I slowly gathered my belongings and made known my intentions to leave. He didn't move.
"Are you going to the same station I am?" I asked him.
"Yeah, I am." He got up off the couch.
I exchanged one more look with NM who still sitting on the couch trying to decipher what was going on, not sure what he was thinking, or whether it mattered. And then I left.
We walked to the nearest train. I was acutely aware of him just inches from my side, still dressed in his suit with his work bag carried confidently on his shoulder. I'd had so much fun. He challenged again, You won't come over to my area of town. No you won't. What are you going to show me if I go? I visualized it as he told me about what it felt like to live there, and what there was to see. He told me about a place he used to frequent, but hadn't been recently. I accepted his challenge. I'd really like to get a drink there. It sounds great. I was so excited about it, this place; I wanted to go to a place where people celebrated the anonymous greatness of regular people; a place where people walked through the doorway shedding their daily fixed roles and transformed into breezy soft laughter and conversation.
When the train going in my direction came by, I didn't catch it. I waited, sitting next to him, talking about things I don't now recall. I remember sitting next to him at the station, and then in the train that whisked me miles away from where I was supposed to be, and although I cannot recall what we discussed, I remember thinking how much I had missed having a spark like this with someone. Backtracking over an hour in the darkness of morning would be worth it, just for this moment.
After a long trip, we arrived at our destination. I hesitated when we walked in the door. It was not what I had imagined. It was small, cramped, and rather brightly lit, with absurdly low ceilings, and as I quickly scanned the room, I could tell from the easy comfortable chatter that it was a crowd of eclectic regulars. What if I broke one of the unwritten rules? There was nowhere to sit. Behind me, he put his right hand comfortably on the small of my back and indicated with his left hand that I should go ahead. In the split second between that and when I actually started forward, I all at once remembered in times past what that hand meant, how it felt to be so comfortable and in tune with someone, and how my last night with Mr. STF felt the same way.
He found one barstool, and indicated for me to sit. I looked forward towards the jazz performers. He stood on my left and the bar, with a few singles, dirty napkins, and two dirty cocktail glasses was on my right. There we sat for several hours. I ordered drinks for both of us, and he stood closely by my left side. I took in my surroundings. An older woman with a subtle energy sang gently from the stage. The instruments bore the tarnished finish of hard-worked metal and gave off a muted light from the stage. Some people were dancing; some were preparing to perform; some were jockeying at the bar for drinks. The room was buzzing but not loud. I knew I was glowing. Leaning over to talk to him, feeling him lean towards me, craving him to come closer when he pressed up against me as people tried to walk by; soaking up every ray of energy emanating from every person and feeling how intensely perfect the setting was, as though it had been created for this very purpose.
We shared stories of our loves: Streetball, particular athletes, hometowns, and our current respective singlehoods. 'I had a steady piece,' he laughed, 'but we weren't dating. We're still friends.' Oh God, does someone refer to me like that? A steady piece? Is this where we're headed? And I pushed the thought out of my head. This was an intense evening, taken straight out of a romance novel, but we work together. This job means too much for me to get wrapped up in a distraction of this magnitude. Like being a brand new public defender in a new town isn't hard enough? Like I need to be a coworker's steady piece on the side? And I must be crazy to think that this man wants anything from me at all.
The barstool in front of me opened, and he sat. I was disappointed - no longer would he be up against me, driving me crazy every time he moved against my side. We chatted for a while longer, enjoying the silence on our conversations that was filled in by jazz and the jukebox.
"Excuse me for just one moment. I need to go introduce myself to that woman." He gazed past me, behind me, and then slipped off the barstool. I remained frozen, looking forward to a stage that was just starting to fill up with musicians again. Immediately my connection with every ray of energy around me was cut off; at that moment I felt like I had retreated and was outside looking in. All of the light, the sound, the energy became muted. What did I miss? What is it that I did? I know he had been interested, and I knew we clicked. What changed so violently that he would leave me perched alone on a barstool, wearing the suit I had put on 18 hours before, staring intently ahead, or fixedly on my wine glass? What did I say? What didn't I say? What did I or didn't I do? Hadn't he told me that he wanted to make sure I got back home safely - if not that night then the next morning?
Holy fuck. I had misunderstood it all. Staying on the roof with me asking about my family and my background; cajoling me into coming over an hour out of my way with him; bringing me to this place - it meant nothing at all. The intensity of the evening really had all been in my head; I had created something I wanted out of nothing at all. And there I remained, trying to swim through the confusion and the alcohol, fending off people who wanted to sit on the barstool next to me as he had taken a barstool next to another woman. I was a fool. I'm such a fool. An idiot. What the fuck was I thinking? Of course I knew he wouldn't want me. I knew it was unreal, I knew it couldn't be possible. How foolish.
The older man offered to buy me a drink after saying all the right things - He'd be a fool to leave a woman like you. He'd have to be blind not to see what a mistake he is making. I offered a smile of thanks, and kindly turned down his offer to buy me a drink. His eyes were kind and he fended others off for me without even acknowledging it. I offered him the barstool, and he politely refused to sit. After the second song I listened to alone, I shook off the haze of my shock. I took one more look ahead, focusing clearly on the musicians, and fixed my eyes on my adopted protector. I'm leaving now, I said to him. I don't know when he'll feel like coming back. These seats are all yours. I hope you were able to enjoy at least part of your evening here, he said. I loved it, I assured him, even with this, the music and the people were still worth the trip. And with that, I cut my losses, picked up my bag still stuffed with the trappings of the job I had left almost 12 hours ago, and walked out the door without looking back.