Since nobody in particular laid regular claim to his evenings; no dog, cat, bird or woman, David could stay out as late as he liked should he so choose. The choice was often made to stay inside. The hassle of going out rarely rewarded his efforts in the past, before marriage or after. Boredom? Maybe. A tinge of loneliness? David sensed these possibilities. When two friends from work mentioned they were going out and invited him along, he accepted. Their reasons for going out would be different from his so it was agreed that arriving separately would be best.
David was interested only in camaraderie and was prepared for it to be as short-lived as his company’s prospects. Arriving last was planned on purpose. The other two were already a few shots and a beer into their own primal preparations. Dean and Tim were ten years David’s junior at least, barely if even in their thirties, their faces still smooth and untested. They chided the “old man” into catching up if he could. One thing he did retain from his college days and perfected during his marriage was an ability to drink.
Ordering whisky and coke and five shots of tequila he smiled his approval of the challenge. He placed a shot in front of each of them and toasted. While they poured theirs down their throats David pounded the other three in quick succession. The other guys play bowed adulation and David smiled even more, enjoying the attention. This is what he missed more than anything else; friendly interaction and a genuine sharing of good times.
Activity and attendance rose drastically only an hour after David arrived and he could tell it was going to be difficult to keep the interest of Dean and Tim. Intentions found their way into the conversation and brought along the beginning of the end to David’s investment in the evening. Offering Dean and Tim one last shot of liquid encouragement and the best of luck before they parted ways David made them promise to share anything that happened the next day. He watched his company scurry toward a darker, more remote and crowded part of the bar in search of some sort of prey. Any enthusiasm remaining departed as well, tagging along with the hunters for encouragement and more exciting prospects.
One more drink before heading out, David concluded at the nearly empty bar. Ordering a last whisky and coke he surveyed the space while he waited. It was still early enough to not have a mob but late enough to where people started trickling in more steadily. A request for commerce snapped his attention back one hundred and eighty degrees to the politely smiling bartender. Sipping the drink and noting an additional strength of spirit he tipped the same amount as the price of the cocktail. Hoping for a change in the sincerity of the bartender’s expression he witnessed his smile vanish instead. The bartender’s reaction was not one of gratitude but indifference. A younger David would have reached across the counter and snatched back the tip but a new David was out that night and he intended to keep himself calm and collected for the remainder of the time.
Finishing the drink a little too quickly he pondered another to inspire composure. Entertaining the bartender’s baffling sense of privilege was out of the question. Little groups of people were beginning to cluster around the bar for fuel before further crowding the dark mass that had claimed Dean and Tim. “Just best to go on home,” David mouthed while patting his pockets. Affecting a smile to disguise defeat was easy since it was not too severe. Although, a little more social time would have been better he lamented under his mask. The thought to stay an hour longer and try to strike up a conversation with anybody crossed his mind as he wandered through the growing multitude but was soon abandoned. Considering the setting his intentions were bound to be misunderstood.
At the very least he could say that he had stepped out of his usual routine for a change. It was not as bad as David thought and he delighted in the fact that there would be no consequences the next day. There was slight inebriation but nothing new that could certainly not be managed. The worst outcome would be his colleagues bragging about what a great time they had. Constantly trying to one-up each other with stories of drunken conquests they would complain about how he should have stayed longer. It would wrap up with them chiding him for being an “old man.” David would be ready and comfortable with it all.
Making his way through the thickening wall of people David let his gaze stay a bit longer on the ladies that were in his field of vision. Never long enough to make anybody uncomfortable but only to survey unknown and forgotten landscapes. There was no urge for discovery so the activity was subtle to ensure that intentions were not confused. Women passed by him mostly unaware but he was surprised twice by one lady in particular. The first revelation was that his stare kept returning to her as she approached. After all, he was merely browsing and not shopping. The second revelation was that every time he would look at her she would be studying him as well. This compelled him to not look in her direction again. Hard as it was not to take a closer glimpse and figure out what about her was holding his attention he managed victory. A few seconds after their paths crossed he was at a comfortable enough distance to steal the final look. He saw that she was still looking at him, too. She did not try to be as coy as David had attempted. Instead of just turning slightly to make looking over her shoulder easier, she was stopped and had turned completely around to face him.
Reacting to her boldness David also fully turned, but he did not stop walking. A firmly made up mind kept him on his original course despite the new impulse to stray. After nearly ten seconds of slowly walking backwards and never once unlocking their eyes he turned around abruptly. Self-satisfaction made him smile broadly and stupidly and he twisted his head back one last time before reaching the elevator. She was still looking at him, her stance and posture unchanged. With his mind made up he swiveled his head back toward a finger already extended and reaching toward the elevator call button.
Only a few people exited the elevator when it arrived. Within seconds he entered then exhaled loudly and so deep that he hunched over for a second. The smirk never left his face. From what he could tell from his vantage point the woman staring at him had been young. And she continued to gawk despite the obvious graying of his black hair that no manner of bar lighting could obscure. He fruitlessly suppressed a swelling of that part of the ego unique only to men. A diminishing but still commanding inebriation managed to weaken a few defenses. David felt five minutes had passed before the elevator door finally began to shut. Even the time taken to close seemed inexplicably longer.
“Hold the door!” The request jolted him from his pondering. Instinctively his hand darted out and in between the diminishing space between the doors. Bringing him fully back into real time was his hand striking another hand with the same intent. Right when an apology was about to be issued and the doors were opening the sight and proximity of the staring lady temporarily shoved it back down his throat. Nervousness may have altered his voice when he did speak but did nothing to the smug smile. It remained intact; defying the usual propriety offered when encountering a completely unknown yet beautiful person for the first time. David correctly assumed that propriety was cast aside when she stopped to stare as her group of friends continued walking. Her face then, just as before, was expressionless. No tell could be detected to help him remotely guess what she was or was not thinking.
David knew an opportunity when it presented itself in the form of a beautiful woman in a glass elevator. Swelling with good nature he opened his mouth to speak. “Hey” his new companion interrupted. “Hey” David responded; brimming and keeping his eyes fixed on hers. Pausing before opening his mouth again to assume control of the conversation, he barely parted his lips when she again spoke first: “It’s early. Why are you leaving?” Realizing again the opportunity, he saw the question as his chance and quickly responded. “I was going to ask you the same thing. Didn’t you just get here?” He continued grinning as her face also never once broke its fixed expression. Obvious in spite of her solid face was a search taking place; perhaps she was carefully arranging a credible answer. Maybe all she wanted was conversation but was afraid she might be losing her only chance for any sort of company. Whatever the cause, her hesitation allowed David to retain charge of their interaction by in turn interrupting her when she finally could offer an answer. “I guess you weren’t feeling it either, huh?”
David had no designs that evening to meet anybody but there he was making the acquaintance of a very attractive woman. Silently to himself he reaffirmed plans that did not include taking anybody home. As they reached the bottom level and the doors began to open David offered a proposal. “There’s a diner around the corner if you’re interested. Unless you have other plans, of course.” Finally the woman’s face broke its frozen look with a smile of her own. “Yes” was the extent of her response. This reply brushed aside the worry that his forward behavior would be mistaken for abrasive male flirting but she seemed to prefer it. So far it was the only thing to cause a noticeable reaction. David assumed they were simply playing a fun little game and he took none of it seriously. This lack of ulterior motives lent him an admirable advantage that would continue regardless of her designs.
“I’m David by the way” he said as they walked outside then onto the sidewalk. “And I’m Liv” she responded. “Short for Olivia but only my dad calls me that.” Small talk was sparse since most of their respective energies were concentrated on sizing each other up physically. Neither attempted subtlety. David was not sure if Liv was of like mind but he found this candidness both amusing and comforting. Much of his minimal post-marriage dating experience would practically end before anything could really begin out of a fear of becoming familiar too early. Certainly the fear was not his. Previous women tended to subscribe to a false modesty whose master was a wooden majority and it quickly grew tiresome to him.
Defenses were still up and David wondered if the same was true for Liv. Curves, muscles, legs, and arms were scrutinized in the neon lights of the street. They maintained the conversation the entire time, such as it was. No real information was offered by either of them. David figured they would have a more engaging conversation at the diner. Thankfully each seemed content with chatting and the opportunities it presented for comfortably looking at one other. Liv was stunning and stylishly dressed. The early August heat still choked the District even at night and she was appropriately attired in a crisp white blouse resembling a man’s dress shirt and a forest green skirt that extended just below her knees. A modest slit in her skirt revealed slender and incredibly toned legs which suggested regular exercise. No doubt, David at least hoped, she could tell that he too was well put together for a man in his early forties. Could she even tell? Physically he did not look his age. His stance was strong, his gait steady and his body sturdy. The only overt hint at his age would be his hair. God only knows how the street lights made it appear, David thought during a final period of silence before entering the diner.
A booth by a window was requested. If the conversation and company proved too boring he could at least occupy his mind with the passers by and cars. Sitting down they both simultaneously ordered coffee. David smiled and turned from the waiter towards Liv. He was still warm from walking outside and his buzz made his internal temperature rise. Her appearance in the better lighting and imparted more authenticity than before. This sharing of expressions left them both speechless until coffee was served.
More coincidences arose as they prepared their coffee in exactly the same way. They ignored any sweetness offered but immediately grabbed three creams. After a few sips and with both anticipating the other to break the silence David opened his mouth for a breath to fuel his introduction. So did Liv. Their sharp intakes of air instead only helped propel laughter. With her face more animated than ever before she spoke first. “Please ask me a question” she said breathily and between laughs, then finished, “or please, just say something!” Only a bad joke sprung to his mind. “What did the fish say when he swam into a wall?” he then asked. Liv’s face reflected a sudden pensiveness as she searched for the punch line and finally said, “I have no idea.” “Dam” David said. Just as the words were issued he instantly regretted the joke. The response was a polite laughs, far removed from those genuinely shared only earlier. “That was horrible” she said, though still smiling. “It was the best I could do since you put me on the spot like that” David truthfully replied.
The politesse ended after a few more seconds. Silence was a welcome break from their nervous amusement and after a few deep inhalations Liv again spoke first. A generic question designed to provoke small talk. “So why were you leaving so early?” Liv asked. “A better question is why did you leave before you really even got there?” David returned wryly. He tried to give her some of her own medicine by putting her on the spot but Liv was not phased by his directness. “I don’t know,” she replied, “you looked interesting.” What could be that interesting about me that would be noticed in a dark bar he wondered, thinking over himself mentally. He was pretty nondescript in a navy blue polo shirt, jeans and black shoes. Nothing exceptional in particular was standing out in his mind’s eye.
Seemingly reading his thoughts, Liv provided him an answer to the question he never spoke out loud. “Something about you just made me stop and stare. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to get all crazy love at first sight on you but I felt…something.” She stopped after that and changed airs quickly. “What?” she suddenly asked. David was confused. “I’m sorry?” he said, not understanding the unexpected shift. “You had a funny look on your face” she proclaimed. “I told you, I’m not trying to be weird but if that made you uncomfortable then I’m sorry.” “Oh no, I’m sorry! I’m still a little drunk so I can’t be held responsible for too much tonight.” David then smiled his assurance. Liv felt it to be authentic and flagged down the waitress for refills.
Neither were hungry but between them they drank close to a pot and a half of coffee. During their discourse nothing deep or truly relevant was ever learned. The temperature in his veins was comforting and eventually rounded the sharp edges from his inebriation. The more sober he became the more he felt the awareness of an almost aggressive flirtation from Liv. No physical boundaries were crossed but looks and innuendo were constant. None of this made him uneasy; on the contrary it flattered him greatly. Dawning on David was that sitting in front of him was a beautiful lady who clearly wanted nothing more than to go home with him. Taking women home used to be that easy for David when he was in his early twenties. Even when he was married he received lots of attention from women, no doubt spurred on by the sight of his wedding band. But single for just over a year David received only respectful stares and words. And that was starting to suit him just fine.
Two hours came and went and when he realized the time David mentioned he would have to go soon. “Some sleep would be good before a long day of work” he said. A brighter spark ignited in Liv’s eyes and her intent look stayed fixed on him for the remaining time spent in the diner. Stepping outside at the same time, Liv immediately hooked her arm in David’s. “So,” she said, “your place or mine?” David did not flinch at her blunt question and his answer came out perfectly impervious. “I’ll be going back to my place and you’ll be going back to yours.” Again he was picked on for his age and no matter how playful her goading and eventual pleading, he still resisted. For a moment he let himself imagine going to bed with her. Concluding that he would indeed enjoy himself he was too tired and really only desired sleep. “But I will gladly give you a ride home” David compromised.
“That’s okay. I live right around the corner.” Her sentences reverted back to being short, reminiscent of when they first started talking. Her brown eyes seemed darker as the spark of desire dulled and the embers died. But David was determined to remain a gentleman. Offering finally a consolation hug, she returned it and added to her contribution a kiss on his cheek. They parted ways; Liv to her apartment somewhere right around the corner and David to his car, smiling for having achieved after all his one true intention that night.
(c) 2017 by Jarrod Campbell
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