"Did you get my message?" Barman Ben asked.
I won't go into how Willow and I ended up at Cozy Bar Saturday night, but we did. We were in high spirits, pleasantly buzzed, and feeling especially charismatic and confident. It was the perfect time to stop by and pay Barman Ben a visit. Especially since I was no longer interested in him.
Ben reiterated what he said in the voicemail, but was even more complimentary in his praise. He enthused what a "terrific story" it was and what a special gift I had given him. He went on to say it reminded him of a short piece by Murakami, that both works had an undercurrent of eroticism and were rich in detail.
"Well, I figured you probably don't get a lot of people giving you things like stories... or maybe you do."
He paused, smirked a bit, and looked at me. "Nothing that's actually any good. Once I started reading your story, I couldn't put it down until I finished it."
"That's really nice to hear. I wrote it pretty quickly, in about a week."
He would interrupt his cocktail-making to lean in and say more.
"I could tell that. Not from the quality of piece itself, of course, but when you were in here before and I saw you writing, I knew you... had it."
"Actually, I hadn't written anything for over a year before that story." (Probably shouldn't have said that, but there had been lots of drinking and it took all of my effort just to stay outwardly composed and serene.)
"Well... you're not rusty. You're very talented. Is that number I called your home number?"
"It is." I wonder...
I thought that would be it, but he kept talking to me. We touched on the play he's in, various art house movie theaters, and I don't know what else. It was the most natural I have ever been with Ben, and the longest we've ever spoken. It definitely felt like we had some kind of rapport (though exactly what kind has yet to be determined).
Ben waved away my money when I tried to pay for my drink. Willow asked for a soda, and when she tried to pay, he gestured to me and asked,
"Are you with her?"
"Then you don't pay, either."
I turned back to Willow and I realized that while I was able to be easygoing and witty with Ben, once I was in the company of my friend, my sentences kept trailing off and my mind wandered. Having him so close by was utterly distracting (in the most wonderful way). While I managed to be calm and collected on the surface, inside me was a chaotic mess of pounding heart and fluttery stomach.
Here's the thing about Cozy Bar. It attracts some pretty decent, friendly, grown-up people. Real prospects. But I can't look at anyone as long as Ben is behind that bar.
Ben would come by for snippets of talk from time to time.
"How long have you been in New York?" I asked.
"We'll get to that."
"What?" I gave him a puzzled look.
"We'll get to that. This is my time right now," he gave me a pointed look, "And I have questions for you, too. I'm going to get my chance to interview you."
"Well, you have my number," I said lightly, feeling like I was on a roller coaster that just took a major dip.
When he walked to the other end of the bar, I turned to Willow.
"Did you hear that?"
"I did," she nodded, eyebrows raised.
"That was a thing, right? That was some kind of moment just now, right?"
"I think so."
After a while, this British guy and I started chatting (we'll call him Magazine Mitch). He was cute and engaging, fun as hell to talk to, but I wasn't attracted. Turns out he has known Barman Ben for years, since he first started working at Cozy Bar. Not only that, he told me Ben's last name and a few other inside bits of info, like what kind of music he likes. Then Mitch would move on to flirting with me.
"You and I should hook up." (I didn't say he was subtle.)
"I'm actually not dating in 2007."
"I never said anything about dating."
I shook my head and laughed.
"You are pretty damn sexy. Do you know how sexy you are?"
"I have my good and bad days," I shrugged and launched into the evening's worst segue:
"What about Ben? He knows he's attractive, doesn't he." It wasn't a question.
Mitch nodded and we looked at Ben on the other side of the bar. "He does know... but he doesn't get carried away with it."
Willow went home at around 3:00. I stayed. Asked more questions.
Mitch told me that Ben has done a number of movies.
"Which ones?" I got my pen and paper handy.
He named one, and told me not to tell Ben, who overheard.
"Oh, don't tell her to see that movie, it's terrible." He turned to me, "Don't listen to him. I'll tell you a couple of better ones to see."
"Go ahead, you can write them down." I showed him the pen and paper.
"I'll tell you later."
Magazine Mitch wanted to smoke a cigarette and asked me to get him another pint while he was gone. He gave me a twenty and told me to get something for myself, too, if I wanted.
I ordered the drinks and held out the twenty.
"Who's money is that?"
"Mitch's. He asked me to get another round while he went outside."
"Okay," he took the bill from me, "his money I'll take."
Magazine Mitch ended up introducing me to a couple of the other regulars, who were a bit older and very sweet to me. At one point, I had all these men around me like a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara (it was awesome).
"She's a keeper," Ben said to them. This left me simultaneously elated and confused. I mean, great, now I know he holds me in high regard, but that kind of statement might be treading on I-love-her-like-a-sister territory (If I'm such a keeper, he should be doing the keeping).
Barman Ben announced last call and played the Rolling Stones. He was mostly his usual subdued self, but more upbeat than I've seen him. It was great to talk to him so easily and joke around a bit (at one point, I called him "The King of Dramatic Pauses" and he froze in place for fifteen seconds before replying, which cracked me up). I feel like I got to see more of Ben the person, and it only made me like him more.
Meanwhile, Magazine Mitch was tried to get me to come over and smoke weed with him and his friends.
"Are you drunk enough to make out yet?" he asked.
"Well, I am."
"So tell me, is Barman Ben a player?"
He thought about it. "No. No, I wouldn't say he is," then the penny dropped and he gave a sly smile, "Oh... are you interested in Ben?" He looked from Ben to me. "Yeah, you could probably get with him."
"I didn't say I was interested, I was just asking." Thank goodness Ben was out of earshot.
While Mitch was busy talking to his friends, I leaned in and asked Ben,
"What's a nice way I can tell him that I'm not going to hook up with him?"
"Mitch is a good guy, don't worry about him. He won't give you any trouble."
"I mean, I did already tell him I'm taking 2007 off from dating, so I'm hoping that got the message across."
I think that might have made him smile (he doesn't do that much).
I know I'm recapping every little interaction and should just give the highlights, but I want to remember every detail, so please bear with me. This next part is important.
In my short story, when my main female character goes to the bar, the bartender always changes the music to Nina Simone for her, because she once told him how much she loves Simone's voice. It's one of the subtle ways he shows he cares about her before he's even fully aware of it himself.
Well, Barman Ben knows I love Favorite Singer. We talked about him before and his name came up again Saturday night, though I don't think I've ever heard a Favorite Singer song played at Cozy Bar.
For the last song, Ben specifically searched for and queued his iPod to a Favorite Singer song. It might have been a coincidence, but I think it was for me. Could have been a gesture, could have been a crumb. I'll take it.
There were a handful of people who lingered when the lights came on. Ben stood by the back tables and didn't seem to be in a hurry, so I went over and offered him the pen and paper. It was nice not to have the bar between us (Man alive, he is so tall! And so just-the-right-amount-of-good-looking).
"So are you going to give me that list of movies?"
"I'll call you and give you the list."
"Sure you will."
"I'm serious. I will call you."
I said good-night and he brought me in for a hug. Brief, but two-armed, full-bodied. Heaven.
I dreamed of him all night. Nothing racy, just of him and me in a bar. In one of the dreams, he called me "honey".
I looked him up on IMDB. Turns out he's been in several movies I have in my collection, including a couple of indies where he has played the male lead. I saw one of the films on the Sundance Channel, about a month before I met him (and watched it again today). No wonder there was something vaguely familiar about him. Happens to be a pretty good actor, too (let's not even get into all that).
I can't begin to guess what might come next. I dare not hope that he is interested in me romantically, though I could die a happy woman if I only got to kiss him, even once.
I know I should switch off my phone and stay away from Cozy Bar for a while, but that's not going to happen. I already have standing plans to go back with friends at the end of the week.
Try to resist it (I did), but you can't help who you are drawn to. It's a strange, helpless feeling, but also oddly euphoric. Dangerous, but that's life. I could avoid it, but I don't want to, because I love how alive I feel right now. All I can do is enjoy the high as long as it lasts.