Friday, July 27, 2012

Chapter 33


The low rumble of an engine made Annie look up.  Her lips curved into a smile as she ducked her head to peer out the open window, the creamy lace curtains stirring with the light cross-breeze.  She watched the wide rusty-blue car roll slowly up the long drive, gravel crunching beneath its tires.

Annie chuckled at the brown elbow and forearm protruding from the driver’s side window.  It was all she could see of Richie, his silhouette obscured by the glint of descending sun off the Impala’s winshield.  But just that little glimpse of tanned skin made her stomach flutter.

Still smiling, Annie straightened and returned her attention to her task.  Her gaze dropped back to the gray t-shirt flattened against the quilt covering her bed.  Her hands gently smoothed away the little wrinkles in the worn fabric before folding it into thirds, then into thirds again. 

Annie deftly flipped the perfectly-folded tee over and smoothed it once more before placing it neatly on the pile with the rest of Richie’s clothes.  She heard the engine stop abruptly, followed by the crunch of footsteps on the gravel drive and the loud metallic thump of a closing car door. 

Humming softly, Annie moved toward the bedroom door.  She had hardly stepped out into the short hallway when she heard the screen door rattle open.

“Annie?”

Richie’s sweaty face split into a grin when she rounded the corner.  He raised a hand to rake through his stringy, windblown hair, pushing it back from his forehead.  “Hey.”

“Well, Hey yourself.”  Annie chuckled and padded barefoot across the rug to him.  She placed a palm gently against his dampened t-shirt and leaned up to give him a little smooch.  “I was beginnin’ to think you got yourself lost.”

“Uh… I kinda did.”  Richie gave her a sheepish shrug.  “Just one wrong turn, though.  I figured it out.”

“Well, I guess you have an excuse.  After all, it is your first time drivin’ out here to the house.”

“Yeah.”  Richie grinned down at Annie.  She looked adorable, her blue eyes sparkling and her lightly-freckled nose wrinkling with her gentle tease.

“So, you still gonna take me out to the carnival tonight?”  Annie’s golden curls bounced lightly as she stepped back and crossed her arms over her chest.  She tipped her head to one side, giving him a quizzical look.

“Hell yeah!  I mean… if you still want me to.”

“Oh, I do.  I love the carnival.  Best week of the summer.”  Annie nodded emphatically.  “Money goes to a good cause, too.  Helpin’ people with medical bills, orphans and foster kids, the volunteer fire department…”

“Well then sure, we have to go.”  Richie smiled his agreement.  “Um… what time does it start?  I gotta grab a shower first.  I’m all sweaty and greasy.  Helped Eddie rebuild a trannie on some guy’s pickup truck.”

“I know.  Lance came into the restaurant for lunch.”  Annie giggled softly and gave Richie a little wink.  “I told him not to worry, you knew what you were doin’.  Plus Eddie was lookin’ over your shoulder.”

“Great.  Thanks.”  Richie rolled his eyes playfully.  “Anyway… what time you wanna go?  Pretty soon?”

“Whenever you want.  The carnival opened today at noon, but it don’t really get rollin’ on the first day ‘til folks get off work.  We got plenty of time.”

Richie nodded and stepped toward the corner where his guitar case sat propped against Annie’s stereo console.  “Okay.  You wanna eat there too?  Or maybe get a burger on the way or somethin'?”  His expression turned to a puzzled frown when he realized his army-surplus duffel was no longer in the spot it had occupied all weekend, slumped on Annie’s living room rug next to her stereo. 

“Oh, we wanna eat there, for sure.” Annie giggled at Richie’s obvious confusion, but continued her answer.  “All the Brunswick churches and the civic clubs and the PTA all run food booths.  There’s all kinds of good cookin’ for sale at the carnival.  The Rotary does fried catfish… Mmm-MMM.”  She hummed her approval.  “And of course there’s funnel cakes and cotton candy…”

“Umm… okay.”  Richie turned to look around the room, distracted from Annie’s culinary rundown by his visual search for his duffel.

Annie giggled.  “Richie, it’s in the bedroom.”

“My bag?”

“Uh huh.  I took the last of yesterday’s wash off the line and folded it up.  I was gonna put it back in your bag, but I saw you had other stuff in there.  I wasn’t gonna put clean clothes in there until you can get that other dirty ol' stuff out.  And I didn’t wanna snoop, so…”

“Oh.  S’Okay.”  Richie felt a little pang of anxiety at the thought of Annie going through his bag.  He didn’t have anything to hide, exactly.  But he would be a little embarrassed if she saw the pathetic balance in the checkbook register buried at the bottom of the duffel.  “Um… thanks for folding my clothes.  You didn’t have to do that.”

“Yes I did.”  Annie chuckled teasingly.  “You woulda just wadded up those clean shirts and jeans and stuffed ‘em back into that ol’ bag.  You’re a guy.

“Well, yeah.”

Annie rolled her eyes and shook her head, still grinning.  “Well, anyway… your clean clothes are on my bed.  Now why don’t you go get yourself cleaned up, too?”

Richie chortled softly, taking a step over to where Annie stood.  He dropped his head, smiling down at her.  “They got rides at this carnival too?”

“ ‘Course.”  A tingle ran down Annie’s spine at the look in Richie’s deep chocolate eyes.  “Why?”

“ ‘Cause.” Richie grinned playfully, then lowered his lips to hover over hers. “I kinda like the idea of you holdin’ on to me while we spin around real fast.”       

Annie smirked coyly.  “Maybe you’ll be the one holdin’ on to me.”  She tipped her head upward, her lips making contact with his. 

Richie chuckled against her sweet kiss.  “If you want me to.”

“Well, we’ll see how the evenin' goes.”  Annie pulled her face back to give Richie a grin, then pushed at his chest.  “Now go.  Get in the shower.  I’m hungry.”

“ ‘Kay.”  Richie nodded and shuffled toward the little hallway, Annie stepping aside to make room for him to pass.  “Now that you mention it, I’m starving too.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Annie laughed her reply.  Richie had proven over the past few days that, despite his rail-thin build, he could put away some food.

Richie didn’t answer, just smiling to himself as he wandered past the bathroom door and into Annie’s bedroom.  He stopped just inside the door, his gaze falling to the quilt-covered bed. 

As Annie had said, his clean shirts and jeans were folded and neatly stacked.  A small pile of rolled off-white tube socks lay beside them.  Next to the socks a half-dozen pairs of semi-dingy briefs were folded into uneven rectangles. 

Richie’s cheeks colored lightly at the thought of Annie folding his underwear.  Some things he just didn’t want to consider.

His eyes dropped from his freshly-done laundry to the floor, looking for his duffel bag.  When he didn’t see it next to the bed, Richie frowned.  He moved further into the bedroom, around the bed, scanning the floor for the canvas container that held all his belongings. 

A quick duck of his head to look under Annie’s bed proved fruitless.  Straightening up and raising a hand to scratch unconsciously at his head, Richie turned back toward the door.

“Annie?  Where’s my ruck?”

Her reply floated down the hall from the opposite end of the little house.  “I put it in the closet!”

“Oh. Duh.” Richie mumbled to himself as he stepped over to the narrow door in the corner of Annie’s bedroom.  He turned the knob and tugged hard, forcing the humidity-swollen wood to release from the door frame.  His eyes dropped automatically to the floor of the tiny space.

Richie leaned down to pick up the nearly-empty olive-drab bag, hauling it up by one frayed strap.  As he straightened the back of his hand brushed against the garments hanging from the bar that spanned the narrow closet.  He smiled as he recognized the green dress Annie had worn to church the day before.

Reaching out, Richie gently traced his fingers over the soft cotton. His smile gentled as he recalled how pretty and feminine she looked, gliding around the church in her summer dress and her prim heels.  And how angelic she had looked in her snowy white choir robe, her cheeks glowing and her hair shining like a golden halo.

And how incredibly sexy she had looked on her knees, genuflecting before him on the front porch in a most unexpected and welcome erotic surprise.

A little shudder ran down Richie’s spine at the vivid memory, culminating in a powerful surge to his groin.  The corners of his mouth curved into a secretive grin and he gave his head a brisk shake, as if to clear away the image.  If he got all turned on now he was going to have to spend extra time in the shower and make Annie wait even longer to go to her carnival.

Richie gave the green cotton one last stroke, then let it go.  He tugged his rucksack out of the closet, tossing it onto the floor next to the bed.  As he turned to close the closet door something else caught Richie’s attention, making him pause.

Hanging on the bar next to Annie’s green church dress was his white shirt.  It was clean and crisp, neatly ironed.  The thin black tie that had belonged to Annie’s grandfather curved loosely around the neck, ready to be knotted under the starched collar.

It was ready for him to wear again, the next time he accompanied Annie to church.

Richie stood motionless, staring at the garment as a flood of emotions swept over him.  Yesterday he had been so certain that next Sunday he would be sitting in the wooden pew at the back of the church, watching her sing in the choir.  He had received a sign from the Heavens or from fate or from wherever, that this is where his future lay, here in Darien with Annie.

And then, like a bolt from the blue, it had returned.  His music.  His soul had been awakened, and even the delightful temptation of a full night of naked passion with Annabelle had been unable to keep him from the music.   

She was his Muse.  She had drawn him in, ensnared his heart, inspired his soul.  And now here he stood, staring at the product of her mundane house-chore that so poignantly symbolized the choice he had to make.

Annie had made room in her life for him.  He could stay here with her and live a quiet, simple life in this close-knit little community that had welcomed and sheltered him.  They would have each other; they would grow closer over time.  He would get a job; she would keep working.  Eventually they'd save enough money for her to go to nursing school and maybe buy a bigger house.  Richie could even buy another guitar; maybe a Gibson like the one he had pawned back in Tupelo.  They could get married and raise their children in this peaceful, unpretentious place, and drive back up to Jersey a couple times a year to visit the ghosts of Richie's past life and let his parents spoil their Grandkids.

And every now and again on a Saturday night he could break out his guitar and sit in with the band at Ruby Mae's.  Just to remember what it was like.

Richie's gaze dropped to the floor, to the rumpled heap of olive-drab canvas that lay beside his boot.

Or he could pack up his belongings, the worn, faded clothes Annie had so thoughtfully cleaned and folded, and his battered old guitar case, and he could drive back to the only life he had ever known.  He could spend his days toiling in a factory and his nights in musty clubs down the Shore, drinking and smoking with his buddies and singing and playing with any band who would have him until his voice was a raspy croak and his fingers bled… And he would love every minute of it.

Except it would be without Her.

Slowly, Richie pushed the closet door closed.  He stared at the doorknob for a moment before turning away.  With a sigh he reached down to pick up his ruck, dragging it around the end of the bed before slinging it onto the rocking chair next to the window. 

Silently he rooted around in the canvas bag until he found his shaving kit.  Then he turned and shuffled down the hall, eager for the cool rain of the shower to wash away the grime of his day’s labors and to refresh his suddenly melancholy mood.

*****
“Go up another block and turn left.  You’ll see the grade school on the left.”

Richie slowed the Impala and guided it toward the curb of the tree-lined street, making way for an oncoming truck to drift past.  He peered ahead at the line of vehicles inching slowly down the brick path.

“What’s with all the traffic?”

Annie giggled and poked him playfully in the ribs.  “It’s the carnival! I told you, it’s the highlight of the summer!  For the whole county, not just for town.”

Richie cringed at her tickle, then grinned.  His arm tightened around her shoulder, giving her a little hug.  Annie purred softly, snuggling closer against his side on the Impala’s wide bench seat.

Richie tilted his head to the left, trying to look around the big 4 x 4 pickup truck blocking his view down the street.  “Shit, it may be dark before we even get to the parking lot.” 

His observation was part tease, part exasperated vent.  Richie squirmed uncomfortably in his seat, trying unsuccessfully to adjust himself without grabbing his crotch.  Annie had sat close beside him for the entire twenty-minute drive from Darien, and they had been inching through Brunswick for another ten minutes.  Her scent, her voice, and the warmth of her skin had been driving him slowly crazy the entire while.

“I think we’ll be fine.  Sun sets late in the summertime.”  Annie gave Richie a little sideways smirk and slipped her hand along the inside of his denim-covered thigh.  “The biggest danger is we’ll starve to death ‘fore we get outta this traffic jam.”

Richie chuckled huskily and squirmed again.  “You really do wanna eat, don’t you?”

“Uh huh.  Best part of the carnival.”

“So I’ve heard.”  Richie gave Annie another squeeze and turned his head to smile at her.  Annie responded by leaning up to give him a light kiss.

Just as her lips slipped from his the truck ahead of them began to move.  “Finally!” Richie exclaimed.  “About fuckin’ time!”  He jerked the lever to throw the Impala’s transmission back into “Drive” and let the big car roll forward.

Annie giggled.  “So you ain’t one for patience, then.”

“Not really.”

“Hmm. Yep, definitely a Yankee.”

Richie shot her a sideways grin.  “And damned proud of it.”

It took them another five minutes to travel the block and a half to the elementary school.  Annie kept up her commentary about the festival’s food selections in between gently teasing Richie about his impatience and inching her hand higher up the inseam of his jeans.  By the time he finally pulled the Impala into a space in the school parking lot Richie was both horny and hungry.  It was obvious which one of those conditions was going to be alleviated first.

Richie gave Annie a quick smooch.  “Stay there… I’m comin’ around to get ya.”  He pushed open the car door and unfolded his lanky frame from behind the Impala’s wheel.

“Such nice manners,” Annie giggled as she watched him round the front of the car and approach the passenger side.  Richie had to yank twice on the handle to get the door to oblige, but he swung it open with a rusty creak and offered Annabelle his hand.  “I may turn you into a Southern Gentleman yet.”

Richie grinned.  “I don’t know ‘bout that.”  He waited until Annie stepped away from the car before shoving the door shut.  “Stupid piece of shit,” he swore in a mutter as the misaligned door protested the change in position.  Richie hip-checked the dingy metal just to be sure the door was securely latched. 

Annie chortled amusedly at Richie’s sneer.  “Okay, so maybe you need a little more work in the Southern Gentleman department.  Like not swearin’ in front of a lady.”

“Or asking a woman her age?”  Richie’s wry reply made Annie laugh.  His heart warmed as he watched her eyes sparkle and her golden curls bounce.  She was like a walking ray of sunshine.

“Yeah.  Or that.”  Annie gave Richie a sweet smile before reaching for his hand.  Twining her fingers between his, she tugged gently.  “Now c’mon.  Let me show you what a good ol’-fashioned Southern summer carnival’s all about.”

6 comments:

  1. This isn't going to be an easy decision for Richie to make. :(

    Bring on the carnival!

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  2. Woo Hoo..all caught up again..Im so glad to see Richie & Annie back again..kinda missed em I did.. Poor Richie looks like he has a big decision to make.....Cant wait to see what he decides..
    Julie

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  3. I'm SO excited that you're working on this again! I just happened out here to check and ... behold new words!! YAY! I could have sworn I was following you so I'd know when you updated after it went on hiatus. But apparently not. LOL I'm going to start over from the beginning and refresh my memory. Maybe by the time I get back here you'll have written even more... (fingers crossed). I LOVE this story!

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  4. Oh, Caa-aaa-tte! Did you forget to tell us you were going on hiatus again? :-) PLEASE give us more of this story!!!

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  5. Catte, I found a link the other night that I hope will inspire you to take Annie and Richie back to the backwoods blues club... (ahem) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrebNY0ZxC4 (I've wanted to hear Richie do Johnny B Goode ever since I read that chapter and couldn't believe it when I heard this!) You may have already seen it, but it's definitely worth a second look!

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Ramblings Welcome