Why am I doing this? The question haunts me as my butt firms into a stool at the bar. An overdose of aftershave and perfume surrounds me, a reprieve from the damp smell of beer I associated with the place.
‘Rough day, mate?’ inquires the bartender.
Was it that obvious? The night before, I lay on a mattress in a hotel room five hours drive from here. Sweat soaked my sheets. My skin burned to touch. It was a miracle I made it here at all.
I order a bourbon and dry. My hand shakes as I slam it down my throat. A bell rings, the same moment my phone vibrates in my pocket.
‘Ten minutes!’ yells a female voice.
Its started. Feet shuffle along the wooden floors, while friendly banter breaks out across the room. I rummage around in my pocket and pull out my phone. An app lights up my cracked screen. It displays a countdown clock that reads eight minutes and fifty-seven seconds, the number one dash eight, and a picture.
My legs buckle as I stand up and begin the search. Where is number one of eight? A firm grip latches onto my arm. Its the woman who carried the bell. With great force, she pulls me into a chair.
I get comfortable before my gaze catches a mysterious woman who approaches the table. It’s not the face I intended to find. Her perfume, white musk, and roses, instantly cast me under her spell.
‘Mind if I sit here?’ she asks.
‘I’m supposed to be meeting someone,’ I reply. ‘Number one of eight. But since I can’t see them anywhere-’ I gesture to sit down.
I smell her perfume again. My chest tightens. My stomach twists. Clunk! Her picture-perfect legs knock the table. Red wine jumps out from a glass left on the table and leaps onto my white shirt. A cold sensation sinks through the fabric and kisses my skin. It spreads from my chest down to my waist. Awkward silence is interrupted by number one of eight’s arrival.
‘Gary?’ she inquires.
I acknowledge her with a look before my gaze returns to the mysterious woman, who scribbles something on a used napkin and passes it to me.
‘For dry cleaning purposes.’
She winks before she disappears into the crowd.
‘Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds.’
‘Hi, I’m Janette,’ says my first speed date for the night, as she takes up the vacated seat. ‘That’s a bit unfortunate.’
I ignore her. My thoughts dwell on the mysterious woman who I met seconds ago. I glance at the napkin. Written in black ink were a phone number and a secret. I was intrigued.
Ding! Ding! Ding!
‘This started well,’ grumbled Janette as she stomped off in search of her second date.
I sit alone and ponder what took place. Was this an act of serendipity? Why did she tell me this secret? There was only one way to find out.