Even before he had washed the windows of The Artisan, Salty was a huge fan of the grocery/restaurant. He stopped by there almost daily and got breakfast or lunch or some food to take home. He enjoyed their comfortable patio with its metal tables and chairs and luxurious plantings. In the evening the sun was behind the store, so you didn’t need to sit under one of the red umbrellas to be in the shade. It was always cool and breezy, even when it was very hot.

Thursday nights were the weekly wine tasting where the same group of locals met and sampled several good wines. The store was jammed with loud women with braying laughs and weasel-faced men crowding the bar to get free wine.

Every Thursday night Salty tasted wine and ate dinner at The Artisan’s small gourmet meal, and between raves about the food, he drank copious glasses of wine. Often Salty invited friends to join him at the table at The Artisan, and he sat at the head of the table ordering more and more wine, food, and desserts. On one particular Thursday the menu featured Salisbury Steak and mashed potatoes, and Salty dined alone. He ate the meal with great gusto. After a few glasses of wine, Salty began table-hopping and before long, he knew every name and bit of information about everyone in the place.

Lorraine had decided to try the Artisan dinner, and she was sitting quietly at a table with Suki at her feet. She had ordered the Tilapia stuffed with shrimp and crab, and as she looked around at all the loud, wine-drinking regulars, she found she had very little appetite. The dish tasted good, but she just couldn’t eat it. She had asked the waiter for a to-go box and was waiting for it to arrive, when Salty spotted her across the patio.

He came lumbering across the patio and fell into a vacant chair at her table. “Lorraine! Good to see you! First time I’ve seen you here. Isn’t it great!!”

“Hm. Yes,” she answered.

“How about some champagne? I’ll get us a bottle.”

“No. No, thanks. I was just leaving.”

“Hey, Johnny!” Salty boomed at a passing waiter. “Please bring us another bottle of that champagne I like.”

Johnny bounded off for the wine, and Salty leaned back in his chair. Lorraine knew she was trapped, and settled back in her chair. A little wine wouldn’t hurt.

“You look particularly lovely tonight, Lorraine. That white blouse sets off your beautiful complexion so well. And you look cute, too, Suki,” Salty added, slipping her a treat from his pocket.

Lorraine glanced down at her white blouse and thought, “really?” She thought of the dismal aspect of her closet. All she had there were white blouses and black linen pants. She was such a dullard!

“And your hair is gorgeous. I love that thick, glossy black hair. I admire people with luxurious hair,” Salty said, rubbing his hand over his shiny bald head. He poured a glass of Champagne for himself and one for Lorraine.

Lorraine shook her head gently and thought, “I really do have great hair!” She sipped her wine and enjoyed the tickle of the bubbles in her mouth. In spite of herself, she was feeling better.

Suddenly they were joined by another gentleman. Hop Sing, proprietor of a local nail salon sat down and poured himself a glass of wine. “How you doing, Salty?” he asked. “Why we haven’t seen you in a long time?”

“I have explained this to you before, Mr. Sing. I don’t appreciate your gossiping about me to everyone in Black Mountain!”

“I don’t gossip!” insisted Sing. He turned to Lorraine,”You his new girlfriend?”

“Oh, no!” Lorraine cried. “we are just friends.”

“Your friend?” he asked. “Salty has many friend. He friend with my daughter Rain until he met this young girl who now his lover. She too young for him!”

“Wait a minute, Hop!” This is just what I was talking about! You don’t have to discuss my business with everyone in town.”

Hop Sing went on as if Salty had not spoken. “My sister, Rain, is good girl. She good friend for Salty. But he is cheap. For her birthday, all he gave her a card and a lottery ticket. Too stingy!”

“That’s enough, Sing!” Salty objected.

“My cousin, Rain, she love Salty and wants to take him on vacation to Burma to meet family, but he too busy.”

“Now, who is Rain?” Lorraine asked, feeling a bit light-headed with the champagne.

“She was my girl friend, but no more,” explained Hop Sing. “Now she love Salty. She like a grandmother to me.”

Lorraine was confused, but she really didn’t care to hear about Salty’s romance with a Burmese nail tech. “i’d better get going…” she began.

“No! You stay! I buy you dessert. You like chocolate?”

“No thanks,” said Lorraine.

But Sing had already summoned the waiter and ordered two chocolate desserts. She would be stuck at the table with Hop Sing for some time. Salty had removed himself to a neighboring table where she could overhear him organizing a party at his house up on Route 9.  Lorraine decided to just relax and enjoy the attention. She hoped she would get invited to Salty’s party.