It was a slow night at Kelsey's Bar and Grill when the woman walked in right at dusk.
Kelsey's was a combination roadhouse/steakhouse several miles outside of town on the main highway. It had once been a strip club that had an illicit casino in the back, but those days were long past.
Kelsey was an ex-Marine who had seen the potential in the site and bought it for a song. He'd converted the casino into a dance floor where he had up-and-coming local bands perform on weekends. He also had a crackerjack cook whose steaks and seafood platters were the best around.
The place was usually hopping on weekend nights when the local university was in session, and even many weeknights, there was a good crowd. But weeknights in the summer were pretty slow, and Kelsey was manning the bar himself, with just one waitress waiting tables on this particular night.
Right from the moment she walked through the door, Kelsey had an odd feeling.
For one thing, single, unaccompanied women rarely visited his bar. Women in pairs or in groups on a girls night out? Sure. Women with dates? All the time. But not many wandered in alone, because the bar was known to be a meat market most nights.
For another, she had hesitated just inside the door, as if unsure whether she wanted to be there or not.
Moreover, she didn't look like the usual predatory woman on the make. She was dressed quite casually, in denim capris and a thin knit shirt with three-quarter sleeves, both of which were snug but not tight.
Kelsey took the moment of hesitation to give her the once-over, and that deepened the puzzle.
She was quite tall, probably around 5-10, and slender, but with definite curves to her figure. She had red hair that fell straight past her shoulders and was cut with slight bangs in the front. From across the bar, Kelsey could see that she looked well-kept, and very pretty in a soccer-momish way.
But it wasn't until she set her shoulders, walked in and sat down at the bar that he noticed her most striking feature -- the deepest blue eyes he'd ever seen -- and they were eyes that seemed ... not sad exactly, but definitely somber.
Kelsey had tended bar long enough to know that this was a woman carrying a burden.
"What can I get you?" Kelsey asked.
"What do you have on draft?" she replied. Kelsey went through the choices and she settled on a Bud Light. When he placed it in front of her, she took a big drink then set it down and stared into the mug.
Yes, something about the woman unnerved Kelsey. She was definitely a fish out of water, and courting trouble.
Already, he could smell the land sharks sniffing around, and he'd already caught sight of the rings on her left hand indicating she was married. There weren't any women for the single guys looking to score to choose from on this night and her appearance had set the game in motion.
There were only three other women in the bar that night. One was a barfly regular who was sharing her time with a couple of bikers in the far corner, and the other two were soldiers drinking with a half-dozen guys from their unit.
Kelsey's wasn't far from the main entrance to the large Army training base that prepared National Guard and Army Reserve units for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.
The two women in his bar that night had the short hair and hard look of career soldiers about to go to war. They were there to unwind after a hard day of training and were not in the mood to be trifled with.
That left the soccer mom at the bar as the only prey in sight, and the more Kelsey saw, the more he realized just how striking she was, even without the smile.
He knew it wasn't any of his business to protect some fool woman who was out looking for trouble, but he got the sense that this one wasn't out for a night of illicit activity -- at least not intentionally.
But a lot of things could happen in an alcohol-fueled environment, especially on a hot, steamy night like this one. And, too, he was curious as to why a woman like this one chose to wander into his bar at this particular moment in time.
So, to protect her as much as possible and to satisfy his curiosity, Kelsey decided to engage the woman in conversation.
"So, tell me, what's a girl like you doing in a place like this?" he said. "I know, it is a cheesy line, but I really am curious. You don't strike me as the type that would frequent a place like this."
"Why? Do I look too much like a ... mommy?" the woman practically spat before draining the mug and pushing the glass toward Kelsey, indicating she wanted a refill.
"Sorry, lady, I didn't mean to pry," Kelsey said, handing her a fresh beer. "You just seem a little troubled, and I was just trying to lighten you up a little."
"I'm sorry," she said, and her face softened, but she didn't smile. "I didn't mean to snap at you. It's not your fault."
"Lady, I'm a good listener," Kelsey said in a kindly voice. "Why don't you tell me about it. It might make you feel better to get things off your chest."
"Oh ... I guess," the woman sighed, and she began to tell Kelsey about her day...
^ ^ ^ ^
The music of Pink Floyd suddenly blaring out of the alarm clock was the last thing Rebecca Murphy wanted to hear at a quarter to six in the morning.
"We don't need no educaaaa-shun," the radio sang, and just as abruptly as it started, it went silent as her husband, Larry, reached over and rapped the snooze button.
Nine minutes later, though, just about the time she'd dozed back off, it was the Rolling Stones.
"But it's aaaaaaaaaallllllllrrrrrrright, right, in fact it's a..." Mick Jagger's voice was silenced by a hand punching the snooze again.
This time, Larry got up, shut the alarm off and climbed slowly out of bed to start another day. Rebecca rolled back over, pulled the covers over her head and tried to go back to sleep.
All too soon, one or more of her four children would come bouncing in wanting this or that from their mother, and Rebecca wasn't sure she could face another day of motherhood.
She needed some quality time alone with her husband, but he'd been working extra -- including Saturdays and even a few Sunday afternoons -- on this new building project his firm was working on.
Larry worked for an up-and-coming architectural company in the mid-sized city where they'd settled, and they were bidding on a major industrial plant, which would put their company in the forefront of design firms in their area -- if they won the contract.
And it would mean bonus money and possibly a promotion for Larry. In other words, it would mean the realization of the dreams they'd had when he took the job, not long after they had married.
But the cost in extra work was proving to be harder and harder to accept, especially as the weeks had dragged on and on. The company had hoped to have the bid ready several weeks earlier, but some hang-ups -- some on their end, others on the contractor's end -- had delayed the process. It seemed like every day Larry told Rebecca he thought they'd get it done the next day, and then the next day would come with more work still to be done.
Larry and Rebecca had been married for 11 years, and they hadn't wasted any time starting a family. They'd really wanted to wait, but that was not to be. Now they had four children under the age of 9, and the duty of raising the kids had fallen mostly on her.
Rebecca was a middle-school teacher at the Catholic school where her children would all attend. It wasn't so bad during the school year, when there was something to occupy their time, and hers.
But the summers were increasingly maddening, especially with their youngest approaching the Terrible Twos. The girl was actually just a year and a half, but she was proving to be headstrong and fussy -- far more so than the others -- and the other three weren't exactly shy.
Larry was a good father -- when he was around -- but he wasn't around much lately because of work. Besides working late, he was having to travel out of town to the headquarters city of the company with whom they were negotiating on the building bid.
Rebecca couldn't help but worry that Larry was fooling around while on the road. She knew in her heart that the idea was preposterous. She loved Larry and he loved her. Of that she had no doubt.
But their sex life had declined noticeably in recent months, plus a coolness had grown up between them, and her background was not conducive for trusting the man she loved.
Everything was conspiring to make Rebecca's mind, body and soul restless.
They had met at college, when they were both juniors, and the attraction had been immediate and intense. Larry was a little over 6-feet tall and he kept himself in good shape.
Despite the attraction, it took a long time, far longer than it had ever taken Larry before, to get Rebecca into his bed. They would get close, but invariably she would pull away, and finally, he insisted on some answers.
Rebecca realized that if she was to have the future she wanted with Larry, she had to tell him everything about her past.
And the sordid secret she kept well-hidden, the one that still colored her sexuality right to the present was an incident that happened when she was 14.
She'd been staying for two weeks with her grandparents, her father's people, while her mom and dad took a two-week cruise to try and re-stitch together a fraying marriage.
Rebecca was the second-oldest child in the family, with an older sister and two younger brothers. Her sister Mary Beth was three years older and away at band camp, and her brothers were off at Boy Scout camp at the time.
.... There is more of this story ...