So, way back in October I posted a Writing Prompt, based on a random slip of paper I found in one of my used school text books. I was intrigued by the words on the paper, and I posted it on my blog with a challenge for someone to write a story based on it. About a week later, my Twitter friends Nyssa23 and Kayla Thomas each sent stories along based on the prompt.
Well another Twitter friend, Pamela Simon, promised me a story as well. And then never sent it. I think she was shy about sharing it. BUT, she finally sent her story along. So here it is. I hope you enjoy it! (And if you do, go bug her on Twitter and tell her!)
From the safety of the booths and tables, the tall bar stools always looked like the last step before giving up. It was the limbo that people hung out in before giving up and dying quietly single and alone. It was what you did before you threw in the towel and created an online dating profile.
For Carolina, sitting at the bar felt more like the first step after giving up. There was no longer anything left to lose, and only the rest of her life to live.
There was no place to put her purse, so she balanced it on her knees. In this way her body betrayed the relaxed persona she wanted to give off, like she didn’t care that she at the bar and alone. She pressed her feet into the rung on the tall chair so that her legs were at almost a perfect right angle. The bar tender stopped in front of her, his towel-covered fist shoved indelicately into a pint glass. “Can I get you something?”
She worried her lip. She didn’t know what to order. Kyle always ordered for her – he considered himself a beer expert the same way some people incorrectly considered themselves art critics. Kyle, who was so brilliant with his hands when he was writing the directions, couldn’t put together a piece of Ikea furniture to save his life. Kyle couldn’t remember plans unless they were written down and had an accompanying alarm on his cell phone, but he could remember every inane statistic and piece of trivia in baseball’s history. Kyle, out of whose ass the sun rose and into whose smile it set every night, had left a note that simply said to the homeland – you’ll be missed like it had been eight days and not eight years.
And with that Carolina, who had always felt so independent despite their relationship, realized that she had unwisely put her heart in Kyle’s hands and he had run off to the motherfucking “homeland” without giving it back to her.
That was something else he did. He borrowed things and then never gave them back. It was easier to move in with him than to try to get all of her DVDs back.
“Do… you need more time?” The bar tender asked. He drew out the first word, like this was how he was going to give her more time.
“No,” Carolina said. Only it came out like “doh.” She wiped the back of her hand under her nose and then sniffed in hard, immediately regretting the action. It was one of those things that the kids did in class and it made her skin crawl, just thinking about all the shit they inhaled by doing that. Carolina said, “No, thank you. Do you have cider?”
“I have Woodchuck.” The bartender put a small napkin down in front of her for the drink. Then he tentatively set another one down beside it. “Apple and raspberry.”
Carolina picked up the second napkin and pressed it to her nose. There was nothing left, her nose as empty as she imagined her chest to be, but she didn’t want to admit it. She balled up the clean paper in her fist and asked, “Raspberry?”
The bar tender leaned in and said in a stage whisper, “It’s not that good.”
“I’ll get the apple.”
“Start a tab?”
She glanced down at her purse in her lap and then back at the bar tender. “Yes. No.” She sighed and pulled her wallet out of the purse. “Yes.” Carolina set her credit card down on the counter and slid it forward.
“I’ll take good care of this,” the bar tender glanced down at the card. “Carolina. That’s pretty.”
She folded, unfolded, and then refolded the napkin while she watched the bar tender enter in her sale. Then he opened the bottle for her and set it down on the first napkin. “Let me know if you need anything else.” He set a menu down in her vicinity and moved on to another patron.
Carolina wanted to relax, to let her feet swing, but she didn’t want to hang her purse from the back of her tall chair and she didn’t want to set it on the dirty counter. This was something she never worried about at tables and booths; there was always a spot for purses and jackets. Thank God for the season-less southwest where she rarely needed a jacket.
There was a game on, but it was baseball. Carolina couldn’t look at it, so she looked anywhere else. She sipped her cider and thought about what her next steps should be. The last plan she had made had stupidly relied on Kyle. At some point, she thought, that was what you did. You made plans with other people, because at some point, that was the next step to be taken. You joined your life with someone and your road was his – it was an “ours” instead of a “mine.”
She took another gulp of her cider and glanced back up at the game. She shouldn’t have come here, but she didn’t know what else to do during the playoffs. It hadn’t been long enough since Kyle left – she hadn’t even told her friends.
She tried to inconspicuously blow her nose into the napkin and then she set it down near her cider bottle, intending to throw it away on her way out the door.
Carolina had her bottle up to her lips when she turned to face the man who had spoken. He wore a blue cap backwards and a matching faded t-shirt. He was a Cubs fan and he nervously glanced up at the screens and then back at Carolina, like he would pass out if he missed a single pitch. Since he was a Cubs fan she imagined that under the hat was thinning hair, but when she quickly glanced over him from head to foot, she could see that the rest of him seemed aesthetically pleasing. Except… he was a Cubs fan.
“Is anybody sitting here?” He pointed at the empty seat next to Carolina, the only one left at the bar.
“Um.” Carolina didn’t want to lie, not when it would be so apparent that nobody was sitting there, but Carolina didn’t want to be next to this guy either. He smelled too much like the boys in her classes, had too round of a face for her liking. “Well.”
Someone pressed a hand to her back and a man – another man – said, “Hey baby.” She swiveled in her seat, for a second expecting Kyle, but no. The voice wasn’t as deep; and anyway, Kyle had never in their entire relationship called her baby. He made fun of guys who called their girls baby, like maybe they couldn’t remember her name, or just didn’t like it.
Kyle liked to tell a story about the two months he dated a girl who shared a name with his sister, and how he never once referred to her by her real name because it was too weird for him.
Carolina wasn’t sure she wanted to sit by this guy either, but he at least reminded her of the boys she had grown up with. His hooked nose was exactly between two big brown eyes and his hair fell into his eyes in the old-fashioned way. “Hey,” she said slowly.
The first man looked them over and stepped away. He said, “Sorry, man,” like Carolina wasn’t even there. It was something Kyle would do, and she clung to that as a reminder that Kyle was an ass and not worth her time.
The new guy swung himself onto the seat next to Carolina and smiled at her. “Sorry about that,” he said. “This is the last seat at the bar, and I’m willing to play dirty for it.” He waved the bar tender over and ordered a black and tan; then he turned his attention back to Carolina.
“Well, you don’t smell like the douche bag section of the mall, so I won’t object.” She ran her hands along her purse to make sure it was closed, and then picked up her bottle again. “So I guess thanks for the rescue.”
The guy smiled at her. “The pleasure’s all mine.” She returned his smile, but didn’t say anything else. Small talk was never her thing. He said, “I’m Miles, by the way.”
Her first instinct was to feel self-conscious. With every intention of spending the evening alone, Carolina hadn’t bothered to do anything with her short blond hair or even bothered putting on an outfit more presentable than a layered tee and bright turquoise capris. The only thing she felt okay about was her lack of makeup, which was the norm for her.
Carolina took another gulp of her cider and thought maybe she was getting hit on. She took a deep breath and said, “Look. I appreciate it, I do.” Her ears heated up and though in her head the words sounded just perfect, as she spoke them they felt anything but. “I’m not here to meet anybody. I’m just here to be here.”
Miles blinked quickly and shook his head. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to give off that impression. I’m not hitting on you. I’m just here to watch the game. It’s the playoffs.”
Heat filled Carolina’s cheeks. Instead of being embarrassed at the assumption itself, she was mortified that she’d been out of the game for so long that she no longer had any idea what it felt like to be hit upon… or at least, she couldn’t tell the difference between single people flirting and a normal conversation.
And she didn’t even know if this guy was single or not. She attempted to look at his left hand for a ring, but his arms were crossed, with the right one on top. He didn’t wear the shorts-and-t-shirt combination that Carolina equated with perpetually single men, but a polo and clean khakis didn’t mean that this guy was taken, either.
“It certainly is,” the bar tender said. He put a dual-shaded glass of beer in front of Miles and silently took the credit card from him to start a tab. Carolina relaxed when she saw a bare left hand, glad that she didn’t accuse a married man of coming onto her.
“Yeah,” Carolina said. “I’m not really watching, but you go ahead.”
“Are you a fan?”
Carolina sighed. “Not really.”
“I could explain it to you,” Miles said. “The players wear tight pants. I hear that’s a thing girls are into nowadays. Since you’re not into me, and I have no interest in picking you up, I don’t mind encouraging you ogling other men’s asses.”
Carolina smiled into her beer bottle. That was one detail about baseball that hadn’t slipped past her. “It’s really okay,” she said. “Just enjoy your game. Pretend I’m not here.”
“That seems awfully rude.”
There were a few seconds where Carolina thought that Miles was going to continue to engage her in conversation, but he seemed to turn his attention to the game, or at least, to something else other than her.
She enjoyed the relative silence, the way that the world went on around her. It was a needed reminder that her life was still going to go on the same as it always did whether or not Kyle came home to her at the end of the day. Carolina ordered another cider and thought about how she’d have total control over the DVR… but only for the rest of the month. After that she’d need to cancel it, because she wouldn’t have the funds to pay for it anymore. And maybe not the cable either.
Carolina cleared her throat and moved her bottle along the table. She bumped the balled up snotty-napkin and it rolled toward Miles. He reached to pick it up and with an awful shrieking noise Carolina said, “Don’t touch that!”
Miles pulled his hand away quickly and held it against his chest. “What?” he asked. “What’s in that? Is it a bomb? Are you a suicide bomber? In a bar?”
Cheeks heating up, Carolina grabbed the napkin and shoved it into her purse. “I blew my nose into it,” she said. “So that was disgusting, I apologize.”
“Oh,” Miles said. “I’m used to it. I’m a doctor.”
“You are?” He hadn’t struck her as a doctor. She didn’t know very many personally, but the few she did know were snooze-fests. Miles didn’t seem like a snooze-fest.
“Not really,” Miles said. “I’m an accountant. Would it have mattered if I was?”
“Mattered for what?”
He shook his head. “Never mind.”
He took a gulp of his beer, the two types mixing together in the process and then slowly separating again. “Do you have a name.”
She sighed. “Yes.”
There was a pause and Carolina felt too shy to look over at him. She wasn’t there to flirt, she was there to be morose and see a baseball game without breaking down in tears, because staying at home alone on a Saturday night was too much for her to take so soon after the breakup. Three innings down and she was successful.
“May I have it?”
“As in, North Carolina? Or South Carolina?” When Carolina finally looked at Miles he grinned widely at her, proud of his joke. “So that I know how to drawl it. Were you conceived there? Do you have those kind of parents?”
“What kind of parents?”
“The kind that disturbingly choose to name their child after whatever city the baby-making was done in.”
“The Carolinas are states,” she said. She shook her head. “I was made in Chicago.”
“Made in Chicago? Are you a robot?”
The bar tender switched out her empty bottle with a fresh one and Carolina shook her head again. “No. They moved here from Chicago a few months before I was born. And I can do the math. And conceived feels like a dirty word.”
Miles smiled again and nodded. “Well, okay then, Carolina made in Chicago. It’s nice to meet you.”
He turned his attention back to the game, and Carolina focused again on her drink. She hadn’t intended on having more than one, and once she had started drinking the second she realized it was a mistake. Her quick trip out to face her fears was turning into more of an excursion, and that was something she didn’t need.
“Does it hurt?”
Carolina frowned when she looked at Miles. “What? When I fell from heaven?”
Miles tipped his glass toward her. “I would have asked did it hurt for that one, but like I said, I’m not hitting on you. God. Don’t be so arrogant.” Carolina tried to pull off indignant, but Miles was wearing a charming smile, the kind that she was never able to ignore. While he continued to insist that he wasn’t hitting on her, his light-hearted tone and habit of leaning into her personal space still made her think otherwise just a little bit. “I meant how hard you were thinking. Does that hurt?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“I’m a really curious guy.” If Carolina were looking for someone she’d need to begrudgingly admit that Miles also had a charming personality. “You should try asking some questions. But do it carefully. Asking questions is the gateway drug to having civilized conversation.”
“You ever spend a long time hating a certain type of person only to realize you are that person?”
Blanching, Miles asked, “Are you a hipster?”
Carolina laughed. It felt good. It was something she hadn’t found herself doing since the breakup. Even her seniors, who always made her laugh more than she knew was professionally appropriate couldn’t get more out of her than a derisive snort. If anything, their happiness got on her nerves – the way they had their whole lives ahead of them, hadn’t yet gone down any paths they couldn’t fix. She envied those seniors and maybe that was keeping their jokes from striking her funny bone as they usually did.
“I’m not a hipster,” Carolina said, taking a deep breath. She sighed. “I was with this guy for like, a really long time-”
Carolina smiled. “Longer than that.” She took a gulp of cider, steeling herself for the story. “Eight years we were together, almost nine. And the whole time I thought I was this independent girl because we had our own lives and we each did our own thing. And Kyle broke it off with me this week and I’m so lost without him. I hate girls who act like this after a breakup.” She sniffed and brought her soggy beer-bottle napkin to her nose. “I hate Twilight,” she whined.
Miles patted her shoulder, but he didn’t say anything.
The human contact was nice, almost like it relieved some of the pressure. At the same time, the ache grew as Carolina realized that even with this, she was better with a companion. She wanted to be that independent woman she always thought she was.
“You know,” Miles said slowly. “Everybody needs to realize they’re not Beyonce at some point.” Carolina found herself smiling again. “I mean, it was the worst day of my life, when I realized I wasn’t Beyonce.”
Carolina laughed again, and while tears threatened to fall, they were old tears. New ones stayed in their ducts, where they belonged. “What’d you do?”
“I took off that leotard, aired out my junk, and then figured out who I was.”
“I wish it was that easy,” Carolina mused.
“If you need help taking the leotard off,” Miles started.
“I thought you weren’t hitting on me.”
“Just offering a friendly hand.”
Carolina rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the cider in her hand, back to the bad mood that she was allowing to fester. “I’ll bet.”
Before they talked the silence felt good, like crawling back into the blankets after a shower on a cold morning. Now that they had shared some conversation it felt oppressive, like it was just another thing she was doing wrong. She said, “I don’t need your help. But thank you anyway.”
“Oh, I know you don’t,” Miles said. Carolina quirked an eyebrow, but she had nothing more she needed to say. “I mean, you’re such an independent woman and all. And not at all a hipster.”
When the bar tender passed by again Carolina stopped him and asked for her check. She felt rather than saw Miles’ eyes on her and she casually turned her head away from him, like she was watching one of the other games on one of the other television sets.
It was the kind of bar that was filled with TVs, and realistically speaking, this guy could have sat down anywhere and been able to watch the game. There was a moment when Carolina was filled with the heady sensation of being able to command someone’s attention; that perhaps Kyle hadn’t left her because she wasn’t attractive, but because she was lacking some other quality.
“Can I ask you a personal question?”
It was one thing to direct her attention away from Miles, but Carolina wasn’t prepared to completely ignore him. She turned around on her stool and widened her eyes. “I guess you can ask whatever you want.”
“Do you have ESP?”
He leaned forward, like he was about to tell some sort of secret. “You asked for a check, and I thought, well, I better get this girl’s number now before it’s too late, and then you turned away from me.”
Carolina’s head buzzed. She wasn’t supposed to be asked for her phone number. She was supposed to come here and mourn the passing of her relationship. She was supposed to watch a baseball game without Kyle and try not to cry at the bar, and then she was going to go home and make a frozen pizza and eat the whole thing.
“I don’t have ESP,” she said, when Miles looked like he actually expected an answer to that ridiculous question.
“So just dumb luck then.”
“I guess so.”
Miles’ smile was infectious and Carolina tilted her head down rather than show him that he had any kind of effect on her.
“Can I ask you another personal question?”
She sighed and turned back to Miles. “I don’t see dead people.”
“Well that’s relief,” Miles said. “What happened with your dude?”
“Okay, what happened with Kyle?”
Carolina tilted her head up to the ceiling, though she knew there was no assistance to be had from there. “He just left me.”
Miles didn’t say anything, clearly waiting for more.
“He left a note that said he was going to the homeland. And most of his stuff was gone.”
“Going to the homeland?” Miles perked up with interest. “Were you sleeping with a Russian spy? Because that is amazing.”
“It was more than just sleeping together,” Carolina said. She turned her stool away from Miles so that she was facing forward again, and took the check that the bar tender had left for her.
“I didn’t mean that,” Miles said. “I’m sorry. I was making a joke. What’s the homeland?”
Carolina stared at the check, doing the math for what kind of tip she should leave. “Chicago,” she said, scribbling the numbers onto the paper. “He’s a big Cubs fan.”
“So you know baseball,” Miles said. She nodded, but she didn’t say anything. “I hate baseball,” Miles said. “I think it’s the worst sport. No guy should wear tight pants like that. That’s why I’m a basketball fan.”
“I hate basketball, too,” Carolina said. She couldn’t help her smile, though. That time she didn’t try to hide it.
Miles rested his elbow on the bar and leaned his head into his hand. “Are you sure you’re not a Russian spy? You don’t seem to like American things.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Carolina tested out the tease and it felt funny on her lips. She wasn’t ready to play this game yet. “I’m very sure I’m not a Russian.”
“You know what we should do?” Miles looked so excited that Carolina was almost caught up in his enthusiasm. “We should go to Chicago next weekend. Sneak up on him. Find out what he’s really doing out there. He’ll see you and realize you’re way better than Chicago. He’ll be back by the end of the playoffs.”
With each word Carolina’s heart sunk closer to her toes. She wanted Kyle back, but she didn’t think she could compete with the city and the baseball team and everything else that Chicago had that she didn’t. She didn’t think that she could take an additional rejection after being dumped so unceremoniously.
Carolina picked up her copy of the receipt and said, “I think we should go our separate ways. But thank you for the talk.”
Miles put his hand on her wrist, a movement so strong that Carolina turned her attention back, willing to hear whatever he was planning on throwing at her next. “I mean it. Lemme take you to Chicago. Maybe you’ll see him and after this you’ll realize, you know, that you’re more independent than you think you are.”
“Maybe you just want to shack up in Chicago,” Carolina said. She pulled her wrist from his grip and slid off the stool.
“Is that a no?”
Carolina smiled softly. A quiet voice in the back of her head encouraged her to at least take his number, or give him hers, or do something. He was nice, he wasn’t bad looking, and he hadn’t yet tried to put a roofie in her drink.
“That’s a no thank you.”
“Can I get your number?” Miles asked, standing when Carolina started to walk away.
She turned and smiled. “Not today.”
It took actual effort not to turn around and look at Miles one more time, or go to him, or respond, or do anything like that. When she walked out the door though, it felt like the next steps into the next great thing.