I was so nervous.
Upon occasion I get so very nervous in social situations where I know people a little, but not enough.
The bar was near the entrance so I paused there—both hands on the wooden lip of the counter—an attempt to steady and ground. I tilted back on my heels, took in the space, immediately started chatting to the two men behind the counter—flirting in that way that has everything to do with charm and nothing to do with actually flirting.
Something strong, I requested.
Alright, one of the men half-grinned. Vodka based? Gin? Whiskey?
An old-fashioned? A Manhattan?
No. Just whiskey. Neat.
He rewarded me with a full grin and a gentle tilt of the chin up.
I had wooed him and won him and I knew it.
I’m not supposed to do this, but I’m going to pour from this bottle here, he said. And I’ll place it off to the side for when you want some more.
I smiled in that way that sees my teeth grip tightly to the side of my lower lip.
I am a slow sipper but for whiskey. A drinker who never goes too far past tipsy.
But for whiskey.
Which is to say the events of the night are hazy and warm and maybe a bit embarrassing. But good too.
My eyes went searching for him. Standing in a small group, smiling and nodding and half-listening, my eyes went in search of him.
Found him across the room. Wearing a dark blue blazer and looking handsome as few men have any right to, enmeshed in his own small group.
His eyes on me.
It took me a moment. To know for sure. To feel his gaze and know it was leveled at me.
Because the truth of that felt very lucky.
When I was nineteen I fell in love with a man who would go on to become a movie star. We all sort of knew it would happen, which half-accounted for the attraction. And there was a night, all those many years ago, when in a large hall, filled with a very many people, the two of us spent the evening on opposite sides of the room, tethered by the same sort of constant awareness. When he finally walked past me, he looked at me in a way that prompted a girlfriend to say, I have never, ever been looked at like that.
It is one of my very favorite memories.
This was like that.
Because when this man—this man who will never become a movie star, but is handsome in a way that leaves me breathless—when he looks at me, it is delicious and unnerving, but filling as has never been. Because his gaze isn’t aware or calculated or a means to an end. It simply is what it is: a man who looks because he cannot not look.
You should be like magnets, someone said to me recently. And that’s sort of, precisely, exactly what this feels like.
Of course we didn’t speak. We got close. But we are made of the same thing, he and I. Of this, I am nearly certain. And we are both courageous, but only upon occasion, and only to a point. And we are cautious in that side-eyed, you-first sort of way.
It was as he left that he came up, his charcoal overcoat—the one he wears on special occasions—already on. Hello and goodbye, he said.
I grabbed his arm, above the elbow, my fingers both nervous and excited and nearly flailing. Don’t go, have another drink, I said, not knowing what else to say in place of You. Must. Not. Go. You simply cannot leave. And there we stood, frozen in position, for the next few minutes, me with my hand above his elbow, he with his coat on—saying a little, but not enough—a tug of war between wants and needs, practicality and whim, of what we both already knew, but couldn’t yet admit.
I left not long after. Sat on the crowded subway. Closed my eyes and felt the motion of the train.
It was in a tunnel somewhere between Manhattan and Brooklyn that I remembered. And as soon as I did, the reality of it was gone, leaving behind nothing more than the trace scent of a half-formed memory. But I’m pretty sure that at some point, with his charcoal overcoat already on, and my hand just above his elbow, he told me I looked beautiful. And I believed him. Didn’t even need for him to say so, but was so glad that he did. Because to say so was a small leap, a risk.
It cost him something.
The thing is I don’t think I even took it in in that moment. Don’t know if I responded. Because in the chaos of trying to get him to stay and turning round for another drink and chatting with the people next to us and keeping my hand above his elbow and flirting in a way that is obvious but still private, those particular words got lost. Until that lone subway home, a quite moment, the chaos mostly done.
And off course I tend to not hear good things. Which is a failing of mine.
And for this man to say such a thing felt like an especially good thing.
Even now I wonder if I made it up. Invented it. After all there’s the issue of the whiskey. And even on my best days this is a man who tends to turn to mind inside-out-on-itself.
Because hell if I don’t like way his shirt comes un-tucked on the one side. Or how when he speaks it is with a kindness that feels full and round and uncommonly good.
I mean… what I mean is, hell if this isn’t a guy who isn’t way out of my league.