“Girl, you are so working that dress!” Leslie nodded her head emphatically as she gave her best friend the once-over. Siobhan was wearing a neon-green mini-velour dress that clung to her generous curves. Her legs seemed to go on for miles, and her feet were encased in five-inch platform heels. For a forty-two year old mom of three, she looked fabulous.
“You’re pretty hot yourself,” Siobhan replied, a smirk tugging at her lips. Leslie preened because she had put effort into her outfit. Normally, she was a sweats and sweatshirt type of gal, but they were going to First Ave to dance after they were done with their burgers at Grumpy’s, a local bar, so Leslie had dressed in black flared-hemmed, low slung pants, a red top that was cut low to show off her perky boobs, and three-inch black platform heels. She had her shoulder-length hair in a high pony, and she had artfully arranged her bangs in a mussed fashion. She was wearing her signature lipstick, Diva, by MAC, and she had even added a touch of mascara. She knew she looked good, and she wasn’t above flaunting it.
“God, I needed this,” Leslie sighed as she drained her gin and tonic. She had just broken up with her long-term boyfriend over irreconcilable differences, and Siobhan had insisted they go out to celebrate Leslie’s new-found freedom.
“OK. Be casual about it, but check out the guy by the pool tables. He’s wearing a Clash t-shirt, a leather jacket, and black jeans. He’s giving you the eye.” Siobhan sipped her Summit Pale Ale in a nonchalant manner as she imparted this information.
“Siobhan, I’m not on the hunt,” Leslie sighed, taking a bite of her burger. Though she tried to eat mostly organic food, sometimes, she craved food that wasn’t as healthy.
“Les, he’s seriously checking you out—and he’s your type—in compact form.” Siobhan was persistent as she had always thought Leslie had settled with Peter. “One look. What could it hurt? Why don’t you go to the bathroom so you can walk by him?”
“All right!” Leslie set down her burger, picked up her purse, and got up from her seat. She knew from past experience that it was easier to do what Siobhan wanted than to argue with her. Leslie sauntered toward the bathrooms which would take her right by the pool tables. She glanced toward the tables as if she were interested in who was playing, and she immediately spotted the guy Siobhan meant. He was of average height—around 5’10” and sturdy—he had salt-n-pepper hair that was a bit on the long side, a neatly-trimmed beard and mustache, and he had horn-rimmed glasses. He wasn’t handsome or gorgeous, but he had a wry smile on his lips that was immediately engaging. He also had melted-chocolate brown eyes that were almost as dark as Leslie’s own. His nose looked as if it’d been broken a time or two, but that only added character to his face. He had a pool-stick in his left hand and a beer can in his right. He caught Leslie’s eye and instead of looking away as most Minnesotan guys would have, he smiled even wider and nodded his head in her direction. Leslie automatically smiled back, feeling a warmth in her stomach as she swept by him and went to the bathroom. It discombobulated her because she rarely physically reacted to a guy like that.
Leslie dawdled in the bathroom, reapplying her lipstick and mascara, though both were fine. She splashed some water on her cheeks to cool herself down. She scolded herself for acting like a schoolgirl with a crush on her teacher because she prided herself on being sensible when it came to the matters of the heart. She was nominally Buddhist and believed that there was no use in becoming too attached to anything or anyone. She wasn’t always able to follow her mantra, however, and when she veered from the path, she fell hard. She brushed that thought out of her mind and straightened her shoulders before marching out of the restroom. Her eyes automatically zoomed over to where the guy had been—he wasn’t there. She felt a flash of disappointment, but shrugged it off as she returned to her table. Before she could say anything, the server came over with a drink on her tray.
“This is from that gentleman over there.” The server set the drink in front of Leslie while nodding in the direction of the bar. There was her guy, raising his own glass in her general direction. This time, he was grinning widely, and the warmth of his smile turned Leslie’s insides into mush. Leslie tasted her drink and was surprised to discover it was a gin and tonic. She glared at Siobhan who shook her head in return.
“It wasn’t me. I told you he was checking you out.” Siobhan snickered, covering her mouth with her hand. Leslie set down the glass and marched over to the guy.
“How did you know what I was drinking?” Leslie asked, her voice low and husky.
“I didn’t,” the guy responded, his voice deep as well. “You just struck me as the gin and tonic kind of woman. I’m John Smith, by the way.” He held out his hand for Leslie to shake. “I know, most boring name on earth, but what can you do?”
“Leslie Chang.” Leslie shook John’s hand, delighted that his grasp was firm, but not crippling. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine.” John held on to Leslie’s hand for a second longer before dropping it. Leslie found herself oddly bereft when he freed her hand. She shook herself mentally. She had just broken up with Peter—the last thing she needed was romantic intrigue. Still, she felt a twinge of excitement as John trained his eyes on hers. She leaned forward imperceptibly, then pulled back when she realized what she was doing.
“I should return to my friend,” Leslie said, nodding her head in Siobhan’s direction. Siobhan, the wench, was watching the exchange, and she waved a hand when she saw that Leslie and John were looking at her. John waved in return while Leslie gave her best friend the one-finger salute.
“I’d like to take you out to dinner next weekend if you’re free,” John said.
“I’d like that,” Leslie replied. She fished a pen out of her purse, grabbed a napkin and started scribbling.
“I like your tat,” John said, glancing at the flames spreading over Leslie’s left collar bone.
“You should see the others,” Leslie said mischievously, winking at John as she finished writing down her cell phone number and her Gmail address.
“I should be so lucky,” John said gallantly, slipping the napkin into his coat pocket. “May I?” John held his left hand out for the pen. When Leslie gave it to him, he used it to scribble on a napkin in turn. “This is my cell phone number and my Gmail address. Turnabout is fair play, after all. Besides, you probably want to give my number to your friend when we go out. You should call it now just to make sure I gave you the real number.” A bit nonplused, Leslie fished her phone out of her purse and dialed the number John had given her. His pocket started beeping. He took out his cell, flipped up the top, and said, “Hello?”
“Hi. It’s Leslie. The woman you met at Grumpy’s tonight.”
“Leslie. I remember you well.” Grinning like fools, they both hung up their phones and put them away. “Saturday night? We could meet somewhere for the first date if you like. You might feel more comfortable with that.”
“Do you know Psycho Suzi’s?” Leslie asked.
“I know of it,” John replied. “I’ve only been in Minneapolis six months. I’ll Google it when I get home.”
“Let’s meet early, say, five-forty-five. I want to beat the crowd.” Leslie said, her whole face lighting up.
“Sounds good to me. Maybe we’ll close the place down,” John said, his smile warm and inviting.
“Deal.” Leslie held out her hand to shake John’s again. John pulled Leslie to him and kissed her firmly on the mouth. He was a great kisser.
“I better go.” Leslie broke off the kiss sooner than she would have liked because she needed to regain her equilibrium. After pecking John on the cheek, she returned to Siobhan, conscious of John’s eyes on her ass the whole time. She put a little extra sway in her hips for his benefit; she thought he would appreciate that.
“Girl, you are wicked.” Siobhan held out her hand to high-five Leslie, not caring that John was still watching them, a smirk on his face.
“You know it.” Leslie slapped Siobhan’s palm before blowing a kiss in John’s direction.
Leslie’s eyes fill with tears as she thinks about John. She hasn’t stopped crying since she verified the body was, indeed, John, and she has a hunch that she won’t stop crying for weeks if not months to come. She doesn’t believe in soul mates, but she does believe that some people just fit together—John had been one of those people for her. She is startled out of her thoughts by the slamming of the front door. Her heart leaps in her chest. Only a few people have a key to her house—could it be John?
“Girl, there you are. What the hell is wrong with you? You haven’t answered any of my texts, and you missed opening shift this morning. What the fuck is going on? You’re crying!” Siobhan sweeps into the living room, her hazel eyes widening in surprise at the sight of Leslie in sweats, crying and shivering. In an instant, Siobhan’s tone shifts from annoyed to concerned. “Leslie, what’s wrong? Talk to me.”
“He’s dead, Siobhan,” Leslie says, her voice flat. “John is dead. What am I going to do?” This starts off a fresh burst of sobs that sound as if they are ripped directly from Leslie’s heart.
“John’s dead? What on earth are you talking about?” Siobhan kneels besides Leslie and puts an arm around her. Josephine is disgruntled and hops off Leslie’s lap, deliberately pointing her butt in Siobhan’s direction as she stalks out of the room. “Are you running a fever?”
“The cops came by and told me that John was dead and he’s never coming home and I don’t know what I’m going to do!” Leslie pushes Siobhan’s arm away and starts rocking in place. “I identified his body. It was him, Siobhan. It really was!”
“The fuck? What did the cops tell you?” Siobhan put her arm around Leslie again, and this time, Leslie allowed it to remain.
“He was shot. Murdered. Found on Hennepin Avenue at 11:37 p.m. Thursday night. They couldn’t tell me the seconds. He texted me at 10:57 p.m. and fifty-three seconds to tell me he was coming home in an hour or two, and then he got himself shot!” Leslie’s throat is raw from all the crying, but she can’t seem to make herself stop.
“Oh, Leslie. I’m so sorry.” Siobhan hugs Leslie fiercely, her own eyes filling with tears. Siobhan had really liked John, and more to the point, she thought he was good for Leslie. He was a gregarious man, pulling Leslie out of her shell. Siobhan had never seen her best friend as happy and content as when she was with John. Siobhan goes into the kitchen so she can boil some water and make Leslie some oolong tea, no sugar. She pours herself a cup as well and brings both mugs into the living room. Siobhan waits for her tea to cool down, but Leslie automatically starts drinking despite the tea being boiling hot.
Siobhan stays with Leslie for the rest of the day, despite Leslie’s protests. Siobhan knows that no matter what Leslie says, she needs support. Leslie is a loner by nature, and she has the tendency to withdraw into herself when confronted with anything intensely emotional. The worst thing Siobhan could do, in her private opinion, is to leave Leslie alone with her demons. In addition, Leslie has a history of severe depression—she’s been hospitalized for it twice. This is the exact kind of situation apt to trigger another episode.
“Do you still have the number of your shrink?” Siobhan asks casually, sometime late into her stay.
“Yes.” Leslie knows why Siobhan is asking, and she can’t resent her best friend because Siobhan is the one who helped her through the darkest period of her life.
“I think you should call him,” Siobhan says carefully. She knows it’s a touchy subject with Leslie, but she also feels strongly about it.
“Yes. Tomorrow.” Leslie doesn’t like it, but she knows she can’t do this alone.
Leslie and John had hit it off right from the start. They started emailing the night they met, graduating quickly to IM and phone within two days; Leslie was well on her way to falling for him by the time they had their first official date. She didn’t tell him that, of course, because she knew how stupid it would sound. She held her breath as she waited for their actual date; she was convinced something would go wrong. Instead, they found out that they were kindred spirits with their love of graphic novels, liberal politics, all kinds of food, and sex. After dinner at Psycho Suzi’s, they went back to Leslie’s place for a nightcap. The deal was sealed when Josephine sauntered over to John and sat on his lap without any prodding on the part of Leslie. That shocked Leslie because her feral-born kitty was wary around strangers, specifically men. When Leslie commented on it, John got a strange look in his eye and said he had an affinity for cats, especially black ones. Then, he set Josephine down on the couch and allowed Leslie to lead him to her bedroom.