STORY: The Pick-Up Line

One not-so-special day, I was feeling depressed. I decided to get dressed up and go to Bloody Mary’s to make myself feel better. I donned my newly-thrifted Little Black Dress and my sexiest pair of strappy patent leather stilettos. I fixed my hair and did my make-up.

As I got ready, I made a wish. I wished that when I went out, I would meet somebody special. I didn’t know what I was asking for. I just wanted to meet somebody cool.

At first I joined my brother and his friends at their table, but the conversation soon grew stale. I decided to move on and walked back inside the bar. On my way out, I caught sight of Andrew smiling at me from across the bar. He turned in his seat to acknowledge me as I approached.

“Hey Betsey,” he purred. He looked me up and down slowly and smiled as he took in the sight. For a moment I’d forgotten I was so dressed up.

“Hello, Sam.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going home to go to bed.”

“Why would you be going home? You just got here.”

“There’s no one interesting here.”

Andrew looked mildly offended.

I’m here,” he said.

“Well, I didn’t know I was allowed to talk to you.”

“Why wouldn’t you be allowed to talk to me?”

“I don’t know. Because you’re the Owner?”

He smiled at me.

“You can’t go home yet. It’s too early. Besides, you’ve only had one drink.”

I looked at him strangely.

“I always come here for one drink.”

“Stay for another,” he said sweetly, getting up to offer me his seat. “I insist.”

I looked at the empty seat in front of me. The last person who had offered me a seat at the bar had stolen it from someone else. That was The Prince for you.

“Well aren’t you just a perfect gentleman?” I said, sitting down.

He gave me that smile again.

“Can I get you something to drink?”

“Stella Artois, please.”

I didn’t order it to impress him, but the line still felt so smooth. It must have been the shoes. They gave me l’air de confiance.

He snapped his fingers and in a moment it was done. He looked me over again with that smile on his face.

“You look very beautiful tonight,” he said.

I felt my heart flutter in my chest as I looked him in the eyes. Though I’d briefly encountered Andrew many times before, I’d never seen him up this close before. I couldn’t believe how handsome he was. I guessed by the lines on his face that he was about ten years older than I was.

“Thank you,” I replied. “I got this entire outfit at the thrift store.”

“Really?”

“Really! The dress was only $10! The shoes were slightly more, but personally I think it was worth it. They make me feel very sexy.”

He looked at me with that smile again. He turned his body towards me and leaned in to listen to me when I spoke.

“Do you go to the thrift stores often?”

“As often as I can afford. Recently, not very much. I’m not making much money at my current job and being a writer has yet to pay off big.”

“What do you write?”

“Oh, lots of things. Nothing interesting right now. I just dropped out of grad school. All I want to do at the moment  is work at a wedding dress shop. When I was in school, I wrote a column for The College Newspaper.”

“I read your column,” he said. “You’re the most interesting thing in The College Newspaper.”

“Well, thank you. I appreciate you saying that.”

“I’m sure you hear that all the time.”

“Actually, I do.”

He laughed at me. “So you’re working in a wedding dress shop, huh? Is that in Sioux City?”

“Yes. I like it there. It’s much better than my last job, but it doesn’t pay as well.”

“What was your last job?”

“I was a bartender at Regal’s Pub.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“And you didn’t like it?”

“I liked bartending,” I said. “I didn’t like working at Regal’s.”

“Why not?”

“Too much sexism,” I said. “I hated being talked down to by all the men. They expected me to look pretty and flirt with them for better tips.”

“Yeah, but I bet it was worth it,” he said darkly.

“Not really,” I replied. “I’m a human being, not a sex object. I have a college degree. I’m not just a piece of ass. I have a brain. I guess I can’t really put a price on my dignity. I just know I’m happier working in an all-female workplace. Someday I just want to work for myself.”

He smiled at me again.

“Working for yourself is the only way to go,” he said knowingly.

“How did you become the owner of this place anyway?”

“Through a lot of hard work and dedication.” He winked at me. “But really, I worked here for eleven years, all throughout undergrad and graduate school. Finally, I decided to just go ahead and buy the place. I thought it would just be bartending all the time, but it’s not. It’s a lot of hard work.”

“That’s pretty impressive,” I said.

“Not nearly as impressive as you, I’m afraid.”

I laughed and rolled my eyes at him. “Do these lines actually work for you?”

“Most of the time, yes. But I have a feeling they won’t work on you.”

“Not in the slightest.”

“Good.”

From there the conversation seemed to flow effortlessly. He asked me a lot of questions about myself, more than I even remember answering. I felt as if we talked for days.

I talked about my apartment design projects and showed him pictures of the work I’d done. I lamented the fact that I would be unable to install new hardwood flooring. My apartment was in desperate need of it. He seemed to sympathize with my plight deeply. As it turns out, he was also an avid fan of Home & Garden Television.

“I love to just sit there and watch HGTV for hours,” he told me. “It’s the most relaxing thing in the world. Sometimes when I get really stressed out, I just like to drive down to Omaha, get a hotel room, and watch HGTV all night.”

The way he looked when he said it made me want to join him the next time he needed an escape.

“That sounds like fun to me,” I said. “I really like Omaha. Maybe we can escape there together sometime.”

The way Andrew smiled at me made me feel slightly unnerved. I hadn’t seen a man smile at me that way in years. Not one I was actually attracted to, anyway. His smile was sincere, and when he looked at me I felt a genuine sense of appreciation behind his gaze.

Just as he was about to speak, one of the lower-level bartenders appeared to interrupt this most vital moment in our conversation.

“Hey Boss?”

Andrew’s eyes shifted sideways. His smile became a scowl. He was clearly irritated by this sudden, unwelcome interruption.

“What is it?” he snapped. The bartender seemed to shrink back under Andrew’s intense gaze.

“There’s a… situation… and… we, uh, really need your help over here.” He stumbled over his words, avoiding further eye contact.

Andrew rolled his eyes. “Is it something that can wait five more minutes?”

The bartender looked at the ground and shook his head nervously. Andrew let out a heavy sigh and looked at me apologetically.

“Duty calls,” he said dryly. “My sincerest apologies.”

“That’s what happens when you’re The Boss,” I replied.

“It’s hard work,” he said. “And it’s not easy, but in the end it’s always worth it.”

Suddenly I became aware of Duke sitting a few seats down from us. His freshly-broken arm was in a cast and his eyes were watering over his drink. I’d never seen him look more miserable in his life. He and Andrew exchanged a few words quietly. I watched as Andrew’s expression grew more and more stern.

“You really screwed up big time,” he said angrily. I could tell he was very pissed off at Duke. I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, but I knew it was something big.

I watched this side of Andrew develop with interest. In just a few moments he had turned from patient and attentive to strong and powerful. He became dominating, assertive, authoritative. A man who was in charge and in control.

Suddenly, the air around me felt hot and stuffy. If I had doubts about him before, I was sure of my feelings now. I wanted him. I wanted him bad. I wanted him more than I had wanted anybody in a long time. He wasn’t just another nobody at the bar. He was somebody important. Somebody like me.

He set his unfinished drink on the counter and winked at me. I hoped he didn’t notice the deep red blush in my cheeks. Maybe he would just think it was the beer.

“Wait here,” he said gently, looking deep into my eyes. He all but reached out to touch my face. “I’ll be back.”

He disappeared into the back room and left me alone to figure out what had just happened. I looked up at the clock and realized the bar was about to close. I got up to look for Andrew, but the Owl suddenly appeared in front of me and blocked the back door.

“And just where do you think you’re going?” he asked. “The front door is that way.”

“I just wanted to see if my friend was still out back.”

He looked at me skeptically. “There’s no one out back, Betsey. As per usual, you’re the only person left in the bar.”

“Right,” I said. “Of course. I knew that.”

“I’ll walk you out,” he said. “I’m gonna have a cigarette before I start to close.”

I tried my best not to turn around and make it obvious that I was still looking for Andrew, but I couldn’t just leave without saying goodnight him. Not after that conversation!

The Owl practically shoved me out the front door. We stood on the sidewalk together talking about nothing while he smoked his cigarette. Every so often I looked in through the door to see if Andrew had returned yet. Unfortunately, the only sight of him I saw was that of him deeply engrossed in conversation with one of his employees. When he finally looked up, he saw me standing outside the doorway.

The Owl finished his cigarette and bid me goodnight as he locked the door to Bloody Mary’s behind him. I stood on the sidewalk alone for just a moment, then turned around and began to walk down the street. I thought maybe it was better to leave him with just a little bit of mystery.

Just as I reached the corner, I heard the door open one last time. I turned around just in time to catch The Boss of Bloody Mary’s Bar sweeping cigarette butts off the sidewalk as if he was a lowly doorman again, watching me leave with that same sneaky smile splashed across his face.

$$$

The next day, I found myself on the phone with my friend, gushing about how hot I thought Andrew was.

“You should have seen the way he was looking at me. It was so sexy. He is DEFINITELY into me.”

“That’s great!”

“The next time I see him, I’m just gonna walk right up to him and say, ‘Hey baby, how’d you like to get a hotel room in Omaha and watch HGTV?’ And he’s gonna be like ‘That sounds like a great idea, Betsey! Let’s go right now!’”

“I hope so.”

“I’m telling you, dude. I’m totally gonna bang him! I’m gonna watch HGTV with him all night long!’

“Uh huh.”

“He can renovate my house anytime he wants. Refinish my hardwood floors, smash up my old kitchen cabinets, get some new landscaping going on my front lawn, slap a new coat of paint on my walls, re-wire my electrical circuit system… total and complete fix-HER-upper, you know what I’m saying?”

“No.”

“All he needs to do is give me one chance and I’m gonna fucking pounce. I’m gonna drop that like it’s a sack of potatoes, bro. I’m gonna take him to Pound Town. Pound Town, USA.”

“So ask him out already.” She was obviously annoyed with all my sex metaphors. “Just make sure he’s single first. Didn’t you say he seems like a ladies man?”

“Ugh, he is such a ladies man,” I said. “I’m gonna head over to Bloody Mary’s right now and see if I can get the low-down on him.”

“Good luck,” she said. I hung up the phone and set out to investigate the situation with Andrew.

When I got there, the bartender on duty was the Owl. I was grateful for this, mostly because I could count on him to answer my questions directly. With the others, I had to be sneaky and dance around the information I wanted until they offered something of minor interest.

I sat down at the bar and greeted the Owl. He fixed me a drink and nestled comfortably into his perch for our conversation. After exchanging some necessary pleasantries, I decided to be more direct.

“So,” I asked casually, “What’s the deal with Sam?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know…” I said shyly. Suddenly I felt awkward and embarrassed again. “Is he single? … or… what?”

“Oh Betsey,” he said gravely. “I would avoid that one if I was you. He’s engaged to be married to a woman he’s known for a very long time.”

“Married?!” I was thunderstruck. “He’s engaged to be married?!”

“It’s happening next week. They’re going to Hawaii for some kind of destination wedding thing.”

“What?!”

Never in all my life I had I felt like such a fool. Here I was prancing around, shouting from the rooftops, putting on this macho man bravado act, bragging about how sure I was that I was gonna get it, and he was engaged to be married.

“You’re better off without him,” the Owl said.

“Indeed!” I snapped in disgust. I finished my drink in one gulp and stormed out of the bar in a huff. He was engaged to be married, and he was smiling at me that way? I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that at all.

I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. Here I thought I’d finally met a man in this town who was serious. Someone who was attractive and had his shit together. Someone I could seriously imagine re-finishing the hardwood floors in my apartment. Someone I could just escape this town with every once in awhile. Someone I actually really fucking liked! And he was engaged to be married!

“Men really are all the same,” I lamented as I uncorked a bottle of my wine back at my apartment. “Engaged to be married. And looking at me that way? You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!”

Sometime later, I was angry and drunk and performing emotionally-charged renditions of old pop songs in front of the mirror.

“What did I do wrong?” I asked The Great Spirit in frustration. “I try so hard to be a good person. Why do you have to dangle shit like this in front of me?”

The song on the radio ended and a commercial for Krispy Kreme donuts came on instead. I thought of Andrew again dreamily, with his dirty blonde hair and bright blue eyes and l’air de confiance. I lamented the loss again sadly.

“Mmm,” I said, closing my eyes and listening to the voice on the radio describe in careful detail the joyful experience of eating the world-famous donuts. “Seeing Andrew around town really is just like taking a bite out of a warm Krispy Kreme donut. You just can’t help but indulge.”

$$$

The next time I saw him, the ring was already halfway off his finger. He tried to catch my gaze from across the room, but I had no particular desire to look him in the eye.

Looking at him just made me think of my stupid pick-up line. Now he was married, and that which had once seemed so promising was stolen away from me once again.

It’s not that I was angry at his wife. After all, she was the one who had met him first. Truth be told, she was the furthest person from my mind.

It was Andrew I was angry at. How dare he disrespect both of us by looking at me that way when he was engaged to be married?!

Exactly who did he think he was anyway? How typical of a man of his supposed power and influence to chase after multiple women for his own selfish entertainment!

Quite frankly, I was sick of this shit. I was tired of men who felt like they could do whatever they want. I was tired of being walked all over by selfish jerks like him. I was mad as hell and I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I decided to take Revenge.

There was obviously nothing I could do to keep him from looking at me that way, so I decided to use it against him. Men were easily manipulated creatures once you decided turn on the charm. All I had to do was think of something I really wanted, something only he could give me, and use his attraction to me to get it.

I decided to take a walk down to Bloody Mary’s to look for some ideas. As was typical for me when I felt down, I got dressed up before I went. I wore my grandmother’s white tulle skirt and my brown vintage cowboy boots.

I had the strangest feeling I was about to run into somebody. Between you and me, I was hoping it was Tom.

As I was walking down the street, I saw Andrew leaving his apartment with his dog. To the surprise of absolutely no one, it was an adorable little golden retriever puppy.

“Oh come on!” I exclaimed, my eyes almost rolling out of my head. It was almost too cliché. “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me! I don’t stand a chance against that guy!”

Much to my simultaneous excitement and dismay, he crossed the street and approached me the moment he laid his eyes on me.

“Hey Betsey,” he said, smiling his snake’s smile at me. “You look very nice today.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I might be on my way to see someone important.”

“Who are you going to see?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

He chuckled at me.

“I like those cowboy boots,” he said. “Where did you get them?”

“Oh, I bought them off a lady at Regal’s. She said she hadn’t worn them in 30 years.”

He looked at me in surprise. “You bought them off her? Like literally off her?”

“Not literally off her,” I said. “I was wearing my old torn-up pair and she offered to sell me her old ones. She brought in a bag with three pairs of vintage cowboy boots, charged me $60 for them, then promptly drank and gambled the money away.”

He chuckled softly again.

“Looks like you won out. Those boots were definitely made for walking.”

I rolled my eyes at him and pretended not to smile at his predictably awful line. We walked together in silence for just a moment. I crossed the street when we reached the corner.

“Well, I’ve had just about enough of this,” I said, walking away from him as fast as possible. “See you later.”

He stopped on the sidewalk and smiled at me. “Have you decided who you’re going to see?”

“I think it was decided for me. I didn’t have a choice.”

“You always have a choice.”

“I’m not entirely convinced that I do.”

I could feel him watching me as I walked away.

$$$

After a little time and some careful debate, I finally came up with a plan. I was writing a story set in Bloody Mary’s, you see, and I was very curious about the basement of the bar. Seeing the basement was essential to my creative development as a writer.

The next time I saw Andrew, I waited for him to approach me. When he inevitably did, I pitched him my basement idea.

“Hey Betsey,” he said pleasantly. “How are you doing today?”

“Alas,” I said dramatically, “I’m suffering from a terrible case of writer’s block.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“As a matter of fact, there is.”

The way he smiled at me startled me.

“What can I do for you?”

“I’d like to see the basement,” I said seriously.

“The basement? Why do you want to see the basement?”

“I’m writing a story set in Bloody Mary’s and I think the basement might be the setting for a crucial scene.”

“What’s the story about?”

“There’s an alien invasion and six characters are trapped in the bar.”

“Who are the characters?”

“So far… me, Mad Dog, The Prince, Duke, and Tom.”

“That’s only five,” he said. “Can I be the sixth?”

“Oh wait, I forgot about The Owl! I can’t write a story about aliens without The Owl! I’m pretty sure he’s one of them! Oh, I guess that makes six. Sorry!”

“It’s my bar,” he said, “And I think you should make me a character. If there was an alien invasion, I would be getting drunk in my bar.”

“That’s fair.”

“If you make me a character, I’ll take you down to the basement.”

“Deal!”

I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. That’s the last time I make a deal with the Devil.

“I’m busy right now,” he said sweetly, “But I’m not working on Thursday night. Why don’t you meet me here around nine o’clock? I’ll take you down to see the basement.”

“That sounds like a date.”

He smiled at me but said nothing. I could tell the irony of the situation was not lost on him.

When I returned to the bar to meet him on Thursday night, he was already there waiting for me with his wedding ring still halfway on. I held my breath as I approached him through the crowd. When I tapped him on the shoulder, he turned around and smiled at me. Why did he always have to fucking smile at me?

“Hey Betsey,” he said smoothly. He motioned to the bartender and snapped his fingers again. “Go ahead and order whatever you want tonight. It’s on me.”

“Naturally,” I said, desperately trying to ignore how hot he was.

For this reason alone, I decided to go with wine. I may or may not have already had a glass or two to mentally prepare myself for him beforehand.

I was here for one reason and one reason only: Revenge. Revenge for me. Revenge for his wife. Revenge for the whole of womankind!

At least, that’s what I kept telling myself, anyway.

He handed me the glass and the two of us made our way through the crowd. He unlocked the door and motioned for me to go first like the perfect gentleman he was. He followed me down the stairs and turned on the lights.

I looked around the dusty old room in surprise. A random assortment of signs and memorabilia from decades long past lay scattered across the floor. Old-fashioned tables and broken chairs made up the limited decor.

“Wow,” I said.

“What do you think?” Andrew asked.

“It’s not what I was expecting.”

“What were you expecting?” he asked, a sneaky grin creeping across his face.

“Honestly, I thought it would be more like a man cave. You know, The Boys Club. I thought you guys hung out and drank down here after hours.”

“Oh,” he said. He looked at me like he’d never even thought of that.

He watched me as I walked around the room and inspected every detail carefully. I turned around and smiled at him when I discovered a stack of dusty old Playboys on a shelf.

“I like your porno collection,” I said teasingly. “Do you come down here to look at them often?”

Andrew’s face turned red instantly.

“Those aren’t mine,” he said quickly. “I think they belonged to the old owner.”

“Uh huh,” I said. “A likely story.”

“They’re not mine!” he said defensively. “They’re too old-fashioned.”

“So you’re more of an internet porn kinda guy?”

Andrew’s mouth dropped open.

“I… I don’t… that’s not… Look, I have a lot of respect for women, okay?”

“No one’s saying you don’t.”

He shook his head in disbelief.

“It’s okay. I look at it too. Only sometimes, though. I usually prefer to read smut, but lately I’ve been writing my own.”

I could tell by the expression on his face that he had been rendered speechless.

“At least it’s something classy like Playboy,” I said. “It could be worse. It could be Hustler.”

He smiled wide at me. He watched quietly as I continued my exploration of the basement by walking into the next room.

“Sorry about the spiders,” he said nervously. “I’ll make sure and kill them if any try to jump out at you.”

“I’m not afraid of spiders,” I said, whipping around and looking him straight in the eyes. “I’m not afraid of snakes either.”

“Do you think there’s a snake in here?” he asked, his eyes flashing at me.

“There might be,” I said, sizing him up immediately. “I haven’t quite decided yet.”

The corners of his mouth tugged into a little smirk as he looked down at me. I decided not to give him any more time to formulate a reply.

“Thanks for showing me the basement,” I said. “I’m sure it will find its way into my writing someday.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you while we’re down here?”

I bit my lip as I felt the heat rising inside of me. I knew exactly what he was asking, but I also knew it was wrong. It didn’t matter how much I wanted him. He was married to someone else.

I was here for Revenge, and taking it meant denying myself what I wanted the most: Andrew. Somehow, I managed to resist the temptation to turn around and face him.

“No thank you,” I said, my head held high. “I think I’ve had just about enough of this.”

“As you wish,” he said, escorting me back up the stairs. I hated the way he smiled at me as I turned to face him one last time.

“Well, thanks! Have a good night!”

I walked away from him while he was still locking the basement door. I didn’t even give him a chance to reply.

I returned to the main room and sat at the bar on the opposite side of the room. I ordered another glass of wine. I could feel his eyes on me again as I gulped it down.

When I looked up at Andrew from across the room, PJ was teasing him by pointing to the basement, then back to me. Andrew was looking at the floor with a goofy grin on his face, his cheeks blushing a deep shade of red. He shook his head and smiled wide at me, motioning to me from across the way.

I looked back down at the bar and ordered another glass of wine. A few minutes later, I felt his hand on the back of my chair. He slowly turned me around to face him.

“Have a good night, Betsey,” he said with a wink. “I’m looking forward to reading your story.”

He gave me one last smile and disappeared into the crowd. That night, I got drunker than I’d been in a very long time.

$$$

The next day, I woke up with a terrible hangover. I got myself some greasy Mexican food and called my friend.

“How did your revenge go?” she asked.

“Not so good,” I said. “It wasn’t very vengeful.”

“What happened?”

“Oh you know, he was ridiculously good-looking, impossibly charming, and completely unavailable.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line.

“So what are you going to do?”

“Nothing. I mean, he’s married… so… The End.”

“I’m sorry. I know how much you were looking forward to banging him.”

“I was looking forward to banging him.”

“Well, you know what they say! There’s plenty of other fish in the sea.”

“That’s true! On that note, I gotta go! One of my Tinder dates is calling me.”

“Already?”

“Uh, yeah! Did you really think I was going to sit around and wait for a married man? Hello no! Everyone knows married men don’t leave their wives. That’s like Rule Number One in the Women’s Dating Handbook.”

From that day forward, I did my best to ignore Andrew wherever possible. I never went out of my way to talk to him and kept all thoughts of banging him to myself. I told myself we were just friends. We weren’t even friends, just casual acquaintances. Really, it was more like he was the sexy, married bartender and I was just a drunk, hot mess.

As far as I was concerned, Andrew didn’t actually exist. He was just another character I’d created in my head and projected onto someone in real life without paying attention to what was actually going on.

It wasn’t until two years later, when I started writing about Andrew again, that he really started to come to life.

To be continued…

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