Brad walked the three blocks from his apartment to Strikes and Pints with nothing to keep him company besides the sound of his defeated footsteps landing on the sidewalk. He had discovered the bowling alley dive bar in college and, now that he’s practically a regular there, he couldn’t think of a better place to find solace tonight. He paused at the final crosswalk, waiting for the light to change, and glanced at the scrolling marquee on the bank sign across the street.
Date: February 14, 2022
Happy Valentine’s Day!
He knew it wasn’t possible for the electronic sign to be taunting him, but it sure felt like it was. He jammed his stiff hands into his coat pockets, suddenly realizing that, in his haste, he’d left his gloves in his apartment.
Brad wasn’t surprised to find the bar nearly empty since it was not exactly a prime destination for Valentine’s Day. He flopped onto his usual barstool and gave a halfhearted wave to the bartender, Hector, who was mixing a drink for a customer at the other end of the bar.
Hector was like the quintessential uncle that Brad never had — he didn’t take any crap from anyone, he had an endless supply of dirty jokes, and he always offered a listening ear for his patrons’ drunken sorrows.
“Hey lovebird, where’s your prettier half?” Hector teased as he approached Brad who responded with a silent glare. “Uh oh. Trouble in paradise? Pick your poison and tell me all about it.”
“You got it, kid.”
Brad gulped the scotch, feeling its warmth sear his throat, and slammed the shot glass down on the bar top.
“Just when you think you know a person…” Brad said.
Angie took an Uber back to her apartment and spent the fifteen-minute drive feeling like a caged animal, becoming more irritated by the moment as she reflected on the night’s sudden turn of events. By the time she reached her apartment door full of pent-up emotions, her trembling hands fumbled the key in the lock and dropped it onto the floor. A second later she heard the muffled voice of her roommate, Sarah, on the other side of the door.
“Hello?” Sarah said tentatively.
“It’s me, Angie. Can you let me in?” Angie said impatiently.
Sarah, who was already in her pajamas, opened the door with her brow furrowed in confusion and said, “I wasn’t expecting you to come back so early. I figured you’d probably stay the night with Brad.” Then, noticing how distraught Angie was she said, “Is everything ok?”
Angie pushed past her, dropped her heavy purse onto the wooden bench near the door, kicked her boots off, and collapsed onto the couch without bothering to remove her coat.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Sarah said delicately. “Did something happen on the date? Do you want to talk about it?”
Then she glanced around with embarrassment at the remnants of her single-on-Valentine’s-Day pity party that Angie had unknowingly crashed — the half-eaten bowl of butter pecan ice cream sitting on the coffee table, the cozy throw blanket draped across the couch, and the rom-com paused on the tv.
“Just when you think you know a person…” Angie said.
“I thought we were really hitting things off, you know? I mean, we’ve been dating for a couple of months and—” Brad said.
“Well, the few times you brought her in here you guys seemed like two peas in a pod. Some of the regular league bowlers even gave you guys one of those couple nicknames.” Hector said.
“Brangie,” Hector said with a chuckle but Brad wasn’t amused. “So, what happened?”
“I don’t know…everything seemed great so I decided to take the next step and invite her to my apartment for the first time for a romantic dinner…for Valentine’s Day. And the next thing I knew she was breaking up with me.”
“Was the hanky panky ok? Because if that gets off to a bad start then—”
“Yes, it was great, she even said so herself.”
“Well, she had to have a reason for calling it quits.”
“Oh, believe me, she did. But you’re not going to believe me when I tell you…”
“I’m getting the sense we might need some wine for this conversation,” Sarah said disappearing into the kitchen and returning a moment later with two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. She sat next to Angie on the couch and handed her one of the glasses. “I thought things were going well between you and Brad.”
“So did I. We’ve been dating for a couple of months now and honestly, I was starting to wonder if he was ‘the one’. I was so excited when he invited me to his apartment for this romantic dinner tonight. Everything seemed perfect…he seemed perfect…or so I thought.” Angie said.
“Was everything ok…in the bedroom? Because if you guys don’t have that chemistry then—”
“It was…adequate. Not a deal-breaker, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“So…what happened then?”
“Well, the night started off picture-perfect, like something out of a Hallmark movie. And the next thing I knew I was breaking up with him and storming out of his apartment.”
“Ok, that’s not going to cut it. I need details. Obviously, you had a reason for ending it.”
“Oh, believe me, I did. But you’re not going to believe me when I tell you…”
“I did everything right tonight. It was like a scene from one of those chick flicks. I lit candles, I cooked her a delicious homemade meal, I complimented her left and right, I was charming. Hell, I even deep cleaned my apartment before she came.” Brad said growing more exasperated as he relived the night’s events. “When we finished eating she excused herself to the bathroom while I cleaned up the dishes. I was about to set the stage for the rest of the night, you know, music, mood lighting, the whole nine yards. Then, all of a sudden she starts screaming from the bathroom, ‘Mullet? Seriously, the mullet?’ She came storming back into the kitchen going on this rant about her mother…and toilet paper.”
“Ok, details,” Angie said with a sigh followed by a sip of wine. “The apartment, clean and sophisticated in a bachelor type of way. The food, three-course Italian meal, delicious, five stars. And he was basically Prince Charming. He even lit candles for God’s sake. When we finished eating I excused myself to the bathroom. That’s when I discovered the mullet and there was no turning back.”
“Oh no…not the mullet,” Sarah said.
“Wait, what? Did you say mullets, her mother, and toilet paper?” Hector asked.
“According to Angie, there are two types of people in this world, the ones who orient their toilet paper roll on the holder in the bangs style with the end of the roll coming up and around from the back so it’s facing you,” Brad gestured with his hands to help Hector visualize the roll, “and the ones who use the mullet style with the end of the roll hanging down between the roll and the wall. She said something about her mother being a hotel housekeeper for thirty years…I don’t know, that part is kind of a blur now. All I know is she broke up with me because apparently, I didn’t have my toilet paper arranged properly.”
“My mother would roll over in her grave if she knew I was dating, or God forbid married to, a man with mullet-style toilet paper. You know, she was the head housekeeper for a prestigious hotel for—”
“Thirty years—” Sarah chimed in, having heard the story before.
“—thirty years. And, oh man, did she enforce strict rules at home. We had to make our bed every single day. She didn’t care if it was Christmas morning, our beds had better be made before we ran downstairs to open presents. And every toilet paper roll had to be arranged in the bangs style with the end of the roll folded into a crisp triangle just like they do in hotel bathrooms. Somehow she managed to translate those rules into relationship advice too. She’d always say, ‘If a man doesn’t make his bed every day and handle his toilet paper properly he’s no good. Because if a man can’t get the small things right he’ll never—”
“Get the big things right.” Sarah completed the catchphrase she’d heard Angie recite many times before.
“Exactly. Mullet toilet paper…can you believe it? I bet he doesn’t even make his bed every day.” Angie said.
Sarah raised her wine glass and Angie followed suit, the two glasses clinking together. “Well, it sounds like you really dodged a bullet,” Sarah said.
“Wow, so you mean to tell me—” Hector said.
“See? I told you, it’s unbelievable. Who breaks up with a person over toilet paper? It’s ridiculous. Oh, and get this, as she was storming out of my apartment she said, ‘I bet you don’t even make your bed every day, do you?’ She slammed the door in my face before I had a chance to answer.” Brad said.
“Well, do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Do you make your bed every day?”
“Of course not. What’s the point? The covers are just going to get all messed up again every night anyway.”
“I gotta tell ya, kid. Between the mullet thing and the messy bed, I don’t blame her. I’d break up with you too.” Hector said with a wink.
Author Bio: Jamie Gregory, born and raised in Ohio, is a stay-at-home mom by day and a creator by night. She has enjoyed reading, writing, and a plethora of other creative endeavors since childhood. After a five-year stint as a high school agricultural science teacher, she spent another seven years working in a software startup where she focused primarily on B2B marketing and company culture. She’s dabbled in a variety of writing forms over the years and has what could possibly be her debut novel draft collecting dust in the recesses of her computer. She’s currently seeking refuge in writing short stories as a way to cope with the challenges of being a special-needs parent. Jamie recently launched the Short Stories for Busy Bookworms podcast where she is narrating her short stories. When she’s not writing or podcasting, she can be found trail running, guzzling copious amounts of coffee, geeking out about Autism, running an Etsy shop side hustle, and enjoying time with her four-year-old twin boys and her high school sweetheart husband. Find her on Twitter at @jamielgregory.
Photo by Clark Douglas on Unsplash.