He ignored me at first. Immersed in his beer, he barely looked up when the young Vietnamese bartender asked if he wanted a shot.
“Ready?” she asked, white teeth gleaming in the dark. She held up a bottle of tequila.
He nodded. With a swift movement, she poured a shot and placed it in front of him. She put a can of Red Bull beside it.
“You too?” He looked at me and gestured at the bottle.
“I’ll stick with beer, thanks.”
He licked the space between his thumb and finger, adding salt. “Cheers,” he said, and held up his glass. He downed his drink quickly, but without any real enjoyment.
“I’m Tom,” he said.
I motioned to the bartender to pour a new round, shaking my head when she hopefully gesticulated at the top-shelf tequila. Tom and I sat in companionable silence. I covertly studied him. He was in his forties, dressed in black like a hip software developer with a grey messenger bag, hair curling to his shoulders, facial stubble, a strong nose and a mouth that turned down like a sulky child’s.
“You married?” he asked.
I sighed, not wanting a come-on. “Nope. And not looking either.”
“Smart girl,” said Tom. “Romance is for losers. I got dumped yesterday. On Valentine’s Day!”
“It started last Valentine’s. I had bought a nice bottle of wine and some truffles from XOX. Have you tried them?” I shook my head. “You should. They’re fabulous. Fresh. The guy makes them out of his little store on Columbus Avenue in North Beach.
“Anyway, my wife was standing in the kitchen, her back to me, staring out the window. There was no sign of my son. I knew right away something was wrong. She turned around and told me she was done. Finished. After 15 years. She had sent our kid to her parents’ place in Covina.”
“Jesus, that’s rough,” I breathed. I thought about reaching out and touching his arm but thought better of it.
“It gets worse,” he said. “I screamed, I yelled, I sweet-talked her. It took me all night, but I finally convinced her to keep trying. I begged her to stay for just a year, and if at the end of it she still wasn’t happy, she could leave. With everything. Every single thing I had. To my surprise, she agreed. She called her folks and asked them to put our boy on the plane the next day.”
“What happened next?”
“Nothing. And everything. Time passed. We seemed happy. Things got back to normal.”
“This Valentine’s Day I came home, my arms full of her favourite long-stemmed white French tulips and a silly stuffed bear. I called for her but there was no reply. And no sign of my son. I walked into the kitchen. There she was, looking out the window. I put the flowers on the table. I was still carrying that stupid bear. I walked over and put my arms around her. It was like hugging a metal pole, she was so stiff and unyielding. The bear dropped to our feet. We stood there for a minute, me desperately hugging her, she giving me nothing. Finally, she stepped away and told me she was done. That she had honoured her commitment. She had stayed the year and now she was taking everything, including my son.”
“Everything?” I asked.
“Every single goddamned thing. The furniture, my vinyls, the bedding, the pictures off the walls. She cleaned out our joint bank account. She even took my toothbrush.”
“What did you do?”
“What could I do? I had promised her everything if she’d stay the year. I’m an honourable man. I walked out of there with nothing.” He paused and glanced at me. “She took the coat from my back as I was walking out the door.”
Tom drained his glass. “A lesson, Dana. Love bites.”
He touched me briefly on my shoulder, his fingertips resting there for a second and then he turned on his heel and disappeared into the San Francisco night.