Willard didn't dance near enough anymore, although he had the itch now that Ren had shown him how. He made it out to the nightclub maybe once a month, picking up a couple new line dances along the way. He tried his best, but it took him near forever to learn the steps. Dancing didn't come natural to him like it did to Ren, so he had to work at it. It was a good thing that the lady teaching the new folks seemed to find him tripping over his own feet kinda charming. Although the way the guy had looked at him while he was laughing, sprawled out on the floor after missing a turn made him think it might not just be the lady. He was still working out why that didn't bother him as much as he figured it should.
He'd danced with Rusty at her wedding. She wore Ariel's red boots with her white wedding dress and teased Willard about having missed his chance. He spun her, swinging her around and around in circles while she laughed and pretended she couldn't see her new husband glaring at her old boyfriend.
The guy never would've fit in at Beaumont. Not the new Beaumont, anyway. It looked a hell of a lot like the old Beaumont, but without nearly as much of a stick in its ass. Among the younger townfolk, in any case. The older ones wouldn't change much, although they were coming along a bit now, too. Especially with the way the preacher's wife had put her whole unflinching support behind the kids of the town, and didn't seem to give a rat's ass what the preacher or anybody else said about it.
Ren had started something, just by being there. Just by being there, and different, and too stubborn by half to back down. It was the Beaumont in him - that stubborn carried the whole town 'round the bend after the wreck, and now that same kind of stubborn was starting to drag everybody back over the line to sanity.
Ren had dragged Willard along with him, which wasn't something Willard had ever been expecting. He was a small town guy, and had been just fine with staying a small town guy - racing tractors, and chewing tobacco where his mama couldn't see, and skipping class to go fishing. But then Ren roared into town with an attitude and a bunch of crazy contraband music, and the next thing Willard knew, he was slipping out of town with Rusty warm in the backseat beside him, looking at Ariel and Ren whooping and hollaring in the front, and being so damned glad this big city kid had showed up to shake up his small town life.
He was the only one left of them in Beaumont, now.
Ariel had run for the nearest big city as soon as she possibly could. She and her daddy might finally have come to an agreement about Ren, but there was still a whole boatload of screaming at each other that went on, from what Ren had told Willard. Her daddy didn't want her moving to a city - wanted her to stay home and go to community college - get married, maybe have a couple of kids. Willard could've told him that was a dumbass idea. Anybody who knew Ariel knew she wouldn't ever stay someplace where she could feel everybody watching her all the time. She was still a wild thing. She'd calmed down some once her daddy loosened up on dancing and music, but ain't nobody could hold that girl down. Ren didn't even try. He let her fly. Ren called sometimes - said he saw Ariel once in a while, said she was working as a waitress and they would go dancing. Willard figured Ren was still in love with her
Ren had headed back to Chicago after graduation. He actually seemed kinda sad to go, too, which Willard thought was amazing. They had hugged goodbye - a manly hug, mind you, with plenty of back-slapping and not one bit of tears, no matter what Rusty said. Ren was in college and seemed pretty happy. He came back a couple of times a year to see his mama, who had said she couldn't deal with another move now that she was just getting settled again. She had gone out with a cop a few times, which made Ren shudder. But not where his mama could see, because, he said, he just wanted her happy. Willard thought that was pretty decent of Ren, especially considering the cop she was dating was one of the ones who had it out for Ren from the beginning.
Rusty and he had broken up a few months after prom, and that was alright. They'd had a good time together, but weren't ever going to be forever, although Willard had hoped a bit. Rusty had met her new man while she was working at the diner. The guy was a truck driver and seemed a decent sort. It was a bit of a surprise that they got married so quick, but she wanted the baby to have his daddy's last name, so it was kinda a rush job. They lived a few towns over, and the guy absolutely hated Willard, which made Rusty laugh. Willard figured she'd stop laughing when the guy finally took a swing at Willard's face, but he was probably just pissed that he hadn't been her first. Of course, neither had Willard, but what her husband didn't know couldn't hurt him. Her folks had made out like her getting pregnant before the wedding was some big scandal, but like Willard had said, Beaumont was changing, and he didn't know one single person under the age of thirty who honestly gave a rat's ass that Rusty's belly was swelling under her wedding dress.
Willard worked at the feed plant during the day, and helped his folks out on the farm on the weekend. His daddy had been making noises about passing the farm on down to Willard in a few years, and Willard figured that was all right. He liked the work, and he even liked Beaumont well enough. He'd been up to visit Ren once, and once was enough. Sure, the Beaumont kids could party, but it wasn't anything like the city kids did it. The kids in the city seemed like they were out and out trying to kill themselves, instead of just trying to have a little fun. Plus, they all bitched and complained about how strict their parents were, and Willard figured they didn't know jack shit about strict if they hadn't lived in a town that outlawed all music except church hymns. He stuck out like crazy, too. The other college kids eyed Willard's cowboy hat and books and worn out jeans like they thought he was nothing but a yokel. It just got worse when they heard he wasn't going to college - and not because he was going to travel around before going, like some of them had - but because he was plenty happy staying in his back-asswards little town and taking on a farm from his daddy. Stuck up bastards. Ren didn't give a damn, and had told off a couple of the guys who had been real assholes. Which was a good thing, because Willard really hadn't felt up to getting arrested for hitting a bunch of stupid city kids.
It had been real good to see Ren, though. Ren had taken him down to the place where Ariel worked, and all three of them had gone out dancing. Willard somehow ended up pressed between the two of them, Ariel soft and squirming against his chest and Ren moving against his back, and dang it all if the thought of Ren pushed up real close didn't make Willard feel all kinds of strange. Not in a bad way, just in a way he wasn't prepared to deal with. He had turned tail and ran back to Beaumont the next day and buried himself in the lift-swing-drop of moving feed bags on and off the conveyor belt so he wouldn't have to think about it.
He didn't think about it. At all. He worked and he helped his daddy with the farm and he didn't go out dancing. Not thinking about it worked just fine until Willard realized that Ren would be headed home soon for the holidays.
So here he was. Willard adjusted his hat and tucked his shirt in a little tighter as he shifted on Ren's mama's front porch and got up the courage to ring the doorbell. This was dumb. Willard didn't think he was in love with Ren or anything. But there was something. And hell, there was mistletoe above the door, and Ren was standing there grinning, and Willard stopped thinking as he took a step forward. Ren's eyes widened, but his smile didn't drop and he didn't move, and Willard figured that might be enough of a sign.
They ended up knocking Willard's hat right off his head, wrinkling the heck out of Ren's shirt, and completely scandalizing the neighbors.
It was better than dancing. And that, to Willard's mind, was saying something.