“Keep it,” I said.
The bartender nodded and walked away.
I slid the shot glass to Mia.
“Patron?” she asked.
“Mm,” I kind-of said.
Mia licked some salt off the glass.
“Here’s to mankind’s discovery of fire and those of us still stupid enough to play with it,” I said.
Mia scoffed and lifted her glass. The rim hit my lips and my head tilted backwards. Ohh, that’s so bad. Mia bit into her lime slice. Her eyes were closed.
Salt, swallow, lime, burn.
“Well, what did you think was going to happen?” she asked, eyes still shut.
“Fuck, I don’t know,” I said. I took Mia’s glass and stacked it into mine. “Probably this.”
Mia grabbed my chin with her right hand. She turned it slightly to the left to get a good look at the shiner that used to be my right eye.
“You think there’s ever going to be a time when you fall for a woman who is actually available?” she asked.
I grabbed her wrist and lowered her hand from my face.
“Now why the hell would ever want to go and do a thing like that?” I said.
“Oh, I don’t know – maybe so you don’t get punched in the face?” Mia said.
“Hypothetically, that makes sense,” I said.
“Hypothetically?” Mia repeated.
“Look, people get punched in the face all the time for reasons that don’t involve attempted homewreckings,” I said. I tried to wave down the bartender. “I feel like you’re trying to take this isolated incident and extrapolate it out to all homewrecking situations.”
“No, I’ll get this round – but for real, this time, why do they always have to be involved with someone else for you to be interested in them?” Mia asked.
“I prefer the degree of difficulty,” I said.
“I knew it!” Mia said.
“Knew what? I was joking,” I said.
“No you weren’t!” Mia said.
“About what? The degree of difficulty?” I asked.
“Yeah, that’s what it is,” Mia said.
“What can I say, I like a challenge,” I said.
“Knock that shit off,” Mia said. She punched me in the arm. It kind of hurt. It wasn’t fair, I wasn’t ready for it.
“What the fuck?” I kind-of shouted.
“Stop using jokes to deflect me,” Mia said.
I cocked my head back and squinted. I think this reaction is a defense mechanism. Well, another defense mechanism, then.
“Look, this is just me, you know that,” I said.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said. She waved her hand in front of her face and shook her head. She looked me dead in the eyes. “But have you ever stopped to think about why ‘that’s just you?'” She didn’t use air quotes. Thank God.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Wait,” Mia said.
The bartender leaned in towards Mia and turned his ear towards her. Mia’s mouth moved. I think she said “Crown Royal,” but I really hoped she didn’t. The bartender nodded and turned his back to us. He pulled down a bottle of Crown Royal. So bad.
“So you what? You think I go around looking for situations where I can get punched in the face?” I said.
Mia raised her hand and put up a finger without bothering to look at me. I watched the bartender run the chilled Crown into shot glasses, then push them forward. Why couldn’t it just be more Patron? Mia handed me one and held her glass out in front of her. A tap and three seconds later, the Crown Royal was gone, but not without a fight.
“So you think I like to get punched in the face,” I repeated.
“No, you don’t like to get smacked in the face per se, but historically, this is what you do: you chase taken women,” Mia said.
“I feel like the odds are skewed in my favor, it’s one v. one,” I said.
“How’s that working for you?” Mia asked.
“I hate that you said that so matter-of-factly,” I said.
“It’s true,” Mia pressed.
“I did actually get together with Diane and Kelly,” I said.
“Yeah, and?” Mia asked.
“You’re doing a really shitty job of being my conscience,” I said.
“No jokes, this is an intervention,” Mia said.
“An intervention?” I kind-of yelled.
“Yes, we’re all worried about you,” Mia said.
“We?” I said.
She pointed behind the bar.
Our old friends Johnnie, Jim, Jack…Captain Morgan. We’re all here for you,” Mia said.
“Are you serious?” I said.
“We don’t kid,” Mia said. She nodded.
“Fine,” I said.
“Good. What happened with Kelly and the blond?” Mia asked.
“Diane,” I said.
“Sure, whatever,” Mia said.
“It- they didn’t work out,” I said.
“Why?” Mia asked.
“Fuck, I don’t know, it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess,” I said. I threw up my hands. “What the fuck?”
“Be patient,” Mia said.
“What?” I said. I shook my head. “For what?”
“We’re almost there,” Mia said.
“What? Almost where?” I asked. I really was getting kind of worked up. My right eye was throbbing, but I couldn’t tell if it was because I was pissed or because of the drinks.
“Why didn’t they work out?” Mia said.
“I don’t know,” I said. I covered my eye with my hand and talked to her as if she were an eye chart. “I. Don’t. Know.”
Mia whacked my arm down.
“I told you no more jokes! I’m trying to help you,” Mia said.
“Can I get you guys anything?” the bartender asked.
“Yeah, four more Patron shots,” I said.
“Gotcha,” the bartender said.
I turned back to Mia.
“Help me? You’re supposed to help me by buying a steak for my eye and some drinks for my pride,” I said.
“I’m trying to teach a man to fish,” Mia said.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I said.
“How many more times are we going to do this?” Mia asked.
“What? Fight about my preferences for women in relationships?” I asked.
“No-” Mia started.
The bartender placed the four glasses down.
“Twenty-six dollars,” he said.
I handed him three $10 bills.
“Keep it,” I said.
“Thanks,” he said.
I handed Mia a glass.
“Here’s to arsonists everywhere,” Mia said.
“Touche!” I said.
We both went salt-swallow-lime. Ugh. It burned so good. I stacked the glasses and pushed them aside.
“So what now?” I asked.
“You still didn’t answer my questions,” Mia said. She hopped off her stool. “How many more times are we going to do this?” Mia asked.
“I thought-” I started.
“Because we aren’t kids anymore, Curtis,” she said.
“Look, I don’t want you to feel obligated to-” I said.
“Just answer my questions honestly, do me that much, alright?,” Mia said. Her face was flushed. I couldn’t tell if it was anger or alcohol. “Why didn’t they work out?”
“Look, I don’t know,” I said. I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead. “It started out really hot and stuff, but then it just kind of fizzled out. In the case of Diane, it lasted like a week and she went back to the guy.” I said.
“So overall, what’s your success rate?” Mia asked.
“Ouch,” I said.
“Then why do you keep doing this?” Mia asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Why do you keep chasing these women you can’t have?” Mia asked.
“I don’t know!” I shouted. A couple near us looked our way. I lowered my voice. “Why the fuck don’t you tell me, you must be dying to.”
Mia motioned towards the two glasses of Patron.
“This first, and this is it,” Mia said.
“To you,” I said. I lifted my glass. “May some things never change.”
“Let’s hope that some do,” Mia said.
Salt, swallow, lime, burn.
“So what’s your theory?” I asked.
“You do like the degree of difficulty, but not in the way you think,” Mia said.
“So…” I said.
“The degree of difficulty makes it okay for you to fail,” Mia said.
“What the fuck?” I said.
“All of these women with boyfriends or whatever, you don’t really have a chance with them. I mean, you’re not a horrible-looking guy.” She pointed to a group of three women at the other end of the bar. “You could probably talk up anyone in here, but you’d gravitate towards the ones in relationships,” Mia said.
“So basically what you’re saying is I sabotage myself?” I said.
“No, it’s not even that,” Mia said. She put her purse on her right shoulder. “I think you chase that kind of woman because it allows you to have romantic feelings, but also an escape hatch in case it doesn’t work out. If you don’t get her, you can wallow in this whole unrequited love thing that you’ve made your trademark. If you actually somehow steal them away, you’ll get what you want, but since those types of relationships are almost always doomed from the start, it’ll be a whirlwind for just long enough to be interesting before it falls apart. But you’ll always be able to blame it on the ex-boyfriend, or guilt or whatever.”
“So wait,” I said. My right eye was pounding. “You think I would rather fail at love than succeed?”
“How could you call it ‘love’?” Mia asked. She shook her head. “You never start relationships so much as end them.”
“Yeah, but look, I-” I started.
“No, I gotta go,” Mia said. She inhaled sharply. “How many times have you done this? How many times have we sat in a bar just like this one and had a conversation just like this one? Maybe I don’t know exactly why you do the things you do, but I know you choose them over and over again. So on some level, it must be what you want. If you tell me it’s not true, well, then I guess it’s not true. But what I know is that today is the 15th of July and we were here four months ago saying the same things to each other, and the only thing that was different was the woman’s name.”
“Okay, that’s actually, true,” I said. I smiled.
Mia smiled back. It was a sad smile.
“What do you want?” Mia asked.
I didn’t answer.
“Because if you want something real, you’re probably going to have to make a few changes,” Mia said. She kissed me on the cheek. “Drive safe.”
Mia walked away and disappeared into the dimly lit crowd.
Well, that was dumb.
I turned to the bartender.
“Patron,” I said.
I handed him a $10 bill.
“Keep it,” I said.
Salt, swallow, lime, burn.