The Infinite Sheep was packed well beyond its intended capacity. Had a fire marshal wandered in at that exact moment, there would have been two obvious problems.
The first problem being that he would not actually have been able to enter because the establishment was so full.
The second problem was that Aspen’s café was in serious violation of the fire safety code, which would have resulted in a hefty fine.
Luckily, no fire marshals were jonesing for coffee at nine o’clock on this particular evening. Instead, the place was jammed with a mostly middle aged female audience. There were a few college students in attendance, but they were almost invisible in the vast sea of their elders.
Tex was on stage and the focus of all the attention, much to the amusement of Aspen, who took it all in from behind the counter.
He closed out the show with what had become his regular encore because his overly adoring fans not only demanded it, but also refused to clear out of the place until he played it.
No one was seated. The crowd sang along with him, almost drowning him out. When he screamed the final line and strummed the last chord, the place went absolutely berserk.
Tex took a bow, and the crowd surged towards the tiny stage, just as it did every night.
And just as she did every night at this moment, Aspen hopped up on the counter and froze them in their tracks with a shrill whistle.
“Please do not harm the talent or try to kidnap him, ladies,” she said in a commanding voice. “If you do that, he won’t come back. So fill his tip jar, shout your pledges of love and adoration from a safe distance, and then head for the exit in an orderly fashion.”
That was always met with moans of disappointment, but the mob eventually did as it was told.
Fifteen minutes later, the front door was locked and Tex and Aspen were the only ones left.
“You’re a star,” Aspen informed him with an enormous smile. “Frustrated, middle aged women adore you. You’re going to be the subject of many naughty dreams tonight.”
Tex snickered. “Yeah, but I’m playing covers and working mostly for tips.”
“Don’t forget the free dinner,” she reminded him playfully.
Tex smiled and did one last count of the money he’d taken from the tip jar. He raised an eyebrow at the total as he tucked the wad of cash into the pocket of his jeans.
The numerous scraps of paper with phone numbers written on them went into the trash.
Aspen smiled at that, but did not comment.
“I’m just relieved I know all the words to You Oughta Know,” he told her. “I’m afraid they’d burn the place down if I didn’t close with it every night.”
“Well, the audience you’ve attracted does seem to have a real personal connection to that song,” Aspen quipped. “I’m impressed at how passionate your inner Alanis is. Who knew you had so much pent up anger? Who hurt you?”
She laughed and he rolled his eyes.
“That’s a long story for another night,” he teased.
“Why don’t you tell me while you walk me home?” she suggested in a manner that made Tex suddenly find his second wind and leap to his feet.
“I’d love to walk you home,” Tex informed her. “But I was hoping I could show you something first along the way.”
“Color me intrigued,” she responded with a mischievous grin.
Tex offered her a devilish smile. “Oh, there’s more to this place than meets the eye.”
“I always wondered what was upstairs,” she said as he led her down the hallway towards the door. “I’m praying it isn’t the place where you keep the bodies after you’ve enticed overly trusting young women to check out the surprise.”
“You wanted to know who hurt me, so I figured I’d show you,” Tex deadpanned.
For a moment, Aspen’s heart sped up, but then Tex let out a long laugh.
“I’m just messing with you,” he assured her. “I wanted to show you my new apartment.”
Tex used his keys to unlock the door, having added a second lock at Bruno’s insistence. He then opened the door and turned on the light.
The large, open space had been transformed. It was still large and open, but now it looked like someone lived there. Tex had done a wonderful job of spacing out the furniture to create the illusion of separate rooms even though there were no walls to divide them.
“Nice,” Aspen said with a smile as she wandered in to explore. “What happened to the house under the creepy billboard?”
“The even creepier guy on the billboard happened,” he replied with a smirk. “Since the house is going to get demolished, my buddy told me I could take any furniture I wanted.”
Aspen walked over to the nearest wall and ran her hand down it.
“I could paint something amazing here if you were so inclined,” she volunteered with a smile.
“I’d love that,” Tex answered maybe a little too quickly because it excited him to think about her spending more time in his place. “I’ll just have to run it past Maggie…”
Aspen waved that off as she moseyed over to the dining nook.
“Maggie loves my artwork,” Aspen informed him with a sly grin. “At least that’s what she told me when she caught me doing the mural in the alley.”
Tex smiled. “I thought that might be your work.”
Maggie grinned. She noticed the notepad and pen in the middle of the table.
“Is that for jotting down lyrics when inspiration hits?”
“Exactly,” he replied as he walked over to join her. “Always want to be prepared.”
Aspen wrote something on the pad, tore off the sheet of paper, and handed it to Tex. They stood face to face next to the table.
Tex read what was written on the paper, blushed, and then tucked the paper into his pocket.
Then he leaned in and kissed her. Long, deep, and romantic.
When they finally broke the embrace, Aspen was the first to speak.
“It’s about time,” she remarked with a mischievous grin.
“Well, your note was rather emphatic,” he reminded her as he pulled the piece of paper from his pocket and flashed it at her. “There was even an exclamation point.”
She chuckles at the “KISS ME!” written in her flowery hand on the page.
“It didn’t seem like you were going to do in on your own despite all the signs I was giving,” she countered. “Do you hang out with a great detective because you need him to look at the evidence and interpret the clues for you?”
He pulled her close and kissed her again.
“Hey, you’re my boss, so I didn’t want to screw up a prime gig because I misread the signs,” he answered in his defense. “I’m addicted to my packed café of screaming fans. I can’t lose that!”
“I can respect that,” Aspen assured him. “I don’t mind making the first move, but the passion and fury with which you perform You Oughta Know gave me pause. It made it seem like the words were personal, so I didn’t dare tread on any romantic ground out of sheer fear.”
Tex chuckled. “You are perceptive, but I assure you that it is safe to venture into that territory.”
Aspen smiled brightly and squeezed his hand tightly.
“As much as I’d like to bask in the glow of this moment, my therapist has implied that my sole reason for breathing is to find the spotlight and jump in front of it,” she informed him with a chuckle. “Can I turn the attention to me for a minute?”
“By all means,” he answered like a guy who was so smitten he would have allowed her to do anything she desired.
“I believe the Fates are giving us a sign that they want us to be neighbors.”
She led him by the hand to the door. Tex wisely allowed himself to be swept up in the moment.
“I’ve never seen anyone enter this place,” Tex quipped.
“That’s about to change, Cowboy,” Aspen assured him as she fumbled with her keys.
She finally found the one she wanted, inserted it in the lock, and opened the studio door.
“After you,” she said.
“How do you have the key to this place?” Tex asked as he entered.
Aspen hit the lights to reveal that the yoga studio wasn’t much more than an empty, open space with lots of mats piled in the corners and some beautiful murals painted on the walls.
“I’ve done some work for the owner,” she replied as she pointed at one of the walls. “Now she’s in the midst of a bitter divorce. She wants the place, and he wants to sell it because this is where she met the men she cheated on him with. Never mind the fact that he was cheating on her as well, but those dalliances are not related to this property. Anyway, I’m interested in buying it.”
Tex raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You’d move The Infinite Sheep?”
Aspen shook her head as she twirled across the room like a ballerina putting on a show for an audience of one.
“No, this would be a second business. I’d use it as my art studio, move the gallery here from the café and expand it, and then have a performance space. Think of the audience you could get in here for one of your shows. This city is in desperate need of an art and music club.”
Tex was clearly impressed as he looked around the space.
“You could do amazing things here,” was his immediate response. “Can you afford it?”
Aspen shrugged. “That’s the rub. Like I said, I’m friends with the owner, and even though she doesn’t want to sell, his lawyer is a real shark. If she has to give up the place, she wants it to go to a friend. So I’m sure I’d get a good deal. But this is prime real estate in a good part of town. No bank is going to give someone my age that kind of loan, regardless of how successful my current business is.”
Tex sighed. If anyone understood the pain and frustration of having money stand in the way of a dream, it was he.
“There’s got to be a way to make this happen,” he mumbled.
“Funny you should say that. I have an idea, but it’s a little out there,” she confessed. “Have you ever seen Ocean’s Eleven?”
Intrigued, Tex nodded and signaled for her to continue.
TO BE CONTINUED…