"I need a drink," he said.
"Well, if that don't beat all," said Billie Jo, replacing the bottle and pushing the tray toward me. "Get to steppin', girl. You got a new customer."
I glared at her and picked up the tray. "I am definitely keeping my tips for tonight," I hissed and headed for the table closest to the stage. Danny had gone back to tuning his guitar and conferring with his bandmates.
"Can I get you something to drink?" I asked.
"In a minute," the principal replied. "Have a seat, would you?"
I pulled out the chair across from her and sat down. "Listen," I began, "I want to apologize..."
She cut me off. "Don't apologize. I was ill-prepared when I told my secretary to get you on the phone. You were pretty well into your tirade when I finally realized who Jake's parents actually were. If I'd read the file more carefully first, I wouldn't even have called you. I'd have waited to see you both on Parents Night and told you how delightful I think both of your children are."
I'm sure my mouth was hanging open.
"I was impressed with the way you stood up for Jake. The girl I used to know wouldn't have said boo. I've always been proud of you, but you seem to have become more assertive over the years. I also see you haven't lost your excellent taste in shoes." She reached over and patted my hand. "Welcome home."
"Miss Van Beek, I thought you hated me. And Jeff, too."
She laughed. "Goodness, no. You were my best student. Jeff was the nicest, kindest boy I've ever had the privilege of teaching. Teachers have to be careful not to show favoritism, you know. I always tried to encourage you both to excel at whatever paths you chose. And well, I just didn't want to see you follow in the footsteps of your classmate over there, good-hearted though she may be."
"Billie Jo? She will freely admit that her weakness is men, but she's working on making better choices," I replied in defense of my friend. "Besides, not everyone is lucky enough to win a college scholarship. She's done pretty well for herself, building a successful business all on her own."
"I can see that. I'm just not sure what someone with a PhD in applied mathematics doing here waiting tables."
"Uh," I stammered. "I'm just helping out."
"Well, I'll have a margarita then," Miss Van Beek said. "And I really wish you'd call me Laura. I'm really not that much older than you are. My first year as a teacher was when you were a freshman in high school."
"I guess anyone in authority seems a lot older when you're a kid," I said. "I'll be right back with your drink."
The door opened to let a half dozen couples in as I headed toward the bar. I gave Billie Jo the order and turned to look at Jeff.
"So much for my number one suspect."
He laughed. "You mean your latest number one suspect. Give up on the mayor already?"
"No - have you?"
He ignored my question. "Your order's up - and it looks like the Wednesday night regulars are arriving for the entertainment. Better get busy." Jeff stood up and looked over the crowd.
"Sizing up the potential cheaters?" I asked, balancing the margarita on my tray.
"Something like that. See anybody you know?"
"Actually, yes. There's that woman who introduced herself outside the school as Ariadne and Dexter's mom. I still have no idea what her name is. Over there, honey - the blonde in the tight sweater," I said and nudged Jeff with my elbow.
"That must be the style these days." Jeff snickered. "Oh - that's Tom Schams there with her. She must be his wife. I met him the other day. He's the new district attorney. I'm sure he must have told me her name but I don't remember it now."
"And you call yourself a detective." I hurried away to deliver the drinks on my tray and start taking more orders. Me Oh My was filling up fast. I wasn't sure if it was for the music or the margaritas.
Turns out it wasn't either one. Once the band started playing and its lead singer took the stage, all eyes were on what appeared to be George Strait's voice having taken over Hugh Jackman's body only to invoke the spirit of Elvis. I made the rounds of the room a couple of times, clearing away empty glasses and beer bottles, and taking a few drink orders. There wasn't an empty seat in the house.
Billie Jo was leaning on the bar, gazing longingly at Danny. His George Strait baritone was crooning "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You" to the crowd, or to someone in the audience anyway. I was pretty sure it wasn't me or Billie Jo. I finally spotted Jeff sitting in a chair next to the ice machine.
"Think he knows "All My Exes Live in Texas?" Here, sit with me. There aren't any more chairs," Jeff said, pulling me onto his lap. "I never expected these guys to be quite this good."
"Me, either," I agreed. "It's like when Jim Nabors went from "Go-oll-lly!" to sounding like Pavarotti."
"Good analogy, but I wouldn't mention it to Danny if I were you. Anything interesting to report?"
"No. Other than a lot of church people around here sure can drink. But once the music started, they all settled down to listen. And most of the people here are with their lawfully wedded partners. The ones that aren't, are here with the full knowledge and consent of their spouses, or so the gossip would imply. Are you sure Jerry is a regular?" I took a sip of Jeff's beer, made a face and handed it back to him. "Yuck."
"You had to know there was beer in this bottle, babe. Yes, everyone says Jerry is a regular. And that he has been known to leave with a number of different ladies on a number of occasions."
"One at a time or as a group?"
"Don't be a smart ass." Jeff smiled in spite of himself.
"Are any of those alleged ladies here tonight?" I asked.
"No. Unless he's dating the garden club, but I think they actually are ladies. It would also appear that they are Danny's fan club. Look over there," Jeff said and pointed toward the front window table.
All five of the demure garden club ladies were standing in the middle of the room waving their arms and dancing to the Texas swing rhythm of "San Antonio Rose." I squinted to determine whether they had dollar bills clutched in their hands and were preparing to storm the stage. Probably not, I decided.
"What are you smiling at?" Jeff pulled me closer and kissed my neck.
"I was picturing those ladies rushing onstage to stuff dollar bills in Danny's jeans," I admitted and Jeff laughed out loud. "It would be funny, wouldn't it?"
"Yes, but the last thing I want to worry about tonight is crowd control. I'm about ready to call it a night. What time is it?"
"Nearly midnight. I had to snap Billie Jo out of her trance long enough for any last orders. Danny seems to have a powerful effect on the local ladies," I said. "We can go whenever you're ready."
The fiddle player launched into the introduction of "Faded Love."
"One more song," Jeff said. "This is date night, after all."