Belle and the righteous beauty
Four of us, early arrivals for a weekend conference in Tampa, slogged down concrete alleyways in search of a bar, a bistro — any respite from the heat. We found a dark pub off the main drag where we could order cold beer and watch the World Cup on the big screen.
I surveyed my new companions as we sipped our drinks. There was a gangly, awkward man, the kind of guy who talks too much and buys rounds too early in the night; a Norwegian, tall and blond, fiercely bright but unsure of himself; and a recent Annapolis grad, with dark hair cut short and biceps that strained against the fabric of his polo shirt, a sort of Gerard Butler when Gerard Butler still wore leather skirts and fought the Mongol horde. The kind of man I might fall for if I were 10 years younger and thought I stood a chance.
By the time we got back to the hotel, registration for the conference had begun. Other attendees stood in small groups, laughing nervously, trying to lay-in friends for the weekend. At the back of the registration line, a young woman with long, dark hair smiled shyly toward our group. I realized with a start that she was eyeing the Annapolis grad. When she said something to the woman next to her, I could hear her southern drawl. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and cut her big blue eyes in our direction. I hated her instantly.
After the first series of workshops, a group of us headed to the hotel’s poolside bar. The southern belle worked her way to the Annapolis grad until she was sitting next to him, dangling her feet in the pool.
At breakfast the next morning, she dragged her chair close to his, squeezing herself into the space alongside him. She stood next to him during breaks and gave him meaningful looks across the conference room.
Late in the day, a new attendee arrived. She was older than the southern belle, and without her guileless expression. She wore ripped jeans and a ring in her nose. When she introduced herself to the crowd in a voice that sounded like she had spent her life surfing off the coast of California, the Annapolis grad in the row behind me said, “Righteous.”
That night, again at the bar, I watched the belle have her own mini breakdown. She spoke to the Norwegian in a low voice, confessing some worry, and tried to hold the Annapoto lis grad’s hand. I slipped out of the bar into the hot Tampa night.
In the morning, the belle sat behind me, cooing in her soft southern accent. The Annapolis grad, though, was late. As we searched for him, trying his cell phone, checking his room, people began
realize that another attendee, too, was missing: the righteous beauty with the nose ring. She slunk in a half hour later, and the Annapolis grad arrived a full hour after her. The attendees fussed over him and the belle joined them, beaming her big, innocent smile up at him.