I am not the type of guy who easily gets the girl. Never have been, never will be. I’m alright with it. Sometimes I talk too much. Sometimes my voice cracks and sounds nervous, which of course, makes me more nervous. Sometimes I just get in my own head. Sometimes I worry that I’m too ugly, or too fat, or don’t dress nice enough. Sometimes I worry my life will always be this way.
But that sad sack song changed its tune about two weeks ago. After three months of membership on a popular dating app, I finally got my first match.
Thank the fuckin’ Lord.
Her name was Claudia. Her profile said she went to community college in a small town near mine. Her bio said she lived with her folks. She had brown hair, and brown eyes, and three pictures; one with her dog, one at a basketball game, and one by the beach. Each photo seemed more beautiful than the last. At the bottom of her profile, she had a quote, a corny line from an old Coldplay song.
‘Do you believe in magic?’
She messaged me first. She asked how I was doing. That never happened before. I nearly broke my cell’s screen by replying so fast.
“Hi! Doing great, thanks, how are you!”
Too eager. Too many exclamation points.
“I’m doing good, just getting ready for the weekend.”
She answered me! Half the battle, right?
“Oh, any plans?”
A ten minute delay.
“Are you offering?”
I paced around the dark hallway of my parents basement before thumbing my reply.
“Have you heard of Mulligan’s?”
And just like that, I had a date for Friday night. I don’t know if excitement is the best descriptor. Neurotic would be far more accurate. I didn’t text her again, for fear of fucking up my chances, and I couldn’t sleep through the preceding night. I took off work and went to the mall to buy new clothes that day. I texted pictures to my sister to make sure the outfit looked okay. I sweated through the hours and checked my watch every few minutes until finally, mercifully, six o’clock rolled around.
I arrived to Mulligans an hour early. It was mostly empty. A few of the regularls toiled around the jukebox. An older couple watched the baseball game on TV and chatted with Betty the bartender. I ordered a beer and sat with my back to the wall, with an eye towards the door, waiting for the girl of my dreams to walk in the room and change my life.
Seven o’clock came and went.
The seats quickly started to fill with college kids on Spring break. A rowdy crowd of girls with matching bachelorette shirts paced up and down the cramped aisles taking pictures. I checked my watch incessantly. I sent a couple texts. Not enough to sound desperate, but enough to be concerned. Nobody replied. I downed my third Coors, grabbed my jacket, and made up my mind to leave at seven thirty.
The crowd by the door led to a line that stretched all the way down the street. People were fighting to get in. A girl with brown hair and brown eyes stood in front of a hefty bouncer named Jake. She was shouting something at him, but Jake wouldn’t have it. He pointed to the street and told her to get out.
“Matt, oh my God, there you are!” the girl shouted at me as I walked by. “One second, they won’t let me in.”
Relief replaced depression rather quickly. Claudia draped her arm around the bouncer’s shoulders and whispered something in his ear. The man instantly dropped his hand, smiled, and stepped out of her way.
“Hi!” I didn’t know whether to hug her or shake her hand. I settled for a stupid little wave. “What happened?”
Claudia pushed back her perfectly straightened hair and slid some cards into her wallet.
“Oh, I forgot my ID, I’m so sorry,”
I looked towards the bouncer dubiously. He ignored me and continued checking IDs.
“No problem! Do you want to go somewhere else? How’d you get in?”
Claudia smiled. God, help me, every part of her essence came together so perfectly when she smiled. I was hooked.
We quickly scrambled back to my unused booth and ordered a fresh pair of drinks. Truthfully, the next two or three rounds passed by quickly. I did what felt natural when nervous. I talked about myself. I told this strange girl about my education, my friends, my job, my dating history. The confessions dripped out of me like a leaking faucet. Claudia ate up every last detail with a careful stare and a slow stir of the expensive martinis that accumulated around her like Thanksgiving dinner with my brother’s family.
By the time the fourth round rolled around, I reached a very paralyzing and debilitating conclusion. Happy hour was over. I was drunk and out of money. I apologized to Claudia profusely. I asked her to hold our seat while I ran next door to the ATM. I hated opening a tab at bars, I explained, once you give them your credit card, you never remember to get it back.
“Oh, don’t worry about it!” she gushed with another toss of that majestic hair over her shoulder. “This round’s on me.”
I relaxed. That had to be a good sign, right? If she was buying the drinks, she was there willingly. I pushed my wallet back into my pocket and sat back as the waitress came by to collect the stacking silverware. Claudia stood up for a moment. I thought she might need to go to the restroom. Instead, she pulled the waitress aside, wrapped her arm around her shoulder, and whispered. The older woman nodded emphatically and walked away.
“Two rounds coming up!”
I watched in admiration as the waitress rushed behind the bar to pour two beers and two martinis. Several squirming customers reached over with fists of money in their hands. But she ignored them all. In a flash, the woman was black with four fresh glasses for our tiny table.
I stared at Claudia in admiration.
“How? Do you have a tab here? Do they know you?”
She smiled again.
“Magic,” was all she said.
That line creeped me out a bit more the second time. But I ignored the aching feeling in my mind and proceeded forward with another part of my body. I felt myself moving closer to Claudia in the booth. By the fifth round we were almost on top of each other. The drinks disappeared as the confessions continued to fall out of me. Claudia sipped and stirred and listened through it all.
I don’t remember what led to me kissing her. We could barely hear each other at that point. I leaned in to better understand, and somewhere along the way, our lips locked in the corner of that small booth by the bar.
“Promise me we’ll have a second date?” she asked.
The ‘ooh’ birds started in full force soon after. The college kids seemed to notice us for the first time. Embarrassment flooded my face red. Maybe they were jealous they didn’t get any that night. Maybe they just were a couple drunk kids trying to make each other laugh.
Nevertheless, Claudia took more offense than necessary.
She got up and strutted over to their table in those rhythmically clicking heels. She grabbed the most obnoxious hyena by the collar. She wrapped her arm around his shoulder and whispered cooly in his ear. She turned and winked at me while she did it. Then she carefully sashayed her way back to our booth.
I pulled Claudia close to me and watched while the frat boys crowded around their panicking friend. He grappled at his mouth for a moment. Then he pointed at it and tried to pry back his lips. His friends tried to ask him what was wrong. They tried to ask him what he was doing. But it was no use. The poor kid couldn’t talk.
Claudia didn’t say anything. She just smiled through the whole thing. That same, soft, haunting smile. Eventually a member of the goon squad approached our booth. He dressed like the usual campus fodder. Khaki shorts, flip flops, backwards hat, college sweatshirt.
“Hey, man, your girl did something to my friend,” he mumbled. “What did you do, lady?”
Claudia pulled back her lips and crossed her arms.
“Magic,” she said.
The kid stared at her. She said nothing. Then he looked at me. I shrugged.
“Look, I know we were rude, but it’s his twenty-first birthday…”
I craned my neck to see the group huddled around the mute man. He pointed frantically at Claudia.
“I think you should take your friend to the hospital,” I found myself saying. “He doesn’t look good.”
The kid stared at me a little bit longer. Then he turned to Claudia. My date’s cool features revealed no trace of emotion. Eventually he nodded and returned to his friends. The group left shortly after, with two of them supporting the kid who now had a fresh line of tears down his face and a stain on the front of his pants. Claudia laughed at that.
The confrontation gave me a much needed break from drinking. I quickly started to sober up. The severity of the situation quickly started to weigh on me. So did the time. I looked down at my watch again to see we were coming up on closing. One of the bartenders, Betty, cupped her hands and shouted across the room to announce the same.
The music turned off.
I stood up and started to put on my jacket. Claudia looked disappointed. She sat down pat in her seat, refusing to get up, then cupped her hands and started a chant of her own.
“Oh come on, one more round, one more round!”
The bewildered manager craned her neck to look for the source of the shouting.
“I’m sorry, hon,” she returned. “State law.”
A fire lit in Claudia’s dark eyes that made me downright uncomfortable.
“It’s okay,” I started. “We should head out anyway.”
But my date ignored me. She stood up again like an arrow and carefully walked over to the bar. She ignored the people that pushed beside her on the way out the door. She ignored me calling her name. She met the surprised bartender halfway, and wrapped her around her neck, almost like she was going in for a kiss. Then she whispered to her for a little while. Maybe two to three full minutes. Finally, Betty nodded gravely, took off her apron, set down a glass, and headed towards the door. The bouncer said something to her. But she didn’t hear it.
Traffic covered highway thirty-five like a rat race at closing time. The rain reduced visibility to near zero. Betty looked down the storm and waited patiently on the sidewalk. I watched her through the glass. I thought she might be looking for her ride home. I thought she might have called an Uber. Instead, Betty stepped into the road, right in front of an SUV, and met the impact head on.
Her head exploded the moment it collided with the Jeep’s grill.
It’s an image I will never forget.
I lost Claudia in the ensuing madness. Bar staff and customers alike rushed outside to try and save Betty’s life. I am an EMT, so I joined them. But the middle aged bartender never made it to the ambulance in time. The coroner ruled her death a suicide.
This morning, I got a text from a strange number.
I punched out a quick reply.
“How did you get away that night? The police are looking for you.”
I knew her answer before she even sent it.
It’s insane. She’s crazy. I know she’s crazy. I know she hurts people. But the weirdest part is that I don’t care. I’m going to her place now. And I don’t know why.
Call it magic.