Football, Fairies, & Valentine's DaybyBelegon©
Saturday night, January 8th.
I was paying attention to the game. Really, I was. It was just that every time something good would happen, I would see her out of the corner of my eye. By halftime, I had decided. I had to talk to her. I waited for a chance to say something. Anything.
"Gawd, I would have thought we would be killing them by now!" she said behind my left shoulder. "Is it the weather or did we just underestimate them that bad?"
"It's not the weather..."
I said it without turning around but I tried to project my voice in the right direction so there would be no doubt I was responding to her. I knew I had the trick of it down, as I had to do it all the time working a crowded room. A crowded stadium should be the same.
"Why do you say that?"
"We played Denver in much worse rain and then we shut out Cleveland in the snow. This team can play in weather. It's not like the eighties, when everything was built around the pass. We came out overconfident and now they have the advantage. Plus..."
"Plus Marty has reverted to form," she cut me off, "The playoffs arrive and he gets conservative. It will hurt us before the end, mark my words. I'm Cindy, this is Ryan and that's Jen. You are...?"
"My name is Brad."
I spent the rest of the game talking to her after every series. I kept it football related for the most part, but tried to sneak in other things. Cindy knew the game, unlike her friend Jennifer. Ryan seemed to know what he was about, but it was hard to tell. He kept a closer eye on me then he did on the game, at least when I was turned around talking to Cindy. That was what threw me off. I had been sure she was not with him, but by the end of the game I was not so sure anymore. I tried to look for rings and such, but neither girl was wearing one.
The Chargers tied things up at the very end of the fourth quarter and we went wild. I got a hug from Cindy, and a glare from Ryan. But he did not say anything to her or me. I couldn't figure him out.
When our team stopped the Jets in overtime and began to drive down the field I started to wonder how to approach things in the joy that would follow the game winning kick. It would be my perfect time to take a chance. But it was not to be.
As the field goal sailed wide right, I heard Ryan cry out behind me.
"Fuck! That cuts it! C'mon, lets go!"
"Ryan, let's wait it out...you never know..." I could hear in her voice that Cindy was not ready to go, but Ryan seemed to be in charge.
"Nope. We're going. We have a plane to catch and it is going to be hell making it as it is, what with the overtime and the rain..."
Damn! I had hoped to talk to her more. She fascinated me. Last chance, Brad, turn your ass around...
"You're leaving before the end? What if we come back?"
"Aw, Brad, you know as well as I do what's going to happen now. But it was nice sharing it with you. Maybe we'll bump into each other again sometime. You're a sweetheart." She leaned forward and gave me a quick peck on the cheek, "You never know what's around the corner."
"Yeah, while maybe I'd rather not leave it at that. Here, my card. Call me."
"Maybe I will," she said with a wide smile.
"CINDY! C'mon, get that pretty little ass in gear or we'll have to walk back to the bay!" Ryan yelled from the stairs. Cindy turned and hurried after him, looking back once to wave my card at me, and then she was gone.
"Dude, what the fuck was that?"
"Back off Jared!" My buddy Jared is always trying to get me to be more aggressive with girls. He says that my marriage busting up ruined my confidence and I just need to get back in the saddle.
"You can't just give her your card. You need to get her number. Take control."
"Jared, c'mon and give me a break. You saw the way he was watching her. They may or may not have been married, but don't you think they were a couple?"
"Maybe Brad, maybe. But I do know one thing for sure. You were never gonna find out wearing this."
With that Jared grabbed my left hand and shoved it in front of my face. He was right. I had the ring on again.
"Why are you wearing that thing? Dude, she's gone. Why did you wear the fucking wedding ring to the football game?"
"We had good memories here...."
"Right. Like you should have any good ones left. Sometimes you really piss me off. She left you man and she is never coming back. It has been three years! Whatever Brad."
Cindy turned out to be right about the game. The Jets went down and kicked a field goal at the other end and our first playoff run in ten years turned out to be only one game long. The silence was deafening. We turned in the rainy night to file out to our cars and drink a few beers before crawling home to bang walls and curse pillows. But my night was not going to end without any hope.
As I walked to the stairs with the other fans, Jared called out from behind me.
"Hey Brad, ya lucky bastard. Maybe you got a second chance."
He was holding Cindy's camera bag in his hand.
Tuesday afternoon, January 18
"So tell me again why I should develop some strange girl's pictures for you Brad?"
Janet was just hassling me. She had already agreed to develop the roll in the camera. She was my other best friend, besides Jared, and between them the two J's had been constantly trying to get me out of the funk Anne had left me in when she moved out.
"Because it may contain my only clues Janet. You'll see what I mean, she is gorgeous! I gotta find her!" In the last ten days Cindy had become something of an obsession to me. I had tried to find something to give me a chance to find her, but all that had been in the bag was the camera itself, a pack of cigarettes and a rather unique lighter. Actually, the lighter was nothing out of the ordinary, a common Bic style sold in any store. But it was in a silver and turquoise holder that was unique, with Cindy's name engraved down the side. But only her first name. No easy answers.
Janet was pretty hot herself, but unfortunately happily married. She was bi, so we would compare girls and joke around about things, but I never really had a chance. Besides, her husband might only divorce her, but he would kill me.
"Please Janet! I'll get you tickets to that Taste of San Diego thing you wanted to go to so bad. You know I can swing them."
"Alright, but only if you promise to actually listen to me on this one. And if she turns out to be with that Ryan guy, you forget the whole thing. One married woman is already more than you can handle." She said the last with a raised eyebrow and smirk that had become a trademark between us. One that her husband tolerated. Barely.
"Come back tomorrow and I'll have them ready."
Friday, January 21st
"There you are! Serve you right if I had lost them."
"Aw, give me a break Janet. I text messaged you and emailed you. I even called the other morning before I went in to the meeting. Sometimes I have no choice on these things."
"Christ, relax, OK? Aiden told me you called and I got the messages. Don't be so tense." Janet looked up and smiled. "At least you guys weren't lying about the cute part. I would do her in a second and I am not usually into blondes."
"So the pictures came out ok? Let me see!"
"Some of these won't be much use to you Brad, but some might. See these three? This is the same group of seven people and the same place. But everybody is wearing different clothes. I would be willing to bet that the occasion is a group of friends that get together at the same bar or restaurant one night a week."
"I agree Janet. Fridays."
"No, it doesn't look like a chain to me. Plus these posters are not in English. And where are those silly striped outfits?"
"Not the restaurant, Janet. The day of the week. Friday."
"How can you tell?"
"Look at what they're wearing. The four girls are all in normal office style work clothes but the guys are wearing khakis or slacks and no ties. Polo shirts or rolled up sleeves. Business casual. These pictures are on Fridays after work."
"So, Brad, we have her picture, her first name and photos of a bar after work. Not that much to go on. Are you sure you want to do this? I will help if you want, but only if you are going to follow through. No half measures. You need to trust yourself and the things the world is telling you."
"Oh please. I don't know anything about her yet. What if..."
She wasn't saying anything. Just looking at me. But I already knew if I didn't shut up I was in trouble. I knew what she was talking about. I would get all worked up over someone I met, talk about her for weeks and then go out with her once. Then I would talk myself out of it. Focus on every little negative, ask myself a million "what if?" questions. Somehow by the time the second or third date came around, I was more apprehensive than nervous, more scared than excited. Because I had talked myself into believing that every woman was either the one who had left me or a pale comparison. Janet had been through all of them with me, and she was sick of it.
"Ok. I'll go with it. I promise."
Janet just smiled and nodded.
Friday, February 4th
"Dude, we've been through it a million times. The one pic with a street sign does not help. There is a Market Street in every fucking town in the western United States. Even if we take the comment you overheard about seeing one game every few years it leaves us with at least a half dozen cities she could be from."
As normal, Jared had lost his patience for the process in almost no time. I wish Janet were back in town. She was the one with the gift for keeping me calm. Jared and I just fed off each other's nerves and got more and more pissed off.
"Yeah, but we know she flew in on Southwest and we know they had to catch a plane that night. We went on the website and there were only three flights that still had not left by that late on Saturday the eighth. That cuts it down to Denver, Seattle or San Jose."
"No dude, we don't know shit! You assumed that from the way they were talking about the flight down. It could have been another airline. Or they could have caught a connecting flight. It could be anywhere. This is just more of your pipedream bullshit!"
"Jared, you're the one who keeps telling me to go for things. Why are you going against that now? You picked up the camera, you told me to get the film developed, you're the one that decided we should try and google all the street names we could see and write down the things we could remember being said. So who's got the pipedream?"
"Look man, I'm just trying to back you up because I haven't seen you this passionate about anything since you-know-who took off. But enough already! Why focus on this one girl? Look where we live. There are thousands of women in this town you could go for who are just as attractive and would like to date you. This is not about me ruining poor Brad's hopes for the future."
"Then what are you saying?"
"It's about getting real man. Quit acting like you're in a fucking movie or something. It doesn't happen for real. There is no girl you meet on a train and spend the night with in Vienna or the one true love that you find on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. You're so focused on meeting Meg Ryan or Audrey Hepburn that you are missing out the girls you meet every day. What about the girl that smiles at you every morning at Starbucks? Or the one that laughs at your lamest jokes at work? Those are the girls you need. Not some chick you met at a game that disappeared from your life. That is just another way for you to avoid getting real."
"Where did I meet Anne, Jared?"
"SEE! This ain't about some fucking girl from Seattle or Denver! It's about your ex-wife! That is exactly what I am talking about! Wake the fuck up!"
"NO! Just listen. Where did I meet Anne?"
"In a cab somewhere, whatever..."
"Right. We met in a cab in Chicago. Both of us were two thousand miles from home. So don't tell me it can't happen. Because it already did."
"Oh yeah Brad, and that turned out really great, didn't it?"
"You don't get it do you Jared? I have to. I just have to. It is what keeps me going, what let's me sleep at night, what keeps me from just crawling back into the bottle I lived in those six months after she left. I have to believe."
"Dude, what are you talking about?"
"I have to believe that magic is real."
Thursday, February 10th
"Alright, so you narrowed it down to the three cities. Where are the notes you took and the pictures?"
Aiden and Janet had flown back in last night and had come down to my place to hang out. Since neither of them had to be at work until Monday and I had a spare bedroom, we decided to have them stay over so we could just spend the night drinking and talking. We were on our third bottle of wine when Janet got tired of me avoiding the subject and forced the talk onto the Cindy thing.
I expected Aiden would be more like Jared in his skepticism, because he was usually a very practical sort. Aiden was very matter of fact and straight to the point. It balanced out his wife's way of living in the moment. I figured he would give a little laugh and dismiss it out of hand. Instead he had surprised me and began quizzing me for more detail.
"Ok, first thing Brad. You have a lot of notes here about what Cindy said. What about the other two? You have three sources and you are only concentrating on one. Here, I want you to sit here at the table and right down everything you can remember the other two saying, especially Ryan. There are things a guy says and does that indicate who the girl with him is. He might have said something to tell us if they are a couple. Janet, let me see those pictures."
I sat at the table, sipping on a glass of merlot and scribbling down everything that came to mind. Janet and Aiden were talking about the posters on the wall in the pictures. It sounded like they had figured something out. I wanted to ask what, but I resisted the urge and tried to focus on everything I had heard. I don't know what clicked or how, but suddenly I remembered.
"What? What did you remember Brad?"
"When they were leaving. When they were leaving, he said they were going to have to walk back to the bay. It has to be San Jose, Janet."
"That fits. From there they could easily get back. Or they could just go into San Francisco on weekends to party or something. They could go to Charger games at Oakland, or at Candlestick against the Niners."
"San Francisco? But they flew into San Jose. Why San Francisco?"
"Because that is where your bar is. Come look what Aiden found."
I walked over to where Aiden was sitting at my computer with the pictures. He looked up and smiled.
"Here it is. The things that tipped me off were the posters on the walls. Look at them. They are all old ads for the same thing."
"Are you sure? This one is for wine; this is just some kind of fantasy drawing or something. They're not English either."
"No, they're French. Your fantasy drawing is "la fee verte". The Green Fairy. It was something they used to talk about with Absinthe. See this poster? "Absinthe Robette". It was a brand name. It was a favored drink with artists and poets. Van Gogh, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec. All absinthe drinkers. Anyway, I started searching. Nothing in any of our suspect cities came up. But in San Francisco...."
"Absinthe Brassiere and Bar, 398 Hayes St. Aiden, you're a god!"
"Yeah, but it is not exactly a hanging out kind of bar. I would guess they meet there and then go other places..."
"It doesn't matter. We found it. We found her!"
"Whoa there boy. Settle down. You're not going anywhere right now but bed. You're drunk and you're giddy. Janet and I don't have to work tomorrow, but you do. We'll clean up. Get some sleep Brad."
Friday, February 11th
I had tried to sleep. I really had. But I woke up a half dozen times during the night. The first couple of times I could still hear Janet and Aiden in the living room. The two of them were famous for being up until three or four a.m.
Finally, at about a quarter of six I couldn't stand it anymore. I got out of bed and started packing. I was going. It was Friday, and maybe they wouldn't be there tonight, but maybe they would. I had to take the chance. I tried to be quiet, but when I opened the door and went into the hallway, she was there. Looking at me and smiling, giving our look. She held out a manila folder.
"Here. Mapquest. Hotel reservations. Freeway conditions. I even emailed your boss. I knew you were going to go."
"Thanks Janet. I knew you wouldn't try and talk me out of it. Aiden has no clue how lucky he is."
"Yes he does. He also knows how I feel about you. Why do you think he watches us like he does? That's why you need to find her. It'll take the pressure off of us. Now go before you start babbling about all that romantic crap and telling me how you love me and shit."
"I do love you Janet. You're like a part of me."
"Yeah, but not that part. Go find Cindy. Find out if she's that part. Go on."
I smiled and took the folder.
The drive up was a blur. 8 hours of second-guessing and anticipation. I had followed my instincts thus far, but there were still unanswered questions. Would she think I was some kind of nut? What was Ryan to her?
I got to the hotel about 3:30, took a shower and did everything I could to not look like a crazed stalker. Then I took a deep breath and went to Absinthe.
The moment I walked in I felt like I knew the place. After all, I had been coming here for weeks. I headed for a corner of the room that looked to be opposite of where they usually gathered. I ordered a drink to calm my nerves and turned around as one of my questions was answered.
Ryan walked in the door. One of the girls from the game was with him, snuggled into his left arm, obviously a couple. But it wasn't Cindy; it was Jen. One answer turns out for the best. I slammed my drink in celebration.
Over the course of the next half hour the rest of the group from the pictures wandered in. All in couples. My heart began to beat faster as I realized how unbelievable this really was. There were seven in the pictures, three guys and four girls. A dozen or more possible combinations. But the one that turned out true was the one I had been hoping for all along.
Then she was there.
Cindy walked in the door. My heart skipped a beat and the ice in my drink began to ring against the glass as my hand started shaking. She had inhabited my dreams over the last five weeks and to see her again was like watching a movie star enter the room. I bowed my head, suddenly afraid again, and prayed she would not see me yet.
She walked over to her friends with a flourish as the all greeted her with voices and glasses raised. As she began to trade hugs I belted up my courage and began to slide around the grand bar to get closer. I tried to keep my profile low, and stopped when I moved close enough to hear their conversation. Ryan was speaking.
"...so then you've decided? You will do it this time? No backing out Cin."
"Jeez Ryan, will you leave it alone?"
I did not recognize that voice. One of the other girls. I was keeping my back to the group for fear that Ryan or Jen would recognize me. The unknown speaker continued.
"Based on the story we all heard, if you would not have been in such a rush we might not be going through this. How long would it have taken for her to give the guy her number? Not to mention hovering over her like a schoolteacher looking for notes being passed."
"That was my fault. I thought we should be cautious. Who could know who he was? Plus he was wearing a wedding ring. It wasn't until a few days after we got home that we googled him and got all the other info. How were we supposed to know? Besides, just being an Assistant D.A. does not mean he is a good upstanding guy. I mean, it's still a kind of lawyer, and look at what a degenerate mine is..."