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Photo of a musician's lower pants legs and shoes near the bottom of a mike stand on a dark stage bathed in shadowy red light, with messy electric cables, a small foot-controlled effects board, and a one sheet set list strewn on a wood-floored stage, by lanzeppelin0 via Pixabay.
Okay. So maybe there’s something to that Beyoncé song…
Fiction In Three Parts

Justine — Part Two

He crawled into bed at about five the next morning, and the couple of hours of sleep he got were fitful and filled with slamming doors. In his last dream (before he decided to give up on the idea of sleeping for a while) he was in the front row watching Greg's band play, when Ben leapt out from behind his drum kit, ripped up part of the stage, and began beating the daylights out of Richard with it.

He lingered in bed for a while and fought the feeling that Ben and Justine were still together somewhere. An involuntary picture of them lying in each other's arms stung at him, and he tried to banish that thought by remembering the good times he had spent with her. He hadn't had any conscious idea until the night before, that she was dissatisfied, but somehow the light of morning made him think of things he had always known, but never took time to ponder.

An average day with Justine in it began with her getting out of bed and to the shower first. She’d be done in ten minutes and Richard would go in and take at least twice as long as she did while she proceeded to make them breakfast. She told him that she cooked because she liked to eat, not to pamper her man. He believed her, because although he enjoyed most of her meals, he found them more than eclectic.

On different mornings they'd had some kind of cake with lemon sauce, banana muffins, egg fried rice—not to mention her grilled peanut butter and apple sandwiches, and the time only a few days before, when she scared him by topping an almond butter sandwich with avocado, mayonnaise, and sliced sweet pickles.

After breakfast, he usually dropped her off at home or at the expensive restaurant where she worked as a waitress, then headed to his job in the sales and promotion department of a local TV station. 
 
After work, Justine went home where she lived with her mother and younger sister and if Richard felt like it, he’d see if she wanted to come over to his place again. On a Friday or Saturday, they might go to a movie; on a game night maybe a sports bar. As he thought about this, he wondered if she liked going to sports bars. He couldn't remember if he ever asked.

They’d always been good together in bed, and never had a heated argument. They talked, but not too much or too deep, as far as he remembered, but Justine always seemed satisfied with what they were when she was with him. He caught her staring at him wistfully a few times, but he shrugged that off as something women did on occasion.

He’d gone to work with hangovers before, but this time he couldn't bear the thought of going in knowing that some of his coworkers had been at the party, so he called in and feigned illness (which was partially true, considering that at one point, before he got out of bed, he wasn't so sure he hadn't really been beaten over the head with a huge chunk of stage.)

He started the water running for a shower and held onto the sink with both hands as if it was a walker and he was a very old man. He stared at his face as mist began to accumulate on the mirror and wondered how Justine had seen him. Was Ben better looking? Or just a "rock star" who might be rich someday soon? Is that what Justine wanted? What the hell did she want? Why didn’t he know?

He closed his eyes and lingered over the basin long enough to quell the rising threat of partially digested liquor and canapes. He began to chant the word "ouch" in his mind, over and over like a twisted mantra. Then he took his shower, cut himself shaving, and accidentally burnt toast that was meant to help settle his stomach. After another headache-filled hour of uneasy introspection, he decided to see if Justine was home yet. He wanted to know if she hated him. But not enough to call her phone.

Her mother answered at the house. "Justine’s not here. Isn’t she with you?"

"No ma’am," Richard said.

"Was she supposed to be with you? I mean, I wonder if she's all right."

“I don't think you need to worry, Ms. Ryan. I think I know where she is. I just wanted to see if she'd gone home, yet.'

"That daughter of mine… I don't know where she gets her ideas. She's a good girl, but I don't understand… well I guess I shouldn't be talking to you about it.”

"I’m sorry. I know you never thought much of me. But Justine is good. She’s wonderful. She’s probably coming in soon. She’s off today, isn’t she?"

"As far as I know," Justine's mother said. "Maybe I’ll text her and make sure."

"That's a good idea. Would you tell her I called?"

"Sure."

"Thanks. Bye."

"Goodbye, Richard."

By four o’clock, Richard couldn’t stand it anymore. He went out and blew the last of his cash on a bouquet of flowers and took them to Justine’s house.

To be continued…

Part One can be found here: