Just What I Needed (Need You #2)

by Lorelei James

One

TRINITY

“Happy Hour” always perked me up.

I loved the two-for-the-price-of-one drink specials.

I loved the camaraderie in celebrating the end of the workday with other working stiffs.

I even loved hearing the cheesy, but hopeful pickup lines.

Except none of it was making me happy today.

I sat alone in a booth at the back of the bar, nursing my second crappy margarita. Even my friend Genevieve had abandoned me—not that I blamed her. If the hot rugby player from Ireland would’ve hit on me instead of her, I wouldn’t be here still wallowing in my shitshow of a day.

As much as I wanted to forget today, my brain insisted on recapping the events that had led to an unhappy Happy Hour.

First, I lost an art commission: a lucrative deal that would’ve kept me busy for months and kept me from subsisting on ramen noodles. At the prospective client’s insistence, I’d completed detailed sketches of the piece—a rarity for me since my muse preferred to carve her own path rather than follow someone else’s map. Consequently, for that extra effort, I’d expected to collect a check this morning; losing the project hadn’t been on my radar since the couple were proven patrons of the arts. But evidently the wife had decided my art design was too edgy.

I scowled at my half-empty glass. Too edgy, my ass. The proposed mixed-media wall hanging fit perfectly within the realm of contemporary art. Not that it mattered now; I didn’t have the luxury of finishing the piece on principle. I had to swallow my pride and find a paying gig immediately. I’d applied for a set painting job for the production of Into the Woods at a local community theater. And unless Eugene Lee—Broadway set designing legend—had applied for the same job, I was pretty much a shoo-in.

If that hadn’t been bad enough, I’d been dealt a second blow when my stepmonster, Laura, called to inform me that my younger half sister, Kathryn, had gotten engaged. The knocked-low feeling hadn’t come from not being invited to the surprise engagement party, but from the fact that my father had given Grandma Minnie’s pearls to Kathryn to wear on her wedding day. As the oldest daughter, those pearls—and the right to wear them first—belonged to me. When I mentioned it, Laura coldly informed me that it wasn’t fair to deny Kathryn when it was unlikely I’d ever make the trek down the aisle. After ending the call, I wondered if everyone saw the “unlovable” mark on my soul. Today I felt as if it’d been stamped across my forehead.

Morose much, Trinity?

Hey. I was entitled to a pity party once in a while. Especially when I figured nothing else could make the day any bleaker.

Of course, that’s when karma laughed in my face.

I glanced up just as my ex-boyfriend Milo walked into the back room with his new girlfriend clinging to his side like a barnacle.

This chick sported at least a D cup and was polished from her trendy asymmetrical haircut to the tips of her silver stilettos.

My gaze caught on the hemline—if it had more material it might actually qualify as a cocktail dress. But the scant coverage showcased the bombshell’s killer body. She could probably crack open walnuts with those muscled quads. But that meant she’d have to close her legs and I doubted that happened very often.

Not nice, Trin.

But I snickered anyway. Since the toothpick and my ex had been caught going at it on a weight bench at the gym where she worked as a personal trainer—while we’d still been dating—she’d brought the snarky comments on herself.

When I’d relayed the breakup story to my friend Ramon, he hadn’t offered the sympathy I’d been looking for. Instead, he’d chastised me. “Chica, why do you punish yourself by dating loser men like Milo? You’re past due for an upgrade.”

I’d gone through phases in my dating life. I’d started out with the all-American types—jocks and smart nerds. Then I moved on to bad boys—until I realized unpredictable macho dudes made better boyfriends on paper than in real life. In college I decided only other artists would understand me, so I chose intellectual men who were proud to admit they’d embraced their softer sides. That phase had lasted until I recognized the similarities between myself and a doormat. How hadn’t I noticed the supposed sensitive types were often bigger assholes than the self-centered, self-destructive bad boys?

After learning that lesson, I’d opted to date suits—white-collar nine-to-fivers. Polite guys who picked up the dinner check and drove cars that didn’t break down. Men who were invested in their careers and their futures.

That’s when my subconscious piped in with . . . You mean, men like your father?

With that disconcerting thought planted in my head, I’d done the mature thing and moved on to blue-collar guys—men nothing like good old Dad. Men who worked hard and played harder. Men more interested in literally climbing the ladder rather than just metaphorically. Solid men who didn’t wear their hearts on their sleeves or their causes on their T-shirts. They just humped along, year after year, working for the man, living paycheck to paycheck.

Milo, the electrician and my recent ex-boyfriend, had checked all the right boxes. He’d never dated a woman who “made real good money drawing pictures and shit.” I guess I’d been lonely enough to find his interest in me refreshing. He’d had some odd ideas about what constituted fun, and physically he was as reserved when we were naked as when we were clothed. So I’d truly been shocked to find out he’d gotten down and dirty in a public area equipped with a security camera. Heck, he’d never even left the lights on the few times we’d had sex.

That thought gave me a complex. Well, another one at any rate.

Although, watching him exhibit over-the-top PDA with the toothpick, I wondered if I’d mistakenly placed my expectations—he’s stable so he’ll stabilize me—on him when that hadn’t ever been any part of who he was. Heaven knew I wasn’t the uninhibited artist living a bohemian lifestyle that he’d envisioned. Had he gleaned that impression of me . . . from me? Sometimes in social situations my nervousness overtook my common sense and I’d blurt out ridiculous random things . . . and then have zero recollection of what I’d said.

So yeah, men got to deal with “social anxiety blackouts” as a benefit of dating me.

Milo must’ve sensed me staring at him. I didn’t duck fast enough before he saw me.