I begged him not to go.
"Darling," I cried, "If you only knew how much I need you! "
"I know, my sweet li'l ol' butterbean," he replied gently, brushing a stray blob of grease (or was it a tear?) from the corner of my quivering lower lip.
We met for lunch - perhaps for the last time? - at Hogswallow's Hot Links, an out-of-the-way bar and barbecue joint tucked in between a pawn shop and a check-cashing store down by the railroad tracks. It was dilapidated and foul-smelling, and the food was indifferent at best, but I always thought of it as 'our place'. How many lunch hours had we spent here together, gnawing on gristly porkchops that resembled nothing so much as shoe leather, gazing into each others' eyes and talking about our hopes and dreams? And now my world was falling apart. The man I loved - no, worshiped - was telling me that it was over; that the good times we had shared for so many years were about to come to an end.
"Tommi," I sobbed, clutching at his shirt front, already stained with barbecue sauce and snot, "Please say it isn't true!"
"Aw, now, honey, don't you go to cryin' like that," he said as he disengaged my hands from his shirt and took a swig of his Lone Star - his 9th since we sat down. (And if the truth be told, I think he'd had a few before he got there.)
"But I can't help it, Tommi! I'm so afraid! Everyone's saying the most awful things about you! That you're a...a...swindler and a thief, and...you've been doing all kinds of illegal things...and that you're going to jail forever and ever and ever!" Overcome, I put my greasy napkin to my face and burst into a torrent of tears.
For a moment all was silent save for the sound of my sobs and the braying of Toby Keith blasting from the jukebox, exhorting us to "Get Drunk and Be Somebody" - a request that Tommi was obviously eager to fulfill. Then, to my surprise, Tommi leaned back in his chair and began to laugh. He guffawed until the tears began to roll down his face as well. Then he'd chug another swig of Lone Star and laugh some more.
"What's so funny?" I sniffed, unsuccessfully trying to wipe away the black streaks of Great Lash that had mixed with the grease and tears.
"Oh, cupcake," he said at last, gasping for breath, "I thought you were talkin' about somethin' serious there for a minute!"
"I was, Tommi! This is the end, isn't it? After all, bribery, strong-arming and corruption are serious charges! They'll lock you up and throw away the key! What will I do without you? And it's not just me who needs you, Tommi - what will the Republican Party do without you? They're already falling apart without you there to coerce - I mean, guide them with your wisdom!"
"Now, sweetcakes," he said, his eyes glistening if not exactly focusing, "do you honestly think there's anyone out there that can take on the Hammer and not get their head bashed in? I've already shut down those scurrilous and completely untrue advertisements that some liberal weenies tried to get on the air. Let that other fella - what's his name? Abra - uh, Abra-ham - Abra-cadabra?"
"Abramoff," I whispered. "Jackie-boy, you used to call him."
"I did? Can't say I recall that. Well, anyhoo, like I was sayin', that Abrahoff fella can take the heat for this one. I got too many good friends to ever get in any real trouble. After all, honey, I'm just a bidnessman. Ain't nothin' wrong with bein' a good bidnessman, now, is there? Course not. That's what America is all about. They're just jealous cause I'm so successful. When you're at the top, there's allus sumbody tryin' to take you down. But the Hammer don't swing that way, baby girl."
"You're right," I said softly, feeling ashamed. "I never should have doubted you, Tommi. It's just..."
"It's only for a little while, doll face. Just gotta lay low till this all blows over." He leaned over towards me. "Hey, hon, you gonna drink that beer?" He reached for the Lone Star untouched in front of me.
"N-no, Tommi," I said. "You can have it." Somehow my stomach was feeling a little queasy.
He swilled it down in one long gulp, then smacked his lips appreciatively. "Hoo wee! Hair o' the dog! Hey, Jimmi Sue," he called to the tobacco-chewing slattern behind the bar, "How 'bout a coupla Lone Stars for the road?"
"Sure, Tommi," she drawled. As she set them down on the table along with the check, he picked up his beer, flashed that toothy grin, and blew me a kiss as he ambled out the door into the noon sunshine.
"Call me," I cried as he walked away. I had a feeling it would be a long time before I saw my darling Tommi again.
"Hey, are you going to pay that check or you gonna sit here all day staring out the window?"
I sighed as I reached for my wallet, knowing that somehow, some way, Tommi would be all right.
But would I?
He held me close and said, "We'll always have Lubbock."