Walter returned from the bathroom and struggled to remount his barstool. He gripped the bar with both hands, threw one pudgy leg onto the padded seat, and wriggled and scooted his way up like a seal on the beach. When he had finally resumed his seat, a bead of sweat trickled down his temple, out from under greasy, badly-cut hair. In need of refreshment, he sucked at the straw in his fruity mixed-drink, temporarily lodging the peak of the paper umbrella in his left nostril.
Eugene smirked from the next stool over. “Wasn’t sure you were going to make it,” he said.
“Shut up,” said Walter. “Don’t you hate these work functions?”
“I don’t know,” said Eugene, “they’re all right. Free drinks.”
“If the boss didn’t treat them like loyalty litmus tests, I’d totally skip,” said Walter. His eyes drifted to the dance floor as he drew again on his straw. “Look at Mitch,” he said.
“What about him?” said Eugene, turning his attention to the man Walter had fixed on.
“The woman he’s dancing with. Of course he ends up dancing with her,” said Walter. “Like it’s not enough he’s six-foot-four, brawny, and the top salesman. He also gets the gorgeous woman.”
“Yeah, she’s pretty amazing. Margaret from HR,” said Eugene.
“You know her name? I’ve never seen her before,” said Walter.
“She’s pretty new. You know, you might actually enjoy these things if you spent less time stewing over Prince Charming and more time staring at Margaret.” Eugene diligently applied his own advice.
“I mean, it just feels like it’s all or nothing,” Walter continued. “If you’re tall and beautiful, everything just falls open for you. The world’s your oyster. People throw money and opportunities at you, and the ladies fall over themselves to dance with you. From right here I can see at least three other women staring at him. And if you’re short and chubby, you sit in an office with no windows designing widgets, and every year at annual review time your supervisor has to relearn your name.”
“Bitter much?” said Eugene.
“Shut up,” said Walter. He drained his drink noisily, plunked it on the bar, and said, “I need another one of these.” He signaled to the bartender; she pretended not to notice and walked to the other end of the bar.