Cigarettes, Light Beer & Baby Powder
by
JT Langdon

I really didn't mind sitting at the bar until a table was available. The chicken enchiladas at Manteca's were worth waiting for. Jackie was the hostess on Friday nights and she made sure I got settled at the bar, on the end, so I knew exactly where I was. I like her. She wears Obsession, just a dab behind the ears, I think, and her hand lotion smells like apricot. Maybe it isn't, but that's what it reminds me of, so that's what she is to me . . . Obsession and apricot.

The bartender asked me what I wanted. It wasn't Jim. He would have known to bring me an old-fashioned, sweet, with an olive. And Jim never doused himself in Aqua Velva. It was a bit much, almost enough to overpower all the other scents around me. But the new guy did have a deep baritone that was nice to listen to, another pleasing sound joining the clink of silverware, the droning hum of conversation.

I ordered my drink. The bartender who bathed in aftershave set it down in front of me. I heard the thump it made on the top of the bar, heard the ice cubes tinkle against the sides of the glass as they were tossed around. Jim would have known exactly where to set it down so I wouldn't have to grope for it in the darkness, but I could deal with new people when I had to. I felt around until my fingers touched cold, wet glass then I grabbed it, bringing it to my lips, taking a sip, relaxing a little.

It was perfect. Just how I liked it. If the second one was just as good (and I was definitely feeling like having a second one) it would make up for the cheap aftershave that kept assaulting me.

There was always a basket of tortilla chips and salsa at the bar, and Jim or Jackie (if she happened by) would have made sure they were to my right but I couldn't feel them.

"Where are the chips?"

There was no hint of aftershave in the air so I could have been talking to myself.

"Over here," a woman's voice told me.

"Over where?"

"To your left?"

I reached out, carefully felt around for them so I wouldn't knock the basket off the bar. When I found it I took a handful of chips and put them in front of me.

"May I join you?"

It was the helpful woman's voice again. Soft, melodic, easy on the ears, no trace of an accent, the kind of voice I might have heard on the radio or a book-on-tape.

"Sure," I said.

The woman sat down next to me. She reeked of cigarettes and cold. There was no smoking at Manteca's so I imagined her standing outside, in the chilly night air, savoring every last puff before coming inside. She was drinking light beer. It was a subtle difference, but I could tell.

Under the smell of cigarettes and beer there was something else, something I couldn't place. Not perfume, not soap or shampoo, not deodorant, but something else. Something new. I liked the newness.

"Crowded tonight," the woman said.

It must have been, with the wait and all. Not like I could have looked around and saw for myself. "Well, they have great food here."

"So I've heard."

"Never been here before?"

"Nope."

"What's your name?"

"Rachel. Yours?"

"Nori."

"That's pretty," she said.

I took a sip of my old-fashioned. "Are you here alone?"

"Mmhmm. Are you?"

It sounded like she was taking a sip of beer when she started to answer. Her voice had a sexy purr to it, more tiger than tabby, a purr with a dangerous edge to it. Had Rachel pegged me before she sat down?

"Yes," I said.

I caught a whiff of Obsession and apricot just a few seconds before I felt a hand on my right arm.

"Your table is ready," Jackie said.

I nodded, turned to my left. "If you don't feel like waiting, you can join me. I'd like the company."

"Love to," Rachel said.

Jackie seated me, made sure I was taken care of. She told us our waitress would be with us in a minute.

"So much to choose from," Rachel said.

I guessed she was reading the menu. Since I didn't need to I took a small sip of my drink, listened to the sounds around me, tried to figure out what the mystery scent was that Rachel wore. "It's all good. Trust me."

"Do you know what you're having?"

"Yes," I said. "Chicken enchiladas. Every time I come here I tell myself I'm going to get something different, but I never do. I guess I'm a creature of habit."

Rachel laughed. "If you enjoy it, why not?"

"Exactly."

The waitress came over to take our order. It was much longer than a minute, though. I guess they really were crowded. Not that I minded the delay. Rachel was easy to talk to, listened well, laughed at my jokes, never at loss for words, never let the conversation come to an uncomfortable halt. She decided on the beef chimichanga. Not a bad choice. I stuck with mine.

"This is a nice place," Rachel said.

I nodded. "Yeah. I'm very fond of it."

"My ex-girlfriend always wanted to come here."

There was it, finally, one of the issues out in the open. I let it hang there for a moment, imagining Rachel watching me, gauging my reaction.

I said, "My ex-girlfriend didn't like Mexican food. Which is one of the reasons she is now my ex-girlfriend."

Rachel laughed. "What were the other reasons?"

I sipped my drink. "Just one other, really. She was obsessed with looking good, wanted a lover who could appreciate her appearance."

Now the other issue was out there. I waited, drank a little, still couldn't figure out what she smelled like. Then I felt her hand slide over mine, pictured Rachel reaching across the table without having to close my eyes. Her touch was soft, gentle, kind, but I could imagine those hands being very naughty, too.

After dinner, I invited Rachel back to my apartment. It wasn't like me, but she wasn't like most women I met. She accepted the invitation. We made out in the cab. Nothing too hot and heavy. By the time we reached my place, though, I knew she was wearing a pullover sweater and jeans, that her breasts were larger than mine, supple, nice. She was a good kisser. No lipstick. The skin of her neck was very soft, and almost, well, chalky, and when I kissed her there Rachel whimpered a little.

I almost forgot to turn the light on for her when I led her into the apartment. It had been so long since I needed to worry about things like that.

"Nice place," Rachel said.

"Thanks."

"Very orderly."

I laughed. "I need to know where everything is."

She said, "I won't move anything."

"Where are you?"

"Here."

She came up behind me, hands moving over my hips as she pressed her lips to the back of my neck. I sighed, enjoyed her kisses there, turned to cover her mouth with mine. Her hands lingered on my hips a moment then moved upward, to my breasts. She was careful. Too careful.

"I won't break," I whispered against her lips.

"Where's the bedroom?"

"Down the hall."

"Now."

"Yes."

We pulled at each other's clothes, kissing, groping, pawing at each other, mostly naked when we fell into bed. She rolled us both over, putting me on back, kissing me, touching me, her hands setting me on fire, her kisses leaving me breathless. She fondled my breasts, used her thumb to tease my nipple hard, reached down to find I was incredibly wet for her. Where her hands went her lips followed and my body arched for her, wantonly, writhing uncontrollably as I gasped and moaned under her caresses. Rachel wrung me out twice before I got to return the favor. Her skin was soft, smooth, not flawless, but for me that only made her sweeter. I reveled in every imperfection, committing every part of her to memory by touch, taste, the perfumery scent of her skin that I still couldn't identify, and that other, heady, musky scent I knew very well. Her voice became thick and husky when I touched her down there, kissed her, dipped into her with my tongue until her body shuddered and her thighs quivered on either side of my head.

Afterward we lay together, her still on her back, me next to her, one arm draped over her belly, my head on her shoulder, both of us naked and sweaty and spent. It finally occurred to me what she smelled like.

"Baby powder," I whispered.

"What?"

"Your skin. It smells like baby powder."

"Yeah. I like to sprinkle some on after I shower."

I laughed and kissed her neck, breathing in the smell of her, the smell of cigarettes, light beer, and baby powder, the smell of Rachel.