The Rusty Anchor was quiet as usual. The regulars filled their usual spots at the bar. Bill, the retired bus driver, filled the stool closest to the front door. He didn’t want to miss any newcomers that happened in, usually by mistake. Judy, with her fire-engine-red hair sat a few seats down from Bill. She was his comic relief. They hassled each other every chance they got. And Naomi sat at the far end of the bar, furthest from the front door. Kasey made sure she stayed put and out of everyone’s way. She was content to watch the TV over the bar and nurse her drink all night. Kasey had snuck her mom to work with her for several months without the manager knowing anything about it. When she finally came clean, and asked him if she could bring her mom to work, he objected until she mentioned that Naomi had already been coming for several months and hadn’t caused any problems. Even Bill and Judy backed her up, and agreed to help keep an eye on her. Reluctantly, the manager agreed, but said that if Naomi upset any customers than all bets were off. Kasey agreed, even though she didn’t really need his approval…she would have continued to bring Naomi with her regardless of what he said.
Bill nodded and smiled at the older woman who walked in behind him and found a seat on the other side of Judy. Judy took notice also and smiled. Kasey came out from the back room carrying a bottle of alcohol in each hand and nearly tripped when she saw Willow sitting near Judy. She caught herself before the bottles slipped out of her hand. Willow was as surprised as Kasey.
“What are you doing here?” Kasey asked. “Did you forget where the coffee shop is?”
“I might ask you the same thing. You work here too?” Willow asked.
“Are you gonna introduce us to your friend, Kasey?” Bill asked and cleared his gravely throat.
Kasey paused and she tried to make sense of seeing Willow. She felt as if her privacy was being invaded, which was ridiculous, since the Rusty Anchor was in no way private. But it was still disconcerting to see Willow in the bar.
“Um…” she stammered. “Yeah, I work here at night. Only a few nights a week, though,” she said defensively. Why did she feel like she’d been caught doing something wrong?
“Oh, I see,” Willow said.
“Hey! I said introduce us to your friend!” Bill said a little louder.
“Keep your pants on!” Kasey piped back. “This is Willow, and she’s not my…well…” she wasn’t sure what to call Willow.
“It’s okay,” Willow said to Kasey. Willow turned to Bill. “I’m more like an acquaintance. What should I call you?” she asked Bill.
“Hey there, Willow. Nice to meet you. You can call me Bill,” he said and nodded his head.
Judy was amused by the exchange. She reached out her hand, “Hi Willow. I’m Judy. Don’t pay attention to the loud-mouth down there. He’s a lot more bark than he is bite.”
“Hey, don’t ruin my reputation. I’m as frightening as they come,” Bill teased.
Kasey laughed loud enough for Bill to hear. He grimaced.
“What can I get you to drink, Willow? Coffee?” Kasey asked.
“Oh, I’m afraid I’m going to need something stronger than that tonight. How about a Tom Collins?” Willow asked.
“Coming right up,” Kasey said. No one had ordered a Tom Collins in years.
Naomi called from the end of the bar. “Sweetie, can I have another vodka please?”
“Sure thing,” Kasey called back.
She made the Tom Collins and the vodka at the same time. Willow watched as Kasey poured the drinks and noticed that she gave the woman club soda with a lime instead of vodka. That wasn’t okay. Why did she do that? Willow didn’t want to get involved but she felt bad for the woman if Kasey was cheating her. Willow tasted her drink. It was a Tom Collins, so she didn’t try to trick her. She looked at Bill and Judy, but they weren’t paying attention. She watched the woman as she took a drink, and the woman didn’t flinch. What was going on? Should she say something to Kasey? Maybe she made a mistake.
She decided to stick her nose in the woman’s business.
“Kasey, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but why did you give that woman club soda instead of a vodka like she ordered?” Willow asked.
“Huh? Oh, because she doesn’t drink,” Kasey said.
“But she’s paying for more than you gave her,” Willow argued.
“She’s not paying for anything and you ARE telling me how to do my job,” Kasey said.
Judy was listening to the exchange, and knew that Willow wasn’t going to win.
“Just tell her, Kasey,” Judy said.
“It’s not her business,” Kasey said.
“Look, maybe I should go. I didn’t mean to…” Willow said and started to stand up.
Now Bill was listening too.
“Kasey, knock it off. Get over yourself and just tell her. Don’t make Willow feel bad,” Bill said. He sounded like a big brother.
Kasey exhaled. “Fine. That’s Naomi. She’s my mother.”
“And…” Bill said.
“And she has Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know who I am half the time, and she certainly doesn’t know what the heck she’s drinking. And I’m not going to give her alcohol. Got it?” Kasey said. She was irritated that she had to let Willow into her life even a little bit.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know…I didn’t mean to…” Willow said, struggling for the right words.
“It’s okay. It’s just life, right?”
“Right,” Willow said, still fighting through the awkward moment.
“So, what’s your story? Why did you come to the Anchor tonight?” Kasey asked.
“How much time you got?” Willow asked.
“I’m here until closing, and I’m a captive audience. You might as well spill it,” Kasey said.
“Writer’s block,” Willow said.
“So, you are a writer? Chase said you were but I didn’t believe it. It’s true, huh?” Kasey asked.
“Well, I was until I stopped writing.”
“What do you mean by that? How does a writer stop writing?” Kasey asked.
“We don’t write all the time. I mean, we take breaks from time to time. It’s just that this break has taken on a life of its own. It seems to be taking forever.”
“I’m sure it will come back,” Kasey tried to encourage.
“Yeah, well…I’m not so sure about that.”
“What do you write anyways? Anything I would know?” Kasey asked.
“I doubt it. You don’t seem like the romance type,” Willow said.
“Well, you’ve got me there.”
“Let me guess…” Willow said and tapped her cheek with her finger as she was sizing her up. “Fantasy? Science Fiction?”
“Well, I don’t get a whole lot of time to read,” she said, and motioned towards her mom, “But if I did, then SciFi would probably be what I would read.”
“What’s wrong with romance?” Judy said.
“Nothing’s wrong with it. It just isn’t my thing,” Kasey said.
“Well, I like a good romance,” Judy said.
“Yes, but can you even read?” Bill teased.
“Of course I can!” Judy shot back. She looked at Willow, “Are you famous?”
Willow seemed uncomfortable, and shifted in her seat. “I guess.”
“What’s your last name? Maybe I’ve read some of your stuff?” Judy asked.
“Oh, I write under a pen name. I can’t stand the criticism,” Willow said.
“Come on…give it up…who the heck are you?” Bill asked.
“I’d prefer to stay anonymous.”
“We won’t tell…promise,” Judy said.
Willow looked around the bar to make sure no one else was there. She mumbled at first, as if she was revealing government secrets.
“Speak up, will ya? My ears aren’t as good as they used to be,” Bill complained.
“I write under the name Natalie Blue,” she said and stared into her drink. What did it matter at this point? The way things were going, she could have written her last words anyways.
Judy repeated the name several times, and thought hard to think of a title. Nothing came to mind. The name didn’t ring a bell for Kasey either.
Shyly, Willow said out loud, “A Walk Along the Shore? That was my biggest seller. But it was years ago, so I doubt anyone read it.”
“Yes! I did! Oh, my gosh! I loved that book! You wrote it?” Judy exclaimed.
Kasey laughed at Judy’s excitement.
“Wow, we got us a celebrity here at the Anchor. Who would’ve thought?” Bill said.
“I’d appreciate it if you kept that to yourselves? I like my privacy,” Willow begged.
“You got it,” Kasey said.
“Me too,” Judy agreed.
“Well…” Bill hesitated.
“Oh, be quiet! You know you won’t tell anyone,” Kasey said.
“How do you know?” Bill harassed.
“Because then you’d have to admit you knew about chik lit books, that’s why!” Judy said.
“You got me there. My lips are sealed,” he said, and mimed locking his lips, and throwing away the key.
Kasey leaned in close to Willow as if she was revealing top secret intel. “I know that book,” she said.
Bill overheard. “Aha! You do read romance!” he teased.
Kasey frowned. “Calm down, I do not,” she said to Bill. She turned to Willow, “No offense.”
“None taken,” Willow said. “But how do you know my book?”
“She read it, that’s how!” Bill accused.
“I did not. I’ve just seen it, that’s all,” Kasey defended.
Bill sat down, defeated, but continued to listen.
“Chase threw it at me today,” Kasey started.
“He what?!” Willow was alarmed.
“No, no…not like that. We were shelving donations at the coffee shop and it was one of the books we got,” she explained.
“Oh, I see. That’s nice,” Willow said. But inside she was a little sad that someone was getting rid of her book. Didn’t they like it? Did they even read it before they gave it away?
“Well, well…now you can read it, Kasey,” Bill commented.
“Yeah…uh…” she stammered.
Willow reached out and patted her hand. “That’s okay. I know it’s not your style. You won’t hurt my feelings.”
Kasey smiled at Willow, but glared at Bill as she walked past him.
“Well, now other people can read it,” Judy said, trying to make Willow feel better.
Willow appreciated the encouragement. She could use the pat on the back. She didn’t like to show it, but her ego was a little bruised.