As I walked back inside, I heard Country fussing to Gladys, “I’ll never understand why you won’t hire more help.”
“Don’t need more help.”
“The hell you don’t. If you had a man around, then shit like that wouldn’t happen, and even if it did, you’d have somebody to handle it.”
“Haven’t had a man work here since your grandfather, and I don’t plan on changing that any time soon. Besides, Marlowe handled it just fine.” Gladys motioned her head towards the door as she told him, “Now, why don’t you and your little friend there head on out. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do.”
“Don’t even know why I bother.” Country stood, and as he started towards the door, he looked over to me and pleaded, “Talk some fucking sense into her, will ya?”
Knowing Gladys would’ve had my hide if I answered, I simply smiled and watched as he walked out the front door. Just as the door started to close, I spotted Ford’s cab pulling up to the curb. Once he’d stumbled over and gotten inside, I looked over to Gladys and said, “Looks like Ford’s finally gone.”
“About time.” I started clearing off the last of the tables when Gladys announced, “Time for you to be heading on home.”
“I know. I’m almost done. I just have to sweep.”
“That can wait until tomorrow.”
“Aren’t you always saying don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today?” I teased as I finished wiping down a table. “Besides, it’s not like I have anything to rush home to.”
“Just not right.” Gladys crossed her arms as she frowned. “Pretty, smart girl like you should have herself a feller to go home to.”
“Well, no such luck. It’s just me and me alone.”
“You’re wrong about that, hun.” She gave me a stern look as she continued, “Just like you told Ford earlier, we’re family around here, and as long as we’re around, you ain’t never gonna be alone.”
She was right. They were my family. I’d never really known what it was like to have one until now, and there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to protect each and every one of them—nothing.
Country and I were about to head over to Stilettos for our night’s rotation when he mentioned wanting to stop by Crockett’s and check in on Gladys. Apparently, she’d had some issues with the bar’s cooler, and he wanted to see if he could get it going again. I didn’t mind. I’d always liked Crockett’s. Gladys was cool as shit. I loved how she always found a way to put Country in his place. There was no way in hell I’d pass up a chance to see that, and there was also the fact Marlowe would be there.
When we walked in, the place was pretty quiet. There were just a few regulars sitting around having a beer while Gladys and Marlowe stood behind the bar fiddling with the cooler. She started working at Crockett’s about a year ago. I was actually surprised to hear Gladys had hired someone. She’d always run the place on her own but hiring Marlowe ended up being one of the best things she could’ve done. Marlowe busted her ass, and she did it with a fucking smile. The customers loved her, and Gladys thought she hung the moon. And she wasn’t the only one.
From the first time I laid eyes on Marlowe, I was enamored. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was about her that had piqued my interest. She wasn’t like the other women I’d hooked up with in the past. Marlowe was beautiful, there was no doubt about that, but she was quiet and timid—at least she was with me. I’d seen the way she smiled at her customers, rested her hand on their shoulders, and talked like they were old friends, and they ate that shit up. I, on the other hand, didn’t get that interaction with her. Instead, she’d just glance at me from afar, but there was something about the way she looked at me that made me think she wanted to be closer—much closer.
As we made our way over to the cooler, I couldn’t help but notice how incredible Marlowe looked. She was wearing a white off-the-shoulder blouse with jeans and boots, and her long dark hair was down. She wasn’t wearing much makeup, but then again, she didn’t fucking need it. Marlowe was one of those girl-next-door types—a natural beauty with a look of innocence in her eyes, and when she glanced at me in that way she did, I could feel it right down to my knees.
Country broke my train of thought when he dropped his tools down on the counter and said, “Okay, you two. Clear out so Rafe and I can take a look.”
“I think the condenser is shot,” Gladys told him without budging from her spot. “Doubt you’ll be able to fix it.”