The music was jazz, slow and mellow, the key just minor enough to make the ambience that much more mournful. Like all places of its type, Crado’s Club was dim, no windows, a smoke fog hanging at the top of the room. Billy Crado had often thought that even when the no smoking laws affected his bar, that smoke cloud would be there for years.

Cheryl, sitting at her usual place at the bar, noticed the woman coming in immediately. She stopped just inside the doors, squinting, trying to get her eyes to focus. Cheryl watched her as she quickly scanned the room. Just a few this early in the day, a smattering of couples at tables and booths, only Cheryl at the bar. The woman’s eyes locked onto her, and Cheryl smiled. Without returning the smile, the woman walked slowly to the bar and gestured to the stool next to Cheryl.

“May I?”

“Of course.”

Billy materialized immediately from behind the bar, his eyebrows raised in the perennial bartender question.

The woman hesitated, looked confused.

Cheryl leaned toward her. “Whatcha want, hon?”

“Oh!” Her voice was high, nervous. She looked around, her eyes scanning over the bar as if looking for the fast food menu. “Um, a martini?”

Billy stood, waiting for more, and the woman’s eyes widened. Cheryl laid a hand on her arm. “May I?” she asked, and the woman nodded eagerly.

“Bring her a Tom Collins, Billy honey. Thank you.”

With a quick glance at the woman, Billy nodded and walked down the bar.

“Thank you,” the woman said. “I didn’t know what to order.”

Cheryl nodded, smiled. “Tom Collins is easy – lemonade for grown ups. I’m Cheryl.”

The woman’s smile didn’t quite make it to her eyes. “Melanie. Thanks.”

“No problem. You’re new here.”

Misunderstanding, the woman shook her head. “No, I’ve lived here all my life. Don’t get into the city much.” She sighed. Billy set the glass down in front of her and she picked it up, sipped, nodded at Cheryl. “Good choice. Thanks.”

Cheryl didn’t respond, just waited. Melanie took another sip, glanced sideways at Cheryl.

“You married?”

Cheryl nodded. “Oh yeah.”

Melanie’s shoulders slumped. “My condolences.”

Cheryl didn’t answer. After a moment, Melanie sighed, drank the last of the drink, and gestured with the empty glass to Billy who glanced briefly at Cheryl before turning to mix another Tom Collins.

“Men are pigs.” Melanie’s voice was low.

Cheryl looked at her a moment. Melanie seemed to be trying to convince herself. Clearing her throat, Cheryl said, “Truer words were never spoken.”

Melanie glanced over. “You too?”

“Oh girl,” Cheryl said with feeling, “you have no idea.”

“He ignores you?”

Cheryl looked quickly at Melanie, her eyes narrowing. “Ignores me? Honey, ignores me wouldn’t send me to a bar. I’ve got scars places nobody’s got scars. That doesn’t count the ones on the inside. Girl, I gave him all and he took all and now I got nothing.” She saw a look of horror coming into Melanie’s face before she added, her voice cracking, “Not even my….baby.” She turned quickly back to her drink.

“Your baby?” Melanie’s voice was small, almost scared.

Cheryl nodded. “He took all I had, then took my baby and run off with a newer version.” Cheryl’s hands shook as she picked up her drink. “Don’t trust ’em. Don’t never trust ’em.” She turned quickly to Melanie. “You got kids?”

Melanie was frowning. “Well, yeah, I have two… But Rob would never do that. He would never-”

Cheryl waved her off. “You sound like I used to. Trust me, they’re scum. They’ll bleed you dry, then dump you out. You’re a smart woman. You’ve come to the right place. I’ll save that seat for you – you’ll be using it a lot now that you’ve wised up.”

Melanie pushed the half-finished drink away and stood.

“Hey,” Cheryl said, “where you going?”

Melanie looked nervously at Cheryl. “I, uh, I think I need to, uh, go home.”

“Don’t be stupid! Sit down here and have another -”

Melanie was shaking her head. “No, no, I’ve made a… I have to go.” And she turned and hurried out of the bar.

Billy walked up to Cheryl, looking at the door. “She didn’t pay. You did it again, didn’t you.”

Cheryl smiled, took another swallow of her soda. “She was just mad, unhappy in the moment. We can comp two drinks. Did you even put gin in them?”

Billy grinned. “A little.”

Cheryl patted his hand and stood, leaning toward him. Billy bent and kissed her gently on the lips. “You headed out to get the little one?”

Cheryl nodded. “School will be out in a bit. I promised her ice cream for that math grade.”

“Tell her Daddy’ll bring her home a surprise tonight.”

“Nothing living. No more hamsters.”

Billy laughed. “Okay, okay. Go home, Mrs. Crado. I’ll see you tonight.”

Cheryl laughed and turned to the door, the second wife in minutes to go through it on her way home.


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