The dinner parties pour in, sun-kissed faces aglow. They’re loud and happy, many drunk, some high, but all famished. Restaurant staff charge into action like crew to battle stations.
Throughout this chaos, I wait.
Nearby yacht fleets rest in their slips after a full day’s pleasure sailing.
I’m not a blueblood, not even a local, just an itinerant fisher whose favorite spots are always dockside, opposite the water.
In an hour, they finally begin to depart. They’re old money, their average age 60. Even with credit cards and cell phones, they tip cash, the piles boasting magnanimity. They care about the help.
That’s my cue.
Want to fish, too? Follow my lead. Wear a pristine white shirt and expensive black pants with pockets. Trawl the dim, labyrinthine room without concern. It helps if you’re a pretty girl — and I am — aloof and with good taste. Tack from the crowded bar, and people assume you found a better situation. Jibe to a vacating table, and you’re another diligent server. After all, you’re in the correct uniform.
Snatch only the largest-denomination bill — if luck holds, on top. Suspicious observers relax at money still on the table as you glide away. No one’ll know, and the real servers assume a rich asshole never to be confronted stiffed them.
On a good night, you clear $200.
Never get greedy, never get caught.
Tonight, though, a ripple springs up. At the bar, she’s casting furtive glances at me. Probably 21, quite lovely. Good bones. White shirt, black slacks. As she sips her Manhattan for half the hour, it’s not hard to know her game.
Like any serious fisher, I’m territorial.
When our eyes meet, I shoot a warning look. She smiles — defiance obviously — but soon pays for her drink and leaves.
Outside, she waits, dragging on a cigarette. I prove we’re not doppelgangers by declining her offer of one.
She studies me, and to my surprise, chooses to be civilized.
“Easy,” I reply with mock cheerfulness, “you go elsewhere.”
She wants to roll those big green eyes, I can tell. Cute.
Instead, she offers, “Compromise? We alternate weeks?”
“Not a chance.”
She sighs. I hear myself in that sound. Familiar, refreshing somehow.
“Look, there’s no reason to be childish. Or greedy.”
She’s right, of course. After all, we’re not men, and I would’ve said the same in her place.
“All right,” I decide at last, uncharacteristically generous with my newfound twin.
“Good!” This time her smile looks genuine. “So, want to go to a party?”
The music’s too loud, the room’s all smoky, but the pulsating mass of 20-somethings beckons in a shiny, sweaty way. I’ve never been a party girl — at least not in the popular sense — but like my fun. That night I drink too many too-strong drinks. Soon I dance with a handsome dudebro with good shoulders and an easy grin. His hungry eyes betray him, though. As his confidence swells, I lose interest, thinking how his trendy haircut might as well belong to a 1930s fascist. I refuse to be his catch for the evening.
I find myself back with Jenna.
That’s her name, she’s said.
We’re in the bedroom atop tangled H&M hoodies and Urban Outfitter jackets, and she’s going through pockets. She beams after finding $20, then nods at the bathroom.
“Medicine cabinet,” she says.
There’s a few Adderall and little else of consequence. We crush them with a stray Oxy and snort the makings through a Wendy’s straw.
Things accelerate, go acute. I’m aware of her heat, her willowy form, her jasmine scent. Her eyes dance with joy, not hunger, and her full red lips part with excited approval. We kiss, neither yielding to the other. Jenna clasps my waist, and we dive into the mattress. She caresses my skin expertly. The room swirls with pleasure. Soon, I no longer know where one of us ends and the other begins.
At some point distant, she kisses me again. Instead of passion, there’s what? Apology?
The door opens to thumping chaos, and she’s gone. My roaming hands have her $20. Before gloating, however, I reach into my hip pocket. My $105 has left with her.
I smile anyway. Clever girl.
Heading out, I pass dudebro. He pretends not to notice, but his eyes burn with unfulfillment. I’m the one that got away.
“Never hold grudges,” I offer like a sage mother to child.
He turns from his dudebuddy to glare, spitting, “Fuck you, dyke bitch.”
Nice. When I see Jenna again, I’ll be more gracious than that.
Maybe she doesn’t fish only for money. Maybe the sport’s her true calling. Maybe she, too, came from a dusty trailer in an oil refinery’s shadow, where her stepfather wouldn’t keep his hands off her, she dreaming all the while of a cleansing sea, as far from there as the indifferent stars.
Heels shed, I pad to my car, the sidewalk damp, uneven. I’m in some dreary university ghetto — crumbling Victorian pigsties with half-dead lawns and porch couches, the streets lined, it seems, with every car model except her white Elantra.
I circle the block to be sure. Back where I started, I sit there, unable to drive away, and foresee the upcoming weeks dilating as our trajectories careen further and further from one another. At Rockmoor Lounge up the coast, I’ll seek Jenna among oak and cobblestone in the crowded great room, search the frou-frou bar’s somnambulant, neon-lit wall of ancient bottles for her beautiful reflection. When I glimpse her at The Fin and Fowl 100 miles distant, my heart will leap, only to discover that she really is just a server. It won’t be funny, but I’ll laugh. What else can I do?
Yearn, I expect. Wonder. Leave an extra $20 behind.
Light a cigarette and wait for the tide to return her to me.
Stephen Kyo Kaczmarek is a writer and educator who lives in Lewis Center, Ohio.