I spent one long year struggling in art school after graduating high school. When that didn't work out, something about me not being good enough, I spent the next two years finding out that the military wasn't my cup of tea either. Using my hard won G.I. benefits I came back home and enrolled in a three-year architectural drafting school, which I really loved. So here I sit on a bar stool, tipping back more than a few, celebrating my graduation with my five best friends in the whole world. It finally seemed my life was on track.
"I'd like to propose a toast," Brian, one of my best buddies, said, raising his glass. "To Steve, one of the dumbest sons of a bitch I ever met."
"Here, here," everyone yelled, downing what was left in their glass before looking for our waitress or a bartender to order another round. It was then I saw her standing behind the bar. All right maybe I'd had a little too much to drink and just maybe the alcohol was clouding my judgment but nonetheless she didn't catch just my eye, she caught both of them. Even though I don't have a shy bone in my body, I should have just looked and not said a blessed thing. But by now the alcohol had taken over my brain, my mouth was just coming along for the ride.
It all started when I looked at her nametag. "Beth, do you like the name David?" I asked the cute bartender as she poured us another round of drinks.
"What?" she asked. She probably couldn't hear what I had asked her because of all the noise in the place.
"Do you like the name David?" I repeated the question.
"Yeah, I guess it's okay. Is that your name or something?"
"Nope, that's the name I've picked for our first born if it's a boy but I'm not too sure what we'll call it if it's a girl," I said, still consuming her with my eyes. In disbelief and amazement my buddy Brian looked on.
"You fixing to marry this girl, Steve?" Brian asked looking over at me.
"As soon as she says yes."
"Well I'll be, I didn't even know you two were dating."
From there things got a little out of hand. Everyone kept drinking and asking me when I was going to ask her. Before I knew it, my foopa had spread to three other tables and everyone was proposing toasts to Beth and me.
"To Beth and Steve, may they always be as happy as they are at this very moment," Brian announced to the entire bar standing on a table in the middle of the room. Everyone applauded and tipped their glass to Beth, who was smiling behind the bar shaking her head from side to side.
A fairly tipsy girl jumped on a table and said she hoped our honeymoon was half as hot as hers, she blushed, slammed down her drink, and gave a big kiss to a guy I hoped was her husband. Another roar went out and everyone grabbed a drink and toasted us again. It was getting pretty wild. It seemed the whole bar, including all the bartenders, were now getting into the act.
Whoever started the chant 'ask her, ask her, ask her' I haven't a clue but within minutes the whole place was shouting it and stomping their feet. When Brian and Tommy carried me over to the bar and placed me in front of Beth the whole room went silent with the exception of two rather inebriated coeds standing next to me.
"Steve, you've got to do it on one knee, don't you know anything?" One of the women next to me shouted.
So, very wobbly I got down on one knee and immediately fell over.
Brian picked my ass up, smacked me on the top of the head, and told me to try and do it right this time.
Struggling to both focus and stay upright at the same time, I looked into those two deep brown eyes of Beth's and asked her to marry me, or something to that effect. I then proceeded to fall over for the second time.
The whole bar was dead quiet while Brian and Tommy picked my ass off the dirty floor. Beth tried not to laugh but was fighting a loosing battle. Finally she looked at me, then at all her friends behind the bar, and then back at me again.
"Sure, why not. I don't have any plans for after work tonight anyway," she said starting to laugh. She bent over and gave me a kiss to seal our bond. The place erupted with applause, laughter, and another three rounds of drinks. Everyone was congratulating the two of us. I looked at her, smiled, and that my friends, is the last thing I remember.
I woke up the following morning not in my own bed and with the biggest hangover I'd ever had. It took me about ten minutes to confirm I was even still alive, breathing, and in Brian's apartment. I saw I was fully dressed with the exception of my shoes. I found the bathroom and only wished that my body would go a little easier on me. I debated about putting my finger or whole hand down my throat. A voice yelling up the stairs that breakfast was ready brought me out of my momentary daze.
Somehow I managed to get down the stairs in one piece. Brian's wife, Angie, poured me a cup of hot black coffee, while pushing a plate of toast my way.
"Eat this, it'll absorb at least a little of what's in your stomach." Food was the last thing I wanted but she wasn't taking no for an answer. "If you're wondering, Brian and I carried your sorry ass in here last night. You passed out just after you got married." That sobered me up, at least enough to get my mind working again. "Couldn't have been too good of a wedding night, you being passed out and all. But you sure did create a ruckus in there when you dropped down on one knee and proposed to her. When she said yes, the place went nuts. Everyone started planning your wedding and honeymoon. You, however, passed out after the third or fourth round of drinks. By the way, where are the two of you going on your honeymoon?" She laughed walking back to the stove to tend to the bacon I could hear sizzling in her black cast iron skillet.
"Very funny," I replied, still trying to remember exactly what did happen. The only thing I was sure of, was that Beth stole my heart last night. What do they say, love at first sight?
When Brian came downstairs he was showered, shaved, and way too chipper.
"How's the blushing groom?" he asked.
"That's blushing bride, stupid," his wife yelled back at him.
"Whatever. How was the wedding night? Was she everything you expected?"
"She was here?" I looked back hopefully towards the stairs.
"Nope, just fucking with you," he said chuckling. "Not too bad looking but a little too skinny for my taste," he said slapping Angie on the backside and then turning her around for a big kiss. "Well, that was quite a night, I haven't had that much fun in a long time. I hope that girl isn't too pissed off at you, but not likely, because her tip jar was sure full by the end of the night."
"Her name is Beth," I said still working on my first cup of coffee.
"Well, anyway, after all that, did you even get her phone number?" I shook my head no. Hell, I'd somehow even lost my damn shoes.
Brian dropped me off at the bar so I could pick up my car. Mine wasn't the only one still in the parking lot. It must have been one hell of a party. I just wished I could remember it all.
It took me a full twenty-four hours to recover. I made a hundred promises to myself about never having another drink but knew they wouldn't last any longer than my hangover did. Two days later after work, I was back at Tony's, with flowers in hand. I was bound and determined to apologize to Beth for making an ass out of myself and maybe get her phone number this time around.
As soon as I walked through the door a ton of people must have recognized me from the other night and started to clap. Not seeing her on the floor, I walked up to the bar and asked one of the bartenders if Beth was working.
The girl yelled, "Beth, your husband is here to see you." She laughed and wasn't the only one. Beth came out of the back room wiping her hands on a towel and immediately saw me.
"I see you're still alive. I wasn't too sure you were going to make it."
At least she was smiling and not throwing things at me, that was a good sign.
"Sorry about the other night. Seems like things got a little out of hand. These are for you," I said handing her the bouquet of cut flowers. "They're kind of a peace offering." When her friend from behind the bar said I was suppose to give her flowers and court her before the wedding not after, everyone started to laugh again. I must have made one hell of a spectacle of myself that night.
"Thanks for the flowers, but you didn't have to. Your friends and practically everyone else in here that night filled up my tip jar when someone taped a sign 'Honeymoon Fund' on it."
"Again, like I said, I'm sorry if I embarrassed you, it wasn't my intent," I told her, eating as much crow as I could stuff into my mouth.
"Don't worry about it, I actually had a lot of fun that night. With all the commotion and partying, the hours flew by and before I knew it, I was engaged, had a good start on a honeymoon fund, and watched as my fiancé was carried passed out to someone's car. All in all, quite an interesting evening." She was still smiling so I knew she didn't think I was a total fuck-up.
"So, let me try this again," I said taking a deep breath and putting on my best smile. "Hello, Beth, my name is Steve Moore, and I would love to take you out on a real date if you're so inclined."
"Steve, you seem like a real nice guy but to be honest, I don't have the time right now to add a boyfriend to my busy schedule. I work at least three nights a week and go to school almost every day. Between school, work, and homework I don't even have any time for myself."
"But, you still have to eat, don't you?"
"Steve, I bring a bag lunch here and when I go to school. I just don't have the time to go out for a formal dinner. I'm sorry, maybe sometime later on." What's that stupid cliché, where there's a will there's a way? Well, I guess when you're smitten with someone your brain goes into overdrive.
Two phone calls to her boss at Tony's and I had the makings of a great plan. I found out Beth always took her dinner break between eight thirty and nine o'clock when she worked. I then told Kenny, her boss, what I had planned for Friday night.
"Look Steve, if you want to romance her I don't have a problem with it, but if it disrupts my business I'm pulling the plug. Understand?" I agreed to his terms, what choice did I have anyway? Getting her fired wouldn't be too cool. So with her boss's okay and a little help from the head bartender I put my plan in motion.
At seven forty-five I picked up the two meals I had ordered the day before at Antonio's. I had already swung by the liquor store for the bottle of wine. The bakery had made up a special dessert just for the occasion. At eight fifteen with a hot bag and cooler in hand, I walked into the bar and set up everything at a corner table they'd reserved just for us. I was done at eight twenty-five, five minutes to spare I thought to myself. At eight twenty- eight I lit the two small candles on the table. At precisely eight thirty Beth's boss relived her and told her that there was dinner waiting for her, pointing in my direction.
Beth walked over not totally sure what was going on.
"Steve, I told you." she started to say before I stopped her.
"You've still got to eat, don't you? I just stopped off at McDonald's and picked you up a little something on my way over here. Nothing special, just something to munch on."
She smiled looking at the table. "I don't like Chablis wine," she said sitting down. It seemed like everyone in the place was looking at us.
"Note number one to self, no Chablis wine, anything else?"
"Steve, just sit down and eat, I've only got a half hour to get through this meal."
The food was good. Hell, the food was great. It better have been for what I paid for it. We ate in silence while we kept making eye contact with one another. She had just half a glass of wine, something about not drinking on the job. When we got to the dessert she smiled and shook her head. It was a tiny white cake with an even tinier bride and groom on the top. Written in red icing were the words, Just Married.
"You don't give up, do you?"
"Not when I see something I want." She just shook her head again as more than one person walked by to see what the hell we were doing. At precisely eight fifty-four we were done. She looked me right in the eyes and asked what I was planning for tomorrow night.
"You'll just have to wait until tomorrow and see now, won't you?"
"You're a nut, you know that?"
"If I wasn't, you'd probably not be having dinner with me now, would you?" She got up, gave me a peck on the lips and went back to work. "Yes," I said pumping my fist and tasting what was left of her on my lips.
On my salary there was no way I could do a meal like this one every night, so I mixed it up on the nights she worked. Barbeque, a Caesar salad, French bread subs, Mexican, and stir-fry were all items I could make at home and bring into the bar. She finally relented and let me take her to a movie, but I had to drop her off right after, something about a term paper being due in two days. On her days off I would either call or e-mail her. I was persistent but made sure I kept my distance and gave her all the space she asked for. A few of her friends at the bar said that if she didn't want me, to toss me their way. After finals we had our first full-fledged date.
I picked Beth up at her parents' house. I brought a box of chocolate for her and flowers for her mother. I was trying every trick in the book. Her mom and dad gave me a once over and within five minutes we were out the door. I was going to rent a two-seater sports car for the night but after finding out what they wanted for a Porsche or a Viper I got that idea out of my head rather quickly. So, I picked her up in my eight-year-old Chevy Impala, at least it was washed and freshly vacuumed.
"I hate to even ask what you're planning for tonight," she said getting into my car while I held the door open for her. She commented that chivalry wasn't dead, after all.
"I hope your passport is in order, because our flight to Paris leaves in two hours." I smiled, she didn't.
"Steve, you're trying too hard. I don't expect or want to be wined and dined every night. How about if tonight we go out for a pizza and just talk? What do you say?" They kicked us out of Pizza Hut just before eleven. For once I became the listener, which for me was damn hard.
She started at grade school and went up from there. Her passion was graphic design and marketing. Beth said she was good but nowhere near good enough to grab the type of job she wanted. She had one goal and one goal in mind and no one, including me, was going to stop her from achieving it. As she put it, I could help and support her or get the hell out of the way, it was my choice. For me it was never an option, I was in love.
So that's how I met and did my best to woo Beth. Our dating was full of pitfalls and compromises but we persevered and moved on. However, I was told from day one, when we first started going out, that we would be exclusive or not at all."
"I don't want to have to worry about you coming over to see me after being with someone else. I don't share. If you're with me, you're with me all the way. In one way I think it was some crazy kind of test but Beth didn't have anything to worry about, at least from me anyway.
That year and a half, until she graduated, was the longest of my life. Between my working full time, plus the required overtime when we got busy, and her crazy schedule, we grabbed for every available minute we could. A lot of times she was so tired, we would just sit on her couch downstairs in her basement and watch television. Or let me rephrase that, I would watch television while she slept in my arms. No consolation prize through, since I had her in my arms. Sex? Well, there wasn't to be any of that I was told, another one of her many conditions. No condoms, no trying to pull out at the last minute, or even birth control pills on her end. Until she had a ring on her finger the best I could hope for was a hand job or an occasional blowjob if I was really good. She on the other hand, did get to enjoy fingers a pianist would kill for and a tongue that was experienced enough to take the edge off any night of studying or cramming for a final. As she put it, there would be no slip-ups and she made sure of that. Did I complain and pout? I did in private along with a little hand relief but sucked it up when we were together.
All right maybe I overdid it, like I said I'm a little over the edge. When I ordered it I guess it didn't seem to be that outlandish at the time. So behind the stage at the college, while they were passing out the diplomas, there rose up an eight-foot diameter silver balloon that just said one thing, 'You did it, Beth!' Everyone laughed and clapped while a red faced Beth accepted her hard won diploma.
Her graduation party was nothing like mine. It was at her parents' home and there was plenty of food. I donated a keg of beer but made sure this time I didn't overdo it. Her family, friends, and even a few schoolmates came. I stood back and watched her beaming over it finally being over. I had bought her a little something and planned on giving it to her that night but then changed my mind at the last minute. This was her day not our day. She deserved the limelight and there was no way I was going to cut into any of it, even though I was secretly ready to explode.
Much to my dismay, it wasn't what I really wanted to give her, but on my salary I couldn't afford what I thought she really deserved. It was white gold and was not quite a half-karat. It had two small baguette diamonds on each side and the center stone was set up high enough that it looked and shone brilliantly on it's own. Well, I thought so. We'd talked about marriage—I had anyway, but was always shot down when I brought it up.
"Steve, I really do care for you, but I can't even think of a commitment like marriage until I'm out of school and have a job. What would happen if I get a good job and they want me to transfer somewhere far away? Would you give up your job, pull up stakes, and follow me? We'll have plenty of time to talk about it after we're both settled."
Unlike her, I had already found a great job. I was working for Centex Homes and was moving up their ladder. I'd started off strictly on the drawing board, making changes on existing blue prints when a customer wanted this or that moved around. Working occasionally with the crews in the field gave me the hands-on experience and confidence I had been lacking when I first started. Plumbing was pretty easy to learn, especially using the new PVC piping, but doing electrical tested me on many occasions. It took me about two years to finally gain the crews' confidence, that I knew what the hell I was doing when I did this revision or that one. When I spent a weekend pulling wire, when two of the workers called in sick, they stopped calling me a rookie and finally accepted me as almost an equal. Hell, most guys had at least ten to fifteen years under their belt and my measly two years just pushed me over the rookie stage. As I said, I was almost one of them.
"Steve, I need you to give me your best labor and material estimate on how much these changes will cost me," my boss, Greg, requested one evening just before five. He handed me a stack of changes and a roll of blueprints. "Also, I need it done before noon tomorrow, if at all possible." That was said with the damn know-it-all smile of his.
"No problem," I said without even looking at what he had given me. I wished I wouldn't have opened my big mouth before reviewing the changes. For the first time in months I begged off taking Beth out. I told her I had a test of my own to study for. Being the consummate student she was, she understood completely. I finished up my preliminary figures just before one o'clock in the morning and after checking and rechecking my figures I handed them all to my boss just before our nine thirty coffee break.