“Yeah, but what was so special about the place?” He asked genuinely, honestly, looking plainly at me, awaiting response.
It was a Tuesday, no, Wednesday morning now, cooking dinner together. I, as usual, offered nothing but the best emotional support in the affairs of the stomach.
“I’m sorry, did you miss the part where I wrote a book about the place?”
He turned away from the stove, his blue eyes smiling at me. “Sweet girl, I didn’t ask the effect – just the cause.”
This caught me off-guard.
“Well, I guess,” as I stumbled through my words and thoughts, “its something about the people who inhabit the place, frequent the place. Though it’s the walls too. I spent two hundred pages trying to figure out just what, exactly, made it special. Remarkable really.”
He continued to saute with one hand as I fumbled the question. I knew the answer, but didn’t want to give up the punch line. Not yet.
It was his long look, blue-eyed bullets into the cerebellum that told him better. Silence choked the kitchen as I sat squirming on a bar stool, toes tapping the underside of the bar. I took a short swig of beer straight from the bottle, disregarding his insistent gaze.
“It’s…they saved me,” as my throat cleared through the beer, static and sultry air between us.
“Yeah, they saved me. Just let me be me. Didn’t have to figure me out, didn’t ask about my story, just let me be. Me.”
“So its a love story with heroes.”
“Maybe. No. Not really. I mean, they didn’t know they were heroes nor would anyone ever consider them as such. It was the first place I got to be a writer. First place to accept – though not agree with – my radical ideas about life.”
He stepped toward me fully his time, his frame lumbering over mine, the saute pan abandoned, and pulled my beer away from me, setting it well out of reach. “How old are you?”
“Old enough to drink beer. Give it back.”
“No, not with the way you’re talking.” With a half step he was back at the stove, my beer warming in the heat of the summer stove, far away from the comfort of my hands.
“What.” My voice raised a bit, wavered, but never hit questionable status.
“It’s a bar. There are bars everywhere. They serve the same things – ”
“But not the same people – ”
“And you could have gone anywhere for the same result. Created whatever you wanted to create.”
“Darling,” rolling my eyes in high fashion, “that’s simply false. Lemme have my beer.”
“No. Why are you emotionally attached to this place.”
“You’re bordering on cruelty to both of us.”
He laughed loudly, booming pressing through the thin apartment walls. “Answer the question.”
I was running out of defensive maneuvers. “Why are you emotionally attached to me?”
“Because you have an amazing ass and a great vocabulary. And,” said pointedly, “you know who Helen Thomas is,” his lips twitching against one another. “Don’t avoid the question.”
“State secret. Matters of national security. Fifth Amendment.”
“A criminal affair then.”
“Some might say.”
Again, my eyes rolled, this time nearly emptying the sockets. “What restaurant or bar do you know of to keep things fully on the up and up? Mister “I have twenty-five years experience” and you want to tell me there was nothing criminal going on under your ever-growing nose?”
“Objection: relevance. And you’re avoiding the question, counselor.”
He had pushed the final button in the nuclear sequence.
I took a deep breath, annoyance across my face, both elbows on the counter as I leaned over the sink. “Look. When I came back, I didn’t think I could love or be loved.” I continued quickly, feeling the laser scope of his eyes on my forehead. “I’ve lost everyone I’d loved, whether by accident, purpose, genetics, god’s will – whatever reason people come up with to comfort themselves. Really, I’ve heard it all. I thought I was completely tapped out, unable to open my heart ever again. In a figurative sense,” I added as an afterthought.
“And so when I came back, I slept for nearly two weeks, came to the realization that maybe I just didn’t know what it was. So I surrounded myself with it. In times of loss, some go through self-destructive streaks, and I had several moments of brilliance there. Some isolate themselves, and I had plenty of quiet time to reflect in the face of sterile hospital rooms. Still others wither away with whatever grief they have to overcome. There was some of that as well. But instead of burying everything inside of me, I wanted to find my reflection in everyone else’s love, hate, pain, hope, fear – whatever it was they were carrying deep inside, just like me. That isn’t found everywhere – how many blithering idiots have walked into your restaurants, unable to see beyond the shell of their own ignorance? Now give me my damn beer back.”
He wanted to smirk, his dimples desiring to dance. Silently, he handed back the bottle. Stepping back in front of the stove, his voice dripping with sarcasm, he remarked “the Robert Frost of love. I’m dating ‘the road less traveled by’.”
“And that makes all the difference – ’cause I found lots of things. Love, hate, jealousy, lust, gluttony, some of it in me, some directed to me, some in my presence, some just in the old stories.” The beer had warmed considerably, moreso now that it was locked in my palm, fingers wrapped completely around.
He wasn’t convinced. “Heroes because of it?”
“Ordinary people doing extraordinary things?”
“Here we are again: what was so extraordinary.”
Finally, a flash of light in the dark night. I stood up, leaving skin from the back of my legs on the seat of the stool, walking over to the little red backpack I always carried with me, rifling through it. “Find out for yourself,” tossing the manuscript across the counter. “It’s an easy read, you’ll be done by daybreak. Then I’ll take you there, you can see it for yourself, see if I’ve got it right.” I kept my voice even and airy, almost prancing, willing him to take the bait.
He snorted, feigning disinterest. But he couldn’t let the opportunity go to waste. A unique chance to find the way to my young sutured heart and into my reticent mind wouldn’t be passed up. He switched off the gas, transferring the pan to a cool burner. “Serve yourself then. We’ll eat on the balcony, I’ll read until I get bored.” I simply nodded, my turn to hide a smile.
We didn’t go to bed that night. Nor did we speak a word once he was reading.
At daybreak I went for coffee, and on my return, a wry smile and bright eyes met me. “Amazing, my love. When are we going?”