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There were several bartenders working the busy bar, but one stood out from the rest. His speed at digging into the ice grabbing a bottle and spritzing it with soda didn’t distract him from smiling and joking with the guests. When he arrived at Eric he reached his hand across the bar and said, “I’m Wally Conway, sir, what’s your pleasure?”
“Just make it a Coke, Wally. I’m driving.”
“Coming right up,” Wally said, and placed an iced drink in front of Eric in seconds.
Eric busied himself with his i-phone feeling uncomfortable alone at the end of the bar but he could picture himself making friends here at Sam’s and watching some college b-ball.
Wally served him a juicy cheeseburger, and it took Eric that long to remember why he was at Sam’s. He looked across the sea of faces at the bar and wondered if one of them could be Steven. He settled his bill with a generous tip for Wally and drove home and watched the end of the game that was on at the bar.
Eric was pleased that he wasn’t obsessing about Nicole as much as usual but at the same time he felt a growing anger that she was ignoring his texts.
Shortly before real estate class, she sent a brief text that she was working things out with Steven and wanted him to respect that.
As he walked into class Eric thought of the smug look Nicole’s neighbor Bobby gave him and a spark of anger welled up in him. He was mostly annoyed at himself for pursuing a woman who wasn’t free. He could hear in his mind his friend Mark’s mantra, “Stay away from married people!”
Then Nicole took her seat in the class, and Eric felt as if he were stabbed in the chest. He immediately left class and drove home.
A text from Nicole.
Screw her, he thought, tossing his clothes on a chair and dressing for a run.
That’s the problem, he reflected ironically, picturing the curve of her back, how she looked as she leaned down to pull on her jeans.
Eric ran his usual route adding extra sprints to work up a sweat and get Nicole out of his mind. He decided while reaching his third mile to shower, dress and return to Sam’s. He liked the place.
When he arrived at Sam’s, Wally called out “Eric, here’s a spot opening up.” Wally cleared the dishes, wiped down the bar and Eric took a seat and ordered a beer.
He looked around the bar and saw several couples, but no guy sitting alone who could be Steven. He decided to order a burger and he casually engaged the patrons around him as the place filled up. Several guys said Wally was the best part of the place and Eric found himself agreeing. To take his mind off Nicole, he ordered a few shots and felt himself relax. He didn’t want to get totally wasted, so he opened his ride-share app and tapped home.
There was no way Eric could miss the last real estate class as the teacher would be giving out certificates.
When Nicole took her seat, she averted her eyes from Eric, clearly stung by his not answering her texts. But during the break, she startled him by tapping his shoulder from behind.
“I’m sorry Eric. Truly.”
“I’m not sorry. Is this the moment I say, ‘We’ll always have Paris?’”
She look confused and he remembered not everybody watched classic old movies.
As soon as Eric received his certificate, he dashed to his car and sped away breathing in the scent of Nicole’s perfume. Nothing that a trip to Sam’s Place wouldn’t cure, he thought.
When he arrived at Sam’s, the place was hopping. Wally gestured to him to grab a seat near the middle of the bar. Still reeling from seeing Nicole, he ordered a shot of tequila.
“That bad, eh?“ Wally said, while wiping down the bar. “First night you came in, you ordered a Coke.”
Eric almost blurted out his troubles to Wally. Instead, he ordered lasagna and a glass of house red wine. Wally had the Golf Chanel on, and Eric found himself watching and exclaiming with many others at the bar when a long putt missed the hole by an inch.
When the crowd thinned out, Eric heard Wally say to a guy further down the bar, “Things any better, buddy?”
“Nah. I caught them together over at Starbucks.”
“I’m not going to take her back this time,” Steven said, looking up at Wally.
“So the yoga dude isn’t the first?” Wally said.
“I thought Nicole was fooling around with a guy in her real estate class, but then I saw texts to Jonah how she couldn’t live without him and her divorce was nearly final.”
“Shit, man. I didn’t know you were getting divorced.”
“Neither did I,” Steven said quietly.
Eric nearly choked on his wine. When Steven went to the restroom, Eric said to Wally, “I think I met that guy before. Is his last name Miller?”
“Yeah,” said Wally. “His wife Nicole is a beauty, but he can’t trust her. Been going on for a while.”
When Steven returned to his seat, Eric could barely look at him. He felt guilty for causing trouble for this guy he didn’t know. He also felt a crushing sense of loss and betrayal. He needed to extinguish his fantasies of a future with Nicole, and as he pictured her chin and her back and everything Nicole, he tapped his ride app to take him home.