Couple: Mary Scott Hardaway and Grant Fletcher
Met at: Recovery Room
Years together: Three and a half
I had a very specific narrative in mind. Where: a dark, diminutive café. When: in the middle of the weekday. What: I'd be sipping a house red, and on my third glass. Who: a handsome stranger would swing open the joint's creaky wooden door and sit two barstools down, order his "regular," and catch my gaze at just the right moment. The rest would be history.
It was all very Hemingway-esque and tragically unrealistic. My college romantic interactions mostly took place after midnight, in sweaty Irish pubs, techno music blasting, my bourbon ginger staining most, if not all, of my dress (read: long tank-top). My paramour and I barely talked, stumbled home, and "hung out" a few times. Then we never spoke again.
In July 2013, after graduation, I relocated two states South to Charleston, with my twin sister, our cat, Lee Lee, zero job prospects, and a new sense of personal Manifest Destiny (love is mine, I would have it). After moving into a lovely high-ceilinged apartment at the corner of Ashley and Bee, Sissy and I hit the streets, job-hunting, soul-searching, Wet-Willie's-sipping (R.I.P.) — so damn smiley we could've been tourists. But then it dawned on me. It took no more than 48 hours of exploring my new slanted sidewalks to realize that my city also happened to be a mecca for the terrifyingly ineligible bachelorette. There weren't enough handsome strangers to go around.
My penchant for dark, dimly lit bars may be traced back to my parents' fateful meeting more than 25 years ago. It wasn't a dive bar, per se, but my mother assures me it was "not a nice bar." The Green Leafe Cafe was a bare bones joint when my parents first met on a blind date, set up by a mutual friend. They "sipped draft beers" and my 29-year old fledgling lawyer mother was both taken aback and at the same time quite taken with my 36-year old geologist father, who managed to steal her heart while limping on a post-op bum knee. "It was love at first story," she wrote me a few days ago when I asked her to recount the details, "I was laughing so hard I knew everything was going to work out."
My Lowcountry love story wasn't quite taking off the way I'd imagined, though. One failed Tinder date and countless forced bar conversations left me feeling less and less like a pioneer in the name of love and more like the college girl I'd been for too long.
Which brings me to Friday the 13th, September 2013. I'd always liked the number 13, for the same tragic and ethereal quality I associated with midday meetings at small, dimly lit cafes. By then, my zero job prospects had morphed into waiting tables at a popular downtown eatery, and my days and nights ran together so much so that my stories took on a script-like quality. I never could remember who I told what, or if what I was saying sounded interesting any more. I'd memorized my quips the way I'd memorized the daily special — was I flirting, or reciting?
That night a coworker (one of the single, terrifyingly eligible gals I so feared) and I bar-hopped and Tinder-ed (has it made it's way into Merriam yet?) our way around town, landing at Rec Room close to midnight. For what felt like hours I'd stood awkwardly at Warehouse; gaped and audibly gasped at slimy bachelor party bros at Stars. To walk into this dark, cramped, faintly smelling of vomit haven at the end of a fruitless night was everything. This was it; this was the place. I may not find my great love here, but shit, I'd find somebody. And at that point, somebody seemed good enough.
My coworker introduced me to a group of her guy friends; the high of being out on a warm night in a still new city was starting to wear off, and the conversation with one genial but not fascinating fellow was beginning to dull when I spotted the handsome stranger — the one who opens creaky doors and sits at sticky bars in the middle of the day. He was tall, much taller than my 5 foot 3 plus heeled stature. I don't remember what he was wearing because it was nondescript. No obscenely colorful polo or perfectly crafted lumberjack persona? I drifted towards him and he let me drag him to the bar for my usual flirtatious bit — a tequila shot followed by a PBR. We moved outside, my makeup sweated off, my thick mane taking on the gracious wave of a wet mop. He didn't seem to notice. He told me about his siblings — two brothers and a sister. I told him about my siblings — an identical twin and darling 18-year old baby brother. His baby brother sounded like mine. Things were going well. He told me he had two middle names, I told him I had no middle name. He was from Cincinnati and liked jeeps and climbed trees. I was from Virginia and happened to drive a Jeep! And trees are nice. I went off script, I think, and it felt OK, good, actually. It was so loud, even 50 yards outside of the packed bar, and I stood on my tip-toes to hear the tall stranger better. He leaned down, took a breath, and began to tell me the rest of his story.
Mary Scott now lives on James Island with her sister and boyfriend Grant (the tall handsome stranger), cat Lee Lee (who Grant loves most in the world) and strange sweet mutt, Emma Louise. You can't miss their house — it has three Jeeps parked out front.