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A most enjoyable, joyful, and yet somewhat disconcerting day. I’m quite worn out, physically and, dare I say, emotionally. Pleasantly so. Very pleasantly so.

It had been arranged by Lee Roy and myself that one or other of his family would collect me from the hotel in Hilton Head to take me to Gatorville. It was possible that one of the Scruggs boys, Bubba, Dubba, or Hubba, would be recruited. All I had to do was be ready to be picked up at 10:00 in the morning.

Rosalie and I had bidden each other a rather emotional farewell before she left to travel to the airport for her flight back to Kentucky. I’ve known her only for less than two days, but I like her immensely. We’ve promised to stay in touch, but that’s what you do, isn’t it? Much rarely comes of it. We’ll see.

I stood outside the hotel at the appointed hour, enjoying not being in snowy Essex. At precisely 10:00 a huge car appeared, and I do mean huge. I believe these vehicles are known as town cars, though goodness knows why. In most towns in the UK they would have extreme difficulty negotiating the narrow streets and tight turnings. I was expecting a pickup truck or similar, so merely eyed this behemoth with interest, wondering if it contained a hen party returning from a night of excess, or a group of young drunken men celebrating some rite of passage. The car pulled in to the pavement (I should perhaps say ‘sidewalk’), all black paint, tinted windows, and a grille like a chromed shark’s maw. Rather vulgar, to be honest. Then one of the enormous rear doors opened, and out stepped Lee Roy! My goodness.

‘Mornin Missie B. May I take yer bags, ma’am?’

He quickly stowed my meagre luggage in the boot/trunk, and ushered me inside. I have never been to Las Vegas, but I imagine it is like a bigger version of the inside of that car. Large, overstuffed leather seating, a fully stocked bar, a full sized television, game consoles… What a crass display of excess.

Two other people occupied seats. My gosh! I recognised them! Lee Roy Senior and Lulabelle! Senior did his best to stand as I entered, and extended his hand.

‘Ma’am. Lee Roy Fuckwit Senior. And this here’s my wife Lulabelle. We sure are pleased to meetcha. Junior here’s told us all aboutcher, and what’s his name? Fagboy?’

‘Duncan. His name’s Duncan.’

‘That’s him. Don’t fuss none ‘bout Junior callin’ him Fagboy. It’s just his way of joshing him. Now just sit back, and enjoy the ride back to Gatorville.’

I must say that he and Lulabelle  were most hospitable, and seemed genuinely nice, though somewhat disappointed that I did not know the Queen, nor their distant relation Marlon who lives in, as they put it, Lie Sester Shire. I didn’t correct them.

Then came the bombshell.

‘I hope yer ready fer the party tonight. We’s celebratin’ Junior here bein’ a free man agin. I’ll tell ya, One Eyed Jacks will be hoppin’ tonight. Evrabody’s comin.’

‘Oh my! Nobody mentioned a party to me.’ I looked down at my white blouse, my sensible skirt. My sensible black pumps. ‘As Dustin Hoffman once said, I ain’t dressed for no party.’

Senior leaned forward.

‘Missie B, we’re invitin’ you, not yer duds. You look purty good to me.’

Lulabelle chipped in, her voice edged wit frustration.

‘Daddy, you just hush up here. The lady’s worried about lookin’ good. Just hush up!’

She turned to me.

‘Don’t you worry about a goddam thing, Missie B. Y’aint as big as some o’the girls, but there’ll be someone yer size who’ll lendyer somethin’, don’t you worry. Now just stop frettin’ and have some of Daddy’s moonshine here. It’s a real good batch.’

She poured a generous measure into a cut glass tumbler the size of a water glass.

‘It’s a little early..’

Junior laughed.

‘Always gone midday in One Eyed Jacks. Here’s to ya. And to Fagboy.’

My wardrobe problems were indeed addressed, and later I looked at myself in the mirror in the room in the motel they had so kindly booked for me. Lulabelle had come to help me get ready, and had done something to my somewhat mousy lifeless hair. It looked lustrous and thick. A broderie anglaise blouse tied beneath my breasts. A denim skirt. Cowboy boots! I looked disconcertingly like Rosalie in a photograph she had, taken with her and Duncan on the first and only time they met.

I didn’t recognise myself. Somehow these people, Lulabelle especially , had changed me. It wasn’t an unappealing thing to happen, just unexpected and a little unsettling. Within a short time of meeting them, some strangers had changed not only how I looked, but also, in some way, who I was.

I stepped out of the motel room and waited on the small veranda, chatting with Lulabelle, until the town car arrived to pick us up. Lee Roy jumped out.

‘Oooo weeee!  Don’t you two look sumpn. And you Missie B! Don’t hardly recognise ya. You’re as purty as a goddam pitcher!

One Eyed Jacks was packed. Lee Roy is a local hero, and everybody had come to pay respects, and to drink his drink. Everyone seemed to have brought food. I’ve never seen so much.

Nor have I ever seen so much hair. The women organised an impromptu Big Hair Competition, and my word they were serious about winning. Also, did you know that mullets are still the height of fashion for men in Gatorville? Well I can tell you that they are.

It was a fun, if raucously boisterous evening. I won the Ladies’ Pint and Five Slammer Competition by a big margin, and received a thunderous round of applause and a belt with a death’s head on it. I don’t know if I’ll wear it, but it was a very nice thing to happen.

I got to meet Charlene, Darlene, and Marlene. They were lovely, even if in a line-up I’d not be able to tell which was which, unless I could have sight of their lower backs and buttocks and see the tattoos they so willingly displayed. Bubba, Dubba, and Hubba were charm itself, and very  attentive when Lee Roy was hauled away by some other of his cronies. Lulabelle and Ma Scruggs (‘Call me Tits, Missie B! It’s whatevrabody else calls me. Can’t imagine why!’ as she hitched her more than ample bosom) also made sure I never felt left out.

There was a band playing a mixture of country and what Duncan calls ‘Southern chuggalugga boogie.’ Lots of dancing. I didn’t join in the line dancing, but acquitted myself well in the square dances, despite my unfamiliar footwear. Duncan won’t thank me for telling you this, but as a member of the country dancing team at junior school he won a silver medal for his doh-si-doh, and I’d picked up a few tips from him.

Towards the end of the evening, the band had lowered the tempo considerably, and the dance floor was crowded with couples slow dancing. Marlene Flatt made her way through the crush, stopped by our table, and whispered in Lee Roy’s ear. He looked mildly surprised, then nodded. Marlene disappeared into the throng.

‘Ummm. Missie B? Would you, well you can say no if you want, but would you like a dance?’

I was taken aback a little. Lee Roy continued.

‘It’s only a dance. No harm in that.’

‘Someone else said that to me very recently, Lee Roy.’

‘Yeah, but…’

‘I’d like that very much. It appears to me that we’re going to be living under the same roof for quite a long time. The least we can do is be civil to each other, and I think we have already achieved that. If we’re friends as well, that’s going to be a much better situation for us when we need to help the boss. Yes. I ‘d love to dance with you.’

I enjoyed this a great deal. I was a bit embarrassed when the spotlight operator turned his sole attention on us, but pleasingly so was Lee Roy. He held me close, but not too close, and we talked as we danced.

‘Know sumpn, Missie B? You’re real good for Fagboy. He needs you.’

I played a little game.

‘Know sumpn, Redneck? You’re real good for him too. He needs you too.’

‘Guess that means he needs us both. Just as well we’re friends. We are friends now, ain’t we?’

‘Oh yes, I’d say so.’

I like Lee Roy. He’s brash and noisy and occasionally misguided, but there’s little real malice in him. He’s often a bit uncertain about himself too.

He reminds me of someone.

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