“Lovie,” the bartender, Rafael Moreno, greeted her. He leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Everything copacetic, baby doll?”
Louise smiled and pulled her hair from her lipstick, her pulse slowing. “Everything’s jake, babe.”
“And how.” She leaned over the bar and pulled her purse out. Rafael kept watch over it while she danced. It was the major benefit to being best friends with the bartender. She pulled out a cigarette, lit it, then checked her makeup in her compact mirror. Her lipstick had smeared, and she began to reapply it.
“Gin, Lovie?” Rafael asked. Rafael Moreno was many things, devastatingly handsome for one: his dark hair was always neatly parted, his brown skin perfectly sun-kissed, his eyes dark and beautiful. He had the unique ability to make a girl weak at the knees with his one-dimpled smile. Rafael had been there the first time Louise had walked into the Zodiac, and he’d remained a constant ever since. The moment he had found out her middle name was Lovie was the moment he started using it and nothing else for her.
“Yes, please.” Louise winked. It was their own little nightly dance. He placed a glass in front of her and began to pour. Her attention drifted to the dance floor, where the couples were swaying romantically.
“How’s my sister?” Rafael asked. Rosa Maria was Rafael’s twin sister, older by about three minutes. Louise could never see real similarities between the two.
“Never better.” Louise drained half her gin and placed her glass on the bar. She passed the dizzy state she liked to stay in and was officially drunk. Rafael was watching his sister on the floor, lips slightly pursed. It was that small thing that told Louise he was jealous he had to stay behind the bar.
“You’re on fire tonight.”
“We always are. I’ll save you a dance.”
“Please.” Rafael often hated that this job put him so close to something he loved to do. Both Moreno siblings were sensational dancers, and Louise sometimes struggled to keep up.
“I heard some man asking after you,” Rafael said as he watched the dance floor. Louise rolled her eyes. Their conversations had to be shoved into the few minutes Louise wasn’t dancing. They’d learned to keep it to the important details. “I told him you weren’t interested.”
“Much appreciated.” She tried to find the man Rafael was talking about in the crowd.
“He seemed like a real cake-eater.”
“The same could be said about you.”
“But I do it with style.” Rafael winked. “Over there. Handsome. Tall.”
Louise looked to where Rafael was pointing. The man in question didn’t notice them. He was oddly dressed—everyone in the Zodiac wore their best, but his jacket was shabby, and something was off about him. His hat was pulled low over his eyes, and he stuck to the shadows of the club. He was an outsider. Louise turned back to her friend and raised an eyebrow.
“You know me.” She sipped from her glass, trying not to let the bootleg alcohol stay in her mouth too long. “I’m happy where I am. How can you tell he’s handsome if you can’t see him?”
“Every man that tall is also handsome.” Rafael placed the glass he was cleaning under the bar and tossed the rag he was using over his shoulder.
Louise scanned the floor, ready to go again when the band picked up the pace. She hated being on the sidelines, away from the action. She hated watching. She looked back to where the man had been standing. He was gone.
The band changed songs after polite applause, throwing themselves into something with a faster pace. Louise placed a couple of dollar bills on the bar and whisked back onto the dance floor. It was Rosa Maria’s turn to race to the bar.
Louise realized that she should want more. That she should strive to get more out of life than the women who came before her, that she should want real freedom and to follow her dreams.
In a world where women got so little and Black women got even less, she had to be better.
However, at twenty-six years old, all she really wanted to do was dance.