Author's note: As always, I questioned my choice. As always, life provided my answer. Now to move forward...
Went to a local bar last night to catch a show.
The bar was packed, and my friend and I must've been obvious in our attempts to find a table, because we soon found ourselves the objects of a spirited wave from a stranger.
"Over here!" he said. "Y'all can sit with us."
Dave, as I will call him, was sitting with what I presumed to be his wife. I'll call her Wendy.
They were an attractive couple--mid 40s, my guess--all smiles. Wendy had what appeared to be a Long Island Iced Tea in front of her. Dave had two.
From the moment my friend and I sat down, it was apparent that Dave was "the good time guy." He jumped right in. "Where you from? What do you do? You here for the show?"
He lead off with jokes.
For her part, Wendy lead with this: she was speaking to me. "I noticed you when you walked in. I said to Dave, 'Look at her. She looks just as out of place here as I do.'" She laughed.
I scanned her face. Pretty. Kind. An ally. I smiled at her.
The conversation moved easily, with Dave and my friend bantering, laughing. Wendy and I chiming in on occasion. Comfortable.
Turns out Dave and Wendy were small town folks. Met in high school. Reconnected years later.
"When I met Wendy, she was your size," Dave joked, looking at me. "She sure ain't now."
I guessed Wendy to be a size 8. She said she wasn't.
"I haven't ever been her size," Wendy said.
She smiled. Her eyes didn't.
Dave had been the "good ol' boy" in high school. Drinking, smoking, the class clown. "I was the goody two shoes," Wendy said. "We never would have dated in school."
"Lucky, then, that the two of you found each other," I said.
Dave said he wouldn't be lonely either way.
"Plenty of opportunities," he said.
I had already eaten one dinner, but had it in my head that I was going to have another. I asked after the waitress.
"Oh Janet? She's great. She'll be back 'round in a minute. She's got that 'emo thing' going on, you know? I wonder what she looks like with the lights on."
Dave spoke as if he had known Janet for years. They had only met that evening.
Janet came around a minute later--late 20s, leggy, with black rimmed glasses and black hair done up in a 50s throw-back style.
Dave ordered another drink.
Janet turned to Wendy. "Would you like another Long Island?"
"Yes, she does." Dave said.
Wendy, still smiling, said nothing.
"She's hot," Dave said. He turned to watch Janet as she walked away.
The movement made the cross on his necklace flick back and forth.
"I'm gonna get wasted tonight," Dave said.
The bar continued to fill with both people and cigarette smoke.
It became more difficult to hear over the din.
Dave rose to the challenge, speaking over the ruckus about his job, and a test he had to take in the morning to receive his certification. He was to take his test at 8 a.m.
My food arrived. Dave ordered another drink. My barbecue sandwich spurred conversation about back yard barbecues. Dave said he hosts them for his friends all the time.
Wendy checked her phone. "They're almost here," she said. Dave and Wendy had a group coming.
"Can't wait 'til they get here," Dave said. "I want a cigarette."
Wendy explained that Dave had quit. New Year's resolution.
"He said he wanted to live healthier," Wendy said. "He hasn't had a cigarette since."
She smiled. She touched his arm. She looked into Dave's eyes.
Dave looked away.
Wendy's two friends, also mid 40s, arrived with what I assumed to be their husbands. The girls got drinks and came to the table. The boys went to the bar.
Wendy's friends were good time girls. Extroverted, sociable, pretty. They drank their cocktails and lit their cigarettes. They laughed a lot and occasionally referenced their significant others at the bar.
"I'm starving," said Betty.
"Let's get the waitress," said Veronica.
Janet came and the girls ordered more drinks and Irish nachos--a tomato, cheese and jalapeno concoction served over tater tots.
Janet left and Betty lit up.
"So where are y'all from?," Betty asked.
She turned to me. As she did so, her face, previously in shadow, was illuminated by the low table light.
Betty had bags under her eyes. And wrinkles. She had a youthful haircut, outfit and energy, but in the lamp light, she looked older than her age.
She sat back again. The darkness granted her 5 to 10 years.
The nachos came and the girls dug in. Dave returned from the bar. He winked at Betty. He bummed a cigarette from Veronica.
I looked at Wendy.
"This is the last one, right?" she asked.
Betty and Veronica laughed. Dave said nothing.
The group rose to go outside to smoke, leaving me, my friend, Wendy and the nachos.
"I hate cigarette smoke," Wendy said when they had gone.
I couldn't tell if she was talking to me or herself.
Wendy turned back to my friend and me.
The smile returned to her face.
"The show's going to start soon. I should go outside and join my friends," she said.
She stood to leave. She turned back to the table. "See you inside?"
Again, a smile.
I scanned the bar. Dark, smoky, loud.
I had never been to this location before, but knew this place.
"Look at her. She looks just as out of place here as I do."
Wendy made her choice, and I made mine.
Wendy and the good time girls went in to the concert.
I went home.