"When will the blood begin to race
the sleeping bud burst into bloom?
When will the flames, at last, consume us . . .?" - PotO
* * * * * * *
He was so good with Conner and Josie. Whether it was because he wanted to give them the childhood he never had or because he wasn't much more than a child himself, Tuck was a natural father.
Ramona had come home to Hidden Springs, emotionally and physically drained. However, life did not cease to go on for a mere broken heart. She still had a house to clean, bills to pay and babies to pacify. At night, when Conner and Josie were in their cribs asleep, she reasoned that even if Tuck never came home, she could do this. She could raise them all by herself.
But that didn't make it easier. All she could do was hope that he would return soon.
* * * * * * *
"Gentlemen, I want you to meet my associate, Andrey Igalov," Dante announced. "Andrey and I have been friends for years. Tonight was actually his idea."
It was Guys' Night Out in Lucky Palms. Dante had opened a bottle of top-shelf tequila and moods were running high.
Andrey, the physically imposing Russian, smiled at them. His light blue eyes glittered like ice chips. "I promise, gentlemen, this will be a night you will not soon forget."
Dante grinned. "We better get started then, if we're going to make it to St. Claire by midnight."
He led his guests into his study. "The tequila was just the beginning. This is where the real fun begins." Dante gestured to the small white pile on his desk. "This is from my own personal stash and there's plenty more if need be. After we powder our noses, we'll be on our way."
Tuck glanced over at Rusty nervously. No one present knew about his mother the addict and how susceptible he was to the drug. However, Dante had a most domineering presence and there was something menacing in Andrey's smile. He gulped. Well, he had already fucked things up with Ramona and one little bender wouldn't hurt, would it?
* * * * * * *
An hour later, Tuck's mouth had gone completely numb, his nostrils tingled and his heart felt like it was going to at any moment, beat out of his chest. However, he didn't care. He could visualize his heart, marching out of his body and down the street, leading its very own vital organ parade. The thought made him giggle. When Dante had presented the private jet to the men, Rusty and Tuck's glassy eyes had gone wide. Tuck already felt like he was on his very own roller coaster. His thoughts were flowing fast and freely, his mind filled with optimism. Life was grand.
They had finally reached their destination. Tuck had never been to St. Claire, which to a Pertha Hills boy, was "the big city". He was enraptured by the bright lights, twisting around in his seat and ogling the sights as a small child might. "Where are we going?" Tuck shouted enthusiastically, although Dante was only two seats away in the luxurious stretch limo.
His host chuckled. "I have taken the liberty of renting an entire nightclub out. It's a club for gentlemen. A gentlemen's club, if you will."
Moments later, as the limo pulled up to the club, Rusty pressed his face to the window. "Excalibur," he breathed.
The four friends strode past the metal detectors and bouncers. Dante looked like a king in his castle. There were two girls working, a blonde bombshell and a raven-haired beauty. Tuck couldn't help but notice the way the blond's eyes followed him around the room.
While Rusty was getting drinks, Dante, Tuck and Andrey made their way to the center stage, where luxurious armchairs were waiting.
The girl with dark hair was on stage, sliding, twirling and spinning. Between her moves and the bright lights, Tuck felt like he was in another dimension and barely noticed when the blonde suddenly materialized in front of him.
"Hi," she purred lasciviously. "What's your name?"
"Tuck," he managed to say.
"I'm Daisy," she giggled, bending down slightly so he could have a full view of her ample cleavage.
"How is your night going?"
"It's been a little lonely so far. At least," Daisy batted her eyelashes, "until you got here." She absent-mindedly traced the inside of her thigh with a manicured forefinger. "I've been aching for someone to keep me company," she pouted.
Tuck's gaze couldn't help but follow her finger up and down her thigh. Daisy was well-versed in the art of seduction, from the way she pursed her lip-glossed lips to the way she leaned back and slowly, luxuriously rubbed her neck, then her shoulders, breasts and midriff. To anyone who was watching her, they'd have to be blind to not be thinking about how they wished the hands on her body were instead theirs. Blind...or an idiot.
"I-I can do that," Tuck blurted out.
"Oh? Well, why don't we go some place more private?" She lent him a hand and he took it nervously.
As she started to lead him to the lap dance room, his senses kicked back in and he stopped, suddenly aware and apprehensive. "Can we...can we sit and talk for a moment?"
By that time, he was starting to come down and was feeling more like himself. His head hurt and he kind of wanted to go to sleep but didn't think he'd be able to yet. The bright lights were hurting his head and the pretty girl in front of him wasn't doing much for his junk, which was a side effect of the coke. However, he listened to her hustle, letting her do her job. Daisy was very attractive, but it made him wonder how a girl ended up in a job like this. He was zoning out when something she said caught his attention.
"...if you want, we can go in the back and do a little extra, if you know what I mean," she winked. "And I think you do."
"Extra?" he blinked.
"You gotta pay to play, big boy. So what do you say. How bout you have your way with me. I can make all your fantasies come true," she cooed, placing her hand on his crotch.
"Huh?" Not used to being rebuffed, she could only stare at him.
"Daisy, I have to confess I was less than sober when I walked in here but during the time that I've known you, I've found that you're pretty and charming. What are you doing in a place like this? Why do you make yourself so...cheap?"
She cried out, as if struck. "Cheap?"
"Honestly, I'd rather give you money to sit here and talk to me but you don't have to do anything else. And you shouldn't. You're better than that." By that time, Tuck's head was throbbing and he could only think about Ramona. "And so am I," he said, looking around. "I don't even know why I'm here when I should be home with my wife. We had a fight," he confessed.
He gave Daisy a hug and she surprised him with a quick kiss. He doubted his little speech would change her life or make her quit her job. However, even drug dealers have morals and Tuck missed his wife.
He slipped $100 in Daisy's hand. "Your wife is lucky to have you," she whispered, before walking away.
* * * * * * *
The next afternoon, after the inevitable crash and burn, Tuck dragged himself out of his hotel room's California King-sized bed to let Dante know he would be returning to Hidden Springs.
When he walked in the door, he was met with a glare from his wife. "Upstairs now," she whispered furiously.
"Where are Conner and Josie?"
"They're napping. Which means you have exactly half an hour to miraculously make me forgive you or you can get the hell out of our lives."
He grimaced. After last night, he was hardly in the condition to be dealing with this.
"What can I say to you that I haven't already tried saying, Ramona? I'm sorry and I love you. I can make all the excuses in the world but those are the only two things that are true."
"Arrrgh!" she yelled in frustration. "I have been waiting for this moment for the past few days but now that it's here, I can't even come up with anything. And as pissed off as I am at you, I'm even more mad at myself."
That got his attention. "Why?"
"Because," she rolled her eyes, "because my father was an alcoholic and my mother was a cheater and they loved each other but gave up completely. I grew up without either one of them and I would never want that for Conner and Josie. Even if...even if..."
"Even if their father is a drug dealer?" he asked softly.
"Yes!" she cried. "And I don't know if that makes me a romantic or stupid or pathetic, but even if my father never had another sober day in his entire life, the fact that he would be a part of my life would have been better than nothing. It would have been better than losing him."
At this, she collapsed into his arms, violently sobbing. "You made me love you, Tuck. You made me fall so deeply and helplessly in love with you that I don't know how to not love you. I don't know how to not be with you."
He swallowed. "So you don't want to leave me?"
"No!" she cried. "And it just makes me so mad, that I'm even telling you this and you get to do whatever you want because I'll never leave you." Ramona sniffed. "Now you'll just do whatever you want and I'll yell and then we'll make up and have hot makeup sex and then two days later, you'll just fuck it up all over again and..."
"Did I hear 'makeup sex'?" Tuck interrupted.
She rolled her eyes. "It figures that is the one thing you heard in that entire speech. I swear..."
"Ramona!" he cut her off.
"Shut up and kiss me already."
And she did.
* * * * * * *
That evening, as Ramona and Tuck put their babies to bed, Ramona couldn't help but think that despite the past week's events, everything she loved and held dear in the world was currently in that one room.