This is week's Fresh Story is Dorothee's story. I wrote this for her as a prize for leaving the first comment on my story All of the Things.
I'm pretty excited about this because, without giving too much away, this is the first story like this that I've ever written. Let me know what you think in the comments section.
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Tramps Like Us
She knew that it was them as soon as they walked in. Of course she’d seen pictures of both of them, but you know how pictures can be sometimes. How people can look completely different in three dimensions sometimes. But this was definitely them. She could tell by the uncertainty in the way they carried themselves as they walked in through the door. By the way they cautiously scanned the room.
She had intentionally sent pictures where her face was either partially of fully obscured or in the shadows but The Middle East was empty tonight so it would take them no time at all to point out the curly-haired French girl sitting by herself. She wanted to take advantage of this fleeting voyeuristic opportunity. Wasn’t this why she sat on the side of the booth facing the door in the first place? For these few brief moments of uninhibited observation? Before their scan met her gaze and before the things that were bound to happen began to happen.
He had his hand on her lower back and they leaned into one another as they swept their gaze from one side of the room to the other. They seemed genuinely happy. They both looked better than their pictures. Her skin was smooth and the bar lighting reflected off her cheekbones in a way that reminded Dorothee of her Mémé’s perfectly polished walnut table. He was taller than she thought he would be. And, oh; what was this, then? Was that a little belly that she saw there?
The girl was the first one to make eye contact. She smiled and immediately raised her hand up in an energetic small wave. He followed her gaze and gave a restrained smile as he raised one hand midway up in greeting. Okay; this was it, then. No turning back now.
Dorothee raised her hand and gave a shy wave back as they began to approach her booth. At least there are two of them this time, she thought. That last encounter with the computer programmer that showed up solo had gone so badly that she almost gave up. But this would be different. They would be different.
She shuffled out of the booth and stood up to greet them.
‘Dorothee?’ the girl asked.
‘Yes,’ she nodded. ‘Wendy?’
‘Ugh,’ the girl said as she came in for a cross-body hug. ‘It’s so nice to finally meet you!’
‘Oh my Gud,’ Dorothee said as she embraced her. ‘You too!’
‘Hello,’ she said, as she looked over at Wendy’s partner.
‘Hi.’ He pulled his hands out of his pockets and gave Dorothee a small reserved wave.
‘You must be--’
‘I’m Bruce. Nice to meet you,’ he said as he leaned over and wrapped his arms around her.
‘Dorothee,’ she said as she leaned in to accept his embrace. ‘Nice to meet you.’ He gave a full-body hug; the kind of hug that told her that he’d grown up in a loving family. She could imagine his warm southern mama bending down and hugging him like this when he got back from camp or from visiting his grandparents. She wondered what his mom would think of all of this. Do you have any idea what your little boy’s been up to lately?
‘Please,’ Dorothee said, as she stepped back and motioned towards the empty half of the booth across from her, ‘have a seat.’
‘Sounds good,’ Wendy said, and she slipped off her overcoat one sleeve at a time and bunched it up before sliding into the booth and stuffing it into the corner.
‘Alright,’ Bruce said, before slipping off his blazer/hoodie combo and folding it over his forearm like a waiter with a napkin. He sat down and rolled up the jacket and handed it over to Wendy. ‘Here, can you put this, uh--’
‘Yep.’ Wendy took the roll of garments from him and placed it on top of her coat in the corner of the booth.
Three men enter in through the front door. Bruce watches them as they pass by on their way to the bar. The only words that Bruce can come up with to describe their look is Euro-hipster-glam. The tallest one of the group was wearing a white leather jacket with tassels running along the arms and he looked to be Haitian. The man walking out front, who also seemed to be Haitian, wore a Washington Redskins Starter® pull-over and jeans that were ripped at the knees. The third guy had an ethnically ambiguous almond complexion and wore a sweater with a corduroy jacket and an Atlanta Braves hat.
‘Oh man,’ Wendy said as she looked over at Dorothee. ‘You weren’t waiting here long were you?’
‘Oh no-no-no-no,’ Dorothee said as she dismissed the comment with a hand wave. ‘Not at all. Maybe, eh, feefteen minutes?’
Then there was that pause. That pause when you meet someone new and, for a brief moment, you forget how to start a conversation.
‘So, uh--’ Bruce blurted out, ‘you guys, uh, want a drink?’ He points over to the bottle of beer in front of Dorothee. ‘You ready for another one?’
‘Ahh…’ Dorothee picks up her beer and tilts it at an angle to examine how much is left. ‘Sure.’
‘Great, what is that?’
‘Got it.’ He points over at Wendy, ‘what about you babe?’
‘I’ll take a, ah - I think I’m gonna do wine. Uh, I’ll have a Pinot if they have it. If not, just whatever red wine they have.’
‘Got it.’ He points to Dorothee, ‘Pretty Things,’ then to Wendy, ‘and a Pinot.’
‘Yes, thank you.’
‘Great. I’ll be right back.’
‘I’ll be with you in one second,’ the bartender says as he looks over at Bruce while simultaneously filling up a frothy glass from the Stell Artois tap.
‘No problem,’ Bruce says, as he folds his arms and leans forward onto the bar.
The bartender pours off the foam from the Stella then grabs two bottles from the ice chest behind the counter and deftly pops the caps off in two quick motions. He then grabs all three beverages and takes them down to the three gentlemen at the end of the bar.
‘That’ll be…’ the bartender pauses as he points to each beverage and does some math in his head, ‘thirteen fifty please.’
The fellow with the hat pulls out his wallet and starts leafing through the bills contained within. One of the quite-possibly-Haitians, the taller of the two, now appears to be wearing a pair of glasses with blinking blue and green and yellow and red LED lights around the rim. Bruce doesn’t recall seeing those on him when he walked in but Bruce also knows that the tall fellow’s eyewear did not warrant his full attention at the time.
‘Hey,’ the tall fellow calls out to the bartender as he lifts up his obscenely-distracting glasses, ‘you remember me?’
‘Ahhh…’ the bartender looks over and studies his face. ‘Yeah, I think so. You do look a little familiar.’
‘I worked here,’ he said, as he let go of his glasses and let them drop down to rest on the bridge of his nose. He held up one finger, ‘for one monfs.’
‘Oh yeah?,’ the bartender says as he reaches out to accept the cash from the fellow with the hat.
‘Dees was, maybe…’ the taller let’s-just-call-him-Haitian gentleman slumped over on the bar and wrapped his arms around his bottle of beer, ‘one year ago? I was here for just one monfs.’
‘Yeah,’ the bartender nodded as he gathered up the cash and turned to the register behind him. ‘Yeah, okay. Well it’s good to see you again man.’
The man with the blinking eyewear said nothing but pointed at the bartender and flashed him a fluorescent white smile.
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Bruce was ready for this question. He was always ready for this question whenever he was talking to new people. He preferred to let the topic of his military service come up organically in conversations like this. It didn’t always come up, and that was okay, but when it did he pretty much knew the series of questions that would follow and he could go on autopilot and recite his usual set of responses. He’d seen too many guys that led with the military thing and then had nothing to follow-up with. Like joining the Marines was the only interesting thing that they’d ever done. Bruce refused to be one of those guys.
‘I was in the Marines.’
‘Oh, wow!’ Dorothee raised her eyebrows and tapped the side of her beer bottle as she nodded. ‘What did you do? What was your, eh…’
‘I was in intelligence.’
‘Hm, that sounds interesting.’
‘Yeah it was, ah; it had its good days and its bad days.’
‘Oh man, did you ever have to go anywhere? Like, anywhere overseas?’
‘Yep,' Bruce nodded. 'I was deployed to Iraq twice.’
This was the point in the conversation where he had to proceed with caution. When you starting talking about Iraq or deploying it was very easy for things to start getting too serious or too political. Bruce didn’t want the evening to spiral down into discussions of war and of combat. No, the night was going well and he had a good buzz going on and he was not in the mood for such talk. He looked down at all of the empty bottles of Harpoon and Pretty Things and over at Wendy’s bottle of Pinot.
‘Yep. Did a six month deployment in two-thousand-three then I went back for thirteen months from January two-thousand-five until February two-thousand-six. Then I got out that May and, uh, and I haven’t looked back since.’
‘Nice. Have you ever been to France?’
‘Just to the southern part. We passed through the Gulf of Lion on our way back from the first deployment. I got to take a few days ar-and-ar in Marseille and Toulon.’
‘Oh,’ Dorothee said, ‘those are beautiful cities. I’ve been to that area several times on holiday.’
‘I’d love to go to France,’ Wendy said. She held her almost empty wine glass in one hand and poked Bruce in the ribs with the other. ‘We should do a Eurotrip this summer.’
‘Oh that’d be great! We could do Paris, Amster--’
‘Tell me,’ Dorothee interjected, ‘have you ever been to Montpellier?’
‘I said,’ Dorothee pauses to clear her throat, ‘have you ever been to the city Montpellier?’
Wendy can’t help but notice that Dorothee’s accent seems to have just changed from French to British. Bruce is no longer smiling as he looks directly at Dorothee across the table.
‘I can’t say that I have.’
‘Oh, come on then. I’m certain you have. In fact, I believe that you’ve been there quite a few times recently.’
Okay, Wendy is certain that Dorothee is now speaking with a British accent.
Bruce stares at Dorothee without saying a word.
‘Uhhhh, what’s going on here?,’ Wendy says as she scans back and forth between Bruce and Dorothee. ‘Dorothee, are you speaking with a British accent?’
‘No Mr. Freeman or, perhaps we can cut the shit; Captain Hoffman. No, I think that you’ve spent quite a bit of time in the city of Montpellier. And,’ Dorothee says as she pulls a Beretta 9mm from her bag and lays it on the table, ‘I believe the correct term for what you do in the military is counter intelligence, isn’t it?’
Bruce looks up and sees the tall gentleman with the blinking glasses staring at him from the bar. Behind him, his two accomplices have their pistols drawn and are escorting the bartender to the kitchen in the back.
Damn, he thought, as he looked down at his bottle of beer. Did they really have to get me drunk for this?