Time was not coming through for Steven.
Time — that very same thing that Steven worked so diligently to manage, to sculpt into well segmented and fully accountable blocks, and with such a responsible balance of deference and compliance. It was time that let Steven down the most. It was time that burst past its duly granted allotments and flooded right over Steven. It was time that drowned him with indecision.
That presented a problem.
Because, for Steven, indecision lead to thinking.
And thinking was no help.
For instance: Steven thought of water.
More specifically: Steven thought of ordering another glass of water.
That seemed safe, ordering another glass of water. Until he thought about it. About all that fluid he was consuming and how, eventually, that fluid would have to go somewhere else, and, Steven knew it, he just did, the moment he’d take one jittery step away from the bar and another into the bathroom, she’d show up. She would show up and she wouldn’t see him and she’d turn right back around and walk straight out the door and that’d be that, everything would be ruined.
All because of water and a weak bladder.
Beer would be worse.
Because — and putting the urination issue aside for a moment — Steven knew it’d be impossible to have a beer.
Because it couldn’t just be a beer.
It would be a “beer.”
I.e. a “beer without her,” a “beer alone,” as in “drinking alone,” and what other possible impression could Steven leave her with other than that he was an (a) alcoholic, (b) impatient, or, worse, (c) an impatient alcoholic. After all, it was Steven who had picked this place for their first date knowing full well that it’s a bar, it serves alcoholic drinks, and it does so under the auspices of a happy hour. When she would see Steven drinking alone she’d have to wonder if this was the kind of man who couldn’t get through a day without at least a couple half-priced alcoholic beverages.
And, honestly, who’d want to spend the rest of their life with that?
So he sat there.
At the bar.
Sans water and beer.
Instead, pretended to watch a college basketball game on television and hoped that the bartender wouldn’t talk to him. The man looked to be about 50 or so — give or take five years and two divorces. The type of guy who’d complain to you nonstop about “women, bro” and following everything with a “you know what I’m saying.”
Of course, Steven wouldn’t know.
How could he?
Steven didn’t even know what he himself was saying.
That was the point of all this, after all. Why he came to the bar early. It was all to allow himself some extra time, to get settled in and come up with a plan, something consisting of clear talking points to be arranged in a strategic order, something optimal for a first impression, a musical crescendo, if you will, from the formal to the casual.
He almost got there, too, to that point where he could almost see it mapped out: step one, say hello, step two, it’s nice to meet her, step three invite her to, please, take a seat, get comfy, it’s getting cold outside, right?, step four, please, let me buy you a drink.
Step four was important.
Step four was being proactive.
Step four had magic.
Because somewhere hidden between those six silly little words was the ability to transform Steven into somebody other than Steven, somebody confident, somebody in control.
All it took was six words.
It was simple.
Yet fifteen words delivered via text message ruined everything.
[Hi it’s Angie! I’m so sorry, I’m running late. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.]
And that was when time flooded over him.
Steven blamed his aunt for everything.
She was the impetus of this whole mess, the one who worked with Angie, the one who had talked Steven up way too much, said how handsome he was (he wasn’t) and how promising his career was (it wasn’t), and how funny and smart and nice he was (false). If it wasn’t for his aunt, Angie would’ve never added Steven as a friend on Facebook and asked to meet him. And Facebook was no help, either. Facebook just made it easier for Steven to fully comprehend how out of his league he was.
She was beautiful, and Steven thought that was just a dirty trick.
It wasn’t fair.
Steven sighed, slouched over and stared at the tiny grains along the top of the bar.
She was more than just beautiful.
She emanated it. Created beauty.
Steven knew it, that he was DOA. Dead on arrival.
He trickled his finger along the coarseness of the bar top and read the patterns of the grain, traced where they were and where they were heading. He followed some patterns rise and fall in waves while others circled around and around, ending right back where they started. They created their own story, the grains, but he couldn’t understand it.
And he couldn’t understand why, all of a sudden, he felt a chill.
And that was it.
That was the moment he looked over his shoulder and saw a door closing.
And there she was, walking towards him, right towards Steven, and all of a sudden everything around him plummeted from reality, the bar, the bartender, glasses of water and grains, even time abandoned its post, and what was it he was going to say? What was the right order of things, to buy her a drink, say hi, pull out a stool, introduce himself, you know what I’m saying, no, not fair, schedules and plans and talking points fleeted from his mind while the world collapsed around him.
He was left with nothing — absolutely nothing — to say.
But in the end, he didn’t have to say anything at all.
“Hi,” Angie said. “I’m sorry I’m late. Work. You know. Let me buy you a drink.”