Chapter 16 – Kara
Kara arrived at the coffee shop a few minutes early the next morning, eager to get started. Paula and her son were there to open the shop and greet the two delivery drivers who came. One had baked goods that smelled wonderful as they were being unloaded from his van. The other driver brought aromatic coffee beans in burlap sacks. Paula checked that everything on the invoices was correct and Jeremy showed Kara where everything went.
To Kara, Jeremy seemed effeminate in his mannerisms and voice, but she wasn’t usually one to be judgmental. Sandra arrived at 6:30 and showed Kara the menu board with prices on the wall and how to use the cash register. Jeremy told her he would give her a tutorial on making the various espresso-based drinks when the store opened and customers started arriving as he brewed several types of coffee to fill the hot pots.
Even though everyone told Kara that Saturday was the shop’s slowest day because they lost business to the pancake houses and diners in the area, it all still seemed a whirlwind to her. But she took it all in and learned as much as she could that first day.
Later in the morning, while Paula did paperwork in her office and business was slowing down, Jeremy and Sandra became playful and cajoling with one another, almost like siblings or close friends. Jeremy began to tease “Sandy,” as he called her, right in front of Kara.
“Sandy thinks that some young stud from the cowboy bar up the road is going to wander in here one day and sweep her off her feet and into his jacked-up truck,” he joked to Kara.
“Don’t tell me you wouldn’t like a little Brokeback Mountain action yourself, Jeremy,” the freckle-faced young woman retorted.
“What I think we all could use is a little bareback mountain action,” he laughed in reply. That got Sandra giggling as well.
Okay, so he is gay, Kara thought. His mother has to know. Not that it’s any of my business. She had never really had any sort of close association with gay men before, although she had known a few at her Navy command.
“The only cowboy that ever comes in here is that bar’s owner, Calvin,” Sandra explained. “And he’s older than Jeremy’s mom and usually three sheets to the wind before noon. He’s notorious for flirting with every woman he sees.”
“I’ll have to watch out for him then,” Kara replied with a smile.
During her time off that first week, Kara decided to delve into the world of erotic fiction e-books. She was surprised to learn that there were so many sub-genres. Some she found included not only younger women with a lustful interest in older men, but also strange fetishes, like fantastic tales about women who loved big hairy men that turned into even bigger and hairier beasts and made love to them under the light of the moon. That’s too weird for me, she thought. And no BD/SM stuff either. Being dominated is one thing, but pain and humiliation are quite another. I hope Peter isn’t into any strange practices like that.
As she perused an extensive catalogue of erotica online, she quickly found a sub-category full of stories about young co-eds having torrid affairs with their college professors. I guess my experience wasn’t as unique as I thought!
She decided not to go down that road again for now. Instead she purchased a seemingly juicy novella about a young administrative assistant who lusted after her boss.
She started to read it and found the writing wasn’t all that good. But the story got her even more worked up about her own sexual fantasy, and she had to continue satisfying her own needs every night at bedtime. I can’t wait to see Peter again, she would think to herself before drifting off to sleep, and hear the songs he’s picked out to sing for me. Of course, I have to do a duet with him again. It’s so hot standing next to him like that!
Kara decided to go ahead with red highlights in the front of her hair that week, and she got compliments from lots of folks at the coffee shop. Jeremy and Sandra were both impressed that she had a cosmetology license, and both said they might want to make use of her services sometime. It would be easy enough to dye her hair back to one solid color if the Navy were to call her back for some reason. Or she could do something even more daring with it later on, if she so desired.
That first week at Mercedes Beanz had been exhausting, and Kara took a long nap on Thursday afternoon so she’d be ready to stay late at karaoke. When she awoke, she was sure to pick out an outfit that was more form fitting and sassier, something that would go well with her new look. She really wanted Peter to find her desirable, not just a friend to talk the night away with. So she chose a bright blue pair of skinny jeans and a tight-fitting beige blouse. She had a nude color push-up bra that she thought would accentuate her breasts with the blouse.
She thought back to the last night she’d spent with Peter at Flannery’s, where she had learned a little about his past relationships. He had been married for quite a while to a Navy petty officer younger than he was. After they divorced, he had a no-strings relationship with an airman that he had characterized as ideal. Again, she had been a much younger woman. More recently, he’d fended off a bookstore manager’s attempts to lock him into a relationship. She laughed as she pictured how that had gone. She got the impression that Kelly had been nowhere near Peter’s age either.
Kara wondered if Peter even liked women close to his own age. He seemed to be looking for another casual affair to replace the one he’d had with the young airman. Kara asked herself at that moment if she could possibly fulfill that role, or if she was stuck on dreams of meeting and securing a relationship with Mr. Right.
I suppose time will tell, she thought. No need to figure it out right this second, or even tonight. I’ll just see where the road leads. But I definitely need to learn more about him before I decide to jump into anything.
Kara paid careful attention to her makeup and checked her look one last time in the mirror before heading out for the night. Exactly right, she thought. It’s a little flirty, but not slutty. I don’t want to be too obvious around Peter.
She arrived at Flannery’s a little after 9:30 and walked in to find Peter and Cowboy Don singing a country song called As She’s Walking Away. It was about an older man telling a younger man not to let a pretty girl get away. Kara thought it was cute. She stood at the entrance to the pub area, listening as they finished up and clapping at the end. Peter handed his mike to Don, grabbed his beer bottle off a table by the DJ’s setup, and strode over to greet her. He led Kara back to the same corner table and bench seat they had sat at the previous week.
Two casually dressed men and a woman sat at the table beside theirs. The man sitting next to Peter on the bench seat complimented Peter and told him his singing sounded very professional. Peter thanked him as Cowboy Don wandered their direction, doing his sound check and singing a funny song called Pretty Good at Drinking Beer.
The man kept talking as Don turned and headed back to the front of the pub. “I hope you do more. I’m thinking of singing one or two myself, but I need a couple more beers before I give it a whirl”
Peter told the man he was looking forward to hearing him before he turned his attention fully to Kara. “You look more lovely every time I see you,” he said with a smile. “So you decided to go with the red highlights, I see. I think it suits you very well. Tell me all about your new job.”
She delighted in recounting the details of her week for him and describing Paula, Jeremy and Sandra. “I’m getting the hang of everything pretty quickly, and it’s a fun group to work with.”
“That’s good. I’ll give you some time to get settled in before I come to visit. Amanda has a vet appointment a week from Tuesday, so maybe I’ll swing by afterward and you can meet her. And I can come again the next day after I drop her off at daycare and perhaps spend a little more time there.”
“That would be wonderful, Peter. I like dogs,” she said as Don finished his song and set up some music videos on the wall monitors. “Just send me a text when you’re on the way and I can have your order ready when you arrive on Tuesday. I can bring it outside and maybe sit with you and Amanda for a minute at one of the patio tables. I’m sure the staff won’t mind if I tell them you’re a friend. And I think when you come back without her, you’d really like the little book exchange and reading area they have in the back.”
Kara also told Peter the details of her experience at Mane Street. She wasn’t hopeful at all about taking Jessica’s spot once she went on maternity leave.
“Well, it was worth a shot. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful,” Peter said. “Something will come along in the cosmetology field for you. And I wish you luck and success with your officer program too. I’m going to keep thinking positive thoughts for you.”
“Aw, thanks, Peter.” Kara smiled at him as Olivia arrived to get their order. Kara ordered a wedge salad and a diet soda again and told Peter not to get any appetizers unless he wanted something. He didn’t, but he ordered another Dos Equis.
Peter finished off the first beer as their order arrived and the videos ended. Kara asked him which songs he had picked out, and he smiled and told her she was about to find out. Don announced him as the first singer of the second round and Peter went to the front. He sang a Billy Currington song called If I Fall. Once again, it was something Kara was totally unfamiliar with, but it seemed very romantic. She waited to start on her salad while she watched Peter perform. She couldn’t help but smile broadly as she listened to his amazing voice.
The guy at the next table told her he enjoyed Peter’s singing too, and she replied that he was always that good. She started to eat then so the man wouldn’t bother her for now. This guy seems affable enough, but I’m not here to chat with strangers, she thought.
When Peter returned, he asked Kara if she had more information for him on their zodiac signs. She put down her fork, grabbed her phone from her purse, and quickly tapped in the address for her favorite astrology website.
“Okay here’s Aquarius: an air sign. On one hand, Aquarius can be shy and quiet, but on the other, he can be energetic, eccentric and boisterous.”
“That explains why I need to escape the solitude of my house for some boisterous karaoke fun every once in a while,” he joked.
Kara continued. “Aquarius is a deep thinker with a love for helping others. This person is also highly intellectual and fiercely independent. Hmm, I think I’ve heard you mention something about that. Aquarius prizes intuition tempered with logic. He is an excellent problem solver with an uncanny ability to see both sides of an argument, and is in tune with the energy surrounding him. Aquarius has a deep need to take time out alone and away to rejuvenate. He is imaginative and sees a world of possibilities, even when there appear to be none at all. Wow, that’s a lot. And all very impressive! Sounds like a great guy to hang out with and get to know!”
“I’m glad you feel that way. It all sounds very much like me.” Peter chuckled and took a swig of his beer as the second round of singers, including the woman from the table beside them, ended and Cowboy Don began more music videos. “I want to hear all about Gemini now, but I have to take a short break first and visit the men’s room.”
Kara nibbled on her salad some more while she awaited Peter’s return. He was back in a few minutes, eager to hear all about Kara’s zodiac sign.
“Alright, there’s not as much, but it’s still very telling. Gemini is versatile, expressive and quick-witted. This is key: she has two distinct sides to her personality and you have to be face-to-face with her to know which one you’re dealing with. One side is outgoing, flirtatious and communicative. This side is the one that’s ready for fun. That’s the side you’re seeing at the moment.”
Kara laughed, then continued. “The other side is contemplative, serious, restless and can be very indecisive. Yes, sounds like my intellectual side could also be the downside for me. But both sides adapt well to life’s challenges. Gemini is never boring!”
“I should hope not!” Peter laughed again. “She sounds like an interesting lady. Time for another love song, and this one is actually called Love Song. I like the version by the band 311. They’re from Omaha, like I am.”
When the man who sat next to Peter saw him get up, he said, “I think I’ll try to go after you, but you’re a hard act to follow.”
“You’ll be fine,” Peter replied. “Follow me up there and you can tell Cowboy Don your song.” The man got up and walked behind Peter to the front.
Kara had heard Peter’s song before, and she enjoyed the slow, dreamy reggae rhythm as she watched him pour emotion and expression into the lyrics. She joined the growing crowd in the pub area in giving Peter an enthusiastic round of applause when he was finished. The man standing beside Cowboy Don shouted his admiration too as Don announced that he would go next.
The man’s name was Jerry. Before Peter could get back to sit beside Kara, Jerry spoke into the microphone: “I don’t know if I can top that, but here goes. Let’s keep the love songs going.” With that, he launched into Bad Company’s Feel Like Making Love as Peter slid onto the bench beside Kara.
“God, I hope he doesn’t ruin this,” he said to Kara. “This is one of my favorite rock and roll love songs of all time.”
“I’d love to hear you sing it sometime, Peter. I haven’t heard a bad rendition of any song from you yet.” She wanted to distract him from Jerry’s performance and bring his attention back to her, so she brought up a topic from their previous discussions. “So, Peter, you told me the last time that I saw you that you have studied some aspects of female psychology. Are there any revelations or insights you can give me that might help a young woman out?”
Peter laughed. “Well, I don’t want to give away all my secret knowledge, but yes, I can give you a few insights. Now I’m not saying this for my own benefit, but women prefer men who are somewhat older than they are. It’s the ancient notion of the established provider, I suppose. And this definitely doesn’t pertain to me at all, but in general, women also see baldness and a little bit of a paunch as signs of masculine virility. They also seem to prefer men with facial hair to those who are clean-shaven. It’s all sub-conscious stuff that’s been hard-wired into them by evolution.”
“I’m really not typical then. I like guys with hair on their heads and I’m not crazy about facial hair, or excessive body hair for that matter. I also tend to go for guys my own age who are in shape. I’m not a fan of the so-called ‘dad bod’ type at all.”
Peter laughed at her expression. “Again, it’s all generalizations, but everyone should be aware of them. They explain a lot. So Kara, have you ever been involved with a man who was significantly older than you? There’s no pressure at all to answer that.”
Kara had no intention of directly bringing up her college fling, so she was very careful in choosing the words of her reply. “I understand the attraction, I think. I guess some women would see older men as experienced, established and stable. Someone very close to me got involved with a professor right before she left college. She didn’t regret anything at the time. In fact, she had a marvelous time with the guy. He was about twice her age and had a great mind, a beautiful house, and a very good life. But she had to leave and make her own way without him. So her regrets came afterward, especially after she recently found out that he got engaged. She says she still has fond memories of their time together though.”
“Ah, professors,” Peter sighed. “They’re like spiders, lying in wait for their prey to become ensnared. I’ve known a few that were like that.” His disdain was clearly evident.
He polished off his beer and in short order, Olivia came to clear Kara’s plate away and take their drink order. It was the same as last time for Kara: a shot of Fireball and a whiskey mixed drink. Peter stuck with beer.
He resumed the conversation. “The fling with a professor is an old tale. It’s easy to see how an impressionable young woman could fall for an older and seemingly wiser guy like that. I was asking more about a longer-term relationship. You’re correct that older men can be more stable and settled, and they almost always know more than younger men about what they want out of life. I believe that if you don’t have it figured out by the time you reach 40, you probably never will.”
Jerry had long ago finished his song and gone to visit the men’s room. He now returned to sit beside Peter as Don played more music videos.
“Is your girlfriend going to sing tonight?” Jerry asked Peter.
“We’re going to do a duet later,” Peter replied. “Let me ask my friend if she wants to sing solo or not.”
In a hurry to get away from the busy-body next to them, Kara said that she wanted to do a song on her own during the next round, so she went to see Cowboy Don, say hello, and give him her song choice.
“You look great, Kara!” Don exclaimed. “How are you doing tonight?”
“I’m good. I found a part-time job in a coffee house a little ways from here. And I’m truly enjoying my conversation with Peter.”
“He’s a good man. What would you like to sing?”
“I think I’ll try Crazy by Patsy Cline.”
“I love that song,” the cowboy said with a smile.
“And how about Peter and I do The One That I Want from Grease in the next set as well?”
“Okay, Pete’s already given me his list for the night, so I’ll put him up first, then you, and you can stay up here for the duet to finish off the round.”
“That sounds great. Thank you, Don. I don’t think I want to sing anymore than that tonight.”
She went for a quick visit to the ladies’ room, and their drinks had arrived by the time she returned to the table. Kara clinked her shot glass with Peter’s beer bottle and she downed the Fireball in one quick gulp as her companion took another drink of beer. Don called him up to the front just then, and he sang a romantic country song called Kiss Me in the Dark by a group called the Randy Rogers Band. Kara definitely felt warmth, both from the Fireball and the sentiment of Peter’s song.
As Peter finished to applause, Cowboy Don called Kara up to sing next. Peter remained standing by the DJ as Kara sang the classic tune in her most sultry voice. She was glad to receive an enthusiastic round of applause when she finished. But her duet with Peter, which was much better than the last time they had attempted it, got the biggest cheers of the night from the clientele.
And Kara couldn’t help but think of her lusty fantasies about Peter as he stood beside her and belted out the song. Maybe he is the one that I want after all, she thought throughout their duet.
The trio at the table next to theirs was still clapping when they returned. Jerry shook Peter’s hand and congratulated them both before Peter had a chance to sit down. “That was terrific! You two are both really great singers. How long have you been together?” Jerry asked.
Peter was quick with a reply. “We’re friends just having a good time, singing a few songs and getting to know one another. So what brings you folks out to Flannery’s tonight?”
“We’re here from Dallas for business. We’re staying at a hotel right up the road from here. And I think we’ve had enough to eat and drink, so we’re going to head out in a minute. I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed hearing you and your friend sing. You two have really good chemistry.”
“Thanks, Jerry. I hope your trip goes well. Maybe we’ll see you again the next time you’re in town. Don’t forget that every Thursday night is karaoke night here at Flannery’s.”
Kara felt glad and relieved when Peter finally turned his attention back to her. “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about the female mind, Peter?” she asked. “You know, I’m still young enough to learn a thing or two.”
“Well, without getting into too much more detail, I’ve studied quite a bit about body language and non-verbal cues. For instance, I can tell you’re more relaxed and feeling freer now that you’ve left the Navy and some other things behind. You seem optimistic about your new job too. The style and coloring of your hair are more in line with the sassy, fun side of your zodiac sign. And perhaps your outfit is a bit flirtier than what you’ve worn here before.”
Kara reddened a little as she took a sip of her drink. “I don’t know about ‘flirty.’ But I definitely feel freer and less anxious about the future. I’m enjoying your company and finding out some things about you, Peter. But I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave after I’ve finished this drink. I really appreciate your hospitality, and it’s always great to hear you sing.”
“Thanks, I like hanging out with you too. I think I have one more song you might like. Will you stay and listen to it for me?”
“Of course. I’m not going to down the rest of this drink like I did the shot,” she laughed.
Peter was the first singer up in the next round and sang You Make My Dreams Come True by Hall and Oates. She grinned broadly as she watched and listened.
So he can read my body language, she thought to herself. But I wonder to what degree. Am I making myself too transparent? I hope not. Flirtier? Maybe, but I can turn that up another notch if I want to—later on. Maybe the next time I come to karaoke…
After he returned to the table, Peter told Kara he was probably done for the night too, and that he would likely leave shortly after she did. He also wanted to fill her in on the progress of the novel he’d gone back to before she left. “I’m incorporating some happier and more lighthearted short stories I’ve written into it. When I’m satisfied with that, I’ll go back and write a few chapters about Carol’s affair in Afghanistan as the opener. That should really draw the audience in and provide some background. I still don’t know how I want the story to end though.”
“Maybe your protagonist will meet a beautiful young woman at karaoke…”
“Fall madly in love, and they’ll live happily ever after!” he interjected. They both laughed aloud as he finished her thought.
Okay, I am being obvious, I suppose, she thought. I guess it must be time to get going.
“Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll get there when we get there, I suppose,” Peter said with a grin.
Kara finished her drink, thanked Peter again for a fun time and said her final farewell. “Of course, I have to say goodbye to Cowboy Don too,” she said.
“Alright, good night, Kara. Be safe on your way home and I’ll see you again next Thursday night.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” she said as she took her leave.
He has no idea how much, she thought as she went to say goodbye to the DJ.