"Melva Jean! How long is it going to take you to comb out my hair? I told you I have a lunch date, and I just can't be late!" I looked at my watch - the minute hand was inching toward twelve, and I was supposed to be meeting Tommi at Hogswallow's Hot Links at noon! My weekly set-and-comb-out at Melva Jean's Curl Up and Dye seemed to be taking forever today, but I wanted to look my best for Tommi.
Melva Jean sighed and exhaled a bitter cloud of Tareyton smoke. "I'm almost done, honey. Now hold still, or I'm gonna get Aqua-Net all in your eyes."
"Make sure you spray it good, Melva Jean, and don't forget to tease it extra-high the way Tommi likes it!"
"Tommi, Tommi, Tommi - that's all I hear you talk about anymore! When you gonna learn that man's no good?"
"No good? That's fine talk coming from you - speaking of which, when's Billy Earl coming back from Amarillo? I heard he's got him a hot little number stashed away in a motel over there," I said, mentally taking back the tip I usually left under the ashtray.
"Never you mind about Billy Earl. That man loves me to death. A truck driver just has to spend a lot of time on the road. Besides, at least he got him a honest job."
There was an awkward silence as Melva Jean finished ratting and spraying my hairdo. As I got up from the chair and paid the bill (twelve dollars and not a penny extra) Melva Jean said, "Aw, honey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I know how much you love him. I just don't wanna see you get hurt again, that's all."
"That's okay, Melva," I said, but I still didn't give her a tip as I walked out the door. I clattered down the street to my car. If I put the pedal to the metal, I could still be on time for Tommi.
He told me, when he called me last night at 3:30 AM from the Lucky 7 Lounge, that he had "somethin' real import'nt" to talk to me about. At least I think that's what he said, but it was hard to understand his slurred words. He told me to meet him at noon at 'our place'.
I couldn't sleep the rest of that night. My head was whirling, spinning fantasies like so much cotton candy. What could he want to talk to me about? Was he finally going to 'pop the question'? Whisk me away to the Marianas? Whatever it was, it sure had to be important for him to call me in the middle of the night. Lately I hadn't heard much from him, and I was distraught. What had I done, or not done - said or not said? But now, in retrospect, I knew he was staying away because he was planning a surprise for us! Visions of orange blossoms and wedding gowns danced in my head. What would Melva Jean say when I sashayed into the Curl Up and Dye with a big rock on my finger? "That's Mrs. Tom DeLay to you, Melva!" I'd say haughtily. They'd all stop laughing then. That'd put an end to the snide remarks made just loud enough for me to hear in line at the Piggly Wiggly. They'd all find out soon enough. I couldn't wait to wipe the smirks and the pitying looks off their faces.
I burst through the door of Hogswallow's, smoothing my hair and trying to still my wildly-beating heart as my eyes adjusted to the dim light. I deliberately slowed down, trying to appear casual as I glanced around the deserted room for Tommi. True to form, he was there early, sitting at the far end of the bar, a row of dead soldiers already lined up in front of him. For some unknown reason, we were the only patrons there.
"Gotcha a Lone Star," he said by way of greeting. "Siddown." He gestured to the dirty naugahyde barstool beside him. I spread a couple of bar napkins on it and gingerly seated myself on the wobbly stool. Jimmi Sue, the slatternly barmaid, glared at me as she slopped grimy water onto the bar with an elderly gray dishrag. I glared back. She, like all the others, would soon be singing a different tune. Ignoring her stink-eye, I turned to Tommi.
"What is it, darling?" I gazed into his wide-set yet fish-like eyes. He looked away, then cleared his throat loudly.
"You know I like ya a lot, don'cha, Butterbean?" Here it comes, I thought, the moment every girl dreams of.
"Y-yes, Tommi," I stammered, my heart pounding like, well, a hammer. I held my breath and willed my hands to stop trembling.
"You're a nice li'l ol' gal, I always said. But tell me, honeybunch, do you like me too?"
"Oh, Tommi, you know I do!" I gasped. "More than anything!"
"And folks that like each other do each other li'l favors sometimes, don't they?"
"Just name it, Tommi - it's yours!"
"We-ell," he began. I was beginning to palpitate.
"I don't know quite how to say it..."
"Go on," I urged him. He took a swallow of his Lone Star and ahemmed again.
"Well, the thing is, I was thinkin' about takin' a little trip."
"A trip, Tommi?" I visualized it - Scotland, Cancun, maybe Paris? A honeymoon in Paris! What would I wear? But of course Tommi would buy me a lovely trousseau. I made up my mind that we'd get married on top of the Eiffel Tower.
"Tha's right, sugar beet. I been thinking about making a change."
"A change, Tommi?"
"Yeah, doll baby. I think I might like to move. It's getting a little warm here in Sugar Land."
"I know what you mean, Tommi. It's awfully hot here, especially in the summertime." I was thinking now, maybe Switzerland! I imagined Tommi and I in cute matching ski outfits, schussing our little hearts out together in the Alps. I'd never skied before, but I'd sure learn!
"But what about your important work?"
"Uh huh. The thing is, I'm retiring from the guv'mint."
"Retiring?" I exclaimed.
"They begged me to stay in Washington, o' course, but I insisted."
"So what will you do now, Tommi?"
"Well, I sure would like to take a nice trip to someplace cool", he said.
"Oh yes," I breathed.
"So, darlin', what I wanted to ask you..."
"What I wanted to ask you, since we like each other so much..."
"...is how much money you got in the bank?"
"Why, Tommi!" I blurted. "About ten thousand or so, that I've been saving up ever since I was a little girl, for..." I blushed, too embarrassed to go on.
"So, my li'l banana fritter, how'd you like to take a nice trip?"
"Oh, Tommi!" I squealed, flinging my arms around him and nearly knocking over his latest Lone Star, "yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!"
"Easy there, cupcake! Now here's what I want you to do. Go to the bank and take out that ten grand. Then bring it all back here, and I'll go and get a ticket - uh, I mean a couple of tickets!"
"Where to, Tommi?"
He winked and said, "It's a surprise, darlin."
"As long as we're together, I don't care where we go!"
"Uh, yeah," he said uncomfortably. "Hurry back, now!"
At last! All my dreams were coming true! I was so ecstatic that I couldn't even manage to be mad at slutty ol' Jimmie Sue as she shoved the bill for Tommi's 16 beers at me. I hurriedly paid it (no tip for Jimmie Sue) and raced out the door, headed for my car, the bank, all my money and my new life with Tommi!
As I ran, in my head I practiced the only French I knew. "Au revoir, Melva Jean!"
Who'll have the last laugh now?