Meet the Baumgartners (Chapter 5)
“A man that beautiful has to be gay,” Maureen slurred, watching the admittedly gorgeous bartender drawing a draught of beer at the other end of the bar.
“We’re in Key West.” Carrie sipped at her fruity girl-drink and winced as she watched her friend tip back another shot of tequila, straight up, no chaser. “Half the island is gay.”
“Goddamnit!” Maureen slapped the bar, her voice rising even above the jukebox in the corner playing Jimmy Buffet that was competing with the band playing their last set on stage. “I told you we should have gone to Cancun!”
Carrie inwardly cringed again and looked over at the bartender who had caught her friend’s interest, wondering if she looked as helpless as she felt. “At least we can drink the water in Key West.”
“That’s not what I’m drinking,” Maureen muttered, holding up and studying her empty glass, her mouth drawn tight. Her words came out more like “Thas nawot I drinkin,” the liquor anesthetizing her speech much better than the emotions she was attempting to drown.
“Come on, Mo,” Carrie encouraged gently, putting her drink down and slinging her purse over her shoulder in an effort to sway her friend. “Let’s go back to the hotel.”
“Night’s not over.” Maureen’s dark eyes were red-rimmed and watery. “Tell that choice hunk of beef down there I want some more.”
Carrie sighed, sitting back on the stool and calling him over in spite of her better judgment. “Bartender!”
He made his way down slowly, stopping to wipe down the counter and fill the order of a busty blonde in Daisy Duke shorts and a crop top. Carrie noticed her plump feet were bare when she turned to take two beers back to a table in the corner near the jukebox where a guy in a leather jacket was waiting. Hot for leather, she thought, but then again, it was Key West. It was always hot—and there was a plethora of leather pretty much everywhere.
“What can I get you?” The bartender’s gaze flicked over to Maureen who had pulled out a compact to thickly paint on cherry lip gloss.
“Hey girls!” The familiar voice startled Carrie, making her forget the bartender altogether. It was Steve Baumgartner, his smile bright and easy, creating the sweetest dimples.
“Uh, hi, Doc…” Carrie blinked, surprised in spite of the fact that she’d known he was part of the group going to Key West. She hadn’t really expected to run into him—had, in fact, avoided seeing him altogether as much as possible.
The bartender cleared his throat impatiently and she remembered the reason she’d called him in the first place. “I… uh… can we get another shot? Tequila, straight up.”
“Two!” Maureen drew the word out loudly, “Twooooo!” and snapped her compact closed, smiling at the bartender and batting her eyelashes. Jesus, she actually bat her damned eyelashes at him. “Bring me two, stud!” Of course, it came out, “Brimmetwo, stuhhhhd!”
The bartender sighed and shook his head. Doc took one look at Maureen and leaned into Carrie, close enough she could smell cinnamon and Polo—gum and aftershave, respectively. He smelled as delicious as he looked. And she didn’t want to look. “Don’t you think maybe she’s had enough?”
Carrie looked over at Maureen, who had her compact back out again and was trying, not too successfully, to apply eyeliner under her lower lashes, the effect more raccoon than not. Still, she was a beautiful girl, even drunk and pissed and looking for trouble.
“We can walk to our hotel.” Carrie sounded apologetic, and she was, finding herself trying to explain. She leaned closer, whispering into the shell of Doc’s ear, “Her boyfriend broke up with her tonight.”
But the bartender agreed with Doc. “Are you sure she can walk?”
Carrie shrugged. “She might need a little help…”
Doc glanced at his watch. “They’re closing up shop here in half an hour.”
She gave the bartender what felt like a sheepish smile, avoiding his eyes, and said, “One last call for alcohol?”
Doc crossed his arms over his chest—his t-shirt was black and it did nothing but accentuate the meaty flex of his biceps. Carrie didn’t look at his face. She didn’t even want to look at her own watch. Her body told her it was beyond-late. James and Maureen’s fight had been loud and public at two in the morning somewhere between the last bar and this one.
“No driving?” The bartender looked genuinely concerned, but it was probably just his job. “You promise?”
“Scouts honor.” Carrie held up two fingers by her forehead.
“That’s the boy scout salute.” Doc laughed and the sound made her spine straighten, her ass clench.
“I had a little brother and a case of boy scout envy,” she confessed as the bartender began to pour the shots.
“That’s silly,” Doc insisted “You would look fantastic in a girl scout uniform.”
She couldn’t resist. “Hey Mister, do you want to buy some cookies?” Doc grinned and was about to reply when the bartender interrupted them.
“Uh-oh, looks like your friend is about to toss some…”
Maureen was up and stumbling in the direction of the bathroom. “I think I’m gonna ralph!”
“Oh crap.” Carrie guided her quickly into the women’s room, barely getting her into a stall before Maureen did, indeed, toss her cookies. Carrie held her hair back until she was done and then helped her wash her face. Mascara and eyeliner smeared everywhere.
“He’s never going to marry me now.” Maureen groaned, banging her head gently back against the tiles. “I’m so stupid. Why am I so stupid?”
“Are you sure he’s what you want?” Carrie tried to clean up Maureen’s smeared make-up with a wet paper towel. “I mean, he’s got some pretty strict standards.” This wasn’t the first time they’d had a conversation about James and his moral values.
“I’m not fit to wipe his boots.” Maureen sniffed, pushing Carrie away. “I need to straighten up and fly right. That’s what I need to do.”
“Maybe you should start with sobering up.” Carrie took her friend’s hand. “Come on, let’s go back to the hotel.”
“I’m going to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior,” Maureen declared as Carrie led her out of the bathroom. “Right here and now!”
“Can’t it wait until we get back to the hotel?” Carrie muttered, seeing Doc waiting outside the door.
He grabbed Maureen’s other side as she was about to go down. “Whoopsie daisy,” he said, getting a shoulder under her arm. “Need some help?”
“Jesus loves me, this I know…” Maureen sang over the jukebox, practically over the band. “For the bible tells me so…”
Doc looked at her, surprised, and Carrie almost laughed. “Crisis of faith.”
“Perfect place for one,” he agreed, bending low and getting Maureen up over both of his shoulders in a fireman’s carry. “Show me the way and we’ll see if we can lead this little lamb back home to Jesus.”
“I’m going to be a minister’s wife!” Maureen called out to the bartender, waving at him, upside down. “Tell me the truth—are you gay?”
The bartender just waved them out and Doc followed Carrie down the street toward their hotel.
“You guys are at The Reach, right?” Steve asked, wincing when Maureen belched loudly in the middle of her second verse of “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
“Yeah. It’s right around the corner.”
“I know.” He adjusted Maureen’s flailing body over his shoulder. “Hold on there, girl, we’re almost to the Promise Land.”
“We’ll take her to my room.” Carrie used her key card to open the outside door. “It’s closer.” It was also significantly smaller than Maureen’s room, but at least this way she didn’t have to dig for Maureen’s key card.
“You didn’t room together?” Doc leaned against the wall as Carrie used her key card once again to open the room.
She shrugged. “Mo likes a little more luxury than I can afford.”
Carrie pulled the covers back on the one queen-sized bed and Steve put Maureen in it.
“Where’s James?” Maureen slurred as Carrie took off her shoes. She left on the mini-skirt and blouse because Doc was still there.
“You’ll see him later,” Carrie soothed, smoothing Maureen’s hair away from her forehead. “Go to sleep now.” She leaned in to kiss her friend’s forehead and Maureen sighed, rolling over and pulling the covers with her.
“Thanks for your help.” Carrie turned to Doc with a tired smile and caught a glimpse of the clock. It was four in the morning.
“Anything for you,” he said, going to the door wall and peering out of the curtains. She was on the first floor, no balcony, no ocean view. She flushed, trying not to remember the last time they’d been together and not succeeding very well. “Why did you run away?”
She sank into one of the chairs with a sigh, not answering him.
“What are you afraid of?” He turned from the window and came over to stand near her chair.
“I don’t know,” she admitted, closing her eyes and leaning her head back. “Everything.”
His hand moving over the bare skin of her thigh made her look at him. She was wearing a mini-skirt as well and it didn’t cover much. He was sitting in front of her chair now.
“Look at her.” Carrie nodded to where Maureen slept, moaning softly in her sleep. “She’s so in love, she’s going to give up everything she is for him.”
“So you’re afraid of love?”
“No.” Carrie shook her head, reaching out and tentatively touching one of his curls. His hair was as soft and silky as she’d imagined it would be. “I’m afraid of loss.”
“What have you lost?” He rested his cheek against her thigh.
She shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“No, I’m sorry.” She moved to get up but his hand pressed her thighs, keeping her in the chair. “You should probably go.”
“What if I told you I don’t want to go,” he murmured, kneeling up so he could look into her eyes.
“It’s late…” She tried to avoid his gaze. “I need sleep.”
“So sleep.” He stood, holding out his hand and helping her stand. “Come on, let me tuck you in.”
He put her to bed in the same way she had tucked in Maureen, slipping off her shoes and pulling the covers up. He even leaned in and softly kissed her forehead, breathing in her scent and murmuring, “Goodnight, Carrie,” before standing to go.
But she couldn’t let him.
Instead, she grabbed his hand, tugging gently. “Wait. Stay.”
He looked doubtfully at the queen sized bed. “Is there room?”
She slid over, her back against Maureen’s. “I’ll make room.”
He turned out the light and got into the bed. When he wrapped his arms around her, she rested her cheek against the rise and fall of his chest, and they stayed that way, fully dressed, not talking, just breathing together until sleep came to them both.