It had been one of those days. Not one of those days when everything goes wrong and it couldn’t be worse. No, it had been one of those days when everything was just “off” and worse was always a possibility. So you spend the whole day trying to keep your spirits up so it never got to worse.
There had been an electrical outage, maybe fifteen minutes before her alarm, so the alarm hadn’t gone off. Carol woke up late – not terribly late, not panicky late – but just late enough that she hit the traffic on the way to work and arrived there just late enough to be noticeably late to an important meeting. The meeting ran late (because of her absence, was implied) and so she got started late on work, which meant she was running late for lunch. All that the cafeteria had left were uninspired salads, so she shoved day-old lettuce into her mouth as she read over the notes of the meeting, and swore that if she got home at an even vaguely reasonable time, she was making herself a cheeseburger for dinner. Of course traffic on the way home was delayed because of an overturned tractor-trailer.
By the time she pulled into her apartment building’s parking lot, she was run out. There was no way she had the energy to make herself a peanut butter sandwich, much less a cheeseburger.
Carol got out of the car, forcing herself to stand upright and pretend to be a human. She even stretched a little, thinking that blood to her brain might be a good idea, when something caught her eye. The ugly green of an old neon sign. She could make it out when she stretched and her sight cleared the wall. The sign belonged to a local bar, an “old guy” bar. The kind of bar that has the same three guys every night drinking the same two beers and telling the same four stories. But this particular old guy bar supposedly made very decent cheeseburgers. And Carol really wanted a cheeseburger. So, despite the designer suit and the diamond watch and the overall impression of entitled exhaustion, she locked the car and walked over to…she looked at the sign again…Jolly’s.
The door had an actual bell tied to it that clacked more than tinkled. She stepped into the room, looking back at all the faces that turned to look at her. It wasn’t as dank as she had feared. It smelled like smoke, fried food and beer, but nothing else. There were the three old guys on one end of the bar, a middle-aged guy who looked young by comparison in the middle of the bar and an old lady down the other end. There were several booths, two of which were occupied. One, by a couple and the other by a family of four.
Reassured by the presence of a family with children, Carol walked up to the bar, nodded at the bartender and asked for whatever they had on tap. The bartender, a bald white guy who was younger than the two old guys at the one end of the bar and older than the other guy, nodded. He looked at her without staring, acknowledged that she was a newcomer and set it aside in one glance.
“I was thinking about it. You gotta menu?” Carol asked casually.
“Yeah,” the bartender nodded. “I’ll have the server bring it and your drink. Grab a table.”
“Thanks.” Carol followed the bartender’s gaze and took the booth furthest from the family, as the bartender turned over his shoulder and shouted, “Michel!”
Carol saw the kid come out, talk to the bartender, go back into the back, come out again and head over. He was white, tall, slim, with short, dark hair. There was a sprinkling of freckles across his pink cheeks, making him look down-home. Cute. He came over to the table carrying her beer and a menu.
Carol thanked him politely. “Michel? That’s a French name, isn’t it?”
The young man looked a little surprised at the question. “I guess,” he said, his voice a little higher pitched that she would have guessed. “Just wave me over when you’re ready to order.”
“I hear the cheeseburgers are good?”
Michel nodded. “Actually, they’re excellent.” And he smiled down at Carol. She smiled back, wondering what she must look like to him. Older, African-American businesswoman, high-end suit. She tried not to feel self-conscious as she smiled back.
“I’ll take a cheeseburger, medium, fries.”
Michel nodded, still smiling, keeping his eyes on hers. He lifted the menu from her hand, barely brushing her fingers as he did so. Before she could react, he had walked away, and disappeared into the back of the bar.
Was that…? Carol shook her head. There was no way that child was flirting with her.
Michel returned a little while later with a platter. He brought her condiments, refilled her beer, warned her that the platter was hot and, when she asked for malt vinegar, commented he thought he was the only one who ate his fries like that. Carol replied, politely, that she loved her fries with vinegar. He said, “I’ll leave you to them while they’re hot,” and with that, and what she thought was meant to be a sultry look, he went away.
The cheeseburger was delicious, and the fries were perfect. Carol forgot about Michel and his flirting, while she consummated a torrid affair with her dinner. By the end of the second beer, and after the last French fry, she was sated, and had let go of most of the day’s tension. She waved to Michel for the check. He promptly cleared the table and offered her coffee or dessert. She declined, but promised to try something next time.
“Just the check,” she said, staring up at the boy, wondering what on earth he was thinking.
Michel looked a little disappointed. Carol was pretty sure he didn’t care that she wasn’t having coffee. He walked back to the bar, returning with a slip of paper.
“You can leave it here, or pay at the bar if you need change.” He walked away, with a quick look over his shoulder at Carol, then went to help another table.
Carol reached out for the check, sliding it towards herself. As it moved, she caught sight of a second piece of paper, folded, underneath it.
Carol slid both pieces of paper towards her, and took the folded paper in her hand. She unfolded the corner, caught sight of the number ‘2’ and folded it back up. That brazen…. She laughed in her head but carefully did not laugh out loud. So, he had been flirting with her after all. She felt warm from the compliment.
She looked up, but there was no sign of Michel. Quickly, Carol slipped the paper in her pocket, so no one else might find it. She’d get rid of it later. She left enough cash to cover the bill and a decent tip, then left Jolly’s, went back to her apartment and forgot everything except the path to her bed and to sleep.
Saturday morning, Carol was going through her clothes. She was going to the cleaner’s anyway to pick up her winter coat, she might as well take in a few things to be cleaned.
She felt something in her suit pocket, but even before she had pulled it out, her cheeks flamed with the memory. Michel’s number. She opened the folded paper and stared down at the number scribbled across it, the first and last numbers ever so slightly smudged with French fry grease.
She had her phone in her hand before she realized what she was doing and when she did realize, she already had all the numbers dialed. Mortified, excited, nervous, she prayed no one would pick up. No one did. Relieved and disappointed, Carol wondered if she should leave a message. What would she say? It was very flattering to be found attractive by a younger man, but she didn’t think of herself as a cougar. On the other hand, how bad could it be? He was cute, definitely. Maybe dinner, at least….
The phone rang for the third time, and Carol disconnected the call without leaving a message. She had no idea why she called Michel’s number. No idea, except that his face, with those freckles, kept coming to her mind. But god, she didn’t want to stalk the poor boy!
She thought about it for a moment. It seemed likely that either he was working, had the day off or was looking at the phone in horror, wondering what he had done. She smiled dryly at herself and gave up, heading out to do her chores.
It was inevitable, she supposed.
Carol had one hand on the door of Jolly’s, and was struggling with desire to see Michel again and tempered with the desire to beat herself senseless. It wasn’t stalking if you just happened to want a cheeseburger, was it?
“Look,” she muttered to herself. “He’ll be off, and you’ll have a cheeseburger and a beer and you’ll stop pretending that that was anything. Okay?” She nodded to herself. Fantasies were fun, but they did get tedious if you kept on pretending.
She opened the door, and was greeted by the same bartender. This time Carol sat at the bar and ordered a beer.
“Is Michel around today?” she asked, after she had glanced around and noticed a young woman serving the tables.
The bartender looked at her oddly. “Yeah.” He gestured with his chin towards the tables.
Carol turned, saw the young woman handing out platters to a table of men in work clothes. She opened her mouth to say something but shut it when she realized that she was about to say the dumbest thing of her entire life.
“Oh,” was all that came out. Then, “thanks.”
She drank her beer, wondering what that meant to her, when the bartender called out, “Hey Michelle, this woman came to see you.”
Carol’s head jerked up, her face paling, as she started to protest. But it was too late. Michelle had seen her, and was heading towards her. Excuses flashed through Carol’s mind. “I just dropped by for a beer.” “I was in the mood for fries with malt vinegar.” “Oh, hey, you’re in today, how about that.”
But when Michelle sat down next to her, all Carol could say was, “I got your number.”
She watched as Michelle’s cheeks flushed behind the freckles. Today she wore slacks as she had the other day, but there was something more feminine in the cut, and the cotton blouse tapered to rounded hips. Carol found herself regarding the other woman in a completely different light. She realized now that Michelle was not as young as she had thought, although still a good number of years less than Carol. Carol felt stupid for not realizing that the high cheeks and voice belonged to a woman, but noticed once again the masculine jaw and short, boyish haircut and forgave herself for her faux pas. She had been tired. And, apparently, oblivious.
Michelle nodded. “Did you call? I…I left my cell at home today.” Her voice suited her, Carol realized. “Sorry.”
They tried not to stare at each other, awkward and measuring. Carol had to reassess everything she was thinking. Michelle’s freckled cheeks were still cute. She was still much younger than Carol. And, Carol admitted shyly to herself, a woman. It wasn’t anything she’d ever considered before. But she also found herself staring at Michelle’s lips and wondering what they tasted like.
“I get off in about two hours,” Michelle blurted unceremoniously.
Carol laughed at the other woman’s lack of tact. “I’ll come get you.”
Michelle slid off the bar stool and stood. “I have to get back to work now.” Her face was beet red, and she half bowed, half nodded, then turned away and practically ran into the kitchen.
Carol finished her beer and walked out of the bar, pretending to not have seen the look on the bartender’s face.
The Internet, Carol found, was a terrible source of information. “What do I do on a first date with another woman?” did not bring up much of use. In fact, the advice seemed specifically tailored to young men who had lived in caves for most of their lives. Standing outside the pub, she began to pace.
For some reason, Carol felt it incumbent upon herself to come up with the date idea. Because she was older, maybe, or because it was sort of her idea, and she was the one who would pick Michelle up after she was done after work. She idly wondered if this made her the “butch” in the relationship, because she never really had understood what that was all about. Her speculation came to an end when the door of Jolly’s opened and Michelle stepped out into the afternoon sunshine.
“Ah, screw it,” Carol said out loud to no one. “Come on!” she called to Michelle, waving her over. “Hurry!” She waved the other woman over.
Michelle brightened and waved, jogging over. She smelled a little bit like fried food and smoke. “Sorry,” she started, “can I run home and get changed first?”
Carol shook her head and grabbed Michelle’s hand. “Nope, where we’re going, it won’t matter.” She started to run, dragging a confused Michelle behind her.
Her date idea had come to her the moment she stepped out of her apartment building and she had seen the towering shape behind the building that housed Jolly’s.
It was a short run. Down the block, around the corner, catching their breath as they waited for traffic to stop, then across the street. Carol let go of Michelle’s hand. “What do you think?”
It was near dusk now, and the little traveling carnival in front of them was just starting to light up, colored lights blinking cheerfully in the late afternoon.
“I love carnivals!” Michelle said, smiling. “Come on, I’ll win you a stuffed animal.” This time it was Michelle’s turn to grab Carol’s hand and take the lead.
As the sun set, Carol found herself mesmerized by the sounds, the lights, the rush of caffeine and sugar from junk food and soda, She was now carting around a large pink camel, while Michelle wore a stupendously ugly furry cowboy hat. Carol sat down on a bench and watched the Ferris Wheel move in a creaky circle. She turned to say something to Michelle and found the other woman watching the ride with innocent pleasure.
In a wave of mild shock, Carol realized that she wanted to kiss Michelle. A little unsure and embarrassed, she turned back to the ride.
“I’ve never gone out with another woman before.” Carol commented to the air. When she turned to look at Michelle, she found the other woman watching her hungrily. “What made you give me your number?”
“You’re very beautiful,” Michelle said without hesitation. “And you like your fries with malt vinegar.” She smiled, then leaned in and kissed Carol firmly.
As Carol felt herself go soft against Michelle, she decided that there was nothing to think about after all.
When the first of the fireworks went up, it seemed a perfectly reasonable backdrop to the kiss.
Her own apartment looked new and strange to Carol as they entered it. It was clean and neat, but now small things looked large to her as she realized that new eyes might judge them different than she did. Would the modern sculpture on the mantel seem like too much of a yuppie stereotype? Or the African mask on the wall? What would Michelle think of the fashion magazines on the coffee table?
But Michelle wasn’t looking at the vase with the dead flowers or the dishes in the drain board. When Carol finished hanging up their coats, she turned to find Michelle immediately behind her. Carol found herself pressed back against the closet door, the other woman’s lips hot against her own.
It was true that Carol had nothing specific to compare this to, but she knew desire when she saw – and felt – it. She burned underneath Michelle’s touch. Her clothes couldn’t come off fast enough, nor could Michelle’s. Naked, they finally reached the bed and naked they fell onto it.
Now that she had committed herself, Carol felt no awkwardness. She stroked Michelle’s skin, drank her, ate her, touched her as if she had been born to do it. Michelle was an incredible lover, taking time to bring Carol to the kind of climax she had rarely before experienced. Carol wondered at the kind of experience Michelle must have had to be this good, but she pulled herself firmly away from that line of thought and focused on the feel of the younger woman’s hand on, then between her legs. Carol enjoyed the differences in their skin color, her brown hands on Michelle’s small, pink breasts. She enjoyed the taste of Michelle, the feel of her coming around Carol’s fingers, the feel of her body moving against her.
Michelle fell asleep first, resting her head on Carol’s chest. Carol thought about the stupid mistake that had set her out on this path. Because she had had a bad day, because she had wanted a cheeseburger, because she had thought Michelle was a boy….all of these had brought her here, to this day.
This day was just one of those days, Carol thought, laying her head against Michelle’s. It wasn’t the best day of her life, or the greatest day. She thought about Michelle concentrating on shooting a pop gun to win her a stuffed animal and the fireworks that provided a backdrop to their kiss. She thought about delicious cheeseburgers and French fries eaten with malt vinegar. It had just been one of those days.
Yes, it had just been one of those days, where everything works out just right.