Another dateless Valentine’s Day. It’s just another day. I arrived a little late to a sports bar because my hair wouldn’t style in place—never did. I’ve been single so long, I forgot what it felt like to have a Valentine. To buy flowers and chocolate was a foreign concept to me. A group of friends and me would go out on the weekends, especially Friday nights, hunting for beautiful women. Usually, it was hit or miss. More times than not, it was a miss. I’d had my fair share of one-night stands—even an unplanned pregnancy scare.
Maybe arriving late was destiny or fate. But I arrived at the door and a woman cut in front of me, putting out a cigarette, saying she needed to use the bathroom. I’d never let someone cut in front of me ever—not even in middle school. In the sixth grade, Wendy Roth tried to cut in front of me at lunchtime. I clenched my hand and would have knocked the fuck out of her because I was so hungry. Mom couldn’t afford food, so school lunches were my primary source of nutrients. She looked at me with a crooked smile—as if she were too good for me.
I stuck my finger in her face and told her to get behind me and that I wasn’t in the mood to ask twice. She held her hands in front of her body and mouthed okay, weirdo. But what she said cut my heart. Maybe I was a weirdo. I mean, other kids had Nikes and Stussy shirts. The girls had overalls and wore Jensen backpacks. (It was 1992.) I had those Payless shoes. The Adidas with the extra stripe. I’m sure you’ve seen them before. And before you laugh, Mom did the best she could. I mean, she was a drunk, and that’s where most of her money went. I’d been angry with her until I entered my twenties, and I realized life isn’t easy, especially for a young mother.
I handed the bouncer my ID. He dropped his gaze to the card and looked up to study my face. He did this several times. I’d grown a beard and looked nothing like my clean-shaven self in my driver’s license. The man with the barrel chest told me I was good to go. As I entered Pete’s Bar, I felt thick smoke hit my skin, nose, and ears. I looked, either way, hoping I hadn’t come for nothing. My friend Sam waved. I sat down at the table and drank beers from a large pitcher. I begin to laugh and talk a little too loud. I glanced over my shoulder, and there was the girl who cut in front of me. When our eyes met, she leaned over to her friend and whispered something, and they both laughed.
I had half a mind to yell, what’s so funny over there. But even I wasn’t drunk enough to do that. I heard a loud crash and looked back again. Did karma get the woman who cut in front of me? Did she trip and hit her head? A waitress tripped, and a pitcher of beer spread the air, catching the cutter’s white shirt. Nice nips, I thought. The woman threw a sweater over her shoulders. And moved directly across from our table. I wanted to ask her who the fuck she thinks she is, and what makes her so special as to cut in front of me.
“Hey,” she said.
I turn to see what she wants. “Can I help you?” I said. She didn’t even have to say her name. Her eyes gave it away.
“You’re Mike Franklin, right?”
“Who’s asking?” I played it off. I’d had the biggest crush on Wendy since I could remember. It was a love, hate crush, though. I’d daydream of her walking by during a high school English class, wearing that short shirt with stripes. Other times, I’d hear her talk shit about other guys, and I wondered what she thought of me. The teacher paired us for a lab assignment. I did most of the work as she smacked on her gum and twirled her long red hair around her finger that cascaded to the small of her back.
“It’s me, Wendy Roth. Listen, what do you say we ditch this joint?” she said. “I want to make up for making you do the lab by yourself, and cutting in line. What do you say?”
“I’m ready when you are,” I said.
(© 2020 by AC)