“When was the last time you had a great fuck?”
She raises an eyebrow at the bartender, giving him the universal signal for is this guy for real? The bartender; she learned last week that his name is Joe, gives her a one-shouldered shrug, the universal sign for he’s a total player, but you could do worse here in here on a Friday night.
He’s not wrong. She remembers the guys from last Friday night, and how they’d been celebrating their laser tag tournament win.
A few seconds too many pass before she answers the stranger standing behind her so he leans in again and his breath is warm against her neck. “When was the last time—“
“Oh, I heard you,” she says, twisting around on her stool to look at the man so interested in her fuck history that he’s asked her twice about it in less than a minute.
He is a definite improvement over the laser tag champions. She guesses he stands at about 6 feet tall, with dark chocolate hair, and a jawline that could cut glass.
His eyes are brown and not green and that’s enough for her to not get up and walk away.
“So you’re not going to tell me?”
“No.” She tilts her head to the side. “How often does that line work?”
“No way. You don’t get to ask a question without answering one.”
“Okay.” She spins to face the bar again and orders her usual.
She’s been frequenting this bar for three weeks, has been single for less than that, and already she has a usual drink and shares unspoken conversations with the bartender.
The summer of 2006 is not at all what she thought it would be. Not even close.
Joe looks at her and then looks at the clock on the wall above them. “Straight tequila? Really? You’re going to be sorry in the morning.”
“No sorrier than usual.” She pouts a little and grins when as he pours her a double, knowing he’ll only charge her for a single.
Mr. Jawline sits down on the stool next to her. “Can I get a double scotch? Single malt, please.” He waits for Joe to nod at him before turning back to her. She’s pretty sure he’ll be charged for the double. “So, is this a good place to hang out?”
“What happened to not asking questions if you aren’t going to answer them?”
He shoots her what might be the most perfect smile she’s ever seen and she immediately understands why and how all of this works for him. “I’ll answer any question you want as long as you answer my first one.”
“Uh huh.” She sips at her tequila and focuses her eyes on the wall of tv screens. Sure, she’s entirely new at this being single thing but she’s a quick study and Isabel had been a great teacher. On one hand, she’s immensely proud that, with the courage of Jose Cuervo coursing through her veins, she knows enough to play hard to get for what is almost a completely sure thing.
On the other hand, this was not what she was here for. Not tonight. Tonight, Jose was not supposed to be encouraging anything, he was supposed to be helping her forget.
She puts all of her concentration into the drink in her hand and the baseball highlights reel playing on the tv.
He thanks Joe for his drink and then he’s talking to her again. “Okay, if you must know, then yes. That line works more often than not. But it’s not a line I pull out for just anyone, it’s for the girls I—“ he chuckles and out of the corner of her eye she sees him shake his head slightly. “Ah, you’re ignoring me.”
She smiles brilliantly without looking at him. “I’m trying to.”
“You shouldn’t ignore me.” He sounds so confident that she can’t help it. She tears herself away from SportsCenter and turns to face him fully for the first time since he sat down.
“Why not?” She asks finally; letting the defeat drip all over her words. She blames the tequila and the date on the calendar for the ease in which she relents.
“Because I’m someone you need to know to get to love.”
Oh, he’s good. Last week, he would have had her with that line of bullshit; no question. Tonight he’s going to have to work a little harder.
“So if I know you, I’ll love you?” She raises an eyebrow at him. “Seems debatable.”
“Let’s just say you wouldn’t be the first.” He leans back and spreads his hands wide, as if to say he’s helpless to stop what’s no doubt, dozens of women who have fallen for charm and swagger before her.
“You really like yourself, huh?”
“Most of the time.”
“Well, I hate to disappoint you, but I’m pretty sure I’m safe. I’m not looking to fall in love tonight.”
“No one ever is.” He pauses to take a sip of his drink and she’d be a liar if she said she wasn’t focused on the way his lips wrapped around the rim of the glass. He catches her staring and smirks. “So what’s your story?”
She shakes her head. “I don’t have a story. I’m just a girl in a bar.”
“See, that’s perfect.” He jabs his finger into his chest. “I’m just a guy in a bar.”
He’s good. She laughs.
They sit there for almost an hour and she dodges every question he throws her way. He answers most of hers.
He’s a paper salesman. What are the fucking chances? Not only that, but he’s the top salesman of Dunder Mifflin’s biggest competitor. She looks around, wondering if Meredith or maybe Oscar is playing a joke on her. She doesn’t offer up any details about her own job and he doesn’t really ask.
“What time is it?”
He looks at his watch. “Almost midnight.”
She shakes her head and clarifies. “The exact time?”
“Oh.” He looks down again. “Eleven fifty-eight.”
She nods and looks at her hands before meeting his gaze directly. “Buy me a shot?” It’s more of a demand than a request; but if he notices, he doesn’t say anything. He just turns back to Joe and orders another round of tequila.
“Thanks,” she says, more to Joe than him, when the glass is set down in front of her. She spins a quarter of the way around on her barstool so that her bare knee is pressed into his denim covered thigh and reaches for his arm. She tilts his wrist until she can see his watch and silently counts down the seconds until midnight.
“What are you—“ she holds up one finger without looking at him and waits until the second hand ticks past the twelve.
“That’s a nice watch,” she says, letting his hand drop back into his lap. “Still want to hear my story?”
“Lay it on me.”
“Today is my wedding day.” She smirks when his eyes drop to her hand and she automatically rubs her thumb over the recently bare strip of skin on her fourth finger. “Was my wedding day,” she amended. “I called it off last week. Do you know how stressful it is to call a wedding off five days before?” He shakes his head. “No, I guess you wouldn’t. If you’re wondering though, I don’t suggest it.”
“I should have called it off a month ago.” She tips her head to the side. “That’s not true. I should have called it off years ago. My ex and I, uh, we’d been together since high school. Now, I’m sure as hell not going to tell you how old I am, but just know it’s been a long time. Long enough to have been engaged for five years. I just…” she shrugs. “I wasn’t ever able to do it.”
She laughs at the look he gives her. “Don’t look so serious. I swear I’m not a tragic person. Well. I didn’t think I was. This last month has honestly been pretty fucking tragic, I guess.”
She stops, turns back to the bar and picks up the one of the two shot glasses and nods for him to take the other one. They clink the two tiny glasses together and without breaking eye contact, down the shot.
He’s ordered a tier above what she’s been drinking all night long, and there’s barely any burn as the alcohol slides down her throat. She closes her eyes and lets the warmth spread through her.
He’s looking at her when she opens her eyes back up. “So that’s it? That’s your story?”
“No.” She laughs and doesn’t recognize the hoarse, bitter sound coming from her throat. “No, I wish that was my story. That’s just the beginning. Unless you’ve got somewhere else to be?”
“Nothing could tear me away.”
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t give you an out.” She spins her barstool in tiny half circles until she remembers how many shots she’s done and stops before she falls. “So where was I? Oh right. Last month. When I should have called off my wedding.”
“Last month my best friend cornered me in a parking lot and told me he loved me. Came out of nowhere.” She can tell by the way one side of his mouth lifts that he doesn’t believe her ‘out of nowhere’ line but she keeps going. “He said he loved me, and he kissed me, and I kissed him back.” It’s the first time she diverts her eyes, but she brings them back to his just as quickly. “He asked me then, if I was actually going to marry my fiancé. And, you know, I hesitated. I hesitated for two, maybe three seconds because that’s one of those life changing questions you can’t just answer without giving it some sort of thought. At least, I didn’t think it was, but apparently that night, those two or three seconds were too much for him. He left. He walked away and he left before I could do anything about it.”
“What do you mean, he left?”
“I mean he left.” She smiles faintly, and ticks off on her fingers as she recites the list. “He left me. He left his job. He left Scranton, left the state of Pennsylvania, actually. Actually, he left the entire country.” She laughs mirthlessly. “He’s in Australia right now because he couldn’t even handle being on the same continent as me when I got married. He left everything. Because I hesitated for two or three seconds when he asked me to change my whole life at the snap of his fingers.”
“Is he why you called off your wedding?”
She props her elbow on the bar and her chin on her fist as she nods thoughtfully. “Yeah. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of reasons why, but he was the big one. So.” She straightens up and slaps her hands to her knees. “That’s my story.”
“See?” His hand falls to her knee, which is still pressed against his thigh. “I knew you had a story as soon as I saw you sitting here.”
“You must be super smart,” she says dryly right before she catches Joe’s eye. She points to the empty glasses in front of them and then twirls that same finger in the air between them.
“Another? Joe’s right. You really are going to be sorry in the morning.
“Maybe. Still not as sorry as if I was getting married.” She keeps her eyes on Joe until two new drinks sit in front of him and then she turns back to the paper salesman sitting next to her. “Now that you know that story, do you still want me to answer your first question?”
“My first questi—“ He frowns for a fraction of a second and then his eyes light up under arched eyebrows. “I really do.”
She nods. “I’ve been thinking about it since you asked and here’s the thing. I don’t think I’ve ever had a great fuck. Certainly, nothing exciting enough to share with a stranger at the bar.”
He points his tequila shot at her. “That might be the biggest tragedy of all.”
“Right? So hear me out.” She picks up her own glass and pauses in her story long enough for them to drink. This one stings a little, but she’s not sure if it’s the alcohol or what she’s about to say that causes a sudden wave of dizziness.
The room rights itself again and she presses forward. “The way I see it, one of two things can happen now. We can pay our tabs, you can walk me to my car like a decent gentleman would, and we can say goodnight.”
“You probably shouldn’t be driving right now.”
“I really shouldn’t,” she agrees easily.
“I can call you a cab.”
She wasn’t anticipating his actually being a decent guy and it throws her off track for a moment. But she’s not going to hesitate this time, not even for one second.
“Or you can take me home with you, fuck me, and become a story I tell the next guy in a bar.”