This is one of those stories that starts out: "This guy walks into a bar..." In this case, the bar was the airport cocktail lounge where I work nights, and the place was so dead rigor mortis had set in. Even the terminal was empty except for an old guy staring out at the runway and one of the security guards hitting on a ticket agent. Outside, I heard the midnight flight taking off, twenty minutes late, for Las Vegas.
I was getting ready to close up and watching David Letterman drop a giant squid off a five-story building when I realized I had a customer.
"'Morning," I said. "What can I getcha?"
"Rum and Coke."
"Two ninety-five," I said setting the small glass on the bar in front of him.
He frowned and handed me three ones. He was right; the prices are outrageous, especially considering what I get paid. I just hoped that I was going to get a bigger tip than the nickel change he had coming.
Now at that point in time, I was about halfway through the second volume of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, so I discreetly observed my sole customer with a Holmesian eye. He was of medium height, light build and dark complexioned. I judged him to be in his early- or mid-twenties. His hair was either dark brown or black depending on the light, and probably how much sun he'd had lately. He had almond-shaped eyes that reminded me of cat's eyes. He was wearing a somewhat rumpled-looking tux; the black bow tie hung loose around his neck and a wilted white carnation dangled listlessly from his lapel. His eyes were a little bloodshot and he was sporting maybe twelve or eighteen hours of stubble. Sticking out of his jacket pocket was an empty boarding pass envelope which told me he'd just come in from San Francisco a few minutes earlier. I could just see a card or invitation of some sort peeking out from behind the envelope. His only luggage was a small blue knapsack sitting on the stool next to him.
He glanced up at me and I quickly looked away. When he turned back to his drink, I studied his reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I made the following deductions based on my observations: He had made the short trip from Southern California up to SF and stayed a day or day-and-a-half during which time he attended some sort of wing-ding, probably a wedding.
Every so often, he'd gaze thoughtfully into the mirror and smile a wistful little smile. After catching that a couple of times, I was willing to bet money that he'd been to a wedding. Likely as a friend of the bride's; An old friend, as they used to say on those Molson's commercials.
"Here's to the happy couple," I quoted from the commercial without turning around.
I saw his reflection smirk at that, so I turned to face him directly.
"Did you ever wonder where your reflection goes when you're not standing in front of the mirror?" he asked suddenly, his expression serious.
"If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make any noise?" he said as if to clarify himself. "You've heard that one, right?"
I shrugged. "Sure."
"Well then, what does a mirror in an empty room reflect?"
"The empty room?"
"How do you know?" his scowl was more thoughtful than contemptuous despite his tone. "You've never been in a truly empty room. If you were, it wouldn't be an empty room because you'd be in it."
"Got me there," I admitted.
"Is it worth another one?" He thumbed his empty glass across the bar at me.
I looked around the deserted bar. "Sure, why not?"
"This time, go a little easier on the Coke." He smiled that sad little smile.
I refilled his glass and tapped a beer for myself. It wasn't as if anyone was going to tell on me or anything. In the terminal outside the lounge, security guard had given up on the ticket agent and headed back up the hall towards the metal detectors. There were a couple of tired-looking folks sitting at opposite ends of the room, but the place was still basically dead.
"My name's Steve," I offered.
"Martin," he replied extending a hand. "Martin Woo-Julanski. Everyone calls me Wuju." He had a low soft voice that had a quality of warmth and a humble sort of self-confidence.
"Pleasure, Wuju," I said shaking his hand. "Tell me, what brought up that bit about the mirror?"
Wuju grinned. "You look like a man who's dying to hear a story."
"It has been a pretty dull night," I admitted.
"Well, you're in luck," he said. "Because I just happen to be a man who's dying to tell one." He gazed thoughtfully at his reflection again. "I don't suppose you could refill this?" His glass was empty again. "This time hold the Coke."
"You driving tonight?"
"Someone's coming to pick me up," he explained. "I was supposed to be on the one o'clock flight, but there was room on the eleven-thirty, so I took it. I was on my way to call my ride when I heard a good stiff drink or three calling my name."
I nodded and refilled his glass, not for the last time. He was watching the mirror with those cat-like eyes of his. His wistful smile returned and then slowly faded as he started telling his story.
"This is one of those stories that should start out Once upon a time..." he began.
"....But the little gold ring you wear on your hand
There's another before me, you'll never be mine
The Grassroots, "Midnight Confessions"
Once upon a time, there was a very nice and basically well-meaning young man whose friends called him Wuju as his mother was Woo and his father was Julanski. Since I am he, and he is me (koo-koo-kachoo), we can skip the introductions and get straight to the story.
Due to a computer foul-up with my transcripts, I spent the summer following my senior year of college in summer school trying to make up some units that had turned out not to count after all. Actually, it wasn't as bad as it sounds; I had a nice little studio apartment at a reasonable price and a great part-time job down at Haster's Donuts by the Westland Mall. I worked the graveyard shift Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from ten at night till six in the morning. My classes were four mornings a week from eight-thirty till noon. Like I said, all in all, it was a pretty good deal. I got to sleep through the hottest part of the day and then get up in time for those thrilling summer reruns on the tube. On my nights off, I could watch late night movies, or even study.
And then there was Janet.
Janet Blake and I had known each other since the beginning of fall quarter. We both worked at Haster's and we were both enrolled at Cal State. We were also both in the same sort of situation; she needed to finish up her senior thesis before they'd give her her degree, so she was stuck here for the summer too. When graduation had rolled around and everyone took off for parts unknown, Janet and I decided that it might be nice to work together. You know, just to have a familiar face around. As it turned out, we both wound up on graveyard which was a two-person shift, so hers was basically the only face I saw eight hours a night, three nights a week. Fortunately, we got along famously. We started out as casual acquaintances, but by the end of the first week, we were old buddies.
Even if we hadn't gotten along so well, Janet's face was one that was very easy for me to look at. She had long golden-blonde hair, mind-numbing blue eyes, and a smile that could've disarmed a full-scale nuclear attack.
You don't exactly have to be a rocket scientist to figure out where this is going. I really didn't mean to fall in love with her. I mean, that simply was not something that was on my mind when we signed up to work together. I don't know when it happened, or how it happened. I know it happened quickly. It was like I suddenly woke up one morning and realized there wasn't anything I wouldn't do for her.
I've been told, and I have to agree with this, that I am a hopeless romantic. I'm the sort who tends to love well, but not too wisely. Not too wisely roughly translated to mean that I haven't got the sense that God gave a piece of cork when it comes to women. We all have our faults.
In this case, I figured all I had to do was keep my mouth shut and my hands to myself until the end of summer and then we'd go our separate ways. No problem. Except...
Except that I wasn't the only one on that shift who was developing a case of the warm fuzzies for his partner. I wouldn't presume to speak for Janet on the subject of her feelings for me, but I would guess that they were at least as unexpected to her as mine were to me. I do know for certain it wasn't something she'd planned on anymore than I had.
So, you have two people, possibly falling in love, staying up all night making donuts together. No problem. Except...
Except that Janet was engaged to this lucky bass-astard named Phil Smith who was in medical school at some Ivy League college. She and Phil were childhood sweethearts and had been engaged for about a year with the wedding date set for September.
All right, these things happen in a society that expects monogamy; you get these little conflicts. The obvious simple thing for her to do was either write a Dear Phil letter or give me the Just Good Friends talk. Either way, it'd be settled and we'd both be able to go back to sleeping days. Except...
Except, of course, life is never, ever obvious or simple. Ever.
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