At Gaffney’s, we feed the jukebox and dance with pool cues like they’re bolted to the ceiling until the men in town for the races buy us drinks we’d never order for ourselves. Rum Punches. Tom Collinses. Whiskeys with unpronounceable names. Theater majors, we thank them in thick accents—Russian, Spanish, German—trading some touchless flirting before melting into the crowd.
“Sure and begorah,” I say, rolling r’s like marbles as Mr. Striped Shirt hands me a dishwater-dirty martini.
He pulls out a chair, pats the seat. My best friend Tina stands behind him Frenching her hand, but I don’t crack. Stripes has two fluffs of hair—pale blond—arranged over the tunnels of bare skin at his temples.
“What stunning eyes,” he says, leaning close enough to ripple my drink. They’re colored contacts. I tell him all the women in my family have them, violet at night, blue in the morning.
“Stunning,” he says, again. “I bet your boyfriend loves them.”
Sipping from the funnel of my glass, I wink and he grins, rubbing knuckles down the creases of his khakis.
“So, what do you do?” I ask, looking past him to Tina in the corner where she flirts with the guy from Econ that I invited out tonight. He’s got curly hair I want to wrap around my fingers like an old-fashioned phone cord. In the shadows, Tina half-turns and points at me, then leans against Econ-boy and laughs.
“Gamble,” Stripes says, listing his tips for tomorrow as if I’m planning to bet my student loans. The horses’ names are bad puns: Life Foal of Joy, Pony Up, Unbridled Danger. I nod until he falls quiet. “Well, cheers,” I say, lifting my glass. “Lots of luck.” It’s his cue to give up gracefully, but he holds up a hand plump as a rubber glove full of water. His hotel is close, he says. He thinks I’d love the view.
“Thanks, but no,” I say, dropping the “h,” and stretching the “a” like the Lucky Charms leprechaun.
Stripes pouts like a child, fat lower lip punched out, but when I stand, embarrassed for him, he grabs my hand. “At least point me in the right direction.” I don’t know why I follow him to the door and push into the night, steamy like it can get upstate. Outside, I point up Caroline to Broadway.
He nods, then pins me against brick, bites at my lips, says, “Violet eyes, be sweet to me.”
“They’re really just brown,” I say, turning side-to-side, forgetting my brogue.
“Fine,” he says, pulling back enough to produce his fist of a wallet. “What’ll it cost?”
Under the streetlight, I see the bar’s dimness was kind. His hair is white, fine, spare.
When he starts extracting bills meant for trifectas and places and wins, I shake my head. No, I think, stop. Not for any amount you can name.
But then why do I say nothing, do nothing, except watch the bills mount between us?