Matt sat in the darkness of his deck, contemplating his suddenly changed future. He didn't like what he was seeing.
He took a drag on his cigarette (how long had it been since he'd given them up? Eight years? More?) and winced just a little at the acrid, hot smoke as it tore through the sensitive membranes of his throat. To soothe the burn, he took a long pull from the bottle of beer in his other hand. He held the bottle by the neck, as if throttling it, and just tilted it up so the cold amber liquid could flow onto the back of his tongue and wash away the burn. Skyline City Ale, you just can't beat it, he thought sourly.
When the bottle was empty, he stood up slowly, dropped the glowing butt of the cigarette into the bottle, and shuffled into the house toward the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator door and bent down to grab another bottle of beer. He took it out to the deck and flopped back down into the wicker chair. He twisted the cap off the beer, tossing the knurled top toward the trashcan in the corner, not caring if he hit it or not. He reached for another cigarette and lit up.
There were already five other empty beer bottles standing on the side table next to the chair, each with its burnt offering of nicotine in the bottom of the bottle. He wondered briefly if there was enough beer in the kitchen to last through the rest of the night. And enough cigarettes. If he ran out of either, he would have to find something else to do, and he really didn't want to resort to that. Especially if it meant going to sleep. He really, really didn't want to do that.
The Kleiber recording of "La Traviata" was playing in the dark. Its darker arias fit well with his mood, its ghostly music just barely noticeable through the door, through his thoughts.
The houses around his were all invisible in the night, which wasn't surprising, considering the time. Besides, Matt's house was just as dark. The difference was that there was a wounded presence in this house, smoking and drinking and afraid to go to sleep.
When he was a starving graduate student, Matt had a habit of meeting his buddies at a drinking hole called Archie's, just off campus. The beer was cheap and cold, and Archie himself was almost always found behind the bar. Matt had known Archie since he first landed on campus, fake driver's license in hand. Archie had critically examined his ID, handed it back to Matt, and said, "Next time you come in here, you'd better have a decent fake. This one sucks." But he let Matt in anyway, and let him buy beer. Matt dutifully found a supplier of quality fakes and spent some of his father's money on a new ID card. The next time he went into Archie's, he showed it to the wily proprietor. Archie examined it closely and looked up at Matt, standing there nervously, awaiting the verdict.
"Jimmy Hamline do this for ya?" asked Archie.
Surprised, Matt just nodded.
Archie handed the fake back to Matt. "Jimmy does fine work," he said. "Whatcha want tonight?" And, just like that, Archie had gained another loyal regular patron.
On one particular night, Matt was drinking and playing on the Bowl-O-Matic game with his buddies. There was supposed to be some sort of promotion starting up, and they had gotten there early to stake off a good spot. As usual, Archie was tending bar.
Around eight that night a big van pulled up, and an even half-dozen of the most gorgeous girls Matt had ever seen came in. Skyline City Ale Girls, dressed skimpily and being professionally friendly with all the patrons, the ladies were handing out coupons for free Skyline City Ale, giving away t-shirts, and schmoozing with the crowd. Three handlers for the six girls made sure nobody got too friendly with them. The place was standing room only in a matter of moments.
Matt and his friends found themselves pinned into a corner, wedged between the wall and the bar. Eventually, one of the girls wriggled her way through the crowd, and Matt suddenly found himself face-to-face with an angel.
"Uh," was all he could manage to croak out as he stared at her lovely face. Curly blonde hair framed two green eyes and a button nose. She giggled when she saw him frozen there, no doubt well aware of the cause of his fitful behavior. She was carrying t-shirts and mugs with logos on them, and she held them to her breast as she was seemingly buffeted by the crowd.
"Hi," she said with an almost shy smile. "I'm Dianna."
"Well, Dianna, you can call me Ace," said Matt's sometimes-best-friend. Ace had a habit of bailing on Matt at awkward times, but he was always the life of the party, so he was easy to forgive. Matt's stomach fell when he saw Dianna turn away, toward Ace. Her eyes slid off his face, and he could almost feel the weight of her sight leaving his skin. It made him feel just a little emptier.
On this occasion, though, Ace redeemed himself for quite a few failings. "And this speechless one here is my friend, Matt," he told Dianna.
Dianna turned her thousand-watt smile back to Matt, and the butterflies that had been settling in his stomach all took flight once again.
"Hi, speechless Matt," said Dianna.
It was all Matt could do to sputter out a lame "Hi," to which Ace rolled his eyes. Dianna laughed out loud, and Matt thought the sound was the most beautiful music he had ever heard. He knew, at that moment, that he was hopelessly lost.
Later that night, loaded down with mugs, t-shirts, hats, and a neon beer sign, Matt, Ace and the rest of the crew were just about to leave. The Skyline Girls had packed up their gear, and the handlers were keeping the wolves at bay. Dianna slipped through the cordon and tucked a small piece of paper into the pocket of Matt's jeans. Without a word, she glanced just once over her shoulder, and rejoined her mates.
It took Matt a couple of days to work up the courage to call the number on the crumpled slip of paper, but finally, with the help of about four cans of brew, he managed to quell his fears long enough to dial and talk to Dianna the Skyline Angel (as he thought of her).
For their first date, Matt was going to take her to-no surprise here-a bar, but when he picked her up at her apartment, she required a little change in plans.
"Um, Matt, could we just, like, go out to get something to eat, maybe?" Dianna seemed a little embarrassed by the request.
Matt, eager to please her, said, "Sure. What kind of food do you like?"
They settled on pizza and headed out to a place away from campus, where they had an old-time sing-along, complete with a piano player and a banjo player, the lyrics to old songs projected onto a screen for all to see.
During one of the musicians' breaks, when the place quieted down enough to actually hold a conversation, Matt poured her another beer from the pitcher.
"So, why didn't you want to go to the bar tonight?" he asked.
It was a little dark in the place, but he thought she was blushing. "Because I'm only 19 and I don't have any fake IDs," she admitted.
"But you're drinking beer here," he pointed out.
She shrugged. "You bought it, they checked your ID, but not mine. I'm drinking on your say-so, but a bar with a guy at the door checking IDs would never let me in."
Matt was startled, to say the least. "But you're a Skyline City Ale Girl."
Dianna laughed. "The promotion company just wants to make sure the girls are attractive enough, and friendly enough," she said. "If we're underage to be working in a bar, they don't want to know about it. And the bouncers assume that the promotion company only hires over-21, so we never get checked."
"Oh, my lord, I'm a cradle-robber," said Matt. He didn't really mean it, though, and Dianna knew it.
She made him wait nearly forever. Actually, it was about six months, but it seemed to Matt like it was forever. He had never had a girlfriend who had strung him along so long without either Matt losing interest, or the girl finally admitting she was going to remain virginal no matter what, at which point Matt immediately said sayonara. Marriage was not the price he was willing to pay for that particular ride.
It wasn't that Dianna was a virgin. She readily admitted she wasn't. She was, however, a hopeless romantic, and to that end she wanted to feel like both of them were "in love," not merely "in lust."
And she certainly wasn't cold. Even though she wouldn't kiss him on their first date, and wouldn't even let him touch her boob under her clothes until their fifth date, once the barriers were breached she was as enthusiastic as he was. She just wanted to be sure before she allowed any further intimacies, each step of the way with its own set of requirements of affection and respect.
It was so out of the realm of experience for Matt, he found he was fascinated by the mystery of it all, and so fell even more deeply in love with her. On a cellular level, he knew he was in love with her, but on an intellectual level, he still did not realize it, and so the dichotomy was pitching within him as if he had a tuning fork embedded in his sternum. He couldn't even draw a deep breath when he was with Dianna, because that damned tuning fork was resonating, the sine waves washing through him from the ends of his hair all the way down to his toenails.
They had been going out twice a week for a month, and they were about to kick it up a notch, though at the time neither of them knew that. On this particular evening, Dianna was cooking dinner for four. Dianna's roommate, Emily, and her roommate's boyfriend, Jason, were joining Dianna and Matt for dinner.
.... There is more of this story ...