier got out of the car and approached Larry. He recognized Lacy.
“Hello, Miss Drekker.”
“You two know each other?” Larry asked Lacy.
“We’ve met,” she said. She hadn’t told the cop her name, though. He obviously had checked.
Larry addressed the officer.
“The fellow you want is right inside. I’m inviting you inside and it’s my house so you don’t need a warrant. He is not dangerous.”
“Are you sure about that?”
The officer went inside.
“Larry!” Lacy admonished.
The officer re-emerged escorting Bud. Larry stepped to one side. Bud gave him a hateful look as he passed.
“Good afternoon, Miss Drekker,” the patrolman said.
“I think he likes you,” Larry observed.
“Never mind that. Larry! You are letting them take Bud to prison?”
“Jail. Don’t worry. I’ll bail him out when he’s had a chance to think about what he did. I doubt the judge will give him any additional time.”
“You think Bud will still live with you after this?” she asked.
“Sure. Why wouldn’t he?”

Back at home, Lacy stared at the ceiling. Despite her return to work, she still wasn’t making enough money to keep up. She called up her safety net.
“Monty, I’m in trouble.”
A somewhat taken-aback Monty misunderstood her.
“No, not that,” she laughed. “I mean I’m still not making my bills,” she said.
“We’ve already discussed this. You are not in trouble. Come over and we’ll take care of it.”
“Thank you.”
Lacy wasn’t sure she ever would get used to being pampered, but she was willing to try.
Two more weeks went by without a word from Randy. She began to believe it was finally over between them. She berated herself for having mixed feelings about that.
One evening in Bedminster, Monty said what she was worried he sooner or later would say.
“I love you,” he said.
“Thank you,” she answered.
“…if you don’t mind such verbal goo dripping out of me.”
“You really know how to make a girl want to kiss you.”
Do me a favor?”
“Another one?”
“Yes. Reach in the end table drawer on your side.  There’s a bag in there.”
“A bag? Are you developing new vices?” she asked.
“Some might view it that way.”
Lacy reached in the drawer and pulled out a little brown paper bag.
“This one?”
She turned it upside down on the bed. A diamond ring tumbled out.
“Oh shit.”
“Not according to the jeweler.”
“This is for me?” she asked.
“It would look silly on me.”
“Oh shit. Monty… I don’t know. I have to think about this.”
“Of course.”
“You hold onto it,” she said, “but don’t give it to anyone else until I get back to you.”
“It’s a deal.”
When Lacy returned home two hours later, she found Randy sitting on the couch, beer bottle in hand as usual. She was struck again by his good looks. He was in one of his remorseful moods.
“Hi, baby. I’ve been waiting for you.”
“So I see.”
“Look, I’m so sorry for the way I’ve treated you. I’ll never act that way again. I promise.”
“I’ve heard it from you before, Randy.”
“I know. It’s just that the thought of you with anyone else makes me fucking crazy. It’s why I act like an asshole. No one will ever love you the way I love you. I’m sorry I believed the stories about you. Those girls in the clubs are liars. I know you’d never cheat on me. I won’t be mean to you anymore. This time it will be different.”
“Why will this time be different?”
“Because we’ll be together all the time.”
“What do you mean?”
“My wife left me.”
“She did?”
“Well, it’s more like she kicked me out. Out of my own fucking house with the police watching. She got a restraining order. Can you believe it?
“I’m sorry.”
“Yeah. We’re getting a divorce. My lawyer says I should forget about the house. Anyway, I need a place to live. Things will be better with us now. You’ll see.”
“Will I?”
“Bet on it. You can help me get back on my feet and with the child support. The kids can stay in the spare bedroom on the weekends. There’s room in the yard for my bikes, too. I found a way to buy that Triumph I told you about. It’s in buckets, but I’ll make a few bucks on it. When my divorce comes through we can get married. When you become a nurse we’ll be on Easy Street.”

She dreaded making the call to Monty, but there was no way to avoid it.
“Hello, Monty? I don’t know how to say this, but…”
“But you can’t take the ring.”
“Yes. There’s more.”
“Somehow that sounds ominous. What?”
“I’ve developed feelings for someone else.”
He was audibly distressed, but he took it like a gentleman, as she assumed he would.
Lacy smiled and looked at the diamond ring on her finger. It was far smaller than the one Monty offered, of course, but it meant more. She had picked it out and paid for it herself with what credit she had rebuilt on her MasterCard.
Things were going to be just fine between her and Randy. She was sure of it.