The smell of damp city concrete is the first thing I notice, walking up the subway station stairs. Glad, I missed the quick sunset shower taking the F train from Brooklyn. Not living in Manhattan sure had its perks. I walked the cobblestone street in my new orange-and-pink-striped sneakers, feeling totally content and giddy.
I loved Friday nights in the East Village when hopes and aspirations were high, girls were all dolled up, not sure yet what they will tell about tonight the next morning over lattes and Eggs Benedict. Friday evenings had the potential to be that long-awaited new beginning with someone not-so-new as well as to turn out differently than what you and your very detailed dead-end brainfuckery already predicted. Ben and I, we were at a dead end. I knew it, he probably never thought about it, the forever romantic in me skillfully avoided that fact.
It was spring, a few weeks shy of my twenty-third birthday and I was ready for all-encompassing forever love with a guy almost twenty years my senior, who liked my presence but not enough to put a label on it – hence the detailed brainfuckery. It was, what I like to call, leather jacket weather. Warm enough to ditch the layers winter required, but still too chilly to walk around in sensible t-shirts alone.
As I turn the corner on East Houston Street to my current favorite bar and even more favorite deejay, I feel that pang in my belly instantly knowing that shit’s about to hit the fan and I better be prepared to deal with it. I push that aside as fast as I can since there were certainly no pangs included in the way I already imagined that night to unfold. Not one pang in approximately 308 ways I predicted tonight to happen.
Pulling open the front door to Rebel’s feels heavier than usual, as I step inside about to duck and walk downstairs to the tiny club-feel area. Steve gestures with a wink and I nod and wink back signaling to him that I am more than ready for my favorite drink. I map out the room finding my crew at the very back with Su waving at me like someone who already passed her three-drink-only rule. I walk over, crossing the still empty dancefloor, swaying my hips a little too aggressively in my new jeans. “Don’t look up, never look up”, I tell myself, very well knowing who is up there in his booth deciding on the setlist of the night.
Hugs and kisses ensue when a very tipsy Su holds on tight for dear life, confessing she started with tequila shots already. Libby mouthing that she is out of control tonight. Fun times. I pick up my drink and that first sip of tangy cranberry mixed with ice-cold vodka is exactly what I needed right now. As I am about to turn around with a fun anecdote on my lips, his immediately find mine as his hand moves to my neck, grabbing a hold of me, and I can feel my cool mask melt away. Just like that. Damn him and modern technology that doesn’t require him to stay in his booth for every single second.
“There is my stunningly gorgeous girl”, he half-whispers into my ear as he firmly grabs my waist and briefly kisses my neck. I am telling my knees to stay strong as I smile at him, not ready to let his two-hour-delayed arrival the other night, just go. I take another sip of my drink determined to squeeze past him to talk to my girl Libby for a sec.
He holds on to my waist, asking me to wait for him after his set before he rushes back to his booth. My knees declare defeat as I sink onto the sofa next to Libby sighing audibly. “He’s good!”, she announces as if I didn’t know that already. I raise my eyebrow but already feel defeated as she hugs me close offering to stay at hers tonight. Suddenly, it dawns on me that I do have an option here. I don’t have to fall for Ben’s boyish charm and trickster smile, I can stay with my friends and trust they have my best interest at heart. “If only you could trust yourself, huh”, my inner voice cynically proclaims, and all of a sudden I feel sick.
If only I could! It’s like he has this spell over me. He is so much fun to be around, his smile kills me and he knows exactly what to say and when to say it. I am biting my lip. As much as my inner romantic wants to believe in that undying love that’s just meant to be, I know that’s not our story. Deep down I know we have an expiration date. That’s how these stories go. That’s the untold rule of Friday nights in New York City. Knowing that and being ready to admit that to myself are two different realities though and for now, I am not ready to admit defeat.
I am at the bar getting my third Cosmopolitan of the night as I let my eyes wander around the area. Libby is engaged in a heated debate with a law student she met tonight, Wyatt pretends to like beer as he talks to someone with a very prominent face tattoo and Su is asleep in the corner, covered in our jackets. People are having fun and the music is spot on as always. As I take a sip and let my eyes wander up to his booth, I almost choke. He looks right at me, smiling that smile of his, signaling that he is done in about twenty minutes. Damn, that night flew by. It’s past 1 a.m. and I have to make a choice soon. I smile back as convincingly as I can muster, panicking inside.
What will be my story tomorrow over brunch? Will I sip my coffee thinking of his mouth on me tonight, will I stay with the girls, or retreat back into my comfort zone at a safe distance that is on the other side of the bridge? Anything can happen in just twenty minutes. For now, I just need to breathe. And finish my drink.