The Proposal

Short Fiction for Guests of the Wordfeeder
Monday, November 7, 2011

It was late, almost 8:30, too late to walk home and go back out for dinner, and something about the light rain on a cool fall night made the thought of getting carryout even more dismal than usual. Tonight, he would unwind at this bistro, in the middle of the block on one the local streets that wound their way between the boulevards.

“Hey, Bobby.” It was Carla, on her way to the bar to pick up some beers for one of her tables, one of the waitresses who recognized him as a regular.

“You know my name isn’t ‘Bobby,’ don’t you?”

“Yeah, I know,” she smiled back at him. “It just feels right whenever I say it. ..Go ahead. Sit anywhere you want. I’ll tell her you’re here.”

At his favorite corner booth, he threw his coat over the hook to let it dry out, set his nylon briefcase on the bench across the table from his, pushing it to where it would be safe and out of the way.

Just outside the still swinging door to their kitchen, a waitress, a very attractive, but not technically beautiful brunette, was straightening her blouse on her way back to the restaurant floor when Carla came up to her. And then she saw him, walking past the bar toward the last of the booths, and let her eyes watch as he wiped the dampness from his hair with the fingers of his left hand.

“You’re such a slut,” Carla told her while they both watched him hang up his coat.

“I can’t help myself with this guy,” she almost whispered back, as if talking to herself.

“Why don’t you just give it up? Hell, do him in the stock room. Get that behind you,” Carla was serious, “and see where the relationship goes from there.”

“I just can’t get him out of my head. ..You ever have a guy like that? The kind you.. The kind you dream about, even when you’re not sleeping?”

Carla laughed. “If I were you, babe, I’d take this guy before someone else nails him and he can’t remember your name.”

No reaction.

“Oh, my gosh. He doesn’t even know your name, does he?”

The waitress he’d come to see, flashed her eyes at her friend, closed her lips which had been slightly parted, tightened her jaw and walked toward the man she’d been thinking about all week.

Sitting down on the bench against the wall, he slid to the middle, put his elbows down on the table and tried wiping the tiredness out of his face with his hands.

“Hey.” She was standing there when he opened his eyes, her right hand up against the post where he’d hung his coat, gently rubbing the dark, scared surface of the wood. There was an openness, something inviting about her that he found irresistible, that made him more than a little crazy. There was an obviousness about how he felt about her that was flattering and even more seductive. Just standing there, every time they talked, was foreplay.

Neither of them said anything. She, because it was his turn. He, because all he could think about for the moment was the fragrance of her cheap, but deliciously unforgettable perfume he remembered from when he was in high school, making its way to him in waves he did his best to inhale without her noticing. Even her clothes couldn’t help but cling to her, and he envied them for that. He’d known from the moment he first saw her that he’d regret not being with her. Maybe tonight.

“Oh, wait.” She told him. “I don’t know what’s got into me. …Stay right there,” she smiled at him, as if there were really any chance he’d go anywhere. He watched her walk away and then come right back, unable to take his eyes off her. This time she was better prepared. Setting a basket of cloth covered piping hot soft rolls on the middle of the table, putting down a shallow bowl of pats of butter on ice next to it. The silverware, glasses and cloth napkins for two were already on the table. Menus were propped up behind the ketchup, A-1 Sauce and pepper. The owner had a health thing against putting salt on the tables.

“Hi,” he smiled back at her.

“It’s been awhile.” What the hell was it about this guy that drove her nuts? He was okay looking, but not pretty. From what she knew of his work, he was doing well and on his way up, but that really didn’t matter. He was intense, and yet funny. That was probably it. “Oh, who knows?” she’d thought to herself after the last time he’d been there. “All I know is that I never want him to leave, and can’t wait for him to walk back through that door,” she’d written that night in her journal.

“I’ve been working.” It wasn’t much of an excuse, but then it was the truth. “Mostly on the road.”

“So, what?” she was kidding him. “You don’t have a phone?”

“I don’t have your number. ..Hell, I don’t even know your name, even though I’ve asked for it every time I’ve…” and then he stopped. “You’re wearing a name tag.” In fact, he didn’t care that he hadn’t known who she was. The tag just gave him an excuse to stare at her breasts without seeming overly creepy about it.

“Yeah. The owner thinks it will help us connect better with our customers.”

“You’re name’s ‘Holy’?”

“Oh.” She looked down at her tag. “Yeah, uh, my father is a preacher, was a preacher when I was born.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Yeah. It’s ‘Holly.’ The guy who made the label can’t spell.” She stopped and looked down to brush an imaginary something off the tag. “I thought I’d wear it this way, just for the heck of it, until I get a new one.” She stopped for a moment, as if to catch her breath. “So my name’s ‘Holly.’ You going to tell me yours? Normally, I’d get off your credit card, but you always pay cash.”

He just sat there, staring at her.

Tired of playing around, she straightened up, took the pad out of her back pocket, sighed and asked him, “What do you want tonight?”

“’Benjamin.’ It’s ‘Benjamin.’ And I want the grilled shrimp Ceasar salad, a glass of your house rosé, a piece of key lime pie for dessert and for you to go out with me.”

“We’re out of key lime, but there’s fresh baked apple and cherry?”

“Apple. Cold. I don’t like warm pie.”

“When?”

“Well… now. It’s late and I’m hungry.”

“..Do you want to go out with me?”

“Oh. ..Well, I’m pretty much wiped tonight. How ‘bout tomorrow? When’s you’re next day off?”

“Wait here, I want to put your order into the kitchen.”

A few minutes later, she came back with a tray holding two glasses of wine, Ben’s salad and a slice of cherry pie.

“I ordered apple p..”

“It’s for me. I’m taking a break.” Holly sat down, slid to the middle, and wasted no time cutting into her pie. Realizing that he was watching her, she looked up, her first piece just hanging out there in front of her mouth, and wondered out loud why he wasn’t touching his food. “You’re not hungry all of a sudden?”

Ben smiled back, reaching to pick up his glass while Holly put the fork and it’s load into her mouth, pulling its tines out slowly, her lips tight enough to capture every morsel of the sweet red filling that was left.

“To us,” he said, raising his glass.

“What us?”

“Good point. ..Okay, how about to our first date?”

“What makes you think I want to go out with you?”

“You’re right. I don’t know. So let’s make it official. ..Holly,” he thought to himself how great it was to say her name, “would you please go out with me, maybe for a quiet dinner, followed by an long, drawn out evening of touching and rubbing things?”

“You mean you want to have sex. ..You think it’s that simple?”

“I don’t know how simple it is but, to be honest, sure I’d like to make love with you. ..Did you notice, by the way, how I put that?”

“You mean the questionable, possibly meaningless distinction between love and sex?”

Ben nodded his head in the affirmative, his mouth busy working on a fork load of salad.

“I think you’re mincing words. I think you want to have sex, and that’s fine.. Actually, it’s more than fine when I think about it and.. and I sure have been thinking about it, although don’t ask me why. The thing is, except for the, I don’t know, twenty or so times you’ve..

“Twenty-three times, including tonight, over the past four months. So how many times do I have to eat here before you’ll give me your number?”

“Hm.” She was impressed that he’d been counting. ““What’s the point? ..Except for the twenty-three times you’ve eaten here..”

“You know, there are other restaurants. The only reason I come here is you.”

“Like I was saying, except for.. The point is, I don’t anything about you. ..So I’m thinkin’..”

“You do a lot of that, don’t you? You don’t think that maybe you could be over-thinking this? That love might be something you can’t plan or figure out, that you shouldn’t think too much about, that just letting something happen might be the best way to handle it?”

“You’re kidding, aren’t you? What..,” she was caught off guard by how casually he talked about the potential of their falling in love, the certainty in his voice and demeanor, eating his salad, drinking his wine, without the least hesitation or nervousness. “What are you talking about? ..Thinking helps protect me from short-term men like yourself.” Seeing no reaction from across the table, she continued. “So I have a proposal for you.”

“Really?” Ben, ignoring her snide remark, was pleasantly surprised, sensing he was making progress. “The point is I want to call and ask you out.”

“You wanna call? Why don’t you just ask me out? Right here, right now?”

He waited a second before answering, taking the time to set his mind. “Fair enough. Okay, here’s the deal. I like talking to you, a lot. It’s the highlight of my day.”

“Which probably says more about your day, than me.”

“Maybe, but the truth is I can’t wait to stop by here, and believe me, it isn’t the food.”

“Thanks.” She pretended to look dejected. “You know I cook stuff myself.”

“Like I was saying, the food is terrific. I’d eat here anyway, even though you suck as a waitress. ..The fact is, I’m not entirely sure what it is about you that drives me crazy. You’re not Hollywood beautiful, but still exceptionally, jaw dropping, breathtakingly attractive. I mean that literally. I feel pulled toward you. You’re smart, if occasionally ‘smart ass,’ but it’s something I can get used to. You’re funny, without trying. And,” he stopped for a moment to take a breath.

“And what?”

“And most of all, whatever it is that I feel about you, it defies definition. I don’t know.. I don’t have the slightest clue what this is. I..”

“I think you’re tired, I think you work all the time and you’re desperate to get laid. …How am a I doing?”

“Pretty much right on the money, probably, but I still want to go out with you.”

“Okay. Here’s the deal.”

“Wait a minute. Don’t you want to go out with me?”

No answer, just a stare.

“Great. Here I am, spilling my guts, and you don’t even have the common courtesy to..”

“Yes. I want to go out with you.”

“How ‘bout tomorrow night?”

“Not so fast.”

“It’s not like we just met. I mean, far from..”

“Be quiet. Please. ..Just listen.”

“Wow. This is a serious side of you I haven’t seen before.”

“Just to be clear, by ‘quiet,’ I meant that you should stop talking.”

Ben nodded to acknowledge his understanding.

“Thank you. …Here’s the thing. If history is any indication, you and I are going to go out, one, two, maybe three times. We’re going to have sex, mostly disappointing sex.. increasingly perfunctory sex. And as the chemistry evaporates, as it always does, it’s going to turn out that we have nothing going for us as a couple, and that will be that. ..I don’t want to do that any more. ..So I have a proposal. ..You can talk now.”

“Okay,” Ben responded tentatively.

“We’ll start by having sex immediately.”

“And by ‘immediately’ do you mean here, right here in this booth instead of dessert?”

“Damn close to it. ..And then again, and again, night after night, lunchtimes, during dinner, whenever and almost wherever we can.”

“For exactly how long are we going to do this?”

“Well, for as long as it takes, or 30 days, whichever comes first.”

“As long as it takes?”

“Until the thrill wears off. ..And then, and then we’re going out.. We’re going out five more times.”

“With or without sex?”

“We’ll see. If we’ve done the first stage right, we probably won’t be all that interested in being naked. Five dates, no matter how boring and otherwise unbearable to see if we’re.. any good for each other.”

Nothing.

“So, do we have a deal? Or, while the idea of having sex with me is appealing, the thought of investing just a few weeks, just a few weeks in building a relationship is not something your penis has had time to think about?!”

“Wow. Look.. Are you going to finish your pie?”

“No. You can have it.”

“Thanks. …Now about that rant, it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t in the vicinity of being thoughtful. What it tells me is that.. Yes,” he saw the look in her eyes changing, “this is my time to be serious. What it tells me is that you, I guess, you’ve been hurt before, maybe more than once. Sorry to hear that, but those other men weren’t me. And I know you’ve probably heard that before too. The thing is, I understand and I accept if, for no other reason, no reason other than for the sex that is, but to prove my point.”

“And what point is that?”

“That I’m one of the good guys. Hell, the very fact that I’m still sitting here and haven’t asked for my check proves that.”

“I thought you were just waiting for another piece of pie.”

“That too,” he said, but then a question occurred to him. “..Why not just postpone any sex until after we’re sure we like each other?”

“Because the prospect of having it, of having sex, distorts friendship?”

Ben was quiet, obviously thinking about what she’d said. “Do you deliver?”

“What?”

“If I call up and order something, some food, can I get it delivered?”

“Sure. So what?”

“So you’re going to get up from this table and bring me my check – less the piece of pie I never got. Meanwhile, I’m going to get out my cell phone, call this place and order one piece of apple and one piece of cherry pie for delivery. My apartment’s a ten minute walk from here, as safe a trip as it gets.”

“There’s a minimum..”

“I give a shit. Charge me whatever you need to, I just want to see you. I just want to know what’s it’s like to talk to you outside this restaurant when neither of us is working, when neither one of us is hitting on the other. I want to see if I can make you smile when you’re not trying to flirt or prove something. And sure, I want to fall into the sound of your voice and,” Ben slid his right hand across the table, lifting the its forefinger as if pointing at her. Instinctively, willingly, she did the same, softly tapping the tip of her finger on his. “..and find out what it’s like to lie with you. ..You want to do this, bring the pie yourself. If not, fine, have Darla..”

“Carla.”

“Whatever. Don’t bring it, and I wont bother you again. There are plenty of other restaurants. It was never about the food.” Impatient to leave, he pulled his hand back, reached into his front pants pocket where he kept his wallet, took out a couple of twenties dropped them on the table. “That should do it.” Taking out his pen, he wrote his address on the back of one of his business cards, sliding it toward her, holding his first two fingers on top of it for a moment. “Please. Don’t think about it. Just do it, and let’s see what happens.” And he got up quickly, pointing to his briefcase which she handed him, “Thanks,” taking his coat without looking at her again.

Holly sat there, her back to the restaurant, holding his business card by its edges, studying the style of his hurriedly printed letters, turning it over to see where he worked and his phone numbers.

Later that night, twenty minutes or so after the restaurant had closed, there was a knock on Ben’s apartment door. He’d told his doorman to expect someone and to let her up. Ben knew what time the bistro closed and had been keeping himself busy straightening up in the great room which was his living/dinning room and kitchen when he heard the sound of the little brass knocker under the peep hole in his front door. “Coming,” he said on his way over, wiping his hands with a kitchen towel. And then he paused, his hand on the doorknob, taking the time to bring himself up. He was tired, but didn’t want it show.

“Hi,” Ben had started smiling even before the door was open.

“Two slices of pie. ..Plan on eating them both, or can I have one?”

Ben hesitated for a moment, but then stepped out of the way, just barely far enough to let her in, her coat brushing against him as the sound of her leather sole shoes hit his hardwood floor.

One very late night later, a mostly naked Ben was awaken by the ringing of his cell phone on the nightstand on the other side of his bed. Reaching over and propping himself up against his headboard, he saw the caller ID, the green “Accept” and the red “Decline” buttons below it.

“Hey, Bobby,” the voice came from the shower in his bathroom. “Why don’t you join me?”

From what he could see through the glass, “No thanks” wasn’t really an option, but then he really needed to know why Holly was calling. “Hang in there, Carla. I’ll be right there.”

-wf

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4 responses to “The Proposal

  1. Loved this! Just the right mix of coyness, mystery, truth and sex!

  2. Thanks, Mimzy. I really appreciate your reading my stuff and that, now and then, you take the time to comment. For the record, because family and friends follow my stories, I WRITE FICTION! My real life is way less interesting. -wf

  3. This was brilliant, this is the kind of short stories I like, with a twist in the tale.. loved it..

  4. Thanks. No kidding. I’m such a sucker for comments, particularly favorable ones. (You’re not spam, are you?) Writers sometimes say that they write just for the pleasure of the experience. That’s true, but having other people, strangers no less, read your stuff is a real kick. Every once and a while, when I write a column, but not often thank goodness, someone will comment, “You suck!” and all I’m thinking is, “Wow. Someone actually read that!”

    I’ve written 72 short short stories so far, almost all of which have a surprise ending. Please help yourself to some of the others. Maybe print one out to read on your way into work or at your desk when your supervisor isn’t watching. (It’ll be our secret.)

    Thanks again for stopping by.

    -wf

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