Entering the lounge from the outside my eyes adjusted to the dimness after the bright light outside. I let my gaze travel around the room taking in the surroundings and the customers at the tables and bar. This was my first time here and I was orienting myself, not only to this lounge, but also to the city I now found myself in.
After six months of job hunting I had found myself here in this mid-western city. Lucky enough to find a job, even if it paid less than I was making before, I was in the process of learning my new home. My studio apartment was adequate for the needs of a single man. It had a fine little kitchenette where I could prepare meals. I had cooked all my life. That was no problem. But I did love the company of people. I could not stay there all of the time.
I had found many nice little local diners and restaurants to eat out when it pleased me. And I enjoyed sharing the ambience with others. I ate out maybe three or four times a week. I was becoming known in some places by the waitstaff and the even the cooks in the smaller, less elegant joints. I had been to a few bars and lounges and had not found what I would call a "home" yet. I always loved to have a place to call my own, where I was known and liked.
So I at last came to this lounge about three blocks from my apartment building. Well within walking distance, so there was no worry about driving under the influence. I could enjoy myself and still just walk home when I was ready to leave. I was so hoping to have found a nice place to establish some friendships. To feel welcome.
The best move in a new place was always to sit at the bar and get to know the bartenders. They knew all the regulars and all the gossip and they were the ones you wanted on your side. You wanted them to like you if at all possible. So I strolled over to the center of the bar running the length of the room and took a stool. Of course there was a mirror behind the bar so one could check out the whole room.
The bartender approached and I smiled at him.
"What's your pleasure?"
"I'll have a seven and seven to start thanks. Can I run a tab?"
"Sure, no problem."
"I'm Cliff. I'm new in town."
"Hello Cliff. Welcome to Shadows. Call me Bill."
"Thanks. Thanks a lot Bill."
He brought me my drink but it was busy so he did not linger. The bar was filling up. When I arrived there had been only a scattering of people around the room. Over in a corner was a mousy little thing. Not overly pretty but she had a certain charm about her. There were a few other ladies and men around the room, but for some reason she had caught my eye.
She had her brunette hair in a short wave to her shoulders. Her simple dress was flowered and was sleeveless in accommodation to the summer weather. But I saw a sweater next to her in case the A/C became too strong. I saw she was nursing a pink drink of some kind. I was in no rush to meet her. I wanted to be liked around here and not known as the one always hitting on the girls. So I returned to my drink.
The evening wore on. I carried on a sporadic conversation with Bill, getting to know him and letting him get to know me. And finally I knew I had reached my limit.
"Say, Bill. Can I pay up now. I need to leave."
"Sure Cliff. Here's your ticket. Hope you liked Shadows."
"I did. I'll be back soon. Keep the change."
So, I had found a nice place. I would be back, indeed. I walked home in about fifteen minutes and went to bed. I had my job to get to tomorrow and I had to keep making a good impression there, too. I was liking my new home.
Two days later, after having dinner at a little burger joint I went to Shadows again. This time I was glad to see that Bill was on duty behind the bar again. I would not have to get to know a new barkeep. I also noticed the little mouse over in the corner, nursing her pink drink again.
"Hey Bill. Nice to see you."
"You too Cliff. Seven and seven again?"
"Sure, thanks for remembering."
"We aim to please."
He brought my drink and I thanked him. Then, as he was not too busy, I asked about the little lady in the corner. He got a tense look in his eyes.
"She's special. Her name is Lucinda. Let me tell it straight. If she gets hurt by anyone it would be bad for that person. Understood?"
"Let's be clear, Bill. I'm not a horn dog. Understand that please. I have never hurt any lady in my life. Never would. Okay?"
"We'll just leave it there, Cliff. I thought you were okay. I want to keep thinking that."
Bill was a little short with me for awhile during the evening but he finally cooled down. We had a good chat whenever he was not busy. Again I reached my limit, paid my tab, and left Bill his tip. Another lonely walk home. Another day of work the next day. But the little lady was haunting my thoughts.
That Saturday I made my own dinner. I couldn't afford to eat out every night. I was on a budget of sorts. But I left room in the budget for my visits to Shadows. I went there after cleaning up after my meal. It was about eight in the evening.
.... There is more of this story ...