Sixty-fifth, sixty-fourth, sixty-third. The blocks acted as a countdown. The lower the number, the closer I was to our pre-arranged meeting point. I took long breaths, trying to calm myself. My fingers splayed wide on the smooth, plastic leather-like seats, balancing, getting ready. How was I at fifty-second already? Only a few more blocks…
“Your stop, miss,” the driver said.
I swiped my card, added tip and spilled out of the cab into the cool night. He was just inside. Him. The man I have read for an extended amount of time, whose stories never failed to simultaneously touch me and leave me with questions. I rarely read his works less than three times, each pass revealing more, but not enough. Always more questions.
Many moons ago I reached out to him, unsuccessfully at first. And then he began to open just the slightest bit. But not enough. Only enough for me to see that there was even more to the puzzle. This man had become my own personal enigma.
And I was about to meet him in the raw, real, breathing flesh.
As I approached the restaurant I remembered the words of his text. I’m absolutely not standing you up. And then, a short while later, I’m in the bar. He was at the bar. Waiting for me. I’m not sure I have the words to explain the impact that moment had on me, as I walked, doing my best not to stumble, toward the sectioned off bar.
I paused at the columned partition and looked down the length of the sparking granite counter flanked with cushioned high-top stools. No one matching his description sat there. I took two steps, entered the space and looked to my right. He sat, almost tilted back in the chair, one ankle casually resting on a heather gray clad knee.
I breathed his name, not as a question, but as a confirmation.
“Marian,” he said, standing to his full height.
I don’t remember if we clasped hands or embraced first. But I recall focusing on his hands as I attempted to calm myself. They were large, with wide palms, long, evenly sized digits and bitten nails. Capable hands, I thought, and he picks at his cuticles just like I do. I found comfort in that.
I attempted to sit in the chair opposite him, but found that simple task difficult. Where was the woman who directs projects requiring hundreds of man-hours from dozens of people? She had abandoned me. And left me, the vulnerable one, to face the Enigma alone.
The bartender walked over with a drink menu and I stared at it as if it was ancient Hebrew, written backwards and upside down. The words literally swam across the page.
“What are you drinking,” I asked.
I looked at the swimming page a little longer. Hoping to settle on something. I didn’t want to order what he was having. That would be too simple.
“I’m sorry,” I said, still gripping the menu, “I’m normally so decisive…”
“It’s ok,” the Enigma said, “Take your time.”
“You’re really here. And you’re really real. And just right there,” I marveled. “I’m having a bit of a time getting my head around that. I really need a drink. I really need to make up my mind.”
So I did. And the order was placed.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, apologizing for the second time, “I’m trembling. And I can’t seem to stop.”
“It’s ok,” he said smiling, and reached out to lay a hand on my knee. The trembling increased and he pulled away.
“Am I what you expected? Were you nervous at all?”
“No, I wasn’t nervous,” he said, still smiling, “And yes, you are as I expected. I expected you to be nervous. Which is why I made sure I was early. I didn’t want you waiting. Even for a moment.”
My drink was delivered. I took a breath, willing my nerves to settle, and took a long sip.
“Thank you,” I said, with a depth I hoped he understood.
“So,” I continued, “Tell me about…”
And he did. He words began flowing and the Enigma who I had read for so long slowly began to open. Sentences turned to paragraphs and paragraphs became complete explanations. And in those, I finally began to see the man. And the man was good. And beautiful.
Sometime later we adjourned from the bar to the dinner area and were seated at a table with a view of most of the space. It wasn’t private, but with few people around, the conversation continued unchecked. Every mystery he chose to explain, every leaf he decided to reveal was a gift. I drank it in, soaking up his stories that paired with the chef’s tasting menu even better than the sommelier’s wine selections.
“I’ve never told anyone about that,” he said, after one particularly sad and poignant story, “and I didn’t even mean to, it was all because I wanted to tell you the beginning to make you laugh.”
“Stories are funny, huh?” I said, my eyes asking for more when my mouth wouldn’t.
And he gave me more, from first course until dessert. With dinner complete, there was no reason to linger. But I wasn’t ready for the evening to end.
“Shall we find a place for a nightcap?” he asked.
“Oh, yes please.”
Thankfully, the evening was far from over.