The gavel fell with a sharp rap on the oak of the judge's bench, announcing the end of my marriage. My ex-wife smirked at me and I wanted to rip her head off. Her new boyfriend put his hand on her shoulder and she turned to him, sliding under his protective arm. As if the little barracuda needed protection! I silently and sarcastically wished him good luck. With her he was going to need it.
Of course, they now had my house and my kids and even my damn dog all to themselves. I got most of the credit card bills, my pickup and my freedom. I also got to pay her handsomely for the privilege of living by myself. At least my attorney had gotten the judge to agree that she should make the mortgage payments. I've always been too nice a guy with women. I've also always fallen for the type of woman who is ready and willing to take advantage of that trait. Carol was a prime example of that. We were married for seven years and managed to put together a decent and comfortable life for ourselves. She worked and helped too, but it was mostly my construction wages that built the house (to her specifications) and bought the furniture.
I had remained sitting at the defense table after the verdict. I looked up and realized that most of the people had left the echoing court room. I slid my chair back and stood up. My attorney was standing off to one side of the bench talking to the court reporter. I decided not to interrupt him. I turned and walked out through the low gate in the railing between the court arena and the spectator's benches.
Outside the December sky had turned dark gray and I felt a chill. I went down the concrete steps and turned toward where I'd parked my truck. As I got close I saw the pink paper fluttering in the breeze. Perfect! Spousal support and a parking ticket, too! My day was complete. I almost ripped it up without looking at it, but something seemed odd about it. When I examined it I realized that it wasn't a ticket after all.
In ink and a feminine looking hand a note was written on the pink paper. "Allen: If you want some company and to drown your sorrows, meet me at Little Willie's." I looked up from the note. My eyes scanned the immediate area but I couldn't see anything or any one paying particular attention to me. If the woman who wrote it was watching, I couldn't find her.
I wanted a stiff drink, but I had planned on having it in my new studio apartment all by myself. I wasn't ready to start dating again. On one hand I was sorry my marriage had failed. On another, I was glad to be quit of that bitch, Carol. It had been years since we had anything like a real marriage. We were just putting up with each other. In fact, I had just been waiting until my daughters had both reached eighteen and then I planned to split. Carol beat me to the punch, apparently not caring that her children needed two parents -- preferably the original two. I hated the idea of her new Romeo -- if he lasted long enough with her -- acting like a father to them.
The rain started slowly. I got into the truck and started it. While I waited for it to warm up I reread the note. I couldn't think of any women I knew who might have written it. Most of the women in our circle had either been Carol's friends or married to mine. None of them would arrange to meet me this way -- at least I didn't think so. Folding the note and stuffing it into my pocket, I checked the mirrors and pulled away from the curb.
I hadn't decided if I was going to buy a bottle and head home or meet this mystery woman at the bar. At least I thought I hadn't decided. I did pull into the strip mall where the liquor store was and bought the bottle. Back in the truck I turned to look behind me and backed from the parking spot. With the truck pointed toward the street I waited for a break in the traffic. If I turned left, a couple of blocks would take me to Little Willie's. Or I could turn right and take the freeway entrance to get me home.
A city bus roared past and I saw my chance. I turned left without consciously willing my hands to do it. I am not one to let a mystery go without trying to solve it. The bar was on the left side of the boulevard. I pulled into the left turn lane and again had to wait. I let my eyes run over the cars parked at Willie's, but saw none that looked familiar. I got my break and I pulled into the lot. By then the rain was falling pretty hard. I was going to get wet, I decided. I'd had to go to court straight from the job site, so I wasn't dressed up anyway. My clothes would be fine for Willie's, which had a mostly working class clientele, with a few yuppies sprinkled here and there.
I dashed for the door and stepped under the awning. I ran my hands over my face and swiped the rain from my eyes. My reflection in the dark glass of the door showed me I was relatively presentable. Here goes nothing, I thought, and pulled the door open. I stepped into the dark and waited for my eyes to adjust. It was pretty dim outside so it didn't take long. I moved into the bar, my eyes scanning the room for a woman who was looking for me. I didn't see anything obvious.
Willie's is a big bar. There are booths around the perimeter of the room, and a scattering of tables between the booths and the bar. The bar is a three-sided rectangle butted up against the center of the back wall. From where I stood I could see that there was a pretty sparse crowd. Absently, I counted them as I moved around the room. By the time I got back to the door I'd reached thirty. I also hadn't been corralled by some leggy blonde, redhead or brunette who wanted to take me home and screw my brains out. There were a few women who didn't seem to be with men, but they were mostly in pairs or groups. None of them was sitting alone and none had made eye contact as I made the rounds of the room.
I took a seat at the bar. When the woman behind it looked my way I lifted a hand and called out my order for a beer. Until that second it hadn't occurred to me that the note might have been a prank of Carol's. The handwriting was not hers, but she could have had somebody at work write the note. I made a deal with myself. If nobody showed by the time I finished my beer, I'd go home. I sipped and lit a cigarette, though the air was thick with smoke already.
The barmaid brought my beer and set it down with a smile. "How you doin' today?" she asked. I didn't go to Willie's too often, but often enough that she recognized me. She was attractive and seemed to be on duty whenever I'd been there. I was trying to remember her name as I answered numbly.
"Not bad, but not good either," I said. I didn't feel like telling her about my day or my divorce. She probably didn't really care how I was doing anyway. I returned the smile as best I could. I guess she saw something on my face I hadn't realized was there, though.
"Hmm…you don't look like things are 'not bad'. In fact you look kind of like you just lost your dog." I had to laugh.
"Funny you should mention that," I said.
"Oh no! Don't tell me you really did? God, I'm sorry! It's just an expression I use."
"No, no. It's okay. It's just that…well, I really did lose my dog today, though I guess I could probably get visitation rights along with the kids."
"Uh-oh. Divorced, huh?" She was wiping the already shining bar with a wet rag as we talked. I looked up at her.
"Yup. Final today. In fact that's where I came from."
"Well, in that case, the beer's on the house. You want another one just yell. It'll be free, too. You probably don't have any spare cash now, if things went the way they usually do."
"You're right about that. Thanks, but I think I'll probably just have the one. I think I was supposed to meet somebody here, but…" I looked around again. When I turned back to face front, The barmaid was grinning at me. I frowned back. "What? Something between my teeth, or what?"
She laughed then. "It was me. I left the note, Allen. I just came on duty. Sometimes I like to stop at the court and listen to whatever is going on that day. Today it was you. I recognized you from here and left the note before I had to leave for work." I sighed.
"So it was all a trick to drum up business. If you got me here to give away your beer, you won't bring in much money for Willie." She stopped grinning.
"I didn't do it to drum up business. I just thought you were a nice guy and got a raw deal. Never mind then." She turned away and worked the other end of the bar for a while. I felt like a shit. I was only half-kidding and wanted to apologize. Her reaction seemed to be excessive for what I'd said.
While I was trying to catch her eye a very wet, very fat man slid onto the stool two spots away from mine. He pulled his ball cap off his balding head and shook it over the floor. As he deposited it on the empty stool between us, he glanced at me and nodded. I nodded back. Then he looked down the bar and called out, "Hey, Peggy, how about a beer here?" The barmaid raised her eyes to the voice and grinned.
"Sure thing, Jack! Be right there." Once he'd mentioned it I recalled her name. If she ever looked at me again I could at least make my apology more personal. She bustled past me and thumped a tall glass of draft in front of "Jack". She turned without even looking at me and was almost past me again when I spoke her name. She didn't stop, but she slowed and glanced at me. I motioned to her to come over. She sighed and stepped reluctantly to stand in front of me.
"Listen," I began, "I'm sorry. I was just making a joke. What you did was really nice. I want to thank you for the only bright spot in this whole day."
"Never mind, Allen. It was a stupid thing to do. Forget it."
"No! It was a sweet thing to do. Please can we start over?" Along with my "too nice" attitude, I have been told that I have a nice smile. Some say it's a winning smile. I turned it on for Peggy and she sighed again, looking at me. A faint answering smile touched her lips and she said, "Well, the free beer's still free." Then she rushed off to fill another order.
"She's some gal, ain't she?" Jack had taken in our exchange. It obviously made him think that he and I were friends now. It was okay. It's the way things happen in bars -- especially neighborhood bars like this one.
"She is," I replied. "I barely know her but she seems really sweet."
"Yeah." Jack shook his head and grimaced. "It takes a really strong girl to get through what she's been through." His words intrigued me. Trying not to seem too nosy I asked him what he meant. "Oh, well, I'm not sure I should be telling tales out of school." He stopped and I waited for him to go on. He took a drink of his beer and said nothing. I figured he'd tell me or he wouldn't.
Peggy brought me another beer and smiled a real smile this time. "On the house again, Allen. You said you wanted to start over." I grinned at her and her cheeks colored as she turned back to her work. I felt my own face redden as I realized Jack was making assumptions about Peggy and me that he shouldn't have been.
"Wow. She usually doesn't do that," he said with genuine surprise. This place doesn't do a bad business, but Peg usually makes damn sure folks pay for what they get." My mind tripped over what he'd said. When he saw the puzzled expression, he figured it out right away. "Didn't you know? She owns the bar. Willie was her husband."
I guess my mouth dropped open for a second before I clamped it shut again. He had said "was". My curiosity was piqued. Jack picked up on it and chuckled. "Yeah, it's hard to believe. It's true though. Peggy has run the whole show since Willie got himself killed." I had thought Willie was an absentee owner or something, with Peggy or somebody else managing it. Jack told me the whole story then.
Willie had inherited the place from his old man. He'd taken a run down old place and remodeled it and built it into something better. One night a few years after that Peggy had come in looking for work. Willie hired her, fell for her, and eventually married her, in spite of their age difference. He had been in his forties and Peggy was barely old enough to drink, let alone work in a bar. Things went great for a few years until one night two guys came in just before last call. They waited until there were only two or three other customers before they pulled their guns and robbed everybody.
"Well, Willie was too damned stubborn and protective of the place. He went for the pistol he always kept under the bar and they shot him. He lingered a few days but finally died. Peggy lost the baby -- she was about four months pregnant -- and just went to work running the place." I didn't say anything for a few minutes. What was there to say? It was another tragic story. I just shook my head and watched the woman with new appreciation as she danced back and forth behind the bar, mixing drinks, "schmoozing", and drawing drafts smoothly.
Jack cleared his throat. "I…um…well, I only mentioned all that because it looked like the two of you were kinda…well, 'sparring', if you know what I mean." I whipped my head around to look at him. His fleshy cheeks flushed and he seemed embarrassed.
"No…uh…well, I mean, I don't know. I really don't know her that well. I don't know her at all, in fact." I explained that I was an infrequent customer and that was all.
"Well, like I said, she usually doesn't buy drinks for anybody. As long as I've known her, the only time she's bought me one was on my birthday." He chuckled. "Of course I'm just an old fat married guy." He stood up, drained his glass and plopped the wet hat back on his head. "Well, I gotta be going. My wife will have dinner ready." He shook my hand and winked. "You could do a whole lot worse than old Peggy, Allen. You seem like a nice guy and I know she's a nice gal. As far as I know, she hasn't dated anybody since Willie was killed. I'd really like to see her happy." He turned and went back out into the evening.
I watched Peggy a while. The after-work crowd thinned out. Pretty soon I was the only one at the bar except for two determined drinkers down toward the opposite corner. Peggy lifted the gate in the bar and went about clearing tables and carrying dirty glasses and ashtrays back to the bar. Before she ducked back behind it she disappeared through a door in the back of the room. She emerged carrying two full cases of beer. She heaved them on top of the bar with a grunt and wiped her forehead.
After she had filled the glass washer and started it she drew a glass of cola for herself and brought it over to where I sat. "Want another beer?" she asked me.
"No thanks. I still have to drive home. You sure work your ass off in here."
She gave me a lopsided grin. "Yeah. Want a job? The pay is lousy -- since I can't afford help except on weekends -- but the hours are even worse." I laughed with her. She got more serious. "What were you and Jack talking about? It looked like you were getting kind of buddy-buddy."
"Well," I started. I was hesitant to tell her the truth, but she figured it out.
"Wait: let me guess. He was telling you what an angel I am. He told you about all my troubles and wants you to take me away from all this." She waved her arm vaguely around over her shoulder. I smiled, and it told her she was right. "Yeah, he's always trying to set me up with guys who come in. He's appointed himself my guardian angel." She looked at me and a shadow crossed her face. "I guess he told you about Willie, huh?" I nodded. She took a deep breath and looked away. Neither of us said anything for a few seconds.
She looked back at me. "You're the first guy I've invited here. Jack has brought several 'prospects' in. Others, like you, he's picked out of the customers. I've told him that if I want to date somebody I'm capable of picking out my own guys." It hit me immediately but it took her a beat before she realized what she'd just told me. Then she really blushed and, abandoning her soda, she pretended she had something important to do. While she was gone I considered the implications. She had picked me.
I was smart enough to realize I was in no shape to get involved with another woman at that point. I was not capable of rational perception. It wouldn't be fair to me or to the woman. Everything she did or said would pass through the filters Carol had installed in me. Still, she was attractive. She wasn't what you could call slender, but she carried her body in such a way that she wasn't really fat, either. Her hips and butt looked good in her tight jeans, even if they were a bit broader than what is considered the norm these days. Still, that had never been unattractive to me. Skinny women just don't do it for me. All in all, if she had been born a couple hundred years ago, she'd have been a superstar for her figure alone.
Her breasts were definitely there, though they weren't large. That, too, was to my taste. The best part was her face. Her eyes tended to draw one's attention. Her features said she definitely had a sense of humor. She had a quick smile and during the time I'd been watching her, she had shared jokes and jibes with most of the guys sitting at the bar.
I drained the beer and she happened to look at me in that instant. I smiled and she made her way down the bar. She leaned one arm along the edge of the bar and rested her tits on top of it, her head supported by the other hand. "So you're out of here, eh?"
"Yup. I'll run the risk of getting thrown into the hoosegow if I drink any more and drive." I smiled at her again. "Do you think it would be all right if I call you some time? I'd like to spend some time and get to know you."
"I thought you'd never ask," she grinned.
"Okay," I said. "Great, then, I'll call you." I slid off the stool and she stood back up. A woman had approached the bar from a nearby table and asked for a refill. Peggy was pouring the wine as I pulled a couple dollars from my pocket and turned to leave. She let me get to the door.
"Hey, Allen!" I turned around. She crooked a finger at me and I retraced my steps. She returned to where I was standing. "This is the place where you're supposed to ask me for my number."
I felt my face flush, but she was grinning and scribbling on a coaster. She handed it to me. I stammered my thanks and tucked the stiff cardboard coaster into my back pocket. She'd already gone back to her work, so I just beat an embarrassed retreat.
The rain had let up while I'd been inside. It was still spitting a little bit, but around here that isn't considered rain. I got into my truck and fired it up. I told myself that I would wait a few days and call Peggy. We would go out for coffee or lunch. It was way too soon for me to start dating for real. That's what I told myself. I really meant it.
The light on my answering machine was blinking when I got to my apartment. I wasn't eager to find out what it was. I sure wasn't expecting any calls. For that reason I decided it would probably either be a "hang up" or bad news of some sort. I ignored it.
I crossed the room to my bed. Shucking off my work clothes I strode naked to the bathroom. I started the shower -- it always takes about five minutes to get hot -- and returned to the corner of the room that held the refrigerator and stove. I fixed a drink in a plastic "china" cup and took it back to the bathroom with me. The shower had a little ledge in the corner that seemed to be made for holding a drink. I washed the sweat and grime off and sipped my drink while I thought about Peggy.
Carol and I had some good sex at the beginning of our marriage. In the last few years, however, she complained about not getting enough. Well, when a man isn't attracted to a woman, that's what happens. Her personality was ugly so it didn't matter what she was like otherwise. So, yeah, I was horny. Thinking about Peggy and the way her ass looked as she walked away from me began to work on me. By the time I got out of the shower, my dick was very, very clean and I was a lot less horny.