I met Bethany at a fundraiser for a nonprofit I volunteered with in town. The fundraiser took place at Mongolian BBQ, where she worked. If you never made it to a Mongolian BBQ restaurant before they closed, let me give you a quick synopsis. It’s a chain restaurant that served make-your-own stir fry. You would build a bowl from their buffet of uncooked meats and vegetables and then they would cook it on this extremely hot circular grill with these long metal rods, while you watched. The idea of the fundraiser was that we were “guest grillers” and earned tips and donations by cooking people’s food. I don’t know how they were allowed to do this, but they did.
When it was my shift to cook I received quick instructions from a tall body builder looking guy named Scout. I picked up my swords/metal rods and jumped in the rotation. Next to me was a beautiful woman, I smiled at her. She narrowed her eyebrows and yelled “You’re gonna burn their dinner! Pick it up pokey!” I looked down and returned to mixing the pile of food cooking in front of me and glanced back at her, “Pokey?” I asked.
“You’re moving at a tortoise speed. I need you at a rabbit, slow poke.” She said. I swore I caught a hint of a grin before I looked back down at the food.
She nudged me and before I could ask “what?” she said “Move, keep it moving.” I moved to the next pile of food and started tossing it around, trying to look like I knew what I was doing. The swords were getting heavy—not that I was going to admit that to her. I was struggling to use them efficiently or with any grace. Meanwhile, across from me, Scout was flipping pieces of food and catching them at the end of his sword while singing Journey songs.
“Try to keep up, Pokey!” she said as she used her sword to cut into my area. Her hand brushed against mine, and I felt my stomach jump. I started to introduce myself, “I’m…”
“SO SLOW!” she yelled before laughing at me.
“Sorry, this is a lot harder than you make it look.” I apologized.
Then, like we were in some terrible late 90s romantic teen comedy, she came behind me and put her hands on top of mine and started guiding my movements. “It’s all in the wrist, like this. Make quick, small, swooping circles like you would for a double dutch jump rope. Got it?” She asked. I nodded, because I had momentarily lost the ability to use my words. After a couple minutes I was feeling more confident and was moving at an acceptable pace. As proven by the fact that she had stopped yelling at me.
“So do I get to know your name?” I asked when there was a momentary break.
“Bethany.” She said as she pointed to her name tag.
“Oh, I see that now.” I said sheepishly.
“Don’t be so nervous, I’m not going to bite you or anything.” She smiled.
“It seemed like you might.” I teased.
“Sensitive, aren’t ya?” she said as she punched my shoulder.
A group of diners came up to the counter and we all got back in position around the grill. “Looking good, Pokey!” Bethany said sweetly.
I dropped one of my swords and tried to catch it but knocked over a stack of dirty bowls instead. The whole restaurant went silent as bowls crashed to the floor. A slow clap started and soon the whole restaurant was clapping. Was I in an actual teen movie right now? Bethany laughed, “I spoke too soon. Here, take these, I’ll go get a clean pair.” She added as she handed me her swords.
After 30 more minutes I finished my guest griller shift and exited, trading with another volunteer. At the end of the night, as we were cleaning up I heard “Pokey! Come here.” from across the restaurant. Bethany was still behind the counter, waving me over. I tried to casually approach the counter. “You’re funny. And we’re both majoring in social work! I like that. I like you. I’m going to give you my number. You should use it.” She said matter-of-factly. She wrote her number down on a scrap piece of paper she pulled from her apron and handed it to me.
She shook my hand and exited to the kitchen. I stared at the paper. I was definitely in some ridiculous rom-com. This couldn’t be real life. I looked up to see a group of my friends “oohing” at me. We left. As I got in my car I slid my hand in my pocket to make sure I still had the paper. I did. So wait. Was she flirting with me the whole night? She had to have been, right? I mean she gave me her number? And she had totally Patrick Swazyed me like we were in Ghost. She likes me! Oh sweet potatoes! She likes me! Be cool, be cool. Don’t freak out. Don’t do a car dance right now…okay do a little car dance.
A couple days later I called Bethany. “Is this Pokey!?” she asked when I nervously tried to introduce myself with my actual name. “Yes, that’d be me, I guess.” She invited me out that night to a party she was going to. I explained I was at a friend’s house without a car and she said she’d just swing by and pick me up. I texted her the address and about 20 minutes later she texted “Here.” I said my goodbyes and headed down the driveway towards what I assumed was her car. As I reached for the front passenger door, I realized there was a person already in that seat. I slid into the backseat.
Bethany smiled, “Pokey, this is Greg, my boyfriend.” Greg didn’t even turn around to attempt to make eye contact. “Hi Greg.” I said, as I reached for the door to exit the car. I obviously had misinterpreted what was going on between Bethany and I. I had incorrectly thought she was flirting with me and that I was going to soon become her significant other. As I pulled the door handle, I realized the child lock was on and Bethany had started driving. I was in for the ride.
The rest of the night went about as well as you might imagine. Greg was not pleased about my presence or about anything it seemed. Bethany and I talked and laughed while Greg pouted in a corner for awhile. She occasionally would excuse herself to give Greg attention before returning a moment later. This went on for a couple more hours before Greg decided it was time for us to leave the party. We left and Bethany dropped me off at home, where my roommates were waiting eagerly to hear about my night. I told them how she and her boyfriend had picked me up. “So, are you going to see her again?” One asked. I tossed a pillow at her and said “I don’t think so. She’s not really my type—I like the women I date to not already be in a relationship.”
If you’ve learned anything about me from previous posts, you know that this story doesn’t end here. Fast forward five years later and I did see Bethany again. But that’s a whole separate chapter, that you can find in the complete book.
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