The lights shone down from every direction, and I blinked twice. The buildings loomed and I felt small in a way that simultaneously made me feel more alive than I could remember feeling since I had left and it didn't really make sense, I guess. Maybe.
I don't know.
The stage lights (they shone similarly) seemed so bright that I couldn't see my audience clearly. Simply heard them and their sighs and their hurried, animated conversations as they shuffled past me, arms brushing me enough to give intimacy to an accident. And I liked it, pushed back a little bit sometimes when they'd brush past, just to make more of an impact. I was a fan in this city, drinking it all in and feeling its exciting heat low in my belly. Evidence of my appreciation.
I felt something else too. A vibration that had nothing to do with the pulse and buzz of the city.
"Hello," I said, stepping underneath an awning to take her call, fumbling with the clip of my messenger bag before recovering enough to ask again, "hey…hello?"
People looked at me as they continued to walk by, but they didn't stare. It was strange how different that could look.
I see you, but I don't want to…
"Spence? Hey, this you?"
"I hope so. It would be a little early in the game for my phone to get stolen."
"Whatever, are you at the restaurant?"
I was probably a block or two away, but I was considering wandering into a store for awhile just so I wouldn't arrive first and have to be the one who gets to wait. That person never recovers the upperhand—that waiting one. It's this thing that happens silently. This, "I'll sit and wait for you again and again," that I despise.
"Not yet. No…I'm going to get lost."
"No! Why are you saying that?"
"I still get lost in L.A. and I've lived there for like, what? Seven years. Eight years? Something like that?"
I wave away a man who insists upon selling me a "gold" watch without much success. He smiles at me, pretends not to understand what it means.
No, I mouth at him, returning the smile.
"But I gave you the easiest directions ever to follow," she whines, and I can literally picture the look she's wearing. Know exactly what kind of frown she's using from years of collegiate experience.
"I've never been good at following directions. We know this."
"Don't be late. She'll hate that."
If I had decided to keep a physical as opposed to a mental list of all the things she's said about this person that ended with, "…she'll hate that," I would have the proof necessary to validate my fear of this blind date. But instead I just had my head, and I never trusted that by itself.
"Did you ever think that maybe this conversation we're having right now isn't helping me to not be late? Ever think about that, Kate?"
"Fine, but hurry."
She hangs up, and now I can speak, "I don't need a watch, see?" I say, holding up my arm, "I have one."
"You need another one."
I don't. I absolutely don't need another one.
"I just don't."
"Come on…come on…twenty. I'll take twenty for it. It's a good watch. Tells time real good."
"Isn't that what watches are supposed to do?"
He glances down the street, tired of me.
I buy it for ten bucks and the story to tell when I return to L.A. and walk the remaining two blocks more quickly that I had intended to. I guess with an extra watch, there really wasn't an excuse for being late.
I arrived first, of course. The hostess smiled at me for a second less than sincere and showed me to a table in a dark corner. Normally, I would have complained, but this way, I could hide. Maybe even see her first.
My phone buzzed again. Text message from Kate.
Don't b weird. Be yrself.
The waiter—all black, tall, model out of work, more than likely—strode over, water pitcher and one menu in hand.
"I'm waiting for someone."
The universal symbol for, "I had to get out of my apartment. The one menu will suffice because I'm lying to you and no one else is coming—ever."
"Did you want to order something to drink…while you wait?"
"Light beer of your choice. I don't really care. And a water—with lemon if you have it. Do you have it?"
"We do. We can do that."
"And I'll have a mojito."
She came from behind me. Well, sort of. I turned around, my eyes landing on the necessary symbol to let me know we were seated conveniently near the women's restroom. A restroom I imagine she had just emerged from.
"Hey," I said, nervously.
I didn't know if I should stand or shake or hug or just smile or pull out a chair (What?! Since when, Spencer? Really?) or die on the spot because…wow.
She was beautiful. But not my type. I was more a fan of the spectacle-donning, paint-dotted jean, tortured artist variety. And she was apparently…not that.
"Hey, what's up?"
I'm not usually so…presumptuous. So insane. But I wanted that voice reading me passages from all of my favorite books in a bed in a time I'd yet to see. If she could read…
The waiter smiled , nodded, and walked away, leaving me alone to frown at her a bit.
"What?" she asked with a weird smile as she took out her cell phone.
"How'd you know it was me?"
"Kate told me what you'd look like. Also," she says as she texts with light-speed moving fingers, "she told me about this messenger bag."
Kate hated my bag. She said it made me look like a disgruntled, male bike messenger from 1999.
Ashley nodded, "Yeah. I told her no way. We don't do bags like that in L.A. but look, here you are and here it is.
"Are you originally from L.A.?"
It was immaturely meant as a subtle dig, but then I remembered that I had lived there for so long that I was just as L.A. as she was. A different type. But still one of her tribe.
"Born and raised."
"What do you do? For work?"
"I was working for this fashion magazine but they totally…I don't know. Long story. Whatever."
"I like long stories."
I liked her voice.
"Okay, well the L.A. area didn't need another fashion magazine, I guess, because we only lasted for three years. I still do some stuff in fashion, but…"
"Like what? Writing, photography…what?"
"Oh, some stuff with like, going out and seeing what's hot."
"Sort of. But I also plan parties—professionally."
"Yeah," she says, resuming her texting.
"People actually do jobs like that out there. Everywhere, I guess. That's insane. Sounds like a reality show or something."
"What do you do?"
"I'm in grad school. I'm a filmmaker."
"Awesome. What do you want to do? Television? Like, movies?"
"Documentaries. About the war, mostly. My brother's in the military."
She nodded, but her eyes were locked on her phone. It was distracting. And I wanted to see her eyes again.
"Hey…how long are you here for?"
"Another two days. I had a party that I did here and then I'm back in L.A. for another one."
"Do you not want to be here?"
"In New York?"
"Here. Here with me."
She finally met my eyes, and there was something there. Something that showed more depth than she had allowed me to see thus far.
"Why would you say that?"
"You won't look at me. You won't even stop texting. You seem bored. I don't know, you tell me."
"Sorry. I don't even notice anymore," she says, slipping her phone in her purse, "tell me about this filmmaking."
"It's just what I do."
"It makes you happy."
"It makes me who I am," I say, feeling a bit clever now the conversation was only between us.
"That's not the same thing, is it?"
"I guess not."
"I hope not."
"What do you do for fun?" she asks with a sigh and a smile. It rattles me a bit.
"I read a lot. I like to check out some art exhibits if I have the time. I drink a lot of coffee. I sound like some pseudo-intellectual steroetype. What do you do for fun?"
"I party a lot, obviously. Hang out on the beach. I like um…I like shopping. I guess I'm a stereotype too. I mean, I'd never be seen with you in L.A. if you brought that thing along," she says, pointing at my bag.
"Is it really that bad?"
"It's bright yellow."
"It was on sale."
"They owe you…how much did you pay for it?"
"Like, twenty bucks or something."
"Okay, so they owe you twenty bucks."
She's laughing now, "Just saying…"
"Well, I couldn't be seen at the art gallery with someone in fourteen-inch heels."
"Oh! Watch out. These are the most modest heels I own. When's the last time you've been out?"
"Ages ago. I don't really like going out."
"What was Kate thinking?" she says, shaking her head. I can't tell if she's serious or not.
Before I can ask, the waiter appears.
"You have a cigarette?"
"I don't smoke."
"Whatever, that's fine. What now?"
Dinner had been tolerable, but strange. I couldn't even decide if I liked her or not. All I knew is that there was no way we'd ever see each other again.
"Split a cab?" I asked with a shrug.
"I'm too far away."
"No," she says, grabbing my hand, "let's go for a walk."
"I don't know…"
"You intellectuals are supposed to be into that kind of stuff, right? Come on. We'll do it your way."
I thought twice, looked at her as she got bathed every second in a different color light.
"I'm used to it. Come on."
And maybe because it was difficult to feel like time was being wasted on a night when I had double the time I ordinarily had, I allowed myself to be pulled down some street in Manhattan, careful not to stare.