A Story of Unrequited Love
By Sadler Slate
The tip jar was empty. I stood upon the stage looking half-defeated, staring down on the thinly divided audience that had slowly begun to make their way towards the door. I looked down at my wrist to see two hands tell me it was time to pack up and go home. More specifically, it was 11:30. Taxi cabs were pulling in and out as dozens of walking mouths piled in them and went home. They didn’t tip. They never do.
Two hours of singing the same list of songs that everyone tunes out has led me to $150 and half a bottle of Jack Daniels. The whiskey on my breath masked the bad taste of the notes that I had let creep out of my mouth. How am I still here? Why am I still here? I’m sure if I moved out of this God-forsaken place I’d be able to make my own music and not the cheap Juicy Fruit I keep shelling out night after night.
As I turned around to eye down whoever might still be lingering around, I caught a glimpse of a woman at the end of the bar. The auburn in her hair was beaming in the light and I couldn’t help but be in awe of her. She quickly turned over to look at me and her cherry lips widened while her eyes dropped to the floor. She took her hand and pulled a bit of her hair behind her ear. As she did so, she pulled her eyes back and shot me in the chest with her stare.
I turned to Freeda, the only bartender here I could ever stand talking to. “Hey, Freed who’s that girl over there?” She looked over at me and then cocked her head to look at her. “Eh, I’ve seen here a few times, but she’s always trashed when she leaves. One time she tripped over the carpet and roughed her nose up pretty good.”
“She got a name?” I asked. “I think it’s Aubrey or Audrey or hell, it could be Adrian. I don’t know I don’t get paid enough to remember every lowbrow Jessabelle that walks in here.” I slowly moved up from my seat and motioned towards her. I looked everywhere but at her, as to divert attention away from me.
“Hey Jukebox, you gonna sing somethin’ for me?” she laughed. I stood frozen and didn’t know what to say or do. “If you’re gonna make your move why don’t you go ahead and do it? Don’t worry I’m not gonna bite.” I was kind of hoping she would.
“I couldn’t help but notice you from across the-” She cut me off before I could muster up the courage to finish. “Is that the best you got Jukebox? Come on, you’re not a Hallmark card. Tell me something I haven’t heard before!”
I looked at her and a flush of confidence suddenly came over me. My eyes became fixated on hers and for a brief moment, something magical happened. “Has anyone ever told you how easy it is to be lost in those deep Atlantic eyes? Matter of fact, I’m having a hard time focusing because I just can’t look away.” Her grin turned into a wide pirate smile.
“I guess that was better,” she said jokingly. I felt a little tug on the line. “You wanna get out of here?” I asked. She gave me a look and laughed. “Just hold off for a second. A man can’t go one second without trying to get with a girl. It’s all you guys ever think about. Why don’t we just stay here? Maybe play a couple of songs for me Jukebox.”
So for the next few hours, we drank, sang, danced, laughed, and even at points were exchanging glances that were out of more than just friendly hospitality. I hadn’t felt this way since I was in high school. I remember going to home football games on Friday nights and hanging with my friends, talking about which girls we’d rather...date. Then, we’d run into a few of them and they would bring out this feeling of excitement in you. You could be 18 years old but feel like a 5-year-old on Christmas morning.
The last call was at 2 a.m. and we made our way out of the door. Her arm was fitted neatly in mine as I helped her down the stairs. “Where’s your car?” She shrugged and quickly sighed as she remembered she hadn’t driven here tonight. “I came here with this guy, and he ended up leaving sometime during your show.” “I’m guessing he wasn’t a fan?” I said jokingly.
“Do you mind taking me home?” she asked. “Of course.” I opened the car door for her and she climbed in. As I began to close the door, I asked: “you never did tell me your name.” She looked up at me and said: “well in all fairness neither did you, but why ruin the surprise?” She cracked another one of those pirate smiles and I practically leaped towards the driver’s side of the car. I left black marks all over the parking lot as I hightailed out of there.
When we got to her apartment, she looked over at me and mulled over the idea of whether I should come in or not. I opened up the door for her and held her hand as she got out of the car. I locked the car and as I turned around she was already up the stairs, unlocking the door.
“Wait a minute, are you just gonna go?” I cried. “Well, what else do you have to say, jukebox?” I walked up the stairs without saying a word, never taking my eyes off of her. My hands reached out and placed themselves around her face and I leaned in to kiss her. She didn’t reject it.
The light above flickered while the moths continued to hit the bulb. Though it was almost 3 in the morning, you could still hear cars go by and some even laid on their horn to signify their approval. However, none of this seemed to distract me from this moment of total bliss. Her face was as soft as I pictured it being. Her lips were wet and inviting as she continued to reciprocate what I had done on impulse.
I ran my hands through her hair and truly felt that in that moment, I was in love with an actual angel of God. She was perfect. It was as though she had fallen from the sky and into my lap. I was going to marry this girl. She’s everything I could ever want. All of those lonely nights, all of those awful performances with the same miserable songs all lead to her. She was the reason. I had never been certain of anything in my life.
She pulled away slowly and wiped her bottom lip. “Not bad, Jukebox.” she said softly. “I’ve gotta get some sleep or else I’ll be a wreck in the morning. Thank you for taking me home.” I looked at her in amazement, and she seemed to be troubled by it. “What do you call yourself?” I asked. “Whatever you’re thinking is right,” she said jokingly. “So your name is Angel?” I asked.
She looked at me with a hint of flattery in her eyes. Her cheeks were like ripe peaches as she couldn’t help but smile.
The next morning, or more like afternoon, I woke up still in my jeans. My hair was ruffled and there was a large wet spot on my pillow. It was clear I had gotten in late last night and made up for the lack of sleep. I turned my head over and saw the clock flash 12:45. I sat up and looked down at my hands and instantly remembered what had happened the night before. The feeling of her face had not escaped my palms and the feeling of her silky hair still remained on my fingers.
My feet hit the icy floor and I walked over to my clothes that laid sprawled out in different areas of the room. I pick up my coat and a cocktail napkin fell like a feather to the ground. I picked it up and struggled to read the chicken scratch that was forcibly edged onto the napkin. It was a phone number. At some point in the night, she must have given it to me and I felt obligated to call.
I ran towards the phone and carefully dialed her number. After three or four rings, I heard a voice on the other end of the line.
“Hello?” she said clearly. This was not the same angelic tone I had remembered. “Hello? Who is this?” I couldn’t help but freeze up inside. I kept searching for words to say but couldn’t find anything worth uttering. “Who is this? Hello?”
“Hey, it’s me. You know, from the bar last night?” I was finally able to get something out. It was probably the most cliche way to start a phone call with an almost stranger but at least it got the ball rolling.
“Ah, Jukebox. How’d you get my number?” she asked.
“You must’ve given it to me sometime last night. I found it on a napkin in my coat pocket.”
I could hear a regretful sigh escape her mouth. My heart sank instantly.
“Is that so? Well, uh, how are you?”
“I’m great. Just thought I’d call and tell you that-”
I instantly froze and thought about my next move. What if I seem pushy? What if this goes badly? What if she never wants to hear from me again?
“I just want you to know that last night was one of the greatest nights of my life. I seriously don’t think I’ve ever met someone as amazing as you are.”
“Well, thank you Jukebox. That means a lot. But, I need you to understand something. If you’re looking for something out of me, I hate to disappoint you but I’m just not interested. It’s not that I’m not interested in you, I’m just not really good at being there for someone. Commitment isn’t for me. You’re sweet, you truly are, but last night was last night. I had fun but that’s as far as I’m willing to go. Does that make sense?”
I guess it made sense. What am I kidding? It didn’t make sense at all. How could she do a complete 180 overnight? What happened. Did I do something?
“Yeah, it does. I’m sorry to bother you. I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing.” I said with dread.
I hung up the phone. I had no desire to hear what cliche she’d conjure up to defend herself. I had ridden the world’s most confusing roller coaster in a matter of hours. I went from a bundle of hope to an empty void with legs and a broken heart. What happened? Why did it happen? Why?
But, yet again there was no answer. These things just seem to happen. But, here I am like a Wednesday morning, trapped in between bookends with only hope to look forward to.