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I Don't Care!

Entering the lounge from the outside my eyes adjusted to the dimness after the bright light outside. I let my gaze travel around the room taking in the surroundings and the customers at the tables and bar. This was my first time here and I was orienting myself, not only to this lounge, but also to the city I now found myself in.

After six months of job hunting I had found myself here in this mid-western city. Lucky enough to find a job, even if it paid less than I was making before, I was in the process of learning my new home. My studio apartment was adequate for the needs of a single man. It had a fine little kitchenette where I could prepare meals. I had cooked all my life. That was no problem. But I did love the company of people. I could not stay there all of the time.

I had found many nice little local diners and restaurants to eat out when it pleased me. And I enjoyed sharing the ambience with others. I ate out maybe 3 or 4 times a week. I was becoming known in some places by the waitstaff and the even the cooks in the smaller, less elegant joints. I had been to a few bars and lounges and had not found what I would call a "home" yet. I always loved to have a place to call my own, where I was known and liked.

So I at last came to this lounge about 3 blocks from my apartment building. Well within walking distance, so there was no worry about driving under the influence. I could enjoy myself and still just walk home when I was ready to leave. I was so hoping to have found a nice place to establish some friendships. To feel welcome.

The best move in a new place was always to sit at the bar and get to know the bartenders. They knew all the regulars and all the gossip and they were the ones you wanted on your side. You wanted them to like you if at all possible. So I strolled over to the center of the bar running the length of the room and took a stool. Of course there was a mirror behind the bar so one could check out the whole room.

The bartender approached and I smiled at him.

"What's your pleasure?"

"I'll have a 7 and 7 to start thanks. Can I run a tab?"

"Sure, no problem."

"I'm Cliff. I'm new in town."

"Hello Cliff. Welcome to Shadows. Call me Bill."

"Thanks. Thanks a lot Bill."

He brought me my drink but it was busy so he did not linger. The bar was filling up. When I arrived there had been only a scattering of people around the room. Over in a corner was a mousy little thing. Not overly pretty but she had a certain charm about her. There were a few other ladies and men around the room, but for some reason she had caught my eye.

She had her brunette hair in a short wave to her shoulders. Her simple dress was flowered and was sleeveless in accommodation to the summer weather. But I saw a sweater next to her in case the A/C became too strong. I saw she was nursing a pink drink of some kind. I was in no rush to meet her. I wanted to be liked around here and not known as the one always hitting on the girls. So I returned to my drink.

The evening wore on. I carried on a sporadic conversation with Bill, getting to know him and letting him get to know me. And finally I knew I had reached my limit.

"Say, Bill. Can I pay up now. I need to leave."

"Sure Cliff. Here's your ticket. Hope you liked Shadows."

"I did. I'll be back soon. Keep the change."

So, I had found a nice place. I would be back, indeed. I walked home in about 15 minutes and went to bed. I had my job to get to tomorrow and I had to keep making a good impression there, too. I was liking my new home.

Two days later, after having dinner at a little burger joint I went to Shadows again. This time I was glad to see that Bill was on duty behind the bar again. I would not have to get to know a new barkeep. I also noticed the little mouse over in the corner, nursing her pink drink again.

"Hey Bill. Nice to see you."

"You too Cliff. 7 and 7 again?"

"Sure, thanks for remembering."

"We aim to please."

He brought my drink and I thanked him. Then, as he was not too busy, I asked about the little lady in the corner. He got a tense look in his eyes.

"She's special. Her name is Lucinda. Let me tell it straight. If she gets hurt by anyone it would be bad for that person. Understood?"

"Let's be clear, Bill. I am not a horn dog. Understand that please. I have never hurt any lady in my life. Never would. Okay?"

"We'll just leave it there, Cliff. I thought you were okay. I want to keep thinking that."

Bill was a little short with me for awhile during the evening but he finally cooled down. We had a good chat whenever he was not busy. Again I reached my limit, paid my tab, and left Bill his tip. Another lonely walk home. Another day of work the next day. But the little lady was haunting my thoughts.

That Saturday I made my own dinner. I couldn't afford to eat out every night. I was on a budget of sorts. But I left room in the budget for my visits to Shadows. I went there after cleaning up after my meal. It was about 8 in the evening.

The lounge was full. I walked towards the bar but it was full. I waved at Bill. He waved back and went back to work. Looking around I noticed my little brunette was at her table in the corner. A man was leaning over her. I was not close enough to hear anything, and couldn't over the music in any case. But I saw a look in her eyes that told me something not too good was happening.

I strolled slowly over. I was still new here. I was still feeling my way. It would not be a good idea to get into something without understanding the situation. As I approached her table the brunette glanced into my eyes and I saw what I knew was a pleading look.

"Hi Lucinda. I hope I'm not too late. Boy, it's busy tonight. Are you going to need a new drink soon?"

"Oh hi. I was wondering where you were. This is John. I don't really know him."

"Well, John, I wonder if you would let me into the booth with Lucinda? Nice to meet you."

He glared at me. I smiled back. I kept smiling as I sat across from Lucinda.

"Hi Lucinda. Hi Cliff. Do you two need drinks?"

It was Bill. I had not even noticed him approaching. Behind him was Todd, the bouncer. John glanced at them, at me, at Lucinda, and decided he might as well be on his way. He made a wise choice. Now I had to make one.

"Lucinda, I was just helping out. I can leave. Bill, thanks for the backup."

"The lady is her own woman, and she can make up her own mind. Do you want another drink Lucinda? And should I bring Cliff his 7 and 7?"

"Thanks so much Bill. You can have Cindy bring me my usual. And I would be glad to share a drink with Cliff. He really was helping me. You're the best Bill."

So I spent the evening talking with a most interesting and intelligent woman. As I said, she was no beauty, but her looks were never what I was interested in anyway. She was honest, bright, and entertaining. I found we shared a love of Baroque music, as well as alternative rock. We liked the same artists and our reading lists were almost a match. Well-educated, she was a charmer and perfect as far as I could tell.

Finally, I told her I had to leave. I asked if I could escort her to her car or the subway.

"Oh, no, Cliff. I'm fine. I have my own way home. I had a lovely time. I'd love to see you here again sometime."

"Good, then you will. We'll just leave it open then. Ciao, Lucinda."

I went up to the bar, paid my tab and tried to pay Lucinda's. I was not allowed to do so. Apparently that was not something one could do.

Waving goodnight to Lucinda and the room I left for my little studio apartment. It had been a great night.

This began a new phase in my life. I was at Shadows almost every night now. And Lucinda was almost always there. But not always. When she was not there I spent my time getting to know the other bartenders and the waitstaff, male and female. It was a friendly place. Mostly. The bouncer Todd had to do a little business on occasion. John was one he finely threw out after he kept hounding the women.

When Lucinda was there she always arrived before me. Finally she told me that she was there from opening until closing. It was her true home. She hated to go to her own apartment. But here she felt safe and wanted. Being incredibly shy, she had taken months to really get to know the staff there, but now they all adored here.

She seldom spent time with any men. I think I may have been the first in a very long time. I felt a certain pride in that. We did enjoy ourselves, and I did not ever see her frowning while I was there. Her smile kept the lounge well lit. But I always left before her. Even when I stayed until closing she never allowed me to escort her home. I always left first. It was odd. But I really didn't care.

At last the inevitable occurred. I don't know how she could keep it up forever. I left at final call one night and started walking home, after having said goodnight to all my new friends. I was halfway home when I realized I had left my wallet on the counter when I paid my tab. I had no doubt that Bill or someone else would set it aside for me. But I wanted all the identification and cards. The lounge would not re-open until 2 in the afternoon the next day. I didn't want to wait that long.

Turning around, I hoped to catch them before they locked up for the night. As I came around the corner nearing the front doors I noticed a taxicab at the curb. Waiting by the car was the driver. Out of the door came Bill, and he was pushing a wheelchair. Lucinda was in it.

This was the secret.

I turned around and went to my apartment.

The next night I was at Shadows. Lucinda was in her booth. Bill was behind the bar.

I went down the hall past the restrooms. I went into the janitor's closet and found it. The chair.

I pushed it out to the main room. Bill looked up and started around the end of the bar. I rolled up to Lucinda's table. She was aghast. I could see the fear in her face. We had become so close. This was how it was going to end. I sat in the wheelchair.

I looked deep into her eyes and then I said what I needed to say.

"I don't care!"

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