The Sideline Lounge - Strangers in Dark Corners
“No, they were undefeated in 1997.”
“They wasn’t no undefeated. They lost to East Side and to them big white boys on the last-minute field goal.”
“That wasn’t ‘97, you talking about the ‘89 team with Terrance Green. He had 274 yards and they lost the game on that field goal.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Alicia spent the last hour listening to Mr. Harvey and Rabbit arguing about high school football, the last ten minutes focused on if the 1997 team went undefeated or not.
“I need Charley to hurry up and get here, so he can tell us you wrong.”
“How Charley gonna tell me I’m wrong?”
“He was the damn coach of the team Rabbit!”
“Charley stopped coaching in ‘90 after Terrence Green left.”
It had been a very long Happy Hour. The tips weren’t great and no one really interesting had come in yet. Tired of listening to the argument, Alicia took her phone out of her back pocket and started typing.
“You’re both wrong. They were undefeated in 1995. The ‘96 team lost to East Side and Terrence Green had 192 yards during the field goal game in 1990, the year after Mr. Charley stopped coaching. Google is your friend.”
The two men quieted down after Alicia filled their glasses and walked away to pour two shots.
Donald grabbed the shot glasses and headed over to the table in the corner he secured for a more personal conversation. It was his second trip to the bar after taking her margarita and his Jack and coke when they first saw the opening. He was four rounds past his self-imposed limit of three and found himself staring into the green eyes of a woman he’d seen once or twice at Happy Hour. She was usually with two or three friends, but tonight she was alone. And so was he.
He used her drink as a conversation starter.
“So, you prefer 1942 over Patron?”
“Not that I’ve been watching you or anything, I just noticed that the bartender comes to this side whenever she makes your drinks.”
There were a few seats between Donald and her eyes, but they were unmistakable, even in the dim light.
“Patron…” she paused, “Doesn’t always agree with me in the ways I need it to.”
It was the smile punctuating the sentence that made up Donald’s mind. It was the kind of smile that said there was a story or three to tell. He wanted to hear those stories. He wanted to stare in her eyes. He wanted to be one of those stories. But she was drinking 1942 and he was on his fourth round. This is when he typically cut himself off. This is when he dragged himself home to Theresa and the kids. The comfortable life he always dreamed of, that he's come to dread.
Instead of leaving, he placed a napkin over his water glass and tilted the top of his stool. At The Sideline Lounge, that was code that the occupant was in the bathroom, gone for a smoke or talking to somebody’s wife. He walked past those eyes and smiled. He soon found himself standing in the cold with the smokers.
“Hey baby, just calling to let you know that I’m going to be a little late tonight. James just got down here, so we’re gonna throw a few back and tell some lies for a little while.”
Luckily, his wife didn’t answer, the lie wouldn’t taste so well in his mouth if she did.
“Hanging out late tonight?”
Donald turned a little too quickly when he heard Camille’s voice.
“I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s just that you’re usually long gone by the time I get to work.”
It was true, Donald typically arrived at Happy Hour around 5 and left at 6, but it was closing in on 7 and he wasn’t thinking of going home. Instead, he cut the distance between him and those green eyes and found the confidence of his college days.
He learned her name was Michelle: she was new to the area from Florida, taught at the high school, and was a single mom. He told a revised story: he was divorced, had two children, and was leaving his job with the state to start his own accounting firm.
In their corner, the lies came easier and the laughs faster. They were strangers in a dark corner, nothing but possibilities separating them. He hadn’t been this close to another woman since he met Theresa, but tonight felt different.
Donald looked at his watch and began to panic a little. It was almost 9. He searched his mind for excuses to tell his wife, debated telling Michelle the truth, thought of running away. He’d completely lost himself that corner with a woman who was stranger less than two hours before. He decided it was time to go home, to bottle the joy he felt that night, but he couldn’t stay any longer.
Michelle gripped the space between his knee and thigh, then smiled.
“So, where do we go from here?”
“He ain’t going no damn where!”
The voice was familiar but impossible. He looked up to see Theresa holding her phone to show him that he never ended the call that ended their marriage.