Chapter One: FRONT ROW SEATS
It is a universal truth that a grown woman can revert to adolescence with the sheer thought of being in the presence of her favorite band from high school. Some regress even beyond that point. And that is just what happened as my best friend and I walked down the interior hall of my office building. Mary Beth, my BF, climbed and jumped all over me the way a three-year-old would. She pawed for our newly acquired treasure, “Ollie, come on, lemme see. Are they as good as you promised?”
“Chill, MB!” I said pushing her away. I wasn’t annoyed, but the problem was her mauling deterred me from my opportunity to gawk at the paper in my hands. I wanted to bask in the glow. I read aloud to Mary Beth, “Concert featuring Heaven at the Mobile Civic Arena…Section Floor, row one,” I flipped to each ticket, “seat one, seat two, and seat three. And don’t forget the meet and greet.” I sighed, “I am so dyin’.”
“Holy crap, me too,” Mary Beth squealed still acting like a three-year-old and grabbing the tickets. “Remember the nosebleeds we had for their concert back in high school?” She ogled the booty now in her palms.
“Yeah, even the jumbotron looked tee-niny. You know, I had to do a lot of begging for the board to approve the Arena as one of their tour dates. None of those ’ole fogies think they’ll bring a crowd – but they will and they’re going to be spectacular,” I boasted with a dazed look on my face and my eyes batting like a Monarch in mid-migration.
“I just can’t believe that in a few short months all three of us are gonna be in the same room as them. We’re so lucky you have this job, Ollie.”
“Yep, the perks are priceless. I mean, these tickets don’t even officially go on sale for another three weeks.”
“I’m so happy they finally came to their senses and got back together.”
“Seriously! I mean what was up with them the last ten freakin’ years that they couldn’t manage to get on the same wavelength?”
“Even after all this time I still get butterflies in my stomach thinking about them,” Mary Beth giggled.
“You sure it’s not the baby fluttering around in there?” I asked. Mary Beth and her hubs, Burt, were expecting their first baby. She was still in her first trimester.
Mary Beth looked at me with a sparkle in her eye and a smile widened across her glowing face, “Yeah, this little person makes me feel that too.” A gentle breeze blew her blonde locks in front of her face and she brushed them away. Mary Beth was a natural beauty and southern to the core, all the way to her refined accent. Her steady wardrobe consisted of dresses and skirts, even though she didn’t have an office to report to each day, like our other bestie, Zoey, and I did.
We continued our walk through the parking lot of the Mobile Civic Arena, my place of employment and a common setting for a variety of stories throughout my life. Upon reaching my car my stomach grumbled. “So, you want to grab lunch?” Mary Beth nodded yes in response. “You having any cravings? Like pickles? Hotdog Hut has those giant pickles.”
The very second the words “Hotdog Hut” left my mouth the color green permeated the soft glow that once radiated from Mary Beth’s pale, porcelain skin. “Oh my God, that place is disgusting. Just the thought makes me wanna puke.”
I couldn’t help but snicker a little, “Ahh, I understand.”
“Let’s just head on home. I’ll try to think of a place that won’t make me barf.”
It was a crisp, Saturday afternoon. While Mobile Bay provided a trap for warm weather, we were still experiencing spring temperatures in April, which was actually pretty atypical. Mobile, Alabama for the most part, has two temperatures: hot in the summer (which lasted about eight months) and chilly in the winter (which accounted for the other four months). But that day was flawless. The sky was blue with just a hint of white swirling through the atmosphere. It was cool enough that my long-sleeved shirt and boots felt good but not quite warm enough to put the top down on my aged Miata.
Home for Mary Beth was Daphne, a town across the bay known for the ‘jubilee.’ The jubilee is a rare and nearly magical phenomenon that occurs in the early hours of the morning where fish and shrimp and crabs, all sea life, swarm to the shallow waters and even onto the shore. During the jubilee, everyone gets lucky and becomes avid fishermen who can fill their nets abundantly with anything that filters saltwater.
We drove over the long waters of the bay. I casually turned my head over my left shoulder and noticed a small red, pick-up truck traveling alongside us. A rack hung from the back window stacked with hunting gear and a kennel sat in the truck bed. The kennel was empty, though. The truck slowed a bit and I peered into the cab. The driver was very cute. He wore his cap backwards and his dark, brown locks curled up around the rim. A scruffy beard accented his face. He had a yellow Lab in the cab with him and truthfully, that was what was so doggone cute about him. “Aww, look, he’s got his puppydog upfront with him.”
“And,” Mary Beth responded to my observation.
Now we’ve lived down south our whole lives. I know that most hunters let their pups walk loose in the truck bed or put them in their kennel while in the bed; rarely do drivers let dogs ride up front. MB should’ve known that, too.
“And, he must be one of the good ones. Wish I could meet a guy like that.”
“You’re confusing the daylights outta me,” Mary Beth spouted.
“What don’t you understand?”
“Are you saying letting his dog ride with him automatically makes him a good guy?”
“Yes,” I retorted with conviction, “and there’s not many of those around.”
Mary Beth couldn’t help but ridicule my observation, “I didn’t realize you’d counted them all.”
“MB, haven’t you ever heard the saying, ‘people will tell you who they are, you just have to listen’? Well I’m listening to this guy with my eyes wide open. Hold on, we’re about to find out where we’re eating lunch.”
“Holy crap, Ollie, don’t be insane. You’re not gonna follow him!”
Her indignant remark didn’t change my mind. I was going to follow him. In the time it took to convey my concept of how to determine whether a man was good or not we had slipped behind by several cars, but he wasn’t so far up that a little ‘fancy driving’ couldn’t erase the space between us. I swerved into the left lane quickly before the cars coming up on us could block me in the right lane. I could see Mary Beth was nervous, “Ollie, be careful.”
“You know Julia’s wedding is in two weeks. I still don’t have a date. What if we meet and hit it off. He could end up being my date.”
“Girl, you’ve totally lost it. What if he’s married or going to his house? Or not even gonna eat somewhere?”
“It’s lunch time. Everyone’s getting food,” I said while keeping an eye out for cops. “Let’s just find out what he’s doing.”
“Listen to my words; do not follow him.”
Her words went in one ear and out the other. My main concern was I was losing him, so I put my foot on the gas. Mary Beth shrieked, but not in a good way like she did when she saw the concert tickets. It was in a bad way that let me know she was genuinely scared of the crazed, fanatic inner being that had possessed me.
Cars on the road honked at me. Apparently most of the drivers were not impressed with my mad skills. I noticed the truck a mere two cars ahead. I seized the opportunity and squeezed between the two cars behind the truck. Then I drove up as close to the car in front of me as I could because the cars in the other lane were traveling backwards, or so it seemed. I realized, though, that strategy was getting us nowhere. I swerved back into the other lane as soon as the opportunity presented itself and as soon as it was safe, of course. The car in front of me slowed considerably. I suppose in reaction to my close proximity. I couldn’t see the truck anymore so I got back in the opposite lane.
I finally saw our target. The bright red truck was a beacon catty corner to us, but as soon as we approached the end of the bay way, I noticed his blinker. Dammit, the blinker most definitely flashed signaling the first exit off the bridge. He made his way to the main highway.
I growled under my breath. It was now or never, so I swerved into the right lane in a space that was probably a foot too short in front of and behind my car. A symphony of honks sounded almost simultaneously. Though Mary Beth was mortified, it didn’t faze me a bit, not even the slightest. What I said was true. There aren’t many good guys out there, and if there were, I wasn’t finding them. I was determined to be pro-active and create a situation to meet this guy. After we exited the bridge I saw a traffic light not too far in the distance. The light turned red. The target approached the traffic light and rolled to a halt. My ten-year-old convertible screeched to a stop perfectly adjacent to our mark.
“Thank You, Jesus, for keeping us safe. Now, Ollie, say ten Hail Mary’s and surrender your license at your earliest convenience!” Mary Beth’s tone started low and ended in a screech while she trembled and shook her fists in the air.
I glanced at her and rolled my eyes. I did not want to involve myself in her hissy fit. I didn’t give her one iota of my attention; I invested it fully in the cute guy with the yellow Lab in the red truck. The Lab looked over to us and began barking. Then, contact; the cute guy turned his head to us. “Look friendly!” I directed as I smiled and waved glancing back to Mary Beth. Her left eye squinted and her right eye twitched as she stared a fifty-yard stare. “That is not a friendly look,” I said grabbing her hand and motioning it in a wave. I turned my head back to flirt. My eyes were wide open; my smile was huge. With one hand I kept Mary Beth’s arm in motion and my other hand was up flittering 90 miles per hour. The cute guy seemed a bit unsettled. He pulled his dog to his chest. Then the light changed. Instead of waving back, he peeled out.
That was just the trigger to disrupt Mary Beth’s trance. She found his reaction humorous and belted out in laughter, “Sweetie, it doesn’t matter how nice you might think he is; you’ve freaked him out.”
I lifted my foot from the brake and hit the accelerator still in pursuit of the truck. “Really? Is that what you think? Clearly he’s not used to people being so friendly.”
“When did stalking get to be another word for friendly?” My long-time companion could not stop her laughter.
We followed the truck a bit further up the highway. Once again his blinker signaled a turn. His destination was a strip mall with shops and only one, single restaurant.
Mary Beth’s laughter abruptly disappeared, “Oh God, where’s he goin’?”
We sat in the turn lane on the highway. “Maybe the golf shop?” I said. After turning into the lot I found a parking spot on the row next to his and watched as the judge decided our fate. He got out of his truck. He did not go to the golf shop. “Uh oh, MB, I think he’s going to Hotdog Hut.”
I opened my door and hid behind the blind of the panel.
“I just got over morning sickness,” Mary Beth stayed tight in her seat and desperately pleaded as much as any prisoner under duress would. “I can’t handle the smell of spoiled cabbage. Don’t make me go in there.”
“You have to go. You know better than anyone I can’t do it alone.”
Mary Beth held a stark look on her face, “What has come over you? Sweetie please, let me stay in the car. If you need to do this, just do it alone.” She put her hands together in prayer form.
“But, I can’t do it alone.” I must have looked pretty pitiful because the prisoner reluctantly conceded. She would venture into Hotdog Hut and be my rock on this day, this day that I found one of the last ‘good guys’ on the planet.
The good guy’s pup heard her car door shut. He gave a couple of loud woofs through the crack in the truck window. With his hand on the restaurant’s glass door, the good guy hesitated and turned his attention back to his Lab. We were just about to venture into a cleared area, but fortunately were behind a big truck. I pulled Mary Beth down in the shield of the large vehicle until the Lab ceased his alarm. I poked my head up ever so slightly to see if the coast was clear. Our guy continued on his way into Hotdog Hut. I tilted my head to see Mary Beth’s agitated expression. Her lips were pursed.
“What the heck! You could’ve broken my heel.”
“Sorry, it was a reflex.”
We scurried to the hut. Peering through the glass storefront I saw my target standing at the counter. His attention was focused on the ‘dogmeister’ (Hotdog Hut personnel are known as dogmeisters similarly to the way ‘sandwich artists’ are known at sub shops) who was creating a masterpiece that would soon become the ‘good guy’s’ lunch. But, as we entered, a thick residue of sauerkraut stench hit Mary Beth like a sledgehammer. It took my contender down hard. I saw a grimace, then a look of helplessness, and then…retreat. Mary Beth bolted for the bathroom.
My rock was gone. I panicked. I felt naked and awkward, but I was determined. On this day I would conquer a ‘would be’ date for my sister’s wedding. I stumbled as I strolled to the counter. The dogmeister’s eyes caught me, “Welcome to Hotdog Hut, I’ll be with you in a moment.” Damn, the dogmeister had blown my attack. The good guy turned to see whom the dogmeister saw. I was certain that he did not expect to see me because his body jolted upon the revelation that it was me who was standing there.
He clutched the edge of the counter behind him. “Look Miss, you must think I’m someone else. I can promise this, I don’t know you,” he said with the most adorable deep, southern drawl.
With Mary Beth puking in the bathroom I had no choice but to wing it. My mouth opened, but I couldn’t utter a word. A funny noise rumbled from my throat as I desperately tried to remain the conqueror. I stood there with my mouth gaping, one second, two seconds, three seconds. I could feel my eyes open as wide as my mouth and I couldn’t do anything about it. Then I heard something, “Saurkraut, uhhh, buns,” Oh dear God, it was me. What the hell was I saying? What the hell was I trying to say? I had to stop the bleeding. I closed my mouth but stood there, motionless.
My exposition apparently unnerved him. He looked to the dogmeister with a question in his eyes, but the busy dogmeister continued to work on his masterpiece and didn’t appear to notice my distressing display. He watched me as though I was a shark.
“I gotta go. Don’t - follow – me - okay?”
The guy reached for his wallet without taking his eyes off of me. He grabbed several bills without counting and threw them on the counter, then grabbed the bag that the dogmeister had only just presented him. He crouched like a wrestler in defensive mode, circled around me until he got to the door, then bolted like a jackrabbit.
“Hey, you forgot your cup for your drink,” yelled the dogmeister. The dogmeister picked up the money. “Cooool, that guy left an awesome tip!” He held up the money. “That’s one good guy!”
Mary Beth stumbled out of the bathroom, sweaty and unsteady.
“Get me outta here,” she moaned like a zombie.
I helped the ailing hostage to her freedom. Exiting Hotdog Hut, Mary Beth raised her head high and she gasped for fresh air. The natural color returned to her face as she recovered from the ordeal. “I can about imagine what happened in there. You did it again, didn’t you?”
I nodded, “I thought for a moment he might be freaked out enough to call the security guard.”
Mary Beth attempted to console me, “Sorry I puked.” I shrugged in response. “Keep your spirits up. There’s plenty of fish in the sea and there’s gotta be at least one more nice guy out there for you. You’re gonna find him when the time is right.”
I wanted to believe Mary Beth, but there I was single and teetering on the edge of 30 without the slightest prospect for falling in love. Being single might seem glamorous to some, but to me it was only confirmation of the statistics that show the longer a woman is single, the less likely she is to find her soul mate. Was I concerned that I’d never find my Romeo, my Prince Charming and live a life without romance? Absolutely. I’d been looking without resolution for a long time.