34 comments

Romance Fiction Fantasy

The sun had yet to set, but the friendly early evening crowd was beginning to trickle into the outdoor eatery area of The Court Street Bar and Restaurant. It was, after all, a little past seven on a Saturday night in Hobohemia, and after a full work week, most people just want to get out and have a little fun. Carlton Tucker had chosen this place because in his mind it would be the perfect place for a perfect first date. He’d had his eye on Annemarie Chellini for quite some time now, so after months of trying to muster up the courage to ask her out, the last thing he wanted to do was to screw this up before it even got started.


Carl had no great expectations on the night’s outcome and wasn’t even expecting a first kiss much less than any invites to whoever’s place afterward for a little nightcap. The most he allowed himself to hope for was perhaps a brief hug at the end of the evening and the opportunity for a second date. He was a man who made a rule of always keeping his expectations in check. It was just the way he was wired.


Annemarie Chellini was a several years younger than Tucker. He’d first spotted her drinking at the bar of The Court Street Bar & Restaurant more than a year ago. Initially, he wasn’t attracted to her at all. For that matter, he wasn’t terribly attracted to anyone. Outside of his workday business activities Carlton rarely spoke or interacted with anybody. To state it kindly, he was a bit of a misanthrope who wasn’t actually antisocial, but merely asocial. Where it came to most people, he could either take them or leave them, and for which the majority of them he chose the latter. In fact, most places he’d go he’d always be sure to bring a book along kind of as a shield to discourage those around him from speaking to him. Most times that worked perfectly well.


Yet, many months ago, while he was contently sipping a cocktail at the Court Street bar as he was laboriously making his way through Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”, a woman on the barstool next to him tapped on his shoulder and asked, “What’cha reading?”


“Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury,” he replied after successfully battling the urge to utter his usual two-word reply, “A book.” An answer that would usually ensure to inform the inquirer that he was not much of a talker.


“Is it any good?”


“What, Faulkner?”


“Yeah, Faulkner.”


“Why do you ask?”


“Because, you’ve been staring at that same damn page for a while now.”


“That’s because the content is seriously intense and narrated from the perspective of various characters, one of whom is severely mentally handicapped.” Noticing the highball glass before him was now empty he tried to catch Jeff the bartender’s eye to order another. Yet, before he did, and much to his surprise, he asked the woman sitting to his left, “May I buy your next drink?”


Downing whatever remained in her wine glass she held the now-empty vessel in the air then called out to Jeff in a voice loud enough so that everyone in the cozy barroom could probably hear, “Hey, Jeff, this guy wants to buy me a drink. Can I trust him?”


Like a hungry dog being called to dinner Jeff was now before the two of them and said, “Yeah, I can vouch for him. He’s harmless enough, what’re you drinking?”


Tucker liked Jeff. He had that unique sixth sense that any good barman has of knowing when a customer wanted to chat and when they just wanted to be left alone, and he was in the minority of individuals who Carlton Tucker didn’t mind exchanging a few words with every now and then. He’d even joked with Jeff that he found it sometimes hard to read while in a bar because of the dimmed lighting, and since libraries didn’t serve alcohol, that they should open a bar together that was equipped with a book lending library so their patrons could comfortably sip while page scanning. Jeff said he liked that idea and would look into obtaining the liquor license for their wet bar library. That was just the kind of fellow he was.


“I guess since he’s buying, you better give me some of the good hooch—a pinot grigio, please.”


“I’ll just have another bourbon Manhattan on the rocks, please.” Thus, the drinks were ordered and an adventure began.


“May I ask your name?”


“It’s Chesty McAddams!” she told him with a noisy giggle. “No, it’s really just Annemarie, Annemarie Chellini. And yours, if you don’t mind me asking.”


“Carlton, Carlton Tucker, but everyone just calls me Carl.”


“Wait a minute! You’re not that guy on Fox News, are you?”


“No, everyone always thinks that, so maybe I should just introduce myself as Carl Tucker from now on to avoid the confusion and explanations.”


“Probably not such a bad idea,” Annemarie concluded just as Jeff was sitting their respective drinks before them.


“So, your last name, Chellini, I’m guessing you’re Italian?” which would not be so farfetched here in Hobohemia, New Jersey.


“Bingo! Well, you know what they say about Italian women?”


“Please elucidate and share that tidbit of information with me, if you don’t mind me being the one to ask now.”


“That there are two types of Italian women: the kind who cook and the kind who clean.”


“So, which are you?”


“I’m the exception. My grandmother was the cooking kind and my mom was the cleaning kind. Me? I’m neither, must’ve been some kind of generational leapfrogging when it came to me,” Annemarie told him, tagging another peal of soprano-pitched laughter to the end of her sentence.


“Guess that’s a good thing to know about you.”


They had one more drink together before he left the bar alone to return home.


The next time he stopped in at Court Street he saw she was already sitting at the bar, and miracle upon miracles, the barstool adjacent to hers was still empty. When he asked if she’d mind, and she responded she didn’t, he took a seat. Her wine glass was already empty when Tucker arrived so the usually quiet guy offered to buy her another drink, which she agreed to this time without needing Jeff to attest to his character. But this time, instead of ordering a pinot grigio she asked Jeff for an Amstel Lite. He may have found that a bit off-putting, since Carlton always felt that Lite beers were the bane of a serious beer drinker’s existence, but upon reflection the normally book browsing Court Street patron just let it go. You see, sometimes in life discretion really is the wiser part of valor.


These random meetings continued over the years until on March 14, 2020, the Court Street Bar & Restaurant announced via its Facebook page that due to the COVID-19 virus, that they, as well as most on-premise businesses, had been ordered by both local and federal government, to shutter their doors. And thus, they lost contact—but not before exchanging their Facebook user names—and becoming engaged as social media “friends”.


So, fast forward to nearly early summer of that year, to the time when The Court Street Bar & Restaurant announced on Facebook that the city of Hobohemia had authorized them to provide an outdoor dining area so hardcore patrons such as Chellini and Tucker could return to drink and dine at The Court. Therefore, once again, the Court was in session. And after great deliberation, at the last moment, while his imaginary jury was still convened outside of the courtroom, Carl sent Annemarie a message via Facebook messenger informing her that their Court was no longer adjourned, and taking a huge gamble, asking her if she wanted to join him for an alfresco meal at their mutually favorite establishment.


The minutes ticked past without a reply until finally, a Facebook sound effect informed him, he had received an answer to his proposal: “I’d love to!” They settled on an agreed-upon mutually convenient time and date to dine, Tuck (another name others who didn’t call him Carl often used) then contacted Kevin, one of the kindly considerate owners of CSB&R, using the same Facebook app and the date was finally set in stone.


On June 18, 2020, as prior to schedule, he took his seat at a table outside the eatery to await her arrival. Annemarie appeared a minute or two later, exactly at the time they’d prearranged (punctuality—he liked that in a person) to join him. Since Facebook had informed him that she had just celebrated her birthday a few days before, he ordered a bottle of #A908 from a wine menu, the Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label Brut NV champagne to commemorate the occasion. He was proud that when the pretty young Court Street waitress poured her a glass Annemarie whipped out a cell phone to take a picture of the flute of bubbly then promptly posted it on her Facebook account with the caption, “In my happy place again!” This was, of course, something Carlton Tucker had only seen after returning home that night while checking his Facebook account. And he was not included in the picture.


The evening had started out relatively well. As they sipped their flutes of chilled champagne a warm breeze blew and they could almost smell the scent of the ocean from the beach of the Jersey Shore, which was more an illusion than a reality since it was about a hundred miles away (as the crow flies). Annemarie told him she’d spent her birthday down the shore, as they say in Jersey, with a family friend who was, as she described, “a doobie smoking fisherman”.


For appetizers, they both had the baked clams oreganata as they comfortably chatted about how good it was to be able to return to their mutually favorite restaurant after its three-month shutdown. Although Annemarie lamented that they could neither sit at the bar nor around a table inside. After scarfing down a half dozen clams and in between savoring sips of the cold wine they used chunks torn from the portioned loaf of French bread atop the table to sop up the remaining pools of garlicky olive oil on their plates.


“The bread’s not as good as it used to be. They must be getting it from a different bakery these days,” the chatty Ms. Chellini commented.


“Well, times have changed, I guess,” the normally non-talkative Mr. Tucker cautiously opined. He had noticed last week while visiting her doobie smoking fishermen friends in Manasquan she’d posted a picture on Facebook including a caption complaining of people who had parked themselves in front of where she was sunbathing on the public beach. In the photo the intruders appeared to be several yards away from her.


With the appetizer plates now removed as they awaited the main course, they continued to casually converse. It was a beautifully clear evening as the sun sunk lower, setting the pre-summer solstice sky ablaze with crimson. Personally, Carl liked dining outside the CSB&R in the near-nighttime open air. It was then, as he listened to his table companion speak, that their waitress set the main course before them.


As with the appetizers, they had both ordered the same entrée; panko encrusted sushi tuna steak accompanied with sides of wild rice (Annemarie had requested risotto, which wasn’t listed on the menu instead of rice, but was told, regrettably, that the risotto was not available tonight—and which appeared to miff the somewhat moody Ms. off a bit), steamed broccoli, and pureed squash. The fish was served with two dipping sauces. One was a sweet ginger and soy, and the second a wasabi sauce.


Tucker tried the sweeter of the two first, noting the tangy flavor the ginger added to it. Next, he dipped another bite of the tasty tuna in the other one, soaking and coating it generously with the lime green wasabi sauce. And this is where disaster struck!


At first, it wasn’t so much the burn of the wasabi on his tongue as it was the fast flash frying of the sinuses within his nose. Next, the Japanese horseradish caused his eyes to water and tears to stream down his now flushed cheeks. What followed was even worse: a rapid and what seemed like an endless series of uncontrollable sneezes. Before that, everything had seemed to be going so well…


Annemarie Chellini stared at him with concern as he covered his face with the Court Street white linen napkin when the sneezing continued. That expression transformed into alarm and she asked, “Are you alright?”


Due to the ceaseless sneezing Carlton Tucker was unable to talk. So, he tried holding his hand up in the universally understood gesture that tells another person “Please—just give me—a minute—I’ll be—fine.” The only problem was that the tears, the burning sensation, and worst of all, the sneezing showed no signs of subsiding.


“Achoo!”


“Bless you.”


“Achoo!”


“Bless you.”


“Achoo!”


“Bless you.”


“Achoo, achoo, achoo…”


Carl possessed a good sense of humor, and if he hadn’t been experiencing such extreme physical discomfort and humiliation, he’d a found this situation comical. Which in a way, it really was. By this time other diners were staring at them with curiosity and concern.


“Achoo, achoo, achoo!”


Even their waitress had returned to the table asking if there was anything she could do. Annemarie simply gave a small shrug of her shoulders then stared down at the glassware, utensils, and plate-covered table in silence as his fit of sternutation continued. When she finally spoke again all she said was, “I don’t know, maybe get him some water?”


When the seizure of suspiration thankfully subsided, she asked him again if he was okay and what had happened. Still trying to catch his breath now he explained it was the effect of the wasabi on his sinuses. Adding to his explanation a story of how his sinuses had been destroyed by too many nights back in the day at Studio 54 doing lines of cocaine with rock stars he knew and their girls. Which was kind of a major lie, if the truth be told.


The part about doing coke with rock stars, their wives and girlfriends, and Studio 54 was totally true. The part that wasn’t true is it wasn’t the blow; it was he’d suffered from a sinus condition, nasal congestion, and seasonal allergies almost his entire life. The remainder of the meal was awkward, to say the least. And since this date now seemed dead on arrival, and without even finishing their champagne, he asked for, then paid the check, and they left the Court Street Bar & Restaurant.


Carlton asked Annemarie if she wanted him to walk her home, but now she was the one lying, telling him she had some errands to take care of on her own—so with noncommittal promises of being in contact again soon—they parted ways. Well, at least he wasn’t the only liar that night. Oh, and by the way, in case you’re still wondering, there never was a first kiss, invites to whoever’s place afterward for a little nightcap, and of course, no brief hug nor second date.


June 19, 2021 01:01

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34 comments

Bruce Friedman
19:50 Aug 16, 2021

Loved the story. Because I am new to writing short stories, I pay a lot of attention to the format. You often create longish, highly descriptive paragraphs accompanied by rapid-fire dialogue. I suspect that this just comes naturally to you. For me, it creates an interesting rhythm. I sort of settle back, enjoying the lush prose of the longer paragraphs and then get pulled back to "reality" by the staccato dialogue. Interesting tension.

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Stevie B
20:13 Aug 16, 2021

Bruce, thank you for your kind words and astute observations. So glad you enjoyed this.

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Eric D.
16:37 Jul 10, 2021

That wet bar idea sounds amazing, loved your dialogue came out very natural

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Stevie B
17:06 Jul 10, 2021

Thank you for your kind words, Eric. If that dream does ever come to fruition perhaps it should be called The Wet Library, or Literate Libations. I'm just saying...

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Andrea Magee
15:34 Jul 02, 2021

I read this a couple of days ago....really enjoyed it! 🖐🏽😊

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Stevie B
16:06 Jul 02, 2021

Andrea, glad your enjoyed it and thanks for your comment.

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Kanika G
09:02 Jul 02, 2021

This was extremely well-written with a great build up. I liked how you slowly set up the story and both the characters. The incident with the Wasabi sauce was unfortunate. The specifics you added really brought the story to life. Well done!!

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Stevie B
11:11 Jul 02, 2021

Thank you ever so much, Kanika. The inclusion of details and the character development is something I really enjoy when I read your work too.

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Sjan Evardsson
21:45 Jul 01, 2021

Thanks for the humorous take on the "sad, lonely man" trope. Great descriptive writing and the characters were well fleshed out. Stay safe and keep writing!

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Stevie B
01:51 Jul 02, 2021

And thank you for your kind note of encouragement. I do try my best. I've learned more fully over the past year how one must talk less and listen more in the faintest likelihood of reflecting reality into what you write, I sincerely hope I've accomplished that goal in this and all future works to come. With kind regards - Do good always! sb

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Angela Guthrie
15:28 Jun 30, 2021

You have quite the sense of humor.😊

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Stevie B
16:53 Jun 30, 2021

Angela, I've been told I'm a real card, which may or may not have anything to with having a face that's somewhat shuffled...

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Ramona Taylor
04:04 Jun 30, 2021

Hilarious! Thanks for this amusing story. Indeed, I was similarly surprised by my first big bite of wasabi Not only did it give me a laugh, but so did your comment “…at least they’ll have alcohol”, and your author’s note. You are fun!

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Stevie B
12:23 Jun 30, 2021

You're quite welcome, Ramona. If you ask any of my ex-wives they're each happy to tell anyone who'll listen that I can be not only fun, but often a real joke.

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Hend Nasser
19:31 Jun 28, 2021

(he replied after successfully battling the urge to utter his usual two-word reply, “A book.”) lmaooo this story was overall very fun to read and the title was great.

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Stevie B
20:08 Jun 28, 2021

And it was fun to write it - thank you, Hend!

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Shirley Medhurst
09:00 Jun 28, 2021

I like your sense of humour Stevie. Loved the line: battling the urge to utter his usual two-word reply, “A book.” haha. You continued to build up Carl's personality subtly throughout. Well done! Oh, & great title, by the way...

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Stevie B
10:46 Jun 28, 2021

Thank you, Shirley. So happy you enjoyed the tale.

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Susan Reid
00:35 Jun 28, 2021

Sad but predictable ending. She was already involved. And they had little in common but a love for alchol.

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Stevie B
01:28 Jun 28, 2021

Well, at least they'll always have alcohol...

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N K
07:57 Jun 27, 2021

Stevie, this was brilliant! I am in love with the characters. Carl/Tuck is relatable and very real. And I really like the development of their relationship - kinda was hoping it'd end well for them but maybe should've taken a hint from that great title. The story was such an enjoyable read with a great and humorous narrative voice. And the dialogue was so realistic - I felt like I was at the bar myself eavesdropping. Your take on the prompt was so unique and once again, I find myself wishing I had thought of the prompts in the way you do! Th...

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Stevie B
12:34 Jun 27, 2021

Natania, Many thanks! The Court Street is actually a real restaurant/bar here in my adopted home of Hobohemia (I actually dedicated my second published novel, "The Freaky Fungal Family Tree" to them) where I spend much of my free time, and Jeff the bartend is actually a real person. The others, well, really not so real... Jeff is not only a universally acclaimed mixologist, he also one of the first readers of my pre-published work who while mixing and serving me refreshing and intoxicating cold drinks shares his insights and suggestions re...

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Ruth Porritt
05:42 Jun 25, 2021

Hello Stevie, I was very interested in this story, because the first sentence draws the reader right in. (Who doesn't want to read about a first date?) Also, I hate (with absolute fury) people who ask: "Whatcha readin'?" Or "What are you reading?" (I go to a public place to read because I want to eat/drink and read at the same time.) Anyway, it was a really nice meet-cute in this story, and I wanted the two main characters to hit it off. (I was emotionally invested in each character.) The interesting thing is that it actually didn't matt...

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Stevie B
12:29 Jun 25, 2021

Ruth (aka Superman's Daughter), Thank you for your, as always, very insightful observations. Since I'm not from New Jersey (but happy now to call it my home) I've been more than a bit fascinated by the way my co-inhabitants here speak (idioms such as "down the shore") and have attempted to incorporate their sound in some of my stories when apropos. I imagine more than anything I was trying to exemplify how most of us just throw in the towels of defeat too many times when it comes down to what our hearts desire. Him: overly judgmental, suc...

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Ruth Porritt
09:38 Jun 26, 2021

Hello Stevie, Thank you for your message. I don't think I've ever been to Jersey, (maybe I've been to the airport?) but I've heard the accent in a lot of t.v. shows. (Ah, I remember. I've driven through there, but never got out of the car. Really. LOL.) When I first went to NYC, (4 years ago) I was so excited when I learned that some residents still talked like t.v. and movie characters from the 1970s. I liked listening to everybody talk, there. To totally change the subject, do you like Hemingway's work? (I think Hills like White Eleph...

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Stevie B
12:46 Jun 26, 2021

Ruth, I not only enjoy Hemingway's work but in the preface of my latest published novel ("The Freaky Fungal Family Tree") I actually credited Papa's talent of exercising brevity in short story construction as the foundation I built many of the stories upon there within my book. Glad to hear you'll be making available another of your well written tales. Perhaps it will answer the curious question that so puzzled the denizens of the land of OZ, as well as a few of the band members of Pink Floyd while they were experimenting on the dark side o...

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Ruth Porritt
06:07 Jun 27, 2021

Hello Stevie, Wonderful! I really need to check out your novel. Reading Hemingway (in university) really impressed upon me the power of a good short story. (Also, from Strunk and White: "Omit needless words.") Believe it or not, I had never heard of the Wizard of Oz/Pink Floyd thing until I googled it. I am hoping that Alan Parsons really did tailor everything to the Wizard of Oz, but forgot about it because of LSD. :) Have a great one, Ruth

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Stevie B
12:59 Jun 27, 2021

Ruth, If you would like to check out the latest novel it's available here in hard copy, eBook, and audiobook versions (my favorite is the audiobook as I've never heard my work read out loud by a professional actor before - wow, did it ever open it up into new dimensions!): https://www.amazon.com/Freaky-Fungal-Family-Tree-semi-true-ebook/dp/B091RDTGR2 Thank you as always for sharing your thoughts and feedback. With kind regards & do good always, sb

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16:59 Jun 21, 2021

This story was strewn all over the place (with 6-foot distancing), and it was amazing despite/because of that. I especially loved the title--it's what drew me in in the first place! A few small critiques: 1) "Carl had no great expectations on the night’s outcome and wasn’t even expecting a first kiss much less than any invites to whoever’s place afterward for a little nightcap." This sentence, while informative, was a bit strange to read and could probably use some sort of break (comma, semicolon, etc.). 2) "So, asking if she’d mind, and ...

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Stevie B
17:28 Jun 21, 2021

Thank you for those valuable suggestions!

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17:29 Jun 21, 2021

You're welcome. :) It was a pleasure to read!!

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Stevie B
17:29 Jun 21, 2021

Thanks again!

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Stevie B
03:01 Jun 19, 2021

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I know the prompt was watching a sunset but I wanted to take the more metaphorical path of two people watching the sun set on a potential relationship in the midst of its birth, and seeing it die before their eyes. OMG - maybe this is why these days I don't get invited to more cocktail parties...

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Darrell Grant
21:56 Jan 25, 2022

loved the story. It shows that time can take a toll on things and that a sneeze these days can lead to alarms going off and in you character's case..to a dead end for what was a possible future relationship

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