When we leave the restaurant, I realize I am severely underdressed for the weather. It’s dropped to about zero degrees, and it’s snowing, and all I brought was my peacoat. Of course I knew that was a fucking stupid move when I was leaving, but cold is always a very distant theory until it’s gnawing at your face and ass. “Jed, I think I should go back and get some more clothes to put on…” I start.
“No, no, you don’t need more clothes,” Jean interjects. “Wear the Pastis jacket!” He hands me the half-finished bottle–er–half finished second bottle of Pastis. “It will protect you from the cold. Look at me–I’m not even wearing a coat as heavy as yours.” Yeah, and you just worked in the hot kitchen all night and weigh about two hundred pounds more than I do. Although I find fault with Jean’s argument, I take the Pastis and drink, feeling my belly and face warm up a bit as I do. It’s better than nothing, to be sure.
“Jed, want some Pastis jacket?”
“Nah, I’m good,” he grins, holding up his two already full hands, one with a joint and one with a beer.
“I see that,” I smirk. At least I haven’t seen him do anything hard since we’ve gotten here. Not that I’ve had my eye on him the whole time, or anything. Who knows whether he was taking pills while I was asleep in the car. Although I like to think he might care enough about me already not to put my life on the line for a temporary high, I also know that rationale is not solid…at all. “Jean, where are we going?”
“Ask Bette and Louis. I never choose. But we usually go to the same places. Bette and Louis know where the fun is; I just follow along and enjoy.” Louis turns around, looks at me playfully, and says,
“Why do you need to know?”
“Have you read Alice in Wonderland?”
“So remember the part when Alice asks the Cheshire cat which way she should go at the fork in the road?”
“And he asks her where she’s trying to go.”
“Right, and she says she doesn’t know…”
“And so he says that, in that case, it doesn’t matter which path she takes.”
“OK, Mr. Party Philosophy 101…I get it. Take me down your rabbit hole…I’m in…Why did that sound so dirty? I don’t really know what I’m saying…let’s just go…” The cooks trailing behind us laugh at me in a sort of well-orchestrated movie effects kind of way, and I giggle, taking another swig of Pastis. This Pastis jacket concept isn’t too bad, actually. We stop and turn into a smallish alley, and Bette turns around to me and asks,
” ‘ave you ever been to a strip club?” I smirk, thinking about how the last time I’d been was before getting arrested for drunk driving. Great. At least Jed is in charge of driving the Rush-mobile. She opens the strangely warped wooden door and nods toward the inside, signaling for us to go in.
The warmth of the bar causes my cold face to go immediately ruddy, and I imagine I must look like something in between a young woman and an old Irish man, but not in the post-plastic surgery Joan Rivers kind of way. I laugh at this.
“What’s so funny?” Jed asks, his face starting to look relaxed and dazed from all the drinking and smoking.
“Everything, don’t you think?”
“Yes, my lady.” We sit down at a large table just off the bar, and Jean shows up with two brimming pitchers of beer and a tray of whiskeys for everyone. Jesus H. Christ.
“Well, everyone,” Jean begins, in all his sweaty, drunken glory, “We are lucky to meet two young travelers tonight. While they may be Americans, we will forgive them this for the simple reason that it is a gift to enjoy the company of young lovers experiencing life’s great gifts of food, drink, and good company. They uphold the values we prize in our lives, and it’s comforting to see that a next generation of people are safeguarding the institution of bounty and excess. To l’amour!”
“L’amour!” Everyone shouts. And just then, I see her on the stage. A familiar face on a naked body…the receptionist from our hotel!
“Oh my God, Jed–it’s her! The hotel receptionist!” Jed looks toward the stage and chuckles.
“Shit…” She dances toward the edge of the stage, catches my eye, and winks.
“So, I see you’ve met Clara, probably at your hotel?” Louis catches on quickly. “She tends to direct people she finds interesting to Jean’s restaurant because she knows he herds people in here like flocks of sheep. She’s been a friend for years. When she’s done with her shift, she’ll come hang out.”
“Damn, good thing we listened to her dinner advice,” Jed says.
“Shut up!” I punch him in the knee cap, feigning jealousy. Am I feigning anymore? I’m not so sure.
“So you’re a cook?” Jean sidles over to me from the other end of the table and sits in a free chair.
“Yeah…but I don’t have a place to work right now. It’s hard, you know? Trying to understand if all the work is worth it at a fancy place or whatever.”
“Well…if you love the food, you don’t have to think so hard. Like anything else. I love my kids. I hate when they fucking wet the bed and I have to change their sheets at four in the morning when all I want to do is sleep. But it’s worth it. You love the food? You understand why you’re taking the trash out at three in the morning or scraping grease off the fucking oven. There’s just no choice in the matter.”
“Oui,” I giggle. It is a little wise, but I’m drunk, so it’s also funny.
“You speak French?”
“What is enough?”
“Enough to shut the fuck up and say oui.”
“Ah, oui,” he laughs.
“Am I interrupting?” I feel a hand snake around my shoulder and turn toward the voice. Oh, shit…it’s this Clara bitch…
“No…no, not at all,” I stammer. She’s way prettier than I realized back at the hotel. And the inkling of badass I got before has gone full blown in the context of the strip club. She’s put on a pair of tight black jeans and a rust colored silk blouse and still managed to come off sexier than when she was almost completely naked ten minutes ago…amazing…
“So, surprise…” she smirks.
“Yeah…you played us right into your trap, huh? Do you bring all the cute American tourists into this little set-up, then?”
“What does that mean?”
“I have a theory that people who have seen a darker side of life stick to each other…like platelets…It’s an unconscious effort to heal the wound…”
“What makes you think we’re wounded?”
“What makes you think you’re not?” I follow her gaze to Jed, who looks happy but hopeless, as usual. I laugh.
“OK, but me?”
“You’re content in life?”
“Well…no…but contentedness seems lazy…I’m just hungry for more…”
“We’re not all the same, but you don’t see any…how do you Americans call it…basic bitches around here…do you?” She laughs.
“No! No basic bitches! That is true,” I laugh. Fair enough. Platelet people it is.
“And besides…I get a sense of loss from you, somehow. You’re having fun, but you have a guard up. You’re not letting yourself be with him…easily.”
“Maybe that’s not exactly what I’m into,” I smirk, pointedly.
“Ah, oui, but either way, I think maybe you are.”
Bette comes over and saves me from the strange direction this conversation is going in, and I’m relieved. “Can I get you two another drink?” she asks.
“You know, yes, but I don’t know what I want.”
“Well, young lady, it’s a bit too late to tell you to stick to one thing, so your guess is as good as mine.”
“This is true. How about a beer and a whiskey again. I can try to stick to that.”
“The same. You know, I’m a bit tired after my shift. Would anyone like to…get less tired?” She grins and taps her nose with a well-manicured finger. Well, it’s not as though the night seemed like it would end anytime soon, anyway.
“Ouaaaiiiiiiii” all the cooks and Jean chime in, clearly excited that cocaine has made an appearance in the conversation.
“Wayyyyy!” Jed adds.
“Fuck it,” I agree, as she passes around a small bag and spoon. The bag goes around the circle until it’s out.
“No worries; I have more for in a bit,” she says. The bitterness invades the back of my throat as I perk up a little. “How is that?” Clara asks, looking me over.
“Want some more?”
“Ah, oui, but I can’t find the spoon anymore…” she smiles, tucking it into her pocket. “But I know a good surface.” She jumps up backwards and has a seat on the bar, spins sideways, and lays down. Before I can process the situation, she’s topless with a roughly poured line between her tits. Well this is occurring…I’m highly amused by the situation and completely ecstatic that I agreed to go to Canada with Jed. This is hilarious, ridiculous, and all the debauchery I ever wanted and more. Well, maybe.
“How can I be so sure this is coke?” I joke, and I stick my finger in her mouth, wet it, use it to pick up some of the powder off her chest, and rub it on my gums. She looks surprised and amused. “Yep, it seems to be…” I bend down and stick my face between her breasts, snorting up about half of the coke and missing the rest. We’re both laughing uncontrollably by now, and Jean appears out of nowhere and licks up all the rest off her body. “Jesus, man!”
“Jean would replace powdered sugar on his donuts with blow if he could; don’t be concerned,” Clara laughs.
“Evidently!” Clara sits up and leans close.
“I liked your finger in my mouth,” she whispers in my ear. “But–”
“Oh, hello, I see you’ve met my lady,” Jed appears, wide-eyed.
“Monsieur Jed, hello…”
“Thanks for your recommendation earlier. The restaurant was incredible. And this…this is not bad, either, he says, glancing at her still naked chest.
“I thought you might like it,” she says, as she puts her shirt back on. “Come, let’s dance.”