Chapter 14 – Peter
Peter arrived at Flannery’s just after 9:00 that night, just in time to see Cowboy Don unloading gear from his pickup truck. He made his way inside and took his usual place. He said a quick hello to Don as the DJ brought in a speaker and dropped it off, and just as Don went back out to his truck, Olivia came out to take his drink order. Of course, he got his usual naked Dos Equis in a bottle.
As Don came back inside, the old cowboy nodded toward the front door, where Kara Sparks was now standing. Peter noticed that her hair was a much darker brown now, which suited her well. She was wearing a pink sweater and jeans and smiled at him as she began to walk toward him. He stood up as she approached and said hello. He told her that she looked great with darker hair.
“Thanks. Could we sit farther back, away from the speakers?” she asked. “I’d like to talk and I don’t want to have to shout over the music.”
“No problem. How about a corner table, farther back than where you usually sit?” He motioned to the back of the pub area, where four tables were positioned in front of a long, upholstered bench seat that ran the length of the half-wall.
She agreed that would be fine as Olivia brought his beer. Peter told the server they would be switching tables.
“So how is everything?” he asked as they sat down.
Kara paused to order a diet soda from Olivia before answering. “Well, things could be better. Tim and I broke up for good and he’s moving back to Houston at the end of the month. He’s getting his own store to manage.”
“I’m sorry to hear about that—I mean for you. I never got the full story on him, or the guy you were seeing in Austin. I don’t mean to pry, so you don’t have to give me any details if it makes you uncomfortable.”
“It’s okay. Long story short, Tim and I dated for a couple of years when we were both taking night classes. He started seeing someone else for a while when things got busy for me and we were spending a lot of time apart. I accept the blame for that, but it couldn’t be helped. My friend Amelia from Florida, the girl you met, was out here to console me back in March. We were out drinking in Austin when I met a law student up there. In fact, I met him just before I met you.”
“So what happened with this law student, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“No, I don’t mind. He wanted to take things too far, too fast. The camping trip I told you about on Easter weekend didn’t go well, to say the least, so I came back Easter morning to go to church. And Tim was there, seeking me out. I decided to give things another try, but we ended up heading in different directions. He wanted me to come to Houston with him, and I’m set on staying here and trying to get into the Navy officer program.”
Olivia brought Kara’s soda. Kara asked if she could have a wedge salad and Peter said to put everything on his tab. He ordered an appetizer sampler, anticipating that a salad wouldn’t be enough for Kara, and another beer for when the food was ready. He could nibble on a few mozzarella sticks as he drank.
Peter started the conversation back up as Olivia headed back to place their order. “I know all about things going too fast in a relationship, as well as people moving in different directions. Since my divorce a few years ago, I’ve had a couple of casual relationships. But the last one, the one Don refers to as the ‘crazy cat lady,’ she wanted a commitment after we’d only been seeing each other for a couple of months.”
“And you weren’t ready, right?”
“No, not at all. I don’t know if I’ll ever be. If you can believe it, I met her in a bookstore. I had an appointment at a computer store in the mall to have my laptop looked at and I had some time to kill before the appointment. So I was carrying around a coffee and the laptop in a backpack in the bookstore, decided to pick up a smutty novel to see what sorts of things women write about, and struck up a conversation with the manager at the checkout counter. Her name was Kelly. After she took a look at what I was purchasing, she started flirting really hard, so I got her number, went off to my appointment, and went out with her for drinks that night.”
“So where does the ‘crazy cat lady’ part come in?” Kara asked.
“Well, we went back to her place after a few drinks and she had a couple of cats. I’m sure she had cleaned out the litter box earlier, but the place still smelled awful to me. Sorry if I’m being too graphic, but the odor definitely didn’t stop me from staying the night. And it had been a while since anyone had showed Kelly any affection, so she was like a woman possessed in the bedroom. Naturally, I had her close the bedroom door before we went to bed to keep the cats out. Sorry, I’m divulging far too much here. Anyway, I strongly suggested we go to my place the next time.”
Peter laughed and shook his head before continuing. “I shared my experience with Don the next time I came to karaoke, and he told me to steer clear of crazy, clingy cat ladies. Naturally, I didn’t take his advice. Kelly worked a lot of hours in the bookstore, and before I came along her cats were her only real companions outside of work. She would talk about them the way young parents talk about their children. But she would give me all her attention and affection when we were together, and I liked that.”
Peter continued after a sip of his beer. “I used to hang out with a few people I worked with, and Kelly got to know some of them. She was even friends with some on Facebook. I was her friend too, but as you may have noticed, I don’t really spend a lot of time on the site. After a couple of months, a mutual friend told me that Kelly had changed her status to ‘in a relationship’ with me. I sort of went crazy and told her I had to break things off.”
“Wow, you are serious about no commitments, Peter. So you’re not seeing anyone now? I recall Don calling you ‘Mr. Breeze’ or something. I never really found out what that means.”
“That’s from an old song I do. In fact, I can sing that one first.” Peter was careful not to bring up Celeste directly. “To answer your question, I stick to casual relationships, just like the first one I had after my divorce. In that one, we each did our own thing when we were apart, with no questions asked. But when we spent time together, we each gave the other all our attention. If you ask me, that’s the ideal relationship.”
Peter looked up as he finished speaking to see Cowboy Don completing his setup for karaoke, so he excused himself to go put in his song selections. As he approached the DJ station, he saw Olivia emerging from the back with his and Kara’s order.
Don said hello as he saw Peter approaching. Peter got out his wallet and slipped the DJ his usual $50 tip.
“So you have a new girlfriend I see,” said the cowboy.
“She messaged me on Facebook. Said she wanted to come out and talk tonight. I guess she broke up for good with that dude she was with last time.”
“Yeah, I saw she changed her relationship status back to single. Sounds like you could score pretty easily, my friend. What song do you want to start out with tonight?”
“Kara wants to hear Call Me the Breeze, so I’ll do that one first.”
“See, you’re already doing her bidding. That’s how it begins.” Don chuckled. “Beware of women on the rebound.”
“Oh, stop it, Don. I need to find out what she wants. And I’m going to stop you right there before you say another word.”
“Okay, you’ve got it. You two just let me know if you want to sing a duet later.”
As Peter returned to sit with Kara, she was polishing off a chicken wing. Peter slid in beside her. “My song selection is in. I really like what you’ve done with your hair, Kara. Did you do it yourself?”
“Yes, I wanted something darker. I’m not sure I’m finished with it yet, but technically I’m still on active duty, so I can’t do anything too crazy. Maybe later I’ll add some streaks of color to it.” She wiped off her hands, sipped her soda, and took a bite of her salad.
Peter wanted to delve into Kara’s motivation for coming out to Flannery’s, but Don was starting up karaoke, so Peter would have to save his questions for now and let his companion eat.
Cowboy Don was moving about the pub area with his cordless microphone, singing Margaritaville once again and checking the sound levels as Kara finished her salad. Peter continued sipping his beer and waited for his turn to sing as the DJ worked his way slowly back to their corner. When he came to the line “Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame,” he added, “ain’t that right, Pete?” Kara laughed aloud.
Don teased some other people sitting at the bar during the song too, knowing it would loosen them up and maybe get them to sing. The crowd was sparse at that point, but Peter knew from experience that a lot of workers from area restaurants would start to show up around 11:00, after their shifts ended, to blow off steam, have a few drinks, and sing a few songs.
When Peter’s turn came up, he did his Lynyrd Skynyrd number. It took him back to his days of singing with his brother Jason’s band in college. And Peter liked to substitute “Texas” for “Georgia” in the song, which usually got cheers from the Flannery’s patrons. Cowboy Don always laughed too when Peter would hit the high note and sang “oooooh, Mr. Breeze” at the end. Peter finished the number to a smattering of applause. He handed the mike back to the DJ and made his way back to the table. Kara was beaming at him when he returned. Don began to play music videos and asked for singers for the next round as Peter sat beside Kara.
“That was great, Peter,” Kara said with a smile. “I wish I could be as free and easy as the guy in that song. But I’m a believer in the old story about meeting the one that was meant for me and only me.”
“Ah, yes. I call that the ‘Theory of Someday,’” Peter replied, “as in ‘someday my prince will come.’ I know I sound rather anti-romance when I’m really not. It’s just not realistic for people to believe their perfect match will just walk through a door and they’ll know it’s right. But it’s an idea that’s ingrained into every young woman’s mind throughout her life and reinforced by books and movies.”
“I know. A lot of it is fantasy. But I think I’m a one-man kind of woman. Not like my friend Amelia, although I think she may have found the one for her. I like to take things slowly with relationships and get to know a guy before I commit to anything. Once we’re dating though, I expect him to want only me and not run around.”
“I can honestly say that except for my marriage, I’ve never really had that kind of commitment. And I don’t expect it from anyone in return. I’ve had a lot of great friendships with women. They all just sort of happened without any real initiation by me. Some were romantic and sexual, and some weren’t. I just like to hang out, talk and see where things lead. Sort of like you, I like getting to know someone. I just don’t go into anything with an agenda.”
“I don’t know if I can be that casual about things. Maybe I need to try that out at this point though. I’m not looking to get into a full-on relationship. I’m more concerned about getting things I want and need for myself, like work, while I wait to hear about the officer program. But an occasional date wouldn’t hurt. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find my prince that way.”
Just then, Peter saw Don beckoning him up front, so he excused himself to put in his next song choice.
“You did one about tequila before. Could you do that one for me?” Kara asked as Peter stood up. He agreed to, but wasn’t quite sure which song she was referring to. So he requested Tequila Sunrise by the Eagles.
“Cool, I haven’t heard that one in a while,” Don said. “How are things going with Kara?”
“I’m still not totally sure why she’s here, other than for company.”
“Well, I’ll bet she’ll get to the point sometime tonight. It takes women a while sometimes.”
“Yeah, we’ll see.”
“You know what I think?” the cowboy asked slyly. “If you see an opportunity, you should seize it.”
Peter laughed, shook his head and returned to the table to see that Kara had polished off all the appetizers except for a couple of mozzarella sticks.
“Sorry,” she said. “I must’ve been more hungry than I thought.”
Probably a nervous eater, Peter thought. She has nothing to be nervous about though. I told her I don’t have an agenda. I want her to feel at ease around me.
“It’s quite alright. We can always order more if you want,” he reassured her. “I’m almost ready for another beer anyway.”
“I’ve had enough food. But I could use an alcoholic beverage. How about a shot of Fireball and one of those whiskey specialty drinks they have here?”
“I’m not usually one for liquor, but you can have whatever you like.”
“That’s a good song,” Kara laughed. “Maybe I should learn it, although there’s another T.I. song I like better that he does with Rihanna.”
As Don finished playing a round of music videos, he announced a singer from the bar. Olivia emerged from the back, came over and took their drink order. Cowboy Don was up next and did a goofy song called Don’t Touch My Willie, which got huge laughs from the audience, including Kara. Olivia delivered the drinks to their table before Peter’s turn to sing, so he clinked his beer bottle with Kara’s shot glass and he watched her down the Fireball.
“Oh, that’s good!” she exclaimed, shivering from the warm sensation of the liquor.
Peter excused himself and got up to do his Eagles tune. He had always enjoyed the harmonies on this track, although the karaoke background singers couldn’t match Don Henley and the boys. The applause was much stronger from the growing crowd this time around as Peter walked back to sit beside Kara.
“That was another good one, Peter,” she said as he sat down. “But not the one I was thinking of.” Don put on the video just then of You and Tequila, and Kara remarked that was the one she’d had in mind.
“Ah, okay,” Peter said. “Since he’s playing the video, I can’t really do the song now. It’s kind of an unwritten rule of karaoke. So I’ll have to do something else for the next round. Are you enjoying yourself, Kara? I know there’s something on your mind since you asked me to sit apart.”
Kara looked around for a second at the tables that were starting to fill up around them as workers from other restaurants started to show up. Then she looked Peter straight in the eyes. He focused on her beautiful hazel eyes, intent on learning the real reason for her visit to Flannery’s tonight.
“Yes, the last time I saw you, you said you’d keep an eye open for jobs I might be able to get. You seem like a nice guy to hang out with too, but I was wondering if you’d heard of any opportunities for me.”
“The only thing I can think of is at the men’s barbershop I go to. It’s one of those full-service shave-and-a-haircut places, and you can get a beer there too, if you’re so inclined. I don’t know if you’re interested in anything like that, but they may have an opening coming up. My stylist, Jessica, is pregnant and will probably be taking a lot of time off starting at the end of June. I don’t know if you can wait that long though.”
“It never hurts to put in an application,” Kara replied. “I hadn’t thought much about doing only men’s hair, but it’s definitely a possibility. I’ve already applied at a number of women’s salons, but with no luck so far.”
“Okay, look into it if you like.” He gave her the name of the place so she could look it up. “Are you ready to sing yet?”
“Sure. Not T.I. though.” Kara laughed.
“You can do a warm-up song, or we can just jump in and do Run to You together, if you’ve learned it. Which do you prefer?”
“I think I’ll do one on my own, then we can do the Lady Antebellum tune, although I’m a little nervous, having never sung it before. Should we go tell Cowboy Don now?”
“You go and I’ll polish off these last two mozzarella sticks so Olivia can take the tray.”
Kara agreed and went off to put in their song selection and visit the ladies’ room. Meanwhile, a young woman wearing a polo shirt with the logo of the restaurant she worked at started off the next set.
When Peter saw Kara returning to talk to Cowboy Don, he took a quick trip to the restroom himself. He returned to the table in time to watch Kara sing her song, a Nelly Furtado number, before joining her up front. Their duet got huge applause from the ever-growing crowd in the pub area. After the song was over, Peter informed Don that he and Kara would be bowing out for a bit to talk. The DJ replied that there were plenty of other singers arriving, and told Peter to enjoy himself.
In the ensuing conversation between Peter and Kara, he was mildly surprised to discover that he and Kara had worked at the same site, but in different buildings, when he was still working for the government. She didn’t have the security clearance to work in his building, but instead she had handled paperwork for the Navy command at the site.
Peter talked about how he and his ex, the former Carol Whittaker, had met through work when both were stationed in Hawaii. She was six years his junior, and he didn’t pay all that much attention to her at first, but they became “work buddies”, then she became his “work wife,” sharing lunch with him and talking about this and that during the day. Finally, she had asked him out to karaoke one night and their relationship had escalated from there.
“That’s how these things truly happen for most people,” Peter remarked. “You meet someone through work, school or friends, and if it’s right, the relationship blossoms. It’s a far more common occurrence than knowing instantly that someone is meant for you.”
“I know. My last two relationships were with guys I met at school, and both lasted about two years. I still believe in love at first sight though. Call me a silly romantic if you like.”
“No, it’s not silly. It happens for some people, but not most.”
“So if you don’t mind me asking, Peter, how did you and your ex end up in San Antonio?”
“We had been together for two years in Hawaii when the time came for her to transfer here to Texas. I was eager to follow her, so I arranged for a transfer myself some months later. We lived together in San Antonio for a year before we got married to see how things would work out. Then we pulled the trigger and were married for almost seven years. We never had any kids, which was probably a good thing, but I would have liked some.”
“Again, excuse my curiosity, but how did it end?”
“That’s quite alright. It’s not painful for me to talk about it. Carol went on a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan. She said it would help boost her chances for selection as a chief petty officer. She was certainly right on that account. She deployed with a senior chief from the Navy command here, whom she already knew. They got involved with each other over there, and she let me know right away when she returned that she wanted to leave me and be with him.”
“I’m sorry, Peter. That’s rough.”
“Yes, it was. I felt blindsided. So anyway, after a quick divorce, Carol and this guy both transferred to Norfolk, Virginia. That was three years ago. For all I know, they both may be retired and living happily ever after by now. Since I left the government about a year ago, I’ve been working on and off on a novel, very loosely based on that breakup.”
“Is that what you’re working on now?”
“No, I’ve put it aside. And I don’t talk about what I’m currently writing,” Peter confided. “That’s an old superstition among writers that I adhere to.”
“It’s okay. I’m somewhat superstitious myself.” She paused a second before continuing. “Do you believe in astrology, Peter?”
“Not much. I’m an Aquarius, born the day after Valentine’s Day, if that means anything to you. My brother Jason is an Aries, so I helped him pick that out as the name for his band when I joined.”
“Interesting! Yes, your sign does mean something. Excuse me a minute while I check something on the Internet.” Kara got on her phone for a minute and there was a lull in the conversation as Peter listened to a young man belting out a Metallica song. Kara laughed as she looked up from her phone.
“I’m a Gemini, which means we are about eighty percent compatible,” she said.
Peter grinned. “I’ll take it. It’s nice to have someone to talk to. Maybe next time I see you we can talk more about the meaning of our zodiac signs.”
“Yes, of course. And it really is good to have someone to talk to. Maybe you can teach me a thing or two about life and pass on some wisdom. You are older and wiser after all. Not to be too nosey, but how old are you Peter?”
Peter didn’t mind responding. He was often told he looked much younger than he actually was. “I just turned 49 a few months back. And if it’s not too impolite to ask, what’s your age, Kara?”
“I’ll be 25 on June 17th. Hard to believe you’re nearly twice my age. I never would have guessed.”
“Thanks. I try to take care of myself. And 50 is supposed to be the new 40, whatever that means.” He chuckled at the thought. “And I believe you can be friends with someone from another generation. That’s never been an issue for me.” In fact, he thought, I’ve only been with younger women since I met Carol.
“Okay, so go on about this unfinished novel.”
“It’s the sordid tale of a man who goes into shock after his divorce and turns to a life of drinking and debauchery to ease his pain. But he only finds more pain. It’s trite, I know. That’s part of the problem with finishing it. I don’t know how it should end.”
“Not that my opinion matters, but I think it should end happily. Don’t make it only about a man’s downward spiral. Make it about his redemption. Make it about a man finding a woman better than the one he lost. Just a few thoughts from a woman who reads a lot.”
“Wow, that’s excellent advice, Kara. And come to think of it, my own experience didn’t end badly at all. Sure, I was in shock for about a month. But I was divorced and in a new house in less than three months. And I became involved in a happy, no-strings arrangement with a lovely young lady in the Air Force within four months. I live by the creed ‘ask, believe, and receive.’ I picked it up from self-help books I started reading when things started to collapse. It really seems to have worked for me.”
“That’s how your story should go then,” Kara said encouragingly. “Write what you know. Write about a man getting what he deserves after he experiences adversity. Write about a silver lining in the storm clouds. I don’t like stories that are all doom and gloom, with hapless characters who don’t know how to carry on with their lives.”
Kara paused for a second to take a sip of her drink. “Is it only written in one voice?” she asked as a woman from the bar began to destroy a Pat Benatar number.
“Yes, it is.”
“Maybe you should write in two narrative voices. What about the point of view of the two people who fell in love with each other? What makes a woman decide to leave a happy marriage and stake her future on an affair with a stranger?”
“Maybe you’re the one with the wisdom,” Peter said, grimacing as the singer was finishing her hatchet job on Hit Me With Your Best Shot. “What makes a woman decide to leave? Well, I did a little study of female psychology as my marriage was rapidly falling apart, trying to understand what happened. Here’s a fun fact: did you know that, on average, a woman knows subconsciously if she wants to have sex with a man within eleven seconds of meeting him?”
Kara laughed. “I must not be average.”
“And studies on primates show that females are very often tempted to leave the safety of the group for a mysterious stranger who shows up on the fringes of the pack.”
“It must be the temptation of something new and out of the ordinary,” Kara mused. “Sounds like you need to explore the topics you just laid out and put that research to work in your story. Again, that’s just my two cents.”
“You have lots of great ideas, Kara. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to sing one last song for the night to get that crime against Pat Benatar out of my mind. That’s my unwritten rule: don’t mess with Pat! I know one particular song about a mysterious stranger who steals the girl that might be apropos.”
“I’d definitely like to hear that,” she said with a smile.
Kara seemed to enjoy Peter’s rendition of Slide by the Goo Goo Dolls, as did the rest of the crowd. When Peter was finished, Kara got his phone number under the pretext that she would let him know about her job prospects. She also asked if Peter would mind sitting with her at karaoke every once in awhile. He agreed, telling her he would love to have a “karaoke buddy.”
She left then. Peter stuck around for a bit to finish his beer, settle the bill, and say good night to Cowboy Don. He was in a good mood after his chat with Kara, so he slipped the DJ an extra $20.
“How did it go?” Don asked.
“I think it went well. Kara was looking for help finding a job. And she had some really good insights to help me improve a story I had set aside for a time. I think I’ll get to work on the rewrite tomorrow.”
“You do that,” the DJ said, shaking Peter’s hand. He also thanked Peter for the additional tip. “You know what you should be working on tonight though—Kara.”
“You are so wrong,” Peter replied, shaking his head. “Don’t worry, she’ll be back.”
“I hope so. She’s cute, smart and can sing. Not like that girl who just murdered Pat Benatar.” They both got a good laugh out of that.
Peter walked out to his car then to head home for the night. During the short drive home, he was thinking about his conversation with Kara and her ideas for his writing. She’s definitely someone I’d like to hang out with and get to know better. Let’s see how this develops.