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An only child, Tracy Broemmer grew up with a wild imagination. An avid reader from a young age, she spent a lot of time with her nose buried in books and a lot of time making up her own stories. She penned her first book in grade school and hasn’t stopped writing since then.

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Short Fiction

 

Margaritas & Manhattans

Manhattans on 38th St.

 Part Three

“I just think you’re missing the whole point is all.” Gabryel shrugged as she reached around Bryn to grab the guacamole.

“How’m’I missing the point?” Elise shot her a quick look over her shoulder as she squatted down in front of the oven.

“Well.” Gabe crunched a chip and then brushed the crumbs and salt from her fingers over her napkin on the counter. “It’s National Margarita Day.” She picked up her margarita glass and tipped it in a salute when Elise looked at her again.

“And I made a big pitcher of margaritas,” Elise said with a nod.

Gabe turned to Bryn as she picked up another chip.

“Why’re you so quiet?”

“You haven’t left me much room to talk.” Bryn grinned and winked.

“The floor is yours.” Gabe nudged her. “Speak.”

“Just don’t side with her, or I’m kicking your butt out,” Elise warned her. She pulled her oven mitts on, opened the oven door, and took the casserole dish out. Steam wafted from the cheesy quesadillas, and Elise winced and turned away to set the piping hot dish on a set of hot pads by the stove.

“Side with me?” Gabe laughed softly. “It’s not a side thing. It’s National Margarita Day. It’s on my calendar.”

“I have a ton of shit on my calendar that I don’t celebrate.” Bryn swallowed a mouthful of her own margarita. She looked from Elise to Gabe. “Just sayin’.”

“We’re celebrating National Margarita Day,” Elise reminded Gabe. “You’re drinking margaritas. And I made Mexican food for dinner. And…” Elise laughed and tossed her hand toward the kitchen doorway. “Don’t forget. Michael played the maracas for you when you first came in.”

Gabe snorted. “And you’re drinking a Manhattan.”

“I am.” Elise tugged the oven mitts off and tossed them to the counter behind her. She leaned over for a second to examine the quesadillas. The shredded cheese she’d tossed over the flour tortillas filled with a chicken and sour cream mixture had melted evenly. Her stomach growled. She turned back to her guests and crossed the room to pick up her Manhattan.

“But you should—why aren’t you—?” Gabe sputtered.

“You like margaritas, don’t you?” Bryn asked Elise.

“I do.” She nodded. “I also had a horrible day, and I came home craving whiskey, and here I am.”

“You could’ve cancelled,” Bryn said quietly.

Elise answered with a quick shake of her head. “Nope. Needed girlfriends tonight.”

“What’s going on?” Gabe pushed the bowl of homemade guacamole away. A big wave of noise rolled in from the open staircase in the other room, and all three of them swung their gazes that way for a second.

“They’re worse than we are,” Bryn mumbled.

“Making noise?”

“In general.” Bryn looked at Elise. “But yes, making noise. Doesn’t matter what’s on TV. I mean, what is on? I don’t even know if there’s any sporting event on tonight.”

“They might be shooting pool.” Elise shrugged.

“They gossip more than we do.” Bryn sipped from her glass again. Eyes locked with Elise’s, she continued, “Like, Monty told me a few weeks ago…that Harrison and Gabryel had an all day Saturday date.”

Elise blinked at Bryn and turned to Gabe.

“I didn’t hear anything about that.”

Bryn shrugged. “I don’t remember our friend Gabe telling us about it, no. But Monty said Harrison mentioned it.”

“Wasn’t a date,” Gabe said simply. “Which is why you didn’t hear anything about it from me.”

“Monty said it was early to mid January, and it’s late February. How many times have we seen Gabryel since then, Elise? Since that morning she met us for coffee.”

“Really?” Elise grinned. “You spent the rest of that day with Hunky Harrison?”

“Hunky—?” Gabe shook her head. “What?”

“Pretty sure we’ve hung out at least three times since then, including another coffee session at the same place where you met up with Mr. Hunky.”

“Oh my God.” Gabe rolled her eyes. “Don’t call him that. That sounds so gross.”

“Why’re you holding out on us?” Elise asked her.

“What’s going on with you?” Gabe drummed her fingers on the counter. “What happened today?”

“My brother and his wife are separating.” Elise sighed. “I’m worried about Paulie.”

“Your nephew?” Gabe clarified.

“Yeah. He’s had some trouble in school anyway. I don’t know. My brother sort of hinted that some of Paul’s problems are putting a lot of pressure on the marriage. I wonder if their problems aren’t seeping into their parenting.” Elise took a deep breath and licked her lips. “And as Jimmy reminded me, it’s none of my business.”

“Maybe it is when you’re the one carting his kid around to all of his activities and stuff.”

“I took him to a guitar lesson last month.” Elise shook her head and waved her hand to dismiss Bryn’s comment.

“And you took him to a school science thing—”

“How old is he?” Gabe reached for another chip. She snorted when Bryn slapped her hand.

“Eight.”

“Eight? So? Third grade? Third graders do science things now?”

Elise and Bryn both nodded.

“Wow. When I was younger, we didn’t participate in anything extra until after fifth grade.”

“You picked him up from school three times this month,” Bryn continued.

“Okay, okay.” Elise lifted her hands, palms out, to stop her. “Yeah. I’ve done a lot for Paulie. But I’m doing it for him. Not Jimmy and Diane.”

“How long have they been married?”

“Not quite ten years,” Elise told Gabe. She huffed out a long, tired sigh. Feeling a little guilty now for bringing this up, she took stock of the food offerings on the counter and the bar where her friends sat now to snack. Sure, she was irritated with Jimmy and Diane. She worried about Paulie. But then, it was their business, and it wasn’t right for her to share it with everyone else.

“So.” Bryn cleared her throat. Elise held her breath and waited for her to lecture her on making her little brother be more responsible. Because even though she didn’t want to talk about Jimmy, it was absolutely true that he needed to be more responsible. Just as Diane could be a bit more nurturing. “About that all day Saturday thing.”

“Oh, for crying out loud!” Gabe’s laugh was bold and loud this time, but Elise noticed that her friend’s cheeks were red and her eyes were shining. Gabe didn’t look drunk; she looked happy.

Gabryel Adams. Happy. Interesting, considering she usually looked amused or at the most, entertained by the world around her, and never truly happy being a part of that world.

Elise took another drink and leaned her hip on the counter.

“Do tell.”

“There’s nothing to tell!” Gabe insisted. She picked up her own glass for a drink.

“But you were with him?”

Gabe yelped and sloshed her drink over the rim of her glass. She waved her hand and then licked the sticky liquid from her fingers.

“We went shopping,” she admitted. “I wasn’t with him.”

“Funny you jumped to that.” Bryn arched her brow as she scooted backwards off her stool. “I wasn’t thinking that. Were you, Elise?”

“How did you end up shopping? Did he—did he call you?”

“Did you call him?” Bryn asked.

“How would I have called him?” Gabe shook her head. Another big wave of noise—catcalls and male laughter—rolled up the steps, but this time, the rowdy conversation got louder. Dex appeared in the doorway first, a big grin on his face. Monty and Harrison spoke behind him about a movie they had on downstairs.

“Dinner ready, babe?” Dex sidled up to Elise and dropped a kiss on her cheek.

“Yeah.” Elise nodded. “I was just gonna yell at you guys.”

“Monty just mopped the floor with Harrison. He says it’s because he’s tired.”

“Shooting pool?”

“Free throws,” Dex answered.

Elise glanced at Bryn and Gabe and rolled her eyes. “How can three grown men make that much noise playing an arcade basketball game?”

“You’re one to talk.” Dex rubbed his hand over her back and rested it on her butt. “You ladies don’t need to play any game. You just sit and laugh all the time.”

“That’s just Gabe,” Bryn announced.

“Throw me under the bus.” Gabe shrugged. “I’m tough.”

Elise stepped back out of the way while the three guys helped themselves to the rice and beans and quesadillas. She watched Harrison lean around Gabe to take a handful of chips, noted the way their eyes met and the smile they shared. Elise would never be one to call attention to a moment like that—teasing was fun, but there were limits—so she simply glanced at Bryn to see if she had noticed. Busy pouring herself another margarita, Bryn had missed the whole thing. But Gabe caught the attempted exchange. She rolled her eyes again, but when she looked away, there was a small smile on her face.

Once the guys were seated at the rectangular table with their plates and cold beers, the girls stirred to fix their own plates. It was the sort of thing that Gabe usually grumbled about, though she didn’t truly seem to take issue with Dex or Monty. Most of her feminist views were directed outside the group, just as she seemed to put her cynicism for the holidays on hold to party with them, all the while talking about people selling out and Christmas being too commercial.

When they sat down with the guys, Michael came out to graze the offerings. Not big on Mexican food and not of age to participate in National Margarita Day, he had balked at the menu for the night. Elise watched him fill his plate with chips and queso. She had offered to make him tacos, but he’d harrumphed with the typical tween attitude and grumbled something that Elise took to mean no. He skated his eyes around the room, met hers for a moment, and then carted his plate of chips and cheese back out of the kitchen.

“Is Michael playing with you guys?” Elise asked Dex.

“He shot ten.” Dex swallowed a mouthful. “Swished ten. Kind of told us we suck.”

Bryn laughed softly.

“He’s playing something on his Xbox now.”

“You’re drinking a Manhattan?” Monty asked Elise. “On National Margarita Day?”

Elise paused with a forkful of rice over her plate and flicked her gaze from Monty to Gabe.

“Did you pay him? To say that?”

“I didn’t.” Gabe laughed. “But I might now.”

“You guys are drinking beer.” Elise pointed her fork at Monty’s bottle.

“It’s Mexican beer.”

“You girls should come down for a shootout,” Dex told them.

“I’m game.” Elise shrugged. “But you know I taught Michael how to shoot. So you know I’ll beat you.”

“Bet you can’t beat Monty,” Harrison grumbled.

“Bet I can.” Elise stared across the length of the table at Harrison and then turned to Monty.

“Challenge accepted.” He grinned.

Elise listened to the good-natured trash talk and the general conversation around her as she finished her dinner. Everyone here, other than her own son, seemed to appreciate the Mexican food she served. It made her happy to see her friends sharing a meal and laughter. It was enough to soothe away the bad feelings, the worry and the frustration with Jimmy and Diane, and that’s why she never considered cancelling their plans.

A night with good friends was always the best medicine. She would choose a night like this over a quiet night alone every time.

When the guys went back downstairs, Elise promised them she would be down to give them a tutorial on shooting a basketball. Monty and Harrison laughed, but Dex didn’t. He knew she had the perfect touch; she’d beat him too many times to count. She did notice the look exchanged between Gabe and Harrison, and again, she looked to see if Bryn had seen it.

“Stop doing that.” Gabe reached over the table and started stacking plates.

“Who’s doing what?” Bryn pulled back and looked under the table. “What’re you doing to Gabe?” she asked when she looked back at Elise.

“Well, I keep looking at you to see if you’re seeing all the little looks between Gabe and Harrison, but you’re not on your game tonight.”

“Wait.” Bryn shook her head. “What?”

“See?” Elise shrugged and rolled her eyes. “That’s what I’m saying.”

“There are no looks.”

“You seriously don’t think he’s good-looking?” Elise narrowed her eyes at Gabe and studied her suspiciously.

“Yes. He is.” Gabe tossed her hands up helplessly. “I told you. Either I sleep with him—in which case, one of us has to stop hanging out with you guys. Or he and I are friends.”

“So, since you’re both here.” Bryn turned her fork to drag the tines through what was left of the rice on her plate. “I guess that means you didn’t sleep with him on your Saturday shopping spree.”

“We couldn’t find a dressing room open,” Gabe said with a sarcastic smirk.

Elise snickered.

“No, I didn’t sleep with him!” Gabe laughed as she smacked the table. “I was getting ready to leave that morning. After you guys left. And as I stood up, he literally backed into me. He was on the phone. Didn’t see me. Almost took me out.”

“Wow. Intense phone conversation, huh?” Bryn nibbled on her lip.

“Well.” Gabe sighed. She stabbed a piece of chicken that she’d missed and then looked up at them. “That’s what I thought. He was calling the person Jillie Bean, and he said he loved her, but he was grinning at me. And I was like, there’s what’s wrong with the world. You don’t have a conversation like that in public, and you don’t smile at other women—”

“Girlfriend?” Elise asked.

“So. He smiled at you. Smiled. Like—?”

Gabe blinked at Elise and turned to Bryn silently.

“Well, I mean, if it bothered you…if it raised your hackles, it must have been a big, sexy smile—”

Gabe laughed softly. She rested her elbow on the table and plopped her chin in her hand. “I mean. Do you guys—? What? I get enough sex. I promise. I’m doing great. Why are you so concerned?”

“Because he’s a good guy,” Bryn answered. “Are you kidding me? He’s fun. He’s charismatic. He’s nice. And he’s good-looking. And he likes you.”

“Charismatic? Really?” Elise leaned back in her chair and lifted her legs to rest on the chair where Dex had been sitting.

“You don’t think so?” Bryn tipped her head and looked at Elise curiously.

“Well, yeah, I do. Just. The word. I mean. So…descriptive.”

“He is.” Gabe sighed. “Yes, he is. He’s all of the above. And if he likes me, it’s because we’re friends. I promise you. That’s it. We did spend that day together. And it was fun. The same way it’s fun to hang out with you guys.” Gabe pressed her lips together as if to stop herself from saying more. “Most of the time.”

“Who’s Jillie Bean?” Bryn asked her.

“His niece. He was doing some birthday shopping. He even buys for his sister-in-law. And he was returning stuff for his parents for Christmas. And we went to the grocery store.”

“The grocery store?” Bryn repeated. “You had fun at the grocery store?”

“Tim and Allison Dixon’s first date was at the grocery store,” Elise reminded Bryn. “They’ve been married five years now.”

“Oh my God.” Gabe rubbed her eyes and shook her head. “I’m not interested. I’m just not. Please don’t push this, because you’ll make it weird.”

“You know what?” Elise rested her head on the back of her chair. “It matters to me. That you have more than sex. You know why?”

“You’re gonna tell me, no matter what I say.”

“I am.” Elise closed her eyes. “I get it. Right now, you like your independence. Trust me, there are days I’d like my independence back.” When Bryn groaned softly, Elise took it to be an amen, so she continued, “But the last thing I would really want, Gabryel, is to wake up one day and be alone. Dex and Michael are everything to me. And yeah, Michael’s going to grow up and fly away, and that’s natural, and I will support him. That’s my job. To teach him to use those wings and fly away and find his own happiness.”

“Damn, Elise.” Bryn sighed.

“But I have Dex. I’m not in any hurry for Michael to grow up, but I love life with Dex. I’m ready for everything life throws at me, because he and I will live it together.”

Elise opened her eyes to see Bryn nodding along. Gabryel, at the other end of the table, ducked her head and dragged her fingers back through her short hair.

“I don’t know how,” she mumbled. “I don’t know how to live the life you do, and I don’t even know how to think the way you do. It’s not how I was raised.”

“Well, the first thing you do is be friends,” Bryn told her. “Because you have to be his friend before you can love him.”

“I’m not—”

Bryn held her hand up to stop Gabe. “I don’t mean Harrison. Just…in general. You’re not gonna find forever when you’re only looking for right now.”

“Elise!” Dex called from the staircase. “C’mon. You’re up.”

“Coming.” Elise sat up straight and put her feet down. “You guys coming down?”

“Yeah.” Bryn nodded. “We should clean this mess up first.”

“Later.” Elise shook her head. “Let’s go have some fun.”

Gabe was slow to climb to her feet. Elise watched her reach for her purse.

“I need a cigarette,” she said quietly.

“Lemme just beat the guys in free throws,” Elise said with a wink, “and then we can shoot some pool.” She grabbed the bottle of bourbon, intending to refresh her drink before heading downstairs. “Bryn? Need a refill?” She nodded at the pitcher of margaritas.

Gabe found her cigarettes and lighter, but she hesitated with them in hand, eyes on Elise.

“What?”

“You’re not…you guys aren’t pushing this with Dex and Monty, are you? Pushing for them to talk to Harrison?”

“No.” Elise shook her head slowly. “I promise it’s never come up.”

“Because I didn’t do that in junior high.” Gabe propped the cigarette between her lips. “And I don’t want to start playing those games now.”

“No games,” Elise said quietly. “Except those happening in the basement right now. Come on.”

“Skip the cigarette.” Bryn arched her eyebrows. “I dare you.”

Gabe smiled as she stepped toward the sliding door that led from Elise’s kitchen to the small patio out back.

“I didn’t play that game in junior high, either.”

 

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