Skin Deep

The car lurched passed the orange and white stripped gate of the guard house and out of the corporate parking lot. It was eight thirty, Tuesday evening. The late hour at which he found himself leaving the office was typical of late, especially since they fired his boss and second partner and put him in change. It was a shock, but also a welcome change. Hell, why not? He had been working hard for some reason, and not just out of personal pride. He sought recognition, he sought the look of appreciation from his clients, his co-workers and his bosses. Well, now he’s got it. And so what if he is working a bit later than usual, he’s got no girlfriend begging for his attention, no other commitments outside of work, basically, he’s got nothing better to do.

The car screeched onto the main road and tore off into the night. He was a bit heavy on the gas, still wired from a hectic day: the additional phone calls meant for other people who are no longer there; meetings with upper management personnel more nervous about their future in the corporation than he; and his three times daily commute between three temporary and incomplete offices, which means he lugs his customer files, laptops, internal files, appointment books, cell phone, everything you can think of around with him all day long. Its tiring. Its maddening. His mind is racing, attempting to catalog and organize his daily activities into manageable mental cubby holes.

‘Alright, the voice mail screw up is a petty problem. Cathy is incompetent, she is fucking up, but let her blame you for it, its okay, there are other battles to choose. Like Morgan, you have to keep him in line. He’s been under control, you’re doing well with him, but watch him. And Franklin, fuck him, don’t waste your time thinking of him. Let him crunch numbers anyway he pleases, who cares. Okay, positive, keep it positive. James, yeah, stay close to James, keep it honest and keep him in the loop. He’s my ally. Now what about the move? Where am I going to find space in such short notice? Maybe RealWare will sublet part of their office? I wonder if they own or lease? Should we just tack on rider in our current place? Wait a minute.. self storage. That’s it, call them tomorrow, call them tomorrow. Don’t forget this one. And send out the email to ARIN, lets get this application in their hands, this is a huge key moving forward. Rutherford, it will be done Friday. Paramus, next week, then officially in three weeks. Good. What else? Well, there is the possibility of Dan leaving, I have to fire a sales guy and there is no parking in Paramus, and— hold it. Keep it positive damn it. Keep it positive. Man I need a beer.’

No one else is on the road this time of night, he’s making good time. He can be at Breezy’s in fifteen minutes, a little after nine. He down shifts and begins his climb over the mountain pass.

‘Yeah, Breezy’s. I have not had a drink in a while, and I can certainly use a burger. Hell, maybe there will be a woman or two there. Wouldn’t that be something? That’d be great. I’d be there with my beer and burger, and I’d spot her across the room. She’ll be looking right at me and I’d catch her gaze and smile back. Well, I’d probably look sheepishly away, and then she will probably not look my way again. No, if she is there, I’ll hold her gaze and smile right at her. I’ll then finish my meal, order another beer, and walk across the bar and say “Hi.” No lines, no nothing, just “Hi.” Cool, let’s do it. Let’s see what’s here.’

Breezy’s lot was pretty full, a good sign. He parked and shut the engine off. He popped a few mints, hesitated over his cell phone and eventually decided to bring it in with him. Its in his pocket, not hanging from his hip.

‘Geez, this place is packed.’

He walked through the doors and saw a spot at the bar. He made his way quickly towards it.

“I’ll take a uh.. Bass and a shot of JD, and a cheese burger, with bacon, medium done.”

‘Cool, I deserve this, its cool.’

The shot went right to his head, and the beer chaser chased it up.

“One more of each.”

The burger was nearly done, but before it made its way to his belly, three shots and two and a half beers did. He was very buzzed, in addition to his still wired mind and his running on high for two weeks on four hours of sleep. He then spotted her through a break in the crowd. She was at the far end of the bar, standing with a group of guys, facing him. The crowd merged again and she was lost, but in that fraction of a moment, he saw her catch his gaze, and saw her smile.

‘She’s here. Wow, that’s crazy. So now what? Do I sit here and stare at her, or at the heads of the crowd hoping for another glance? Or do I stare down at my beer, or up at Wheel of Fortune reruns and wait for her to come to me? How ironic ain’t it? I come to these bars for the off chance of meeting a woman, but whenever I have the opportunity, I squander it, and walk myself home lonelier than ever.’

“I’ll take another shot when you get a chance.”

A guitarist was in the corner strumming a sweet song, and a few people were standing listening, but the crowd was beginning to disperse. He sat drinking and guessing the what the unturned letters could be.

‘An “L”? ‘T-h-e P-l-a-c-e something? P-a-c-e C-a-r? Hmm.’

“Yeah, I’ll take another beer.”

He turned and now saw her in full view, standing just where she was, smiling right at him, but the bartender returned with his beer, so he had to turn to him and thank him. He slowly cast a sidelong glance, and sure enough, she was still there.

‘Oh man, what now? Okay, just turn towards her, slowly, and smile back. Alright… cool… yeah, she’s not looking away. Excellent.’

But he did look away, back to his beer, then the puzzle.

‘Buy an ’E’. P-e-a-c-e C-o-r-p-s. ‘The Peace Corps.’ Hell, the guy in the Marine uniform should get this one. I can’t believe this show is still on the air. How long has it been on? Ten years? Twenty years? Geez, that’s sad isn’t it? Yeah, but not as sad as how I am avoiding this chick over there. What is wrong with me?’

He turned to his left and she has still not moved from her spot.

‘Nice shirt, red and skin tight. She’s fucking hot. So why is she staring at me then? She can’t be alone here, ahhh… she’s with the guitarist. That’s got to be it. So she wants someone to talk to. Why would I not do that?’

Another glance, but now that the thought of her being taken too hold of him, confidence turned him a bit too fast and he nearly fell off his stool.

‘Whoa… I’m a bit drunk. Fuck, how did this happen? Oh yeah, three shots and four beers. Hmm… I have lost my tolerance. And I am probably slurring, if I was speaking that is. Ahh fuck it, she’s just using me to have someone to talk to, and as soon as this guy takes a break, she’ll leave. Fuck it. Remember the waitress here one night? She was young, cute as hell, and she was friendly, but she was just baiting me while she waited for her boyfriend. Sure, she was a bit young, but it would have been fun. Ah, man, why do I even try? I can’t meet women this way, I just can’t do it. And girls like this one over here make it harder. They come to the show, dressed so fucking hot, and they tease you, make it seem like you have a chance at anything, then they up and leave with a boyfriend, or the musician, or someone else. Fuck it, fuck her. Fuck everything. I’m getting outta here.’

He pulled his wallet out of his pants and fumbled for some money. He then stopped, took a large, angry swig of his beer and stole another glance over in her direction.

‘Fuck her man! She’s still just standing there looking at me. Why does she not come over to me? Why must I have to come to her? Fuck it, I’m outta here. Thirty two dollars and sixty eight cents. Uh..ten percent is three twenty…double that is six forty. Six dollars and thirty two is thirty eight, fuck it, make it forty.’

He rose to his feet, his knees shaking a bit, and threw two twenties down on the bar.

‘I should say something to her. No, I should just get out of the bar and go home. No, I’m going to say something.’

He turned towards her and this time, held her gaze. She watched him approach, but did not change her expression at all, nor did she look away.

‘Man she is gorgeous, but fuck it, I’m pissed.’

He walked right up to her, without missing a beat, and slapped her in the face without a word. He did not even wait to she the look on her face nor how she reacted to it, he simply spun around and headed for the door. Behind him, the bartender was yelling something at him and a few other patrons shouted obscenities, but he did not hear them, he was already out the door, in his car, and on the way home.

He was smiling a sick and twisted little grin of satisfaction. He did the right thing, he thought. He’ll carry this into his bed and in the morning, with his head aching, he may, if he remembers, regret what he had done, but he will not make any effort to apologize or make amends.

He’ll just get up, curse himself for drinking too much, and proceed on his way to another twelve hour day at the office. The memories of last night already gone, as he drives into work, while two bus boys at Breezy’s are moping the floor and talking about the guy who came in to the bar, got shit-faced, and slapped the hell out of a cardboard cut out of the Red Dog Girl of the Month.

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