A college town has its share of bars and taverns. Leo found himself at the door of the one that sat at the crossroads of the older highway that formed the entrance to the town before the interstate bullied its way through. It was housed in a small building, smaller than most of the new houses being built in the developments on the town’s edges. The bar hunkered in its spot next to an auto body shop, with only a small sign noting its purpose there. “Beer,” the sign said plainly, in faded red letters on a faded yellow plank. Its interior would be equally small and dark, filled with odors of nicotine and spilled beer and sweat, the floor always a bit sticky, the windows painted shut.
Leo’d been invited here by an old friend to share a beer and conversation. Well, he considered, friend might be too strong a word. James called when one of two conditions was in place: his latest girlfriend had dumped him, or he needed help on a project. Still, Leo was up for a beer and male companionship. After his band had played at the birthday party, he took Franny home, and, like the gentleman he truly was, he left her tucked safely inside, although he’d longed to stay and hold her until daylight.
In the cold afternoon, Leo felt the threat of being overwhelmed by her feminine wiles. That is, he could not stop thinking about what might have happened, what he hoped would have happened, if his scruples hadn’t sent him back out in the cold that night. Franny’d had a lot to drink, and Leo never took advantage of a woman. Never had, never would. It sickened him to hear other guys talk about those kinds of events as opportunities. For Leo, coercion or violence of any kind left him limp and disgusted, not aroused. But a thoroughly willing woman? What could be more thrilling?
Most of this hovered around the edges of his consciousness. What stayed foremost in his awareness was the power of the attraction he felt for Franny. His history with women, gentlemanliness notwithstanding, held story after story of failure. Almost always, the heart most deeply broken was his own. And yet he rebounded quickly, ready to believe in a remarkably short time that the next woman was, finally, his true love.
This attraction felt different. Before, Leo would pursue the object of his affection in a way he might describe as reckless. But Franny… if he were to be brutally honest with himself, Leo would confess to being afraid of her.
So a beer and conversation with a buddy, overflowing with testosterone and carelessness, seemed just the right antidote to that fear. Leo decided to turn off his cell phone. He saw on the screen that there was a voice mail waiting for him, and a missed call from Franny’s number.
He blew warm air into his fist and dithered about calling her. Maybe he should, just to let her know he wouldn’t be available for a while. Beer and conversation with James meant several beers and more conversation, probably at several bars, and it was bound to be a late night. Leo loved late nights and had no regrets about spending one with James, but maybe it would be okay to just let Franny know. So she wouldn’t worry, or think he was upset, or something like that.
“Leo!” A slap on his shoulder roused Leo from his considerations, as James reached to open the door to the bar. “Good, you’re just getting here too. Thought I was late. Come on, buddy, first round’s on you.” James’s raucous laugh annoyed Leo, but he snapped his phone shut, turned it off, and followed him into the darkness of the bar.