“You want a double or single, sweetheart?” Francisco, the bartender at the Royal House oyster bar and restaurant asked Caroline as she took her seat, front and center. After the day she had with her boss it took her less than one second to decide; she raised her hand putting up two fingers to indicate her preference. If she didn’t get that drink soon, she was going to elbow the lady next to her in the face. Ouch.
Seemingly, she didn’t grasp the intensity of her tattered nerves until that notion.
The impatient woman next to her was older, but very pretty and well-kept. She had short-cropped, grey hair, cobalt blue eyes, and laughed like a hyena. Wowza, boy, did she laugh like a hyena.
One thing was for certain though, the woman had some work done. Her skin may have been too tight in some areas, but still, Caroline thought it was nice when older women cared enough about themselves to maintain the upkeep- she was certainly going to. We’ve got one body, one vessel, and we should make little tweaks here and there as we age to ensure we look and feel our best, if that’s what we, as women, want to do, of course. At least that’s how she’d always viewed it. Certainly don’t go all Joan Rivers or anything, but a little injection here, laser, or nip-and-tuck there, wouldn’t kill anyone, right?
Besides the woman’s impatience, her real problem seemed to be with her self-importance, and desire to inform the bartender, as well as every non-caring patron at the bar, that she expected plenty of liquor, and the good kind, not the amount that they would give a gullible tourist, but the amount that they would give a local. Apparently tourists were blindly trusting, with no taste buds, and locals were savvy, all-knowing, with super spidey-sense taste buds. Hmm. Maybe they could agree on one thing, but that was to be determined after the woman’s one-sided conversation was over. “Make it strong.” the hyena insisted. She was getting ready to inform the bartender that she could detect a bad hurricane using only her sniffer, when she re-routed and instead stated where she hailed with just two words. “Baton Rouge.” Like that was supposed to explain everything about her drink preferences.
The tip of Francisco’s right eyebrow greeted his hairline. Apparently he didn’t have to actually speak for you to know what was on his mind. He asked her to repeat herself to make sure he had heard the woman correctly, calling her sweetheart, of course, as he called every woman.
Caroline could only guess that men were under the impression that the word sweetheart made all women feel special, but how could it when they addressed every woman that approached with the same endearment.
Men are stupid, not tourists, Caroline thought.
Everyone prayed that Francisco would make the drinks quickly and send Mrs. Red Stick home. He was aware of the temperature of his bar at all times amongst his patrons, so instead of conversing back, working the tips jar, he quietly made the drinks, barely listening while she chattered away. Then it dawned on Caroline what he was doing. She decided that she would tip him extra tonight in hopes that it would help make up some of the difference that he was sure to get shorted.
Hyena woman was still going on and on, and when her voice started to sound muzzled, Caroline noticed that she was left-leaning eavesdropping, and it nearly caused her to fall right off the stool. Actually, by the looks of it, she very well could have pitched a tent right in the woman’s lap had she been sitting, too. It made Caroline question- had she stopped talking once? Nope, not even to take a breath. Simply amazing. But Caroline had to start minding her own, so she righted herself quickly, looking sheepish, because she had been caught, sniffed at, and turned away from by the woman who realized that Caroline was eavesdropping like it was nobody’s business, but hers. Caroline decided to behave and began punching her straw up and down in her drink while she contemplated her day and how she intended to end it. She felt kind of lame because of the fact she was so interested in what that damn lady was saying. It was definitely a reflection of the day she’d had. Usually she stayed to herself and never worried what others around her were saying. No matter, the woman was loud and there was no mistaking the accent, she was definitely from somewhere nearby. Did that make her automatically interesting? Hell no. Aggravating? Decidedly so. So Caroline sipped on.
The drinks were placed on the bar, all six of them. They were picked up and passed over the woman’s shoulder to her expecting husband, higher power help his poor soul, who dutifully passed them back, one by one, to the rest of their herd.
Drama done. Thank you, God. Now leave.
Another drink was placed in front of Caroline, nearly at the same time, so she sipped onward toward a better day. And since she had nothing better to fill her brain space with, she gave loose-lips a couple more minutes of reflection. The truth of the matter, what was really bugging her, was that if the woman truly were local, her drink preference would not be a damn hurricane. She repeated to herself, would not be a hurricane. They never were, ever. It was basically an insult to even suggest such a thing- oh the scandal, she reflected sarcastically and giggled.
Caroline was feeling a little heated, to say the least, from her four-minute mental rant, and decided it was time to stop listening in on other people’s conversations all together, seriously, just stop. She also promised herself that she would cut back on her people-watching addiction. Okay, she probably wouldn’t do that, but she would definitely put it on the list of “maybes” for next year’s New Year’s Resolution. Wait, didn’t she just tell herself that she never listened in on other people’s discussions to begin with? She would cut out more time later for rumination on that matter. Right now, she just wanted a Randy-dandy buzz.
So bad day at work with no lunch break? Sazerac. Hangover in the morning? Bloody Mary. You get your nutrients and a fresh new feel-good all at the same time. And the Royal House made the best. Not only did you get the usual garnishment of celery, onion, olive, but here you got Cherry Tomatoes, and little balls of Mozzarella on your stick, too. Yum. Caroline sipped on still, and then sat back and relaxed to the jazz that was playing in the background, making note that she didn’t know who the singer was. Glancing toward the door, she first saw the silhouette, did a double-take, and then saw that she recognized the man-queen from this morning when he basically slammed the doors in her face instead of holding them open like a gentleman would’ve done. Yep, she was more than familiar with the rude beast in the suit that just walked in to her favorite after work spot. Great- wonderful- yay.
Caroline wasn’t sure what her next actions said about her self-esteem, but she had the biggest urge to slink low and duck under the bar. Why though? She hadn’t done anything wrong. He was the one that left his manners by his bedside that morning. She started swearing that no matter how cute the guy was, she would not egg on conversation with him, bat her eyelashes, and she most assuredly wasn’t going to hide under the bar like a scaredy-cat. She really needed to eat something and stop sipping. The little circles she was doodling on her napkin started mingling with the feeling in her head. They were both so spinney, she thought lazily. It was like a little spin-top that just kept spinning and spinning like a little spinner.
“Hey, Franky-boy, can I get a menu when you get a sex, I mean, get a sec, please?”
Acceptance would be the first step to getting past the facts. Yes, she said that, and yes, her face was beat red and everyone knew why because they heard her slip-up, too.
“You know, the coffee demi-glazed pork-ribs over grits with asparagus is pretty tasteful.” Porter said as he took a seat next to Caroline at the bar. Smirking because of her previous word disaster.
“Pretty tasteful?” she mocked in a haughty voice.
“Yes, it really is a great dish. Trust me.”
She mulled over the other selections, but as she read the short, but unique menu, none of them sounded quite as delicious as the first one that seemed to roll right off Mr. Suit’s tongue.
“Francisco, I’ll have what he” she pointed with her thumb in the direction of Porter…“suggested. You know, the pork-rib, coffee-glazed thing.” She slid the menu back across the bar. “Thanks doll.”
“Oh, and no more Sazerac. Just water for me from here on out.” she amended quickly before Francisco was out of earshot.
She could feel the Suit watching her even in her staggered state with her iffy peripheral. She turned to him, “Can I help you with something?”
“What?” he shrugged. “A guy can’t peek at a beautiful, zealous woman who he’s sharing an enjoyable spot with for the next hour?”
“Umm, no, a guy most certainly cannot. Especially when this,” she pointed to herself, obviously really into finger-pointing that afternoon, “Beautiful woman doesn’t even know the guy’s name who is staring at her. Its creepy.” she fake shuddered for effect.
To her surprise he looked good and shocked. “My apologies. I thought we shared a couple of great nights a few months ago. At least you looked pretty pleased the next couple of times that I saw you in the board meetings.
But since it’s so easy for you to forget me, I’ll tell you again. My name is Porter Charge. And may I say it’s lovely to meet you…again.”
She wanted to slap him. Never, ever, had a man been so forward, or joked with her that way. Her mom always blamed it on her demeanor. She told her that it scared men away, it was ‘off-putting’ were the words her mother used. “Sorry, but we were never introduced in any meeting…ugh, or otherwise, which you’re already aware of. And I may have dropped off a report, coffee, possibly some scones, in one of your meetings, but your name was certainly never passed on to me. By the way, what kind of name is Porter Charge?” she slapped a hand over her mouth. She was starting to remind herself of a certain hyena that she’d met earlier in the evening.
“The kind my mother gave me. You don’t like it?”
“No! It’s not that. It’s just…it’s unique.” She said and giggled at the same time.
Caroline heard a shrill shrieking kind of laugh. “Oh damn. Not her again.” she looked over her shoulder and cringed.
When Porter turned to look in the direction that Caroline was staring at in mock horror he asked, “I give, who’s the woman who you’re giving the death stare to?”
“Oh, she’s from Baton Rouge. If you want anything to drink, I suggest you order it now because her list is long enough to roll out the door.”
Porter, slight and quick, gestured for another drink with his hand. Then turned in his chair and stared at Caroline, this time she wasn’t complaining, or smarting off. Instead, he found her staring back. A long comfortable minute fell over them while they studied each other’s features. Caroline sensed a warmth in him that wasn’t there before, like an emotion that felt familiar, a good conversation over coffee or tea, rocking on a porch swing.
Caroline had no idea where her brain was going with that, but she was making him sound like some kind of sentimental item a person couldn’t get rid of, or a really good friend that when was home, felt like they had never left. When in fact, he was the exact opposite. He exuded power, money, attitude, swaggering through day-to-day life so as everyone who met him knew it. Still, she thought, there was something different about him.
For some reason, Porter’s enduring stare turned into a “dirty tourist” stare, or at least that’s how she was interpreting it. Wait, what was happening?
“So why are you staring at me like I’ve got a rash on my face?” she put her chin in her hand and leaned closer.
“You know, I could ask you the same question. And I wasn’t looking at you like you’ve got a rash. I was thinking that I saw you strutting around town the other day with a short, country-looking skirt on, and some cowgirl boots. Was that you, or just a sexy vision that I had of you?”
“Puhlease, the only thing I know about country is that is starts with a C and ends with a Y. And you didn’t see me strutting anywhere, so you can get that vision, or whatever it was, out of your head.” She poked the bear a couple of times in his shoulder to make sure she got her point across, but all she got was a whiff of his cologne. She wanted to focus on how men were all jerks, all a bunch of egotistical walkers, the good ole’ boy society, but she couldn’t get her mind to move passed the fact that Porter had the biggest, brownest, warmest eyes she’d ever seen. She took a moment to relish, then mentally slapped herself back to reality where Porter ruined her determination to dislike him by placing his hand over hers, in a gentling, sincere, yet prevalent all-at-the-same-time kind of way…damn again, she thought. She was ruined and so was her determination.
The restaurant was getting more crowded by the moment and Caroline found herself scooting closer to Porter, silencing the overwhelming buzzing in her ear, making the space between them more personal. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt so alive. With another decision made, she was going to enjoy the moment, the night even, no matter how much she regretted her actions in the morning. This was a perfect example of her ‘playing the field’ problem. She needed a therapist, she thought for a moment, but then as that thought crossed her mind and left, her forehead began to grace his cheek, and he slowly pulled her in closer. Her smile couldn’t be helped.
“Should I call a cab for you?” he whispered in her ear as he cradled the back of her head.
“I was thinking that I would stay a while” she said, then asked, “You?”
Then he smiled, too. “That was the plan country, but now I’m thinking that maybe we should get you home.”
She thought about that for a moment…a moment longer…one more moment.
“Ok, yes…you’re right. I do have work in the morning and so do you.” Nodding in agreement, he scooted his bar stool back, pulled out his wallet to close both of their tabs, and then slid his card to Francisco. “Please add Ms. Adder’s tab to mine.
All three of them looked back and forth at each other in a moment that seemed to linger and stall. Then, as soon as the word “who” shyly left Francisco’s mouth, Porter, Caroline, and Francisco, all at the same time, came to the same conclusion. Porter had the wrong girl.
Porter again said, “Ms. Adder.” as though to make himself, and everyone else, believe that was who he was sharing space with and trying to pay the tab for.
A bit of anger began to flare up in Caroline, like really flare, then it burst into flames.
He was the one who just popped in from out of nowhere, came to her local bar, flagrantly attempted to flirt her pants off, almost succeeding…almost, she noted as an afterthought. Now he’s going to call her by another woman’s name, in front of everyone – everyone being the three of them – and try to play it off like he still believed her to be the woman known to him as Ms. Adder? Come on you friggin a-hole, really? Beyond embarrassed, beyond pissed, she was now seeing her hands wrapped firmly around his southernly, tanned neck and literally choking the sexy right out of him.
The only thing she could think to say, “I told you we never met, Porter.” Then she stood severely, as straight-laced as she could possibly withstand, then turned and walked out of the bar like the New Orleans primadonna that she always imagined herself to be. As soon as she got to the door, she stumped her heel on a piece of the old wooden door frame.
Oh yes, she did that.
Caught off-balance, she flew to the right, grabbed hold of the entire door frame, half her body inside the bar, the other half flapping about outside. In an attempt to right herself, a huge splinter from the frame plunged into her hand, and for Caroline, that was the final layer of cheese on the lasagna. Huge tears sprang to her eyes and she let go of the frame, falling, and screaming “holy frick”, all at the same time. Thank baby, Catholic Jesus that the tall, chubby man was there to break her fall.
She only thought she was introduced to Humiliated a few moments prior. But she feared she was mistaken. From the look on Porter’s face, she knew he saw her entire catastrophic death-by-door-frame episode. He practically leapt from the Hostess booth, out the front door, and grabbed her arm to help her stand before his feet ever touched the sidewalk.
Oh hell no.
She was not going to be rescued by this prick.
Caroline jerked her arm back so hard that she almost lost her balance again. “Don’t you dare touch me.” she yelled at him with a bit too much of the dramatics.
Everything was a blur and happened so quickly, she didn’t know if he asked her, or she asked him, or if he just grabbed one, but before she could respond to anything, he swiftly plunged her into a cab and then followed right beside her on the backseat.
“Where’s your car parked?” the question was not put to her politely.
He continued to wait.
Hard head. He asked again, “Maybe you didn’t hear me, where’s your car?” that time he put the question to her as though she were touched with something and couldn’t quite understand plain old English.
“I didn’t ask you for help. I don’t have to tell you anything. And in case you don’t remember what happened a few moments ago, you’re with the wrong girl so, please, leave…me…alone.”
Now she was getting angry again, and, he noticed, redirecting. Why? Who knew, but he’d decided one thing for certain and that was that he’d let her figure out the car thing for herself tomorrow when she was a little less inebriated and a lot less temperamental. “Can you at least give the driver your address?”
After she belted out her street address, she donned her normal position – arms crossed, mouth closed, eyes and head straight forward.
An hour later, he realized, she lived a little outside of the city in an antebellum home framed by huge Oak trees. How, he wondered, could she afford a place like this on her salary? He didn’t dare ask because he already knew the answer, she could never swing this place on her own. No way. Maybe she was married and had lied to him? That sounded about right. Just like a female to play the victim when in reality she was the one playing him. And her husband!
Then the car came to an abrupt stop and the driver cleared his throat. He could sense the tension in the car, and whatever was going on, he didn’t want any part of, he just wanted his money.
A fire-hot burning sensation brought Porter back to the backseat. She’d pinched him, he realized. Her superior attitude was somewhat impressive, earlier in the evening, but he was ready for this trip to be over. He couldn’t believe that she’d pinched him just now. He looked up at her in surprise, ready to jump on her for what she did, but then he realized by the look on her face, that he must have grunted his disparagement of her marital status aloud because the look she was wearing at that moment was worse than the one she gave him when he called her by the wrong name. He felt terrible, he really did, but it was an easy mistake. She really did look just like another woman that he used to see on occasion a long time ago, and he would have apologized, but she ran out of the bar before he had the opportunity. His actions were an innocent mistake. This little vixen was straight up ruthless. She was married for God’s sake. And probably to a man two to three times her age if the expensive home were to explain anything.
He reached in his wallet, then stopped, this wasn’t a one-way, he remembered. “You have to drive me back to my car he notified the driver. We’re just dropping this one off.” He pointed to Caroline.
Again with the pointing.
Caroline didn’t argue. She wasn’t going to pay the fare if he didn’t ask her to, screw him. He made the kind of money that she’d never bank and if it wasn’t for his rudeness, she’d have hung around later and caught a ride back home with her cousin, Becks, never requiring the need of cab ride.
Shit! She forgot to call her cousin Becky to let her know that she had a ride!
She flew out of the car, slamming her third door for the day. She ran up the drive, the straps of her heels in hand, tears running down her face, and never looking back.