Monday did not begin auspiciously.
For one, it was supposed to be our Letter M Day, Observed. After the actual holiday had come and gone, consumed by work priorities, we had made plans to make it up on another day. And then moved the date due to more work-related conflicts. And then…re-scheduled it again.
When he called it was already after noon, and it was to say, “I think maybe Friday would be better. I still have so much work to do.”
I bit back the words, But you took the day off! And also, But, but, I was so looking forward to finally having time with you. After all, it seemed pointless to pout, when work was real and my made-up holiday was not.
I have a healthy respect for paying bills, in full and on time.
But still…I was deeply disappointed.
“OK,” I answered reluctantly over the phone.
“Well, maybe, maybe I could–” he began, but I interrupted.
“No, it’s OK. I get it. The Romanians have been up to hack-attack shenanigans, everything is behind schedule, and the buck stops here because you’re your own boss. And yet, somehow your client expects you to invent a time machine to fix everything and complete the original task list.” Secretly I added this to the long list of complaints I kept in my head about the demands incurred by his current company liaison.
A weighty silence stretched between us. I had been very patient for a three week stretch, and not for the first time, and this was about where my patience ended.
“Can we at least go to lunch? At Empress?” I finally offered as a truce when nothing else was forthcoming.
“Yes!” he agreed, relieved. “I’m starving, and lunch would be great. Besides, we’ve been wanting to try their new menu.”
“I am also starving, since I have been waiting on you and our holiday all morning,” I replied pointedly. “I’ll see you in thirty minutes.”
“I could pick you up?” he suggested. He knows how much I detest paying for parking in the city.
“No,” I said with finality. “I want my own car.”
Thirty-five minutes later I parked my sunshine-yellow Volkswagen Beetle across the street from his building; he startled me while I was paying the meter, trying to predict how much time I might need, by showing up at my elbow.
“Hey!” he said, and I looked up, blinking, thinking, This is the second time I almost didn’t recognize you. However he looked delicious, dressed in an autumn-brown leather jacket and dark jeans, with casual suede loafers and a flat cap protecting his smooth, bald head. I have always appreciated how this man can dress, even just for a casual afternoon lunch.
“I’m mad at you,” I announced, and he sighed, nodding as his shoulders drooped.
“Can you at least wait to beat me up when I’m not already beat down by my job?” he asked, offering his arm as we started down the street. My heart melted; he looked like he hadn’t slept in two days. As if reading my mind, he said, “The last time I slept was Saturday,” and stifled a yawn.
We crossed the street and meandered past the IMAX theater, unspeaking. Usually our conversation topics were endless but today I was holding a grudge and he was just too tired to entertain me.
Empress Tavern was nearly deserted, with only one other gentleman sitting alone at a booth.
“Reservation, for two,” he told the waiter, and I looked up at him.
“That was thoughtful,” I mentioned, impressed despite my slow simmering resentment.
He shrugged. “Just in case they were busy. You never know what the Midtown lunch crowd will be like.”
“Well, if you hadn’t made one, this place would be packed to the rafters. We could both be sharing a bar stool, half a butt-cheek apiece, while I leaned over to steal what’s on your plate,” I imagined aloud. He grinned, nudged me with his elbow, and allowed me to select which side of the booth I wanted to claim as my own.
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” he said, shrugging, probably glad we were at least talking now.
The view from across the broad table was too far. I immediately got up and moved next to him, telling him to move over, scooting into him twice until he realized I was going to push him right into the wall, despite the long length of the bench seat.
“OK, OK,” he said, finally pushing back and laughing at me.
I grinned devilishly. “Ah, finally, that’s enough room!”
“Uh-huh,” he agreed, our legs lined up close together and my hand playfully tickling his knee.
We ordered drinks, a Trinidad Mule for me, a Scofflaw for him, and eventually sandwiches with a side of macaroni and cheese. Our communication resumed in fits and starts, finally flowing in our usual non-sequitur kind of way. We talked about the Post Modern Jukebox concert we had just seen on Sunday night at the nearby Community Center Theater and compared it to last year’s event at the Crest.
“This was a better venue, but the show itself seemed a bit routine,” I observed, and he nodded.
“Weren’t there a lot more performers last year?” he asked, and I considered. Even yesterday seemed very far away, much less last year.
“I think we were lucky to see Haley Reinhart perform, the last time; she’s got a solo album out now and probably won’t perform with PMJ much anymore,” I mused. It was then that I caught sight of the metal figure in the upper left-hand side of the archway. “Is that a bat? Hanging upside down?”
He looked up, surprised–I had forgotten to mention that this was not, in fact, a live animal.
“That does look like a bat,” he confirmed, bemused.
“They know! They know I’m Batman!” I crowed, laughing out loud.
“Of course, that’s it,” he chuckled.
“Well, this is a cave, sort of, all underground and everything. So, this is my new Bat Cave; I like it,” I grandly approved.
“I wonder if they have anything in the other booths?” he mused, trapped on the inside of our own spot.
“That would make this much less special.” I scooted out immediately to see.
There were no other bats in the other booths, or even metal adornments at all. Just ours.
“See?” I told him as he paid the check and we gathered our things. “I’m Batman.”
We rambled through the city, back to his building, and stopped at my car.
“Will you come up?” he asked.
I checked the time left on the meter and thought about the huge work load I knew he had waiting. There were 45 minutes left, not quite enough for any naughty hot-sex shenanigans. I made a face.
“Alright, for a little while,” I acquiesced, and we crossed the street together.
Finally, finally, we felt right together again, and yet there was so little time left.
His apartment was unusually cluttered for such a fastidious man, with a pile of laundry near the closet and unopened mail piled on the kitchen cart. More evidence that he had been working non-stop, since I had never, in over a year together, seen him even slightly disheveled.
“Oh, by the way,” he said, pulling something from his bookshelf. “This finally came. I’ve been waiting a long time for it.” He handed me a beautiful blue book: Eureka! An Art Book About Scientists That Changed the World.
“Oh,” I breathed reverently, taking it carefully from him. “An art book about science? That’s fabulous!” I leafed delicately through the pages.
“Do you remember when I asked you who your favorite scientist was?”
“Um, maybe, wasn’t that a while ago? Last year, something?” I was mesmerized by the page about Nikola Tesla, and then the page after that, and the one after that as well. “Hey, there are a lot of women in this book! That’s amazing! And I love how it’s all arranged by dates, here at the bottom.”
“This was a Kickstarter project, and the authors made a point to create a book that was balanced and showed the major contributions of both men and women,” he explained. A small blue giclée print slid down the open page; I picked it up, blinking at Madame Curie.
“My favorite scientist? That’s beautiful! Do I get to keep it?” I looked up to see him smiling at me.
“The whole book is for you, not just the print.”
“What? You bought me a book? Besides the Firefly book, which is counted amongst my most prized possessions…” I stared at him, dumbfounded. “Only one other person has ever bought me books before.”
“Do they not know you?” he laughed, enjoying my reaction and ever-tightening grip on what I now knew to be my book.
“You know, I’m not really sure anyone else does,” I answered honestly. Then, with a deep sigh, “I guess I can quit plotting how to steal it, now that I know it’s a gift.” I grinned impishly, and he grinned back.
“We can pretend that I haven’t given it to you, if you like, just so you can steal it,” he suggested.
“You’d do that, for me?” I replied. “Well, good luck getting this out of anything other than my cold, dead hands now that it’s in my possession. And thank you. You’re the best.”
“Fair enough. And you’re welcome.”
A few minutes later my phone alarm reminded me that meter maids wait for no man, nor woman, and so I gathered my purse and my present, gave him a kiss, and got going.
As I waited for the elevator, I leafed through the book some more. His thoughtfulness lingered with me, that he had known I would love something like this.
The metal doors slid open and I walked in, dutifully stabbing the button for the first floor. I wish we had more time together; I wish some things were different, I thought. But I am also grateful for what we do have, a rare and deep connection between two off-beat, independent individuals who just happened to find each other in this strange, cold world.
I pushed open the glass foyer doors and stepped out into the chilly, winter afternoon.
With a last thoughtful look at his building, and clutching my book a little tighter, I dropped into the seat of my little Volkswagen Bug and drove home, hoping next weekend worked out better.