“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
― Neil Gaiman
Smarty Pants by K. Nilsson
For the duration of the conference, I felt like a caged cat watching bouncing balls yet unable to play with them.
My supervisor and I attended a meToo conference in Houston. My takeaway was the movement was power. Who has it, and what are they doing with it? When the event ended, she took an early flight home.
With no one around to supervise me, I visited the bar. What happens in Houston stays in Houston.
I came prepared.
Who’s got the power now?
Smooth jazz piped through the smoky lounge. I looked for a perch to ferret out the right candidate. Following the long, mahogany bar, I found the only empty stool in the place.
A seedy, moth-eaten coat was draped over the back. It belonged to the man who hunched over a plate of finger food.
I stood next to the stool and stared daggers at him. He was oblivious.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” I asked.
The diner grabbed the coat and cap and placed them on the back of his chair, then shoveled what looked like a Buffalo chicken wing into his mouth. He flicked his long, flat tongue over his full lips and licked them. The white hair and grey beard contrasted against his tan face, reminding me of an outdoorsman.
Would there be anyone worthy? The outlook was bleak. The only one with potential was the man who sat next to me. Somewhat handsome, he acted as if I pissed in his cereal.
By now, I expected him to flirt with me, but the only thing that held his interest was the chicken wing imprisoned in his long, thick, veiny fingers.
I wanted to hear his voice.
“Sorry––but I didn’t mean to interrupt your dinner.”
He didn’t glance in my direction at all. “No, you did not,” he replied with a deep, gritty voice.
Damn, the man dismissed me. I wanted to spill a drink on his lap––by accident, of course.
The metal buckles and grommets on my handbag were heavy, and it kept sliding off my shoulder. I got off the stool, moved it a foot away from the bar, and found a purse hook under the counter. I draped my bag over it.
My stiletto-clad feet were killing me, so I climbed back onto the stool and unbuckled the straps.
While I was a tumbleweed of activity, the arrogant man peered at me.
“What can I get for you, miss?” The barista wore his hair in a man bun, exposing the gold cuffs that hugged his earlobes. Though he was a hot guy, men like him were boring and predictable.
“I’ll take a chocolate peppermint martini, please,” I replied.
The man seated next to me, snorted. But the bartender winked at me.
“And you, sir?”
“Another Sam Adams,” ordered the man next to me.
My head snapped up at the deep voice. “You don’t have a Texas accent. Where are you from?” I asked, gracing him with a polite smile.
The insolent man twisted his mouth. “I’m from Boston.” The letter o pronounced like the word lot. His words, a taunt. “People there know how to speak.”
Is that so? He insulted me and everyone outside the Boston area.
The barkeep arrived with my martini and a Sam Adams for the Masshole.
I nursed my drink during the awkward silence.
“You remind me of Santa Claus.” I motioned to his white beard and mustache. His shoulders rose to his ears. He looked like a bulldog ready to launch himself at an enemy.
Undaunted, I tilted my head back and asked, “Isn’t that a vintage newsboy cap under your coat?”
“I’ve been told that before. This headcover is an Ivy cap, Lady.”
“An Ivy cap? You mean Ivy League and all that?”
The man nodded.
“That’s-prestigious,” I replied, checking the sarcasm.
“My head’s too big for your average 10-gallon hat,” he laughed.
Push that button.
“I bet that hat is a good camouflage for a receding hairline. I think bald men appear distinguished––”
He rubbed his jaw. “That so?”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
As I nursed my drink and checked my watch, I swung my foot in time with the music, unaware I had kicked his chair––repeatedly.
“Are you here on business?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
I had the urge to fill the air with words. “Well, I’m here on business, too. My boss flew home and left me with the rental car. I wanted to drive to dinner, but the engine didn’t turn. I don’t know how to use jumper cables, so the car rental company will deal with it tomorrow. By the way, if you are hungry, there is a great steak house up the street.”
“No thanks, I had supper at the happy hour. The buffet bar was the best meal in town––free.”
So that was a no. Something about this man made me want to keep engaging him. I would make him interact with me.
He had been rapping his knuckles on the bar. “You don’t have a ring on your finger,” I accused. “Are you one of those married men who take their wedding rings off the minute they get to the airport?”
He turned in his chair and examined my face. “Nosy much?” He seemed irritated and getting more so by the minute. He flushed from neck to scalp. I hoped he didn’t have high blood pressure.
“I apologize. Breathing the same in a stuffy conference room all day with no one to talk to except stuffed suits made me forget to filter my thoughts.
“It’s a good thing too,” he countered, a bit of foam on his mouth.
Chastised in full view of the patrons, I was embarrassed. My face was hot and likely red as a tomato.
My foot swung back and forth to the music until the shoe landed under his chair. “Oops.”
“What the devil!” He frowned at me as if the shoe-flick was intentional.
I sunk back into the stool. I asked the stranger to fetch my shoe, enunciating each word as if he were deaf.
His brows rose to the hairline.
“It’s Under. Your. Chair,” I explained.
“Oh? You’ve been kicking my chair with that shoe all night,” he seethed through clenched teeth.
He crouched to the floor, picked up the shoe, he held it up to his face. A mischievous glint appeared in his eyes as he examined the elegant heel. The gnarly fingers traced its exaggerated arch and spike-studded ankle strap.
“These are dangerous. How do you walk in them?”
“Carefully,” I quipped.
“I’m familiar with spikes but have never seen them this tiny. May I?” he asked, piercing me with his gaze.
I offered my leg using the classic ballet extension. Eyeballing my legs from toes to the thigh, the man withheld the shoe, and I worried he would withdraw the offer to put it on.
“Please hurry. I don’t want to topple off the stool.”
“I guess there’s no worse fate for you than embarrassing yourself,” he said with sarcasm.
Holding my ankle with his middle finger and thumb, he slipped on the shoe and fastened the strap––tight.
His demeanor projected a dominant personality, stern, unbending, and authoritarian. It disconcerted me.
Loosening the ankle strap with my finger, I saw him tapping his foot.
I straightened in my seat. “Thank you, Sir,” I said.
Inclining his head in approval, he leaned against the bar and finished his beer. If he didn’t order another, the man would foil my plan.
I gazed at him from under my lashes. “You’re attractive for an older man.”
He slammed his beer bottle on the bar. “Who’s old?”
“I didn’t mean any offense. It’s just that you are older––and uncompromising.”
The man’s lips curved up. It was a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “You’re a regular smarty-pants, digging that hole bigger and deeper.”
There it was. Warmth spread in my belly, and I squirmed in the seat.
He moved closer. Resting his left arm on the bar and his right hand on his belt, he spoke in a low voice. “Do you know what smarty-pants are asking for?”
Our eyes locked. I got my purse from the hook and rummaged through it. Out came the cell phone, keys, a pack of tissues, and my favorite tube of lipstick. Hiding the bag in my lap, I took out a wood hairbrush and offered it to him, handle first.
I knew the old Dom in the story. We met on a writing site. His healthy was declining. As he spent more time online, we became friends and eventually, both got our short stories published in erotic anthologies. He has since passed away.