“I need to go,” I say, turning away and avoiding his eyes.
“Why?” He says, still clutching my hand. We’re sitting in the garden of a private membership club in San Francisco on a Friday night, a shared, half-smoked cigarette laying on a glass table beside us. It’s cold out. I’m wearing his jacket.
“It’s my friend’s birthday. I need to go.” I pull my hand away gently, smile at him, and begin to stand.
“Wait,” he says, taking my hand again and urging me back into my seat. “Do you really need to leave? I don’t think you do. I think you’re just running away because you like me.”
“That’s only partially true,” I retort, laughing a little. “I barely know you, and I’m not going to pick some strange Frenchman over my friends.”
“Ah, but you kissed this strange Frenchman,” he says, thinking he’s clever.
“Technically, you kissed me.”
“I suppose that’s correct…” He frowns.
“Here. Thank you for the jacket.” I pull hand it to him before rising from my chair.
“Wait!” He stands with me. “How will we get together again?”
“I have your number,” I say, patting my leather clutch where a napkin inked with his digits has been stowed carefully away.
“You’ll text me as soon as you can? We’ll do dinner, soon? Drinks?”
“Maybe,” I say, smiling, wiggling my fingers goodbye as I disappear from the venue.
That night, I text him to be polite. But in his follow-up messages inviting me to drink and dine, I avoid committing to a date.
Here’s what happened.
* * *
Earlier in the evening, I was dying to get out and make the most of my weekend. When you’re stuck in front of a computer like I am all week churning out epic-novel-worthy lengths of content for client after client after client, the itch to shatter every screen in sight as soon as the work week ends is a strong one.
Unfortunately for me, my friends did not have the same itch that I did.
One of my best friends texts me this just as I’m ready to call a car and meet her downtown.
“It’s cool!” I reply. “I’ll see you soon anyway.” What else could I say? I’m not a fan of guilting or peer-pressuring people. Besides! I have more than one friend to hang out with.
Soon after, I get a text from another girlfriend reading:
Yet another girlfriend down for the count.
What’s the point of #FancyFriday if you can’t mob around with your ladies?!
Another girlfriend sends the following texts:
Son of a bitch! Are all of my friends falling off the map this weekend?!
As the minutes tick by, I watch as more and more people reveal they’re either too tired, on their way out of the country, or working too late to meet me out at a reasonable hour.
What’s a girl to do when she’s all dolled up with nowhere to go?
… Duh; Go out alone.
Besides, I tell myself. I have a few birthdays to attend later in the evening. Killing time alone never hurt anybody, right?
* * *
I’m sitting at the end of a long, posh bar, nursing something called a “Black and Stormy” with fancy pieces of candied ginger floating in it. I watch as groups of friends pile in, hug, chit-chat, and make nice. The venue is a private club in San Francisco where membership is extended very rarely. It’s ultra exclusive, and you definitely have to be “someone” to get in.
I’m a member.
I’m pretty sure that means I’m part special, part douchebag.
And here I am. All alone. At this club.
So that probably makes me part loser too.
I feel a little awkward sipping my drink by myself. I’m imagining what it must be like for people who go out alone all the time, wondering if they feel the same sort of insecurity I’m feeling at the moment, or if they do this so much that all feelings of anxiety have long-since faded.
I should go out alone more often, I tell myself. Then this won’t be nearly as strange.
My cell is tucked away into my clutch. At this club, you’re not allowed to have your phone out. In fact, there are dedicated phone booths installed for members to hide and text in when they’re desperately in need of screen-stimulation. But that’s kinda’ what I like about this place; you’re encouraged to make friends, meet the other members, and be social.
It works, I think, because a tall, blonde man approaches the bar beside me, glances at me, then turns to wave down the bartender. I watch him place his order, because what-the-hell else am I doing, and he turns to look at me a second time.
I give him a friendly smile.
“Are you here with friends?” I ask, making conversation.
His eyes go wide. He turns to look behind him. He turns to look back at me. “Me?” He asks.
I laugh. “Yes, you.”
“I … Well, yes,” he says. “They’re waiting on these drinks.” The drinks arrive quickly, and he takes them in hand. “I’m so sorry,” he says. “I need to take these to them.”
“Of course!” I say, waving him away gently. “No worries.”
He looks scared, carting away the group of drinks he’s ordered, leaving me alone at the bar again.
I’m laughing at myself inwardly, wondering if I did something wrong. But I shrug it off, sip at my drink, and take in the wall of alcohol lining the bar while trying to decide if I should have an expensive scotch just for the fuck of it.
“Excuse me,” I hear. Turning to my right, I see the blonde gentleman. He’s returned with his drink in his hand, and he has this nervous look on his face.
“Yes?” I ask.
“Is this seat taken?” He points at the empty stool beside me.
“It’s yours if you’d like it,” I say, gesturing in welcome.
He takes a seat. We’re staring at each other.
I’m smiling at how funny this is.
“I’m sorry for leaving like that. I’m here with friends, you see. I haven’t seen them in quite a while. It would have been rude of me to leave them alone,” he says.
“No, no. I wasn’t trying to keep you from your friends,” I say. “I was only saying hello.”
“That was very shocking for me,” he says, smiling. “In France, women don’t usually say hello, first. Not in this sort of situation. I didn’t know what to say. Usually, the man is the one who has to come up with something interesting to get a beautiful woman’s attention, and you are very beautiful.”
I laugh. “Well. Thank you.”
“It’s the truth. When I returned to my friends and told them what happened, they told me I’d be an idiot not to speak with you.”
“Do you have a name?” I’m smiling.
“Oh! My name! Yes. I’m *Peter. What’s yours?”
“Cheri,” I say. “Call me Cheri.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Cheri.”
We talk. We laugh. Peter buys me another drink. He tells me he’s from France. I tell him I’m from California. We share stories. And as we do, I think to myself how funny it is that on a night when each and every one of my friends happens to be busy elsewhere, I’m here. At this bar. Speaking with this stranger. Having this experience. I think to myself how none of this would have happened if not for all the little pieces of circumstance that made it come to be.
Throughout our conversation, he makes every excuse to touch me in little ways. He touches my hands. My knees. My hair. It’s all very flattering, and all so textbook flirtation that I can’t help but laugh each time he does it. He must know I’m aware. Maybe he doesn’t. I can’t tell.
At one point, we joke about the “no cellphones” rule, commenting on how we’ll never be able to get ahold of one another. With a smile, he waves down the bartender and asks for a pen. The bartender delivers it with a grin, and the handsome Frenchman inks his digits and name onto a bar napkin, handing it to me. I smile, tucking it into my clutch.
“Join me for a cigarette?” Peter asks.
“Sure,” I say.
We make our way to the member’s garden, a perfectly manicured outdoor retreat filled with green and decorated with enough furniture to host a respectable gathering of lazy loungers — but there’s no one here.
Together, we sit at a table and share a cigarette. When I shiver, Peter offers his jacket, and I refuse. He insists, of course, then places his jacket on my shoulders. I thank him. We smile at each other.
“You’re perfect,” Peter says, moving his chair closer.
I give him a funny look, smiling. “That’s debatable.”
“No, you are,” he says, taking my hand. “You’re smart. You’re funny. You’re quick. You’re adventurous. You don’t mind that I smoke. You’re friendly. And you’re beautiful. So beautiful. I can’t believe I’m here with you.”
The way he says it, all jumbled together like that, all at once, like this big confession — it makes me laugh. Not a giggle, but one of those full-bellied laughs that throws my head back and squeezes my eyes shut.
Then he kisses me. Mid-laugh, he kisses me.
I freeze, caught off guard.
He pulls back a little, looking at me, quiet, measuring.
I look at him, still shocked, nervous.
Then he kisses me again.
And I kiss him back. Because fuck it! Fuck it, I said. … Fffffuuck.
And so we kiss for a moment. And it’s nice. And it feels good. And his stubble feels manly. And I like it. And for a few moments, I forget where we are.
With his hands in my hair, he pulls away and whispers into my lips, “Come with me.”
“What?” I ask, mind numb, breathless. “Where?”
“To my place.”
“I …” My brain registers his question, and I tense. “No, I’m sorry.”
“I just…” I pull away from him. His hands leave my hair, but he takes my hand in response, rubbing my skin.
“You’ve done nothing wrong,” he says, reading my mind.
“I know, I just … I don’t really … Do that.” I say.
“… Go home with complete strangers.”
“I’m not a stranger; we’ve been talking all night.”
“I know, but … I just …”
I’m thinking about dating. About a person I’ve been seeing who I think I like, and who I might have to explain this to. I’m thinking about whether or not I want to lie about what happened. About whether it would be right to do so. About whether he and I are even on a level where I need to tell him these things.
I’m thinking about my friends and what they’d say. I’m thinking about whether this is wrong. I’m wondering whether I did something immoral or shameful by not stopping this man from kissing me. I’m thinking about the phrase “slut-shaming”, and whether what I’ve just done is “slutty”. Is kissing “slutty”? Is this horrible? Am I overthinking this? Argh! FORGET IT!
“I need to go,” I say, turning away and avoiding his eyes.
* * *
I suck at this dating bullshit.
PS. It’s Friday again. See you out there, San Francisco. And y’know. Wish me luck.
From a friend after publishing this post: