Charlie gently patted Jane’s back as she heaved, heaved and heaved some more.
“Jane,” Charlie said, attempting to get a word in edgewise between the hurls.
“I’m not a doctor…”
“Then shut the fuck uh…ughhhhh!”
“…but I’m pretty sure that when you throw up, its your body’s way of telling you that you’ve had enough liquor.”
“Oh, what do you know you uptight son of uh…uh….bleah!!!”
Perfect gentleman that he was, Charlie sat there, accepting Jane’s verbal abuse as she puked into the dirt.
Jane’s heavy breathing subsided. A cool sweat broke out all over her face. She sat back on the bench, sighing with relief.
“That all?” Charlie asked.
“I think so,” Jane replied. “Jesus H. Christ, a girl can’t get a little under the weather without getting a Sunday sermon around here.”
“This is more than just being a little under the weather and you know it,” Charlie scolded. “You need to drop the bottle and never pick it up again.”
Jane blew Charlie an impassioned raspberry. “Pbbbbhhht! Now you’re just talking crazy tah…ugh….ughhhhh!”
The cowgirl clutched her stomach and barfed all over the ground once again.
Charlie started rubbing Jane’s back again, only to have his hand slapped away.
“Hands off, pervert!” Jane cried.
Jane sat back and closed her eyes. “You love this, don’t you?”
“What are you on about?” Charlie asked.
“You love it when you can act all high and mighty,” Jane said.
Charlie rolled his eyes. “You know what? I’ll just leave then.”
“Oh shut the fuck up,” Jane said as she laid down on the bench. She let her hat hang down her back from the cord around her neck and crushed it with her back as she snuggled her head down on Charlie’s lap.
The businessman was pleasantly shocked.
“Don’t get any ideas,” Jane said.
“I won’t,” Charlie said. He stared down at Jane’s face. Her eyes were closed. She looked so peaceful until she spoiled it by talking.
“I mean it,” Jane said. “Keep your hands to yourself, Utter.”
“I will,” Charlie said.
“Just because in my temporarily ill state I require your doughy lap as a makeshift pillow does not mean that I am inviting you to have your way with me.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Charlie said.
“Good,” Jane said. “Because I’m not some kind of shameless hussy. And besides, you’re a married man.”
“Apparently not anymore,” Charlie replied.
Jane opened one eye. “The fuck’s that supposed to mean?”
“Louise,” Charlie replied. “She’s filed for divorce.”
Jane laughed and laughed until she grabbed her stomach to hold off the pain.
Charlie was chagrined. “Fine friend you are.”
“Well I don’t know, Charlie,” Jane said. “Here you are, poking your nose around in my personal business when you can’t even keep your missus happy.”
“‘Poking around in your business?’” Charlie asked. “That’s what you think I’m doing?”
“I do,” Jane said as she closed her open eye.
“I’m trying to keep you from killing yourself,” Charlie said. “It’s a tiresome burden that I wouldn’t wish on a dog if we’re laying our cards out on the table.
Jane’s voice grew weaker as she grew sleepier. “Land sakes alive, Charlie, you worry more than a ninety year old grandmother. ‘Granny Utter’ I ought to call you.”
Torn between his desire to dispense advice and to not get rebuked, Charlie sat there quietly for a while, enjoying Jane’s head in his lap as much as he could, given the circumstances.
“Why do you smell like a French hooker?” Jane asked.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You smell like a cat house on payday,” Jane said.
“Its cologne,” Charlie said.
“Smells like perfume,” Jane replied. “Unmanly if you ask me.”
“I didn’t ask you,” Charlie said. “And its better than smelling like…”
The mixed aroma of Jane’s festering puke pile on the ground, combined with her stank breath wafted into Charlie’s nostrils, but he caught himself before he could say anything unkind.”
“…I just like the way it smells.”
“You would you dandy,” Jane said.
Slowly but surely, Charlie reached his trembling hand down until it landed on Jane’s head. Hearing no protest from a woman who was never shy about offering it, he began to stroke his hand through Jane’s hair.
“The fuck you doing?” Jane asked.
“Oh, sorry,” Charlie said as he pulled his hand away. “My mother used to do that for me when I was sick. I thought it would help.”
“I didn’t say stop, dumb ass,” Jane said.
A thoroughly enthused Charlie continued to stroke Jane’s hair.
“But don’t get any ideas,” Jane added.
“Of course not,” Charlie said.
After awhile, Charlie asked, “Why do you do this to yourself?”
“Shut up,” Jane said.
“You have a job that you do well,” Charlie said. “You’ve got your beauty. You’ve got business partners that care about you. You’ve got your health if you’ll vow to put the cork in the bottle once and for all.”
“And I’ve got assholes,” Jane said.
“What?” Charlie asked.
“Assholes,” Jane said. “The world is full of them and they all stink. No pun intended. Wherever I go, whatever I do, there’s never a shortage of assholes waiting to tell me what to do, how to act, what to think and how to live my life. I can’t even rest on a goddamn bench without an asshole giving me his unwanted opinion about my affairs.”
Charlie sat there for a minute then perked up. “Oh, wait a minute. So you’re saying I’m an…”
Jane finished Charlie’s sentence. “…asshole. Yes.”
“Some of these um…uh…”
“‘Asshole,’ Charlie,” Jane said. “Jesus, you wouldn’t say ‘shit’ if you had a mouth full of it, would you?”
“Probably not,” Charlie said. “But anyway, some of these folks offering you their advice may have the best of intentions.”
“And some of them are just pieces of shit trying to overcome for their flaws by pointing out mine,” Jane said.
“I just don’t want you to die, Jane,” Charlie blurted out.
Jane opened her eyes and stared up at Charlie’s face, which, from her vantage point, was staring down at her more lovingly that she was used to.
“Appreciated,” Jane said. “But unnecessary. I can handle my liquor.”
“Clearly,” Charlie said.
“Well, Mr. High Horse,” Jane said. “Tell you what. If you can rid the world of every asshole in existence, then I won’t have to drink in order to avoid thinking about them.”
“That’s a tall order,” Charlie said. “Can’t you just ignore them?”
“Would that I could, Charlie,” Jane replied. “Would that I…”
Jane fell fast asleep. Charlie closed his eyes for a spell, until he remembered Bill’s request.
He nudged his compatriot.
“Jane,” Charlie said.
“Huh?” the sleepy cowgirl asked.
“We need to get you a cup of coffee because Bill wants us to meet him,” Charlie said.
Jane’s head shot up. “Bill? Bill needs me?”
“Yeah,” Charlie said. “But maybe you ought to take it slowly and…”
Jane sprang to her feet, puked once more, then collapsed on the ground.
“Oh Lord,” Charlie said.
The businessman dropped to his knees, lightly slapping Jane’s cheek to see if she was alright. “Jane? Jane?”
“Ughhh,” Jane groaned.
“Come on,” Charlie said. “Let’s get you to bed.”
“But,” Jane protested. “Bill…Bill needs me…”
“He’ll get along without you just this once,” Charlie said.
The familiar voice of the Reverend Weston Smith pierced the air as he made his way down the street.
“Sinners! Repent! Repent lest ye be judged unworthy in the eyes of God!”
“End your sinful ways! Reject gambling, drinking, fornication, wine, women, and song!”
“Reverend!” Charlie shouted.
The Reverend turned and saw Charlie kneeling over Jane.
“Oh Heavens,” the Reverend said. “Is Miss Jane alright?”
“Well,” Charlie said. “That question has a long answer but for now, nothing that a good night’s sleep probably wouldn’t cure. Help me get her to her room?”
“Of course,” the Reverend said.