Clay and Tootie were an unlikely pair.           

He was more or less clueless on how to approach women.  Women were, to the blue-balled-red-blooded-Texan-American Clay Winnsboro, as foreign as those “Fuckin’ Toyota’s” driven by “The Gays”.  He’d tried and a failed for love throughout his twenties, but when 30 rolled around, he knew it was a time for change.  And when Clay Winnsboro - creature of habit - made a change, it was sure to be a big one. 

His lack of success with women wasn’t due to lack of desire.  He wanted love and a family.  The world needed more Texans, thought Clay, and he wanted to make them.  But when he went to talk to the ladies, nothing came out right.  If he was internally cool, he was externally awkward.  It seemed to Clay that any time he tried for something he wanted, he fucked it up; where for all endeavors he didn’t really care about or try hard at, he excelled.  In business, which he’d taken more or less for granted during his 20’s, he was able to display a demeanor that would cause people to basically beg to do business with him.

            The problem for Clay seemed to be that the true desires of his heart and the actions of his body never seemed to align.  As a 5’4” high school Freshman, he’d been an active bullfighter, making a name for himself in his age bracket in the greater-Dallas area circuit. But in the 18-months that followed his first 1st Place Victory, he grew fifteen more inches, and he lost his agility.  Clay tried to ignore the height, until a bull nearly killed him, and he unwillingly gave up his dream.  He finished high school with good grades, went to UT and took over the family convenient store business.  Like with all things he didn’t try to hard at, he did well.

It seemed to Clay, drinking alone in his modest but paid for ranch on this last night of his 20’s, that his life had been an overall fail, marked with romantic failure and professional success.

As Clay sat in his apartment, drinking whiskey and thinking about his life he sort of felt like a failure.  He wanted love, children, and to be a bullfighter, but none of this had happened.  ‘So what’, he thought, ‘I’ve got eighty grand in the bank, how much does that really matter when I die?’  On your tombstone, he continued thinking, they don’t put some fucking figure.  As the Whiskey soothed him, and his 30 drew nearer, he decided it was time for a change, time to make his mark.  And this mark, Clay kept thinking was going to be like all things Texas: fucking huge.  With these thoughts, he went to bed for the last time as a 20-Something, and on the morning of his 30th, creature of habit Clay, decided it was a time for a change. 

Tootie, on the other hand, was anything but a bachelorette.  If Clay excelled at being single, Tootie excelled at being in relationships.  Men were drawn to her.  She was full-figured and kind, which helped; her most popular asset, though, when it came to making herself desirable, was that she made a man feel needed.

            Prior to meeting Clay, Tootie had been (for her) single for quite a while.  The three years since she left #4, and the day she’d met Clay, had been sexless, slow, and lonely. 

At roughly the same time Tootie was getting romantic with Hubby #2, two men decided to rob a bank.  Well not a bank exactly; rather, a bank truck.  The heist went well.  They’d executed a plan.  Their plan: Man A was going to be smoking, pretending to use the ATM, while Man B hid in the bushes.  This would be while the security bank guy was doing his weekly cash rounds. Man A acting as a diversion, and man B, gun in hand, would hop out of the bushes, get the keys, and take off.

            It went as planned, and they were on their way to a life of luxury.  Man B was driving, while Man A lit and passed him a cigarette.  During the transaction, Man B temporarily let go of the wheel.  The truck’s alignment was off and it veered left. Man B corrected the mistake without difficulty, but before the truck jarred, slightly.  As it jarred, the back door, which hadn’t been properly shut by the Bank Truck Worker, opened.  The five bags of money slid to the right side of the truck.  Four of the bags rested there, but the fifth and lightest of the load, fell out the ajar rear door.  A few miles down the road, Man A needed an emergency bathroom session, so Man B pulled over.  As he was zipping up his pants, he noticed the back door of the truck was open.  He peered inside, saw that it was basically full, and slammed it shut.

“Damn door was open,” B said as he entered the cab.

            “Damn shame,” A replied. 

            They didn’t know that about a mile and a half behind them, a mostly-empty bag of money was in the middle of the road.  Driving toward them was a supply truck for an Oregon winery.

            The driver of that truck was having a cup of coffee to stay awake.  ‘What was that?’ he thought as he wiped the spilled coffee from his chin.  Instinct told him that he’d run over something, and should stop and see what it was.  He pulled over and grabbed the Maglight he kept in his glove box.  A few hundred feet behind him, the light shone on something dark.  Using the moonlight that filled the sky to guide him, him walked over to the bag.  It was slightly damp and in pretty rough shape.  In it, to his amazement, were several wads of bills, all 20’s and 100’s.  Without another thought, he picked up the bag and threw it in the back of the truck and drove on down the road. 

            At his next stop, he thumbed through the bills, what he thought was $200, but didn’t notice that one of the 20’s fell to the floor.  This wasn’t its final resting stop.  The store wanted four cases of Pinot Noir, which he stacked near the door for easy transport. He set one of the cases on top of the sole 20, where the moisture from the floor of the truck and the sole of his boots caused it to affix itself to the bottom of one of cases of Pinot.

Tootie’s third husband was a self-titled “Gym Rat”, and spent most of his time reminiscing about the good-old-days as a semi-prominent collegiate football star.  He took an immediate liking to Tootie.  Her vulnerability was about as transparent as the shapely body she covered in spandex.  He was a fan of both.

Their first year of their marriage was a happy one.  During  his annual checkup, the doctor found a large, untreatable tumor, and gave the trainer less than a year to live. 

Nine months later, he died.

            On her way home from the funeral, Tootie bought a case of her favorite Pinot Noir.  After she’d placed all the bottles on the wine rack, she folded the box and placed it in the recycling.  She poured herself a glass, and savored the fruity yet earthy aftertaste.  During the second sip, she noticed that something was affixed to the bottom of the box: a weathered was a 20 dollar bill. 

            She peeled it from box, and set it on the counter next to the picture of her husband: he on a knee, in the standard football player pose.  She missed him, but was also happy that she’d met him.  He’d made her happy, and she was happier to have known him and feel the pain than not, and so her thoughts went round.  Then one stuck: on the same day she lost one thing, she found another in an unexpected place. On her favorite wine no less.  So she kept the bill, and pinned it to her bathroom mirror as a reminder.

As a businessman, Clay knew that no new initiative could succeed if it wasn’t planned out.  The MBA he earned from the University of Texas had taught Clay all about action plans.  And even though here, in this setting, it was a life change, not a business venture, his life was his business he figured; so on the first Saturday after he turned 30, he went to his favorite local breakfast joint, and came up with an action plan for his own life. 

While the U of T taught him that to focus on too many things was almost as sure a way to doom oneself as not doing anything, church taught him that all good things come in threes.  So, he came up with three goals for the action plan.  These goals were: first, a new look; second, to be more aggressive in his work; third, make a mark on the world at large. 

            He arrived at the first, because it was obvious that whatever he was currently doing wasn’t working.  His attempts to be attractive were failing.  While he’d occasionally look at the fashion magazines or the windows of the more prominent Western Wear stores.  He bought that kind of shit, but it didn’t work.  It was time to create his own look. But what to wear? Work boots were needed for the construction sights, obviously, but what else.  For the rest, he pondered, he was an American, and a Texan-American at that, so denim.  Levi’s became his staple.  He added to them a blue denim shirt, occasionally sporting a bolo.  And, of course, a cowboy hat.  He also, though, needed a change to his face: a mustache.  Not just any candy-assed mustache either.  He was Clay Winnsboro after all, and he was going to take as much time as it took to grow the perfect Handlebar Stache.  The stache he envisioned for himself was to be its own proper fuckin’ noun.

            For the second, he decided to turn his solo convenient store into prominent chain.  Over the next decade, he foresaw at least 30 more stores - one for each of what current thought led him to label a failed year of life - filling the greater Dallas area. Winnsbro-to-Go, had a nice ring he thought.

            Thirdly, and most importantly, was leaving a mark.  One way was going to be Winnsbro-to-Go, but the other was that he was going to forsake love, going to emphasize the fact that he was a bachelor.  No longer was he going to look for love or for sex.  What had that done for him up to this point other than make him doubt himself?  While some men think with their dicks, Clay was going to think in spite of his. As he thought of the anti-love stand he was going to make, he realized he needed a symbol.  Like Noah’s rainbow, Clay needed something to demonstrate and proclaim his newfound stand.  The more he thought, the more obvious it became, he was going to cover his dick.  The most obvious way to do so was: a belt buckle.

            He was now ready.  So in the second week after turning 30, he began acting out his plan.  Initially, he stopped shaving.  He needed a beard to get the stache, so he’d grow a quick one and then shave what he saw as a future handlebar beauty.  After Monday’s work hours, he took his big ole Chevy, and headed to the mall.  At Men’s Warehouse, he bought ten pairs of Levi’s, all different hues of blues.  He matched the jeans with 7 denim shirts, and a belt. 

            He didn’t care too much about the belt. It was simply a vehicle: a vehicle on which the master item, the belt buckle, could prominently proclaim his celibate-bachelor status.  After finding a basic, brown belt, he felt his heart pounding.  It was now on to the main item.  The Men’s Warehouse had a large selection of belt buckles, and Clay spent his time choosing the perfect one.  His thoughts were running wild, debating the details such as flashiness, size, colors, but then he saw it: the one.  His first.   It was basic silver, 2” tall, 3.5” wide, said TEXAS in all caps, but the final selling point was that it had a bull. Texas and bullfighting were two of his most passionate passions, and here they were combined.  The bull on the buckle serving as a reminder of his former dream.

As the years progressed, Clay was attaining his goals.  It had taken him five years, but his stache was now perfectly waxed and styled.  At 36, he was still wearing that same TEXAS buckle he bought at 30, he’d purchased twelve new stores, so now had a bakers dozen.  He wore the buckle (and celibacy) with pride.  He didn’t miss The Game at all, and found it liberating to swear off love.

On this, the 13th store, while helping move some things, the edge of the beloved belt buckle caught on a crate, and fell off.  He picked it up, and tried to put it back on, but it had broken at a hinge.  He went the rest of the day sans buckle, but felt off, naked.  Making an excuse, he left the site early and went to Men’s Warehouse in search of a replacement.

            He went straight to the belt buckle rack, and saw the same buckle design, only in gold, not silver.  He shrugged, figure what the hell, and bought it.  It made him happy for about the same span of time as does a new toy for a tot.  He didn’t know what to do with the precious, broken silver buckle. It had given him six good years of service, so he couldn’t simply throw it away.  He decided to keep it.

After surveying and finding no suitable place for the buckle in his ranch, he put it in an empty trunk at the foot of his bed.  The trunk was passed to him from his grandfather, a good, God-fearing-Texan, just like Clay tried to be; the trunk, therefore seemed an appropriate place to store something that, like his Granddad, had been good thing.   

            Clay wore the new buckle to work on Monday, and people noticed.  Clay, a creature of habit had made a change.  People were commenting.  He liked it.  His midsection, for the first time ever, was getting noticed by women.  He wore the thing for two weeks, and wanted more.  He once again stopped at Men’s warehouse and bought another buckle.  This one was different, though, flashy.  It was the shape of Texas, fuckin’ big, with a pair of boots in the middle.  He wore it the next day, and the next, and people loved it.  And thus, a tradition was born.  He bought one new belt buckle every paycheck.  This meant that by the time he was in his late 44th year, he had 253 belt buckles.  He stored all of them in the same place he put that first silver one, where they all remain to this day. 

Things were swimming along the path Clay had expected them to, and he was going about the routine he’d established 14 years before, now working on his 28th Winnsbro-to-Go.  This one was located in a strip mall, and he hoped this time to avoid hiring the sons-a-bitches that he always seemed to hire and that he suspected were ripping him off. 

            Housed in the same strip was the blandly named, yet expertly worked: Tooties Nails.  And the owner and chief manicurist was none other than Tootie herself.  It had been a few years since Husband 4 had left her.  Her once full body was starting to sag.  She still looked good, just a bit old.  It was obvious that she cared about how she looked, but the appeal she once had was now gone, and she was felling desperate.  It had been three years had gone by since her last date, and she was lonely.

            But one day, while doing the daily preparations for the 10am opening, she was stopped in her tracks.  Walking slowly, sauntering even, was a very tall, very handsome drink of water.  His black cowboy hat heightened him even more, his black mustached, perfectly manicured without even a single distracting piece of stubble to be found was seductively pointing southward. 

            For Tootie, it was love at first sight.  Over the next week, she made a plan to meet this man.  She took note of the fact that his outfit was always the same, and only  the belt buckle changed.  Today, it was a globe, or rather the shape of the world, with an enlarged Texas placed prominently in the center.  She’d taken note of how he treated people, and realized that Clay was finally the one for whom she’d been searching. 

            His was the hardest attention she’d ever had to seek.  He seemed utterly uninterested in women.  So finally, fearing she’d lose her chance, facing her wits end, she stepped outside as Clay was hoping in his truck and yelled, “Hey handsome.”

            Clay, initially startled and unsure if the voice was directed toward him, finally answered, “Hello ma’am.”

            “It looks like we’re gonna be neighbors,” she said,

            “Indeed it does,” he replied.

“I’m Tootie Watkins,” she said, “Owner of ‘Tootie’s Nail’, what’s yer name?”

            Clay felt a foreign twinge of excitement.  “I’m Clay Winnsboro,” he replied.

            Tootie, doing her best to come across as vulnerable and seductive, said, “Well in that case Mr. Winnsboro sir, we better make one another’s acquaintance.  How ‘bout I give you a manicure on the house?”

            Taken by surprise and not wanting to be rude, Clay replied, “Um.  Sure.”

            “Well come on in Mr. Winnsboro sir,” she said as she grabbed his hand.  When she did so, he felt a rush of blood to an area he’d all but forgotten was still active.

            “Call me Clay,” was all he could say.

            And the rest was history.  She gave his nails treatment they’d never before experienced.  He went home and thought about her. A lot.  She brought him and the crew some brownies she’d baked.  He washed and returned the dish.  He found himself, even when inconvenient, parking in front of her store on a consistent basis.  She found her schedule shifting to his, which was coming to an end.  On the last day he was working at the sight, the Winnsbro-to-Go all but complete, he found himself knocking on the door of Tootie’s Nails. 

            He took his hat off and held it in his right hand.  Tootie answered the door.  “Miss Tootie,” he began, “My store’s all but complete.  It’s been my pleasure to meet your acquaintance.  I hope to see you at some point in the future.” 

            After speaking, he turned to leave.  Tootie felt her body go numb.  Even these minor interactions with Clay filled a void that had been around for years, and he too was leaving.  Instinct took over, and she quickly rebutted, “Well then why don’t you ask me for a date?” she said while smiling nervously.

            “Would you like to go on a date?” Clay asked.

            “Yes, I would.”

  So on a date they went.  They were married a month later, in a small ceremony.  Clay’s all but done away with his action plan, for his loins feel fulfilled.  He still wears the belt buckles, but rather than buying them on a bi-weekly basis, Tootie gives him one per year, on their anniversary, which was this past weekend.  His count is now at 256. He’d given her the pony she’d always wanted but never received as a child. 

But also on this past anniversary, camping in Arizona – their favorite recreational activity - they each gave each other a special token.  Clay gave Tootie that first silver belt buckle as a sacramental un-swearing off of love, and she gave him that 20 dollar bill, for in her eyes meeting Clay had been the fulfillment of her quest for love, and the sign of good things to come.