It was Friday night and Mikey sat in the truck, debating whether or not to join his co-workers inside Mulberry’s Tavern.
Just like promised he had dropped Jeannie off at his parents. At first, his father seemed pleased and even complimented; saying, by keeping his word, he’d maintained his integrity… but the subtle pleasantries eventually were replaced by animosity and Mikey had to leave the house after being grilled by too many questions, about too many issues… work, his future and the unavoidable subject of marriage with Angel.
After he hugged Jeannie goodbye, she had looked up with those big green eyes and a conveying expression that seemed to understand his sadness.
“Don’t worry about me,” she had said. “I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”
His heart lightened, knowing she would be all right and away from him for only one night. He promptly replied, “Absolutely, and a thousand horses couldn’t pull me away.”
His eyes rose up to Mulberry’s signage lit overhead. The Irish-theme of blended-greens could have taken his mind back hundreds of years to the magnificent, green highlands of Ireland, but his thoughts were deep-rooted with his neighbor, one he barely knew, but after yesterday, he couldn’t rid her face from his mind. When they first met, she had given him hell: telling him what kind of parent he was, what to do and how to do it. He was told the same, from plenty others, and certainly didn’t need any more advise on what he was doing wrong… but after Angel’s bi-polar stunt, Cat was standing on his front porch, gazing at him like a breath of fresh air… as if she read through his confusion.
He rubbed a hand over his face, discouraged and not feeling up to much of anything while realizing he simply was avoiding going home during his dinner break, and reinforcing his neighbor’s opinion of him shirking his responsibilities. He should be home, doing what he’d put off this morning.
His fingers rose and touched his cheek where she had laid her hand. The gesture may have been god-sent, but now, he wasn’t sure if it’d been more of a curse after seeing it as something more between them. He was ready for that drink to rid him of the very idea. However, this weekend was the every-other weekend where work made sure he stayed sober and ready for any towing emergencies that arose.
He huffed, reaching across the seat to grab his cell and jacket, and got out of the truck to join the guys inside.
He walked into the pub after leaving his misery outside. Behind the bar, Aiden asked, “The usual, Mikey?”
Mikey flashed his cell in the air, letting Aiden know he was on-call this weekend. Aiden smiled as Mikey strolled to the back where the guys would be at their usual pool table.
As he neared the table, Clarence yelled out, “The par-tay has arrived!” while Vinnie cried out, “Here to drink, and get laid!”
Mikey smirked by his friends’ obnoxious antics, but their company was always welcomed.
Clarence immediately cocked his head, gesturing across the room. Mikey looked around, finding his neighbor Cat at a booth near the front. She was the only thing that had redirected his detrimental thoughts after this morning with Angel, but he wasn’t up to questions in why he was at a pub and not at home with Jeannie.
“Isn’t that your sexy, neighbor-friend?” Clarence added as Mikey turned around a second time and watched Aiden set a drink in front of her. He lowered, saying something in her ear before she glanced into the direction of the bar where Jared tipped his beer in cheered acknowledgment. Mikey turned around; his shoulders overly-tensed.
Clarence quickly spoke, “What? You ain’t gonna be gallant and rescue a damsel from the likes of him? Invite her over so I’ll have something other than your ugly mug to look at.”
Mikey retorted, “You’re drinking, aren’t you? Hell, I should get better looking near closing time.”
“Still won’t work.”
“Then, I suggest you better keep on drinking,” Mikey commented sourly.
Vinnie instantly joined in. “Yeah, Mikey, how ‘bout asking her over?”
Clarence followed with a chuckle. “I’ll be passed out on the floor before your ugly mug is good enough to look at. So I agree with Vinnie, invite her over.” His alleged friends broke out in laughter.
Mikey didn’t quite hear what was said after that, for his mind was preoccupied on the booth where Cat sat. He debated on whether or not to ask her to come over.
“Come on, Mikey,” Vinnie pleaded. “We need a beautiful woman to complete our manly entourage.”
“Then why don’t you two just go over and ask her yourself?” He knew his neighbor was off-limits.
Clarence immediately chimed in, “Yeah, Mikey, Jared the snake has been eyeing her ever since she walked through the door. Plus, she trusts you. I witnessed firsthand how she loves to scorn and humiliate you.” They chuckled again.
Mikey should have kept his mouth shut with the war stories in how they had first met, and it looked like he would be paying for it for a long time to come.
Mikey shook his head, knowing what he was about to do was a bad idea, but worse was the idea of the snake moving in on her. “Tell you what, I’ll ask her over just so you’ll both get off my back … But I’m gonna tell you, it won’t be pretty.”
He headed for her table but flashed a look over his shoulder when Clarence yelled out, “Scaredy-cat!” Good naturedly, Clarence slapped Vinnie on the back after joining in, “Hurry. Mikey before the snake starts slithering her way.” Both men chuckled.
As Mikey walked closer, Cat was in mediating thought with her elbow on the table and gazing out through the front window. He felt his throat tighten and his knees weaken. Her blonde hair lay silkily over her shoulders, nothing like usually worn with the ponytail or bandanna while working in the yard.
When he came to her table, her eyes flashed and then quickly widened, recognizing him.
Her expression wasn’t quite as welcoming as when she thanked Jared for that free drink. Mikey didn’t need any additional humiliation but he had to get something straight between them, and before he chickened-out with the invite to join his buddies. As it was, by the time he got back he’d likely have to wade through a puddle of drool.
“Hate to bother you…”
She just looked at him as though dumbfounded that he was here.
“Listen, I’m not here to bother you.”
“I know,” she mentioned, seeming sincere. “I’m sorry I just have a lot on my mind…”
“Mind if I ask you something personal?”
She gulped lightly and shifted straighter in her seat. “Okay.”
“I’m trying to understand our relationship… as neighbors. At times, you seem to have a defensive attitude towards me, almost loathe me. Other times, you tolerate me, almost as though you like me. I just wanna know where we stand.”
“Neighbors,” she said with a smile.
“What do you want us to be? asked Cat.
“Neighbors, of course… but I’m leaning more toward two people who aren’t afraid of offending the other, for whatever reason.”
“Sounds all right to me.”
“Fine… so the next time I see ya’, you’ll be just as receptive as you’d be to a total stranger buying you a beer.”
“You were watching me?”
“Well, the guys… okay, yes, we were… I was…” he cocked his head to Clarence and Vinnie, whooping and hollering after slamming their tequila shot glasses down onto a table. “They want to know if you want to have a beer with us?”
“Us?” she asked.
“Yeah, my friends—” he said, hesitating before he finished. “—and me.”
Her eyes abruptly shifted to look around him, and when Mikey twisted his head around, he saw a slender, affluent-looking man entering the pub. He wore a pricey sport jacket, and his sleek appearance was dissimilar to any of Mulberry’s regulars. Mikey straightened, self-conscious, as the man walked up. He’d rather avoid any problems. Before she had a chance to introduce one another, Mikey leaned over.
“Hey, don’t worry I’ll let the guys down easy… You have a good night,” Mikey turned and as he walked away he heard her called out, “You, too, Michael.”
He looked over his shoulder and caught the man watching his movements, likely to make certain he wasn’t returning.
When Mikey neared his buddies, panting and near salivation, he shrugged and frowned. “Sorry guys. She’s got other plans, and it won’t be accessorizing your mantourage.”
After several round of drinks and pool games with Vinnie winning, Mikey casually turned around to check the table where Cat was sitting. Seeing it empty, he sighed heavily while convincing himself that he hadn’t hung around the bar because of her, but he knew the truth.
Clarence stepped closer to where Mikey sat and yelled over at him, “Looks like the nicest-looking lady in the bar left you for another.”
“Story of my life,” Mikey teased as though not caring either way, and took a sip from his glass.
“I hear you. We all can’t be so debonair.”
Mikey chuckled, “Clarence, we definitely got that clown beat,”
“Thanks, that’s why I keep you around. You’re my alter-ego,” Clarence jibbed.
“Don’t mention it, but you never need me, or any other, for that matter,” Mikey grinned.
With pool stick in hand, Vinnie came up behind Clarence. Mikey took a gulp of his drink and looked up as Vinnie aimed the tip of the stick in his direction, and remarked, “Dammit, Mikey, you could have easily stolen her away, and then a beautiful woman would have joined our party.”
“Go to jail, and miss all of this excitement with my buddies, not a chance. No dame’s worth that, especially one that thinks she’s out of our league,” Mikey said finally realizing that Clarence’s eyes were flitting over his right shoulder.
Mikey studied Clarence and then Vinnie, both men grinning. He suddenly felt like he was one of the three chimpanzees of hear no evil, see no evil—and him—speak no evil.
“She’s right behind me, right?” he grumbled, and Clarence and Vinnie, both, nodded elusively like a couple bobble-head chimpanzees. Mikey turned around leisure-like.