It would be Chinese food tonight. My return flight from Philadelphia to Atlanta always left from either the B or C terminal and each had only one restaurant, this one and one with a rock music theme where I always had a burger. By the time I got this far I was always so tired from the lines at airport security and the hassle of traffic and dropping off my rental car that I didn't much care what I ate.
The restaurant was packed but there was one open stool on the far side of the bar, the one right next to the station where the waitresses picked up drinks. Watching the waitresses and bartenders was one of the pluses about the place, and come to think of it about the rock music/burger place too, where the girls dressed exactly the same way. All in black, with tight jeans or slacks and a sleeveless knit top that usually left a little bit of tummy showing.
After I squeezed into the spot and flagged down a waitress to order a beer and ask for a menu, the guy next to me turned and stuck out his hand.
"Hi. I'm John and this is Sean," he said, nodding at the guy to his right. Both of them looked ten years younger than I was, in their twenties. Both were grinning and looked like they had a sizeable head start on me in alcohol consumption. John announced that he was from Ohio and that Sean was from England, and that both of them had missed connections hours earlier.
"I'm Paul," I said, shaking John's hand and nodding at Sean. Both were wearing jeans and tee shirts and were smoking, like just about everyone else in the bar except me.
I don't usually like it when strangers talk to me, especially that aggressively, but John was hard to resent. He had that open, big-lovable-puppy quality and knew it - able to be intrusive without offending. A born salesman. He was a big guy, maybe 6'3", and it turned out he played high school football and a couple of years of small college ball, before he realized that he "wasn't good enough". He was on a first-name basis with all three of the girl bartenders and most of the customers within earshot. There was a forty-something businesswoman named Mary on the other side of Sean, and a chain-smoking grandmother next to her. I think her name was Betty.
Sean was quieter and closer my size, a little over six feet. He was clearly coat-tailing on John's charm and enjoying it, especially the extra attention we were getting from the bartenders. I recognized Brenda, a brunette in her late twenties, from earlier visits. She was tall and slim, and definitely spent serious time in a gym. Her jeans were skintight and really low-cut and she had a big-handled metal bottle opener sticking out of the waistband in the back, nestled between amazing butt cheeks she could have used to crack walnuts.
Marilee was about the same age, blonde and very pretty in a hard-edged, tough way. Her hair was fairly short and spiked on top, and she had a huge tattoo on the small of her back.
Our waitress was Josie. She looked five years younger than the other two, and... different. The bar was packed and all three were busy, but where Brenda and Marilee oozed experienced efficiency and detachment, Josie looked frantic and flustered, eyes a little glazed. She was pretty, in her own way maybe prettier than Marilee. Nice eyes, light brown hair pulled back from her face on the sides and loose on her shoulders in the back. Kind of like a grown up Shirley Temple, with features more cute than beautiful. Josie had hips that were maybe a touch too wide, but not heavy - just feminine. Small waist for her frame, and though her bare arms and shoulders weren't defined like Marilee and Brenda's, they were firm and smooth. And she had a great rack that bounced just a little when she ran around behind the bar.
I had an hour and a half to kill before my flight, so I decided to relax and enjoy the show, which mainly consisted of John flirting with the bartenders and with Mary, who worked for an investment banking firm in New York. Sean worked in construction and was on his way to visit relatives in Chicago. I told John that I was a lawyer and talked too much about my job and personal life. I'd been divorced for two years and it still irritated me more than I usually admitted; other than that I didn't have much of a personal life.
By that time I was on my fourth beer, my dinner was finished and the cigarette smoke was no longer bothering me. The bar was clearing out a little; there were a half-dozen open stools, including Betty the grandmother's. Josie was starting to calm down, and when she had time she stood by the cash register across from us pretending not to listen. I'd decided that she had a pretty nice butt.
Forty minutes before his flight John announced that it was time for him to get going, and told Josie to settle his tab. While she was busy at the register, Marilee walked by.
"So Marilee, you going to give me your number?" John asked, loud enough so the whole group could hear it. Marilee rolled her eyes and shook her head. John gave her his best sad puppy-dog look.
"When I come through here again you can show me the town. Come on, we'll have fun!" he said. Marilee looked impressed by his act but shook her head again.
"Come on, Marilee. Give me your number. You're not going to embarrass me in front of my new friends, are you?" he cajoled. She laughed, opened a couple of beers for other customers and walked away.
"I think she just did," I said, smiling. John took up the challenge.
"Hey Josie. Give me your number," he said, as she handed him his change. She looked surprised, blinking a couple of times.
"I lost my cell phone and I don't have the new one. I don't know what the number will be," she said.
"Tell them you want the same number. Come on, we'll have fun. You can show me the sights," John said.
"Okay," Josie replied. She went over by the register for a minute and returned with a bar napkin, neatly folded. She handed it to him, smiling nervously. She wiped her hands on the hips of her pants, and backed away. She bumped into Brenda, apologized and then escaped toward the other side of the bar.
I was amazed. Mary the investment banker's mouth was hanging open.
John smiled at me. "I had to try for the cute one first," he explained.
"I don't know, I think you got the cute one," I said, shaking my head.
"Watch my bag, okay? I've got to pee," John said, then hurried off.
"Can you believe that guy?" I asked Sean. "Talk about shameless, and it actually worked! I wonder if he'd have hit on Brenda next."
Sean nodded. "I agree with you about Josie. I like her way better than Marilee. More... genuine."
John came back and shook hands with everyone. Josie reappeared.
"So you'll call me?" she asked quietly. John reached over and squeezed her shoulder.
"Sure. Next week. We'll have a blast," he promised, and then left.
After that things quieted down. Sean and Mary both left, and I gave Josie a credit card to settle my tab. When she brought the receipt back she looked nervous, or self-conscious; I assumed because I'd witnessed the whole episode with John.
"Man, it's hot in here. My hair can't take the heat," she said, running a hand over the loose curls at the back of her neck. I added a healthy tip to the bill and signed it.
"Your hair looks great, Josie. Thanks for everything." I stood, then reached down for my laptop case.
On the floor next to it was a bar napkin. Neatly folded in half. I palmed it and grabbed my computer, then waited until I was out of the restaurant before I looked.
Instead of dotting the "i" she drew a little flower over it. I stuck the napkin in my pocket and headed for my gate.
After the plane took off I tried to sleep, but couldn't. I kept thinking about John, and Josie. He could have dropped the napkin by accident, but I sure wouldn't have. The more I thought about it, I decided it had all been a game for John. He probably never intended to call either Marilee or Josie. Maybe he wasn't even coming back to Philadelphia, and if he did the last thing he needed was female companionship. A guy like John, with his smooth line of bull and all that charm could get laid whenever he wanted to, by just about any girl he wanted. For him the challenge was getting a stranger, especially one that was on the job at the time, to agree to go out with him.
And what would possess Josie to give John her phone number? The guy could be a serial rapist for all she knew. She had to have heard him ask Marilee first, and get shot down. She was such a pretty girl, surely she had more self-respect than that.
Life was funny that way. You cross paths with strangers every day; you see a little slice of their lives but have no idea where they've been or where they're going. John could be rapist, or he could be studying for the priesthood. He might have been sincere about Marilee and Josie, liking them both, or could have been playing a macho game with his buddies where you get five points for a bartender. Josie could be what she seemed; sweet, a little naïve, and lonely. Or she could be some nymphomaniac who picked up guys in the bar all the time. I would never know.
I thought about throwing the napkin away when the stewardess came by collecting trash but didn't. Even if the note meant nothing to John, it was valuable. It represented a leap of faith from one stranger to another, against all logic. Reason says 'don't take chances.' But that's what human beings do, and though Josie reached out to someone other than me, I couldn't throw the napkin away. As I finally fell asleep I was thinking about the look on Josie's face when John asked her for the number, and about the way her tits bounced when she walked.
The case I was working on took me to Philly again the next week. When it was time to return home I went back to the Chinese place even though my flight left from the other terminal. This time the bar was nearly empty; plenty of seats, but I still took the last stool on the far side, where I sat before. There were only two bartenders working, Brenda and Josie.
When Josie walked over with a menu, she looked at me and frowned. Then she smiled.
"Hi. You're the lawyer, right?" she said. Now I smiled.
"Yeah. Name's Paul," I said. We looked at each other; I knew Josie was thinking about the John episode. I ordered a beer and the pepper steak.
Josie brought my dinner and then hung around, hands in her back pockets.
When I was driving to the airport that afternoon I thought about telling Josie about the napkin. I had it with me. I decided not to, telling myself I was protecting her.
"So, did he call you?" I asked. Josie blinked, just like the other time.
"No," she said. I could tell it bothered her.
"Maybe his plans changed, or maybe he lost your number," I said. She shrugged.
"Nah. He just forgot about me. Story of my life," Josie said, then walked away. A customer on the other side of the bar looked like he wanted another beer badly. Josie definitely had a nice butt.
That weekend I played a round of golf with a couple of friends, both married. After my divorce their wives had banned me from the party and dinner invitation list; I might be a bad influence. But golf was still okay. I worked with Ron, and Bill was a friend from college. I had a horrible round. At least one bad shot a hole because I wasn't concentrating. We went to the clubhouse bar afterwards for cigars and drinks.
"What the heck was wrong with you today, Paul?" Ron asked. He didn't usually beat me. I shrugged.
"Head wasn't in it, I guess," I said. Ron smiled.
"A woman, I bet. Pussy is the only thing that trumps golf," he said.
"Yeah. But not like that. Something that happened in Philly that I can't figure out," I said. Ron snickered.
"Sure. I still say it's pussy. Relax. You'll never figure them out," he said, then leaned back in his chair. I could tell that a story was coming on.
"Here's one for you. Two weeks ago I was flying back from Memphis. This lady accountant was sitting next to me, not super hot but decent in a soccer mom with nice tits sort of way. I started talking to her and pretty soon we were both flirting big time. Next thing I know she told me she's going to the bathroom, and asked if I wanted to join her. I asked for what. She said she was going to leave the door unlocked, and that I should wait a minute or two and follow her. So I did."
"No way, there isn't room for two people in one of those johns," he said.
"There is if one of them has her naked ass in the sink," Ron said, grinning. "I banged the daylights out of her right there in the can. Talk about a howler; I had to put a hand over this babe's mouth to keep the noise down. But here's the weird part. When we got back to our seats I asked her for her e-mail address. I figured we could hook up again. She acted like I asked for the head of her firstborn on a freaking platter. Then she ignored me the rest of the flight. Explain that one to me. What a weird bitch!"
I was sitting there trying to figure out what kind of flirting it took to get this woman to go to the bathroom, drop her panties and sit in that little sink.
Bill was nodding appreciatively. Then he drained his beer and smiled.
"If it's weird you're looking for, I can top that one," he said.
"I was in New York last month, and one night I went to this classy oriental massage place. You know, where the girl gives you a bath first?" he said.
"Yeah, and then a hand job at the end of the massage?" Ron asked. Bill nodded.
"That's the drill. Anyway, I should have known something was up during the bath because the girl, a real knockout by the way, was spending a lot of time soaping up my ass, and even worked her finger in there to make sure I was good and clean."
Bill paused as our waitress brought another round of drinks.
"So then we got into the little room and I was on the bed face down for the massage. Like I said, the girl was gorgeous. Hair that hung down to her butt and big knockers for an Asian girl, and she's wearing a bikini top and a little sarong. She started at my neck and worked her way to my feet, giving me a terrific rubdown. Then she started back up, doing that thing where she trails her hair over you and blows little puffs of cool air from real close. By now I'm about half-asleep. That's when I felt something strange. There's a mirror next to the bed so I can look, and the first thing I noticed was that this chick was buck-naked. The second thing was that she had her face buried in my ass up to her ears."
"What?" Ron said, leaning forward.
"Yeah. She was spreading my cheeks with both hands and I can't even see her forehead. That's when I felt her tongue," Bill said.
"She was licking your butt?" Ron gasped.
"No, she was licking in my butt. She had her tongue halfway to my prostate, and she didn't seem satisfied with that. I'm watching, like 'what the fuck!' and it's the most amazing sight ever. This babe had her cute little ass in the air and she started to moan, real quiet-like. She pulled out of there all of a sudden and I thought it was over. Her eyes looked strange, kind of glazed over, and then she pushed my butt cheeks apart really wide and dove back in for more. It was the most incredible thing I've ever felt, especially when she reached under and started playing with my balls."
"Holy shit," I said.
"Double holy shit," Ron added.
"So this goes on for maybe ten freaking minutes, and by now I've got my legs spread, feet dangling off this little bed making room for her, and I'm about ready to cum. Then she pulled out and told me to flip over. She finished me with a hand job and while she was doing it I reached between her legs. She's soaked. Her pussy's dripping and she's got juice running down the inside of both legs. She had to have been cumming like a bandit the whole time she was licking my asshole."
"And then what?" I asked.
"And then nothing. She finished and charged me the normal amount and acted like it was nothing," Bill said, rolling his eyes. "I didn't know whether to feel like I'd been raped or to thank her."
"That's weird," Ron said. "You win."
I wasn't thinking about that. I was thinking about who lost. Me. I was the single guy and stuff like that never happened to me. Why? Because I didn't let it. If I'd been sitting next to that soccer mom accountant with the nice tits I'd have been too worried about getting caught. There has to be an FAA regulation against fucking in the lavatories, whether or not you disable the smoke detectors. As far as Bill's story went, I wasn't 100% sure I wanted some girl's tongue up my ass, but he said it was fantastic and how the hell would I ever know if I didn't try things?
When I got home from the golf course I changed and heated up some leftovers. And I kept thinking about Josie, and about how she wasn't afraid to take chances. Not that it got her anywhere. If only John held onto the napkin long enough to call her, so she wouldn't feel so exposed, and rejected. It wasn't that I cared that much about Josie of course. It just didn't seem right.
That was when I saw the bar napkin on my kitchen counter, and the idea hit me. If all Josie needed was a phone call to make things right, I could call her. The bar was noisy and John had been pretty drunk and had no accent I could remember. How was Josie going to know? After all the thinking I'd done about taking chances, it seemed like a good idea.
She picked up on the third ring.
"Hi, is this Josie?" I felt like I was sixteen again, calling for a first date. My hands were sweating like crazy.
"Yeah, who's this?"
"It's John, I met you at the bar where you work a week or so ago and you gave me your number?"
"John! Wow, I didn't think you were going to call." She was really excited.
"Sorry about that. I got home and came down with this killer flu and was flat on my back for a week. I had to cancel my trip back to Philly," I lied.
"That's horrible. Are you okay now?" Josie said, but she sounded relieved to hear the excuse.
"I'm fine, but I feel like a jerk to have kept you hanging like that. It was great of you to give me your number and I was really pumped about hooking up with you."
"That's okay... well, I did feel bad when you didn't call. I thought you asked for my number like as a joke or something," she said, her voice getting a little quieter.
"Heck no! You're really hot, Josie. I've been thinking about you a lot," I said, hoping I wasn't saying too much. I kept reminding myself that I was supposed to be John, and he was a guy who pretty much spoke his mind.
"Thanks, John. That's really nice," Josie said.
When I called, I was only planning to make an excuse for John and build Josie's confidence up a little. Once we started talking though, it felt so natural and easy that an hour and a half went by before I knew it. I was counting on Josie not knowing much more about John than I did; that he lived in Ohio and was into sports. The rest I just made up, sticking as close to my real facts as possible because that was easier and less likely to trip me up.
Josie talked more than I did. She told me about the boyfriend she broke up with a week before I met her in the bar and about her friends and family and her apartment. She told me about the college classes she was taking in art and art history, and how she hoped to get a job in a museum or gallery some day. She talked about her job at the airport bar, and how being a little shy made it hard sometimes. It turned out she was twenty-four, which technically wasn't too young for me under the old half my age plus seven rule. Not that it mattered, I was just curious.
By the time we finished it was late, but I was glad I'd called. Josie was a breath of fresh air, and talking to her was so easy - probably because there was no pressure since we weren't really going to date. Before we hung up she asked me what I was wearing, and where I was in my apartment. The made-up John shared an apartment with a friend in Dayton. Then she told me she'd been lying on her bed and was just wearing panties and a tee shirt. When I cradled the receiver I had a raging hard-on that refused to go away without help.
I knew it was stupid, and would only make matters worse but I called Josie again the next night. And twice more later that week. I used my cell phone and told her I had an Atlanta number because my Dad paid for the phone.
The day after my last call to Josie I got a voicemail from her. She was calling from work.
"John? This is Josie. I'm so excited about seeing you! I wasn't sure why you left the message at the bar, but I can't wait to see you next Tuesday! I know exactly where Club Envy is, and eight o'clock works great for me. See you soon, I can't wait!"
So John called after all. Of course he called the bar; he didn't have her home number anymore. The dirt bag didn't even wait to talk to her in person. The conversation would be interesting when they met at this club, but John was so freaking smooth that he probably wouldn't miss a beat over the calls from me.
I should have been happy for Josie. Making sure she didn't get ignored was why I called her. Instead I got more and more depressed as the evening wore on. Damn it, John didn't deserve Josie; she was a sweet kid and she was smart and funny and way too trusting.
I almost picked up the phone a dozen times to call Josie that night and the next. The problem was that I knew nothing about this club, or what else John might have said in his message, and if she asked me to change the plans for Tuesday, what would I say?
That didn't mean there was nothing I could do, though. I was planning a trip to Philadelphia that week anyway. I could see Josie at the airport, and confess about my phone calls to her. And warn her to be careful. I booked a flight to arrive in the late afternoon on Monday, when I knew Josie would be working.
My flight was late but Josie was still there. I took my regular spot at the bar and watched her mix some drinks. She delivered them and then noticed me. She broke into a big smile as she walked over. She had her hair down on her shoulders and the top she was wearing was shorter than normal, exposing a terrific eight-inch band of firm but soft-looking tummy.
"Hi! Let me guess, you want a Miller Lite and the pepper steak, right?" Josie said. I was pleased that she remembered.
"Right. Good to see you again, Josie," I said, loving the way her smile lit up her face. As I stared at her, Josie gave me an odd look.
"That was weird. For a second there you reminded me of someone but I can't remember who it is. That ever happen to you?" she asked.
"All the time," I said. The smile returned.
"I'll get your beer," she said, and turned. I loved the way her hips moved when she walked.
I needed to figure out how to break my deception to her, and I was dreading it. Especially since I was enjoying being with her so much. I was pretty sure she would be pissed.
She sat the beer bottle in front of me and bit her lower lip.
"By the way, he called," she said.
"John? That's great, I guess. You're going to see him?"
Josie nodded, and got a dreamy look on her face.
"He's wonderful. And I thought there weren't any great guys left." She hugged herself, and then sighed. "I bet your dinner's ready. It's Paul, right?"
I nodded, and she sauntered away. By then I knew I wasn't going to tell her the truth. She was too happy. Regardless of what happened Tuesday night, I couldn't take that away from her.
I had dinner at a steak place near Rittenhouse Square on Tuesday night. It was pretty good, and it happened to be just ten or twelve blocks from the club where Josie was meeting John. I thought I might stop at the club for a quick drink, and if I happened to see how things were going, fine. It was almost nine thirty when I got there.
The club was packed, but there was no line to get in. The crowd looked like they were all on their way to audition for that American Idol television show. I went to the bar and ordered a beer, then wandered over by the dance floor thinking that John and Josie might be there. Josie told me that she liked to dance. I just wanted to see that they were getting along and that Josie looked happy, then I would leave.
They weren't on the dance floor, and a quick tour of the rest of the club came up empty too. They must have decided to go somewhere else, which was probably a pretty good sign. Going to the club to check on them had been silly. I finished my second beer and decided to hit the bathroom and then leave. That was when I saw Josie. She was sitting alone, at a small table near the restrooms. It was dark and you couldn't see the rest of the club from there, which was probably why I missed her before. She was slumped in her chair, head down, and I could tell something was wrong.
"Josie. How's it going?" I asked. She looked up and I could tell it was not going well. Josie's eye makeup was smeared and her eyes were red and puffy from crying. She squinted at me.
"The guy from the bar. What are you doing here?" she asked. I sat across from her without an invitation.
"I was... just having a beer. Some friends said they might meet me here," I said. Josie was staring at her lap.
"What happened to John?" I asked. That got her attention.
"What? Is he the friend you're meeting?" Josie looked angry.
"No! I just figured that must be why you're here. You said you were going to see him; and you're all dressed up and all..." A pretty lame response, but it was the best I could come up with. She wiped her eyes with the wad of tissues she was clutching. Then she sat up a little straighter, defiant.
"John's gone. We... didn't hit it off," she said. I felt horrible, knowing it was my fault.
"I wasn't what he was looking for," she said.
I looked her over. Josie was wearing a tiny suede skirt and a tight, pink sequined top that left her shoulders and most of her chest bare. She looked fantastic.
"I don't get it. You look great, especially your hair."
Josie smiled a little. "Thanks. I got a perm. I didn't mean for it to be this curly."
Her hair was highlighted a little, and was curled in tight little spirals that came almost to her shoulders. Even with the smudged eye makeup she was beautiful.
"Look. Can I get you something?" I asked. There was an empty wineglass on the table.