I’m back in New York, tanned and rested. I’ll unpack most of my globe-trotting tales in time. But here’s one from my sojourn in the Deep South to get you started.
Jesse looked out over the porch rail to the moon reflected in the lake below us.
I lowered myself heavily into an adjacent chair.
My grandmother and parents had already turned in. I tucked my kids into bed, and then poured a drink before joining my brother on the porch light. The house behind us was silent, the woods around us filled with the undulating racket of crickets and croaking frogs.
Jesse turned to me, his teeth gleaming yellow in the porch light. “Did I ever tell you about Morgan’s?” he asked.
I considered the bourbon I held in the back of my throat. “No,” I swallowed. “What’s Morgan’s?”
“Morgan’s is a bar out near the new mall; you know Morgan’s, it used to be on Southside.”
My forehead squeezed out memories. “Oh sure, I remember it back in the day. It was kind of a frat bar, right?”
“Well, it may have been back then. These days, it’s more of a neighborhood place—my kids make fun of it, saying it’s kind of a redneck biker bar.” He chuckled and took a sip of Miller Lite. “Me and Linda go there pretty much every Thursday night.”
“Oh, that’s fun. Kind of a date night?”
“Yeah, that’s right—it’s a date night. We started going out on Thursdays when the kids were young, ‘cause that’s when the kids were with their mother. Now, we are just in the habit.”
“And you usually go to Morgan’s on Thursdays?”
“No,” he laughed, “We always go to Morgan’s. I guess we are like barflies, ‘cause we know fucking everybody. You ought to see Linda there. She just lights up and says hello to everyone and hugs their necks . . . the men all love her.”
We laughed. “I’m sure,” I said. “She’s the biggest flirt. Hell, she flirts with me.”
“Shit, she flirts with Dad,” Jesse smiled. “And you know he loves it.”
“God bless her, then.”
“Yeah,” he nodded, lost in asides. “So we go there all the time, every week, like I said, and we know everybody. Everybody is all in everybody else’s business, which its own soap opera, really, when you get right down to it.”
Jesse took another sip of beer. “I mean, if I go there, and Linda’s not there with me, or there already, people will call her the next day wondering if there is trouble in paradise. Like we broke up. That kind of shit.”
“Sounds awful, but . . .”
“But yeah, we love it,” Jesse allowed. “Anyway, I’m here tonight, so Linda is there alone, which isn’t our usual night anyway—so people must be talking. Which has me thinking: you want to come out with us on Thursday?”
My palm cradled my bourbon glass. “Do I want to go out drinking with you and Linda, the king and queen of the Morgan’s prom? Hell yeah, I do. How do you figure we pull that off?”
“Aw man, that’s easy,” Jesse grinned, swatting a mosquito. “Your kids can stay here at the lake with Mom and Dad, right?”
“All right, so you come into town with me. You can stay over at my house that night and drive back in the morning. You’ll be back here by ten or eleven. What time do your kids get up?”
“My kids haven’t seen ten in the morning since we got here.”
“Perfect, then. You’ll be back, and they will never even know you were gone.”
“Sweet plan.” I raised my glass. “Thanks.”
Jesse reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. “You are just beginning to thank me. I’m getting you laid.”
I coughed up a draught. “Come again?” I asked, wiping the bourbon from my lap.
“I said I’m getting you laid. You haven’t seen this place, but . . . hang on.” Jesse slipped a finger into his free ear. “Linda? Hey, it’s Jesse. Can you hear me? . . . uh huh . . . you are kidding! . . . I can’t believe that! . . . Oh, nothing much, just sitting here with Jefferson . . . that’s right, you bet your sweet ass we are . . .” Jesse held the phone to his neck. “She asked if we were drinking.”
“Ask her how many she’s had,” I teased. “And tell her I said hi.”
Jesse lifted his phone. “Jefferson says hi and called your bluff.” He laughed. “She says you don’t want to know.”
I raised my glass. “Back at you, bitch.”
Jesse laughed. “He says ‘you don’t want to know’ . . . no, just sitting here on the porch . . . uh huh . . . uh huh . . . yeah . . . hey listen, is Cheryl there? She is? Well, would you mind putting her on?”
Jesse told me to hang on a second. I tuned in to the frogs and crickets.
“Cheryl? It’s Jesse . . . I’m fine, how are you? . . . That’s great, great. Listen, I’m sitting here with my brother, Jefferson . . . that’s right, the one in New York. I was telling him about you, and he wants to say hey.” Jesse looked at me, listening to his phone. “Oh yeah? Well, you can tell him that yourself, here he is.”
Jesse passed me the phone. “Talk,” he signaled silently.
“Who is this?” I whispered to him as I took the phone.
“Cheryl, a friend of ours. Talk to her!”
I raise the phone to my ear. “Hello? Cheryl?”
“Hey,” a soft voice drawled above the bar’s din. “Is this the Jefferson I’ve heard so much about?”
“Yes. Though anything you heard was likely exaggerated.” I smiled at Jesse. He grinned at me.
“Well, I heard you are as good looking as Jesse. Is that true?”
“No, see, that is false. I am nowhere near as good looking as Jesse. You say it as though that were even an attainable aspiration.”
Jesse grinned and gave me a thumb’s up.
“I don’t see how anybody could be,” Cheryl laughed. “I mean, if his wife wasn’t one of my best friends, I’d be all in that business.”
“Oh, I hear you. If he wasn’t my brother, I’d do him too.”
Cheryl’s laugh rolled into the next one. “Well, this is the South, you know. No reason you can’t keep it in the family.”
“That’s what I keep telling him.”
Cheryl’s laughter went up a register. “Jefferson, you are too funny. You are just like Jesse.”
“He writes most of my material, in fact.”
Cheryl giggled. “This one sure likes to laugh,” I whispered to Jesse.
“I’m sure you are cracking her up,” he said, smiling.
“So, Jefferson,” Cheryl said, catching her breath. “I hear you might be joining us on Thursday night.”
“I have just been extended that gracious invitation, yes’m.”
“Well, I really look forward to meeting you. If you are anything like your brother, we are going to get along fine. He’s such a gentleman.”
“Oh really, I’m no match for comparisons to Jesse. He’s one of a kind. Though, I do strive to emulate his gentlemanly ways.”
“Well, I do love a gentleman,” Cheryl said.
“Gentleman do well to be loved,” I said, feeling caught in a web of self-reflective flirtation.
“I suppose they do,” Cheryl laughed. “Well, then, I look forward to meeting you.”
“Me too. I mean, I look forward to meeting you as well.”
She laughed. “Well, likewise. Here, let me give the phone back to Linda.”
“Okay, I’ll pass it back to Jesse. Nice talking with you.”
“Likewise. See you Thursday.” I smiled and handed the phone to Jesse.
“You done good, brother,” Jesse smiled, taking the phone. He listened for a moment. “Linda’s talking to Cheryl. So anyway, here’s her story.” Jesse held an ear to the phone as he spoke. “Cheryl works with Linda. She’s sweet, but kind of clingy. She always wants to be where Linda is. She’s got, I guess you could say, a crush on us.”
“On you both?”
“Yeah, she likes to flirt with me, though of course, nothing comes of it, since I’m married to her friend and all.” Jesse listened to his phone. “They are still talking. Linda just told here you are an older, skinnier version of me . . . and she’s saying you are single . . . and live in New York, which she knew . . .”
“So I am the attainable yet somewhat exotic version of you,” I nodded. “Sounds like Linda knows you are the star attraction for Cheryl, if she’s selling me with comparisons to you.”
“That’s right,” Jesse laughed. “Cheryl doesn’t have much of a poker face about her crush.” He held up his phone. “One sec . . . yeah, honey, I’m here . . .” He looked at me. “She said that? Great! . . . uh huh . . . okay . . . all right, that all sounds good. Well, I won’t keep you, you get back to your night with the girls . . . all right, I love you too. Bye.”
Jesse closed his phone and put it on the porch rail. He picked up his beer. “Well, that’s settled,” he said. “Looks like you are banging Cheryl on Thursday night.”
“Huh,” I said, a little incredulous. “Just like that, huh? Well, thanks for setting that up.”
“No problem.” He sipped his beer. “Oh, did Dad tell you we tried to get that Sea Doo fixed, but it wasn’t ready before you got here?”
“Yes, he did mention that.”
Jesse talked about the bike shop that was making the repairs, and soon we moved on to other topics. We drank and talked for a spell, pausing now and then to soak up the night’s sounds.
All the while, in the back of my mind, I considered how remarkable it was that my little brother was getting me laid.
My date was a woman I knew only as a voice on the phone.