“Let’s go blow off some steam.”
I looked up, bleary-eyed from pouring over a multitude of tracing paper sketches, scattered sets of plans and study diagrams that I had been hammering away at for hours. I blinked at my college boyfriend standing at the edge of my studio desk piled high with the makings of a hustling architecture student.
“That sounds fantastic…” I sighed, still half-expecting myself to change my mind and continue a dogged pursuit of cranking out 100 more plans late into the night.
I felt a reassuring side-hug around my shoulders.
“C’mon. Get your mind out of here for a little bit. Burgers and beer?”
I was a third year architecture student with the typical messy studio space, messy apartment, and a messy ponytail. But a cute guy offering a short escape that involved cheap burgers and beer was enough to entice me away from my organized chaos.
On our way to the sports bar, I was given the low-down:
“I invited some friends to join us who I want you to meet.”
The relationship was fairly new, so I perked up a bit. “Oh really?”
“Yes ma’am. They’re good guys. You’ll love ’em.”
Heads up or warning shot?
As we trumbled down the street in a faded tan late model Dodge pickup, I realized how famished I was. Plus a triple-treat: taking a break from studio, an offering of greasy sustinence, and meeting his friends? Gold stars in my book.
“But I hafta give you a head’s up.”
“Oh?” I cocked my right eyebrow in his direction, a long-established trait that runs deep in my family tree, successfully passed down through a legion of generations and – not-so-affectionately – known as the ‘Rowntree Brow.’
“This oughta be good,” I smirked.
“You’ll love him. He’s a good guy. But… he just got out of prison.”
I have always maintained giving new people I meet a clean slate. Not to judge a person’s character for past mistakes or circulating rumors. Take ’em as they are, straight up.
My interest was peaked, yet the ‘Rowntree Brow‘ cautiously sought out the rest of the story. And he picked up on it.
“It was for stealing cars. In Austin. His name is Dave. He’s in town trying to get back on his feet again.”
I admit a sigh of relief came out a little heartier than I expected.
“All right, not a problem,” I uttered, honestly relieved it wasn’t a heavier charge.
Soon after the pickup lurched into a parking spot close to the entrance, my concerns dissapated as the sights and delightful smells of the college hangout grabbed my grumbling stomach’s attention.
Keep manners in line, keep wits at the ready.
We walked into the bar, oversized speakers belting out a string of classic rock’s grainy anti-establishment ballads. We sat on the primitive benches that lined the restaurant, watching several frat guys taking bets on which one would win the next round of Golden Tee.
“Here they are!” my boyfriend exclaimed, waving his half-consumed pint of beer in the air to signal his buddies over to our rustic landmark.
I looked up to see four guys traipsing through the entrance in a single file line. I smiled expectantly, brushing away any stray crumbs that may have gone rogue on my faded university t-shirt.
And then I gridlocked.
I surprised myself in my reaction as the fourth guy swaggered through the door. Striped polo shirt tucked in his jeans, leather belt, sporting some intensely hi-lighted curtain bangs. But it wasn’t his look that halted me.
The familiar sharp pang in my stomach and tingly scalp, combined with a moderately-overwhelming wave of dread took over. Before he even made it over to our spot, I knew that guy was Dave.
And I could sense he was not a well-meaning individual.
“Nice to meet you – I’ve heard so much about you!” Dave said a little too eagerly for my taste. His strong cologne wafted over the table. An overly-firm handshake. A smile that some would label ‘dazzling.’ I could feel my skin crawl and my soul tighten.
The ‘Brow’ prickled over my right eye, but I kept my manners – and wits – about me.
I forced a fake smile and am pretty sure that I said, “Nice to meet you too.”
What every female swoons to hear.
The beer-infused evening continued as the Golden Tee roared in the corner. I attempted to enjoy my savory burger and joked half-heartedly with the guys.
After a pint or two, the pangs in my gut slightly subsided, but never fully disappeared for the rest of our time at the bar.
Once the tab was paid and we paraded out to our vehicles, my twisted insides fluttered away, a sense of relief washed over my soul.
“So what did you think of the guys?”
I slid into the tan Dodge, looking over to meet a pair of beaming brown eyes.
“Well… yes. Except for that Dave guy.”
“What do you mean?” I could feel the warm gaze from my boyfriend start to wane.
“I don’t know. Something’s not right with him. A bit creepy. I feel like he’s got something up his sleeve. I’d keep an eye on him.”
“You think so?” he quizzed.
I wish I could describe the next few moments had played out smoothly with an understanding conversation laden with genuine concern. Instead it spiraled into a grilling barrage of questions barbed with, “You’re over-reacting… being judgmental… absolutely ridiculous… totally unfair…“
All the lovliest of adjectives a female swoooooons to hear.
The rest of the ride ended with my hastened exit from his truck, teeth gritted with teary-eyed frustration.
Why couldn’t he see the diabolic look behind Dave’s eyes? Why did he completely dismiss my ominous warning? And what was with the accusatory questioning?
Ignoring red flags.
Several weeks passed after the Dave incident, only to usher in another unwelcomed chapter of regret. This time not for me.
Dave and the boyfriend had embarked upon establishing a lawn business to ‘help Dave’ out. And it started off generating some hefty extra income for both of them. It quickly faded.
After a series of Dave’s no-shows, they had one last falling out which resulted in a good old-fashioned felony. Dave had broken into the boyfriend’s garage, stealing all of his lawn equipment, tools, and whatever wasn’t nailed to the concrete floor, leaving him in a wake of twisted rage and bitterness.
It was not the appropriate moment to utter, “I told you so…” even though I was thinking it very loudly.
I would not fully comprehend for another decade this recurring and daunting apprehension that would creep up on me unannounced in the presence of someone with bad intentions. I realize today that this was only the tip of the iceberg.
Oh, and the boyfriend? Somehow it didn’t work out.
I still reflect back on that awkward evening meeting that guy. Emotions that I could not identify nor come to grip with rattled my heart for years.
I unashamedly hang onto that encounter. Not as a bad memory – more of a life lesson. But the words were out there. And so are a lot of those guys.
Judgmental? It may have appeared this way at first.
Overreacting? Hell no.
I choose the word ‘discerning.’
With a side of ‘Rowntree Brow.’