tagRomanceThe Lady in Blue Ch. 01

The Lady in Blue Ch. 01


Ted's point of view

I opened the driver's side door and stepped into the street. Glancing back to make sure the way was clear, I walked around the car to join my younger brother, Stan. Once or twice a week we made the trip into Houston to the club. It was a private club upstairs from a restaurant. The owner was particular about who he allowed in and his criterion was not always obvious. Some people became downright angry at being denied entry; but Carl ran the club for his personal pleasure, not for the profit. He wasn't terribly concerned about those who got upset. He just saw it as validation for not letting them in to begin with. Frankly, I thought the restricted clientele made it more of a draw than if it were open to every Tom, Dick and Harry. I laughingly called it my own Diogenes Club.

We went there to unwind from the rigors of managing the family business, Stansbury Vineyards. The vine covered terraces in the Texas Hill Country, the old work buildings and the presses near Houston have been in my family for almost a hundred years. My father, grandfather and great-grandfather all sweated blood over those grapes. I was no different. Stan razzed me endlessly about all the hard work. It's why I'm thirty-five and single, he said. He could be right. We shared the same square face as our father, the same strong jaw line. Looks didn't seem to stop him from dating so it must be me.

The décor was relaxing and very comfortable with overstuffed leather chairs scattered among short tables of rich mahogany. A fireplace in the side wall provided an air of intimacy with the scent of burned oak. Many of the patrons here smoked cigars or pipes with their brandy, whisky or what have you. While I don't smoke, I did like the smell of a good pipe.

Stan sometimes smoked Padron cigars while we relaxed. He told me I should enjoy one along with my beer at least once a month. No thanks. It was a very nasty habit. I would rather eat dirt. It would be healthier. I wasn't a health nut but I was in good shape and I'd like to keep it that way.

A number of people have wondered why I drank beer when I went out and not wine. To me, it seemed to be a break from work. I tasted wine often as I worked, and a few beers now and then let me feel relaxed. It made me feel less of a wine snob.

Tonight, we found our way up the stairs just after six in the evening. The club was only about half full with several regulars seated at the bar who waved at us when we walked past. Carl shook his bar rag at us as we settled into place and Dina, the waitress, brought a glass of chardonnay for Stan and a Heineken for me. She joked with me that Carl had a nice selection of more sophisticated beers on hand, but she understood. I just liked the simple and clean taste. Dina was Carl's daughter and, if you looked, you could see her mother in her. Not Carl - thank God. He was a great guy but he fell out of the ugly tree and he hit every single branch on the way to the ground.

Dina patted Stan on the arm and moved off to see to the needs of the other patrons. I shot him my patented big brother look. "She likes you," I said.

Stan laughed back. "I like her, too, but think of the family, man! Carl's genes are in there somewhere!"

I slapped him on the arm. "Oh, stop it! You like Carl and Dina looks just fine."

"Ted, I like you, too, but you're still a bit homely." he retorted.

I laughed back and we settled into our comfortable routine of drinking slowly. We chatted about the people that were there. Captain Jack, Uncle Armand (no relation) and Sven the weightlifter were the first on the hit parade. They were all real characters and always worth a lot of speculation.

I was so involved in the conversation that I didn't see the woman in blue come in. It was like she had just appeared in one of the leather chairs across from us with a large, bald black man in a dark suit. It was hard to tell but I thought she was about my height. Rather tall for a woman. Long blonde hair cascaded across her shoulders, framing a face that was long, slender and pale. A soft pink lipstick was better than the red that so many fair skinned women favored. It suited her.

The blue dress fit her svelte frame like a glove and showed her willowy legs to fine advantage as she crossed them. She was well built for her frame, her cleavage showcased in a daringly low cut front that gave one the hope that gravity might pull the clinging fabric just a little lower. She was engrossed in an animated conversation with her well dressed companion, laughing from time to time. The occasional sip she took of her wine caused delicious ripples in her golden hair.

"Do you like her?"

I startled just a bit at the unexpected voice. I had forgotten Stan.

"She's pretty," I admitted.

"Go ask for her number."

I turned to stare incredulously and chided him. "She's with her date, Stan! Not only is that clichéd, it's just wrong!"

Stan smiled and shook his head. "Ted, that's why I date and you don't. You need to be a bit more forward," he said. "Women are just as needy as you are. They want to have men show an interest in them." Seeing that I remained unconvinced, he smirked. "I'll show you what I mean."

I looked at him warily, not really sure what he had in mind. He just smiled back at me.

"Stan, really, there's no need…" I started.

Stan stood abruptly. When I looked back, the woman's date had left the table, probably for a trip to the men's room. Stan walked right up to her and she smiled at his approach. He bent and spoke softly, pointing back my way. I could feel my face turn red. This was so embarrassing. She smiled at me…her eyes sparkling as she spoke softly with Stan. I could almost feel the heat of my embarrassment in my toes. He nodded and returned to his seat, a smug expression on his face, shrouded in a conspiratorial silence. Finally, unable to contain myself, I leaned forward. "So, what did she say?"

Stan waved his hand nonchalantly. "Nothing important. I'm sure it wouldn't interest you."

I glared at him. "Stan…," I said dangerously.

Stan laughed and held up his hands in self-defense. "Calm down, big brother! I'll tell! No need to get violent!"

Furtively, he leaned forward. "She said that the man with her is not her date, just a friend. I told her you were shy and she thought that was cute. She told me to encourage you to. Go ask for her name and phone number yourself, if you're interested that is."

When I looked back over she raised her wine glass to me and took a sip. Her friend walked up behind her and affectionately touched her shoulder as he took his seat. They went back to chatting. I could tell I was the subject of conversation from the sideways glances that kept coming my way. I flushed again and she laughed.

Stan startled me again when he rose to his feet. "Well, Ted, I think I'll call it an early night. You stay and have a good evening. Remember, chance favors the prepared mind, God helps those that help themselves and a rolling stone gathers no moss." He cocked his head and smiled. "I can't think of any more good advice so I'll get a cab and you have fun working up your courage."

With a wave, he walked out of the club, leaving me to fend for myself. A number of unusual sensations filtered through me as I settled back to take a long draught of my beer. I was shocked to find it almost empty. I didn't recall having drunk so much of it. I waved at Dina for another. She nodded back from across the room.

While I waited, I returned my gaze to the woman in blue speculatively. She was still engrossed in her conversation with her friend and seemed to have moved her attention away from me. That made it so much the better to look her over and consider what I should do. Why was I shy around women? I had never really given it much thought. Work and family took up a lot of my time. How did I go about being more 'forward', as Stan put it? Did I want to be more 'forward'?

When I stopped reflecting, I noticed that she had turned in her chair so that her skirt had ridden up. Now an expanse of creamy, pale thigh was open to my view. I'm sure that my face mirrored my surprise but I had to admit that she looked exceptional.

At last, I looked back up to her face and saw that she was looking right at me with a wry expression. She quirked an eyebrow and seemed to be inquiring if I liked what I saw. I felt my face heat once again from being caught ogling a complete stranger. She broke into laughter and made the finger gesture of 'shame, shame' at me. Her friend looked confused and looked my way with a similar expression. She leaned over, whispering something to him and he almost fell out of his chair chortling.

Her friend's laughter got my dander up. I didn't like being laughed at very much and I felt foolish. She was using me as her and her friend's evening amusement. I took the opportunity of Dina bringing my second beer to shift around so I wasn't looking at either of them. Inside, I seethed with indignation. After about ten minutes, Dina set down another beer beside my mostly finished one. I looked up in surprise.

"Compliments of the lady, Ted. She said to tell you they didn't mean to upset you. Her friend was not laughing at you; he was laughing at her behavior."

I looked back over and the seats were empty. That made me sit up and take notice. I looked around but they were nowhere to be seen!

Dina continued, "She said they had to leave, but hoped you enjoyed the view. If you're interested, she plans to be back Friday night and hopes you'd like to see more of her then."

Dina started to walk away but turned back, adding, "And Ted, tell Stan that I really like him, okay?"

With a smile, she moved off, her short skirt swishing back and forth. I sank back in my seat a bit trying to get a grasp on the situation. Did I want to see more of the woman in blue? Once the outrage wore off, I found myself seriously considering coming back on Friday to see what else might be in store. I knew Stan would insist I come, the cad. Should I? Was it all just titillation and teasing? Or did she really want me to step up?

An hour passed before I finally shook myself out of my reverie. I needed to go home. I could think more about it as the week passed. Friday was still three days away. I rose with a wave to Carl, Dina and Sven and I made my way down the stairs and into the dark, muggy heat. Houston summers could be hot, but I suspected that the forecast had more than just sweltering temperatures ahead for the weekend.

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