Out on the road he realized it was way too chilly to be riding, the fall air carried the bite of winter even though the sun was still shining as the bike ran south down the coast.
“Are you going for a ride? - She had said as he gathered gloves and took out his leather jacket.
“Yeah, I’m tired of sitting around - looks nice out, I won't be long” - He replied, annoyed that she had caught him before he was ready to go out the door
“Let’s go down to the Grog, we haven't been there in ages” - she said, grabbing a scarf from the hall table.
That was it; no “can I come?”, “would you mind if I came?”, “could I come?” , or even "where are you going", her decision casually steamrolling him.
He used to love her arms around him as they rode, now it was claustrophobic. She must have felt him tensing up and moved her hands to the back of her seat. He stared forward, focused on the late afternoon traffic on the seaside road, the bike steadily thrumming under them, their lengthening shadows staining the pavement.
It used to be so easy, so simple and relaxing to walk into a bar, the most natural thing you could do. He always felt there was nothing quite as carefree as sitting on a stool at a bar, a cold glass of beer with a perfect frothy head in front of you. Now here he was dreading it. Dreading the inevitable moment when Paula would strike an oddly intimate conversation with whatever stranger was next to her. It happened almost everywhere, but at a bar it was a sure thing.
At first the intensity of her was exciting: Paula eschewing the tub at the cabin for the numbingly cold lake, tossing back her long black hair as she rinsed it, her pale goosebumped skin like a cutout against the black water, the ecstatic look on her face when she listened to music, eyes shut, palms pressing the headphones onto her ears, her full mouth slightly open, and yes, even her extreme gregariousness, at first exciting in its unpredictability. He had always been comfortable talking to strangers at bars, though that was mostly flirting with girls. He had at first assumed that was Paula’s motivation as well, but even cursory scrutiny of who she was engaging disabused him of that notion. She was indiscriminate, men, women, couples, young and old, anybody within earshot and some beyond. He had thought she had singled him out the night they met, but now he knew in his bones that she could have ended up with anyone, that he just happened to stay with her for the longest.
“Have to pee” - she said, tossing him her helmet and going into the club without waiting for him.
The Grog is seedy but studiously so, Harley's outside with too much chrome, leathers inside being worn by lawyers and accountants. The house band all studio musicians from Boston, enthusiastically mimicking the blues. Still, he loves the large polished mahogany bar upstairs with the heavy brass taps and the hooks at knee height for your coat, the dark corners and leather banquettes at the downstairs club.
By the time he had locked up the helmets and came in, she was already ensconced at the bar and chatting with a couple next to her.
“So, tell me all about you guys, are you married? Do you have any kids?” - She was asking them as he reached her - “Sam, meet Esther and Tom, wouldn’t you know, they’re from Ireland, just here for vacation”
“Hi Esther and Tom” - he said - “Paula, I‘m going to get us a table, I want something to eat.”
“Oh, OK, you do that, I’ll join you in just a minute” - she said, turning back to Esther and Tom, already moving on to more questions.
After fifteen minutes, he was still waiting for her. She would soon forget Tom and Esther, but right now no amount of meaningful stares or waving at her to come to the table would dislodge her. He could feel his vision narrowing with the anger irrationally welling up within him, burning the back of his eyes.
“How about another beer?” - the waitress had materialized next to him; startled he fumbled for an answer.
“Yes, please” - he said getting up and walking over to the bar where Paula was laughing hysterically at something Tom had said. Tom had a slightly embarrassed smile.
“Do you want to join me?” - he said to Paula, gesturing at the table, pointedly ignoring Tom and Esther who seemed relieved at the potential of going back to whatever they were doing before Paula had descended on them. He turned back towards the table, not quite waiting for her to follow.
“Yes, yes sorry, sorry, Tom, Esther, lovely to meet you, enjoy the rest of your travels” - she said reluctantly getting up.
“Lovely people, don’t you know, he is a neurosurgeon? you wouldn't know just looking at him would you?”
“No I wouldn't”
“Are you cross?”
“I don’t believe you, you have that set to your jaw, I know that, you are angry”
“No, I am not angry”
“Of course you are, why deny it?”
“Would it matter if I was?"
“Of course it would matter”
“No it wouldn’t, would it make you not leave me alone for a half hour at a table staring at the menu waiting for you?”
“You could have joined us, they were lovely people...”
“Sometimes, I just don’t feel like talking to strangers.”
“You are being unreasonable, you want me not to talk to anybody?”
“No, it’s just a matter of proportion. Do you think everybody likes being grilled by you? Do you think I enjoy standing there while you do it?” - he said in an angry whisper, getting more and more agitated.
“I think people enjoy it when I talk to them and I enjoy it, why does it bother you so?” - she said, loud enough that a couple of people took sidelong glances at them - blues wafted up from downstairs, but it was fairly quiet where they were.
“It’s my time too you know, it feels like I am alone when I go out with you, like I’m just driving you around. I didn’t even want to come here in the first place.”
“Why didn’t you say so?”
“It would not have mattered, you always do whatever you want, everybody and everything else be damned” - he said in a poisoned whisper.
“You know what, I’m going” - he said, grabbing his jacket before she could answer
“Now you are just being peevish, sit down. I was just having a bit of a laugh!” she said, her voice rising as he walked out without a glance back.
By the time he got to his bike he was trembling with rage and just leaned on the handlebars for a moment. Her coming after him was an even money proposition these days; this was not the first time he had walked out after her shenanigans. After a few minutes, his shaking stopped and she had still not come outside.
He fired up the bike and headed to the beach road a few blocks east of the bar. When he got there the beach road was deserted and he could hear the surf crashing even through his helmet. He stood at the crossroad for a moment, the bike idling under him, then gunned up the engine and pointed the bike south, the puddles of light from the streetlamps beckoning him forward.
Node your homework