I can still hear her words as she invited me to come listen to her play. Her eyes invited me a second time, teasing, offering more than moments of listening pleasure. Erika stopped in often where I worked, watching me wait on customers, smiling whenever I glanced her way. When that customer left she would come up to the counter and ask if I could help her find a tool of some kind.
She drew a crowd almost every time she sauntered in, weaving around the other salesmen, ignoring their eager pleas of assistance. She was slim and curvy, her jeans tight, her ample breasts straining against the fabric of her blouse. She always kept two buttons undone, just to keep the men and boys at her beck and call. I tried to ignore her. I could imagine the saliva dripping from their mouths.
Perhaps that was why she was so persistent. Erika would lean forward, placing both elbows on the counter, her eyes focused on me, watching for a reaction of any kind. She was aware of the silence as the men held their breaths hoping that the fabric might tear, or Erika might jiggle in some way.
I waved them all away, at least out of earshot. “Okay, Erika, what do you want this time?”
“Come out tonight, Bobby, and listen to our band. You’ll be glad you did.” “If I go tonight you won’t bother me anymore?”
“I promise, Bobby.”
“But what about your husband?” They were still together as far as I knew.
“We’re in a trial separation. He said he doesn’t care. Anyway, what does it matter? I’m tired of his obsessive behavior. I don’t belong to him. As far as I’m concerned we’re through.” She stared at me. “Are you going to be there or not?”
“Okay. But just this once.” She smiled broadly, turned and walked out, every step accentuated, pretending to be oblivious to all the wolves hiding in the aisles.
They rushed to me, wanting to know every juicy detail, especially since Erika was smiling on her way out. I told them nothing, content to let them conjecture and imagine, their heads full of takes and retakes of scenes right out of Hollywood.
“I’d sure like to be in his shoes,” a young associate said loudly.
One of the ones who had stared the most muttered, “She’s nothing but trouble. Bobby’s done good to stay away from her.”
He didn’t know I was going to see her tonight.
Erika usually played guitar and sang three or four songs, but sometimes she would sing one or two extra, if there was a special occasion. Tonight she had already downed a few rum and colas and was feeling good. She saw me enter and immediately she took charge of the band, running through several riffs and songs that had furious flourishes, evidently to impress me.
The band took a break and Erika came to my table. “Well, what did you think?” she asked.
“I want something slower and easier to dance to.”
She shrugged. Soon she started singing “I Love A Rainy Night” and followed with “Black Velvet”. I stood on the dance floor swaying slowly. A young woman wrapped her arms around me, her head on my chest. Erika put her guitar away. She came off the stage and pulled the woman away.”He’s with me,” she said coldly.
“I need a breath of fresh air,” she said as she led me outside. “Now what was that all about?” she asked.
“I wanted to dance,” I said bluntly. “You’re married and I don’t belong to you so what’s the problem?” I knew she was jealous. She was shaking, angry at me, angry at the girl, angry at the world, just angry because she had no control over the situation.
“I need a drink,” she said, “so I can cool down.” I started towards the bar. “Don’t buy me one. The bartender will give me as many as I ask for.” Jake, the bartender, saw her coming and began mixing a drink. “I want this one to be a double,” she said flatly. “I need something strong.”
She turned to me. “Dance with whoever you want. Just don’t take anybody home. The band will be done in about an hour. I want to see you after that.”
I danced with several women, doing the two step around the room, the slide, and a few line dances to fill the time. I got a few offers to go somewhere else for drinks, to share coffee, take someone home, and numbers to call. They were very friendly, one and all. I collected rainchecks and phone numbers and dates for other times. Then Erika showed up and they all scattered. “Let’s go to the park by your apartment. We can talk without being interrupted.”
Erika had always been rebellious and claimed she lived in outlaw country. I wasn’t sure what she wanted to talk about but I was pretty sure it wasn’t about flowers and songs.
Outside it was raining, hard and steady. We were both drenched when we climbed into my truck. She glanced over and then slid next to me, her warmth stirring me, filling me with anticipated pleasure. She was staring, her eyes large and focused. They were intensely hypnotic, and strangely compelling. The rain was making it difficult to focus on the white lines of my lane, and she was not helping. If I looked one more second I was sure I would lose control of my truck and my body. I shivered and clung to the wheel. She giggled as if I had just touched her in some sensitive spot. Involuntarily, parts of my body were reacting to her voice, her smile, and her touch. By now her fingers were inside my shirt, dancing across my chest while her tongue played with my ear.
I didn’t intend for anything to happen. I thought I could resist her. “Just say no,” I told myself. She didn’t really want to talk. When her blouse came off my resistance ceased. Helpless to resist, I became a willing partner. She was wild and passionate, eager to please, and wanting release. I was surprised by my own needy but powerful response.
We held each other for a long time, just listening to the rain, before we dressed and talked. Erika was adamant she wanted to be with me and not her husband. “When are you going to leave him?” I asked.
“Soon,” she replied. “I can’t leave Wes right now. He’s had some bad luck lately. When he gets everything going again, then I’ll leave.”
There was not much to talk about after that so we just cuddled for awhile. Finally I said, “I need to get you home.” Erika glared at me but said nothing as I drove the rainy roads, down the lane to her house, and pulled to a stop.
The porch lights snapped on, and I felt very conspicuous. Wes stepped out onto the porch and started towards the truck. “This could be trouble,” I muttered. But Wes just waved and said, “Thanks for bringing her home. I worry about her when she’s late and I know she’s been drinking.”
This unnerved me. I was expecting rage and jealousy. I’m not sure if I wanted him to be carrying a rifle or handgun, but to be friendly just seemed odd.
Wes gave Erika a hug and ushered her inside. I sat for a minute more trying to comprehend, and I left still shaking my head.
The next week Erika came to the store several times just to say hi, to flirt, and give me a hug and a kiss. She wasn’t hiding our relationship. Everything was in the open. She told everyone her marriage was over, except for the shouting.
We met several times a week, and always on weekends. It was the same story every time. We didn’t go out to eat, go to the movies, or attempt to go on any normal dates. After dancing and music, we would park or go to my apartment. It was clear nothing more was expected or wanted. Gradually I began insisting I wanted more from the relationship. Without realizing it I was falling into love.
I know it sounded strange so I never tried explaining it to anyone. I resented taking her home and turning her over to her husband. This relationship had to change. I was tired of fighting my conscience, tired of sharing but Erika refused to listen. She kept saying, “This is not a good time for Wes. He’s struggling with so many things.”
Finally I said, “You have to make a choice. It’s either Wes or me.” She looked at me as if I had lost my mind. Then she smiled. “Okay, it’s time to make some changes. Be patient, though.”
I didn’t hear from her for several weeks. I tried to give her time to get her life straightened out. I was working in the backroom putting away supplies when another employee said, “Bobby, you have a customer out front.”
I was excited, expecting to see Erika. Instead it was Wes, looking haggard and worried. “Bobby, Erika is all I really have and all I really wanted. When she was with you I knew it was just a fling but she always came home. Now she’s been gone for almost three days. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I can’t live without her. Do you know where she is? I just want her safe at home.”
Before me was a broken man, his self esteem destroyed but his love intact. I couldn’t turn him away. “Wes, I’ll help you search.”
Together we searched Erika’s hangouts and sought help from her friends. At first our search was fruitless. Then someone from her band gave us a name and an address. Eventually we found her walking barefoot down a side street, heading home. She claimed she was tired of being pressured so she had found a new boyfriend. He was not so nice. He had slapped her a few times and refused to take her home. When he wasn’t watching she had made her getaway.
She was pleased to see Wes but she frowned when she saw me. “Wes, I just want to go home and get cleaned up. I want to rest and cuddle with you.”
I drove them home in silence. Wes watched Erika go inside the house before he said wearily, “Erika is an alcoholic and unfaithful. She’s always been like that since I found her years ago. I love her and it’s my job to see that she’s taken care of. I’m the only real home she knows. She’ll always come back. She needs me too.”
Suddenly it was all very clear. Wes and Erika were two desperate needy people, and in their own weird way were meant for each other. I didn’t have an answer for Wes for I loved her too. At that moment my plans for the future changed and I decided to stick around and keep watch over both of them. I was the only sane one of the bunch. You might think it’s weird but it makes sense to me. That’s what love do.