I pull on the t-shirt Reece threw to me and ask, “Okay, how do I look? Slutty bartender?”
“Not really. More I slept too late and I’m too lazy to do anything about it.”
“Thanks. That’s really nice, Reece.”
He shrugs one shoulder. “That’s what girlfriends are for. Who was it on the phone?”
I look. Unknown caller.
“Must’ve been a telemarketer.”
“What time do you have to be at Stack’s?” Reese asks me, pushing up from the sofa where we’d both fallen asleep. We’d been up all night massaging the belly of his pregnant horse. My fingers felt stiff and sore.
“I’m opening it up. Lainey has her ultrasound at three. I’m wondering whether I’ll even be able to grip a glass.” I raise my hands and flex my fingers wincing at the ache.
“You look like you’re auditioning for cat woman,” Reese jokes. “More jazz hands.” His fingers waggle obscenely at me.
“You should take that cool drink of water home with you tonight,” he advises lying back on the sofa. Obviously he has no plans on getting up.
“Who’s that?” I ask absently checking to see that I have everything I need. Keys, credit card, ID. Bag full of notebooks. Phone.
“The head bartender. Martin? Maxwell? Mysterious Man?”
“You mean Michael?”
“Yeah him.” Reese growls low in appreciation.
“Michael is…” I pause because I’ve never really noticed Michael. I have a vague memory of someone dark haired and tall.
“Tall, built, hot. Did I mention built? Did you not see him at the flag football game last week? We were sitting right next to each other!” Reese is completely affronted.
“There were a lot of nice chests on display.” I say weakly. I remember the flag football game or at least I remember going to the park with Reese and Lainey but I was making out my schedule for this week.
“It’s all those professional athletes you know,” he accuses. “You’ve become numb to ripped bodies. You think everyone has them.”
“I don’t,” I protest but maybe he is right. There’s no shortage of sculpted abs and amazing physiques in my circle. Maybe I have become desensitized to them.
“Get out of my sight,” he says throwing a pillow at my head. “I can’t be around someone who doesn’t drool over a good man chest.”
“I promise to work on my drooling. I’ll even try to sexually harass Michael during work. In the meantime,” I throw the pillow back. “Will you please double check my schedule and plane tickets? I’ve got a million and ten things to do when I get to San Diego tomorrow.”
“I liked you better when you were a romantic!” Reese calls out after me. “When you cried at soda commercials and tampon ads.”
It’s not until after the door closes that I answer him. “I didn’t,” I say to the empty stairwell.
When I was a girl I used to think writing letters, for example, was super romantic. But after years of writing and receiving almost no response, years of waiting only to be left alone time and again, I woke up finally and realized that romanticism is simply a cover used to conceal decay and sickness.
Men cheat on their girlfriends. Girlfriends cheat on their boyfriends. At least some guys know that they can’t be in a relationship because they’re too busy sampling every type of woman as if God created the female in a buffet form just for their pleasure.
It’s not that I don’t believe in love. I just don’t believe it’s for me. I had my one great chance at love but when it was exposed to a few harsh conditions, it collapsed like a shitty ass umbrella in the Windy City.
I believe in friendships like the one I have with Nick and Reese and Lainey. I believe in the love of my parents. God knows they’d do anything for me. I believe in long walks in the park, the surprise pleasure of a warm summer rain, the rotation of the spiral pass, and the glory of the no hitter. I believe in a lot of things but I don’t believe in love.
When I arrive at Stack’s, the doors are propped open. The summer heat is baking into the concrete, loosening the odor of the Las Colinas streets. For a swanky neighborhood, sometimes the smell of all that progress stinks.
“Why do you have the doors open?” I ask Filmore, the manager of Stack’s.
“Smelled like someone died in here last night,” Filmore explains.
“It’s awful out there.”
“Was worse in here.”
Seeing that I wasn’t going to win this battle, I stick my purse under the bar and tie my apron on. “Should I cut the limes first?”
He nods. “When’s Lainey coming in?”
“Appointment is for three. She’ll come after.”
“I’m going to be in back counting bottles. When Michael comes in tell him to record the opening bank and then he can come back and finish up inventory.”
“Gonna miss you,” Filmore says reaching over the bar to pat me awkwardly on the shoulder. “Seems like it was only yesterday, you plopped down here asking me about all the good places around the Mustang’s training facility.”
“A good bar owner knows everything,” I say affectionately.
“You should reconsider. You know you’re going to be heartsick without all of us hassling you.”
“Maybe so, Filmore, but there are these things called high speed trains and airplanes. I can be here in a couple of hours.”
He cuffs me on the shoulder on more time and heads to the back whistling. Looking around I take in the wide oak paneled walls, circular wooden tables and cheap stage that has been my home away from home for three years and sigh. Maybe I’m still a teensy bit romantic because this rundown joint looks beautiful to me. When I came here three years ago, I was heartsore and running away from home trying to find myself. Here I found Lainey, a bar waitress with one kid, a bad boyfriend, and a big heart. And Reese, a man child looking for love in every conceivable wrong place but still smiling no matter how many times the guy of his dreams turns out to be a cheating bastard.
I’d started a business and found comfort in new friends and a good career. On most days, this is good enough. I’m only feeling nostalgic because I’m leaving. When Nick got drafted by the Mustangs, I came with him to ensure the transition from college to pros went as smoothly as possible. I bought groceries for him, made sure his clothes were cleaned, paid his bills, and generally made it so all he had to do was concentrate on football. Oh, and women. He had plenty of time for women. I was the buffer between him and everyone who wanted something from him. Every rookie he came into contact envied him.
When he won the Super Bowl his second year out, my little business expanded from one player to ten and then from ten players to twenty nine. Now Forget Me Not, orF’Me as my players like to call it, aids the transitions of professional athletes in nearly every major city and for every major sport as they are drafted or traded. Each athlete is handled by one person.
I find them places to live close to the training facility along with restaurants, grocery stores, schools, nannies, dry cleaning, and churches. And I take care of all the details back home—getting a house sold, making sure all the bills were taken care of, finding that lucky pair of shoes that was left behind. All the player has to do is pick up his bag and leave. I, or one of my employees, takes care of all the details.
And because I am scattered brained I have to write things down. I have written lists, electronic lists. I keep a master list of my lists. I used to have my own players and I kept track of them by assigning them to a single notebook, color coded according to their new team colors. Because of the expansion, Lainey, Reese and I are the fallback people. If there’s an emergency or something falls through the cracks one of the three of us take care of it.
And tomorrow I’m flying out to San Diego to take patch one of those cracks. A baseball player, Christian Glass, has just been traded from the Royals to the San Diego Arrows. This is his second trade in two years and his family is going crazy. I promised Christian I’d come out personally and help with the transition.
This is a big deal for me, even though Christian doesn’t know it, because I never, ever go to San Diego. That’s where Nate is stationed, part of the West Coast SEAL teams. Despite San Diego being a huge city, I always worry about seeing him in some random place—like a shopping center or a bar or a grocery store. In every scenario he has his arm draped around a woman and I know if I ever see that, whatever is left of my childhood will be crushed. As I told him in my last letter, I will always love him.
I just don’t want to.