I had been struggling for about an hour to add color to an otherwise monochrome, straightforward profile of Anna Castle, star of the upcoming sequel to the box-office juggernaut, Seventh Chamber, when someone slid into the booth opposite me, chomping on a wad of bubblegum.
“Hey, Gretchen,” I assumed. I didn’t need to raise my head, because I already knew what she looked like–i.e. the body I most wanted to fuck wrapped up in the brain and series of quirks I least wanted to fuck.
“Why are we here?” asked the voice of the photographer I almost always worked with.
“Philosophy,” I replied. “Ask philosophy.”
“Why are we at a May’s Cafe?” she clarified after taking a moment to parse my words.
“Because it’s right down the street from the Beacon Theater,” I told her. “Get a map.”
She cracked her knuckles, which she did when she was tense. She cracked her knuckles a lot around me. “I mean, why aren’t we at the Beacon?”
“Because Paige Cromwell isn’t due onstage for a few hours, and we’re getting paid to sneak an interview with her, not her roadies.”
“You know there’s a bar right across the street from the Beacon?”
“I’ve been there,” I said.
“Then why aren’t we there?”
“It’s too early to be drinking.”
The gum stopped smacking. “But you always told me that it’s never too early to drink after the sun goes down.”
I tossed my disposable pen onto my notebook and snapped, “Dammit, Gretchen!” However, when I finally faced her, I forgot what it was I was going to shout next. “So, um…” I mumbled, referring to the bustier she wore, “… I see you’ve got your breasts out.”
She glanced down. “These?”
“I’m not going to answer that question.”
“It was your idea,” she reminded me.
I didn’t know what she was talking about. “I never said that out loud…”
She moaned, “Why do you have to be such a…”
“I prefer pig,” I said.
There was no real way to respond to that. “So, now that we’ve established that I am a pervert, why are you dressed like…” The first words that came to mind to describe her wardrobe were nasty. I hated those words, and I hated that I thought of them. “… that?”
“Remember when you got arrested at the Staplebitch concert?” she asked.
She took that as a yes. “And remember how, before you tried to tried to sneak past the barriers and bouncers before you got arrested…”
I groaned again.
“… and you tried to talk your way past the bodyguards? And how that didn’t work? And you got arrested?”
“You just like to remind me of my failures, don’t you?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, “but that’s not what I’m talking about right now.”
“Carry on, then.”
“Remember that you told me it would go a lot easier if I ‘showed off my girls a little more?'”
“That’s right,” I recalled, “and you didn’t know which girls I was referring to.”
“Nobody’s ever called my boobs girls before,” she told me with a genuine pout. “I think that’s really weird.”
“Yeah,” I said, “Sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”
“What?” She shook the confusion out of her head and continued, “So I thought about it, and since boobs make men stupid, I could use them as weapons.”
“I’m going to be honest, Gretchen,” I told her, “I’m impressed with your forethought.”
She snatched up my pen and began clicking it. “You don’t have to be such a jerk all the time, Max Fuentes.”
“I said I was being honest.”
“I know you,” she said. “You were just being dishonest about being honest.”
“Yeah, I can see how you might come to that conclusion.” I shrugged. “I have a history.”
“Thank you?” Her face scrunched up in adorable confusion, and, as she did so her fingers acted of their own accord and began twirling the writing instrument between them with remarkable dexterity. “Maybe?”
“I like that better than knuckle-cracking,” I said, pointing at her hand.
“What?” And with that, her prop jumped into the air and onto the floor. “Oops!” she squeaked and reached for it, an act that presented me with an even better view of her cleavage than the incredible one I’d already been witness to.
I closed my eyes and breathed. “It’s okay, Gretchen …”
My assurances meant nothing, because she was on her hands and knees, groping around my feet before I could even finish saying her name.
“I’m serious, Gretchen,” I told her, “I have plenty–” A loud thud and a ripple in my coffee announced that she’d hit her head. I glanced innocently around the restaurant. The table shook again.
By this point, we’d attracted the attention of three men in the corner. With their vests, mud-stained jeans, and cowboy hats, they looked like they could have been a sight-gag entitled “Generic Migrant Workers.” That meant they resembled parts of my extended family, making it all the more embarrassing as the table thumped twice more as Gretchen hauled herself back up to her seat.
When she got there, she adjusted her bustier, pulled her hair out of her face, and brandished my pen with a triumphant grin. “All done!”
I stole a glance over at the migrant workers. All three of them gave me a thumbs up. I smiled back, but without much enthusiasm.