“Bring me her phone number,” demanded Lisa, my oldest and closest friend in the world. She subtly pointed to the other side of the crowded bar where a skinny woman with too-straight hair, too-long fingernails, too-high heels, and too-much makeup sipped from her unnaturally pastel alcoholic beverage.
“You want me to do what?” I squeaked.
“You heard me, Fuentes.” She used my surname to indicate to me that she was serious.
“I don’t really go for the Long Island type, Green.” I used her surname to indicate that I too was serious.
“I’m not asking for her hand in marriage,” she replied, “just her number.”
“Because it’s something you’ve never had a problem with before.”
“People change,” I told her.
The look she gave me was one part mourning and one part pitying. “What happened to you?”
“Fell in love,” I replied. “It took the edge off.”
“It’ll do that.”
We shrugged at each other and took a sip of our beers at the same time.
After a moment, she grabbed me by the shoulders, looked deep into my eyes, and said, “Trust me.”
Taking a deep breath, I stepped away from her protective aura and flexed my fingers in a quixotic attempt to restore circulation to them. I moseyed over to the plastic doll and forced my lungs to spit out the single most successful come-on line I’ve ever used: “Hi, I’m Max.”
“Lara,” she replied.
“Are you from the …” I stopped when I realized that we’d both lost interest about three words ago.
Head hung low, I returned to Lisa’s side. “I give you ten for effort,” she said, “but dock you seven for desperation.”
“I am desperate!” I sighed. “Can we just go?”
She gently slapped my cheek and pushed my forehead with her index finger. “I don’t think you’re listening, asshole. We’re not leaving here without a phone number.”
She nodded toward a pair of women a guy like me could fantasize about but never date. “Round two,” she said.
“I can’t even get one number.”
“I’m only asking for one,” she replied. “And the sooner you bring me one, the sooner we can get out of here and go find a real bar.”
“Look,” I began.
“You look!” she shouted, startling the both of us. She took several deep breaths before reaching up, grabbing my chin, and forcing me to look her in the eye. “Do you remember your cousin’s graduation party?”
It took me a moment to change gears to keep up with her, but I did.
“You brought the keg, and you were fifteen.”
“Or the time you and me stole my father’s truck to go tailgating, and he never noticed.”
“What does that have to do with …”
We locked stares for a long time until I broke away with a grin. “That’s a pretty moving speech.”
She blushed. “Been practicing.” She tapped her finger on the bar in the space between two shots of whiskey. “They’ll be waiting for us when you get back,” she said before she spun me around, patted my ass, and shoved me away from the counter.
I counted to ten, regained my composure, corrected my stumble, and broke out into an easy stroll. Ahead of me stood the women in question, hugging the wall and looking as bored as thirteen-year-old nerds at a spring formal.
Without warning, I appeared between the two of them, leaning against the wall so casually you’d be forgiven for assuming I’d been there all night. “Hi,” I said to them, “I’m Max.”
They giggled, more out of surprise than anything.
The woman on my right held out her hand with a smile. “Jaz,” she told me.
“My pleasure,” I replied.
Her friend informed me, “Legs.”
“Your name is Legs?”
She took a coy sip from her daiquiri.
“So your parents could tell the future.”
She peered at the space between the hem of her skirt and the floor before grinning and playfully punching my shoulder. I was doing pretty well so far, but if I didn’t wrap this up soon, I was going to lose control and stagger into boorishness. “I like both of those words,” I told them, and with a well-oiled, smarmy flick of my wrist, I held up a business card.
“What’s that for?” Legs asked skeptically.
I pointed at Lisa. “See that woman over there?”
“She’s like a sister to me,” I said, “and she’s never been to New York before.” I made intense eye contact with both Jaz and Legs to make sure they were with me before continuing, “I’m thinking of stuff to show her, and I want you to call me if you had any ideas.” Backing away from them, I grinned. “Thanks!”
I turned around, let out a slow sigh of relief, and made it back to Lisa’s side before I fell over.
“Nice move with the wrist there.” She reminded me, “But aren’t you forgetting something?”
“Wait for it,” I replied before downing the whiskey.
After a moment, a delicate hand placed a different business card on the counter, and a throaty voice whispered in my left ear, “I don’t know about your friend, but I have a pretty good idea what to show you.”
Another card fluttered over to the bar, and another voice whispered into my right ear, “I don’t want you to get lonely when she goes home.”
The expression on Lisa’s face was halfway between stunned and smug.
I picked up the cards and studied them. “Allegra,” I said. “That explains that. And Jasmine. Of course.”
Lisa grabbed my cheeks and pulled me toward her to give me a grateful, platonic kiss on the lips. After giving me a moment, she took her shot and announced, “Come on, Fuentes, let’s get out of here.”
As we left and walked down the street, her grin was matched only by my own, I bumped her shoulder, she brushed my palm with her pinkie, and our hands drifted together.