(payday at A Word with You Press)
Good evening from the towers that are A Word with You Press in downtown Moscow.For those of you following the countdown, this is story 14 of the 24 I promised to post since Thanksgiving. Pleased to say that this story comes from someone who has not been here before, so let me introduce and welcome Thadeus Koerner. His entry seems like a snippet from two people with a very long and sullied (love that word!) relationship. Look for more postings tomorrow evening about this time. PLEASE leave comments and pass the word along on FB to come check us out. All our stories will be posted by this weekend, and our six finalists selected who will then write to the prompt “…but by then, it was too late.”
TIME TO REFRAIN
by Thadeus Koerner
Muted piano jazz drizzled from speakers high above the table. The waitress slowly lifted three glasses from her tray and arranged them in an arc in front of David. When she was done she stepped back and said, “Will there be anything else, sir?”
David exhaled, smiled, and let his eyes take a long picture of her: thick blond hair, dazzling white teeth and long, well-tanned legs. He squinted at her name tag. “Yes, two things, Joni. I’m expecting a friend. A little shorter than you, lots of real curly hair, big sunglasses, at least one paisley scarf, maybe a loud, floppy hat. If you see her, can you send her this way?”
“Sure. And the other thing?”
David faked a stern frown and said, “I’m not really old enough for you to call me ‘sir.’”
“Yes, ma’am,” she chirped and walked off.
He watched until she disappeared behind a potted bush then reached two fingers into a tall glass of ice cubes. He lifted out three of them, one at a time, and dropped each into a thick-bottomed tumbler. He wiped his cold wet fingers on the burgundy linen napkin before carefully lifting the double shot glass and pouring half its load of bourbon over the cubes.
David was sipping his drink and tracing the grain pattern in the oak tabletop with a finger when he heard Carole’s warm voice behind him.
“Here you are, just where that cute little waitress said you’d be.”
David turned and pushed away from the table but Carole was around to the other side and dropping into her chair before he could get his legs under himself.
He sat back down. “You’re looking wonderful, Carole.”
“Thank you, David. You haven’t lost any of your charm, have you?”
“I hope not.”
“It might not work on me anymore but-”
Joni quickly approached the table.
David said, “She’ll have a gin and tonic, two limes –“
“No, no, no, iced tea will be fine.”
“Long Island style?” David asked.
Carole looked up at Joni and said, “Just a regular iced tea, please.”
“A couple of blue packets on the side, if you would.”
Joni said, “Okay,” and turned away.
Carole removed a large red beret and shook out her wild mane of bronze hair. She pushed her sunglasses up over her forehead to clamp the hair off her face.
David added more ice cubes to his tumbler and poured another shot over them.
“Rough night last night?” he asked her.
“No. Do I look run-over?”
“Oh, no, you look great. It’s just that –”
“You mean, why aren’t I drinking?”
“Yeah, that’s not like you.”
“Just not drinking today, David.”
“Okay. I’m glad you showed up anyway.”
“Did I ever stand you up?’
David winced as he brought the glass to his lips and took a sip. He looked through her and asked, “Is that what this is about?”
“An old friend leaves a voicemail inviting me to meet him in the middle of the day so I show up. I got over the stand-ups a long time ago.”
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t have to be sure. I’m all right with my life.” She stares into his eyes and sees the darkened skin drooping beneath them, a puffiness to the cheeks she didn’t remember. “It’s been a lot of months, David. Is everything all right? Why did you want to see me?”
“I’m not sure. There was something in the air this morning or maybe it’s something that I dreamed last night. You know, the wheel in the sky keeps on turning.”
“A new season?” she asked, tilting her head.
“If you want to see it that way.”
“It seems you always saw things that way. A season for this, a season for that but mostly it was either time to reel me in or time to send me away.”
“So maybe we’re at the start of a new season. Whadya say?”
“Things have changed, David. I can’t pretend they haven’t.”
“I swore I wouldn’t get into this conversation-“
“We’re having it, Carole.”
“We are.” Carole planted her fingertips deep her temples, looked down at the table and drew two deep breaths then raised her head to look into his eyes. “It was easier then, David. You were light and breezy. I knew instinctively what to say or do. It just flowed for a while.”
“A colder season. Nothing I did made you happy anymore. I felt lost and foolish around you.”
“You’re doing pretty well now.”
“I’m not trying to make you happy now. I’m just being myself.”
“Let’s give it another season, Carole-“
“I can change. I swear it’s not too late.”
Suddenly Joni was at the table. She placed her round tray on the table between them and lifted the tall glass of tea up and set it down with three blue packets of artificial sweetener in front of Carole. “Would you kids like to look at a menu? We have some really great appetizers.”
Carole turned her head and closed her eyes.
“I can come back in a few,” said Joni.
Carole studied David as he looked into the shallow pool of watery bourbon in his glass. He looked to be considering another; he coughed before he could speak. Carole felt the familiar pull of reading his thoughts, then turned toward Joni and softly said, “I think we’ll just finish these.”
Carole’s beret was tight over her hair and she was wrapping a scarf around her coat collar as Joni stepped from the ladies room. The women exchanged nervous smiles. Carole reached out and grasped Joni’s slender arm and squeezed it lightly. “He’s probably ready to order another. After this one, start making them weaker, okay? If he does get too lit, get him in a cab, all right? He’ll argue but he’ll accept it. Good luck.”