The electronic voice of Paul’s GPS informed him that he had arrived at his destination. He leaned forward to peer through his windshield at the sign that hung above the doors on the red brick building. Large orange letters trimmed in green spelled La Cantina Antelo.
An elderly man in a bright Tommy Bahama shirt began unlocking his car on the far side of the street. Cars covered every meter that Paul could see so he wasted no time pulling around and flipping on his blinker. It only took about three minutes and what looked like a well-practiced fourteen point turn for the man to get his Buick out of the small space. As he slowly rolled away Paul slid his little Honda into the space easily and threw it in park.
He still wasn’t sure why he was here. The invitation was most likely an elaborate way to get him to sit through a time-share presentation, but it didn’t have the same tone as a marketing ploy. He grabbed it off his passenger seat and twisted it until he could read it again in the streetlight.
Your presence is requested at The Other Eight event. This is a private affair so please, no guests. Dinner, dessert, and drinks will all be provided free of charge. Your participation in this event is of the utmost importance.
May 7th, 2013
La Cantina Antelo
756 E. Jefferson
Paul tried once again to think of what else it might be, but could not add anything to his mental list that he had not already thought of. Free food and drinks. It was worth a shot. He could always leave if it turned into a sales pitch.
La Cantina Antelo was much nicer on the inside than the exterior suggested. Saltillo tiles stretched out like an orange sea that crashed against walls of wood and beige plaster. Turquoise seats with iron legs and backs stood like soldiers at attention along the front of a bar with a mosaic of colorful tiles along its front. Paul thought that it was strange to have so much color and then leave the lights dim.
The hostess returned from within the restaurant and stopped at her podium. Like most hostesses, she was young and pretty. Her raven colored hair was so dark that it almost made her tanned skin seem pale.
“Welcome to Cantina Antelo. How many?”
Paul lifted the invitation. He barely got out the words, “I recieved…” when she nodded.
“Right this way sir.”
She turned briskly sending her black ponytail on a pendulum swing. He slid the invitation into his back pocket and watched her hair sweep back and forth across the middle of her back as she led him to a private dining area in the rear of the restaurant.
The hostess stopped just short of the open entrance with a rounded top and held out a hand to indicate he should go in. Paul stepped next to her and peeked inside. Three tables with orange and blue tiles inlaid along the top had been placed end to end. Paul counted nine wooden high-backed chairs. Three of them were filled with men that looked up as he stepped into the doorway. A white card folded to stand up had been placed on the plate at the head of the table. Fancy black letters spelled RESERVED on both sides. Paul didn’t recognize any of the faces that looked up at him. He turned to the hostess to ask her a question but she had already slipped away.
Silence captured the room as Paul turned back. His mind shouted at him to leave, but his feet were frozen in place. To make matters worse, he could feel his hands starting to get clammy with sweat. The awkward standoff was broken after what seemed like an hour when the guy nearest to him stood up, walked over and offered his hand. He was taller than Paul by a few inches. His brown eyes seemed kind.
“Hey. I’m Josh.”
Paul shook his hand and immediately realized he should have wiped it on his jeans first.
“Oh… sorry. I’m Paul.”
The two others sat on the far side of the table. They didn’t stand, but told him their names. Jared introduced himself first. He had brown skin and black hair gave him a Hispanic look, but Paul couldn’t tell for sure what nationality he was. His perfect teeth were on display through the grin he wore. Paul wondered if he was truly amused at the whole situation or if he just wanted to show his beautiful chompers. To Jared’s left sat Andrew. He filled his chair to capacity and then some. Blonde hair sat slightly disheveled on top of his head giving him the look of a little boy whose mother would show up at any moment to lick her hand and fix it. His hands were wringing a white cloth napkin. Paul nodded a quiet greeting to both. Josh returned to his seat and picked up something from the table.
“Did you get one of these too?”
He was holding an identical invitation to the one he had received. Paul pulled his invitation from his pocket and held it up.
“Yeah. So what’s this all about?”
Jared laughed a sort of chortle that reminded Paul of a turkey. He still hadn’t stopped smiling. When he spoke his smile could be heard in his high-pitched voice.
“None of us knows. We were hoping you might be able to tell us.”
The whole situation was starting to feel like a setup. Paul was tempted to leave and not give whoever was throwing this little function the satisfaction of his participation, but his curiosity was growing like a fire. Each second that passed was just another log thrown into the flames.
He pulled out the chair next to Josh to sit down when he saw the three heads all whip towards the door. Paul turned and saw another confused participant in whatever game this was enter the room.
The man stood frozen for a moment. His brown eyes searched the four men who were staring back at him. The first thing Paul noticed about him was his muscles. They strained the fabric at the sleeves and chest of his white v-neck shirt. He was the perfect kind of fit. Strong and lean without looking like he was competing in a World’s Strongest Man contest. He seemed to bask in the attention of the room for a moment before flicking up his invitation between two fingers.
“You guys got one of these too, huh?”
After his initial pause the newest member of the confused group slipped into a confidence that bordered on cockiness. Paul didn’t buy it though. He had known guys like this before and he would have bet his confidence was as fake as his orangy-brown tan. All those muscles were just a big mask. Josh, who had become the unofficial spokesman of the group, nodded and introduced himself.
“I’m Josh. This is Jared and Andrew and… sorry.”
“Paul.” he said as he sat in the seat.
The guy’s eyes followed each introduction. After a short head bob of acknowledgement he walked around to the far side of the table and flipped open one of the plastic menus that rested in front of each chair. Paul and Jared looked at each other. Jared smiled wider.
“And you are?”
“Christian.” he said without looking up. “You guys don’t have a clue as to what this is about do you?”
It was Josh who answered. Paul saw a flash of annoyance in his eyes, but he didn’t let it reach his voice.
“Nope. That seems to be the question of the night. You have any ideas?”
Christian stopped inspecting his dinner options and looked up. His eyes passed over each man once more and came to rest on Paul.
“What high school did you go to?”
“Hmmm. Then nope. You guys haven’t pissed off any drug dealers lately have you?” he asked with the slightest laugh. Jared laughed again while Andrew began wringing his napkin even tighter.
Their waitress for the evening walked in with a tray of warm tortilla chips and salsa. She introduced herself as Mary Ann and distributed the chips and salsa at even intervals along the table before getting their drink orders. Christian finally sat down on the far side of the table, leaving an empty seat between himself and Jared.
Andrew let his napkin fall into his lap and grabbed a handful of chips for his plate. Soft crunches replaced the questions as everyone followed his lead. They all seemed content to just snack until the next guest arrived. It only took a minute.
Everyone stared at the doorway to inspect the next piece of the puzzle. He had a round face like a puppet, but it was not because he was fat. His black fadora and squared glasses made him look like someone who could rattle off all the coolest bands you’ve never heard of. A crooked smile would have split his lips had his hand not been there to keep them closed. He laughed at some inside joke.
“What’s so funny chuckles?” Christian asked.
“Sorry.” he said dropping his hand. “I thought I was coming to a bachelor party for a friend of mine. His fiancé has eight bridesmaids and I thought he was being clever.”
“So you don’t know why you’re here either?” asked Paul.
He shook his head as the smile slowly receded from his lips. Josh stood up again and introduced himself. The newest arrival introduced himself as Micah. Everyone else went around the table nodding or raising a hand and sharing their name in return.
Two more arrived a minute later. They came in together, but it was evident that they didn’t know each other. Josh played host once more. After introducing themselves Vernon and Mateo stared at the well-practiced routine of everyone introducing themselves before sitting down in the last two empty chairs along the sides of the table.
Light conversations picked up in pairs or small groups, but even as they spoke about careers or hobbies they searched for the common thread that tied them to this group of eight. Mary Ann returned with the first round of drinks and quickly took the drink orders for the new arrivals.
Paul watched it all with fascination. Some guys quickly fell into the comfortable conversation of sports while others inspected their invitations looking for differences or clues. Andrew sat at the end content to be ignored. Christian had already finished his first Corona and ordered another when Mary Ann brought the second wave of drinks.
If the group was a puzzle Paul didn’t feel like he was close to solving it. Every time he thought of a possible similarity he found at least one exception. The only constant that he knew for sure was that everyone in the room was male. That had to be important somehow, but the answer to that “why?” could be any one of a million things. His curiosity was beginning to frustrate him, so he decided to distract himself. He flipped through the menu searching for a meal that he would normally pass over because of the price.
“Oh good. You’ve all made it.”
The arrival of new voice pulled the plug on all conversation. The man who stood in the doorway had to be their host. There was only one chair remaining. His green eyes sparkled with joy as he looked around the room. Messy brown hair topped a narrow face. His high cheeks and pointed nose almost gave him the look of bird. He wore a white and blue striped button down shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms and dark jeans. It was a look that straddled the line between casual and dressed up perfectly.
Paul glanced at the faces of the men around the table. If any of them knew their host their faces did not show it.
“It took a lot of work to track you all down.”
Nervous glances twitched on a few faces. Josh broke the tension first.
“Is this some kind of sales pitch or something?”
Paul smiled to himself. It looked like he wasn’t the only one that thought that was the most likely scenario. Their host tilted his head back and laughed.
“No! Not at all. I was actually afraid you guys would figure it out before I got here.” He paused. “No one know yet?”
Everyone shook their heads no. It reminded Paul of the bobble head on his desk.
“Cut the crap man. Tell us why we are.”
It was Christian. He was leaning back in his chair and had his big arms crossed over his chest.
Their host studied him for a moment and then sat down at the head of the table. He picked up the plate with the card on it and set them both aside. Leaning in, he folded his hand in front of himself.
“My name is David Eaton. And I need your help to marry the girl of my dreams.”
Paul laughed. He didn’t mean to, but it burst out of his mouth before he even knew it was coming. All eyes turned to him. He pulled his hands off the table and began to wipe them on his pants. If no one else wanted to ask the question then he guessed it was up to him.
“How, exactly, are we supposed to do that?”
“I’m glad you asked. I met her five months ago and from the moment I saw her I knew she was the one. We have been dating since then and I don’t see any point in waiting to ask her to marry me. I am a bit of an old school kind of guy so I felt that asking her father for her hand was the right thing to do. He was not as enthusiastic about the idea as I was.”
The smile he had been wearing had disappeared.
“That sucks bro.” This time it was Jared who spoke up. He didn’t seem too heartbroken though and still wore his perfect smile. “What do you want us to do about it?”
“Well, we came to a sort of agreement. He thinks that I don’t know her well enough to make such a lasting decision and I don’t want to delay beginning to spend the rest of my life with her. He thinks that apart from family, no one knows a girl better and will tell the truth about her more than her ex-boyfriends. He said that if I spoke to the other eight men that she had dated, listened to everything they had to say, and still wanted to marry her afterward, then he would give me his blessing.”
The words hung in the air. Everyone suddenly was aware of the thread that tied them together. Paul almost asked it first, but Josh beat him by a fraction of a second.
“Who is this girl?”
The reactions on the faces of the men around the table covered the spectrum. Someone cussed. A few laughed. No face in the room looked more shocked than Paul’s. Questions began flying in all directions. You dated Lindsey? How long were you guys together? Did she ever do this or that when she was with you?
No one heard it in the clamor that suddenly enveloped the table, but Paul mumbled to himself, “No. Not Lindsey. Not my Lindsey…”
Author’s Note: Hey guys! It’s been a while. I need your opinions. I wrote this as the opening chapter to a book. It’s a first draft so there might be some spelling/grammar mistakes or sentences that could be worded better, but that’s not really what I’m after right now. I’d like to know 2 things. (And keep in mind, I desire honesty above all else.) One, if you picked this up in a bookstore or read it as a sample of an e-book would you keep reading? And two, what do you think about the premise?
The book would be a hybrid of the main story covered in this chapter and the short stories of each guy’s experiences and/or dates with Lindsey. They would all share the good or the bad as David decides what to believe and if he truly wants to marry her. Also, Paul, is still in love with her and is torn between helping David or convincing him that Lindsey is not who he thinks she is.
If anyone would care to share any thoughts I would greatly appreciate it.
Copyright © 2013 Adam Drake