“What’re you writing?” He slurs at me, planting half his butt on the stool next to mine, his standing leg awkwardly close to my hip. I tilt away from him, putting my swimmer’s shoulder between us, and counter the move with a small smile. Striking a balance between kindness without being misleading is not my forte and I know it. Tucked into a Pendleton flannel, he looks like Zach Braff – and slightly, unfortunately for him – my brother.
“Character studies,” I reply out of the side of my mouth. I don’t want to lock eyes with him. Letting him see the hazelishgreenishbrownish of mine falls into misleading.
“Like who?” he pressures, so close his beer no long covers the cigarette stench drawling from his mouth.
“Like my dad on Christmas morning. And like you, once you leave.” I say it flatly. Directly. Without a wink and a nudge.
“Really?” he asks, his curiosity piqued rather than deflated. His reaction surprises me so I look up and meet his gaze. Bad move on my part.
“Lucky you,” I reply with my bitch face.
“Am I bugging you?” he finally asks, breaking a pregnant silence.
“Yes,” I reply. “I’m in the middle of something.”
He continues talking, too drunk to stay with one line of monologuing for more than a sentence. He’s a history teacher. He lives in San Diego. No, Escondido. No, Riverside. Never mind, it doesn’t matter. He’s just a visitor here.
My eyes focus on the last word I wrote: trepidation.
“What’s your story?” he asks. “I told you mine.”
“I went on fifty first dates, one in every state,” I say blandly, wondering how he’ll take this news.
“Whoa. Are you on NPR?”
“Not yet.” I always assume an air of confidence is a turn off in these situations.
A friend of his comes by, pulling him away.
As promised, I write about the encounter. About him. How he’d mentioned his favorite books were All’s Quiet on the Western Front and The Road – wait no, On The Road. How he wasn’t deterred by my bemused expression.
He returns in the middle of a sentence and insists upon reading what I have. I give up the notebook willingly. It’s a curious thing, to let a stranger read three sentences about themselves. I imagine him hitting me if he doesn’t like what he reads, or simply grimacing, unimpressed. And I wonder why I care at all, only to realize I’m worried he’ll think I’m a bad writer. I care if anyone thinks I’m a bad writer, stranger or not. Not liking my writing is one thing – but suggesting I have no skills is reserved only for me.
“Who is going to get this reference?” he asks, pointing to ‘Zach Braff.’ His critique is a ballsy move, and I’m almost amused by it. The bartender brings me another drink and winks, knowing I’m merely being entertained rather than entertaining.
“Yeash.” His drunken slur has returned. “So, want to go to that park from Looking with me tomorrow? We’ll get a six pack. Talk. And whatever.”
“You’ve seen Looking?” It’s a show about gay men living in San Francisco – not your typical SWM fodder.
“That’s another thing,” he says. “When you’re writing, you shouldn’t write what is expected. Cliche.”
“Are you negging me?” I ask. His neck flushes.
“No. So are we going to hang out?” He’s putting his number in my notebook, careful to print legibly.
“I’m seeing someone,” I say, my eyes locking with the bartender.
“So I’m not interested in hanging out with you tomorrow.” I’m annoyed now and growing uncomfortable. This guy has given too many signs that he doesn’t give a shit about me, that I’m easy prey, that he thinks he might have a chance to get in my pants.
“We can just talk and see what happens.” He looks me up and down quick as a cricket before locking eyes with me.
“No,” I say, looking away.
“How are you seeing this guy? Like this – ” he makes a humping motion, his arms pumping on either side of him – “or like this.” He ends with an eye roll.
I don’t respond, now seeking out the bartender with a look. The bartender is also known as the guy I’m seeing. The guy bothering me isn’t deterred when the bartender pulls the old, See you at home later, baby? trick, even when it’s followed up with, Make my favorite? while holding my hand.
The guy keeps pressing, and I keep saying no. There’s no way I’m standing up to leave with this sort of feeling, worrying he’ll catch me outside, follow me home. I feel heavy, wondering where I lost control of the situation. His friends finally tap him on the shoulder, and he stands slowly, turns, and then as an afterthought gets close to my face with his.
“It’s just, I mean…well, you are sitting at a bar.”
“So I must be asking for it,” I say, dry. Angry.
I hit the nail on the head. He smiles. Forget Zach Braff, and definitely forget my brother. He looks like my rapist.