Night Moves

There was a time when my friend Dwane and I both worked at a chain of photo labs, but we manned separate storefronts in separate stripmalls. On one special summer day, he called and said he'd met a couple of girls that day; they were meeting after work at the bar next to his store, and he suggested I join them.

So I did, closing my store promptly on time and racing to the bar. Walking in, I found Dwane at a round table talking to two girls, who sat with their backs to the large windows that looked out onto the parking lot. Introductions were made, another round was ordered, and I settled in to add my part to the drinks and discussion.

Dwane and I were both engaged in the conversation, facing the girls with the windows behind them. By this fortunate arrangement, we could seem attentive while still watching the parking lot over their shoulders. As we talked, I would glance at the occasional passerby out of reflex, unconsciously. Simply, motion attracts the eye.

At one point the girls were telling a story, more for each others’ benefit than ours, while Dwane and I pretended to listen. Behind them, a motion outside caught my eye. She was a statuesque redhead dressed in black, striding with purpose across the parking lot. Exceptionally noticeable; she had an eclectic bohemian style, wearing a black bolero jacket and short skirt, London punk boots, all matched by a hat with a flower over her Irish red hair.

As we both straightened up imperceptibly, I could sense that Dwane had noticed her too. Our eyes widened as we looked knowingly at each other. I raised an eyebrow and quietly muttered, “Striking!” It was the only word I could think of. Dwane smirked in confirmation, and we went back to playing it cool; the girls hadn’t noticed our distraction.

As she walked across the parking lot, she could have been going to any one of the neighboring shops, so I kept watching her, assuming I'd only get this brief glimpse before she disappeared forever. I was somewhat shocked when she approached the bar door and entered the room. Dwane and I tried not to seem like we were staring while she looked around briefly, but she caught me looking, and confidently came over to pull up a nearby chair and, smiling, sat down right next to me!

It wasn’t my ruggedly handsome good looks; she was smiling because she knew the effect she would have on a young man. And she'd picked the seat next to me because she knew the girls we were with, and they had called her earlier to join them, just as Dwane had called me. So she ordered a drink and we were all introduced. She was Melissa, tall and buxom and red-haired. With her hat and unique fashion style, if someone had said this woman was a model, I would have believed them. Maybe someone did; I don't know. I was awestruck and dumbfounded the rest of the time we were there.

When it came time to leave, she said she needed a ride home. Maybe her friends could have taken her, but Dwane and I were of course both gentlemen and offered to help out. Looking back on it, we probably seemed more like schoolboys fighting over a girl on the playground. But something I stammered amused her, and she selected me for the honor. I don’t recall even wondering why she needed a ride, or how she’d gotten there in the first place. I think I just accepted that she was a magical creature that had appeared out of nowhere.

As we talked in my car, driving to her place, I wondered in the back of my mind if I'd just be dropping her off; would she invite me in, what kind of place would it be, what kind of move should I make? Those questions remained unanswered as—change of plans—she directed me to stop by a pool hall. I parked, and followed in her wake as she strode confidently in and was warmly welcomed— she knew all the guys. And they knew her. As she toured the room greeting everybody, I got the vibe that she was kind of showing me off, like a new toy, maybe. I had a drink while she mingled and introduced me one by one to the guys, who were friendly enough but seemed to each smirk knowingly at me, which I found worrisome. I remember thinking to myself, clearly and distinctly: “Oh shit — what have I gotten into?”

When I took her home, she led me to her room. What I’d gotten into, apparently, was LSD and sex. Each of which had an intensity that I’d had some experience with, but was not accustomed to. So we did those things together for a few nights, crashing in the dark blue skies just before dawn. And on weekends, we took long trips together, from bars to bedrooms. On Mondays, people would ask where I’d disappeared to all weekend. I’d smile, my brain still glowing with traces of chemical bliss, and just say I’d been abducted by aliens.

She was an Irish girl, Melissa Coyle, a redhead with a forceful personality. She had green eyes, with dilated pupils most of the time. While I felt she should be a hot-blooded fashion model, she was instead a San Francisco 49ers fan going to school to be an auto mechanic. On our trips, we'd talk about football and cars, and after dark, she turned me on to Santana and the Allman Brothers, playing albums by a dim yellow nightlight. She was a seasoned tripper, and as the acid waves receded, she could fall asleep sprawled naked on her big black bed, but I’d be too wired. Strung out, dazed and glazed, I’d sleepily watch her body breathing while Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells played quietly in the wee hours of the morning. She was a true redhead up and down, and I’d intently study her skin where it was whitest, and her faint freckles everywhere else.

That was Melissa. Like her song says: knowing many, loving none, bearing sorrow, having fun. She thought I was cute, but whitebread. Just a day tripper. I think she liked me a lot, but we didn’t fall in love, and I was not enough different men to hold her interest. I think I was a fun boy toy that amused her for a while. And I think that’s why those guys back at the pool hall had been smirking at me. We had some good times, but after a couple of months she moved on.

I don’t even really remember the break-up. I know I was disappointed, but not heartbroken. I wanted to keep her, ‘cause she was hot and intense, but that heat and intensity was burning me out. As best as I can remember, one night in the stairwell of an apartment building I'd never been to, where she didn't live, she just kind of pleasantly said something along the lines of, “Let’s not do this anymore.” And somehow she was gone, back to her bohemian midtown world, while I spent my last trip driving home to my suburban life.