It was past midnight when Gilberto collected his meager winnings and said good night to Ramon, Chico and his other buddies from the poker game. On his way home he stopped at the strip mall for gas. As he pumped, he noticed the woman pumping across from him. She was what he’d call knock down gorgeous.
In her bright red heels, she stood close to six feet; her long auburn hair pulled back and tied by a rainbow kerchief. Her face was hidden in the shadows. Glimpses of her reminded him of Madonna and Lady Gaga. Her silky black turtleneck and tailored jeans completed her outfit.
When he finished, he went over to her and smiled. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Gilberto.”
She looked at him. Her eyes startled.
“Hello,” she half smiled. “Tracy Sullivan.”
His heart beat faster. No wedding ring. “Tracy if I tell you you’re beautiful you’ll probably think it’s just a line. But it isn’t.”
She touched her hair. “Well thank you. I’ll take that as a late-night compliment. I wasn’t expecting to run into anyone.”
He grinned. “It’s always the time when you least expect… whatever the gods have up their sleeves.” He smiled hoping she thought he was funny.
“You seem very persistent. You must sell used cars, or maybe even insurance?”
He looked shocked. “No, I’m in charge of shipping at Atlas.”
“Oh,” she nodded.
He pointed toward the bistro. “They have good burgers there. Load you up on fries and a free salad bar.”
Tracy took a deep breath. “You certainly know how to speak up for yourself,” her voice low, melodious. She frowned. “I’m trying hard to avoid beef. It’s addictive and can mess up your arteries.”
He shrugged. “You sound like my friend Ramon’s wife Rosa. She goes on all the time about what we should or shouldn’t eat.”
He was entranced. Something about her. It had to be more than the flashy red heels. He sighed, played his best card. “I can tell,” he started to say. “You have such a kind heart. That makes you a very special person, you know.”
She tilted her head. “Are you always this forceful and extroverted?”
“I’m just me,” he smiled. “But when I feel a natural rhythm with someone, I could go on talking all night. But I’m not kidding. You’re special. God made a special life for you.”
“Ha,” she smiled. “I’ll certainly have to take that up with him when we meet, then maybe next time I can come back as a nuclear physicist.”
That caught him off guard. “What work do you do?” He loved the way her body swayed; a sensual grace he hadn’t seen a lot of lately.
“I teach writing nearby at the college.”
“You’re a professor?”
“Not the way you make it sound. “I’m an assistant. That means I do a lot of grunt work.”
He looked at his watch and knew it was now or never. He pointed at the open all-night bistro at the end of the strip mall. “They have the best lemon meringue pie over there “Want to go have a slice with me?”
She grinned. “I’m really flattered. Do you always invite women you’ve just met to go have lemon meringue pie with you?”
“Only if it’s here and they’re wearing bright red heels.”
She grinned. “Gilberto, I must say you’re a natural born flirt.”
“I’m not trying to do anything but talk. You have very pretty eyes.”
“Thank you. I’ll take that as another late-night compliment.”
He squinched up his eyes. “Don’t tell me you haven’t been complimented a lot. You look like a movie star.”
That made her smile. “So, I guess I pass with flying colors.”
“Pass what?” He asked
She grinned. “Nothing really, just my sense of feminine self- assurance. You’re pretty attractive yourself. You’ve a sensitive poetic face.”
Gilberto smiled. “Let’s go get some coffee and pie. We can park outside.”
They moved their cars, went inside, and found a booth. Through the window behind her he could see the stars. That, he thought was a good sign.
They ordered coffee and Tracy told him she was from Indiana and that she had recently completed her PhD thesis in what she called gender equivalencies.
He ordered them both a slice of lemon meringue pie and finished his coffee. “Oh, I’d so like to take you home with me,” he gushed. “And in the morning, I’ll make you breakfast.”
She finished her pie, sipped the rest of her coffee. “I don’t know,” she said. “I fear I might disappoint you.”
“Oh,” his dreamy voice responded. “Nothing you could ever do would disappoint me.”
“Don’t be so sure of that. Or is what you’re saying coming from that sensitive boy poet inside you?”
This was one of those rare moments he craved a cigarette. But he wouldn’t. He had spent too much on hypnosis to ever smoke again.
Instead he began to babble. “I’ll give you everything, your beauty is captivating. I’ll be your slave.”
“Oh dear,” she said. “Dear Gilberto, meeting me and falling for Tracy is very flattering. But Gilberto I fear you’ll probably not want to take me home and make me breakfast.” She reached behind her and pulled off her long auburn wig revealing a salt and pepper military buzz cut.
Gilberto gasped in disbelief.
Fortunately, it was late and the bistro was nearly empty.
“I’m sorry Gilberto but I couldn’t let you keep going on that way. My name’s not Tracy it’s Raymond.”
Gilberto frowned. He took a breath. This couldn’t be. His body started to shake. He felt like he’d lost his balance and fallen down a flight of stairs.
“But…” he stammered.
Raymond smiled. “You’re really a dear, dear being, Gilberto. But somehow I get the impression that you wouldn’t really want to take me home and serve me breakfast in bed.” He bent down and took his shiny red heels. “My feet are killing me,” he said, putting on a pair of loafers he pulled from his bag.
Seeing this sudden transformation was too much for him. His stomach lurched. He had an awful taste in his mouth.
“I didn’t mean to upset you. But ultimately I knew I had to be honest.” Raymond stood, picked up the check, smiled and said. “On me. You’re right the lemon meringue pie here is delicious.” Then he turned and left. Slumped in the booth, Gilberto stared after him, shaking his head.