Paul tried to wipe the grime away from eyes as he crawled down the oil drilling rig. This fast-paced life had called to him just a few short years ago, and he had loved the challenge. Unending hours physically climbing rigs to ridiculous heights in the dead of night just to pray it didn’t blow up from below kept his blood pumping, adrenaline flying, and cash pouring in.
Sixteen hour days had started having their effect on him, though. He easily downed a pot of coffee before lunch, and he met a fresh six pack after his shift ended, calming his nerves so he could fall asleep, even if for just a few hours before the next emergency came up and he was back on his feet, tying on his steel toes and flying out the door.
He had become rather notorious back in his hometown for being a bit of a wild child. He had taken advantage of his dad’s over the road job and filled his lonely weekends with friends and booze. Every once in a while his mom would call to check on him, in some sort of feel bad moment, but her words were never sincere. I’ll fly out to see you soon, I’ll send money for Christmas, I promise to be there for your graduation. They were all lies. She had run out on he and his Dad years ago, and Paul had quit returning her calls after he moved out, two days before his 18th birthday. Some luggage was best just left in the past.
He had attempted to right the wild child reputation out here, but quite frankly there were crazies every which way he looked. It reminded him of the stories he had heard about the wild west. The gold miners had settled towns in the desolate plains centuries ago, as even crazy gold miners appreciated a good spirit at night and a church to right the wrong each Sunday. It wasn’t settled by sensible, logic minded brains that camped out in the wilderness risking their lives to earn a buck. It took a bunch of crazies to do it, and he found it easier to fit in than to right some reputation here.
His biggest mistake, as he decided it was now, was driving the bull dozer straight from the construction site where they were prepping for a new plant and parking it in the lot of the new bar that had popped up in the middle of nowhere. He crawled down to a drunken cheer from the patrons, and he bought a round with the cash in his pocket. “Cheers to another day alive!”
Earlier that day he had seen first hand the horrors a single day could hold. Not only had he watched a man die down a 100 foot hole in the ground, but he watched six of his work buddies get burned severely when things went awry up thirty feet on the rig. There was no hospital for nearly a hundred miles, and he knew every man in the back of those pickups would prefer death over what they were experiencing, or would if they made it to the hospital.
Yep. That day he had driven his bull dozer to the bar after his shift and passed out behind the building later that night.
He had laid off the alcohol all together since that night, and he was completely sober as he walked up to his pickup now. He pulled his cell phone off the charger. Two missed calls and a text. It was fun when cell service actually worked out here and he had some lifelines tossed back from home. He knew exactly who they’d be from. One from his Dad, attempting to be a father the only way he knew how, and the other most likely someone from Jamaica claiming he had won the lottery. But what he was excited to read was the text, which would more than likely would be from his best friend from high school.
He checked the text. Hey P, Boss is really pissing me off today. Hoping for one of your offensive jokes to replay in my head so I don’t end up punching him in the throat. Tx, Queenie.
Queenie had been her nickname in high school, brought on by her ridiculously dramatic response to most things and standards higher than most of us peasants could ever attempt to meet. He loved her dramatic flair to life. There was never any guessing what was on her mind. If she wasn’t happy, you knew it. If she was bored, you knew it. If she wanted to kick someone’s ass, she just did it.
If she wanted something, she asked or more likely demanded, and he had always wished she would turn her desires to him, to want him, to demand he be hers. She never made a pass, and she joked off all of his flirtations with such an ease he knew he never had a chance, so he quit trying. Being friends with her was too precious to risk losing everything with her, losing his everything.
He texted back, Just punch him, and then wondered what time it was. He checked the clock on his phone and it read 3:28am. Well, shit. That should set her off. Never interrupt a princess’ sleep is something he learned about this Queen a long time ago.
His phone buzzed nearly immediately I should punch you for waking me up.
Then buzzed again, but I guess that means you’re still alive, so I’ll let it slide.
He thought over his day. He had nearly slid to his death. An oil spill caused a slick spot, and he thanked his lucky stars he had worn his safety harness that day. Years of climbing a rig makes you feel invincible, until you remember you’re not and hanging 65 feet from the ground with nothing but a cable and carbine holding you from plummeting to your death. Yep, that definitely reminds you that you’re not invincible.
He simply texted Sorry. It was better not to bait a bear.
Np. I’m up now. When you coming home? I haven’t seen your ugly face in forever!
She was back, he grinned to himself. I could be there in 6 hours if I started driving right now… which was true. If he started his truck right now and headed out, he could be there a little before lunch. Only he would have to find a hotel, as going home wasn’t as delightful for him as it seemed to be for some families.
Do it. Let’s burn off some steam together, so we can go back to being good slaves when we return to work Monday.
Ha! His teenage brain had thought up a hundred ways to steam up the room with Rose, aka Queenie, over the years. But they actually had thought of a hundred ways together to blow off steam on the weekends over the years, never involving his fantasies and only rarely getting resulting in a minor consumption ticket, but even doing community service “as a punishment” with her was fun. Her sassy mouth kept him on his toes, and she was quick to let him know when his mouth had gone too far. It was a delicate balance, and he loved pushing her limits.
Fuck it. What else was he going to do for the next three days while the rig was down? He could sleep some day, maybe when he was dead, but it wouldn’t be this week. He typed back, I’m on my way.
He hadn’t even made it out to the interstate before his phone rang. The ring gave away the caller, and he put it on speaker. “Hey Queenie” he said, his voice softer with her than anyone else he had ever known.
“Hi! Are you really doing it? Are you really gonna come home?” she squealed out excitedly.
“I’m heading in that direction as we speak. Have anything in mind?” he asked, hopeful. If she was kidding, he could just turn around now and head to his dinky rented trailer with his three other roommates who smelled bad and were a little cross.
“Ooh! I’m sure I can think of a few things,” she said conspiratorially, “Susan is having a bachelorette party at the Marriott Inn. That should be a blast.”
“If you’re a girl” he laughed out loud. “I’m not sure they would even let me in” he said.
“Well, I could hire you as our sexy construction worker stripper. You just do your thing, and I promise they won’t kick you out the door too fast.”
Ha! “Not sure I would ever be employable if I add In-descent Exposure to my list of criminal mistakes.”
“Oh come on” she joked, “nobody is gonna care about your juvenile record now that you’ve been an adult for many years.”
“What about the public nuissance, or the drunk and disorderly, or the assault?”
She giggled. “Weren’t those all on the same night?”
“Well, I would hire you anywhere for punching that perverted bastard right there on the back deck of the Lakeside Bar. I would have done it myself, but I was already getting arrested for the public nuisance, too.” She giggled endlessly, and he remembered why he had done it. Some slimy bastard wouldn’t listen to Queenie’s demand to stop pinching her ass, and when he saw it for himself, he helped the slimy little bastard keep his hands to himself.
The officers didn’t quite understand his plea that the other guy started it, and it was possible that his speech was a little too slurred to even make a case, but he would do it again in a heartbeat. The closest he and Queenie had ever come to kissing was during that ride in the back of the squad car together, her body trying to communicate her gratitude for his bruised knuckles.
“Ha, you might be the only one outside the oil field that could handle me” he finally said, trying to be sarcastic but knowing it was probably true.
Rose had loved Paul since the second time she had met him. The first time she thought he was a giant ass and told him as much. It didn’t stop him from being fun and funny and a solace she longed to figure her own life out with. She and he had grown up in entirely different circumstances, and she sometimes dreamt of having parents like his that gave her room. Hers were constantly breathing down her neck, reminding her that she had a final or a sports meet or chores to be done, never giving her a second to think for herself. Her family had money, which she knew how to spend, and when she got her first minor, she was kicked out of sports by the school and banned from hanging with her bestie, Pea Brain, or P as she referred to him, by her parents. He turned out to be her best partner in crime over the years she thought with a smile on her face.
She remembered the night she got her first minor consumption ticket clearly. She and P had made it out in the stix to some friend of a friends, and they drank the night away in the hay barn. Just before dawn, she and Paul were sitting outside the barn, pouring their hearts out to each other, watching the beautiful sun rise. Off in the distance they heard the roar of a series of vehicles, and when they saw that it was a bunch of police cruisers, no doubt coming for the barn, they gave a warning inside and their feet hit earth. They had spent most of the night in the hay barn, and they had no idea where they were running to when their feet hit the ground.
She grabbed his hand, afraid of getting lost out in the vast wilderness, and he hadn’t let her go. Until a giant animal scared them out of their stupid blind sprint. It made some sort of ridiculous noise, like a sick, creepy rusty hinge and she was scared to death. Her blurry mind imagined monsters or ghosts, and she froze in place. He quickly helped her climb up into a tree, thrusting her up high enough to grab a branch which she settled into, but too high for him to reach.
She shrieked when the wild beast, which they later learned was a llama, ran straight for him and kicked him square in the chest, knocking him to the ground. The beast seemed impressed with himself and slowly walked back to the herd of sheep it apparently had befriended. She jumped down and checked on her bestie, who had rolled onto his back and was trying to catch his breath. She had fought back tears when she thought he was hurt, and her voice caught when she asked him if he was still alive.
“Yeah,”he said between grunts and groans, managing to get to his hands and knees “I’ll be fine. I think we’re gonna get busted though.” She looked back and saw that the entire local police department had descended on the barn, and her shriek must have indicated their presence as two officers were jogging straight towards them.
To her horror, Pea Brain started laughing, each laugh sounding pained. “Never, in my life,” he said between huffs,” did I think a llama would be the first thing to really kick my ass.” She wasn’t sure if she wanted to bawl or laugh, but his laughter was infectious, and as the burly uniformed officers approached, she and P were both giving in to fits of laughter, which lasted on and off until the officers deposited them at their parents’ front doors. Her parents were less than plussed, seeing P still sitting in the back seat, and had said that was enough.
That hadn’t stopped her from seeing P, though, despite her parents protests. It just seemed to encourage her. She snuck out of her bedroom old school style through her window, down the porch roof, and off on foot. Pea Brain always helped her get back onto the porch roof after their nights out, and she only got caught on the off chance that she had returned so late that her parents were rising for the next day. P never thought of himself, and always caught hell if his Dad was home. But he was always there for her, never judging, and she appreciated that.
The thought of having him home this weekend, even if for a day, was just the stress relief she needed. She had gone to college and managed a secretarial degree, but her current boss was a giant pain in the ass, and nothing was ever good enough. When he gave her grief today for turning in the quarterly reports to him before he was ready, she wanted to drop kick him straight to the ground like the llama had P and drown her boss in the damn report. She was good at what she did, and getting yelled at for turning a report in early was outrageous.
She missed P even more now, knowing he was going to be home. She wanted to crawl into his lap and let him tell her that she was perfect just the way she was. His kind words always helped her through the tough days. He never demanded anything more, never touched her inappropriately, never set expectations she couldn’t handle, and never was upset if she fell below the bar. She knew she loved him, but for some reason she had never allowed herself to pursue him, always feeling like he was too good for her, deep down fearing that she would someday, someway, somehow screw it all up and ruin what they already had.
Maybe she could use this weekend to get him to see her as an adult, a woman and not the girl he used to run around with. She packed an overnight bag, grabbed her cell and charger, and swiped her keys before heading out to the Mustang her Dad bought for her college graduation present. She hopped in her car, put the phone on the audio system, and started for the interstate. She could meet him halfway, and then she wouldn’t have to share him with anybody for 24 straight hours, maybe more.
She dialed him up, trying to hide the excitement in her voice to make their meeting a surprise.
“You might be the only one outside the oil field that that could handle me,” he said with a sardonic laugh.
Oh, she’d like to handle him. With any luck, she would meet him at at the state border today and let the notorious wild child handle her, too.