In what is apparently a twice-a-week tradition these days, there was another neighborhood association fundraiser Thursday night. My neighborhood association isn’t the type that forces you to decorate your house solely in white lights at Christmas or enforces some sort of weird lawn-watering rule—indeed, we mostly don’t have lawns—but we have these awesome events a few times a year and we have to fund them somehow, so… wine.
Javier had asked if I would be there, and since the day at work had been kind of ridiculous and I needed a drink, of course I would be there. On an empty stomach, and not planning to eat.
You see where this is going.
I walk in grumpy and rushed, 30 minutes before the designated end of the fundraiser, perturbed at having had to drive all the way to my house and then walk here instead of finding a spot nearby. I head straight back to descend the stairs to the bathroom in an urgent but understated way, sucking in whatever I can suck in to maximize the flattery of the dress I’m wearing while I debate whether I should have left the spanx on underneath or not. (Leave them on and a hand on the back reveals something that feels like granny panties… take them off and you have trunk-junk jiggle. The only opportunity to change, since I was running late, was the brief moment when I opened my back door to fling my purse and shoulder bag into the kitchen. I had left the spanx on.) I check out the room as I make my way through it, scanning the place that can seat maybe 65 people between the bar, the house floor and the loft space. No Javi. In fact, no one I recognize. I’m not often awkward if I’m alone in a bar, but when I expect to find people I know, I get a little oodgy when they’re absent. I feel conspicuously let down.
But, downstairs, the phone buzzes in my hand, and up pops a message from Javi telling me he’s doing a wine tasting. (Alright, the message says “Doing a testing,” prompting me to reply “?” before I realize it’s a misspelling. This contributes to my likely patronizing belief that his inability to write English precisely is adorable.) When I once again ascend, I catch sight of him on the loft level holding a tiny wine glass. He sees me, raises a hand in greeting and smiles.
Ay, querido. There is nothing quite like the sight of an attractive man in a suit with his jacket slung over his shoulder. I’ve always liked this about Javi, this tendency to be dressed up more often than not. I think the reason I like it is because it doesn’t come off as arrogance or extravagance. He just likes to look nice. But now I like it more, because it carries an electric anticipation.
No bueno para me. ¿Por qué espero?
I play things cool. He’s talking to another neighbor and I say hi to her first. Our casual hug hello appears an afterthought. I head for the wine tasting table at his urging and am quickly but gently accosted by the vintner’s rep, an earnest, salt-and-pepper haired, black corduroy- jacketed Italian who shows me images and descriptions of the wines on his iPad while I drink them.
I drink them quickly, but ask questions.
After ten or twelve generous mouth-feels, which sounds dirty but is not, I’m finished with my tasting and I’m buying a bottle of a velvety sangiovese from the Italian and his distribution partner, who seems to be from somewhere innocuous like Northern Virginia. Armed with this bottle of red, I turn to chat with Gil, who lives across the street from me. A few minutes later, Ward, who owns the restaurant, brusquely inquires who owns the sunglasses and phone sitting on the table because he must clear it for “paying customers.” I look down at the door. There is no line.
I claim my belongings because he’s practically throwing them at me without looking at me, while bristling a bit at the impertinence, considering how often I’m here. I know Ward is personally acquainted with a lot of his clientele. He hasn’t yet met me, but I’ve been supporting his establishment for nearly a year.
Still slightly grumpy from work, not yet buzzed enough but waiting for it, and now anxious about Javier’s disappearance, and trying to hide all of it, I exchange eyerolls with Gil over Ward’s bent back and Gil introduces me to two more folks from the neighborhood. We chat pleasantly for what I hope is an acceptable period of time. It’s during this exchange that I look down from the loft and see Javi craning his neck at me. He grins. Here I am.
“There you are!” I mouth.
I try to finish my conversation with the couple unhurriedly and take their high sign to the server as my cue to rejoin Javi. He’s got a full glass of pinot grigio, which I take from his hand and sip. I signal the bartender that I’d like what he’s having as I tell him the story about how Ward had cleared me out.
Several minutes later, Javi quietly introduces me to Ward.
“Are you a friend of Javier’s?” Ward asks me now.
“Yes, and a lot of others,” I reply with a smile. “I live in the neighborhood.”
I had forgotten until this moment that Javier is part-owner of the building. Majority part-owner. Now that Ward knows I’m connected to his landlord, he might not clear me away from a table for the “paying customers” not yet lined up to take it. I know this is the reason Javier has made the introduction. I am charmed.
“Sorry if I was grumpy when you called earlier,” I say to him when Ward leaves and he takes up a spot standing next to my high-seated chair at the bar. His brow creases a bit before he assures me I didn’t sound that way. “Okay, good. Work got kind of crazy in the afternoon and I was kind of in a bad mood.”
“Me too,” he says, holding out his stemware. “Cheers.”
“To the end of the day!” I clink his glass, take a sip, and ask what happened at the office. He rolls his eyes with a humble smile and tells me, then asks me about my day. He notices the bottle of wine I’d bought, which I’d put on the bar.
“Yeah,” I say. “I didn’t think about how weird it’s going to be, walking home with a bottle of wine in my hand.” I mimic the anticipated sight.
“I tink ih sounds nice,” he smiles at me. “A pretty woman walking down de street with a bottle of wine.”
I mentally chide myself for swooning and suddenly become aware that we’re in public and might be too focused on each other. Turning, I see that Gil is seated to my right. He laughs when I look surprised and claims to have been sitting there for ten minutes before assuring me he’s just sat down. Javi changes sides, coming around to stand between Gil and myself as we all talk.
The wine finally kicks in, spreading warmly through my veins.
Peligro. He is too close, and I find myself “accidentally” touching him once or five times. I scratch my back with my thumb, fingers extended to brush his arm as he stands behind me. Listening to Gil, I look up at Javi and wink. Minutes later, he does the same to me. That kind of thing.
“Well, you guys,” he says at a lull in the conversation, looking a bit chagrined, “I haff to go. I am sahppose to be meeting some oddur friends.”
I debate… should I stay or go? I don’t really want to stay. I’m not going to eat or drink anything more. But leaving now, mid-conversation with Gil and an older gentleman I’ve never met but whom everyone seems to know, would be obvious. I make no move. Javi shakes hands with Gil and the other man, then leans between them to give me a hug and dry peck on the cheek. I don’t watch him leave.