The bar is dim and smells of fried food. Neon lights glow red, green and blue on the walls. Incandescent lamps burn dull yellow on the tables. A jukebox sits in the back, silent for now. Country music blares too loud from speakers mounted in the corners. Drunks guard their drinks at the bar and talk politics and sports. I sit at a table with a beer and wait. I’m supposed to meet her here. I’m early.
I met her online. I never thought I’d ever date someone from the Internet, but here I am, waiting, hoping it’ll turn out okay. I don’t get out much. I don’t have a car and money’s always tight, so I thought I’d try my hand at online dating. It’s been eighteen months since my wife and I separated. Our divorce will be final in a few months. For a long time, I thought we could rescue our marriage. I thought we could find a way to talk again, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Not that it’s been an acrimonious split. We just have nothing left in common.
She enters through the front door. I recognize her from the photos she’s sent to me. I wave her down and she smiles, waving back. Nerves turn my stomach a bit, but I take a big breath and sit at the table with her.
She’s divorced with young kids at home. She’s a teacher in Portland and doesn’t seem to be looking for money or gifts. We’ve been emailing each other for a couple of weeks and only now decided to meet.
She’s tallish and blond. Her hips flare from a narrow waist and she wears a sweater and a coat. Winter has come full on in the last couple of days. Cold rain and wind rattle the last of the last of the leaves from the trees and make the streets slick. She lives in Beaverton and agreed to drive out to meet me. I could’ve taken the bus into town, but she said she didn’t mind the drive.
“How are you?” I ask.
She shrugs. “You know,” she says. “Functioning.”
“You have any trouble finding someone to watch the kids?”
“They’re staying the night with my mom.”
I remember when my sons were little, finding a babysitter was hard sometimes. There weren’t many people my wife and I trusted except family. I’m glad they’re grown now. I miss seeing them every day, but it’s nice to have the freedom to go out and do what I please.
She goes to the bar and orders a beer. She brings it back to the table and sits. She stares at me for a second and smiles.
“I don’t know what to say,” she confesses.
“Yeah. This is weird.”
“You look just like your picture.”
“I’ve been looking forward to this.”
We sit silently for awhile. Talking online is easier. Trading emails gives you time to think about what you want to say. Right now I feel like a teenager working up the guts to ask a girl out. The hard part’s done. We’re already on a date. Now all we have to do is talk, but talking is hard too. I don’t know what to say.
“I’m a little nervous,” she says.
“Yeah? Me too.”
“I haven’t been out since my divorce. I’ve been afraid of what’s out there.”
We finish our beers and order two more.
“I need to ask you something,” she says.
“I’m just wondering,” she says. “I’m just wondering what you’re looking for tonight.”
“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it much.”
“I’m just nervous,” she says.
I drink my beer and notice that her eyes are brown with green streaks. Her fingers are long and strong. She wears a silver ring on her right ring finger, no other jewelry and very little make-up. Her hair is smooth and soft looking. I want to touch her face. I want to hold her hand. Our emails were eloquent and detailed, but now that we’re together, face to face, neither one of us knows what to say.
I’ve never been good with romance. All the tricks of wooing women are beyond me. I don’t know how to flirt. I become awkward and shy and stumble over words. Some men know how to make a woman feel special. Some men know what to say no matter how they feel. My tongue gets thick and my mind turns to water, running away with anything that might make the woman laugh, or smile, or feel at ease. I’m a mess of babbling words and stilted stories.
We talk politics and religion. We talk kids and marriage. Stories flow back and forth across the table between us and I start to feel easy with her. She watches my face and I watch hers. We drink beer until we’re dizzy and the room spins.
“I’ve had too much,” she says.
It’s barely nine o’clock and we’re drunk.
“We can go to my place,” I offer.
“I can’t drive.”
“It’s an easy walk.”
We stand and the room tilts. I can see the tip of my nose. The walls dance. We get our coats and walk through the bar to the front door, careful not to run into anything or brush up against anyone. She takes my hand and I lead the way. No one’s held my hand like this in months. No one’s been this comfortable with me since my ex asked me to move out.
Outside, the rain has started again. Cold wind cuts through my coat and rakes along my spine. Already my hands hurt. My feet seem too far away. We stumble down the road together. It’s only two blocks to my apartment, but the walk is a misery of weather and an excitement of contact. She holds onto me. We walk shoulder to shoulder. We smoke cigarettes and shuffle along the sidewalk. Home at last. I unlock the door and hold it open for her.
“This is it,” I say. “Sorry for the mess.”
I haven’t cleaned in a few days and there are food wrappers on the floor and plates in the kitchen sink. Empty Diet Pepsi bottles sit in a garbage bag by the door, waiting for me to return them.
“You should see my place,” she says.
There are only two chairs in the living room and we sit in them, facing each other.
“Do you want something to drink?”
She shakes her head. Her eyes droop. She looks ready for bed.
“You can have the bed,” I say. “I’ll take the floor.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“We’re not going to sleep together?”
I wasn’t expecting that. I mean, I wondered if I would ever get the chance to sleep with her, but I didn’t think it would happen tonight. We’ve only just met. Sex for me is strange and strained. I work hard to bring a woman to my bed, but when they time finally comes, I start worrying over whether or not I’ll be any good. I want to be a good lover, but I’m fast. Things bring me to boil without warning.
She comes and kisses me and I lead her to the bedroom. Our clothes go away and we’re naked under the covers. We play and stroke and bite. Warmth spreads out along my body. When the time comes, I do adequately well, but it’s over and I lie with her head on my chest and she drifts into sleep.
I have a ritual when I’m drunk to help fight off the hangover. I shower until the water runs cold and I take four aspirin. I’m out of aspirin, but I slide out of bed and into the shower. I sit in the tub and let the hot water beat down on me. She stumbles in and pukes in the toilet. It’s an uncomfortable situation. She gags and pukes and I plug my ears to keep from listening to it. When she’s done, she gets in the shower with me.
“Is there room?” she asks.
We sit together, her back to my chest and her hips between my feet. The water washes over us. I rest my forehead between her shoulder blades and close my eyes. Pretty soon, I’ll sleep. Pretty soon, we’ll rush through the cold bedroom air and dive under the covers. We’ll shiver until the sheets warm up and sleep until morning.
She wakes and rolls to her side. She looks at the clock. Nine a.m. She sits up quickly and starts dressing. I open my eyes and watch her.
“You can’t stay?”
“I’m supposed to be at my mom’s house picking up the kids.”
“I don’t usually do this kind of thing,” she says.
“It was fun though.”
“I liked it.”
“I’ll call you tonight,” she says.
“I’ll be here.”
She rushes out to the living room and out the front door. She closes it behind her and I lie in bed wondering if this is what it feels like to be blown off, if this is going to be a one night stand. I hope not. I like her. I want to see her again.
I have nothing to do, so I sit and think. I wonder where this thing is going. I wonder if it’ll last. I don’t know, but right now I’m thrilled to have made it through the night without embarrassing myself too badly.