And now for free-flowing red wine and fabulous girlfriends, Chapter 29 is up:
After we’d turned the restaurant over to the staff on for the night shift, Billie and I headed out for some hang time. There was a ridiculously trendy restaurant one of her law school peeps had told her about, so we walked the few blocks west to check it out. It was like teleporting into another world. Enormous, lifelike aquatic animals hung from barnacle-encrusted rafters, the floor rippled like an ocean floor, covered in polyurethaned sand. The furniture was shaped like seaweed beds, coral reefs, frondy plant life. The long, flowing-haired waitresses, dressed as mermaids and sirens, were especially surly, even by New York City standards, and Billie and I deemed them “piranhas-of-the-sea”. We decided it was a red wine night and slowly, methodically, began to drink our way down the by-the-glass list.
“Chica, we haven’t been out like this in forever,” she said, brushing her inky black bangs across her forehead.
“Yeah, I’m a bad girlfriend,” I said slapping my own hand. “Bad, bad girlfriend.”
“No corporal punishment required,” she said, laughing that wonderful high-pitched bray of hers I loved so much. “Your heart is getting rehydrated and shit. You're getting laid regularly. I'm happy for you, honey.”
“Yeah, Bill. S’wonderful and all, but it's also terrifying. Know what I mean, jellybean?”
“Love can jack the nerves, oh yeah,” she said, her cocoa-colored eyes warm and sweet, if a little bloodshot. She always seemed to look more than a little tired these days, even if that zinging energy of hers never seemed to dial down to less than super-charged. She played with her salad, scooting the hijiki to the side of the clamshell bowl. “But everything’s still going well with you guys?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said, reaching over to score her hijiki for my own clamshell. “He's pulling away, and it’s freaking me out a little. I’ve barely seen him in over a week. He’s got all these excuses. Mostly they're good. Mostly valid. But something's up. I can feel it.”
Our service piranha walked by and Billie tried unsuccessfully to get her attention. “Sure,” she said. “Look at who you're dealing with.”
Something about the way she said it pinged oddly. “He and Buck seem to go way back,” I said, going on a fishing expedition. “How long have you known him?”
“Oh, God, six, seven years? He used to come in all the time when I was bartending at The Taco Toilet. Wasn’t he around when you were behind the bar?”
“Not that I remember. What was he like back then?”
She opened her mouth but nothing came out. She reached for her wine glass, quiet for a moment, then she started chattering at high velocity in between sips of wine, avoiding my eyes the whole time. “I used to date him, actually it was more like friends with benefits without the friends part, I know I should have told you, but my experience with him wasn't so great, and you guys were getting along so well, and he really seems different with you, I mean he's older, more mature, but he treats you differently than he treated me, and I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want to spoil what was obviously going really well for you,” she said, followed by a series of tight little laughs.
“It’s okay, Bill. Seriously. I knew it was something like that,” I said, reaching over to squeeze her hand.