room was full of bar smog. Cigarette smoke glowing blue and pink in
front of neon beer signs offered the only light in the room aside
from the low hanging lights above the pool tables. The air was
heavy with the sultry heat of summer nights and charged with a kind
of electricity. And Sasha was on a mission.
down the steps leading from the hotel into the bar, and then through
the room, with confidence in her step and a swing in her hip, boldly
catching the eye of anyone who looked her way. She greeted every
person she passed with a smile that seemed to cast an aura of light
around her. Quietly, she settled herself on a bar stool in a
corner. She wanted to hide for the moment, steal secret glances at
the people around her. She wasn’t ready to attract any attention,
just yet. And anonymity came easily here, in a smoky room full of
dancing bodies, whiskey fumes, and sweat. Any empty spaces were
quickly filled with loud, fast country music and the quiet rumblings
of conversation, and Sasha was grateful.
saw Sasha sitting there, who didn’t know her, would have thought
that she fit into the scene perfectly. She sat alone at the bar
tracing pictures in the condensation on the outside of a tall glass
of beer. Next to her was a couple who seemed to be completely
unaware that there was anyone else around them. Beyond them was an
older man sitting by himself and staring at a television that was
mounted on the wall over Sasha’s head. And past him, there was
another couple who seemed to be arguing with a stocky, athletic
young man who had a frat boy look about him.
Sasha didn’t quite feel
as if she belonged there, though. She never did, in bars,
especially alone. The music was too loud, the air was too smoky,
and the place was always full of beautiful, vibrant women who made
her feel inadequate, at best. And yet, here she was, alone among
the enemy, trying desperately to become one of them. All because of
a stupid bet.
“Oh, come on. Get over
yourself,” he had said. “You’re hot, you know it. You could pick
up just about any guy you want.”
couldn’t. I can’t. Trust me. Guys don’t want what I have to
don’t want a woman who’s beautiful and intelligent? You know that’s
the point I’m trying to argue. That’s exactly what they do want.
It just isn’t what I am. To most men, I am not beautiful. Not even
close. And even if I am intelligent, it never comes across, because
in the presence of men, I can barely speak words, much less put
intelligent-sounding sentences together. I am just not what they
are looking for.”
fine to me.”
“That’s because I don’t
have to try and impress you. You already like me.”
“Well, there isn’t any
reason anybody else shouldn’t.”
“There might not be a
reason for it, but they don’t. Or if they do, they never tell me.
See, with you, I didn’t have to risk much. You e-mailed me, you
called me, you forced me to get over myself when I was afraid. I’m
not good enough to expect that from anyone else.”
“Yes, you are, you just
don’t know it yet. Your problems are that your attitude sucks and
that you intimidate men with your beauty and smarts. And if you
changed your attitude, you wouldn’t have to expect anyone to
make you get over yourself. You’d be the one taking charge.”
I’m very intimidating. And that was sarcasm, if you missed it. I
am about the least intimidating person in the world, Kevin.” There
was a silence that was just beginning to be uncomfortable when Kevin
cleared his throat and spoke again.
Sasha. How about a little bet?”
bet you that if you really put on the charm, really try, you could
spend one night in a bar and land yourself a man.”
Like that would happen.”
would have to go into it with a better attitude than that,
obviously, or it won’t work. You’d sabotage yourself.”
say I do decide to accept the bet. What’s in it for me?”
know, what do you want from me?”
what I want.”
explained to you a thousand times why things wouldn’t work between
us, babe. I’m too old and you’re too young and there is a world of
differences between us. What we have right now works, but you and
I, together? Really together? It just wouldn’t be fair to you.
You need someone young and energetic, someone to make lots of
beautiful babies with. And that someone just can’t be me, even if
we both wish it could.”
asked me what I wanted from you. And besides, I’m not asking you to
marry me, for Christ’s sake. I just want to meet you. One time, in
person, a half hour, maybe. Nothing more than that. That’s what I
want from you.”
“You know I
can’t do that.”
never question, I just agree with you, because I’m afraid if I
argue, you’ll run away. But I want to know. Why? Why can’t you
meet me, just once?”
I’m afraid. I’m afraid it wouldn’t be enough for either one of us.”
“You can be
so frustrating. Sometimes I feel like that’s nothing but a cop out
and you really just don’t want to meet me.”
minute, there was nothing. Sasha was afraid she had said too much.
And then Kevin sighed.
fine. If that’s what I have to do to prove to you that I am right
and you are wrong, then that’s what I’ll do. If you can spend one
night in a bar and attract a man’s interest, I’ll come visit you.
I’m not promising anything more than that, but I will come and see
me to just pick up some random guy in a bar? It’s never worked
before, why should it now?”
there is something more at stake now. You may think you have tried
before, but you really haven’t. If you really put yourself out
there, you wouldn’t have any problems at all.”
fine. But I don’t even know if I want to pick up some random guy.
I mean, I’d rather it be someone I know, someone I feel comfortable
me there is no one in your life like that. And besides, I didn’t
say you should sleep with the guy or anything. Just get him to ask
you out. That’s what dating is all about, Sash.”
“Yeah, but in a bar, if
you meet someone, it is just sort of expected that you are going
home with them. That’s what it seems like, anyway. And I don’t
know how to get myself out of a situation like that, if I happen to
get into one. I’m not good at these things.”
wrong with going home with a guy, you know. You’re an adult, it’s
your body, and you can do with it what you like. And there’s
nothing wrong with not going home with him, either. Stop worrying
about who expects what and just be.”
“I’ll try. That’s all
I can promise.”
“All right. You go
out, strut your stuff, and get a guy to ask you out. Or ask him
out, whatever. And if you do that, then I will come and see you.”
And so that
was how Sasha came to be sitting in a bar by herself on a Friday
night, pretending to be beautiful and thin and confident, when she
really just wanted to go home, turn off all the lights, crawl into
bed, and cry. Silently, she kept reminding herself that it was all
for a good cause, that she only had to get through one night of
horror and humiliation, convince one man that she was worth a few
hours of his time, and then she could reap the rewards. She would
finally meet the man she had been in love with through months of
e-mails and telephone conversations. Confidence, she
whispered to herself, confidence.
stared intently into her beer and carefully slid a smile onto her
face, making sure its light reached her eyes. A false smile would
not do in this situation. Besides, she had read once that the
simple act of smiling can make one happy. Slowly, she lifted her
head. She looked directly at the older man who was absorbed by
whatever was on the television. She didn’t think that he would be
the one, but he was alone and there was something in his eyes that
told Sasha he was lonely. He might be a good place to start, to
practice. Maybe if he was lonely enough, the fact that she was
young and fresh-faced and friendly would overpower the fact that she
was short and fat and scared. She slid from her stool and walked
hesitantly around the corner of the bar to where the lonely man was
sitting. She paused, drew in a deep breath, consciously relaxed her
muscles. Just as she approached the man, she lost her nerve. She
continued past him toward the restroom. Once safely locked into a
stall, she sat down on the toilet and slumped to the side. The cool
smoothness of the cinderblock wall against her cheek soothed her as
she forced herself to breathe deeply and evenly.
stakes weren’t so high, she would just go home. She was perfectly
sure that she couldn’t win the bet anyway. Hard as she tried, she
couldn’t begin to envision the scene in which she would approach a
man and try to evoke his interest in her, couldn’t think of a single
way to even start a conversation that would hold any man’s
interest. She didn’t have the well-groomed hair and model-perfect
body that seemed to intrigue men. All she had was her wit and her
smile, which didn’t quite cut it. But, she had a bet to win. She
had to do it, had to at least try. She couldn’t give up on Kevin.
She sat up
straight. I am beautiful, she told herself. I am six
feet tall and thin with a mane of blonde hair dancing around me, and
my jeans are tight in all the right places and every man in the
world wants me. I. Am. Invincible. She stood and held her
head high, shook her hair, let the door of the bathroom stall swing
open, and strutted out. She carefully avoided the mirrors, which
she knew would completely derail her confidence.
deliberately, she walked back to the bar and slid onto the stool
next to the lonely man. It was a baseball game he was watching, and
Sasha struggled to find something to say about it. Damnit, this
is always so hard, she thought. All it would take to make
things go badly was for her to open with the wrong words. There
were so many things working against her, she knew, that her words
had to be exactly right. There was no room to falter. And then she
saw her in. His beer glass. It was empty. She waited for a
commercial to come on and then maneuvered her face into a bright
smile. When he turned away from the TV, she was ready.
you want another one of those?” She jabbed her thumb toward his
beer glass. The man grunted at her, surprised, then shrugged his
turned his attention to the bartender. “Eh, Brenda, gimme another
one. ‘S on the lady, here,” he rumbled, indicating Sasha with a
tilt of his head.
Jim, I gotcha. She want somethin’?”
tipped her head to the side and let out an awkward giggle. It
seemed as though she had been taken completely out of the equation.
Her feeble attempt at starting a conversation with a man, even a
grubby-looking, lonely man, had obviously failed, and just because
there was a bleached-blonde, eye-linered bartender to contend with.
Sasha managed to nod weakly when the guy, Jim, looked at her
She’ll get one too.”
bartender filled two glasses with beer and thumped them onto the bar
in front of Sasha and Jim. Sasha handed her a fistful of bills and
then waved away the change the bartender provided.
cute, eh, Jim? Little lady getting’ yer beer?”
Ain’t so little, though, eh?” He smiled at Sasha and chuckled, then
returned his attention to the television as the game came back on.
didn’t quite know where to look or what to do, other than that she
had to avoid meeting the bartender’s eye at all costs. Her cheeks
burned and her eyes watered and she couldn’t let a single person in
the bar see that she was upset. Agree with the insults and laugh at
yourself, she knew how to play the game. The rules never changed.
Fat girls are supposed to be funny, and if they know how to laugh at
themselves, they’re okay to have some fun with. If not, fuck ‘em.
Not literally, of course. Never literally. Sasha had learned early
on how to survive, a fat girl in a thin world, and tonight, she was
glad she had. It made it easier than she thought it would be to
covertly brush the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand and
hide, once again, behind her smile. Shoving her beer toward the man
sitting next to her, she turned her stool so that she was facing the
door and started to slide off of it. Time to give up, go home.
suddenly there was a man next to her, leaning on the bar and waving
some money at the bartender.
“Hey, can I
get a drink over here?” he called out.
was deep and resonated through the smoky air. It seemed to send
vibrations through every part of Sasha’s body. There was something
about his voice that was soothing and familiar even as it was exotic
and exciting. The very sound made her heart just about stop beating
for a second, and then when it started beating again, it seemed as
if the beats were visible in the skin of her chest.
Even if he hadn’t been
so close that there wasn’t room to get up, Sasha doubted whether she
could have stood. Her knees were weak. She was short of breath.
The logical part of her was completely gone and she had no control
at all over her speech. She had never had such an intense reaction
to any man, ever. There was something absolutely familiar about
him, but Sasha couldn’t gather her thoughts enough to consider what
it might be. Without any permission whatsoever from her brain,
Sasha’s voice spoke.
there, nice shirt.” Sasha started at the sound of her own voice and
quickly analyzed what she had said. Shirt, his shirt. She had
admired his shirt. Shit, what did it even look like? She forced
her eyes to focus on him and saw that he was wearing a plain black
t-shirt. She felt her cheeks redden, but once again she couldn’t
stop herself from speaking. “I love a man in black.” Damn it, even
worse. Now it was going to look like she was coming on to him.
was, of course, but it wasn’t a natural thing for her, not something
she knew how to handle. Too late now, though.
like yours too.” He was grinning at her, and when she followed the
path of his eyes, she saw that he was looking specifically at the
neckline of her shirt, which was cut rather low. She blushed again.
You from around here? I come in here a lot, and you don’t look
familiar.” Oh, God, now she was lying, besides saying stupid
things. What if he came in here every night? Sasha resigned
herself to the fact that as long as she was speaking to this man,
she would have no control over her words or actions, and prepared
herself for humiliation.
no. I’m from Montana, but I’m here for work. Building an office
complex out that way.” He gestured vaguely in some direction or
another, which Sasha did not see because she was staring into his
eyes, his big, dark eyes that seemed to completely surround her as
she lost herself in them.
whatever force had been powering the speech center of her brain left
her. No more words came to her. So, she simply looked at this
man. And he looked back at her. When the bartender came over to
take his order, neither of them took any notice of her. She
shrugged her shoulders and glanced at Jim.
lost interest in ya, man.”
himself away from the game and looked at Sasha.
totally unaware of anyone else in the bar, somehow reclaimed her
ability to speak.
your name? When I’m telling my friends about you later, I’ll want
to call you something other than ‘the guy I couldn’t stop staring
And you? So I can call you something other than “the woman that
couldn’t stop staring at me’?”
beautiful name. Not quite as beautiful as you, but definitely
The two of
them lapsed into silence again and merely sat, looking at one
another. Sasha’s smile was no longer forced and she was now
completely at ease. She couldn’t think of a thing to say, but she
was comfortable with the silence. She wasn’t struggling for words;
instead, she let his presence wash over her. She noticed without
really noticing that he had called her beautiful, and it never
crossed her mind to wonder if he was attracted to her. It was
enough to just be there with him, the way that they were, and he
seemed comfortable, too. After a while, he stood without saying a
word and walked toward a table in the back of the room. Instead of
fearing that he was trying to escape her company, as she normally
would have done, Sasha stood and followed him. Somehow, she knew
that it was the right thing to do.
they were away from the bar, away from the juke box speakers and the
television, they began talking easily.
“It feels like I know
you, like I’ve known you forever. You don’t look familiar to me at
all, but I can’t shake the feeling. And it feels like you know me.”
Mark did not speak
immediately. It seemed, a few times, as if he was about to speak,
but his words faded before they crossed his lips. Sasha watched
him, partially awaiting his answer and partially just losing herself
in his eyes. The reaction she was having was almost exactly the
same as the reaction she had had to Kevin, that first time they
talked on the phone. It was something she had never thought she
would find with anyone else, and it almost felt like a betrayal to
her. But this was all for Kevin, she reassured herself, so
it must be alright. Her rambling thoughts were interrupted, at
last, by Mark’s response.
“Maybe we knew each
other in another life or something,” he said carefully. Sasha
sensed that there was something he was not saying that meant even
more than what he was saying, but the smile he offered her
made her lose all control of her thoughts again before she could
wonder what he wasn’t saying. And then their conversation flowed
and there was no more time to wonder.
It was with great
surprise that Sasha looked up at last and realized that they were
among the last few people in the bar. Everyone else was slowly and
unsteadily making their way toward the door and up the stairs.
“I guess we
should leave, too,” Mark said to her, smiling. “Time flies.”
does. I don’t want to go. I’m not ready to leave you yet.”
I have a room upstairs, come back to it with me.”
hesitated. Going back to this man’s room with him would be totally
unlike her. On the other hand, she wanted to, more than anything.
She couldn’t stand the thought of walking away from him quite yet.
And she felt as if she knew him; that was almost as good as knowing
him, right? Kevin’s words echoed in her mind: “You’re an adult,
it’s your body, and you can do with it what you like.”
“Alright, let’s go,”
she said bravely. She followed him out of the bar and up the
stairs. As he dug into his pocket for his room key, she stepped
behind him, where he couldn’t see her, and bowed her head. She
breathed deeply and slowly as she studied her trembling hands.
These things hadn’t gone well for her in the past, but this was
something she couldn’t give up on. She wanted it too badly. She
wanted this man, and she wanted Kevin. She had to trust herself,
she had to trust that this time she wouldn’t freeze up, or be
unsure, that this time she would be able to relax and enjoy herself,
step outside of herself, and be bold.
the door and she started to follow him inside. He hesitated and
looked back at her.
“Are you sure about
this? We can just go somewhere else and talk or something. You
don’t have to come in.”
“What kind of a guy
asks that question? Aren’t you guys supposed to be all about what
you want and not about what might be good for us?”
“No. Never. I want
this, more than anything, but not if you’re not sure.”
Once alone, with the
door firmly closed behind them, their hesitation disappeared. It
was just like Kevin had always told her it would be when she came
across the right man. She really didn’t need to follow his lead;
she could do exactly what she wanted to, and let him follow her.
She walked to the bed and sat down with a gentle smile on her face.
his key and cell phone onto the table next to the bed and sat down
next to her. She didn’t wait to see what his next move was.
waiting all night, all my life, to do this,” she said. “I have been
afraid for too long.” Sasha gave him no explanation for her words,
but he didn’t question her as she leaned toward him, took his head
gently in her hands, and kissed him. Slowly she pushed him back
onto the bed, and then she was leaning over him, in full contact
with him, as they kissed.
It was as
if someone else had taken over her body. She waited for no cues
from Mark, she just did what she felt. Later, when she was lying
naked, next to him, in the morning sun, and reliving every
sensation, every second of the night, she could not remember who had
done what, who had started the whole thing. It was with victory
that she considered the distinct possibility that it may have been
her. If she could just lay here, with him, like this, forever, her
life would be perfect. She had never felt so satisfied with
herself, so unafraid, so completely sated and at ease. And all she
had to do was turn her head and look at his naked body to make the
blood start rushing through her veins again.
As if he
had heard her thoughts, Mark turned toward her, his eyes heavy with
sleep. He rested an arm on her stomach.
they were both awake, and the sun was shining, and there wasn’t the
noise of the bar or the distraction of sex to hide behind, Sasha’s
newfound courage faltered just a little. For just a second, her
mind raced, trying to decide upon the most graceful way to cover
herself from his probing eyes. But he had called her beautiful.
There was no reason to hide. And it wasn’t the old, shy, afraid
Sasha that he liked. It was the Sasha he had met last night in a
loud bar full of people, and it was she he had brought back to his
room, not any of the other more beautiful women that Sasha had
always been so envious of. He liked her. And so, she pushed her
insecurities away, met his gaze, and greeted him with a passionate
kiss. And she smiled.
did it. I really did.”
of you. When’s the date?”
“There—there is no date.” Sasha blushed, even in the privacy of her
own bedroom, as she said it.
was a guy from out of town. I went back to his room with him.”
was—it—well, I don’t know. I felt like I knew him before I ever met
him, and somehow I just let it happen. There aren’t any words. I
was a whole different person and now I don’t know who I am anymore.
Am I who I was last night? Or am I the same old me again? I really
don’t know. All I know is that whenever I think about last night,
my heart speeds up and my eyes glaze over and I can’t form
sentences. I can’t believe I really did it.” Sasha trailed off
into a whisper as she finished. There was a long pause before Kevin
answered her, and when he did, his voice came slowly.
of you, babe. I really am. I wish it could have been me. Dare I
say I told you so?”
even. You have no idea how hard it was for me. At least in the
beginning. It was horrible. It was just like I told you it would
be, the first time I tried to talk to someone. I had to go into the
bathroom and give myself this little pep talk and pretend I was a
beautiful, hundred-pound, six foot tall blonde before I could even
talk to him, and then when I did it just went all wrong.”
“Well, why did you lie
to yourself like that? If you lie to yourself, things never work
out quite right.”
“Why did you pretend?
Why didn’t you tell yourself the truth, that you are a beautiful,
smart, three-hundred-pound brunette with a dazzling personality?”
“Because it is a lot
easier for me to survive when I pretend. It’s a lot more realistic
to envision good things happening when I pretend I am someone else.”
“No, it’s NOT. You
proved that. That guy picked you, not a six foot tall stick.”
“I was going to leave,
you know. I almost didn’t go through with it. But then when I
tried to leave, I literally ran into this guy, and totally forgot
“I told you. I did.”
“Okay, okay. You were
right, whatever. So when you coming to visit me?
Kevin didn’t answer
right away. Sasha’s heart sank. On some level, she had known that
he would back out. The hope that he wouldn’t had kept her going,
but down deep in the pit of her stomach, she had known all along.
She breathed deeply and slowly to calm herself, to mask the sound of
tears in her voice.
“Never mind. It’s
alright, you don’t have to.”
Kevin still didn’t
speak. Sasha was trembling, and it was getting harder and harder
not to break into a full blown fit of tears. She prayed that he
would just say something and get it over with so she could hang up
the phone and die.
“No, babe. I told you
I would come. I won’t back out, I would never do that to you. It’s
just that things are a little more complicated now.”
Sasha fought with
herself to control her emotions. It seemed like it was years before
she could make herself talk; she seemed to be frozen, stuck in
purgatory, wavering between the throes of ecstasy and the depths of
hell. When she spoke, her voice was barely audible. The act of
speaking a single word caused her physical pain.
“I can’t tell you. It
has nothing to do with you, or anything that will change our
relationship, really. It’s just something I don’t want to face.”
“But will you? Will
you face it?”
“Yes. I will. But you
are going to find something out about me when we meet. I hope you
don’t take it the wrong way.”
His words did nothing
to comfort her. They only served to force her into a series of
sleepless nights and days filled with fear and doubt. She could not
begin to imagine what it was that he was so worried about, but
wondering completely consumed her.
“On my first day of
kindergarten, my mom dropped me off at the door of the classroom,
hugged me, and left,” he told her on the phone. “When we went
outside for recess, I saw her car parked on the street outside of
the classroom. It killed me. I was proud, so proud, of myself for
being a big, bad kindergartener. I was out in the world on my own,
invincible. I was positive that my mom didn’t trust me, that she
was there to pick me up when I fell, take me home when I couldn’t
handle the real world. Later she told me that she just wanted to
watch, that she had spent my whole life preparing me for that one
day, my first shot at independence, and she wanted to see how I
did. She wanted to share my joy when I succeeded. It took me a
long time to believe that, but eventually I did.”
Sasha was confused. He
didn’t often share with her stories of his past. And when he did,
they were specific to the conversation of the moment. This story
had come completely out of blue, seemed to have no relationship with
“Mothers are like
that,” she replied. “They like to be there to share in our
victories, and to save us when we get into trouble.”
“But that’s just it.
She wasn’t there to save me. She knew I could save myself. She
just wanted to watch me when I did, to pat herself on the back,
maybe, for helping to shape me into someone who could take on the
world. When we meet, I need you to remember this.”
Sasha was confused.
The whole conversation didn’t seem to make any sense. But she could
feel Kevin’s anxiety in her very bones and needed to comfort him.
“I will remember.”
The next day, Sasha set
her alarm clock to wake her early. She was meeting Kevin at the
airport, and she wanted to look her absolute best, prepare herself,
bathe herself in a confidence she had not felt since her night with
Mark. When she drove to the airport, it was with trepidation. She
couldn’t stop wondering what it was that she was going to find out
about him, what it was that could be so horrible. She hoped she
could handle it, whatever it was, with grace. On shaking legs, she
made her way into the airport lobby and sat near the fountain they
had selected as their first meeting place.
Carefully, she searched
the crowd. Time slowly passed her by. Soon it was only thirty more
minutes until he would be there, then twenty, then ten. And then he
was five minutes late, and then ten, fifteen, twenty. His plane was
on time, and he had called when he stopped to transfer flights to
reassure her that he was coming. Sasha pictured him getting off the
plane and then turning around and getting right back on, afraid to
face whatever it was that he was so worried about. But finally,
finally, she heard footsteps approaching her from behind. Somehow,
she knew that they belonged to Kevin. It was almost as if she had
heard those exact footsteps before. She turned toward the sound,
Her smile faded rapidly
when she saw the man standing behind her. It was replaced by
dancing, swirling confusion.
“Mark?” she asked.
“Kevin,” he replied.