It’s an unusually warm Saturday night in the Big Apple. Earlier that day, the temperature reached a record high 80, which felt like summer for mid-April in the city. The group of friends is seated around a table, with no fewer than three rounds of shots in front of them. As they repeatedly raise their slightly alcohol-infused voices and burst into laughter, Alienor worries of the distraction they could cause and shushes them, telling them to “show some respect for the live band,” because it’s open mic night at Bar Nine.
The Fab 4, as the group of co-workers is commonly known, have just flown in from Miami for a week of workshops, food testing, and bar hopping, punctuated with visits to chain suppliers to define the next trends in hospitality services. The group members have been handpicked throughout the year and teamed up to develop a presentation for a new concept in phase one of construction in the Latina city. This project is to be the biggest nighttime entertainment complex ever built in the Miami International Airport area, alongside the new Miami Interstadium and Freedom Park. The complex will feature 8 different venues, including bars, restaurants, and clubs, distributed by an open air dance-street, where the DJ’s booth will hang in the air from a capsule. Each outlet will stand with its own individual vibe, theme, and feel, all collectively intertwined. The complex they have in mind needs to attract and intrigues everyone. It will have to be THE place to be. It will have to be IT, and that definitely will not happen if it caters exclusively to the wealthy, botoxed element of society. It will have to be diverse enough and properly priced to be inclusive. So, the idea was to think of it like a mall, where the 5000us$ designer bags of Saks Fifth avenue neighbor the Zara’s 29$ dress.
“A place of convergence,” Aaron said one of the first times they brainstormed in one of their meetings. “A melting pot.” Vegas boy had moved from Caesar Palace, straight into his new role 3 years ago already. He was the most enthusiastic, and cacophonous of them all. He had 10 bad-ass ideas a minute, and would always voice them out. He is the foody, the food guru, the food porn. Hence, he was the first of the Fab 4 recruited.
“A melting pot?” Alienor interrupted in her slight yet still perceptible French accent. “I love the idea. I love the ideal, as a matter of fact,” she added sarcastically.
She is the talent acquisition specialist of the group. She joined the team 3 months ago, landed by her firm. They already had an established chemistry and were functioning as one, but she was brought in to define the characters and various personas of the team, which would ultimately be recruited and trained to operate the complex. Because the service delivered will ideally be an entirely new experience, role playing will be created for each employee to match the theme in each venue, according to their respective positions, so the service can be part of the show.
“No politics!” Eduardo intervened.
Meet Ed. The financial guy. The calculator. The only real Miamian of the troop, in charge of the overall cost of development and budget implementation. They nicknamed him “The Referee” because he’s always bringing them back to Earth by throwing red cards each time an idea seems unsustainable.
After trips to London, Singapore, and Ibiza, they’re still collecting knowledge as they hit tonight the city that never sleeps.
“Product knowledge research,” announces James as the fourth round comes their way.
The last hired of the Fab 4 is an L.A.-born and raised, joyful fellow. In his mid-30s, he already seems to have lived 20 bartender lives, based on all the knowledge he’s acquired. Despite all his other qualities, though, kindness defines him best. If you’d just met him for the first time, you’d know he’s a good person. It’s written all over his face.
The team had kicked off the night at The Office, on Columbus Circle, with a palette of pricey Asian bar bites at some organized tasting. Aaron had asked the bartender to tip him on where they should go to get a more genuine feel of the New York scene. They had left The Mandarin, walked down 8th Avenue, turned on 54th, and 10 minutes later were seated at Bar Nine, on the left corner of the small stage, around a high bar table right across from the bar. It’s Saturday, April 20, 2019, the warmest NYC night ever recorded this time of the year.
“Eleonor,” the host says into the mic. “Call out for Eleonor.”
The three guys chuckle in unison while patting each other’s backs. “Here! She’s here!” they shout. Turning to Alienor, Aaron calls, “It’s you. Go.”
“What do you mean”? Alienor asks, half-surprised, raising her left eyebrow and letting out a sigh.
“It’s open mic. It’s the concept, woman. Go. Go. We signed you in,” Aaron cries, a smile splitting his face open like a sliced melon. “We signed you in.”
“Sure, you did. Fuckers,” she replies.
She looks at them, amused. Their jolly posture and glowing faces, beaming all over with joy, alcohol-fogged, pinkish eyes crying out loud how proud they feel of themselves right now. She recalls the day those jack-asses decided to make their first team building at the 2018 Miami Spartan Race, where they had to crawl through the mud tunnels, pull each another, push her ass up the last obstacle, and encourage each other. That day, they cemented their relationship outside of the office walls, and she became one of the boys, while still very much “the woman” for Aaron, “the Queen” for James, and Ed’s “favorite French person.” She sees them laughing and cheering and eventually laughs with them.
“Fuckers,” she says again, shrugging her shoulders.
“Eleonor!” the host calls out again.
Upon seeing their facial expressions change, Alienor realizes they didn’t expect her to stand up…or did they?
Men are boys, and boys are childish, she thinks. So anything’s possible, especially with that trio, where each one feeds off the others’ moronity.
But she stands up. Proud, with a hint of unease she won’t let them see. She unfolds her 5’8” frame down the high stool and walks with confidence onto the stage, patting down her dress. She’s 43, slender, yet curvy in places she’s now grown to accept. She has strong facial features, a large forehead and fleshy mouth, two intense, almond-shaped eyes that shout, “Beware, sass and spirit,” framed by perfectly arched, expressive eyebrows and crowned with a golden, curly, square cut that rests on her shoulders. She’s a fashion addict and knows what to wear to compliment her frame. Tonight, she’s wearing a simple, chic, below-the-knee fitted black knitted dress with an open twisted back, complemented by red stiletto heels, for a fun touch. She walks onto the stage the same way she walks into any room. Tall. Straight. Impressive.
“Hi,” she smiles at the host, “it’s ‘Alienor,’ not ‘Eleonor.’ AL-IE-N-OR.”
“OK, AL-IE-N-OR,” says the host, a well-polished saxophone hanging across his chest. “What are you gonna sing, honey?”
“Actually I don’t sing, sir,” she remarks. “I have many talents, except for that one, I’m afraid.”
“But you put your name down, hon?” the host says.
“See, in fact those fuckers put down my name,” she spits out with a smile while pointing at the 3 delirious men jumping on their stools in laughter. She says it with class; nothing she says sounds vulgar. Is it because of her posture? Her accent? When she throws any word in the air, it seems to float in a soft spiral so everyone can see it has “Chanel” stamped all over it. “So, I just came to say hi and apologize on their behalf,” she concludes. Her teammates are even wilder now, booing and chanting, and she laughs along with them. “You see?! You see? They think they’re insanely funny,” she says, slightly lifting her left eyebrow, her hand hanging in the air, pointing in their direction. She bites her lower lip and says, “But I will be damned if I let them take their victory lap.” She raises her perfectly manicured, nude-polished middle finger at her teammates like the Empire States rises up into the sky, dominating all Manhattan. “Give me a beat, please, sir.”
As the beat starts, her teammates grow more cheerful, and rather proud, turning the rest of the crowd in the bar with them. People start cheering, clapping with the beat, and she smiles at them through half her teeth, still biting her lower lip and shaking her head in disbelief.
How cool is it to get to work on a team like that? she thinks. Fuckers, though.
“Here I am in New-York with a bunch of fuckers,
They giggle on their chair like kindergarteners,
They think they can teach me a lesson, a scripture,
But I’ll show them who’s the counterpuncher.
“I’m not just your white, blonde, typical bitch wife,
I assume, I provide, and I keep it alright.
Who culturally decided males equal protecting?
When it’s your mother who gifts you your breathing?
“And she fought, and she fights and will never give up,
For the pain and suffering endured to give you birth,
Will hang like a reminder forever around her girth,
While she invests her life in trying to grow you up.
“And if this isn’t enough of a task to achieve,
To teach you the values, the virtues, and the risks,
She also has to mop, scrub, cook, iron, and clean,
When coming back from work, she never has relief.
“But she never complains,
She never show the pains,
The so-called weaker sex
Was molded off Pyrex.
“So you’re taking the piss sending the girl on stage,
And AH AH and OUH OUH she don’t know the language,
But she’s strong and she’s fierce,
And she’s bold and she’s bash,
And anytime she can give you a good mouthwash.
“I am AL-IE-N-OR,
Never raised to go after your damn dollar,
I’ve always worked harder than all men around me,
To stand straight in my shoes, know it’s all thanks to me.
“Providence is remote, and fate does not exist,
If you do not pour your soul into achieving your dreams,
They are no destiny to come to you easy,
But sweat, tears, and hard work through your apprenticeship.
“So AH AH and OUH OUH, take the piss and enjoy,
For me, you’re never more than a bunch of schoolboys.”
She crosses her arms on her chest and strikes a pose as laughter and ferocious clapping erupt around the room. Women are cheering, and the team is chanting hilariously.
How cool is it to get to work with a team like this? Alienor thinks.
Another round of drinks makes its way onto the already shots crowded tabletop.
“These are from Wesley,” the waiter announces.
“Who the heck is Wesley?” interrupts Aaron.
With a tip of his head, he points towards the bar, and the team raises their glasses in a gesture of thanks.
“That’s how you run a bar,” explains James. “Drinking keeps you thirsty. You should hire this guy.”
“Cut the crap. You’re drowning already,” she replies.
“No, I am serious. The sugar content in the alcohol stimulates a hormone in the liver that travels through the blood to your brain and tells you to drink more. Every great bartender knows that. Serve fast. Drink fast. Re-serve. That‘s what I call a successful seller! Hire the guy!” he cheers.
She looks away from the lighting of the stage across into the dimness of the bar and locks eyes with him. Was it by accident, or was he watching her? In the darkness of the room, she can make out only his tall, strong shoulders. And his eyes. Deep, kind, emotionally intelligent eyes. He smiles. Wesley-the-bartender smiles the most charismatic smile she’s ever seen.
Someone else is on stage now, singing Billie Holiday’s “Summertime” rather well. The guys are sharing pictures on their phones, laughing, fooling around, mocking, high-fiving. The reason this team has bonded so well in just a few short weeks only is that its very core is built on good humor and sarcasm. They’re all rather good at it individually, which has always led to epic battles with her, but she has a naturally quick wit and delivers sharp remarks, much to their delight. But now she’s gone; she’s not even listening.
“Whazzup!” Ed shouts.
She looks back at them, almost like she’s waking up from a daydream. “Well, I’ve reached my limit of B.S. for the day, guys. I’ll leave you to it. You’re doing just great.”
A “WHOO AH!” meets her back.
“I’m taking James’s advice and hiring this Wesley-the-bartender,” she says.
Just like that, she climbs down off her seat and makes her way to the bar counter, with the last served old-fashioned in her right hand and her envelope purse under her arm.
“Hi, Wesley-the bartender,” she snaps, sitting down in front of him.
“Hi, AL-IE-N-OR,” he replies.
“Thanks for the drink.”
“Very welcome. It was a well-earned one.” He smiles. “That was very bad ass what you did up there. Shit rap, but bad ass.” He dumps that out with such elegance and natural ease, she bursts into laughter.
Mr. Kind Eyes also has character, she thinks.
“Well, THANK YOU, Wesley. For the drink and the compliment. Many artists only meet recognition postmortem,” she replies. He chuckles, looking down at his feet and shaking his head with incredulity, which tells her she hit a shy one and has to feed the conversation. “So, how long have you worked here, Wesley-the-bartender?” she continues.
She’s a people person, the talent acquisition specialist. She can read someone’s character in three split seconds, jumping from their posture, eye contact, first 3 spoken words, body language, and other sociability skills. And Wesley just broke eye contact, so he’s either shy by nature, intimidated, or not an eloquent speaker and can’t think of what to say to keep the conversation going. She immediately eliminates the last option. He’s a bartender, so by profession he’s well-versed at conversing, meeting all kinds of weirdos, and hearing all kinds of stories; he has to have the personality that comes with the job description. So, she opts for shy instead and thinks she should take the repartee a level down so as not to scare him.
“Actually, it’s Wesley-the-actor,” he says, surprising her.
“Is that so?” she replies, delighted he was right there, meeting her game.
“Aspiring actor,” he corrects.
“And of course you have to pass by the starting block of the waitressing job, because if you don’t live for sometimes La boheme, sharing an overpriced apartment with three roommates, you’ll never know when you make it that you actually made it,” she languishes.
“One,” he says. “One roommate.” They lock eyes and smiles, and on the spot she knows he is a catch.
I might end up offering him a job, she thinks. Nice to meet you, Wesley.
“I graduated of theater arts in Detroit and after a while moved to LA to enter the big agencies’ casting fury, and so forth. We were a million alike, lining up for TV commercial castings every day, waiting to make the big break through.” While polishing glasses and arranging his work station, he continues. “After two years, I had enough. So, I came here to try myself. I’m doing things, you know, during the day, like experimental theater, and trying to write my own stuff and working here at night for a year now. It’s cool. The city theater scene is quite large here, so there are more roles to audition for and readings to do. Makes sense. And you build your network when you are on the scene, and THAT is crucial. This is how you get your next part, then your next workshop, then your next call.” He gestures. “The community is dense and alive. You need to be connected. Plus, grabbing experience is part of the journey, so I would be damned if I did not come to NY,” he finishes, with a perfect smile.
“Well, I really wish you good luck,” she says. “And I hope you will land something soon that can stabilize you in your pursuit,” she empathizes.
“Yeah. It’s up and down, you know. Last month, I was eating pasta three meals a day. And today, people are stuffing my pockets with money. It is what it is,” he concludes.
“It is, jujubes,” she replies.
He gives her a blank look, punctuated with some kind of interrogative, trapped sound.
“It is jujubes,” she repeats, “and it is diamonds.” She sees no reaction, but the great emptiness of the Sahara in his hazel eyes, emphasized by his diving posture towards her, making him look like an old man trying to make sense of what’s written on a menu without his readers.
She continues. “Dirty Dancing.”
There is a blank silence.
“Johnny!!!” She throws him with an insistent look and gestures her hands up.
“Patrick Swayze?” she attempts.
His facial expression distorts into a question mark.
Maybe he thinks the alcohol got the best of me, she thinks.
She theatrically delivers, “‘Last month, I-I-I'm eating jujubes to keep alive. This month, women are stuffing diamonds in my pockets.’ It’s ‘jujubes,’ not pasta...your line. But I like the reference. I’m glad you know your classics, apprentice actor.”His jaw drops despite him, and he bursts into a roaring laughter so contagious, she joins him in it. She’s happy she scored. His mouth is wide open in astonishment.
What is this woman? he thinks to himself.
He shakes his head and exhales heavily to regain his composure, then they lock eyes again and have another fit of a giggles. Their agitation reminds her team that she’s sitting at the bar.
As he sees from the corner of his eye that her team is making moves to pay and come towards them, he collects himself and says, “Wesley Swayze, then? All fair…but people generally see only what they look for and hear what they listen for.”
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” she gasps.
She’s happy he scored back. She quickly draws his portrait: Educated; well-spoken; positive demeanor. A paused, low-pitched voice that contrasts with the spirited flame she feels consumes his whole being. He has an imposing stature, and his eyes cry the intelligence of his heart. If paired with knowledge, all those traits make him a role model. Personality and character tests call him a champion. Plus, he’s charming when he smiles.
“We’re going, woman,” calls Aaron.
“Are you?” she replies.
“Aren’t we all?” he questions, looking at her with wide eyes.
“I’m gonna stick around a bit more,” she bites back.
“Oh, reallyyyy?” interrupts James in an implying tone.
“Well, turns out my IQ saw a huge boost after I left your table and sat here. So, I’m gonna stay a bit more to recharge my brain, then I can suffer an entire week with you guys.”
Her declaration is met with a perfectly synchronized, “WHOO AH.”
She smiles and continues. “Plans? Brunch? Not too early.”
“Eleven a.m. Lobby. I heard of a place,” Aaron says.
“I would like to try the Tavern on the Green,” Alienor replies.
“Because it’s a classic. And it’s Sunday, and the weather is great. And we can eat outdoors and enjoy a traditional brunch instead of making another foodie experiment. And I would like for one time to try that place we see in all the movies. Explanation suffice?”
“OK, it’s late. We vote tomorrow. Kiss.” Aaron snaps, and the three men come plant a kiss each on her cheeks and say goodnight.
James then turns around. “Are you sure you gonna be OK?” he asks, a worried look in his tired eyes. “Want me to wait for you?”
“I will make sure she gets home safe,” Wesley interrupts.
“Home?” James questions.
“Whoo ah ah,” the three men jokingly sing in a different melody.
Alienor smiles and feels she might be blushing, too. Fuckers. She looks at them, turned pink inside out by all the product knowledge research they started at 7:00pm. She blows them a kiss and turns her attention back to Wesley, who’s still polishing his glasses, the grin on his face saying he’s amused by the troop.
What am I still doing here? she asks herself. Why don’t I leave with the guys?
“Do you want another drink?” Wesley says, pulling her out of her thoughts.
“No, I’m fine, thanks.”
“I meant somewhere else. I finish in twenty. And if you want? I mean, if you’re not tired?” Wesley left the question floating in the air.
“I’d like that, yes,” she hears herself replying.
Her brain suddenly races in every different direction and tells her, This is not appropriate…this is so not appropriate…not at all…find a way out…find a way out.
But she’s enjoying his company. He’s a nice fellow. It’s all good sport.
But you’re forty-three, not twenty-one, and it’s two a.m. in New York. Forties do brunch and leave twenty-ones with late nights, she thinks.
She says, “Maybe something more like a Waffle House-unhealthy breakfast-greasy burgers place. You know? Something with junk food.”
Something with plenty of lights and very regular…AKA, not too intimate, she thinks.
“There’s a great food truck close by. Bacon, eggs, and cheese, the perfect recipe for any hangover.” He smiles.
Damn. He is definitely charming when he smiles.
They’re met outside by the flashing lights of a parked police car. The temperature has dropped a bit. Alienor has put on her jean jacket, and Wesley is still in his working black jeans, black shirt, and hoodie.
“What happened?” she exclaims.
“Nothing. This is standard at the closing of bars in the golden square. New York is a tourist area, and the police want to make sure the streets are kept safe. When the bars close, all kinds of drunkards fall out in the streets. That’s why the police are on site; in case a fight starts. Sometimes the car isn’t even manned. But just to have it here is a powerful reminder,” he explains.
“Shit! It took me by surprise, to say the least. If you’re drunk, you get undrunk fast, I guess.” She laughs.
“If you’re a tourist, I guess.” He smiles. “So, where is your hotel, so we can go in the right direction?”
“We are at the Moxy, in Times Square,” she answers. “It is down that way,” she adds, just to make sure he knows she’s not lost and knows her way back.
No. Why did I have to add that? To convince myself I’m safe? I’m forty-three, not twenty-one.
She immediately feels ridiculous and bites her tongue. But you never know. She’s an out of town woman alone with a tall, strong man she just met on a New York street. Out in the streetlights, without the bar counter between them, she takes in the full frame of his 6’2”, athletic body.
This is how some thriller movies usually start, she thinks, her mind racing again. Why do I have to think so much all the time? Why do I have to think so fast, too? This is really not appropriate.
“Right, and it’s not far. So Plan A, we walk some twenty minutes down Eighth and go to Essen. It’s a twenty-four-hour food place, like a market, where you have a large selection of everything. Or we can walk down on Ninth and stop on Forty-sixth. At the corner, they have a food truck that makes Philly cheesesteaks and fries. Both are on the way down. Plan B, I give you a tour of NYC by night first.”
Alienor hadn’t listened. She was too lost in her thoughts. She looks at him and sees he’s pointing at a bike parked on the side and gesturing at her. “Sorry,” she says, emerging from her CSI episode. “What is the bike thing about?”
“I can take you for your own private tour of the city to see the monuments at night, and then we can grab something to eat somewhere,” Wesley repeats.
“Right! In a skirt! With high heels!” she interjects.
“It’s doable,” he remarks, as confident as someone who has already done this several times. “You take off your shoes. You stick them in my back, under the hoodie. The skirt goes up, you hop up, and rest close to me, so the shoes are secured between us.”
“Voila,” she exclaims.
He has definitely done this already, and more, she tells herself. She’s surprised to find herself disappointed by that. She notices Wesley-the-bartender-actor is a very attractive man and decides to use humor, like she always does when she’s in uncomfortable situations.
“Let’s stay basic and less adventurous for tonight. Let’s not make a bad parody of Maverick and Charlie, a take my breath away moment at two a.m., and lose a shoe, will ya?” she proposes.
“Sure,” he replies. “Whatever pleases you.”
This is so not appropriate, she thinks.
They start walking and have the same cadence, thanks to their long-legged strides. She explains how it is to grow up in a small village in Southern France and make the big jump to a metro city. She always talks a lot when she is nervous, and she is nervous right now. She talks about home. The small coastal village on the Mediterranean Sea, where life moves in slow motion, except in summer. Where kids walk themselves to school. How she thinks the system is better, and while not perfect, more inclusive. How the police only stop you if you do not wear your helmet or safety belt, while here it is always gunfire incidents or muscular arrests and crimes, like in the movies. She laughs about how back home, they would not even have the idea to put an empty police car in front of a bar for dissuasive purposes, because they do not have enough police cars for that. Most police rides bicycle. And for teens, life is hell, because everyone knows everyone else, and if one does something naughty, when he comes home, his father already knows it.
Wesley listens and smiles. He has lived in big cities, from Detroit to L.A. to New York, so the picture Alienor is painting is a rather comic one, but so refreshing.
It must be something to live in a smaller place, he finds himself dreaming.
She tells him the social fracture exists but is not as visible home as it is in Miami. He then explains how life is life in NY suburbs. The deep poverty that tourists do not see. Misery is always kicked back a few blocks away from Main Street, because it does not look glorious on Instagram selfies. But it is here, underneath, everywhere, for anyone who wants to open his eyes and see it. Boiling, raging, smoking like a plague under the glittery postcard. He admits, the commute and housing are monsters. It is, however, in cities that lie the biggest opportunities for the artist he wants to become. Though life is vivid and fast-paced and crazy (good crazy), he emphasizes there are a million things to do, and a million people to meet. He hates the stress of the metro life but loves this diversity. He likes the idea of endless possibilities.
Alienor is relaxed again. She feels she is back at the bar, enjoying the talk and liking the encounter. She listens to Wesley. He does the talking now, and she thinks he is a dreamer.
They walked 20 minutes, but it seems like only 5. They arrive at Essen, on the corner of 36th, and walk in. It has a huge indoor marketplace feel, with different action stations of soups, salad bar, sandwiches and others. People buy what they want and go up the stairs to sit in a café-like zone furnished with long tables, promoting conviviality and open sitting. She cannot help thinking this would never work back home. People do not sit with strangers when they go out to eat. They want their own table. Their own bubble. They want to talk privately, with no one listening or spying on their conversation. Here, people sit down, and others stand up, like a ballet of lives that cross each other but do not interfere. They do not even look up to see who sits next to them, so never mind listening.
Very, very different, she meditates.
“So, where were we?” he says after they have taken a seat at the far end of one of the tables.
“At endless possibilities,” she replies.
“Right,” he says, taking his first bite into what looks like the best yet greasiest hamburger she has ever seen.
“The notion of endless possibilities you brandish with the motto ‘I am the master of my fate’ is in fact just another PR com meme from the elite to keep the masses quiet, uneducated, and controlled,” she finishes.
“WHOO AH,” he snaps back, imitating her team’s earlier Al Pacino cry.
She smiles at the reminder, then continues.
“When I was young, I was always told I could be whoever I wanted to be if I worked hard for it. I have very supportive parents who always pushed us to be more. More than them. Like their parents did before them. So, you believe you have superpowers until you mature and start to realize the system is built to serve the very people who built it. That it is little about who you are, but mainly who you know in the end. So, to say endless possibilities is a complete chimera. The social elevator does not run on the same schedule, whether you enter it on the ground level or already on the tenth. You understand that, and then you find closure in knowing we are not limited by our own capabilities, but by the system,” she concludes.
“WHOO AH,” Wesley repeats. “But I very much disagree. We are not all aligned on the same starting line, but to undermine the power of the will and the strength of perseverance is not right, lady. If you kill the dream before you dream it, what is left to live? So many people made, make, and will make a difference, because by pushing their own boundaries, they bring progress for all. It is an easy way out to say you are shit and will remain shit, so let’s all jump in the river because we are not born well.”
“No. I don’t say that. You did not listen. I say possibilities are not endless, that’s all. You can elevate yourself to a certain level, but a few will reach the top thanks only to their lucky stars, and the allowance by the system to do so – but through a strainer. Everyone else, at one point in our lives, will meet a glass ceiling. We all have one. Just not at the same height.”
“OK. So no American Dream? The life I want is possible if I decide it is. I set my mind, I set my goals, and I will always walk towards them for however long it takes. Thomas Edison said “Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up,”” he snaps, taking the last bite of his burger.
“You’re wrong, John Lennon. They do realize it when they hit their faces on their ceiling. Some people unfortunately hit it sooner than others. My ceiling was when I became a mom. I was lucky to set my career way before and have my first child after 30. Women do not have, by nature, the same choices. I often wonder where I would be now if I did not have to choose between slowing down at work to be a full-time mum and continuing my career trajectory,” she throws at him.
“Definitely not here with me. And that would be a shame.” He smiles, his flirty eyes locked on hers.
“WHOO LA-LA,” she throws at him, and they smile. She feels the ambiance thickening and a sweet weight on her chest. The balance is shifting, she knows. She has to change the tone. “Favorite color?” she tosses.
“Blue pea cockish,” he replies playfully, with a big smile, to show he understands the aim. “Favorite movie?”
She gives him an approving look to thank him to play along. “Fight Club.”
“No, only the V abs of Brad Pitt in that movie.” She smiles. He smiles. She scores. “Favorite music?”
“I thought so, she cracks. Favorite author?”
“Shakespeare. Hey, it was my turn to ask, no?” he interjects. “Favorite music, then?”
There is a pause. Then she decides to put down her shield.
“All the Motown sounds,” she replies, with a sigh.
“Unexpected,” he says softly.
“I started my vinyl collection when I was fourteen, after I discovered my dad’s French pressed vinyl of Otis Redding At the Whisky a Go-Go,” she says, with a sparkle in her eyes. “I was hooked and started looking up at STAX records, then Atlantic, and naturally all the Tamla-Motown artists, and that’s how it all started. Then I added up the Beatles, U2, Dire Straits, Prince…”
“Unexpected,” he answers, realizing they have just passed a benchmark and she is opening up a small window on herself for him to have a peek inside.
“You cannot answer the same word twice,” she jokes.
He sinks into her eyes and studies her closer. She is a good looking, mature woman, with a clear voice and strong opinions. Opinions he does not particularly share. He wants to have faith that things are what people make them. He wants to believe in himself. But he does not judge her, for he knows she must have been through travels that brought her into her position, and he has been judged himself too often, too quickly, and for less. Plus, he likes the discussion. He does not usually connect with womankind on that level. She is intelligent and funny, and definitely loveable.
She is once, twice, three times a lady.
He finds himself hypnotized. He was not expecting her.
She anchors herself into his smile and studies him closer. His hazel eyes are aiming at her, like two sharp arrows. He is not that shy after all. The volume and length of his messy afro hairstyle dangling on his large shoulders gives him a head-turner look. It also complements his stature and adds allure to his already very charismatic self. His bronze-colored skin reminds her of sunsets on late summer days. He smiles at her. He is indeed charming when he smiles. And even more, she thinks. She was not expecting him.
They walk just a couple blocks up in silence. It is very late, or very early even. Any reasonable soul is sleeping. They are still in the street in front of the hotel, chatting, joking, and giggling, making body contact with a foot playing along, a hand paused on an arm, a head knocking a shoulder, not ready to let go of the moment. She is glad for tonight. She knows it was a beautiful encounter.
As she looks up at him to say her goodbyes, he feels her perfume winding up around him like Odysseus’s sweet and fatal mermaid chant.
If you listen to their song, they will attract you with them, and you will die crashing on the rocks, he murmurs to himself.
“Oh, shit! I almost kissed you right here,” he exclaims, throwing back his head.
“You would have had to be invited, young man.” She smiles back, with sarcasm.
He sinks his face back into hers and studies her in silence. “Invite me, then,” he shoots back, his pupils expanding.
She measures the words he just breathed out naturally. She is aware of the senses; the warmth of his close breath wakes in her. An overwhelming, thick silence settles. Silence can speak a thousand words, and in very meaningful ways.
There is beauty in silence, she thinks.
She was not expecting him. She was not expecting her here. She hears the voice of Diana Ross singing in her head that it is time to decide.
She measures carefully how she will reply to keep immaculate the memory of tonight.
“Let’s stay basic and less adventurous for tonight,” she murmurs.
She plants one kiss on his cheek and walks away without turning back, thinking to herself, Really nice meeting you, Wesley. She was not expecting him. She was definitely not expecting her here.