My contribution to the Valentine's Day Contest. Thanks for reading and voting. I look forward to comments.
The waiter came around again and I ordered another bottle of wine. I'd regret it in the morning, but I needed a couple more drinks.
"Did he ever call you," Susan asked, looking over her tortoise shell glasses. Susan is old enough to be my mother, but she's my best friend in the world. I can talk about anything with her.
"Maybe, I don't remember. I blocked his calls, sent them to voice mail."
"Well, maybe he had an ..."
"Susan, we've talked about it. I'm over him, its fine. I'm a big girl, these things happen."
The 'thing" that happened was that my boyfriend, Marc, came home one night smelling of cheap perfume and a little too much testosterone. I asked a few too many questions for his liking and he stormed out and did not come back. According to a friend, within a week he had hooked up with someone at his office and made quite the scene at the office Christmas Party.
"Well, then, maybe a New year's resolution, about a new relationship."
Susan has been married four times, "always for love" as she tells me. Now, it's just hormones and pleasure. That doesn't stop her from scheming to get me hooked up with someone.
"If it happens, it will," I said as we started to drink the second bottle of Syrah.
Susan and I continued to drink and laugh and talk until we started getting dirty looks from the wait staff wanting to close the place down. I signed the check, left a nice tip and we strolled out of the restaurant, both rather tipsy, arm and arm and laughing like we had just heard the best joke of our lives. I hugged her and we got into cabs driving in opposite directions.
Thank goodness I didn't drive, because when I got to the door of my building, I had trouble unlocking it. I tried one key after another, cursing and muttering under my breath with each failed attempt. I straightened out the keys again, and started to systematically go through them, one after another trying to open the door to no avail.
"Having trouble?" a deep voice called out from behind me, startling me.
I swear I jumped in the air when I heard him. I turned quickly to see an older man walking toward me.
"Stay away from me," I said, reaching into my pocket trying to find my pepper spray.
"Whoa! I live here. You can go in, and I'll wait," he said, holding his hands up as if stopping traffic. He stepped back. He kept his hands up in the air.
I stood there for a minute, pepper spray in my extended hand. Across the sidewalk there was an old guy with his arms up in the air. If someone saw us, it looked like I was robbing him.
"You live here?" I asked, somewhat ashamed at my actions. You can't be too careful when you're a woman travelling alone.
"Third floor, Apartment 6," he said quickly, arms still in the air.
I put the pepper spray down. "Sixth floor, apartment 3," I said. "I can't get the key to work."
"I know, I've told the manager, ignores me because I'm an old fart," he said. I noticed he carefully got out his key, holding it in the air as if it were a dead rodent, waved it to me to prove he had a key, and offered to open the door.
I stepped aside, the pepper spray still in my hand, and he stepped forward, inserted the key, twisted and kicked the door until it opened.
"After you." He stepped aside and held the door for me.
"Being a wuss about a stranger."
"I warn my daughter all of the time about strangers, and she's probably your age, 35. Can't be too careful with all the crazies out there."
I walked past him to the elevator and punched the button. I live in an old building; it has charm, character, and slow elevators. The stairs are quicker, but it was nearly midnight and after a bottle of wine, I was not in shape to walk six flights of stairs. The elevator arrived, the doors opened and we entered.
We introduced ourselves and made small talk as the elevator lurched and lunged up the cable. James had been in the building seven months, had a two bedroom apartment, and worked for the state in the downtown office. He was tall and thin with a navy watch cap pulled down above his eyes. He had green eyes that sparkled when he talked. We stopped at the third floor, he said good night, and walked down the hall.
I had been drunk when I had gotten home and the scare at the door had woken me up. I was still drunk, just wide awake. I hung my coat, got undressed and got ready for bed. I slipped between the sheets under my electric blanket and just savored the decadent feeling of the crisp warm bed and felt my body relax. I read for a few minutes and then turned off the light and closed my eyes.
Thirty minutes later, I was still awake, my brain partly fogged by the waning alcohol bathing my cerebrum cortex but wide awake. I turned and changed position, thought boring thoughts, and just tried to will myself asleep. Nothing worked. Time for Plan B.
Sometimes, I just need a good orgasm to take the edge off a difficult night, and I thought it was one of those times. I reached into my night side stand and removed my vibrator. It's ancient, a plug in model that is powerful and durable. No foreplay for me; I closed my eyes, turned it on and put it on my clit.
My brain had been revved up to start, and the immediate sensation of the vibrating nub on my clit jump started me. My pussy immediately started to tingle and quickly escalated to an ache that just gnawed at me. I touched my nipple and rolled it between my fingers. The buzz at my pussy coupled with the nice sensation in my nipple felt great. I think the alcohol altered the sensations, but I got a warm feeling deep in my cunt that spread like molten heat into my legs and down my feet and a warm flush rushed over my chest. I held my breath for a moment, savoring the feeling and then let out the air and felt my body relax into the bed. I thought about an encore, but decided to save it for later. I turned off the vibrator, dropped at the side of the bed and quickly fell asleep.
The next day was a killer. I vowed never to drink during the work week. I popped vitamins, drank flavored waters, and even resorted to an over the counter hang over cure. I was glad when five o'clock rolled around. I strolled in my building to find a sign on the elevator announcing a renter's meeting at 6:30. We didn't have a tenant's group and we had never had a meeting before. I went to my apartment and I really wanted to crawl in bed. Instead, I changed clothes and went to the exercise room and worked out hoping to expel whatever alcohol was left in me. A quick shower afterwards and I was trying to decide on how to spend the evening. Surprising myself, I went to the tenant's meeting in the lobby.
I was the third person to arrive. I recognized the other people from the elevator or the workout room, although I didn't know their names. Finally, at 6:30 James showed up with a stack of folders. Immediately, he was like a politician working the room, thanking us for attending and handing out the folders. It was clear that James had organized the meeting for the tenants. He outlined a list of requests that he thought we should make of the managers, everything from a cleaner lobby to a better elevator to more security around the building. People drifted in and out of the meeting, he always thanked people for coming to the meeting. At the end of it, he had a generous, but polite, list of requests and nearly twenty signatures on the petition. He had also started an email list.
Somehow, at the end of the meeting, it was just the two of us left in the lobby. I picked up a few of the stray information sheets and handed them to James.
"I didn't hear about this meeting until tonight," I said as I handed him the sheets.
"Didn't plan it until this morning," he said, a smile broke on his lips.
"That's a lot of work. I'm impressed."
"Hey, I'm a bureaucrat. Despite the public image, we can make things happen in a hurry."
He looked at his watch and looked puzzled. It was nearly eight o'clock; it hadn't felt like the meeting had lasted an hour and a half. He told me that there was a new Ethiopian restaurant a couple of blocks away and wanted to know if I wanted to join him for dinner. I must have made a face to his suggestion.
"Sorry, didn't mean to impose, you've got plans for the evening." He finished collecting the folders and set them on shelf near the mailboxes.
No, I don't have any plans. It's just. Well, I don't think I've ever eaten Ethiopian food before."
"Well, if you're interested, I'd love to have you join me, I hear it's pretty good, but there's only one way to find out," he said as he pulled the cap onto his head.
It was a cold night, and we were both dressed in winter coats, hats and gloves, and sort of bumped off each other as we walked down the street. Ten minutes later we were at the restaurant and James looked in the window.
"Not a bad crowd, pretty good sign. Shall we?" he asked as he held the door open for me.
The bouquet of fragrances that embraced us as we entered the restaurant was intoxicating. It smelled of cardamom and garlic and probable peppers. It was warm and the room was welcoming. A middle aged woman with skin the color of milk chocolate led us to a low table and pillows on the floor.
"No, I have definitely not eaten in an Ethiopian restaurant," I said, looking around the room.
"Are you okay with it?"
"Absolutely. I need an adventure!"
The woman returned a few minutes later and James did the ordering. The woman returned with water and two smaller glasses of a golden liquid, James told me it was Tej, or honey wine.
"Here's to neighbors," he said and gently clinked my glass.
The wine was strong and slightly sweet. After a few sips, I think I had a buzz, but it was pleasant. The woman brought a huge platter to the table. It was covered with what looked like a foam mat, but it was fermented bread, called injera. On top of it were piles of food. She rattled off the list of foods, James nodded his head, asked questions, and she was gone. I looked around the table.
"We need utensils."
"You eat with your hands," James said, a smile spread across his lips. I know I must have looked puzzled, because the whole process suddenly seemed very complex. "Like this," he said.
He took a piece of the injera in his right hand and grabbed a bit of collard greens, wrapped the bread around it, and before I realized what was happening, he fed me the bite. The flavors of the collards and garlic and butter and peppers filled my mouth and it was delicious. And my head spun with the incredibly intimate act of having someone feed me. As an adult I've had lovers feed me or I have fed them, but often in the context of romantic intimacy. This act caught me off guard. I was quiet for a moment, trying to judge the act and quickly realized it was simply a gesture, he showed me how to eat the food rather than tell me.
We had a wonderful time, sampling the various vegetables on the platter, trying to guess the spices, picking a favorite dish, and then revising it when we got to the next one. We laughed and joked throughout the meal.
We feasted on the platter and then found room for dessert and the strongest coffee I had ever had. I limited myself to a half a cup, but James drank his and finished mine.
We took the long way home; it was an extra couple of blocks, to walk off some of the dinner. When we got to the apartment, I got out my keys and opened the door.
"I'm impressed," James said with a smile.
"Snot," I said and punched him in the arm.
He gathered up the folders that he had left downstairs and we rode the elevator up to the third floor just as we had nearly a day earlier. The door opened on his floor.
"I had a great time," James said, as he started to step off the elevator. "Thanks for joining me."
I'm not sure what made me do it, but I stepped forward and gave him a hug. It wasn't a gushy girl hug, and it wasn't a 'one of the guys' hug. But after the evening, I just felt a need to touch him. He nodded and walked down the hall to his apartment.
I got in bed and thought about the evening until I fell asleep.
I went to my Pilates class the next morning with Susan. After the class, we went to a coffee house for lunch, and eventually I got around to dinner. Susan is a lawyer, and she is a great listener. She didn't say anything while I talked, and eventually, I realized I had talked nearly twenty minutes non-stop about dinner with James.
"Sweetie, we've known each other a long time, and I've never heard you talk about a date with anyone like you just did."
"It wasn't a date," I said.
"Trust me, it was a date. And it knocked your socks off."
Before I thought, I blurted out "But he's sixty two year old."
She looked at me and frowned. "And how old am I?"
I shook my head and laughed.
"Age is just a number, a marker for our time on the earth. It's what you do and who you're with that matter."
James and I would bump into each other in the building over the next couple of weeks. We'd stop, talk about something going on in the neighborhood, or his tenant's group and then we'd go our separate ways. The conversations were easy and comfortable, but at the same time I enjoyed seeing him and talking to him. I thought about what Susan had said and decided to be bold.
"I know you're probably busy Friday, but there is a gallery opening down the street and was wondering if you'd like to go with me." I felt silly as soon as the words got out of my mouth.
James knew immediately the show I was talking about and excitedly described the artist and his work. I was just trying to see if we could hang out together and he knew the artist's work from the early days.
"It's a date," he said as he gave me a hug before leaving the apartment building.
I was like a teenager for the next five days, waiting for Friday night to arrive, excited about the night and equally anxious. The night of the show, I hurried home from work and changed clothes three times before settling on a cute blouse and a mid-calf length skirt. The knock at the door caught me off guard.
"Wow, look at you," James gushed as he walked into the apartment. "They'll see us, and wonder why you brought the janitor to the show."
He was casually dressed in jeans and a turtle neck and a winter coat. I considered changing again, but told him I thought he looked like an art critic and grabbed my coat.
We had a nice walk to the gallery and I had a great time looking at the art. It was a personal tour, because James knew of the artist and his work, and was able to explain the paintings and techniques used by the artist.
I stepped back from him. "How does a government bureaucrat know all of this stuff?"
"Well, before I was a humble state employee, I was an artist, and had a degree in art history, and ran a couple of galleries."
He continued to show me the work and continued the tour. A couple of times I could see others there leaning in while he explained why a painting was good from a composition or technique perspective. He suddenly looked at his watch and started putting on his coat.
"Do you change into a pumpkin at eight o'clock?"
"No, but if we hurry, there is another opening down the street that should be fabulous."
He grabbed me by the hand and led me like a parent pulling a child through a crowded store. His hand was large and strong and I clasped it firmly while I walked quickly to keep up with him. We got outside and instead of dropping my hand, he kept it in his and I held it. We got to the other gallery and entered it. There was still a large crowd. We got a couple of glasses of wine and wandered around looking at the large pieces of surrealistic acrylic paintings. The subject matter varied from common animals like storks and peacocks to bulls in party hats. The paintings at the first gallery had been impressionistic landscapes and now we were thrown into a turbulent world. James was equally comfortable describing and analyzing these paintings as he had done with the other ones. The energy at the second show was greater and we spent a couple of hours there looking at the various pieces.
It was nearly ten o'clock when we walked out into the cold winter air. We had drunk cheap wine and had a few snacks but we realized we were still hungry. I knew of a Mexican cantina that was open late and we walked there and had a great meal of quesadilla and tacos and a pitcher of Sangria and we walked home happy and full.
We rode up in the elevator standing next to each other, an uncomfortable silence as the lift carried us to the third floor. The door opened and James looked at me.
"I had a great time! Thanks for inviting me," he said as he kissed me on the cheek.
I felt foolish as I stood there, my eyes closed, and he stepped off the elevator.
I got to my apartment and threw my coat and purse on the sofa and stomped around as I got ready for bed. I was frustrated and angry. Frustrated because I felt something with James that night and angry because I acted passively. The hand holding, and the discussion and dinner really got me excited. It had been a while since I had been with a guy, and the thought of cuddling on the couch and talking into the night. Instead, I got into bed and drifted off to sleep by myself.
The next week James had organized another tenant's meeting and I stayed through until the end of it. He now had nearly half the building signed onto a petition and an email list of virtually everyone in the building.
"You've done a great job," I said as I picked up the rest of the folders and handed them to him. He thanked me.
"Look, I'm going to be very direct and to the point," I said. He stood up tall and looked at me warily. "Next week is Valentine's Day and I was," and this is where I lost some of my cool directness, "I was wondering if you'd like to come to my place for dinner?"
"Just the two of us?"
That's the general idea. Unless, you know, you're secretly married. Or gay. You're a serial killer. Wanted for embezzlement in three states. Or you've already got a girlfriend somewhere."
"Nope. No way. Abhor violence. Financially comfortable, don't need more money. No girlfriends. So, no to all of them."
"Sounds like a date," he said. "What should I bring?"
"An appetite." I leaned in and kissed him on the cheek and walked away.
I had tried to maintain my cool, but I was a wreck on the inside.
I agonized over dinner for the next week, and I changed the recipe nearly fifty times. I altered the appetizer and entrée and dessert repeatedly, crossing through my shopping list so many times that I went through an entire pad of legal paper.
After struggling with the menu, I finally had it organized on Valentine's morning. Then, I had to decide what to wear for the evening. Girls going to prom have less confusion about dressing than I did. I tried on a variety of outfits, mixed and matched for nearly an hour, and was utterly exhausted when I finally got dressed. I had just finished my makeup when there was a knock on the door. I walked to the door, but my heart racing.
James stood in the doorway with a single rose in one hand, a bottle of wine in the other, and a pot of tulips balanced between the two. I don't know how he knocked on the door. I had only seen him in jeans and turtle necks and sweaters and often covered up in heavy winter coats. He was dressed in a stylish black suit with narrow lapels, crisp white shirt and a red tie. For the first time he was wearing glasses and looked like a college professor. An absolutely drop dead gorgeous college professor.
"Good evening, Julia," he said, somewhat formally. "I've brought you the traditional dead flower in honor of Valentine's Day," he said as he handed me the rose. "An excellent, hand selected, Pinot Noir, great rating, and I can't wait to share it with you." I took the wine. "And a future bouquet of tulips to help remember the night for a while."