“A Negroni on the rocks, please,” I said with a smile.

“You got it, Jake,” Ronnie replied, as he wiped the bar in front of me in preparation for the delivery of my drink.

I loved coming to a bar where the bartender knew my name and I felt comfortable. The Stream wasn’t exactly a bar. It was more of a restaurant with a nice sit-down bar, but I kind of liked that aspect of its nature. There was more of a hustle and bustle associated with food service; waiters and waitresses hustling to and fro as the evening wore on. I never tired of the energy and loved hunkering down at the bar for a few hours, just taking it all in. Sometimes I ate there. But more often than not I just enjoyed sitting at the bar. The Stream was a little more upscale than my budget should really allow. But I’d milk two Negronis for an hour or two and that fed my habit for alcohol and people pretty nicely.

Billy, the owner, seemed to have a constant infusion of young wait staff working in his establishment. The nearby state university certainly fed into his employee pool as most of the kids seemed to be in their early twenties. While the good pours and funky ambiance were certainly draws that kept me coming back every few nights, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the flow of young female talent strutting in and out of the kitchen was a prime motivator for my loyal patronage. My regular perch at the end of the bar allowed for a great view of the young waitresses as they hurried intently from the kitchen to the dining space beyond. There was a method to my madness.

Staff turnover was high in a college area bar and restaurant, so while I got to occasionally know a few of the waiters and waitresses, they were often gone before I ever learned their names. I just enjoyed the constant flow of youthful bodies – men and women – and it was a room I felt comfortable in, even at the advanced age of 60.

I am an artist, a teacher, and a widower. My art has allowed for a decent living in these trying times, but there is no doubt that my teaching has ultimately supported my art. But I have no complaints. I love teaching as much as, if not more than, creating art. They are, in a strange way, one and the same in my twisted mind.

Losing my wife, however, had not been part of the plan. She had always been my most ardent supporter and the scenario of my later life had always included her by my side. But fate is fickle and her illness was, fortunately, a short one. It had taken me two years to extract myself from my house and my misery, but the past six months had allowed me to find a new routine and new hope. The Stream had become a staple of my weekly routine and a welcome one.

My eye, on this particular cold January night, had been caught by a new young lady that was working the dining room. She had a presence that was impossible to ignore, yet was quite normal in most ways.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her as she strode back and forth from the kitchen with purpose. She appeared of medium height, but the lift in her funky shoes may have given her another two inches in the height department. Her long black wavy hair was being controlled in a bushy pony tail by a single hair clip of some sort. There was no doubt that it was a wild array of shocking curls when unfurled.

She was wearing the standard waitress fare of denim jeans and a very light gray denim shirt. She had one of those rounded bodies with accentuated curves. She wasn’t overweight by any means; but she wasn’t a slender flower either. She was curvy and her denim attire did little to hide her lovely attributes. While her untucked shirt had several breast pockets, there was still a very clean line to her generous bust and, I have to admit, I was intoxicated by her shape.

Her breasts appeared to border on what one might call “large”, but others might disagree. I just thought she’d be one of those women who would look much larger when disrobed than when strutting about in denim working attire. I think it was the subtle upward slope of her breasts and almost imperceptible bounce as she walked by that I found so intoxicating, however. She surely was wearing a bra, but not a thick padded bra that enhanced and lifted. She was wearing something minimal and thin and her natural shape was undeniable. I tried to scope out the profile of her breasts each time she marched by, which was frequently. There was no question in my mind – none – that this young lady would look amazing when naked.

Her untucked shirt hid her bottom to some extent, but I could tell there was a tightness to her posterior that came from some serious form of exercise. Her eyes were dark and piercing and she wore large tortoise shell glasses that gave her a look of sexy intelligence. Her skin was a shade toward dark and looked like it would be exceedingly smooth to the touch.

I did not usually become so instantly enamored of the young ladies working at my “hangout”, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of this particular young lady. I did my best gaziantep escort to keep my ogling unnoticed. But our eyes connected more than once and I felt like she knew that I was watching her – that she could feel my gaze upon her as she walked by – even when she was facing away from me. My dreamy state was suddenly interrupted.

“Here you go, boss,” claimed Ronnie as he slid my dark red concoction across the shiny lacquered bar. I leaned in conspiratorially, taking a sip of the gin, Campari and vermouth concoction. It always made me feel like I was sitting on the coast of Italy, even in the middle of winter.

“Some great new talent here,” I suggested. He smiled knowingly as he dried his hands with a bar towel.

“You’re tellin’ me. It’s why I love my job,” he said with a wink and went off to serve another customer. I had been hoping I might make a query on the new girl. But, in a sense, they were all new girls. The revolving door of talent made for a constantly changing landscape. Maybe Ronnie couldn’t keep up with the names and faces either.

I stayed a little later than most nights, partially hoping that I might get the opportunity to strike up a conversation with this new bright light in my world. But it was a busy Friday evening and the place was hopping a little later than a normal weeknight. Plus, from the signs of people walking through the door and stomping snow off their boots, it had been snowing for the past few hours. Nobody was in a hurry to leave.

I ended up eating and having a salad as the evening wore on and, eventually, the restaurant cleared out and I was thinking I should head out myself. My new waitress had not been out on the floor for a good fifteen minutes or so and I figured she had signed out and headed home herself. I was just about to do the same when Billy came wandering over to my perch.

“Hey, Jake. Great to see you, man. Thanks for stopping by,” he said brightly as he shook my hand vigorously.

“No problem, Billy. You’ve got a great little gig going here. Keep it up and I’ll keep coming back.”

He laughed in reply and said, “Well, that’s the plan, Jake. We love having regulars like you, that’s for sure.”

I suddenly got the sense that there was more to this conversation as he hesitated before continuing.

“Listen, Jake,” he added, finally. “I have a small favor to ask of you. You still live up in Turners. Right?”

“Yes, I do,” I replied, wondering where this was going.

“Well, listen. I have an employee who lives up that way and she is having a bit of a transportation issue. Her car is in the shop and a friend dropped her off at work. But her ride home fell through and she lives up your way. You’re the only one I know heading north and, while I could take her, well, I was just wondering…” he said, as his voice tailed off.

“She needs a ride home?” I stated, trying to clarify what he was asking.

“Well, yeah,” he said. He followed up quickly. “But only if you can do it, man. You’d be saving my ass – and hers. I just thought I’d ask.”

Of course the thought had crossed my mind that he might be referring to the lovely young lady I’d been ogling. Part of me was now embarrassed that it might be her and she’d turn me down because I’d been eyeing her all night long. But another part of me realized that this might be the chance of a lifetime. I decided I might as well take a chance. So I did. And, truthfully, if it was her ass that needed to be saved, I’d certainly jump at that chance.

“Sure, no problem, Billy. I’m ready when she is,” I responded, standing up and making motions to go.

“Cool. Let me go let her know.” Billy scooted off into the kitchen and emerged in a minute with the young lady in tow. I smiled to myself as my eyes locked in on the waitress I’d been admiring all night as Billy introduced her.

“Jake, this is Mia. Mia, Jake.” She held out her hand and I took it in mine. Her grip was strong and warm as she looked me in the eyes and greeted me with a steady gaze. It might have been my imagination, but her smile said, “Hmm, so it’s the guy who’s been ogling me all night long.” I felt sheepish.

“Hi, Jake. And thank you,” she added as our grip lasted just a second too long. I shrugged my shoulders in a casual response that belied my true excitement.

“It’s my pleasure, Mia. I’m glad I can help,” I replied.

“Great,” interjected Billy. “Well, listen, I have to get back to my office and close out the night. So I’ll leave you two to work out the details. Thanks, Jake.” He waved as he scurried into the kitchen and was gone.

My gaze returned to Mia who was smiling meekly. “You’re very kind to do this, Jake. Thank you. My car is in the shop until tomorrow and my housemate dropped me off at work and was headed out of town. My ride home tonight had car troubles of her own, so I’m kind of stranded here in a snowstorm. You’re a life saver.”

“It’s my pleasure,” I replied, stating the absolute truth. She looked even lovelier up close and in gratitude. Her smile was beguiling and the dark penetrating eyes twinkling behind her large glasses were all whites. Her skin looked flawless in the pale light of the bar.

“I’m ready when you are,” I stated. She retreated to the kitchen to gather her things as I donned my leather bomber jacket and wool baseball cap, my longish gray hair cascading over my ears. I needed a haircut. As I was zipping up my jacket she reemerged from the kitchen, bundled in down and a wool scarf. Her floppy winter hat gave her a jaunty air. A blast of crisp cold air greeted us as we opened the door and headed out into the snowy night.

I’m not sure I had realized how much it had snowed while I was eating. We slogged through a good six inches of fresh snow heading to my car. We both pulled our collars up as we shuffled across the parking lot.

My Subaru was encased in white so I started the car as Mia slid into the passenger seat. I spent a few minutes brushing the light fluffy snow off the car as the defroster did its thing. Once I was cleared off, I slid behind the wheel and we backed out of the parking lot slowly.

“So where to?” I asked, thinking that she lived close by. I only lived a couple miles north and figured this would be short-lived trip. I was happy thinking she might be a neighbor.

“Well, Colrain, actually,” she said quietly.

“Colrain?” I asked to clarify. “Oh.” Colrain was a good half hour drive beyond my house in the best of weather. In this snow it might be an hour. And while my response might have come across in a negative light, the thought of spending an hour, even in terrible driving conditions, with this lovely young lady was actually a very pleasant thought.

“I’m sorry,” she said sheepishly. “I thought Billy told you where I lived.”

“He just said you lived up my way. But, really – it’s no big deal. I’m happy to help out a lady in distress,” I said, trying to lighten the mood. “This car is great in the snow, so no worries. Okay?” I said with some finality.

“Okay,” she answered quietly. “And thank you.”

The wipers were on as we wound our way up the narrow two lane road. We’d eventually join up with Route 2 and find more plowed conditions. But the first few miles were going to be a bit dicey.

“Your wife will be okay with you taking a stranger on such a wild goose chase,” she asked quietly.

“Actually my wife passed away two years ago so I think she’ll be fine with anything,” I joked, trying to lighten the mood. I could tell that Mia was feeling like she was putting me out. “Listen, this is no big deal. Really. Let’s just enjoy the drive,” I said as lightly as I could.

“I’m sorry about your wife,” she said. “I had no idea.”

“Of course you didn’t. Don’t worry about it. She’d be happy knowing I’m helping someone out.”

The conversation stayed on my wife and Mia asked a few questions. I explained enough background to pique her interest, but felt she was a bit relieved that I wasn’t a married man. Maybe it was pure conjecture on my part, but getting that side of the story out of the way seemed to comfort her.

With a little questioning of my own I found out that Mia was a grad student at the university and on semester break and making a few extra bucks waitressing. She’d worked a number of the establishments up and down the valley, but living in a rural area meant she was always commuting to a bar or restaurant somewhere.

“What about you?” I queried. “There’s no lucky man waiting for you at home,” I said in a most complimentary tone. There should be, I thought to myself. What a gorgeous creature to be all alone, especially on a cold blustery night.

She sighed audibly and responded. “Nope.”

There was an awkward silence as I felt that there was more to come. I waited. She sighed deeply and continued.

“I split up with my boyfriend a month ago,” she said almost under her breath. “Another disappointing man.” She paused. “Check that. Boy.” Her soft voice was dripping with bitterness.

“So he…?” I wasn’t sure what I was asking. She looked at me.

“Couldn’t keep it in his pants. No,” she replied with finality to my hanging question. She continued. “Are there any men capable of being faithful or is it just the guys that I date that are jerks?”

Whoa. How does one answer that question? I treaded softly. “Well, depends on the guy and the situation. I was always faithful to my wife. But, then, we had a wonderful thing and it never crossed my mind, actually. Maybe I’m an anomaly. I don’t know. But, to answer the first part of your question, yes.” I turned to look at her, her pretty face in the shadows of the dashboard lights.

“Well, it’s water under the bridge at this point. He’s gone and with good riddance,” she said. She looked at me and smiled. “Thanks for taking me all this way,” she added warmly.

“No problem. My pleasure.”

“Sorry. I shouldn’t have gone off like that. It’s just that…”

“No apology necessary. Really,” I replied.

We soon took the turnoff for Colrain and began to climb up into the hills. She directed me to take a few turns and before long we were on her road. It was extremely dark as my LED headlights cut through the snowy night.

“My driveway is just at the top of the hill,” she claimed as I slowed so as not to miss my turn. The driveway was unplowed, but the dry snow wasn’t a problem as I edged up to a point where it looked like a walk came down from the front door. The house was pitch dark.

“Let me walk you up to the door,” I volunteered.

“Thank you,” she replied. “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?” she queried. “You should take a little break before you get back on the road.”

I have to say that the thought of going inside was a lovely notion indeed. The snow showed no signs of ebbing, so a little break before making the return trip seemed like a good suggestion.

“I just might take you up on that, Mia.”

“Great!” she exclaimed as she opened the car door and I shut off the engine. We slogged through the snow up to the door where she slid the key into the lock and opened the door. She turned on a few lights and I surveyed the premises.

It was an old farmhouse that had some real character – varnished wood trim, dark oak floors, a beautiful staircase. It looked like a house where a few women were living. It was neat and tidy and I could tell great care had been taken to furnish the house tastefully, but on a budget.

She took off her coat and I followed suit. I suddenly couldn’t believe I was here. Hours before I’d been eyeing this beauty; now I was in her home and it was still snowing to beat the band outside. She filled the tea kettle and opened a cabinet looking for tea.

“Hmm. I have cognac too, if you’d like,” she asked, turning to look at me with those big brown eyes and a hint of a conspiratorial smile. “But you’re driving.”

“You know one glass to warm me up is not a bad idea, if you’ll join me,” I said.

“I just might,” she replied. “Jesus, it is cold. I’m going to get a fire going,” she offered as she pulled a bottle out of the cupboard and grabbed a few glasses from the shelf. “Follow me,” she instructed.

I’d follow that lovely round ass anywhere and a fire sounded like a great idea. This was getting cozy. The firewood with kindling below was already set in the andirons as she opened the flue, struck a match and slowly got the fire started. Before long it was crackling and hissing as she stood back to admire her work. I grabbed the cognac and filled two glasses. Handing her one, I raised mine in a toast. “To snow,” I offered.

She giggled and tapped my glass. “To snow,” she agreed.

She put her glass down and grabbed a big comforter on the sofa and lay it down in front of the now roaring fire. It looked like she had done this before. She sat down and left room for me. I hesitated until she turned and patted the spot beside her.

“Come. Sit. Warm up,” she said.

How could I resist such an offer? I sat down next to her and we both looked quietly at the fire as it began to cook. She had taken her shoes off and let her hair down. I took my own shoes off and sat cross-legged next to her. She turned sideways and looked at me, her legs pulled up toward the fire. She took a sip of her cognac, continuing to eye me over the rim of her glass.

“Bet this wasn’t in your plans for the evening,” she offered, smiling.

“No. Can’t say that it was. But I’m happy to be here, I can tell you that,” I answered. “And you had certainly caught my eye at the bar, I will say that too.”

She smiled demurely. “Yes, I noticed you looking at me a time or two. I didn’t mind.” She took another sip and looked at me again. “What were you thinking about?” she asked directly. I smiled. I liked a woman who was direct.

“Well, I was wondering what it would be like to go home with you and have a drink in front of the fire,” I responded. She giggled and gave me a knowing expression.

“And just like that, here you are,” she offered. “You’re pretty good.”

“So I’ve been told,” I joked.

“What else were you thinking?” she continued, her voice a step lower, obviously emboldened a bit as the cognac warmed us both.

“Well, to be honest, I was admiring your incredible beauty,” I stated matter-of-factly. “I find you very attractive, stunning, in fact,” I stated unabashedly. “And very, very sexy,” I added, tipping my glass toward her and looking her in the eye for emphasis.

She’d asked and I’d answered, honestly. And now I didn’t feel awkward as I let my eyes wander over her body. My eyes traveled all the way down to her beautiful bare feet, accented by a lovely pedicure in a sort of turquoise color.

“You have beautiful feet,” I said out of nowhere. Where had that come from, I thought to myself?

“Thank you,” she answered, obviously not concerned by my pedal interest. “I just got a pedicure yesterday,” she said, pulling her feet up and wiggling her cute little toes so I could observe them more closely.

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