Tom studied the picture closely. The Duke always rode tall in the saddle. The Duke was a proud man, tough and rough, eager to fight foes and friends, especially the ones who mistreated a lady. But then, The Duke’s method was to be firm, show a lady who’s in control, and expect her to like his methods. Tom remembered one of those manly westerns when John Wayne gave his lady a few whacks on the bottom, tossed her over his shoulder, and marched off to the applause of the crowd.
Tom wondered if he could actually do that. His wife, Amy, seemed out of control. If he didn’t meet her demands and whims right away she pounced on him like a cat on a mouse. She would get in his face and call him every vile thing she could think of. Tom didn’t like confrontations, especially those in front of his friends or her friends. There weren’t any that he could call their friends. When Amy lit into him he always acquiesced and tried to please her. Her friends scoffed at his consternation and his apparent weakness. His male friends were embarrassed and refused to talk to him for days.
Tonight he just couldn’t face Amy and her friends. He asked the bartender for another double. He needed to be numb or get enough courage to see her without flinching. “If only I could be like The Duke, brave and proud, standing up for myself or others.” He heard himself saying, “Bartender, one more double.” That didn’t sound like him. He hadn’t asked. He just said it like it was supposed to be.
He barely had time to reflect on his new strength when he overheard a couple arguing. He glanced to his right. “What are you looking at?” a man snarled. “This is our business, not yours.” He slapped the woman hard. “You’ll do what you’re told!”
Maybe he’d had too much to drink or maybe he was tired of being pushed around himself. “Don’t hit her,” he said in a low voice. “You shouldn’t hit a lady.”
The man chuckled. “Did you hear what he called you, Janee? He called you a lady. Isn’t that funny?” he slapped her again, knocking her to her knees. He turned to Tom and said, “Didn’t I tell you to mind your own business?” He was muscular, at least six inches taller than Tom and forty pounds heavier.
“Now is the time to back away and go home,” Tom thought. But what would he be going home to? Just Amy and her insults. Tonight, his level of concern was numbed by the drinks. “What would the Duke do?” he asked himself. “Would the Duke turn his back and let a woman be mistreated?” He already knew the answer. “Never hit a lady,” Tom repeated.
The man stepped towards Tom, grinning at the thought of plastering this stranger. Another step, and that’s when Tom exploded. The man was not prepared for Tom’s catlike quickness. Tom’s foot hit the man’s chin, and his fist hit him again when he tried to get up. The man looked puzzled, unsure what was happening. He lunged at Tom and was sidestepped and shoved into a wall. He sank silently to the floor, unconscious for the moment.
Tom looked at the woman and offered his hand. “You can stay here if you want, or you can go with me,” he said quietly. “I’ll take you home or someplace else.”
She smiled a weak smile. “I’ll go with you. I’m tired of being beaten up.” She was staring at him intently. “You’re the first brave man I’ve seen that would stand up to him. And you’re so quick and strong. You remind me of someone I saw in the movies but I can’t remember his name.”
“Janee, would you mind if I took you someplace where we could eat and talk? I haven’t had a chance to talk with a real woman in a long time.”
Janee was pretty, a brunette with plain features, but when she smiled her whole face radiated and she became beautiful. She belonged in a library or in a school, not being beaten in a bar. “I’d love to,” she said, smiling as if he was the only man in the world.
They talked for hours while they nibbled on hamburgers and drank cokes. Janee was intelligent, well read, and a poet and she was delighted that Tom wrote poetry, too. Tom and Janee discovered they had much in common and they were soon fast friends.
Janee explained that she had come to town with friends and they had gotten separated in a crowd. She had run out of money and the man had paid her tab. But then he led her around like he owned her. Janee had already overheard him making plans for her future. She had no way to escape. She was terrified and she didn’t know what to do. Tom happened to be there just at the right moment to rescue her. She looked at him coyly. “Are you alone?” she asked.
Tom knew what she meant but he said, “Yes, I am. I’ve never been more alone than tonight . When I met you that all changed. I don’t feel alone anymore.”
He did not want to go home. He would confront Amy another day. Right now he wanted to enjoy this moment, this feeling of content, the feelings that Janee stirred within him.
He drove to a motel. Without questioning she followed, willing to be with him, willing to be with a man who showed bravery and kindness. In her heart a fire was beginning to burn. She already loved him and he would learn to love her. Already she felt heat rising within her.
“What was the man’s name that played in the movies?” she thought. “He treated his woman with kindness but clearly was in charge. That’s just like Tom. I know what Tom needs. He needs to prove his manliness and I’m ready for him.”
Tom kissed Janee slowly and tenderly at first. As his kisses became more demanding he felt Janee shifting and moving against him, hardening him into steel. “What would the Duke do?” he asked himself.
But the Duke no longer mattered. He only had thoughts of Renee and what she was doing. He was Tom, brave and proud, who had stood up for Janee and won. Now he was in control, slowly letting her heat rise like a volcano, waiting for the fireworks. He was a changed man, sure of himself, and she was his woman, ready to support him in whatever ways she could. Tonight they would discover how each fulfilled the needs of the other. Two hearts beating in unison. Two smiles joined forever. Tomorrow they would start their new life together.