In another short story from the 24 Exposures collection, two women go out to a bar to find the right men — although what they’re looking for is not what it seems. Keep in mind that all of these stories were set in 2000-01, when the internet was still in its infancy, long before any social media, even MySpace, were created.
“Well, this should be a piece of cake tonight,” Melinda said, checking her lipstick in the women’s room mirror.
“Yes, but a guy has to earn it first,” Stacey replied, plucking a stray hair from the front of her red dress. “I saw Kevin at the bar, by the way.”
In unison: “Loser.”
“How do I look?” Stacey asked, twirling for Melinda.
“Fabulous. Of course,” Melinda replied.
Stacey and Melinda gave each other thumbs up and knocked knuckles in encouragement. They did look fabulous, both of them, in skin-tight, low-cut, backless dresses that left just enough to the fervid imagination of the men outside that they’d want to make it reality in an instant. Melinda had dubbed the color “Fuck Me Scarlet,” although Stacey had said it might be more appropriate to call it “Fuck You Rhett.” Whatever color it was, put it with six-inch stilettos and blonde hair, and they’d be the center of attention outside. Which was the only problem, but they’d chosen this bar specifically for its layout. No use competing, after all.
“After you,” Melinda said. “I’ll give you three minutes to get to the back room, then I’m hitting the bar. Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Stacey said, then took a deep breath, stomach in and chest out (though she needed to do neither) and headed out the door. Melinda watched her go, thinking that the two of them had a really unfair advantage. But, why not? Men had so many other advantages in life, after all.
Melinda pretended to go over her make-up as women came and went from the restroom, all of them shooting her that look that said, “Bitch.” Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful, Melinda thought to herself. Hate me because no one else will look at you once I walk out that door.
And she was right. Three minutes later, she made her entrance, strutting out the door and to the bar, where the bartender, Dan, was already working on her drink, which he gave to her with a wink. “Haven’t seen Stacey tonight,” he said. “Is she here, too?”
“Of course,” Melinda said, leaving a generous tip. “We always hunt in a pack.”
Dan laughed and Melinda took her drink to an empty corner table and waited, watching the crowd watching her. She knew it wouldn’t take long — it never did — but the whole key was selectivity. No use grabbing the first man to approach her, was there?
The first one approached her in eight seconds and sat down before he said, “Is this seat taken?”
“That depends,” Melinda answered. Maybe he had potential. About in his mid-thirties, very tan with very blue eyes, and no wedding ring. Melinda made a mental note — that was a very expensive suit he was wearing. Suit and tie, in a bar. Not unusual with the after-work crowd, but on a Saturday night?
“So, what are you all dressed up for?” she asked.
“For a lovely woman like you,” he answered. Hm, Melinda thought. That was either completely sincere or absolute bullshit. She’d bet on the latter, but there was always a first time. She took a sip of her drink.
“Come on, what’s the real reason?” she prodded.
“Actually, I’m on my way home from work.”
“On a Saturday? Poor baby…” She gave him one of her encouraging smiles, noticed there was no wedding ring, but on his right hand, there was a hell of a nugget of gold.
“Aw, it goes with the business, sometimes,” he tossed out. Melinda considered taking the bait, then saw the Rolex peek out from his left sleeve as he took a swig from his beer.
“And what business is that?” She feigned interest.
“I’m a doctor.”
“In a suit?”
“Aah.” Well, that changed the game. Maybe. Melinda had met plenty of doctors who were complete jerk-offs. She’d met a few who were nice guys. The question was, which one was this guy?
“What kind of medicine do you practice?” she asked, betting it was gynecology, or at least he’d make that lame joke, nothing she hadn’t heard before.
“I’m a pediatrician, actually,” he said. “But I specialize in juvenile oncology, which is — “
“Cancer. So, you treat kids with cancer, then?”
“As successful as I can be in this field, I guess. I win some, I lose some…” He let it hang there, gave her a hopeful look.
“What was this conference all about?”
He hesitated, looking down, fishing for the answer. Finally, he said almost apologetically, “It was… they gave me an award, Children’s Center. Volunteer work, that kind of thing.”
“Wow,” Melinda said, putting her hand on his, hoping he wouldn’t take this the wrong way, thinking about his profession, all those kids. All that time. “Look, you seem like a really nice guy and everything, but — “ Whispered for emphasis, “I’m not alone.”
“Boyfriend. And he’s kind of… big. And jealous. And I just saw him come out of the men’s room — “
The doctor jumped up quickly, almost dropping his beer, muttered a quick, “Sorry,” and skulked away like a whipped puppy. “Oh well,” she thought. He just wasn’t quite right. But now, she’d put the alarm out. Every guy who’d seen her shoot the doctor down and thought he could do better was now planning his move.
She waited, glanced toward the bar and saw Kevin. He was some dweeb Stacey had known for years, one of those friends who was always on the party invite list, even if he was kind of a dick. Neither Stacey nor Melinda saw anything in him. He was a skinny kid with kind of a goofy face and eyebrows that belonged on a dead Russian Premier. Anyway, they’d known him so long that neither of them ever thought of him in that way, although there’d been more than a few parties when he’d gotten drunk and maudlin and stayed long after everyone else and made inappropriate innuendoes that usually ended with him puking his guts up and then collapsing on the living room floor. Melinda had never seen him leave this place with anyone, but that didn’t seem to stop him. And he was looking her way, dammit. If he came over, she’d never get rid of him and he’d ruin everything.
She gave him a stern look. He just raised his beer to her and grinned, a gesture that always pushed his squirrelly cheeks up and made him squint. If anybody on the planet deserved a smackdown, it was him.
Whew. Some businessman took the stool next to Kevin’s, and the kid was drunk enough to turn his attention that way and go off into one of his whinging “I’m not a bad person” monologs. The music switched to an old ELO song, amped up with a thudding techno beat underneath it, even though this place had no dance floor. That was another reason Melinda and Stacey had chosen it. Guys all seemed to think that one dance entitled them to monopolize the evening, but to refuse the request automatically labeled a woman as an aloof bitch, and then no one would approach. This way, elevated on her corner stool, Melinda was a queen to be approached, due homage to be paid.
And it was, another half dozen times, never long between attempts, but every guy was just wrong, for one reason or another. A salesman, just divorced. A plumber, widowed father of two whose mother-in-law had seized the children in an ugly custody battle. Some college kid who had obviously been egged on by his friends and who seemed in danger of wetting himself in nervousness the entire sixty seconds he was at the table. The older man who had tried to impress her with a few cheesy magic tricks, and actually did, more for his guts than his talent. The male model who was a knockout, but as dumb as a stick and, even though he had potential, he was too inherently sweet and stupid for Melinda to seriously consider. Although, everything about that face had been beyond perfect…
She checked her watch and wondered how Stacey was doing. The back room always drew the bolder crowd, the ones who would work an entire place before settling in for the kill. That was where the guys who regularly got lucky went. Melinda reminded herself that, next time, Stacey would get the bar. It was only fair, after all.
And then someone set a full glass down in front of her and sat. Melinda looked over at Kevin, who was watching. He winked and, although she couldn’t hear it, she knew he was making that girly little giggly sound he always did when he was being particularly naughty.
“I believe that’s a Midori margarita, no salt,” the man said.
“You’ve been talking to a friend of mine.” Melinda said, taking the glass.
“You know that guy?” the man asked.
“Oh, yeah. I mean, we’re just friends, nothing else.”
“He’s kind of…”
“A jerk? Most definitely. I hope he didn’t talk your ear off.”
“Oh, he did. But I hope it’ll have been worth it. My name’s George, by the way.” He held out his hand.
“Melinda,” she answered, shaking his hand. It was warm and dry, a very firm handshake and he looked her right in the eye.
“So, what’s a beautiful woman like you doing sitting here all alone?”
Well, again, that was either incredibly cheesy or utterly sincere, but there was something about this guy that made her think it was number seven on a list of his standard lines.
“I’m not alone right now, am I?” Melinda shot back, taking a slow sip from her glass, sensuously licking a stray drift of icy green off the edge before she put it back down.
“True,” George said, hands grasping what looked and smelled like a vodka martini. That was when Melinda noticed the wedding ring, paused to think about it.
“So, George, what do you do?”
“I’m an attorney,” he boasted. Melinda’s alarm bells went off, ringing “potential.”
“Ooh. What kind of attorney?”
“Bankruptcy, evictions, that kind of thing.”
She bit her lip. Maybe not. “I see,” she said, feigning interest. “So, you help people file bankruptcy, keep their homes, like that?”
“Actually,” he said, half smiling, “I work for the creditors’ side of things. More money on that end.”
“Aah,” Melinda said, and thinking to herself that creditor rhymes with predator, and this could be the guy. He wasn’t half bad-looking, either. She reached across the table, twiddled his wedding ring with her finger. “Do you handle divorces, too?”
George laughed, self-consciously held up his hand, took the ring off and put it in his pocket. “Oops,” he said. Melinda faked a laugh with him.
“You’re a naughty husband, aren’t you, George?” Melinda said, leaning forward, pursing her lips.
“It takes two to tango,” George answered. Before Melinda could demand what he meant by that, he added, “My wife isn’t exactly the paragon of faithfulness.”
“Paragon…” Melinda repeated. You didn’t hear that word very often in this kind of place. “You’ve caught her cheating on you?”
“Haven’t caught her, no, but a guy can tell.”
“How so?” She stared into his eyes, hanging onto his every word. This was getting very interesting.
“She’s completely lost interest in sex, for one thing,” George explained, drawing the word out. “And, I don’t know, I just get that vibe from her, that there’s someone else.”
“And what’s sauce for the goose — “
“How long have you been married?”
Three kids, lovely wife, probably an expensive home, several cars, maid, nanny, gardener. She wondered if George was banging the nanny. Or the maid. Or both. He had that look about him — the look of a horny fucker who could get it when he wanted it, one way or another, and did. He telegraphed that life story on sight. Probably from a rich family, went to a good school, got everywhere on connections and landed in some cushy, high-paying job helping giant corporations squeeze money out of poor people. His wife had probably been the gorgeous sorority girl — probably still was — and he’d inevitably leave her somehow in a year or two or when the kids were in college, end up with some new trophy wife half his age who would get all the glory in his later years when he lucked into some high-profile political position, a wife who would get everything when he died prematurely of a stroke…
He was perfect.
Melinda took his left hand in both of hers, looked right into his eyes.
“George,” she said, “If your wife isn’t doing her job, she’s an idiot.”
“Tell me about it.”
She lifted his hand to her mouth, wrapped her lips around his index finger, eyes locked on his all the time. His lip curled as she gave head to his digit, then she pulled away, blew ever so gently on the gathered saliva, let his hands go and took a sip of her drink.
She took a quick glance past George, saw Stacey crossing the bar, shooting a look her way. She was with some wiry, nasty redneck looking young guy with a mullet and crappy moustache, whose muscles bulged out of his tank top, tattoos snaking down both arms. Stacey gave Melinda a little smile and nod, then turned to the guy she’d picked up, said something to him, gestured for him to wait outside, she’d be right back. He nodded and went out the door and Stacey hurried to the restroom.
Melinda looked at George. “We can go back to my place,” she said, breathlessly. He was halfway to his feet before she finished, holding out his hand for her to take. She stood, making sure to brush against him as she did so. They started for the door. When they were almost there, she stopped him, gave him a quick kiss. “Give me just a second, George,” she said. “I have to go to the little girl’s room.”
“Hurry back,” he said.
“Wait for me outside, I’ll be right there. Tiger.” She leered with her eyes, then hurried off to the restroom. George watched her swivel away, let out a low whistle, then went outside.
Stacey was washing her hands as Melinda came in and joined her.
“So?” she asked.
“Lawyer. Married. Asshole. You?”
“I’m not sure, but I think mine’s some kind of white supremacist.”
“So, who gets to do the honors?”
Stacey pulled a quarter out of her clutch and flipped it. Melinda called it in the air, “Heads.”
“Heads it is,” said Stacey. “Have fun.”
“Oh, I will,” Melinda said, starting for the door. “Meet you around back.”
Stacey nodded and Melinda left the restroom, heading for the door. She passed Kevin at the bar, swatted him on his bony little ass and whispered in his ear, “Thanks, goofball.”
He muttered something incoherently and trembled in another of those annoying giggles as Melinda headed for the door and stepped outside into the cold night air.
Both men were waiting for her as she emerged, and they both turned when she came out the door. George came and took her arm and the redneck jumped forward, blurted, “Hey!”
“What?” George demanded as he started to lead Melinda for the parking lot. The redneck grabbed George’s arm. “What the fuck you doing?”
George threw his arm off. “I think you’re making a mistake, buddy boy,” he said. “Get your hands off me.”
“Get your hands off her.”
“Sorry. I saw her first. Loser.”
The redneck threw the first punch, which George took rather well, only stumbling back half a step before he threw another one in return. As the fists and expletives started flying in earnest and a flashbulb went off somewhere, Melinda kept walking, unnoticed, around the side of the bar, got in the car that was waiting with the engine running, Stacey behind the wheel. She drove for the exit slowly, both of them watching the mayhem out front as the bouncers and half the patrons emerged to alternately cheer on and discourage the two men who were trying to take each other apart.
Stacey pulled out of the lot, turned left and drove. Melinda laughed and looked at her. “Score two more for our side,” she said.
“This really is too damn easy,” Stacey said.
And they drove off into the night, laughing and recounting each other’s pick-up attempts, promising that they’d do it again next week.
Damn, was it fun being identical twins.