In 1972, you were 23 years old. And you were beautiful.
Your dirty blonde hair was so long. It reminded me of something from my childhood, maybe – some kind of wooden toy that was kept in a tin box under my bed. Maybe that toy is buried in my backyard back in Greenfield. Maybe I carry that memory like a tin box. I have nowhere to bury this memory now.
I can’t stop thinking of you back then. You looked so new. The word “pure” feels inappropriate for some reason. Not that you were pure in that churchy sense – you’d just gotten you first divorce earlier that year, for Christ’s sake – but there was something innocent about you. Some kind of freshness or something. When I walked up to your booth, when you were sitting there with your sister, even your freckles looked fresh.
In slow motion, you told me no. Your sister laughed at me. But goddammit, I was going to have you. so I walked away to get a Coors and smoke a Pall Mall.
I’d been in Vegas 5 years by then. We knew the money was coming. I could tell you didn’t care.
A few more beers, a few more songs from the band. Nobody could get in my way. I was going to dance with you, and I didn’t care. I wanted to touch your hair. But you danced with a few other men, always sitting back down alone with your sister, and sipping your drinks, and laughing with her.
So I bought you a drink. I asked the bartender to make you a rum and Coke because you looked like you needed a rum and Coke. The band started to play a slow song. As soon as I set your drink in that tall skinny glass in front of you, what did you say to me?
“I’m not dancing with you, you know.”
“I don’t want to dance. I want to talk.”
And you smiled, and moved over to make room for me.
“Where’s your sister?”
“Out there dancing with her husband. He just showed up.” You pointed with a slim, freckled arm. You’d painted your fingernails, too, but in the lights I couldn’t tell what the color was.
But I could tell your eyes were blue. There’s always something in the shafts of light that shows you blue eyes.
“What’s in this?”
“How do I know you haven’t slipped something in it?”
I shouldn’t have smiled, but I did. You definitely weren’t a city girl. Not yet. “Well, your sister’s here with her husband to keep an eye on you. If you pass out in front of them, they’ll know who to blame.”
And you sipped. And waited. And sipped again. You were starting at me with mock suspicion. I wanted to tell you a dirty joke.
“Rum and Coke. How did you know what I was drinking?”
“I didn’t. It was a lucky guess. I’m a lucky guy.”
You made a face I’ll never forget. You rolled your eyes like you would for the next 26 years. Like our children would do one day.
“I swear! Come visit my table at the El Cortez and I’ll make you lots of money.”
“I deal craps Downtown at the El Cortez. You’ll have more fun than you’ve ever had in your entire life.”
Your face changed when I said “deal craps,” so I said, “My job is much more fun than yours. What do you do?”
“I work for Metro. In fact, my brother-in-law over there is a cop.”
“Well, I’d better behave myself, then.”
You watched the floor for a few moments, and I couldn’t help looking at you. You wanted me to leave. But I just couldn’t. Then you surprised me when you said, “How do you know your job is much more fun than mine?”
The steel mill man in me would have you broken down in a split second. But you were too beautiful for that. “Are you a cop?”
“Then I can guess my job is funner. Being a cop isn’t as much fun. Just ask your brother-in-law.”
The slow song was over. “Oops,” I said. “Here come the judges. If you want another drink, let me know.” And I went back to the bar for another Coors.
I thought you would go home by then, but the three of you stuck around. In fact, I wasn’t the only one who wanted to talk to you that night – but from where I was standing, I’d barely catch you glancing and looking away.
But you didn’t want to dance with me, so I stayed away. Normally I’d keep going back, but there was something about you that I didn’t want to fuck up. And I didn’t want your brother-in-law to arrest me, just because you said to. Not that he looked like a mean guy, but he was much, much bigger than me.
But then you got up. And you looked around like you’d forgotten I’d gone anywhere. Then you looked right at me and smiled.
I got you.
You picked up your empty drink and walked over to me. And there you were, in a dark/light patterned, flowy, halter-top dress that went to the floor. You were only 5 foot, but you could’ve been a skyscraper.
I’d bought you a drink before you even got to the bar.
You had freckles on your bare shoulder, clustered at your collarbones. You stood next to me, and while you ordered shots, I looked down to see the tops of your boobs. I looked away so uncasually, because I knew you knew I was looking. What was I supposed to do?
You were more of a city girl than I gave you credit for. Maybe that’s what I’d known about you all along. Or maybe I’m just too easy to figure out. Or both.
The bartender brought over two chilled shots of clear alcohol. “What’s this?” I asked.
“This right here is peppermint schnapps,” you said.
I was impressed, but tried not to look like I was.
You picked up the shots, handed one to me, and said, “My name’s Noreen.”
“Timmy,” I said. And we clinked glasses.