BY JAYNE EVANS
Copyright is held by the author.
THE NEON sign above the rows of spirits, displayed like trophies along the wall of the bar, glowed blue, giving just enough light to be anonymous but not invisible.
“Hi,” He said, sliding onto the bar stool beside her. The football game blazed across the bank of TVs along the wall over her shoulder. It had been a while since he’d had to pick up a woman in a bar.
“What does that mean?” She slapped her hand down on the bar and swung round to face him like he’d just insulted her.
He held up his hands in defence. “Hi’ means just ‘hi’ doesn’t it?” She was probably drunk.
“No.” She waved a long, red fingernail. “‘Hi’ never means ‘just hi.’”
“Sure it does.” He shrugged. “Everyone says, ‘hi.’” She was cute and serious and, he noticed, no wedding band.
“But no one ever means ‘just hi.’ That’s my point,” she said, tapping a red talon on the bar.
Blouse. Jeans. Heels. She looked good and he had to admit it was a pretty good point. She couldn’t be that drunk.
“So,” he said, leaning in and smiling. “What do people mean when they say, ‘hi’?”
“You tell me. You’re the one who said, ‘hi.’” She was quick. He liked that.
She drained her glass. He tried to think of a clever comeback.
“Same again?” It was the best he could do. He motioned to the bar tender.
“Sure.” She shrugged.
Touchdown. A crowd of guys erupted in celebration at the end of the bar. He caught the eye of one of them and they shared a triumphant grin.
Her head jerked up. “Were you watching the game over my shoulder just then?”
“What? No, course not.” Focus, he told himself. She’ll only get mad if you don’t.
“So, if you had said, ‘hi’ to me just now, what would you be saying?” He asked her, trying to change the subject.
She seemed to relax and, moving a strand of hair from her eyes, considered the question. The bar tender dealt a couple of coasters alongside their refills.
“I’d be saying, ‘fuck off,’” She said.
No, he thought. She was still mad. Along the bar, interested eyes glanced over in their direction.
“Everything all right over here?” asked the bar tender hanging around, wiping the counter in front of them.
“Yeah, everything’s fine.” She stared at him, spitting the last word out like sour milk.
He swallowed and swiped at the bead of sweat forming at his hair line. Jesus! This was hard work. “Then why say, ‘hi’? Why not just say, ‘fuck off’?” He asked.
“I just did.”
Damn. She was good at this and she’d got him again. He was sounding like a real dick. She was letting him know that she deserved better than a slick ‘hi’ from a jerk on a bar stool.
He needed a minute. “Sorry. I’ll be right back.” He slipped off the stool and retreated to the safety of the bathroom.
She was looking down at her lap when he returned. “Are you checking your phone?” He asked. His voice sharper than he’d intended.
“I know. I’m sorry,” she said, slipping it quickly into her bag. “I was just checking on the kids, okay?”
“I know, I know. We’re not supposed to talk about kids. So?” she said, ready to resume battle. Ding. Round two. “So. Why is it so hard to answer the question?”
He wondered what her story was. Perhaps she was in town on business and staying at the hotel across the street. It was hard to keep this banter up, so he launched in with something he hoped sounded insightful.
“When you first meet someone, you don’t tell them what you’re really thinking. It’s part of the game. You both know it’s a game.”
She studied him. “Yes, it a game. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be honest with each other from the get go, does it? Don’t they deserve that, I mean, if you like them?” She looked away. She was wasting her time talking to this guy. Somehow, picking up a guy in a bar wasn’t as exciting as she thought it would be.
“I was being honest with you when I told you that no-one tells the truth at the beginning,” he was saying.
“Is that what you call being honest?”
The bar tender drifted by. “Two more, bud.”
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” She asked, eyebrow arched, eyes darting to his car keys on the bar.
“Jesus! Can’t I have a night out without the Temperance Brigade on my case?”
“Simmer down, pal,” warned the bar tender, sliding their refills across the counter.
“Sorry.” He held up his hands. “Sorry.” This whole night was turning out to be much harder work than he’d anticipated.
“So, tell me,” she said, drumming her fingers on the bar. “When do you start being honest with someone?” Suddenly they weren’t talking hypothetically anymore.
“I thought we were talking hypothetically,” he said. Yep, she was definitely upset now. Just great.
“We were,” she said. A sudden collective gasp rippled through the guys at end of the bar. Don’t look at the screen. Don’t look at the screen. He willed himself.
“Don’t you dare look at that screen!” She warned, reading his mind.
“Who’s interested in the game?” He shrugged. “Let me rephrase it.” He continued, silently congratulating himself on somehow finding the willpower not to look at the screen. “I said that no-one tells the truth at the beginning. We make ourselves sound great and we leave out all the crap about how we drink too much and pee in the shower. It’s not so much that it’s lies; it’s more like a selective truth.” He leaned back, impressed with himself.
“A selective truth?” Her eyes narrowed. “Is that what you base your relationships on?”
“Who said we were talking about me? I was talking hypothetically.” He said, shifting uncomfortably on the bar stool, his knee pumping up and down like a piston engine.
“Right,” she said.
There it was. The slow, patronizing nod. She was pushing his buttons now.
“Are you telling me that all your relationships have been based on honesty?” He fired back since they obviously weren’t talking hypothetically any more.
She deflected the question. “Now who’s getting personal?”
“It’s an honest question.” He shrugged.
She finished her drink and reached for her purse.
“I’ve got this.” He motioned to the bar tender. “I enjoyed the company and the banter. And that’s the truth.” He smiled at her, hoping he sounded charming.
She slid off the stool and smoothed her blouse against her body as she stood. “Me too.”
“Can I call you a cab?” He asked.
“No need. I’m staying at the hotel across the street. But you can walk me if you like.”
He tipped the glass to his lips and threw a few notes on the bar. “Keep the change, bud.”
Out in the street, he cupped his hands around a match, sucking at the cigarette.
“I wish you’d quit, you know,” she said, waving a drift of smoke away from her face.
“I know, I will.”
“Yeah. I know.” She sighed.
“The Bills won.”
“I thought you said you weren’t watching the game?”
“You weren’t supposed to be checking your phone.”
“I know, but I was checking if there was a message from mom or the kids.”
“You know there’s never a message from your mom or the kids on date night. Emergencies notwithstanding.”
“I know. Do you really pee in the shower?”