A Cautionary Tale, cont’d.3
He walked her out to his vehicle, an old van he introduced as ‘Stan’. Her age estimation of him ticked down a notch. She had been dating men who owned nice cars…their own homes. What on earth was she doing with this…child?
It was clear from his manner of dress that he was far more accustomed, far more comfortable in those shorts and sneakers. And what was it with some guys and laundry? He was clean, but lightly wrinkled from…? Who could tell? But the lean, well-muscled body beneath his clothes made it easier to ignore. She felt just a bit overdressed next to him, wearing her usual bar attire.
He grinned his approval of the way she looked. She was flustered. He couldn’t tell. She hoped.
The ride down I4 was terrifying. He drove fast and ran up close to the bumpers of slower cars in the passing lane. She found herself repeatedly grabbing his arm in abject fear, as if that would somehow improve his driving.
They pulled into the parking lot at the new El Torito. He came around and opened her door. Wobbly from the trip, she eased out, one tall slide at a time. She stood there for a moment, regaining her composure, lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. She turned to him and warned, “The next time, IF there is a next time, I will drive.” She thought back to his offer to fix the brakes, to him saying that he only wanted to drive her car in payment for his work; after this experience, well, they’d have to see about that.
He opened the restaurant door for her, and steered her into the bar area where they found a small elevated table for two. She hitched herself up on the chair, kicked off her shoes and propped her toes on the chair rung. He pulled his close enough to be able to hear over the din of the other conversations and the music. A waiter set a basket of chips and a bowl of salsa on the table and asked for both their IDs. She was flattered. He was not. She took the opportunity to order a frozen margarita…a strong and sweet departure from her usual. He ordered a rum and Coke. He paid, figuring an exact tip. (She’d teach him. Always tip well, lavishly if the situation warrants.)
They hadn’t talked much on the ride. Now he turned to her, fixing her with that beatific smile and asked her about herself. She deflected the question, and with a scoop of salsa’d chip in hand, asked how good midwestern boy like him had come to be living in central Florida.
“How could you guess I’m not from Florida? Oh, right. Accent.” he responded. “I came down here this past January to run the warehouse for my father. He’s working on building a second one, that I’ll manage as well.”
“No kidding,” she said. “And you actually live on the property? There’s no getting away from work, is there?”
“The apartment’s small, but big enough for one. And I have plenty to do around there.”
They bantered back and forth for a while, sipping their drinks and enjoying the atmosphere. But it wasn’t too long before he asked the bartender for the time.
“I have to get back. I promised to pick up a friend from work tonight. We could go out after that though…?”
She looked hard at him. “What’s her name? Is she your girlfriend? Should I feel guilty about having drink with you?”
“Oh, no,” he hastily replied. “Her name is Dawn and she’s just a friend. Her car’s not working so I’ve been taking her to work and back this week.”
She shook her head ever so slightly and sighed. If there was one thing she was really familiar with, it was cheating guys.”So you’re going to go get her, dump her at her house and come back to take me out again? Are you going to be honest with her? Maybe break up with her instead of just abandoning her?”
He turned around quickly, with a puzzled look on his face. “What makes you think…ummm…yes. I’ll tell her. It’s not a serious relationship. We are more like just friends. Trust me.”
Trust me. She despised those words. She couldn’t think of a time they’d been said to her that the person speaking the words could actually be trusted. She was no man-thief. If he belonged to someone else…
He leaned across the table and planted a soft kiss on her lips. She hadn’t been expecting that. It disarmed and distracted her from the topic of the ‘girlfriend’.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to do that ever since I first met you.”
“We have to go,” she murmured. “You can’t keep Dawn waiting.”
“Crap.” He was irritated with himself. How had she managed to get him to admit that?
She tucked a couple more dollar bills under her empty glass. “I already left a tip,” he said, motioning toward the waiter.
“I thought you said you’d been in the restaurant business,” she replied. “Of course you should know how that works, living on tips, right?”
The ride home was somewhat less frightening than the ride there. The drink had made him quite chatty. He talked about time spent living on a boat in the Keys, about posing for Playgirl Magazine, about waiting tables at the Dearborn Inn during college, about playing sax at Montreux-Detroit. She wondered to herself if any of it was true. Time, she knew, would tell.
He dropped her at the door, pulling her into a close hug. She turned her face upward, almost against her will, and certainly against her better judgment, and, wrapping her arms around his neck, drew him in for a kiss.
“I will see you around 10:30 tomorrow morning,” she spoke in a near whisper. “Make sure Dawn gets safely home. And don’t expect another one of those until there is no more Dawn in your life.” She gave him a little push in the direction of the van.
Reluctantly he turned and walked down the driveway. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
She leaned against the side of her car, watching him pull away. She had a curious premonition about this, but her hormones were bent on completely obstructing her ability to think straight.