Gary V. Powell
We laughed so hard that other people in the bar, an after-work crowd from a nearby business park, looked at us over their shoulders like, hey, you guys really need to tone it down. But after a couple of martinis, Eric, the gay guy from Training, wouldn’t shut up.
He went on about how his only requirements for dating someone he met online were an income, a means of transportation, and an abode. Looks, demeanor, interests didn’t matter. After all, it was just one date.
Reece and Candace from HR scrunched together on one side of the table, Todd from IT sat opposite Eric, and I squeezed next to Chelsea. Like me, she specialized in Marketing. Under the table, I rested my hand on her knee.
“Any source of income?” Candace asked. An overweight blonde, divorced in her mid-forties with a teenage daughter, she claimed to date a lot. Thing is, she never brought any of her men around and never mentioned the same man twice.
Eric reiterated that income source mattered not. Cash from drug sales, trust fund distributions, and carried interest on hedge-funds were all the same to him.
“How about disability?” Reece asked.
At least five years younger than the rest of us, she’d moved all the way from Nebraska to take her current job. Chelsea suspected Reece of being a virgin.
Eric slammed his hand on the table, coming across even more theatrical than usual. “Of course, disability. I’m not the kind of person to discriminate against gimps. Actually, disability income is the best because it’s guaranteed.”
Sure enough, Eric cracked us up.
“So,” Todd said, “I’ll bite. What’s with the transportation requirement?”
“Look,” Eric told him, “my dates are required to arrive and leave on their own. When it’s over, it’s over, dude. I’m not taking some guy home or paying for a cab if it doesn’t work out. And I damn sure don’t want him staying.”
Todd said he didn’t worry about transportation or any of the rest of it. He kept everything at a distance. His only requirements were large breasts and a reliable webcam.
“Ewww,” Reece said. “You visit pay-per-view webcam sites?”
Todd looked offended. “Pay for it? Are you kidding? Tons of women play for free.”
Reece made a face. “Double ewww.”
“I always drive myself,” Candace said. “I know in the first five minutes if it’s right or not.”
Eric agreed. “Sure, first five you know if there will be a second date. But even if not, you can still have good sex on your first. Then he can get in his vehicle, be it tractor, pull cart, or bicycle, I really don’t care, and depart my premises.”
We yukked it up some more, again drawing disapproving stares from the other patrons, like we were interrupting something important, right? But the truth was that, like us, they were here for no better reasons than faux bonding with peers and staying in the loop. After all, who knew when some off-the-cuff remark, some nugget about the competition or rumor of an upcoming initiative, would provide an edge?
I sipped a beer and enjoyed the warmth of Chelsea’s thigh pressed against mine. We hadn’t met online. She occupied the cubicle next to me. Company policy prohibited co-workers from dating, but we didn’t exactly date. We got together a couple of times a week to fuck. We told ourselves we lacked time and energy for meaningful relationships, so that was it—we fucked.
“Okay,” Reece said, flush with two glasses of wine, “what’s with abode? You’re saying he has to own his own home?”
Eric laughed uproariously. “Au contraire. Mademoiselle. He can live in a cardboard box so long as he has somewhere to go after we’re done. I don’t need the guilt of putting someone on the street.”
“I dated this one guy,” Candace said, “who lived in a deserted mall for six months.”
“Awesome,” Todd said. “I lived in a storage unit for a year. It wasn’t bad, except the wireless sucked.”
“You lived in a storage unit?” Reece asked.
Todd shrugged. “Sure, why not? I was working a temporary gig. No need to commit to a long-term lease.”
“What about drugs or excessive alcohol use?” Candace asked. “You’re not concerned about that?”
Eric denied it. “I couldn’t care less about a man’s chemistry so long as he doesn’t leave it on my floor.”
Todd high-fived Eric across the table. “It’s all about the chemistry, right?” Todd said.
“Violence?” Candace asked. “You don’t worry about that?”
“I can take care of myself.”
It made sense because Eric kick-boxed to stay in shape. He looked pretty fit.
Candace finished her drink. “I thought I could take care of myself, too,” she said, “until this one guy tied me to a chair and called his friends.”
“That happened to you?” Reece asked.
“You get over it.”
We all looked away and muttered something to the effect we were really sorry she’d had to go through that.
“Like I said,” Candace told us, “it’s no biggie.”
Then, out of the blue, Reece confessed that while she remained a virgin, technically, back home she’d been in a committed relationship with a guy from her church. They’d engaged in heavy petting in the backseat of his car on more than one occasion.
“Heavy petting?” Todd said. “Sounds like something you’d do with a dog.”
Candace punched him on the shoulder so hard he nearly toppled off his chair. “Something you’d do with a dog,” she said.
“Anyway, I’m not naïve,” Reece said. “I’d put out for the right guy.”
We all nodded, thoughtfully, acknowledging the obvious.
An older, professional-looking man, who’d honed in on his target by using Tinder, arrived at our table and struck up a conversation with Eric. The older man leaned in and whispered, causing Eric to grin like a kid who’d just heard there would be ice cream later on.
Todd checked his phone for messages. Candace motioned for her check.
“You know what?” I said. “I should probably get going, too.”
“Yeah, me, too,” Chelsea said. “Early meeting tomorrow.”
“Wait a minute.” Reece pointed at Chelsea and me. “What about you guys? The rest of us spilled our guts tonight. You haven’t said a word.”
Chelsea and I shared a glance.
“I don’t date,” she said. “Too complicated.”
“Me either.” I had Chelsea’s back.
“Solo masturbators,” Todd sneered. Then he pocketed his phone, dropped a couple of bills on the table, and gave us a wave. “See ya. I’ve got a hot date with a MacBook Air.”
The older man continued to chat up Eric. He whispered again and flashed a condom he’d selected from a bowl on the bar. Loud enough for the rest of us to hear, Eric said that wasn’t his brand but he’d try anything once.
Candace re-focused her attention on Chelsea and me. “So, neither of you are seeing anyone?”
“Nope,” Chelsea and I replied in unison.
Candace shook her head. “I think you’re both full of shit.” Then she nudged Reece. “You ever been to Tito’s?”
“That biker bar?”
“I’ll take you there, girlfriend.”
Reece looked unsure but didn’t resist when Candace picked up her check. They gathered their stuff, said goodnight, and left together.
I leaned into Chelsea. “We’re the only half-normal people here.”
“Yeah, you think so? What’s normal?”
“I don’t know.”
Her brown eyes narrowed to a squint. I really liked those eyes. “You ever want more than just sex?” she asked.
“What are you saying?”
“I don’t know. Get to know each other. Be there for each other, I guess.”
“We know each other pretty well.”
“Not really. I don’t know anything about how you grew up. I don’t know any of your friends outside of work.”
“I don’t have friends outside of work. Anyway, what do you want to know?”
“What was the name of your best friend in eighth grade?”
“Jhett Li, a Chinese kid. Got into MIT on a scholarship.”
“Cool. So, do you want to know the name of my best friend back then?”
“Sure, if you want to tell me.”
I gave it a moment, uncertain what to do with this information. “Excellent,” I said finally.
She frowned. “You don’t really care, do you?”
“Sure I do. Tell me all about Louise.”
Chelsea began tearing her napkin into tiny bits and stacking the bits into a neat pile. After a while she asked, “So, if I came down with cancer would you visit me in the hospital?”
“I guess. Of course. Why not?”
“I mean not just once, but over time, as I wasted away.”
“Wasted away? Where are you going with this?”
“That’s what happened to my grandmother. She wasted away to almost nothing and slipped into a coma. But the doctors said she could hear us, you know. They said she could sense our presence, so we kept her company right up to the end.”
“Wow,” I said, “I didn’t know that.”
“That people in a coma can sense your presence?”
“No. That your grandma died of cancer.”
“So, would you?”
“Would I what?”
Instead of answering, she stood, scattering her pile of napkin bits, and straightened her skirt. “I gotta pee,” she said.
I watched her move away, the roll and the sway. I paid and left a tip. When Chelsea returned, we waved to Eric across the bar and walked out. A crowd had gathered under the canopy to visit and smoke cigarettes. Once we cleared the crowd I reached for Chelsea’s hand.
“What’s that about?” she asked, pulling away.
“I don’t know. I wanted to hold your hand.”
“I don’t know. I just did.”
“I’m not your high school girl friend. We’re just about the sex, remember?”
“We’re not just about the sex.” I said. “Anyway, are you coming over to my place, or not?”
“Not tonight. I’m going home. I don’t feel that great.”
“Maybe we can work in a nooner tomorrow.”
“Yeah, maybe,” she said.
I stood by while she unlocked her car door and slid inside. I wanted to kiss her goodnight but thought better of it. She started the car and strapped herself in, staring straight ahead like I wasn’t there. I was about to leave when her window whirred.
“What?” I asked.
She looked up and said, “You’re not the only guy I see, you know.”
It was the first I’d heard of that. “I’m not?”
“Do you care that I see other men?”
“Yeah, sure. The same stuff we do.”
“All of it?”
I had to think about that one. “I guess I’m good with that, if it’s what you want.”
“I mean, you fuck other women, right?”
I wasn’t fucking anyone else at the time and I told her so.
Those brown eyes studied me. “Well, maybe you should, you know. I don’t know.”
I didn’t like the way this conversation was going and wanted it to end. I told Chelsea I’d consider fucking other women.
"Whatever,” she said. “I’ll catch you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, and gave her an awkward, boyish, two-fingered salute. “Catch you tomorrow.”
She whirred the window again and drove off, gravel crunching beneath her tires.
What had begun as a warm spring evening had turned cold now that the sun had set. I zipped my jacket, shoved my hands into my pockets, and watched Chelsea’s tail lights out of sight.
Walking to my car, I thought about what Eric had said earlier. Maybe he was crass and uncaring, maybe he was joking, or maybe he was merely sharing what he considered reasonable rules and standards for dealing with other people. By the time I arrived at my parking spot, I’d never been more thankful for gas money, wheels, and a place to call home.
About the author:
Gary V. Powell, a former attorney, is a stay-at-home dad to a thirteen year-old son. His stories and flash fiction have appeared most recently at Bartleby Snopes, Carvezine, Thrice Fiction, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Camroc Press Review, Blue Fifth Review, and Best New Writing 2015. In addition to winning the 2015 Gover Prize for short-short fiction, his work has placed in other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train Short-Short Contest (2013), and the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014). His first novel, Lucky Bastard, is available through Main Street Rag Press. His first collection of previously published short stories, Beyond Redemption, is available at Amazon.com.