In the wee hours of Friday night, I showed up at Club Salsa by myself. Since I didn’t remember the night, I can only assume that Lenny had called it a night already and was sleeping in his car at this point. I cannot, however, explain what possessed me to enter Club Salsa.
Despite the name, Club Salsa is not dedicated to one specific Latin dance, but dancing in general. Friday nights are usually a mix of house and jungle music, and full of a younger crowd. I chose a seat in the corner and did what I usually do in places like this. I watched. After scanning the room several times, my eyes kept drifting back to one person in particular, and her eyes looked back my direction more than once.
She was older than anyone else in the crowd, dressed to the nines, and her green eyes betrayed something about her. It was something that said she didn’t belong here. I decided to find out what it was.
The ‘experts’ say that there is a certain time limit imposed on approaching a woman. If you approach as soon as you make eye contact, she’ll think you’re desperate. If you approach after a long wait, you appear insecure. I’m not sure I agree with this idea, but I gave her a minute before I approached.
“Mind if I sit here?” I came up on her blind side, like in some cliché movie pickup.
“Help yourself,” she said with a smile.
“My name’s Ben, but everyone calls me Stuckey or Stuck.” The bartender was in front of me, so I ordered a Bass.
“It’s nice to meet you, Ben. My name is Diane.” She extended her left hand, and I noticed the tan line on ring finger. The tan line, combined with a hint of nervousness about her, told me her story.
“I noticed you while I was sitting over there storytelling and was a little curious about you, so I thought I’d come introduce myself.” My beer arrived and I took a long sip.
“Storytelling?” Diane asked. “What sort of stories were you telling by yourself?”
“It’s like people-watching with an added game,” I chuckled. “You look at someone and you make up a story for them. For example, you see that guy over there by the DJ booth with the baseball cap on and the cigarettes in his back pocket? I figure he’s a high school gym teacher, hoping to find the youngest woman he can.”
“Oh, I get it.” Diane laughed, and it was a wonderful sound. “So how about that woman there?” The woman in question was six feet tall and built like a truck.
“Too easy. She’s here from Baltimore, where she recently received gender reassignment, to make a new start for herself. Her name is something like Simone, and she’s self-conscious about her hands.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” Diane smiled before giving me a serious look. “So what’s my story? Why were you curious?”
“Promise that you won’t get angry.”
“I can’t promise to suppress an emotion, but I can promise not to take it out on you.” She grinned with not a little mischief. “Unless you ask me to.”
“Fair enough, Diane,” I took a long breath. I decided that honesty would be the best approach. “You’re a woman, alone at the bar and dressed to kill. You’re incredibly attractive, however, you’re in a bar that doesn’t exactly fit you. So there are three possibilities, and none of them are ones you want to hear.”
“I’m not sure I like where this is going,” Diane said, but didn’t stop grinning.
“The first possibility, and I don’t think this is true for you, is that you’re a prostitute.” I continued before she could interrupt. “The reason I doubt that is that you look too classy for that line of work, and you haven’t come on too strong.”
“I’m glad to hear it. So what are the other two?”
“The second is that you’re in town on business, had to get out, and just don’t know where to go. There are plenty of hotels around here, so you could be staying at any of them.” I lied to give her a chance to avoid hearing the truth. “This is the one I think applies to you.”
“It’s not. I’ve lived here all my life.” Diane grinned wider. “So you’ve got one chance left.”
“The third possibility is the worst of the three, I think.” I took another long swallow of beer and held the bottle in my hand. As much as people joke about beer being liquid courage, it did make me feel a little better. “You’re married, or separated, or divorced and just met the husband’s new girl.”
Diane’s smile vanished in that instant and those beautiful green eyes clouded with sorrow. I wanted to take back my words, to give this woman back her beauty, but my mouth kept talking.
“You weren’t sure how to deal with your feelings over the situation, and you made the most common mistake that women in that place do.” I took another long drink, emptying my bottle but keeping it in my hand. “You decided that vengeance would make you feel better. You’ve been out of the singles’ scene so long that you didn’t know where to go, so picked this place.”
“Stop.” Her voice was barely a whisper. “Please stop.”
“I’m sorry, Diane.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “I’ll make it up to you, though.”
“I’ll make you feel attractive and desirable, without sacrificing your dignity.” I smiled at her.
“She was so…” Diane started, but looked away.
“It doesn’t matter what she was.” I held her chin and moved her head to face me again. “She may have been everything you’re not, or she may have been the exact same as you. The problem isn’t in her or in you, but in him. He’s a fool for turning his back on you.”
She looked away again, and I let her. I just patted her on the back.
“If you’d like, I’d be honored to dance with you,” I said. “Or I can leave you alone and go back to my table. Either way, don’t lower your standards for something like this.”
She didn’t reply, so I stood up and went back to my table without another word. I felt sorry for Diane, but I hoped she’d make out all right. In my corner, I went back to my storytelling and started on another beer. As I was finishing it, Diane walked up to my table and sat down.
“So I’ve been sitting there at the bar looking at you, trying to think of your story, and I can’t.” She showed me a little smile. “I’d like to hear it, and then you can have that dance.”