Showdown At Barney’s (Short Fiction)

Julie was dusting the living room when she stopped and glared across the room at Chuck.

“That’s the third time this week you’ve burnt the coffee table. If you have to smoke, will you please keep the damn things in the ashtray?”

“Oh, so you’ve started counting things now, have you?” He stood in the doorway to the kitchen, grinning at her.

“Not everything. Lucky for you I’ve got too much to do to keep up with your screw-ups.”

“Are there that many?” His grin was starting to wane.

“Since you asked, yes, there are. And I’m getting damned tired of putting up with them.”

“Maybe I’m getting tired of hearing you bitch all the time.” Chuck’s grin was gone.

“Then quit doing things to piss me off!”

“Everything pisses you off. I don’t know why I stay and put up with you.”

“You’re not tied to a chair. You know where the door is, don’t let it hit you in the ass on your way out.”

“One of these days you’re gonna say that and I will leave.”

“The sooner the better,” she mumbled.

“I heard that. What would you do without me?” He started to grin again.

“I’d probably be able to relax for a change. Anyway, it’d be fun finding out.”

“You’d be lonely without me around.” The full grin was back.

“I doubt it. I’d rather be lonely without you than miserable with you.”

“So you’ve upgraded from bitchy to miserable?”

“Yes, I’m miserable around here. You drive me crazy. You won’t pick up after yourself and you won’t even get a job to support your bad habits.”

“That’s what I’ve got you for.” The grin was almost a laugh.

“Bullshit!” She threw a large glass ashtray at him, missing his head by only a few inches. “Not anymore you don’t! Get your stuff and get out!”

The grin disappeared again. He went to the bedroom and packed a few days’ worth of clothes. He figured she’d cool off and let him come home by the time they needed washed. Probably just PMS, he thought.

As he walked out the front door he said, “You’ll be sorry you did this.”

“I seriously doubt it. I feel better already,” she called to his back.

She walked to the window and watched him get in his old Ford truck. He backed out of the driveway, then looked at her and grinned as he laid rubber on the street. She waved goodbye. He flipped her off.

An hour later she was walking out that same door. In her tight jeans, western shirt, boots, and hat she looked like Shania Twain with red hair.

“Time to unwind a little,” she said to herself as she slid behind the wheel of her Toyota. She thought the car took away from the image she was trying to project, but it was all she had.

As she pulled into the parking lot at Barney’s Bar and Grill she spotted Chuck’s old pickup parked at the side of the building. She parked as far from it as she could. She would have gone somewhere else, but Barney’s was the only place in town that had country music on the jukebox and enough room to dance. The sign, Barney’s Bar and Grill, was misleading. Barney hadn’t had a grill for three years, ever since he broke the record for the most violations on a health department inspection.

Inside, Julie saw a lot of people she knew and most of them waved at her. A few of the men called to her to come sit with them, but she just smiled and made her way to the bar. She was glad to see Andy, Barney’s brother, was still bartender. She hadn’t been in Barney’s for nearly two years.

“What’ll ya have, pretty lady?”

“Give me a Bud Light, Andy. I see you’re still keeping them straight around here.” She flashed him a big smile.

“Well, I try,” he said as he gave her her beer. “Where’ve you been so long?”

“Oh, just busy. Never enough time to have fun it seems.”

A very inebriated cowboy came up beside her and tried to make conversation, but he seemed to have a problem getting his words in the right order. Julie looked at Andy and rolled her eyes. Andy told him to get lost. The cowboy staggered out the front door.

“I hope he’s not driving,” she said.

Andy laughed.. “He’s a regular. I take his keys as soon as he orders his first beer. He’ll sleep it off in the car and get his keys in the morning.”

As Andy moved to wait on another customer, Julie took a drink of her beer. It had been so long since she’d drunk one, it tasted amazingly good. Before she could take another, Chuck was standing beside her.

“Well, look at you! Come looking for me, baby?” He was grinning again.

She side-stepped away from him. He followed, then tried to put his arm around her. She shrugged him off and moved a little farther away.

“Oh, come on, baby. You ain’t still mad, are you?”

“I didn’t come here looking for you, Chuck. I actually was hoping you’d left with somebody.” She took a drink of her beer. “And, yes, I’m still mad.”

If Chuck was anything, it was stubborn. He reached for her hand, still grinning like a fool. She jerked it away.

“Leave me alone, asshole.”

“Oh, but baby, you look so good! I could just eat you up.” He grabbed her arm and said, “Dance with me, gorgeous.”

“Piss off, you idiot!” she yelled as she pulled away. She turned and noticed everyone in the bar was watching them. She was embarrassed by the scene Chuck was making.

“Go away, Chuck,” she hissed.

“A pretty girl like you shouldn’t be in here all alone.”

“I’m not alone. This place is full of people who right now think you’re annoying me. And they’re right.”

“Who cares what they think? You know I love you.”

Julie turned to face Chuck. With her boots on she could look straight into his eyes. With a cold look she calmly said, “You are a no-good, lazy, stupid, drunken bastard. I meant what I said earlier. I’m sick of you.”

Chuck’s grin disappeared again. “You can’t talk to me like that!”

“Oh, yes, I can and I just did..” She placed both hands on his chest and pushed. He staggered backward a few steps. She heard applause from some of the other customers.

“You ungrateful bitch!” His teeth were clenched and his face was getting red.

“And what do I have to be grateful to you for? Do you think I should worship you for the little time you spent with me? Or should I sing your praises because you allowed me to support your sorry ass?”

The crowd was really enjoying this, cheering her on. Chuck was furious.

“Are you trying to make me look like a fool in front of everyone?”

“You don’t need my help, Chuck. You’re doing fine all by yourself.”

He raised his hand to hit her, then remembered all the people around.

“Go ahead, big man. Show everybody just how big a fool you really are.”

“You hateful slut,” he began. He didn’t get to finish his thought because Julie placed the pointed toe of her boot directly between his legs. He doubled over, shot her an evil look, then stumbled outside.

The crowd cheered. She had several people offer to buy her a drink. She declined the offers, thanking them.

As she crossed the parking lot to her car, she smiled.

“That’ll teach him to burn my damn coffee table.”

__________________

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