Seated at the empty bar, Maggie looked up from the Day-Planner laid out in front of her to check the clock. 4:45 PM. ‘Almost.’ As if on cue, the front door swung open and her relief breezed in. “Fear not! I’ve come to save you from this monstrous crowd!”
Maggie laughed. The woman who’d entered the room was a few years her senior, with brown hair cut pixie-short and a flair for the sarcastic. “Oh, I don’t know what I’d do without you, Liz,” the redhead said, playing along. “It’s just been a madhouse all day!”
Liz dropped her over-sized purse behind the bar, grinning widely. “You know you love me,” she said, hand on her curvy hip. “I even came in early so you can go beautify before your new boy-toy gets here!”
“My what?” ‘Damn it, Alan…’ “He’s not – and who says I need to –”
“Oh, please,” the brunette waved a hand at her dismissively. “You know you want to. You’re going to be playing tonight, right?”
“You should wear the white sundress – ooh, pair it with some cowboy boots! Super cute! He’ll be all over you before you even finish your song.”
Maggie rolled her eyes. “Take it easy, all right?” She closed the Day-Planner (next month’s event schedule could wait) and hopped down from her stool. “Is this town so boring that my pseudo-love life is all anyone can talk about?”
“Of course it is!” Liz said with a hearty laugh. “Seriously, we need to take a long weekend and go into Anchorage before this summer is over. I need some skyscrapers and Starbucks like nobody’s business.”
The redhead smiled and shook her head, curls bobbing. “We’ll see if we can’t arrange that,” she said. “For now, I’m going upstairs. And for the record – ” She poked a finger in her friend’s direction. “Just because I’ll probably wear that white sundress does not make you right. So no gloating.”
Liz crossed a finger over her chest twice. “Wouldn’t dream of it. Now get outta here.” She put a hand on the smaller woman’s shoulder and shooed her off.
Maggie took the fire escape steps two at time. She couldn’t even feign being indignant with Liz. Mostly because her friend would see right through it. And she did have impeccable taste when it came to clothing. It was hard to argue with her recommendations, which we nearly always right. Maggie sifted through her closet and extracted the white dress. It was embroidered with rustic-style lace and a few layers of ruffles along the hem of the skirt, which fell just past her knees. She didn’t go ‘girly’ very often, but if she had more dresses like this one, she might be tempted more regularly. Smiling, she hung it on the back of the closet door and began shedding clothing.
As she wrestled to get her skinning jeans off, she paused to turn on her radio. B*witched’s “C’est la Vie” came wafting through the speakers and she laughed. Nick was apparently feeling punchy – or maybe someone had called it in. Whatever the reason, she couldn’t help but sing along as she balled up her clothes and tossed them in the hamper.
She was still humming as she started the shower running. As she waited for the water to heat up, she cast a glance at the mirror above the sink. ‘Not bad,’ she thought, smirking. Generally, she didn’t get too down on herself, body-image wise. There were things she didn’t think were perfect, of course. She sometimes wished her breasts had grown beyond the A-cup of her initial growth-spurt, but she’d come to terms with it. Plus, the upside was she could get away with not wearing a bra in the colder months when she was always in layers.
She hopped in the shower, letting the running water soak her hair. That was another thing. In her tweens she’d begged every birthday and Christmas for a straightening iron to no avail. Her mother had told her that someday she’d love her curls, and her mother had been right. She couldn’t imagine herself with straight hair now. She finished washing and almost shut the water off before stopping short. If she was going to be wearing a dress, that meant she needed to shave her legs. Even though she’d done it yesterday. Stubble and sundresses didn’t mix. Once she was sufficiently smooth, she shut off the water.
She dried herself, then twisted the towel around her head. The less she needed to use the hairdryer, the smoother her hair would be. Next, she took longer than was really reasonable choosing her underwear. ‘What’re you doing? No one’s going to see them, what does it matter?’ she chided herself. That was true. Even if she did invite Josh upstairs later, it would barely qualify as a second date. She settled on a skin-toned pair of briefs that she could count on not to ride up. The dress had spaghetti straps so that meant she needed a strapless bra. The only one of those she had was a push-up. ‘That’s not sending the wrong message, right? Nah…’ She pulled the dress over her head and scrutinized herself in her bedroom mirror. “Damn, I look good!” she laughed.
She dried her hair, then picked out a few choice pieces of jewelry – pearl-drop earrings, a silver Ankh necklace and wrist cuffs made of well-worn brown leather that matched her cowboy boots. Lastly, she swiped on a touch of lip-gloss. She smiled at her reflection. “Perfect.”
She turned off the radio, the lights, grabbed her guitar case and headed back to the bar.
* * *
When Jesse entered the bar, the dinner crowd was just beginning to filter in. After an afternoon tagging along with Blake and the other kids, he was tired yet energized. He ambled up to his corner seat and hopped up, smiling to himself. That smile faded slightly though, when the woman who approached from behind the bar was not the redhead he was expecting.
“Hey there Blue Eyes,” the stranger said, smiling at him. “What can I get’cha?”
“Uh, the pale ale?” he answered, “And um, a menu, please.”
“You got it,” she said, plucking a glass from the drying rack and filling it with a careless ease. “Let me guess, you’re Josh, right?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “And you are?”
The brunette set the perfectly topped glass in front of him. “Liz Banks,” she said. “Nice to meet’cha.” She pulled a menu down from a shelf and set that down as well. “When you’re ready to order, just give me a holler.” She then turned away to greet another patron.
“I will, thanks.” Jesse picked up his glass and barely had it to his lips when he heard someone calling his new name. He turned and saw an older man in a pressed white shirt and bolo tie approaching him from across the room. “Uh, yes?”
The gray-haired man clapped a hand down on his shoulder, smiling widely. “I just got a call from my daughter-in-law – she says you saved my grandson from a bull moose earlier today!”
Jesse was caught off-guard by the statement. “Huh? Oh, Blake is your – it wasn’t really, I mean, um, no big deal?” He put his beer down and extended his hand. “Sorry, I don’t think we’ve met, sir.”
“Ah! You’re right, you’re right! Name’s Wyatt Jackson. I own the place.” His handshake was the firmest Jesse had felt yet and the man’s hand still hadn’t left his shoulder. “What’re you drinking tonight?”
“Liz!” Wyatt bellowed. “This young man drinks for free tonight! Pulled Blake out of the path of a stampeding bull moose, he did!”
“Oh no, it’s wasn’t–”
The brunette bartender drew nearer again. “Didn’t know you were the heroic type, Blue Eyes,” she said with a smirk.
“N-not really,” Jesse stammered, ears burning. “Kids exaggerate stuff.”
“Nevertheless,” Wyatt said. “My grandson is an excellent judge of character and Anna says you’re all he could talk about when he got home. Whatever you did, it made an impression.”
The older man’s brown eyes had a warmth to them that made the tension is Jesse’s shoulders ease. ‘He really must love the kid,’ he thought. “I’m just happy nobody got hurt,” he said. “To tell the truth, I was probably more freaked out than any of the kids were.”
Wyatt clapped his shoulder again. “Well, I’m glad you were there. If you ever need anything, you come on by and see me, alright?”
“Sure, yeah. Thanks.”
With that, the older man strode off to mingle among his clientele. Jesse found himself smiling as she turned back to his beer, only to find Liz grinning at him.
“You’re making quite the impression, Blue,” she said. “Hope you plan on sticking around, because I don’t think these people are gonna let you leave.”
He let out a short laugh. “Nah, I’m staying.” He was just about to open the menu when he felt a tap on his shoulder. “Hmm?”
His heart took a little leap in his chest as he recognized the voice and spun his stool back around. “Whoa! I-I mean, hey, Maggie. Long time no see.” She was stunning, like something out of a magazine. Her dress was simple and suited her, the white making her vibrant tattoos stand out. “You look great,” he said, hoping he hadn’t been staring for too long.
“Thanks,” she said, smiling. “This seat taken?” she asked, nodding at the stool next to him.
“N-no, of course not,” he said. “You’re not working tonight?”
“Nope!” she said brightly, hopping up on the stool and positioning her guitar case between her legs. “I’m all yours for the evening.”
Now that was an appealing prospect. He glanced down at her case. He’d never been jealous of an inanimate object before and he had to work to keep his mind from wandering, imagining what it would be like to have her legs wrapped around him. Feeling his face grow hot, he cleared his throat and forced his eyes back to her face. “You, uh, you playing tonight?”
“Singing too,” she answered. “Gotta say, it’s the first time in years I’ve been a little nervous about it,” she added, ducking her head a bit.
“What, because of me?” he asked, incredulous.
She shrugged but he could see the color rise in her cheeks. “Well, right now I’ve got you thinking I’m pretty cool. I wanna keep the illusion going, you know? ‘White Girl with Acoustic Guitar’ can be kinda cheesy.”
He shook his head. “Nah. Besides – not like it’s a ukulele or anything.”
She laughed. “True.”
“Can I buy you dinner?” he asked.
Happily, he cracked open the menu.
As Liz took their order back to the kitchen, Jesse noticed Nick setting up his station in the opposite corner of the room. The DJ gave him a wave which he answered with a nod and Maggie noticed the exchange. “Oh that’s right! You chickened out of being on the radio this morning,” she said, poking him in the arm playfully.
Jesse hunched his shoulders. “Didn’t chicken out. He just sprung it on me without asking,” he mumbled. He picked up his beer. “Honestly, I don’t know why everyone’s so interested. I’m not special or anything.”
Her expression softened and she put a hand on his upper arm. “I know people can get a little over-enthusiastic,” she said. “But they don’t mean any harm. Things are pretty tight-knit around here. Hell, the last time they had someone new come to town it was me, and that was five years ago.”
“Really?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at her.
“It’s not like there’s a factory or something to bring jobs or anything,” she said. “And not much of a down-town to attract people either. People get old and pass away at about the same rate that people have babies, so our population has been pretty steady for decades.” She twirled the straw of her soda between forefinger and thumb. “Needless to say, we don’t get a lot of excitement. You and I are what qualifies up here.”
He had to laugh at that. “Gotta say, that wasn’t what I was expecting when I decided to move up here.” Seeing her smile fade, he reached out and put a hand over hers. “I think I can live with it though.” Her smile returned and before he knew what was happening she leaned in and pressed her lips to his. His heart gave another lurch in his chest and when they separated it was all too soon. “W-what was that for?” he asked, keeping his face inches from hers.
“Just ‘cause,” she said. Then she did it again. He made sure to kiss back and when she pulled away, he found himself leaning forward to keep the contact going for just a few seconds more. “Easy tiger,” she said softly, putting a hand on his chest. “Don’t want to give them too much of a show, do we?”
‘Shit…’ He’d actually forgotten where they were. Face on fire, he dared a glance up at the bar. Everyone was looking overly-interested in their drinks. “Damn it. Sorry…” he mumbled.
“Don’t sweat it,” she said. Her hand hadn’t left his chest. Instead, she deftly unbuttoned his top button, exposing the collar of his t-shirt. “It’s only a big deal if we make it one, right?”
Her fingers grazed his collar bone and it took all he had not to lose the smidge of composure he had left. With a concerted effort to appear casual, he reached up and took hold of her hand, pulling it away from his body though every nerve was screaming at him to let her continue. ‘Don’t get carried away, man!’ “You are so much cooler than me,” he told her, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.
She let out a quiet laugh. “You’re sweet,” she said. “But you haven’t seen my act yet.”
He nodded conciliatorily, but he knew nothing she could do would change his mind.