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Takes One to Know One

by Katrina Manacio


There was someone new at the country club.

It wasn’t often that they’d get new faces. A small town like theirs wasn’t built for outsiders, but the face of this new outsider was certainly one that they just couldn’t resist.

The ladies at Sunday brunch gathered at their usual table, sipping their champagne-heavy mimosas as they giggled about him.

“Isn’t he just the sweetest young man?” one of them gushed. “I wonder where he’s from.”

Another chimed in, “I heard that he used to work at a winery in Italy.”

“I thought he was a sailor!”

As the ladies continued to speculate about the past of their new favorite eye-candy, Stella was polishing the club’s new crystal glasses behind the bar. She always made a point to keep her area spotless, to wipe down the counters and keep the liquor bottles straight. It’s why her bosses loved her. Always so clean and neat. Punctual. Perfect. But mornings were never her favorite shift. Too many watchful wives, scrutinizing her short skirt and low-cut top. It was her uniform, Stella always defended. But that explanation always earned her a scornful look and a meager tip. Stella shined the brightest during the evenings. When the wives scampered back to their perfect homes, their husbands stayed behind to enjoy drinks and cigars. She suddenly became the center of the universe.

These husbands tended to linger around the bar, leaning over the counter to whisper orders in her ear. When their gazes would linger on her for a moment too long, Stella would smile, cock her head and ask, “Can I get you anything else, sir?”

The thing about wealthy husbands, they have a reputation to uphold. But their platinum credit cards and checks can be easily traced back to them. So, they often used cash. Cash to pay for the hotel. Cash to pay for condoms. Cash to buy her gifts. And most importantly, cash to keep her quiet.

Stella had been running this game for years. And it seems like there was a new player in town.

She met him for the first time at a small dive bar on the outskirts of town. No one knew how the place managed to stay open. Even on weekends, the bar was almost always empty. It was outdated to say the least, with its dirty floors and janky jukebox in the corner.

One of the wealthy husbands was supposed to meet her there that night. The perfect spot to avoid the town’s scrutiny. But plans changed when his wife surprised him with his favorite dinner. The perfect home remains intact for the night.

She was nearly done with her first drink when he walked in. She almost couldn’t blame the ladies for their newfound obsession. Even under the faint lights of the bar, she could make out his sharp features. High brows, strong jaw, full lips. Handsome as sin.

He sauntered over to the bartender and leaned in. “I’ll get a whiskey on the rocks,” he ordered. His eyes swept the bar. Stella felt herself tense when his gaze landed on her. A flash of something showed in his eyes as he added, “And one more for the lady.”

Stella watched him take the bar stool next to her, shrugging off his brown jacket as he grinned at her. She almost scoffed at his confidence. Were those piercings in his ears?

“You’re Stella, aren’t you?” he asked, elbow leaning on the counter. Two glasses of whiskey slid over to them.

Stella furrowed her brows. “How’d you know?”

“The ladies at the country club talk about you a lot,” he explained, picking up his glass and taking a sip. “Well, complain about you a lot. But, a beauty like you around their husbands? Hell, I’d feel threatened, too.”

There was a twinge of a southern accent laced in his voice. “Well, aren’t you a charmer,” Stella pointed out as she eyed her glass of whiskey. “You got a name?”

“Adam. Though, I’m sure you already knew that.”

Stella ignored the accusation. “Adam, huh? That your real name?”

He didn’t falter at the question like Stella expected him to. Instead, he flashed her another one of his grins. Was that a dimple she saw?

“Why wouldn’t it be, darling?” Adam asked.

Stella shrugged and took a sip from her glass. “Just seems like you’re the talk of the town, but no one really knows you.”

“Maybe I like it that way,” he joked.

“Oh, I’m sure you do,” Stella chuckled. “What business does a guy like you have in a town like this?”

“Same business as you, I reckon.”

“And what business is that?”

“Why, country club hospitality, of course,” Adam responded with a tone of grandeur. “I think I make myself a mighty fine pool boy.”

“Last time I checked, pool boys usually can’t afford Rolexes,” Stella pointed out, gaze falling to the watch on his wrist. “Tell me, where’d you get that fancy piece?”

Adam looked down at the silver watch, almost as if he forgot he was wearing it. “Oh, this? It was my old man’s. Last thing he left me before he walked out.”

Stella was no stranger to the sob story, and certainly no stranger to exaggerating to pump some extra sympathy out of someone. But she couldn’t tell if Adam was trying to do the same to her.

“Well,” Stella cocked her head to take a better look at it. She swore that the watch looked brand new. “Your daddy’s got a good eye.”

“Now, your turn to tell me,” Adam shifted. “What’s a woman like you doing alone in a bar like this?”

“What? A woman’s not allowed to get a drink after a long day’s work?”

“Not in a pretty little number like that,” he said, his eyes trailing down to her dress.

If Stella was being honest, she would have told him that the wealthy husband sent her that dress to wear that night. It was tight and red and just how the wealthy husband liked it. But she never was very good at the honest bit.

“Maybe I’m looking for some attention.”

Adam watched her face, searching for the lie. It made her skin crawl.

“Well. Looks like you’re in luck.”

As the whiskey slipped between their lips, so did their stories. Adam said he came into the dive bar after picking up some cigarettes next door. Stella told him she used to work a few streets over at the diner. Adam used to live in Canada. Stella was a ballerina. He talked about his little sister. She talked about her first tattoo. Soon, Stella couldn’t keep track of what she thought was true and what she thought was a lie. And it was almost like a first date, the cautious vulnerability of it all. Like they were taking the first steps towards each other. Stella hated Adam for it.

The jukebox in the corner of the bar stuttered the first notes of a slow tune. Suddenly the bar felt smaller, more intimate under the dim lights. Adam’s gaze lingered on Stella for a moment too long. Stella knew that look all too well.
He slid out of his bar stool as he extended a hand towards her. “Dance with me.” It wasn’t a question.

“Oh, no,” Stella shook her head. “I don’t dance.”

“I thought you did ballet,” Adam laughed.

“It’s not the same.”

“C’mon, Stella,” he insisted, softly. “Show me.” Like a prayer whispered into the night. Rough hands led her to the middle of the bar, their faces barely illuminated as he pulled her against him. So close she could feel his breath on her cheeks. Her arms snaked up his chest and rested around his neck. He held her waist with the slightest grip, as if she'd slip between his fingers if he let her go. As they swayed to the music, Stella almost couldn’t bear the proximity. Couldn’t bear the smell of whiskey mixed with his cedarwood cologne.

Stella began thinking of what this night would be like if she wasn’t her. If he wasn’t him. If they were two normal people on a perfectly normal date. Not tiptoeing around each other and waiting for the other to slip. She wondered if he would take her back to her apartment. If she would shyly ask him to come inside. If he would kiss her softly and take things slow, or if he’d rip her dress in the heat of the moment. Would she let him? Would she let him unravel her until she had nothing more to give? Would he let her see him, all of him, in the pale moonlight of her bedroom? Would they tangle themselves between her cotton sheets, whispering sweet everythings into the universe as the night sky engulfed them? And if she let herself fall asleep next to him, would he still be there when she woke up?

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