A lot of people disliked drinking alone at pubs, but Lydia preferred it. She wasn't there for conversation, she was there to drink. She didn't want anyone to buy her a drink or talk to her. She sat either at the bar, talking to the bartender, or outside, so she could have a cigarette and people watch.
Friday night was busy. People came here with their families and friends and ordered from the bistro. She caught a glimpse of Dylan at the servery with two men who by physical characteristics were probably relatives of his, and for a second she worried that he might have seen her. But he turned away as abruptly as she saw him, and she returned to drinking.
She finished her drink, and before she could order another one, the bartender placed a lime and soda in front of her. She sipped it in disgust.
'I'm not that drunk, am I?' she asked him.
He leaned in close. 'You're working your way there, and there's a copper sitting at the table behind you who's keeping a close eye on you. If you drove here, you might want to think about an alternative route home.'
The back panel of the bar was mirrored. Lydia glanced in it as discreetly as she could. She didn't recognise the man the bartender was referring to. She wouldn't have picked him as a cop and hell, he may only be interested in her safety, but that wasn't a risk she was going to take.
'Thanks,' she said to the bartender, sliding off her stool. 'I might go and get something to eat.'
The bistro was crowded but not quite full. The average age of the patrons was again somewhere around fifty. What was it with all the old folks in these country towns?
She spotted Dylan and his relatives and went over.
All three men looked at her with surprise as she pulled up a chair.
'Dylan, I'm really sorry,' she apologised. 'But I've been drinking in the bar and there's a cop watching me. I think if I get in my car he's going to breath test me.'
'He'll probably write you a ticket for driving an unroadworthy car, too,' Dylan pointed out. 'Do you want a lift home?'
'Do you mind?'
'Not a problem. You had dinner?' he pushed his plate over.
Lydia glanced down at the mountain of chips. Her ex-husband would have polished them off by now. She remembered what her Uncle had said about him losing a lot of weight.
'No, but I'm fine. I'll wait in the bar,' she said. 'I don't want to mess with your evening.'
'Stay here,' Dylan argued. 'This is Rob, this is Brett. They're my brothers. They're both married with kids, so they'll be heading off as soon as they've eaten.'
Neither Rob nor Brett seemed very impressed with her. She supposed that was reasonable. It wasn't a good look to rock up to a man and tell him you'd been planning on driving home drunk, but you'd attracted the attention of a police officer and had decided to err on the side of caution.
They made small talk about children and cattle and Cyril. Lydia sipped at her drink and glanced at Dylan when he spoke. He looked clean and tidy for the first time, and it made a big difference. He wasn't so bad looking when his facial hair was tidied up, he'd brushed the hair on his head, and he was in clean, unstained clothes. He smelt nice, too, certainly better than he had at lunchtime today.
The brothers said their good-byes and left. They looked at her suspiciously, warningly, as they went. She wondered if they thought she was a prostitute or addict.
'Do you want another drink?' Dylan asked her.
Lydia glanced at the bar. It was getting crowded. 'No. I didn't realise it would be this busy. You?'
'I'll take you home.'
'Okay. Just let me get some stuff out of my car, okay? The boot doesn't actually lock properly.'
They went out to her car. She got in on the passenger side, as it was closest to the driveway, and dug out a couple of joints from the centre console. She stuffed them in her cigarette pack, locked the car, and put the keys in her handbag. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the policeman watching her. She owed both the bartender and Dylan, big time.
'Time to go, huh?' she said to Dylan. 'Where's your ute?'
'I bought the Charger, not my ute. It's over here.'
The car was obviously a half-finished project car. The panels were different shades of gray, the back end was dented, and there were towels over the front seats to protect the driver and passenger from the blistered vinyl.
'And you think my car's unroadworthy,' she joked as they climbed in.
'Mine starts and stops.' He turned the key in the ignition. 'See?'
'You've only proven that it starts.'
He laughed. 'I promise you it will stop, okay?'
They drove back out to the Warrego Highway. The night was warm and dark. Lydia, in her jeans and strapless top, was sweating. The pub had been deceptively cool.
'Do you mind if I smoke?' she asked.
'Not at all.'
She lit a cigarette. Lent her head against the panel. Looked over at Dylan. 'You scrub up well.'
The compliment embarrassed him, and he was lost for words. She didn't mind. It was kind of endearing the way he reacted, as if he didn't actually believe what she was saying were true. In an odd, hick, kind of way, he was growing on her.
'Were you expecting to see a woman tonight?' she asked, curious to see if he had his sights set on someone.
'No, just my brothers. We try and catch up every few weeks for dinner. It can be hard, though, because they're all married.'
'Do you belong to one of those families where everyone is married and settled down by their mid-twenties?' she asked.
He nodded. 'Yep. I broke the mould by marrying a lesbian and then getting divorced.'
'She's a dyke? Ouch. How was the sex?'
He flushed red. 'Nearly non-existent.'
'That must have done wonders for your self esteem.' She remarked. 'I hope you enjoyed your bucks night. I hope you saw more titties and pussy than you could have thought possible.'
'I didn't have one.'
'She - Michelle - asked me not to.'
'Christ. That's a bit rude, isn't it? Did you know she was a lesbian? Or did she tell you she was bi?'
'I thought she was straight. She only came out after we split up.'
'How long were you together?'
'We were together seven years in total, married for five.' He shrugged uneasily. 'What about you?'
Lydia had met Pete when she was twenty-four and married him at twenty-six. They were separated within a year. Pete wanted someone more calmer, more stable. Someone 'motherly'. In short, he wanted commitment and babies, but not with Lydia, so despite being married, he went out and found that someone else.
'Did it have anything to do with your drinking?' Dylan asked.
'I didn't drink then. I even quit smoking for a while.'
'So it was just an excuse? He fell in love with someone else and needed to have an excuse for it?'
'I suppose so. It was a very soul-destroying experience. I found out I was pregnant the day I found out he was cheating. I ended up having an abortion. He guilted me into it. It was complete shit. I should have kept the baby.'
He looked over at her not with horror, which she'd expected, but sympathy. 'I understand that. I stayed in a bad marriage for years because I didn't know any better. No one understood why I left Chelle. Her family think she's turned to women because I let her down. They don't say it directly, but the insinuation is there, you know?'
'So why did you end up leaving her?'
'We had an argument over something stupid and it bothered me. I'd had enough.'
She asked what the argument was over. She was flabbergasted when he told her it was masturbation. He turned an interesting shade of scarlet, but didn't comment.
They veered off onto a side road. There were no street lights, and they were guided only by the high beam of the headlights, but Dylan seemed to know the way. They were travelling at speed, God knows how fast, but it was fast. Very fast. And as much as she tried to make out the road in front of her, Lydia could barely see a thing. She was too scared to smoke, and too scared to talk. What the hell was he doing? Trying to get them killed?
All of a sudden, he slammed on the brakes. There was a screeching of tyres that seemed to last an eternity, and when the car finally stopped, the smell of burning rubber filled the air. Lydia's heart was racing.
They sat in silence for a minute.
'I guess I've just proven that my car stops, too,' he teased.
That fucking bastard.
'You arsehole.' She replied, laughing weakly. 'You fucking asshole. I nearly shat myself.'
Dylan had the good grace to look apologetic. 'Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you.'
'I thought you were trying to commit suicide with me on board.'
He laughed. 'Nah, I wouldn't do that.'
She buried her face in her hands and shook her head. She wanted to cry with both delayed fear, and amused laughter, but managed to hold back the emotion. Instead, she reached into her bag, for her pack of smokes. 'Oh well. It's a nice night. Want to pull over and have a smoke with me?'
He parked the Charger on the side of the road. With the lights off, the sky was magical. You could see a million stars shining in the night sky. It was beautiful out here. Lonely, maybe, and it had a way of forcing her to stop and reflect on her life, but beautiful.
They shared the first joint, passing it between them in the front of the car. She wondered when he was going to make a move on her. She wasn't going to stop him when he did.
'There really aren't any women in your life?' she asked.
'Nope. Any men in yours?'
She laughed out loud at the idea. 'No. I keep thinking about romance novels about the country. It's supposed to be easy to find a partner.'
'You want a partner?'
'I want sex.'
He choked on the joint, though whether from the grass or her comment she wasn't quite sure. When he'd regained his composure, he stubbed it out.
'So how many women have you slept with since you separated?' she asked.
'None. Do I ask you these questions?' He asked, sounding annoyed.
'You could if you wanted.'
'Really,' she said. God, he was slow. Really, really fucking slow. What was he waiting for? Her to strip them both off and climb on his cock?
Dylan sighed impatiently. 'Okay, how many men have you slept with since you split with your ex?'
He muttered 'for fucks sake' under his breath and started the car. He didn't believe her, and the prodding was bothering him. Embarrassment, probably, and a sledge to his male pride. He'd told her he'd been married to a lesbian. That he wanted children with her. He was probably hurting.
They drove back onto the highway. Lydia smoked a cigarette and waited for him to say something. Perhaps she should speak first. Apologise. She hadn't meant to upset him.
All of sudden, Dylan spoke. 'I don't like discussing sex because firstly, you're hot, and secondly, I haven't had a lot of sex,' he said. 'I've slept with two women. One, I spent an hour with. The second one made me beg and plead for it. It's not a nice feeling. It's not actually something I look at and think 'I really enjoyed it'. I cum too quickly. It's all over in a few minutes. I've never had a blow job. Never given oral sex.'
They drove the rest of the way home in silence. He pulled up beside Cyril's house and waited for her to get out.
'Are you circumcised?' she asked.
'What? No. Is there anything you won't ask?'
'Have a good shower tomorrow. Clean underneath your foreskin. I have no idea who started this anti-circumcision trend, but I'm guessing it wasn't a woman.' She picked up her handbag. 'Pick me up at ten tomorrow. I'll fix up that 'never had a blowjob' problem. That's just fucking sad.'