“Strawberry daiquiri,” you tell the bartender.
He’s not happy. It’s not shot-n-beer. You just tagged yourself “outsider” in this tough Philly neighborhood. Now you’ve broken two “too” rules: ordering a too-fancy drink, and sitting too close to Trouble.
You’re trying your best not to let on that you notice, but Trouble’s next to you. Her gorilla’s next to her. Biker arms, snake tattoo on the forehead, Duck Dynasty beard, piercings, and what might be sharpened incisors.
You ghosted onto the stool, but even that drew suspicion. Screw it. It’s the only seat. You’ll drink and bounce. You poked the gorilla. Trouble’s turf: bright blue tank top, and tight white short-shorts. Crossed legs that you will not—repeat not—inspect. Sweet face, too, from what you dare to take in.
What would Hemingway do? Just read “Kilimanjaro,” and now it’s all about Ernest. Hem would order a strawberry daiquiri. He made them famous. Maybe you’ll be famous. After college, if college ever ends.
Just get through the night.
Trouble says, “I don’t trust any boy who won’t drink beer.” Gorilla slides his glare behind her shoulders and over to you. A moment. Do you need this shit? No, you do not need this shit. So you look away first.
OK, dude. I’ve been alphaed. That’s settled.
But Trouble’s not done. Says: “Strawberry daiquiri. Is that one of them drinks that come with a little umbrella?” She’s talking to some invisible bartender, not to you, not to the gorilla. The real bartender steps up with the daiquiri, and it does look fruity.
“Pretty!” Trouble says.
You’re about to head to friendlier regions, but the gorilla laughs. At least that’s how you interpret it. Could be he’s just easing some flem into place for the next time he spits. But do you really need this after last weekend? Let him laugh.
“Pretty drink, pretty boy!” Trouble taunts.
She’s flirting, and the gorilla’s eyes narrow.
“Excuse me,” you say and ghost off the barstool the way you ghosted on but, man, the gorilla just can’t leave it.
“Ladies room’s that way,” he croaks, flashing teeth.
He who hits first wins.
You put all the bullshit the therapist told you about impulse control into one nicely laid jab. You nail that gorilla flush on the side of his beefy mask, but he just smiles.
You don’t remember much after that, but the only reason he doesn’t wreck you is because he starts crying. Really. No bullshit. He cries. Somewhere in there Trouble breaks up with him just when he’s about to break you. He overturns tables and chairs on the storm-out.
Trouble’s over you screaming, “Let him be!” to the gorilla’s friends.
You coax yourself to your feet but sea-legs, and you’ve got your arm around her shoulders as you leave. Trouble gentles you onto a stoop about a half block away.
I lost the fight, but got the girl.
Turns out Trouble’s a nursing student and she’s got swabs and disinfectant and a first aid kit in her purse. So there you sit, on someone’s front steps in Philadelphia about a block down from a bar where you just got your ass handed to you. (Can’t exactly call this one a fight.) And this leggy, sexy—and what your moms would call buxom—woman tending to your ouchies. Makes cooing noises. Asks your name. You tell her.
You blubber through your swollen mouth, “Next time you want to end it with someone, could you leave me the hell out of it?”
Trouble shushes you. She’s trying not to crack up. She’s a tough one, this Trouble; will make a good nurse.
You say, “At least this gives you a real human to work on.”
And then Trouble does laugh and, right away, that pushes desire up seven or eight notches. That laugh shakes the overheads. This will end good. At least for one night. Hell, maybe even a few dates. But that will be about it.
No way this is a turning point. No way it leads to the altar, and a home outside the city and four children and ups and downs but mostly ups. No way.
Over the coming years you’ll gradually accept just how wrong you are. You’ll remember this moment.
You lost the fight, but get a life.