Fish or Cut Bait

Josh slammed the door to his truck, catching the tail of his shirt in it in the process. “Shit,” he muttered, quickly unlocking it and opening the door to release his shirt. Butterflies fluttered in his stomach as he neared the scuffed, wooden door.He could already hear the jukebox playing some old song by Journey, and smell the fried food and stale beer. Danny’s Pub was not a high-class joint by any stretch of the imagination, but it was where he’d first seen her. It’s where she hangs out, where he hoped she would be tonight. He cursed himself for taking so long to get ready — she usually went home before 11 o’clock and it was nearly that now, but he couldn’t show up looking like he’d just come from a construction site. Not tonight. Tonight was the night he would grow a pair and finally get her number.

The smells and sounds intensified as he entered the bar. As is customary, all eyes turned his way at the loud squeak of the old wooden door.

“Josh!” one of the regulars hollered before going back to his pool game. Josh nodded distractedly, eyes scanning the place. He focused on her usual table but there was a waitress in the way.

“Damn,” he muttered, gaining a strange look from a nearby barfly. Josh realized he was still standing in the middle of the entrance, looking like an idiot, so he casually sauntered over to the bar and ordered a drink.

“The usual, Tom.” Tom grunted and slid the mug of beer, which stopped just short of him on the sticky bar top. Josh took a long pull of the warm, cheap brew; trying hard not to think about the filthy rag he knew Tom used to wipe the glasses with. The tinkle of female laughter caught his ear and he turned. His heart thudded. There she was, the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and she was sitting across from…Mike?

“That traitorous son of a—”

“Hey, Josh. Lookin’ good baby. Why so dressed up, you got a date?” a throaty voice said in his ear. He cringed.

“Oh, hi, Rhonda.” This could be trouble. Rhonda always picked a victim early in the night and then stuck like glue.

“Excuse me.” Josh made his escape to the men’s room. He shook his head. Mike, his buddy and co-worker had listened to him go on and on about her, witnessed multiple failed attempts to talk to her. No way was he gonna let that snake-in-the-grass get the girl. His girl. Josh washed his hands, giving himself a pep talk in the dingy mirror.

“Come on, you got this. Time to shit or get off the pot.”

“You talkin’ to me, man?” a voice called from the stall.

“Uh, no. Sorry.”

When Josh emerged from the back of the bar, Mike was no longer at her table, he was sitting at the bar, looking pissed. Good, Josh thought, now I can make my move. Her beauty; her long, dark wavy hair, the way she wore a pair of Levi’s struck him again as he saw her standing at the juke box, swaying to the music she’d chosen. Josh started forward. The old wooden door creaked and all eyes except his turned toward it.

“Tito!”

Josh froze and looked at the newest patron. Shit, Tito? That asshole owed him $500. Josh knew it was only a matter of time before Tito saw him and split, again. Tito had been avoiding him for months and he needed that money, construction was slow and he had bills overdue. He dithered for a moment, wondering if he had time to confront Tito before she left for the night.

She sat back at her table, smiling and laughing and Josh forgot all about Tito and the $500 — hell, he would eat ramen noodles for the next two months. He believed this woman was the love of his life, or she would be if he could ever get her number. Something always seemed to get in the way but tonight was his night, dammit. He wasn’t leaving without her name and her digits.

Josh did a quick breath check, then put one foot in front of the other and focused on her dark eyes and full rosy lips. He was just thinking about how those lips might feel pressed against his and didn’t notice the end of the pool cue, as it swung back, wielded by a large, drunk biker.

“Ah, watch it, man!” Josh said, cradling his watering eye.

“Oops,” the biker sneered before turning back to his game.

Jesus, now he had to go over there half-blind. He shook it off, single-mindedly focused on her and what he would say…shit. In all the time he’d spent planning, he realized he’d never decided what he would actually say to her. Any old line wouldn’t do, not with someone like her. He mentally scrolled through his best lines, rejecting them all. Maybe he’d do it like they did in old movies, grab her up in his arms and kiss her. Kiss…he thought of his 7th grade math teacher’s formula for success- K.I.S.S. — Keep It Simple Stupid. He took a deep breath, sidestepped two drunken rednecks on the verge of a brawl, and stopped in front of her table.

“Hello, I’m Josh, and quite honestly ma’am, I think you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” She smiled up at him and sighed.

“Josh, I’m Rita. What took you so long? Have a seat.”

Rita looked past him at a man walking by as Josh sat in the chair next to her.

“Hey, cousin Tito!”

“Rita, hey.”

“Tito, you remember my friend Tracy, and this,” she paused with a shy smile, “this is Josh.”

Tito swallowed hard and Josh grinned. Damn straight tonight was his night.


About Malia Taylor

Malia Taylor lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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