I ran through all the things I might say to Shelly that could either account for or contribute to the reason I left Los Angeles. I speak of LA the way a man might speak of a beautiful woman he loved once in his past. It is that tenderness and longing that cut through any attempts I make to mask the fact that I am a fish out of water.
I looked down and noticed I was unconsciously playing with my glass, spinning it slowly with my fingers. My gaze brought Shelly’s down to the glass as well and then she looked up at me again with her explosively mischievous smile.
“Oh my god! You’re really uncomfortable discussing how you got here! Now I am really intrigued.”
Fantastic. I have managed to pique her curiosity on a topic I wasn’t even yet comfortable discussing with myself. How do I talk to an extremely sexy stranger about the misgivings, the wildness, the desperation and the Caligula style overindulgences that drove me away from my home? I obviously didn’t fully have my own head around it.
I took a deep breath and laughed to myself. “Look, leaving LA was really hard to do but I was drowning under a sea of shit of my own making. I had surrounded myself with drama and gotten involved with a bunch of people and a bunch of things that really mired me in a gray world of blah. I sometimes choose my friends poorly and…”
I was about to expound upon the idea of choosing poorly when a different server, not Heidi, came over to refill our water glasses. Out of a habit bred from my tendency to have salacious and surreptitious conversations, I often pause when wait staff approaches the table. I looked up this time to see the girl I had been talking to last night when I decided to bail and leave her and her friend with Ike. She smiled at Shelly as she refilled her glass and then looked at me. I had my eyes on lockdown, hoping she wouldn’t recognize me. Hope is a shitty thing.
I had to look up now. “I went home. I just hit that wall.”
“Well, good for you. I hope your friend Ike hits a wall too, hard. Tell him to go fuck himself for me, ok? Do you guys need anything else.”
It was actually slightly bone chilling to hear the vitriol brewing inside her when she talked about Ike and then have it tabled completely when she asked if we needed anything else.
“I will, uh, I’ll let him know.”
I locked my eyes back on my glass but could feel both Shelly’s gaze and her smile burning into my forehead. We were locked into a mortal game of chicken, each waiting for the other to flinch or give. I decided to own up.
“Yeah, so that was weird and awkward. I left her at the bar last night with my buddy Ike. I tried to leave Ike in LA but he’s sort of like herpes and tends to pop up all the time.”
“Are you telling me you have herpes, Jackson?”
I looked up and she was on the verge of convulsing with laughter.
“No, but I do have a disease called Ike that I cannot seem to cure.”
Right as I said that my phone, which was in my front shirt pocket, began to vibrate. I had received a flurry of text messages. I pulled out my phone and looked at the screen. It was Alex. He had been laid off from his job and had four months of severance. He had already packed his car and was heading my way to crash for a while.
Two of the reasons for which I left LA in search of respite were now going to be living with me. I put my phone down, face down, on the table and breathed a giant sigh, slouching back in my seat and closing my eyes. I could hear the worry in Shelly’s voice the moment she opened her lips.
“Is everything okay?”
Shelly’s eyes twinkled at me slightly. “I have a thing for guys with baggage. You could be trouble, Mister.”
“Shelly, how do you feel about getting completely shit-faced during the day with a strange man you just met?”
“As long as you promise not to be too strange, I think it is a great fucking idea.”
I raised a hand in the air to get Heidi’s attention and made the circle motion that often translates into another round. I then picked up my whiskey, gave Shelly a quick clink on her glass and tipped the bottom of my glass to the sky, letting it all slide down my gullet.
“Whatever twisted thing is wrong with you, Jackson Panic, I think I like it. However, if we’re getting drunk then I’m not doing it on wine. I’ll be right back.”
With that, she walked over to Heidi who was already at the bar register, ringing us in another round. They had a quick exchange and Shelly began to walk back to me. I studied the elegant grace with which she carried herself and then marveled at the fact that I always tend to drown my troubles in women. Ironic then that most of my troubles start with women. It’s my own vicious cycle.
Shelly sat down and took another sip of her wine. “What will we be drinking to today?”
I thought about it for a nanosecond and then replied, “Today we drink to forgetting yesterday.”
Heidi then arrived with our drinks and we toasted to forgetting and then began day drinking, like a couple of professionals.