Thursday, January 30, 2020
The Best Medicine by Dellani Oakes – Part 7
Morgan cleared his throat pointedly. Cullen looked at him again and dropped his eyes to the table, his ears and neck reddening.
"I'm sorry, I did it again. Perhaps I should just go back on stage. I don't make quite so big an ass of myself there." He rose to leave.
"It's okay," Tanya said. "I've been feeling rather like the whole family is traipsing around like the Lord of the Dance, and I'm the one person in the audience who doesn't know Michael Flatley."
Cullen laughed, throwing his head back as he threw himself back into the chair. "Oh, God, Morgan! Where did you find this woman, and can I possibly steal her from you? Jesus, she's refreshing! You two really must have just met, if you don't know about Vanessa."
"Cullen, why don't you go back on stage?" Morgan's voice held an edge. He was getting angry with his brother.
"God, Morgan, calm down, would you? Can't I even say her name without you having a shit fit?" His voice became taunting like a little child. "Vanessa, Vanessa, Vanessa."
"Cullen," it was Molly this time. "Your break's over, go back on stage. The band's waiting."
"Join us in a set, Morph?" Cullen hardly seemed to realize he'd nearly caused World War III.
"Not tonight, Cull. I've got to see the lady home soon. She's had a long day."
"K. Nice to meet you, Tanya."
He kissed her hand and left for the stage, hopping up as the band began their introduction. He slid to a halt in the middle of the stage, grabbing the microphone, singing without missing a beat. His voice was strong and he used it with skill, encompassing a broad range of styles. Tanya was very impressed.
Morgan glared after his brother, breathing deeply through his nose and exhaling through his mouth as if trying to calm down. He sat tight lipped, not talking for several tense minutes as Tanya sipped her drink, trying to pretend everything was normal.
"I shouldn't have come here tonight," Morgan said so softly she almost didn't hear him.
Not sure it was directed at her, she chose to answer it anyway. "Families can always find the most effective ways to embarrass you. My brothers have done it to me many times before, so I understand."
"Dredged up humiliating subjects to torment you in front of someone you hoped to impress, did they?" His nostrils were pinched and he attacked his steak as if it had done him a bad turn.
"They showed my prom date pictures of me playing in the mud when I was two. I was completely naked, covered from head to foot in black mud. Except, of course, where my diaper had been. When the picture was taken, I had just whipped it off, holding it triumphantly in one hand like a banner."
"Then later, they proceeded to tell my future ex-husband that I liked to sleep in the nude when I was a teenager. Oh, and they also told him the name of the boy I'd lost my virginity to in high school. The only thing about that was, I didn't lose my virginity in high school, to him or anyone else. I waited until I was in college."
"How about telling every woman you're ever seen with, the name of the one who broke your heart in a million tiny pieces, ground them under foot."
"Oh, God. Vanessa?"
He nodded. "Vanessa. So now you know my dirty, little secret. And now you know why I buried myself in the rebuilding of that car for the last six months, and haven't dated."
"Avery," she said flatly.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Clifton Avery," she said tersely. "That's the name of my ex. Pretty much a similar story, only he dragged me through a very ugly divorce, that was finalized about a month before Gran died. He ran me into incredible debt, then told me he'd sell the house, and everything else he could get his hands on, to pay for it. So I understand, Morgan."
Morgan signaled Duke, who left the women he'd been flirting with and sauntered over to their table. He leaned over, exposing a very fine view of his ass to the women. One of them looked ready to faint, two were practically drooling.
"We need a carry home box, Duke. Oh, and house specials to go, okay?"
"Sure, Morph. Be right back."
He swaggered off in the direction of the kitchen and came back a few minutes later carrying styro-foam boxes, two were open and one was closed. He expertly transferred the contents of their plates to the boxes, closed them with a flourish and presented them to Tanya in a bag.
Morgan tried to hand him a tip, but he brushed it aside. "Your money isn't good here, Morph. You know that. Bring the lady back again, she gives the place class."
Bold as brass, he kissed Tanya on the cheek and grinned at his uncle. They did some sort of complicated handshake and Morgan guided her toward the front door. They passed the band just as Cullen had launched into a love ballad about heartache and abandonment that tore at Tanya's heart like a metal rake. She paused by the door, turning to listen to the song's end with her eyes closed.
"That's beautiful," she whispered. "Who wrote it?"
"I did," Morgan answered just as softly. "And I think I wrote it for you, as much as I did for myself."
Impulsively, Tanya hugged him tightly around the shoulders, then pulled away as if she'd been shocked. She hardly knew the man, but she felt drawn to him like she did no other.
I'm being too bold. What will he think of me?
© 2020 Dellani Oakes
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