Now, I’d like to say that this is the end of my story of how I solved a missing person’s case and saved Jeff Danvers from being murdered by his crazed lunatic wife, Delilah. I really would. But that would be a bold faced lie.
Let’s go back to my date with Dan the night before.
He’d arrived early by ten minutes, which was fine because I’d been studying, already showered and ready to go. He hadn’t said what he wanted to do when he called to ask me out, other than mentioning pizza. And not just any pizza, either: Father Thyme’s Pizza where they still kneaded the dough and hand-tossed the shells, ladled homemade sauce that simmered all day on the stove and used fresh grated cheeses with spicy pepperoni that they sliced there in the back. They were well known throughout the area for their pizzas, a last of a dying breed and hosted a steady flow of snot-nosed, wide-eyed grade school tour groups from nine in the morning until one in the afternoon when they shifted gears to ready themselves for the mid-afternoon high school throng followed by the steady baseball/volleyball/basketball/football team group parties and finally the late-night surge of college students. We clamored in with that “late night” surge.
Dan’s a fairly social guy, always running into someone he knows, or at least that’s how he explained it to me on our third date and the third time we “bumped into” one of those people. That night wasn’t any different and happened while we were in line waiting to place our order for our pizza. It was a couple actually. A sandy haired guy with a devil-may-care smile that I found difficult to look away from and a shorter, perky straight haired brunette that had an edge about her I couldn’t quite seem to pinpoint but knew in my gut I didn’t like. Despite the tattoo that ran up the entire length of this arm and encircled its circumference, Billy had a down home kind of gentle demeanor I was magnetized to, so when Dan invited them to join us, I didn’t offer any objections,. An added bonus was when they insisted on buying the first pitcher of beer.
“So you, um, go to school here?” Lindsey asked with a pop, then gobbled the burst bubble of gum back into her mouth and began gnawing on it again.
“I do,” I said and purposefully paused, staring off at a group of straggler ball players still clinging to the corner arcade games as their parents picked them off one-by-one. “You?”
“Yeah,” she stuck her index finger into her mouth, pulled out part of the gum and wound it ‘round before shoving it in again. I resisted the urge to shudder.
What’s your major?” That dreaded five-letter word fell from her mouth. I’ll admit I was somewhat surprised she was able to pronounce it. Cruel, I know, but she didn’t seem capable of lighting a 25-watt bulb with her brainpower.
“I’m not sure yet, you?”
“Party planning,” her eyes lit up. I would have laughed if she hadn’t sounded so serious. “Wow, really? I’ve never heard of it, at least not as a major.”
“Yep, I figured since I have such a natural talent for it, why not make some money at it?” She fiddled with the spice shaker.
“And it’s an actual degree?” Now I was starting to sound like the one with the low wattage.
“Pretty cool, huh?”
I could only nod because Dan and Billy returned to the table, placing the little yellow “table tent,” a plastic upside down V with bold black numbers on either side, down on the edge.
“Billy was telling me Lindsey and he are going to a party in a little bit,” Dan said as he snaked his arm around my waist. Billy rested on his forearms lain across the heavy varnished and lacquered table, smiling warmly, blue eyes twinkling as he looked at me. Lindsey pushed her hand underneath the table, no doubt squeezing his thigh. Was it a “don’t’ invite them” type of squeeze or simply a “he’s with me”?
“Why don’t you come along?” Billy asked. Dan was nodding, looking at me hopefully.
“Sure,” I shrugged with casual indifference. “Sounds like fun.”
“Oh, it will be,” Lindsey said pointedly, her brown eyes stared directly at me.
“Did you plan it?” I asked as Billy poured the rest of the remaining beer into our cups.
“Of course,” she smiled smugly. In a way, I hoped the party would be a complete failure not because I’m a mean person, not even because I found myself attracted to Billy in a weird, offbeat way. I think it had to do with her egocentric behavior. She needed to be knocked down a couple notches, humbled a bit.
“No I really want to go,” I heard Dan say. It was like having someone sneak up on you and pop your bare arm with a rubber band. I snapped my head around and stared at him. Aw, hell no!
I grabbed the pitcher and rose up off the bench; desperate to get away, even if it meant forking over what little money I had for “frivolous” spending. Even though I worked two jobs, the equivalent of a full-time job, I was a full-time student trying to maintain my honors status and lost the bet with my parents during a high stakes game of cards so I wound up with the tab for school expenses while they took on the “’tween.”
Billy tagged along.
“Did I overstep my bounds?” He leaned across the bar to look back at me as we waited for the pitcher to be filled.
“Sorry?” I knew perfectly well what he meant. He pulled back, my eyes followed.
“Well, by inviting you two. I mean, I didn’t think maybe you wanted to be alone or, you know,” he shrugged.
“We didn’t have any plans, at least not that I was made aware of,” I fished around my pocket for the twenty I slid in earlier. He realized what I was doing and quickly produced his wallet and slapped down a bill before I could even finger out the folded bill.
“I’ll get this,” I tried to push it away. His hand covered mine.
“Nope, it’s on me.” The current continued to spark, as our hands remained touching. “Our little secret.
“Thanks,” I said wondering why it had to be a secret.
“How long have you and Dan been seeing each other?”
“Just a few weeks,” I replied without thinking. As if I didn’t have enough to already wrap my head around. Why was he asking?
“Oh, jeez,” he breathed, his eyes rolling. “How stupid of me.”
“What?” I let him grab the full pitcher, my hands suddenly too shaky.
“Then you two probably want to be alone. Now you’re more or less committed to going. God, I’m such an idiot!”
“Don’t’ go kicking yourself over it,” I managed even though I came dangerously close to saying ‘oh, we’re just friends’ or something to that affect.
“Well, you don’t…”
“It sounds like fun,” I said quickly before we reached our table, almost running into the kid who brought us our pizza.
And that was that. Maybe a bit short sighted on my part, but I tend to weigh on the side that most things happen for a reason.
Lindsey picked at her pizza seemingly more interested in saving room for beer, while Dan and Billy talked fervently about something I’m fairly certain had to do with cars. I pretended to be busy chewing on my crust, like a baby teething, just to avoid any further attempts at conversing with the apparently brain dead party planner. Feeling much like a third wheel, or a flat spare tire which I was dangerously close to becoming if I kept eating, I decided maybe I should try again to talk to Lindsey—only as I swallowed my well-chewed crust and wiped my mouth, she had already clamored away from the table, beer in hand, and was making her way to a group of college guys standing by the pinball machine, long since vacated by the ball playing crowd. My eyes flitted over to Billy to see what his reaction was and found my face growing warm. He was already looking at me. I glanced back at Lindsey, then to him. He followed suit and shrugged.
My guess was this would be an interesting night.