I worked in compliance for a tech company in Seattle. I had some options if things worked out, as they seemed to be, in a little over a year, when those options vested, I’d be the 732nd millionaire who got his start at that little company. I was just counting the days. But I couldn’t tell Chicago that. Maybe she was a gold-digger. Besides being a little off.
I was on my way to Tampa, to bury my Aunt Lavonna. The woman who raised me when my mother went away for a long time for murdering my father as he slept next to her. Something about abuse and violence, but I was eight when it happened. I had no memories of any of that, but I had learned long ago no one really knows what might happen behind a closed door. I couldn’t tell Chicago any of this. She might think the abuse was genetic. How could we get married in Chicago if I was headed to Tampa? My Aunt Lavonna, who loved me and cared for me when nobody else would, needed to be buried. I owed her that much. Seemed to be an unresolvable conflict that would turn Chicago away.
I was scared. Of living the rest of my life alone. Of dying alone. Of never having a child. Of never touching a woman again. I was just so remarkably scared. Socorro was the one. I thought. Before her, it was Traci, and Deb, and one or two others. I gave my heart to them and something always happened. One was a dog person, I was a cat person. Deb got a job and I wasn’t ready to move. And Socorro. For a few years, we clicked. Until we didn’t. Now I was gun shy. Make that girl shy. Nothing I thought I knew made any sense anymore.
Maybe what Chicago was offering was the way to go. Marrying a stranger and going from there. Marrying a cute little thing who had a way about her that reached down deep and made my insides start to spin. Maybe …
But I couldn’t tell her that either, could I? That I was seriously thinking about what was clearly a joke. Right? She couldn’t possibly be serious about me following her to Chicago and getting married in a luxury box at a Cubs game.
* * * * *
“I’m 42,” I told her, trying not to cringe before she reacted.
“I’m 27,” she replied before dropping her voice to a whisper. “Jake’s 45.” I could barely hear her above the dull hum of conversation that filled the bar behind us.
“Did you say 45? Your ex?”
“Yes. You have nothing to worry about.”
“I’m not a Cubs fan. I actually don’t like baseball. It’s too slow for me.”
“We don’t need to watch the game and can leave as soon as the wedding is over. The rabbi is booked and paid for.”
“Yeah. I’m Jewish.”
“But you got a rabbi to perform a wedding at a Cubs game?”
“Sure,” Chicago laughed and batted her eyelashes at me. “He’s reform and a huge Cubs fan. He doesn’t care.”
“I’m not Jewish.”
“That’s okay. I told you he’s reform.” Chicago drained the rest of her beer and set the glass down on the bar, slightly off center of the condensation ring that had formed there. “And I don’t either. I’m actually about as Jewish as a bacon-wrapped pork chop stuffed with cheese. Never been to synagogue. Wouldn’t know the first thing about it, but my mom is Jewish and I thought having a rabbi marry Jake and me … excuse me, marry you and I … at a Cubs game would be different. Another story to tell the grandkids. Don’t you think?”
I tried something then. Call it a test. She had given me a peck and covered my hand with hers. Batted her eyes and asked me to marry her. I leaned over and kissed her, feeling her lips, cold from the beer. I closed my eyes and when I opened them, hers were still closed, the lashes down. I pulled away and looked at Chicago, her eyes flitting behind her closed lids as though she was processing the kiss. “Sounds good to me,” I said to her. “I’ll even buy you a Cubs hat for the occasion.”
Chicago licked her lips and opened her eyes, looking at me through those lashes. “That was nice. Thank you.”
“Kids, huh?” I asked.
“Well, maybe. If things work out.” She winked at me and wiggled her empty glass at me. “You only told me two things. One more and then I’ll tell you three things about me.”
She was right, but I didn’t know what else to tell her. I motioned to the bartender, allowing me to stall a bit. “You good with that?” I asked her, pointing at the glass.
“Two more,” I told the bartender and followed him with my eyes down to where the taps were before turning back to Chicago. “And one more for you. What do you want to know?”
She shook her head back and forth. “Nope. I’m not helping. What you decide to tell me is almost as important as what you tell me. For instance, I now know two things about you I didn’t know a few minutes ago. You wanna know?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Sure.” The more she talked, the less I had to. The more she talked, the longer I had to come up with that third thing if she continued to press for it.
“You’re concerned about your age and it’s not just that you were afraid I’d think you’re too old. That’s why it’s the first thing you told me, but don’t you worry about that.” Chicago reached out and tweaked my nose. “You’re just right for me.”
I grabbed her hand before she could settle it back on the bar and held it. “What’s the other?”
“You think I’m young and I want a ‘real man’ and you’re afraid you don’t meet my definition of that.” She leaned into me again and looked into my eyes. “I don’t have a definition and, if I did, it wouldn’t have anything to do with baseball or sports or whether you can fix a car with duct tape and spit. So,” Chicago hummed as she settled back on her bar stool, “stop worrying. We’re good.”
I wanted to disagree with her, to plead confidence in myself. In the idea of us. That I was sold on this crazy notion. But, who was I kidding? I was terrified. That this was all just a joke and that she was being completely real about the whole thing. Both. At the same time. Or maybe there was a hidden camera somewhere and soon people would pop out and tell me, slapping me on the back and slipping authorization forms in front of me, that Chicago had pulled this same stunt with twelve unsuspecting men already, all for some obscure cable show to air next month. I was the best, they’d say. I’d get my fifteen minutes.
Terrified that it was all too real and the next words out of my mouth would bring it all crashing down. This girl, this woman, had plucked my strings just right and I was ready to walk across hot coals for the chance to make this crazy idea a reality. I could change my flight and head to Chicago. Delay the burial by claiming Aunt Lavonna really wanted to be cremated. I’m sure that would take a few days – converting her remains to ashes. And wouldn’t the ashes keep? The good folks at Morrison’s Mortuary Services could store them away until I finished this thing with Chicago and then bring her to Tampa. Show her off a bit.
I owed Chicago a third thing about myself. I didn’t know what it was, but I needed something mind-blowing. As I opened my mouth, Chicago smacked her forehead with her open palm. “Jeepers,” she exclaimed. “I know the third thing.” She held a finger to my lips. “Ssssshhhhh. Don’t talk.”