She couldn't look away from the window.
Outside was a glory of puffy clouds under a vast, empty sky, brilliant white and dark blue in the hard sunlight- the sort of thing Rey had seen in photographs but never with her own eyes. The jet was so high that the glimpses she caught of the ground were mere smears of color, but the nervousness she'd felt on takeoff had fallen away when the plane had broken through the formless mist of cloud and presented her with this angel's view.
"Miss? Would you like another beverage?"
Rey tore her gaze away. The flight attendant was smiling politely, and if the woman thought that Rey's faintly shabby clothes didn't belong in business class, she didn't let a hint of it show.
"No, thank you, I'm good," Rey replied. The plastic glass on her tray was still half-full of cola; she'd turned down the offer of something alcoholic, not wanting to blur any part of her first airplane ride.
The attendant nodded and moved on, and Rey turned back to the window, absorbed.
It had felt almost illicit to request a couple of days off when Rey had only started working legally a month or so before, but Rose had reminded her that she was entitled to them. So she was taking a long weekend, and the ticket Mellie had sent, to…see.
I really didn't expect it to be business class. Though Rey wasn't sure why she was surprised; it was Mellie, after all. After spending five minutes panicking at the sight of the e-ticket, Rey had made an emergency trip to her favorite thrift store, trying to find something that looked vaguely like it belonged on a business traveler.
The result, she feared, was probably more like "liberal arts college student", but the dark slacks and blue blouse and slightly worn tweedy jacket were in better shape than her usual stained jeans and holed t-shirts. The only reason she hadn't worn her beloved red sweater was the weather report she'd looked up for West Virginia.
In winter, sure. Not in summer.
The aisle seat next to Rey was occupied, but the tall slender man had sat down, put on his seatbelt and a pair of large headphones, and dropped into sleep before the plane had even pushed away from the gate. He showed no signs of stirring, and Rey did her best not to disturb him.
Rey held up her phone to the window, pressing it close to try to avoid any reflection. I'm not sure it matters. There's no way I can do the view justice.
But at least she would have the photos to remember it.
When she sat back, Rey closed her phone and tried to relax into the seat - it was comfortable enough, but she was still vibrating with tension and excitement, even though it was over an hour since takeoff. I can't believe I'm doing this.
The offer from Mellie and Jimmy was an amazing thing, Rey couldn't argue that. Even if it didn't work out. But a small part of her was…annoyed, she decided. I just got started, and now this.
It was stupid to feel that way, Rey admitted to herself, but still. After so long, she finally had what she needed to do more than scratch a bare living; she had a good job and the ability to find somewhere better to stay, she had security. Fragile security, maybe, but it was a hell of a lot more than she'd had before.
The Logan offer - it was good, maybe even great, but it meant giving up what she'd achieved and starting over again. In a better place, probably, but -
I'm not sure I want to.
Rey had had so little in her life. Tangible things like toys and clothes and other personal items had broken or worn out or been taken away, and had not been replaced. School had been taken from her. She'd lost her adoptive mother. She'd had to guard against threats to her autonomy and her health, and eventually to her body.
Now she had a life, one that was promising to be, eventually, comfortable and workable and maybe even happy. The Logans' scheme could mean a life that was better still - but it would also mean letting go of what she had built so far, that had taken so much effort.
Rey shook her head at herself and finished her soda. It's not like you have to decide right now. And she was curious - was tempted. Or she would have said no thank you, and that would have been that.
Let it go, Rey told herself for the hundredth time. You can't make any kind of decision until you see what it's all like.
And in the meantime…in the meantime, she would get to see them again. Clyde, and Mellie; even Jimmy was driving up for a day to talk business. Sadie, unfortunately, had something scheduled and couldn't come, much to her dismay, but Jimmy had promised that he and she would visit Rey later in the year if all parties were agreeable.
Assuming I don't take the offer, I guess.
When it came to seeing West Virginia itself, though, Rey was so excited that she could hardly sit still when she thought about it. She had a few stories from Clyde, a few descriptions from Mellie, a few glimpses through the Internet, but it still sounded almost like an alien world to Rey.
She'd seen trees on her long journey with Clyde, of course - even woods from time to time - but nothing like the dense expanses of trees the photos online showed. She couldn't explain why the concept pulled at her so strongly, aside from the fact that she associated it with Clyde, but it didn't really matter.
She was traveling, seeing the world much sooner than she'd ever thought she could. Rey was going to savor every moment, just as she had savored her day off.
So Rey lingered over the meal the attendant set in front of her; strange and scanty as it was, it was still more food than she had sometimes gotten in a day. She savored the odd sensation of soaring through the air, even when the plane trembled and rumbled through a patch of mild turbulence. She definitely enjoyed the view out the window, even when they outpaced the clouds, leaving the world spread out below in muted colors; flying so high that Rey was almost sure she could make out the curvature of the Earth.
Mellie had booked her a direct flight, which was a relief; Rey figured she probably could manage a layover, but she was glad she didn't have to. Sea-Tac had been bewildering enough when she'd arrived - adding another airport to the mix was probably pushing her luck.
Rey checked her phone again, even though she'd memorized Mellie's email. I have to work so I can't come along to pick you up, but Clyde'll meet you at the baggage claim.
Not that Rey had any baggage to claim - everything she'd brought had fit into the old carry-on she'd found when she'd gotten her clothes - but it was apparently a good spot to find people.
She could remember scenes like that from a few movies she'd seen on Maz's little TV - people scanning anxiously through crowds, then running into the arms of the people they loved, family or friends or lovers. Signs and balloons and flowers and happy cries.
Rey couldn't help wondering what that was like - to be so yearned for. To have people waiting breathlessly for her to return home.
Well. I'll get a hug, at least. She could be comfortably sure of that.
And she could hardly wait.
Landing was exciting, but after that it was tedious - waiting for the plane to taxi to the gate, feeling the tension around her rise as people shifted and gathered their things preparatory to rushing away. Rey's seat-mate snorted awake, scratched his scalp sleepily, and continued to ignore her - not in a mean way, but as if they were waiting in a grocery checkout line, politely staying out of each other's notice.
The crush to disembark was a little shocking. Rey stayed in her seat and let most of the passengers go ahead of her, rather than trying to insert herself into the crowd. I'm not in that much of a hurry!
Charleston/Yeager was decorated differently from Sea-Tac, but it had the same smell of carpet and jet fuel, and the same crowds of people. There were signs telling passengers where to go, and Rey headed for the baggage claim, trying to take in her surroundings but feeling a bit dazed from the hours in the air. Her legs didn't actually wobble, but they felt as if they should.
The baggage claim area was crowded with travelers, some waiting, some moving. Rey craned her neck to try to spot Clyde, her stomach twisting with sudden worry - what if he wasn't there, what if -
She almost missed him, despite how he stood a head taller than nearly everyone around him, because Rey had never seen him in a hat. But it was unmistakably Clyde, stiff and solemn and looking in the wrong direction, wearing a blue and white ball cap and one of his eternal button-downs.
Rey halted, taking him in. For the first time since she was ten years old, for just an instant, everything in her said home.
She took a deep breath and closed the yards between them, waiting until she was close to call out. "Hey, West!"
He turned, and his face lit, lips curving upward; and then she was in his arms, getting that warm hug she'd waited for.
Rey pressed her grinning face into Clyde's shoulder, and held him tight.
She filled his senses, settling into the passenger seat of the Pontiac as if she'd never been far from it, her smile wide as she chattered about her plane trip. Clyde drank her in, words and scent and presence, doing his best to spare enough attention to driving as they left the airport road.
And then she fell silent, and when he glanced at her Rey's eyes were wide, her mouth open. "What?"
"It's so green," she said reverently. "Look at all those trees!"
It looked ordinary to him, but Clyde could remember the bare stretches of New Mexico, the brown hills of California, and he could see how they might be an astonishment to her. "You should see 'em in the fall."
She didn't reply, all but pressing her nose to the window, and Clyde smiled to himself. It was like their first days together, Rey absorbing all the differences, but this time he was secure in his own mind. Which was, to be fair, mostly repeating she's here in dizzy pleasure, but that was okay. He'd kind of expected it.
"Got about ninety minutes' drive," he added. "You hungry?"
Her grin flashed out. "Always." And then it faded to thoughtfulness as she looked at the dashboard. "When did you get the A/C fixed?"
"Eugene." Clyde took a great deal of satisfaction in her choke. "Just didn't need it 'til later."
She burst out laughing, and he couldn't help the smile, widening when she elbowed his arm over the center console. "Probably should have asked you to do it," he added, but Rey shook her head.
"That's not a shoulder fix. Good, though. I'm surprised you made it so far without it."
Clyde wasn't, so much - he'd spent a lot of time in equally hot environments, wearing much more and doing much more - but that wasn't something he wanted to talk about at the moment. "Came in handy on the way home."
"I bet." She regarded him with an oddly soft expression, one that made his breath catch for some reason, and then her attention was caught again by the scenery. "Is the whole state like this?"
Her presence seemed to infuse everything with color. He was no poet, but that was the closest thing Clyde could think of; having Rey close by made everything richer. He struggled to keep the notion to himself, carefully treating her no differently than he had before, but it wasn't too hard.
Underneath it all was that pang of bitter to undercut the sweet, the knowledge that he loved alone. Clyde stuffed it down as far as it would go. He had four days to enjoy Rey's presence, and enjoy it he would, and the pain that was to come would wait patiently for its time.
He took her to a little family-style restaurant just off the highway, a place he'd visited off and on his whole life - not often, but enough to know it was good. Watching Rey eat had lost none of its satisfaction, though Clyde was pleased to see that her cheeks were fuller and her wrists less bony than at Christmas.
Still too thin, but not so bad. He knew the difference between naturally thin and underfed, he'd seen enough hungry people to tell; Rey would never be plump, but she could still stand to put on some flesh. Mellie'll see to that while she's here.
And so would he.
Rey fell asleep not long after they left the restaurant, and Clyde didn't disturb her as they drove into twilight. She's had a real long day. There would be time for her to see what West Virginia was like over the next few days.
According to Mellie, the original plan had been to put Rey up in a hotel room just like a business traveler, but Rey had negotiated her down to Mellie's guest room. So Clyde pulled up at Mellie's pretty little house just as the last of the sunset vanished, and shut off the engine.
There wasn't much light, but there was enough to see Rey leaning against the passenger-side door, her jacket wadded up under her ear like she used to do with a shirt. In that moment, a swell of yearning desire rose up in him, to undo his seatbelt and lean over the console, to take her chin between his thumb and finger - gently, so gently - and wake her with the softest kiss he could manage.
Clyde swallowed away the image, and instead shook her shoulder almost as gently. "Hey, we're here."
Rey snuffled and stirred, uncurling slowly. "Already? Wow."
Her voice was thick and sleepy, sounding almost drunk, and Clyde bit back a smile. "Yep. C'mon, let's get you in to bed."
He was out of the car with her case in had before she'd managed to climb to her feet, yawning and swaying, and he nearly went over to take her arm and guide her up onto the porch - but then the door opened and Mellie bounded out with a squeal, and Rey perked up to return the enthusiastic hug.
"It's so good to see you! Come on inside, I got the guest room all ready for you. Figured you'd be worn out."
"You figured right," Rey said, smothering another yawn, though she was smiling. "I slept most of the way from the airport, sorry Clyde."
"Just like old times," he said easily, following the ladies as they stepped up onto the porch. He halted just inside the door of Mellie's house, setting down Rey's suitcase. "I'd better be gettin' home."
Mellie shot him a curious look. "You're not gonna stay for a bit?"
Clyde shook his head. Rey needed to get to bed; he didn't want to hold that up.
Rey shook herself, then stepped forward to hug him again. Clyde returned her embrace gently, drinking in the sensation of her pressed against him with guilty pleasure. "Thanks for meeting me," she said into his shoulder, then leaned back and pressed a kiss to his cheek as he let her go.
"I missed you so much," she muttered, and Clyde could do nothing but stand there, wordless as a post as Rey turned back to Mellie with a smile.
Her kiss lingered with a phantom warmth as Clyde drove home in the dark, a poignant pleasure that set an ache behind his breastbone. She didn't mean nothin' by it, he told himself, and knew it to be true.
This weekend would, perhaps, be harder than he'd thought.
It's so green.
Rey knew that the refrain running through her head was nothing original, but the sense of wonder accompanying it lingered. Everywhere she looked, it seemed, there were trees and bushes bursting with leaves and life. It was fascinating.
And Mellie had plenty to show Rey. From her snug little house - its feminine decor a far cry from the Southwest theme of Luis' home, or Maz's vintage furniture - to a whirlwind tour of the neighborhood, pointing out churches, grocery stores, the high school all the Logan siblings had attended, and the salon Mellie owned.
"You'll have to let me give you a trim," Mellie said as they passed the latter, the car barely slowing. "If we got time. I suppose a manicure is out of the question."
Rey glanced down at her hands, laughing a little ruefully. She could scrub the skin clean, but traces of grease lingered under her nails no matter what she did. "Pretty much, yeah."
Mellie tsked in mock disappointment. "One of these days you gotta let me do you a full makeover."
Rey wasn't at all sure what that would involve, or even if she would like the results, but thinking back to their celebratory dinner in San Jose, she figured it would be fun. "Maybe someday," she returned lightly. The choice she was being offered was there between them, but Rey wanted to see the garage before she made any kind of decision, and Mellie knew that.
"Here we are," Mellie said a few minutes later, swinging the car into a paved lot. "Earl's place."
Rey took it in as she got out of the car. It was a smaller building than the Tico shop, with only two bays, and as Mellie had said it wasn't in the best condition - Rey could see peeling paint, a couple of missing shingles, one window cracked.
But as they approached the open bay doors, she could also see that the interior was reasonably clean, with at least two tool chests against the walls and an array of bigger stuff hung up on racks. The place smelled of oil and engines, with a tinge of cigarette smoke, and the floor looked like it had been swept sometime in the past few days.
There was a car in one of the hoists, a Honda sedan, and a figure standing under it. A monotonous stream of banging and cursing was coming out from underneath, and Rey had to grin, because she'd been in just that position and mood more times than she could count, now.
"Hey, Earl!" Mellie called. "Come out for a sec, I brought Rey to meet you."
The banging stopped; the figure ducked out from under the car, revealing itself to be a broad-shouldered man in a garage coverall and a tan ball cap, face half-lost in extremely fluffy hair and an equally fluffy beard. The smile was hard to miss, though.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Earl," he said with the now familiar West Virginia accent, wiping his right hand on the thigh of his coverall and extending it. Rey shook his hand firmly, meeting his gaze and seeing a kindred spirit.
"Rey Kanata," she returned, still feeling a small thrill at having a real last name. "What's the matter with the Accord there?"
Earl rolled his eyes. "Some damn fool put a homemade plug in the oil pan, and the son of a bitch is jammed in there real good. I'm tryin' to save the pan."
"Can I take a look?" Rey asked, curious, and he grinned again.
"Sure thing, come on over."
Mellie made an exasperated noise. "Put on a coverall at least, Rey. That blouse don't deserve ruining."
It took Earl a minute of rummaging to find one in a size small enough for Rey to wear, but she zipped it up quickly and joined Earl beneath the car. Mellie sprawled in a plastic chair tucked into the back of the bay and occupied herself with her phone while Rey and Earl discussed the best way to get the plug out without destroying the oil pan.
"Normally I'd just tell the client they need a new pan," Earl said as they worked, "but old Miz Lovey is on a fixed income. I like to keep her bill low if I can."
Rey nodded, liking him already. "Mellie said you do a bit of everything here?"
Earl chuckled. "Yeah, just about everything 'sides major body work. There's a lot of custom work, more'n you might think, when kids get it into their heads that their rides need spicin' up. I bang out a lot of dents too, but most of it's maintenance and small repairs."
They managed to get the plug out, and Rey helped him with the oil change - not that he needed it, but she knew from experience it was always nice to have a second pair of hands when working with liquids. Early seemed as nice as Mellie and very easy-going, and never once made an issue of the fact that Rey was young or female, which she appreciated very much.
When they'd finished and Earl had moved the car out to the front lot, he took her on a tour of the place, such as it was - the repair bays, the cluttered little office that reeked of cigarettes and pot, the Dumpsters and oil disposal and the tiny restroom and the stuffed space he used for storage.
"Got no help just now, the Preston boy enlisted last week and left for boot, but the schools just let out so I can pick up a replacement easy. Skilled workers, now those are harder."
Earl paused to scratch his beard, then went on with a shrug. "Last one left me about two months ago, but I admit I haven't tried to replace him since I was planning on selling out."
"Jack Lattimore? He wasn't worth what you paid him," Mellie interjected dryly from her seat.
Earl huffed, an amused sound. "Which is why I didn't try too hard to keep him."
Rey grinned to herself and wandered around, studying the garage, while Mellie and Earl debated the inadequacies of the departed Jack with an ease that spoke of a long friendship. She suspected they were letting her have the time to explore and think, which suited Rey fine.
The place was shabby. Neglected, Rey thought; either because Earl didn't have the money to spend on cosmetic upkeep, or because he didn't care. But, unlike Plutt, he didn't seem to be a miser, because the tools were good quality and well-maintained. The hoist mechanisms looked to be in fine shape, all the lights worked, and a couple of fans kept the bays at a tolerable temperature despite the open doors.
At least on the surface, the place was more than acceptable. Jimmy was due to arrive the next day, so he and Mellie and Rey could go over the numbers for the garage and give Rey an idea of revenue and her potential customer base - not that Rey knew that much about the financial side of things.
Rey glanced down into a stack of three tires, and did a double-take at the sight of a speckled cat curled up inside, sound asleep. I wonder if it comes with the garage?
As far as she could tell, the place was mostly sound. If Earl's selling the tools with the business, it looks like it would work. She tried to picture herself in his place, doing the work, and found it surprisingly easy to imagine. Of course, that depends on whether people would still want to come here once Earl's gone.
Well, she'd have to discuss the competition with Mellie as well - there had to be some.
Rey drifted back to the other side of the bays, where Earl had settled in another chair to talk with Mellie. They looked up, both smiling. "You got questions?" Earl asked.
"Yeah," Rey said, and Earl heaved himself out of his chair to come and answer her queries.
"What do you think so far?" Mellie asked later, over lunch at a local café, and Rey cocked her head.
"It looks okay," she said cautiously. "Kind of run-down, like you said, but everything seems sound."
"And I shouldn't be askin' yet," Mellie said, wry and amused. "Listen, Rey, I know I already said it once, but we won't be hurt if you say no, no matter why. If you don't think it'll work, or if you just don't want to do it, doesn't matter. You got to make the best choice for you."
Rey nodded. She knew that, but it was reassuring to hear it again. "I appreciate that." She dabbed a fry in some ketchup. "But so far…it looks possible."
Mellie swallowed a bite of her sandwich. "Tomorrow we'll go over the numbers and get a better idea of that side of things."
She hesitated. "Can I ask you a weird question?"
Rey bit the fry in half. "Sure?"
Mellie put down the sandwich and regarded Rey with an odd intensity. "Does the word cauliflower mean anything to you?"
Rey gave her a cockeyed look. "It's a vegetable?"
"Hmm." Mellie looked disappointed, almost, Rey thought, but she subsided and reached for her drink. "Well. I figure we could go by Duck Tape this evening, but we got a free afternoon - anything in particular you want to do?"
It was Rey's turn to hesitate. "Um. I know it's a long drive, but you mentioned the college?"
Mellie brightened up. "Not that long. Sure, we can go take a look, you can see some of the area on the way."
The community college wasn't large, but it looked fairly modern, and Mellie insisted that they go in and pick up a catalog, even when Rey pointed out that the information was all available online. The array of courses offered was dizzying, far too much to take in, but Rey paged through it almost the entire drive back to Mellie's place.
It was good to be back.
Clyde pulled another couple of beers, nodding as a regular came in and exchanging words about the weather with the Lee sisters, who took up a couple of stools every Saturday night like clockwork. It was almost like he'd never been away at all, except for the patrons who kept telling him how glad they were he was back behind the bar.
It was embarrassing, but at the same time it was…nice. Clyde hadn't really thought about being missed besides anyone but his family, but it looked like some folks had.
Earl had taken good care of the place, mostly by hiring a couple of people to tend bar and keeping an eye on them; Mellie had handled the orders, and Clyde was kind of afraid to see how she might have streamlined his system, but he couldn't argue with the results.
Oh, sure, there'd been a couple of nosy questions, but Clyde had shut them down with his best blank stare and a statement of medical treatment, and that had sufficed so far. Though given how some of the women had cooed, he was half afraid he was going to find Get Well Soon balloons on his porch or some such foolishness.
Clyde refilled a bowl of peanuts and popped open the little dishwasher to let the steam escape, watching the guys at the dartboard out of the corner of his eye to make sure they weren't being too freehanded with the darts. Music was pouring out of the jukebox, and there was a decent crowd - not too many for him to handle, but enough to keep him moving.
Pretty much perfect, really.
And then the door opened, and the evening got - brighter.
"Hey Clyde," Mellie said, sliding onto one of the empty stools and smirking at him. "Please tell me you got something better than that bottom-shelf bourbon."
Rey took the next stool over, her grin as wide as he'd ever seen it. "Hi, Clyde!"
"Ladies," he said, deadpan, and gave his sister a dry look. "You drank it all already."
Mellie sighed exaggeratedly. "Guess I'll go with the cheap stuff then."
"Comin' up." Clyde moved his gaze to Rey. "And you, miss?"
She chuckled at the tease. "Draught beer, please."
Clyde frowned at her as best he could. "You look kinda young. Got any I.D.?"
Her grin got wider, if that was possible, and she dug in her pocket for her wallet. Clyde took the proffered card and pretended to scrutinize it; identification photos were always awful, it was some kind of unspoken law, but Rey's had somehow caught her excitement. "Guess that'll do," he said with a wink, which made her laugh again, and passed it back so he could fetch the glasses.
It was special, having Rey there. She was quiet at first as Mellie chattered, but Clyde could see her taking in the bar and its patrons, sipping her beer and occasionally asking Mellie a question. He was pretty busy, but it wasn't hard to stop by their corner every few minutes to listen to Mellie tell Rey about the other customers.
"Where's Tommy?" Mellie asked the next time he went past, referring to the other weekend bartender.
"Runnin' late. Baby's teething, he wanted to give Susan a break." Clyde didn't mind it much when an employee was late, so long as they called first.
"Hmm." Mellie glanced around. "Come on, Rey, let's go dance."
Rey opened her mouth, but if she was going to object there wasn't time - Mellie had her by the arm and was tugging her out into the little open space reserved for dancing. Some pop hit was playing on the juke, something with a fast beat, and while Rey shook her head Mellie would not be denied. Clyde couldn't make out what Mellie was saying over there, but she started bopping in place and holding out her hands to Rey, who laughed and gave in.
It was hard to concentrate on his work after that - Clyde's eyes kept drifting back to the two women moving along to the music. Rey was awkward at first, but she was doing her best to match Mellie's moves, and judging by the way they were giggling they were having a good time.
It made him want to smile. For a moment his imagination ran away with him again, picturing Rey in the bar on a regular basis, smiling at him over a drink, maybe playing a little pool - he could teach her -
Until someone cut in.
Every instinct Clyde had told him to go out there and step between the women and the big man who had interrupted their dancing, to tell him to back off. Clyde gritted his teeth instead, and focused on the drink he was fixing. The man looked to be polite, and if he wasn't, Mellie could and would handle it.
You got no right to interfere. Both of them were grown women; if they wanted to dance with a guy, they could. Even if it made his gut twist.
Clyde passed the drink to the woman waiting for it and made change, nodding automatically at her thanks. The vision was turning bitter in his head; Rey there, just as before, but dancing with some other guy, laughing with him, maybe going home with him.
You shouldn't expect nothing else, he told himself. She's a beautiful young woman with a good heart and a lot of brains. Someone'll snap her up sooner or later, and you better be ready to put a good face on it.
But when he looked up, it was Mellie slow-dancing with the guy, and Rey perched on the stool she'd vacated. She smiled when Clyde spotted her, and while he knew nothing had changed, he still felt a bit of relief at the sight.
"Another?" he asked, stepping closer. Rey looked tempted, but shook her head.
"Just a Coke for now? I'm not used to drinking much."
"Okay." Clyde filled the glass halfway with ice, grateful that they'd finally got the water plant problem worked out, and drew her the soda pop, adding one of those silly paper umbrellas just to make her giggle.
Rey opened and closed it a couple of times before setting it down carefully. "It's fascinating, watching you work," she said thoughtfully, taking a sip. "I guess I never really thought about what it takes, keeping all this running. It's kind of like juggling."
"S'pose it is." Clyde chewed that one over for a minute, which was mostly occupied with two margaritas and a fresh pitcher of Bud Lite. Rey sat with no sign of boredom, observing the room with a little smile on her face.
All of a sudden the bar towel over Clyde's shoulder slid away, and Mellie was standing next to him. "I'll take over for a bit. You go dance with Rey."
He opened his mouth to argue. But when Clyde looked over at Rey, she was gazing across the room at a table full of people, and now she was looking - lost. A little overwhelmed.
That wouldn't do at all. Clyde huffed at his sister, who just smirked, and slipped through the pass-through to Rey's side.
He cleared his throat. "You want to dance?"
Her face lit up. "Sure!"
Thankfully for his peace of mind, the current song was a fast one. Clyde had done his share of dancing when he was younger, and even taken a date out for it a time or two in recent years, so he didn't feel too self-conscious. And while Rey was obviously unpracticed, she didn't seem worried by it.
They danced for two songs; Clyde found himself smiling openly, unable to resist Rey's laughter as she swung her hips and tried to move to the beat. It was true he wanted to pull her close, put his hand on her waist and feel her swaying against him, but there was joy in this too, and it was something he could have.
He actually ended up twirling her like he might have done with Sadie, arm over her head as she spun, her fingers warm as they turned in his. It was fun.
There wasn't a lot of fun in his life, ordinarily. Not this kind.
She was flushed and smiling when the second song ended, and for an instant Clyde had a vision of just gathering her up against him and kissing her senseless, but he pushed it away. You got what you got. Don't go chasing after what you can't get.
"I gotta get back behind the bar," he said instead, and Rey nodded, swiping a few strands of hair out of her eyes.
"That was fun," she said, echoing his thought, and grinned up at him. "Send Mellie out here, would you?"
Between customers he watched the two of them dance some more, and was grateful beyond measure for Mellie taking Rey under her wing, just as she had all along. With his sister in her corner, Rey would never lack for help or advice - if she chose to come back.
Well, it ain't up to you.
And by all that was holy, he didn't know which to wish for.