The room hums with the monotonous chatter of passersby, girlish giggling and the sweet surrender of inhibition. I fidget awkwardly against the doorway, looming drearily as the faces swirl together, unrecognizable in their vanity and poise. Scanning the space I tense uncomfortably, palming my device, cueing the screen to life. The shout of my name jolts my eyes upward, across the room and towards a broad space, brimming in soft lighting and sweet smiles. Each turns to observe my entrance in tandem, forcing my gaze to the floor once again. He finds himself beside me immediately, gripping my shoulder in an overzealous embrace.
“Laura, hi, you made it. Beautiful dress. Nice to see you outside the office.”
“You too. Thank you for the invite.”
He wags his finger disapprovingly, eyeing my demeanor with greedily lingering glances.
“Not tonight. You’re off the clock. Enjoy yourself.”
In an instant he’s disappeared, returning momentarily with an equally resilient member of the wait staff, cued of my arrival. Their stares quicken the raging waters.
“Something to drink?”
“Oh, um, sure. I’ll…”
What are other people drinking? Is hard liquor appropriate? Maybe I shouldn’t, seeing as…why are they staring? Oh gosh. He thinks I’m an idiot.
“Do you drink wine?”
See, he has to help you. Cause you’re acting dense.
“Red or white?”
“Two glasses of white. Thank you.”
I mumble a feeble word of gratitude, brushed off immediately as we find our spots amongst the rest, pushed and packed into the corners of each table siding, wrapped in tense conversations, witty anecdotes and clumsy first encounters. Skimming the seats I linger over four gentlemen, each unrecognizable in their self-possession and dark expressions; vacant and alluring. I leer painfully, drinking in the silent power and prowess that exudes their persona, sipping cocktails with a distant vain interest in the event at hand.
Gosh who is that? That must be somebody on the board, some big-wig. Talk about anti-social. It’s like they can’t even deign to entertain the idea of our presence; dining with the little people. Probably making an appearance and leaving as fast as their Armani loafers can carry them outta here.
“Want me to introduce you?”
“What? Oh. No, no, no thank you. That’s alright.”
“You’re sure? It’s all about connections.”
Fuck. Can we cut the motivational bullshit? I thought this was a night off.
I gulp my drink absent-mindedly as the evening drones up. Liquor spews out of every goblet, brimming over with excited cheer and feverish candor. The hoards subside as members take their leave, calling it quits before the dessert rounds the table. Employees gush over fashionable ensembles, each more exquisite than the last in a sordid attempt to unleash the chaotic for a night on the town. They smirk and giggle as new relationships form, strengthening old bonds and friendly comrades. My reluctant gaze zeroes in on the four businessmen time and again, forced under my instinctual obsession. I count each one in scrutinizing order, obsessing between cocktails, draping their clothing, memorizing every detail. A clasp at my shoulder forces my attention from the bubbly chatterbox I recall exchanging meatloaf recipes from prior.
“You’re single, right, Laura?”
This is your boss! This is inappropriate. Seriously: Be. Cool.
Turning politely I skim the helm of my dress, forcing the fabric down coyly under his observant gaze.
“Um. Well. Technically. We actually just broke up.”
He nods in simple understanding, penetrating the walls I’d so carefully manufactured.
“Seriously. Just a couple days ago. I could get a date. I am not a loser. I just didn’t bring a date because…”
“This is a work function. Spouses were not permitted.”
“Exactly, Leo. I know.”
I snap my finger in unsteady aggreance as he furrows his brow, climbing to his feet and buttoning the center clasp of his suit jacket carefully.
That is so rude. As if I’m the embarrassing one. Wait. I think I might be. Okay. You’re cut off. This is…
Oh God. They’re coming over here.
Stopping just shy of the doorway he lingers amongst the ferocious gathering of four gentleman, each more dapper and expensive in their own right. I force a disinterested smile, barely passable as they turn from their embrace to find the space my body so impolitely occupies. Retreating in military form the two break across the room, forcing my breathing to a screeching halt against my ribcage.
I should have gone home when the other people did. Shit. I am way too drunk to talk to this guy.
“Laura? This is James. He’s one of the locals heads of our management team in sales.”
What in the hell is that?
Bracing myself I climb to my feet, flashing a grandiose smile, mirrored politely in his own.
“It’s a pleasure. I’ve heard all good things.”
Good. Lord. Is that guy ever handsome. What is that smell? Is that him? Holy crap, that’s nice.
Hardly concealing his surprise he beams forward, gesturing across two seats before falling down beside my own.
“Oh? Are you sure it was me they were talking about?”
Forcing a chuckle I remind myself bitterly that this is an evening off. Now foreseeably ruined like a freight train dashing off the tracks.
“Now, I, actually did hear good things about you, Laura. You’re very impressive. Where did you go to culinary school?”
Rambling off my rehearsed resume of clichés and familiar nuances he observes my expressions softly, with a sweet air of anticipation and intrigue. Lingering across the sentiments, I press my suit with casual conversation, the subtle injection of my own burning questions, answered in haste and quiet reserve on his part. Flowing into easy conversation the evening prattles on with the exchange of inept chatter, simple and unassuming. Bypassing polite candor the wall displaces itself, brick by brick, under my own devices, rather than his own. A master of my own emotions, they carry me well; knowing and understanding my already chosen path.
“I have to go.”
Shifting across the remaining space his leg brushes mine in subtle agony, cueing up a dazzling smile, unnerving in its power.
Where does he think?
“Oh. Home. It’s 11:30.”
Reaching across to tap his wrist just above the fold of a dark pressed cuff, lightly masking the chrome timepiece breathing just beneath. Unfolding it carefully he peers down with a slow exhale as the ticking stills in relation to my dangerous pulse. Replacing the fabric swiftly his mouth dispels a hard line, melding my sweet smile to call out his own.
“Alright. I’ll walk you out.”
Exchanging hearty farewells, sincere thanks and muted gestures we walk through the bevy of drunken passersby, each more resistant than the last. A frenzy of air-kisses, hearty handshakes and knowing glances force my insecurities to the forefront, hidden no more. Separating at the end of the line, I catch the attention of a seemingly increasingly inebriated gentleman, bright-eyed in his discover. Tugging my arm we exchange hushed whispers of knowing detail.
“Hey, you’re welcome for that. He’s a really nice guy. You should give him a chance.”
“Uh. Thanks Leo. We’re…I’m leaving alone. Just for the record.”
Doing nothing to conceal a dangerously overplayed eye-roll he shoves me back in place, lost in the crowd once more. At the end of the hoard I break into the dark hallway that engulfs us yet again, skimming the open space for his familiar ensemble, spotted in an instant.
Oh God. This is gonna be awkward.
Maybe don’t look at him so much, that seems to be where you get into trouble.
Approaching with his usual form of confidence he gestures before him as I fill the opening with a simple nod of understanding.
Wow, he’s really tall.
Thank God I wore this, white was a good choice.
“Well this was nice.”
Here we go.
“Yeah, thanks for dinner or…the company.”
“Of course. I was going to say the same to you. You made a mandatory work function very enjoyable.”
Wow. What a complement. Ugh.
“That’s nice. Maybe I’ll see you around at work some time.”
Reaching absent-mindedly between the helm of his jacket and dress shirt he produces a sleek device from the breast pocket, cued to life in an instant.
“Give me your number and it’ll be a definite.”
“Um…yeah, I just…I don’t really give it out…to men.”
If possible, his expression extends mine in the utter shock and disapproval that shrouds his once handsome demeanor.
“Just…I’m sorry I…”
“Don’t apologize. It’s completely…”
“I don’t want to get in trouble at work or…”
“Wait a minute. You don’t give out your number or you don’t want this to be a business-pleasure conflict issue?”
Both? All of the above? Neither? I just wanna go home!
“No, I’m…not…really dating.”
Pausing between statements he observes my features with slightly parted lips, awake and at the ready.
“I’m not giving out my number just…as of late…and…because I’m recently single. So…you know…”
He nods amidst the confusion, grapping to make sense of the jumbled display of erratic emotion tumbling forward painfully.
“Unless you…want it. Or something.”
This is truly delusional.
Smirking towards his shoes a charming tooth grin stirs my inhibitions, taking flight once again.
“Yes. Yeah. I do want your phone number. Not if it goes against some sort of pact it seems you’ve made with yourself, though.”
I mumble a feeble apology, shaken off instantly under the guise of his knowing expression. Placing the device across my open palm he towers dangerously above my physicality, closing off the minimal proximity between us. I type carefully, lingering across the numbers.
“You’re not really like what Leo described you as.”
Jolting my face to study his own he continues forcibly as I gather air.
“Oh. That’s…nice. I mean, he never talked to me about you, but, to be fair, I mean, I didn’t know you existed. I don’t really talk to anyone outside of the people in my department and I’m mostly part-time, so…”
Oh my god. Are you insane? Be quiet!
He beams behind sparkling eyes, awake with intrigue.
“So. Um. Maybe we’ll do something some time then.”
“What about next weekend?”
“Okay. Not like a date though. Just…”
“Wow. You’re not having this, huh?”
“I just don’t…really date.”
Yeah, you do.
“I get it, you’re out of my league. But there are some things you don’t know about me, that might change your mind.”
“Like I’m rich and funny. That’s gotta count for something.”
“Are you really?”
Closing his eyes he gestures embarrassingly. Unleashing a roar of laughter we melt in the moment, falling into ease. Clasping his hand round the device once more he returns it to his pocket with quick fingers, unmoving eyes.
“I’m just asking for one night; dinner and drinks, and if we end up back at my place, I’m open to whatever.”
“You said you don’t date.”
“Yeah well…still…I don’t…shut up.”
The laughter falls away flatly as he instinctively leans across, cupping my shoulder in silent reprise. Cool and firm to the touch the feeling shocks and numbs my sensibilities, calling for solemn surrender.
“Thanks for talking to me tonight.”
Shrugging curtly he recoils instantly.
“No…I liked talking to you.”
This is really skanky, you know. This is next level.
But, I mean, I am single. How long do I have to be broken-hearted for?
Now we don’t even wait for the dust to settle on one failed relationship before jumping to another?
This would really upset Ryan. I bet he’s still devastated.
But he’s so handsome. I can hardly be held responsible for this.
…And another one bites the dust.
How much time is enough time between relationships? Are we expected to grieve and weep for an extended period of time, an appropriate degree of devotion displayed and dolled out on cue? Can we have truly felt what we believed we did if we find ourselves so ready to love again? How do we know when it’s right, when to jump, how deep to go all in? Though we all grieve in different capacities, is there a general expectation, a period of mourning, a devotion to the love now hopelessly lost? A relationship can be a living, breathing entity, created in private, held captive, guarded against and longer for. A literal chemical addition that robs us of our personhood, calls to flight our inhibitions, screams and swirls in victory and reprise. A break up of this devotion joins together the paralyzing grief and overwhelming physical and emotional withdrawal of our addiction. We cannot breathe, move, live and thrive alone any longer; not once we have tasted the sweet fruit of romantic love and desire. The world continues without you; twirling, swirling, ever present and alive. They move on while we remain stagnant, lost, alone and afraid. But what if we aren’t? If can feel like an opaque curtain has descended all around you, separating you from the rest of your world, the one cultivated and created just for you; expected, warranted even. The most familiar scenery may feel alien, uncommon and aloof. Or, our grieving may facilitate the re-birth of a greater ambition. We may be freed in our separation, cast off the shackles, begin anew. What happens when our grieving stops and our happiness starts? What happens when our happiness begins from another’s grieving?
Is there a required wait time before relationship recourse?