The girl in front of me adjusted a faded red cloth in her back pocket, assuring her self that it was still there. I couldn't help noticing how the cloth draped over the pocket; following the movement of her butt as she shifted her weight. The legs of her snug-fitting jeans hid the tops of sturdy, yet worn, work boots.
She was paying for, I took notice, two six-packs of inexpensive beer which the clerk was placing in separate paper bags, a pack of medium sized cigars went in one of the bags and a pint of, I couldn't tell, either gin or vodka, was slipped into the other bag.
Her tanned cheekbone caught my eye as she turned to leave, betraying that she was not a girl at all; she was really a woman with a girl's ass. I stepped up to pay for a six-pack of Samuel Adams Dark and told the clerk that I didn't need a bag for my purchase.
At my truck, I was transferring the bottles of beer to a small ice chest when I heard the most annoying sound that a car can make; the grinding of a starter that refuses to send a signal to the distributor and its cohorts.
She was definitely a woman. No girl could mold her face into the twisted exhibit of frustration that I was witnessing. I wondered if she was sitting on the red cloth.
"May I help?" I asked, stepping to her door and praying that I would not have to lift the hood. I'm no good with cars but I was willing to do almost anything to silence the sound that was pulverizing my eardrums. The interruption caught her by surprise, but served my purpose; she abandoned her attempts to make the engine awaken from its slumber and magically turn over.
"Do you have the time?" There was still a frenzied look in her eyes, but it didn't show in her voice. I shook my head as I displayed my tanned wrist and the absence of a timepiece.
"Would you like to call someone?" I asked, offering my cell.
"I have a phone. If I call them they'll leave before I get back," she answered, making her forehead wrinkle. 'Who're them?' I wondered.
"It was ten to five when we were in the store," I remembered, conceding that I had noticed her in the liquor store. There was no indication that she cared.
"Could you give me a lift?" the wrinkles were still there, but not from a frown, there was softness in her face. Her skin had a leathery texture, the result of long hours in the sun.
It was approaching 5 P.M. and I needed to be someplace. "Sure, I'll make a call," I said.
She placed the two bags on the floorboard and hopped into the cab of my truck as I dialed the number. "Mike, I'm going to be a little late," I said, trying to abbreviate the call, knowing I would not be able to get by with it, not with Mike.
"What's up? I've got the engine running already," he sounded annoyed, yet curious as to why I wasn't there yet.
"Taking a lady someplace, call you later," I said, knowing he wouldn't let me go. If I hung up he would call me back and if I shut off my phone he would be pissed. I let him talk.
"Where you going?" he wanted to know. So did I.
"He wants to know where I'm taking you," I looked to my passenger for directions. She was removing the contents from one of her bags and opening the other one with her left hand. There were no rings on her hands, but that could be because of her work, which was obviously outside.
"Do you know Harmon Way?" she asked as she placed four of the beers on top of the other six. I was stumped and asked Mike. He didn't know it either. She pulled the red cloth out of her back pocket, and then retrieved a slip of paper from the pocket.
"It's a private way, off Custer," she read from the paper, while lifting her butt off of the seat to stuff the cloth back into her pocket.
"Custer?" I questioned Mike who told me to go to Cleveland and then to Custer which was a few blocks down, on the left. "You'll go right by the house you're renting," he said.
"Okay, got it," I said, not wanting to respond to his remark about the cottage that a friend was letting me have for a time, free of charge.
"It's not far, we're doing a job there," the lady volunteered.
"Is she cute?" Mike asked. Embarrassed, I paid attention to my driving, making a left onto Cleveland.
"Yeah, I guess," I answered him and feeling her eyes on me I turned to repeat what he was asking.
"He wants to know if you're cute," I said, looking for a reaction from her.
"And you said, 'Yeah, I guess?'" she smiled for the first time and I saw the thin lips that surrounded a set of even, white teeth. Her short hair clung to her cheeks, just covering her ears, which I almost knew were small.
"What did she say?" Mike wanted to know.
"Why don't you talk to her?" I said to Mike, extending the phone to the woman. She wouldn't take it, shaking her head and smiling, a rose color replacing the brown in her cheeks. We were passing Justice, the side street where my cottage was located.
"Hold on," Mike said, "I'm going to shut down the engine." I laid the phone on the seat, face down. Custer was coming up on the right.
I relayed that information to the woman, telling her that my buddy was on his boat, waiting for me. We were going out to a little-known location to look for blues.
"My husband was a fisherman," she mentioned, dreamily. 'Was?' I thought.
"Commercial?" I asked, turning to her again.
"Commercial? No, he was in the road building business," she explained, "Until he got killed," her voice trailed off. "I'm trying to keep the business going, HERE, HERE, THERE, you passed it," she turned to look out the back window, a drained look coming to her face.
I turned around at the next cross street and we headed back to Harmon Way.
We drove over crushed stone that made a scrunching sound under the tires. Five
workmen were gathered around two pieces of road equipment and a dump truck. There
was an apathetic air among them, but they did stroll toward her when the woman got out of my truck.
She had said nothing to me, leaving one of the bags in my truck when she got out.
I heard them laughing and one, a massive guy with a barrel chest, took the cigars from her and said loudly, "Annie, what kind of trouble did you get yourself in this time?" They all looked in my direction. I couldn't hear her answer.
"Harry, are you there," came from the 'phone on the seat which I had forgotten. "Where you been? What's happening? Mike wanted to know.
"We found it, her company is paving the road," I gave him all the information I could; it was a short street with four large homes under various stages of construction around a cul-de-sac with what looked to be plantings in the center. I also filled him in on the bare ring finger and her husband's death. 'She probably wears it when she's not working, ' I thought.
"Well, come on, you're only ten minutes away, I'll start the engine again, you got the beer?" Mike barked.
"Can't," I said, "she left a bag in the truck."
"Shit! If we left now we could get back before dark," he sounded wounded.
"Sorry," I said. We had looked forward to the evening, a beer of my choice on the way out, an hour of trolling around 'Mike's Reef' and another beer on the return trip. We would finish the six-pack at the dock before we parted for the night. Mike was one of two friends I had in the area, the other being the owner of the cottage where I was bunking. They had never met, each feeling totally responsible for my comfort and recreation schedule during my hiatus from my job, and my lackluster life. Mike was a college friend while Ed had been an army buddy.
"What's her name?" Mike broke the silence.
"Annie, I guess," relying on what I had heard the burly guy call her.
"What are they doing?"
"They're drinking the beer that she brought and having a smoke, just joking around, she's talking to them," I reported what I could see through the windshield.
"Maybe she forgot she left her bag in your truck, what does it look like anyway?"
"Just a paper bag," I said, "with two beers and a pint of vodka as far as I know."
"For Christ's sake, just throw it out the window to her, I thought you meant she left her purse or something, you know, her bag." Mike sounded like he did back at school when things weren't going his way. We had not been roomies, we had lived across the hall from one another, but we were well acquainted with the other's foibles.
"It's okay, she's coming now," I said.
"Can you give me a lift?" Annie said, stepping up and perching one hip on the passenger's seat. She had the same wrinkled forehead and her perched lips suggested she had more to say. "I don't want any of them driving me home, they might get ideas."
She was not quite in the cab, awaiting my answer. "Even if they didn't, get ideas, they would tell the others they did; you should hear them talk sometimes." She looked at me, expectantly as if I was her only chance to get home safely.
"How far?" I asked.
"What? How far where?" came from the phone, which was now in my lap.
"It's not that far, Stafford, do you know where that is?" Annie asked.
I brought the phone to my ear, "Stafford, you know where that is?"
Mike went into a screaming rage, but at one point during his tirade I heard him say twenty miles to the north.
"Close the door," I said to Annie," handing her the phone. "You talk to him."
I pulled out of the private way. The five workmen were opening their second beer and watching us drive away, to the north.
I heard her say something into the instrument, then pause, a blank stare on her face. She turned to me. "Did you tell him my name?"
What could I say? I had been caught eavesdropping. "My name's Harry and that's Mike," I said, hoping the introductions would soothe things. She didn't hear me, her ear was pressed to the receiver and there was a slight grin on her face.
"He did?" I heard her say and she looked at me, laughing, her narrow face fervid and aglow. They talked and I drove. Annie laughed continuously. All I heard her say was "really? I don't believe you," before she lapsed into another episode of laughter.
We had traveled about ten minutes when she held the phone to one side and looked my way, "he wants us to come by the boat," she said, shaking her head, no.
"Tell him no," I said, emphatically, as if 'NO' would satisfy my friend.
"You tell him," she said, handing me the phone. "I have to make a call anyway."
She produced a cell phone from the denim vest she wore over a T-shirt which, like the cloth in her back pocket, was faded red.
For the next five minutes I tried to explain to Mike why we could not turn back, we were in five o'clock traffic and it was slow going, it would take us 25 minutes to get to the boat and for what? Mike revealed that he just wanted to meet Annie. He divulged that he was infatuated with her voice. "Is she really cute?" he asked.
"Hell yes, she's cute," I whispered. Annie was talking, probably to a machine as there were no interruptions for listening. She seemed to be giving detailed instructions.
Mike fired one question after another.
"Five three, 30 something, 30ish, maybe thirty-four, I don't know, one-oh- six and a half," I guessed.
"One-oh- eight," I heard her say. She was grinning. "Give me the phone, you shouldn't talk and drive," she said, moving around me to grab the phone from my left ear, part of her 108 pounds lingering for seconds after she had secured the phone.
I drove and half listened to her end of the conversation. "We can't, we're half way to my house ... won't your wife expect you? ... I left a message for my son to go get it ... I didn't see it."
"He wants to know if you got dark?" she asked. I nodded and she returned to Mike and the conversation. "Yes, its dark ... you don't ... he is?"
"He says you're estranged, how estranged are you?" she asked me, covering the speaker with one hand.
"About 3000 miles," I answered, thinking it was a conveniently safe way of putting it.
"He says you always buy dark beer and he doesn't like it."
"I know, tell him we're almost there," I said, thinking he would let her end the conversation.
She directed me to pull in front of a two car garage which was attached to a small ranch-style house. It looked neat and well kept, but in need of paint. There was a larger building off to the side with two pieces of road-building equipment parked in front.
Annie handed me the phone and asked me if I would wait until she checked her messages. She was out of the truck, running toward the house before I could answer, the red cloth bobbing along behind her. She had left her bag, again.
"Sorry Mike but it doesn't look like I'm going to make it back in time for us to go out, I know how Marian worries when you're on the water after dark," I said, thinking how considerate I was to regard the feelings of his wife.
"Don't hang up on me partner, if you're not coming back I want to hear everything that happens," his voice sounded excited.
"What makes you think that anything is going to happen?" I asked, trying to think of some gracious way to say goodbye. But I had messed up our fishing plans and he and Marian had gone out of their way to make my stay a pleasant one. I unbuckled my seat belt and turned the ignition key to off.
"I've got a feeling about that chick, she sounded sexy as hell. She revealed a lot to me," was his retort. 'What had she revealed? It was just like Mike to draw his own conclusions from a brief conversation.'
"You're right, she is kind of sexy," I said to tickle his imagination.
He wanted to know about the house and its surroundings, but soon tired of my description and wanted to get back to Annie.
"Is she really cute?" he sounded like his tongue was hanging out.
"Remember that girl, Lucy? She dated one of the guys on the second floor in our dorm for awhile when we were in the third year; like that only add fifteen years. Skinny legs but a generous butt, no tits to speak of, at least I can't tell because she's wearing a vest thing, mixed blond hair, shoulder length, off-blue eyes and even teeth, she's got a nice smile, but she's been in the sun too long, forehead is sort of flaking when she wrinkles it. And she does that a lot but yeah, she's cute," I ended.
"That's not Lucy," my friend laughed in the high pitched voice he uses when he's saying, 'gotcha.' "Mixed blond hair, what's that? And off-blue eyes, you're pathetic."
"Hey, she coming back now, I'll talk to you later," I said, getting a view of Annie racing toward me.
"Don't you dare hang up," he screamed.
"Okay, cool it," I relented, placing the phone on the seat.
Annie jumped into the passenger's seat, exhilarated. Her hair had been combed and light coating of lipstick had been applied to her otherwise natural face. She had removed the vest and wore a clean white T-shirt.
"It's all worked out; my son called and said he and a friend have gone to pick up the car. They'll pull it back to a shop here in town. They borrowed one of those tow bar things. I'll have to drive my husband's truck for a couple of days, but I've done that before so everything is cool." As she delivered the last part of her message her eyes searched mine.
I nodded, gazing back at her. Her eyes were not blue at all, they glistened and she swallowed hard. Slowly and without loosing eye contact, her slight body crawled
across the seat and propped itself just above my chest, close to mine but not quite touching. One of her hands was on the door armrest and the other one was on the back of the seat for support. The rest of her body extended across the seat with her boots outside the open door.