“Are you here alone?” asks the chef who works aboard a zillion-foot-long and equal amount of money’s-worth yacht. I have never seen this yacht nor met the owner, nor will I ever. But I do know that this chef has a staff that includes two sous chefs. As boat jobs go, I am guessing this is as good as they get. He is a few years older than I am, and I see him at this beachside spot whenever I am here, which is usually a few times a month with my crazy girlfriend.
Tonight, however, I am alone–happily alone by choice–but I am also glad to see a familiar face. There are many such faces here. Of the two spots I am considered to be a “regular,” this is the one I visit less but like much more. I have gotten to know the GM and all of the bartenders–one of whom is adorable, engaged to a cute guy, and someone with whom I could be friends outside of this place. We bonded one evening as we lamented the plight of having curly hair in a tropical climate. She lets hers go crazy; I will mine into submission with product and a flat iron.
I also know many of the patrons, some by their first names, most simply on sight. I know who drinks too much and who never drinks more than one vodka. I know who is a trust-fund baby and who misses their teenagers, but not their ex-spouses who live up north. I know who is here with a different girl every time, and who is desperate to be that girl.
Sometimes there is music, and sometimes I dance with a few of these patrons, one of whom is a trained ballroom dancer. Those nights always evolve into impromptu dance parties that end innocently and early enough to render me tired and smiling–the way I remember feeling after a junior high school dance, when no one felt awkward and everyone was “cool,” at least for those few hours.
“No sidekick?” the chef asks, following up on his first question.
“Nope, just me,” I tell him. He makes room next to him at the bar. I nod hello to the older gentleman on my right.
A glass of pinot grigio appears in front of me, and moments later I am caught from behind, wrapped in a hug from the bartender with whom I could be friends outside of here.
“Where have you been?” she laughs, delighted to have caught me off guard.
“Work, busy. You know, the usual stuff,” I smile, and the chef raises his glass in a toast to us both.
“To season’s end and more free time,” he says. We all laugh. “Don’t be such a stranger,” my bartender friend says before she goes back to her service bar.
The chef and I talk some more and drink wine. We order food, and I share my bread and the garlicky broth that drenches my mussels with the older gentleman to my right. This is not the first time I have shared the bread I cannot eat with him, and now it is almost expected.
“Your next glass of wine is on me,” he says, which I have also come to almost expect after he shares the bread I cannot eat.
It is at this moment that one of the boys who always has a different girl on his arm arrives, a boy I have never actually met–only seen. Tonight, like me, the boy is flying solo. He walks over to the side of the bar, where the chef and I are sitting, and smiles broadly as he extends his hand in greeting to the chef.
Backs are slapped and many “What’s up?” questions are answered with laughs, but no explanation. It is clear, the boy and the chef are good friends.
“But who is this?” asks the boy, smiling and staring at me.
“RG, meet Sean,” says the chef. “She’s a regular, too, but we don’t see her here as much as we’d like,” the chef adds, and I am a little surprised by this.
Sean takes my hand, squeezes more than shakes it, and keeps his warm grip on mine a second longer. “How on earth have I never met you before?” he says, his deep blues eyes staring straight into mine.
I immediately know why this boy always has a different girl with him on any given night. He is so handsome, so smooth–a professional when it comes to flirtation on a very adult level, even when the words he speaks make up what would be a hackneyed phrase uttered by anyone else. When he speaks them, they sound utterly original.
I suppress an intense urge to look around to see if a beautiful younger woman is standing behind me. I am so not his type. He is so not mine, but I cannot deny the intense charisma that surrounds him like a halo.
Suddenly, the chef says he has to go. The boy clasps the chef’s hand in farewell, but he is also saying something to me about a friend’s wedding, and how the reception is here in this very spot tomorrow, after a sunset ceremony on the beach. As the chef walks away, the boy tells me I will know half the people attending, even if I don’t know the bride and groom. This perplexes me, until I realize he means I will know the other regulars I always see here at this restaurant.
“But right now, we’re all going dancing. Want to go?” he asks, a dimple deepening in his right cheek as he smiles. “It’s just a block away.”
No. Yes. Um, sure. I guess.
I don’t know a single person when we get there. I have no idea who the boy thinks I am supposed to know in this group, but I am confident it is no one. Which is too bad, because they are all incredibly nice.
I meet multiple women from cities nowhere near here, and I wonder why I can’t meet women like this here. They have husbands and kids, but they dance and have a great time as they celebrate another friend’s upcoming marriage. They readily welcome me as “Sean’s girlfriend, except he just met her,” with a laugh and a hug for me.
I am in love–not with the boy. Never with the boy. But I love these women. I have missed these women. I want to know these women, again.
And I dance with these women and their kids. I commiserate with the eldest son of one, who is my son’s age, and when I describe his plight as the eldest child in a family of four kids, he is astounded that I get it. His mother is my favorite of all the women I have just met. His dad is a giant Teddy bear.
“Don’t blame them for being so strict with you back in the day, and so easy on the others now,” I tell him, because he is incredulous that I know this. “I would give anything to have some time back with RG Son, just so I could cut him some slack and take it easier on him. You know, not worry so much and just let him be. Because after it all, he has turned out to be so wonderful, so great. I am sure your parents would say the same thing about you.”
For just a second, and only a second, I feel like I have known this cute young man for his entire life. He must feel the same way, because he hugs me.
I dance and dance and dance. I dance with the boy whom all the girls love, but I dance more with everyone else in the wedding party. And just like that, it is last call and 4:30 a.m., and I am horrified.
“No, don’t even think about the time. We’re all going for breakfast,” says my girl-magnet boy. When he mentions where, I realize it is very near my apartment.
“If we eat outside, I can bring my dog,” I tell him.
“Then let’s go get your dog,” he says.
Very soon, I am doing something I have never done since I moved here. I am having breakfast at an all-night dive, a dive at which I swore I would never consume even one bite. And I am having a blast–because now my pup is here, too, along with so many fun people.
“You have to come to the wedding,” several women tell me.
“You have to,” says the cute boy.
“I can’t,” I tell them, but with no regret. I have plans the next evening with a dear friend, and I wouldn’t pass up those plans for anything.
“We’re texting you tomorrow night to see where you are,” says one. “Just come over to the reception later on,” says another.
“Only if it works for you,” says the boy.
My relaxed, perfect evening with my dear friend ends at 8:31 p.m. At precisely 8:35 p.m., as if they knew, I receive the first text: “Not 2 late. Come out with us!”
And so I do, quickly changing into a beach-wedding-reception-appropriate dress for the occasion.
The reception is far more low-key than I expected. It is very traditional, complete with cake cutting and first dances and all the trimmings of a wedding anywhere else that is not at this beach. Watching the gaggle of women pose together for photos, overhearing the men confide in one another about what good friends each has been to another over the years, and then seeing the boy who coaxed me into this scene dancing a little too closely with “the girl everyone thought I should meet,” I suddenly feel uncomfortable.
I danced with these great people the night before. But I realize that I don’t know them well enough to be with them tonight. This is their wedding party, a family party. It is hardly mine.
As I realize this, I notice a $10 bill flutter across the bar and onto the floor. I step on it, before the wind blows it away. I look around for whomever has lost it.
“It’s yours,” smiles an older gentleman.
“No, it must belong to someone,” I say, looking around again.
“I’d keep it, if I were you,” he laughs.
I look at the bill now crumpled in my fist, and I see that I am actually holding a $100 bill. Crap. Now what to do?
“Give it to the bride and groom, you know, as a gift, if you feel too guilty,” says the man. And then he wanders away.
I stash the bill in my purse, uncertain what to do with it.
A few moments later, the boy is at my side, arm around my waist, moving me toward the dance floor.
“But I found this!” I tell him, and I show him the $100 bill.
“Do you want to keep it?” he asks.
“No!” I reply, almost in despair. Because this is not my boy. This is not my party. This is not my $100 bill.
“Then tip someone,” he laughs.
So I do. I call over one of the bartenders whom I know fairly well, and I explain that I found the $100 bill, and now I want the bartenders to split it.
“No!” she says.
“Yes,” I say, very confident. This is so about the karma.
With reluctance, she accepts it.
With joy, the other two bartenders and the restaurant’s GM thank me profusely.
I am embarrassed. I feel almost stupid. It is long past time for me to go.
And I do make my way to the door, but not before I watch the bridal couple dance their first dance as husband and wife.
I silently toast the boy who brought me here, the couple who got married, and their friends who welcomed me. I nod to the karma I hope I have given the restaurant staff. May it come back around. Not necessarily to me. Just back around.
Okay, maybe a little, back to me.