“You can answer that if you need to,” she says.
Pete puts the phone on the bar top. “No. It’s ok.” He wishes Roxanne would put her hand back on his leg, but she’s focused on her drink, taking exploratory sips. A true novice.
“So, I’m here from out of town,” she says. “Milwaukee to be exact. I’ve been stuck at a trade conference all day. I really don’t want to go back to my hotel room and sit there by myself, you know, watching Law and Order all night. So, how does dancing sound?”
“Sounds good, but I’m not much of a dancer. Bad leg.”
“We don’t have to dance.” She puts her hand back on his knee.
He wants her right now, and as she massages his knee he remembers Janie Whitlock and how she let him put his hand up her shirt when they were sixteen and passionate about everything that didn’t involve school. He didn’t ask. He just did it because it felt right. He had approached from behind and wrapped his arms around her waist. Her body relaxed and her head went limp as it tilted back and slightly to the side. He kissed her neck while his hands climbed up her body her closer and then he had both hands under her bra massaging her breasts. Maybe that’s not exactly how it happened, the sights and sounds blurred by time, but he knows he remembers the feeling just right.
“I had an accident a few years back,” he tells Roxanne. “Ran into a tree trying to avoid a plastic bag floating across the road. I thought it was a dog. I get around good now, but dancing’s asking a bit much. But I am proud to say the bag is fine.”
Roxanne laughs. She swivels her stool until she’s completely facing him. Her drink is empty. So is his bottle of beer. He has a two-fisted hold on it even as it’s sandwiched between his legs.
“Let’s order something fun,” she says.
He orders her a Long Island iced tea and a beer for himself.
“Beer is boring,” she says.
But it’s cheaper. “I’m a man of the bottle, remember?” He does some mental mathematics, which is considerably tougher now after his sixth beer. He wonders how he’s going to pull it off, the bill. The phone vibrates again. He’s not so hopeful this time. It’s a text from his wife. It reads, “I took $40 from your wallet. Nicole needed it 4 school. Home soon?”
Roxanne rotates to face the bar again as the bartender prepares her drink.
“That bag bankrupted me,” Pete says to regain her attention.
“No, really. I had to file for bankruptcy. I was between jobs. No insurance. All my credit cards, gone. Do you know what it’s like to have absolutely nothing?”
Roxanne leans into him and says softly, “You always have something.”
He can see down her blouse. She’s about an 8. He hopes he’ll get a better look, but the bartender ruins the moment by sliding the drinks under their noses. She leans back in her stool.
Pete says, “I used to be a middle linebacker. I was good. Played a little in college. I was quick when I had my legs at full strength. But I quit when my uncle died. Kind of a second father to me. Cancer.” Why is he talking about this? “I still miss him.”
She puts a hand on his shoulder, which makes him want to cry.
“You know, this place really used to be a barn,” Pete says.
He imagines what it would be like with Roxanne, putting his arms around her and kissing her neck and crawling his hands over her skin. “Like real animals. My friend Janie had horses. We’d ride them—there was nothing around here back then. It was real peaceful. But that was a long time ago. She used to train horses. Thoroughbreds.”
“You’re not that old.”
“No, I’m not. But with this gimpy leg I sure feel like it.” He’s blowing it, he knows.
She leans back. “I’m sorry. I really am. I’m sure it’s tough.”
She’s not smiling anymore and he wishes he could bring it back, wishes that she would lean forward again and give him another eyeful. What will it take for her to invite him back to her hotel room? They both finish off their drinks.
“Another round?” he asks.
She thinks about it. “Sure, but this one’s on me. I insist.” She tosses her credit card on the bar.
Pete gets another text message. This one’s from Rick: “Sorry dude cant bail u out this time.”
Nearby, a spirited game of darts is underway, the intensity ratcheted up by a stern looking man with a brown crewcut and gray sideburns. The man’s berating his younger opponent for not taking the game more seriously.
Pete’s phone vibrates again, but he doesn’t look at it because he feels like he’s neglecting Roxanne. “Enough about me,” he says to her. “What about you?”
She swivels back to him. “What do you want to know?”
“You said you’re here for some kind of conference. What do you do?”
“Credit cards. I work for a bank. We’re starting—”
“Banks. That’s twisted. My business scars your foot while yours basically guts me.” The beer is going down much faster now.
“It’s just a job for me. To pay the bills. It’s nothing personal. I don’t even like my job.”
“My job’s really pretty pointless. I mean, I show up, but come on, do they really think I can tell if things are going good better than a computer can? I supervise a system so automated I’m the only live person left. Nobody notices when I’m there. No one cares if I’m not. I bet you have no idea what that’s like.”
“I’ve gotta piss.” He’s been putting off his trip to the bathroom mainly because he doesn’t want Roxanne to see him walk, fearing that she might attribute his stagger to drunkenness rather than just a bum leg. Or vice versa. He’s true too drunk to tell what he’s really afraid of. But he can’t hold it. He also can’t resist taking the opportunity to look at his phone. Another text from his wife: I like it when you’re here. I like it when you’re here on time. He trips on the leg of a stool at the far end of the bar and twizzles on his good leg, coming out of his spin without falling only by collapsing onto the foosball table. There’s no going back, he thinks.
He has to forge a path to the restroom by squeezing between sweaty bodies until he reaches a clearing near the dart boards. He pauses to let the more fiery of the competitors toss a triple twenty. Pete remembers the days when the guys used to call him “Mr. Max” because of his ability to nail the triple twenties and score frequent maximums. Pete sees a possibility.
…to be continued