The Bar and Grill Pt. 03byRehnquist©
AUTHOR'S NOTE. This is part 3 of 4. The final installment is now done, and it will be posted as soon as I have some time for some final editing.
Thanks to everyone for their comments, both good and bad, on the first two parts. I know this is different from what's normally posted here, but you can't say you weren't forewarned.
As always, I really would appreciate your thoughts and comments on this installment and how you think it's coming along.
Two weeks after Nicole introduced me--and Lonnie Mackie--to the joys of Thai grilled chicken skins, my life took a dramatic and unexpected turn.
It all started out innocently enough on a Wednesday night at seven thirty. I was leaving after another long night, and I spied Nicole at a table in the dining room, taking an order from her parents while stroking the blonde hair of a little boy in a high chair.
Curious, I decided to butt in on the proceedings, so I ambled over to the table to say my hellos.
"Gertie, Willie," I said, nodding to Nicole's parents.
"Hey, Tim," they said almost in unison.
"And is this the famous Alistair?" I said.
Nicole nodded, her face on her son.
"He's a handsome little fella," I offered.
"He is that," Gertie said.
"He's a Sanderson through and through," Willie said, staking his family's claim to the boy's genetic benefits.
"He has his father's eyes, though," Nicole whispered, still smiling and looking at her son.
I was surprised and more than a little curious. I'd never seen this side of Nicole. The only time I'd ever heard about her husband, the boy's father, she'd turned to ice. Yet, she looked at her son fondly while speaking about him. I realized I still knew almost nothing about this sphinx of an employee. Was she divorced? Widowed? What did she like other than cooking and, obviously, her son?
And that's when I said it, not even thinking before the words were out of my mouth.
"Y'know, I'd like to maybe all get together for dinner sometime if that's okay with all of you."
"Sure," Willie and Gertie chimed.
Nicole's face looked troubled, though, as if she was torn between the joy of stroking her son's hair and the fear of socializing. Was it socializing in general, or just socializing with me? I decided to press on before she could refuse.
"Have you tried the appetizer Nicole came up with?" A little misdirection to get the ball rolling.
"Which one is that, dear?" Gertie said to Nicole.
"You probably wouldn't like it," Nicole mumbled.
"Maybe, maybe not," I said. "I think you should try it, though. On the house. See what your little girl can do."
Willie was intrigued. His stocky frame indicated he liked food, but his ordering history leaned heavily on meat and potatoes. Still, the notion--maybe even fatherly pride of some sort--that his little girl had developed a real restaurant menu was breaking down his natural inhibitions to try something beyond meat loaf, fried chicken, or pot roast.
"Let's give it a shot," Gertie urged, and Willie nodded.
"So what's this about dinner?" Gertie chirped, getting the conversation back on track. God bless her.
Nicole shot me a don't-you-dare look, the first I'd seen from her in months. I smiled back at her before turning to Gertie.
"Why don't you all come over to my place Saturday. I'll get Jack to cover for me, and I don't think Nicole is working. Nicole and I will plan a menu, and we'll all just eat and drink and have a relaxing evening. Bring whoever you want. Barry's still at home, right?"
Gertie nodded, smiling brightly.
"Hell," I went on. "Go ahead and invite Clara and Leon and the boys, too. Matter of fact, I'll invite her in just a minute."
Gertie was bubbling with enthusiasm of a family meal she wouldn't have to cook.
"Nothing too weird, right?" Willie ventured.
I shook my head and laughed. "Whatever we make, you'll like it. I promise. Right, Nicole?"
I turned and looked at the mask that had, once again, descended over her face. She held my eyes for a minute, her lips tight, then turned and strode to the kitchen to place her parents' order.
"What's wrong with her?" I asked, turning to Gertie and Willie.
Gertie pooh poohed the reaction.
"She's like that a lot," Gertie said.
Willie's eyes had followed her, and I don't think he even realized speaking.
"'Specially since Alistair was killed."
Seeing a piece fit into the puzzle, I decided not to waste the opportunity.
"How was he killed?"
"Murdered," Gertie whispered.
"They never caught him," Willie added, looking sadly at Alistair as he spoke.
I felt like an incredible asshole. Here they are, trying to enjoy their dinner in my restaurant, spend some time with their grandson and Nicole when she can snatch a few moments with them between tables, and I'm dumb enough to stick my nose in where it doesn't belong.
Gertie stopped my shame from overwhelming me, though.
"So," she chirped up, "what time on Saturday?"
Gertie looked at Willie, who nodded, then back to me. "And Nicole? If she's helping you, she'll probably need to be there earlier."
I shot a look at the kitchen door, then back to Gertie. "Maybe I should-- "
"Nope," Gertie interrupted. "You try to work it out with her, she won't even be there. You tell me what time, and I'll get her along so you two can whip us up something really nice, okay?"
"Two o'clock?" I offered.
Gertie nodded. "Two it is."
"And she should bring Alistair with her," I rushed in.
Gertie just smiled and shook her head. "Smack dab in the middle of nap time."
"But nothing too fancy, right?" Willie said.
I laughed. "Sold."
I left them to their dinner and moved to the bar, where I invited Clara and her clan. She was surprised, but quickly accepted for just her and Leon. The boys had a dance or some such thing.
I thought back on my conversation with Gertie and Willie. Sure, having your husband murdered is going to scar the hell out of any woman, so it went a long way toward explaining Nicole's behavior, particularly what had to be her first boyfriend after that took to beating on her. It all fell into place now, and the mystery that was Nicole was clearing up.
Then I thought about Gertie at the end of the conversation. Let's get something straight here, folks: I'm not completely stupid. Gertie was clearly pleased about Nicole and I spending time alone in my house cooking dinner. I wasn't sure whether she was pleased to just be getting Nicole out of her shell or whether it was romantic plans for the two of us. It seemed she wouldn't have minded it either way.
And that led to my final thought. Namely, I was now looking at Nicole as something different than an employee and fellow lover of the culinary arts. For the first time ever, I was looking upon Nicole as more than just eye candy to glance at occasionally in the kitchen. No, now I was seeing a beautiful woman that I'd--maybe--like to become more involved with, spend time getting to know as more than just an employee.
Then the doubts started creeping in. Was Jenny right? Was I looking at Nicole like this because I wanted to play the knight in shining armor and make it all better for her?
That, of course, made me think of Jenny.
Oh, that and the fact that Jenny just happened to stroll in with Jammer as I was finishing my beer and getting ready to go home and feed Ernie.
We were seated around a tall pub table in the bar area, taking the first sips of our beers.
"You haven't called me back," I started.
Jenny smiled. "Warned you," she said. Seeing my hurt expression, she softened and went on. "Really, Tim, I've been busier than hell all week. Only reason I'm here right now is because Jammer was driving past as I got off the train and dragged me up for a drink."
I nodded. She did, after all, work in the city. That meant an hour plus commute each way. And with her job, there was no doubt she worked twelve hour days. She'd barely had enough energy to screw me unconscious the past two Saturday nights we'd spent together. Still, it wasn't a boyfriend-girlfriend thing going, and I was beginning to want more.
"Chill, dude," Jammer said.
I smiled at him.
"You moving in on her?" I teased.
He sipped his beer. "What makes you think I haven't done so already?"
"Boys, boys," Jenny chided. "Settle down here, willya?"
She turned to me and put her hand on my forearm. "If it makes you feel better, Tim, he's never gotten past second base with me. Ever. And that was in high school. I'm not seeing him behind your back, okay?"
My startled expression turned to laughter at Jammer's hurt feelings.
"Jenny, you're ruining my reputation here," he protested.
"And if you ever want to get past first base again," Jenny continued, ignoring Jammer, "you won't tell him what base you reached."
"Oh, I know what base he reached," Jammer proclaimed. "He's got a whole new spring in his step lately."
We chatted about old times for a while, about people we'd gone to school with and who had kids and who else had divorced and so on.
Our conversation was interrupted when appetizers materialized on the table in front of us.
"I thought you all could use something to eat," Nicole said, briefly smiling before turning away.
"Nicole," Jammer called after her, "come back here, honey."
I saw her back tense at his voice, and she stuttered her step. But she kept walking back to the kitchen.
"That girl," Jammer said, turning to me. "Nicole. What's the story with her?"
"Helluva cook," I said, pushing the chicken skins in front of him. "Try for yourself."
"I know she's a helluva cook, Timmer. Everyone at the party complimented her stuff," Jammer said, picking up a skewer and taking a bite. "You're right. Good."
"She came up with it," I said.
"So why won't she give me the time of day?" Jammer asked. He turned to Jenny. "You're a woman. What's her problem?"
I turned to Jenny to hear her answer and saw her staring at Nicole across the room on her way to the kitchen.
"Jenny," Jammer insisted, breaking her reverie.
"You're a pig," Jenny said, "and she's looking for something else right now."
"That hurts," Jammer said as I laughed. "What's so funny?"
"That's what she called you," I told him. "Monday after the party."
Jammer got flustered at this. "It was late," he whined. "I was drunk. Hell, Timmer, you know I didn't mean anything by it."
"You're not what she needs," Jenny insisted. "She looks like she's been through a lot. She doesn't need a quick roll in the hay with someone."
Jenny turned to me with a weird look on her face.
"What?" I said.
"It's you," Jenny said.
"That she wants," Jenny said, turning back to look as Nicole strode from the kitchen to the bar to get drinks.
"If I didn't know any better," Jenny continued, her eyes still on Nicole, "I'd say she has a crush on you. Or at least is curious about you."
I tried to laugh it off, and Jenny said nothing. Jammer, though, wasn't one to hesitate putting in his two cents.
"What the hell is it about him lately?" he asked Jenny. "Some chick dumps him, divorces him, and he's waist high in more premium trim than I can get on my best day."
"He's not a dickhead," Jenny said, smiling at Jammer.
"You think I'm a dickhead?"
She laughed. "No, Jammer, you're not a dickhead. I was just teasing."
He seemed relieved.
"We've already agreed you're a pig, okay?"
His sheepish grin turned to fake pout. Say this for Jammer, he could take as well as he got. Frankly, if I was a chick, I'd find him cute and endearing and funny and all of those things that women seemed to want in men. And he's definitely better looking than me, so I found it hard to stomach Jenny's assessment.
Jenny seemed to be reading my mind, though. Maybe staring at Jammer with a pondering look gave it away.
"Listen, boys," she said. "Neither of you really has a clue what a woman wants. You both have a general idea what women want, but not what an individual, specific woman wants, okay?"
Jammer seemed game, and I was willing to play along with it, so we waved her on.
"It's like this," she said, leaning over the table and talking lower. "You, Jammer, you're like the little boy that women want to play mommy with. You're petulant, funny, you can take a joke and laugh at yourself, and you don't take things all too seriously. You need someone--and I mean if you're thinking long term here--you need someone who's like you. Someone who needs to keep things light and fun and spontaneous. Anyone who says opposites attract is full of shit. Opposites attract initially, but end up getting on each other's nerves after awhile. So that's the type of woman you need."
Jammer seemed to actually give this some thought for a moment.
"So you're saying," he started, "you're saying . . . . If she's really smart and intense and ducks in a row on everything, she's not going to find me attractive?"
Jenny shook her head. "Oh no," she responded. "She'll find you attractive, all right. Hell, you're a good lookin' guy. A lot like Tom Brady without the dimpled chin. Big, handsome, great smile, dark hair. The whole package."
Jammer preened like a prize swan at this, but her next statement shot him right down.
"But she'll be the one to dump you. Not the other way around. You'll keep going to the well so long as you get laid, but she'll dump you regardless of how good the sex is."
Now the fawning chest puffery was gone. Jammer actually thought about this, then shrugged.
"And if I don't want to find someone and settle down? If I don't care if it's long term?"
"Then you need to decide, on those nights when there is no warm body next to you in that big old house of yours, whether you're lonely or alone. Some people don't mind being alone. Some people, though, get lonely when there's no one else to tell about their day."
"Jesus," he said, gulping his beer. "I didn't drag you here tonight to think about all this serious shit."
Jenny and I grinned at his discomfort.
"But as long as we are," Jammer said, taking the last gulp of his beer, "why don't you tell me what type of woman is perfect for our little Timmy here."
I held my hands up defensively.
"Whoa, fellas," I said.
But Jenny's eyes had fixed on me.
"Someone who cares about him as much as he cares about her," she said.
"A bit trite, don't you think?" Jammer challenged. "Why don't we start with his looks. If I'm Tom Brady, who's Tim? Barney Fife?"
Jenny shook her head. "Jackson Browne."
"The singer?" Jammer said. "Folk dude from the seventies?"
She nodded. "He looks a lot like him. Hair's shorter, but the build and face are about the same. But it's more."
"How so?" I asked.
"He's more introspective. The silent watcher type. Enjoys company, but doesn't need to be--doesn't want to be--the center of attention."
Jenny took a sip of her beer, looking at me as she spoke. Her eyes seemed troubled, like she didn't much like what she was describing in me.
"He's the kind of man a woman--the right woman--doesn't want to baby or mother. She just wants to hold him in front of the fire on cold winter nights. To just enjoy being with him. To cook dinner with him and laugh together about their day."
Jammer and I were silent when she finished. Her telling of it was so sad, somehow, and I knew why. I'm pretty sure Jammer picked up on it, too.
Jenny was an achiever. She loved her job, the stress, the long hours, solving all of the problems in the office. Sure, she could screw like a minx on a Saturday night, but that was only after putting in another six or seven hours at the office. And she had taken off early on the three Sundays we'd been together, which meant she'd probably gone home and prepared for the shitstorm her week was bringing.
In other words, she'd never be the kind of person for me. Maybe not for Jammer, for that matter.
"Cheer up, Tim," she said, putting her hand atop mine. "I was honest from day one. Now that I know you a little better, I'm pretty sure I've hit the hammer on the head, right?"
I nodded. She was right, and I saw that.
"So Saturday night is off?"
She nodded. "It'll only make it harder for you if we keep up, don't you think?"
Jammer decided now was the time to introduce some levity.
"So that means you'll give me a shot?" he trumpeted, slapping his hand on the table. "It's about goddamned time."
I smiled. Jenny, of course, was right. I could already feel myself becoming too attached. I'd been disappointed we never talked or spent any time together doing anything but screwing. Jammer could do that; he could just have casual sex with someone and not need more. I now realized, for the first time, that I just wasn't wired that way. Sex is awesome, particularly with Jenny, but it left me wanting more.
The real problem was whether I'd ever change to become more patient. Every time I got a blowjob, did the donor have to get an engagement ring? Was sex enough to just hook me into thinking I was in love?
"So what d'ya say, Jen?" Jammer continued. "Saturday night?"
She laughed, shaking her head.
"No, Jammer," she said, giving my hand a gentle squeeze. "I'm gonna need a lot more time than that to recover from my bouts with Tim here."
I flashed Jammer a grin at this one.
"Still friends?" Jenny said to me.
"Forever," I said, squeezing her hand now. "And thanks."
"Don't mention it," she said. "Though I can tell you, I'm definitely going to miss-- "
"Oh no," Jammer whispered, interrupting her.
We looked at him, then followed his eyes to the door.
Jenny said, "Is that-- "
"Nina," I confirmed.
And she had seen us and was walking straight at our table.
I felt Jenny's hand squeeze mine again, then start to disentangle. But I held onto her hand, not letting it go. I wasn't sure I could do this alone.
But then another thought occurred to me, one that I decided to act on.
I stood, letting go of Jenny's hand and turning to both of them.
"Night now," I said, and started walking toward Nina.
As I approached, her smile got brighter and she raised her hand to wave. I couldn't help but notice that there was no wedding ring on her finger, which surprised me. I knew she and Steve had married within weeks of the divorce.
"Hey, Nina," I said, approaching her.
"Hi, Tim," she responded.
And I just walked right on past. Before she could react, I was disappearing through the kitchen, out the back door, and into my Jeep.
There you go, Nina. Take that.
How's it feel to have someone you supposedly love blow you off with nary a care?
Nicole was even more quiet than normal the next morning. All efforts to get her to talk were met with monosyllabic responses and grunts. By the time afternoon clean up arrived, I was tired of it.
"Fine," I said to her back as she loaded the dishwasher. "I'm sorry, okay? I shouldn't have gotten you roped into a dinner party without asking you first. I just thought, you know, it would be fun to just get together and cook for some family."
Her shoulders slumped as she went still.
"C'mon, Nicole," I continued, pleading. "I'll do it however you want. You want to cancel the whole thing, no problem. You want just me to do the cooking? That's fine, too. I just thought . . . . Well, I don't really know what I thought. I just don't need you all pissed off about it though, okay?"
She turned, her face nervous, and leaned back against the counter, her hands on each side of her ass.
We stared at each other for a few moments, her mouth starting to say something several times before she managed to speak.
"I've never cooked any French food," she finally said.
I smiled. "You got anything particular in mind?"
I nodded, running through the timeline in my mind.