"Excuse me. Sarah?"
Startled, she quickly put a polite smile on her face and turned her head. "Yes?"
"Hi, I'm Brad Huffert. Pleased to meet you."
He offered his hand and she accepted it. His flesh felt hard and cold to her touch.
"May I?" he asked.
Without waiting for her assent, he sat down on the empty stool next to her, crowding her, just a little. He was about medium height and wide, and when he stretched out his arms on the bar, he poked her left elbow, and she drew her arm away from his arm.
He leaned forward and clasped his hands, as if he was going to pray. His dark eyes gleamed dully in the hazy light of the crowded taproom and he had an anxious, eager smile on his face, as his eyes darted up and down both sides of the long, horse shoe-shaped bar.
Brad unlocked his short, thick fingers and rapped the heavy knuckles of his right hand against the smooth, wooden surface of the bar. Sarah wondered if he was on speed or something; he seemed so jittery and nervous.
Finally, he turned his head and looked at her. "You come here often?"
"Oh, maybe once or twice a month."
His fat lips puckered in a disapproving frown. "That's a shame. A classy lady like you deserves a lot better than this dump. Just stick with me, babe. I'll take you places."
But Sarh had already decided that she didn't want to do that. The only place she wanted to go, right now, was home. Without him. But she was here now and she reluctantly decided she might as well make the best of what appeared to be a bad situation, as painful as that might be.
"Now, where the hell's the bartender?" he demanded in a brusque, business-like tone of voice.
He spotted Gayle Hennessy, the owner's daughter, attending to the needs of a customer all the way at the other end of the bar. "Yo, miss!" he called, easily making his deep, bass voice heard above the subdued din of the bar, and loudly snapped his fingers. Sarah cringed in embarrassment. "I'd like some service down here!"
Gayle froze. She turned her head, fixing him with a menacing scowl, and arched a dark eyebrow. You talking to me? She walked toward them slowly, purposely taking her time.
"I want a bourbon straight up," he instructed Gayle in a cold, formal voice, as he was addressing an inferior. "And give the lady another one of whatever she's drinking," he added, indicating Sarah with an almost imperceptibly nod of his block-shaped head.
Gayle glanced at Sarah, as if to say, is this joker for real? A helpless Sarah shrugged and grimaced. Gayle sauntered away, still taking her time.
Mr. Brad Huffert pulled a gleaming, gold money clip from the right pocket of his stiff, shiny jeans and yanked the money loose from the tight clip. With his right eye closed and his lips twisted in an angry pout, he he thumbed slowly and carefully through his small stash of folded cash. Sarah counted at least five one-hundred dollar bills in there. He tugged free a crisp, new fifty dollar bill and let it flutter to the bar like a gambler revealing a winning card. The newly printed piece of currency made a stiff, little tent on the bar.
He looked at her again. "Nice dress," he said almost absently. She was wearing her favorite green dress, which was cut low in front, so he could see most of her cleavage.
"Thank you," she said. But it was too late; he'd already turned his head again. His knuckles beat out another quick drum rift on the bar and his eyes once again darted like a pair of hyper flies around the crowded room. He had an intense grin on his face.
She looked at his shockingly bright, red blazer with its heavy, imitation-gold buttons, blue tie and white shirt. He was so totally out of place in Hennessy's Pub, which was basically a working man's bar. She saw two burly, young construction workers, on the other side of the bar, look at Mr. Brad Huffert, smile, and shake their heads. Then they turned and looked at each other. One of the construction workers said something to his buddy, and they laughed. Sarah wanted to laugh with them.
Brad came back to her. "So, you said you were a lawyer." He looked and sounded dubious. "What firm do you work for?"
"I don't work for any firm. I have my own practice."
"Oh, really? You make any money?"
"Enough to get by on."
"I guess I told you I own my own business," he said. "I made over seven figures last year." (Sarah's right nostril flared slightly at that; she seriously doubted that anyone but the big boys could make that much money in a constantly unravelling economy---if they were honest.) "I work out three times a week." (That's funny, she thought, it sure doesn't look it!) "I own my own home, and several rental properties, here in town."
She heard the back door creak open and slam shut. She glanced over her shoulder, and froze in surprise and shock, as she watched Will Finley---her Will Finley---stroll up to where Gayle Hennessy stood fixing their drinks behind the bar. Her heart started to race and the blood pounded hotly in her veins. She watched Gayle and Will smile at each other. Then Will leaned his long, lanky body over the bar and they kissed. Sarah's heart sank inside her ample chest and her shoulders slumped, as she reluctantly returned her attention back to her so-called "date."
Gayle came at last with their drinks. She served Sarah first and set Brad's small glass of bourbon in front of him last. She grabbed his fifty dollar bill from the bar and brought him his change.
Brad took a moment to rifle through his tiny pile of bills, making sure Gayle hadn't cheated him. He took a small sip of his drink and frowned.
"Well, she certainly took long enough with my drink," he said to Sarah. "Is she always that slow?"
"You weren't spitting dust."
He looked at her askance. "Say what?"
"You're not the only person here. She has other customers to wait on besides you."
His frowned turned into an ugly scowl.
Then his dark eyes brightened. He smiled and said, "Ah, yet another liberal progressive. That's okay, honey. I forgive you. So many people are so eaily misled, these days, by the political demagogory of the left. You wanna go for a ride? I have my Jag parked out back."
"No, thank you."
"I didn't think so."
"Hey, babe," a voice suddenly spoke up at her side. She looked up and saw Will Finley towering over her, a big, friendly smile on his handsome face. He was clutching a beer glass in his right hand.
Then he bent down and kissed her on the mouth, long and slow and easy, as if he'd been doing it for a long time. Somewhere in the background, Sarah heard Gayle gasp sharply and laugh. Sarah's heart was hammering now and she felt the heat rise like fire throughout her willowy body.
He pulled away from her at last. It took a second for her heart to stop banging and her chest to stop heaving, and another second for her to catch her breath and appraise the situation.
"Sorry I'm late," Will said, sinking onto the empty stool on her left. His simple turned into an impish, boyish grin. "Work. It couldn't be helped. He leaned forward on the bar and smiled at Brad Huffert. "Is this jerk bothering you, babe?" he asked Sarah.
Brad bristled at the word jerk and glared threateningly at Will, but said nothing. Sarah had to fight hard to hold back the laughter bubbling in her belly.
"Oh, no, no," she said quickly, shaking her head and gently touching Will's arm with her hand. She could feel her cheeks burn with a soft fire. "He was just keeping me company while I waited for you," she explained with a reproachful edge in her voice. "Will, this is Brad Huffert. Brad, this is Will Finley---my boyfriend."
A dark cloud passed over Brad's face. He tilted back his head and downed the rest of his bourbon, and set his empty glass on the bar; he smacked his lips. "Well, I can see this isn't going to go anywhere," he said. "No offence, babe. It's been fun, it's been real."
He stuffed the bills on the bar in his pocket without bothering to tuck them inside his ornate, gold money clip; he was in that much of a hurry. He left two quarters, two dimes, a nickel, and several pennies on the bar as a tip.
He glowered at Sarah, as he rose from his stool, and uttered an ugly word that started with b and rhymed with witch.
"Whoa there, bud," Will said to him. "You really don't want me to take you out back."
Sarah watched him walk out the back door. "Arrogant jerk," she swore savagely under her breath.
"I'll say," Will said, and they laughed together.
She smiled warmly at him. "Oh, thank you, very much," she said, reaching out and reaching his hand a second time. She let her hand linger there a moment, before she took it away.
"You're welcome. But Gayle's the one you should really thank. It was her idea, not mine. Although, I must admit, it was a lot of fun." He studied her for a moment. Then his beautiful brown eyes lit up in recognition and he grinned that adorable boyish grin of his. "Hey, I know you," he said. "You're the nice lady who came into the Target Store, the other week, looking for light bulbs."
"That's right!" Sarah exclaimed happily.
Gayle came up to them, an amused smile on her face. "Thanks, babe," she said to Will, who raised his glass in salute and took a long drink. To Sarah, she said, "Where did you find that loser?"
"In the Yellow Pages under desperate," Sarah said and they all laughed. Sarah shook her head. "No, seriously. You know that Affection Connection thingy in the paper? I met him through that."
"Maybe you should start looking elsewhere for the man of your dreams," Gayle suggested kindly.
"I think you're right," Sarah agreed in a dry, flat voice.
Gayle noticed that Sarah's glass was empty. "You want another drink, hon? It's on the house. For pain and suffering."
"Sure, why not? Another one and then I go home. What a wonderful Friday night."
Will waited, while Gayle wisked Sarah's empty glass from the bar and headed for the taps. Then he said to Sarah, "You don't have to leave."