The parking lot looked like a biker rally.
“Holy smokes, will you look at all that chrome!” I exclaimed.
“Right? I told you this was a biker bar,” Jesse said, turning the wheel as he searched for an open space.
“And some of the sweetest people, too,” Linda said, leaning forward on the back of my seat. “Oh look, Jesse, there’s Freddy’s Harley! I guess that means he’s here with Cassie. I thought they broke up?”
“I don’t know,” Jesse said, easing between two SUVs. I noticed a baby seat in the vehicle to my right. “But I bet we hear all about it.”
Jesse walked ahead of us as Linda pointed out her favorite bikes. “They sure keep ‘em clean,” I nodded.
“It’s all kind of riders,” she said. “Some hardcore, some weekenders. All sweet people, though.” She squeezed my arm. “I’m so excited you are meeting our friends!”
It was nearly eleven on a weeknight. Morgan’s was packed.
We caught up with Jesse just inside the door. He was laughing as he handed a ten and a five to a stout bearded man who looked to be near seventy.
“Willie, you just come here and get your sugar!” Linda called, walking slowly ahead with her arms raised. She leaned herself gingerly against the old man’s chest and kissed his cheek.
“Hey, sugar,” Willie said, bracing himself to her embrace. “Now tell me: why are you still with this good ol’ boy after all I’ve done for you?”
“Hey!” Jesse laughed.
Linda pulled back and slapped Willie’s chest. “Now, you hush, Willie. You know you are the first call I make after Jesse’s dead and buried.”
“Hey!,” Jesse said. “I’m right here, you know.” He pulled me closer. “Willie, I’d like you to meet my brother, TJ. He’s here from New York City.”
Willie turned to appraise me. “New York City? Why the hell would you want to live so far from so many beautiful women?”
He shifted a wad of bills from his right hand to his left.
“A question I ask myself daily,” I smiled, shaking his extended hand. “We’ve met before, Willie, though it’s been a couple of decades. I used to visit your old place up in Southside. Nice to see you still entertaining the masses.”
Willie smiled, trying to place my face. I might have spared him the trouble—Morgan’s was never a place I frequented, packed as it was with frat boys spilling beer as they bobbed heads to Telluride or cover bands playing Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers.
My friend Peabo tended bar at nearby place with a live jazz combo. That’s where you’d find me, saucing my teens in a frayed tweed jacket.
“Well, it’s always good to see an old friend,” Willie said. He tore some yellow tickets from a spool on his belt and handed them to Jesse. “Here, y’all take a round or two on me. Get that pretty lady drunk, y’heah?”
“Oh, you know we’ll have no trouble there,” Jesse grinned, taking the tickets. “You be good, Willie.”
Willie nodded, his attentions already drawn to the next woman offering him sugar.
Linda was well ahead of us, cutting a path of well-hugged necks though the crowd.
“Busy night,” I shouted over the music.
“Yeah, it’s always like this on Thursdays.” Jesse nodded to the band. “You may know some of those guys. They’ve been playing here forever. Best cover band in town. You see those TVs over the bar? The band is so good, man, that when the playoffs are on, they watch football while they are playing.”
“Got to have sharp chops for that,” I admired. A woman jostled me, apologizing as she headed to the dance floor.
“Yeah,” Jesse said. “Hey, you try to keep up with Linda. I’ll get us drinks. You still on bourbon?”
“If Willie’s buying, make mine a Maker’s.”
I made my way through the crowd, my eyes searching out Linda’s tan arms as they flew up to hug another neck.
I don’t know when I’ve been among so many jovial middle-aged people.
Women seemed to be keeping alive the styles of my youth, when hair couldn’t be too big or too blonde.
The men were divided between those who did their best to blend into the crowd, with chinos and pastel button downs, and those who favored bandanas on their heads and variations of outlaw facial hair. Of the latter, I’m sure several cherished the nickname “The Silver Fox.”
I excused myself and pardoned myself past pushed-up cleavage and pushed-back bellies.
I caught up with Linda as she stood between two tall side tables.
“TJ, there you are!” she called. “Come here, darling, and meet my friends.” She waved a hand until I took it in mine. “TJ, this here is Brenda . . .”
Brenda turned from a conversation and nodded at me.
“Nice to meet you,” I smiled.
“You too,” she said, her eyes running me up and down before she turned back to her conversation.
“ . . . and this is Cheryl,” Linda continued.
“We meet at last,” I smiled, kissing her cheek.
“Likewise,” Cheryl laughed. “You look so much like Jesse!”
Brenda turned for a second look as she drew on a cigarette. I caught her eye as she exhaled. She turned her eyes past my shoulder, as if her focus were really on a sign advertising lite beer.
Jesse found us and set down three drinks. He handed Linda a vodka tonic and gave me a highball glass with two swizzle straws, brimming with bourbon.
“Thanks, Jesse. A double?”
“They poured it long, bro,” he shrugged, tapping a bottle against my glass. “You want anything, Cheryl?”
“No, thanks hon, I’m fine with my Diet Coke.” She sipped from a straw in a glass wrapped in a wet paper napkin.
I smiled at Cheryl as Jesse leaned closer to speak into her ear. Her eyes stayed on mine.
We were checking each other out.
Jesse had sold her short. Cheryl was perfectly attractive, with cropped blonde hair brushed forward, blue eyes behind narrow glasses, and a nice smile. She was in her late thirties, I guessed, and maturing well into a face that must have always been described as “cute.”
I lifted my glass for a sip, allowing my eyes to drop down her body. She was seated on thick thighs—did Jesse take off points for that?—and her feet dangled from her bar stool. I knew Jesse would have discounted any woman shorter than himself.
I swallowed and resumed my exchange of smiles with Cheryl. She nodded at me as she laughed at something Jesse had said. We each got the sense that the other approved of what we saw.
I supposed this was the ritual for meeting in bars.
The truth is, for all my drinking in bars, and for all my sex with women, I had virtually no practice in picking up women in bars.
I regarded this as a gap in my experience.
Luckily for me, Jesse had done the difficult work in making introductions—indeed, if I understood correctly, he had not only opened the door with Brenda, he had pretty much closed the deal for Cheryl and me, even before we met.
If barroom pick ups are sport, this was a little like shooting fish in a barrel.
Cheryl laughed again at something Jesse had said. He grinned.
The band began to play something by REO Speedwagon. “Oh, I love this song,” Linda shouted. “TJ, I want to dance! Come with me!”
“Okay,” I replied, looking at Cheryl. “Do you want to . . .”
“Brenda, you come with us,” Linda called. “You too, Jesse!”
“Oh,” Cheryl said, looking around. “Maybe I’ll sit this one out. We’ll talk later.”
“Okay,” I kissed her cheek. “I’ll look forward to it.”
“Likewise,” she smiled, sipping her Diet Coke.
Linda grabbed my hand as she pushed toward the dance floor.
Jesse took us to the stage and nodded hellos to the band. They nodded back.
The music was loud, and I was enjoying myself. Even REO Speedwagon couldn’t spoil my buzz.
As we danced, I said something to Brenda. She leaned forward to listen, but seemed not to hear. I let it drop.
My face was placid as we danced. Brenda looked away, allowing me to look her over.
Brenda was fortyish and tall, as Jesse had said, with a lean body. Her sleeveless top revealed tan firm arms. Her olive complexion matched her brown eyes, brunette hair, and vaguely Mediterranean features. I could see how she stood out among the women at Morgan’s, who tended to be plump and blonde.
No wonder she caught Jesse’s eye.
Dancing at my side, Linda backed into Jesse, pressing her ass against his thigh, They raised their arms and pushed into one another.
“Whoo!” Jesse shouted.
I backed myself against Linda’s thigh. The three of us danced in tandem, facing Brenda.
Brenda leaned to my ear. “I don’t like to dance like that,” she said. “And this song is too loud. I’m going to sit down.”
“Okay, see you later,” I replied.
Linda’s forearm was wrapped around my chest. She shouted into my ear, “So is she going back to her entourage?”
I looked up to see Brenda welcomed back to her seat by a table full of men I had not noticed before.
“I guess,” I shrugged.
We broke from our threesome. Jesse danced up to my ear.
“You know how I told you Brenda broke up with her boyfriend last night?” he shouted.
I put a finger in one ear and turned the other to him. “Yeah?” I could barely hear him over the music.
“Well, she called up another guy . . . Montgomery . . . he said no . . . plans with a bunch of high school basketball coaches . . . she said bring ‘em.” He leaned closer. “So that’s why all those tall guys are here.”
“Oh, that’s kind of funny,” I said.
Linda laughed. “You know what’s real funny? You see that kid?”
I noticed the young man standing to the side of Brenda’s table, watching as one of the coaches lit her cigarette.
“That’s her pool boy,” Linda said.
“He heard her say that she comes here,” Jesse laughed. “So for the past two nights, he’s come here and trailed her around. I think he must spend more that she pays him, bringing her drinks.”
“Aw, like a puppy,” I laughed.
The song ended, and there was a pause as dancers filed off the floor. I was juiced for more dancing, and hoped the next song didn’t suck too terribly.
My hope was rewarded by the opening chords of “Start Me Up.”
“Oh, no they didn’t,” Linda gasped.
“I believe they did,” I kissed her forehead.
Linda looked over to the tables and waved for Cheryl to dance with us.
By the time Cheryl joined us, Jesse was gone.
He was on stage with the band, playing cow bell.
“More cow bell!” I shouted. “More cow bell!”
“You’d make a dead man cummmmm,” Cheryl and Linda sang to one another.
For the next several songs, I danced with Linda and Cheryl as Jesse played cow bell with the band.
Cheryl never stopped smiling.
She had laugh lines and dimples. She worked up a sweat as she danced.
We abandoned the floor as the band slowed things down with a Michael McDonald song.
Cheryl was telling me about her dog when Jesse joined us, carrying a double Maker’s for me and a Diet Coke for Cheryl.
Jesse put his arm on my shoulder and flirted with Cheryl for a bit before joining Linda at Brenda’s table. Jesse and Linda carried the conversation as the coaches and the pool boy watched for Brenda’s reactions.
I sat to one side, close to Cheryl. Our faces were close so that we could hear one another over the band.
We talked about nothing in particular. She didn’t ask about my life. I didn’t ask about her life. We just kept it light. There was no dead air.
Soon, my drink was gone. I knew Jesse would bring me another if he noticed.
It was just after midnight.
I leaned over to Cheryl.
“So, would you like to take me someplace other than here?”