No Last Calls
“Am I WHAT??”
“Honey, we want to help you, but you--”
Lindsey took a deep breath before answering. Lately, she’d been taking so many deep breaths before answering her mother that she was becoming permanently light headed. And if she kept gritting her teeth like this, she’d need caps.
“Mom, I’m not on drugs. I haven’t developed a drinking problem. I’m not having a nervous breakdown.” Yet. No thanks to you. “You need to stop this, okay? Just stop. Stop worrying, stop calling me a dozen times a week, and please, please, please don’t talk to Ryan. He won’t stop calling me! He’s using you to keep a connection with me, and as long as you’re talking to him, he’ll think there’s a chance we’ll get back together.”
“Well, of course there is! I mean, you can’t ever say never, and--”
“Yes. Yes, I can. I already have. Never. I’m never marrying Ryan. See? I said it.”
“Now you’re just being childish,” her mother snapped. Then, adopting the Very Calm Tone that always made Lindsey want to scream with frustration, she continued, “Why don’t you come home for a visit. We can sit down and talk this all out.”
“Mom. Mom. We’ve been over this a million times. I’m not gonna talk about this anymore. Nothing’s wrong, Mom. I’m an adult. I’m doing fine. It’s got nothing to do with you.”
She glanced at the clock on the microwave. She was meeting Undrea for drinks. If she didn’t leave right now, she’d be late and Undrea would be sitting in a bar by herself. Undrea knew the guy who owned it, but still. She was an old friend and the only one she really had in this city, so far. Lindsey didn’t want to take advantage of that.
Besides, she was unfashionably punctual by nature. Her mother’s influence, no doubt.
With another deep breath she said, “Why don’t you give Dr. Kapinsky a call? Talk to him about how you’re feeling. Maybe he can give you something to--”
“I do not need pills! This is not about how I’m feeling, it’s about how you’re ruining your life! I’ll talk to you later, when you’ve calmed down and can discuss this rationally.”
Her mother had been waiting over a month for Lindsey to be rational. That was a problem, because in Cecily Holland’s parlance, “rational” meant “agrees with me.”
The line went dead, as Lindsey had hoped. She’d mentioned Dr. Kapinsky because she knew it would make her mother hang up.
Grabbing her purse, she locked the door and hurried downstairs. On the way, she did something she’d never done before in her life: She blocked her parents’ home phone number and then, for good measure, both cell phones. Just for a while, so I can get some peace.
She tried to feel guilty about it, and found that she couldn’t.That had to be a good sign.
It was fortunate she’d been dressed and ready to go when her mother called, because it had taken her over an hour of dithering angst to figure out what to wear. Undrea had said she could go casual, wear jeans, but what did that mean? Was NYC “happy hour casual” the same as NOLA “happy hour casual”? Would she rather show up underdressed, or over? Jeans and t-shirt, or jeans and a flowy top, or jeans and something else?
At seven-thirty in April, the temperature was still, and already, in the high seventies. She’d visited New Orleans several times, but she’d never been here in the summer. Lots of people had warned her it was worse than New York, which was plenty hot and humid in the summertime. On the other hand, one of the partners she’d worked for, a native of Mississippi, said he thought the punishing summers were a fair tradeoff for mild winters. He also said she’d find the French Quarter and New York resembled each other in two ways: They both stank like hell when it was hot, and you didn’t need a car to get around.
In the six weeks she’d been here, she’d had no trouble making do with her feet, the streetcar and an occasional cab. She planned to buy a bicycle.
Her phone rang: A local number, one she didn’t recognize. She hit Talk.
She halted midstep. A couple who’d been walking just a few steps behind bumped into her. Not bothering to offer an apology to the middle aged man and woman, who flashed her annoyed looks as they parted around her and continued together, she hissed into the phone, “Ryan? Ryan? Whose phone is this? And why are you calling me?”
He had the gall to sound wounded. “I’m here in New Orleans, at the W. I--”
“What the hell are you doing in New Orleans? Have you lost your mind? Did my moth--”
Another respect in which the Quarter resembled Manhattan: No one bothered to stare at the crazy lady screaming into her phone.
“I’m in town on business, honestly! You can call the office and ask them! I haven’t talked to your mom in weeks.” She knew this was a lie, because her mother told her whenever she talked to Ryan. “Gerry was scheduled to take a depo down here but then something came up with Gresham, so he told me to--”
“Okay, okay, whatever. I don’t care. Why are you calling me?”
“Lindsey!” Did he sound whiny, or was that just because she was so totally fed up with, over, and sick of him? Had he always whined like that? “I’m in town for a couple of days and I thought we could just have a drink, catch up. I mean, you won’t talk to me when I call. I just want to see you, and--”
“No, Ryan. No. I don’t want to, and there’s no point. I’m meeting Undrea for drinks tonight and I’m busy the rest of the week. Get back to work, and don’t call me again.”
She hit End while he was still talking.
Was she going to have to change her damned phone number? And if so, how would she keep her mother from telling Ryan?
Maybe she could keep her father from telling her mother? No, that wouldn’t work.
She needed siblings, is what she needed. Someone to leech the compulsive attention away from her. Way too late for that. She should’ve started trying to peel her mother off years ago; this situation was partly of her own doing.
I will not start ranting about this to Undrea the minute I sit down. I will talk about interesting things, not the same crap I’ve been whining about for months.
She remembered the phone call with Undrea that morning.
“I just think I need time to be on my own, to--”
“How long ago did you break up with Ryan?”
“Six months, about.”
“How long have you been in New Orleans?”
“Almost two months.”
“And how many dates you been on?”
“So. You’ve been single eight months, in New Orleans for two, and you probably haven’t even talked to a man who wasn’t driving a cab or a streetcar or standing behind a cash register.”
“You’re not working. You’ve got lots of time on your hands, plenty of time to think about things, be on your own, get to know yourself, whatever you wanna call it – you can do all that and STILL find man-meeting time, do you understand what I’m saying?”
Lindsey was laughing now. “Yes. You’re saying you’re not gonna shut up about this until I go out and meet some men.”
“Thank you. And I’m not talking about finding a boyfriend. Just dating. Dating’s a skill, sweetie. You got to practice. And you know….the same’s pretty much true about sex.”
“NO. I’m not thinking about that right now.”
“All right, we’ll table that for later. Meet me at Possedé, Chartres off Iberville, six o’clock. You can wear jeans if you want. Don’t argue with me, and don’t you dare stand me up.”
At which point Gerald, Undrea’s loving and long-suffering boyfriend, yelled for her to get off the phone and give that poor girl (meaning Lindsey) a fucking break.
Possedé occupied the ground floor of a beautiful old red brick building with lots of black wrought iron balconies and trellises, another lovely relic of nineteenth century architecture in a seventy-eight by thirteen block area full of them.
Her Aunt Lee had long ago explained to her that the quintessential French Quarter architecture was actually Spanish, from the period when all this area had been under the control of that country.
The doors of Possedé stood open, as did the doors of most bars in the Quarter. The first thing she noticed when she walked in was that her black and white peasant blouse, blue jeans, wedge sandals and chunky silver jewelry constituted completely appropriate attire. The second was that the place was larger than she’d expected.
Beat up old sofas and coffee tables filled the area in front of the picture window facing the street. In the back corner was a dart board and jukebox, with a few more tables and sofas. The space in between was filled with tables. No TV sets, no sports memorabilia, just neon beer signs and Louisiana-themed posters. It had a retro vibe and wouldn’t have been out of place in downtown Manhattan.
It was fairly crowded. Once she’d determined that Undrea wasn’t there yet, she found a seat at the bar and waited for one of the three bartenders to notice her.
The guy on her left smiled at her and turned back to the woman on his other side, which suited Lindsey. It had been a few years since she’d done the bar scene as a single woman, and she didn’t trust her chatting-up-strange-men skills in their current condition. (Undrea was right. She needed practice.)
When she’d caught the eye of a bartender, she ordered a Chardonnay. Then she pulled out her phone to check her email and maybe read something while waiting for Undrea to show up.
“Here you go, darlin’. Six dollars. You gonna pay cash, or can I start you a tab?”
She glanced up from her phone to see an entirely different, and much cuter, bartender than the one who’d taken her order.
“Um, cash please.”
She fumbled for the money in her wallet as he waited for her, smiling.
“Here you go.” She handed him a five and three ones.
“Thank you, ma’am.” He pulled the five and one of the ones from her hand, then gently squeezed her fingers into her palm to indicate that he wasn’t taking the remaining bills.
“No need to tip me,” he said with a grin as he turned to the cash register.
It was a fairly spectacular grin. Wide and easy, like he was used to wearing it a lot.
“Okay…” she said under her breath.
Southerners were different from people up north. Still, she didn’t know of any bartenders, anywhere, who turned down tips.
“So,” said the Much Cuter Bartender as he turned back around, “you on your own tonight or are you waitin’ for someone?”
“Waiting for someone.”
“Male or female?”
She gave a little laugh, surprised that he’d stand here talking to her while the other two bartenders seemed to be rushing around like crazy.
“Female. I’m meeting a girlfriend.”
“What’s her name?”
“Oh, yeah!” He grinned again. “So you the friend she was telling me about? You just moved down here from New York City?”
“Yes. She told you about me?”
“Yep. She and Gerald haven’t come in much lately, but I consider them regulars. Like ‘em both a lot.”
“Ethan!” one of the other bartenders called from several feet away.
Much Cuter Bartender—Ethan—held up a hand to her. “What is it?” he called back.
“Vodka martini, dry and dirty, Heineken draft, two Dos Equis and a glass of merlot!” The bartender sounded maybe just a touch hysterical.
Ethan rolled his eyes. “’Scuse me for a minute, darlin’. I’ll be right back.”
Was he flirting with her, or just being polite? It wasn’t easy to tell with Southern guys. People down here regularly addressed strangers, as well as each other, with endearments like “honey” and “baby.” And some Southern guys could call you “darlin’” without sounding like total douchebags.
Ethan was clearly a pro, his movements smooth and economical as he poured the liquor, filled the draft glasses, popped the caps off the beer bottles, and handed out the drinks to the people who’d ordered them. In marked contrast to his fellow barmen, he didn’t seem rushed or stressed.
Afraid that he’d glance over and notice her staring at him, she returned her attention to her phone, relieved to have no new emails.
Suddenly she felt a pressure against her back. She turned around to see a guy in an expensive-looking suit directly behind her.
“Oh, sorry,” the guy said. “I didn’t mean to fall on you like that. I was trying to get to the bar, and…is it okay if--” He indicated that he wanted to put his arm in between her and the guy next to her.
She knew, she just knew—she always knew—that he was a lawyer. And cute, but nowhere near as hot as Ethan the Hot Bartender. And she was, she’d just that minute decided, on a lawyer hiatus.
But she’d let the guy get his drinks, so she leaned aside.
EtHB reappeared in front of her.
“Can I help you, sir?” he asked with a polite, professional smile. (And not the easy, infectious grin he’d favored her with several times already.)
“Oh, uh—yeah. Three Heinekens and an Abita. Thanks.”
With his four beers dangling from between his fingers, the guy in the suit said to Lindsey, “You’re welcome to join us, my buddies and me, we--”
“So,” said EtHB, propping his elbows on the bar and looking straight at her. He was ignoring Presumed Lawyer Guy in a rather stunningly brazen manner, like he didn’t give a shit if the guy ever came back or not, “when did you move to N’Awlins?”
“Um…about six weeks ago, maybe seven.”
PLG stood there like an idiot for a couple beats, then turned and walked away.
The penny dropped. “You own this place, right?”
“Yep, I do. And how do you know Undrea?”
He wasn’t looming, he wasn’t invading her personal space, he was just focusing all his attention on her. That’s what caught her off guard. He wasn’t looking around at the other customers, or at his employees, or over her shoulder at other people in the bar. His entire attention was focused on her, and it was disconcerting.
Wait. Was it her turn to talk? Yes. Yes it was.
“I’ve known Undrea a while. She used to work at the same firm I did. I was in Manhattan and she was here in New Orleans.”
“Right. One of the big ones. Winston, Winstead…”
“Winthrop, White and Strom.”
“Right. I remember after Katrina, Undrea said they wanted her to move to Baton Rouge and she didn’t want to.”
“Well, she moved there at the beginning, when she thought they were just going until it was safe to come back. But then the firm decided to move there permanently, and she was already burned out with the huge law firm thing. So she came back here, to Delacroix, Mayes. She really likes it, too. She has time for a life now and everything.”
“And you? You’re still at Winthrop White whatever?”
The way he said it, it came out “whateva.” She liked the slow, lazy drawl that so many people in the north thought irritating or, even more absurdly, indicative of a lack of intelligence.
“No. I quit a couple months ago. When I moved down here.”
“Ethan!” one of the bartenders yelled.
“Hang on. I gotta go see what those dumbasses are doing now. Fuck hell!” he called down the bar as he walked away. “Are y’all new here or what?”
She smiled as yelled at his two employees. He didn’t sound completely serious, and he was seriously cute. She liked tall guys. He was long and lean, with muscles, but not too many.
Naturally she’d just spent the past three years of her life with a guy who expended many of his scant off-hours at the gym. Ryan was proud and fond of his pecs and biceps; he was in good shape because he worked out all the time and ate very carefully, but he didn’t exactly have an active lifestyle. Office, gym, a bar a couple times a month. That was it.
Ethan looked like he probably did a lot of physical labor.
The first two buttons of his white button-down shirt were open. As he moved, she glimpsed the edges of a tattoo.
Ryan had a tattoo on his butt. Which totally which didn’t count.
Ethan picked that moment to change out a CO2 tank beneath the beer taps. She enjoyed watching his biceps as they flexed and contracted. They weren’t bulky, not muscle-magazine-cover size. Just firm and smooth and fun to look at. He was fun to look at.
Hello, libido. Where the hell have you been?
“May I have another glass of Chardonnay?” she asked Ethan.
“Yes ma’am, right away.” He went to pour her glass.
“Here you go, darlin’–are you gonna tell me your name?”
She flushed, and smiled, and tried to pretend her hand wasn’t trembling a little as she reached for the fresh glass. “Lindsey. Lindsey Holland.”
She suddenly noticed that someone new was in the seat to her right, and he apparently wanted her attention. Wait. How did he know--
“Ryan? Seriously? How the fuck did you find me?”
Ryan, with his hand on her arm, looked so bewildered, so confused, so sad, that she just wanted to punch his face in.
How could a guy who scored a 176 on the LSAT be so fucking clueless? Because it was cluelessness, not malice, that was urging Ryan on in his impossible quest. Of that, she was certain.
She didn’t know herself all that well. But she knew Ryan, through and through.
“Your cell phone, Lindsey. You’ve got your location feature turned on.”
Okay. Maybe she didn’t really know him after all.
It took a minute to find her voice, although she was shaking his hand off her arm before she even realized it. “I’m gonna ask you again—have you lost your fucking mind? How many times do I have to tell you I don’t want to talk to you anymore?”
“But we haven’t talked, Lindsey! We don’t have closure!”
“You don’t have closure, Ryan. I do. We broke up eight months ago. I told you how I felt. We talked. That’s it. That’s all.”
“But your mother says--”
“Ryan! What my mom says doesn’t have a goddamned thing to do--”
“Buddy, you need to leave.”
Oh, yeah. Ethan the Hot Bartender was still there, apparently now ignoring his two bartenders, and the customers at the bar, and staring at her and Ryan.
“I’m sorry,” she said, flustered. “This won’t--”
“Lindsey, why the fuck are you apologizing? You told the guy you didn’t want to talk to him. And now he needs to leave.”
He looked straight at Ryan. “Leave my bar. Now.”
She glanced around, saw no obvious security guys.
“Wait a minute,” Ryan said, going into I’m a Lawyer Mode. “I haven’t done anything wrong, and I’ve paid for my drink. I just want to talk to my girlfriend.”
“Ex-girlfriend,” Lindsey snapped.
Ethan crossed his arms and moved back a few steps to lean against the back bar. “Ex-girlfriend means leave. Not gonna say it again.”
And, she noted, the other two bartenders paused mid-service.
Ryan sensed that something had changed. “I don’t have to go anywhere. I can drink here if I want to.”
“No. You can't.” Ethan gave her an enigmatic look, something involving a raised eyebrow, then yelled, “Bottles down. Step back!”
“Oh, fuck,” someone near her muttered.
“Wait a minute! Whash goin’ on?” someone else shouted. “Where’s my drink?”
A waitress behind her sighed and replied, “Some asshole won’t leave like he was told to. Now nobody gets served ‘til he’s gone.”
That could be effective. Indeed, the crowd was starting to murmur.
“Hey, asshole,” someone shouted. “It’s the fucking French Quarter. Go drink someplace else.”
Ethan the Hot Bartender was smirking. It looked good on him.
Ryan looked…queasy. Staring at her like she was going to save him.
“Ryan,” she whispered, “leave. Just leave.”
He stared at her, then looked around the bar. People were muttering and cursing and-- whoa. They’d even turned the jukebox off. Was this going to get ugly?
Ethan didn’t seemed concerned, though. He was just standing there with his arms crossed, a tattoo on his upper left arm peeking out from his rolled up sleeves.
Where else did he have tattoos?
“I’m leaving. But I’m calling you again.”
“Fine. I’m changing my number.”
He looked like he was going to say something else. His faced worked, like he was trying to come up with the words, then he…just got up and left. As a bar full of people jeered and whistled and yelled filthy obscenities at his retreating back.
Just as they would’ve in a New York bar. She found this comforting.
“Okay, then!” Ethan shouted. “It’s back on!”
Lots of whooping and hollering, but she could feel the tension in the bar starting to ebb. Happy hour was waning, and people were drifting out.
At that moment, her phone chirped: “Whoo hoo! You have a text message! Yay!”
It fucking figured.
Ethan seemed to know something was wrong. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s from Undrea.” Sighing, she read the message out loud. “Client emergency. Prob here all nite. Call you 2morrow. Don’t H8 me.”
Ethan rolled his eyes. “Lawyers.” Suddenly he straightened, tucked his shirt in, and said, “Come on. Let’s go.”
“I don’t care. Let’s walk around. Outside. Not here. These dumbasses are getting on my nerves, anyway. Rick!” he yelled. “I’m goin’ out for a while. Be back at two!”
Rick, the guy who’d originally taken her order, didn’t look quite so panicked any longer. He glanced at Lindsey and then nodded at Ethan. “Sure thing, boss.”
“Lemme go wash up. I’ll be right back.”
Then he was gone, and she was sitting there, wondering what to do with the remains of her wine. She wasn’t much of a chugger, and she hadn’t had anything to eat since--
“Where’s your go cup?”
She jumped, startled, to find Ethan standing behind her now.
“You’ve been in New Orleans before, haven’t you? You know you can leave a bar with a drink?”
“Oh! Right! Yeah, I forgot! You can walk on the street with a drink, and bars don’t close!”
“That’s right, baby—Vegas and the Big Easy. No such thing as last call. Or public intoxication, unless you do something really fucking stupid.”
Ethan reached across her—she caught a whiff of cologne and sweat, and she liked both—to pluck a plastic cup from the bar. He proceeded to pour the rest of her wine into it.
“For what?” she replied, kind of dazed by all that had just transpired in so short a time.
He grasped her hand in his—it was a strong hand, and a big one, and apparently he didn’t think twice about grabbing strange women’s hands, which she would’ve found kind of icky if he weren’t so lean and hard and handsome and completely non-lawyerly—and then he was pulling her through the dwindling crowd and out to the street.
“Okay. You care where we go?” He stared down at her, his grasp on her hand not loosening.
“You do this all the time?” she squeaked, now finally, totally, freaked out by his easy, breezy, confident manner.
“Actually, no,” he replied, cocking his head and giving her a searching look. “But I’ve had a crap week, and Undrea’s talked about you a lot. And your ex seemed like an asshole and you’re very hot. So I figure—let’s walk around a little bit.”
“Um, all right. Let’s walk. And no, I don’t really care where we go. I’ve got the Quarter pretty much memorized but I don’t have any favorite places or anything yet.”
They started walking up Iberville.
“You want to go down Bourbon?” he asked.
“Um…no. No, not really.”
“Good – me neither. I don’t think I’ve been into a Bourbon Street bar in a couple of years. Let’s go down Royal instead.”
“Cool! I love the stores down there. I got a really cool dress in that voodoo shop a couple weeks ago.”
“Yeah! That’s the one.”
The temperature had dropped a little; there was a nice breeze blowing. As they turned onto Royal, foot traffic got a little denser—lots of people strolling and looking in windows, as they were—but it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it would be tomorrow night or Saturday.
They walked in silence for a bit, and it wasn’t uncomfortable at all.
Then Ethan said, “So your name is Lindsey and you’re a lawyer. And your ex is an asshole. Is he stalking you?”
She had to consider it for a minute. “I don’t know. He’s having a really, really hard time letting go. And my mom, she’s encouraging him.”
“So you broke up with him?”
“Yeah. And she didn’t want me to.”
“How long were y’all together? And why’d you break up? Unless that’s too personal.”
“No, it’s not. We dated for three years. He asked me to move in about a year ago. And I said I would, but then I didn’t. And then I said I needed to think about it. And then I realized that if I moved in with him, I’d end up marrying him whether I wanted to or not, and I knew I didn’t want to, and I had to get out.”
“You’d have to marry him? Who’d force you?”
She shook her head, embarrassed to be admitting all this aloud to anyone but Undrea.
“Nobody would force me. But, you see, I met him Winthrop, White. And I worked a lot – a lot. Like, eighty, ninety hours a week
He nodded. “Yep, that’s Big Law for you.”
She was struck by his use of the term. “You know people at big firms?”
“My dad’s a partner at Lovell, LeVaux.”
“Ah. Mine was a partner at Dyson Williams Jones. ”
“Whoa. That’s impressive.”
“He just retired.”
“So y’all met at the firm and started dating and you were so busy working that you never really had a life, so it took you a while to figure out Ryan wasn’t the guy for you.”
That stopped her in her tracks. He turned to look at her.
“I’m a cliché.”
“I’m a fucking cliché! I never realized it til I heard you say it.”
“I didn’t say you were--”
“I’m twenty-eight years old. I went from high school to college to law school to five years working eighty hours a week at a big firm. A couple vacations here and there, not many. I missed weddings, and birthdays, and funerals and, and life, you know? And now I’m burned out. Before I’m thirty.”
“Darlin’, lots of people have been through exactly what you’ve just been through, and--”
“I know! That’s what makes me a fucking cliché!”
For some stupid reason she tried to pull her hand from his, but he wouldn’t let go. He cocked his head (he looked so sexy when he did that) and grinned. “You know how I said you were hot?”
“Well, you are, but you’re pretty fucking cute, too. And you need to relax a little. Oh look, your wine’s all gone. Come on.”
He took the go cup from her hand, tossed it in a trash can, and started pulling her down the street again.
“Where are we going?”
“Don’t sulk. Ladies don’t sulk.”
She burst out laughing. “Who says?”
“My mama. It’s a Southern lady thing.”
“I’m not a Southern--”
“Hush now. We’re bout to pass a place belongs to a friend of mine.”
They were on Toulouse now, walking south toward the river. The bells of the Cathedral rang the quarter hour. She glanced at her watch; it was already ten fifteen?
“Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what?”
“Don’t look at your watch. You’re in the Quarter. There’s no time here.”
She loved that drawl. You’re in the Quarta. There’s no time hea.
“But I live in the Quarter. How can I always ignore--”
“Here we are.”
They were on the sidewalk in front of a place called Freddy’s. She started to giggle.
“What is it?”
“Freddy’s. Most names in the Quarter are like, I don’t know—French, or sexy, or sleazy or something, you know? Freddy’s could be a tavern in Brooklyn.”
“It’s not too creative, but the drinks are cold and the food’s good. Hey, Francie,” he addressed the girl who was manning the street bar, “I’ll take a Corona. Think Derrick would mind if we got a drink from you but sat out here for a few minutes? It don’t look all that busy in there.”
“Nah. I don’t think so. Here you go.” She popped the cap off the beer bottle and handed it to him. “What about you, baby?”
Lindsey was still reading the hand-lettered list of drinks on the chalkboard. “I’ve been in New Orleans lots of times but I’ve never had a Hurricane.”
“Don’t start right now. Trust.”
“Hey!” Francie protested. “We got some of the best Hurricanes in N’Awlins! Better than Pat O’s!”
“I’m not trashin’ your Hurricanes, woman! But my girl here’s already had two glasses of white wine.”
Francie was making a face. “Oh no, baby. No. You don’t need rum on top of that. Stick with wine or beer.”
“Okay. I guess I’ll just have another Chardonnay, thanks.”
They sat down at one of the black wrought iron tables just outside the open doors of the restaurant.
“Oh God, that feels good.”
At his raised eyebrows, she continued, “My feet. I’ve never worn these shoes before and I didn’t plan on walking so much. I think I’m gonna kick ‘em off for a while.”
“Go right ahead.”
She took a sip of her wine and sighed. It was better than the house wine at Possedé, but she didn’t think that would be the right thing to say, so instead she asked, “Do you know everyone at every bar in the Quarter?”
He laughed. “Feels that way sometimes, but no. Fred’s an old buddy of mine from high school. We flunked out of LSU together.”
“Oh. Did you ever go back?”
He shrugged. “Nah. He did. I’m about thirty hours shy of a business degree at UNO but I keep getting distracted. The bars keep me busy.”
“Yeah. There’s Possedé, and then my brother and me own a sports bar Uptown.”
Her imagination was running away with her. In her mind, she was picking her parents up at the airport and driving them directly to a French Quarter bar owned by her tattooed, college dropout boyfriend with the accent thick as gumbo and a very casual relationship with proper English grammar.
“Whatcha thinking about?”
“Huh? Oh, nothing. So who’s Derrick and why would he care if we sat out here?”
“He’s the GM—the general manager—and it might piss off his wait staff if we sit down at a table without ordering anything from them. The street bar’s for foot traffic, not sit down customers. But it’s not busy right now and I figured we weren’t staying long.” He paused. “Unless your feet are hurtin’ real bad, and then we could hang out and order some food. You need to eat?”
“I probably should. Let’s get something—on me.”
“No, ma’am.” He shook his head and smiled. “It’s on me. Hey! Shelley!” He motioned to a pretty blond waitress.
“Hey Ethan. What can I get for y’all?”
“You like raw oysters?” he asked Lindsey.
“That’s it, then. Bring us two dozen.” As Shelley walked away, he asked, “So. Where do you stay?”
“Stay. Live. Where do you live?”
“Oh. I have a condo just a few blocks down from Possedé, at Chartes and St. Philip.”
His eyes narrowed as he thought. “Oh, yeah. Yeah! That’s a nice building. Really old. So…you said you’re not working?” His eyes widened. “Oh shit, no. Forget I said that. That’s just fucking rude, it’s done of my business how--”
“It’s okay! It’s totally fine! No, I didn’t buy it. My Aunt Lee left it to me a while ago.”
“Holy shit. Nice aunt.”
“Yeah, she was. She never had kids of her own, and we were really close.”
“So you working? Or just taking it easy?”
She shrugged, not sure how to admit that she didn’t have to work for a while. “Lee left me the apartment and some money. And I saved a lot while I was working, because I never took vacation and didn’t really have time to spend it. So I’m just going to hang out for a while to decide what I want to do. I really do like practicing law. I just…I dunno. I guess I need to figure out the stuff most people figure out while they’re still in college.”
“Some people never figure that stuff out. You’re actin’ like twenty-eight is middle aged or something. It’s not.”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty. And bars and restaurants are the only place I’ve worked.”
“How’s your dad feel about that?”
“Well—for a long time? Not impressed. One of my sisters is a lawyer, the other is married to one. He kept thinking I was trying to find myself, or I needed some direction, or something like that. But now, with this economy? Law school graduates can’t find jobs, but everybody still wants to drink. So, he’s thinking I’m pretty smart right about now.”
“You’re originally from New Orleans? I mean, you sound like it.”
“Yep. Born and bred. Dad’s family’s from Uptown, mom’s is from Mandeville, which is—your aunt ever tell about Mandeville?”
“Yeah. Across the lake.”
“Right. Nice place. Kind of sleepy, small, until after Katrina, when a bunch of people went over there and never came back. Hey! I could take you.”
“Take me?” Stop that, Lindsey. Really wonderful nasty thoughts flitted through her head. “I mean, take me where?”
“To Mandeville. On my sailboat.”
“You have a sailboat?”
“It’s really nice.”
“Oh….I’d like that. I love boats.”
Ethan ordered another round of drinks, and she didn’t protest because it wasn’t like she was driving and besides, stumbling down the street was almost de rigeur for the Quarter.
"Where did you come up with the name for the bar?"
He looked a little embarrassed as he laughed. "My Cajun grandma--my mom's mom--gave me the nickname when I was a little bitty thing."
"It means 'possessed' in French, right?"
"Yeah. But in Cajun French it's a word for a--what you might call a troublesome youngster."
She laughed. "You're part Cajun?"
"Yeah. My great-great-grandmother was one of the most famous Creole courtesans in New Orleans back before the Civil War."
"Oh, that is so cool."
Their food arrived. “So, can Southern ladies slurp their oysters?”
“Hell yeah. So can hot drunk Yankee girls.”
“Oh. You can tell I’m getting drunk?”
That damned grin again. “Don’t worry, darlin’. It’s cute on you. And I’m a total gentleman.”
It was her turn to grin. “Yeah. I could tell that about you.”
“My mama would be grateful to hear that.”
It was hard—and gross—to talk while slurping oysters, so they ate in companionable silence. And she was thinking that this night had turned out pretty damn well, considering that Ryan had stalked her and Undrea had stood her up, and it looked like she’d made her second friend in New Orleans, and he was hot. And he thought she was hot. Which was hot. And the wine was cold, and the oysters were delicious, and Ethan was looking at something over her shoulder and he looked really pissed off…
He stood up abruptly. “Buddy, you are about to get your ass arrested. After you get it kicked, which is what I’m about to do.”
Shelley came running up. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Ethan, what’s going on?”
There he was, standing right behind her, once again looking sad, and stubborn, and clueless and stupid and stalky…
“Lindsey, please. Please. I just want to talk. I don’t want to--”
“Were you following me?”
“You didn’t turn your location feature off, and--”
“Shelley, call 911,” Ethan said flatly. “Now. This guy is fucking crazy, and he’s a stalker.”
And as soon as he said that, a cop walked up. A big, broad, African American street cop who looked like he could hold his own against NYC’s finest was standing by their table with his hands on his hips, while passersby began to stop and stare.
“Ethan?” asked the cop. “What’s going on here, man?”
She couldn’t believe this. “You know all the cops, too??”
The cop looked at her. “Of course he knows all the cops. He owns a bar. Ethan, brother, what’s going on.”
“This guy” – Ethan stubbed a finger in Ryan’s direction - “is following her. He’s stalking her. She keeps telling him to get lost and he keeps showing up.”
“I’m not stalking her,” Ryan huffed. “I know her. I need to talk to her.”
“No! No, you don’t. I can’t believe you’re still doing this!”
“Ma’am, has he threatened you?”
“No. But I’ve told him, many many times, that I don’t want to talk to him again.”
“Okay, that’s pretty clear. You need to move along, sir.”
“I said, move along, sir.”
Ryan wasn’t a short guy, nor a timid one—he was already an accomplished trial lawyer and it wasn’t in his nature to quail. Unfortunately, like all good litigators, it was in his nature not to know when to shut up and go away.
“Wait just a damn minute. I know my rights. I’m a lawyer, and--”
“Oh, you did not just say that to me.”
“What? Yes, I said I’m a lawyer! I’m with the firm of Winthrop, White and Strom, and--”
“Never heard of ‘em.”
“It’s one of the biggest firms in New York City!” Ryan snapped.
“Oh, shit yeah,” the cop smiled. “I get to arrest a New York City lawyer. Hang on there, buddy. I’m gonna call a blue and white.”
“What? You can’t arrest me!”
“Fuck I can’t.”
The cop was pulling his cell phone out.
This was getting ridiculous.
“Ryan! If you don’t leave right now, I’m calling Gerry. And I’m going to tell him exactly what’s been going on. And by the time I’m through, your partnership track will be seriously fucked.”
Now he paying was paying attention. He looked terrified.
“Lindsey! I just—I just, I only--”
“NO. Leave. Now. Go back to the trial, go back to your life. Don’t call me, don’t call my mother. I have every text you sent me, Ryan. Every email, every voice mail.” Somehow, without admitting it to herself, she’d known he was getting weird. “I’ll turn them over to Gerry. And he won’t like them.”
He looked ready to cry. And she had no sympathy for him. At all.
He turned on his heel and walked away.
“Well shit,” sighed the cop. “I’ve never arrested a New York City lawyer before. And I’ve been working the Quarter over ten years.”
“Sorry, Bernie. Maybe next time. But thanks.”
Bernie and Ethan shook hands.
“Ma’am.” He tipped his hat to her, then walked off.
She and Ethan were left standing, staring at each other. She took a deep breath.
“Look, I’m sorry for dragging you into this. I know he seems crazy, but I really don’t think he’d hurt me. It’s just, he’s spent the last five years working as much I did, only he loves it. And he’s a litigator. They really do think they’re badasses, because they make a shitload of money and work for one of the world’s top law firms. And a lot of women agree, so when I dumped him, he just couldn’t…anyway. Sorry. He’s not a threat, just a nuisance. And I will tell Gerry if he doesn’t knock this crap off.”
“He’s the senior partner Ryan’s worked for since he joined the firm straight out of law school. Ryan’s up for partner in two years, and if Gerry thinks he’s gone off the deep end, or might do something to embarrass the firm, Ryan’s toast. So I think he’s gonna behave himself now.”
“Huh. That’s weird,” Ethan mused.
“But it’s totally normal in a big law firm, especially in New York. They’re very image conscious.”
“Huh? Oh, no, no, not that. I mean, my dad’s firm wouldn’t like it if an associate was harassing his ex-girlfriend. No, I just mean that, growing up, I hated the idea of going to law school so bad. My dad loves his job but he wasn’t home much, and he was stressed out all the time, and I thought, I’m never doing that. So here I am, thirty years old, and you’re the first lawyer I’ve ever dated.”
She stopped short. “We’re dating?”
“Oh.” He looked briefly horrified, then sheepish. Lindsey realized it was the first time all night that he’d appeared anything other than completely confident. It just made him cuter, and it made her bolder.
Although, again, the wine didn’t hurt.
“I’m totally fine if we’re dating. But that means we have to, you know, go out on a date. Which means you have to call me. And you have to be patient with me, because I haven’t been on a date in over three years and I’m not sure I remember how to do it.”
This time it wasn’t a grin. It was more of a leer, and she loved it. “I can help with that.”
They were standing on the shared balcony of her condo, outside her front door. They’d put their numbers in each other’s phones.
He was, as she’d suspected, a very, very, very good kisser.
“You have a really pretty throat.”
“Awe, yeah. Hot Yankee Girl really is drunk.”
“Okay, yeah, I am. So I’m not gonna ask you in, because I could get stupid, and---”
She absolutely adored it when a guy kissed her while she was talking. Or, at least, she had, until she’d started dating Ryan, who never did it.
Neither of them could speak while their tongues were entwined but eventually he broke broke off—with a delicious, tiny groan—and said, “Tomorrow.”
“Yeah. I’m gonna sleep in.”
“So am I. Cause I’m probably gonna have a hangover.”
“That’s okay. I’ll be here round ten, and we’re going to Café Du Monde for beignets and coffee. Best hangover cure ever. Then we’ll see what happens.”
She smiled against his lips. “I know what’s gonna happen.”
His arms tightened around her. “Yeah? So do I.”