What was it with brewers anyway? I wondered, squinting through my peephole at my good friend Dave and the burgeoning mass of bristles that had been protruding haphazardly from his chin ever since he’d taken that assistant's job. They all seemed to be walking around with piles of crazy facial hair, a fact which, if you attended as many beer festivals as we did, became perturbingly apparent. Of course, I’d never seen one as ridiculous as Michael’s; a foot-long, narrowly-pointed monstrosity that ought to have repelled me like a flea collar. If I were the flea, instead of the one with the itch.
Michael, I snorted irritably to myself, leaving Dave waiting cold and snow-flaked in my foyer while I bundled up in a bulky sweater and one of those loathsome turtlenecks that keep out the cold but then keep themselves amused all day attempting to strangle you. Turning my back on the mean mirror that kept refusing to lie about my age, I plastered my long-johns on underneath my fat jeans and prodded my feet into some rancid rubber galoshes, perfecting the picture of my hideousness. I told myself it didn’t matter. I wasn’t trying to seduce him, right? I sighed internally. I was strong enough to be practical enough not to wear some cute skimpy outfit and be miserable the whole day, but not enough not to be depressed about it. I am woman, hear me roar. Rrrr.
I tried not to look for him. Much. I drank my beer and chatted with Dave and his equally-bearded brewer buddies and periodically scanned the festival crowd in what I hoped was a nonchalant manner. It was late in the day when I finally caught the dreaded glimpse – it was hard to miss that bright red hair and chest-length beard. It was even harder to miss the attractive young blonde he was hugging when I saw him. Unfortunately for me, Dave spotted him at almost the same moment.
“Look, there’s Michael,” he said, failing to see me wince at the mention of the name. “Let’s go say hi?”
Dave didn’t know, of course, about me and Michael. I’d been too mortified to admit that after months of impatient waiting I’d shamelessly tackled him just days after his divorce was final. Or that I wanted to punch something every time I recollected his early-morning speech about not wanting to get involved.
“It looks like he’s with someone,” I answered, compromising and kicking the floor instead. “Maybe we should leave him alone.”
“She looks familiar,” Dave responded, oblivious to the damage I was inflicting on the hardwood. “I think she works at the brewery.”
Even worse, I thought. She has access to him eight hours a day; probably after-hours, too. I only get to see him once every few months, and I’m already forty and getting older by the minute. How can I possibly compete? I felt a jealous rage swelling within me, and impulsively I wanted to smack the alleged little tramp out of my way. Fortunately, the logical part of my brain kicked back in and I caught myself. I breathed deeply. It was not a competition. For what it was worth, I’d already had Michael. I had no right to expect him not to move on to someone else. It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t his either. I could be a grownup about this, couldn’t I?
“I suppose it would be rude not to say hello,” I grudgingly conceded. Dave meandered over to where they stood, not thirty feet away, and I trudged along behind him, feeling enormous, ugly, and ancient. The blonde scrutinized me with pity. It’ll happen to you! I wanted to yell, but she was already walking away, leaving Dave and me alone with Michael. Dave shook Michael’s hand but I merely nodded and averted my eyes, my brief dream of behaving rationally fading quickly in his suddenly very tangible presence. They talked on about beer while I seethed silently, excoriated myself for even caring, then seethed silently some more. I couldn’t tell if Michael was even aware of that, because I wouldn’t look at him. He doesn’t care, I reminded myself viciously. He never did. He was just using you to – to get his feet wet, I thought, among other things. Remember how he blew you off? Wanted someone younger and prettier, no doubt. He was probably picking up all kinds of women now. Who knew what number blondie even was? I was well shut of him. I had refilled my taster while the boys were chatting, and I was so consumed with brooding that I didn’t even notice when Dave stepped away to fill his, leaving Michael and I alone.
“How’ve you been, Kate?” he was saying, casually reaching out to touch my arm. I started, then realized who was talking to me and pulled out my best contemptuous sneer.
“Fine, thank you, and yourself?” I answered coldly, jerking away from his touch.
“Wow!” he exclaimed. “What did I do?”
His ignorance of his wrongdoing infuriated me even more.
“Who’s the blonde?” I spat it out like a curse.
“Excuse me?” he said with affected innocence.
“You heard me. How long have you been seeing her?”
“You mean – you mean the blonde I was talking to a little while ago?”
“You seeing some other blondes, too?”
“She works at the brewery,” he answered calmly.
“You’re dating someone you work with?” I snapped scathingly. “That sounds smart.”
“I’m not dating her,” he reiterated. “She works at the brewery; that’s how I know her.”
“Oh.” I was still too mad to be embarrassed, but I could sense that that was about to change. I figured I’d better backtrack fast before he started thinking I liked him or something. But it’s hard to backpedal when you’ve got your foot in your mouth.
“It’s really none of my business,” I said coolly. “I just don’t want to see you – ruin your reputation.” Really? I confronted my addled brain. That was the best you could come up with? I thought you were supposed to be smart. But it was out and I would have to stick to it now.
He didn’t buy it anyway. “I haven’t been seeing anyone. In case you were wondering.”
I knew it might be a line but it sure didn’t sound like one, and his expression was sincere and his eyes were maybe even a little sad, and I was suddenly aware that he was standing very close to me and it was almost like old times, before that night, only more so because I could do a much better job of picturing him naked now. And had I not known that it was finished between him and me, I might even have believed that the anticipation was starting all over again, the wonderful wondering of what just maybe could possibly happen if the planets were somehow aligned perfectly right, a feeling I had sorely missed those last few months. Because when we exchanged our farewells and his eyes met mine, I knew that in spite of what he’d said, in spite of how he’d hurt me, I still liked him as much as I ever had. And what was more, I thought that maybe, just maybe, he felt the same way.
© Lori Schafer 2013
Originally published in e-Romance, April 2013.
A modified excerpt from my first novel, My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged.