"So Jake is actually your brother?" Memphis asked, chewing on the end of the black straw that came with her mint julep.
They were sitting along the riverside at an upscale steakhouse. The Riverwalk was lively tonight, bustling with families, couples, and drunk frat boys. It was not hard to spot who was in town for the rodeo, as many were leaving for the opening party. Tucker had chosen to refrain, opting instead for a quiet evening with Memphis. He always believed celebrating was something you did after winning.
"Twin brother, actually," Tucker corrected with a groan. He looked disgruntled by the fact. "He's hated me ever since I beat him at the High School Nationals in our senior year. It's been worse since we went professional," he divulged with a heavy sigh. "The thing with Jake these days is he has leverage on me. He keeps threatening to tell people about me every time I take another win. I'm worried that one day, he's actually gonna do it."
"He's scared of you," Memphis stated casually. "He's clearly intimidated. If he thought he could do better, he wouldn't be threatenin' ya like a little bitch." Tucker snickered at Memphis's blunt words. He could not disagree. "He's not goin' to out ya. That'd be a real cowardly way to beat someone out of the competition. I don't think even he's that bad."
"Let's hope you're right. He is my brother, after all," Tucker considered, though he still appeared worried. Memphis frowned at the furrow in his brow, and she reached across the table to lay a hand on Tucker's. A question lingered in the back of his mind, but he did not have the constitution to verbalize it. His gaze fell pensively on Memphis. The lights from the shopfronts reflected in the dark water like thousands of lightning bugs hovering about. On the other side of the bank, the tune of a mariachi band broke out from the patio of the Mexican restaurant across the water. He could hear his own shallow breath reverberating in his skull. In his heart, he already knew without asking. Memphis was no angel, he knew this. But it was his brother. More than that, it made his angry that Jake did not deserve her. A sour expression captured his fair features, and he silently brooded.
Memphis admired his gloomy features, but when their eyes met, she could not stand the silence anymore. "Okay, what's botherin' you?" She huffed. "Surely, you don't really think Jake's gonna tell the world, do ya?"
"No, it's not that," Tucker mumbled, the sour expression he wore never fading. He swirled the ice in his drink about, trying to avoid looking at Memphis because all he could imagine was her in Jake's arms, in Jake's truck, calling Jake's name. His grip on the glass tightened, and he felt like he could smash it in his grasp. His mind was cluttered with thought. He was angry, he was jealous, he was insecure. And none of it was her fault. He flinched when he felt her fingers prying his away from the glass, but he looked over to her with dejection as he let go of the glass to hold her hand. With a deep sigh, he appeared almost embarrassed as he admitted under his breath, "it's about you and Jake...I'm just...jealous, I guess."
She fixed him with sincere eyes, empathy seething from the deep blue of her irises. With a deep breath, she ran her thumb over the top of his hand. "The truth is I've been with a lot of people, but none of it meant anythin'. I never saw any of them more than once. I've never had a relationship. At least not until now. So, I hope that means somethin' to you, because it does to me," Memphis confessed, giving Tucker a pleading look. His eyes softened as he held her hand tighter. "You're the only one that's meant anything to me. I want to be with you, Tucker."
He loved the sound of his name coming from her lips. Memphis looked so sweet with her round eyes and full pout. He exhaled a relenting sigh and nodded. "I'm sorry. I know. I was just bein' stupid," he admitted under his breathe. Giving her an apologetic look, he offered her a soft smile. "I want to be with you, too. We won't worry about the past anymore, okay?"
"Deal," Memphis agreed with a smile. Lifting her cup, she toasted, "Here's to new beginnings." They clinked glasses, and the rest of the evening was as though the conversation regarding Jake never happened. Memphis loved how understanding Tucker was and his willingness to compromise for her. For the remainder of dinner, Memphis asked Tucker about the rest of the season, and where she should look forward to going. After dinner, they strolled the Riverwalk, hand in hand, looking as though they have been in love for years. Tucker would occasionally stop to draw her close and capture her in a kiss, which left Memphis blushing and giddy, dying for more. They found a souvenir shop along the river, and Memphis eagerly pleaded to go in. Inside, the walls were covered with magnets of uncountable variety, and her eyes grew wide and bright with glee. Tucker chuckled. She was like a kid in a toy store. Memphis ran about in a frenzy, collecting over a dozen of magnets in her shopping basket. She squealed over cute designs and drooled over magnets that resembled desserts, but when it came down to it, she only wanted to buy one. Tucker helped her sort through the selection of magnets in her basket, disregarding the strange looks they got from other people in the store. Memphis was genuinely excited, and it made him so happy to see her in good spirits. They ultimately decided on a colorful magnet that depicted the Riverwalk and Alamo with the words "San Antonio" in cartoonish script.
Memphis left the shop, ecstatic. "My first magnet!" She cheered, jumping up to hug Tucker around the neck. The momentum caught him off guard, and they spun for a moment before he regained his footing. "Can we put it on the fridge when we get home?" She asked, jumping up and down.
An uncontrollable smile overtook Tucker, and he readily nodded. "How could I possibly say no?"
"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" Memphis chanted, frantically kissing his face. The affection made Tucker blush, and he idly tipped his hat back and cleared his throat. The smile on his face widened when he saw the grin Memphis was wearing. With a satisfied sigh, she clung to his arm as they strolled down the Riverwalk. "You wanna know somethin'?"
"What's that, sweetheart?"
There was a moment of silence between them as Memphis seem to grew reluctant to finish her thought. She leaned her head on his shoulder and looked up at the stars. It was harder to find them out here in the city. She remembered the other night in the bed of Tucker's truck. Mustang Junction had its aesthetics, she admitted to herself. Those clear nights skies with a million heavenly twinkles seemed like a blessing now. She shivered subtly as an evening breeze swept by, and Tucker stopped walking to take off his jacket. Memphis allowed him to drape the garment over her shoulders, and thanked him with a smile before they continued walking. "I was just going to say...I've never felt this safe or comfortable with anyone before," she finally told him.
A smile thinned his lips, but Tucker tried to subdue it out of fear of appearing smug. "Well, that makes me very happy to hear. It don't sound like the men in your life have treated you right. Not my brother, not your daddy...Or any of them other boys that came and left," Tucker considered, though quieted when he suspected he had said too much, judging by the solemn expression that overcame her brilliant features.
"Yes, well...It's mostly my own fault, you know. I never expected anythin' else. Let's be honest, I don't think I've ever come across as wife material," Memphis acknowledged with a quiet, derisively laugh.
"Maybe so," Tucker admitted with a soft shrug, "but them boys should've known how to treat a lady regardless. Anyway, I think any man would be damn lucky to come home to you every day and call you his. I know I would be pretty darn happy if that was me."
A bark of laughter escaped Memphis's lips, and she looked up at Tucker in astonishment. "Again with this! You've only known me a few days! I know you'll change your mind about me soon enough," she assured confidently.
"What if I don't? I've known you much longer than that. It's you who've only known me a few days, remember?" Tucker pointed out, challenging her with a surreptitious glance. When Memphis returned him an unimpressed sneer, Tucker chuckled and squeezed her waist. "Don't be the prophet of doom. Ya might kill off a good thing before it ever gets to happen," he lightly warned. A honky tonk tune carried out from one of the bars they walked by, and his eyes lit up. "Dance with me!" Suddenly, he took her hand and twirled her, much to her surprise and delight.
"What in the world-" Before Memphis could finish her sentence, Tucker had already started leading her in a two step, and she could not help but giggle and dance along. She moved almost clumsily compared to him, and she had to watch their feet to keep pace. "I didn't know you could dance," she noted, trying not to sound impressed, though it was evident in her flustered features as he swung and dipped her. "Tucker! I don't know how to dance," Memphis screeched, laughing. Her face felt hot. She was uncertain whether it was because she felt inferior to him when it came to dancing, or that he had, quite literally, swept her off her feet. Memphis felt determined to keep up with him, so she meticulously worked to stay in sync, and soon, the chemistry came naturally. She was no longer anxiously watching Tucker's feet, trying not to step on them. She was meeting his eyes, and under the yellow glow of the string lights that lined the boulevard, they looked like liquid honey, translucent and warm. He flashed her his effortless grin, and she could not help but laugh a blithe and rapturous laugh. It would have surprised her if she was not so taken by his graceful movements and his easy steps. The blonde curls of her hair wisped about as she spun, and the colours and lights around them because a whirl. It was as though they owned the boulevard, as though nobody else was there. She could no longer hear the music, it became a distant noise. All she could hear was her own laughter, the sound of Tucker's voice, and her heart racing jubilantly within her throat. Her mind was in a haze.
"You're dancin' just fine."
This must be what it feels like to be young. How would she have ever known? She had never felt so alive and whole. The joy that it brought her was childlike bliss, and she could not help from squealing and giggling every time Tucker would dip her. Her face was pink, even under the yellow glow, he could tell. She was laughing so hard, she could barely breathe, but when she saw the depth of his gaze bear into hers, it was like he saw how broken she had been all this time, until now. She quieted and returned his gaze, curious, but when he leaned in to kiss her, her eyes closed, and she had to fight back the sudden urge to cry. What was happening to her? Happiness felt so foreign, it bordered on painful. Her chest ached with an unfamiliar sentiment, and more than it scared her, it frustrated and overwhelmed her. It made her want to run, it made her want to fight, but all she could do was surrender completely to Tucker's kiss. It tasted like happiness.
The fantastical haze that she was swept away in dissipated as the sound of people hooting and clapping broke out. Memphis looked around them, wide-eyed and dazed. They had acquired a small crowd as though they were some street performance act. She gave them an awkward smile and slowly waved, face reddening in embarrassment. For however long the last song was, the world felt like it was just hers and Tucker's. It had completely escaped her mind that they were in the middle of the Riverwalk on a Friday night. With a small noise, she hid her face in Tucker's shoulder. He seem to take to the crowd with more ease than her, giving a tip of his hat and a dry chuckle.
It was evident that someone in the crowd recognized him, much to Memphis's chagrin. A girl squealed his name and broke through the dispersing horde. She appeared to be around Memphis's age, perhaps a few years older. The slender blonde had her hair in a purposeful state of disarray, her tight jeans fashionably ripped, and her shirt cut low and short, toned midriff exposed. Memphis's blue eyes became ice and steel as she watched the young woman's approach. Nothing moved when she ran. If looks could kill, Memphis would have already ripped this pretender to a million shreds and scattered the pieces into the river. But the young woman paid Memphis no mind, merely sidestepping her to get to Tucker.
"I can't believe it's Tucker Cambria!" The girl squealed. Then two of her friends came up behind her. They all looked like variants of the same person.
"Oh my god, it is!"
"Get a picture with him!"
The girl proceeded to whip out her phone before even asking Tucker for permission. It came as an afterthought when she asked, "can I get a picture with you?" But she already had her camera ready to go. Being the polite, good-natured public persona that Tucker was, he obliged. He posed with his right arm hovering around her waist, and his signature smile. Memphis watched, arms crossed with vexation as she quietly huffed. Then the other two girls came in, and as though on cue, all three of them tilted their face in a slight angle and pursed their lips before snapping a few more shots with Tucker.
Then one of the other girls giggled and drunkenly whispered to the first, "get his number! He's probably staying around here for the weekend!"
The young woman's eyes lit up, and she nodded. Memphis watched in disbelief as she seemed to have been completely disregarded by this woman who was so obviously vying for Tucker's attention. Her fists clenched as the blonde leaned against Tucker and offered him her phone and instructed him to enter his number. Memphis could not watch anymore. Before she knew it, she was stomping forward, pushing a tongue-tied, flustered Tucker Cambria away from the blonde. Snatching the phone from her hand, Memphis chucked it into the river. Giving the pretender a sardonic smile, she batted her lashes and announced in her sweet southern drawl, "Oops, I'm sorry. I guess I just don't take kindly to other bitches steppin' up on my man."
The other women stared dumbfoundedly at Memphis, then looked to Tucker as though he would intervene. Instead, he just shrugged. The blonde ran up to the chain that bordered the river, leaning over it as if she could salvage her phone from the dark, flowing water. When she realized it was a fruitless endeavor, she looked back to Memphis with narrowed eyes and scoffed several times as though to express how irked the other woman's action made her. "Can you guys believe that shit? You're trailer trash!"
"What a crazy bitch!"
"Oh my god. Who is she?"
"I'm his wife, bitch! And you ain't even seen crazy yet!" Memphis roared.
"Let's get out of here. She's nuts," one of the girls whispered, and they all scurried away, though not without sparing some resentful glares back at Memphis. "What a waste. He deserves better than that. No class!"
A slow clap broke out, and Memphis jolted. The embarrassment from the circle of spectators they garnered was nothing compared to this outburst. She slowly spun around on her heels to face Tucker, anxiety scrawled across her expression. She flinched when he put his hands on her shoulders. "Darlin', you just went redneck crazy," Tucker remarked, though he was laughing.
"I'm so, so sorry, Tucker! I don't know what came over me...I swear I've never done anythin' like that before. I just got so...Angry!" Memphis stammered to apologize, flustered.
Tucker gently shushed her with his forefinger and smiled. "It's okay. You kinda saved me there. Now you look like the jackass and not me," he joked. Chuckling, he leaned down to kiss her. "But really, ya got nothing to worry about. I have no interest in other women."
"Maybe I get jealous and insecure too," Memphis quietly confessed though she blushed and smiled as she turned away. Taking his hand, she walked at a distance, head hanging limply as she idly tried to balance on the line in the pavement.
They walked in silence until Tucker spared Memphis a roguish smile. "So...what's with this wife business all of a sudden?"
Memphis scoffed and appeared miffed as she shot him an admonitory glare. "Don't. Ruin. A good thing," she advised. However, she did not amass the response she anticipated, and it irked her more when Tucker laughed. "What?" She demanded.
"Nothin'. You're cute when you're threatenin' me," Tucker mused, grinning puckishly at her.
She rolled her eyes at him. "You're lucky you're hot because you're so annoyin'," Memphis murmured. Her face softened with a smile though, and she closed the distance between them to take his arm and lean against his shoulder. "Don't give me a hard time. I might change my mind before you get to," she told him.
"Yes ma'am. You won't hear another peep outta me about it," Tucker swore. "Scouts' honour."
"Were you ever a scout?" Memphis asked, curious. "Like, a Girl Scout?"
"Nah. I don't reckon Mustang Junction even has a troop," Tucker pointed out. "Why, were you a scout?" He asked, eyeing Memphis suspiciously.
"We do have a troop! Well, did...But not for long. Mrs. Chase, the troop leader? She went off the deepend after her husband cheated on her with that new dentist that came into town."
"Dr. Merrick? That pretty boy golfer lookin' fella?"
"That's the one! Anyway, the troop disbanded, and we haven't had a Girl Scout organization since," Memphis told him. "It's all well though. I hated them ugly little brown uniforms. Made me feel like one of them UPS delivery men," she laughed. "But I think the worst part was those other little girls. They were awful mean," Memphis recalled with a frown.
"Oh yeah? Did they give you a hard time? I can't imagine anybody bullyin' you now, but I do remember when you were a sweet little girl," Tucker mused, smiling thinly.
"Hell yeah they did! This one girl, Jodie Miller, cut off my pig tails when I was sleepin' at one of those stupid scout sleepovers. They told me they needed it for a voodoo ritual, but doesn't that mean they were tryin' to put the curse on me? How does that make it better?"
A snort of laughter escaped Tucker, and he shook his head, unable contain himself. "You poor thing," he lamented. "But I do remember when you showed up at school with your hair cropped all funny. I just figured you had lice or somethin'."
"No! Just mean bitches out to ruin my life!" Memphis groaned. "And I was really just a sweet girl then. I never bothered anybody!"
"Well, ain't no girl in that town gonna want to mess with you ever again, I tell you what," Tucker assured.
"Oh yeah? Why's that?" Memphis asked, dubious.
"Because," Tucker answered confidently, flashing her that grin. She rolled her eyes, but her heart fluttered.
"I'm startin' to think you're secretly just as cocky as all them other bull riders, Mr. Cambria. Maybe worse," Memphis accused, eyeing Tucker suspiciously.
"Me? No way! I'm as humble as they come! I stop for fans, I kiss babies, I invite beautiful strangers into my home, and I never, ever talk crap about the competition," Tucker assured.
Memphis's eyes narrowed in disbelief, and she just shook her head. "Right. I ain't seen you kiss a single baby."
"I ain't had a single baby to kiss! Care to change that?"
"Okay, slow down, cowboy. One step at a time," Memphis brushed off, laughing. "So what other beautiful strangers have ya had over?" She asked, quirking a brow at him.
"Aside from you?" Tucker stalled then gave a nervous chuckle. "Nobody. Truth be told, I ain't ever brought anyone home before. And I wouldn't have taken you either if it wasn't for you stealin' my hat and all," he admitted. "Ya didn't really give me a choice."
A smug look crossed Memphis's face, and she flipped her hair at him. He swatted at her blonde locks then curled a tendril around his index finger. She watched him with intrigue in her eyes, a sense of expectancy about her. But he only ran her hair between his thumb and forefinger as he set it loose. She looked disappointed, but smiled regardless.
"How about that champagne, huh?"
Her eyes lit up, and she nodded excited. "Yes, please!"
Their walk back to the hotel was short but pleasant. Memphis enjoyed taking in the sights and sounds of the evening. The Riverwalk to her was just as romantic as a night out under the Eiffel Tower to most other girls her age. She never thought all her life that she would find her knight in shining armor in the form of a cross-dressing cowboy. The idea almost made her giggle. She had not had much time to digest Tucker's secret, but as she sat on the edge of the bed, watching him struggle with the champagne cork, she wondered what it meant to her. She never thought twice about sexuality, only knew that girls were meant to date boys, and vice versa. And so it was expected and accepted. It never really occurred to her that it could be any other way. She never had a reason to even consider it.
Would it really be any different if Tucker was really a man? All she knew was that she could not imagine Tucker with a man, and she could not imagine herself falling for anyone else. The mere admittance of this shattered her rudimentary, previous conception of love and attraction, but she was glad for this. Everything she had known, everything she had been shown, up until now, has been so entirely perverse; she was afraid that that was all there was to it. Male or female, she knew that Tucker was a genuine person, that he cared about her, that he made her laugh. And despite all her trying to upkeep a solid poker face, she knew she was succumbing to his old school charm, that she was not as hard as she pretended to be. But if Tucker trusted her enough to reveal the biggest secret of his life, maybe she could return the favor and simply trust him.
"Whoo!" Tucker cheered as the cork shot across the room with a loud pop. A small, white curl of smoke crept out of the bottle before he poured out two flutes. Settling the bottle down into the ice bucket, he handed one flute to Memphis, and with a smile, they clinked glasses. "Here's to your first time in San Antonio," he toasted.
"If we celebrate every time we go somewhere I've never been, we're gonna get cirrhosis," Memphis joked. Sharing a laugh with Tucker, she took a drink. Her lips puckered sourly, and she confessed with a crinkled expression, "champagne's not as good as I thought it would be."
"Did ya want somethin' sweeter, Miss Mint Julep?" Tucker teased. "I should've known...This one's pretty dry," he admitted, looking the bottle over. "You don't have to finish it," he offered.
"I don't know what I expected. I've never had champagne before," Memphis dismissed with a laugh and a shrug. "No, this was a real nice idea," she assured, leaning over to kiss Tucker on the cheek when he sat down next to her. Slowly twirling the glass between her fingers, she gave Tucker a curious look then asked, "So you know how ya told me that you're not really a man? Do you prefer to still be addressed as one? I don't know how to go about this."
Memphis's question took Tucker off guard, and he gave her a look over before exhaling a nervous laugh. "I know, the whole thing must be a little mind-boggling… But to answer your question, yes, I still prefer to be addressed as male. It's just easier for everybody," he dismissed. "Plus, this way, there won't be any slip-ups in public."
"I guess that makes sense," Memphis considered. Taking a sip of her champagne, her nose crinkled as a bubble softly splattered on it. "What's your actual name?"
"Cambria," Tucker easily answered.
"Wait...You just inverted your name?" Memphis asked, exasperated at the simplicity.
"Sure did! And it works just fine, I tell ya what," Tucker answered, taking a large gulp of his champagne.
"So your mama would actually be Mrs. Tucker?"
"This is just too confusing," Memphis lamented, shaking her head.
"Don't overthink it, Darlin'. Just stick to what you've been doin', and it's just fine," Tucker told her.
"Do you want me to call you Cambria?" Memphis asked, curious.
"Only if you want to," Tucker shrugged. "I'm pretty indifferent about that."
Memphis hummed in consideration. "I think I like Tucker better. It just suits you more, I think," she concluded with a smile.
"Then Tucker it is," he readily accepted with a smile.
"How does your mama feel about this whole masquerade?" Memphis asked.
"Well, you know...At first she wasn't entirely thrilled about it. She felt like she was losin' her little girl. But then I think she realized that nothing's really changed, and she was a lot more accommodatin'. I've been truly blessed to have such a supportive mama. I can't even imagine embarkin' on this sort of endeavor without her in my corner," Tucker recounted. "And now, I think sometimes she forgets that I'm not actually a boy. I think she thinks I'm more of a man than my brother turned out to be, which is fine by me. I'm not gonna lie, and pretend I'm not a little sore about him leavin' mama without a second thought to chase glory and women. That's not the cowboy way. That's the coward's way. A man puts God and family first. Everythin' else is secondary." Quieting with a soft sneer, Tucker looked over to find Memphis's eyes sparkling with admiration.
"You're the most beautiful man I've ever met, Tucker Cambria," Memphis flatly told him. "It almost repulses me how perfect you are."
"Really? I don't think I'm that good-lookin'," Tucker admitted, surprised by Memphis's comment.
"No, stupid! I meant like your soul and all that sappy crap," Memphis rolled her eyes. "But you're not too hard on the eyes, either," she conceded with a wink. The sly compliment drew colour to Tucker's cheeks, and he smiled bashfully as he shuffled his boots. It was not an act, she could tell. Tucker really was as shy and humble as he let on. Even his public persona was not too far from the truth. She wondered how someone so shy ever survived the limelight. "Tucker? Is it hard for you? I mean, havin' to act a certain way to be liked?" She asked, though with obvious hesitation.
"Huh...Well, I reckon in a way, that's what we all do, ain't it? Try to be socially acceptable? But I don't think I'm stretchin' the truth very far, even when I get in front of those cameras and interviewers. I'd like to think other than the forced confidence, I'm still very much myself. But ya can't let on that you're nervous. They'll smell your fear and eat ya alive," Tucker disclosed, giving Memphis a grave look towards the end of his statement. "Reporters are sharks, darlin'."
"I guess that's true. You do seem very calm and confident during your interviews," Memphis conceded. Her eyes followed Tucker curiously, and she giggled when he tapped her on the nose with his index finger then took her champagne from her. Setting their drinks aside, he leaned closer, but suddenly looked nervous and lowered his eyes.
"Can I tell ya somethin'?" Tucker asked, voice an anxious stutter.
"You can tell me anythin'," Memphis encouraged.
"I'm not feelin' very calm or confident right about now," Tucker started, stealing a glance at her with unquiet eyes.
Tilting her chin, Memphis gave Tucker an analytical look. He was not exaggerating. He looked downright distressed. "Are you scared 'bout tomorrow? You're gonna kill it! I've seen you ride dozens of times. I know you'll do great!" Memphis assured, reaching over to give his hand a squeeze. His head slowly shook, and she quirked a soft brow at him. "Then what is it?"
"Just a certain pretty girl I haven't the first clue how to handle," Tucker quietly confessed, giving Memphis a sheepish grin. Her eyes gradually widened as she seem to catch his meaning.
"Are you a virgin?" Memphis asked in a sharp, startled whisper as though their neighbors in the next room might overhear. Tucker's shy shrug confirmed her suspicion. "Oh. My. Goodness! You could've fooled me the other night," she blurted out in disbelief, then a huff of laughter escaped her lips. "I don't know why I'd expected anythin' different. You are the 'Pious Cowboy', after all," Memphis noted shaking her head in amusement. "I guess it really ain't a stretch of the truth then, huh?" Quieting, she gave him a kittenish smile, and reached to softly turn his face. Brushing his lips with hers, she whispered, "Well, it's only fair I tell you I don't really know what I'm doin' too much right now either. But we'll figure it out together."
He gave a dumb nod of his head, her words hazy in his mind as he ached for more of her lips. Memphis crawled into his lap, draping her arms over his shoulders. "It's not a problem?" Tucker asked with an anxious chuckle.
"You worry too much, Tucker Cambria," Memphis told him before engaging him in another fervent kiss, not allowing any time for rebuttal or second thoughts. Leaving Tucker breathless, she drew away just far enough to take his hands and run them up under the skirt of her dress. Her skin was soft and smooth, just like he remembered from their debacle of a one night stand. As she led his hands further up her body, gradually removing the dress in the process, she studied his expression. His large, dark eyes were cautiously adoring, the naivety and innocence behind which made her heart flutter. In the back of her mind, she recalled her first sexual encounter, her first consensual encounter.
She was fourteen and wounded. Her fragile state required some form of empowerment, so she thought, when she caught the attention of an older boy at the high school football game. It was not that she did not know she was attractive; it had already proven to be a detriment to her. But something inside her broken, teenage soul told her that she was no longer beautiful, that somehow this transgression of her father's had tainted her in all totality. That was why she found herself driving back to some swanky apartment on the outskirts of Austin with this boy who ought to have been a young man and a gentleman. He did present himself as such, at first. She hated that she could still remember his name: Wesley Griffith. He looked as though he might have been part of a rock band, the kind that had emo hair and pretty boys that wore too much mascara.
All least he was a gentleman enough to take her to dinner first; she would almost laugh at the thought. It was some Italian restaurant that she, in her simple mind and low expectations, thought was upscale simply because it was not a part of a chain. Dinner conversation was pleasant enough. She could not remember what was said now. Probably nothing of significance was exchanged in their dialogue. She suspects it had been idle pleasantries at best. Perhaps even youthful flirtation. The only thing she remembered clearly about Wesley was that his father was a pharmacist, and his mother was a professor. It stuck out to her because she remembered being in awe at the fact that his parents were paying for his flat, his brand new car, a Mazda 3, and for his tuition at UT A where he was studying to be a film major. Memphis was so envious of the lifestyle Wesley was able to afford to live, or rather, the one afforded for him.
She wished she had parents that would support an endeavor as frivolous as film school. She did not see herself attending college, not by choice, but by the mere disadvantage her origin afforded her. Higher education was a luxury she simply was not offered by life's lot, and while it disappointed and disheartened her, she accepted it and never once complained. She knew her mother worked herself to the bone to support her and her no-good father. She would not dare demand anything more from her financially.
When dinner concluded, Wesley was in a hurry to get her back home to his place. Memphis was still naive enough to think that he was just being nice, and wanted to spend time with her. Her young mind was still swimming in romantical prospects and fantastical scenarios. She had not expected him to try to get hot and heavy with her when he turned on some god awful death metal, but she allowed it, still. Her ego was nonexistent here, and she thought he was attractive enough. In fact, to her, she suspected that this might be the only decent looking boy that she would ever meet that could possibly be stupid enough to want her. Memphis felt like she was the one taking advantage of him because she thought the secret she possessed would instantly chase him away if he knew.
She could not find the courage to tell him that it hurt for her, fearing that she might appear inexperienced. She was quiet, which he made a point to draw attention to, leaving her uncertain how one was supposed to behave during sex. This frustration left her wanting to cry. That was all she knew how to do in bed. She closed her eyes and waited for it to be over, distracted by the pain. It left her wondering if it was always this painful and unpleasant as he continued to plow away to the sound of demonic screams on the stereo.
If he was such a gentleman, why did he make her swear that she would never tell her parents afterwards? Because he knew what he did was wrong. He was a man, young, but old enough to know better than take advantage of a fragile, little girl. After all, she was just that: a little girl. She asked to spend the night, but he refused, insisting on dropping her off at home. He told her that it was because her parents would get mad at her for being gone all night, which at that time, she reasoned was true. She thought he was being so kind and thoughtful, and she even indulged in a long goodnight kiss when he dropped her off a block away from her house.
Despite how she did not enjoy the sex, she was smitten by Wesley and the prospects of a boyfriend, a college boyfriend. The idea made her giddy. She was excited, expecting to hear from him within the week. She even bought him a present for Christmas since it was coming up. But a week came and pass, and she did not receive a single call. Worried, she would call him, only to reach his voicemail every single time. She left him sweet messages and never received anything in response. One day, she vented with her friend, who insisted on calling Wesley from his phone. It was apparent then that Wesley had been screening her calls. This nearly shattered her. She felt so used. It would be painfully obvious to her now that she had been an easy thrill for some boy with a boring girlfriend that would not put out, but then, she was still innocent in the ways of sex and love. She had not been jaded enough despite the trespasses of her father to know to guard herself against people. She just wanted to be loved.
I just wanted to be love, Memphis thought as she opened her eyes. Chills ran throughout her body as Tucker unzipped her dress and pulled it over her head. Their gaze met, and she felt as though she could cry. Looking at him, at the adoration in his eyes for her, she saw herself five years ago, oblivious to the vulnerabilities of a heart. She never wanted him to know that pain and taste that rejection. She wanted the first person to love him to really love him. Tucker was too great, too noble to be used and cast aside like she was. He deserved so much better.
He deserves real love. Memphis almost hesitated to re-engage Tucker in a kiss because she suddenly doubted herself. How could she give him something she did not possess? She felt ill with the realization, and the consciousness burned in her mind like an inferno. Somebody was going to get hurt at the end of this. The end. She was always thinking about the end. Life was a series of chapters, a book with one finite conclusion: death. Memphis lived life with expiration dates and deadlines because that was the only way she could motivate herself to see anything through. The long haul was too far, too painful. She did not want to think long term because she did not want to live long enough for plans to matter. Her existence had been bleak, a world of greywash and black. But Tucker made her want it to be more, so much more. He made her entertain the idea of living long enough for her actions to matter. He made her want to stop her promiscuous ways and settle into him. He made her want to be good. He reminded her of that sweet child that she had once been, and how she yearned for her return. He made her start to believe that she might have a future after all. A future with him.
Something stirred in her chest. Memphis hated how complicated being with Tucker felt. There were too many genuine, complex emotions that he summoned within her. Too many for her comfort. She chose instead to distract herself with loosening his bolo tie and unbuttoning his checked, western shirt. She stilled her mind with a lascivious cast over his slim, muscled torso.
In her shirtless splendor, it was clearer now, despite her flat chest, lean arms, broad shoulders, and washboard abs that Cambria was female after all. It was subtle, the gentle curve of her waist, the jut of her pelvis, her soft, hairless skin. Cambria registered as a sexual anomaly to Memphis, and she did not know how to advance. She was simply awestruck by her perfect androgyny. Straddling her narrow hips, Memphis expertly undid the massive championship buckle of Cambria's belt. The metal fell heavily into the mattress as she cast the belt aside.
Cambria's breath was heavy, and her heart was palpable as she felt Memphis's undo the fly of her jeans. This would be the moment. That unveiling moment that she had so feared. The moment that had always prevented her from ever starting anything remotely romantic with any woman that might have desired her along the way. The sudden fear of rejection struck her, and part of her wanted to pull away, to hit pause on the whole affair and turn back into a recluse. It still stunned her how easily the truth had been received by Memphis. In the back of her mind, she still could not believe the truth of her acceptance. She wondered if it had been Cambria and not Tucker that had somehow stolen the rodeo circuit's spotlight if they would still be where they were now. If she had confronted her years ago, when they were both young girls, would she have been able to save Memphis then? Would she have even given her the time of day?
She never realized how truly lonely she had been since embarking on this journey for stardom. Her circle of friends had been strictly other cowboys, and even then, she always had to keep them at arm's length to protect her secret. In her endeavor for victory and success, she had made such great sacrifices. It never occurred to her that she could never have a normal relationship, romantic or otherwise, the way she carried on. It did not cross her mind that when she would inevitably become too old or too broken to keep riding, she would have nothing but the Turnpike to fall back on. But all of that could change, right here, right now.
Memphis felt like a dream. She had been a dream. For so many years, Cambria had fantasized about her, holding conversations in her mind, simple, fleeting exchanges that never failed to leave her with a smile. But Memphis was unobtainable, and probably would have been unobtainable still if the glitter in her buckle never caught her eye. It did not matter how they came together. Cambria just never wanted it to end. This really was her one shot at living a somewhat normal, balanced life. The stars had lined up that night when they met. It could not be anything if not fate.
In another moment, that pressed pair of Cowboy Cut jeans was laying carelessly on the hotel room floor, and they were in reciprocal states of undress. Their eyes, a sharp contrast in colour, mirrored the same vulnerability and resistance. The fear of rejection, the fear of hurt, the fear of abandoning their old, comfortable habits; these were conveyed wordlessly in a single glance. A sharp, hitched breath, a nervous huff, a squeeze of the hand for confidence, a tender, mind-numbing kiss that seemed to still time and wash away any doubt that lingered. As if to say, "I trust you wholeheartedly," they melted together. As if to say, "I understand your pain," Cambria's fingertips grazed the bruised skin of Memphis's back, summoning goosebumps at the tantalizingly light touch, "I see your beauty." As if to say, "I will love you first," Memphis left a trail of soft, brushing kisses down Cambria's stomach, lips lingering above the waistband of her Lucky Brand boxer briefs, "please don't hurt me."
It was nothing new that she was the one to give a lesson in the bedroom, but it did not feel like a chore or some sardonic point she was trying to make. Memphis adored how inexperienced Cambria was, and her willingness to allow her to lead, despite her masquerading as male. She would have expected her to be more dominant, but Memphis had seen enough of Cambria to know better. She was shy and not at all prideful. She was not the type to claim mastery when she was a novice at best. Cambria's humility went a long way, in and out of the arena. Memphis might had envied it as she hesitantly removed Cambria's underwear.
The packer came off with it, and there, Cambria was unequivocally a woman, and Memphis found it oddly refreshing. Instinct was a strange, primal creature, she thought as she flicked her tongue over Cambria's clitoris. Pleasure was hardwired, and all it took was emulating the actions she herself enjoyed. A smile played at her lips as she continued to tease Cambria, amused at the completely shattered imagine of the cowboy she had fallen for. But it was not a bad thing. It made Tucker more human, more real, more hers. She was driven by the soft gasps and moans that she elicited from Cambria, delighted and proud that she could cause the wholesome, pious cowboy to squirm with pleasure.
Cambria tasted sweet and musky, and she sounded husky and probably more alluring than she could ever imagine. The writhing of her body, the sound of her voice, the taste, the smell, the wetness, it left Memphis's lime green thong damp with excitement. She wanted Cambria to come, to see her, to taste her, to feel her, to hear her. She could not wait. The mere idea drew a moan from her. In another moment, Memphis teased her opening with a finger, and then another finger, making sure she was adequately lubricated before she slipped her fingers in, drawing a soft gasp from Cambria. She could feel her tighten up around her fingers a moment before relaxing as her hand moved in a slow, steady rhythm. She glanced up to watch Cambria throw her head back in delight, motivated to move her hand and head faster. Cambria's moans of delight drew a soft sigh from her, and she idly reached down to rub the wet spot on her thong. Cambria's voice grew louder, a pitch more feminine than Memphis had ever heard from her before, and she combed her fingers through Memphis's long, blonde hair, moving her head faster. The gesture made Memphis moan, turned on by the fact that she was evidently pleasuring Cambria. She worked her hand and her tongue as fast as she could, and after a few moments, Cambria's body stiffened, and she let out a breathless sigh. Memphis whined as she felt the burst of wetness seep into our mouth, and she licked it clean before withdrawing her fingers and crawling over Cambria to capture her in a messy kiss.
It came as a surprise when Cambria wrapped her arms around her and smoothly switched positions with her. Memphis watched with intrigue when Cambria broke their kiss to remove her underwear, which was thoroughly damp by then. With tender care, Cambria left a trail of kisses along Memphis's collarbone, making sure to kiss every bruise on her body. The loving gesture melted Memphis's heart, and she had to will the stir of emotion away. This was easier when Cambria flicked her tongue over one of her nipples. It drew a loud moan from Memphis, and she threw her head back as Cambria massaged her breast while teasing her nipples. She felt like she could come from just that. A smile played on Memphis's full, pink lips when she felt Cambria rub up against her, just as she had the first night they met. But this time, the warmth and moisture of her skin on hers made it even more tantalizing, and Memphis moaned softly as Cambria's wet lips brushed against hers. She wrapped her hands around Cambria's slim hips and bucked hers to match her rhythm. Their half-lidded eyes locked, and Memphis bit her lip before she let out a gasp. Her eyes fell closed as her pleasure heightened, and she brushed her hand up Cambria's back to lace her fingers behind her neck. "Tucker," she breathed between moans. The real thing was better than all her fantasies combined. She desperately moaned her name, which drove Cambria to work harder at bringing her to orgasm. In another moment, their hips were moving wildly in sync until they both let out a simultaneous gasp and froze.
Tucker collapsed on the bed beside Memphis, breathless, and smiling as Memphis curled up against him. She laid her head on his chest, wrapping her body around him like a silk blanket. Her face was flushed and warm, but she was smiling until she suddenly started to cry. It alarmed Tucker, and he sat up with her in his arms. "What's wrong, sweetheart? Did I hurt ya?" He asked, puzzled and concerned.
She buried her face in his shoulder, and shook her head. She sniffled a moment before drawing away to look at him, her eye makeup running. "No, no. I'm just so…" Her voice cracked, and she threw up her hands in a hopeless gesture. "...Happy!" She finished with an erratic laugh before giving Tucker an apologetic smile. "I don't know how to deal with this. I've never felt this way before, but...You're different than anythin' I've ever known," she told him, voice quiet as she fell back into his embrace. "I feel so happy, I could die."
A smile thinned Tucker's lips, and he inclined his head to kiss her on the forehead. "I hope I can always make you feel that way."