Another dateless Valentine’s Day. It’s just another day. I arrived a little late at a sports bar because my hair wouldn’t style in place—never did. I’ve been single for so long that I forgot what it felt like to have a Valentine. Buying flowers and chocolate was a foreign concept to me. A group of friends invited me out on weekends, especially Friday nights, to hunt for beautiful women. 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. I arrived at the door, and a woman stepped 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 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. A crooked smile adorned her face as she looked at 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. Maybe I was a weirdo. I mean, other kids had Nikes and Stussy shirts. The girls wore overalls and 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 was spent. I’d been angry with her until I entered my twenties, and I realized life wasn’t easy, especially for a young mother.
I handed the bouncer my ID. He dropped his gaze on 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 on my driver’s license. The man with a 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 casually looked either way, hoping I hadn’t come for nothing. My friend Sam waved. I sat down at the table and drank dark beer from a large pitcher. I laughed and talked a tad too loudly. The girl cut in front of me as I looked over my shoulder. 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 behind me. 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 thought she was and what made her so special as to cut in front of me.
“Hey,” she said.
I turned to see what she wanted. “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 relationship, 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 with a lab assignment. I did most of the work as she smacked her gum and twirled a strand of 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.