A woman who’s had work done sits at a table toward the back. She looks like Mrs. Markel, my mother’s friend. But no, she’s not. Which is good because the last thing I need is my mother calling me to give me shit about any of this.
A tall man in a black blazer walks into the bar and now stands next to Cyril; he watches me as well. In a different way. So I unbutton my jacket, sing “Boy from Ipanema,” which I can’t stand anymore, and slide it off, being sure to angle my shoulder away. He’ll like that, especially the snake tattoo that goes up the back of my neck. When I glance his way, I can tell I’ve got his undivided attention. I sing like he doesn’t exist.
Later, when we take a short break, I make a point not to go to the bar, but ask Joe to bring me a ginger ale. The man at the bar has an anxious look on his face. I like that.
“Shit Lyd, you are behaving yourself tonight,” Teddy says.
“Yup, being a good girl, Theodore. See, it’s not so hard.” I take a sip out of my water bottle, which is really vodka, and then send a quick nod to the tall guy at the bar. You’d think I gave him a million bucks the way his eyes light up.
“Here ya go,” Joe says, handing me a drink with two cherries in it.
He looks embarrassed, and I wonder if he asked the bartender to put them in there for me.
“Thanks,” I say and then nudge him with my elbow. “So what happened to you tonight? You’re usually the early one.”
He runs his fingers through his hair, a feathery mess of brown wisps. Joe is handsome in his own way, not so much that other people would notice, but I can spot it. Big brown eyes, a sharp nose, the small split in his front teeth.
He says, “I don’t know, Lyd. Got caught up helping this old lady who lives next door. This librarian, who’s about this big.” He makes an inch with his long fingers. “Was trying to move some boxes on her own. She’s like a hundred or something, you know?”
“Aww, well that was nice. A better excuse than any of us losers ever have for being late.” I take a sip of my drink. “Hey, how much longer do we have?”
Joe pulls an old silver watch out of his vest pocket. “Another fifteen minutes I guess.”
“Ok, be right back.” I move away from him, catching the tall man’s eye, and then I know he’s following me out of that wrought iron gate. In no time, we’re in the alley behind the bar and he’s fucking me against the wall. I bite his shoulder and it’s over in minutes, so that I’m back at the mic before Lou has returned from his final cigarette. I feel better, more relaxed. The tall man doesn’t come back.
Later that night as we pack up, Joe offers me a ride.
“Sure, that’d be great.” I’m glad to go with him because Teddy is annoying me and trying to entice me to use more than alcohol. By the last couple songs of the gig, I’m completely ignoring him, which I’m enjoying, actually. I’ll do what I want and no one is going tempt me into doing anything else. As if. I swirl the last sip of vodka in my mouth and throw the empty bottle right past his head into the trashcan. And make it in.
“C’mon, Joe. Night, guys,” I tell mostly Lou, but Teddy, too, because we have another gig in a week, so best to stay friendly.
Joe’s car is a sloppy mess, which is surprising since he always seems so clean and smells of soap. His car, however, looks like an apartment on wheels, with clothes strewn all over the back seat, a broken lamp in one corner, a dog crate in the other, and shin guards and cleats on the floor. I never imagined him playing soccer. Papers and books are stacked on the dashboard. The front seat is smelly and stained, with red wine and coffee splotches all over the console, crushed paper cups on the floor and balled-up burger wrappers. I have to scoot everything aside with my foot just to get in.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” he says.
It smells like French fries and cigarette smoke. He must know this because he rolls the windows down despite the drizzle that’s begun outside. When the wet smell breezes in, everything’s better. My bag, a big vinyl purple tote, sits between my knees, and we bump along the crappy roads toward the Bywater, leaving the songs and sounds of the city behind. But for now, the quiet is fine.
My house is not so very far, and I could’ve walked or hitched a ride, but since Joe offered. He’s nice like that. Seems like he’s from a whole different era sometimes, with that old pocket watch and his odd manners.
“Not a bad gig,” he says.
“Nope, not bad at all. Done worse, that’s for sure. That Cyril’s a creep, though, and he’s on my nerves. It’d be great to get on someplace else.” My black nail polish is chipped and I scratch at it until it starts flaking off. “What’s this?” I ask, pulling a fat book off of the dashboard.
“My old book,” he tells me, his voice low, a little raspy.
“Ah. You’re a Real Book guy,” I say. I pull my book out and hold it next to his. “I’m a Fake Book gal. Means we aren’t meant to be together.”