“Let me get the door for you, miss.”
“No trouble at all, no trouble at all,” He swings the door open without affect. Unintelligible voices tumble out of the cocktail bar, punctuated by the occasional bit of forced laughter. Perhaps this is the man her friend has set her up with. Oh, that the world could be so kind.
“You’re not Parker by any chance, are you?” She grimaces.
“I’m afraid not, miss, though I think I’d like to be. Name’s Andrew,” He extends a hand forward to shake and when she takes it, he returns her grip deliberately, matching her force. His hand is coarse, but not unpleasantly so.
“Avery,” He has eyelashes that any woman in her right mind would kill for.
“Well, Avery, I hope that this Parker character is worth a damn.”
“If he’s not, I’ll be at the bar there,” he releases her hand and motions toward the far side of the room as though he were casting a fly fishing pole. “But if he is, well, you have yourself a fine evening,” he gives another smile. “After you.”
Her heels click across the plane of the doorway.
The cocktail bar has the woolen heat that comes from too many people in too little space. It prickles her bare calves and she cannot get her coat off fast enough. She folds it in half, drapes it over her forearm and uses her free hand to smooth her pencil skirt. The bar is small, open and modern. Muted light, exposed walls, deeply worn hardwood floors. A solo jazz guitarist hunches over his instrument in the corner and winces in delight as his melody unfolds. She watches Andrew ping pong ball his way between the tables and through the groupings of people toward the bar at the other end of the room. Completely unencumbered and totally unbothered by the amount of people in such a small space, he makes water-like progress toward his destination- slow, easy, consistent.
A man stands from one of the booths along the right side of the room. Tall and blonde and square jawed, he has a cell phone to his ear but ends the call quickly upon seeing her. He waves. He is taller than her friend said that he was.
“Did you find the place okay?” He extends his hand and when she takes it, he grips it so that the knuckle of her pinky folds in toward her palm. She tries not to make a face.
“I did. I live-”
“Good, splendid. What would you like to drink?” Still standing, he raises a hand to a petite young woman behind the bar. Her fair skin is being illuminated ghostly white by the screen where she runs a credit card. “Waitress?” She looks up from the screen. “Waitress, could you come here please?”
He turns back toward her and smiles. She smiles too, but she is looking at the bar. Andrew has taken his coat off, hanging it from the back of his bar chair. He is turned toward another man and gesticulating wildly. His left hand makes a motion like he is fingering the fretboard of a guitar and the man he is talking to laughs. Andrew drinks from a tall narrow glass and wipes his mouth with the sleeve of his chambray shirt.
“Won’t you please sit down?” Parker makes a sweeping gesture of his hand toward the booth and she slides into the seat where she can see the bar.
“Hello there, miss,” he smiles at the waitress, who is wary of his politeness. “Thank you for your help. I’d love a Tom Collins and the lady will have a cosmopolitan. I- oh, excuse me, I have to take this,” he picks up his phone and puts a finger into his other ear.
The waitress turns toward her.
Vodka martini, please? she mouths.
The waitress smiles and nods.
Lemon or orange?
Orange? She furrows her brow.
New thing. It’s good.
The waitress smiles and heads over to the bar.
“No, Mick, it has to be forty over, we cannot hit margin on this thing. It’s got to be forty over.” I’m so sorry, he mouths to her, covering the mouthpiece with his free hand. Business thing. Super boring.
She shrugs pleasantly and looks toward the bar.
The young waitress laughs at Andrew as she prepares their drinks. He gestures toward the martini glass and the waitress points toward her. Andrew turns in his chair and smiles to see that it’s her.
You? he points. Martini?
She smiles. Nods.
He leans an elbow on the bar and, with the other hand, nods in approval, giving her an “A-OK”.
She smiles. Nods.
He turns back as the waitress sets down another tall narrow glass in front of him. She says something, but he waves her off as she takes a tray with their drinks toward the booth.
“No, damn it. It’s got to be forty over. Do you have any idea what Nielsen will say if it’s less than forty? Jesus! Make it happen. That’s what I pay you for.” He touches the screen brusquely and puts the phone on the table beside him with the screen facing up.
“Tom Collins for you, sir,” the waitress sets a napkin down and places the tall, narrow glass on it in front of him.
“And a cosmo for the lady,” the waitress gives a quick wink and slides the drink over.
“To your health!” He raises his glass.
“To forty over!” She raises her own.
“Right. Thanks. Uh, sorry about that.”
“It’s fine,” she shrugs her shoulders pleasantly. “Work is work, no?”
“God, you’ve got that right. This deal is killing me. Nearly seven months on the proposal and suddenly my assistant can’t seem to remember what to do with his own asshole, much less the actual details of the thing.” She chuckles and he realizes what he’s just said. “Forgive my language. Sorry.”
“No need to apologize.”
“Oh, uh, o-okay. Well, uh, what is it that you do?”
“Nothing that requires remembering what to do with my own asshole, certainly,” she chuckles again, circling the rim of the glass with her finger.
“I’m- God- I’m so sorry. My mother would be so ashamed.”
“No need to apologize. I’m a big girl.”
“Right, right. So uh, what is it that you do?”
“Mortgages? How’s the cosmo?”
“Mmm,” she wipes her lip with the napkin, careful not to smudge her lipstick, and sets the glass back down. “It’s fine, thank you. Yes, mortgages.”
“God, talk about having a noose around your neck.”
“It’s not so bad as that.”
“I figured Dodd-Frank’d just kick you all in the jeans. I- Jesus! Sorry, there I go again. Too much time talking with the boys, I suppose.” He runs a hand through his closely cropped hair.
“No no,” she laughs. “It’s really very accurate. I like that. ‘Must kick you in the jeans’- that’s nice. May I use that?”
He blushes ever so slightly and sips his drink.
Over Parker’s shoulder, Andrew regales the young waitress. She has her arms crossed and is trying to keep a straight face so as not to encourage him, but he makes a few gestures and she is smiling. A few more and her arms loosen and she is chuckling. He slaps an open palm on the table and she laughs with her hands on her hips and loudly enough for Avery and Parker to be able to hear. Andrew tosses back another drink and circles his pointer finger in the air like a lasso for another.
It must’ve been a good story.
“Is Andrew here tonight?” A voice cuts through the din of the bar. She turns to see the guitarist speaking into a microphone. “Calton? You here, my friend?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m here you miser,” Andrew shouts from the bar. The din lowers and people turn to look at Andrew who has another glass in his hand and is leaning on the bar.
“Why don’t you come up here and play us one, eh?”
“You know I can’t play that lousy jazz, Anderson!”
“And God forbid you should try! But come on- play us a Hank tune, would you? I’ve got to visit the little boy’s room and these people need to be entertained.”
From the bar, glass in hand, Andrew waves the guitarist off.
“Don’t you want to hear our friend Andrew Calton come up and play us a Hank tune?” the guitarist asks the crowd. The crowd claps and a few whistle.
“You heard the people, Calty,” the guitarist says, standing and holding the guitar up by the neck. “Ladies and gentleman, your friend and mine, a real regular and a downright mensch- Andrew Calton!”
Andrew ping pong balls between the tables and makes his way through the crowds. He grabs the guitar as though he is being thoroughly put upon, but there are a few whistles and scattered applause. He sits down in the chair and mindlessly plucks strings checking the tuning.
“Think this guy can sing?” Parker asks.
“Not sure,” she says, not bothering to turn back to face him.
“I hate it when he does this to me,” Andrew says, adjusting the microphone.
“No you don’t!” the guitarist shouts over his shoulder as he moves through the crowd toward the restroom. The crowd chuckles.
“Touche,” Andrew adjust the microphone again and situates himself. “Well, here’s one from the fifties. I like it and I hope you do too,” and he begins to strum softly with his thumb.
The bar quiets. The young waitress smiles behind the counter.
“I’ve tried so hard my dear to show that you’re my every dream,” he sings in a hushed low baritone that moves behind the beat and as slow as honey. He closes his eyes as he sings. “Yet you’re afraid each thing I do is just some evil scheme.”
“Jesus, he can really sing,” Parker says from somewhere back behind her.
“A memory from your lonesome past keeps us so far apart,” she mouths the lyrics along with him. “Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?”
Andrew hums a coda, gives a final strum and the song is over. The jazz guitarist strides up to him with another tall, narrow glass.
“Andrew Calton, everyone!” The bar claps. The young waitress whistles loudly. “Bottoms up, you devil!” The guitarist hands Andrew the glass. He holds it up, acknowledging the audience and drains it.
She turns back to Parker, crossing her legs underneath the table.
“So, what music do you listen to?”
The evening is pleasant. Parker has two more Tom Collins and she allows herself another martini. The orange is good, a nice twist. When he’s not talking about work, he is genial and good-natured- if a bit predictable- liking everything that she would expect him to- guitar rock that he listened to when he was in college, action movies that have more explosions than plot points. He tells her that Sundays are completely dedicated to the NFL, but that he regards video games and the men that play them hopelessly stupid, which is also a nice twist.
They are laughing about their mutual friend when his phone rings again.
“I am so, so sorry.”
“It’s fine. Work is work. Go ahead.”
“Yeah,” he furrows his brow as he listens. “Goddamnit, Mick. I specifically told you forty over. The lady I’m with heard me clear as a bell,” He looks up at her. “You heard me, yeah?” She nods her head and smiles. “See? Goddamnit, Mick, I should hire her on. She’d get the forty over that you can’t seem to get and you’ve got actual experience with this shit! Jesus!” With his thumb anchored on his temple, he rubs his forehead. “No, stay right there. I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. Do not move.” He hangs up the phone.
“I have to go,” he looks something like a lost child in a department store. “Talk about a horrible way to end a really nice time with a really nice woman. I’m sorry, if I don’t go this whole thing will just-”
“Kick you in the jeans?” She smiles. He laughs like an air horn.
“I’ll take care of the bill. Can I give you cab fare?”
“No need. I live a few blocks away.”
“Really? Wow, and you don’t come here often?”
“Work is work.”
“Don’t I know it,” he gathers his coat and jacket. He scoots out from the booth and stands at the end of the table. He extends his hand. “I had a great time.”
“I’m glad.” She takes his hand and her pinky knuckle is pinched again. “Easy tiger,” she says. “That’s a little tight.”
“Right, sorry. Well, uh, I hope to see you again and next time, I’ll have the phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’. Promise.”
She smiles as he bows a little and rushes over to the bar. As the young waitress runs his card, he puts his jacket on, adjusting the sleeves of his shirt and smoothing his front. His shoulders didn’t look that broad from across the table. Andrew is working on another tall glass, staring straight ahead. The stool next to him is empty. Parker taps him on the arm and Andrew’s head turns glacially. Parker gives him a thumbs up and Andrew tips his glass at something that Parker says. The young waitress hands Parker the bill. He signs the check and brusquely turns for the door.
He holds up a hand as he passes her. She gives him a smile.
She sits at the table for a few minutes after Parker leaves, taking in the scene. The vast majority of people have moved on and the night is slowing down. It’s a nice place. She should come here more often.
Gathering her coat and purse, she scoots out from the booth and heads toward the bar, digging through her purse.
“Thanks for the martini,” she nods at the waitress and lays down a ten as the waitress dries highball glasses.
“You mean the cosmo?” The waitress smiles.
“I thaw you tol’ me ihwasah mahrteeny?” Andrew swings his head up at the bartender, unaware that Avery is standing beside him. “I like’er bedder if itsa mahrteeny.”
“It’s a joke, babes,” the waitress says. “The guy she was with ordered for her without asking what she wanted.”
“Wha-?! Why do guys do that?” His head is too heavy for his neck and his chin falls on his collar bone. “Thur delicate-” He clears his throat. “Thur delicate creatures, wuh-min are, but theykin order for thumselves. Theykin make thur own d’cisions.”
Is he alright? She mouths silently to the waitress.
He gets like this a lot. He’s harmless. The waitress gives a little wave.
“D’you think I should have anuhther ‘ne, Aimes?” He casts the fly fishing rod again, albeit less fluidly this time.
“You know I can’t serve you anymore, babes.”
“Right. I’ben cut off.”
“That’s right, babes.”
“Youkin run my tab?”
“I’ve got your card, babes.”
“Right. ‘Cause you know me.”
“‘Cause I know you.”
Who’s going to get him home? She mouths to the waitress.
He lives around the corner. He does it all the time.
“Andrew,” she says, putting a hand on his shoulder. “May I take you home?”
“Depends on who you are.” He turns his head and opens one eye. She gives him a smile. “Mahrteeny! I knew you’d come find me!”
“Yeah?” She says, getting his coat. She looks up at the waitress and the waitress smiles at her. You’ll be fine.
“Give me your arm,” she slides the coat on him.
“Aimes,” He says as she stands him up. “Mahrteeny’s taking me home.”
“So it seems,” the waitress chuckles.
“Didja see ‘er eyes, Aimes?”
“I did, babes. They’re gorgeous.”
“Didja see ‘er eyes, Aimes? Didja see ‘er eyes?” He says to no one in particular, his head slumping as they walk out the door.
She smiles at the thought of he and the waitress having a conversation about her earlier that evening.
Outside, the air has chilled considerably. Supporting himself with one arm around her shoulder, Andrew uses the other to pull his coat tightly around him.
“The air is cold, Mahrteeny,” he huffs. They’re alone on the sidewalk and the neighborhood vibrates with stillness. She sighs and her breath swirls up around her brow.
“What’s your address?”
“Mmm, wha street’re we on?”
“This is Twenty-First.”
“Mmm,” he sighs pleasantly. “Peddygrove.”
“The red door.”
“You have a red door?”
She turns them up the street toward Pettygrove. Supporting a drunk man on her shoulder while in heels proves much more difficult than she had predicted it might be.
“Where’re we goin’?”
“To your house.”
She adopts his water-like steps, moving with him instead of against him. They make slow progress, but neither mind.
“Am I on the street side or the building side?”
“Am I standin’ closer to the buildings or the street?”
He begins to drag his feet. His head hangs and he sighs heavily, suddenly overcome with emotion.
“Yes,” she laughs.
“Will you switch me sides?”
“Because it’s proper for me to be closer to the cars.”
“Yeah. You need to be protected.”
“But there aren’t any cars, Andrew.”
They stop and she eases out from under his left shoulder, careful to make sure that he stays upright without her to lean on. His arm drops to his side and he rolls his head to stretch his neck. She smiles as she realizes that, even in his thoroughly drunken state, his posture is impeccable. His shirt is still crisply tucked in, his dark jeans are flawless and his countenance is that of one who has been awake for too long rather than a man who just drank his weight. She is careful to stay facing him as she moves from his left to his right side.
“Hiya, Mahrteeny,” he smiles, opening one eye as she glides in front of him. He raises his right arm and grins. “Here’s my arm.”
“Thank you, sir.”
She can feel his slender frame underneath his thick jacket as they walk along. He sighs heavily and suddenly veers off violently. Without thinking, she grabs around his chest to pull him in again. Righted, he chuckles a little.
“Are you coppin’ a feel?”
“Am I copping a feel?”
“Yeah! Are you coppin’ a feel?”
“A feel of what?”
They turn the corner onto Pettygrove and with one arm wrapped around his upper torso, she puts her other hand on his chest. He smiles as she pats his sternum lightly. She sees the red door a few yards away.
“Red door?” She asks.
“Where are your keys?”
“Coat or pants?”
“May I dig?”
She pulls the lapel of his coat away from his body and digs around for the keys. There is a thin, small softcover notebook, a few pens and- there they are- the keys.
“I try so hard my dear to show,” he sings under his breath as she fumbles with his keys. “Yet your afraid that,” he continues as the first key doesn’t fit. “Each thing I do,” she tries another without luck. “Is just some evil-“ and he trails off as the third key is the charm, sliding easily into the lock.
She sighs, and turns the bolt.
“May I get the door for you, miss?”