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I'll have a cocktail, please.

I'd been hired for an entry-level position in an office. It was my first job beyond fast-food, and I was the only man in my department. Is an 18-year-old a man? Some are, I suppose, but I wasn't.

The three women who worked with me were, in my opinion, attractive. Very attractive. My first day on the job, first time meeting them, was like having three heart attacks.

Anna was in her late-20s, blonde and fond of short skirts. She was movie-star beautiful, and later she quit the office to become a showgirl. Yeah, seriously. She was always telling jokes, or talking about her wild weekends. They were wild by my standards, but ordinary for most people — she'd gone on a date, or to a party. Shocking, I know.

Beverly was what's now called a MILF, in her 40s or maybe 50s, overweight by our society's stupid standards, but I'd invent the word perfectweight to describe her. She was clever and kind, and she made several unsuccessful but appreciated efforts to draw me into the conversations at work. She brought homemade cookies most Mondays, and she noticed I was too shy to help myself, so she usually delivered two or three cookies to my desk.

Linda was in her mid-20s, five years older than me and ten years wiser. She had red hair, freckles and glasses, and on my first morning at that job she'd had toilet paper stuck to the bottom of her shoe. When she noticed, she thought it was hilarious, laughed about it all day, and in the afternoon she glued more TP to her shoe and said she hoped it caught on as a fashion statement. I instantly liked her. You couldn't not like her. Well, I sure couldn't.

Me being me even then, I was the quiet guy, always socially awkward and silent. Surrounded by three red hot mamacitas all day, I said even less — nothing beyond the minimal Q & A necessary to learn the job.

With great effort, though, after a few weeks at that job, I was eventually able to endure two- to three-sentence conversations without needing to hide in a corner. I was proud of myself every time I didn't stammer around the ladies, but I was also reality-based, so there was never even a daydream that any of them would go out with me.

But I guess all of them went out with me. With ten minutes left in the work week one Friday afternoon, Linda tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey."

"Hey," I said, turning from my suitcase-sized computer and seeing her amazing eyes a foot from mine. Another heart attack moment.

"Me and the girls are going to 13 Coins after work. We'd love it if you'd join us."

"Sure," I sputtered but smiled. "Sounds like fun." It did not sound like fun. I was screaming inside. Terrified. I was a zygote, but I knew my strengths and weaknesses, and conversation with humans was a weakness. Conversation with attractive female humans was almost certain to be catastrophic.

The invitation was purely platonic, of course, and I knew that the ladies were only trying to draw me out of my shell, but … I didn't want to come out of my shell. My shell is a lovely place, decorated to suit my taste. And what the hell would me and three attractive women talk about? Ask me anything, I'll tell you no answers, but I'd already answered, "Sure."

13 Coins was (and still is!) a popular upscale restaurant and bar in Seattle. I'd never eaten there; I'm a burger and fries guy, not one for Dungeness Crab or Chicken Scallopini Alla Marsala or whatever they serve. And as for the bar, jeez — I was 18 years old. I'd never been to a bar. It was illegal for me to go to a bar. I wasn't even sure 13 Coins would let me in the door.

Googling it just now, I see that 13 Coins is not within walking distance of where we worked, so I guess someone drove us, but I don't remember that. I also don't remember how I got inside, being underage and all. I didn't have fake ID, but maybe nobody asked? Maybe one of the ladies batted her eyes and vouched for me?

Next thing I knew we were in a booth, just me and these three women. They were ordering drinks, and I knew nothing at all about drinks. My family was opposed to the existence of alcoholic beverages, so there had never been booze in the house. The sum total of my experience with alcohol was that once, at dinner with my sister and her husband at their house, they had allowed me a sip of beer. I'd hated it. It looked and tasted like urine.

The ladies weren't ordering beer, though. They were ordering fancy drinks — Brandy Alexander, a White Russian, a Vodka Martini. I was bewildered. All I knew about mixed drinks was from Bewitched, where Samantha and both Darrins always had a cocktail in their hands. I wanted to be all suave like a Darrin, so I said, "I'll have a cocktail, please."

The waiter patiently asked what kind of cocktail, and he didn't laugh at me, and neither did any of the ladies, but inside I was dead and buried. Not even knowing what it was, I ordered "same as her," and pointed at Beverly. When the drinks came mine was a Vodka Martini, and I hated it, but I smiled and drank.

Anna, Beverly, and Linda asked questions about my life, but at that age I'd had no life. I said something like, "Six months ago I was in high school," which wasn't true. Six months earlier I'd dropped out of high school, but I'd lied about that to get the job, and thought it wise to continue the ruse.

When they noticed that I was barely answering their questions, the conversation became more about them and less about me, thank Christ.

Beverly talked about her kids. I didn't and don't know anything about kids, so I just sat there, smiling and nodding nervously.

Linda talked about her boyfriend. He'd said something mean but she wasn't going to say what, and I thought he sounded like a jackass, but I said nothing.

Anna said that our boss had told her to wear pants instead of skirts, or at least wear longer skirts. She thought it was an outrage that management had noticed her legs, and she asked me whether I thought her skirts were too short. I said, "Umm, they're not short enough." All three ladies laughed and laughed, and I still cherish that as one of my all-time finest ad libs.

A little later, after a second drink, I made up for saying something clever by saying something spectacularly stupid, so of course I still remember it vividly. Linda was talking about her boyfriend again, but now she told us what he'd said: He had mentioned his ex-girlfriend, and said in passing that his ex was prettier. Linda didn't think he had intended it as an insult, so she hadn't said anything to him, and he'd said it only once, weeks earlier. But she was still hurt.

And I was thinking, only an imbecile says something like that to any woman! And this guy says it accidentally, casually? And says it to a woman he's dating? What a shitty guy! And also, Linda, you're way, waaaay pretty.

That's what I was thinking, and with alcohol in my bloodstream that's what I said. The ladies all laughed and laughed, and the people at the next table laughed, but I hadn't meant it to be funny. Not at all.

"Oh, your puppy-dog eyes," Beverly said between giggles, so I guess my face had said more than I'd said.

Anna said, "You're redder than a drunk's nose."

Linda said only, "Why, thank you, sir," and she said it smiling, but she was looking at me like you'd look at a little kid who's said something stupid. And I was, and I had, and then she changed the subject.

Probably I said other stupid things that night, as I was learning that alcohol makes me talky, which never makes for a nice evening. I'm not good at talking, and I'm plain rubbish when I talk too much.

Me and the ladies went out a few more times, but more often I said no thanks, and they went without me. I never ever again said anything more personal or embarrassing than "Good morning" to Linda, and I learned that my preferred cocktail is club soda on the rocks.

 

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