Romantic Shorts presents a frank and honest story of attraction and true love. Through the eyes of cheeky Jenny Tanger, Christine Benson takes the reader on a ride with a melt-your-heart romantic bathed in an Oklahoma sunrise. And who doesn’t love a story with a happy ending? Even if it’s not quite the ending you were expecting…
Welcome. And enjoy!
by Christine Benson
When I ran out of toilet paper at five-thirty in the morning, I could tell it wasn’t going to be a good day.
It was Tuesday, my day off. I had dragged myself out of bed to pee and, sure enough, that did it for the TP. At that time of day, you really don’t feel like running out to the store to stock up, but I figured I might as well do it now. I am good at making myself do what I need to do. Even when I don’t want to.
I work at a salon. I do some hair, but mostly makeup. A lot of my clients are brides wanting to look good for at least one day of their married life, which I can understand. Kerry, one of the other hairstylists at the shop, says the only benefit to being married is being able to let yourself go a little bit. I think it’s kind of sweet, though – lifetime commitment, “I do,” and all that. And if you get to let yourself go, so much the better. Maybe that’s what love is all about.
The salon where I work is called Numbers. The name might not make much sense at first, but it does if you know Jo, the owner. She likes hair okay but what really gets her fired up is the bottom line – numbers. And I will say, Jo’s done pretty well for herself. I’d like to see the numbers on her tax return.
Me, I do all right. I have to give a share of my take to Jo, but I can’t complain; I get by. Like I said, I do lots of brides. Jo or Kerry will do their hair, and then I take a run at their faces. It’s pretty interesting work, actually. But don’t confuse “pretty interesting” for “pretty” – some of these brides are no prize by anyone’s standards. Kerry likes to kid me that I might as well work for an undertaker, since corpses probably look better than some of these girls.
Like this one girl who came in, Sharrisse. She was barely sixteen and, well, she was crazy. She was really tan (tanning’s a very popular hobby here in Tulsa), and she’d just gotten a tattoo of her future husband’s name on her butt. I know because she showed me. She called it “body art.” “Ass art” is more like it, I remember thinking at the time.
Sharrisse and her boyfriend were on their way out to Eureka Springs, the big marriage place in these parts for people in a rush. And her mom didn’t know a thing about any of it. This chick was so young and so jacked up on meth and God knows what all that Kerry was even wanting to call her mom and let her know what was going on. I didn’t really care if she called or not, but Jo put her foot down.
“We don’t interfere in our customers’ lives here at Numbers,” she said, real serious like.
Except with how they look, I thought, but I didn’t say it out loud since I figured Jo was probably right as far as general shop policy goes.
Still, I almost wish we had stepped in that one time. Sharrisse, I think, could have used some motherly guidance. I doubted their marriage would even last six months. I wouldn’t have laid money on it, that’s for sure.
But I’m getting off track. Sharrisse still crossed my mind quite a bit, maybe because I could relate to her a little. Not because I’m crazy (though I do have my moments) but because we looked a lot alike. Long brown hair with moderate gold-toned highlights, dark eyes and lips so pale they look weird without the exact right shade of lipstick. Kerry said we looked like sisters.
And of course I got Sharrisse the exact right shade of lipstick. I am a professional after all. I even gave her the tube to take with her, because I was worried it would wear off during the ride to Eureka. She seemed like a pork rinds and Slurpee kind of girl, and I knew that lipstick didn’t stand a chance. But I bet she made a beautiful bride.
There I go, rambling again – it drives Jo crazy the way I jump around in my stories. So like I said, it was five-thirty in the morning, and already I could tell it was just going to be one of those days. I pulled on a sweatshirt, stuck my feet into some black flip-flops and headed out for QuikTrip. I yelled, “Bye Presley” as I shut the door behind me. That’s my cat.
When I stepped outside, it was almost completely dark. It kind of freaked me out. It was only March, and we’d been having real warm weather, but I guess the sun didn’t feel like getting up just yet. It was throwing out some feelers, though. A glow of light, so faint at first you thought you were imagining it, then these pink and orange waves of light, radiating up from the skyline, backlighting the trees in silhouette. It was actually really pretty. I couldn’t think of the last time I’d seen the sun rise. Maybe never.
Nature, I thought. It’s not so bad.
And then I thought how weird that it was that all those mornings I’d been off in dreamland, snoozing, that same old sun had just kept on rising. Coming up every morning, going down every night, no matter what the hell I was doing.
It jarred me a little, thinking about it. Not like I think I’m the center of the universe or anything, but to realize I had no effect whatsoever on nature, the sun, basically the whole planet, was pretty freaky. I felt weird all of a sudden, like I knew too much, like Adam and Eve after they ate the apple. Blissful ignorance, I guess they call it, and I was wishing I was ignorant again. The sunrise was pretty, but it irked me that that sun didn’t care one bit what I did. And it pissed me off even more that not only did I have to run out at some ungodly hour just to buy TP, but I had to have this unrequested “revelation” at the same time.
Yup, I could tell when I first got up that it wasn’t going to be a good day, and now I could tell even more. I told myself that I’d be back home in my bed in fifteen minutes, tops, and then I could fall back asleep and forget all about the sunrise and what it did or didn’t mean.
As I started up my car and pulled out of my driveway, that sun kept on coming, streaking like wildfire, sending colors across the sky and finally showing its face, peeking up over the skyline. I was driving right into it and it didn’t care, it was shining in my eyes and I had to hold my hand up to block the glare.
Fuck that sun, I thought, fuck it all the way.
I’m not at my most amenable in the morning, and that sun glaring in my eyes wasn’t helping things any.
It’s a straight shot from my house to QuikTrip, less than a mile, so naturally the sun was in my eyes the whole way, and I was glad to turn into the store parking lot. Even though it only took me a couple of minutes, by the time I got to the store the sky was pretty much light. One good thing, I figured, was the store wouldn’t be too crowded this time of day, and I should be able to run in and grab my “bathroom tissue” and be out of there in no time.
There were only a couple other cars in the parking lot, and I even debated about leaving my car running, but in the end figured I better not. My Sunbird was twenty-nine years old and the inside door handles were coming loose, but I didn’t want some psycho road rage kid to snag it on me just because I’d been too lazy to take the keys out of the ignition. QuikTrip could attract some pretty wild characters, and I doubted that the rest of the people there at this time of day were good-hearted, clean-living twenty-three-year-old cosmetologists who’d run out of toilet paper. I turned off my engine and on a sudden feeling I even locked up the car, even though I don’t usually.
Yeah, I just had a bad feeling. This morning was coming on strong and strange, and I didn’t like it.
When I walked into the store, the guy at the counter said, “Morning.”
I took a look, and he was kind of cute. He looked to be in his thirties, and he was a little pudgy, but he had brown eyes and full lips, maybe a little Mexican in him, just real kind of passionate-looking. There was another guy back there too, stocking some soda or something. He was also cute, but he looked to be about fifteen and had red hair and he was too short for me. I’d been noticing guys a lot, spring fever, I guess, and also I’d just broken up with my boyfriend Jace a few months ago. So even though I was grungy and morning breath and wearing flannel boxers and no makeup (which for me as a cosmetologist is a big deal), I automatically went into flirt mode.
“You’re up early,” I said to the Mexican guy, kind of moseying up to the counter and playing with some lighters by the cash register.
“So are you,” he said, smiling a little. “You been up all night?”
I thought, what the hell was I doing, juicing on some QuikTrip dude who had to be a good ten or twelve years older than me. But I kept on doing it.
“Pretty much,” I said. “I haven’t seen you here before. But I guess I’m not usually in here at this time.”
“I work the two a.m. to ten shift,” he said. Now he was smiling real sexy at me. “I don’t think you’ve been up all night. You look like you just got out of bed.”
I swear, the words just popped out of my mouth. “Doesn’t mean I haven’t been up all night.”
I was definitely a freak. Talking trash to this punk. Ridiculous. It was that sun, it had turned me crazy.
I looked away and headed over to where I thought the toilet paper would be. I know he thought I was trying to act cool but really I was trying to find the normal me again. Plus I was embarrassed after that flirt talk to buy a bunch of toilet paper, and was even wondering if I should go to the Albertson’s down the way to get it. The checkers there are mostly women; not much chance of trashy bedroom talk coming out of me there.
As I was in the process of making this hugely important decision, I figured that in the meantime, I’d get a Diet Pepsi Slurpee, even though it might keep me from falling back asleep. But I wasn’t even really tired anymore. Then I noticed they had fat-free strawberry frozen cappuccinos, and I’m trying to eat healthier these days. It really does show in the skin.
I was almost done filling up my cup when I heard the cute guy at the counter say hello to someone, and I automatically turned my head to see who’d come in. As you can tell, I was in a strange frame of mind, and I had this bizarre thought that it might be someone about to rob the store. So I looked towards the door, and that’s when I saw him.
No, it wasn’t Jace and it wasn’t Elvis, though that would’ve been cool. It was this amazing-looking guy. He was just wearing jeans and a white t-shirt but I could tell his body was hard. He was wearing black biker boots and had this long, shiny blonde hair that was all different shades of gold and instantly made me think of the sunstreaks shooting across the sky while I was driving. He was in his late twenties, I figured, and I was sure he wasn’t here to buy toilet paper. And at that point, neither was I. No way I was buying that shit in front of him.
I vaguely heard him say “Hey” in response to the friendly Mexican checker who, believe me, was no longer looking so good.
And then he turned my way and I saw his eyes, so clear and so blue, like the sky to his sunstar hair. I felt faint but somehow stayed standing. Holy crap. Is this what I was missing out on every day by sleeping in?
I wondered what he was buying. Then, sure as sugar, he looked at me. I mean right at me. This time I really did feel like I was going to faint. I also had completely forgotten that there was anyone else in the store and I was wearing boxers and no lipstick and hadn’t curled my hair. What I didn’t forget was that I wasn’t wearing a bra and for some reason I felt like he could tell. Well, hell, of course he could tell. I certainly wasn’t looking too well put together. Not like a makeup artist at all.
All this time I was still looking into those eyes of his. This was sure turning into more than just a TP-run to QT. Strange as it sounds, I was really thinking this could be it. It.
He had walked right up to me and I could smell him. He wasn’t sweating or anything, he just had this manly bad-ass biker smell. It was turning me on. I mean really turning me on. I’ve always been partial to bikers.
Then he spoke. “What’s your name? You look familiar.”
My name. Damn. What was my name.
“Jenny Tanger,” I said with kind of a sigh of relief. I hadn’t completely lost it.
“I swear I know you from somewhere. Maybe Hibiscus? You been there?”
That was this Caribbean bar and grill right down the street. It was all right. I preferred a placed called the Blue Rose Café.
“Not lately,” I finally answered his question. This guy was going to think I was an idiot, waiting five minutes to answer him every time. I was getting kind of excited, though. He was totally hitting on me, I could tell. I’d been waiting to find a good rebound guy after Jace. I’d been thinking maybe someone a little younger, like 20 or even 19. This guy was older, though, maybe 25, 26, but I didn’t mind. Thank God I didn’t have any bad zits. And I was pretty sure I’d put on some cherry Chapstick before I went to bed last night. Maybe my lips still had some color.
He kept on with the “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” thing, naming a few different local clubs. And he kept staring at me, like he was thinking really hard, trying to place me. I liked it. Just his looking at me made me feel sexy even though I knew in my head I must look like crap. And I couldn’t remember if I’d brushed my teeth – probably not. I’d rinsed with Listerine last night, hopefully it was still working.
Finally I interrupted him. “Look, I don’t think I’ve ever met you before. I’m pretty sure I’d remember.”
He took that pretty matter of factly, not like a compliment, which I thought was cool. Finally he let it go.
“Maybe it was in a dream,” he said, and one side of his mouth curled up just a little bit. It was real cute.
“What’s your name, dreamer boy?” I said. I seemed to have gotten hold of my senses. In other words, I could talk again.
“Joey,” he said.
I smiled. Such an adorable name for such a hot, tough-looking guy, and for some reason it kind of rang a bell. But like I said, no way I’d ever forget this guy, so this had to be the first time I’d met him.
He proceeded to get a cup of coffee from the self-serve coffee pot. I stood there while he filled his cup; there seemed to be an understanding that our conversation would continue. I was also thinking how completely off-base I’d been in forecasting the day. This morning was turning out so fantastic I almost couldn’t believe it. Jo and Kerry were never going to believe it either. Meeting Mr. Universe over a frozen cappuccino machine at QuikTrip! Ridiculous.
We walked up to the counter and he paid for my drink. Naturally I’d forgotten all about the toilet paper. In fact, I was feeling so sexy I didn’t think I’d ever have to pee again.
We stepped out into the parking lot and just stood there for a minute, drinking our drinks and squinting into the bright sun. I offered him a taste of my Slurpee. He took a sip from my straw, and a shiver ran down me as I thought about his lips touching the same surface that mine just had.
Then he looked into me and smiled real wide. “You up for a ride?”
A flash of excitement hit me as I connected his offer with the shiny black and silver Ducati in front of me. I’d only been on a motorcycle once before, with a guy I was dating named Cal who was a drinker and had skinny legs but a gut hanging out over his jeans, on all sides. I broke up with him after we took that ride on his Harley, it was just too gross grabbing onto his fat middle. And he wasn’t even divorced yet from his wife, so I think that was probably a smart move all around.
“Yeah, I’ll go for a ride!” I said. I didn’t even bother trying to act cool, I was just so excited. “It’s my day off. Nowhere I have to be.”
We tossed our drinks in the trash and got on that motorcycle of his, he didn’t have any helmets and I didn’t ask. That’s one convenient thing about Oklahoma – no helmet law. Riding with him was so different it felt like the first time I’d ever been on a bike.
We turned left out of QuikTrip, leaving my pathetic old Sunbird behind. We headed over to Riverside Drive and went south, just cruising on down the road, and then we hooked up with the highway. The sun was fully up by now, and it sure was a pretty day. The sky was bright, bright blue with puffy clouds, not too hot, and the wind was blowing in my face and whipping back my hair as I clutched onto this hard-bellied stranger. I pressed my cheek against his back and closed my eyes and for a minute I felt like I was flying.
We rode like that for maybe an hour, kind of aimlessly, just cruising, and it didn’t even seem weird, none of it, from QT on down the line, it just felt like it was all natural.
Finally he pulled off at a rest stop and we stepped off the bike. He ran his fingers through that shiny hair of his that wasn’t even tangled from the wind, unlike mine, and again the one corner of his mouth turned up slightly. “I feel like I just snatched you out of your bed.”
I was smiling, too. “You did. Usually I don’t let a guy see me looking like this till we’ve been together six months, at least.”
“I guess I got lucky,” he said, and it didn’t seem like he was being sarcastic. He looked at me another second, and I felt all warm inside, glowing, and I didn’t even care that he hadn’t even kissed me yet. I already felt so close to him. Joey.
He kind of exhaled, a little sigh. “I’ve got to get to work before too long.”
“What kind of work?” I was really curious, I couldn’t imagine him sitting at a desk in some office doing some stupid job.
“I fix bikes. I have a shop.”
Too cool. A bike shop.
“Well, it’s still early,” I said. “What about breakfast?”
I wasn’t even hungry, I just wanted to sit over a table and look at him. And hear about him too, I’m not all superficial, don’t get the wrong idea. But stuff like this doesn’t happen to me every day, and it was amazing being swept off my feet at QuikTrip. I didn’t want it to be over yet. Can you blame me?
“I’ll eat some breakfast with you,” he said, this time smiling full out. His teeth were white and even. He even looked like he’d brushed them this morning, unlike me.
Still, I smiled back. I’d never felt like this before. Joey. I kept thinking his name and then I said it. “Joey.” I liked how it sounded coming out of my mouth. Again, it sounded almost familiar for some reason but then again, not like it was an uncommon name or anything. I was probably just thinking of that guy Joey, the actor, whatever his last name is, the cute one.
“Jenny,” he said back to me. And it was so sweet, the way he said it, that I leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth. It tasted like cinnamon and sugar.
He pulled back for a second and looked at me, those blue eyes burning into my heart, and for a second I was afraid he didn’t like me or that my breath was just really bad.
Then he said, “You’re really beautiful,” and he traced my lipstick-less lips with his finger. I just stood there staring at him while he did it. He was the beautiful one. My eyes were too heavy and dark and my lips were too pale, but right then I didn’t care. I did feel beautiful. And this time he kissed me, and we didn’t stop kissing for a while. I felt like I’d known him for so long. And the way he was so tender and so sweet, it seemed like he’d known me forever but hadn’t seen me in a really long time. It felt like he’d missed me.
Eventually, of course, we stopped kissing. It was the most romantic rest stop I’ve ever been in, though, I’ll tell you that. We got back on his bike and this time, when I wrapped my arms around him, I felt possessive, like he was mine. It was a the best feeling in the world. We cruised down that highway, wind in our faces, and for the first time ever, I felt like I had a soul – and that soul was on fire.
I was hungry by the time we pulled into the back of Brookside by Day for breakfast. Hungry for food and for him. I wanted pancakes soaked in syrup. And oatmeal, for some reason I was dying for oatmeal, thick and gooey, with nuts and dried cranberries and chocolate chips.
We walked up to the entrance of the café. He reached in front of me to grab the door, and his T-shirt slid up on his arm. That’s when I caught a glimpse of tattoo-blue – a little heart, and I could just make an “Sh.” Immediately I got this really sick feeling in my stomach and, yeah, in my newly-discovered soul.
Because I knew what the rest of the tattoo said.
I stopped and looked at him stupidly as he stood there, holding the door, and I wanted to cry.
Finally I said it. “Sharrisse.”
He started. Then he glanced kind of self-consciously at the “art” on his arm, and finally looked back at me, letting the door slam shut. His blue eyes looked, well, bluer.
He smiled, but it was a sad smile now.
“Now I remember. That salon, that’s where I’ve seen you before. You did her makeup. For the wedding.”
I remembered now, too. The tattoo I’d seen when Sharrisse proudly pulled up her tight little skirt and flashed her skinny butt at me. He’d come to pick her up afterwards, but I was busy working on a walk-in who was going to the prom. I had to ask even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear.
“Are you still together?”
He looked at my lips and my eyes and then up into the sky. “No.”
The way he said it told me everything I needed to know.
“Tattoos can be removed,” I said. “Even ‘body art.’’”
He looked down, not saying anything. And suddenly it was gone, all of it.
We passed on breakfast and got on his bike, and he dropped me back off at QuikTrip, where my car was. I went in and bought a four-pack of toilet paper and smiled at the Mexican guy. Then on a whim I drove over to Numbers.
Ordinarily Jo would be pissed that I wasn’t dressed nice, but the shop didn’t open till eight and it was only around seven-thirty. Hopefully she wouldn’t even be in yet.
She was, though.
“What are you doing here?” she said when I walked into the shop. She was at the cash register doing something with the credit card receipts. Before I could answer, she said, “Jen, I know it’s your day off, but you don’t need to be in here looking like a slob.”
“Relax,” I said. “We’re not even open, and I’ll just be a minute. I need to get Sharrisse Jones’s number.”
She remembered the name, I could tell. She looked at me hard, those black eyes just beaming into me. She could be a real bitch when it came to running the shop.
I didn’t care, though, I stared right back at her.
“What are you thinking, Jen?” she said. “You don’t need to be calling customers. We don’t need to get involved.”
I ignored her and went over to our customer sign-in book and flipped through. It was a big book, it went back to when the shop first opened.
I found Sharrisse in there pretty quick, and then I used my cell phone to call. It rang a few times, and then a male voice said, “Hello, Hibiscus.”
“I’m looking for Sharrisse Jones?” I said, confused. Then I realized it was Hibiscus, the bar.
“I think she left her cell phone here last night. I picked up because I thought it might be her calling.”
Apparently Sharrisse was leaving her cell phone in bars. Not a great sign. I hoped she wasn’t still doing meth.
I asked the guy, “If I call right back, can you let it go to her voicemail?”
“Sure,” he said, and hung up.
I stood there a minute, looking at the phone. I didn’t have to do this. I knew where he worked. I could just forget about all of this and keep riding with him. Joey.
It was just that goddamn tattoo. And the fact that it was still there.
Hell, I thought, what was the point anyway? Sharrisse might be back for her phone, she might not, my message wasn’t going to change anything, I knew that. I guess the point was, I wanted to do something.
So I called the number again, and this time after a few rings her voicemail kicked in: “Yo! This is Sharrisse Jones, it’s so great to hear from you and I’m so bummed I missed your call. You better leave me a message!”
The greeting made me want to puke. This was the chick Joey was still pining for. This.
I said, “Hey, Sharrisse, it’s Jenny Tanger from Numbers Salon.” I hesitated a second. “I think he misses you, Sharrisse. Joey. I think he misses you a lot.” I know, I know – a useless message if I’ve ever heard one. But I couldn’t think of anything else to say. So I clicked off the phone.
And I thought of that fucking sun, going on and on.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Romantic Shorts thanks you for joining us for Christine Benson’s Body Art. Please feel free to visit Christine Benson’s Romantic Shorts Author’s Page to learn more about this talented writer. You can leave a comment for Christine, other readers, or Romantic Shorts using the reply form below, our contact form on our Contact Us page, or by sharing this story with friends and family using the share buttons below.
We hope you enjoyed your escape in the middle of your day. Watch here for our next romantic short story. If you would like to receive an email notification of future publications, ‘check’ the “Notify me of new posts by email” box at the bottom of the comment/reply box below.