Jim couldn’t remember the last time he’d been out with the guys. He guessed it was six months ago after he’d been on the worst date with some girl named Katy. She had spent the entire time talking about her ex, clubbing with her friends, and how she spent her nights. She wasn’t super sly with the last one, suggestively winking at him. He shuddered at the memory which brought him back to the present.
“So?” His friend, Alan, asked him. “Are you going or not? And before you answer, I hear chicks will be there. AND…” his friend trailed off as Jim went to interrupt him.
“How old are we?” Jim laughed. “Chicks? Dude. I’m just trying to unwind this weekend. I’m not looking for anything, nor do I think you should in your current state.
Alan’s long-term girlfriend had broken up with him a month ago, and he’d been on a bender since. It was exhausting, but Jim understood and lightly encouraged him to chill out.
“Whatever, anyway, will you be there or not?” Alan sighed, and Jim could hear the slight annoyance in his voice and decided not to push it further. Jim knew that the only way to get past this roadblock, for Alan to get over his ex, was to pretend it didn’t mean anything at all and to forget it ever happened.
“Yeah, I’ll be there. Remind me where we’re going?” Jim replied with a sigh of his own. Honestly, going out was tiring, and he only did this to support his buddy. He was lonely, bored with life, and drinking alone seemed increasingly appealing as he aged. So he could think of nothing better than grabbing a beer while watching whatever sport was in season. It wasn’t much to many people, but it was good enough for him.
It’s the new bar in town, Kevin’s Bar. Kind of an odd name, but the owner is strange too. Whatever. See you at seven?” Alan responded.
“Sure, seven sounds great. Oh, and Alan? You need to chill out tonight. Just because you and Karen broke up….” Jim began before he was interrupted.
“Yes, dad. I know. I’ll see you at seven.” Alan replied briskly before hanging up.
The night was already to a great start.
Jim held the phone by his ear, the silence louder than Alan had been. He slowly lowered the phone and looked at the clock. It was 5:00 pm on Saturday. He was going out whether he wanted to or not. He grabbed his nightly beer and sat on the couch, deciding that whatever basketball game was on was better than sitting in silence. He flipped through the channels until he decided on the Bulls. He wiped his hands down his thighs, the roughness of his jeans keeping him grounded.
God, he was lonely.
A bit later, zoned out and a tad tipsy, Jim snapped out of it and realized he’d had a few beers and some tequila shots. Why tequila? He questioned himself. It was 6:45 pm. He fished for his phone before finding it between the couch cushions, nearly under them.
He dialed Alan, hoping to catch a ride with him before he left. Alan answered the phone, sounding distracted, and Jim asked for a ride, his words slurring every so slightly.
“Yeah, sure, man. Be there in a few.” Alan hung up.
Alan was a man of few words. Jim smiled a bit. Alan was a good friend. How long had they been friends? His memories were blurring together. How much had he drunk already? Water. Water first. Think later. Oh, the doorbell.
Jim grabbed his fleece navy zip-up jacket, forgetting about the water, and headed towards the door, twisting the knob open with a big and bright smile plastered on his face and a “Hey!”. That’s what happy people did, right? They pretended to be happy while drowning in the constant swell of misery.
The car ride was uneventful and bumpy. Alan’s car was old, and no matter how often it was voted on and passed, the road conditions never increased. Maybe it was the snow. Perhaps it was the decline in the desire to take care of things. Jim couldn’t tell you what they talked about during the few minutes in the car. Instead, he focused on not throwing up. He was feeling a bit nervous though he was unsure why. Maybe it was the pressure of “getting out there.” He wondered to himself how Alan did it.
They pulled up to a bar and heard a resounding thumping and people clapping—some cheers from drunk men and high-pitched squeals from the drunk women.
“What the F-” they both started at the same time.
They walked toward the bar and showed the bouncer their IDs. Since when had Scranton become so fancy they had to show IDs to get in? He recalled a time in college when a bouncer tore up his fake ID, claiming Jim was too baby-faced to have a drink. He wasn’t wrong. Jim had been eighteen and fresh out of high school, where he’d still needed to ask to use the bathroom. So who had he been kidding?
After entering, they quickly realized what was going on as they saw a couple singing a horrible rendition of some Kesha song. It was bad. Really really bad. Jim caught himself laughing for the first time in a while. It was comically bad. Neither could carry a tune, and both were behind a beat, let alone not even on the same beat.
“So, we staying or not?” Jim clapped his hand on Alan’s shoulder. Alan had been standing there stunned and unmoving. The clap made him jolt back to reality.
“Yeah, sure. Why not? Entertainment, you know? Where else are we going to go?” Alan laughed, but Jim was back to getting that pit in his stomach. Another reminder he was going to die in this shitty town.
He headed straight to the bar where a balding man (maybe this was the infamous Kevin?) asked what he wanted, his flannel grazing the edges of the bar with his hands planted firmly on the top.
“Hi, yeah. Double shot of tequila, please, and let’s open a tab”. Jim said as he grabbed his wallet, trying to find his card in the mess of lottery tickets and receipts from the liquor store.
Seriously what was with the tequila tonight? He rarely drank anything besides whiskey and beer. Whiskey was a rarity, whereas beer was a necessity. Tequila though? Tequila was for college Jim, young twenties Jim, the Jim too unsure and naive to understand that tequila would knock him on his ass before anything else.
The bartender (Kevin? It was unknown) took his card in exchange for his drinks, eying him enough that Jim knew what he was thinking, “How drunk are you, and when will I need my bouncers to throw you out” or “You need some help.” Jim waited for his card, his back against the bar as he caught the eye of a beautiful auburn-haired girl.
Unlike him, she was talking with some friends and seemed like she genuinely enjoyed living life. He threw back the double shot without taking his eyes off her. He noticed how her pale blue cardigan fit her body perfectly, and he wondered if she was the kind of girl who got her clothes tailored because there was no way someone could look so naturally perfect wearing a cardigan of all things. He examined how her smile was contagious within her group of friends and wondered if this could be the girl who could finally bring out the genuine smile in himself.
He turned and asked the bartender for another, beginning to feel lively instead of drained.
He didn’t allow his back to turn towards her for more than a moment, for he genuinely believed that if his eyes wandered elsewhere, he’d lose her and be back to his original state. But, on the other hand, maybe she was a figment of his imagination, a fever dream, perhaps he’d really had too much to drink, and he was passed out on his bathroom floor.
Alan came up alongside him, handing him a beer. Okay, so he was mixing alcohol tonight. But maybe he should cool it if he wanted to stand any chance with the mystery auburn-haired girl.
Alan said something that Jim barely heard, his mind and eyes fixed on her. He noticed how her blush crept up her neck before settling in her cheeks. She was shaking her head while still laughing slightly, the corners of her mouth falling slightly. Her friends surrounded her, laughing harder and pointing to the stage. She looked a bit freaked out and hesitant, looking between her group and the karaoke stand.
“Ah,” Jim thought. She’d been signed up for karaoke. He considered this a win. Barely any effort from his end, and he could evaluate her from afar. He looked away, realizing he’d be staring too long to be comfortable for anyone. His thoughts drifted away, dreaming of a happier life, away from his hometown, with this mystery girl, maybe? He suddenly had visions of their future. An entirely made-up scenario of a home in a lovely city far away from Pennsylvania. Maybe Texas? They would have two children, a boy, and a girl. He pondered if this was what the movies meant when they talked about love at first sight. Did it come down to finding a pretty girl in a bar and setting your eyes on her?
His thoughts quieted as she got up on stage, straightening the cardigan, and he finally saw her body's features. He loved the way her hair cascaded down her shoulders. He longed to hold the hand that was gripping the microphone. He was smitten and transfixed. Anticipation thrilled through him, begging to hear her voice.
“Uhm, hi…” She started before anxiously trailing off. “My friends dared me to get up here, and I guess I’m going to sing now.” She smiled slightly, the fear in her eyes giving away her genuine emotions.
Jim found a seat at a high top, unsure where Alan was before he saw him across the bar, unmoved by the girl on stage, talking to someone else who was also unbothered by the new song about to come on.
The song queued up, and he instantly recognized it. His mom was a country music fan, and it was the only genre in rotation while he was growing up. Truthfully he hated country music, but this song held a special place in his heart thus he felt a connection to this girl who’d also decided it was her karaoke song.
The beat began from Heads Carolina Tails California by Jo Dee Messina. Not many other people seemed to be paying attention. They were more enthralled by their conversations, beer, or pool. Jim glanced around and seemed to be the only one paying attention aside from her friends. He made eye contact with a girl from the group who looked between the mystery girl and him, smiling to herself before glancing between the two again.
The girl started singing and was hesitant. She had no stage presence. But, then again, who would if not trained? She stood awkwardly, the grip tightening on the microphone. He swore he saw a slight sheen on her face as if she was sweating. It was endearing.
By the time she’d made it to the first chorus, Jim had noticed the bar had quieted down, and these strangers were paying more attention to her. He saw some men entranced like he was and other women almost cheering her on. She almost had the whole bar in the palm of her hand.
Alan came up next to him, his eyes on her before leaning down to Jim, “Damn, she’s not great, but she’s stunning.”
Without moving his eyes off her, Jim replied, “I know.” with a slight smile.
He knew at that moment he would do anything to marry this woman if she agreed to a date first. He wasn’t going to force it, of course. Maybe they were incompatible. Maybe she was a cat person with an agenda to end dog ownership. Regardless he figured not much could sway him from falling in love.
He paused, reevaluating his thoughts. What was this all of a sudden? Love? He didn’t even know her name.
One of her friends shouted, “We love you, Pam!” as the chorus finished, and she moved around on stage more. So now he knew her name, and she was more comfortable on stage. Two wins.
The patrons in the bar were head bobbing and singing along to the lyric, “Somewhere Greener, Somewhere Warmer. Up in the Mountains, Down By the Ocean,” being screamed sung and felt deeply in the hearts of everyone present.
It was almost as if the crowd agreed there was much more to the world than Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Finally, she made eye contact with him. She faltered over her words a bit, her eyes returning quickly to the screen though she hadn’t looked at it for most of the time. She had an underlying smile, and Jim felt his heart stutter itself.
He was great at reading body language. It came with the gig of being a salesman. Reading body language and silent cues were the reason he had a job still. It’s not because he had the passion or desire to sell paper. He knew how to read people and play them like a fiddle.
He could tell she was into him; that was all he needed. As soon as she was done, he would buy her a drink. He figured he wouldn’t be the only man vying for her attention but considered he might be the only one she entertained. He stood up from his seat, his forearms resting on the table, his eyes still attached to her movements. Her hair bounced gently as she sang while her hips swayed in time to the music.
How was he so mesmerized by her? Her movements and voice were equivalent to a personal siren for him.
The music faded out, and she received thunderous applause from everyone. Jim turned towards the bar and asked for two beers. There was an influx of men trying to buy drinks suddenly, but he’d been first, and that was all he needed.
He turned towards the group of her friends and took a deep breath before heading over. Nothing intimidated him more than going to a group of women. Let alone going up to one when he was optimistic his future wife was standing there.
He weaved between tables before stopping right behind her, her back to him, her hand casually flipping her hair behind her shoulder. Her hair smelled like coconuts and vanilla. He almost lost it there. The friend he’d made eye contact with while Pam was singing looked up at him and smiled before widening her eyes and raising her eyebrows back towards Pam then up at him.
Pam turned towards him, and he felt all the alcohol he’d drank that night, wanting to bubble back up.
He tried to play it cool and calm. “Hi, I’m Jim.” He started. Cool. Calm. Not like he’d been drinking since 5:30 pm. Not at all like he was self-conscious, lonely, and aching for someone to love him back. Nope, not like that. He was the kind of guy who did this all the time. Well, maybe not all the time, but sometimes. He handed her the beer with a shrug. “I wasn’t sure what kind you may like, but you seem like a girl who doesn’t like something too sweet but still likes it to be citrusy. This beer is my favorite.”
She smiled up at him. Wow, she had kind eyes. Her smile would be the death of him. “Hi, I’m Pam. But, don’t worry, this is my favorite kind too.”
She excused herself from her friends, and they made their way to an empty table. All the men at the bar buying her drinks now looked distraught as they saw Jim had snagged her first. He didn’t care about being first. He just cared about being her last.
The conversation flowed easily, and they learned so much about one another. It was only when her friends came back to her telling her they were leaving, asking if she needed a ride, and eyeing him.
Jim glanced at his phone. It was past eleven. How long had they been sitting here?
“Oh, Uhm, okay!” Pam shifted, seemingly unconvinced that she was ready to leave, but the fight between that and…he wasn’t sure, maybe having a lovely morning with coffee and reading a book tomorrow morning pressed on in her mind. At least he thought that’s what was going on. But, of course, he didn’t know her fully yet.
“It’s okay, Pam. I should get going too.” He wasn’t sure of that. He didn’t want to leave her. He was sure if he could stay here longer that they’d be here until the last call; he’d take her home, talk to her until the early morning hours, where he’d cook her breakfast and ask her every question on his mind.
But he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable.
She looked sad to say goodbye, but she asked for his phone before she left.
“For later,” she said, her smile and lip bite almost killing him. She’d given him her number.
He chuckled and sent her a quick text, so she had his number.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said, brushing his hair back. When was the last time he’d felt so bashful? When was the last time he’d felt so alive?
Her friends smiled politely as they passed, and she joined their group, but hers was the only one he focused on when she turned around to wave goodbye before disappearing into the crowd.
Jim tried to track Alan down, looking around the bar before seeing a few missed texts from him. Again, he’d left with another woman. This time, however, Jim didn’t seem to mind being alone. On the contrary, he relished the time he’d be able to walk home and think only of her.
He knew that when morning came, he’d call her, ask her on a date to breakfast, pray she was done with her morning coffee and book, and his future would start.
There was no looking back, only forward to something greener.