I've made mistakes before.
Big mistakes, in fact.
I gave more weight to the opinions of people who don't care about me than I gave to the opinions of the people I love, and who love me.
I tried to compartmentalize my religion and my sexuality.
I got upset about people putting pineapple on pizza.
Still working on that first one, but the other two are coming along nicely.
This mistake, though?
This one I just made, where I yelled at my now-former girlfriend for a few minutes on the phone in the bathroom of this craphole of a bar, already regretting my words as I was saying them, realizing that I was only adding more fuel to the fire burning down the bridge that was once our relationship?
This is probably my biggest one.
Maybe I should back up a step, though.
And I’m pretty drunk.
Nice to meet you.
I got laid off earlier today because my company is “modernizing” and doesn’t need me anymore, so my friend coaxed me to come be sociable and such with her boyfriend and, hypothetically, my now-former girlfriend, hoping to help me forget that life sucks sometimes.
That was going OK until just now.
Now I’m just hoping tonight doesn’t get any worse.
I walk out of the bathroom and head back to my spot at the bar, stuck in tunnel vision as I do. The large, crowded room surrounding me is a disconcerting blur of noise and smells that my super-drunk self isn’t handling too well at the moment.
“Jenn? You OK?” A comforting, familiar hand lands on my shoulder as I struggle back onto my stool. I look at her.
Dear, sweet Steph.
Beautiful, straight Steph.
That last part is probably for the best, judging by my last phone call. Can’t keep a job or a significant other.
Plus, she’s too good for me anyway.
“Is Linda on her way?”
I wince. “…No. She…”
I can’t hear you,” she says. “It’s hella loud in here.”
Hey, how come she says “hella” now and I don’t? We’ve lived here for the same amount of time.
Maybe it’s because she chooses to hang out with other people once in a while.
She’s right, though; the noise of the bar is bordering on intolerable. If there were a better place to get drunk quick without having to clean up the mess in the morning, we would’ve gone there instead.
From the dudebros in the corner yelling about whatever dudebros yell about, to the calamitous attempts at karaoke produced by the undergrads with dubious IDs, this whole place is a loud, obnoxious mess.
Well, at least my outsides match my insides.
“Jenn? What’s up?”
I take a deep breath. “Linda dumped me,” I say, speaking loud enough that I wouldn’t have to say it again.
Steph looks dumbfounded.
“I wish I were, Phil,” I say, leaning forward to talk to Steph’s boyfriend. “Turns out the universe has a sense of humor, and I’m the butt of its jokes tonight. Jennda is officially over.”
“And she knows you just got fired?” Steph asks.
“She said, and I quote, ‘I know this is bad timing, but I just can’t do this anymore.’”
“Oh my God,” Steph says.
“I mean, oh my God. She’s, like, the worst person,” she says, wrapping me up in a hug.
“No, she’s not…” I say, grateful for the embrace, but too caught up in my personal whirlwind of emotions to communicate that to her.
“Yes. Yes, she is. She just dumped you on what was already the worst day of your month, if not your year. That’s Grade-F Person Material right there.”
“This was coming for a long time,” I say. “Neither of us wanted to admit it, though.”
“The church thing?” Phil asks.
I nod. “And other issues. She called me stodgy.”
“‘Stodgy’?” Steph says. “There are many words I would use for you, Jenn Lewis. ‘Stodgy’ doesn’t make the top five hundred.”
“The vote is presently tied, then,” I say.
“I’m also voting against the stodgy motion, if I’m allowed,” Phil says. “I’m not, uh… I’m not the most informed voter, but if nothing else, I’d like to stay on Steph’s good side. I mean, you’re cool so far, but I want to make sure my motives are clear.”
I smile. “Your motives are valid. You two are so good together.”
“No, I mean it. I’m too drunk to tell anything but the truth right now, Steph. I absolutely mean it with every fiber of my being: You two are super-cute together, and I’m very, very happy for both of you. Phil, I don’t know how perilous your dating journey has been, but Steph’s has been treacherous and riddled with asshats. The fact that you two have found each other gives me hope for the future.”
“Thanks,” Phil says. “I think.”
“You bet,” I say. “Especially since you’re driving.”
“They say bad news comes in threes, so we’re here to help fight it off,” Steph says. “Or to make it nothing more than a rotten hangover in the morning.”
“On the bright side, you’ll have plenty of time to sleep it off!”
“Not helping, Phil,” Steph says.
“Right, right,” he says.
The karaoke is reaching a fever pitch, by which I mean that I think whoever’s singing this song is suffering from a tremendous fever and should go see a doctor immediately. I take a swig from my whiskey sour before letting my head fall onto the bar.
I close my eyes.
Yeah, I think as my cheek rests against the cool imitation wood laminate.
Yeah. This is nice.
I can almost drown out the karaoke and find my happy place.
Until I realize how many people have probably thrown up on this bar, at which point I spring back to an upright position with a groan.
“You wanna go back to our place?” Steph asks. “Somewhere with a bit less noise?”
“I don’t wanna impose,” I say, clutching my forehead.
“Given the circumstances, I’ll allow you to impose,” Steph says. “I mean, it’s not like there’s any reason to stay here, right? I don’t know if you’re ready to jump right back into a relationship, but this isn’t where I’d go fishing, that’s for damn sure.”
I sigh as I look around the bar. She’s right, of course. This scene is rough. Obnoxious dudebros… Fortysomething guy still here from trivia reading a book… Lady in a cat sweater that may or may not be ironic (No hate for cat sweaters, but I’m allergic to the real thing, so that’d be a non-starter)… Hot guy in an exceptional suit staring at me as I look over at him… Sorority sisters complimenting each other on their subpar karaoke chops…
Hot guy is sitting alone at a table, still staring at me. Smiling.
I give him a little nod.
He waves in response.
Was he here five minutes ago?
“…Gimme a sec,” I say to Steph before sliding off my stool and crossing to him, whiskey sour in hand. As I walk over, the other sounds of the bar fade away. “This seat taken?”
“It’s yours,” he says with an elegant gesture towards the empty chair. Dayum. That suit looks hand-made. He looks surprised that I came over, but not unhappy.
“I… You look nice,” I say, doing about as well I usually do at flirting. “I’m Jenn.”
He keeps smiling, his eyes locked with mine.
Somehow, I am nailing this.
I’m also somehow rebounding way faster than I usually do, but that might be the booze.
“You have problems,” he says, swirling the glass of whiskey in his hand. “I might be able to help with that.”
I chuckle. “Yeah? You in the romance business, or the… the business business?” I ask as I sit down.
“Neither,” he says, setting down his glass, “and, as the need arises, both.”
Ah, great. A cryptic boy. I knew there had to be a downside.
On the other hand, his hair is fantastic.
“You’re facing a… Well, a trial.”
“You could call it that,” I say, sipping my whiskey sour. “A couple of ‘em, actually.”
He smiles. “I’m only aware of the one. You know what I am referring to, then?”
I give him a quizzical look. “I… think so?”
“The Thekron case,” he says. “I think it could be spun into a libel case in your favor, to be honest. The whole thing is disastrously damaging to your reputation if untrue, and judging by your demeanor thus far—”
“Whoa, hold on,” I say. “We are, I now see, not on the same page whatsoever. Can we start from the beginning?”
He blinks. “Ah. Well. Yes, of course. There’s a spirit by the name of Thekron accusing you of sabotaging his operations at a local church. Based on what I knew, I thought that you speaking your mind was a solid defense, but now that I know you were clueless at the time, this might be…”
“What is this?” I ask. “Like, I know I’m drunk, but things usually make more sense than this to drunk-me.”
He frowns. “But… you can see me.”
“Yes,” I say.
“Like, you initiated this encounter, not me.”
“…And you don’t know what I’m talking about?”
“Not so much, no,” I say. “Dude, I’m in a very bad mental space right now. And I’m also drunk, but even then I’m usually somewhat able to hold on a normal conversation. Today, not so much. Whatever you have to say, I want the ‘Explain it to a Five-Year-Old’ version.”
To Be Continued...