'Now if there's a smile on my face,
It's only there trying to fool the public'
Howie sang the lyrics in his head as he grinned in the direction of the camera holding his arm tight around the fan who requested the picture. He hoped, for the fan's sake, that his picture would come across as genuine. He hugged the girl tightly before another girl took her place. He continue acting as if nothing was wrong as the stream of fans continue through the meet and greet. He was desperately hoping that it would be over soon. He needed ample time to hype himself up to put on the show for the crowd of thousands during the concert that night.
It had been almost two full months since Anna had walked out on him after the fight about getting implanted. He tried calling her several times the first few days, after receiving no answer, his calls trickled to one or two a day, but he still reached out to her daily. Once he even managed to get her sister on the phone, he'd borrowed AJ's phone that day. He could still recall the ringing in his ears after she spewed the several hateful words over the line. He noticed now, AJ kept his phone out of sight, come to think of it, he hadn't seen Brian or Nick's phones lying around either.
When the concert finally came to an end, Howie rushed to the backstage area and crashed on the couch. He closed his eyes willing himself to sleep even if for the tiniest moment. “Howie?” He rolled over and looked up to see Anna walking towards him. He then, immediately, jumped up and in a few quick steps was enveloping his love in his arms.
“What are you doing here?” He asked, still holding her tight.
“I wanted to see you.” She pulled back from him and smiled. “I don't have long though, Alice is right outside waiting for me.”
“Anna, I am so sorry that I tried to push the timer issue. I realize now that you aren't ready for a lifetime commitment, but I also know that I would rather have you in my life on your terms then not have you at all.” He moved in to kiss her and was pleasantly surprised when she let him.
“Anna!” an impatient voice called form outside.
“I should go.” She moved to start walking away.
“Anna.” Howie grabbed her arm, pulling her back into his arms. “Can we please meet for dinner?”
He could feel her head moving and sighed with relief when he heard the mumbled “yes” come. “Call me tomorrow after you rest up from tonight.” She touched his face and smiled softly before leaving the room.
He was smiling, actually grinning like a dope, by the time the other guys entered the room. “I just saw Anna in the hall,” Brian said. “With that smile, things are good?”
Howie sat back down and put his arms behind his head, “I think they might just be.”
* * * * *
Howie sat at the table, his leg shaking as he waited for Anna. He felt like it was his first date with her again. Nervously he drank water and spilled some down the front of his shirt. He almost knocked the bread on the floor as he grabbed his napkin to attempt to blot dry the water spot. He gnawed on some bread as he waited, glancing again at his watch.
'It's only been thirty minutes,' he thought to himself as he thanked the waiter for refilling his water glass. He quickly scrolled through his calendar on his phone to make sure he had the right day, time and location. It was possible he was so excited after their two hour long conversation the night before that he remembered incorrectly. He had the correct information in his calender. He glanced towards the door as he saw it open, a well-dressed couple walked in and moved to the maitre d.
Thirty minutes soon turned into an hour, an hour turned into two hours. Howie would have waited longer if the restaurant was not pushing for him to leave so they could open his table up to customers ordering food.
Outside he pulled his phone back out and stared at it. Should he call Anna? No, he did not want to let her know how long he waited. Instead, he dialed AJ.
“Hey Howie, I thought you were on a date with Anna tonight.” AJ sounded confused when Howie said 'hello'.
“Well we were supposed to meet up two hours ago, I waited; she was a no show.” Howie admitted as his car was brought around. “I'm not ready to go home, if I go there all I will do is mope and I've had enough moping.” His admission caught him by surprise. Perhaps this was what needed to happen so he could get over Anna. “You wanna go to a couple of clubs?”
They agreed to meet up and it wasn't long before both guys, drinks in hand were scoping out the women who appeared unattached. It had been a long time since Howie had been out dancing with any one other then Anna. He forgot how much he enjoyed dancing and learning the moves of each new partner. When he'd had enough dancing he managed to snake a table, ordering round upon round of drinks.
“Anna doesn't know what she's missin” Howie stammered, determined not to come across as drunk as he felt.
“At least you didn't find your girl with another man.” AJ shouted over the music.
“You had a girl?” Howie asked confused. How long had he been in his depression?
“She's said she'd be gone a few weeks and then, BAM, I find her out to dinner with another guy.” AJ said ignoring his friend's question.
“Who are you talking about?” Howie asked, still confused.
“Karin!” He shouted back as if his friend should know.
“I didn't know she was your girl. I thought you two were just hanging out.” Howie took another drink and looked cross-eyed at the glasses in front of him revealing just how much he had had to drink. “Besides were you still seeing other girls while you were hanging out with her anyway?”
This was obviously not what AJ wanted to hear. He stood up angrily. “I'm gonna get some air.” he stated before leaving the table.
Howie went to the bar and closed out his tab before finding AJ outside. “Man, I didn't mean to upset you.” He spoke while holding himself up against the wall. He didn't feel so hot; maybe those last few shots were not such a good idea after all.
“Yah well...” AJ started. “...What are we talking about me for anyway? We came out tonight to forget about your troubles. “ He looped his arm around Howie's shoulders and helped him walk down the street a ways.
“You know man? Howie asked. “I just want to find the one woman who will love me no matter what, for ever and ever.”
“I understand that.” AJ shot back.
“I know,” Howie's face beamed with his new idea. “If I get one of those timer things implanted, I would know who was the right girl for me.” He couldn't stop himself from speaking those words, the booze had taken control of all his verbal functions and what was more, his brain was in agreement with the words. “Let's find a place and do it.” He grabbed hold of AJ and hugged him.
It took them a lot less time than they thought to find an all night timer parlor. It reminded Howie of one of those slightly shady tattoo Parlors that stayed open all night to cater to the drunken clientele that stumbled out of bars and clubs with an abundance of new found courage.
The lady behind the desk was filing her cherry red nails and snapping her gum when they walked in. She didn't even look up when he asked if he could get an implant done that very moment.
“Fill out the forms and sign below.” She didn't even look up when she spoke and sat with her hand out waiting as if they were inconveniencing her nail filing time. He pulled his credit card out of his wallet and slapped it in her hand. He then signed his name to the bottom of the agreement paperwork. “Right this way.” The woman actually stood to take Howie to the back room where the procedure would occur after he signed his name to the bottom of his credit card receipt.
“Lay there.” She pointed one of her long nails towards the chair. He sat down and lay back with his arms resting on the armrests staring at the ceiling above him. He doing the right thing, right? He wanted to find love and part of him still believed that when he got implanted his screen would show nothing, like Nick's, because Anna did not have an implant. It would mean something right?
The piercing pain in his left arm brought him out of this thoughts. His immediate reaction was to pull his arm up and away, holding it tightly. “Done.” The woman smacked her gum and put the implanter down and moved back to the front of the shop where he could hear her talking with AJ.
He held his arm willing himself to look down at the screen. It was going to be blank, he just knew it. He sighed and forced himself to get it over with. A single tear rolled down his cheek as he saw the display: 57 days 0 hours 8 minutes.