Around four o’clock, the three of us had finished unloading the last of Diane’s stuff, and I was pretty exhausted. We sat around for about twenty minutes joking and relaxing, but it was obvious that all of us were considering the idea of a nap. I bid my farewells, promised Diane I’d call her about dinner the following night, and then headed home to grab a couple of hours on the couch before my date with Mary.
I got home and gave a quick call to Mary, just to confirm plans.
“Hello?” She was laughing as she picked up the phone.
“Hey, it’s Ben,” I said. “I was just calling to make sure we’re still on for tonight at the Red Tub.”
“Yep,” she confirmed. “Eight o’clock.”
“Excellent. I’ll meet you there and you can tell me all about your lonely vacation in paradise.”
“I can’t wait.”
“Me either, Mary. I’ll see you tonight.”
I hung up and set the alarm in my cell phone to go off at half past six, and promptly went to sleep on the couch. I was not pleased when it went off. I think naps are counterproductive for me, as I’ve never once woken up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated from one. It may actually have to do with some unknown sleep disorder, but who knows? Anyway, I swore at my phone, clicked it off, and headed for the shower to be alone with my thoughts.
I wanted to think about my upcoming date with Mary, but my mind kept replaying my time spent with Diane. My friends have often told me that I wear my heart on my sleeve and that I fall too fast, and I admit that I was ready to swear off all dating and focus only on Diane after this morning. Nice Ass wouldn’t allow that, though. Besides, Mary may be even better. I didn’t think it was likely, but it certainly wouldn’t be fair to write her off before giving her a chance.
I resolved not to think about it anymore until tomorrow, and focused on shaving my head. While my mother loathes this habit, I have had more women say they liked it than not. Originally I had done it because it hid a small patch of gray right on my brow, but now it was something that I felt got me a few more smiles in the bars. Maybe it was my subtle version of peacocking.
I picked out a black polo and my one pair of jeans that didn’t have any stains or rips in them and dressed. I still had an hour to burn before meeting Mary, so I sat at the computer. The Internet is a wonderful passer of time. My “New Mail” beep pulled my attention to Outlook, and my mailbox was filled with unread messages. Most of them looked like spam. You know the type… enlarge your penis, drive her crazy in bed, buy our lame product. These companies, if they can even be called such, are a blight on society. To hell with the War of Terror, let’s bomb these guys! I deleted all of these without reading them.
My first real email was from Casey, and she wasted no time in asking for the details on how my dates had gone. I put off replying, since I could send her one tomorrow and give her the entire scoop.
Lenny was the author of the next one, and he was asking the same question. He also mentioned that he had talked to Rachel last night and she had asked him if I was still single. Apparently Rachel decided to bypass Casey in her desire to let me know she was interested. While it was a little grade-schoolish for her to tell my friends and not tell me, it was also cute.
The time was close enough for my date that I headed to the Red Tub. Again, I planned on arriving early and leave it up to Mary to find me in the crowd. It wasn’t destined to work out that way, though.
The entrance to the Red Tub is squished between two other establishments in the same building, and very easy to miss. When you open the door, you’re greeted with a staircase leading up to a dimly lit area, from which jazz and blues fall down the stairs to greet you. Walking up them, you’ll find a small bar that’s reminiscent of a coffee house, only without the pretentious customers.
Tonight, in fact, there were hardly any customers at all. The Tub is a place that doesn’t really start happening until later. There were two guys sitting at a table near the bar, and a girl sitting by herself. She looked at me and smiled. She looked vaguely familiar, and I wondered if this might be Mary. I smiled back, but didn’t approach her immediately.
I knew Tripp, the bartender, so I walked over to him and shook his hand. His day job is working at a store with one of my other friends, so most of my interaction with him was indirect, but he’s a cool enough guy to warrant talking to on his own.
“How’s tricks?” I asked.
“Same old, same old,” Tripp grinned. “Getting people drunk one beer at a time.”
“Sounds like a sitcom,” I laughed. Then I sang “One beer at a time” to the tune of the theme song from “One Day at a Time.”
“Yeah, maybe I should write one,” Tripp nodded.
“Good idea. Just cast me in the role of Schneider,” I said. “I’ll be back in a bit. There’s a girl sitting by herself over there who needs my attention.”
I had used my conversation with Tripp to buy time to think over how to approach this girl. If she was Mary, I’d recognize her voice. If she wasn’t, she was still a girl sitting by herself in a bar, and she could blow me off if she was waiting for someone else. So I walked over to her.
She had dark hair that fell below her shoulders and was wearing a green shirt and blue jeans. She smiled as I walked up, and I got my first good look at her eyes. They were hazel, with hints of green that reflected off of her shirt, and were absolutely beautiful.
“I couldn’t help but notice you’re sitting by yourself,” I said. “Are you waiting on someone?”
“Actually I am,” she answered. Her voice gave her away, but even if it didn’t, the laughter in her eyes would have. It was Mary. “I’m just very early.”
“Why would you want to arrive so much earlier than your date?” I sat down across from her.
“Well, I wanted to grab a good table,” she giggled.
“But that’s not fair,” I said. “Maybe the guy would’ve picked a different table.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Well,” I said. “Because maybe he wanted to sit somewhere that he could see you come in from the corner of his eye, but pretend not to see you.”
Long ago, in the days of my youth, I mastered the art of honesty-through-humor. It was the perfect way to deliver an undesirable truth in a way that was appreciated by the recipient. If they chose to take it as a joke and not believe it, I could always say that I told them about it when they found out.
“Because he didn’t remember what I looked like?” She grinned.
“Maybe he didn’t,” I nodded. “He could’ve been pretty drunk when he met you, and unsure of his memory.”
“I never thought of that,” Mary gave a pretend-gasp. “It’s a good thing I got here early then.”
“Yes, it is,” I agreed. “I don’t like the sound of this guy. I think you should hang out with me instead. I’m Ben.”
“It’s nice to meet you again, Ben,” she giggled. “I’m Mary, and I’m going to the bathroom now to call my girlfriends and talk about you.”
“I’ll wait here, and tell your date you won’t be needing his attentions this evening.”
Mary smiled and walked off to the bathroom. I just watched her. She had a pretty nice ass. I sat patiently at the table and enjoyed the Louis Armstrong song that was playing. It was A Kiss to Build a Dream On which is one of my favorites by him. Mary returned from the bathroom after a few minutes, still smiling.
“That was a short phone call,” I said.
“I didn’t have much to say about you.”
“That wounds me.” I made a pouting face. “Maybe you should’ve waited longer before calling.”
“But then the first impression would be tainted by any conversation we had,” she said.
“I thought I would’ve made my first impression last week, and this was a second one?”
“You were drunk last week, and impressions made in bars don’t count anyway.”
“We’re in a bar right now, though,” I pointed at Tripp. “Nevermind. The important thing was that you came back from the bathroom, which means the second first impression was worth finding out more.”
“My friend doesn’t think so,” she said, with a laugh. “She was with me last weekend and thinks you’re a smarmy asshole, but I think it’s just an act.”
I’m not sure how long my mouth hung open without words coming out, but I know that Nice Ass ran forward with about a million things to say. I said nothing and shrugged instead. I couldn’t correct her for being right.
“So why the act, Ben?” She looked towards the bar. “And why haven’t you asked me what I’d like to drink yet?”
“Because I’ve been too busy having you joke-truth me into submission over here,” I answered. “What would you like to drink?”
“Amaretto Sour, thanks for asking,” Mary smiled. “You avoided the first question.”
“Maybe it’s not an act?”
“Then this would be our first and last date, and I would be disappointed that I saw the mirage of a nice guy under Mr. Smarmy.”
“That would be sad,” I frowned. “How about I get some drinks for us?”
She smiled and nodded, so I walked over to the bar and placed an order for her drink and a Newcastle, which is the best beer they have on tap. I’ve lobbied for them to add a keg of something better, but this town seems to be against me when it comes to getting better beer.
“Nice girl,” Tripp said, mixing her drink.
“Yeah, she seems nice. It’s our first date tonight.”
“Cool,” Tripped nodded. “Hey, you know Rachel, over at the Saucer?”
“Yeah,” I answered. I already knew what was coming next.
“She’s into you, dude. You should talk to her.”
“I’ve heard,” I said. “She’s done just about everything but rent a billboard to let me know. It’s getting kind of freaky.”
“Oh,” Tripp said, handing me the drinks, “Freaky can be a good thing, though.”
We laughed at that and I headed back to Mary. I sat back down and set her drink in front of her.
“Mr. Smarmy, huh? Is that what your friend called me?”
“Yep,” Mary giggled. “She started calling you that as soon as you walked off.”
“I’m not sure I like you hanging out with this girl,” I said. “She has ‘bad influence’ potential.”
“There’s a nice girl under all that hostility,” Mary said.
“So I guess your super power is that you can find the hidden nice person in all of us, huh?”
“Not really, I knew Nikki before she became a bitch, and she was a sweetheart.”
“Ah, but how do you explain me?”
“You might freak out if I tell you, but I don’t want to hide it from you,” Mary said and blushed a little. “We’ll come back to that question. Let’s talk about something else for now.”
“Ok, well how about we talk about your week-long vacation to Cozumel? I’m sure you were incredibly bored without me there to keep you company.”
“Not at all,” Mary laughed. “There were plenty of cabana boys to keep me company in your absence.”
“All smarminess aside,” I said. “Where’d you go?”
“Well, I just moved here recently and I didn’t bring all of my stuff. So I went back home to pack the rest of it up and bring it down to South Cackalackey.”
“Down?” I asked. “So you’re a Yankee?”
“According to my friends, I’m a Damn Yankee, because I decided to stay.” Mary laughed as she said it, but blushed a little bit more.
“You don’t really act like one, though,” I said. “Where are you from?”
“Chicago,” she answered.
“Wow. You don’t have the stereotypical Chicago accent, though.”
“But I think all the pizza down here is yucky,” Mary smiled, looking nervous. “It’s not Chicago, exactly, but a small town about a half hour from it.”
She told me the name of the town and everything clicked into place at once. She had some way of seeing through my Nice Ass approach and knowing there was a hidden person underneath. She was from a small town in Illinois that I’d never heard of. Except I had heard of it just last Tuesday. I had looked it up on the Internet to see where it was. I must’ve gasped as I made the connection, because she buried her face in her hands.
“Oh my God! You’re a stalker!” I said, laughing. “You’re some freaky MySpace girl who’s going to drug me and cut out my kidneys in some seedy motel bathroom! I’m going to be on the news, and my mother will tell everyone she warned me about those Internet women!”
“No,” she said, still hiding her face in her hands. “It didn’t happen like that. Honest!”
“But that’s who you are, isn’t it?” I was still laughing.
“Yes,” she giggled. “I didn’t see your profile until Tuesday. I was showing Myspace to one of my friends up there, and did a browse and your picture popped up. You’re not freaked out?”
“No,” I smiled. “I probably should be, and I’m certainly not leaving you alone with any of my drinks just in case. It’s a new age, though. The Internet has made the world a smaller place.”
“Thank God!” She unclenched her shoulders. “I was so nervous that you’d think I was some freak.”
“We’re all freaks, really. After all, I keep my diary on the Internet for everyone in the world to read,” I said. “And since you’ve read it, it means you’re out of the experiment.”
“That’s not fair,” she protested. “I didn’t read it until after I’d agreed to a date! By the way, I want royalties for you using my ‘going out of town’ line to pick up the girl with the stupid answering machine message.”
“Royalties?” I grinned. “Fine. I agree to pass ten percent of any booty I get from Kara on to you.”
“Thirty!” She narrowed her eyes.
“Twenty, but that’s as high as I can go.” I shrugged. “It wouldn’t be worth the effort on my part for anything less than eighty percent booty.”
“Deal,” Mary smiled. “So what does being out of the experiment entail?”
“It means I can’t be Nice Ass anymore with you,” I sighed. I guess we’ll just have to settle for normal dates.”
“Dates?” she asked. “As in more than one?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “In fact, I think we should turn this into a proper date instead of just drinks. You want to grab some food?”