A Short Story (Chapter Four)

The bartender sat the drink in front of me, and I tossed the straw.

“That one’s on me, and I’ll have the same.”

There are some voices from your past that are never forgotten, even after you think you’ve forgotten them. It’s kind of like hearing the first note of a once-favorite song that you haven’t heard in years. And that song usually takes you back to a dog-eared chapter in the book of your life, bringing back the memories stored by all of your senses.

I turned my head quickly enough to give myself a chiropractic adjustment, to see if my memory served correct. It did.

Sitting next to me on a random barstool at a random airport during a random chapter of my life was the person I least expected to see, a person not unlike the one I had just left. This one too had once been a love that mattered.

“Emily.”

There she was. An immediate personal history lesson.

Of all the possible entrances that could have been made into my life, she was just laying there. No pirouette, no practiced walk down a red carpet, no stumble on a sidewalk. She was just laying on a beach chair. And she was wearing a black bikini.

At the time, my 16-year old eyes had only seen, had only imagined, such things in 2D. Watching someone play a guitar is much different than the first time you fret and strum the strings yourself.

I grew up in a small farm town. During the summers, the group of people I considered to be close friends broke into a caste system. There were those of us who spent the summer doing manual labor, and the rest spent their time “working” at the city pool. I was in the group that actually worked. She was not.

It was custom for my group to occasionally push the buttons of the other. Sometimes, we would point our push-mowers so that the bi-product blew through the pool fence. At other times, covered in sweat and grass and various odors, we’d make impromptu visits to our pool friends. That’s when I saw her. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen her, but it was the first time I’d seen her like that.

My entourage approached. Hers barely noticed. “Hardly working, I see,” said one of my friends.

“Better than what you all are doing,” said one of her friends.

“I don’t think so. Can’t beat the scenery.”

“You’re such a dick.”

Knowing that they were each correct in their analysis of the situation, the conversation turned to typical subject matter. Who’s doing what later, who’s done what to whom in the last 12 hours, who’s done or will be doing whom. I was paying little attention.

If you’ve watched much Discovery Channel, you’ve seen the documentaries where the hunters choose the prey that become separated from the pack. I wasn’t a hunter then, and I’m not now really, but I had enough instinct to know that some separation from both packs needed to take place.

I took a seat next to her.

“How’s it goin’?,” I asked, as the other conversations took place.

“Good,” she replied. “Wish you could jump in the pool?”

“Who says I won’t?”

“You wouldn’t do it.”

Change the subject, Jake. Now.

“What are you all doing tonight?”

“Probably going uptown. What about you all?”

“We’ll be uptown too. Might go to a party later on.”

“Party?”

Interest had officially been shown. It probably wasn’t interest in me—at least not like that—but it was interest in someplace I was going to be. The sweat was in no way helping to keep me cool. Thankfully, I had a saving grace. “Party” was one of those words that commanded everyone’s attention, just like the sound made by those lucky people who can produce a whistle by placing their thumb and middle-finger in their mouths and blowing.

Plans were made. My hopes for the remainder of the day were set. I didn’t even care what she might be wearing later that night. I just wanted to see her. But, in case that didn’t happen, I snuck another glance before we left the pool. That’s risky business when you’re not wearing sunglasses.

Irony plays a huge role in love. In the fourth grade, she had a crush on me. I was embarrassed of it. She definitely wasn’t ugly but not exactly pretty at the time, and she wasn’t my type (which means my friends made fun of the crush). In the fourth grade. Even then, I was an ass.

Irony lives on a turning table.

When I saw her later that night with her other half, irony was spinning out of control.

“Hey.”

“Hey, Jake. Did you see the letter from coach?,” asked her other half.

“I saw it. Ready to puke?”

For two weeks every summer, our football coach would hold twice a day practices mostly centered around kicking our asses by seeing how many times we could run the hill behind the school.

“Almost,” he said, followed by a long pull from a beer can. He handed me a fresh one. “You?”

“Working on it.”

He moved on, an upperclassman satisfied that he had properly been a bad influence, satisfied that he had left his girlfriend in non-threatening hands. What he didn’t know, what he couldn’t have known, was that he had just created separation from the pack.

“Having fun?,” I asked her.

“I guess. People are so obnoxious when they’re drinking.”

“True. Good thing I’m not ‘people.’”

She looked directly in my eyes, and smiled.

At that moment, I fell in love for the first time. What had manifested itself as infatuation and perhaps lust, became so because of a smile. A smile that, in the past, had been shunned by me.

Irony. And her name was Emily.

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