“Listen, I wouldn’t even text you right now if it wasn’t my best friend’s birthday.”
“What do you mean? Just come inside.”
“I would, but your doorman has a personal beef with me.”
Ten minutes later and I was inside the crowded restaurant turned bar post 10pm with a friend searching for our other friends amidst a bunch of loud and basically incoherent frat boys.
“We just need to say hello and wish her happy birthday– I promise we can leave right after.”
My friend smirked at me, looked at her watch, then cracked a grin, knowing I was just as miserable being there as she was. “Come on,” she said, “let’s grab a drink to dull this social torture. Tequila?”
I looked back at her with an expression of sincere gratitude.
When we finally made our way to the bar, we were nudged, elbowed, and ignored until finally able to get the bartender’s attention long enough to order our drinks. At that time, an onlooker suggested that my friend would be better off if she used her Australian accent to her advantage. We were in an Australian bar, after all. She smiled politely and I scanned the room looking for my friend so we could say our “hellos” and “goodbyes” in the time that it took to down a tequila and soda.
Just as the bartender plopped two overly ripe slices of lime into our drinks, I spotted the birthday girl in the far corner. I took a large swig of my drink and grabbed my other friend’s hand and gave it a squeeze before navigating through the crowd like a Tetris piece.
We made our way with only a minor spill to my shirt and a few eye rolls when we said, “excuse me.”
Well worth the trouble when our friend embraced us simultaneously in a warm, enthusiastic hug. “You made it!” she said. We both smiled and nodded in hopes of disguising our excitement to make an immediate exit.
A few moments of ambiguous chatter which was mostly drowned out beneath the 70’s rock and raucous crowd and she informed us that she and her boyfriend were going to head upstairs for a cigarette. She asked if we wanted to join, but after having dealt with a doorman from hell, we decided we would wait inside rather than face him again.
And then there he was. The moment I’d looked up from my conversation I spotted him. I could feel someone looking at me before I’d raised my eyes, but I didn’t imagine to meet his gaze with my own. He looked away as quickly as someone who was witnessing a crime they didn’t want to be involved in. I darted my eyes back to my friend who was still chattering away about her exciting new business opportunity. She hadn’t caught the moment, so I pretended I hadn’t either. We migrated up the stairs from the wood paneled basement to a table with some other friends upstairs. I tucked into the back corner of the booth and watched the door for the birthday girl’s reentrance.
She never came back and while I snatched fries from a friend’s plate and laughed as they told the story of how they’d met in the most unconventional way, there he was again. I felt his gaze on me and this time he let it linger again before turning around and walking away. Without even saying a word, I felt my friend’s hand on my arm. “Was that him?” I nodded and continued chewing my fries. “Why— I mean– what was that? Why did he…”
I shrugged. I dabbed my french fry into a metal cup of mayonnaise.
“Do you want to go?” she asked.
I nodded. “Let’s not be obvious though.”
We said our goodbyes discreetly before gathering our coats and scarves from the back of the booth.
“I have to stop by another friend’s birthday on the way home. You game?”
I said, “Of course.”
We took a quick walk a few blocks and headed down a dark stairwell where the crowd was much less wild and closer to winding down for the night. She and I sat for a moment in the corner as she asked me what that was all about. She may have been more surprised than I was. We rejoined the crowd for a group photo as the party started to disperse. Before I made my way out the door, I felt someone grab my arm.
“Hi, I like your hat.”
I laughed and said, “Thank you.”
Some small talk and an alert on my phone letting me know my car had arrived and I started to say goodnight.
“Should I take you phone number?”
I hesitated and said, “Ok.”
I’d only made it out the front door when I received a message. “You should have stayed.”
I looked to my friend and she smiled and said, “Why not?” but I headed to my car instead. As the car turned the corner heading down Bowery and back to Brooklyn, I said, “Wait! I’m sorry, do you mind going back? I forgot something. ”
The driver chuckled as if he knew exactly what I was about to do. Truthfully, I wan’t even sure what I was about to do. As he returned to the spot where he’d picked me up, I thanked him and headed back down the same dark stairs.
As I descended the last step, I was greeted by a big smile, “You made it!”