Authors: Molly O'Keefe
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Humor, #United States, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Fiction, #Humor & Satire, #American, #General Humor, #Sagas
“What is my reputation?” She leaned away from him, but was turning toward him at the same time.
“Prim.” His glasses had slid down on his nose and they were slightly cockeyed, a sweet disheveled man. “Proper.”
“I’m not,” she said, suddenly and oddly angry. “No one ever sees that, though.”
“I’ll see whatever you want me to.”
But you didn’t
, she thought.
And I know part of that is my fault, because I’m cowardly and odd. And perhaps not unlike some kind of tin woman, frozen from the years of inattention. Rusted over by a childhood warped with fear and worship. But for years I’ve been waiting and you never saw me
Outside there was the far-off roar of motorcycles getting louder, one of those clubs, perhaps, that followed the Mississippi River. Sometimes, on beautiful mornings, there would be a dozen bikes outside Cora’s as the riders grabbed coffee and eggs on their way through town.
The sound made her think of Ty.
Ty, who saw her, or wanted to see her because of what she showed him. And when she showed him more he wasn’t scared of it. The more she showed him, the more he seemed to want.
She grabbed her purse, slung over the back of her chair. “I think I should go home.”
“Really?” He looked astonished. After years he’d finally worked up the courage to come on to her and she was leaving.
Served him right. Or her right. She didn’t know anymore; she just knew she wanted to leave.
“You shouldn’t drive,” Joe said, reaching into his pocket for his keys. She put a hand to his arm, because she could. Because thoughts of Ty somehow freed up some of her rusty joints and made her feel more human.
“Well, neither should you. I can walk.”
Joe said something, but it was drowned out by the roar of the motorcycles getting very close indeed and then stopping all together. Shelby glanced behind the bar, where Sean shared a look with Jim, his weekend bartender.
The front door opened and as if she’d summoned him, as if all the things she’d grown so used to denying herself—all the big and small pleasures, the guilty ones and the innocent ones, the ones rated X and the far more pedestrian—had coalesced into living, breathing flesh, Wyatt Svenson walked into The Pour House.
The sight of him, in his shearling jacket and cowboy
boots, his blond hair loose for once and falling in thick, waves down to his shoulders, made her stand up.
And Wyatt, catching the movement from the corner of his eye, shot one look over at her and then did a quick double take. And for a moment, made crystal and slow and delicious by three white wine spritzers, suspiciously low on spritzer, he smiled at her. He stopped walking and grinned as if he was just so damn happy to see her.
And then Joe grabbed her hand, coming to his feet beside her. “Let me walk you home.”
Ty glanced at Joe and then back at her face and because she was a terrible tin woman, because she’d never, ever in her life been in this situation, because she didn’t entirely know what exactly this situation was, she could not hide her guilt.
Ty’s sweet smile fled and he walked quickly back to the bar.
What the hell!
Ty thought, more gutted than he’d really thought possible. Because what were they, really, but people having sex with each other?
But he’d called her. His son had called her. And he really wanted to see her tonight, share this side of his life with her.
And she’d clearly been here, and judging by the way that thin guy with the glasses—the same guy who’d been in the teachers’ lounge with her, tending to her scrapes—grabbed her hand, it seemed like they were here together.
“Hey, man,” Sean said from behind the bar. “What can I get you?”
“Look, I’ve had a little change of plans. I was going to auction off a bike at my house tonight—”
“Auction what now?”
Ty shook his head, realizing Sean, realizing no one in town, knew what he really did. How he actually made his money. “There are going to be about … twenty bikers in here in about fifteen minutes. I’m hoping I can auction off a refurbished bike in your parking lot.”
“Ah … what?”
Ty threw his credit card on the bar, very aware that he couldn’t vouch for every man and woman coming in those doors. “Food, drink, damages—charge everything to this.”
“Damages?” Sean asked, holding the Visa card in his fingers.
The door to the bar opened and a steady stream of people came in. Some friends, some strangers. Some badass motherfuckers in beat-up cuts with badges. Gordon and his wife walked in wearing their top-of-the-line Italian leathers.
Men, women. All outsiders in this place.
“Ty,” Sean said. “What the hell is this?”
Ty turned. Sean wasn’t angry; he had dollar signs in his eyes, and Ty had his full attention. “I refurbish old motorcycles and about once a year I auction one off. I was going to do it at my house but I can’t. So I am hoping I can auction off my bike in your parking lot.”
Tom and John Kavanaugh from St. Louis came by, said hi, and ordered drinks.
“Are you still serving food?” John asked, always so polite. During the school year he taught English at a charter school. In the summer he tore down condemned buildings in the city for Tommy.
“Ah, yeah, here.” Sean handed him a menu.
“We need like twenty of these.” John lifted the plastic menu and scanned the beer tabs. “And a few pitchers of the Sweet Georgia Brown on tap.”
“Right. We’re on it,” Sean said, giving Ty a sharp look.
The brothers left with beers and menus.
“How many people you expecting?” Sean asked.
“All of them are going to eat and drink?”
“Yes. A lot.”
“Christ, man, this is crazy.” Sean nodded as Jim Gensler started to work like a man possessed, pulling beers and pouring shots. “But you could have told me. This is more business than I get in a week and I’d like to do it right.”
Ty hadn’t thought of that. Sean had just started serving
food and the business had picked up from nearly nothing. “Fair enough. You want me to help?”
“No. I want you to make sure there are no damages. I’ll call in Cora and Brody. Now what’s going on with the auction?”
Ty explained how it worked and Sean shook his head.
“You can’t do it past ten,” Sean said. “My patio closes at ten because of a noise ordinance and it wouldn’t be a big deal, but Mrs. Phillips on the corner has the cops on speed dial and any noise on my patio past ten gets the cops called.”
“I didn’t think you had the permits yet.”
“I don’t. Which is why I don’t like it when the cops come.”
“All right, I’ll do my best.”
Sean laughed. “This is either going to be awesome or a total disaster.”
“You got that right,” Ty agreed.
Sean grabbed his phone and ducked out of the way. Ty turned, only to be brought up short by Shelby standing next to him.
“Hi,” she said, her level gaze unflinching.
She doesn’t have anything to flinch over
, he told himself. But he wasn’t buying reason. Not at the moment. He wanted to kiss her. In front of that guy with the glasses and all the people in this bar, he wanted to bend her over his arm, over the bar, and mark her.
“Shelby,” he said.
“What’s happening here?”
“I’m auctioning off my bike.”
“The Chief.” She was blank. No one knew. “I refurbish old bikes and auction them off.”
“Am I not speaking English?” He was being mean and he liked it.
Her eyes narrowed at his tone. “That’s what you were doing the first night I came over to your house?”
“You were happy enough fucking a carpenter?” He pitched his voice low so no one heard, but still she went pale, glancing around to see if people were watching.
Yeah, can’t have anyone know
, he thought.
“That’s not fair.”
He shrugged, because he could give a shit about fair.
Jim handed him a Shiner Bock and Ty took a long drink. “What are you doing here, Shelby?”
She blushed red, giving herself away. “It’s a work thing.”
“And the guy?”
She glanced over there as if she were unsure, but he could tell she was stalling for time. Trying to figure out what to say.
You don’t care
, he told himself.
You don’t. You had sex two times
. Well, four times if you counted the phone sex. And since it had been so insanely hot, he decided to count it.
But he liked her and moreover, he trusted her. He’d trusted her more than anyone since Nana and Pop died.
“Just someone from work.”
He laughed and took another drink. More than half the bottle was gone. This could be a very bad idea.
“You don’t have to lie. You don’t owe me anything,” he told her, more rough than he needed to be. More hurtful than was his nature. “We don’t owe each other shit.”
“That’s—” She blinked and blinked again. Apparently this was Shelby flustered.
. “That’s not true.”
“Then who is the guy?”
He remembered immediately, because he remembered everything she’d ever told him. Every look she’d ever given him. “Joe. The guy you’d like to date?”
Ty leaned back against the bar and looked across the room at Joe. Nice-looking guy, unassuming. Smart. All in all the kind of guy he would have thought a woman like Shelby belonged with.
If he hadn’t fucked Shelby. If he didn’t want to do it again. If he didn’t know how she tasted and felt and what she liked. If he didn’t know who she was underneath that façade she wore, he’d think Joe there was exactly the right guy for her.
But he’d seen behind the façade, and that guy … she’d chew that guy up in a heartbeat.
But if that was who she wanted, he wasn’t going to stand in the way.
“Yes, I did want that.”
“Well, good luck with that.” He toasted her with his half beer and headed over to the other side of the bar with his friends.
If it hurt, he ignored the pain. Because if there was one thing he knew how to do, it was leave.
Shelby didn’t leave. Despite being all but dismissed by Ty, she couldn’t leave. All the other teachers were gone, except for the new first-grade teacher and Joe, who had attached himself to her side, claiming he wouldn’t be much of a friend if he left her here with strangers.
After trying to get Ty’s attention for the last half hour she’d decided enough was enough. She wouldn’t sit here waiting for him to glance at her, waiting for him to give her a chance to explain. He clearly wasn’t in the listening mood.
And what the hell do I have to explain?
but knew that was just false indignation. She’d seen his face when he saw her, the happiness he’d been unable to hide, and she’d seen it vanish the second Joe grabbed her hand.
“Hey, Shelby?” It was Cora, her brown skin bright and shiny from her work in the kitchen. She smiled once, before her features settled back into seriously angry lines. “My stupid boyfriend—”
“I heard that,” Sean said, walking by with a tray full of drinks.
Cora rolled her eyes. “Sean hired teenage girls to be waitresses and none of them are interested in showing up this late on a Friday. Is there any chance we can get your help?”
“Waiting tables?” she asked.
“No. Actually, we’re just going to throw some stuff up buffet style, but even with Ashley helping, we’re going to need a few more hands.”
“Absolutely,” she said, suddenly excited to have a reason to stay. Suddenly thrilled to be given something to do besides sit here and pretend she wasn’t waiting for a man to pay attention to her.
Thrilled to have a way to be a part of this, off the sidelines and right in the heart of it.
She turned to tell Joe what she was doing, but he was asleep, his head against the wall.
“Joe.” She gave him a shake and he woke up, his hands reaching for his glasses.
“What?” he asked, glancing around at the party happening around him. “Oh, God, I passed out, didn’t I?”
“You did,” she said with a smile. “You should walk on home. I’m going to help Cora in the kitchen.”
He yawned so big she heard his jaw crack. “You are probably right,” he said. “You sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine,” she told him, growing annoyed with his chivalry.
“I’ll call you,” he said as he stood, and she nodded, because this wasn’t exactly the place to discuss future dates with him or with Ty. He leaned over as if to give her a quick kiss on the cheek, but she ducked backward so quickly she ran into the chair she’d been sitting in.
His eyes flared and his cheeks burned.
“Good night, Joe,” she said with some finality, and he finally left.
She turned to follow Cora into the kitchen, but her attention was snagged on Ty. On the golden, shiny beauty of him across the room, surrounded by people she didn’t know.
He was watching her. His blue eyes searing as if they were alone in the Art Barn and she was taking off her shirt for him.
“Shelb?” Cora said. “You coming?”
“Yes,” she said, jerking herself free from his gaze. “I’m coming.”
The twenty people Ty had been expecting were actually nearly thirty. The break in the cold weather had brought a few more than he’d anticipated. He’d been worried that the thirty people on top of Sean’s usual Friday night crowd might be too much for the small bar and restaurant, but Sean had called in reinforcements and Brody and Ashley, Cora and Shelby were all pitching in.
All of his worlds were colliding, and he’d stopped drinking after that first beer. If he hadn’t, he might have given in to the temptation to grab Shelby every time she walked by, one of those white aprons around her waist, carrying dirty plates of food back to the kitchen.
He chafed at the thought of her doing this work. At all of them doing this work. Not because it was bad work, but because he didn’t have the first idea what to do with his gratitude.
“You ready to do this?” Cliff Hines, his buddy the auctioneer, asked. Cliff glanced down at his old fake Rolex, which he kept trying to tell people was real. “We’re coming up on eleven.”