The candle in the middle of the table flicks and bends with a silent playful breeze. Caused by the shifting of bodies nearby perhaps. Or the front door opening and closing, allowing the crisp, brittle night air to filter in and mingle with its warmer kin.
I’ve been sitting here, in this restaurant, for thirty minutes. Waiting on her arrival.
I’m fidgety. Obviously. The anticipation is downright blinding.
Will she say ‘Yes,’ or will she say…
My shaky hand grips the thin base of the glass and I bring it to my lips draining the last swallow. I wash the warm liquid around in my mouth. It’s anything but refreshing. But I can feel its effects already. Muscles loosen. Eyes cease twitching. Thundering heart throttles down and allows my blood to cool.
“Another glass of wine sir?” The waiter interrupts my calm.
“You betcha Captain.”
I can even flash a smile now. It’s still fleeting and fake. But with the warm embrace of liquid courage, the capability has temporarily returned. I doubt I will be able to pull off charming though. Which isn’t that big of a deal. She knows me. The real me. She would instantly see through practiced speeches and fake confidence. Still, a little charm would be nice. I can’t beat myself up about it though. You either have it or you don’t. And historically, with her…I don’t.
I pull a letter sized white envelope out of my jacket pocket and hold it out in the candle light. I could just burn it. Let all my anxiety go up in flames. Then get up and walk away. Once and for all. Forever.
But I can’t. This is my one and only shot. To know true happiness. If only for one night.
‘The timing is right.’ I try and convince myself. Who could possible pass up this opportunity?
Even though we’ve never been romantic before. ****, never even been out on a date. At least not as a couple.
‘I’m so glad were friends Alex. You just don’t know what it means to me to have someone to talk to about these things.’
That’s me. Always just, ‘Someone to talk to.’
Well not tonight.
The waiter delivers me another glass of dark red wine and I thank him absently as I deliver it directly to my mouth.
It’s been two months since my eyes last touched her face. I started getting too ‘creepy,’ I believe was how she put it. Sitting together at the bar, listening to her reveal her inner most fears about her fiancé…I was just being attentive. I mean, I couldn’t keep my ears or eyes off of her. I devoured every morsel of her. Every lilting word that came gracefully out of her glistening, wide lips. Every shift of her weight. Every moist drop of saliva that remained on her glass.
After she left I stayed behind and ordered another beer. I didn’t drink it though. Instead, I put her glass to my mouth and I licked the rim. I wanted to taste her.
A phone call later that night…
‘Maybe it’s not such a good idea to meet like that for a while. Barry and I are going through some tough times and I wouldn’t want him to get the wrong idea about our friendship.’
Open hand slap right across the face.
‘And besides, Alex, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but the way you stare at me sometimes, sorta creeps me out.’
I snap out of my daydream and into a…fantasy? She’s standing here, beside the table, staring down at me. Looking as unbelievable as I remember. Straight shoulder length chestnut hair. Skin like polished oak. Wide, comfortable hips. Fashionably dressed as always.
“Laney.” I manage through slightly drunk-numb lips.
She removes her scarf with a whooose. The sudden change in the atmosphere creates a whirlwind that extinguishes the candle, snapping me out of my reverie. And she’s really there. Really here. It’s really happening.
“I wasn’t sure you would come.” I gawk at her. Just as I always do. This is one of the painful habits that makes her uncomfortable around me. I know this. But I can’t help myself. Her beauty is like nourishment to my senses. I know it sounds trite, but I’m addicted to her, like a drug. I have absolutely no self control. I am…
“Well, you said it was important right? And I haven’t seen you in like forever.” She pulls off her holiday mittens and buries them in her jacket pocket. “Besides, it’s almost Christmas.” She extends a dainty, well manicured hand and with a flick, ignites the candle back up with her lighter.
I can’t take my eyes off the sparkling rock on her ring finger. She notices my stare.
“Oh…gosh, we haven’t talked! Barry upgraded his love for me.” She jokes as she holds her slim, glamorous fingers erect to display the new ring.
“It’s…enormous!” I stammer.
“That’s what she said.” She jokes and we laugh. Hers, festive and heart warming. Mine, uncomfortable and forced.
This didn’t bode well for my offering. I absently finger the envelope resting on the table.
Conversation flowers and wilts with the passing of the time. A couple more glasses of wine for me, coke for her…and she’s politely hinting for me to get to the point.
I’d rehearsed this scene so many times over the past two days, and yet, she knows me so well.
“Okay, well I’m gonna run to the little girls room while you think about it dude.” She checks her watch. Again. “But when I get back Alex, I really have to go. Barry is expecting me at eight.”
With that she squirms out of the booth and saunters away.
This is it then. The culmination of my hopes and dreams. The most important proposition of my life.
Okay, that was a little dramatic…but still. I tilt my glass back and finish off the last few sips of courage.
In my mind I go over the basics…‘ In this envelope…you and me…tonight.’
Doesn’t take long for the message to get to my manhood and it jerks and stiffens at the prospect. I can picture her, standing at the hotel window in her underwear, looking out at the early evening, army ant traffic on 16 mile road. Victoria Secrets…page eleven. Black panties and a soft fabric loose fitting bra resting comfortably on her small breasts.
‘I hate my chest. I look like a ten year old boy when I’m naked.’
‘I love ten year old…uh, I mean…I think small **** are hot. Just look at Gwen Stefani, huh? Or that chick from ‘Arrested Development,’ Portia De Rossi.’
‘Isn’t she a lesbian?’
“I’m back.” She announces as she dumps herself back into the seat across from me. “So let’s cut to the chase my friend…give me my card already?” She winks at me and nods toward the envelope resting under my shaking hand.
The time has come. It’s now or never. Literally. Because I’ll be gone tomorrow.
“I’m going away Laney.”
With the help of the alcohol rushing through my blood I manage to bring my eyes up to rest on her flawless face. Her stylishly groomed eyebrows are raised in curiosity as her sensational lips wrap around the straw protruding from her glass…and she sucks. My train of thought wanders and my cock starts to stir again.
She finally encourages me to continue, “Away where? You get a job out in Cali again?”
I hadn’t really thought this part through. The decision to leave for good had been made so long ago, I never even considered coming up with an actual destination to tell her.
“Yes, California.” I agreed.
“Wow…Alex, that’s great! I’m so happy for you.”
“I wish you would have said something earlier.” She motions to her mostly empty glass of cola as she lifts it up to cheer me. I raise mine as well and we clink them together.
This wasn’t going as I envisioned.
“So when do you leave and what job did you get?”
I had to veer this conversation out of oncoming traffic.
“Look, Laney…the reason I asked you here tonight was not to talk about my leaving.”
I cleared my throat. “This isn’t easy for me to do, so I’m just gonna go ahead and blurt it out…”
She leans forward, her eyes tight slits of concern, shaking her head from side to side slightly, as if already giving me her answer.
“Laney, I want you…” I pause. My mouth struggling to form the words.
“You want me?”
“Yes, Laney…I’ve always wanted you.” Damn! That wasn’t what I was supposed to say.
Her tone is a mixture of confusion and contempt. It says, ‘How dare you?’ I grasp my glass and peer into the empty abyss. I scan the room for my waiter. I need more courage.
“Alex, I’m engaged to be married. You know that. You know I love Barry.”
“NO!” I catch myself. I didn’t need this to turn ugly. “Laney, you do not love Barry…and you know that. But that’s not even what I’m talking about here.” I had to get this right. I had to do it now. I had to be sincere. Charming. Casual. Sexy.
A tight laugh bursts through my lips. Nerves. Stress.
“You’re drunk.” She collects her purse. “And I’m not gonna sit here and listen to this ****.”
“Laney wait…please. You don’t understand, yet. Please…give me a minute.”
I was confused. So many feelings, emotions, scrambling around in my head. And she was right…I was sort of drunk. But it didn’t change a thing.
“I’m not moving to California.”
Half out of her seat she glares at me with a steady impatience.
“Please, Laney…sit back down for a minute.” I pick up the envelope and wave it in a small circular motion. “What I really need to talk to you about is in here.”
She plops back down, cheeks rosy with frustration and the lingering winter chill in the air.
“Look Alex. I know you….care about me. I know you think you love me…”
“I’ve always loved you.” I interrupt confidently. Now that was the alcohol talking!
She closes her eyes for a second, then continues.
“Okay, whatever. But you have to get it through your head. I just don’t feel the same. I mean, I care about you immensely. I really do. But we’ve been friends for so many years. And…and I’m in love with Barry.” At this she holds her hand out again to remind me how much Barry loves her back.
“Dammit Laney, what I was trying to say earlier is that …I want you…tonight. Just tonight.”
There it was. I had said it.
She’s shrugging her shoulders. Holding her hands out, palms up, slightly facing in, fingers spread apart. Not comprehending.
I pick up the envelope and hand it to her.
Cautiously she takes it.
“I want to spend the night with you Laney. One night. Just one grand, magical night. And then I’ll be gone…out of your life forever.”
Her mouth hangs open in consternation.
“Are you propositioning me? Like I’m some sort of...of…**** whore?”
“NO…Laney, God No. I don’t think of you like that at all.” This wasn’t going well. I had to get this under control.
“Open the envelope Laney. Then let’s discuss this further.”
“I WILL NOT!” She barks at me. “I AM NOT A SLUT!”
“Shhhh. Please Laney. You don’t understand yet. Just open it. Then if you want to hate me, go ahead and hate me.”
She leans back in the booth, resting her head against the wood behind her.
“I can’t believe your offering me money for sex Alex. I just can’t…”
She stares at me for a long time. Blank face. Perfect complexion. Flawless makeup. The tiniest hint of an Eastern slant to her large symmetrical almond eyes. Cheekbones a model would die for. I am about to call the whole thing off. Just get up and walk away. I can’t handle this pressure. But then, her lips part and she smiles. It’s sympathetic…but it’s something.
“Okay loverboy. Let’s just see what one night with me would have been worth to you.”
‘Would have been worth.’ That’s what she says. Her mind is already made up then. Even so…everyone has a price. Just wait til she opens…
I watch as her delicate fingers bend the lid of the envelope back to expose the interior. Her eyes change color. From hazel…to deep set green. She slowly pulls the contents out.
“What the hell is this?”
“It’s a lottery ticket.”
She tilts her head and the left side of her sultry mouth comes up in a frustrated grimace.
“I can see that. So what…you expected me to sleep with you for a lottery ticket?”
“It’s a winner Laney. A winning lottery ticket. Worth…”
“Are you out of your **** mind?”
“It isn’t like that. I love you. I want to make love to you. I knew you would never…eh, be with me unless there was some incentive. So, last Saturday, I played the lottery. And I won.”
She crumples up the envelope, ticket and all and tosses it across the table at me. It strikes me in the cheek and drops mockingly on the table.
Before I can even think of a protest she is gone. I do manage, “Laney!”
To which she replies, “Go to Hell.”
Incidentally, that is precisely where I plan to go.
I grasp the balled up envelope and ticket and inspect it for a moment, turning it over and over in my hand. I can see a few of the winning numbers. 11. My favorite number. 16. Laney’s birthday. 34. My age. The age of what was to be the greatest night of my life. The age I will be when they find me, bloated and stinky, knife slashes decorating my body.
I inch my arm forward until the balled-up paper finds the candle flame and sparks up.
She never even asked how much it was worth. Silly girl. Everyone has a price. Don’t they? I hold the blazing fortune for a few moments longer, then drop it on a small plate and watch it smolder away into a pile of charred riches.
I flag the waiter down and order a double whiskey, with a beer chaser.So things hadn’t worked out quite as planned. I still had death to keep me company tonight.