No wonder she sat alone.
My Coors came at the table, but I took it to the bar. I never thought myself an average man, and so I stepped to the plate.
The greeting was simple enough. Straightforward, sincere, defining nothing, yet closing off no possibility. I was never one to cast lines, never one for fish.
She didn't answer, so I repeated myself, motioning to the empty stool. She afforded me no permission, but failed to challenge my request. I pushed luck's envelope and took a seat, took a chance, took a long sip that soured my expression. The beer was flat.
She gave me a look, then stole it away in the same second. The hope of any conversation rested with me. A challenging prospect, but I was young and foolish enough to accept the challenge.
"I'm not going to give you my name until I'm sure you're interested in knowing it. You see, Miss, I'm single. No girlfriend or wife. No ex-something- or-the-other pounding at the door. And I'm not a drunk. Just ask the barman if you need a reference. I'm a normal guy, nicer than most, meaner than some, but never so mean as to hurt the girl I was with, not in any way.
"So before I talk us both to sleep, I was wondering if I could ask you a question. Are you single too? Single and maybe a little lonely? 'Cause if you are, I'd like to take a shot at getting to know you. Friends first, lovers later. Whatever and however you wish it to be. So are you? Are you single?"
She raised her head from her wineglass and I marveled in her eyes. So warm and cold at once. They'd seen daggers and roses and daggers again. No wonder men were frightened of her.
She smiled slightly then turned back to her drink as if my speech was enough to arrest her attention, but not enough to detain it. My impulse was to talk on, but I suppressed it, sensing that she had had enough of men talking for a while. We simply shared the silence. And though the moment was awkward for me I knew it was more so for her. I posed a question and it's difficult to let a question, any question from anyone, stir if only silence stands in the place of an answer and the potential it brings. Thank God the room was quiet.
"Yes. Yes I am."
It was a hit. Going deep, deep....
"And I like it that way."
Foul. Strike one.
She left the bar and walked the long, darkened hall to the dance floor. She passed through the door and vanished in the crowd, but not in my mind. Didn't she know the game? I had two more strikes coming and I wanted my crack at them.
I searched the club for her with no luck. Impossible. The place wasn't large enough to hide a whole girl. Maybe I dreamed her. I did things like that from time to time. Too much television as a kid, I guess.
Dejected, I longed for another beer, something to hold in place of the angel. I turned back to the hall and made my way down the corridor. The light from the bar was unexpected and hampered my vision. I bumped oafishly into a plain girl, a girl with normal legs, and a normal glass. I started to speak, but she beat me to an apology. We smiled as our words crossed.
I wanted to say something, but it was so unexpected, so unnatural to meet a woman without having a good twenty minutes to formulate a strategy. I don't believe in lines as I said, but a good plan never hurt. I was at a loss, just standing there, feeling the fool. But she didn't run, or call me a jerk, so I kissed her. I kissed her there and then.
To my surprise she kissed me back. It was a good one, deep, wet, lasting longer than any commercial break yet dared by the networks. To hell with the television and the imaginary girls it displayed. I was through with them. But the angel reappeared, eyes colder than a snowman's, flushed cheeks running from daggers so sharp.
She cursed me with those terrible eyes and slapped a label on my forehead. Another stupid penis person. I felt it shrinking. Was I just another fool without faith, unable to wait, unwilling to chase? No. So when she left, I followed, leaving the plain girl without a word. What a man I wasn't. Love doesn't make you blind. It makes you an idiot. And I was very much in love or so I thought.
I chased her out the door and into the street. She hailed a cab, but I caught her before she closed the door.
"I'm sorry. I'd thought you'd left. I thought you'd never have me and so I found someone new. She isn't important though, not compared to you. Can't we try again?"
She stared at me coldly. No anger, no hurt, no argument brewing behind lashes so long. She just stood and stared. The cab driver grunted her to her seat. She slid over, offering me the left side of the bench. I accepted.
She gazed out the window as we rolled down Broadway, ignoring me, making me sweat. The street was clear and quiet, unusual for a Saturday. She just sat there, trying to find a piece of silence for herself. One rarely finds silence in the city.
"Do you think I'm beautiful?" she asked as the cab slowed.
"Would you love me without end, no matter what time or fate or fortune brought?"
"Without a doubt. Never have I been so sure so soon. Soulmates on sight, I'm certain of it."
"Then say it again so I'll be sure you mean it. Say it as you look into my eyes."
She turned from the window, but it wasn't the same she that was there a moment before. It was the plain girl, the one with the shorter legs, the longer skirt. The daggerless one with warmer eyes. The one I kissed, used, and left without regard. I stuttered in fear. Guilt punched me dead in the face. She laughed and repeated the question. Still, I was unable to speak.
"I'm not beautiful, am I? Not at all. Not to you. Not when there are women like her in the world."
The cab idled at a light. I ordered the driver to pull to the curb. I needed air. I needed room. I needed so many things, but the cab didn't move. The driver removed her hat and faced us.
"I think you're gorgeous," said the angel to the plain girl.
She blushed at the compliment and tossed a bashful smile to the front seat.
"That's why I love you, sister."
"And I, you."
They began to giggle in a way that sane people don't, then each covered her face with her hands. In a moment, pretty was plain and plain was pretty. My stomach turned. I thought I'd faint.
"What club should we try next?" asked the plain girl, as she adjusted the seat for shorter legs.
They giggled again and my neck went cold. She slammed on the gas when the light changed, but I had already opened the door. I plopped to the passing pavement and grunted. I rose slowly, rubbing my shoulder. There'd be a bruise in the morning.
I patted the dust from my jeans and began the long trek home. Tapping feet get you thinking and I thought about a lot of things: life, love, what I would be when I was old. But I mostly thought about women and how little I knew of them. Funny, for all their apparent preaching, neither ever even asked my name.
Tim Toterhi is a blue jeans-wearing kind of guy. He likes rainy nights, top-down days, and teaching martial arts in his home town of New Rochelle, NY. He believes in soulmates, sad songs, and learning through the lifetimes. He recently published his first novel entitled "MacLoughlin's Game" (available at http://www.e-pulp.com/mainstrm/game.html). He is working on his second. Readers can reach him at ClutchTT@aol.com or visit his website at http://www.e-pulp.com/mainstrm/game.html.
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