Many of you have asked about Garrett and Laura’s back story. Why was Garrett gone so long? Why would Laura wait and doggedly look for him? Sometimes you just have to go back to the beginning to understand some things. Sometimes it’s all about that first encounter that tells us almost everything… or just enough.
So here’s a long one for you that answers at least one of your questions.
Home At Last 4
Garrett walked for a long time after he left Laura’s. He could always think best when he kept it moving. Focusing his mind on putting one foot in front of the other, then clearing his head of everything else, he knew the more methodical he was about it, the better he’d feel. A side benefit of his injuries was discovering how to use a meditative process to make even small movements a helpful therapeutic tool. His innate ability to concentrate on the rote physical actions and tune everything else out soothed his anxieties, and became his salvation in the army and in life.
It was cold but not bitterly. He kept up a brisk pace passing row after row of Brooklyn brownstones. Every few houses he passed came with an intermittent jolt of Christmas swagger. Besides the bright and colorful twinkling lights each decorated house came replete with Santa Claus figurines and large lighted candy canes in a variety of sizes. He knew when he’d made it to the Italian section of Cobble Hill because there was a crèche depicting baby Jesus in a manger on every house instead of reindeer.
Before he realized it, he had walked at least three miles and reached the Brooklyn Bridge. He decided to walk home to Chelsea or at least what he was calling home for now. He’d sublet his aunt’s spacious apartment to a mature gay couple. Lenny and Bob, who owned a huge house in Jersey couldn’t have been happier to get a rent controlled two bedroom with a working fireplace in the middle of a predominantly homosexual mecca only blocks from the Village. They were exactly where they wanted to be.
Luckily, when Garrett had called to check in with them a few weeks ago, they weren’t surprised to hear from him. It had been so many months they’d been mildly worried when he hadn’t done it sooner. Lenny, the more assertive partner of the couple said they’d tried to reach him too, but had gotten the army runaround “something we gays have grown used to honey” he’d added. In the end, since they paid their rent on time and they weren’t in any trouble with the landlord, they figured if it wasn’t broke, don’t fix it. Besides, they loved the apartment.
When Garrett called he asked if he could stay with them for a week in the guest bedroom while he figured out what he was doing. As it turned out the timing couldn’t have been better, they were going to visit their families for the holidays and would be driving all over the mid-west so Garrett could have the place to himself for at least two weeks.
It was a relief to have somewhere to lay his head. The truth was he didn’t know exactly what Laura’s reaction would be to seeing him. He’d just known he couldn’t wait any longer. He needed to see her. He needed her. After running the scenario over and over again in his mind the dream outcome was always the same. Him holding her, kissing her, bending her to his will — as if that shit were even possible.
One of things he loved about Laura almost immediately was that she wasn’t afraid of him. Garrett was a big guy with some showy muscles. He was used to being a little intimidating to the average female and male alike. Nevertheless, while Laura was a little slip of a thing she didn’t scare easy… at all.
She’d been tending bar in Chelsea when they met. McCauley’s Pub had been around since before Garrett was around. He knew it well because his Aunt Meg was a regular. The place saw all types from college kids to old drunks like his Aunt who were holdovers from before the neighborhood gentrified in the late eightie’s. If the place hadn’t served a passable dinner and he hadn’t had a trust fund that his Aunt could use to take care of him, he might never have gotten fed.
After Meg McClellan died, Garrett was utterly alone in the world. Even though it wasn’t his kind of place — he preferred a younger, stankier club setting where you could dance close, get your freak on, and everyone knew what they came for. But when some of Meg’s friends insisted, he’d gone straight to the pub after the funeral to have a boiler maker in his Aunt’s honor. Sitting there at the bar drowning his orphan sorrows he hadn’t even noticed the shift change so when he heard the lovely voice coming from behind the bar, at first, he thought he was imagining things.
“Do you play poker?” She asked him.
That was the first thing she ever said to him but the first thing he noticed about her, was her skin. It looked flawless, infinitely touchable, and was the color of gingerbread.
She was small, 5’3″ maybe an inch taller or shorter, but she looked sturdy like she worked out regularly. She had curves too, noticeable ones. A perfect figure eight, she was wearing all black. The jeans looked really old and worn to the point that they seemed more like a soft cotton pajama than denim. A thick black leather belt with an intricate silver buckle held the pants up just at her hipbone. The buckle looked like a symbol of some kind but he couldn’t make out what. The tee-shirt was soft too, cut off right above her waist with a slight flare, and draped snugly over the rest of her upper body — hiding little. Her breasts seemed a bit large on her tiny frame. Well, it seemed tiny to him anyway. Even so, she carried herself well, with a regal quality that didn’t really fit in with the somewhat gritty environment. Her clear brown eyes examined him impassively while he in turn found it difficult to control blatantly… appreciatively, looking her over.
“Sure, I play poker. Why do you ask?”
“I need someone to remind me of what beats what and you seem like you might know. That is if you’re not too busy doing anything else.” She said with a cocked eyebrow and a faint smile. “I know everything up to a full house but I can’t remember the order of some of the rest.”
So began the longest poker game Garrett ever played and that included some of the all-nighters that he’d barely participated in and happened regularly with the guys at base camp. It couldn’t be helped. Laura was working the four to midnight shift and from where he sat at the end of the bar he could watch her move, sway, jiggle, and laugh easily while she worked. The show was riveting and made the time move quickly.
It was a penny ante game. Since a quarter was the maximum bet allowed, a couple of regulars joined in on their game periodically throughout the evening. Charming them all, Laura would buy the winner a beer when she lost a hand. She didn’t lose much though which led him to wonder if she actually played the game better than she’d led him to believe.
He marveled at her excellent bartending skills. She managed the nearly 30-foot bar with a quiet authority that made her clientage feel like they were safe and well taken care of. She was warm, approachable, and a good listener. Even when she was hit on and that happened at least two or three times every half hour according to Garrett’s attentive estimation, she was never flustered, only pleasant and easy-going, which of course made her all the more appealing.
People talked to Laura because she had a handle on how to ask the open-ended question that could get someone to tell everything about themselves before they even realized it. About halfway through the evening he recognized that she’d used the skill on him. He’d told her all about the funeral and about Aunt Meg. He’d also spill his guts about how he lost his Mother from cancer when he was seven and his Dad to an undetected heart condition when he was fourteen and how the number seven and all it’s damn multiples made him nervous to this day. He told her about how he’d joined the army almost right after high school so he could see the world and stop watching his Aunt drink herself to death. Before long he felt lighter, less morose, like someone had given him a hit from an oxygen tank and every breath he took felt cleaner.
She asked him questions about the army and seemed very interested especially in hearing about some of the world he’d seen in his travels. After a while tiring of hearing his own story and deeply interested in hearing hers, he tried to get her to answer questions too. By comparison, he was only mildly successful at her interview technique.
“So, Laura how does a beautiful and competent black girl wind up a bartender in an Irish pub?”
Laura smiled as if she had a secret, which sent a wave of relief through him. Garrett hadn’t said anything remotely flirtatiousness all evening but he’d had several beers by then. He was beginning to feel bold because of them. He felt other things too, whenever he looked at her.
“What’s being black or female got to do with it?”
“Nothing I guess. It’s just that it’s not every day… you know what I mean?”
“I guess I do.” She nodded. “Dad and the owner of the pub were friends from way back. When I started college and got my first place on my own, I wanted to earn some money. I knew that bartending could pay well in tips, so I read a book and memorized fifty drink recipes.”
She was making White Russians while she spoke. Holding the Kahlua and Absolut bottles simultaneously she made a double pour over three iced glasses fluidly, with a precision you didn’t learn in a book, but from lots of practice.
“My first job was working at an outdoor restaurant on the pier in lower Manhattan. There was an outdoor beach volleyball set up and they served fried shrimp in a basket, buffalo wings, and burgers with loads of beer and mixed drinks in plastic cups. The place was a goldmine for tips but it was also a summer thing. My dad doesn’t much like my life choices but when he heard I was looking around for another gig tending bar he suggested I meet Patrick who owns this place and ask him to give me a shot. So I did. That was three years ago.”
Garrett couldn’t take his eyes from Laura’s face as she spoke to him. He knew it was strange, predatory even but he wanted to know everything about this woman. More so because he detected something mysterious about her. He couldn’t put his finger on it. There were too many contradictions. In a few short hours he felt connected to her and he didn’t want that connection to end but how was he going to…
“My shift ends soon.” Laura said, breaking into his thoughts but not looking at him, as she wiped down the bar.
Garrett said nothing, loudly.
She turned towards him folding the damp cloth in her hand. “After I tally up, Jerry our manager… well, he closes the bar. I usually walk to the Dunkin Donuts on 14th not too far from here to unwind. Would you like to join me?”
14th Street? That was at least ten blocks from here. There was no way he would let her do that walk alone at this hour. She’d be a siren’s call to every freaky ass dude in New York out late and prowling. Garrett nodded his head yes, his thoughts jumbled together making it a struggle for him to say what was on his mind. He hadn’t been alone with a woman who stirred him in several months. He considered the colleagues he had who were women completely off-limits. The potential for cataclysmic drama was too great and drama of any kind was something he liked to avoid whenever possible.
He’d boinked around with a few babes he met in various places while on tour, but usually it was one night stands, and he kept his shit covered up tight — not like some of his friends who took stupid chances. His last… his only real intimate relationship had been with a friend from school. She’d been a shy bookworm who had helped tutor Garrett in the after school program. He credited her with getting him so interested in reading that it became rare for him not to have a book in his pocket. She helped him to graduate and decide what he wanted to do after he left school. When she told him she didn’t want to be a virgin when she got to college, he wasn’t surprised. She’d always been honest to a fault and since remarkably he was still a virgin too, he understood how she felt.
Their first time was at his aunt’s house. The sex was slow, sweet, and safe. Both overwhelmed and happy afterwards they continued to be an item for the rest of senior year. Typical of her she’d read up on what to do and how to do it. Their sexual exploration and experimentation was thorough without being sordid. In the end, they loved each other without being in love still, saying goodbye wasn’t easy. She got into Brown… of course. They emailed each other occasionally. Worried for him she was especially diligent about it after he enlisted. She was seeing an engineering major now and seemed happy.
He was happy too. The army felt like home to him. He loved the structure and sameness of it. The travel and new experiences when they happened were perks that brought him out of himself too. He’d often felt his life was filled with missing pieces like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. For the longest time, he assumed from the loss of his parents and his Aunt’s hands off parenting approach, that what he needed was family and stability. The army provided both in spades.
Now, gazing at Laura as she counted the money from the till, her brow furrowed in concentration, her lips unintentionally pursed into a kiss as she focused on turning all the bills in the same direction, Garrett wondered if there was something else omitted from his life that he hadn’t realized he wanted… or needed. He wondered if he found it, not halfway across the globe or in a cold barrack, but instead in an old Chelsea pub playing a penny ante card game.