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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2024098-The-Plain-Girl
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Drama · #2024098
A story of two people who didn't like each other.
         Kari had invited Merriam to meet up with her tonight. Merriam didn’t want to hang out in a downtown bar by herself waiting. She waited at Guido’s Pharmacy, which was a well known institution in Kingston. Guido wasn’t around anymore, but his grandson owned it, and his great-grandson managed it. It still had an old-fashioned soda fountain which pulled in the downtown lunch crowd, including professors and lawyers. Merriam felt safe waiting there until Kari came in.

         Kari and Merriam had been best friends all the way through high school and community college. Kari had been working two years as a dental assistant. Kari's boss, a young dentist, liked to party, but his wife now stayed at home with the kids. When they kept late office hours he would take out the office staff for drinks. They were all women, of course. Two assistants, two part-time hygienists, one full-time and one part-time receptionist/bookkeeper. They were all young, and except for one, single. It was a good opportunity to go out on someone else’s dime, and maybe meet up with friends.

         Kari was perky and upbeat. She was cute, and dressed according to fad. She liked short, low cut, and tight. So did the men who watched her. She always caught men’s eyes, and was accustomed to it. She expected it. She was confident in the way she handled herself. Her hair was no longer naturally blond, but it was stylish, and her make-up not too heavy.

         Merriam, by contrast, was average, conservative. Her brown hair looked plain. Her make-up was hardly noticeable. Her clothes covered her up and were loose-fitting. Her nails were natural and smooth, but not long or decorated. Her jewelry was minimal. Her shoes were comfortable. Her voice was soft, and her manner demure. Nothing about her said, “Hey, notice me.” And men rarely did.

         When Kari finally came in, she saw Merriam and walked over to her. She was all smiles. “Ready to go?”

         “Sure, where are we going?”

         “The Professor’s.”

         That was a bar a block away. It appealed to the college crowd and the youngish professionals. A retired professor had opened it a couple of decades earlier.

         They walked down the block together, chatting about their day. Merriam was saving her money to go back to college, so she was thrifty. She worked in a factory as a receptionist and file clerk. Inside The Professor’s, they were waved down by Kari’s co-workers. Dr. Wilson, handsome but nerdy, was already seated and picking up the tab for everyone’s drinks, including Merriam. They’d met before.

         A guitarist was trying desperately to play over the talk and waitresses calling out drink orders. They were seated in a non-smoking area. Two of the girls took calls on their smart phones. One began to text her boyfriend.

         Dr. Wilson asked, “So, Merriam how is the window business?”

         “It’s going pretty well, from my perspective. Lots of supplies coming in. Lots of shipments going out. Lots of sales calls. Lots of people applying for jobs, but not many getting interviews.”

         “I don’t imagine you have much turnover.”

         “Actually, our workforce is pretty stable. Unless someone retires, or dies,” she made a face at the last part, “we just don’t have openings. But people want to work there, because it’s steady work, good benefits, no holidays, frequent overtime. There’s good opportunity for promotion for skilled laborers, too. Not much for people like me.”

         “Oh, something will work out. Have faith.” He reached in his pocket, “Excuse me. I have to take this, my wife.” He withdrew to his phone.

         Kari nudged Merriam, and nodded over to the corner. Jeff Martin was standing with some women, laughing like he was the life of the party, touching them on the upper arm with his free hand, cradling a drink with the other. Whichever one had his attention at the time looked at him with goo-goo eyes. The flirting was nauseating to Merriam who felt he was a shallow cad. But it excited Kari.

         Kari alternated her glances from Jeff to the table.

         Merriam thought, ‘she can’t be liking this guy. He’s . . . ‘ But her thoughts were uninterrupted.

         “I would love to go out with him. He’s so sexy.”

         Merriam scrutinized him again. “You really think so?”

         “Sure,” Kari said. “He’s lean, almost tall, healthy, shiny hair. He has nice teeth. Have you noticed?”

         “Can’t say I ever looked at his teeth. I guess I would have noticed if they were bad.”

         Kari laughed. “Merriam, you’re so silly.” She shook her head. “Look at him. He’s got a nice butt, not too soft. His hands look strong. He has nice facial features. And a real nice smile.”

         Merriam nodded when Kari looked at her. Kari would get most guys she liked. She could be choosy, but she seemed to choose the bad boys every time, then get hurt. Merriam was choosy, but few boys—men—ever chose her.

         Eventually, the phones were put away, and everyone returned to the conversation which varied from Bon Jovi to Sting’s real age to the movies playing last weekend. After an hour, Dr. Wilson announced that his wife had made reservations for Aruba in late March. They would have a light week. The hygienists would see routine patients and do x-rays, only one assistant had to work while the hygienist was there, and the support staff could cut back their hours. No nights or weekend. He’d cover it all again in the office. He had to go. He made one last order and paid the bill.

         “You’re on your own. Don’t stay out too late. You have to work tomorrow. Call a cab if necessary.”

         The ladies thanked him and nursed their drinks. While the rest finished theirs and said good-night. Kari didn’t want to go, and wanted Merriam to stay with her. They ordered a soda from the waitress staring them down.

         Jeff had narrowed it down to just two women. Another dude had moved in on him and taken one of the women away.

         Merriam tried to start conversation about going to Aruba or anywhere, but Kari wasn’t in a talking mood. She could barely think. She was so mesmerized by the agile, energetic Jeff.

         Finally, it looked like Jeff and both women were going to leave, but the women kept going, and he sat down in the booth with Kari and Merriam. He looked smug and smiled leeringly at Kari.

         “Evening, Kari,” he tried to sound cool and suave.

         “Hi,” she said, trying not to show any nervousness. Merriam didn’t think she appeared nervous at all. But she herself wanted to disappear, and didn’t know how to do so graciously.

         He leaned in closer to Kari, letting his eyes follow her hand on her soda glass, up her arm, to her shoulder, then her face. “I noticed you watching me tonight.”

         Kari looked shocked. “No way. I haven’t been watching you. Why would I waste my time doing that? I was here with my boss and my co-workers.”

         “You don’t work with Merriam there, do you?”

         “No, she came with me.”

         “Is she going to leave with you?”

         “I’m not sure.”

         “Merriam, are you going to leave with Kari? What are you plans?” He threw his player’s smile her way.

         “I’m doing whatever my friend wants. If she wants me to go when she goes, I will. If she wants to leave with someone else, she’ll tell me, and I’ll do it. Friends work with each other.”

         “You can go. I’ll see she gets home.”

         “She has to be the one to tell me.”

         “It’s okay, Merriam. I can take care of myself.”

         “I’ll talk to you tomorrow then. Call me.”

         “Thanks, Merriam.” Kari reached out and grabbed her hand. Merriam nodded.

         “Yeah, thanks Merriam. You’re a peach.” Jeff was putting out a dirty old man look, but Merriam was sure Kari saw it differently. The other women probably had seen through his phony act.

         Merriam walked out of the bar alone. She found her way down the side street where she was parked and hurriedly got in her car. By the time, she got home, she had a text from Kari,

         “OMG. He’s taking me home.”

         “Gross,” was all she could say.

         Over the next few weeks, she got accustomed to seeing Jeff around. When they went to the Sheraton to dance, he was there. She began to see a pattern. Kari was using Merriam as a ride to go places, hoping to hook up with Jeff while there. They were not making dates in advance, just running into each other, or maybe not. Merriam figured, when he didn’t show up, he must have found some “fresh”. She didn’t doubt for a minute that Kari was only one girl in his harem. She hoped they were being cautious.

         Merriam started withdrawing from the dance club and bar cycle. She had hung out with Kari for so long, she didn’t have other close friends, and Kari was addicted to her bad boy.

         Merriam lived with her older brother who had a social life of his own. He didn’t ask her any questions about what she did with her time. They split the utilities; he paid the mortgage. Each paid their own way otherwise. One of his friends wanted to go out with her, but she felt it was unwise to be involved with one of her brother’s buddies. The men at work were mostly uneducated. She wanted more.

         She went to the library, but that was no way to make friends. She didn’t want to spend money, so she went to anything free that she could at the college or the local community college. But that turned out to be rather solitary, too. She understood what it is to be lonely in a crowd.

         On Saturdays, she’d go to the public boat dock on the river, in the city limits, and watch people fishing, or loading boats. A crowd gathered one day while a woman threw a Frisbee repeatedly off the end of the dock into the river, and her huge dog would run down and jump off the end, flying through the air. He’d make a big splash in the water and swim back, climbing up the boat ramp, and bring the Frisbee to her. He’d release it easily into her hands. She’d count, and fling it again high into the air. The dog did it over and over again, while the crowd cheered and clapped. He paid no mind to the crowd, but obeyed his master. When she looked at her watch, and figured he’d had enough exercise; she called him. He easily obeyed and got in the truck. She drove away.

         Merriam backed up to turn towards her car only to stumble into Jeff Martin.

         “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were there.”

         “It’s okay. You didn’t hurt me.” He had both hands on her like she was falling, and he had rescued her. “You look kind of pretty today. Did you do something different?”

         Merriam closed her eyes for a second. Does he even know what he’s saying? Does he mean to be insulting or is he just dense?

         She shook her head and tried to walk away.

         “Hold on. Don’t leave. That dog was incredible, wasn’t he?”
She had to agree.

         “I think I know what it is. I don’t usually see you in jeans. These fit you pretty good. And your shirt is tucked in. You’ve got a nice figure. The daylight must be good for you, too. Your hair is shiny. Your skin is smooth. I’ve never seen you like this.” He let go of her to stand back and admire her.

         “Oh, Jeff. It’s just because there are no other women around. If somebody younger or sexier were here, you wouldn’t be looking at me at all.”

         “I’ve been blind, not to look at you. You’ve got a pleasant voice, a good personality. You’re a nice girl. I guess I’m not used to that. There are so many easy girls around. They don’t take any work. I know that didn’t come out right. But it’s the bottom line. You can’t be treated like other women.”

         “Jeff, what do you want? Did you break up with Kari? Are you trying to get back at her or something?”

“Break up? We’re not even going together. I’m playing the field. I’m just trying to be nice to you.”

         “Well, I’m not used to it. You’re spooking me.”

         He broke out into a really big smile. He was kind of cute when he wasn’t being phony. Oh, I’ve got to be on guard. He’ll work some of that voodoo of his on me.

         “I know you’re not like those other girls. I can’t treat you the way I do them. They like me. You could, too, if you tried. I mean just to be a little friendlier. I don’t want you to change and be like them. They like it when I talk trash to them. They like for me to touch them or cozy up to them. They don’t care about the other women. You wouldn’t be like that. You’re the kind of woman that needs a faithful man. That’s not me. But we could be friends.”

         He reached out to touch her chin but stopped short. “You know you want to . . . be friends.” He tucked his chin like he was trying to tempt her with an extra dessert.

         “Now, Mr. Martin,” she started sternly.

         “Being formal, now are we?” he teased her, weaving in front of her.

         “You know you are full of bird crap. You can be quite charming, even when it’s a crock. You are a womanizer. You want to take advantage of my friend and other acquaintances. But you want me to pretend I don’t care, and pass silent approval of your behavior. Very seldom are you honest and frank with anyone. You’ve been a fake for so long, you don’t know how to be real. You play with people’s emotions. You engage in the most intimate relationships and yet don’t really engage yourself in them at all. It takes a shallow person to do that.”

         She stopped to take a breath. He was slightly stunned. They had managed to walk away from other people, so no audience listened to them. Then before he could respond, she continued like a motor had wound up inside her.

         “You respond to attractive women or women dressed like sluts. But you fail to notice intelligent, creative, talented women all around you. There are successful, charming, caring, decent women all over this town, but they choose not to sleep with the sleazy likes of you. So in your book that makes them unworthy of your time or courtesy.”

         After a second, he spread his hands, and shook his head, “Well, Merriam, tell me how you really feel. Don’t hold back.”

         “I’m done.” She brushed past him and got in her car. He hadn’t realized they had made it that far up the parking lot.

         He leaned into the driver’s window. “You know I walked up behind you in the crowd watching the dog. I really didn’t recognize you until I got close and did a double take. I thought ‘Who is that good-looking woman?’ I wasn’t lying about the way you look today. You do look good. Don’t keep hiding it.”

         He stood up and waved good-bye as she backed out.

         Later in the week,Kari texted her. “She responded, “What’s with you and Jeff?”

         “Dunno” was the answer.

         They got together for drinks at Cheeseburger in Paradise at the Shopper’s Parke. Dr. Wilson was buying again.

         “Hey, Merriam. Glad to see you. Kari’s been ditching us a lot lately for that guy.”

         One of her officemates spoke up. “Yeah, we don’t like him. I mean we do, but we don’t. He’s cute, but he’s a playa, and we’ve been telling her to dump him.”

         “Don’t worry. I’ve haven’t seen him in a while.”

         “Did you all have a fight? I’m an old married man now. I live through your lives. Tell me.”

         “No fight. He just hasn’t been out anywhere. I’ve sent him texts; I’ve called. I’ve been by his apartment.”

         “You went by his apartment.” It was Shanna, the receptionist. “You went by the man’s apartment uninvited? There could have been a woman there. Did you want a scene? They may have been hiding from you.”

         “No he was there. He answered the door. He told me wasn’t seeing anyone right now. He needed a vacation from women.”

         “You’ve gotta be kidding. He’s got herpes or worse.”

         “I already made an appointment.”

         Merriam spoke up. “Don’t think the worst. It could be other things. He’d tell you and the others if he knew for sure. He’s not mean. Just don’t see anyone else until you see the doctor.”

         “But dishonesty is his game,” said Dr. Wilson. He lies to women all the time. Kari caught him with someone else when he supposed to have a date with her. We know he lies.”

         Merriam looked at Kari in surprise. “Yeah, I was thinking about dumping him before. Now I’m sure. I think. He’s so sexy. And he’s good at it.”

         Merriam clenched her fists up in the air, and blew off steam. “Come to your senses, Kari. Being good in bed is a bonus, not the main reason to like a guy. He needs to have some worth as a human being. He needs to have a good heart, a decent soul. He can’t be a user, a playa. You deserve better.”

         Shanna sadly said, “It’s a shame great bodies and charming ways are wasted on bad characters.”

         Another girl added, “He’s really not that handsome. He just has these sexy ways about him. They grow on you even when you know what he’s like. Testosterone or whatever!”

         “Oh, ladies. You make me want to go home to my wife. She won’t moon over anyone but me. At least not where I can hear it. I don’t see it in him. He’s just a working class guy. I’m not allowed to drink at home around the children. That’s why I’ve listened to you this long. I’ve got to go.” So Dr. Wilson paid up and left.

         The following Sunday Merriam drove down to the dock out of boredom after church. She was still in her tailored dress and good shoes which she hated messing up in the gravel parking lot. But she wanted to go down to the sidewalk along the riverbank to see if anyone was catching fish. She sat on a bench to bask in the sun. She closed her eyes and remembered the last time she was here. The dog had put on quite a show. But then she had put on one minor one herself for some reason. It really was none of her business how Jeff led his life.

         She was feeling warm and sleepy, when she felt a hand on her shoulder. It startled her, but she was relieved to look up and see that it was not some tramp or thief. It was Jeff. He could see that he had startled her. He removed his hand and walked around in front of her.

         “I’ve been back here several times, hoping I’d see you. Do you mind?” He motioned to the bench beside her. She waved her hand over it, and he sat beside her.

         She wasted no time. “Kari says you’re on vacation from women.”

         He looked at her and nodded his head. “Yeah, someone got me thinking. Thinking more that is. I’m approaching my thirtieth birthday, and I’ve been wondering where my life is going. Am I heading in the right direction? Can I get a promotion at work? Will I have enough money for retirement? Will I ever own my own house? Do I want to have kids or not? You know, stuff like that? I can’t be . .. . I’ll keep this clean for you. Let’s say seeing women when I need to be thinking about my life and making plans.”

         “You know your band of women think you have herpes or something worse.”

         “What? No, that’s crazy. They know I use protection.” He looked at her suddenly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

         Merriam contemplated for a moment. “Did you and Kari have a fight?”

         “No, what difference. . .well, maybe we did. I was kissing this loose girl I had just met out on the dance floor. I had seen her before, but we had never danced together. I’ve never been out with her. Kari got really jealous.”

         “So she let everybody think you’re diseased to get even.”

         “Bitch. Probably. But that’s okay. The other women will know better. They can all go to the doctor and run up some bills. That’s okay. I think I want to turn over a new leaf. I’m not sure I can do it on a long term basis. But I’m gonna try.”

         “There aren’t many people who will believe that now. But you know if you do change, you will find a lot of supporters. People love to hear success stories of how someone turned their life around.”

         “Now, Merriam, how many men do you think will consider me a hero of my story when I’m surrounded by good-looking women willing to do anything for me, women of all ages and social class, and I give them all up for a life of chastity?”

         “Are you becoming a priest?”

         “No. It’s not going to be forever.”

         “I thought you were talking about career changes, financial changes, plans for the future, maybe settling down with one woman at a time, maybe having kids some day. I didn’t think you’d be going with total abstinence for a long time. I’m confused. What are you talking about?” She looked at him in bewilderment.

         “You had it right. I’m thinking about the future. I never planned to live this long. I only lived one day at a time with no thought for another. I can’t keep living like that. I never realized how other people saw me until you lit into me. Other women flirted and wanted me. I thought that made me loveable, invincible. But I might not always be this good-looking or have so much magnetism.”

         There was a twinkle in his eye as he paused to look at Merriam. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. She knew he was trying to be sarcastic, but he had enough ego to believe what he was saying.

         “So when women don’t want me anymore, what will I have? A lot of loneliness. So I figured it’s going to be like giving up tobacco or alcohol. I have to go cold turkey. Meanwhile my brain will be free to work on other things, like savings, IRAs, building a house. Then when I think I can make it, I have to court the woman I want. Old-fashioned, time-consuming courting. You know emotional intimacy, all that jazz that some people like to talk about.”

         “That’s a big job. But you can do it, if you really want to.”

         “I’ll need support. From my friends. Like you.”

         “I’m your friend?”

         “You don’t remember last time?”

         “We’ve never hung out. We’ve never been friends. If it weren’t for Kari, you never would have talked to me.”

         “But I did talk to you. I discovered you were a decent person, a deep person, not just a goody two shoes. Do you know why I never flirted with you? It wasn’t because of your looks or your personality. It was because I knew it wouldn’t work. You have ‘keep away’ all over you. Guys like me always go for the easier looking girls. But don’t change. Only take the ‘keep away’ signs down for guys you like. I hope I’m going to be one of those guys someday soon.”

         She lowered her chin and looked at him in disbelief.

         “I saw you in pretty clothes twice now. I know what’s underneath all those layers of loose-fitting clothes, so I’m okay with you not advertising to everyone else. You listen to me. Do you know how hard it is to get those other women to shut up long enough to listen to a man talk. They’re only after one thing. I’ve been willing to give it to them. But I like being able to talk once in a while.”

         “Yes, you’ve given it to quite a few of them. Frequently from what I hear some say. And quite well.”

         “Well, I hate to brag.”

         “Stop there. Don’t expound any further, please.”

         “Okay, I’ll keep it clean.”

         “I’m just sorry so many women have taken advantage of you this way and abused your gifts, you poor thing.”

         “Merriam, I didn’t think you were a sarcastic woman. I guess we’re getting better acquainted.”

         He put his elbow on the back of the bench, and reached out to touch her hair, a tender look in his eye. Then he shook his head and withdrew his hand.

         “No, I said I would not do any of that.”

         He straightened up and spoke again. “I’ve got an appointment with a financial counselor this week. I even thought about reading a book.”

         "I recommend reading."Merriam couldn’t help but smile. He had turned out to be entertaining. Then her internal warnings went off again, Caution. Caution.

         “I think it’s too soon to take you to dinner. May I invite you at some future date?”

         Again, she found herself laughing at his formality. “Yes. but I don’t see why acquaintances can’t have dinner.”

         “It’s hard to break old habits. I don’t know if I’m going to make it. If I don’t, I’ll be a loser as an old man. But so far, I’m sober and smoke-free. The cigarette money is going in the bank. It adds up. The party money I’m saving for a splurge of some kind. What I miss the most is the women buzzing around me.”

         “So what are you doing with the time you used to spend at bars?”

         “TV. Pathetic, huh? Exercising. Notice my physique?” He pumped up his chest and posed with his arm up.

         She held up her hand and looked away, like it was obscene. “Spare me.”

         “No, really. I’ve been pumping iron. It helps me at work, too. Feel this.” He held out his arm to her. “Go ahead. Squeeze my arm.”

         Merriam hesitatingly put her hand on his upper arm and noticed its firmness. She slso noticed this dark, wild eyelashes and his broad nose.

         “Well, I heard you were hanging out here a lot.” It was Kari. She stopped short when she recognized Merriam, who had shrunk back. “What are you doing here?” She looked at her accusingly. She looked back at Jeff who had said nothing. “Are you two hanging out?”

         “We were talking. What’s wrong with that?” He was back in his old aloof way of talking and moving his head.

         “You’re supposed to be my best friend. What do you think you’re doing?” Kari was staring down Merriam. Is this what it had come to? Kari would blow her cool because she was talking to her ex-boyfriend?

         “Like he said we were talking. I haven’t heard from you in ages. For a best friend, you haven’t returned my calls, my texts, or made any effort to contact me. I’m the one who should be angry!”

         “Best friends don’t flirt or cozy up to her friend’s boyfriend.”

         “Whoa. You were dating someone else,” Merriam angrily shot back.

         “You were cheating on me?” Now Jeff looked stunned.

         These words stung Merriam. How naïve she felt.

         “Baby, I had it all wrong. Just because he made more money and drove a nice car, I got confused. I know how you are. I can overlook things.”

         She had sat down by Jeff and was stroking his leg.

         He jumped up. “Well, I can’t overlook things. I’m trying to change my future. You’re one of the things that has to go.”

         “So you’re going to start hanging out with Plain Jane over here? Think how satisfying that will be.”

         While they were arguing, and name calling, Merriam slunk away and got to her car as quickly as possible before she could be stopped. No one tried to stop her. She didn’t know how things ended back there and didn’t want to know. She didn’t go back the following week.

         But other people noticed things were changing around Merriam. Her new hair cut brought a lot of compliments. She tried some new make-up, not too much, just enough to bring out her pretty eyes. Even the men at work were complimenting how bright and cheery she looked, and they wondered what she had done. Funny what a little eyeliner and a dab of blush can do.

         Spring was coming, and wardrobe changes came with the season. She took three outfits out of her closet, gave them to Goodwill. She went shopping, and made sure the outfits weren’t just on sale, but actually fit and looked good. For some reason, her personality bloomed as well.

         She had gotten several texts from Kari, but didn’t answer them. She decided that if her bff could turn on her so quickly over an ex-boyfriend who was only an acquaintance to her, then she didn’t need to stay with that relationship. Then one day, she got a call at work. It was Jeff.

         “Hey, Merriam, I didn’t know how else to reach you. I’ve kept going to the boat dock, but you didn’t show up. I’ve missed you.”

         “I can’t talk while I’m on the switchboard.”

         “Ok. Give me your cell number. I have to talk to you. I’ll call you later. Honest. Nothing funny.”

         She gave him the number just to get him off the phone, but couldn’t make up her mind whether she would answer it or not.

         About half an hour after she got off, her cell rang. She decided to see what he wanted.

         “Meet me.”

         “They’re predicting rain. The dock isn’t good tonight.”

         “No. Not the dock. Let me treat you to dinner. Something simple. A sandwich? How’s Fabio’s?”

         “I dunno.”

         “I just want to talk to you, to see you. It’s not a date. I’m harmless.”

         “Ok, I meant I don’t know about Fabio’s. I’ve never been there.”

         “It’s ok, subs, salads, fries. The usual. Or we could go to the Greek Palace for gyros.”

         “If you’re treating, either one.”

         “Great. You know where the Greek Palace is? Meet me there.”

         She agreed, and went straight there. He was waiting.

         “Is Kari going to show up and throw another fit?” Merriam looked as though he were trying to trick her into something.

         “I don’t know what that crazy woman is going to do. I haven’t seen her since that night you sneaked away at the dock.”

         “I thought you two were getting back together.”

         “You thought wrong. She called me every name in the book. I had to get mean with her. I turned around and you were gone. I don’t know why she came after me, unless she was trying to make her new guy jealous or something. We got vicious. She realized I was looking for you, and she accused me of lowering my standards. I told her my standards couldn’t get any lower than when I dated women like her. She tried to slug me, but I ducked.”

         "I wish she had hit you just for saying that." She paused. "Even though I'd like to slug her for talking about me that way."

         He shook his head. They walked to the door, which he held open for her. They went in and were seated. It only took a moment for each to decide on gyros, fries and iced tea.

         “The quality here is good, and the service is quick. The ambience is a little shaky.”

         “You used a word like ambience.” Merriam smiled.

         “Whoa, for a nice girl, that stings my feelings just a little. Even party boys can have a passable vocabulary.”

         “Sorry. I just had a low opinion of you for such a long time without really knowing you. I’m learning there’s more than meets the eye.”

         “That’s a good thing, I hope.”

         She shrugged.

         “I’ve learned that, too. Speaking of learning, I have a financial plan now. I won't bore you with it, unless you like that kind of stuff. It's a big deal for me.The boss knows I want more responsibility, and he’s going to pay for some courses for me. I thought maybe you could help me with some computer practice.”

         “Well, within my limitations.”

         “I've been living clean. I'm planning for the future. You don't seem to hate me any more. Would you go out with me some time. On a real date? I promise to behave. I want to try old-fashioned courtship and get to know you first. I won’t be that heel you used to know.”

Merriam smiled. “IWe could try it.”

         “Sure. You look great tonight. You smell great, too. I meant to mention that outside.” He was running his finger over the back of her hand.

         “I feel good about the future. Today’s my thirtieth birthday, you know. I didn’t want to spend it with anyone but you.

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