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“Let’s get strapped in, ladies and gentlemen! We’ve reached our lightning round!” the voice boomed over the PA followed by a heavy metal guitar riff. Dapper Dennis had worked the Trivia game here at the Eagle’s Nest Bar every Thursday night without fail for the last 6-1/2 years. Kassie and Allison made ready to close out what had been a pretty good run so far this game.
They had just met hours before at the orientation for the 18th annual City and County Clerks Association of America conference held this year at the Des Moines, IA Holiday Inn next door. This was the first year for both of them. They had both been newly elected to their posts only months earlier. Being two of only nine women to attend this conference of more than 300 men, they gravitated quickly toward each other.
Kassie, a 32-year-old divorcée from Hutchinson, KS, was pretty in a Midwest sort of way: proportionately plump with a pleasing, warm smile of perfectly straight white teeth. Her naturally wavy auburn hair usually cascaded over her trademark tan blazer she paired with tailored navy blue pants. The perfumed silk scarf she wore as a final touch of modesty to cover the hint of skin revealed at the top of her blouse was coming off as she finished her second Mojito.
“That’s a lovely scarf,” Allison said, reaching out to feel the fabric as Kassie neatly folded it and set it on the table. Kassie blushed, embarrassed that Allison might detect a hint of moisture from her perspiration. She shifted nervously in her chair as she watched Allison stroke the material gently before holding it up to her face.
“How delicious,” Allison remarked as she breathed in the aroma, unfurling the fabric, letting it fall open in front of her. “You must tell me what this scent is!” she insisted with a conspiratorial smile.
“It’s nothing,” Kassie said bashfully, feeling her neck conspicuously naked without the comforting security of her scarf. The delicate skin from her chest flushed hot pink up to her cheeks now. She felt the soft caress of Allison’s touch as if by extension through the garment. Her voice wavered as she explained her process for carefully blending oils and tinctures to create her very own, personalized perfumes.
Draping the scarf around her neck, Allison sussed her hair out over it so that it now hugged her skin. The colorful floral pattern was the perfect compliment to the severe lines of her face and jet black hair. In a moment of girlish abandon, she turned her head a bit and raised her hands to her chin, brandishing a flirtatious smile à la Bettie Page.
Actually, Allison’s aesthetic more closely resembled that of Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction. And so did her overall appearance: tall and slender with legs and lips for days. Her sharp angles countered Kassie’s soft curves. Daring fashion revealed as much of her creativity as it did her skin.
A 41-year-old, twice divorced mother of two grown children, Allison had come to the conference for vastly different reasons than Kassie. While Kassie had made public service her mission since first running (unsuccessfully) for county council at the age of 19, Allison had answered the call on a dare after a Facebook argument went awry just a few months before local elections. Allison was here for the free, taxpayer-funded trip while Kassie genuinely wanted deeper insights into the fascinating world of actuary analysis and fiduciary accountability.
“The final category is [drum roll on cue]…State Nicknames,” DJ Dennis said excitedly as he cued a cheesy 80’s guitar riff. “I’ll either give you the nickname or the state. Correct answers are worth double. Pencils ready!” he reminded.
Kassie hurriedly scribbled along as Dennis rattled off the clues. “
– The Sunshine State. – Idaho. – The Keystone State.” Both women grimaced as he continued, clearly neither of them being well versed in this category. While they had owned the FRIENDS category which had put them in the lead over the team of four fat, bald, old white men seated at the center table, this unfortunate turn felt like a certain end to their luck.
A boisterous, gleeful whisper conference could be overhead from their competitor’s table. “Are you fucking kidding me?” Allison complained. “I got nothin,” she confessed.
“Ooh! I’m pretty sure Idaho is the Famous Potatoes State!” Kassie offered hopefully. “It’s on their license plate, I think.”
“Gem State,” they heard in a low voice coming from a man passing in front of their table. Looking up, they both could see it was the man who had been seated quietly by himself at the table next to them. He appeared to be returning from the restroom. Without making eye contact, he repeated in a voice low enough that only the two women could hear, “The Gem State. Idaho. Idaho is the Gem State.”
Scribbling furiously, Kassie crossed out what she had written and replaced it with the answer the man just gave. In a low voice, Allison asked, “And the ‘Show Me State’?”.
“Missouri,” bahis firmaları he answered quietly.
“Put that down!” Allison said eagerly, tapping on the page.
“Delaware?” Kassie asked nervously.
“The First State,” the man replied, now leaning over subtly to have a look at their paper. “And
is Florida, not California,” he said as he moved his bar stool closer to their table to have a better view.
“Yeah, you’re on our team now!” Allison said eagerly, patting her hand on the table, inviting him to set his drink down and join them.
Scanning the list, he went in order, giving answers and correcting their wrong answers as he went along. Kassie felt her palms begin to sweat as she wrote. From the corner of her eye, she observed the man now seated beside her, making note of his sturdy, workworn hands.
With his sleeves rolled up to just below his elbows, she admired the thick, well-defined muscles of his forearms. The stout, earthy aroma of his cologne matched the strength of his presence. Suddenly, Kassie found herself trembling almost uncontrollably. Surely everyone else at the table could see, she thought to herself.
“How in hell do you know all this?” Allison asked admiringly.
“I dunno. My head’s full of all kinds of useless information,” he answered with a laugh.
Kassie joined in his laughter with a little too much enthusiasm for a few seconds and then stopped abruptly. “Ok, here we go,” she said in a hushed voice.
Just then, Dennis’ voice boomed over the PA. “Aaaaaaaaand there it is, folks! Time’s up! Trade your cards with another team and let’s get our final tally.”
Following his instructions, the teams exchanged their answer cards as he revealed the correct answers. When this was complete, the teams returned the cards to their respective owners and each of them tallied their overall scores. When all the teams had completed the task and turned their cards in to Dapper Dennis, he read the final scores aloud.
“With 87 points, First Place and a $50 drink voucher goes to – drumroll- ‘Ladies in Lavender’ Kassie and Allison!” he said, causing an eruption from their table. Jumping up and down and screaming with excitement, Kassie and Allison high-5’d before hugging each other. A few seconds later, they opened their embrace and enveloped Arn in their celebration.
Whether it was the mojitos or the schoolgirl giddiness brought on by a handsome man in close proximity (or both), Kassie struggled to maintain her reserved, conservative, midwestern façade. Overtaken by the moment, she gushed, tears of joy welled up in her eyes as she spoke. “I’ve never won anything in my life!” she exclaimed as she kissed Arn on the cheek.
Allison smiled at this, happy to see her young companion begin to loosen up. There was no denying this man had unlocked something the Midwest had done its best repress. “This is my friend Kassie,” Allison said warmly.
“Mighty pleased to meet you, Kassie. My friends call me Arn,” he said, extending a hand and a warm smile.
“Charmed,” she said as she did something of a curtsy.
“And my friends call me Allison,” she said. “To be fair,” she went on as she extended her hand to him. “Everyone calls me Allison. So, I guess that means you should call me that, too!”
Receiving her handshake, Arn nodded and said, “it’s a pleasure.”
Each of them took drinks from their glasses as the excitement of the victory began to settle.
“Y’all here for the conference?” Arn asked.
“Yes,” Kassie answered immediately and matter-of-factly.
“What gave it away?” Allison asked.
“Well, first off, I’ve never seen either of you in this bar before. Second, you’re drinking what appears to be a mojito,” he said pointing at Kassie’s glass. “And you’re drinking what appears to be an Amaretto- maybe Disarrono,” he noted pointing at Allison’s glass.
“People that live in Iowa don’t drink anything with such sophistication. Third, I’d say you two are as odd a couple as they come; Kass here must be from some place respectable and god-fearing like Nebraska and you, Allison, strike me as someone hailing from a place more metropolitan, likely near one of the coasts,” he said, squinting his eyes as if he were trying to remember some long lost memory.
“As such, I reckon the two of you made friends being as how there is a conference at the Holiday Inn here. I am sure it’s chock full of fat, old, horny married men who use these annual retreats to tickle certain fancies their wives back home no longer tickle for them. Pairing up together strengthens your defenses and also gives you someone to talk to. How am I doing so far?” he asked with a grin.
“Pretty good except, I’m from Kansas,” Kassie said, regretting instantly having said it.
“I stand corrected. Hope I haven’t offended the fine folks of The Sunflower State with my reckless tongue. Allow me to buy you a drink as penance for my impertinence,” he said, turning and summoning the waitress.
“You guessed kaçak iddaa right in my case, but we will be buying the next few rounds of drinks with our winnings,” Allison said with a grin.
“And how about you?” Kassie asked sheepishly.
“Me? I’m here for work,” he said. Then expanded on his answer. “I come here whenever I am in this neck of the woods. I like the vibe of this bar. Plus the bartender pours heavy and the waitress is more attentive than a stalker,” he said with a laugh as said waitress sauntered up to the table. “And it’s good people watching here. Certainly better than sitting in my room watching TV.”
“And how come you seem to know so much about us?” Kassie asked.
“Oh, well, that,” Arn began and then stopped as the waitress took their order.
Allison pressed him for an answer. “Is that some sort of parlor trick, guessing details about random women as a conversation starter to get them to go back to your room?” It was more sarcastic than caustic.
He laughed and blushed before responding. “If I wanted the two of you to come back to my hotel room with me, I would start by asking politely,” he said confidently but without arrogance. “As for the ‘parlor trick’, it doesn’t take a detective to pick these things out.”
“How would you know that I was from somewhere like Nebraska or Kansas?” Kassie asked.
“Well, that’s simple: Your clothes are nice but not too nice. They’re not expensive but they’re not cheap either. You carry yourself with an air of respectability. You speak with just an ever-so-slight accent and use expressions you don’t ordinarily hear outside the heartland.
“You blushed when I came to your table because you’re a fine, upstanding young woman not given to interacting with men without a proper introduction from a trusted family or church member.
“You’re drinking a mojito at the advice of your newly acquired friend, here, because, frankly, you didn’t know what to order because you typically don’t drink. You’re drinking tonight as a means of connecting with your new friend, and, because you had hoped it would do you some much needed loosening up- which I might add, looks good on you,” he said as he leaned back as if to take in a better view of her.
“While the scarf you were wearing is lovely, it hides something far more lovely; your fair complexion and smooth skin. You hide behind these modest clothes, but I sense there is an intense desire to share something much more expressive, if only to the right audience in the right setting,” he said, his words hanging there like a cloud of smoke.
“Does that shit really work?” Allison asked. “I mean, did you read that shit from a book somewhere? Like an instruction manual for pick-up artists?”
Arn laughed and Allison joined in. Their laughter increased as Kassie joined in.
“That’s fair. Playing it back in my head, that sounded trite and a little bit smarmy. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to come off as ‘that guy’,” he said shaking his head. “It should be noted that I had no intention of sitting here and having this conversation with you,” he confessed as the waitress returned with their drinks.
“Some people watch TV to get their kicks. I watch people. They tell far more interesting stories. Let’s play a game: those guys over there,” he went on, looking in the direction of the table with the other conference-goers. “What could someone learn about them by simply watching them from here?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” Kassie said.
Leaning over so as to have his head on her shoulder that they may share the same vantage point, he spoke. “All of them are wearing JC Penny suits from the late nineties, and yet, they are all eating Filet Mignon and drinking top shelf liquor.” Kassie felt her pulse quicken as she felt him against her. The smell of his cologne sent a shiver over her she was unable to hide from him. “I’d venture to say, they are eating on someone else’s dime,” Arn observed.
Looking over at the waitress, he continued. “Tina, you’ve cashed out a few of those guys, right? Did they pay with a personal credit card or was it a business card?”
“They were both business cards,” she confirmed. “One of them had the guy’s name on it and Something Municipal Something. The other guy’s just said Harper Junction Something Something.”
“Ok, so it was a lucky guess about Kassie. And those guys are clearly business travelers. But what makes you think I live on either of the coasts?” Allison asked suspiciously.
“Before I answer that, I’m right, aren’t I?” he asked.
“Yep! She’s from…” Kassie began before Allison interrupted her.
“No! Make him guess it!” Allison said, her voice now more playful as a smile returned to her face.
Now he leaned over toward Allison after moving his stool closer. “You are far too complex to be contained in small town America. Your understated sophistication is lost on most, if not everyone around you. You are…conflict in motion…a riddle waiting to be unraveled kaçak bahis only to discover an even deeper meaning still. Only, the clues to your mystery are written in a language no one can read. And on the rare occasion when someone can crack your code, they don’t know how to handle you when they do.
“Accordingly, you find it best to live in a place more conducive to wearing your enigma out in the open. It’s harder to live in Kansas when you don’t conform to the ways everyone thinks and talks and dresses. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with fitting in…It’s just that you are not someone who can fit in,” he said before raising his glass and taking a big gulp.
“You got all that watching us play trivia for 20 minutes?” Allison asked. She could feel the skin on the back of her neck and behind her ears glowing red hot. His description of her would have been scary had it not been so arousing. She felt naked before him and his smile suggested he enjoyed the view.
“I must confess that, of all people in the bar, I paid closest attention to the two of you because I found you most interesting,” he said, raising his glass as if in a toast. “I mean, I ain’t gonna lie, it doesn’t hurt that the two of you are, well…attractive. Forgive me if I speak out of turn here, but both of you check off a lot of boxes for me.”
Kassie spoke after a long pause. “You’re gonna have to explain which ‘boxes’ you’re referring to before I get upset with you,” she said pretending to be perturbed.
“Yeah, I’d like to know what ‘boxes’ you think we belong in, mister,” Allison said sternly.
“Whoa! Ok, that sounded awful. What I meant to say was that I find myself irresistibly attracted to each of you for a variety of reasons,” he said as sweat began to form on his palms.
“For example,” he said looking at Kassie. “I find the shape of your lips enticing. The way you have painted them should be a guide to all women. Moreover, the way they move when you talk is more dramatic than any theater performance ever presented. It would seem you share my affinity for them- you fastidiously maintain them painted that wonderfully alluring rouge. And the way you employ them, shaping your words with them, pursing them when you’re thinking of what you’re about to say, teasing them with your stir straw…”
Turning his attention to Allison, he continued. “And your eyes, Allie. I hope you don’t mind me calling you ‘Allie’. They sparkle crystal blue like the clear waters of a tropical isle. Wading into them transports me there, the warm surf lures me in before the undertow sucks me under its spell. There is an ocean beneath that blue that grows darker and more mysterious the deeper you go.”
After a long pause, they all took a sip from their drinks. Allison finished hers and signaled to the waitress for another round. “Ok, that’s much better than I was expecting. Certainly better than how it started.”
“My ex-husband used to make fun of my lips. He used to call them my ‘bubble butt lips’,” Kassie confessed. “He’d always be making comments about my weight. And the thing of it is, he was carrying extra weight himself as it was.”
“Well your ex-husband is a damned fool!” Arn exclaimed.
“Yeah, fuck that guy!” Allison chimed in. “I’d kill for some of those curves you’ve got,” she said looking down at her behind making a hand gesture to exaggerate the lack of curve to her backside.
“I rarely used any lipstick until just recently,” Kassie mused. “Come to think of it, it was when Daryl and I- Daryl is my ex- after we went our separate ways that I began using it. You like this shade?” she asked, blinking her eyes and pursing her lips. “It’s not too much, is it?”
“I’m not one to kiss girls, but your lips make a strong case for it,” Allison said playfully and they both laughed.
“As for Daryl’s critique: there’s a certain segment of the population that finds a woman carrying more than just a little extra weight to be the height of sexual desirability,” Arn said with a smile.
“Is that the segment of the population you identify with, Arn,” Allison asked.
“I’d say that there are no height or weight requirements for satisfying my desire. I am a fan of the female form in all of its incarnations. I’m less concerned with what a gal’s got than how she moves it,” he said, his voice trailing off.
They sat silent for over a minute, each of them in their own thoughts. From the corner of her eye, Kassie studied Arn as he watched the game on one of the dozen or so TV screens. Dirty blond hair with a dusting of silver near his temples was close-cropped to match the stubble of his beard. Under the flannel shirt he had just removed and draped over the back of his stool, he wore a simple, faded blue t-shirt still covered with some kind of construction dust. Without trying, it showed off his well-defined chest and arm muscles. Allison caught her staring and the two of them laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Arn asked.
“It’s nothing,” Kassie answered quickly, straining to contain her nervous laugh.
“C’mon, had to be something pretty funny…Is it an inside joke? Do tell. No secrets,” he said in a way that was convincing but not goading.
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