Page 5

He nodded. “For sure. Picnic style.”

We didn’t precisely eat picnic style. Instead, we settled for finding an empty bench to sit on and people watch while we ate. “Whatcha gonna wear to the bar?” Stephan asked me between big bites.

We ate fast, as though afraid the food would disappear if we didn’t finish it quickly. We both ate like hungry street kids if we didn’t make a conscious effort not to. We didn’t bother eating any differently when it was just the two of us. We had nothing to hide from each other. It was one of the reasons we were damn near inseparable.

“Iyonno,” I said with too much food in my mouth. I swallowed, washing the mouthful down with a big swig of water from the refillable bottle I’d taken to carrying around almost constantly, to save money on bottled water.

“I don’t know,” I said more clearly. “It’s nice and warm, so some shorts and a blouse, I guess. I don’t feel like dressing up, but I don’t wanna look like a slob when I know everyone else will be dressing up.” I gestured at the comfortable gray workout T-shirt, black cheer shorts, and neon green running shoes I was wearing. “What I’d like to wear is this. But I know you’d harass me, so I’ll try to look halfway decent, I suppose.”

“You’ll have to help me pick out my outfit. I wanna look really hot tonight. I think I just might be ready to ask Melvin out this time,” Stephan said. I smiled. He had said the same thing for the last three weeks, but I just agreed.

We went back to our rooms to shower and get ready for the night ahead. We chatted amiably as we got ready.

I chose some cuffed, pleated black shorts and a sleeveless black and white blouse with flowery ruffles at the neck. It was the kind of outfit I liked best. It was comfortable but feminine. Some earrings and the right shoes, and it was dressy enough for just about anything. Add practical shoes, and poof, not overdressed.

I chose sandals with a short heel tonight. I picked silver hoops from the small bag of jewelry that I always packed. I wore my hair down. It was pin-straight and the pale length hung to my mid-back.

I put my makeup on quickly, just opting for mascara and some soft pink lip gloss. I finished getting ready first, since I didn’t particularly care how I looked for the outing. I sat on Stephan’s bed and patiently watched him try on everything he’d packed.

We finally settled on a fitted pale gray polo with some blue and gray plaid cargo shorts that hung from his slim hips in a very attractive way. He adopted the preppy look often, and I thought it suited him. He looked like a live Abercrombie and Fitch ad. I told him so. He laughed it off, but I could tell that he was pleased by the comparison, though it was only the truth.

We got to the bar a little before four p.m., but it was already a bit of a crush. It was not a fancy bar, just an old fashioned Irish pub with a few karaoke nights a week, but it was in the heart of Manhattan and it was friday night, so I was not at all surprised by the crowd.

Stephan worked his magic and within minutes we had snagged seats at the bar where Melvin was working. I’d had no doubt that he would. He had a rare combination of charm and charisma and he just seemed to make things work out that way. Most of the people in this place would never find a seat on a night this crowded.

We greeted Melvin warmly, and he seemed genuinely pleased to see us. Especially Stephan, though he was very nice to me. I always went out of my way to try and befriend anyone Stephan was interested in. He was my only family, and it was important to me that I be friends with anyone he found significant.

I guessed Melvin was about our age, somewhere in his early twenties. He was just shy of six feet tall, and very slender, nearly delicate. I couldn’t begin to guess his race, a mix of some kind. His skin was a naturally pale coffee color, his black hair cropped very close to his head. His eyes were a pale green. He was very handsome, and had a very engaging smile. Stephan has great taste, I thought.

“What can I get you?” Melvin had to raise his voice a little to be heard above the growing crowd. I bit my lip, looking at Stephan. I hadn’t had any kind of alcohol in so long that my mind went blank. Stephan just shrugged and winked at Melvin. Whoa, that was bold for him. Melvin blushed a little and smiled back shyly.

“Surprise us. Something with liquor,” Stephan told him playfully.

Melvin grinned. “Shots or cocktails?”

“One of each. Make us your favorite of each,” I declared. He left with a happy whistle to accommodate us.

I was distracted by the sound of some out-of-tune singing. We were far enough from the stage not to be deafened, but close enough to have a perfect view. That was always how it seemed to go around Stephan. He led a charmed life. “They start the Karaoke this early?” I asked Stephan, surprised.

He shrugged. “I guess so. It does seem awfully early for that, though. They need to let us get a little more buzzed before we have to listen to that.”

I agreed, laughing.

Melvin was back in short order. He’d made us each a Pom-tini, which was delicious enough that I didn’t think it could possibly get me drunk. He’d also brought us a shot he called ‘surfer on acid’. I’d never heard of it. I smelled it, and my nose wrinkled. It was strong. “What is it?” I asked him.

“Jagermeister, pineapple juice, and coconut rum. Trust me, it’s good.”

Stephan grinned at him. “I trust you,” he declared, and downed it. He gasped as it went down. “Damn, it is good.”

I downed mine. There was only one way to do a shot, as far as I was concerned, and that way was fast. They were right, it was very good, and I felt a nearly instant, fuzzy buzz. Okaaay, I thought. I needed to slow it down. Even one shot was a shock to my system after so much time without. Though it was a shot that packed a hell of a punch.

Melvin brought us each a glass of ice water without us having to ask, then went to tend to the growing crowd. Stephan would have to stay late into the night if he hoped for much of Melvin’s attention. The bar was getting more crowded by the second.

Melvin was extremely busy, but still managed to stop near us to have short conversations with Stephan every few minutes, and I took this as an encouraging sign. He was definitely giving Stephan special attention, beyond being simply friendly. I finished my first Pom-tini way too fast. “Damn tiny martini glasses,” I muttered to Stephan, my voice way louder than I’d intended. Yep, I definitely needed to slow it down on the drinking. Stephan laughed at me, finishing his as well.

Melvin immediately had martini and shot refills in front of us. Okay, we were definitely getting special treatment. He wagged a finger at us. “Your next round will be a new surprise.” He winked at Stephan as he walked away. I smiled broadly at Stephan. He smiled back at me. He was the happiest I’d seen him in a while, and it brightened my mood a lot just to see him like that. He’d been majorly hung up on his Ex from a year ago, and it was a relief to see that he was finally moving on. “We better drink these fast. I want to see our next surprise,” Stephan teased me.

I laughed and took the shot. Screw slowing down. I wanted our next surprise. Stephan and I unwisely raced to finish the Pom-tini. I pointed at him, laughing, as I finished mine just a second ahead of him. “I win,” I said.

With perfect timing, Melvin slid a new shot and martini in front of us just as Stephan set down his glass. “A Kamikaze, and a Razzle-tini,” he told us, having to almost shout now with the horrible rendition of ‘Moves Like Jagger’ a group of three were belting out from the stage. I thanked him. Stephan did the same, squeezing Melvin’s hand just as he was pulling back. It was a surprisingly bold move for Stephan. Melvin blushed and smiled at Stephan as he went back to tend to customers.

I practically beamed at Stephan. “He’s soooo interested. You know that, right?” I asked him.

He nodded, looking suddenly shy, but very pleased. “Yeah, I’m finally sure of it.”

It wasn’t long before the crew started showing up. Brenda showed up first. She was a middle-aged woman, in her mid-forties, I guessed. I saw her less than anyone else on the crew, since she worked in the back galley of the plane, and I worked in the front, but she seemed very nice. I thought we could easily be friends, if we spent a little time together. She walked up to us, smiling.

She had dark brown hair cut in a bob that flattered her bone structure nicely. She had a medium build and was very pretty. I knew she was married with some teenage children, but I didn’t know all the details yet. I made a note to ask her more about her family. She seemed like she would be a good mom, with her kind eyes and calm manner.

We greeted her a little more loudly and boisterously than was our habit, and she laughed at us with good humor. “You guys have been at it for awhile, huh?”

Stephan insisted she take his chair, and she did so, thanking him with a dimpled smile. “He’s one of the last throwbacks to a true gentleman,” she said to me. I could tell she was assuming that he and I were an item, and I didn’t correct her.

Within five minutes, Stephan had secured the seat on the other side of me. I giggled at him. “How do you always do that?” I asked, turning in the direction of his new seat.

He arched a brow at me. “You should know better than anyone, Bee. I’ve been hustling since I was a kid. Talking someone out of a seat at the bar is child’s play.”

Melissa was the next to show up, already looking around with boredom as she approached us. Probably looking for Captain Peter, I thought.

She was in rare form, wearing a white micro-mini skirt and a clingy pink top that sort of clashed with her dark red hair. The top was so thin that I could tell two things; her boobs were fake, and she wasn’t wearing a bra.

She couldn’t be more than five foot two barefoot, but she was making up for it tonight. Her white, rhinestone-studded stilettos were easily over five inches tall. She handled them well, too, gliding in them as though she wore heels like that every day. For all I knew, she did. She had a heavy layer of makeup on, her lips bright red and her lashes so thick and black they looked like something you’d see on an old-fashioned pin-up model. She was very pretty. What she lacked in taste she more than made up for in sheer good looks.

“Hey guys,” she said without smiling. It was as though she didn’t want to waste a good smile on us.

“Hey,” I said. Brenda and Stephan greeted her. I noticed that Stephan didn’t offer her his chair. I knew that she got on his nerves just a bit without him having to say it. She wasn’t exactly a hard worker, and she seemed to think she was entitled to more than other people. Those were two qualities that he and I just had trouble relating to.

The pilots were the next to show. They came in together. I’m not sure I would have recognized either of them out of uniform. I only knew they had arrived when Melissa’s personality suddenly got real bubbly. Stephan and I shared a short, pointed look.

We all said our greetings, and by then Melissa had managed to snag the seat next to Brenda. Captain Peter was practically glued to the back of her chair. I tried not to stare. They weren’t being subtle. Those two were likely going to end the night together.