STARTING OVER • by Wayne Scheer

She sat at O’Reilly’s drinking scotch straight up. In a jeans and T-shirt bar, she wore a dress. In a work boots pub, she wore heels. But she drank like a longshoreman. She downed the liquor in a single swallow and signaled for another.

The bartender, a large man in a dirty apron, brought her drink. He took his money from the bills on the bar in front of her cigarettes.

“You have a rough day?”

She paid no attention to his question. Instead, she downed the drink and handed him her empty glass. “Another.”

Mostly men populated O’Reilly’s: men with dirt under their fingernails, who greased back their hair at night. Normally by now, one of them would have made his move on an attractive woman drinking alone. But she might as well have had a fence built around her with a sign that read “Danger.” These men knew better than to walk into a danger area without a hardhat.

On the other end of the bar, Tony Costa and his brother Mike were finishing off a second pitcher of beer. It was getting late, time for Mike to go home to his wife. Tony stalled. He didn’t have a wife to go home to.

“You should talk to her, Tony,” Mike said.

Tony stared at his brother. “She’s gone, man. Paula’s with what’s-his-face. Good riddance to both of them.”

“No, not her. Her.” He pointed to the woman at the end of the bar.

“Nah. She’s trouble.” Tony finished the beer in his glass and split what remained in the pitcher between them. “I don’t need trouble.”

“What you need is a warm body. Go to her before she’s too drunk to appreciate the Costa charm.”

“Ah, go home to your wife, pussy. Leave me alone.”

Mike laughed and finished his drink. He peeled a couple of bills from his fat, just-got-paid billfold and waved it towards the bartender. “Al, this is for you. My brother here forgets what’s important when he’s been drinking.”

Mike turned and walked unsteadily towards the door, leaving Tony staring into space. Out of the corner of his eye, Tony watched Mike say something to the lady drinking alone. “Stupid sonuvabitch,” Tony whispered.

She turned and looked towards Tony. Not bad, she thought. Good, hard body. He could use a haircut and a shave, but what the hell? Her mind wandered to how much she wanted to get out of her panty hose and bra, to how much she wanted a man. Raising her glass in his direction, she made eye contact. She could hear Tony sigh at the other end of the bar.

She watched him stand up, immediately grabbing the stool for support. Good, she thought. He’s drunk enough to think I’m beautiful. Glancing at the mirror across the bar, she checked her make-up and hair.

As he strode towards her, she watched how his jeans fit his crotch and made sure he saw her watching. “You and him really brothers?” she asked as Tony sat down on the stool next to her.

“Depends on what he said.”

She almost smiled. “He said you’re not as pathetic as you look.”

Shaking his head and laughing, Tony stuck out a meaty hand and introduced himself. She made no effort to take his hand or follow through on the introductions.

“What’s your name?” Tony asked, trying to withdraw his hand as inconspicuously as possible.

“What difference does it make?” She looked at her empty glass. “If you buy me another scotch, I’ll go home with you.”

In bed, Tony figured she was nearly ten years older than his thirty years, but he was the one getting the workout. She knew what she was doing and she liked doing it. Her body was good, especially her breasts, although they seemed too perfect to be real. He looked for surgical scars, but in the darkened room he saw none.

Afterwards, she rolled to her side, away from Tony. As if in a bad movie, she reached into her night table and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. “You smoke?”

“Nah, my ex made me quit.”

“Mine tried.” She lit her cigarette, inhaled deeply and held it an ungodly long time before releasing the smoke. It hung like a cloud over the bed.

Tony tried making small talk. “I never seen you at O’Reilly’s before. You work near there?”

She just sucked on her cigarette and added to the gray cloud. “I used to go there all the time.”

Tony waited for her to say more. He missed conversation. He and Paula used to talk, at least before she got involved with that asshole, Gus. He turned towards the woman in bed next to him, realizing he still didn’t know her name. “I’ve been divorced one month. This was supposed to be my coming out party.”

For the first time, he heard her laugh. “Mine, too.”

“You recently divorced?” He reached under the covers to make contact.

“Not exactly,” she said. “My name used to be Frank. You’re my first as Francine.”

A long time passed before either of them spoke.

“You don’t have to stay, Tony.” Francine said.

Tony thought about what his brother and his friends would say if they ever found out. He also thought about how he’d feel getting out of bed and dressing, leaving her alone. He thought of going back to his empty apartment. “No,” he said. “If it’s okay with you, I’ll stay.”

For the next few minutes, they lay on their backs like two statues from a wax museum, careful not to touch. Finally, Francine lit another cigarette.

“Put it out,” Tony said. She complied. He reached his arm out and she rested her head on his chest.

“Talk to me,” Tony said. “Tell me your story.”

Wayne Scheer has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net. His work has appeared in print and online in a variety of publications, including The Christian Science Monitor, Notre Dame Magazine, Eclectica, flashquake and The Internet Review of Books. Revealing Moments, a collection of twenty-four flash stories, is available at Thumbscrews Press.

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