Braving the Heat(5)

By: Regan Black



As the oldest, he really should get more respect for his good judgment, if only by default.

Having washed off the pungent smells of the shop, he debated briefly about clothing. He’d prefer shorts on a summer night, but since he was going to hook up a car, he opted for jeans and a red polo shirt. When he finally reached the club, he found room for the tow truck near the back of the employee parking lot across the street. With the Escape Club perched at the end of the pier, few cars were granted the prime spaces on busy nights. No one emerged from a parked car or otherwise expressed any interest in his arrival, so he walked down to the club.

On the rare occasions his brother got him here, Stephen couldn’t help but admire what Sullivan had made out of his forced early retirement and an old warehouse. He’d never heard anyone question Sullivan’s choices, or express worry over what he was or wasn’t doing with his life. Though admittedly, a club naturally was a more social environment than an auto shop. People came from all over for the bands the Escape Club drew to Philly.

Striding straight to the front of the line, Stephen realized maybe he had more in common with Sullivan than he thought. Galway Automotive was building a solid reputation and people were calling from all over the region to get their cars on his restoration schedule.

“Unless you hire a female mechanic, you’ll never meet a nice girl under the hood of a car.” His mother’s voice broke into his thoughts. Myra Galway had a way of saying things that slid right past his defenses and lingered, mocking him with her maternal logic. If only his mom would admit there was more to life than filling lonely hours with pointless chatter with women who sneered at his stained fingernails and the rough calluses on his palms.

At the burly doorman’s arched eyebrow, Stephen gave his name and was quickly waved inside.

The bold, heavy sounds of the metal band onstage slammed into him and battered away at the discontent that persistently dogged Stephen since his fiancée’s death. He leaned into the music, weaving through the crowd until he reached Mitch’s station at the service end of the bar, closer to the kitchen.

His brother eyed him and popped the top off a bottle of beer, setting it in front of him between serving other patrons. Good. Stephen wasn’t in much of a talking mood. The delayed conversation was no surprise, considering the sea of humanity supporting the band from all corners of the club.

“Took you long enough,” Mitch said at the first lull between customers. “You might be here awhile.”

Stephen checked his watch. He’d said an hour or so and had hit the mark precisely. “How come?” he asked, though he didn’t care about the time, since the band was as good as Mitch had promised.

“No way I can get out there right now. This set just started.”

Stephen shrugged and swiveled around on the bar stool to watch the band. They were good, from the sound to the showmanship. He was enjoying the music, the process of being still and people-watching. Waitresses in khaki shorts and bright blue T-shirts emblazoned with the Escape Club logo brushed by him with friendly glances and quick greetings as they exchanged trays of empty bottles and glassware for the fresh orders Mitch filled with startling efficiency. From Stephen’s vantage point everyone in the club seemed to be focused on excellent customer service. Sullivan had definitely created an outstanding atmosphere.

“Do you always ignore the signals?” Mitch asked when another waitress walked off, tray perfectly balanced.

“What are you talking about?”

Mitch shook his head. “Signals from interested women,” he said. “If you’d pay attention, you’d see it for yourself.”

“Please. Not you, too.” Stephen glared at his little brother. “You know I’ve got too much work to spare time for dating.”

“Uh-huh.” Mitch slid another city-wide special across the bar to a customer and marked the tab. “Then I’m sorry I called you. Another beer?”

“Water,” Stephen answered, then checked his watch again. The band would probably take a break soon. He drained the glass of water Mitch provided and pushed back from the bar. “Tell your friend I’m waiting out in the truck. No rush. Thanks for the beer.”

“Stephen, wait.”

Not a chance. What was it with married people? His parents and married siblings were ganging up on him lately, and being relentless about it. Was there some statute of limitations on grief he didn’t know about? He’d tried believing that crappy philosophy of it being better to have loved and lost, and couldn’t pull it off. He’d loved, he’d lost everything and it sucked.

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