The Dare

On the bright side, he was writing again. And he had a muse. It is important to note that he was writing again because of the fact that he had a muse. He would be the first to admit how lame that sounded. But he knew what worked for him and went with it.

Because without a muse, he flat out didn’t write.

At some point, years ago on his journey into being the not-quite-successful writer that he was today, he somehow convinced himself that he needed to what amounted to a crush in order to write.

He couldn’t decide if it was more pompous. Or, lame. Probably somewhere between.

As lame as it was, it worked for him. Or, at least he convinced itself it did, much like those who claim that prayer works, despite no concrete proof that their prayers are even heard at all.

Perhaps if his domestic situation wasn’t the shit-storm that it now was, he wouldn’t need a crush – muse – to light his fire. Though still married, it was a marriage of convenience at this point.

More like a mirage than a marriage.

The writing (or, lack thereof) had been on the fucking wall for years. If their marriage could be described in a concise, concrete matter, it would be as follows: Two people who ran a fucking in-home daycare operation. Sadly, he assumed, like so many other marriages. But he didn’t give a shit. He was beginning to have serious doubts about the whole Blink 182 “Stay Together for the Kids” philosophy that they had somehow agreed to years before (he was also sure as fuck that if the kids never existed in the first place, neither would his marriage).

It’s a Wonderful, Cynical Life.

A philosophy he didn’t sign up for, however, was the withhold-sex-from-your husband for months at a time until he becomes so antsy and bitter, he ends up fantasizing about muses that traditionally had the sole purpose of inspiring his prose.

As much as the lack of sex – or any other form of physical intimacy for that matter – fucking sucked, what sucked even more was her complete lack of interest and support for anything writing related. Though he didn’t blame her fully, nor did he expect her to read everything he wrote, her constant suggestions that he maybe just give up altogether was really fucking him up in the head. Mix that together with forced celibacy, it was no wonder why he felt like he was going to explode in all the ways a man can.

Hence, his increasingly ever-so-desperate need for a muse. And his growing need for someone to fuck.

Muses were usually not difficult to locate. They came in many forms and contexts: attractive co-workers who showed interest in his writing, the spouse of a friend who showed an interest in his writing, coffee shop baristas, bartenders, customers in coffee shops, a woman seated next to him at the bar while he wrote, etc.

Some muses only lasted for a few hours. Some stuck with him for long periods of time. No matter what form or length of time, they were his fuel. And they took no effort on the part of the muse because in all likelihood, they had no fucking clue he existed. Having a muse who knew nothing about him, or his dream was better than having a wife who didn’t give a fuck at all.

Having a muse meant he was writing. And writing meant he could tolerate life without sex. Or, at least, it made this reality more tolerable. He got a high off writing that akin to a drug… or a good fuck. So as long as he kept that beast fed, he felt complete.

Though he realized how fucked up this all sounded, every writer had their quirks and rituals. For him, it was obsessing over an unobtainable female. Surely not the first writer to do so, right?

Every now and then, he would stop to ask himself: what if a muse suddenly did become obtainable? What would become of his writing then?

What would become of his marriage?!

He realized that the time he normally spent writing would be evaporated in favor of fucking his muse. Though it would certainly solve one problem in his life, he saw how it had the potential to fuck up everything else (most significantly, his marriage). And though he knew deep down that he would probably be better off, what about the kids? He couldn’t let anything jeopardize the front he had to put up for their sake.

He figured as long as he had a muse, that would be enough right?.

It was no coincidence that the first serious bout of writer’s block he experienced coincided with the longest drought without a muse.

He didn’t just have writer’s block. He had muse block. The more desperate he was to find someone to reignite his drive, the more frustrated he got with every other component of his life.

Sometimes a change in atmosphere would be all he needed. It got him out of plenty of slumps before. Then again, this wasn’t the average slump. He settled on a new coffee shop across town, so it wasn’t exactly logistically convenient.

After a couple visits, not only did his writing start to emerge out of hibernation, but he had latched on to a new muse.

Elysa the barista.

Though she had no idea, he was smitten the first time she took his order for a grande non-fat mocha. It was her eyes more than anything else, though her full arm tats were sexy as fuck, as was her blue-platinum colored hair.

But those eyes. He noticed them right away.

Like a Disney princess crossed with a silent screen star.

Bette Davis eyes.

She was the creative id incarnate.

Before long, he started timing his writing sessions around her schedule, which he quickly figured out. And then she was gone. And so was his writing.

He kept returning to the scene of the crime, hopeful that she was perhaps out of town. But after a couple of weeks, he finally asked of one of her co-workers if she still worked there. She didn’t. And nobody knew where she had gone. Desperate, he asked for her last name. Though reluctant, he gave it to her.

And then he looked her up on Facebook.

This is how stalkers are made…

Chances were, she would never accept anyway. But then she did. And then he immediately wrote her a note to thank her for adding him. A quick scan of her profile made him realize that she was an artist.

And it just so happened that he was seeking an artist to collaborate with. So in the guise of innocence, he asked if she would be willing to meet to discuss a possible partnership. She obliged and they soon met over drinks.

They hit it off and though she seemed genuinely interested in his project, she told him she had a lot on her plate and probably wouldn’t be able to get to it for quite a awhile, especially with the hours that she was pulling at the new distillery downtown.

They remained in touch, sharing favorite music and movies and random thoughts. His willingness to share his work inspired her to want to share hers – something she typically struggled with. Whenever he hit a roadblock in his own work, he would ask her to send along some of her artwork to give him the creative boost he needed. Though she was highly guarded when it came to exhibition of her work, she admitted that he was giving her the courage she needed to finally showcase her work to a broader audience. It was as symbiotic a relationship that a writer and artist could ask for.

Eventually, he worked up the courage to tell her she was his muse, but only because the sense she felt the same way about him.

And she did.

“You’re the reason I’ve been able to write these past few months.”

She was flattered.

“And I have never been more productive,” she added.

After a few months had passed, the feeling didn’t fade like was so often the case with his muses. In fact, the feeling only intensified. He hadn’t felt this complete in ages and even his domestic situation was more tolerable that he could remember.

It certainly wasn’t the first time he had fallen for a muse. He had crushes on most. But had a muse ever fallen for him? He didn’t think so. And he wasn’t fully convinced she had fallen for him. But he liked to pretend that she did.

She occupied his every waking moment. And even infiltrated his dreams. Every goddamn thing was better. He writing was better. He jacked off better. He slept better. He woke up better.

Though he was well aware that he had already developed feelings that went beyond the superficial muse-crush, the tide really began to turn one particular night when, while writing under the influences of bourbon, she posted a new profile pic that sent his pathetic heart aflutter. Once again, it all came down to her eyes – like the twin beacons of a lighthouse, guiding a wayward sailor back to safety. Or, was it a siren, leading him to a rocky shore? Either way, he couldn’t resist the turning tide that this picture stirred within his soul.

He tried to resist making a fool of himself, but bourbon was clearly in charge.

“That is a fucking amazing pic of you,” he wrote.

He stared at phone, waiting for a response. Several minutes had passed and there was no response. And then a few minutes later:

“You think so?” she replied back, following by three blushing emoticons.

“It’s torture, quite actually,” he responded.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know…”

“Yes, you do. Say it scaredy cat! What do you mean by torture?”

            Stay cool. Don’t show all of your cards.

“Figure it out,” he wrote back.

“I think I got it,” she wrote with a wink.

“As though you didn’t already know.”

“You totally wanna snitch my face.”

“Snitch?”

He quickly looked up ‘snitch’ in the Urban Dictionary, assuming that it was lingo that never made it onto his radar. They were 15 years apart, after all.

Millenials and their hipster lingo…

“Smooch,” she corrected.

“You got me,” he wrote, then added: “Surprised? Disturbed?”

“Not surprised and not disturbed either.”

“Phew!”

“Lol.”

“You must get this a lot,” he said.

“No. Not at all actually.”

“Well, you should. And not from old, desperate men like this smitten douche.”

“You’re not old and desperate. And I wish I did, then I wouldn’t be young and single.”

“Embrace it. It won’t be that way forever. In the meantime, I will toil in misery when my muse posts such beautiful pics. A face I can’t snitch.”

“Who says you can’t?”

“Really?”

“You won’t try to snitch my face. You’re too scared.”

“Dare me,” he said with a bravado he never felt before. One thing he knew, if she were here in person, he would not be so brave.

“Dare,” she wrote.

“Tonight,” he suggested.

“I’m working.”

“You can come out to my car. You get breaks, right? I dare YOU.”

“Ok.”

“Is that a yes?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet…”

“Then how can I prove that I can come through on your date? Or, are you… a scaredy cat yourself?”

“I might be.”

“Well, you can’t stop me from coming in for a drink.”

“No, I definitely can’t stop you from getting a drink.”

“What are you afraid of?

“Idk.”

“For the record, this conversation has already inspired a story in my head. It’s up to you to help me decide if it will be fiction. Or memoir.”

“What would it be about?” she asked.

“Snitching.”

“You can’t just say what you’re thinking, can you?”

“Subtext.”

“Scaredy cat.”

“You don’t really want me to say what I am thinking, do you?

“Kind of.”

“Ok….you remind me of a Disney princess, but created by Tim Burton.”

No response came. He must have totally freaked her out.

And that’s how one loses a muse…

But a minute later:

“That is the most beautiful compliment in the entire world. I love that so much.”

“Great.

“See you tonight.”

“We’ll see about that,” she wrote, followed by a wink emoticon.

“Now pretend that this conversation never happened,” he added.

“Ok, conversation disappeared.”

But the conversation did happen. And it didn’t disappear. Just like that, a dare beyond his scope of rational understanding was on. From the start, he knew it was less about proving her wrong, but more about proving himself right.

What he was most surprised about was his complete lack of guilt. A virtual muse is one thing. But his muse and reality were beginning to merge.

His lack of guilt probably had a lot to with the fact that his wife hadn’t let him “snitch” her in three years. Nor, hug her.

The only obstacle? A mounting snowstorm. Staying off the roads would have been the smart thing to do. But his heart had become stronger than his intellect. This was nothing new. It was probably why he became a writer.

En route, he decided to stop for a couple shots of whiskey to calm his nerves. He forgot how much anxiety dating caused

When the effect of the whiskey took root, he headed back out into the snow, which had intensified. Fortunately, he was less than a mile away.

He parked in the lot behind the bar. A good snitching spot for sure.

He debated whether he should message her so she could come out to him, or if he should just walk in. He decided to show up in person. It felt like the more gentlemanly thing to do.

He entered the nearly empty bar (others were smart enough to avoid winter elements). A video of a burning fireplace was projected on to a giant screen, as a disinterested DJ spun trip-hop Christmas music.

He headed to the bar, which was tended by a woman who clearly wasn’t his muse.

“What can I get you?”

“Is Elisa here?”

“She’s in the back. I can get her…”

“No rush. I can wait.”

“Can I get you a drink?”

“A gin and tonic, please.”

He knew that he really shouldn’t be drinking at all. Not with the treacherous drive looming ahead. Combined with the amount already consumed.

Halfway through his drink, Elisa appeared from the back – as though she had emerged right out of the pic that got this all started in the first place.

“You made it,” she said with a warm smile.

“Surprised?”

“Yes, actually. I thought for sure you’d chicken out. Especially with the weather.”

“Oh, is it bad?” he said with a sly grin, before adding: “So, do you have a break coming up?”

“Actually, yes.”

They both stared at one another awkwardly, which was punctuated when he

proceeded to down the rest of his drink.

“Want another?” the bartender asked.

“I think I’m all set. Thank you.”

“Leaving so soon?” Elisa asked with a sly smile.

He paid, then turned to her and said:

“Just wanted to say hi,” he said. “Heading out to my car now.”

Elisa nodded. He couldn’t interpret what that nod conveyed exactly, but he hoped they were both on the same page, as he awkwardly head out into a snowfall so dense, it was as though he were trapped in a snow globe.

He started his car, then cranked up the heat to make sure that if she joined him, it would be warm enough for her. He put on the Christmas station, then stared at the gigantic snowflakes coating his windows.

Five minutes passed and he began to realize that he was probably just wasting his time. Just as hew as about to pull away, a figure emerged out of the back entrance of the distillery. He wasn’t certain, but as soon as the figure headed toward his car, he knew.

She approached the passenger side door and entered, fully bundled up. Dean Martin’s cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” began to play, which was only fitting since Dean and Frank was whom he listened to more than anything else when he wrote. His story was writing itself!

“Hi,” she said through a nervous smile.

“Hello,” he said, lacking the confidence that got him this far this evening.

What would Deano do? He’d nail her in the backseat of his car, that’s what he would do.

But whom was he kidding?

He was no Deano.

He nervously looked directly into her magical doe eyes and was surprised he didn’t look away. They remained locked in a gaze, amidst the silence of calm anticipation.

He removed his gloves, put a finger under her chin, then proceeded to give her what he planned to be just a gentle kiss on the corner of her mouth. He didn’t want to push it, but then he got the immediate sense that she wanted more. In fact, he didn’t have much of a choice. When their lips withdrew, he continued staring into the Disney princess eyes of his muse, entombed in a snow-covered vault.

A snowglobe within a snowglobe.

“I gotta get back to work,” she said with a smile, before she got out of the car.

“Goodnight,” she said, blowing him a kiss.

She closed the door behind her and headed back inside. Midway, she stopped to wave one last time.

He stared out his snow-covered windshield. A streetlamp cast an orange, burning glow through it. In that moment, it was the beautiful thing he had ever seen.

But it was time to turn to reality.

He grabbed his scraper and headed outside to brush all the snow off.

Back to reality.

As he drove away, he felt a deep contentment he couldn’t recall ever feeling at any point in his adult life. For once, he didn’t care what the future would bring. Nor, did the past really matter anymore. The only thing that mattered was the present and a full awareness of what his next piece of writing would be about.

All because of his willingness to take on dare from a muse.

In the end, that’s it was all he ever really needed. And all that fucking mattered.

Published here:

The Bombay Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wasted Drink

She didn’t want to go. Then again, she never did. But as usual, she gave in to peer pressure. It wasn’t because she was weak. It was because deep down, she knew her friends had her best interest at heart.

When you’re an introvert, being surrounded by extroverted friends is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in the sense that she could sit back and let them do all the planning and talking. It was a curse in that it was very easy to disappear into a social void. At least, that’s what past history taught her. So why should tonight be any different?

Emily remained hopeful that somehow, her friends savvy social graces could somehow rub off on her. An ‘extrovertism’ so to speak.

Yet, the more she tried to step out of her self-imposed cave, the more her anxiety would rise and the deeper into her cave she would withdraw. It didn’t help that week after week, she had to watch as her friends got the attention that she wanted.

Of course, it didn’t help that that her Jackie and Melissa were prettier than she was (at least in her mind…and – she assumed – the minds of most men on the flirtation front). Sure, there were plenty of guys that she would have gladly passed on, but it sure would be nice to have the option to pass on them. Every now and then at least. The only problem was, nobody ever noticed her. She didn’t exactly make herself available.

If there was a silver lining, it was that not being noticed was preferable to being noticed and then passed over.

She didn’t expect tonight to be any different. In fact, her confidence level felt even lower than usual. Her face felt more oily than normal. And she felt bloated from the burger she at dinner, while her friends naturally ate a salad. She tried not to dwell on it. If she really wanted a salad, she should have ordered a goddam salad.

If it were totally up to her, she would have been content to order carry out and watch a movie – with friends, or alone. In fact, she would have been more than fine with alone. Where she didn’t have to watch people eat a salad

But once again, she succumbed to peer pressure, convinced it was for her own good.

Jimmy

He had every reason to believe that this weekend would follow the same script as any other one:

Slight buzz after half a drink.

False confidence.

Chickening out.

Diminished buzz.

Self-loathing.

Further loss of confidence.

And the acceptance that he was a hopeless romantic failure who never stood a chance.

Before he ended the night by jacking himself off to sleep.

He was growing tired of the same, tired weekend formula. His friends, Eric and Billy, on the other hand, lived for this. Of course, it helped that they were the ones who had all the fun.

Jimmy, on the other hand, was getting sick of getting his hopes up, only to get nowhere. In fact, he had stopped getting his hopes up months ago. Now, he simply went through the motions. Continuing to live life on the outside, looking in.

It wasn’t rocket science. But it certainly felt like it. How hard could it be to approach a member of the opposite sex and strike up a friendly conversation?

As far as Jimmy was concerned, he might have well have attempted to climb Mt. Everest as far as was concerned. He probably had a better chance at doing that.

Following each weekend, he didn’t need to recover from a hangover, but from shame and regret. He had neither the looks (in his mind, at least), nor the charm (again, in his mind) necessary to make things happen.

Yet, sure enough, halfway through the week – right at the point where he felt like he was never going back – he would slowly feel his confidence rebuilding. And next thing he knew, Friday would come and he would set out for another night of inevitable failure.

After last weekend – when he felt especially down in the dumps about his future prospects, he convinced himself that he would take a weekend off. And then – and only if he felt the urge to get back into the game – he would just relax and enjoy his time out with his buddies, rather than putting unnecessary pressure on himself to work up the courage to talk to a stranger. If it was destined to happen, it would. But as much as part of him believed it, life was not a movie. People do not meet cute that easily.

Or do they?

Perhaps, if he weren’t such a hopeless romantic, he would just take things as they came. The problem was, nothing ever came. (Not counting himself into a wadded up ball of Kleenex).

The following weekend, he stuck to his guns and stayed home Friday night. On Saturday, he ventured to an early screening at the art house on Saturday. His friends tried with all their might to change his mind. They nearly convinced him to join their ranks. But instead, he headed home after the movie, only to stop at Blockbuster along the way to rent Reservoir Dogs for the umpteenth time.

Why don’t I just buy it to own?

The following weekend, however, the tide finally began to turn.

Emily

“What do you have to lose?” Jackie asked.

“My dignity?” Emily responded.

“That’s the last thing you will lose!” Melissa said. “Oh, wait. That’s virginity, I’m sorry.”

“Shut up!”

“Get me drunk enough” Jackie said.

“She doesn’t even have the balls to say ‘fuck you’ when I most deserve it.”

“You know I don’t use fuck,” Emily replied.

“Or fuck in general,” Melissa said.

“Whatever.”

“Why can’t you just try to have fun?” Jackie asked.

“Because I’d rather be home. On my couch. Eating ice cream. And watching Disney movies.”

“Like any other night.”

“Because maybe I like it.”

“Don’t you want to find someone to do those things with?”
“I have someone. It’s called my cat.”

“Oh, my God, you are so pathetic…” Melissa said just loud enough to be heard.

‘I heard that.”

“It was meant to be heard.”

They entered the The Wasted Drink – a throwback lounge with more red on the interior than it knew what to do with.

They headed to the couches in the back lounge area. Jackie and Melissa sat next to one another. Emily sat in a chair by herself across from them. Anything that could be done to make her feel like an outcast.

Emily sank into her chair as Frank Sinatra crooned.

Love was in the air.

Jimmy

“What do you have to lose” Billy asked.

“My pride. My dignity…”

“Your virginity?”
“You know I already lost that.”

“Teddy bears don’t count.”

“That was just one time. And I don’t count that.”

“I don’t understand why you can’t just relax and have a nice time.

“Because, I just want to be home. On my couch. Drinking beer. And watching porn.”

“You do that every other night,” Eric said.

“Which is why going out with us is so important,” Billy said. “Otherwise, we’re all just losers!”

“Well, we’re still losers,” Eric said. “Just losers at bars, rather than losers at home.”

“What if I actually like sitting at home?” Jimmy said. “Did you ever stop to think about that?”

“Don’t you want to get laid?” Eric asked.

“You know that’s not how I’m wired.”

“Should we find you a gay bar?”

“No, I mean. It’s just not in my DNA to have random hook up with some chick at a bar. I’m not a one-night stand kind of guy.”

“That’s obvious,” Eric said.

“Look, man. Nobody said you need to have a one-night stand. But when I said getting laid, I wasn’t saying you have to get laid tonight. I meant, find someone that you get to know, go on a few dates with, then get laid. In other words, finding a girlfriend. Don’t you want a girlfriend?”

“What about you guys?

“We just want to get laid,” Billy said. “And you saw what happened when Eric had a girlfriend. It nearly ruined him.”

“It actually did,” Eric retorted.

“Okay, fine. I will do it,” Jimmy said, giving in.

“Do what?”

“Talk to a girl. Will that make you happy?”

“Fuck yeah!” Eric said with unnecessary enthusiasm.
“Your need to live vicariously through me is very disturbing,” Jimmy said.

They entered the bar. Although he had no say in the manner, it was the one bar he actually liked. He as a sucker for all things vintage. Though, in all honesty, if it were completely up to him, he would have much preferred a coffee shop. His home away from home. Where he went to write. He needed stimuli around him. Silence was a distraction.

And he knew that one thing as certain: silence was the last thing he was going to get tonight.

Emily

“Hello, ladies,” a voice said.

Emily rolled her eyes, already assuming it was yet another jackass coming to flirt with her friends while she sat on the sidelines.

“What can I get you to drink?”

It wasn’t a jackass. It was a waiter. But a waiter who looked like he’d be a jackass if he were off shift.

Her friends ordered a Stoli & Cranberry. She remained undecided.

“Ummm…”

It was always a struggle. She didn’t do enough drinking to have a favorite drink yet. In fact, she didn’t like alcohol all too much to begin with, much to the consternation of her friends.

“Do you have Mosquato?” Emily finally asked.

“Mosquito?”

“You mean, Moscato?” Melissa asked.

‘Yes. Moscato. Which is what I said.”

“Actually, you said Mosqauto,” the waiter said in a tone that sounded equally polite and condescending.

“Oh, sorry. Moscato, yes.”

“I’ll be right back,” the waiters said with a warm smile.

He sure was cute, but aside from not being quit her type, he was also a bit out of her league.

As the waiter walked away, her friends laughed.

“You might as well have ordered Kool-Aid,” Jackie said.

“Just be glad I ordered anything at all.”

“Oh, we’re honored you are drinking in our presence.”

“Whatever.”

As Jackie and Melissa carried on their conversation, Emily spotted a good-looking guy talking to a nearby girl at a nearby table.

Sigh.

When would that ever be her?

She watched as the guy took the girl by the hand and walked away.

“How come guys hardly hit on me?” she finally asked.

“Because you don’t make yourself open.”

“What do you mean?

“You do nothing to draw attention to yourself,” said Melissa.

“That’s not her style,” said Jackie.

“Why do you want to be hit on anyway?” asked Jackie. “You hate aggressive guys.”

“I wouldn’t mind it every once in awhile. At least long enough to get tired of it.”

The waiter delivered the drinks.

“You can start by not being such a goody two-shoes,” Melissa told her.

“I’m not.”

“You are. And men detect shit like that. Men are turned off by women who act holier than though,” Melissa said.

“Maybe the men you get,” Emily retorted.

“You guys, come on—” Jackie said.

“When was the last time you’ve been on a date?”

“I don’t know…that has nothing to do with anything. I’ve been busy with school, work –”

“And being a good little good two shoes.”

“Dammit, I’m not a goody two shoes.”

“Just look how much you’re struggling to finish just one drink.”

“We just got them!”

Melissa and Jackie pointed to their nearly completed drinks.

“Well, I’m just glad I’m not an alcoholic.”

“Whatever.”

“Is there a reason you’re ganging up on me?”
“We just want to help, that’s all,” said Jackie.

“I’ll prove to both of you that I’m no goody two shoes.”.

“How?” asked Melissa.

“Somehow.”

Jimmy

“What can I get you guys?” the bartender asked the three amigos at the bar.

Eric ordered an Old Fashioned; Billy a Guinness.

“You?” the bartender asked Jimmy.

“Still deciding.”

“Dude, come on!” Eric barked.

He ordered his default drink of choice:

“Umm, how about a Strawberry Cosmopolitan. Please.”

Eric and Billy both laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Eric asked.

“You know I like the fruity drinks.”

“Can you at least try?” Eric asked.

“Try what?”

“Nevermind,” Eric said.

And then he spotted her. And the whole world came to a grinding halt – or, so it seemed.

There she was. Across the room. Sitting in a chair by herself like princess in a throne. It felt as though she were placed there just for him and him alone. Of course, he knew this meant nothing. Because if past history as any indication, he sure as fuck wasn’t going to do something about it. He continued to stare nonetheless.

“Yo, Jimmy!” Eric said.

“Watch yourself, guy,” said the bartender as he attempted to serve Jimmy his drink.

“”What is wrong with you?” asked Billy.

Jimmy snapped out of his daze and noticed the fruity concoction placed beneath him, which featured an enormous strawberry that seemed too huge to be real.

“Nice fruit salad,” Billy said.

“Speaking of fruit…” Eric added.

Jimmy was too distracted by his new crush to notice the taunts. Though he had no shortage of crushes, he had never been so fixated on someone before. It felt like a magnetic force. Like a moth to a flame. Like a –

“Hello, McFly!” Eric said, running his hand pas Jimmy’s face. “Who in the hell are you staring at?
“An angel.”

“An angel?” asked Billy.

“Yeah. See those girls over there?

“Yeah.”

“The one on the left.”

Eric and Billy both looked.

“Go talk to her,” Billy said.

“Are you serious?”

“Of course I’m serious! Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Why do you always make talking to a girl sound like climbing Everest?”

“Well, for me, it is.”

“Maybe it’s time you reach the peak,” Billy said.

“The only peak he’ll be reaching tonight is the peak between his legs,”

Eric retorted.

“Let’s see if he can prove us wrong,” Billy said.

Jimmy tried to stifle his annoyance. Though there was a small part of him that appreciated their effort to find true love, there was something unwelcome and invasive about it. Not to mention a tad selfish – at least, that’s how he saw it.

“What makes you think tonight would be any different than last week?” asked Jimmy. “Or the week before that, or the week and five years before that? I suck at this.”

“Because this is a different week. The past no longer matters.”

Jimmy didn’t say a word. But he didn’t resist, either.

He just kept on dreaming.

Hoping, praying, that she would notice him back. After all, if he felt this drawn to her, there was no way it could be a one-way street.

Right?

Emily

“I think the guy at the bar is staring at me,” Melissa said.

“Stare back,” Jackie said.

“He’s not my type. He’s kind of impish. His friends are cute, though.”

“What do you think, Emily?” Melissa asked an oblivious Emily, struggling to nurse baby sips of her drink.

“Which one?”

“The one looking at us,” Melissa said.

Emily glanced toward the bar.

“Nobody is looking.”

“The dorky one on the end.”

“I think he’s kind of cute,” Emily said.

“I think he’s checking you out,” Jackie teased.

“Yeah, right. I’m sure he’s interested in you guys.”

“You’re probably right,” Melissa said.

Of course I’m right. Because things like this don’t happen to me. Why should tonight be any different?

Jimmy

Jimmy obsessively stared at his new muse, growing deeper into a trance.

Did she even notice? Do I want her to notice?

            Of course I do!

But only so I could go curl into a ball in a corner somewhere in embarrassment?

The endless loop.

She glanced in his direction and Jimmy quickly looked away. As soon as she stopped looking, Jimmy stared at her again.

“I think I want to talk to that girl,” Jimmy said.

“Then go fucking talk to her!” said Billy. “Stop talking about it.”

“I’m just not good at approaching strangers.”

“They’re only strangers until you meet them.”

Jimmy continued to stare, only to be brought out of his trance with a slap to the back of the head, courtesy of Eric.

“You’re going to freak her out!”

“Let him stare!” Billy commanded. “At least he isn’t bitching anymore.”

“If you ask me, I think her friends are far hotter,” Eric said.

“She’s more my type.”

“Of course she is,” Billy said.

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing. It just means that you are attracted to the plain-Janes. Nothing wrong with that. Just stating a fact. And the fact that we are actually having this conversation is proof why you need to get off your sorry little ass and talk to her!”

Eric suddenly stood up:

“I hereby propose a toast,” Eric said, lifting up his glass.

“Oh oh, here we go again,” remarked Billy.

Jimmy goes through the motions and lifts up his glass, keeping one eye on his dream girl, totally unaware of the fact that he is spilling some of his drink.

“Dude, you’re spilling,” Billy said, tipping Jimmy’s glass upright, as Eric proceeded with the speech:

“May our good friend and personal whipping boy finds his balls tonight.”

“Here, here,” said Billy.

Jimmy goes through the motions and clinks his glass, keeping his eyes fixated on his muse, as more of his fruit punch leaked out.

“He’s already whipped and it’s only been five minutes,” said Eric.

Jimmy remained in his own little fantasy world, as Eric and Billy engaged in conversation.

After a few moments, he grabbed his drink and stood up.

“Holly shit. He’s going for it,” Eric said.

But he wasn’t. Instead, Jimmy sat down on the other side of his friends.

“What are you doing?”

“I wanted a clearer view.”

“Dude, just go over there!” Billy said.

“I want to…but I—”

“Can’t?” Billy interjected.

Jimmy nodded.

“Fuck that,” Eric said. “It really isn’t that difficult. You just have to walk over there.”

“What do I say, “Oh, hi, I’m Jimmy?”
‘Umm, yeah, that might be a good place to start,” said Eric.

“And then what?”

“Say whatever comes naturally,” said Eric.

“I don’t have a natural state.”

“You do: Awkwardly endearing. But first, you have to walk over there,” said Billy.

“And leave your fucking gay ass drink behind.”

Emily

Emily took a small sip of her still mostly full drink and flashed a nervous glance toward three amigos at the bar. The cute boy was staring at her once again. She quickly looked way.

If only I knew how to flirt.

Though he made her nervous and made her heart race, she felt extremely flattered. The only problem was, she still wasn’t convinced he was looking at her. This made more sense in her mind and was certainly consistent with past experience – whether real, or imagined.

Dear God, may I be wrong.

At least she wasn’t thinking about being home anymore.

“You know what would be neat?” Emily said.

“If he would come over here.”

“The imp?” Melissa asked.

“He looks sweet,” Jackie replied.

“He looks like a boy band reject,” Melissa said.

“He’s cute, though,” Jackie said.

“Jackie, will you go talk to him for me?”

“What is this, the tenth grade?”

“I don’t want him to think I’m a slut.”

“How would that make you slut?” Jackie said.

“He’s a guy. He’s probably hoping you are a slut,” Melissa added.

“Is it possible to get going and rent a movie or something?” Emily said “This is turning into a nightmare.”

“Only you would turn an opportunity like this into an nightmare,” Jackie said. “The only way this would be a nightmare is if you blow your chance.”

“No, I’m good. I just want to leave.”

“We need at least one more round before we consider leaving,” Melissa said, as she waved toward the water.

“Waiter!”

He raced over.

“Ready for another round?”

“Of course!” Melissa said.

“I’m all set.” Emily said.

“Fuck that. Bring her another Cosmo.”

“No, I’m fine. Really.” Emily insisted.

“Don’t worry, Mommy and Daddy won’t be mad. They know you’re in good hands.”

“It’s not that, it’s just … I’d really rather not puke my guts out tonight. I have to get up early to study tomorrow.

“Ignore her,” Melissa instructed the waiter, before she turned to Emily:

“If you puke, I promise to personally clean it up,” Melissa said. “Now down what’s left of your first one.”

“I don’t want—“

“Down it!”

Emily began to “down” her drink through a straw.

Melissa pulled the straw right out of her mouth and raised the glass to Emily’s mouth.

“I said down it!” Emily gagged, nearly spitting her drink out. Somehow, she kept it down. She then grabbed her strawberry and took a big to chase down the liquor.

It would take much more than that.

Jimmy

Jimmy took a big chunk out of his massive strawberry, as he continued to gaze at the girl of his dreams from behind his glass.

“I figured it out!” he suddenly proclaimed on the precipice of an epiphany.

“Dude, you have strawberry in your teeth,” Eric pointed out.

Jimmy licks it off.

“You figured what out?” Billy asked.

“What I’m going to do.

“Talk to her.”

“Nope.”

Jimmy stood up, then immediately sat right back down.

“Forget it.”

“C’mon! If you don’t do it yourself, I’ll drag your ass over there.” Eric threatened.

“She’ll end up falling for you.”

“I am definitely not her type.”

“Okay, fine.” Jimmy stood back up and hesitated, before he sat back down.

“What are you doing?” Billy barked.

“I’ll just regret it.”

“You’ll regret it more if you don’t do it.”

Jimmy reflected on this though. He was right. The time had come. He looked toward her.

Jimmy stood up.

“Carpe diem, right?”
“Crape what?” Eric said.

“Shut up,” Billy said to Eric. He then put a hand on Jimmy’s shoulder, looked him in the eyes and proclaimed: “You got this.”

Jimmy nodded, took a deep breath, took a big sip of his drink and took another look at the girl.

Jimmy approached the waiter, who was heading toward the girls.

“Excuse me…”

“What’s up?” the waiter asked, with a tinge of annoyance.

Jimmy pointed to his girl.

“The girl in the blue shirt up there. It’s on me.”

“Oh, okay. It’s $6.50.”

Jimmy took out his wallet. He has three dollars.

“Shit, hang on.”

Jimmy walked back to the bar.

“Can I borrow a couple bucks, please?”

“You have to be fucking kidding me,” Eric said, as Billy handed him some cash.

“Thanks,” Jimmy said, then quickly rushed over to the waiter.

“Sorry about that,” he said offering the cash.

“No problem. Anything you’d like me to say to her?”

Jimmy looked up.

“Umm, yeah. Just tell her I think she’s cute.”

“That’s it?”

Jimmy thought about it for a moment. Then nodded..

Is that the best you can fucking come up with?

            With his tail between his legs, Jimmy headed back to the bar, proclaiming: 

“Shit, shit, shit!”

Eric and Billy greeted him with high fives. Jimmy retreated to his bar stool and buried his face into his hands.

“Shit, shit. Fuck, fuck, fuckety fuck.”

“What’s wrong? You did it! Mission accomplished.”

“I feel so…dirty.”

“Because you bought a girl a drink? Dude, look, she’s flattered.”

Jimmy peered through his fingers as the waiter crouched down to explain the meaning of the drink.

“Stop being a pussy and enjoy the moment,” Eric said.

“Why didn’t I just go over there and talk to her?”

“That’s phase two,” Billy said. “You set the table. You’re well on your way.”

“Can we just leave now?”

“Hell no,” Eric commanded. “You started this story. Now fucking finish it.”

Emily

Emily was genuinely flattered. Things like this didn’t happen to her. They did in her mind, of course. But never in reality.

“Looks like somebody got their wish,” Jackie said.

“This is a joke, right? Like you guys are behind this?”

“Of course not,” Melissa said.

“Yeah, Emily,” Jackie began. “Didn’t you see us walk over and ask him to buy you a drink?” Jackie said.

“Should I go over there and thank him?”

“Naw, let him come over here. It’s only a matter of time.”

Jimmy

“Okay, at some point, you’re gonna have to go over there,” Billy told him.

“Like fucking now!” Eric said.

“They’re laughing at me.”

“They’re not laughing at you,” Billy said. “She’s flattered.”

“I’m just not equipped with the ability to approach girls. I’m the same way when I take medicine.”

“But sometimes, you have no choice but to take it.”

“But I do have a choice.”

“Not if we can help it,” Eric said.

“You can’t just force me to do something against my will.”
“We got you here, right?” Billy said.

“True.”

“Now, listen to me. And listen to me good…” Eric began, before he continued.

“Look, I may not be the brightest crayon in the toolbox, but I do know this: you’ve been single way too long for a guy your age who has no physical deformities that keep him from picking up women. And I know how hard you’re trying not to be single. And the way not to be single is to get off your sorry little ass and work that girl like she’s your job.”

Jimmy reflected on this for a moment, but still couldn’t find it within himself to complete his mission.

“I’m sure she’s waiting for you to come over there,” Billy said.

If I go over there—“

When you go over there …”

“I’ll tell her the truth, that I never felt so stupid in my life and that I’ve never done anything like this before …”

“Don’t script things out,” Billy said. “Just go over there and whatever comes out of your mouth will come out like poetry out of a poet.”

“And if you’re lucky, she’ll do all the talking herself,” said Eric.

“”If she was really interested, wouldn’t she just come over here?”

“That’s not the natural order of things.”
“This isn’t 50 years ago…”

“That’s not the point.”

“How about we just leave?”

“And let us miss all the fun?” said Eric.

“Just go talk to her, man. You already got her attention. That’s half the battle.”

“And what do I do if I go over there, and her friends start cracking up in my face. Or what if she slaps me—?“

“If you don’t talk to her, I’m going to slap you myself.”

“This whole thing is a mistake.”

“The only mistake would be not talking to her. You had the courage to get this far…”

“My courage is in short supply.”

“Bullshit.”

“You are way too insecure,” said Billy.

“I’m just not good at handling rejection.”

“You really are Marty McFly!” Eric asked.

“You have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. And here’s the beauty of it,” said Billy. “You’ll never have to see her again.”

“I don’t think in those terms. Knowing my luck, I’ll end up working with her someday or something.”

“That’s your problem,” said Billy. “You think too much.”

“Take it from me,” Eric said. “Thinking won’t get your anywhere.”

Emily

Emily waited with dreadful anticipation, as she poked at the remains of her strawberry.

“Are you sure he isn’t waiting for me to go over and talk to him?” Emily asked.

“Positive,” said Jackie.

“And if he doesn’t come here, then he’s not worth your time.”

“The fact that he hasn’t come over here really makes me wonder if he was supposed to bring it to one of your guys,” Emily said.

“Why are you always so damn insecure?” Melissa asked. “And stop it with all the whining.”

‘I’m not whining!”

“Well, stop whatever it is you’re doing.”

“Take it easy on her,” Jackie said. “We were the same way once. Don’t you remember?”

“Yeah, like in middle school!”

“Just ignore her,” Jackie assured Emily. “It’s the alcohol talking.”

“Is he looking at me?” Emily asked.

She couldn’t bear to look.

 

Jimmy

“Is she staring at me?” Jimmy asked.

Eric and Billy looked over.

“No, but her hottie friends are,” Billy said.

“Will one of you please go over there with me?”

“I thought you were worried she would fall for one of us?” Eric reminded him.

“I changed my mind.”

“Well, so did I.”

“Billy?

“They’re all yours.”

“So you’re both just gonna sit here?”
“Yep,” Eric and Billy both said.

“Is she looking at me now?”

“Dude! Just go over there!”

“I need more time to think things through.”

“What the fuck is there to think about? “ Billy asked. “By the time you’re done thinking, she’ll be gone. Or some other guy will take over for you.”

“Bartender!” Eric shouted.

“What can I get you?” the bartender asked.

“Three shots of tequila, por favor!”

“Coming right up!”

“I don’t want any booze,” Jimmy said.

“Liquid courage, my friend,” Eric said.

“Not sure if this is a good idea,” Billy warned as the bartender lined up the shots.

“Of course it is!”

Eric moved the shots closer to Jimmy.

“Have at it!”

Jimmy reluctantly picked up a shot.

“Bottoms up.”

Jimmy took little baby sips until it was gone.

“Seriously?!”

“What about you guys?”

“All yours, my man.”

“I can’t drink that much.”

“Drink them!” Eric commanded. “And no baby sips. Down that shit.”

Jimmy gave in and gagged his shots down like a child taking medicine.

“Thatta boy!” Eric said, offering a high five. Jimmy high fived him, still gagging on his shots.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Billy asked.

Jimmy stood up and wobbled a bit, before proclaiming:

“Alright. The point of no return has arrived. Gentlemen, it’s been real.”

He then turned to face the music. And beelined it toward the girl of his dreams.

Emily

She could barely stand to watch. What was worse? Waiting for him to come? Or, bracing for his arrival?

What would she say?

What would she do?

She was about to find out.

Meanwhile, all she could do was squeeze Jackie’s arm for dear life.

Jimmy 

And halfway there, he stopped on a dime and headed back to the bar like a puppy with his tail between his legs.

“What..the…fuck?” Eric said, throwing his arm in the air.

“I can’t do this. I’m not in my element.”

“What element?” Eric. “Get your ass back there and talk to her!”

“Jimmy, sit down a minute,” Billy said.

Jimmy did, wanting nothing more than to be home.

“Remember when we were in the fifth grade and I dragged you onto your first roller coaster?”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Remember how you were literally in tears as we got to the final stretch of the line? You tried to escape, but I held you back.”

Jimmy laughed, reflecting on the memory.

“Yeah?”

“I had to force you into the car.”

“Dude, where are you going with this?” Eric said.

Billy ignored him.

“What was the first thing you said to me when the ride was over?”

Jimmy thought about it for a moment, then looked up at Sarah.

“Umm, I don’t know, ‘Can we go on it again?’”

“’Can we go on it again?’” Exactly! Well, my friend, we are in line for another ride! How quickly you forget how much fun the first time was.”

Jimmy nodded, then looked her way.

Emily

“Okay, what is this guy’s deal?” Emily fretted. “See the luck I have? Why would a guy buy me a drink and then completely ignore me afterwards?”

“Come to think of it, maybe it was intended for one of us.”

“What should I do?”

“Either wait patiently for him to come back to you, or do something about it yourself,” said Jackie.

“Maybe I should go talk to him. But what would I say?”

“Thanks for the drink?” Jackie said.

“Then what?”

“Wanna fuck?” Melissa said.

Emily thought about it, then slowly got up, before quickly sitting back down.

“Then what do I do?”

“Whatever comes natural to you. Everything else will take care of itself.”

Emily slowly stood up and headed toward the bar, as Jackie and Melissa watched with eager anticipation.

“He’s waiting for you.”

Jimmy

“Holy shit, she’s coming over here,” Jimmy said. He wasn’t sure if he was going to vomit. Or, shit his pants. Or, both.

And then she ended up walking right past Jimmy and down the hall to the restroom.

“So much for that,” Eric said.

Jimmy stood up.

“What are you doing?” Billy asked.

“I’m going to follow her,” Jimmy said.

“Into the bathroom?” Billy asked.

“No, I’ll wait outside the door.”

“What are you a dog? Eric asked. “I mean, isn’t that sorta creepy?”

“No, not as long as I immediately make it look like I was just on my way to the men’s room when she comes out. Or maybe, she’ll come out just as I pass by the door.”

“And then you’ll talk to her?”

“Hopefully.”

“This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Don’t fuck it up.”

Jimmy nodded, then slowly stood up and headed toward the restroom.

Emily & Jimmy

They both splashed water over their face, before they stared at themselves directly in the eye. If it weren’t for the music, they might have overheard each other.

Jimmy: “Positive visualization. You can do this. You have nothing to lose. So don’t be a jackass. She’s probably waiting for you right now. She’s all yours.”

He attempted to pop a Tic-Tac into his mouth, but dropped it in the sink. He considered still eating it, then threw it out and tried to grab another one out of the nearly empty container, which he had to bang against the counter to pry one loose.

Emily: “He’s just nervous. Like you. Give him some time. There’s a reason he ordered me that drink. And when he finally comes over, don’t say anything stupid. Just be yourself. Or, better yet, don’t be yourself.”

She popped an Altoid into her mouth.

They each gave themselves one last look in the mirror, fixed their hair, before noticing the graffiti on the wall:

Him: “CARPE DIEM

Her: “GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO WAIT”

Truer words had never been scrawled in a bar restroom.

With one deep breath, they left their temporary shelter behind and suddenly finding themselves standing face-to-face.

The rest of the world failed to exist. Or, maybe it was just frozen in time? In a moment that felt eternal, the two ill-fated lovers managed awkward smiles and a mumbled “hellos” as they did an awkward dance around one another, before he gestured for her to go first.

Rather than seizing the day, they both retreated back to their people with their tails between their legs.

Jimmy

“You are the sorriest son of a bitch that ever walked God’s green earth,” Eric said. “She practically landed in your fucking lap.”

“It was a dumb idea,” Jimmy said.

Billy grabbed Jimmy by the shoulders and started him square in the face:

“You better get over there right now. Because you know what’s going to happen? She’s going to leave, and you’ll regret this night for the rest of your life.”

Emily

“What the fuck was that?” Melissa said.

“I chickened out.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

“Do you think he’ll come back?” Emily asked.

“Not sure. But you can walk over there and take matters into your own hands,” Jackie said.

“Or else, we’re leaving,” Melissa added.

Jimmy

“I made progress tonight. Next time, I will take it a step further.”

“Bullshit,” Eric said.

Billy points to the girls. They were putting on their coats.

“Your angel is about to leave the building.”

“Next time.”

“You ruined our fucking night, dude!” Eric said.

“How did I ruin your night?”

He looked toward yet another one who was about to get away. Only this time, it felt far more finite.

And then she was gone.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” Eric said, throwing down a tip. Billy added another couple dollars, adding: “Cheap ass.”

His friends headed out ahead of him as he stayed behind in what could only be described as a state of shock. Devoid of all feeling. He never felt so numb.

Sure, he could have still chased after her if he wanted to, he couldn’t help but feel that the game was over. He was destined to be single forever. And he fucking deserved it.

Sure, he made progress tonight,

When it came to the opposite sex, progress could only be measured in small doses. Yet, he couldn’t help but feel he let his friends down – but more importantly, himself.

Just as he mustered the strength to leave, he spotted the fateful, wasted drink. Still mostly full.

Yet, he never felt more empty, especially after he stepped out into the subzero chill of a Michigan winter night. He could have sworn it was much warmer when they first arrived.

Emily

Emily sulked in the backseat of Jackie’s car, as Jackie and Melissa sang along to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

“Do you think it’s because I didn’t finish his drink?” Emily asked.

Her words fell upon deaf ears. She repeated herself, louder.

They still didn’t hear her. Just as well. There was nothing they could have told her that would have made her feel better. In fact, it would probably make her feel even worse.

In the cocoon of her deserved exile and isolation, she continued to reflect on what could have gone wrong. How did she let such an opportunity slip away? And why did he? If that drink was truly meant for her, why did he throw away a perfect opportunity? Again, the question remained: was it a mistake? Was the drink was intended for Melissa or Jackie? As much as this made sense in her mind, another theory suddenly came to her: he was just like her. She put herself in his shoes and saw herself totally doing the same thing if the roles were reversed. And suddenly, her anger towards him turned into mutual sorrow over opportunity lost.

Before fate intervened on her behalf.

Jimmy & Emily

Jimmy stood at the corner of an empty intersection, waiting for the light to turn at the empty intersection as his friends waited across the street for him.

“Dude, you can cross!” Billy shouted.

“It’s a red light!” Jimmy shouted back.

His inability to take chances had no limits.

Better safe than sorry.

Fuck it.

Just as he was about to cross, a car pulled up at the light.

He suddenly found himself staring directly into the eyes of missed opportunity.

Was fate really giving him a second chance?

But a second chance at what? Making things right? Or, another chance to fuck up?

The two star-crossed wannabe lovers stared at one another, frozen in time, spanning all dimensions of time and space. And despite feeling like they were standing in eternity, it was all over in the blink of an eye.

It would be this very moment they would think about every day for the rest of their life in some shape or form. In fact, there wasn’t a day that passed that they didn’t think of one another.

It was imprinted into the very fabric of their being and soul.

In the days and even weeks the followed, there was the sharp sting of deep regret. Over time, the regret would remained a dim echo – with varying degrees of intensity. There was rarely a time when they were out in public when they didn’t keep one eye open for one another. It wasn’t even a conscious act. It was just part of their DNA. They both wondered if they did spot one another, would they even act on it? Or fall into the same trap? Only time would tell.

Though they promised themselves that this night would mark a lesson learned, it wasn’t the last time for either. In fact, their single years were a broken record collection of moments such as this. A greatest hits collection of missed connections and romantic failings.

Their mutual burden to carry.

The light turned green. As the car drove away, they each waved goodbye.

No longer frozen in place, Jimmy slowly crossed toward his impatient friends.

Meanwhile, Emily stared out the rear window as Jimmy disappeared into a black void as they each left the empty intersection behind them.

Along with an eternal sense of “what if?”

What if?

What if?

What if….

Published in:

Mid-American Fiction Review