exposed rafters. string lights. smell of fried food and whiskey. chatter. dim lighting. warm-up band? or music blasting.
Girls’ Night. It was always on a Thursday, and almost always at the local comedy club. A couple of relative unknowns on the comedy circuit took the stage to entertain a medium-sized crowd of mostly middle-aged men and women who looked down at their steak fries and appletinis more than they looked at the stage. Every now and then a headliner would come through town, someone who had guest starred on a big production back in the 90s and had a semi-familiar face and jokes that didn’t sound like they came from scribbles on the bathroom stall.
Some women might not have fun in this environment, but Angie didn’t mind it – in fact she normally had a pretty good time. Pushing the big 4-0, she saw the value in being able to laugh, even if it was at a mediocre joke about pig sex told by an unknown sweaty guy holding a microphone. It was good for her heart, she thought, to engage in what she called “safe fun” while still getting a reminder what freedom and individuality felt like. Motherhood tends to suck the individuality right out of a woman, whose given name becomes “Mom” and whose uniform becomes grungy sweatpants and unwashed ponytail. Girls Night gave her a reason to dress up, to do her makeup, and to her great delight, spend time with people who did not need her assistance to use the toilet (although they did sometimes ask her to accompany them.)
As she looked down the bar at the women who had met her to see the show tonight, she felt grateful to have girl friends at all. Time was, she thought all women were catty and miserable and jealous of her, and thus could not be trusted. She had been one of those young women who said obnoxious things like, “Oh I can’t be friends with girls. Girls are bitches.”
Her train of thought was abruptly interrupted by what she thought was someone saying her name.
It had been her name all her life. Why now, sitting at this bar she was so familiar with, on a comfortable night out with her friends, had the sound of it paralyzed her?
It wasn’t her name that had her frozen in place. It was that voice.
“Is that you, Kiddo?”
The thick, sweet country baritone dripped out like molasses. Angie unknowingly gripped the edge of the bar with her hands, holding on tightly to avoid falling or fainting. She was staring straight forward now, her eyes examining the dirty mirror behind all the colorful bottles of whisky, rum, and vodka. Trembling, she squinted her eyes and tried to focus on the reflection behind hers. Only one man in the world ever called her Kiddo, and she hadn’t seen him in 20 years. She’d sooner believe the Easter Bunny was standing behind her, yet she had heard that distinctive voice that could only belong to one man.
Taking deep breaths and still leaning on the bar to steady herself, Angie began to pivot her body on the bar stool in order to turn around and face him. She was sweaty now, and the cheap upholstery covering the stool stuck like hot bubble gum to the back of her legs. She kept her right hand on the bar as she spun counter-clockwise, working to command her facial muscles to form a smile on her face.
Now her back was to the bar and Angie found herself face-to-chest with a tall, broad, distinguished looking man. The sight of him transported her back to the year she was 19 years old and hopelessly in love with the singer of a rock band. A better lyricist than Dylan, with more charisma than Springsteen, Clint was destined for greatness. Angie knew it, and she knew everyone around her knew it as well. She was no match for the gorgeous groupies, but she still wished he would notice her.
Angie stood under the stage lights, staring up at him. He didn’t know she existed, sure, but she was starstruck by him.
All these years later, through relationships, breakups, marriage and children, she still thought about him frequently. His influence seeped into her creative projects – she often wrote poems that (she realized only after they were written) were about him – he showed up in her dreams sometimes, too, always as handsome and charming as when they first met.
……and all the hairs on her arms and neck stood at attention. His face beamed, his wide smile revealing his white, toothy grin.
Angie’s mouth was dry and she struggled to choke out the nickname she hadn’t spoken in what felt like centuries.
The man standing in front of her leaned back and let out a roaring laugh, genuine and loud. A few of the patrons turned and stared at Angie and her mysterious visitor, but she didn’t notice. She was eyeing his face, the features she had memorized as a young girl, now aged but still so handsome. She took a deep breath and put a hand on her lower belly in a futile attempt to steady herself before stepping off the sticky bar stool.
“I mean… Clint? Is it really you?”
Even as she stood before him in four-inch platform shoes, the big handsome man still towered over her. His emerald green eyes stared down at her now, the broad smile lingering on his face.
“It’s been a long time since anyone’s called me that,” he said.
“It’s been a long time since anyone’s called me Kiddo,” she said in reply.
Angie waited for him to hug her, but he didn’t. Instead he reached out his hand and grasped hers, turned, and led her through the bar, down the cement steps in the back and out the employee entrance to the courtyard below.
“Where are we going?” she asked him.
“Everywhere,” he said.