LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT? MEET J.J. AND BONNIE
It was a pleasant ride to the beach. Once he was off I-5 he was on highways that took him through stands of evergreens and logging towns with small houses, many of them forty years old, many of which were being refurbished.
Then he hit Moonlight Harbor with its crazy stone pillars at the entrance, still standing from when the town was first developed in the sixties. The place was a mixture of funky old and upbeat new, the buildings from both eras catering to visitors with restaurants, moped rentals, shops and a fun plex that offered bumper cars and go-carts for entertainment. A family of deer grazed on the grass in the meridian between the two one-way streets running through the town.
Another ten minutes and he was pulling into the driveway of Lee’s beach digs, a three-bedroom rambler with rock for lawn encased in a white picket fence. Lee and his wife were ready for him with a proper Thanksgiving leftover meal of turkey sandwiches, dressing and gravy, and cranberry sauce. Seeing the way they looked at each other about gave him heartburn.
His ex had looked at him like that about a million years ago. Stupid, fool him. He was a walking morality tale, an example of what happened when a man wound up married to his job instead of his woman. If only she’d given him a fair chance to right that ship.
“How’s your sandwich?” Glinda asked.
“Great,” he said. “Thanks. And thanks for inviting me down.”
“Sometimes a man’s gotta get some new scenery,” said Lee.
After they ate Glinda made them clean up the kitchen and left to check on things at the pub for Lee and hang out with some girlfriends.
“She’s a great woman,” J.J. said.
“That she is,” agreed Lee. “They’re still out there, dude.”
J.J. gave a cynical chuckle. “Yeah, I’m holding my breath.”
“While you’re holding your breath let’s play some cribbage. Tomorrow I’ll take you out to eat.”
They settled down with whiskey and cards and it was a pleasant evening. It sure beat sitting around the condo wondering if he ought to check out an internet dating site.
Saturday found him out on the beach in boots and a thick jacket with his buddy, working a clam gun to capture the elusive razor clam. A weak sun was out and the sand was damp and muddy and the air was crisp. A perfect day. They weren’t the only ones who thought so. The beach was thick with people, all in search of the same delight.
“You should move down here,” Lee said, as he tossed a clam in their bucket. He wasn’t much taller than J.J. and was built like a tank. In their college days he’d mowed down his opponents on the football field just like one. He’d gotten his education thanks to a college scholarship. J.J. had waited tables and worked in restaurant kitchens. Glinda had already informed him he would be in charge of making the clam chowder for lunch.
“Yeah? So I can grow moss like you? It’s always wet.”
“Not in the summer.”
“Yeah, well let me know when you figure out how to make it summer all year long,” J.J. said.
“Oh, come on. You know you loved it when we went over to Westhaven and went fishing.”
“Just thinking about that halibut we caught makes my mouth water,” J.J. said.
“Fishing, clamming, kayaking on the canals, golfing – it’s the life.”
J.J. brushed the sand off his hands and studied his friend. “Why do I feel like I’m sitting in on a time share pitch?”
Lee shrugged and chuckled. “Just sayin’ it’s a good life down here.”
“For you. You got a great wife and your daughters live nearby.”
Lee sobered. “It sucks that things went sideways with Eloise.”
“It’s been three years. I’m over it.”
“Yeah? You sure?”
“Sure I’m sure. My life’s good. I like my freedom. Got no woman nagging me, no obligations.”
“That bad, huh?”
J.J. gave a rueful smile and shook his head. “Okay, so it’s not perfect.”
“Maybe you need a change.”
“Okay, what’s the hidden agenda?”
“No hidden agenda,” Lee said and suddenly got busy checking to see if they’d reached their limit of clams.
Yep, there was a hidden agenda.
Glinda proved it when, after lunch she said, “Aren’t you tired of city living yet, J.J.?”
He set down his glass of beer and looked from one to the other. “Spill, you two. What’s up?”
They exchanged guilty looks. “Well,” Lee said, “Just thought you might be interested in a new business opportunity.”
“Oh, no. You got sucked into a pyramid scheme,” J.J. said in horror.
Lee made a face. “No.”
“The pub’s failing. You need a silent partner. No problem.” It would be the least he could do. He’d helped his buddy get into this mess.
J.J. had come down to Moonlight Harbor ten years earlier when his pal had told him about the little beach town pub he wanted to buy, had looked over the books with Lee and the owner, then given it a thumbs up, although he’d been concerned about Lee getting into the restaurant business.
“It’s a tough business,” he’d cautioned. “When you buy a restaurant, it owns you.” He knew that from personal experience.
“I can make a go of it,” Lee had said. “We want out of the city and Glinda’s up for it.”
“Okay, then,” J.J. had said.
He’d shared his expertise with his friend and Lee had done okay. But they hadn’t talked much in the last couple of years. Between getting divorced and getting his feet back under him J.J. had been a little distracted. Obviously, Lee’s investment had gone south.
“The pub’s doing great,” Lee said.
Well, so much for that conclusion. “Then what’s up?”
“What’s up is that it’s time to sell the business. The girls are grown and one’s had the nerve to move out of state. Glinda wants to start traveling.”
“You want your life back.”
Lee chuckled. “Something like that. I was thinking maybe you might want yours back, too.”
So this was where they were going. J.J. held up a hand. “Oh, no. No more restaurants. Too much work.”
“Yeah, and you’re so busy.”
“I’ll admit I’m kind of at loose ends, but I don’t think I want to work that hard.”
“I’ve already done all the hard work.”
“Yeah, right.” When you owned a business, it owned you. And restaurants …
“Never mind,” said Lee. “Let’s go play some pool. You can check out the house band.”
“You got a house band? What are they, a bunch of grungy kids in their twenties?”
Lee smiled at that. “Not quite. It’s a chick band.”
“A chick band. Interesting. So, three grungy chicks in their twenties.”
“Nope. Mother, daughter and granddaughter. They had another but she’s off to Nashville to try and become a star. They’re still good though, especially the lead singer. That woman sings like an angel, sometimes like a little devil. And she is something fine to look at. They’ve really been packing in the crowds on the weekend.”
“The place is doing well,” said Lee. “I know you shouldn’t do business with friends, but since you were in the restaurant business and since you’re the man with the business degree, I thought I’d give you first crack at it.” He suddenly looked wistful. “I kind of hate to let the place go. It’s like losing a part of me.”
J.J. nodded. “I know how you feel. I hated to let go of my places. Did it all for nothing,” he said bitterly.
His words brought on an awkward silence. He should have kept his shit to himself. He shook off the downer moment. “Let’s shoot some pool.”
“Good idea,” said Lee. “And, J.J., I get you not wanting to get sucked into this business again. I’d have liked you to be the one who takes over The Drunken Sailor, but no worries. The right owner will show up.”
Maybe the right owner had showed up, J.J. thought as they drank beer and waited their turn at one of the pool tables. The place was packed. Lots of out of towners, but Lee said he had a ton of regulars who came in during the week as well. Line dancing lessons were offered on Sunday afternoons followed by line dancing. A lot of the old guys came in mid-week to play darts and Lee had recently started a Ladies night, with half-off on drinks on Tuesdays and pool lessons taught by some of the better players, including a guy named Seth Waters, who had been regular before he got married. According to Lee, he still came in to play pool on Sundays while his wife and her girlfriends line danced.
“You’ve done a great job of making this the place to be,” J.J. said as they moved to take their turn at a table that had opened up.
“I like to think so,” said Lee. “Thank God I got lots of good free advice from a pro when I first started.
“What are friends for?” J. J. responded. He selected a cue stick and chalked it up.
“Go ahead and break,” Lee said.
J.J. took aim at the cue ball, sending it clacking into the others. He sunk one of the striped ones and then proceeded to clean the table.
“Save some for me,” Lee protested.
“Oh, yeah, I can’t let you lose. It would hurt your delicate feelings,” J.J. taunted.
“And then I’d hurt your delicate nose,” Lee shot back.
J.J. did miss the next ball. He stood back and let Lee take his turn.
It was the end of the game for him because he caught sight of a woman with long, red hair, a face that would launch a thousand ships, and legs that wouldn’t quit walking into the place. She wore a short black leather jacket, hanging open to reveal a lowcut green top cover a very nice rack. Those fine legs were encased in tight jeans. She wore black boots that made him think of pirates and was carrying a guitar case. Holy Moly! Was that a member of the band Lee had told him about?
Lee caught him staring. “That’s Bonnie Brinks, one of The Mermaids.”
“I wouldn’t mind hooking her on my line.”
“Fat chance. She’s a smiling ice maiden. Been single for years.”
“Maybe she’s tired of being single,” J.J. mused.
“Don’t hold your breath. But hey, she sure dresses up the place.”
“That was probably about all she did. Lee had a tin ear. He’d probably hired the woman for her looks.
Behind her came a younger woman, tall like Bonnie but with darker coloring. Also a looker. And next to her walked a woman who’d never gotten the memo that she was a senior citizen, also wearing tight jeans and heels high enough to trip Tina Turner. She sported spiky white hair and the tips of the spikes were colored green. The mother. His mother sure didn’t look like that. This woman probably had every old geezer in the place ready to take her out. With all three women being so striking maybe nobody cared what they sounded like.
“Had enough pool?” asked Lee.
“I think I’ll go over to the bar and get another drink,” J.J. said.
He snagged the last seat at the bar, one near the end next to a scruffy old dude in faded jeans and a peacoat, ordered another beer, and watched as the women tuned up. They couldn’t sound as good as they looked.
“The band’s good,” the old guy said. “They sing good, too,” he said and chortled over his crack.
“You know them?” J.J. asked.
“Of course. Everybody knows everybody here,” the old guy informed him.
“Looks like this is a popular place,” J.J. observed.
“Best burgers in town. Plus they have a senior menu.”
Lee came up behind J.J., hovering like a salesman in a used car lot. “Hey there, Pete. I see you’ve met my pal J.J. This is Pete,” Lee said to J.J. “He’s one of our regulars. He won our last darts tournament.”
“Beat out all the young pups,” Pete bragged. “You play darts?” he asked J.J.
“Don’t take the bait,” said Lee. “He’ll just sucker you into a friendly wager and take your shirt.”
“Aw, there you go, spoilin’ my fun,” Pete complained.
A full house and steady patrons. It would be kind of cool to own this pub. A lot of work and time consuming, but it wasn’t like he had much going on in his life anyway other than some day trading, hitting the gym and reading. In the last year he’d bought enough books to stock a small library. He needed something more to do. Lately, he felt like he was drifting with no purpose, no adventure on the horizon. What kind of adventures could he have here in Moonlight Harbor?
At nine on the dot the hot redhead stepped up to the mike and said, “Hey everyone, let’s get this party started.” She looked back at the granny on the drums, who began to bang her drumsticks together, counting off the beat, then the young girl hit the bass and the redhead began to bend those guitar strings all to hell. People rushed to the dance floor as she started to sing. “Get off your chair and get out here and shake your booty. You gotta start this party, so get out there and do your duty.”
J.J.’s heart went into overdrive. This place was a goldmine and Bonnie Brinks was the gold. What a voice! The woman was a super star. He wondered what she was doing buried in the sand of a small beach town.
“So whaddya think? The place is a good investment, right?”
“I’d say so,” said J.J. “Looks like the band is bringing in a lot of customers.”
“We had a lot of customers even before the band,” Lee said. “People want to eat at a casual place with lots of atmosphere when they’re at the beach.”
“You definitely got the atmosphere,” J.J. said. The goofy carved pirate statues were an obvious hit. He’d seen several people taking pictures with them. The pool tables had been in constant use since they’d walked in and the beer was flowing. Lee did have a going concern. The band and dance floor were a bonus. And what a bonus it was.
The women finally went on break, the older one stopping at a table to say hello to some people. The younger one went to plop down next to a super -sized young buck at a table near the band stand where a glass of pop was already waiting. A boyfriend, of course. The guitar queen headed for the bar, stopping for a quick word here and there, deflecting a fat lounge lizard, nodding and smiling at something another patron said.
She came up to the end of the bar next to J. J. and Lee. “Great job as always, Bonnie,” Lee said.
“Thanks,” she said. Then to the bartender, “Got my Diet Coke, Madison?”
“On its way,” the woman said and got busy getting her drink.
“You’ve got a great band,” J. J. said to Bonnie.
“Thanks, we try,” she said. Her smile was stop sign. Not Interested so don’t even try.
What did he look like? Some middle-aged, desperate horn toad? He was just being friendly. There was no need to give him the ice treatment.
He decided to turn the charm up a notch. “I always wanted to meet a mermaid.”
“Now you have,” she told him, still with the stop sign smile. The bartender set down her glass and Bonnie thanked her, the ice melting from her smile. But it was back again for J.J. “Try the garlic fries here,” she said to him. “They’re great.” Then she left before he could get in another word.
Mermaids were not so easy to catch.
“Don’t put her on the welcoming committee,” J.J. muttered.
“Told ya,” said Lee.
Slick and charming and no ring on his finger, which, considering his age which she figured to be somewhere around hers, probably had to mean he’d ditched a wife somewhere along the way, Bonnie decided as she walked to the band table. With those blue eyes and that red hair and matching, neatly trimmed beard, he looked like some kind of troubadour from the Elizabethan era. Add broad shoulders and a well sculpted chest and he was a regular pheromone factory.
And that stupid line about catching a mermaid. Oh, yes, he was a charmer.
Who did that remind her of? Rance Jackson, of course.
Let’s get to know him, urged her sex-starved hormones.
Not happening, she informed them. This was the kind of man who broke hearts – trouble in Levis. There would be no getting to know him.
Put a Mr. Yuck sticker on him and stay far away.