I don’t want to celebrate. Life is coming at me in all directions, and the last thing I am thinking of is love day. My first premier event has taken place a week before and I am exhausted. The event wrap up materials are piled high on my desk — invoices, acknowledgement letters, donation sheets — and it falls to me to make sure all the loose ends are tied up. Only a week before my mother is involved in a near-fatal car crash that has her home with back pain, a hurt ankle and no incoming money (thanks a lot NYC). And Nej’s problems seem to be piling higher and higher. Although she doesn’t disclose everything to me at the time, I know life is taking a toll on her.
Personal pains aside, Nej plans a Valentine’s Night Dinner with all of our girlfriends and persuades me to come. Looking back now, I have my moments where I do wish I would have stayed home and munched on chocolates while laughing at horror films. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20. When I look at pictures from that night I see someone who has no idea that her world was about to be rocked to its core. I was sooo arrogant in my beliefs. I thought I knew more than I did. That I had learned enough lessons about men and love to avoid any future heartbreaks. I didn’t know a damn thing.
Nej originally plans for us to meet at this Italian place, but soon has us all heading to LCY. One of the owners promise her a Love Day discount, and as my girl would tell you she adores deals. The night is going well. Drinks are flowing, the food is delectable as always and anal sex is the topic at the table. Our gorgeous friend, Lina, declares 2013 “the year of buttsex,” and we are holding our sides laughing at our shared memories of withstanding the “ring of fire” that one is bound to experience in their first anal experience.
As happy as I am, I am disappointed that it is Tee who is behind the bar and not Bill. I mention this to Nej who responds, “a man who looks like him? Oh you know he has a date tonight.” But he doesn’t…
No more than 15 minutes after Nej vocalizes her assumption to me, he turns up at the bar. My heart quickens. I take a swig of my drink, and I make my way towards him. I am determined to get close.
I sit next to him and conversation takes root. I send up a quick drunken prayer that he doesn’t come off disinterested, and it seems as if the gods hear me because he doesn’t. He offers to buy me a drink, but I already feel myself slipping from the ones I’ve consumed before and decline his offer. Moments later a glass of champagne is placed before me by the restaurant manager. Bill feigns jealousy, and we both laugh. I am screaming like a Taylor Swift fan inside.
We make plans to meet up at a local bar 1 block down from LCY, Simpson’s. He leaves first to go catch up with his cousins, and I head back to the table with my girls. They all give me a knowing smile, but I disclose nothing. We head over to Simpson’s, where it is crowded and noisy. We are lucky enough to get the front table and order a round of drinks from a waitress, Sally. I look around for Bill, but I don’t see him anywhere. I know I should be enjoying my single ladies night out, but I’d rather prefer male company – his company.
I decide to immerse myself in the company of my girls, and so we keep the alcohol-drenched conversations going. The moment my mind starts to slip from thoughts of him, he emerges out of the sea of the crowd gathered deep in the interior of Simpson’s and takes a seat that has recently become available next to me. He’d been watching me the whole time. I lean into him and put a hand on his knee. He, in turn, puts his arm around me. It all feels so right and we find ourselves slipping into our own world.
“Do you see that woman over there?” Bill points towards a heavyset white woman sitting at the bustling bar.
“Yeah, what about her?”
“She claimed I was the most beautiful thing she’s seen all night. So I told her I was with my girlfriend and pointed to you.”
We both laugh, and get closer.
I place my lips near his ears and say just loudly enough for him to hear, “So, I’m hired to be your play girlfriend? I don’t think you can afford me.”
He laughs a little louder and admits mid-chuckle, “I don’t doubt that.”
The night stretches on, and we sit there as if cemented to the bench and each other. I feel the weight of all the alcohol I’ve consumed throughout the night pressing on my mind. I lay my head on his shoulder, and realize that as crazy as it is if I could have my way this is how it would always be for me. I feel his hand caress my shoulder and that is all the reassurance I need.
“Hey, are you alright?” he whispers. I nod, and tell him its best we get going. Its past 1 am, and its a weeknight. We are the last ones of my group to exit Simpson’s. Nej, having seen Bill and I cuddled up, hitched a ride with his cousin Van.
On our way home Bill and I stop at LCY so I could relieve my weak bladder. Seeing us arm in arm, the restaurant manager Rolf lets out a rather boisterous laugh but says nothing to me.
Bill walks me to the train station. Although this has been our first moment where we are truly alone, it feels normal – as if we’ve done this before. At the turnstile, I swipe myself in only to turn and around and find a perplexed look on his face — I didn’t hug him. I reach for him and our bodies pressed together with the stile in between us. We exchange numbers and make plans to meet up at LCY that Saturday.
I want to revel in all of this. But there is a doubt that gnaws at me. It has clenched its teeth into my mind, gnashing to awake me to reality. I’d been hurt in the most brutal ways before. Lies, infidelity, harsh words, negligence — I did not want to let my hopes swell only to find myself gasping from the infliction of a wound doled out in the name of passion.
Caution has never been my strategy in life — especially when it comes to matters of the heart. I wanted to promise myself that this time would be different, but I was already gone. I liked him. I wanted him. There was nothing else to it.