“Hi there, Kathy,” Candy said, placing a hand on her baby bump. She looked like she was due any moment. “Haven’t seen Chewy today,” Kathy said, setting a well-chilled glass of ice water on the bar. “Oh,” Candy responded forlornly.
Kathy nodded her head slightly towards me. “This here’s one of our out-of-town regulars, Antoinette.” She paused for a second, wiping at the ice-sweat rings on the bar with a rag, sizing up Candy’s mood. “She hails from New York City. Be nice now, Candy.” Kathy tossed me a raised eyebrow before jumping back into the afternoon fray at Cleo’s. I could feel the Saturday crowd preparing for a long, humid weekend in New Orleans.
“Boy or girl?” I asked cheerfully, already knowing the details from the Cleo’s bartenders Clem and Kathy. “Little girl,” she said softly, rubbing her belly and sipping her water. “Have you figured a name yet?” attempting to keep up a conversation. “We haven’t settled yet… Chewy, that’s my boyfriend,” her lips managed a sad smile. “He wants something like Clementine, or Cherry, or something. That’s cute, right? Cherry?”
Inside I laughed. A mom named Candy, and a daughter named Cherry, in New Orleans. Cliché much? “Sounds perfect,” I tried to sound confident. “So, err. Chewy… you’re looking for him?” Candy’s eyes began to fill with tears. “Yeah. Well, it’s complicated,” she said, choking back a sob. Kathy wandered back just in time. “Candy, dahling, now what did I say to you about being in here and disturbing the customers?” I cover my beer with a coaster, and quickly left my stool to dash to the restroom. When I got back, Candy’s stool was empty.
An hour or so later, I was catching up with Clem, while he served in between the newcomers. The night shift at Cleo’s was well under way, and it was time for me to take my leave, until Collette showed up. “Hey, you leaving?” she asked, eyeballing my almost finished pint and my coveted stool. “One more is on the way,” I said instantly, and before she had a chance to look fully disappointed, Clem plopped a fresh pint in front of me. I struggled not to laugh at loud. Clem knew I was going to leave, but he stopped that from happening. I did not mind, truthfully.
“I’m Antoinette,” holding up my beer to toast. “Collette,” she said, tapping my glass with her Rolling Rock, looking around the room, pasting on a smile. “Who you looking for? Maybe, I can help.” “My boyfriend, Chewy,” she said. She looked at her watch. She looked at me. “You would know him if you saw him.” She smiled, revealing small, even teeth. The front door of Cleo’s screeched open, with Chewy filling in the doorway dramatically. I thought I could feel Clem heave a sigh at the end of the bar. “That’s him,” she announced, failing at nonchalance. Chewy strode over, wrapping his arm around her waist. “Hey babe,” he said, before planting a kiss.
Candy. Collette and Chewy. I wonder what kind of asshole I would be for informing the pair how Candy was looking for him. Turned out I didn’t have to. “Excuse me, are you Chewy?” asked a silver-haired woman, who stepped out from a group in the corner. I struggled to compose my face. “This nice girl, she reminded me of when my daughter was pregnant too, actually,” the lady said smiling broadly. “Candy? She was in here looking for you.”
Collette’s face drained to a ghostly white, while Chewy’s filled crimson. The silver-haired woman’s eyes popped opened wide. She scooted quickly back to her friends in the corner, where heads bent together and whispering over drink rims ensued. “Wait. Candy is pregnant… and she’s looking for you?” Collette’s fists found her hips. She studied Chewy’s face. “Now why wouldn’t you me?… Clearly you know about this…you didn’t tell me… cuz…” Denial on her face was replaced by the possibility of truth. Stomping her foot, Collette roared, “SAY SOMETHING DAMMIT!”
“Drinks folks?” Clem chirped from behind the bar. “Or take it outside.” People were craning their necks, nudging each other and staring. “Oh shit, here it comes,” someone said audibly. “About time,” another said. “You owe me $20,” yet another quipped. “He don’t deserve you honey.” “I thought she knew.” “Who the fuck cares?? Clem, a need another fucking drink.” “Mmmhmm.” “Shut the fuck up!” “You shut up, anywho!” “Everyone knows he don’t go with that crazy no more.” “Yeah, she just cray-cray, that girl. And a momma now too.” “Mmmhmm.” “Hooo chile, this is just like Claudine and Bo before Katrina.” Murmurs went around the bar.
I stood up thinking Collette was going to pass out. Kathy appeared at my elbow. “Collette, hon, let’s go outside before Clem has a melt-down. You know how he can be on a busy Saturday.” She pressed a fresh Rolling Rock into her hand, pushing her towards the door. “There you go, hon.” She looked at Chewy. When he had come in, he appeared to tower over the crowd, but now she did. “Anywho,” she said to him, holding the door open. He slunk past. She let the door go, slapping her hands together. “Anywho! Who here now needs themselves an icy-cold drink??”
Part Three next week!
©Isabel Alvear, August 2020