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I looked across the long pub table at her, a beautiful woman, full of life and the vibrancy of the young. She had just sat down, opposite me. She had the longest, blondest hair I’d ever seen, and a beautiful, shy smile, and a cuteness in her voice that was not practiced or affected in any way. For some reason, I was suddenly acutely aware of the smell of the foliage from the trees around the courtyard, the sharp scent of beer, and the heat of the evening.

“Hi!” She grinned at me with open, full attention and there was fun in her eyes. “They told me all about you!”

“Uh-huh. Not all bad, I hope.”

I am not fun, or even remotely original, and so I make limited responses. I try to hide my limitations, if I can. (And thereby demonstrate them, of course.)

“I heard about when the IT Director walked out of your meeting; I didn’t think that was bad!”

I looked ruefully down the table at the grinning faces of my old workmates; that particular fiasco had been one of the last nails in my coffin. But worth it, I had to admit.

It was one of their favorite war stories and so, of course, it got told again. I didn’t mind. It’s fun to listen to a bunch of half-drunk, gleeful women, especially when they’re your friends. They were my workmates, before I left the firm. I was their manager but, in truth, they managed me as much as I managed them and because of that, they were close to me. As close as I can allow.

“He was totally fucking up the system!”

“We were down for two fucking days! And the ‘phones wouldn’t stop ringing. So she called a meeting and asked him, politely mind you, if he knew what he was doing.”

“And he got really pissed and he said,” they all chimed in together, acting out his prissy airs and graces, “‘I’ll have you know, I have eighteen years’ experience in project management!'”

“And she said,” the ancient Greeks never had a Chorus like this one, “Took that long to finish the project, did it?”

They never got tired of laughing about it, and they always laughed loud. Half the crowd in the pub courtyard looked over to see what the noise was about.

I smiled across the table at the wide-eyed young woman grinning shyly at me, and shook my head at the older women roaring and thumping the table further down. I’d moved on, and didn’t see them much anymore; it made it all the sweeter when we got together.

If they knew about me, they never said. There was a boundary I set up when I worked there, a limit I expected everyone to understand. It wasn’t just for me; it was for all of us. Whatever they knew about their co-workers’ personal lives, it wasn’t for general discussion. I insisted on that. The place was a sweat shop. It was stressful enough, without worrying about what people were saying behind your back; I made it clear from the start—no disrespect on my watch! And I held myself to the same standard. We pulled it together; I’d been proud of them. I still was.

Solidarity grew under me and behind me and, since it was an all-woman team, it raised a few hackles in the male dominated areas of the firm. I’d played it badly, to tell the truth. I’d expected gratitude, and got attitude instead. I’d expected support. When I got the rug pulled out from under my feet, I didn’t go down easy. But when they offered me a good severance, and asked me to go quietly, I took it. They probably wouldn’t be happy to know I was sitting with my old team in a pub courtyard right now, but what the hell. It had been a couple of months, and I’d missed them. The firm didn’t own me anymore.

No, nobody knew. That was one game I could play. I’d never said anything derogatory about my ex-husband and I’m not unattractive, in the hetero sense. I don’t have a butch air about me. Not even soft butch. I’d worn dresses, skirts, regular women’s clothes to the office. I look good in makeup and always wear it when I go out, even to the supermarket—my fair coloring looks bland without it and I hate that—but I don’t have that gorgeous lipstick lesbian look. When I could have had it, I didn’t have the confidence; lipstick femmes weren’t acceptable in my time. I’d be mutton dressed as lamb if I tried it now. Too old.

The beautiful child sitting across from me, though. Oh, now she’s gorgeous. I could weep; she was looking at me in awe. They’d made me a legend, I could tell.

“Don’t listen to anything they tell you. I got my ass whooped.”

“You got fired?”

Karen, next to me, grimaced and Anne, sitting next to Gorgeous, shook her head in disgust.

“It was a mutually beneficial parting.”

“It didn’t benefit us, Lisa. It’s worse!” Karen sounded bitter.

She tried to hide it, but I knew Karen cried the day I left. She’d driven herself and everyone around her to distraction until I’d helped her trust her smarts. After that, she’d gotten tough; until she’d seen me packing my office. I threw her a tender look. I wanted to put my arm around her and gave her a quick squeeze, but I can never be that demonstrative. Not with people I know.

“Well, you’re just going to have to come casino siteleri and see me at my shop. I wish it was closer to you guys.” Actually, I didn’t. There had to be a break at some point.

“You’re painting it blue, aren’t you?”

How the hell did she know that? And what the hell’s this rookie’s name? They’d told me, but there had been so many to greet when I arrived, I hadn’t taken it in.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t catch your name. You clairvoyant? You’re Madame Zena, right?”

She laughed. Pink lipstick, white pearly teeth. Pouty little mouth. I wanted to lean across and suck it.

“Maggie. And no, I’m not clairvoyant, well, maybe sometimes.” A giggler. Adorable.

“No, the paint in your hair’s a dead giveaway!”

Shit. Ok, not a legend. Just odd. And messy.

“Ah. I did shower before I came over, honest I did; gloss paint’s a bitch though!”

Tonya shouted down the table. “What you gonna call it, Lisa?”

“Don’t have a name yet! Still got the original. Actually it doesn’t even have that now. “Dave’s Sandwiches” got painted out today. Anyone got any ideas?”

“Lisa’s Revenge” got the most votes. Women. You gotta love ’em.

*******

I figure I’ll be ready to open in about another week. “Dave’s Sandwiches” isn’t on the main beach. Its low season right now. Summertime. Belting Florida heat and humidity. Not the best time to open, but I’ll never get a huge crowd of tourists anytime. They’re all further up, where the beach is wider. There are small businesses, vacation condos, motels, and a couple of big hotels up there. My severance was good; it wasn’t that good.

But the little shop has a few things going for it, and Dave was decent about terms. He’d had a good run there, and was willing to help out while I got on my feet. I think the old guy needed to sell it, his health isn’t what it was, but he wanted to keep busy and still see his old regulars. He doesn’t have the same need to break away that I have. He’s not running from anything. I don’t know about me.

The shop is on a quiet, narrow strip of land called Pelican Pass. The ‘pass’ is a peninsula hanging off the mainland, with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and a deep, wide channel on the other. A few more hurricanes and it’ll be one more barrier island along Florida’s Gulf coast. The flood insurance is wicked.

I like the neighborhood, I always have. On the Gulf side, there are villas and cottages, some Bed and Breakfast inns, a couple of bars, a restaurant, and some small condos. No high-rises and no hotels. On the channel side, there’s more of the same and a thriving marina with a few charter fishing boats. The shop is on one of the short roads between the Gulf and the marina, well placed for the packed lunch fishing folk and the beach combers.

Most of the tourists on Pelican Beach are spillovers from the commercial beaches looking for a quiet spot to cuddle. Town people drive here to be away from the tourists, and to find a quiet spot to cuddle. So far, Pelican Beach hasn’t gotten a reputation of any sort, but the local residents know it’s a favorite with the town’s gay and lesbian population. It’s a mature, discreet scene mostly; nobody minds. I’m not exactly in the closet, but I’m not looking to start my own separatist movement either. I like the mix. I like cool people, and men can be cool. Dave’s cool. He hasn’t had any since his wife died, but he lives in hope. Don’t we all?

“Hey, Lisa!” The banging on my window was going to be my first insurance claim if it kept up like that. I wiped the paint off my fingers and ran over to the door, kicking Rob’s tools into a newly built booth on the way. No insurance claims. Not yet, please.

Tonya. And Maggie was with her. Same pink lipstick. Little cropped orange tee shirt and tight little fuck me shorts in shocking chartreuse green. Orange wedge flip-flops. There was a thong bikini under there, I just knew it. Tonya was dressed for the beach too; flat, natural leather sandals, a long filmy sarong, and a long-sleeve gauze shirt over a black bandeau bikini. Tonya was café au lait and didn’t want to get any darker than she was. I looked pale and business-like in paint spattered, rolled up dungarees, tee shirt of an indiscriminate gray, and battered, splotched sneakers.

“Girl, you look like you could use a break! Or something! Lock this place up and come on over to the beach.”

Tonya never let me stand off; I don’t know why or how, but she always overcame my reticence and hugged me when she saw me. She never made a big deal of it, she never held me too long, but she always did it and I never felt quite right with it; but if she didn’t do it one day, then I’d wonder what was wrong. She confused the heck out of me.

Maggie’s big baby blues took it all in. Thankfully she just gave me a sweet smile. I’d have frozen like an ice-popsicle if she’d tried it.

“I can lock up, Lee! Git! Go get some sun on your face.”

Rob’s big, raw voice boomed from the back storeroom and kitchen. He’s the quintessential mountain man, huge and gentle. Until slot oyna you put him on a Harley. Or give him a new boy. I’ve heard he rides either with the same mastery.

He lumbered out from the back, wiping his hands on a rag and looking over my visitors. Everybody made the wrong assumptions. They always do.

“Rob, these are a couple of friends from where I used to work. Meet Tonya and Maggie. Ladies, this is Rob. He’s helping me fix the place.”

I saw the ‘o-h, I s-e-e’ look come on their faces. That’s right, everybody, there’s nobody here I’m intimate with. Smiles all around. Maggie looked particularly happy and my heart leapt to see it, while my head said, ‘too young, too obvious, too hot’. The thrill in the pit of my stomach answered, ‘too long’ and that was that.

“Give me two minutes? I’d ask you up, but the place is a shambles. Help yourself to sodas; in the ‘fridge.”

I lied. My upstairs apartment isn’t a shambles. I’m just jealously possessive of my space. I invited Rob up there for a meal once, to say thank you for all he’d done, but he declined. Rob’s a lot smarter than he looks. He knew the invite was more out of obligation than a genuine willingness to share. I felt ashamed, but relieved too, when he passed on the offer. It’s not like he would make a pass at me or anything. It’s just that he’s so experienced. Rob always knows exactly who he’s looking at, and I can’t handle that. It scares me. Thinking about it, he’d have a miserable time in my apartment. So he works, I pay him for the work, and we’re fine as long as it’s not personal. We get along. I really don’t look much beyond that. Not any more. Not since Janet left me.

*******

“Lisa? Would you get my back?”

Maggie had been waving suntan oil at me, and I hadn’t even noticed. The sea does that to me. It’s the sound of the surf, the sparkle on the water, the lines of foam and that big expanse, the openness. It draws me into it. I go out there; I become part of the space between the shore and the horizon. I come here a lot, in the evening. Something inside me needs the space. I’m not big enough to contain whatever it is, I suppose.

“Lisa?”

“Huh? Oh, sure.”

I took the bottle without thinking. Then I looked down at her petite golden body, saw the little pink thong between her firm, round cheeks. I gazed at her globes, the dark crease in-between, the smooth backs of her straight thighs. I felt my face slacken, my mouth go dry. My breasts started to feel heavy and a faint throbbing set up an old, familiar pull between my legs.

I shouldn’t have come.

Tonya sat on one side of Maggie, obliviously gazing out to sea. Maggie lay between us like a golden angel. Her lovely blond head rested sideways on her forearms, her smooth, sweet little face turned towards me. She was smiling at me. There was no challenge, no question in her big, blue eyes. Just trust. Like I’m her big sister. Like I’ve never had a dirty thought in my life. Like she doesn’t know what her pussy is for.

“Sorry, Maggie. I’m in a daze.”

“Mmm. The sun does that to you, doesn’t? It’s so relaxing.”

Yeah, right. I moved like an automaton, like a badly coordinated stick insect. I used my fingertips, and smoothed the oil lightly. I got it over with as fast as I could.

“I’m going in the water. Back in a few!” I ran into the surf and let the first big wave wash over me. Warm salt water pounding my skin. I want to swim away. Grow a tail and never set foot on land again.

Except wherever you go, there you are. So I swam hard, worked it off, and headed back. I felt better. I have a good body, it moves right and my muscles are strong. It responds well to exercise, lifts my mood. It’s my heart that’s stuck. The rest of me is fine, if you don’t count my head. I try not to. Everyone’s nuts in some way. I’m ok.

“Is it warm?” Tonya was awake; Maggie looked like she’d drifted off.

“It’s lovely!” I flopped down onto my towel and threw her a soda from my bag.

She took a gulp. “Hey girl, you got a name for that shop yet?”

“Nope. Can’t think of one. I’m waiting for divine inspiration. I figure I’ll walk out on the street one of these mornings, stare up at that blank space over the door, and it’ll just descend upon me. Like manna from heaven.”

“Well I don’t know, but I’d be careful of things dropping down like that if I were you!”

“Tonya! I was thinking of the creative moment, the lightning stroke of inspiration, the gift of the Muse.”

“Oh, yeah. I get those. My creative moment happens when I think of a new way to tell my man, he ain’t getting any tonight.”

“I thought you loved Jason?”

“I love Jason! I just love my sleep more. Girl, you don’t know the hours I’m putting in.”

“I’m sorry, Tonya.”

“No, hey, I’m happy for you, Lisa. I’m really happy that you got that place and you know what? God’s gonna give you that name.”

Just then, She did.

It came strutting down the beach like it owned the place. A chicken. A real, live chicken.

“Tonya, am I seeing what canlı casino siteleri I think I’m seeing? Look over there.”

“What?! That’s a chicken! Where’d that come from?!”

Like the song says, She moves in mysterious ways.

*******

One early morning the next week, Dave, Rob and I stood happily together on the bright sidewalk, admiring the sign writer’s lettering. Proudly displayed on both picture windows in big, white, formal newspaper-style font was the long sought for name: “Live Chicken Sandwich”.

I set up the camera and tripod and it made a great shot. It’s now available as a sepia toned print, if you’re interested. I have the original blown up and hanging over the deli counter. We’re in a line, out on the street, with the newly lettered windows behind us. The sign hanging in the door says “Open”. Dave’s round, sparsely topped head has a look of wide-eyed wonder and a lopsided, quirky smile. Rob’s dense, black beard and ‘tache frame his blazing white grin and the laughter lines are deeply etched around his shining eyes. And there’s me, in the middle. I’m a little shorter than Dave, a lot shorter than big bear Rob, and I look like a little girl who’s just seen a magic trick. I’m leaning forward, my splayed hands are pressed together and my mouth is wide open in the middle of a big, happy, “Yeay!”

People notice it, and it makes them smile. Then I smile. Best damn customer relations trick I ever thought of. I’m such a cynic.

If I’m honest, I’ve got some talent. My problem is I don’t have time. But my prints actually sell, especially the shots of the local scenery. The tourists love those. Rob mattes and frames them for me. They make a good souvenir and the smaller ones are easy to pack. The dark room in the upstairs apartment is paying for itself now. And as long as I keep at it, the shop looks great. The monochromes are my favorites, but those big, rosy sunrises and orange blush sunsets really look great on the blue walls. Very Floridian.

But I get tired of seascapes, sunrises and sunsets. I get tired of making sandwiches six days a week. Most of all, I get tired of being alone. Wherever you go; there you are.

“Hey! Remember me?”

Oh, Sunshine! Golden haired, gorgeous, pink lipped Angel! After my coolness towards her on the beach that time, I didn’t think I’d see her again. Shit. I shouldn’t be this happy to see her.

“Hi, Maggie! How are you?”

“Great! Hey, I’m always great on weekends. You look a little busy, is it alright if I stay?”

I want to ask her; could you stay? How long do you think you could stay, angel?

“Sure it’s alright! Do you want to eat or hang out with me?”

“Could I hang out with you? Maybe eat later?”

“There’s a stool right here, hon. Come around.”

I’m the one who needs to come around. Come around to the idea that maybe little Maggie likes me. Come around to the idea that maybe, just maybe, that’s alright. I watch her in my peripheral vision as I slice and fold and wrap and chat. I walk around with the coffee pot to help our waitress out a little, and to socialize. She never takes her eyes off me. She smiles when I look her way. The cornflower blue of the walls matches her eyes. She looks good in those tight jeans. She opens her legs, presses her palms down on the stool seat between her thighs. Camel toes. Lips bulging in the hard seams. Her upper arms squeeze her breasts together. I want to do that. I want to put my hands under her tee shirt and squeeze them through her soft, cloth, bikini top.

I can’t do it anymore. I stop pretending and I turn to her.

I’m just standing there, with an empty coffee pot in my hand, staring across the cafe into those big, blue eyes.

She doesn’t know what to do.

‘Too young, too obvious, too hot.’ Yeah. I know. I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t pretend I don’t have the need.

I walk over to her. “How long can you stay, Maggie?” I don’t even know what her situation is. She could be married, but I don’t think so.

“I don’t have anything to hurry back for. My roommate’s staying with her boyfriend this weekend. We don’t have any pets or anything.”

I’ll be your pet, angel. You can take care of me. And then I’ll take care of you.

“Tell you what; we’re closing up in an hour, then I’ll have some cleaning up to do. If you can hang around that long I’ll fix us something to eat upstairs. Then if you feel like making a night of it, we can walk over to Pappy’s Bar. They have live blues on Saturday.”

What do you want, angel? If you’re gonna fly, now’s the time.

“Cool! Mind if I go take a walk? I’ll come back before you close and I’ll help you clean up.”

I’d feel better if you didn’t come back, little girl. But I can’t stop you. There’s not a damn thing I can do now.

*******

I had a homemade gumbo in the crock pot for dinner. Plenty for two and good food to go drinking on. Fresh, crusty French bread for mopping up. Red wine to help steel my nerves.

You can tell a lot about a person from the way they eat. Watching Maggie slurping down gumbo was a story unto itself. When she dripped juice on her chin and wiped it off with her finger, I held my breath. She did it. She put her finger in her mouth and sucked on it. I stared. I couldn’t help it.

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