The Lady in the Red Hat
by Pat Cloutier
“Meet me at Earls at 5:00 p.m. I’ll be the one in the red hat. Happy Valentine’s Day.” Smack! The bold, handwritten page adorned with a smattering of hearts was sealed with the unmistakable pucker of a luscious red hot chili pepper lipstick kiss. I trembled with the excitement of a schoolgirl as I fed the juicy invitation into the fax machine at work, and quickly punched in his number. Would he know it was me? Would he think I was being silly? Would he be away from his desk or even out of the office for the rest of the day? Sudden panic paralyzed me. I held on tightly to the sheet of paper, feeling an irrepressible urge to pull my daring invitation out of the fax machine before it was swallowed up into the unknown. No…little tug. Yes…release. No…little tug. Yes…Release. The message disappeared into the abyss. Too late.
“What do I do now?” I asked myself, suddenly feeling very foolish. “I have no choice. I’ve got to show up!” The butterflies in my stomach were bouncing off the walls trying to make their way up and out. “Oh….it’ll be fun!” I assured myself. “They do it in the movies all the time. Play dates for couples at the bar.”
“But what if he doesn’t show up? What if someone else picks up the fax?” my worried parent voice exclaimed.
“Oh, don’t be such a teenager, for heaven’s sake!” I berated myself. “You’re a mature woman. You can do this. It’s sexy and fun.”
I finished off the day wearing the red cowgirl straw hat with the silver buckle that I had picked up in San Antonio on a winter holiday. After all, it was Valentine’s Day. Everyone was wearing red, and it was a great look with my jean skirt and jacket.
As the day drew to a close, I became more and more nervous. “I wonder if he’ll get into role too,” I asked myself. I imagined him sauntering in like Robert Redford, walking straight towards me with his sky blue (hazel really) eyes glued to mine until we were inches apart. He would gently but firmly slip his arm around my waist; slowly remove my red cowgirl hat from San Antonio with the silver buckle; smile, and tilt my head back only enough to bring his warm moist lips to mine for a prolonged sensuous kiss. There would be a drop jaw silence in the bar with all heads turning to savour the embrace with envy. Sigh…I found myself swept away with this romantic, or as some might say, “edgily lusty” daydream, which drifted in and out of my thoughts throughout the rest of the seemingly endless day.
At precisely 4:30 p.m., I made a bee line towards the exit. As I burst through the door, dizzy with excitement, I came to a skidding stop. “Oh, no! It’s snowing!” I cried out in despair as the huge flakes forced me to squint, visibility reduced to merely a few feet ahead. “I hope I can make it on time,” I fretted. Turning my collar up, I forged my way to the car, gaining confidence with every step. “No reason to panic, lady,” I reminded myself. “Drive slowly and safely. This is not the first time you’ve had to battle the winter elements in Manitoba.”
4:50 p.m. Despite the hazardous driving conditions, my destination was clearly in sight. It had taken less time than I thought. I found a parking spot, remembered to lock the doors, and scampered into the vestibule at Earls. As I stomped the snow off my feet, I removed my red cowgirl straw hat from San Antonio with the silver buckle, shook off the snow, and quickly placed it back on my head before making my way in through the revolving doors.
4:55 p.m. I had arrived with five minutes to spare. The warmth of the restaurant and bar, seasonably decorated with red hearts, greeted me at the door along with a dazzling smile from the young and cheerful hostess. After a few polite exchanges, I quickly glanced around the room. Whew! He wasn’t there yet. It never was his style to arrive early. I would have time to catch my breath, check my appearance in the ladies’ room, and put on a fresh coat of red hot chili pepper lipstick. I would then calmly enter the bar, find a romantic spot with a round table and two bar stools, most fitting for the occasion, I thought.
Soon after, feeling quite alluring, I sauntered into the room, and executed my plan. Perched confidently on the stool, I glanced up at the bartender, and gave him a sophisticated nod, well aware that all eyes were on me. Of course they were…I stood out like a lady wearing a red cowgirl straw hat from San Antonio with a silver buckle in a Winnipeg bar on a snowy February 14th evening. I was obviously waiting for someone, maybe my special man, or perchance, any man. Time would tell, and time was beginning to tell.
It was 5:15 p.m. I gave the bartender an assertive look. He quickly responded, serving me the red (of course) crantini I had ordered on a red heart-shaped coaster. As all experienced bartenders, well trained in their field to assess various situations and to read body language fluently, he slipped me a flirtatious wink and a smile before returning his attention to the growing number of patrons in the bar on this Valentine’s Day at Earls.
I sipped intentionally slowly, so as not to appear too nervous or eager. Several minutes, several sips, and several knowing glances later, I began to feel somewhat ill at ease. How I wished I were a smoker. It would at least give me something else to do with my hands, looking more like a sophisticated dame rather than a nervous debutante.
5:45 p.m. Where could he be? Had he gotten the fax? Was he caught in the snowstorm somewhere? Had he chosen to ignore my silly invitation? There was only a drop of crantini left in my glass. Would these people please stop staring at me over their glasses every time they took a sip. I gingerly raised my index finger with as much style as I could muster to catch the bartender’s eye for another crantini. By this time, the flush of my face reflected the colour of both my crantini and my hat. I was sure that others were whispering comments about that pitiful but striking woman sitting in the corner of the bar wearing that ridiculous red cowgirl straw hat from San Antonio with the silver buckle. She had either been stood up, or she was hoping to attract an interested cowboy.
6:00 p.m. Halfway through my second crantini, the revolving door suddenly spun around with great force, completing a full 360 degree turn as a good-looking man walked into the bar. There he stood, his head and shoulders covered with fluffy, white snow, powerfully contrasting his jet black hair and equally black overcoat. With both feet firmly on the ground, shoulder width apart, hands resting calmly at his side, he stared right at me with his intense, sky blue (hazel really) eyes.
Time had stopped on this snowy February 14th night at Earls. With a slightly upturned smile, the dashing man advanced slowly and confidently toward his lady. The entire room came to a standstill. Who was this man with so much presence? All eyes turned and looked at him, and then at me; back at him, and back at me, until we were inches from each other. Finally, exuding the same charisma with which he had entered the room, he gently but firmly slipped his arm around my waist; slowly removed my red cowgirl straw hat from San Antonio with the silver buckle; smiled, and tilted my head back just enough to claim my moist lips for a prolonged sensuous red hot chili pepper lipstick kiss. There was a momentary drop jaw silence in the bar as all heads turned to savour the embrace with envy and a sigh of relief, followed by a roar of applause.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Ma’am,” my husband whispered in my ear. “Nice hat.”
© Pat Cloutier June 25, 2008
The Lady in the Red Hat was originally published in “Time for a Story? Heartspace Writers Anthology” Copyright 2008 by Heartspace Writing School.
Biography – Pat Cloutier (Feb. 2, 2018)
Pat has participated in three Heartspace Writers Anthologies since she retired from teaching in 2005. She loves the creative process, be it storytelling, art, or other mediums of expression. She delights in weaving both imagination and truth in her storytelling, loosely enough for the reader to get carried away in the magical world of make believe, yet tightly enough in reality to make the story believable.