Nearly three years removed from days spent stumbling around a traditional southern university, Manny felt at home in the Brooks Brothers casual look and aspired to one day be ringmaster of the bible belt political circus. He had never been one to adapt quickly, hence his appreciation for the social similarities in throwing back shots of Fireball during finals week to sucking down Sangria at a fundraiser.
As a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic, Manny preferred bouncing innuendos off the musings of young (and occasionally older) women to the straight forward catcalls, which, according to his buddy Kyle, is scientifically proven to get a girl in bed by the end of the night. Kyle also believes coke to be scientifically more effective than creatine.
While pondering Kyle’s theories at a bar in Georgetown one evening, Manny drew a mental graph estimating the correlation between his recent weight gain to his lack of female interaction. Despite the approximate three-fourths daily brain activity dedicated to thoughts about the female anatomy, the number of women he’s had is actually quite low compared to the other perpetually hungover members of his KA pledge class.
The sweet air outside, though cooler than usual for the summer solstice, had Manny in a nostalgic trance, prompting the bartender to take a sharp turn away from Manny’s usual request for a tequila-anything and served him a whiskey double, up. “You know what Patrick, we could’ve been great!” Manny proclaimed after inhaling his drink like water vapor.
“Ah, sorry my friend. I’m not into straight guys.” The bartender, eager to humor happy hour patrons, gave Manny a wink and poured him another.
“My ex, Patty! My ex and I could’ve been great.”
“It’s Patrick. And you got a picture?”
Manny pulled out his phone and showed Patrick a candid shot of him and Kelly at the homecoming tailgate. Though clearly filtered by some sepia tone offshoot, it’s easy to see the connection between the couple. He had been spinning her around, serenading and drunkenly two-stepping when a faithful KD sister captured their moment and threw it on the Internet with the caption power couple.
Manny believed in the caption, likening himself and Kelly to the Romneys. Four kids minimum he would tell her, his mind whirling with fantasies of attending Manny Jr’s rugby games and arguing with his daughter about the proper age to date. Back at the house after the game, Manny had told several brothers he could see himself having sex with this girl for the rest of his life. Kyle put an arm around Manny and said, “Dude, she’s a bitch.”
“Cute girl,” was all Patrick could muster.
“Smart, too!” said Manny, accustomed to defending Kelly, who was often accused of majoring in Early Marriage. As a Nutrition major, she did not in fact learn how chicken soup cures the common cold. Kelly’s senior thesis was not about the fine art of making barbecue sauce.
“What did you say her last name is?”
“I dated an O’Hare once. Heartbreakers, those Irish girls. But hey, maybe you should have a little something to ease the blow of that whiskey. Take a look at the menu,” said Patrick, handing Manny a handwritten list of not-your-mama’s southern style small plates. “I’ll be around. Just holler at me.”
By the time Manny’s phone vibrated in his pocket, a half-moon stuck a landing just above the Washington Monument, and Manny was well on his way to reaching full inebriation. The beer battered fish sliders and pork chop kabobs had aided only in keeping Manny from running his mouth to fellow patrons. However Manny’s intent became clear as soon as Patrick cleared the plates and handed Manny his third beer, this one a can of something light, to which Manny replied, “Patrick, it would be my honor to shotgun a beer with you.” Although Patrick refused and advised Manny against it, he could not stop Manny from emptying the can in a matter of seconds.
Manny pulled out his phone, registering only after he tapped the green button that he was about to partake in some serious bullshitting. “Governor Bentley, my good man! How are you on this fine evening? And might I add, happy, happy summer!”
Manny waved down Patrick, wide-eyed, and mouthed the word tequila, which after a moment’s thought, was followed by the word anything. “Yes Governor, I did watch his speech today.”
Manny grabbed the attention of the man next to him – “What did I think? I think that man needs a new speech writer.” – and asked for his phone. The man pulled out a device arguably manufactured in 1998. Manny fought the urge to chuck it across the bar and instead scrambled to find someone with Internet. “Yes, of course sir, what are the polls saying?”
Patrick, with the smile of a true jackass, handed Manny a Sour Apple Margarita right as Manny was about to run out to his car which held his laptop and a wifi hotspot. “No, sorry I did not get a chance to look at them today.” Manny gulped down the neon green liquid, some dribbling down his chin as ice cubes crashed into his face. He set the glass down hard and let out several violent sounds one might hear while watching a cat cough up a particularly stubborn hairball. “Fine, sir. Yes, I’m listening. This is good news, no?”
He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, shook his head at a laughing Patrick and ran out of the bar to his car, blood rushing to his head, his BAC level increasing with each step. “Talk this out with me, Bob, err, Robert, sir. Figure out a plan. What steps would YOU like to take?”
Manny knew this question would buy him just enough time to get to his car and quickly research polls, pundit commentary, and the actual speech itself, whose existence had managed to completely slip under Manny’s radar. Jetting to his car whilst attempting to keep his boozy breath steady in between the mhmms and absolutelys, Manny failed to hear the female voice calling out to him until it became apparent she took his fleeing the scene personally and screamed out his name.
His car just feet away, Manny froze, recognizing that voice as none other than Kelly O’Hare’s. “Uh, yup. I am writing this all down.” He spun around on his heel to find his ex also frozen in place, hip locked, leg out, arms crossed just below the chest that had won KA’s “Tits I’d Most Want To Motorboat” three years in a row. He stuck out a finger to let her know he’d be with her in a moment – a gesture formerly kicking off many an argument between them. “Of course, sir. And hey, tomorrow is Friday, it’s supposed to be a spectacular day! I will go over all of this with Jenna first thing tomorrow, set up some sort of hand-shaking event. Let’s do a late lunch. Those Bloody Marys at Ed’s Diner have been calling my name all week…Yes, I will…Yes, okay, you too sir. Have a good night.”
With his mouth on fire (Were those jalapeños in that drink?) and his mind still struggling to wrap around the hours of his new job, a very dazed and confused Manny closed his eyes and made no effort to move, not to his car, not back to the bar, and certainly not toward Kelly whom he hoped would simply walk away. “Well are you going to come over and say hi or what?”
And suddenly Manny’s legs could move again. “What are you doing here?”
“Visiting Steph. What are you doing here?”
“Hard or uh, hardly?” asked Kelly, acknowledging the several damp spots on Manny’s collar. “Are you here alone?”
“I am. How’s Steph?”
Kelly didn’t respond right away, but instead looked thoughtfully into Manny’s round eyes. Two years is a strange amount of time to date someone, especially during a time when a person’s relationship with oneself is often in a crisis mode of Middle-Eastern proportions. When it came time for Manny and Kelly to wash their hands of college debauchery, both soon discovered they had spent two years speaking to each other in fluent idealism, their love lost in translation when exposed to reality.
She hadn’t believed Manny to be the next Zuckerberg, but she hadn’t expected him to still be buddying up to bartenders on Thursday evenings, either. “Steph is good. Finishing up school next semester. Interning now.”
“Stephanie the intern! Love it! I’d watch that one.”
“She’s not a porn star, Manny. Never was. Never will be. Give it up.”
“It’s good seeing you, Kell. You look good.”
“Thanks. You too.” The weight of this lie hovered over them alongside the hundreds of unanswered questions that occasionally kept Manny up at night.
He had never grasped the concept of looking good to feel good. His face didn’t glow, his eyes didn’t sparkle, Manny didn’t run a single mile without a romantic reward, the simple incentive to just be alone with a girl. What had once pulsed between them, buzzed, exploded at the peak of it all, now felt like nothing more than air between strangers.
They left it at that, Manny making the excuse of running out on Patrick, Steph probably (but not really) wondering where Kelly went. And for the first time all night, Manny felt like he could really use a drink.
The bar had amassed more of a crowd than Manny noticed when he ran out. Loafers and flirty wedges filled the narrow path between barstools and booths. There seemed to be a shift in the music as well – robotic chords and a heavy bass butchering some of Aerosmith’s greatest. Manny contemplated leaving, or at least going back out to search the sidewalk for his wits. Had he really just made small talk with Kelly? What had been Bentley’s concern? Or was the governor happy? Something about a Bloody Mary? Did she have to be wearing white? Had her triceps always bulged so elegantly? She got a haircut. That’s what it was. “Hey Bentley boy!”
Manny turned to see Patrick striking an imaginary whip at him. “How was that margarita? Second time making it. Still working out the kinks. Too much jalapeño? You look like you just shit your pants.”
“Whiskey, Patrick. On the rocks. And hold the fucking jalapeño. Thanks.”
“Aye aye, captain!”
Manny jumped at the first open stool and collapsed his head into his hands, milking the drama only the way a true self-pitier can. The cold whiskey rekindled his inebriation enough to search around for a listening ear, a pretty face, ideally both in one. He pulled out his phone thinking that perhaps one of the pretty faces who had so brutally friend-zoned him might change her mind. “Must’ve been pretty hard to find a spot for your boat.”
“Huh?” Manny turned toward the woman next to him, seeing her for the first time, though he had scanned the bar several times since sitting down. The black studded plugs in her ears were gauged about a half size larger than Manny’s index finger and a portion of the artwork up her arm, which resembled Shel Silverstein’s illustrations had yet to be filled in, the story incomplete.
“Well you have your boat shoes on so you must’ve just gotten off your boat. I’ve personally never parallel parked a boat before, but I’m sure you handled it just fine. Oh, your collar dropped. Would you like me to pop that for you?”
The woman stifled a giggle before revealing a smile that stretched wider and shined brighter than Manny had anticipated. “Are you fucking with me?”
“Is that a sea creature on your arm?”
“It is. But we in the real world call those mermaids.”
“What makes you think I’m not in the real world?”
“Patty called you Bentley boy. I assume you’re the grandson or something. Born out of touch.”
“More like Bentley’s errand boy slash weekend therapist.”
“Woof, man. What’s that like? I’d probably chug a sour apple margarita too if I were in your shoes. Though not your actual shoes. I don’t own boats.”
“Okay A, are you always this sassy with strangers? And B, you saw that?”
“I’ve literally been here as long as you have. Open your eyes, my friend.” Manny swiveled the stool to face her head on and found himself fiercely attracted to her playful green eyes. “I’m Manny.”
“So why the mermaid, Shayne? You know I’ve never actually seen one, all those times I’ve taken my yacht out.” Shayne’s blush leveled the playing field enough for Manny to offer her a drink, but Shayne declined. “I actually have to head over to this gig soon.”
“I DJ a couple nights a week at Eden.”
“You know, I’ve only been there once. Not really my scene.”
“Make it your scene. Come with me. Have you ever DJ’ed before?”
“Not exactly,” said Manny, recalling the multiple formals and mixers in which he blacked out and bugged the DJ for a lesson. Shayne’s devious smile sent a burst of energy through Manny’s veins. She turned back to face the bar. “Patty! Dos tequila shots por favor.”
“Yes, my queen!”
“Tequila? My queen? Who are you?”
“I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a -”
“Okay, okay, settle down Meredith Brooks. Seriously. Why are you doing this? Talking to me. I don’t get it.”
Shayne smiled and dashed a little salt on the back of her hand and held up the shot glass.
“Answer the question,” said Manny, however mimicking her actions.
“It’s a dumb question, Manny. You really need to cut this woe-is-me crap, all ready. There’s nothing to get. Why not talk to you? I mean to be completely honest, I have a knack for getting people’s heads out of their asses and I simply enjoy doing it. You can thank me later, okay? To boats and hoes!”
Manny held up his shot glass, shaking his head in amazement, not sure he had ever met someone quite this captivating and not sure why he was fighting himself on it. They sucked on the limes, closed their tabs and headed for the door.
“I think I like you, Shayne.”
Once outside, Shayne grabbed Manny’s face and pressed her lips against his. She pulled back and patted his arm. “Keep it in your pants, Bentley boy. The night is young.”