A voice, deep and needy, rang thought the bar, “Charlii Girl?”
Charlii turned and jumped off her bar stool to run to the man dashing down the stairs into the bar in one step.
“Toby! Let me look at you,” she said as Toby released Charlii from a bear hug. “You’re looking good.”
“You’re looking good. I’m old and fat.” Toby tapped his enormous belly with a pair of drumsticks and laughed. “But I’ve still got the beat.”
“Come,” said Charlii leading Toby to her place at the bar. “Still got the band going? That’s so cool! You’ve got to let me know when you’ve got your next gig. Balder,” Charlii waved to Balder. “Come, see what my friend here needs.”
Balder nodded his head and turned away from the couple as they took their seats.
Toby lifted his arm to signal to Balder, but Charlii placed a hand on his arm. “Don’t bother,” she said. “He knows what you need. Or maybe he knows what you want. Hard to say, but ordering something specific doesn’t work. So tell me all. Still at University?”
Toby laughed as he settled himself on the bar stool. “You know how it goes,” he said and took a drumstick in each hand, tapping a beat on the bar. “The more things change…. Well, you’ve changed. Here you are, a world-famous author slumming it with old musicians.”
“One book, and last I checked, less than two hundred sales. I supposed you bought one,” Charlii said, motioning to Balder. “This is Toby, my old colleague from university. We both taught literature to kids who didn’t care about it. He’s also one of the best drummers in town. His trio could play anywhere they wanted. Maybe they can squeeze a gig in here.”
“Perhaps,” said Balder setting a glass in front of Toby pouring ice water into it. “But perhaps Toby’s had enough music for one night.” He placed a second glass in front of Charlii. “A little rye, sweet, and spicy – like truth.” Balder nodded his head to both of them and disappeared to the other end of the bar.
“Really,” huffed Charlii. Her shoulders squared, and she pressed her feet on the footrest and leaned forward.
Toby put a hand on her shoulder. “He’s right,” he said and lifted his glass of water to his mouth. “This is all I need these days.”
Charlii’s frowned, her eyes rounded, and she opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. She sipped her rye without tasting it.
“No,” said Toby. “No more drink for me. And no more music. The guys kicked me out three months ago. Too much rye mixing with drums.”
Charlii put her hand on Toby’s arm. “Tough times?”
“Three months sober tonight,” he said and pulled a plastic disk out from his pocket and ran it through his fingers.
“I know you didn’t come here looking for me,” Charlii said moving her hand from Toby’s arm to his hand.
Toby shook his head. “I’m glad you’re here, Charlii girl, but …”
The woman in black and green returned to the bar to stand next to Toby. She leaned her back onto the bar arching her back allowing her long silver and gold hair to cascade across her arm and tickle her elbows. “I’ve seen you playing jazz – long and hot. What are you doing in a dump like this?”
Toby stared at the woman, saying nothing.
Charlii tried to speak, but Balder appeared and set a tray of coffee next to Toby, who took it and followed the woman to the back of the bar.
“How?” said Charlii. “I mean, what just happened?” She held her glass to her lips and took another sip.
Balder poured himself a glass of rye and drank with Charlii. “Truth and old friends can be a little rye, no matter how sweet they are. It’s the truth that surprises us the most, even when it’s in front of us all the time.”