Just A Friend

By: Merri Maywether
In Love With A Perfect Stranger





Nancy linked her elbow with Pam’s in anticipation of what they’d encounter on the other side of the doors of the Forty-Ninth Parallel. The state’s newest microbrewery had been open for less than a month. They'd heard about it and planned to go several times. Now, it was really happening.

Pam threw a cursory glance at the parking lot. Rows of pickups and cars parked neatly in the gravel area around the entrance promised that the excursion was sure to meet her expectations. The business that brewed beer from local barley had won the unofficial vote of approval from the community. In a matter of minutes, she'd be able to tell why.

As soon they passed through the front door, Pam sensed it was more than a place to go for good beer. It had a home away from home vibe. The cement floor was painted a soft brown, and everything was made of wood and accented with tempered steel. A glass wall separated the people from the vats of beer in the back corner. Pam counted three and guessed there were three behind the ones she could see.

She craned her neck to get a better look at what was going on. Groups of people gathered around tables either cheered or groaned at something or someone out of Pam’s field of vision. Other people rolled their eyes while others held their hands up as if to say, “I should have known.”

Nancy stopped at a popcorn machine and scooped out two bags of the snack for each of them. “It’s almost as good as the stuff they sell in the movie theaters.” She passed a bag to Pam. “Go ahead try a bite.” Nancy threw a couple of kernels of popcorn into her mouth and waited for Pam to do the same.

Pam tossed a couple of kernels in her mouth. The light salt and hints of butter complemented the airy taste. "You're right."

"I always am," Nancy responded in a playful tone.

Another round of commotion caught their attention. Both women stepped deeper into the room. As soon as she saw the images projected on the big screen, Nancy smiled in recognition. “I forgot it is Trivia Pursuit night. Noah mentioned something about it.”

Their friend Noah, who suggested the outing, bailed out of the excursion. Determined to have some fun before the winter weather kept them homebound for the season, Pam and Nancy went without him.

From the size of the crowd, Pam sensed it was a wise choice. With little publicity the place was packed. The two best friends made their way to the only two empty seats at a table at the far end of the room.

Three men who looked like they were related took up the other seats at the long bench style table. Two of them looked down at their cell phones. If anyone were to ask, Pam would have guessed that they were father and sons. The older of the three commented on the question projected on the big screen. “How many counties do we have in Montana?” Beneath the question, four shapes had a different answer. Without having to think, Pam answered, “Fifty-six.” She had read about it in the newspaper earlier in the day.

The guy sitting beside her looked like a model for the men of Montana magazine. He was rugged with a hint of I’d like to fix your flat tire if you’d let me. Pam couldn’t help liking him. When he said, “Are you sure about that?” her impression of him changed. He was too full of himself to get attached.

“Why do men second guess women when it comes to geography? If the question was something like where the closest shopping mall is, you’d take my answer without any argument.”

He arched his eyebrows in amusement. “Okay, fifty-six it is.”

After she said it, Pam wished she could have taken back the attitude behind the words. If given a do over, she would have removed some of the why are men shallow from the tone in her voice and replace it with some sass.

When the answer of fifty-six came up on the screen, he grinned as though he were proud of her. “You know your Montana history.” When his response lacked the unspoken “for a woman.” Pam found herself liking him again.

That was all the time he had to make an impression because the next question appeared on the screen. “How long were Gilligan and his friends supposed to be on the boat?” The four possible answers appeared beneath the question. Just as Pam was about to lean forward to see what answer he chose, the waitress approached her for her order. Pam temporarily pushed away the decision saying, “You go first Nancy, I want to know the answer.”

“It’s three hours,” the man replied and pressed a square on his cell phone.

“Who is Gilligan?”

“The guy from Gilligan’s Island. This group took an ocean tour and ended up stranded on a tropical island for years.”

The story was new to Pam. She got lost in the man’s ocean blue eyes and wished she was stranded with the man who made her heart race every time he spoke.

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