Like most college towns, Cranbury had its fair share of tourist attractions. Nestled in the foothills of the Metacomet Ridge of southern New England, pinned between the Connecticut River to the west, and Mt. Holyoke in the east, Cranbury enjoyed the best of both worlds—scenic vistas that overlooked miles of protected forest, mixed with the historic charm and hipster revival that often accompanied the college scene. There were bars on every corner, shadowed by trend-setting restaurants and new age coffee houses that catered to both the whiskey connoisseur and health-conscious clientele.
Jeremy Kline, a forty-seven-year-old advertising executive, exited through the Jameson Inn’s front portico, crossing the oak-lined street of Cottonwood Avenue like a man on a mission. Fifty is the new forty, he tried to convince himself while in the presence of ignorant youth. He basked in their splendid indifference and charmed manifestations of adulthood. Jeremy recalled his own amateur days spent binge drinking and chasing ass like it was going out of style. Fueled by raging hormones and a need to feel wanted and loved like no other, Jeremy had tried to fill a cavernous void left from being raised by an absentee father and drunkard mother. He never married and had no children. Echoes of his unfulfilled childhood manifested in a deep shyness and intimacy issues that often led to dismal relationships.
It wasn’t that Jeremy was a bad lover—he was kind, thoughtful, and an innate listener—but he took more than he could give. His insatiable need for attention was wrongly identified as being selfish, interpreted as being uninterested in long-term relationships by women that had passed through his life like a falling star; burning brightly at first before fading into the horizon. Behind his flaws, Jeremy was a successful man with stylish brown hair that grew long in the back and hung loosely over his ears, combed in a fluid wave and parted to the side. The natural progression of time appeared around his temples in hints of grey and from creases across his forehead, formed from intense displays of passion. Jeremy had a way of using his face to express emotion that was at times quirky, but held a natural innocence.
Leaving Cottonwood, Jeremy crossed onto North Pheasant. He felt alive for the first time in forever. Having closed a mega deal that had consumed his every waking hour for the past eight months, two days ago Jeremy signed a multi-million-dollar, five-year contract with a company leading the cosmetic industry in all-natural, environmentally friendly products. Jeremy had received an obscene commission and the next day took advantage of his VP’s recommendation to take some down time to celebrate his success. He booked the next available flight out of Charlotte, North Carolina, to Boston Logan, deciding on a whim to take a roundabout tour of western Massachusetts and southern Vermont.
That morning he had checked out of a B&B in Northampton, driven across the Connecticut River for a ten-mile hike around Mt. Holyoke, then backtracked to Cranbury. He checked in early to the Jameson Inn, freshened up, and decided to spend the evening like days of old; binge drinking accompanied by horrifically fried and grease-laden food that he knew would come back to haunt him in the morning.
Jeremy smiled at the short skirts, long silken legs, trend-setting hairstyles, and fashionable outfits that exhibited nothingness—sheer tops and bras worn as outer garments—and skin-tight leggings that were impossible to ignore. Youthfulness hung in the air like a ripened fruit waiting to be plucked and consumed in a splendor of self-indulgence. He mentally chastised his male counterparts for staring at their phones, not appreciating the beauty around them—regardless of how superficial it may have been. Jeremy smiled and considered how fortunate each one of them was. Regardless of gender, social status, or blessed physical attributes, they were young and had an entire life in front of them. He couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy for the young men and woman as he scanned the street for his first watering hole.
About forty feet ahead he saw a black awning hanging over the sidewalk. Jeremy cocked his head to get a better glance. Familiar neon signs hanging in the window advertising Jack Daniels and Budweiser suggested he had found a good starting point. The façade was painted all black with a fire engine red door. A billboard announced patio seating was available. Jeremy weaved through a group of women discussing their highly anticipated plans for the evening, made apparent by shrill declarations of having been forced to wait all week for their momentous night; a bachelorette party that had been planned for months. A passing of the baton from a life of freedom to one of responsibility, and perhaps regret for marring at such a young age. Jeremy zipped up the inclined ramp and opened the door.
Inside, décor suggested a sports bar style establishment. Flat screen TVs and memorabilia lined the walls. On the left, a polished bar top ran the length of the room, with a few high-top tables on the right. In the rear was an ATM next to a digital TouchTunes jukebox, and a dartboard. The room was dimly lit but had a pleasant ambiance. Considered early for a night out in a college town, the space was empty, except for a woman behind the bar. She had her back to Jeremy, head buried in a textbook while twirling a pen in her delicate fingers. Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’, offered an appetizing start to Jeremy’s evening. He headed for the bar.
When the young woman turned, Jeremy stopped and had a deer in the headlights look plastered across his quickly reddening face. He immediately looked down and became awkward, avoiding eye contact, and pleading with his flustered mind for a means to escape embarrassment.