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The Girls in the Club


A Jessica Thorpe Novel



By William Wresch

Copyright 2018 William Wresch

Smashwords Edition




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Chapter 1

Back to My Beginning


Nights go on forever.  Ask me to describe winter in northern Wisconsin, and I would not even mention the cold.  Sure daytime temps in December are maybe 10 to 15 above and every night is below zero.  And yes, the furnace in my trailer runs constantly.  So what.  That's what furnaces are for.

But nights.  Wow.  Nights.  Sunset is 4:30, but I live surrounded by trees, and the sun is well below them by four.  So I start turning lights on at four, sometimes even earlier.

And I sit.  This is when the locals hit the bottle.  I don't.  Not since my marriage.  I pray at sunset and again about two hours later.  I am just guessing at the proper times.  It's not like an Imam down the block will call me to prayer.  I may be the only Muslim in Marinette County, and I am just a Muslim by marriage, just a woman trying to do right by her dead husband.  What do I know about my religion?  I know to pray five times a day, to avoid alcohol and pork, and to dress modestly.  I hope that covers it. Ibrahim, I am trying.

I arrived back at my trailer in mid December.  Dubai had been beautiful.  Sunny, warm, perfect weather.  One man had taken me there.  I had married his business partner.  Now both men were dead.  So why stay?  Here I was, back where I had begun my life, back in the same trailer where I had lived for forty years.  Back in December.  Back in the cold.  Back in the dark.  Back to sleeping alone on nights that lasted forever.

I have two daughters who live in Green Bay, and I spent several days with them when I first got back from Dubai, but it was my job to put my life back together.  That I would do here in Amberg, a town with less than a hundred residents.  My hometown.  My foundation.  If I was going to rebuild my life, this is where I would start.

First step?  Get out of the damn trailer.  I spent far too much time there, sitting, thinking, remembering, and yes, crying. Ibrahim was gone, and Elias.  I could curse the damn Iranians and the Saudis, but what good did that do?  My men were gone.  I was a widow.  I was alone.  Sitting in my trailer fixed nothing.

Amberg has one bar.  It has no grocery store or restaurant, but it has a bar.  I had been the main bartender there for ten years.  A bar might not be the ideal place for a Muslim widow, but it was the right place for me.  After a week of sitting in the dark, crying in the dark, and praying in the dark, I decided my only hope lay in a small bar in a tiny town that was slowly disappearing.

It was about six when I parked my Toyota in front.  Amberg is all of one block long, and while there are several other buildings, only the bar was still in operation.  There were five trucks and my SUV out front - about an average night.

What was my plan?  My plan was the same as everyone else's.  I would sit at the bar, talk to a few people, stare at the TV, and avoid the emptiness of my trailer for an hour or two. Clark was there.  I sat next to him and ordered a bottle of the local water.  I like the picture of Dave's Falls on the bottle.  I had picked that, back when I ran the bottling plant.  Old times.

"I see you're still wearing a head scarf." He really just glanced at me.  That was his way of talking, just a glance to the side, then back to whatever game was on TV.  He could talk sideways all night.

"It keeps my head warm." I had a heavy wool scarf wrapped around my head as a hijab.  I also wore boots, a wool skirt several inches below my knees, a heavy sweater, and a long dark coat.  I was mostly dressed like other women up here, except they would have worn jeans and a knit ski hat.

"Is it required by your religion?"

"No.  But my husband's other wives and daughters covered their heads, so I do too."

"Oh." It was Thursday night and a football game was about to start.  It wasn't the Packers, but it was football, so it had his attention and the attention of the other five men at the bar.

The only women in the place were me and the bartender, Eileen, a woman my age carrying more pounds than she would like.  She looked harried to me, like this was her second job, or she needed to be someplace else, but also needed to be here.  She smiled, introduced herself, and asked if I wanted anything besides water.  I hadn't eaten all day, but I knew better than to order a pizza.  I asked for a candy bar out of the box by the cash register, complimented her hair (I wanted to be nice and her hair had obviously been worked on recently), and asked the usual girl questions - kids, husband, home.  She was about halfway through the standard information when Clark interrupted.

“Eileen would rather work days at my laundromat in Wausaukee, but she is helping out here until I find another bartender."

"Yes, my boys are a little wild if I'm not around."

"So," at this point Clark gave me another side glance.  "A couple years ago you asked me for a job.  Still want one?"

"Sure." I didn't need the money.  What I did need was a place to go and something to do.  This would be perfect.  I got a little excited and kissed him on the cheek.

"Can Muslim girls do that?"

"We Muslim girls might surprise you."

"Jess, you have been surprising me for forty years." A little bit of explanation here - besides owning about a dozen local businesses, I am fairly sure Clark is my father.  My mother never said, and there is no name on my birth certificate, but someone bought her the trailer I grew up in and now own.  I have never asked him.  I assume he will tell me when he wants to tell me.

"Eileen," he said, "you start tomorrow.  Meet me at the laundry at 10.  You can either finish your shift here, or go home.  Your call."

"I'd better go home before my boys get in trouble."

And that was that.  She left, I walked behind the bar, hung up my coat, and it was like I had never left.  I wasn't sure my license was still valid, but I hadn't forgotten how to pour a beer or toast a pizza.  Within ten minutes I was talking Packers, pouring beer, and smiling.  Thanks Clark.  This was just what I needed.

So okay, not all my problems went away with the new/old job.  I still went home to an empty trailer and slept alone.  And I still cried lots of night once I got home.  But from noon to nine or ten, I had a place to go and people to see.

And being a Muslim? I handled the daily prayers by doing the noon prayer before I went in to work, and the evening prayer after I came home.  That left mid-afternoon and sunset.  For those, I locked up the cash register and slipped into the storeroom for five minutes.  The Kaminski twins were usually the only customers in the place when I prayed in the afternoon, and with sunset coming around four thirty, I often got that in before most men came in. 

Customer reaction?  The Kaminski twins first thought I was making private phone calls.  When I told them I was praying, they said that was a good idea (and no doubt thought it was long overdue).  Sunset was more of a problem since there were often a few guys already in the place.  It meant they might have to wait a few minutes for their next beer.  I knew these guys forever so nothing was said.  There was a new guy who complained, but Clark was there and he told the guy where he could get his next beer.

During the first few weeks I got a few questions about my religion.  Some I could answer, some I couldn't.  I explained it was my husband's religion and I thought the prayers worked for me, and I had never been much of a drinker.  That pretty much settled things.  Questions about Dubai?  None.  But the Packers beat the hell out of the Bears and made the playoffs yet again, so the guys had that on their minds.  World geography might come up sometime after the football season ended.

Really, I was surprised by how easily the transition went.  Bartender to Swiss lady who ran a water bottling plant to Arab wife with a samosa business, and back to bartender.  All in three years.  I still had a rough night now and then, but mostly I adjusted.  I smiled more than I cried, and I felt like I was getting my legs under me again.  In some ways, I was proud of myself.

Echoes of my past life did return, however.

The first was Billy.  He walked into the bar my third day on the job.  He gave me a big smile and even came around the bar to give me a hug.  This from one on the shyest kids at Wausaukee High.  He and Britney had dated briefly, but she ended it and that seemed to start his slide.  He finished high school but didn't have the grades or interest for college.  So, like almost every other male in his class, he joined the Army.  His training specialty opened up in six months, so he spent the time before enlistment working in the woods.  One day a tree fell on him and hurt his back.  He recovered, but not enough to make it through basic.  So, rejected by the army, he was back out logging when I was able to get him a job at the bottling plant.  In fact he was my first hire as manager. How were things going?

"I just made Machine Operator 2."

I thought back through my time as HR director there.  What did the hourly pay tables say?  "Fifty five cents?" I asked.

"Yes, an extra twenty two bucks a week!" This was one very happy young man.  And very proud.  He went on and on about the latest at the plant, how well things were going, and how grateful he was that I had gotten him in there.  Finally he thought to ask about me.

"I was sorry to hear about your husband.  He was killed?"

I hadn't told anyone the full story, but I thought if I was going to tell it, why not tell it to Billy.  Besides, there were six or seven others at the bar with big ears, so I figured I would tell it this one time, and they would all repeat it, and I wouldn't have to tell it again.

"You met Elias Gruber, the president of the company.  He asked me to marry him and took me to Dubai with him to start some projects there.  He worked with another company there headed by Ibrahim Al Kindi.  I fell for Mr. Al Kindi and married him.  About ten months later Ibrahim and Elias were jointly working on a municipal water system in southern Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis and Iranians are at war in a place called Yemen just south of Saudi Arabia.  The Iranians attacked the village where Ibrahim and Elias were working.  They killed everyone."

I managed to tell that complete story without crying.  Billy listened, nodded his head and told me how sorry he was.  It occurred to me he was an adult now.  The high school kid I knew had grown up.  He searched for a few more ways to express sympathy.  I thanked him and got him another beer.

We looked for another conversation to move on to, said the usual things about the Packers, and then he left.  But as he pulled on his coat he asked me to tell Britney he said "Hi." If ever there was proof he was feeling more confident about his place in the world, I guess that was it.  I gave him a kiss on the cheek and said I would pass along his message. 

After he was out the door I saw he had left me a two dollar tip.  He really was feeling confident.  I was proud of him. As for the money, I liked that he gave it, but I had no real need for it.  Between my bride price (try explaining that to people), and my share of Ibrahim's estate, I had over two hundred thousand in the bank.  Not that I was going to tell anyone that.  Still whether I needed the money or not, his intentions were good.  I would pass his message on to Britney.  She could do worse.

A week later Brenda Stark stopped in.  She ordered a beer and then asked if we could speak privately.  I pointed to the other side of the pool table.  Brenda is the woman I picked to replace me as plant manager when I went off to Dubai.  Everything I heard was that she was doing a great job.  I had made the right choice.

What did she want?  She wanted to know my future plans, and did they involve me taking her job?  Of course she never asked that. She started by telling me how sorry she was, etc, etc.  And I think she really was.  Then came the real question.

"Will you be coming back to the plant?  We really could use your expertise.” And you know what?  Had I said I would be coming back tomorrow and would take her job, I think she would have accepted that with good grace.  She was that kind of person.

"You are doing fine without me.  And, you probably don't know this, but I never got along with some members of Elias' family.  They wouldn't want me back, and I really don't want to work with them.  But thank you for asking."

And that was pretty much it.  We chatted for a few minutes more in the corner and then a little more at the bar as she finished her beer, but then it was over.  She stopped by every few weeks after that to say “Hi”, and we stayed friends.

Was I serious about not wanting to go back to the plant?  Yes.  Any job there paid three times what I earned tending bar, but I didn't want to go back there, and I didn't need to.  What I needed was time to mourn, time to recover, time to adjust. I just needed time.

Did I have bad days?  Sure.  It's not like it never gets boring.  I opened every day at noon and might be alone in the place until the Kaminskis came in at 3.  I would rearrange the stock in the backroom, clean the johns, call in the weekly order to our distributors, and spend a lot of time sitting on a stool and looking out the windows.  Across the street was a rail line that hadn't been used in decades and a row of Jack pines.  You could pour all the snow you wanted over that view and it was still pretty uninspiring.  But I stared at it for hours.  This was the Amberg I had grown up in and thought I had left behind.

The up side to those afternoons?  Clark let me run the place as I wanted.  I arranged the bar my way, ordered what I thought best, I even closed when I decided the evening was over.  I had some power.  I was coming from a place where I had been locked away, where my fiancée had been taken from me, and where my husband had been killed.  I had been powerless facing the major events of my life.  Here in the Amberg Bar, I could make decisions.  My world was tiny, but in this one-room fiefdom, I ruled.  That mattered to me more than you can imagine.


Chapter 2

The Holidays


So December slid towards the end, and we all prepared for the holidays.  I had missed last Christmas, and now that Tiff was married, I wondered if she would want to host Christmas dinner.  No, both girls were adamant - we would celebrate as we had for the last twenty odd years. Christmas Eve morning Tiff and Ben arrived.  She was six months pregnant and huge.  You would have thought she was going to drop that baby any day.

Ben was fabulous.  He held her hand and carefully walked her across my snowy yard and up the steps to my trailer.  Can you clone men like him?  I think every woman should have one of him. 

She was happy and proud but also nauseous and constipated.  You know, the joys of pregnancy.  I got them arranged in the second bedroom and then started working on lunch.

I had barely gotten started when in walked Britney - with Billy.  I had called her a week or so earlier and passed on Billy's message.  Who knew things would move this fast?  I got a kick out of reading their faces.  Both were clearly happy, but also a bit uncomfortable.  She had broken things off five or six years earlier.  Now she had him back.  He had been rejected, and now she had taken him back.  Based on the way they stood and interacted, I was guessing they were maybe on their third date, and maybe, date two had lasted all night.  Hmm.  What was a mother to say?  Nothing, really.  I just hugged them both and put an extra plate at the table.

Since our Christmas traditions were basically secular, my being a Muslim had no real impact.  At prayer times I went back to my bedroom for a few minutes, but otherwise we did the usual.  We all went out and cut one of the pines the girls had planted so many years ago, we decorated the tree with the homemade ornaments from their childhood, and the girls told story after story about the ornaments they had made or bought.  Each had a story and each underlined our connections as family.  I was hoping Ben and Billy had been told about our Christmas gift traditions.  If so, their ornaments would be added to the tree in the morning, and they would begin their connection to us.

Later in the afternoon we played some board games for a while, but Britney had spotted the boxes in the second bedroom.  Six large boxes held the ball gowns and evening gowns I had shipped from Dubai.  They had just arrived this week.  She asked if she could look through them and Tiffany went with her.  I heard lots if laughter and then half an hour later they came out wearing two of my ball gowns complete with petticoats and heels.  Britney came first, looking at Billy with a sly smile that caused him to blush.  Tiff was next, but of course there was no way she could fully close the dress over her belly, so they had found some tape to hold the dress together in the back.  Both Ben and Billy got a lady on their laps, and I left the room to go start dinner.

Evening was interesting.  Britney and Billy went to his place for dinner, with her still wearing my red satin ball gown.  If ever there was a way for a woman to say "I pick you," she was saying it (maybe shouting it).  They went off, Tiff helped me around the kitchen but she too kept her gown on, and after a pretty quick meal she and Ben headed to the girls' room saying how she needed to get her rest.  Me, I cleaned up around the kitchen, turned out the lights and went back to my room to pray.  I didn't recite a sura from the Quran like a good Muslim.  Instead I thanked God I had such good girls.

Christmas morning Britney and Billy came back, still smiling, and we gathered to open presents but not until Tiff and Britney put on yet another ball gown (I had about a dozen).  It was fun to see them seated on the floor around the tree, their skirts mounded up around them, their men sitting close.

The boys apparently got the memo, since they bought Christmas ornaments for each of us and explained the significance of their choices.  More stories, more color on the tree.  We sat, we talked, we snacked on Christmas cookies I had made.  My baking skills were still pretty good.

Eventually we all got off the floor. The girls changed back to their regular clothes and helped me cook a turkey.  We ate late afternoon and then it was time for them to go.  I took the girls into the bedroom and told them to take two things from the boxes - a ball gown and a night gown.  They had a great time making their choices.  I also gave each of them a card and a check for ten thousand dollars.  "Show your men a good time and kiss them once for me."

They both left with a bundle of clothes and huge smiles.  I hoped I had at least partially made up for being gone so long.


Chapter 3

Rougher Times


So when did things go bad?  Later, and not in the obvious ways.  New Year's Eve, for example, was trouble, but that trouble was too obvious.  I think I have said we bartenders refer to it as amateur night and prepare for problems with people drinking far more than usual.  This year, as always, Clark was fighting for market share against the bars in Wausaukee, so he threw up some cheesy decorations and sad food items.  People were in by two in the afternoon and plastered by six.  At nine we were already dealing with the outrageous.  Just then in walks asshole A, who has obviously been working all day on a wild and angry drunk.  He comes in the door and goes straight for me.

"Hey.  Bitch of Osama.  Give me a beer and then get the hell out of here.  This bar is for Americans." I hesitated for a second. Big mistake. He started coming for me.

"I said give me a beer, bitch." I have been dealing with drunks for seven hours, and I am in no mood for this. And the guy truly looks dangerous. My purse is on a shelf behind the bar. I pull my gun and have it leveled at his face just as he reaches the bar.

"I have a right to stand my ground.  You make any effort to cross that bar and you will die." Now I haven't pulled the slide so there is no bullet in the chamber, but I figure he is not going to notice. What I hadn't figured on was three other guys with guns.  They pull them (isn't concealed carry marvelous?).  One is pointed at me, and two at asshole A. What the fuck? I am completely losing it.  Wisconsin has bought the whole NRA songbook, but really?  Guns in a bar?  Is this the night we show them maybe this is a bad idea?

  I turn to the guy pointing at me (asshole B) and say, "I get to shoot because I am being threatened.  If you think there is a bounty on Muslims, sorry, not until Trump is reelected.  So put it away." Believe it or not, he actually did.

"Now, you two.  You are not Wyatt fucking Earp.  I am legally allowed to shoot this asshole under state statute 12.5a 'bartenders may shoot any and all assholes.' So put your guns away and let me do my job." They didn’t put them away, but they did lower them. All this time my gun had been pointed at asshole A, out at the end of an arm that was getting very tired.

"You're not drinking here tonight.  You can leave, or you can die.  Make your choice." He was staring at my gun like it was a snake.  I had his attention.  He may have wet his pants, but he wanted the last word.

“I'll be waiting outside for you, bitch."

"That's a direct threat.  Now I have to shoot you." I pulled the gun closer to me and pulled back the slide.  The click as a bullet hit the chamber sounded like a bomb going off in that silent room.  But asshole A never heard it.  He was running.  I kept the gun pointed above the door and waited.  He never cane back.

What happened next?  Not much.  A few guys left, the rest went back to drinking, but now they had an interesting story to tell.  Me, I made sure the safety was on and went back to pouring beer.

There were a couple other nights where some guy from out of town wanted to harass me.  I didn't have to pull a gun those times.  I told them to leave and they left. Local guys?  Mostly they looked at my ass and ignored whatever I had wrapped around my head.

The worst time?  It happened near the end of January.  It was early on a Saturday afternoon and a guy came in alone.  He was dressed for ice fishing and I guess got cold.  He came in the door and stopped dead.  He just stared at me.  I could see on his face he was about to melt down.  PTSD.

I have a stool behind the bar and I sat on it, my hands out where he could see them.  I smiled and said hello.  He said nothing, so I kept talking.  "It must be cold out there, with the wind," and I just kept going from there.  The weather, the fishing, some of the better lakes, some of the poor ones.  I just kept my mouth moving.  He just stood there.  Finally I asked him if he wanted a beer.  He nodded.  I poured one and set it across from me.

"My name's Jessica."

"Clayton.  Or just Clay."

"Pleased to meet you.  New to Amberg?"

"Yes." He sat across from me and took the beer in hand, but he left his coat fully buttoned and his hat on.  His eyes never left me.

"I'm a local girl, Clay.  Spent all my life here except for a year in Dubai where I married a man.  He's dead, I'm back."

"We were walking down a street.  A small patrol.  A pretty girl with her head wrapped smiled at us, walked close, and blew herself up.  I lost three buddies."

"My husband was blown up by the Iranians.  I wear the hijab to show my respect.  If you wish it, I will take it off while you are here."

He continued to stare at me, and then shook his head.

"No...I'm sorry..."

"Jessica."

"Jessica.  It's just a head scarf.  I'll deal with it."

We talked for another hour.  About his home, some about his time in Iraq, some about the Packers (he was an Oshkosh man).  He had three beers, finally unbuttoned his coat and even smiled once.  I kissed his cheek when he left.

What did I think about representing a religion we were fighting?  I hated what my hijab did to vets.  But I wasn't their enemy, and neither was my husband.

But religion was a big part of my life that winter.  As January became February and then March, the other part of my life was loneliness.

I did have two distractions.  Tiff of course.  She was days away from delivering, and like any woman at that point she is thinking nine months is plenty, let's just have the kid.  I went down to see her every day I was off.  I spent half my meager pay on onesies and Pampers.  Tiff had done all the breathing lessons with Ben and was ready as she could be.  I just took short walks with her and kept her somewhat busy as her time approached.

Britney stopped by fairly often.  She smiled more these days.  Her one comment about Billy was, "There's so much more to him now than there was in high school." My brilliant response was, "Honey, that's true for all of us.”

My other distraction was my samosa project.  I knew I was going to be the next Tombstone Pizza, but I was off to a pretty slow start.  I brought in a plateful of my samosas one Friday and put them out when the loggers came in - peak time, peak consumer.  They ate a few and then one of the guys asked me to make him a pizza.  No, I did not throw anything at him, but it was a near thing.  Our frozen pizzas are completely absent taste, nutritional value, and real cheese.  But he would rather have that than one of my samosas?  I tried again each of the next two Fridays.  Same result.  Something wasn't working.  Didn't they understand I was totally redefining fast food?  By the end of January I had put my project on hold.


Chapter 4

He walks in


So, no samosas? But that just left me more time to stare out the windows of the bar.  By March I was going a bit crazy.  Here I need to say a bit more about Wisconsin winters.  Yes, they are cold, but like I said, it is the darkness that matters. Fifteen or sixteen hours of dark is a lot of dark.

But there is a flip side - a second trick the winter plays in March and April.  Days gradually get longer.  They gain one minute of sunlight each day in January.  Not really enough to notice.  Days gain two minutes in February.  Okay, roughly an extra hour by the end of the month.  Then comes March.  Each day has an extra three minutes of sun.  Every Friday has 21 more minutes of sun than the Friday before.  That is change you can feel in your bones.

But.  It is still winter.  We get some of our biggest snowstorms in March.  Up this far north, we even have snow in April.  Trout season starts the first weekend in May, and I have seen guys standing along streams trying to cast a fly as snow falls on them.

So we have a huge contradiction.  The sun is telling our bodies spring is here.  Our sap starts to rise.  But we walk out to our cars and brush snow off again in the morning.  I think we all go a little crazy from Mother Nature's mixed message.

I know I was.  I was waiting for Tiff to have her baby.  I was waiting for a real spring to arrive.  I was waiting for my shift to end as I wiped down the bar yet again and stared across an empty room at an empty night.  I could go home to an empty trailer or spend another hour in this empty bar.  What difference did it make?  Empty was empty and alone was alone.

Then he walked in.

He wore a suit and a tie and an overcoat.  Obviously not local.  No man in town owned a coat like that, or ever wore a suit.  I thought I recognized him and wondered if he was someone I knew from Switzerland.  He had an easy smile as he walked towards me.  Just barely average height for a man, I wondered if he told people he was five ten the way I told people I was five seven and a half - it was mostly true.

"Hi, Jess.  I have been meaning to stop by." Okay, he knows me, and I know him, but how?

"I'm sorry but..."

"Ed Ritter.  I last saw you at the hotel.  I am manager there.  I know, it's been eighteen months, and then twenty years before that in high school.  I was sorry to hear about your husband, by the way."

"Thanks.  Can I get you a beer?" Really?  That was the best response I could manage?  Yup.  That was me at my most articulate.

"Sure." We have two beers on tap, light beer for tourists and real beer for locals.  I went with real beer.

"How do you like being back in Amberg?" Not a bad conversation starter.  Maybe I wouldn't embarrass myself completely.

"I'm actually from Wausaukee.  But I like being back.  All my family has moved away, but I have good memories of my time up here."

"How do you like running the hotel?" Men like talking about themselves.  I don't know if I knew that from bartending or from being a woman.  But I was now confident I could manage this conversation.

"The corporation has done a great job with the place.  You know it would open for a couple years, then go under and be empty for a couple years?  Turns out there's at least twenty hotels like it in the Midwest - places people took trains to back in the old days when they wanted to get away from it.  Subtract the trains, and you subtract the hotel's customer base.  Corporate bought seven of these places, calls them 'Boutique Destination Resorts’, runs a bunch of buses to them, and suddenly the places are viable again."

"It would be good if it stayed open.  We could always use more jobs around here."

"Could I show you around the place some night?  What night are you off?"

"Tuesday."

"What if I pick you up around six?"

"Sure.  I live..."

"Everyone knows where you live, Jess." He said it with a smile, so I didn't take offense, but I also didn't like it.  Everyone knows where I live because of three murders there. 

He must have seen something in my face since he quickly moved on to the good old days in high school and an English class we were in before I dropped out to have Tiffany.  It was over twenty years ago but I did remember some of the events he described.  I nodded, he sipped his beer, we talked about this and that.  Finally he paid for his beer, left me his card, asked for my number, and that was it.  He was gone and I had a date.

It was only after he was gone that it hit me.  I had a date.  My husband was barely dead three months, and I had a date.  Blame it on the season.  It was still winter, but the sap was rising.

I never made that date on Tuesday.  Ben called from the hospital.  Tiff was in labor.  I drove down.  I sat with her for the final two hours of her labor, then left the room as she delivered, Ben at her side.  This was their moment.  I could wait.

They practically throw people out of the hospital these days.  She was home by the next afternoon, although for her that was probably a good thing.  She knew every nurse in that hospital and every one wanted to stop in to see her.  She didn't get any real sleep until she was home in her own bed.

I spent a week with her doing the cooking and helping her change the baby and change herself.  We went through a lot of laundry.  Did we get any sleep?  Jeremy (great name for a boy, don't you think?) was always hungry, but once fed, he went back to sleep pretty fast.  And if we lost some sleep, so what?  Ben had a son, Tiff had a beautiful baby, and I had a grandson.  Aunt Britney spent most of her evenings helping, and after a week I went back to work.  New rules at the Amberg bar - no beer until you have seen at least two pictures of my grandson.

Meanwhile, Ed had not given up on me.  He called once to ask about the baby, and he stopped in once to have a beer and say all the right things about the latest pics Britney had texted.  So, the following Tuesday we did go out for dinner.

The evening was not the perfect first date.  First, on my end, I was at a total loss what to wear.  It was winter and there was still snow on the ground, so some silky cocktail dress was not even a possibility.  But I was also a Muslim still in mourning.  So I wore a forest green cotton dress with long sleeves and a skirt below my knees - one of my Dubai shopping dresses.  Add my black hijab and I was not Cinderella out to dance at the ball. 

I thought I saw disappointment when Ed came into my trailer to get me.

Then I was disappointed when I followed him outside and saw his BMW.  I remember telling Elias only assholes and tourists drive Beemers up here.  The look of a Beemer outside my trailer should be enough explanation.  A poor county in a poor state, why flaunt you success?

So, within five minutes, each of us is a bit unhappy.

On the plus side, at least he didn't talk up the car and tell me which model it was or what horsepower it had.  No, as he drove to the resort he gave me a detailed history of the corporate owners and their "winning strategy."

Okay, I get it.  You buy these old places for a song, sell them as a "boutique resort" rather than a very old hotel, supply a bus with bartender, and rooms fill up.  It's not a bad strategy, but Ed was describing it like someone who had drunk all the cool-aid and wanted more.  He wasn't a manager, he was a convert.  So what was I being sold?

Fortunately it wasn't a very long ride.  We parked in the big lot across the river from the old resort (he had his own spot complete with his name), and got into a horse-drawn wagon.  Really.  A guy in uniform drove us over the river and through the woods to Grandma's resort we go.  I couldn't help but laugh.  But I liked it.  Clever touch.

Ed sat close, after all, it was cold and he needed to keep me warm, so one arm went around me while the other pointed out various features of the resort.  I got a whole catalog of what had been kept and what changed.  Not much had been kept.

Inside, I was introduced to most of the staff.  I was given a short tour of the first floor, and then he led me into the bar.  We were halfway to a table when you could almost hear his wheels finally turn - oh shit, she doesn't drink.  He stopped dead in his tracks. 

As he fumbled for something to say, I dealt with it.  There was no reason for him to be as uncomfortable as he was. "Ed, I work in a bar.  I can be in a bar.  I just don't drink.   This is a nice room.  Let's sit and talk before dinner.  I usually just drink water."

And that took care of the immediate problem.  The room really was beautiful with walnut wainscoting and large beams overhead.  The upper half of the walls held beautiful paintings of wooded scenes.  We sat on leather chairs, a small dark wood table holding our drinks.

What more can I say about my date?  We eventually went into their dining room - more wainscoting, more paintings, more leather seating.  Ed ordered for both of us (I let him, hoping this wouldn't be a habit), the food was good, the service first rate.  It reminded me of several restaurants I had been taken to in Bern.  It wasn't that good, but it was close.

What did we talk about?  Well, there was more about the company, and finally he got talking about high school.  Guess who had a crush on me?  But Tiny got to me first.  How do I respond?  In truth I had no recollection of him at all.  My sophomore year consisted of panting over Tiny and spending my night in the backseat of his father's car, deeply in love, or as deeply as a really stupid girl could be at fifteen. 

Now, do I tell him I never saw him?  Obviously not.  I tell him I hardly see any of my old friends from high school, so I am especially glad he took the time to look me up.  Reasonable response?  I hope so.

Anyway, the evening moves on.  I hear music and suggest we dance.  It is at that point I see the weirdest guy in the place.  The music is coming from the bar.  There is an open area on one side, and sitting amidst amps and other gear is this guy in a tux.  Now apparently a tux is required on all the waiters and bartenders.  Fine, but the guitar player looks hysterical in a tux.  He has a long pony tail, a silly mustache, earrings, and sun glasses.  He is also slouching so it isn't clear if he is drunk or hung over, or both.  And -- he is singing Willie Nelson songs.  Ed and I join two other couples on the floor, wrapped in each other's arms while the drunk hippie in the tux sings Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, except I can't keep myself from laughing every time I look at the guy.  What the hell?

We make it through three dances, then I thank Ed for a great night and ask to go home.  I am still smiling every time I look at the guitar player.  Fortunately Ed thinks I am happy with the evening, and that's where we leave it.  He takes me home, gets a bit handsy in the car, but doesn't go too far.  I do kiss him, and tell him he should call me again some time.  But as I got back into my trailer, it is the goofy guitar player I am thinking about.

So, how would I evaluate that date?  I had lots of time to think about it as I tended bar or cleaned my trailer.  Do I compare it to other dates?  There was Matteo and the night he waltzed with me and took me from Elias.  That was pretty special.  Then there was the night Elias decided I could stop being his maid and dine with him at that Italian restaurant.  Also pretty cool.  But both those men ran international corporations and traveled the world.  Ed was a local guy who managed an old resort.  Any comparisons to the Swiss guys wasn't fair.  Also, those men were dead.  Ed was alive.

Also, Ed was alive as April turned to May.  There was still snow under my trees, but there was sunshine and temps in the sixties.  And my sap was rising.  And he was persistent.  He texted every day just to say "hi", and he stopped in twice late in the evening when I was getting ready to close (and had been alone in the bar for nearly an hour).  He had a beer, smiled a lot, asked me out again, then asked again, and finally I agreed.  He had a nice smile.  And my sap was rising.

This date was about three weeks after the last one.  It was warmer, and I decided maybe I would dress a little nicer.  I had a rust colored silk dress with long sleeves and a longer skirt.  Still modest, but a bit nicer.

He took me to the resort for dinner again (didn't he ever get tired of the place?).  Once again I got a brief tour and more introductions.  Okay, so I was becoming an expert on the place.  The only difference was this time, rather than take me into the fancy dining room, he took me into the sports bar.  This was a new wing of the place and was meant to connect with the golf course.  I could see doors off to the course on one side.  On the other side was a large double door to a "gentleman's club.”  He hadn't shown me that before, and fortunately he didn't show it to me now, but it was clear not all the customers had taken a long bus ride just for nine holes of golf and a fancy dinner.

What was the sports bar like?  Large bar, a dozen tables, a popcorn machine, lots of golf pictures along the walls, and lots of noise from lots of men and lots of TVs.  There were maybe twenty men in the place, all fairly well dressed (just up from offices in Milwaukee or Chicago?  It didn't look like they had played a round of golf.  I wasn't even sure the course was open yet).  All of them pretty drunk and rowdy.

Why had Ed brought me in here?  He called one of the waitresses over.  There were four of them, all seniors at Wausaukee High, and all of them looking pretty overwhelmed.  The girl who came to us seemed happy to get our table.  Ed introduced me as a fellow Ranger and ordered salmon salads for us, a beer for him and bottled water for me.

For the next half hour we ate, he asked about my time at the bottling plant, said he liked the water, and listened while I described the plant history.

Except, the whole thing was odd.  He was paying close attention to my description, but I wasn't.  This bar was crazy.   The men were loud and rude, telling off-color jokes loudly, while using any excuse to get a hand here and there on the girls.  I was watching as the girls went to the bar to fetch drinks, and I thought one was on the verge of tears.  These were just high school girls, and they really didn't like how they were being treated.

Finally I interrupted my story and called one of them over.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"They get off the bus drunk and they keep drinking.  They like to grab us.  If my dad saw, he'd make us quit.  But I need this job.  This is my college money." I looked at Ed.

"Well?"

"You're the professional bartender," he said.  He was leaning back in his chair and even had a beer in his hand.  "What do you think should be done?"

I wanted to throw something at him.  Instead, I got up and walked to the loudest table.  Six guys in their mid-thirties, really drunk, really annoying.  I walked right up to their table and stood next to the loudest guy.  I picked up his beer and poured a couple ounces on his crotch.  He wanted to jump up, but I put my forearm on his shoulder and leaned on him.

"Gentlemen, here's the deal.  All these waitresses and bus girls go to Wausaukee High.  The ones picking up old glasses and cleaning tables are sixteen.  If you touch them, it is sexual assault of a minor.  That makes you a pedophile and puts you in the sex offender registry for life.  The girls who bring your drinks are eighteen, but they are still in high school.  Touching them is still sexual assault.  This room has video equipment.  Any call to the police gets you arrested, and guess how kind a local judge will be when he sees how you treat high school girls.  So here is what is going to happen.  You will keep your hands to yourselves.  You will apologize to the girls, and you will leave a good tip and wish the girls the best in college.  Clear?"

There was complete silence at my table and the surrounding tables.  I did see a couple guys looking at corners to see if the really was a video camera.  Fortunately, there was.

"Good.  Now have your drinks.  Have some fun.  This is a bar.  Enjoy yourselves.  Just keep your hands to yourself."

I went back to my seat, and gradually the noise level rose again, but not to the former level.  The girls did their rounds, and I did hear apologies in with the orders for more beer.

"Thank you." Ed said.

"No, Ed.  Part of this is on you.  Look at those uniforms.  No sleeves and the skirts barely cover their ass.  You dress them like hookers and that's how they will be treated."

"I suppose I could check around, and maybe order something.  It'll take a few weeks, but I'll make a change."

"There is a uniform store in Iron Mountain.  You can get new uniforms there tomorrow."

"I will if you go with me to pick them out."

"Deal." I didn't think about it at the time, but it was that moment when I started working for the resort.  All the signs were there, and I just missed them.

What did I see?  I saw a room that was less crazy.  The girls smiled more at me and at their customers.  Ed took my hand and led me to the formal bar where the goofball in the tux was playing Willie Nelson again, and we danced.  He held me close, slid a hand fairly close to my ass and whispered nice things in my ear.  We danced for an hour and then he drove me home.  We warmed up the front seat of his Beemer for a while, but I wasn't ready yet to invite him in.  I did kiss him, and I did like it, and I was glad I wore silk.  I would see him again in the morning and we would see where things went from there.


Chapter 5

I Change Jobs


He came to get me the next morning at 9.  It was a beautiful spring day.  We do have them in Wisconsin, just not as often as we would like.  I wore my hijab of course, and a cotton print dress in spring colors.  It wasn't as long past the knee as I would have liked, but it had long sleeves, so I think it still counted as modest, at least modest on a spring day.

What did we talk about on the drive up to Iron Mountain?  We didn't talk - he did.  I got a complete history of the company, the location of the headquarters (Chicago), the names of the main officers...  He just went on and on.  Why?  Not sure what else to talk about?  I have no idea.  Fortunately, it was only a forty minute drive.  I directed him to the store, he parked, and I was out of the car.  Time to turn the record over.

I knew this uniform shop.  I had bought myself some maid uniforms there.  Not one of my professional highlights.  It was a pretty big place with a large selection.  What did we want?  We told the lady waitress uniforms - for a bar, but modest.  She actually knew what we meant and brought out three examples.  They were all cotton with full skirts and long sleeves, and I would have taken any of them.  Ed wanted to see them - on me.

Okay, fair enough. I went back in a room and changed, then modeled each dress.  He had me walk around, and obviously was having fun making me stand or turn here or there.  And me?  I didn't mind that he was looking at me.  In the end we didn't go with any of the original three.  It was a bar, after all, and summer was coming, so we took a rust colored cotton uniform with a square neck, half sleeves, and full skirts that stopped about an inch above the knee.  I looked in the mirror and was fairly sure no fathers would object. 

Ed ordered two dozen.  I told the woman sizes 6, 8 and 10, and she went off to fill the order.  Meanwhile, Ed asked me to keep my uniform on and sit next to him.

"I would like you to help me and help these girls.  Here's the problem.  You would think the problem here would be finding jobs for people.  But so many people have left, the problem for me is finding people for jobs.  I need all the current girls to stay, and I need at least a dozen more when school is out.  I can't have them quitting because someone grabbed their ass.  I need you to get that bar under control.  And the girls need you.  If they work, they get great tips.  If they stay to Labor Day they get a five hundred dollar bonus.  You can help twenty girls get their college money."

Pretty good pitch. I'm wondering when he thought it up.  Before our first date?  Was last night a test?  All the lectures about the corporation - part of the pitch?  I sat and listened.

"I will pay you a thousand dollars a week, but I have warn you, you will have long weeks.  You need to hire and train the new girls, manage the work schedule for the girls and the bartender, and order all the supplies.  The whole bar is yours, as are the drink carts out on the course."

Actually he had sold me on the job the night before when I saw the way the girls were treated.  My answer was yes, but...

"I need to clear this with Clark.  I can work for you tonight, but then I need to go back to the Amberg Bar until he replaces me.  And I need one day a week off."

"Done." We shook hands and then started loading dress bags into his trunk.  Ten minutes later we were headed back to Amberg.  He went back to his lecture on the history and organization of the company.  I think I was supposed to be interested now that I worked there.  But I wasn't.  Instead I looked at him. This is the man I would be working with lots of hours each day.  This is the man I will be near every day.  Is this my man?

When he pulled into my drive there was a moment's confusion.  Do I kiss him?  Thank him for the job?  I said something about coming to work later in the afternoon. 

He looked at me. "Are you ever going to invite me in?"

I looked at him, and then nodded.  He followed me in.

We spent the afternoon in my bed.  Mostly it was good.  I showed him how I liked to be held, and he made his preferences clear.  He was somewhat faster and rougher than I liked, but I would get used to it.  Maybe that summed up the afternoon.  I would get used to it.

He drove off in mid-afternoon and left me to shower and dress myself.  He seemed to have no interest in being with me for that.  He had fucked me and now it was time to get back to work.  So he left.

I stayed in bed for a while and then slowly showered, dressed, and prepared to go.  I called Clark and said we needed to talk.  I would do that tomorrow - face to face.

In the meantime, I would try to think through what was going on with me.  New job?  Yes.  There was a need and I could help.  New man?  Maybe.  Maybe he was the best I was going to get.  And who was I to complain?  I had held Matteo, and Elias, and Ibrahim.  I was one lucky woman.  Maybe now what I got was just "Mr. Good Enough." Maybe I would get used to that.  Maybe he would get better.

I finished getting dressed in my new uniform, wondered if the skirt was long enough, put on my hijab, and went off to work.

Work that night was mostly about introductions.  I talked to each of the girls and the bartender.  The girls liked the new uniforms and we took lots of pictures to Snapchat and text to family and friends.  My hope was family would be comfortable with the look, and friends would think the uniforms were attractive enough they might apply for summer jobs.

Besides talking to employees I also did many of the jobs so I could get a better sense of the place.  I spelled the bartender when he was on break, and served several tables when the place got busy.  I also looked through the storage areas to see what was stocked and how it was restocked.  It was a big bar and probably handled ten times the business I was used to at my old bar, but there was nothing so different I couldn't handle it.

One thing I wanted to deal with was work hours on a school night.  I could see letting the girls work until midnight on weekends, but school nights I wanted them home earlier.  I talked to the girls about that.  They wanted the tips (guys tip better later at night when they've had a few), but they also needed grades to make their best university.  We agreed we would work out something fair until the school year ended.

As it was, I sent the girls home around eleven that night and handled the last half dozen guys myself.  It took me until after midnight to get them done and off to their rooms.  It was clear I was going to be working much longer hours on this job.

That cute drive from the building to the parking lot wasn't so cute after midnight.  No horse drawn buggies, just golf carts.  I saw one near the employee entrance and took it.   Not sure if it was allowed, but I was tired and wanted to go home.  Back at the trailer I dropped into bed and slept past eight.


Chapter 6

Clark is Unhappy


It turned out Clark had a lot to say.  After a morning of laundry and cleaning (who knew when I would have time again), I opened the Amberg bar at noon.  Clark came in a few minutes later.


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