What am I going to do? If I don’t get this article written, I’ll ruin any chance I have of getting a position at the paper. I don’t want to always be the temp in an office. I’m so sick of fetching coffee and ordering lunches for meetings and answering phones. I thought this would be my big break and I’d finally get to use my degree.
So maybe I overstated my qualifications just a teensy bit when I begged for this freelance assignment. Maybe I didn’t have a huge portfolio of published stories, but I did have a couple. There was that story I did for the Arlington Library about the kids’ Columbus Day posters, complete with pictures. They did publish it in the library newsletter, full color, no less, with byline. And the story I’d done for my creative writing class at Northern about the lack of ridership on the west suburban PACE bus route had earned me $35 from the Brookfield Sun. So, yeah, I can say I’m a published author.
I think the wine was going to my head just a little bit and making me kind of giddy. Or maybe a little maudlin, I can’t tell for sure. I feel something bubbling up in my throat but I’m not sure if it’s a giggle or a sob. And when it came out, it was more like a sobbing snort. Mike looked over at me and headed my way from the other side of the bar. I was pulling my phone out to check if I had any messages when I heard him say, “Last call. Closing up in 30,” to the few stragglers who were left after watching the end of the hockey game. I’d be lucky to stay awake for 30 more minutes, but I knew Mike would pitch a fit if I tried to leave alone at this time of night.
“Hey, pull it together, Princess,” he said, frowning down at me. “What have you had, two whole glasses of wine, not counting the one you threw –” I held up my hand in his face to get him to stop talking, cause that last glass was hitting me kind of hard. “I’m all right,” I said. “I just didn’t have much dinner before I came over tonight.” He scowled again, shaking his head. “You are a such a lightweight — wait, why didn’t you have dinner? Don’t tell me you didn’t get groceries again?”
“Jeez, who are you, the food police?” I hated to admit he was right and hated even more that I didn’t have the cash for food after paying for the silk blouse and the eyelash extensions and my new pair of hooker heels. “I had some popcorn earlier,” I said, trying not to sound defensive. I knew Mr. Fitness wouldn’t approve and, yep, he was shaking his head again.
“C’mon, you know you need to eat protein, we talked about this. Why do girls always think a handful of carbs is fine for dinner? Your body needs fuel like protein, especially if you’re gonna be drinking! ” Blah, blah, I’d heard it all before. Mike works as a personal trainer during the day and we live in the same building. In fact, I first saw him when I was bored one night and popped into a class he was teaching on exercise and nutrition in our building’s community room. His arms are roughly the size of my thighs and I’m pretty sure he could bench press me if he wanted. Muscle bound guys never really appealed to me, but Mike is nice and looks out for me like a big brother. Sometimes an annoyingly overprotective big brother, but that’s okay. I already have two brothers of my own so I’m used to it.
“Okay,” he said, “everyone is gone so I’m shutting down the register and then we’ll go. And before you turn in, I’m making you some scrambled eggs and toast at my place so you get something in you to soak up the alcohol. Maybe your head won’t hurt so bad in the morning that way.” “Sure thing, Mikey,” I said, grinning at him. I was feeling a little loopy and Mike was a big sweetie for worrying about me. I should tell him so. I grabbed his hand and pulled him toward me, planting a big, sloppy kiss on his cheek, clutching at him to keep from falling off my 4 inch heels. “Mikey, you are just too good to me,” I said, my eyes tearing up a little. “You know I love you to pieces.”
Mike turned toward me and something flashed through his hazel eyes. For a second, I thought he almost looked sad, but it was probably just a trick of the lighting. He steadied me then moved me gently away from him. “Okay, babe, sure you do.” He patted my arm softly. “Let’s get you home and get some food in you before you fall and hurt yourself.”
Waving goodnight to the remaining staff at the little golf club restaurant and bar, Mike steered me toward his car in the lot. I started to protest that I could drive myself home but he cut me off with a look. “Do not even think it. Just get in. Please,” he said as he unlocked the door for me. “I’ll bring you back tomorrow to pick up your car –” and that was all I heard before my eyes closed and I drifted off. I didn’t hear his door shut or the engine start up. I never even felt him lean over and fasten my seat belt. And I didn’t feel his lips as he smoothed my hair back and pressed a kiss to my temple.
~ Diane D.