A great roar of laughter peeled from the back of the bar where Gomez spoke with Martin and Shelly. Charlii lifted her eyes to watch Shelly stand and weave around the tables on her way to the bar.
Shelly sat on the stool next to Charlii. “Men!” she exclaimed. “Just when you think they know you exist, they start in on the dirty jokes. Martin’s such a goober.”
The smile on Shelly’s face, the gleam in her eyes, and the flush in her cheeks surprised Charlii. “I give him ten minutes,” Shelly said, turning and nodding her head in Martin’s direction. “He’ll be begging me to return to the table.”
“Husband?” asked Charlii.
“God! No,” said Shelly. “He’s too, too-” She put her finger to her mouth and rolled her eyes up. “He’s too much a pain in the ass to be a boyfriend. I mean, look at him. Selfish, uppity, too skinny. I could go on.”
Charlii pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows. “Then why come out with him?”
“He always pays for the drinks,” said Shelly with a grin. “He’s also a damn good painter. We’re working for a showing together.” Shelly paused and settled into her seat. After a deep breath, she added, “If he would just let go and be himself.”
Balder placed a glass in front of Shelly. He poured a red-brown drink into it.
“That’s not absinthe,” said Shelly, pick up the glass.
“Vermouth,” said Balder.
Shelly scrunched her nose. “I don’t want a martini. Is it good on its own?”
“Alone, it’s good, a balance the bitter with the sweet. Mixed, it creates something new from something old, provides a pattern and a bond.”
“Shelly,” Martin called from the back of the bar. “Come back. I need you.”
Shelly sipped the drink and smiled as she turned to look at Martin.
“Come on,” said Martin. “Gomez is telling me about a new exhibition he’s planning.”
“Perfect,” said Shelly. “I’ll get us into that collection before this night is over.” With that, Shelly slid off the bar stool and returned to the table.