She pushed through the front door, the tail of her trench coat flapping out around her like a backwoods banshee. In my twenty-five years, I’d never seen heels that high, legs that long, or a strut that confident stroll across the tacky floor of Three Sips Distillery. I’d caught a glance of her earlier at the wake and this was the last place she belonged. The bar was formerly called Down and Out and I was doing everything within my power to diminish that image, but her presence mocked me. Crossroads was only one of three towns in the county that wasn’t dry, thus three sips. My gaze swept over the woman again. It would take more than three sips of good whiskey to take the edge off the scenarios burning through my imagination at the sight of her.
It was lust; unexplainable, mindboggling, burning hot lust for a perfect stranger. I’d swear the lights flickered the moment her fingertips left the panic bar, and the jukebox came to life on Aerosmith’s Janie’s Got a Gun as she stepped over the threshold.
Polly Anna looked up from washing miniature Mason jars, but didn’t speak a word as the young woman approached the bar. The peacock eased onto a swivel barstool, crossing her legs with the grace of a Southern debutante, while she tossed the large black pocketbook she was carrying on the sticky bar top carelessly. I wasn’t an expert in women’s accessories, but I knew her purse, which was sized like small luggage, reeked expensive. I’d shopped enough with my sister, Mandy, to know. That handbag was sized larger than most diaper bags for twins and the leather was probably as silky as a baby’s freshly powdered bottom.
Her face was angular with fine skin, and familiar to me, but the oversized sunglasses and ridiculous hat with netting was preventing me from figuring out exactly whom she looked like. She removed the hat and it looked like a black widow spider sitting on the bar. She started pulling pins from the back of her head, wincing as she did. Then she ran her fingers through her hair and scratched at her scalp until the entire dark mass framed her face.
“A double Spiced Boxed Whisky on the rocks,” she said politely as she started pulling her elbow-length leather gloves off by the fingertips.
I couldn’t help myself, I watched her, as transfixed as Polly Anna was. The young woman’s movements were so practiced and elegant, I couldn’t look away. She started at the index finger and loosened the glove at the tip of her finger before moving onto her middle finger, then her ring finger, then her pinky, and finally her thumb. Once she had the silk lining loosened, she gave a gentle tug on the tip of her middle finger and the glove gave way grudgingly, as if the leather was sore to lose the comfort of the captivating and perfectly manicured hand it was concealing.
She removed the second glove in exactly the same manner before she bothered looking back up at Polly Anna, who was standing as still as a wax figure in a museum. The woman pulled her dark, oversized sunglasses partway down her perfectly formed patrician nose and examined Polly Anna from her golden headed mop of hair all the way to the her oversized belt buckle, not missing a detail in between.
I thought Uh-oh, ’cause Polly Anna didn’t take crap off anyone, that’s why she was the only barmaid I’d ever hired. Three Sips Distillery might now host a beautiful southern interior—from the uneven floorboards I’d pulled from an old barn in Guntersville, to the new bar I’d hand stained and fitted with custom stained glass, to the twinkling Christmas lights that danced around the perimeter of the room—but the patrons were still a little rough around the edges. The sweet, but at times surly, barmaid who’d been tough enough to cut off every redneck in shit kickers with enough nerve to start slurring his words wasn’t going to take kindly to a prissy stranger.
The young woman smiled at Polly Anna appreciatively and said, “Sweetheart, it’s emptier than a hog pen on Easter Sunday in here, do you think you can pour me that drink?”
Polly Anna burst out giggling, which was unusual in a woman as pessimistic as our Polly Anna, and something I’d never thought to hear from her. Polly Anna’s reaction, combined with the woman’s nasally Yankee accent spewing the southern saying confidently, had me totally transfixed. That and the fact that I was dying for her to take off her coat so I could see if what it was keeping warm was as fine as what I’d seen so far.
I don’t know if it was what the young woman said or the fact that such a fancy lady said it, but Polly Anna couldn’t stop chuckling and snorting as she moved to the liquor well, filled a glass with ice, and poured the whiskey without necessity of a shot glass.
The young woman smiled from ear to ear as she pulled her sunglasses the rest of the way down her nose and placed one of the stems of the glasses between her perfectly formed teeth. She bit into them.
I swallowed. Hard.
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About the Author: Windy City writer, Elizabeth Marx, brings cosmopolitan life alive in her fiction—a blend of romance, fast-paced Chicago living, and a sprinkle of magical realism. Elizabeth resides with her husband, girls, and two cats who’ve spelled everyone into believing they’re really dogs. She grew up in the city, has traveled extensively, and still says there’s no town like Chi-Town.
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