"Are you sure about this? I don't want it to set you back," Penny said, as we were getting ready.
"Do you mean Ben? Oh God, that's not going to be an issue. I mean, I did think about him a little while I was away, but it was more a matter of coming to my senses. I don't know how I got so carried away."
"I was getting a little worried about you, but I didn't know what to say."
"Believe me, I wanted to change the record, too. I was tired of talking about him so much. It was like being cursed. I know I'm smart, but it's like I fell into some kind of trap. It feels so good to be over it."
Of course, I wouldn't know I was truly over it until I saw him again.
I admit, I was rather frosty to him. Greeted one of the regulars, but didn't really say hello to Ben, just waited until he was free to serve us and ordered a drink.
Podcast Penny and I started up a conversation with a very cool man who teaches swing dancing (let's call him Swinger Sam). A little later, his equally cool girlfriend showed up and we chatted with her as well. She's a milliner and was wearing one of her creations (naturally, I have to call her Hattie). I have seen Sam and Hattie at the bar before--they are very striking and stylish--so it was nice to discover how lovely they are to talk to.
It turns out they are friends of Ben's, and have known him for what must be close to a decade, or more. Sam mentioned that Ben used to be a club promoter for a place in the Village that shut down years ago. He named the club and my eyes lit up.
"I remember Village Club! I went there a couple of times. I loved that place!"
Sam smiled and called over, "Hey, Ben, Dolly remembers Village Club."
Ben turned around and gestured to Penny and me, "Those are cool chicks."
How nice of him to give us his seal of approval. We continued our conversation and Hattie told us this unusual story about a woman and her collection of feathers. Penny and I were riveted, and I said I should write a story about it. Ben was within earshot and came over.
"Dolly is a great writer," he said pointedly, stroking my bare arm. "I read one of her stories." He and Sam exchanged a look, which made me wonder if Ben told him about my story.
It's funny because a month ago that small gesture would have made my night. I would have thought about how he rubbed my arm just a little too long and wondered what it meant, if that meant he liked me. Now it no longer concerns me. It's just part of his routine. Penny said that at one point he was at a table behind me and had a girl sitting on his lap. Once upon a time, that would have devastated me, but when she told me that, I just shrugged.
Penny thinks Ben and I have turned a corner, but that things aren't over between us yet ("they've only just begun," she sang in a cheesy-on-purpose way). She said it was odd for him to qualify us like that to his friends. I couldn't care less. As far as I'm concerned, he's just the bartender.
I barely looked at or talked to Ben the rest of the time we were, there except to order drinks or water refills. He didn't even have the decency to ask about my trip, even though he heard me talk about it, which I found a little annoying. Then again, I wasn't being entirely friendly, either. Whatever. We didn't stay long, not more than a couple of hours, when I typically close out the bar on a weekend. Instead, we took the subway back to my neighborhood, to check out one of my locals.
It was a bit of a walk from the station, so I suggested we stop in a bar along the way. Random Bar was crowded with Bridge and Tunnel folk and the DJ was playing bad R&B, which has a way of making me instantly cranky.
"We should probably go after this drink," I said. Except that I was feeling a bit tipsy, and knew I would have to nurse my cocktail to make sure I didn't overdo it.
Penny and I made our way to the front of the bar, which was clearing out pretty quickly. Then the music suddenly improved (I smiled and breathed a sigh of relief when I heard a Depeche Mode song).
I looked at the two bartenders working, happy that they were friendly, regular guys and not all egotistical and Mr. Movie Star-ish.
One of them came over and started talking to Penny and me. He was tall and cute, down to earth, with a goofy streak. I don't remember the details of the conversation, but I do recall that we discovered we both used to listen to the same very specific genre of music and attended the same club back in the day. I named some super-obscure bands and he knew them all, which really sparked my interest in him.
"My iPod would make you cream your pants," he bragged.
"Oh please," I rolled my eyes and held out my hand. "Let's see it."
He brought it over. "I'm BT," he introduced himself. I told him my name, shook his hand.
I looked through the artists he had in his MP3 player and was reasonably impressed.
Meanwhile, Barman BT was outside, having a cigarette and talking to Podcast Penny. He mentioned something about music and clubbing.
"That's not me, that's my friend in there," Penny said.
"Oh, you mean the girl I'm going to marry?"
Penny came back inside. "I love him," she said, and told me about their exchange.
I looked at BT down at the other end of the bar, surprised. Then I got a tiny nervous feeling and smiled. He came over to retrieve his iPod and we talked music for another minute.
"What does BT stand for, anyway?" I readied myself not to get a straight answer, used to Ben's way of talking around a question, revealing as little as possible.
BT brought over his passport, which threw me off. How direct and forthcoming of him.
"Can we stay for another round?" I asked Penny. The bar was lacking prospects as far as the male customers went, but now I was curious about Barman BT.
"Of course. He's great. And he likes you."
We ordered more drinks, which BT didn't charge us for.
He spent a lot of time taking care of other customers, but came over often for brief chats. I learned that he's also a writer and that we both lived in the same foreign country. There was definitely a playful, charged energy between us, but it was easy and natural. I looked at him and could imagine him being my boyfriend, just like that.
He brought over a slip of paper. "In case I get busy with work, here's my number."
I took out my little notepad, to write my contact info for him. I messed up my email address, so I had to turn to a new page. As I was jotting down my phone number, BT came over and mischievously swatted my right hand, sending a line of ink across the page.
"Oh, sorry, were you writing something?" he asked.
I looked up at him with mock outrage. Finally, the third time around, I was able to write out my name, number, and email with no mishaps. I tore out the sheet of paper and was folding it up as he returned to my end of the bar. He took it without saying a word.
Podcast Penny continued to rave about how much she adored BT (for me; she wasn't interested in him romantically) and how much she wanted to be friends with him.
Eventually, we had some unsavory guys start to chat us up and it was time to get going. Besides, I didn't want BT to get the wrong idea.
I called him over to say goodbye and he leaned across the bar to give me a kiss on the cheek.
"Let's hang out soon, okay?" he said.
"Definitely. Give me a call."
Penny continued to sing his praises on our way back to my place.
"He was pretty cool," I admitted. "And the perfect boy height, which I told him he was. Plus, we had this effortless rapport. We'll see if he calls."
"Oh, you're going to hear from him again."
"I just hope he doesn't do the three day waiting thing. I hate that."
"No way, that's not his style. You'll probably get a text message from him when he gets off work." Penny was adamant, despite my skepticism.
At 4:38am, I received the following text from BT:
I want to go out with you. Is that ok?