After her shift the next night, Charlie was overwhelmed with excitement to spend time with Jesse. A sexy, mysterious man wanted to have a beer with her. Never once had a man asked her to join him for a drink. She had avoided anything remotely dramatic and exciting her entire life. She knew it wasn’t a date, but it felt good to be desired on some level, even if it was just platonic.
She waited in the booth for what seemed like hours, though it wasn’t much more than thirty minutes. Then she saw him. He was dressed in baggy black jeans that hung off his sculpted hips in a way that instantly made her shiver. He had on a plain white button-up short-sleeved shirt and tennis shoes. But she couldn’t take her eyes off those hips. He was much more physically in-shape than she could ever dream to be. His pectoral muscles were implied underneath his white shirt and every time he moved his arms she could see everything lightly flex. He was doing his check-out and getting his tips from Justine. She was flirting with him, but he didn’t seem to care about the seventeen-year-old temptress that had been his date the night before.
Regret instantly filled the hollow of Charlie’s stomach. What am I doing here? There was no way Charlie could make sense out of a man like that being interested in a woman like her. He could get anyone he wanted; he was beautiful, edgy and sexy. I’m fat and mildly attractive at best.
“You’re nothing, Charlie Johnson. Nothing. You’re a waste of a human being. A huge, worthless, disgusting human being. Why don’t you try a salad?”
That’s where it all started with Aaron Paulson. The first words he ever uttered to me. Seventh grade, in the hallway on my way to art class. And I can remember how he followed up his words by throwing himself against the lockers in an exaggerated attempt to allow my fat ass to get by. The laughter and mimicking of others in the hall certainly didn’t help matters. Everyone there, at that exact moment, continued the same torment for months; backing up in the hallway so that I could pass, comfortably.
How thoughtful of them.
Jesse mumbled while walking towards Charlie sitting at a booth in the bar. He nodded his head and gave her a weak smile for a fraction of a second. She looked up and was torn from her flashback.
“Do you have any smokes?” he asked.
“Yeah, are Marlboro Mediums okay?”
“Let’s go have one,” he said while gesturing towards the patio.
He opened the door and she followed. The patio wasn’t open for business yet, as it was still early spring and two weeks before its grand opening party. But since they were both employees, they knew they could sneak out and smoke without any questions.
He grabbed the pack from her when she offered. He lit his cigarette with a Zippo he pulled from the pocket of his jeans. His shirt lifted slightly, exposing his blonde navel and a glimpse of his toned abdomen. Her heart flickered and her insides grew warm.
When he offered to light her cigarette, it was as if someone had offered to open a car door for her or ordered the most expensive wine on the menu. She was shocked, not knowing how to take the kind gesture; but she graciously accepted.
A crooked smile escaped his thoughts.
“So, how old are you?” he said, sounding like it was forced out of his mouth.
“You’re not supposed to ask a lady that. But, I’m twenty-three. How old are you?” she asked, snickering at their exchange.
“Older than you,” he barked. His smile now gone, replaced with a rigid expression.
A long and uncomfortable moment lapsed.
“So, what’s your story, Jesse?”
“Did I stutter?” She was tired of the short, clipped tone and cold conversation. She wanted something to raise his brow from its fixed position.
Another smile played on his lips before he answered. “I’m adopted. Well, I lived with my foster family. They took me in when I was fifteen, and ended up adopting me after a couple of years. I have one brother and one sister–” he cut himself off and his face was suddenly serious.
She concentrated on his eyes, which were now stony. Does he not like small talk?
“What brings you to The Crimson Cellar? Have you always worked in restaurants?” she asked, feeling compelled to continue the conversation.
“Yeah, I mean I’ve always worked in these kinds of jobs. Mostly delivery. I figure a trained monkey could do your job. At least mine involves driving a vehicle.”
“Dick! Trained monkeys can drive vehicles too; very smart, highly skilled and dexterous monkeys. And, I’ll have you know that my job isn’t that easy.” She had to smile because she couldn’t believe how callous he was being for how informally they knew each other. There had been no sarcasm in his voice.
A large smile covered his face.
“Yeah, yeah, Red. Let’s go drink.” He flicked his cigarette into the darkness and held the door for a split second while she grabbed it.
“Did you just call me Red?” she asked.
His only response was a smile.
Ah, my auburn hair. Got it.
They plopped back into their seats and Jesse immediately picked up his beer and drank almost half in one gulp. He swallowed and wiped his mouth with his thumb and index finger. His hands were rough and un-manicured. Stop touching your mouth. Distracted, she quickly took a sip of her beer and tried thinking of something she could ask him.
He took something out of his pocket and began fumbling with his chin. Oh Jeez. A labret. Could he get any sexier? It was a small silver stud.
“Girlfriend?” She winced as if the question hurt her to ask.
Did I really just ask him if he had a girlfriend?
“Nope.” The question didn’t seem strange to him.
“Boyfriend?” she asked and raised one eyebrow, trying to make light of the previous question.
He rolled his eyes. “No boyfriends either, Charlie. I don’t really date. What about you?”
She hesitated before answering. How do I answer this one without sounding like a fool?
“I guess I don’t really seem to date too much either…” Not wanting to divulge the fact that she had never been on a date before. Never had sex. Never had a boyfriend. Didn’t trust men.
“Why?” he asked.
She slouched in her seat. “Oh, well I just do other things. I mean, like hobbies.” I am so pathetic.
“Oh, so no one wants to date you, I see. And those other things have you convinced you’re happy, huh? Well, good for you.” His eyes were amused with sarcastic delight.
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
He was watching her closely. She tried to move in a way that was graceful; tilting her head to one side to expose the length of her neck. She’d rest her hand on her jaw line and softly stroke the space underneath her ear. Her words flowed out of her mouth with ease and grace. She kept twisting a small silver teddy bear charm hanging from a chain around her neck. He looked hypnotized by her movement. She decided that whatever she was doing was working, even though she had never tried to do anything like that before.
“Did you go to college?” he asked while his eyes fluttered between her face and breasts.
As Charlie babbled about her college and her first few jobs afterward, she thought that the conversation must be extremely boring for him. She wanted to stop talking about herself and get the conversation back on him.
“When is your birthday?” she asked suddenly. It was a quick change of subject that made his head cock to one side.
“Do you have any hobbies, things you do for fun?” She felt like she was jumping from subject to subject too quickly.
“Sure.” He shrugged.
“Um, I guess I like chess. I play the drums. Ah, um…I ride my bike. Is that good, or do you need to know more?”
“If you could have lunch with any three people in history, who would you choose?”
“Where are these coming from? Are you getting these from a generic book of questions? Why do you want to know all of this useless information?” he asked and ran his hands through his hair in distress. Aggravated, he looked up at her as he exhaled and said, “I have to go.”
“Oh, okay. Yeah, me too.” Charlie couldn’t refrain from allowing an agonizing look of disappointment cross her face.
He downed the rest of his beer and set the mug down on the table. “Um…bye,” he mumbled as he walked toward the door.
She gave him a half smile as she stood to gather her things.
She paid their tab and walked out to her car, moping. She hadn’t thought the conversation was going so terribly, but she had obviously bored or offended him. Was I asking the wrong questions? She played the conversation over in her head. By the time she got to her car, she hadn’t noticed he was sitting on her trunk.
“Oh hey. You scared me a little…” she said, grasping at her chest while taking a step backward.
“I don’t like people much…and sorry I didn’t pay for my drink,” he said, lighting the cigarette he had stashed behind his ear.
“It’s fine Jesse. You don’t need to explain to me why you needed to leave. But, I’m sorry if I offended you in some way. I just–”
“Stop. That’s not what I meant.” He exhaled sharply and looked like he was trying to find words. He failed. He grunted and waved both arms up in defeat as he turned and started towards his car.
He stopped without turning around.
“You wanna go someplace with me right now?” she said, thinking this might be her last chance.
He turned and took a minute contemplating before he started walking toward her. He didn’t look at her and opened her passenger side door and sat down.
“I’ll take that as a ‘Yes,’” she whispered and rolled her eyes just as he shut the door.
She got in her car and put the key in the ignition.
“Yes,” he said with a smirk.
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