A Matter of Pride
by Lord Malinov
Yellow lights reflected in the corners of the glass ashtray under the grey-blue twirls of smoke from a smoldering cigarette, a long thin cracked forgotten ash. Kevin tipped his mug slightly, sloshing the last few swallows of beer around the foam coated side.
“Can I get you another?” asked the dark-haired waitress.
“Yeah,” said Kevin lazily. He sat up and looked at his watch. “Wait,” he said. The small woman looked up at him as she picked up an empty plate, crusted with melted cheese and a thick swathe of pasty sour cream. “Yeah, another one,” Kevin repeated. “Might as well.”
The glass doors of the hotel bar opened into the night. Kevin looked up, hoping. A heavy man in a black wool coat stepped inside. Kevin watched as the man brushed a thin powder of snow from his broad shoulders. The gust of cold air reached deep inside, pushing the wispy column of smoke into a dissipated haze. Kevin picked up the filter of his cigarette and ground it into the dust of the ashtray. He looked at his watch again.
“I can’t believe this,” he said, looking around the bar. A couple,dressed in black, leaned over their small table, conspiring. Kevin admired the curve of her heavy thigh escaping from the black wool skirt, her limb tinted in dark stocking. The young man spoke with his hand curled around his chin, two fingers resting on his unshaven cheek. The pair shared a scowl when a new, too popular song erupted from the bar’s tinny sound system.
Another chilling blast of cold air turned Kevin’s attention back toward the entrance. The doors stood wide open as two couples tried to organize their intentions while they came inside. Kevin snarled silently and pulled another cigarette from the crumpled red and white package in his breast pocket. The waitress smiled with a thin gap between her front teeth as she put down a fresh mug of beer.
“Anything else?” she asked.
“No, this is great, thanks,” said Kevin, squirming to sit up. The waitress shrugged and went to address the new group of patrons. Kevin strained to see out the large window behind a trio of suited businessmen, hunched over their cocktails, puffing their cigars and laughing with deep, knowing chuckles. Frost crept in from the edges, but Kevin could make out the motion of traffic in the parking lot.
“It’s not all that bad out there,” he said, wondering if he should just pack it in and try to salvage the evening by going out. Kevin sighed and took a long drink. He picked up the slowly burning cigarette and took a puff of smoke. He didn’t really want to leave. He didn’t want to wander the streets of a strange city. He didn’t want to trust the advice of some foul-smelling cabbie. He didn’t want to find himself out in the cold snow, more alone there then he was here. He just wanted Carla to show up.
Kevin shifted in his seat, realizing his need to find the bathroom. He stood up, stretching his long legs. The cold door opened and a short thick man and his furry round wife giggled as they shuffled into the warmth, slapping their shoulders and rubbing pink ears. Kevin wondered if he dared abandon his vigilant watch for his old friend even for three minutes, but he looked at his watch. If Carla showed up an hour late and didn’t wait three minutes, well, that was just peachy. Kevin went past the island of the bar and down the dark hallway to the men’s room.
Coming back from relieving his bladder’s pressure, Kevin took a quick stroll around the bar, making certain that Carla hadn’t found her way into some unseen nook. A tired looking, wastingly thin woman in a red blazer sat quietly across from a timid pock-faced man who played intently with a salt shaker. Kevin took hold of the brass rail at the corner of the bar. The waitress, reading her notepad, stepped into him.
“Excuse me,” he said at once.
“Oh,” said the waitress, shaking her head and stepping past him quickly.
“My pleasure,” Kevin said quietly, gently laughing.
A young woman sat alone at a table. Kevin stopped, draped in the large ivy that hung from the top of the bar, and stared at the tall blonde girl. She pursed her ruby lips to take an impatient puff of her long cigarette. Kevin smiled. Her white cotton blouse fell elegantly over her shoulders, a soft cascade that rose along the rapids of her full breasts. She lifted a glass of orange juice and sipped. Long, pale calves angled out of her linen white skirt, one foot dangling and pulsing in rhythm to the music. The pretty blonde intently watched the entrance to the bar.
“I’m sorry,” said the waitress, coming close to Kevin.
“My fault,” he said and went back to his table. The young couple in black gave a sudden burst of approval as the music changed and they hopped toward the bare space of floor to shake to the exotic rhythms of their song. Kevin pulled out a different chair at his table and sat down, one eye on the door, another on the blonde.
Kevin checked his watch. When they had spoke on the phone, before he flew in for the conference, Carla had seemed excited to see him. Kevin had expected her to be. She had always, at least it seemed to him, had a crush on him. He wouldn’t have called her, particularly, except that he dreaded the trip and hoped that meeting someone who would be really happy to see him would make the ordeal easier to bear. Kevin wanted to be adored, if only for a night. He lit another cigarette.
“What I should do is . . . ” Kevin said happily and he let a long puff of smoke pour forth. He stole a glance at the blonde as she continued to stare at the door. She was obviously waiting for someone who hadn’t shown up. Kevin found it hard to believe anyone would forget such a beauty. “I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad,” he said and took a drink of his beer.
“You, too?” he imagined himself saying.
“I’m just so mad,” she would say, still staring at the door.
“It’s just inexcusable. Do you mind?” Kevin would pull out a chair.
“Be my guest,” she would say and maybe smile at him. “I don’t know why I bother. He always treats me this way.” Her lower lip would tremble.
“Bah. You deserve better than that. So do I.” Kevin would buy her a drink, perhaps some Champagne to celebrate their escape from the clutches of disrespect. After a few glasses, she would ask if they could go back to his place and Kevin would pull out his key. “Right upstairs.” She would pick up her coat and he’d lead her away.
Of course, that would be the very moment when Carla would finally show up. “Sorry, Carla,” Kevin would say. “Maybe next trip. Who’s sorry now?” Kevin laughed cruelly to himself.
Kevin picked up his cigarette and studied the folds of soft cotton along the blonde woman’s chest, the hints of her pale white breasts. He imagined the dark rings of her nipples, the moan he would elicit from those succulent lips, the grateful gaze of desire, the heavy press of her hips as she knelt over him, those lean thighs spread to push that golden twat down hard. Kevin felt his prick stiffen as he lusted, dreaming of her smooth, creamy skin and her hungry, anxious kiss.
The door opened, washing the air with a burst of frigid cold. Kevin turned to watch the thin woman in the red blazer hold the door as the red-faced man followed behind. Kevin sighed and looked back toward blonde. She stood up, taking her coat. Kevin picked up his cigarette for a final puff and crushed it in the ashes. The young woman walked toward him and Kevin felt his heart skipping, watching the sway of her hips under the loose linen skirt. She pulled her tan coat over her shoulders and walked past Kevin’s table. Stopping for a moment to button her coat, the pretty blonde opened the door and vanished into the snowy night.
Kevin picked up his beer and drank the last swallow. The mug hit the table with a clunk. Kevin started to look at his watch, but stopped himself.
“Another one?” asked the waitress.
“No,” said Kevin. The door opened once more with a burst of cold. A young woman, her cheeks blushed red with cold stepped inside. Brown curls swam from her knit yellow cap. She looked at Kevin and smiled.
“Kevin,” she called out, full of joy. “I was afraid you’d have left. My car wouldn’t start. I had to call a cab.” Pulling out a chair, she sat down.
“Carla, I’m so glad to see you,” Kevin said, smiling. He leaned over and gave her a hug. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Sure, unless you just want to go up to your room. I hope you don’t mind if I spend the night. I don’t think I could bear to go out in that snow again.” Carla’s brown eye’s twinkled as she grinned lasciviously.
“That’s what I like about you, Carla. You’re reading my mind.”