I met her in a bar, on a Wednesday. It was a retro dive, converted from a burger joint once upon a time. In a previous life it had been the place for underground metal and hardcore. I thought it was a fag bar so I avoided it.
I quit my job. My two weeks were up and I had no prospects on the horizon. It had been a hard summer, and I was completely ragged. I lost almost ten pounds. I had a single paycheck to my name. I called Willy Pete.
The plan was our usual – Troll the bars until I collapsed, or Willy Pete got into a fight. Whichever came first.
We hit a few neighborhood spots. Crowds were thin. We made the trek down to the end of the street, to that fateful bar. As we passed under the neon, Willy Pete pointed at the art deco facade. It was plastered with flyers.
“Fuck that. It’s a twink bar . . . “
“It is not! This place, let me tell you something,” he put his arm around my shoulder, “This place used to be the place, back in the day. Everybody played here . . . “
“Uh huh. Well, uh . . . we might as well.”
The floors were black-and-white checkered tile. Every surface was an aging relic from another era. There were dusty bottles and nick-nacks everywhere. It looked like the love child of James Dean and a prostitute. The girl behind the bar had more tattoos on one arm than I had on my entire body. Two more sat at the counter – the only other patrons.
Willy Pete and I wrinkled our brows and headed for the bar. Jack, double – I said, holding up two fingers.
The girls were all looking at us out of the corner of their eyes. The blonde was rocking full sleeves. I recognized the red-head with her. Willy Pete made small-talk with the bartender. Conversation was awkward. I hunkered down on my elbows, standing at the counter. I used words only in pairs, speaking over my shoulder.
Then I remembered where I’d seen the red-head before. I moved down the bar.
“How was Vegas?” I asked.
She looked up at me, confused.
“How do you know about Vegas?”
“You requested me on MySpace,” I replied, dryly.
It was still a cult phenomenon at the time. I was an early adopter. Shogun Marcus introduced me to it two weeks prior, explaining that a buddy of his pulled girls off there all the time. Five minutes later, I was a convert.
She smiled, a little puzzled. She was very pretty. Wild auburn hair framed her face. Curly locks coiled around her cheeks. She had a broad, wonderful smile. Women never smiled at me.
We made small talk.
It was very casual, even flirtatious. I wasn’t looking for anything. I was so beaten down by the year I’d had the conversation became an end in itself. She was very smart – witty, clever – I didn’t find myself looking for reasons to ignore her. Somehow the subject of cars came up.
I started to bite my tongue. I am extremely compulsive, and my passion for all things automotive has been known to send me into OCD fits. She told me her first car was a late 2nd Generation F-Body. She talked about the engine modifications in detail. I listened, utterly rapt.
Our beautiful moment was interrupted by the bartender. She was closing up shop. The girls shooed us out of the bar.
Willy Pete and I made our way back down the street. No one was out. Everything would be closed by now. We debated our options for another block when a lone SUV passed. The passenger window was rolled down and the driver honked at us. I spotted the red-head in the passenger seat.
The truck stopped for a red light at the next corner. I started to jog up to it, but the light went green and they pulled away. I stumbled to a halt, defeated.
“You’re in,” Willy Pete told me.
“What?” I replied. “Get the fuck on. She was only humoring me.”
“Normally I would agree with you, but she was totally into you.”
“Seriously. You’ve got the whole ‘tattoo’ thing in common. And the car thing. I almost punched you in the fucking face when you started talking about cars, but she was totally digging it.”
“You were gonna punch me!? Ha . . . “
We sauntered down the street, looking for lit neons. We made it to the next major intersection with no luck. As we were about to cross, someone shouted at us.
“Hey! Are you guys looking for two girls!?”
I recognized the voice. It was a half-feminate neighborhood twink I had worked with at a bar a few months prior. He waved us over and ushered us inside. The bar was closed, but the neighborhood wait-staff were having an afterparty. Another retro-dive, this joint was actually a legitimate fag bar. However, it was also the bar of choice for local lesbians. That and the location made it more of a mixed crowd than anything.
We stepped inside and I spotted the red-head and her friend. I could see the discomfort on her face. Awkwardly, I took a seat near by her. She told me that the bartender – twink boy – had called us in to stir up trouble. We chatted for a while. Willy Pete stood at the bar, bullshitting with Twink Boy.
Then things went wrong. I heard a shout, and Willy Pete was ready to pummel the bartender.
His shift in personality happened so suddenly that I had no time to process the situation. Without so much as a word I was on my feet, arms around Willy Pete, and I dragged him out the door.
I was furious.
He shouted at me as we walked back to his apartment. The more he talked, the more I wanted to knock out all of his teeth. I snapped. Without uttering a word, I turned around and walked in the opposite direction.
Willy Pete screamed at me. What the fuck did I think I was doing!? Was I going to take that fucking faggot’s side over his!?
Don’t You Walk Away From Me!!!
I had no idea what had sparked the argument between the two. To this day I have no idea. I didn’t care. I was tired of bailing him out. I was tired of cleaning up after him. He shouted at me for a full block, but didn’t follow me. My car was in the opposite direction, but I was way too drunk to drive. I was a $50 cab ride from home.
I needed to sober up.
Head hung low, hands in my pockets, I skulked off under the street lamps. One of the fags from the bar was smoking a cigarette in the doorway as I passed. He stopped me and invited me inside. With some hesitation, I accepted. I asked for a pint of water and slunk down in my seat.
The red-head was gone.