Kitchi Falls, Finger Lakes, NY
“My nephew is one of those—what do you call them? Naked dancers?”
Dorothy reached across the counter, taking my money as if she had not just said “naked dancers.” The town gossip and retired schoolteacher had surprised me many times over the years, but this one took the cake.
“Um, do you mean male entertainer?” I ventured, not one hundred percent comfortable with this conversation’s major U-turn. We were talking about my sister-in-law’s bachelorette party, which of course, the co-owner of Devine Bakery had already heard about. And then, boom! Naked dancers.
“Sounds like a fancy word for a stripper. That’s what I meant to say.” Dorothy handed me a bag of cinnamon donuts and my change, which I promptly tossed in the tip jar.
“I had no idea you had a nephew in Nashville.”
“I’d be surprised if your paths hadn’t crossed,” she said. “He was here for almost a month one summer.”
“I don’t think I remember him.” Granted, my bad memory was only one of my many faults.
“It was a long time ago,” she said as the tinkling sound of a bell above the door announced a new customer. “I think you were both in middle school.”
“Morning, Dorothy,” a new voice called. “Dominica. Always good to see you. Like two rays of sunshine.”
Dorothy stepped out of the way as Rob Smith moved to the counter. A good friend of Dominca’s father and owner of half the town, including the grocery store next door, he was as much a staple of the community as Dorothy and her husband, Rich.
“I was just telling Dominica about my nephew,” Dorothy said, “a singer in Nashville.” Giving me a sharp look I interpreted as keep the stripper thing quiet, she continued doing what she did best. Spill the tea. “Dominica and some of the girls are going down there for a bachelorette party this weekend. Can you imagine? I didn’t even have a bachelorette party, never mind getting on a plane to Nashville for it. Kids these days.”
She acted as if my friends and I were fresh out of high school. Of all my friends, I was the youngest at twenty-five, not exactly a kid anymore.
“You’re always on the go,” Rob said. “I thought your mother was a firecracker, but you’re the busiest of the bunch, aren’t you?”
An understatement. “That’s what they say.”
“Your dad was just telling me they never see you these days.”
I tried hard not to roll my eyes. That sounded just like my dad. “He was literally at the winery two days this week. And as the only sibling still actually living with my parents, I’d say he sees me more than most.”
My dad was still having a hard time with retirement. It would be a year this spring since he and Mom passed the family winery on to my siblings and me, but the adjustment was proving difficult for him. Understandable, since he’d built it from the ground up.
“Don’t shoot the messenger,” Rob said.
Attempting to change the subject, I tried to escape. “I have to get these back to the vineyard before I get a hangry text from Thayle, who’s covering the Wine Barn for me.”
“Tell Antonio’s girl I said hello.”
Antonio’s girl. Honestly, sometimes it seemed like we were still living in the 1950s in this town.
“Don’t go without Hudson’s number,” Dorothy said, stopping me. I couldn’t tell her in front of Rob that I didn’t need it. Pretty sure saying We already have tickets to a male revue, but thank you very much would raise an eyebrow, not to mention I’d be spilling Dorothy’s secret. She had nothing to be ashamed of, but since Rob Smith had a standing poker night with my father, advertising our Nashville itinerary, including the male revue, wasn’t on my to-do list today.
“Is your brother ready to get hitched?” Rob asked as Dorothy wrote down her nephew’s number on a business card. I briefly considered telling her she could text it to me but then nixed the idea as I stared at the old-fashioned cash register on the counter.
“My parents are ready for him to marry, that’s for sure. They’re still afraid Brooke will change her mind. He can be tough sometimes.”
Rob waved his hand in dismissal. “I don’t believe that for a second. I haven’t met a Grado who’s anything but charming, Cosimo included.” We locked eyes and began laughing at the same time. “Okay,” he amended, “I’ll admit Marco is also a bit of a handful.”
Rob was one of the only people who used our full names instead of nicknames. And he was right on that point, Marco was charming for sure. Maybe too much, though. “Bit of a handful? I think you’re forgetting the time he put your bar’s muscat in his pickup and took it to the football field.”
“That one is hard to forget,” he said as Dorothy handed the card to me.
“But to be fair,” she chimed in, “my son instigated that particular prank. And it was quite a few years ago.”
“He hasn’t matured much,” I said of my brother. “But to answer your question, Cos is more than ready. And we’re thrilled to have Brooke as a part of the family.”
“One dozen cinnamon, please,” Rob said to Dorothy. “She seems like a really nice woman. Your dad adores her.”
“We all do,” I said sincerely. “Thanks for this.” I lifted up the card to Dorothy. “We’ll be sure to connect with him. To hear his . . . music.” I gave her a conspiratorial wink, and for a change, she was on the defensive. Usually, Dorothy was like a pit bull using Devine Bakery as a front for gossip collecting.
I turned over the card. Hudson Parker. Without the heart to tell her we probably wouldn’t connect since one male revue in five days was probably enough, I slipped the Devine Bakery card into my purse and thanked her, preparing to snag a cinnamon donut well before I arrived back to the estate.
“I’d kill for that,” I said.
We watched Donny head out the back door hand in hand with his wife. Unlike most of the guys at Encore, he was properly hitched and happy about it. Truth be told, I envied the guy.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Oliver packed up with most of the guys heading out for the night, but I had another gig to get to. “One woman for the rest of your life. Think about it.”
That earned Oliver a snicker from the others. I had been working with Encore for nearly two years, and while these guys could be boneheads, I counted them all as friends, even though they knew full well I wasn’t just like them. Being fawned over by women who saw nothing but a six-pack and no brains in my head wasn’t my idea of a good time. Not that the women I danced for would ever know it. I took my job as seriously as possible given the nature of it. The women came here for a good time. To blow off steam, get away from their real lives for a few hours, and I delivered.
But that didn’t mean working as a male entertainer lent itself to meeting the woman of my dreams. Far from it.
“Where you headed? Maybe we’ll come with you,” Oliver said.
“Outlaw.” I smiled.
“No, thanks,” he said, slapping me on the shoulder. “You’re on your own. Are you closing it down?”
“Yep.” I couldn’t resist ribbing my friend a little. “Should I tell Shayla you said hello?”
“You can be a real asshole sometimes.”
Looked like Oliver and the pretty bartender at Outlaw Alehouse were not getting back together anytime soon.
Snickering, I finished packing up. “Guilty as charged.”
“Speaking of being guilty, I heard what you did for that bachelorette from Thursday night. Class act, man. How did it happen?”
Slinging my guitar over one shoulder and a gym bag over the other, I shrugged. I was usually off on Thursdays, but this week the bar downstairs was short-staffed. In addition to this gig, and playing guitar wherever I could get the stage, I occasionally picked up a few bartending hours too. Which was how I’d gotten roped into an impromptu striptease for a bachelorette party at the bar.
“I overheard someone ask why she wasn’t upstairs at the male revue. There was no mistaking her as anything other than a bride,” Oliver said.
“What did she say?”
I thought back to two nights ago. “She said they couldn’t afford it. That she begged her friends not to go overboard, to save their money for the wedding.”
“But she could afford a bachelorette party in Nashville?”
“Locals,” I said.
“Locals? On Broadway? That’s strange.”
“I thought so too, but apparently one of the women was an out-of-towner, so they were showing her the strip.”
“So you felt bad, pumped up the music and gave the woman a complimentary dance?”
I smiled, remembering her expression when I’d hopped on the bar in front of her. “I did.”
“Got himself a nice slap on the wrist,” added Mike, our resident dancing firefighter, both on the stage and in real life.
We had a license to perform up here, above the bar, for the show. Not so much below. But it was worth it. She and her friends thanked me a hundred times.
“Shit.” Oliver had gone to the door, opened it, and shut it so quickly every one of us knew who was on the other side of that door.
“Who’s she here for?” Mike asked.
At least every other night a woman, or an entire group of women if we were especially unlucky, waited for one of the guys at our back entrance.
“Who do you think?” Oliver looked pointedly at me.
“Parker,” Mike said. “Always Parker.”
The other guys laughed.
“Is she hot?” one of them asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “I’ve got to get to Outlaw.”
Oliver sighed before I could even ask him to talk to them. I sighed in relief, because I did have a gig to get to, but more importantly, I really didn’t want to deal with these women. Some of the others had no problem turning the overzealous women away, but for me, it was my least favorite part of the job. I was here to make a few bucks and put a smile on some faces, not to let them down.
“I owe you one,” I said to him, heading toward the front. I figured by now the stage area would be cleared out. If I was lucky, I could sneak out by taking the stairs down to the bar and heading right out the front door. And if not . . . I was about to potentially get mobbed by a few dozen horny women.