This story can be found published on The Write City Magazine, a publication of the Chicago Writers’ Association.
“You and Tequila make me happy,” I tell him, swiveling side to side on my bar stool. “Er, I mean, this is great.” I motion to the restaurant’s wood and metal décor as accented by fashionably dim lighting.
I run my fingertip along the edge of the empty shot glass then lick it. Oh my god, what am I doing? I move the glass to the back of the bar so fast I nearly knock it over. The bartender takes this as a cue and I don’t wave him off.
Trying to retain some semblance of decorum, I force myself to stop fidgeting and say, “It was fun to run into you at the dog park. I mean, what are the chances? You have a dog… I have a dog…” I place one firm hand over the drumming fingers of the other. “I’m glad you asked me out.”
The bartender returns and I lift my renewed drink in mock toast before tossing it back. Smacking my lips, I smile ear to ear and say, “Takes the edge off. I should be completely smooth any minute now.” I crack myself up and try to silence my giggles with a sip of lime infused ice water. The tequila has loosened my tongue and I pray it’s working its way to my nerves.
“I’ve had a crush on you since sixth grade,” I announce. “You probably don’t remember, but we sat next to each other during math. Mrs. Donovan’s class. Your elbow came in contact with mine at least thirty-six times. Thirty-seven? No, I probably just remember that because it’s a prime number. The first irregular prime, the fifth lucky prime.” I realize I am tapping the shot glass, tap, tap, roll the edge, tap, tap. I set it down and jam my hands beneath my butt. “Lucky prime, that’s funny, huh?” I catch myself twisting on the bar stool again. “Ah, well, thirty-seven, thirty-eight, I used to recall exactly, but you know, that was a long time ago. Yep, almost nine years since we rubbed elbows. Get it?” I chuckle and release a hand so I can sip some more water. “My family moved that summer and I ended up in a different junior high. Hamilton. I think you went to Wright, right?” A bubble of nervous laughter erupts, bursting mid-throat. I realize I have conversation run-on, who cares what middle school you went to? My eyeballs want to roll up with exasperation but I don’t let them.
My memory seems to be the third person on our date. “Hey, go Regents.” I lift my fist in cheer. “I don’t think we had any classes together in high school. Maybe like gym or something but…” I was in all the honors classes, I finish in my head, thankful for the bartender’s interruption.
We both reach for the shots that have been refilled, bumping knuckles in the process. “That’s what happens when you seat a lefty on the wrong side of a righty,” I say, my math class point proven. “Not that you have a wrong side!” I am inwardly groaning as I lay my palm flat on the bar freeing up space for him to take his glass.
My mouth picks up where my idle hand falters. “Remember playing with Rubik’s cubes in Mrs. D’s class? I tried to stop you from popping all the tiles off, ya’ cheater. Only to be told that I should do it, too.” I can feel the red creep taking hold at the base of my neck. “Rebuilding the cube was part of the lesson.”
I glance at the screen of my cell phone, checking the time, doing the math, wondering why the hostess hasn’t offered to seat us yet. When I raise my eyes again, I see he is staring at me. He has wickedly long lashes framing deep brown eyes. I can see the lights of the bar in them, glowing behind my reflection like red and blue haloes.
I can’t take it. Looking away, I blurt, “So you’re home for summer break.” It’s not a question; I’m just establishing facts in lieu of another memory dump. “Me too.” The space between my mouth moving and words falling out seems to be filled with awkward gurgles, not quite laughter, not quite retching. “College is great, though.” I’m nodding like a fool thinking about how I made the Dean’s list again. To my knowledge, he’s never been a good student, so I don’t bring up my academic endeavors, and instead ask about his pet. “Do you get to the park often? Oh!” I laugh, for real this time. “Come here often? Heh, heh.” I shake my head, try to regroup. “Our dogs sure did enjoy each other’s company. Running and chasing.” I’m grinning like a fool remembering how cute the pups were. “Was pretty sweet how protective your Dawson was of my Millie. Following her and peeing wherever she just peed.” The flush that has stayed at bay begins its warm crawl up into my cheeks.
Grasping the glass in my fist, I pour the third shot of Cuervo down my open gullet and beg myself to just shut up. I can feel his continued scrutiny, but I busy myself with bar gazing, paying particular attention to the hostess station between us and the restaurant.
“I wonder what’s taking our table so long?” I want to flag the bartender down for one more, but recognize that as a very bad idea. I know what comes after three tequila– floor! I drain the rest of my water instead. “Didn’t seem like it was that busy when we got here,” I say. “I’m getting hungry. Are you getting hungry? Not a good idea to drink on an empty stomach.” My fingers are beating on the bar top again. He places his warm hand atop mine. Thoughts whirl faster than my mouth can relay. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop them from falling out.
“Wow, the tequila must be going to my head. It just got really warm in here.” I’m petrified that my hand will wiggle or twitch and he’ll take his back. I can’t stop looking at his long strong fingers. “So yeah, I don’t really drink a lot. I should’ve paced myself.”
He’s only contributed about a dozen sentences since I ran into him at the dog park the other day and I realize I’ve made a lot of assumptions in his silence. Maybe he has a girlfriend, maybe he’s not interested in me that way, maybe my tapping was irritating and this is not a sign of affection.
Maybe it’s my turn to keep quiet, let him fill the space. I’m just about to tell him this when he leans in and steals the intent from my lips.
“Thirty-nine,” he whispers.