After the shots and the beginnings of a fresh beer I find myself in that happy warm place right before the buzz kicks in and things can get either interesting or pear-shaped. A few other mutual acquaintances have happened by, and Hobbs has been more than happy to snatch them away to the bar for shots, all in the name of catching up, leaving me to nurse my second beer. That’s fine. It’s only eleven.
I have a personal rule, even when Hobbs is-no pun intended-calling the shots; I try to keep my wits about me until midnight. The witching hour. After the witching hour, all bets are off. I have an hour to go.
Morgan Zayne has been wailing away, pulling out old songs from back when we all first started coming to Thursday Night Blues at Juke. Rio was the one who heard him before the rest of us and demanded we come and check him out. It goes without saying that we were not disappointed. I think of him being like good wine, getting better and better with age.
No matter the nature of my acquaintance with Kisshandra, we always dance to the song Rattlesnake Waltz. Tonight was no different. Even if we don’t end up in bed tonight, I know I’ll fall asleep comforted in the knowledge that we got our moment on the dance floor that one tune.
Morgan Zayne announces he’s taking a break, but when comes back, another local talent, Tia Williams, will be joining him. We all cheer. Tia Williams is this mere slip of a woman who has never smoked anything in her life, but sings with the voice of someone three times her size who has smoked two packs a day for twenty years. I once had a chance to meet her and told her I wanted her to take me home and read me bedtime stories in that husky voice of hers.
So, I roll myself a cigarette and motion to the others that I’m stepping out on the patio. It’s muggy inside and the lines to the bar and bathrooms will be impossible for at least the next five minutes. Kisshandra and Rio each grab an arm and I shoot Hobbs a wink as we head toward the door. I don’t bother to check to see if he’s following because I know the answer.
Outside is cooler. Perfect. I light up, drawing the smoke slowly in, allowing its ghostly fingers to tickle and claw at my innards. Hobbs motions for me to roll him a cigarette and I indulge him. That’s fair. After all, he’s buying my shots.
It’s a beautiful night out, clear and clean. A good night for blues and standing out on patios with hand-rolled cigarettes. I contemplate a walk along the canal later, depending on how the night goes. Right now, as Rio observed, the night is still young.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” her voice is familiar, and, for some reason, I find myself blushing at the sound of it as I turn to see her.
Carmen Jordan always wears a straw cowboy hat. The difference between seeing her at the Twelfth Street Co-Op and out is the fact her thick red hair is not tied into tight pigtails. She’s not the type of girl to wear make-up, so seeing the tease of lipstick on her kiss-me-please mouth is a little shocking. I almost want to ask her if this means she shaved her legs and armpits. Despite the incongruence of lipstick, the playful dusting of freckles across her creamy-colored skin and intense hazel eyes stand out the most.
“No wonder you want to fuck her,” Kisshandra said the one time she was with me at the Co-Op and saw Carmen. “She looks like some kind of down-home tomboy. In fact, I think I wouldn’t mind a shot.”
“I saw her first!” I argued. “Find your own Co-Op hippie to crush on.”
Carmen is the type who avoids cellular telephones and microwave ovens for health concerns, of which she’s more than happy to share the research on. She works at the Co-Op because she likes the idea helping out her community through foodstuffs and the knowledge of where that food came from and how it was produced. The fact I cook at Wildflowers, and is often in charge of getting the restaurant’s order, is one of the reasons we talk.
“It never came up in conversation,” I say finally, taking a drag from my cigarette.
“Even with where you shop and work…” Carmen starts and I feel like I’m being scolded.
“A man’s gotta have his vices, I reckon,” I say uncomfortably, before regaining my conversational footing. “Besides, why are you wearing lipstick?”
Carmen giggles, childlike in its shyness. I think I catch a faint hint of blushing. The others are watching. Hobbs is actually smirking, which is making me nervous.
“Call it a slight casual dressing up, Southern boy,” she says finally. I realize, dressed in a green and black soccer jersey, jeans, and cowboy boots, I have no room to really preach.
“The ‘Southern boy’s’ name is Joshua,” Hobbs interjects. “But we call him Stormy.”
“Thank you, Jonathan,” I all but sneer. “Now, don’t you have some Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot you should be listening to while watching hockey and eating Canadian bacon?”
“That’s ham, you dick!” He shoots back, and I chuckle.
“It’s funnier to harass him about that when he’s drunker,” I say to Carmen. “But forgive the Jazz-Cat. After all, he’s…Canadian.”
“Oh, you poor thing,” she says, lightly touching his arm. “Is there anything you can take for that?”
“Nobody likes you, Stormy, you hillbilly,” Hobbs grumbles. “We just hang out with you because we feel sorry for you.”
“So you’re name is Joshua?” Carmen inquires in a bashful tone.
“Yes, Ma’am,” I say, hoping to dissolve some of the awkwardness, I take another drag from my cigarette and point toward my friends. “I don’t know if I introduced to my friend, Kisshandra Norbu, when she was with me at the Co-Op that one time. Next to her is Rio Santiago. The sourpuss with the funny nasally accent is the phenomena that is the Jazz-Cat, Johnny Hobbs.”
“You keep making fun of me and you’re buying your own shots,” he warns in a playful tone.
“Speaking of which,” Kisshandra interjects, “why don’t we leave Joshua alone for a few and go get some shots? Miss…?”
“Jordan. Carmen Jordan.”
“Carmen, would you like a shot as well?” Kisshandra asks. “John is buying. His way of making up for being an ass.”
“What?!?” Hobbs looks a little confused, but shrugs when the girls both shoot him a look.
“I’d love one,” Carmen says. “Thank you.”
“We’ll be back in a few,” Kisshandra says.
I want to thank her, but also ask her if this is okay, me talking to the cute girl from the Co-Op. Especially given the way we started our evening together. There’s a look in Kisshandra’s dark eyes that stops me. One that promises me we’ll be talking about this later. Just what exactly we’ll be talking about has yet to be decided. After all, the night is young. With that in mind, I take another slow drag from my hand-rolled, and turn to face Carmen.
“So,” I begin, hoping I don’t sound half as awkward as I suddenly catch myself feeling. “Alone at last.”