by Stephanie Silver
Chapter 11 - A New Bass Guitarist
Jenna was one of the worst poker players you'll ever meet. Jed's father, who felt knowledge of poker was essential in the development of a well-rounded personality, had warned him about the wisdom of drawing to an inside straight. That much Jenna knew. But she couldn't help trying to fill out a flush or a full house when she was just one card away, and giving away her hand in the process. And poker-faced was certainly not a phrase anyone was very likely use to describe her. Right now Lucas was about 90% sure she was holding two pairs, one of them fairly low value, and trying to bluff that she had picked up a full house on the draw. He raised only moderately. No sense scaring the poor thing off early.
Christina, on the other hand, worried him. Her experience arguing in court rooms made it nearly impossible to guess what she was thinking or what cards she might be holding. Yeah, she wasn't doing especially well this night, but he couldn't figure out if it was from bad luck, a lack of skill, or just not really caring. With no one actually paying for their chips, there was no real money on the table. Since he couldn't tell what she was thinking, that gave him another reason to make a modest raise - to see how she responded.
"See and raise you five," she said, throwing a blue chip onto the pile. Katon, who had already folded on this hand, leaned over to examine her cards, using her breasts as a pillow and giving her a quick grope. His antics earned him a kiss in return. Emerging tongues quickly brought giggles of delight from the two involved, and groans of disgust from the other two. Or was Katon laughing because he liked the quality of Christina's hand? Lucas stared hard at the three kings he was holding, trying to decide.
The problem with bluffing, of course, is that if no one gets scared off by your bluff, you end up looking sillier than if you'd just admitted you didn't have anything to begin with and simply folded. Lucas could tell Jenna was considering the wisdom of her bluff right now. Finally, deciding she had enough invested already to make seeing it to the end worth her while, she met Christina's wager.
It was now up to Lucas. A raise, he was certain, would scare off Jenna with her two pair, giving him one less thing to worry about. But what if Christina had something? He didn't exactly care to spend money trying to find out. "Call," he said, throwing in another five.
"Three ladies" said Christina, laying her cards down on the table.
"Shoot!" moaned Jenna, showing the pair of jacks and pair of twos that Lucas had suspected she was holding. "I never win."
Lucas took a moment to study their reactions. On the surface poker appeared to be a game of chance, but anyone who was very good at it knew it was much more involved than that. Taking the time to study your opponents always paid off at some point. Even in a game with no money. "Three cowboys," he said at length, showing them his cards before raking in the pot. "Thank you, ladies."
Christina groaned." I'm not doing that well either, Jen. I think the guys are cheating."
"Me too," agreed Jenna, as she scowled at Lucas.
"How do you keep doing so well, Baby?" asked Christina, nuzzling Katon as she removed a few of his chips and placed them in her own small pile. "It seems like you fold every other hand."
Katon laughed."I know when stay in and when it's best to just get out."
She grinned."I like it best when you stay in," she said. From the way she was grinning, and softly kissing him on the lips, it was obvious she wasn't talking about cards.
"I like pulling out and shooting on your..." he stopped abruptly as if only just realizing there was another couple in the room. Jenna just rolled her eyes and said, "You guys are disgusting."
As Lucas dealt the next hand, Katon said, "Hey, I've got an idea that might make it easier for the girls to keep up, Lucas. What if we let the girls play strip poker?"
"Sounds good to me," agreed Lucas. Despite being reluctant to let himself get emotionally involved again with Jenna, he had to admit the idea of seeing her naked definitely intrigued him. Her breasts were bigger now than they had been when she'd first arrived in Mayville nearly four months before. Noticeably bigger. I mean, they still weren't anything near the size of Christina's impressive pair, but they were certainly more than the two mosquito bites he'd gotten a glimpse of that first night. Plus, it went without saying that any guy - any guy who had ever looked at a girl and found her attractive - would be interested in seeing Christina out of her clothes.
Christina, whose pile of chips was only slightly larger than Jenna's, was all in favor of the idea - I told you she had that exhibitionist side to her - and so Jenna found herself outvoted. Reluctantly she agreed to play using her clothes once her chips ran out.
Poker may be a game of skill at which Jenna wasn't very good, but there's still an element of chance to it, and fate handed the next pot to her. It wasn't a lot, since no one else had anything worth betting heavily on, but it put off for the moment any clothing issues for her.
Not so for Christina, who had only enough to ante into the next game. The rules - which were being made up as they went along - were that one item of clothing could be placed in the pile of chips at any time during a single hand as sort of an all-in bet, covering any and all other wagers for that hand. Confident in the cards she was holding, Christina took off her jeans, folded then neatly, and placed them on top of the pile." All in," she said.
Shoes, in case you're curious, were all over near the door in what Katon called the genkan. Genkan is a Japanese word for the entryway into a house where guests and residents leave their shoes before stepping up into the actual house. The genkan in Katon's apartment was more of a tiled surface about four feet square than an actual entryway with a step, but it passed in his mind as a genkan. Christina was the only one of them not wearing socks. In case you were wondering.
She was, however, wearing panties. Black lace boy shorts with a bright pink bow in the front. Being a good sport, and something of an exhibitionist, she gave Katon and Lucas a quick show of then before sitting down and allowing her t-shirt to cover them up again. But not before Lucas saw some definite camel toe. "Oh my god," he thought, and felt a tingling in his groin.
* * * * *
Okay, I promise we're going to come back to that poker game. Right after this short commercial break. No, not really. I only wish my stories came with some form of corporate sponsorship that would help pay the bills. Instead it's just me, and, as great as this poker game is, I feel like I'm neglecting other parts of the story. So, we'll get back to it, I promise. But for now let's backtrack a little.
The economy in 2008, you recall, was just tough. Brutal is how some people described it. Tough, I guess, is when you know someone who doesn't have a job. Brutal is when you yourself don't have a job. Lucas had been out of work since August, and was considering alternatives. One of those was working full time at his uncle's studio.
Officially, Katon was still the band's leader. He still arranged all their jobs, and handled the pay distribution. And he still worried about the band's chemistry. Or lack of it. Unofficially, Lucas had started taking over most of the on-stage leadership responsibilities.
They sounded a ton better than they had. Lucas, who since The Fight had become the band's technical director, said they were "pretty good" now. Which was a big improvement over "not half bad," but still a very long way from "great" or "totally freaking awesome", which is where he thought they could be and should be. With a little practice. Or something.
Everyone called it The Fight, despite the fact that there had been only two punches, both by the same person, and the two combatants had made up before getting to the parking lot. It was almost a mythical event. Other than the fact that it actually happened. But it had turned into a watershed event for Elyk. A turning point. The before and after moment. Before that, they'd been just another group of gifted musicians searching for the right sound. Since then, they'd actually become a band. One group of people working together to become more than the simple sum of their parts.
With still a few chemistry problems.
It hurt that they lost Kelly. A lot. That first rehearsal after The Fight had been almost magical. Lucas would describe that night, their performance, as totally awesome. As in, with a little practice, they might actually get to the point where he could consider adding in a freaking or two.
Or a fitchin', if you prefer.
But that had been Kelly's last night as a band member, and since then they'd been trying to replace him.
Oh, they'd gotten lots of interest. It was a tough economy, after all. Brutal, if you asked Lucas. Everyone who could play a guitar but didn't have a steady job wanted to audition. As the only band member without a full-time job to keep him busy, it came to Lucas to handle most of the auditions himself. And the subsequent rejections. Because, after all, when you're aiming for totally freaking awesome, you don't hire just anyone to play bass guitar. Besides, in the meanwhile, they had a synthesizer, so it wasn't like they were desperate.
I have to point out that actually, technically, Jenna didn't have a full-time job either, but she did have a part-time job that kept her busy, and which afforded her a reasonable amount of spending money.
Sometimes Lucas would ask Ken Jedry or his Uncle Leland to sit in on an audition with him. Sometimes it was just for the company. Other times it was because the performer was actually good enough to make him want a second opinion before saying no. In a few, mostly rare cases, a performer was good enough to warrant an actual tryout with the whole band. In those cases, Lucas would invite them to the next rehearsal and let them show off what they could do. Afterward, the band would get together to discuss the performer's merits and faults before taking a vote on adding them as the newest band member.
It was during one of those auditions, someone good enough to make him ask for help from his uncle but not quite good enough to earn an actual tryout with the band, that Lucas had a long heart-to-heart talk with his uncle about the girl he couldn't seem to get out of his thoughts, Jenna.
Now, if I was a good writer, I'd do a few things differently. What things? Well, if I knew the answer to that question, I'd do them instead of just talking about them, and then I'd actually be a good writer. But I'm not, so you guys are stuck with me. But if I was a good writer, I'd figure out a way to write this so it would be easier for you to read and keep track of things.
Fortunately, I have smart readers. Heck, I'll even say I have some totally freaking awesome readers. Anyone who can wade through more than ten chapters of my writing and still be following the story is, in my opinion, pretty freaking awesome. So, I'm going to ask you, now that I already have you keeping your finger on that poker game we started off the chapter with, to also keep a finger on that heart-to-heart conversation Lucas was on the verge of having with his uncle, because I need to go another direction again for just a minute. I promise I'll tie everything back together soon. Just in case you're running out of fingers.
So, it was 2008. Tough economy and all that, Lucas didn't have a job and now he was working quasi full-time at his uncle's studio. He wasn't getting paid a lot, though, and the drive from Chattanooga was a killer. What he needed was a new place to live. One a little closer to the studio, and preferably with cheap rent.
Okay, that's not exactly the right phrase, but I like it. And Katon's apartment was perfect. Well, except for one tiny detail - Jenna was already living there. No problem, as George the bartender might have said. If Jenna moved in with her aunt and uncle, then Lucas could move in with Katon and everyone would be happy. Right?
Yeah. We'll see.
Anyway. That's what friends do when someone needs help. They help. And Jenna was helping by braving aunt Nan's cooking on a daily basis."My poor waistline," she muttered as she was leaving the apartment she had shared with Katon for the last four months.
* * * * *
So that's what was going on the day Lucas was having that heart-to-heart chat with his uncle. And the reason I bring it up now is because across town at that exact same moment, Jenna was having a similar conversation with her aunt about a certain boy named Lucas. Jenna's and her aunt's conversation was punctuated with a big bowl of chicken pot pie, though, while Lucas's and his uncle's was punctuated by guitar chords and the unwrapping of candy bars.
I love my readers. I see all your little hearts going a flutter here. Is this it? Are Jenna and Lucas finally going to get back together? I don't know. We'll see.
"What's going on 'tween you and Jenna these days?" asked Uncle Leland.
"So are you dating anyone these days?" asked Aunt Nan. "A pretty, young girl like you shouldn't be cooped up in a gas station all day long."
"Nothing," said Lucas, which on the surface was accurate, but which failed to take into account a whole lot of emotional turmoil. For Lucas as well as Jenna.
"No, no one," said Jenna with a smile at being called a pretty, young girl. She didn't think it was a good idea to tell her aunt about the after-hours services she was providing to her boss at the gas station.
Besides, that was just to relieve sexual tension. It didn't make him a boyfriend. Besides, he was married. Besides, he was... Well, he was Mr. Burke. Two hundred and fifty pounds, most of it fat. She liked sucking his dick for him. Sucking dick, any dick, was just fun. But he wasn't a lover. He was just... convenient. He could have been anybody, really. He was just someone she could use, to keep in shape, to practice on until she found something, someone, better. He was someone she knew she could mess around with and not get caught who wouldn't expect too much and who wouldn't take it personally when she decided to move on. When, not if.
But mostly, Mister Burke's problem was he wasn't Lucas. She didn't tell her aunt that part, either.
"I don't know what you're waiting for," said Uncle Leland. "If a young lady like that were to be batting her pretty eyes at me the way she does you..."
"Neither of those two boys in the band has asked you out?" asked Aunt Nan.
"I suppose Katon would have, at one time. But now he's with Christina, and that's looking pretty serious. Lucas..." her voice faltered. "I don't know what to do about him," she admitted.
"Is that the same Lucas you went around with in high school? Lucas Mysinger?"
"Yes," said Jenna.
"How come he won't ask you out now?"
Lucas was silent for a moment before answering his uncle's question. "I guess it's not that easy," he finally said.
Jenna was silent for a moment before answering her aunt's question. "I think I really blew it with him," she finally said.
"How so?" asked Uncle Leland and Aunt Nan in unknowing unison.
Lucas and Jenna did their best to explain their replies while their respective audiences listened thoughtfully. Then aunt Nan and Uncle Leland each began to tell the same story, from two slightly different points of view.
A long, long time ago, before Uncle J moved to Tennessee to attend medical school at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, before Aunt Nan got a job as an assistant coach there, before Uncle Leland decided he'd never get married, the two of them met.
Well, heck, in a small town like Mayville, you had to know that was bound to happen. But I mean met in that magical, mystical way when fireworks explode and hearts beat faster and you just know it means something more this time.
"I haven't always been as close to the church as Jack and I are now," confided Aunt Nan."Especially right after I got baptized. For a year or so I was fine, but then I started to realize just how much the church requires, and I honestly wasn't feeling much fellowship from the members in my ward. Maybe that's one reason I try so hard to fellowship the new members when I go. I don't want anyone's experience to be as bad as mine."
"I haven't always been the borderline social recluse I am now," confided Uncle Leland. "Especially then. I'd just met the most amazing woman I could ever hope to meet, and even though we'd only known each other a few months, I was planning on her being the one I got married to."
"Trouble was, he wasn't a member," said Aunt Nan.
"And I would have," said Uncle Leland. "If only we could have come to some kind of agreement on religion. See, she wanted me to join her religion, and, after the way I was raised, I knew I wanted no part of organized religion."
"We couldn't work it out," said Aunt Nan. "The more he tried to convince me to leave the church, the more I knew it was where I belonged."
"That ended up being what separated us," said Uncle Leland. "She said she loved me, but wouldn't leave her church."
"I think I broke his heart," said Aunt Nan. "I know it broke mine."
"And then she moved to Knoxville, met a guy who could give her everything she wanted, and they've been together ever since."
"But sometimes I still think about him," said Aunt Nan. "And what might have happened if I'd made a different choice."
"To this day, I'm still not sure I made the right choice," said Uncle Leland. "Would it have killed me to wear a suit and tie every Sunday? Instead I grew bitter. Decided every woman I met was a painful experience waiting to happen. It's no surprise I never courted anyone after that, and even less of a surprise that I never found anyone else worth marrying."
"Anyway, and then your uncle J came along, and we started dating, and he knew about this other guy, and I think it spurred him on to action. I think he realized just how close he was to losing me to someone else. And since then, I think he's always considered that, because he always treats me as if I'm the most valuable thing he's ever found."
Lucas was silent for a few moments. "So, you're saying if I let Jenna get away, I might end up regretting it," he summarized.
Jenna was silent for a few moments. "So you're saying if I start acting like there's someone else, it might make Lucas jealous."
"Yeah, I guess that is what I'm saying," was the reply to both questions.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, life went on. It's not that Lucas and Jenna weren't trying to follow all that good advice they were getting. Sometimes life just has a way of keeping you busy. Or things keep getting in the way. So, for a month or so, nothing much changed.
Meanwhile, however, there were auditions. The first auditioneer was Jeffrey Wayne Adams - platinum blond hair cut in the style of a former US Marine who, after eight years out of the service has finally decided to let his hair grow - now a borderline eccentric and guitar player extraordinaire. As a member of Catherine Jedry's ward, the church congregation she met with each Sunday, Jeffrey was having trouble finding a job, so Catherine asked her husband Ken to let him try out.
Yes, he was good. On the guitar, I mean. But...
Somewhere I once read that if you want a kid to grow up to be a criminal, giving him the middle name of Wayne has statistically proven to be one of the most effective things you can do. No, I'm not making this up. (Even though I refuse to go find the research to document my statement.) But I'm just saying, 'cause Jeffrey - he liked being called by his full name, not Jeff - wasn't a criminal. He was just a little... eccentric.
Maybe it was that bomb blast in Iraq. It took two of his fingers, but it was a lot worse for the guy he was trying to save. A thing like that would make anyone act a little odd, I guess. Too odd for Elyk. They decided to give him a pass. Thanks for coming; don't call us, we'll call you. That kind of pass.
But he really was good.
Next came a co-worker of Kelly's, Neil Desmond. Neil wasn't quite as talented as Jeffrey, and not quite as eccentric. But there was that skin rash thing he had going on. What was up with that? It gave Jenna the heebie-jeebies, worrying that he might touch her at some point and give her leprosy. No thank you. She voted no.
So did everyone else.
Then came Hector Velasquez, an on-line acquaintance of Jenna's - a crossdresser. Oh no, he didn't show up for the audition cross-dressed. He was more of a closet crossdresser. Other than the black nail polish. But, well, Jenna knew, and she told everyone else how she knew him, and I guess when you see someone who suffers from that kind of gender dysphoria wearing black nail polish, it's pretty obvious.
At least that's how Lucas saw it. He imagined Hector coming to rehearsals with his nails painted pink and wearing red lipstick, his already long hair done up in some feminine style, dressed like a girl and... No thank you.
(At this point I have to point out that Hector's style, from what I hear from knowledgeable sources - Jenna and Christina - was more gothic, so the chances of him showing up with pink nails and red lipstick was pretty remote. Now, if Lucas had said black nails with black lipstick and a leather bustier, he might not have been too far off. Now back to the story.)
So why, then, did he tolerate it from Jenna, whom he'd known even longer? That was one of those things he didn't understand. With Jenna, it just seemed... Maybe not okay, exactly, but it made sense. That's who Jenna was. That's who Jed had turned into. He could see it. Looking at Jenna, he could still see traces of Jed, and thinking of Jed, he could see traces of Jenna. The two were interconnected. They were one and the same.
So why couldn't he give Jenna a break for changing on him then? He didn't know. All he knew is that whenever he tried to follow his uncle's advice and do something to let Jenna know he was still interested in her, another part of him would remind him of his hurt. His anger. He'd think about how she had betrayed him by not telling him. And then the feeling to do something would pass unanswered.
No, it wasn't an especially healthy attitude, he realized, but he was working on it. He was at least being civil to her, wasn't he? He was talking to her at rehearsals, treating her as if she had feelings, right? More than that, he was friendly with her. He just couldn't seem to move beyond that.
Hector shared something with Jenna that, frankly, Lucas couldn't. And, yeah, it scared him. It scared him a lot. He felt like the little dog in the manger that Aesop told about in one of his fables. The one that barks at the cattle who want some hay, until one of the cows - a talking cow - points out that he's keeping them from eating the hay even though he has no intentions of eating it himself. Was that Lucas? A barking dog? Afraid of letting Hector get too close to Jenna, even though he wasn't ready to make a commitment to her himself? Yeah, maybe it was.
It didn't keep him from voting no, though. Hector's ability as a guitarist was without question. There was no question he could fit in. With everyone but Lucas that is. Lucas's vote was the only negative one against Hector. But Lucas refused to be talked out of it, and he insisted that no matter how everyone else voted, the answer was still no.
Okay, so his little display of dictatorship didn't help band chemistry either. It was still no. And Lucas couldn't help feeling a little smugly pleased when he delivered the news personally to Hector. He had hoped for tears, but when none came, he decided he could still be satisfied with a look of disappointment. It was a tough economy.
And that left Wally Yorkman. But before we get to him, let's go back to that poker game. Okay?
* * * * *
Let's see. When I told you to leave your fingers in that poker game, what was going on? Jenna was losing, and had about run out of chips. Christina was doing only slightly better, and so the boys, Lucas and Katon, had agreed to let the girls, Christina and Jenna, begin wagering their clothing in order to continue playing. Christina got overconfident on the first hand of strip poker, and had, at the time we turned away, lost her pants. But not before letting everyone see the black lace panties she was wearing.
Does that about cover it?
Okay, so, as I mentioned, Jenna wasn't very good at poker. And despite winning that very first hand, including Christina's pants - according to house rules, re-wagered clothing items that didn't belong to the wagerer counted as only one chip - it was only a matter of time before she was compelled to start taking off her clothes. In front of Katon - bad enough - but also in front of Lucas.
Okay, well, it wasn't like either of them hadn't seen her naked before. But not since she'd started transitioning to female. She'd shown her breasts to Lucas that first night back in Mayville, and she was pretty sure Katon had snuck a few peeks during the time they'd been living together. But, as far as she knew, neither of them had yet seen the complete package unwrapped. And if she could, she wanted to keep it that way.
Just for the sake of modesty. Just because she didn't want them thinking she would give it up without some kind of effort on their part. A commitment, if you want. At least from Lucas that's what she wanted. And so far he hadn't made any real effort to make her think he wanted her enough to do anything about it. With Katon it was a little different. She just knew that if she let him see, if she let him imagine she was at all interested, there'd be no stopping him.
Maybe not. It seemed like Christina had changed him a little. He seemed more in control of his sexual urges. At least when it came to other people. With her, with Christina, he was still the same sex-obsessed male he'd been in high school. And she seemed to like that about him. But with other people, he seemed more in control of himself. And plus, she didn't live with him anymore.
However noble her intentions of keeping her clothes on, fate, coupled with her card-playing abilities, quickly conspired against her. The first thing she took off was her bra. Lucas and Katon watched with a small amount of disappointment as she tucked her arms inside her shirt, slipped the straps from her shoulders, and then pulled the whole thing out through the neck opening of her shirt. "Nobody said what order we had to take things off," she countered when they began to protest.
Lucas, who won the hand, accepted her bra as payment, awkwardly placing it on top of his pile of chips, then moving it to one side, and finally placing it with Christina's pants on the couch behind him.
Christina wasn't as shy, so she chose to take her shirt off first before removing her bra. The disappointed male lust in the room was briefly satisfied with the sight of a half-naked Latina woman wearing nothing but her panties and a matching bra that struggled to contain her very large breasts.
When Jenna lost the next hand to Katon, she frowned, looking at her bra, knowing she was going to have to take off her pants next, or show everyone her small breasts. Neither option appealed to her at that moment, and she waited, trying to think of another option.
There was only one. Standing up from the table, she reached behind Lucas and snatched up her polka dot print bra. "I'm not taking my clothes off for you, Katon," she said. "You either, Lucas Mysinger." she said, using his full name for emphasis, and somehow stretching it out in such a way that it sounded like some kind of slur. Without bothering to look back, she walked to the door, found her shoes, put them on, and let herself out.
"You forgot your coat," said Katon just before the door slammed shut.