The first Saturday of February was the night of the Vampire Masquerade Ball, at Graciano’s in Old Town Sacramento. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks, and then suddenly–achoo!
I was sick all week leading up to that Saturday, the sniffling sneezing aching coughing stuffy-head fever geeze-I’ve-got-the-plague kind of sickness. My voice dwindled to a froggy croak while my bones ached in the bitter February chill, even though every day I faithfully choked down vitamins, honey, and hot tea, waiting for a cure to find me.
Saturday morning I woke up feeling light-headed and marginally improved but not so much so that I was ready to be dancing in the streets.
So I went back to bed, to try that again.
Saturday afternoon I felt better, or at least well enough to formulate a plan. Where there is a beautiful dress and party plans, a strong-minded woman will find a way.
“OK, I think I have an idea,” I whispered to Lover over the phone.
“Yes…?” he asked. A hot date with a side of infectious disease is a daunting prospect for any man; I knew he was hanging in there like a true gentleman, but I also knew he was juggling several work projects and couldn’t afford to be down with whatever virus had completely wiped me out.
“Yes,” I affirmed, bravely not sniffling. “So, there has been no coughing or sneezing today. I propose we go out to dinner, perhaps go see a movie, and then make an appearance at the ball. It’s Mardi Gras, I’d hate to miss it. However, I won’t stay over, and we won’t stay out past midnight.”
Contemplative silence. Then,
“Yes, I think that’s a good plan,” he slowly answered. “Plus, I actually have a backlog of work assignments that has me a bit worried, so…yes. This–we can do this.”
“I won’t wear a Michael Jackson breath-mask,” I teased, “but I am wearing elbow-length opera gloves. No touchy; no cootie contamination.”
He laughed, and we hung up with plans to meet soon.
The Dress was a golden cloud, a confection of tulle and tucks with a sweeping train that threatened to clean my floor by sweeping everything underneath it. I love this dress; I have used it for cosplay as Belle from Beauty and the Beast multiple times. For this wintry occasion I had also bought a beautiful red capelet, vintage style with a velvet ribbon and a rose applique. With a white Venetian half-mask amply sprinkled with gold fairy dust, it was perfect.
I knocked on his door about 5:30 p.m.; of course he was in the shower. Balanced on the edge of his couch, petting Kilter, I remembered all the reasons why corsets were not made for sitting in. But eventually he emerged, and we exchanged the usual everyday kind of chit chat while maintaining a careful, quarantine kind of distance.
“Where do you want to go for dinner?”
“Anywhere. I think I’m starving.”
“You mentioned the Porch, the last time we talked.”
“Did I? Wonderful. I love the Porch; let’s go there.”
After a week of soups and clear broth and crackers, Southern comfort food sounded like exactly the right thing. Thoughtfully he called and made a reservation; he asked me if one of the high pub tables would be alright, eyeing my full skirt. I shrugged and agreed, and away we went.
1815 K Street was only a few blocks away from his apartment, so we walked there like we would on any other day; I was well-practiced in looping my excess dress around one hand and sashayed confidently while leaning on his arm. We passed people waiting for a table outside Mikuni’s and Piology, three cop cars lined up alongside the curb on 16th Street where a leopard-printed slipper with a pink bow lay abandoned in the street, the other one found in a gutter further along the block. We side-stepped smokers shuffling slowly along fighting to light another cigarette in the tricky breeze and arrived at The Porch only ten minutes later. As we entered I noticed the casual stares, heads turning in our direction in the densely crowded dining room.
“Right this way,” the hostess directed, and I swished between the tightly packed chairs with ease and confidence learned from long ago theater experience.
“Did you two just get married?” the hostess cooed, as I scooped my skirt under my legs and out of the aisle, settling into the tall, backed bar stool. I smiled and shook my head and looking up just caught the amusement glinting in the blue eyes of my lover. “Oh!” she gasped, fluttering her hands, and disappeared towards a crowd coming in through the door.
At that I laughed out loud, leaning forward to say, “I wonder if everyone thinks this is the world’s most awkward first date ever.”
Lover, comfortably handsome in slacks and a casual shirt, grinned back at me.
“Ah yes, because we don’t match, and the necessary no-touchy,” he replied, chuckling. “I bet it does look like that.”
After choosing drinks, a Bolivian Buck for me, a Vanilla Julep for him, I inquired, “So, if this is our first date, what story would you tell me?”
“Oh, it doesn’t really work like that,” he told me. “I don’t plan what I’m going to say.”
I arched an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me that we’re going to be forced to talk about the weather!”
His adorable dimples deepened as he shook his head, his fingers fiddling with his napkin. More people were watching us, seated as we were at the center of the bar side of things; I think it made him uncomfortable.
“But this isn’t our first date,” he contended. “So what are you really asking for?”
“I’m asking for a story,” I countered firmly. “And I am saying this is our second first date.”
Our drinks arrived; our server was a bartender in a vibrant blue shirt with a black vest. He reminded me of David Krumholtz, from 10 Things I Hate About You, but Lover thought he was like someone else from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but neither of us could place who that actor was.
“A story…” he mused, toying with the frosty glass. “Did I tell you about falling into a hole?”
Eyes sparkling, I exulted, “Yes, I love that story! You told me about it the first night we met!”
“Really? That’s not something I tell people whom I don’t know very well. But we had been talking for a few weeks by then…”
“I remember that it was exactly the right thing to say–”
“–that’s right, you were so nervous–”
“–and it felt like confirmation that you were not a serial killer, because serial killers don’t tell stories about falling in a hole while taking a walk with their mum.”
I love how laughter is such an easy thing between us, how we are always sharing it, creating it, exchanging it between us. I never laugh so much as when I am with him, and when we are apart I miss moments like these the most, when we are in our own world where nothing else matters.
“Be sure to use your own straw,” I advised, as we switched drinks.
“Oh yes,” he agreed, “and that’s just like a first date, too. Haven’t reached the kissing stage, yet.”
There was more, later–how we made up stories about some of the openly staring diners while sampling a lovely curry bisque, then driving to Old Town to don our masks and stop in to our Mardi Gras event for just a little while, until I could see his breath in chill little clouds every time he spoke, winding up the evening with a midnight escort back to my car, our careful embrace good night full of want and longing.
But truly, this was my favorite part, sitting together in our favorite restaurant and trading stories and tall tales and memories from not even a year ago, as natural together as if we were souls reunited from some former love story in a different lifetime.
Perhaps it will not always be this way, but all the more reason to treasure these moments today.
**Photo credit: http://goo.gl/LX6Z6v**