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PART SEVENTY-THREE

As the trio dined, wined and verbalized, Craft Street had gone from busy to bursting at the seams. Stacie looking around the restaurant declared, “We’re filling up a table and not buying anything. We should go. Unless we want to order dinner?”

“No,” Karla replied, “I’m way too worked up to eat. That Buffalo cauliflower was good though.”

“Yeah,” Stacie replied, swiveling her head in search of Loren, “I don’t know how many times I’ve been here, and I’ve literally been disappointed once. Some kind of chicken and dumpling thing that just didn’t hit it for me. I don’t know who comes up with their menu items, but I love how they’re old and new at the same time.”

Loren hurried from a table toward the kitchen and Stacie held up her left hand to catch their server’s attention. Loren slowed, her brows raised, and Stacie mouthed the word ‘check.’ Loren quickly raised and then lowered her left index finger, nodding and smiling in return, and then resumed her quick-step walk to the kitchen.

“How about you Suzann? You need dinner?”

“No, indeed. Three Moscows and the cauliflower were sufficient. So, where to? Karla? Do you feel safe going home?”

Karla screwed up her right cheek, raising her eyebrow and squinting. “Honestly? No. But I don’t know where else to go.”

“You guys want to come to my place?” Stacie asked. “It’s, like, three miles? Suzann? Do I need to swing you back to school first?”

“Oh, no! I’d better go with you. That third Mule has my head spinning. If you’re offering us a place where I might sober up, I’ll take you up on it.”

“Who’s the lightweight now?” Karla asked with a smirk.

“I think my Mules pack a bigger kick than your beers,” Suzann answered with a chuckle.

A medium sized, brown-haired man came to the table and slid into the booth next to Stacie. “Why, Brian. Fancy meeting you here,” she said. “Brian, these are my friends Suzann and Karla. Girls, Brian. Brian’s the manager.”

“Ladies,” Brian replied with a smile and nod. “How was everything?”

“Delicious, as usual. You need to give everyone raises,” Stacie said with a grin.

“Well, I could,” Brian said, slipping the check in the middle of the table, “but then I’d have to raise prices. Glad everything was good. Ladies, a pleasure. Stace, thank you again for coming. I’ll catch you next time.”

As Brian departed Suzann said, “That one’s handsome too.”

“You know you’ve said that about everyone, right?” Karla chided.

“So, what? When you get to be my age, all the young men are handsome. May I see that please?” she asked, pointing to the check that Stacie had picked up.

Stacie knit her brows together. “I thought I was paying?”

“No. You pay for drinks, I pay for cauliflower. Remember?” she asked, looking at the bill. “And I get three for the price of two,” she said, slipping cash into the leatherette check holder.

“Well,” Karla said, eyes averted to her telephone, “thank you both. I appreciate everything you’re doing for me and Skylar. Oh, looks like I missed a call. Better call it back.”

“Who is it?” Stacie asked.

“Girl!? I own’t know. I ain’t got no fancy phone,” she declared, lifting her phone skyward. “This is a disposable. Maybe someday I’ll join the Twenty-First Century. And no voice mail. Why own’t people leave voice mails no more?” she sighed, shaking her head and shoving the phone back in her bag.

Loren came and collected the bill, processed the check and returned to the table with the credit card. “Well, thank you all for coming in,” she said, smiling at the women. “See you soon, Stacie.”

“Thanks, Loren,” Stacie said, slipping her credit card in her wallet and her wallet in her purse. “See ya later.”

Rising from the table she added, “Well, away we go like a herd of turtles, as my dad likes to say.” Suzann and Karla fell into ranks behind Stacie as she spearheaded their way through the throngs to the exit.