If chivalry is dead, no one informed Clark. Of what he lacks in looks, he makes up for in gallantry. In a day and age where opening doors, pulling out chairs and providing a warm jacket for chilly shoulders is virtually unheard of, Clark never misses such an opportunity.
Which brings us to our current situation…
Clark was eyeing a very attractive brunette as she sipped an unknown beverage. Noticing the drink was nearly empty, he moved in - “I’d really love to top off that drink for you.” He leaned forward and smiled. “May I?”
The attractive brunette looked him over briefly as she sipped the last of the liquid from the ice cubes lining the bottom of her glass. Glancing into the cup and rattling the remaining cubes, she shrugged while stating, “I suppose so.” She flashed an insincere smile and looked away, clearly uninterested in anything other than the gratis beverage.
Clark nodded to the bartender and held up two fingers. The bartender nodded in return, acknowledging the silent drink order.
“I’m Clark,” he said, extending his outstretched hand.
“Charlotte,” she replied, neglecting his outstretched hand. Instead she fingered a strand of shoulder-length hair, twirling it mindlessly.
Clark retracted his hand. “It’s getting pretty scary outside, huh? The riots are getting close.”
“Uh huh,” she mumbled half-heartedly.
The bartender set down two white beverage napkins and placed a drink in front of both patrons. Charlotte slid hers closer while Clark removed his billfold and slapped a $20 on the bar. “Keep the change,” he stated proudly, hoping to draw Charlottes’ attention to his generous tip. Charlotte paid no heed, rather she instead stared blankly at a television set high above the bar which aired the local news. Above the left shoulder of the anchorwoman was file footage of the escalading criminal events surging through their neighboring city.
Barely audible, the anchorwoman announced - “Police in Hamptonberg are still unable to quell the rioting stemming from the arrest of popular high school football coach Bobby Lanka. Beginning late yesterday afternoon, hundreds of outraged teenagers took to the street - ”
“Kids today,” interrupted Clark, “so angry.” He toed the brass railing at his feet and slid his stool closer to Charlotte. “Have you heard the latest?”
Charlotte shook her head while still focused on the television beyond his left ear.
“I read on the internet a few hours ago that dozens of businesses just a few miles from here were attacked by homemade pipe bombs. The savage bastards have loaded ‘em full of nails and scrap metal so when they explode it sends shrapnel in all directions. It’s crazy what kids know nowadays.”
Charlotte turned as if to continue the conversation, but her eyes drifted past him and out the open door, where several boys sprinted past. Her pupils dilated as the glare of the sun penetrated her view.
Noticing her squint, Clark removed his sunglasses from his shirt pocket and offered them to her. She shifted her gaze from the window and glanced at the sunglasses. Rather than take the glasses, however, she asked, “what time is it?”
Clark rotated his wrist to read his watch. “2:38.”
Charlotte again peered out the window.
“Is there somewhere you have to be, Charlotte?” he asked, hoping the answer was no.
“Possibly. Do you have a car?” she questioned.
Clark raised an eyebrow. “I do,” he told her, curious as to where the question was leading.
“I think maybe we should get out of here.” She clutched her handbag and stood from the stool.
“Together?” he immediately replied. The term “we” coming from the mouth of a female has been a seldom occurrence for Clark. His excitement got the better him as first date decisions flooded his psyche: flowers or chocolates; dinner, movie or both; dress-casual attire or relaxed; first date kisser or no?
So caught up in preparation, Clark was unaware that the door opened behind him. A lanky silhouette appeared in the doorway. Light streamed past him, shrouding his features. The individual stood motionless for a few brief moments before rolling a metal tube to the center of the room. Not until Charlotte began to shriek was Clark brought back to reality.
Clark looked at Charlotte, then at the pipe, then at her again - when it all sank in… the riots… the kids… the pipe bombs… Charlotte… in distress… Charlotte… we… he and Charlotte… Charlotte… Charlotte…
“Charlotte,” he shouted, jumping on the silver pipe, covering it entirely beneath his torso.
Charlotte stared at him wild-eyed, delirious, disoriented.
Clark returned her stare, knowing he had her. Knowing that frantic, life-altering moments like this build beautiful relationships. He’s seen it in the movies. Read about it in books. “This is for you, Charlotte.”
Charlotte’s eyes grew even more wild, delirious, disoriented. She opened her mouth, as if to respond, but nothing came out.
Clark smiled ever so slightly. This is it, he thought, awaiting her endearing affection. This is where we connect. Where we bond. Where we fall in love.
Say it, Charlotte, say it…
Then, just as quickly as Charlotte became distressed, she snapped to life. She focused briefly on Clark. Lying on the floor. Atop a pipe bomb. She then turned, shrieked some more, and ran as fast as her slender, tanned legs allowed. Out the front door and out of his life…