This Is How It HappenedBy: Jo Barrett
“Cash or charge?” the longhaired clerk asked. He stroked his goatee and peered across the counter at me. I could smell the pungent scent of marijuana emanating from his clothes—particularly the hydroponic “kind-bud” variety preferred by the closet intelligentsia crowd of East Austin.
I winked at Mr. Greenleaf and slid a twenty across the counter. I’d seen enough movies to know I’d definitely be paying cash.
The first rule of killing an ex-fiancé: never leave a paper trail.
The problem was, he was beautiful. When we moved in together, I’d watch Carlton slide open the kitchen window, place an ashtray on the sill, light his cigarette and let it drop to the side of his lips. He moved with a profound grace. And when he smiled at me—that sexy, sideways smile—my thoughts dropped away and everything I was became available to him. He’s one of those men I would’ve jumped in front of a Greyhound bus for. And he made me believe he’d jump for me, too.
We met in graduate school at one of those young professionals happy-hour events. It was designed to be a casual meet-and-greet affair. A bunch of MBA students wearing jeans and nametags and drinking beer out of plastic cups.
Not surprisingly, it was held at an Irish pub. But not the real kind of Irish pub with plucky, fat-cheeked Irish people singing their lilting up-and-down songs, and dirty floors and the smell of stale beer. It was one of those newfangled Irish pubs. The ones with all the junk tacked up on the wall. Like street signs that say Sheperd’s Pie Avenue. You know which kind of fake Irish pub I’m talking about. The kind that serves nachos.
I spotted him immediately. Shirt cuffs rolled up to his elbows. One leg dangling casually off a barstool. He had a certain movie star quality. A certain fluidity. The way he moved his hands as he spoke. The way he smiled that confident, sideways smile.
He was lounging at a cocktail table with another guy and neither of them wore nametags. I suddenly wished I hadn’t plastered my own white sticker against my chest. And written MADELINE PIATRO in large, bold letters.
At the sign-in table, I apparently went to town with the black magic marker. I even put two exclamation points at the end of my name. So my tag read MADELINE PIATRO!!—as if I was excited about the notion of myself.
So, here I was. Wearing jeans and loafers. With a big, fat nametag affixed to my shirt. I mean, what a dork, right? I may as well have been wearing a pocket protector and a retainer.
So I stared across the bar at Movie Star Guy. And he must’ve felt my eyes boring into him because he looked straight at me and winked.
I remember blushing. A woman of my age. Blushing like a teenager. I glanced down at my loafers, took a deep breath and thought, “What the heck…”
And that’s when I did it.
I, feeling full of bravado—after all, I was an MBA student!—marched right up and introduced myself.
“Hi. I’m Madeline. Madeline Piatro,” I said, pointing to my nametag. “In case you couldn’t read the billboard.”
He seemed momentarily stunned. A woman approaching a man from across an entire bar was still rare in this circle. We were at the University of Texas—not some ultra-liberal northeastern school where the women weren’t afraid of anything.
In Texas, the women still played a little coy. Cats on the prowl for unwitting husbands, if you will.
“I’m in your marketing class,” I said, sticking out my sweaty palm. My motto, after all, had always been: Leap Before You Look.
“Pleasure to meet you, Madeline. Carlton Connors,” he said in a formal voice. He took my hand and I noticed his palm was cool to the touch—not sweaty like mine. He had a firm handshake. Solid and manly.
He grinned at me, revealing perfect white teeth, and ran his hand through his perfect, movie star hair. “This is David,” he said, motioning to his friend.
David rubbed his hand against his jeans and said, “Sorry. I’ve got beer hands. I think this table is wet.”
I said, “Don’t worry about it,” and shook his sticky hand anyway. David had a flimsy handshake. Like a wet noodle.
“David was just talking about our marketing class,” Carlton said.
I glance at David and see that Mr. Wet Noodle is smiling. The type of smile that comes from a guy who gets to hang out with the cool kid.
“Professor Morgan is always busting my balls, man,” David says. “I’ve got a theory that she secretly hates men.”
Carlton looks from me to David, then back at me. “Care to comment on that, Madeline? I’m sure Dave would love to hear a woman’s perspective.”
“Sounds like Professor Morgan doesn’t hate men, she just hates David,” I say.
I’m pleased when Carlton throws his head back in the air and laughs.
“Care to join us?” he asks, patting the empty barstool next to him. He’s smiling the cocksure smile of a guy who’s been around the block.
“Sure,” I say, glad for the invitation.
I hopped up on a barstool and ordered a pint of pale beer that came with a lemon floating in it. And then I slept with Mr. Carlton Connors that very night.