Friday, February 11, 2011

Chapter 11

Richie squinted as he peered through the pickup’s grimy windshield.  They were on another back road, slowly rolling along the gravel path through the pine forest.

Annie glanced sideways at Richie, chuckling at his pensive expression.  “Gettin’ worried?” she teased.

“A little.  After that hooch you fed me back at the house, I’m starting to think you’re not as sweet and innocent as you seem.”  Richie gave Annie a little grin.

Annie smirked as she kept her eyes on the road.  “I never claimed to be sweet and innocent.”

Richie didn’t answer but his grin widened as he looked out his window.

A few bumpy minutes later moonlight flooded Richie’s view as the truck emerged from the trees.  Ahead of them stretched miles of marsh, the tall grasses rippling in the moonlight.  Annie guided the truck to the right, following the dirt path as it turned South.

About a half-mile in the distance Richie spied a building, a soft bluish light glowing from its exterior.  He assumed that was their destination since there was clearly no other sign of human life.  As they drew nearer Richie could see the building was actually an old barn, sided in weathered wood and roofed in tarnished corrugated metal.

A wooden porch had been affixed to the front of the structure, spanning its length.  The addition made the building look like some sort of half-house, half-shed.  The shack was surrounded by an assortment of old cars and beat-up trucks, crowded into a gravel lot.

"What is this place?"  Richie watched a pair of men approach the building and mount the porch steps.  A rectangle of reddish-blue light glowed briefly in the open doorway as they entered the building.  Through his half-open window Richie heard a cacophony of guitars, drums, and bass.

"This..."  Annie pulled the truck on to a patch of sparse grass at the parking lot's edge.  "... is Ruby Mae's."  She threw the transmission in park and killed the engine before she turned to face Richie with a smile.  "Worst-kept secret in McIntosh County.  Also the best Juke Joint you're gonna find anywhere 'round here."

Richie's gut tightened at Annie's words.  He had spent the past few months hanging around music halls and bars, begging for the chance to play.  Now that he had finally conceded defeat and walked away from his dream the last place he felt like going was a live music joint.  

Annie watched as Richie took a deep breath and swiveled his gaze back to the building in front of them.  She could almost feel the return of his sadness as his shoulders slumped.

Annie cursed silently.  She had hoped Richie would enjoy this place, that maybe he would relax and open up to her.  This was her refuge, where she sought solace when the hard reality of life closed in on her.  Listening to the Blues always soothed her soul.

"Richie?"  Annie's voice was soft, almost apologetic.  "We don't have to stay if you don't wanna.  We can do somethin' else.  I just thought maybe we'd grab a drink..."

Her gentle tone filled Richie's heart with guilt.   You stupid Fuck.  Where the hell else did you think you'd be going tonight, out here in the middle of nowhere?  Of course she was gonna take you to a bar.

Richie shook his head vigorously, cursing his inability to hide his reaction.  "No!  Annie, I want to.... I mean, if this is where you want to go, I'm game."  He gave her a half-hearted smile.

Annie arched a brow.  "You sure?"  She saw the glint of sadness that flashed through Richie's chocolate eyes.

"Yeah.  I'm sure."  Richie nodded again, smiling more brightly.  "Umm... so this is where you get into all that mischief?"  He attempted to lighten the moment by recalling the phrase he and Annie had bantered about earlier.

Annie giggled softly.  "Somethin' like that."  She reached over to squeeze Richie's hand.  "I like to come here, to escape.  It's the kinda place where you can be with a bunch of people or by yourself, all in the same room.  Whatever you need."  She left her hand resting on Richie's as she gazed at him, her blue eyes shining hopefully.

Richie looked down at his lap, his heart again warming at her touch.  He turned his hand under Annie's until their palms brushed together.  "Sounds great," he replied, trying to muster his enthusiasm.  "Besides, I could use a beer."  He chuckled throatily.  "They got that here, don't they?  Or is everything here.. uh... home-brewed?"

Annie's musical laughter made Richie's smile turn genuine.  "No more moonshine for you, huh?"

"Nuh-Uh.  Sticking to the stuff with labels."  Richie looked up, his gaze meeting hers.  "C'mon.  I'll buy ya a beer."

Annie squeezed Richie's hand again before pulling hers away and turning to open her door.  They climbed out of the pickup then together crossed the lot, weaving single-file in between closely-parked vehicles on their way to the front porch steps.

A blast of raucous music greeted them when they pulled open the sagging front door.  Richie followed Annie inside, blinking as his eyes tried to adjust to the smoky, bluish haze.  He stepped aside so he wasn't blocking the entry and looked around.

It was a large, open room, but not not nearly as big as the building looked from the outside.  As his gaze swept to his left Richie realized a long wall cleaved the old barn, separating this space from another. His eyes traveled down the wall to a dark doorway in the back corner.  A slice of red light glowed at the floor, clueing him in to the probably-illicit activity taking place behind the wall.

Richie had spent enough time in the South to know that most clubs had not-so-secret gambling halls in the back room.  He was willing to bet if he wandered through that door he would find at least a couple dozen men shooting dice or playing cards.  He had also spent enough time in similar establishments in North Jersey to know better than to enter such a room uninvited.

His curiosity satisfied enough, Richie let his eyes slide back along the wall to the makeshift bar near the door.  It was crudely fashioned of two-by-fours and corrugated metal, topped with a peeling laminate countertop.  Two battered Frigidaires stood against the wall behind the bar next to a long counter covered with an assortment of cans, bottles, and glasses.  Richie snorted when he spied a couple ominous-looking glass jugs.  He wondered if they contained a brew similar to what Annie had poured from her Mason jar.

On the wall behind the bar was a long, cracked mirror adorned with taped-up photographs and magazine pages.  There was no evidence of a liquor license.

A beefy black man wearing a white apron around his waist leaned on one hand against the bar, conversing loudly with a grizzled older patron.  On wooden stools perched tired-looking men, hunched over their glasses on the bartop or grinning slyly at a couple voluptuous ebony-skinned women who hovered close by.

The back half of the room was crowded with mismatched tables and chairs, most of them occupied or temporarily vacated.  Between the tables and a raised platform opposite the front door an informal dance floor was packed with sweaty, dark-skinned bodies gyrating to the sultry, funky beat provided by the house band.

As his eyes swept over the tables and dancers Richie realized he and Annie were definitely in the minority in this room.  Only a few other white patrons mingled here and there.

Richie felt another little stab of pain as his gaze settled on the quintet on the stage.   The musicians were all older Negro men, with one exception.  A young black man sat perched on a stool, his fingers dancing effortlessly over the strings of a dark blonde Gibson electric guitar, his head back and his eyes closed as he grooved with the beat.  Beside him a gray-haired man picked at a big battered bass violin.  The band was rounded out by a portly but energetic piano player, a paunchy, heavy-jowled trumpeter, and a thin, anemic-looking man smoking a cigarette while he pounded out the beat on his drum kit.

Annie watched Richie as he stared at the guitarist on the stage, his smile melting away.  Her heart swelled with sympathy.  That instrument was obviously the source of his melancholy.  Annabelle was certain Richie's sad story was locked up in that battered case he had been toting down the road when their paths crossed yesterday.

"Hey, you owe me a beer, remember?"  Annie gently squeezed Richie's elbow and tipped her head toward the bar when he turned to look at her.  "I'll see if I can find us a table."

Richie nodded, forcing himself to smile back at her.  "Okay."  He was just ready to turn for the bar when a loud, deep drawl caught his attention.

"Hey there, Annie.  Didn't think I'd see you here tonight."  A burly young blonde man with a sparse moustache and long sideburns pushed past Richie to stand beside Annabelle.  He slid an arm around her shoulders and gave Richie a long once-over.  His steely blue eyes narrowed slightly with his suspicious appraisal.  "This your friend from up North?"

Richie immediately tensed at the man's challenging tone.  He stared back at Annie's friend, feeling a pang of jealousy at the sight of his arm around her.

"Oh, so you heard, too."  Annie's voice was calm, but some of its gentle lilt had disappeared.  "Rex, this is Richie."  Annie took a little step forward, shrugging his arm off her shoulders.

"Yeah, I heard.  Everybody in town heard about the new guy at Eddie's Texaco."  Rex replied to Annie's comment before extending a beefy hand.  "Rex Farrell."

"Richie Sambora."  Richie accepted the gesture, his pulse jumping just a little when Rex's hand squeezed tightly around his for a perfunctory shake.  It was clear from both his expression and his handshake that Rex was not thrilled by their meeting.

"So, you're from New York. What you doin' all the way down here in Darien?"  Rex stepped closer to Annie and again rested his arm around her shoulders, silently relaying his claim on her.

"New Jersey.  And just passin' through."  Richie's voice was flat as he stared back at Rex.  He watched Annie calmly remove Rex's arm from her shoulders again.  The man was barrel-chested and thick-necked, and probably outweighed Richie by a good fifty pounds.  But Richie would be damned if he was going to back down, especially since Annie clearly was not receptive to Rex's familiarity.

"Eddie's fixin' Richie's car.  It won't be done 'til Monday, so I'm showin' him what there is to do in Darien on a Saturday night."  Annie calmly explained the situation to Rex, then stepped over beside Richie so she stood facing the big man.  Her arm brushed against Richie's as she smiled placatingly.  "Thought he might like to take in a little of the local culture while he's down here."

"Mmm."  Rex nodded slowly, his eyes lingering on Richie for another long moment before they turned to Annie.  The big man gave her a tight-lipped grin.  "You know this crowd ain't too partial to strangers.  Don't trust 'em."

Annie let out an exasperated little snort.  "Rex, you know as well as I do that anybody who's here with me is gonna be just fine."

"Yeah, well.... I'll be watchin' out, just in case."  Rex's steely eyes found Richie's again, ensuring he got the message.

Annie sighed, but her voice remained even and calm.  "Rex, I been comin' here for years.  Everybody knows me.  Ain't nobody gonna mess with me tonight or any night."  She dropped her chin and gave the big man a pointed look.  "And ain't nobody gonna mess with my friend."

Just as she spoke the band ended their song and the crowd broke into applause and whooping cheers.  Annie paused, waiting for the noise to die down, then smiled.  "But thanks for lookin' out for me.  It's mighty gentlemanly of you."

Richie caught the hint of sarcasm in Annie's tone, and he couldn't stop a slight smirk from curling the corner of his mouth.  It was obvious Annie wasn't going to take any shit from this guy, but she wasn't going to make a scene either.  And Richie would be damned if he was going to let this guy bully her.  Rex could probably take him out if it came to that, but Richie was gonna make him hurt first.

Annie snickered quietly as she watched Rex and Richie attempt stare each other down.  Then she rolled her eyes and reached for Richie's hand as the opening notes of a new song filled the air.  "Have a good night, Rex.  C'mon, Richie.  Dance with me."

"Evenin',"  Rex nodded curtly at Richie as Annie tugged at his hand.

"Evenin'." Richie replied tersely, then turned to follow Annie as she pushed her way between the closely-packed tables toward the dance floor.  He realized as they moved that he recognized the song the band was playing.  It was an oldie but a favorite of his, Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay."  When they reached a small clear space Annie turned toward Richie and smiled.

"Sorry 'bout that.  Rex really is a good guy.  He's just a little protective of me."  She started to raise her arms to Richie's neck but stopped in surprise when he captured her right hand with his left and placed his other hand on her hip.

"Uh... Oh!"  Annie was taken aback as Richie stood gazing down at her, waiting for her to follow his lead.  It had been a long time since a man had danced properly with her.  In fact, it hadn't even been a man, it had been a boy in her high school etiquette class.  And then only because they were required to learn ballroom dancing for the Spring Cotillion.

Richie frowned as he began to move, smoothly guiding Annie into a slow, rhythmic sway.  "Why's that? He sure didn't seem too happy to see you with a guy."

Annie rested her left hand on Richie's shoulder as she let him guide her in their dance.  She chuckled softly at his obvious jealousy, enjoying the little surge of excitement that jolted through her at the realization.  "Well, he's always been that way, especially since we used to date."

Richie's pupils dilated slightly at news, delivered matter-of-factly in Annie's gentle drawl.  "Used to date?  Like back in High School?"

"And a little bit after that."  Annie's eyes sparkled as she gave Richie a sweet smile.  "But now we're just friends.  We haven't been together in a couple years."

"Does he know that?"  Richie's gaze flickered across the room to the spot by the front door, where Rex still stood.

Annie laughed softly.  "Yes.  He does.  We've both dated other people.  He just takes his job seriously, is all. Very seriously."

Richie snorted derisively.  "His job?  He's some kind of Bouncer at a backwoods Juke Joint."   He winced slightly as the words rolled off his tongue, realizing how demeaning they sounded.  He hoped Annie wouldn't take offense.

Annie gazed at Richie for a second, her eyes tracing over his stormy features as another surge of heat coursed through her.  She could hardly believe her eyes and ears.  Richie had been so quiet and polite and shy in the short time she had known him.  Now all of a sudden here he was, a man full of testosterone and adrenaline, ready to defend her against an unwanted suitor.

"Rex isn't a Bouncer, Richie.  He's a Deputy Sheriff.  He hangs out here off-duty to keep an eye on things, be sure they don't get out of hand."  Annie almost giggled when she saw Richie's eyes widen momentarily, then narrow.

"So that makes him some kinda Hot Shit?  Makes him think he owns you?"

This time Annie couldn't help herself.  She chortled huskily, her blue eyes sparkling as she grinned at Richie.  "Don't worry, Richie.  He doesn't own me, and he damned well knows it.  He just wants to be sure you don't take advantage of me, that's all."

With her words Annabelle slipped her hand from Richie's and stepped in close.  "And trust me, if I want to be taken advantage of, there's not a damned thing he can do about it."  She pressed her body against his, exhaling softly with the contact.  Circling her arms around Richie's neck, she continued to sway in time with the music, to his lead.

Richie inhaled sharply at her words and at the feel of Annie's soft curves pressed against him.  His dick jumped against his zipper and his mind went momentarily blank.  Automatically his arms slid around Annie's waist, his hands resting together at the small of her back.

Annie purred softly and turned her cheek to rest against Richie's chest, letting her eyes drift shut as she savored the feel of his arms around her.  She had been yearning to do this ever since she had gazed down at his sleeping form on her couch this morning.  The sensation of his embrace had been the subject of her daydreams all afternoon.

It felt even better than she had imagined.

Richie's entire body tingled as he held Annie, guiding her in a slow revolution on the dance floor.  He stared ahead unseeing for the first minute, just breathing in the heavenly scent of her hair and reveling in the warmth of her flesh.  It was like they were in their own world, the only two people in this room swaying to the music's gentle beat.

Slowly Richie's senses returned:  first hearing, then smell, then touch, then sight.  As he turned slowly toward the back of the room with Annie in his arms Richie's gaze traveled to the front door.  His chocolate eyes narrowed as they met Rex's moody stare.

Then a triumphant smirk curved his lips as he tightened his arms around Annie and continued to dance.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Chapter 10

Richie stared at his reflection in the mirror as he dipped the head of his razor into the sink.  He absently swished the utensil around in the tepid, cloudy pool of water, shaking loose the lump of foam and bits of stubble from the blade.

Tipping his chin upward and turning his head from side to side, Richie quickly inspected his shave, ensuring he had scraped away all of the soft two-day's growth.  Satisfied, he reached for the small pink hand towel on the bar.

He quickly mopped his face with the towel, wiping away remaining streaks of shaving cream and droplets of water.  He again regarded his reflection, inspecting his work.  He looked good.  And he felt about a thousand percent better now that he was freshly showered and shaved.  By the time Annie had finally dragged him back home he had been thoroughly caked with grease and sweat and grime, the residue of his day's labor.

Annie hadn't seemed to mind his grungy state, but she had pointed him directly to the bathroom when they arrived at her house.  Richie had gladly obeyed her order to shower and get changed while she fixed them something to eat.

Just knowing Annie was in the next room as he stood under the shower's spray had proved a challenge for Richie.  To be naked in her pretty little pink bathroom, surrounded by her scent and her most personal items, had made him both extremely aroused and a little embarrassed.  He had no choice but to grit his teeth and turn the tap all the way to cold, praying the chilly water would quash his surging libido.

He had been half-hard all the way home, recalling the feel of Annie's soft hand wrapped around his as she had led him across the street from the garage to her truck.  He hadn't let go of her hand until they reached the vehicle and he remembered his manners, opening the driver's side door for her.  The little wink Annie gave him as she climbed into the seat made Richie's heart race and his groin tighten.  All the way home he had left his hand resting beside his thigh on the truck's bench seat, hoping she would reach over and again press her palm against his.

But she hadn't.  And now just the memory of her touch was revving him up again.

With a little groan Richie stepped over to the toilet and flipped up the lid.  He pointed his dick toward the bowl and relieved himself again, the third time since he stepped into the bathroom.  His nerves were definitely making themselves felt in his bladder.

When he finished he reached down to flush and tugged up the zipper on his jeans.  Turning back to the sink, he reached into the bowl and pulled the plug, then rinsed his razor in a stream of clean water from the tap before tossing it into his shaving bag.  Extracting a small bottle of after-shave from the kit, he splashed some onto his palms, rubbed his hands together, and swiped them across his cheeks and down the sides of his neck.

Immediately the pungent spice of the cologne filled the small, humid room, almost making him gag.  Richie swore softly and quickly turned on the tap, splashing cold water onto his face to rinse away some of the cologne and praying he hadn't overdone it.  He just wanted to smell nice, not make Annie think he was some kind of gigolo.

Capping the bottle and shoving it back in his kit, Richie reached for the clean shirt hanging from the hook on the door.  He tugged the white tank top over his head and pulled it down over his chest and stomach.  A quick swipe of his hand behind his neck freed his long damp locks from the fabric straps across his shoulders and sent them tumbling down his back.

Glancing again in the mirror, Richie reached up to straighten the small silver cross than hung from a thin chain around his neck.  The little charm gleamed in the powder room's soft light.

"Okay."  Richie took a deep breath and spoke to his reflection.  "Just stay cool, Man.  Relax and have a good time."  The corners of his mouth twisted into a wry grin as he added silently, Wherever the fuck it is she's taking me tonight.

He grabbed his shaving kit and reached for the knob.


Annie looked up at the sound of the door opening.  She couldn't stop a smile from lighting her face as Richie emerged from the bathroom and moved over to his rucksack.  She watched him through the kitchen doorway as he dropped his shaving bag on the floor and stuffed his dirty clothes into the bag, rooting around in its contents for a minute.   He looked much more comfortable and relaxed than he had before his shower.

And that snug tank top.... Annie purred softly to herself as her gaze slid over Richie's smooth shoulders and lingered on his biceps, watching them bunch as he tugged at the zipper of the canvas sack.  Her stomach fluttered as the delicious scent of his aftershave floated into the room and filled her senses.

"Feel better?"  Annie smiled brightly at Richie when he straightened and met her gaze.  He returned her expression, his brown eyes sparkling as he grinned.

"Yeah.  Lots.  Thanks for letting me shower first.  I tried not to use all the hot water."  Richie's cheeks colored lightly at his last statement.  He certainly hadn't avoided the hot water tap for selfless reasons.

"No problem.  No offense, but you needed a shower worse than I do."  Annie giggled.  "You had grease everywhere.  I just smell like grease."

Richie chuckled and walked toward her, a few long strides carrying him into the kitchen.  He leaned against the counter next to where she stood.  "Yeah, but you smell a lot better than I did.  Besides, I like the smell of onion rings."

"I know."  Annie giggled again and set the knife she was using on the countertop.  "Hope you don't mind BLTs for supper.  I don't have much in the pantry."

"Sounds great."  Richie looked at the plates resting on the counter in front of Annie.  Each held a diagonally-cut sandwich piled with crisp green lettuce, thick slices of tomato, and wide slices of bacon.  His mouth watered.

Annie smiled at his expression.  "The lettuce and tomatoes are from my garden.  But the pig ain't mine.  It's from the Winn-Dixie."  She chuckled when Richie snorted at her tease.  "You want chips?"

"Sure."  Richie nodded as Annie turned toward the gingham-curtained pantry.  "Um... anything I can do to help?"

"You can get us something to drink.  There's lemonade and sweet tea in the refrigerator.  Or beer, if you want one.  Glasses are in the cupboard above the sink."

Richie pushed away from the counter and quickly located the glassware.  He pulled two mismatched tumblers from the cupboard and set them on the counter, then stepped over to the refrigerator.  "What do you want to drink?"

"Lemonade's fine."  Annie turned around and stepped back toward the counter just as Richie moved in the same direction.  She squeaked softly as they bumped into each other, the lemonade in the pitcher Richie held sloshing over the rim onto Annie's blouse.

"Oh, shit!  Uh... I mean... God, I'm sorry!"  Without thinking Richie reached out with his free hand and wiped at the damp spot on Annie's shirt.  He froze as he felt Annie draw in a surprised breath, her firm breast pushing against his fingers with the expansion of her chest.

"Uh... Oh God..."  Richie felt a bolt of electricity shoot through him as he realized where his touch lingered.  He quickly withdrew his hand from Annie's chest and wrapped it around the lemonade pitcher, clutching the glass container tightly as his cheeks flushed crimson.  "I... uh...."

Annie couldn't help but giggle at Richie's adorable expression.  She felt her own cheeks color slightly, aware that her body had betrayed her excitement at Richie's touch.  "Uh... it's okay.  Look... no harm done.  It's just lemonade.  I'm gonna take a shower anyway."  She knew full well Richie was apologizing for almost-groping her, but she didn't want to embarrass him further.

"Uh... yeah.  I should be more careful."  Richie took a deep breath, then grinned sheepishly.  "After you."  He waited while Annie moved over to the counter, tugging open a bag of potato chips as she moved.  He stood rooted to his spot while she dumped a helping of chips onto each plate, then picked them up and turned to face him.

"You gonna stand there all day?" she teased gently.

"Just until you sit down.  Don't want any more accidents."  Richie didn't move.

Annie giggled in response and stepped past Richie, over to the small kitchen table.  She set the two plates on the tabletop before gracefully lowering herself into a chair.  "Okay.  You're safe now."

Richie's grin widened as he moved over to the counter and poured two glasses of lemonade, then carried them over to the table.  He sat opposite Annie and waited politely for her to begin eating.

They ate slowly, chatting about the day's events.  Richie felt himself relax as they talked, and he found himself smiling and laughing with Annie as she told him about the conversation and speculation she had overheard about the town's "Mystery Man."  By the time they were finished he was at ease, the awkward lemonade incident forgotten.

" 'Kay, I'm gonna go take a quick shower and get dressed."  Annie pushed her chair back and stood, reaching for the now-empty plates.

"I'll clean up.  You go ahead."  Richie jumped to his feet and also reached for the dishes.  He smiled when his hands bumped against Annie's, sending a little warm tingle up his arms.  "One thing I definitely know how to do is dishes.  Used to dry them for my Ma all the time."

Annie laughed.  "Well, since you're so eager, have at 'em."  She stepped back and watched Richie stack the empty plates and glasses, then carry them to the sink.  "When you're done feel free to watch some TV or turn on some music or somethin.'  I'll try not to keep you waiting too long."

"Don't worry about it.  I got this covered.  Besides -- if you're a typical girl it's gonna take you awhile to get all dolled up to go out, right?"  Richie gave Annie a cheeky grin.

Annie melted at the easiness of Richie's tease and at the sparkle in his deep chocolate eyes.  It was such a welcome sight, so different from the look of wistful sadness she had seen so much of.  "Hmm.. and you're one to talk about takin' awhile to get all dolled up,  Mister Jersey Hippie Boy?  Hell, you were in that bathroom for a good half an hour."

"Hey, I was all gross and dirty.  And I had to shave."  Richie made his playful protest as he turned on the faucet and reached for the dish soap.

"And you have more hair than I do,"  Annie pointed out.  "Well Sweet Jesus, I better get a move on, if it's gonna take me so long to get myself all pretty."

Her heart fluttered when Richie turned and gave her a long look.   When he spoke his voice was soft and gentle, almost reverent.  "You don't need any time at all, Annie.  You're already pretty."

For once Annie was the one who didn't know what to say.  Her smile softened and she gazed back at Richie for a long moment, a rosy blush tinging her cheeks.  Then she chuckled softly and moved toward the door.


Richie knew Annie was near, even before he heard the creak of the screen door opening.  He could sense her, could smell her.  He didn't think he'd ever get her sweet scent out of his head, not even long after he left this place.  He would always remember her scent and her smile.

"So, you bored yet?"

Richie grinned up at Annie as she stopped beside him on the top step of the porch.  "No.  Just sitting out here watching the sunset.  Thinking."  He scooted over so Annie had room to sit beside him.

"What about?"  Annie leaned down to set the items in her hands on the porch floor.  Following her movement with his gaze, Richie realized she had carried something with her when she came out to join him.

Annie lowered herself onto the step beside Richie, her tanned legs bending and bumping lightly against Richie's denim-covered knee.  His eyes slid up her leg to the frayed hem of her cutoffs.  He swallowed hard as an urge to tug at the strings dangling against her thigh swept over him.

"What do you got there?"  Richie ignored Annie's question, instead asking one of his own.  He didn't want to tell her he had been trying to figure out a solution to his money problem, wondering how he would be able to pay Eddie for his car repair.  Tonight Richie just wanted enjoy himself with Annie, to talk and laugh and forget about his troubles and woes.  They would all still be there in the morning.

"This?"  Annie's blonde locks rippled in the light breeze as she swiveled her head toward the items she had brought onto the porch.  When she turned back to face Richie she was grinning.  "Here."  She handed him a small juice glass.

Richie took the empty glass, a confused little smile turning his lips.  "What's this for?"

Annie chuckled, again turning away and reaching for something.  "That..."  She shifted so she more fully faced Richie, turning onto her hip on the porch step.  "Is for this."

Richie eyed the big Mason jar in Annie's hands.  It was half-full of some kind of liquid and capped with a gold metal ring and lid.  Even in the dusky light Richie could see the brownish tint to the jar's contents.  "And that is....?"

Annie didn't reply, instead chuckling again and lowering the jar to her lap.  She grunted softly as she loosened the metal ring at the jar's top.  Richie felt a tingle run up his spine at the soft, grating scrape of metal on glass.  He watched as Annie removed the ring and set it on the porch beside her, then pried off the flat metal disc that covered the jar's mouth.  Almost immediately Richie was hit with the strong odor of fermented grain.

"What the....?" Richie's face screwed up into a little surprised grimace.  He watched skeptically as Annie tipped the Mason jar against the glass in his hand, filling it three-quarters full with the suspicious liquid.  "Is this... is it what I think it is?"

Annie grinned and reached for the other empty glass she had brought. After pouring a healthy shot of the liquid into her juice glass she set the jar on the step beside her.  "Don't know.  What do you think it is?"  She raised her glass in a toast.  "Cheers."

"Umm... Cheers?"  Richie was so startled he didn't know what to do.  So he just followed Annie's lead.  He raised his glass and touched it to Annie's.  He gaped as she gave him a grin and a wink, then raised the glass to her lips.  With a quick backward toss of her head she dumped the contents of the glass into her mouth and down her throat.

Swallowing the beverage in one quick gulp, Annie blinked away the moisture from her watering eyes and coughed raspily.  She grinned at Richie and nodded toward the glass he still held raised in mid-air.  "Go on. Your turn."

Richie gave the beverage in his hand another suspicious look, then raised the glass to his mouth.  Taking a deep breath, he tossed back the shot.  Almost immediately he gagged as the amber liquid blazed a trail of fire down his throat and into his belly.  He coughed and sputtered as his eyes welled with tears.

"Holy.... Holy... FUCK!" Richie gasped as he struggled to draw in a wheezing breath.  He was vaguely aware of Annie's musical laughter as he clutched at his throat and wiped at his eyes, trying desperately to regain his senses.  He felt Annie take the glass from his hand, then heard a crisp POP followed by a bubbling hiss.

"Here, take a swig of this."  Annie pressed the cold beer can into Richie's hand, chuckling  quietly as she watched his reaction.   She almost felt guilty for sneak-attacking Richie with the powerful drink, but she thought it might give him a little taste of a typical backwoods Georgia Saturday Night.

Richie immediately pulled the can to his lips and gulped greedily at the cold malt beverage.  "Take it easy...." Annie cautioned with a little laugh.  "Not too much.  Just enough to cool the fire."

Richie reluctantly handed the half-empty beer can back to Annie, then swiped his forearm across his eyes.  He coughed and cleared his throat a couple more times in quick succession, then turned his watery gaze to Annie.  "What the fuck did you just feed me?"

Annie gave him a mischievous grin.  "I think you know."

"Was that... moonshine?"

The disbelief in Richie's voice made Annie laugh out loud.  She nodded as she giggled, her thick honeyed tresses swishing around her face.  She raised a hand to brush them away from her cheek and tuck them behind her ear, then smiled at Richie.  "Sure is."  She reached for the jar.  "Want some more?"

"NO!  I mean... uh... No thanks."  Richie cleared his throat again.  He didn't want Annie to think he was some kind of wimp who couldn't hold his booze, but DAMN....

Annie chortled softly.  "Sorry 'bout that.  I didn't mean to freak you out or nothin'.   I just wanted you to have an authentic Southern homegrown cocktail before we head out.  Thought it might help set the mood."

Richie couldn't help but smile at that.  "If that's setting the mood, then what the Hell am I in for?  That was like swallowing fire."

Annie smirked.  "Well, things may get a little hot tonight.  Never quite know what to expect."  She held Richie's gaze for a moment, then turned away to put the lid back on the Moonshine Mason Jar.  When she turned back to him, the twinkle in her blue eyes held a little challenge.  "You ain't scared of me now, are ya?"

Richie's cock jumped against his zipper at the sultry note in her voice.  His eyes locked on Annie's full lower lip, slicked with pink gloss and shining in the soft late-evening light.

"No." Richie's own voice was husky.  His eyes raised to meet hers.  "I'm not scared.  I'm.... excited."  He blushed slightly at the admission, hoping she wouldn't notice in the dusky twilight.

"Well, then."  Annie reached over to Richie's thigh, where his hand rested against the faded denim.  She gave his hand a gentle squeeze, smiling at its warmth under her touch.  "We better get goin'.  The night is upon us, and full of possibility."

Her smile made Richie's heart leap with anticipation.  Silently he turned his hand over and wrapped his fingers around hers.

"I'm ready."