Going Dutch

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: November 29, 2017

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Submitted: November 29, 2017




The bartender returned from the liquor on the shelf to hand me a gin and tonic. “Thanks,” I muttered, barely audible above the sound of casual conversation and the piano, drums, and tenor saxophone combo blaring jazz in the corner. 

It had been a rough day. Some kid had actually tried to kick my shins. Luckily for me, I witnessed a deus ex machina moment when the principal of the school randomly made a presence in my classroom. The kid was escorted out of my room and directly into suspension. Serves him right. 

Lately, my job had become more of a curse than a blessing. I was beginning to hit the wall where people tend to stop caring about the children they teach and more about the petty  salary that they make. It’s a pitiful hole in a teacher’s job. Some make it out, others don’t. I didn’t think that I’ll be able to escape this one.

I just stared into my drink, swirling around the ice cubes with a toothpick, glancing at my bare left ring finger. What I would do to get married. Someone to take care of the simple things while I was off making barely enough to pay for what we had. But maybe she could have a job too. Something that paid real money instead of the Monopoly money that I seemed to be earning bi-weekly. 

I didn’t even notice when the woman sat down at the barstool next to me. It was a big bar, and people came and went frequently, so I didn’t make anything of it. I lifted my glass to my lips and took a sip. It had a little too much lime in it for my liking, but it had alcohol in it, so I was content enough to down the whole thing. I tapped the bar with my knuckles. “Another please.”

The bartender nodded and refilled my glass. Two parts gin, five parts tonic, slice of lime in the glass, another on the rim. Same routine as usual. The woman next to my right was talking to someone. I took another sip of the drink and returned it to the bar, opting not to chug this one. 

“Hey.” The woman slapped my shoulder and snapped me out of my zone-out session. “I’ve been trying to get your attention for like an hour.”

“Sorry,” I grumbled, taking a sip. 

“You look like shit.”

“Yeah. Thanks for noticing.” I downed the rest of my drink. 

“No, seriously. You look like you just woke up on the side of the road twenty minutes ago.”

I looked at my watch. It was a nice watch. German craftsmen were some great watchmakers. I hated what the watch said though. It was only 10:30. I rubbed my face with the palm of my hand. “Yeah, guess so.”

“Long day?” I nodded. “What happened?”

“Kid almost kicked me.”

“Your kid?”

I held up my left hand and pointed to my bare ring finger. “Nope.”

“Well, I’ve met lots of unmarried people with kids. Just had to strike that off the list.”

I dropped my hands to the bar again. “I’m sorry, can I help you?” I asked, kind of sarcastically.

“Not really. Just making small talk.” She took a sip of her wine.

“What’re you drinking?” I asked. Retrospectively, I’m not sure if I really wanted to know, but I just wanted to say…something. Anything to get off the topic of my day.

“From the taste of it, it’s a merlot. I just asked for something red. Didn’t really have a preference.” She called over the bartender. “Is this a merlot?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Ha. I was right.” She thanked him and he wandered to the next customer. “What are you drinking?”

“It seems like you’re good at guessing. Have a go.”

“Well, it’s clear for one. Served with lime. On the rocks. Gin and tonic?”

“Right on the mark,” I said without any excitement in my tone. I took in a mouthful of my drink and sucked in a small ice cube. I crushed it between my teeth.

“How many of those have you had tonight?” she asked.

“Umm…” I looked down at the glass and thought about it for a second. “I think three.”

“And how long have you been here?”

I looked at my watch again. 10:36. “About half an hour. A little less, I suppose.”

She picked up my glass and downed the rest of the gin and tonic. “No more for you. You’ll get too drunk. I don’t see someone who’ll drive you home.”

“I can get an Uber, you know,” I scoffed, grabbing the glass back and biting into another ice cube. 

“Uh huh. Sure. You totally seem like the person who could leave their car in the parking lot of a bar with no one to bring you back.”

“I’d get an Uber to bring me back.”

“You’d lose your keys.”

“Says who? You know, for someone who just met me, you’re making a lot of judgments about my personality, and frankly, I’m done talking. I’ve had a long day, and you just stole the rest of my drink. You, missy, can pay for my tab.”

“Like hell I am.”

“Of course you are. You’ve been nothing but insulting since you sat down. I wanted to be alone when I got here and then you started talking to me.”

“Aha. So that’s why you’re not married. You just went off for no goddamn reason in a public place.”

“Fuck you.”

She shrugged and took a sip of her drink. She turned her head back to meet my gaze, but I had turned to look at the bottom of my glass. “My name’s Melisandra, by the way.”

I took a deep breath and looked at her. She was holding her right hand out to shake mine. I obliged. “Mitchell.”

“Can I call you Mitch?”

“Can I call you Sandy?”

“Absolutely not! But you can call me Millie.”

“Then I guess you can call me Mitch.”

Millie took another sip of her wine. It was already half empty. The two of us sat there in silence for a while. I sat and ate shelled peanuts, thinking over what had just happened. Millie just sipped away at her wine, finishing it after a few minutes. “Can I buy you another one?” I offered.

Millie smiled. “That’s very chivalrous of you, but I’m just having this one glass tonight.”

“Well, can I buy you anything else?”

Millie laughed a little. “Why the sudden desire to buy me things?”
“You know,” I said, “I don’t really know.”

“You’re just drunk,” she said, biting into a peanut.

“Maybe, but maybe not.”

Millie shrugged. “Want to split a sandwich?”

It wasn’t the worst idea I’d ever heard. “What kind?”

“Up to you.”

“How about a Cuban?”

“It’s a deal.”

Millie and I ordered our sandwich and a pair of waters and headed over to a table. I pulled out her chair. I suppose there’s no reason not to act a gentleman. I sat down directly across from her. There were no peanuts at this table, so we sat in silence, waiting for a while until the sandwich arrived. The sandwich was cut into triangular halves. I took one and she took the other. I never really cared for pickles, so I opened my sandwich and almost took them off when Millie slapped the back of my hand. “I thought you said you wanted a Cuban.”

“I do, but I don’t really like pickles.”

“Then you don’t want a Cuban. By definition, they come with pickles. Without them, you just have a ham and cheese sandwich.”

“Fine,” I said, rolling my eyes. 

“You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to, just know that I’m not paying for your half.”

“Then will you let me eat my half the way I want? Hell, you could eat my pickle if you wanted to.” Millie raised her eyebrows and grinned. “You know exactly what I meant.”

“Maybe, but maybe not.”

“Well that’s mature. Using my own words against me.”

Millie laughed. “I find it quite mature. A child would’ve forgotten what you’d said ten minutes ago.” I peeked at my watch. She was right. It was 10:44. “You seem to be worried about time, Mitch.”

I opened my mouth to fight her assumption, but then I thought about how many times I check my watch during a normal day. But I couldn’t let her know that I did look a lot. “Why do you say that?”

“Since we’ve been chatting, I’ve seen you look at your watch three times. Don’t think I didn’t see that peek a second ago. It’s Friday night, so you shouldn’t be too worried about getting to work tomorrow.”

“How do you know I don’t work weekends?” I contended.

She tilted her head to the side and shrugged. “Just a guess.”

“Well, you are right about the whole not working on the weekend thing,” I explained. “I teach high school English.”

“Ah. I see why that kid tried to kick you today,” Millie said with a little bit of a giggle.

“Ha ha very funny,” I spat. “What kind of job do you have that makes you so damn special?”
“I’m an investigative journalist. I write for the Times.”

“Which county?” 

She laughed. “The New York Times.”

“What?” It couldn’t be true. There was no goddamn way that this random person actually worked for The New York Times. “I’m calling bullshit on that one.”

“Believe or don’t believe whatever you want, but I do,” she said with a grin.

I glared at her with distrust and maybe a little dislike. I swallowed a mouthful of water and took a bite of my sandwich. I had just realized that I hadn’t eaten anything yet. I guess the alcohol was catching up to me. It wouldn’t bother me too much though. I had a high enough tolerance by now to manage three drinks in an hour. I ate into the bread and meat and hesitated when I got to the pickle, but bit the bullet and pushed through. The bitter, vinegary taste irritated me, but I had agreed to let it go. I swallowed as fast as I could to get the flavor out of my mouth. There was no rule against that. 

“Geez. You’re going to choke if you keep eating like that,” Millie said, taking a bite of her own sandwich.

“I told you that I didn’t like pickles.”

“I told you that I would eat them if you didn’t want them.”

“No, I said that you could have them if you wanted them, and you made an innuendo.”

Millie waved her hand through the air. “Seriously though, I’ll eat your pickles if you don’t want them.”

I didn’t hesitate to hand them to her. Ugh. Even the feel of them is disgusting. “So what’re your plans for the weekend?” I asked.

“Why do you want to know my schedule?”

“I don’t know. Curiosity I guess.”

“Curiosity killed the cat, Mitch.”

“Unless you’re going to kill me, Millie, I wouldn’t be too worried.”

She shrugged. “I’m doing nothing. I just finished up a case this afternoon, and I have most weekends off, so I won’t get another story to follow until Monday. You?”

I hadn’t thought about it all that much. “I’ll probably be home.”

“Where’s that?”

“Curiosity killed the cat, Millie,” I replied with a smile.

“You know, I was wondering if you even had the capability to smile. You should do it more often, you know. Your face looks less dreadful with one.”

My smile disappeared and was replaced by a look of discontent. “And now I know why you’re not married.” Pointing to her bare left ring finger.

“Uh huh, why’s that, mister smartie?” 

“I don’t have to be an investigative journalist to know that a sometimes-demeaning person doesn’t often find the right someone. And I hear that writing for a newspaper like The New York Times takes a lot of time out of your day, something many potential husbands might not like,” I argued.

“Can’t fight that,” Millie said, leaning back in her chair. “I wish someone could put up with it, but I’ve been unsuccessful so far.”

“How many dates have you been on in the last year?”

She thought about it for a second. “I couldn’t tell you.”

“You know it’s easier to get to know someone before you date them, right?”

“Yeah, but I’d say about half of those dates started at a bar. And since I don’t know—”

“Wait,” I interrupted. “Is this a date?”

She weighed her options. “Well, we’re going Dutch on a dinner, you offered to buy me a drink, and you haven’t looked at your watch for or an escape rout in like twenty minutes, so I’d say you’re warming up to me. I myself haven’t hated you for this entire time, so I’d say that I enjoyed your presence.”

“Do you often hate people?”

Millie shrugged and took a sip of water. “A lot of the time I’m forced to like people so that I can get responses out of them.”

“Tell me about it. You try to make your students like you for telling them to write a thousand-word essay.”

We sat in silence for quite a while. We finished our sandwiches and waters and sat for a little while longer. “What time is it?” I asked.

“You’re the one with the watch.” It was 11:19. “You never told me why you always want to know the time.”

I nodded in agreement. “I guess not.”

“Am I entering dangerous territory?” she asked, testing the waters.

“An hour ago, I would’ve said yes. But…” I didn’t see any reason to hide it anymore. “I think the reason I check my watch so often is because I have this…itch.”

“An itch?”

“I guess that’s what you would call it. I love helping people, and I love teaching, but I kind of hate my job right now. I check my watch often because I want to know when the school day ends and I don’t have to worry about those miserable little high school shits any more. As for why I do it when I’m alone, I don’t know.”

Millie, who had leaned forward while listening to my story, returned to a normal posture and looked at the ceiling, thinking. “Could it be because you don’t want class to end?”

“What? I do want class to end.” 

“No, like when you’re alone.”

I gave her a questioning look. “I don’t understand.” 

“Maybe class was a bad analogy. You don’t want…to get to the end of your life and realize that you’ve hated every minute of it.”

That made sense to me. “Maybe…”

“But maybe not,” she said, looking down at the empty plate halfway between us. We both let out a collective sigh and slouched back. Her smile had disappeared long ago. “You’re kind of a downer, you know that?” Millie said with a hint of a smile and perking up a little.

“Yeah,” I said, thinking she was serious.

“You just need something to make you truly happy for once. The life you’re currently living is absolute garbage. I’m sorry, but it’s true. You’re in a downhill, low-wage job that you hate, but you love the product of. Find another subject to teach, quit, change schools, anything that can make a difference. Just do something.”

I looked into her green eyes. “You know, you’re right. I should do something fun. Got any ideas?”

“Well,” she proposed, “we could call this a date, and have many more like it in the future.”

“It’s a deal.”

We stood up from the table, slid into our jackets, paid our tabs, and left arm in arm, smiling as we walked to my car.

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