Drazen watched me come around the bar with his scotch. I wondered if he knew that made me uncomfortable or if he even gave it a thought. I wondered if the difference in our relative positions bothered him or turned him on. He was a bazillionaire and customer. I was a waitress with two nickels making heat. This had to be a turn on.
“Thanks,” he said when I placed the napkin and drink on the bar, a job Robert could have done in half the time.
We looked at each other for a second or ten. I had nothing to add to the conversation, but his magnetic pull made words irrelevant. I was stepping away to leave when he said, “I meant it, about seeing a game.”
“I meant it about the bleachers.”
“I like to get to know someone before they drag me out past centerfield.” He clinked his ice against the sides of his glass. “The company has to be pretty engaging that far from the plate.”
I wanted to mention the stunning color of his eyes. I wanted to touch his hand as it rested on the edges of the bar. Instead I said, “Your fellow fans keep you on your toes, especially if you wear red.”
“Can I see you after work?”
The clattering noise in my chest must have been audible. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been asked out or the object of a proposition in the last year and a half; all of the men who wanted me were simply too easy to politely reject. If I had a brain in my head, I would reject Jonathan Drazen right out of hand. Politely.
“Maybe,” I said. “Company’s got to be pretty engaging at two thirty in the morning.”
Sam showed up, and since I didn’t want to be seen talking up my ex-boss, I walked away without confirming that he’d feel engaging at that ungodly hour.
I spent the next hour and a half talking myself out of meeting with Jonathan after work, if he even showed. He was going to be a distraction, I could tell. I couldn’t be in the same room with him without feeling like I needed to touch him.
I thought about Kevin. A fine specimen of a man, he’d had much the same effect on me as Jonathan Drazen, complete with fluttery stomach and tingling cheeks.
I’d been with Darren over six years when he admitted to kissing Dana Fasano. We were in the process of either breaking up or getting married. I went to a party downtown with a friend whose name eluded me right then, and there he was. Kevin was talking to some girl in the corner, and when he glanced over her head, his eyes found mine like he was looking for them. I froze in place. He had brown eyes and thick black lashes, and when we saw each other, the distance between us became a plucked cello string, vibrating, making a beautiful sound.
I didn’t see him again for another half an hour, yet I had felt him circling me, tethered, even when we talked to different people. Finally, in the crowded kitchen, he was behind me, and I knew it because I could feel him before I even saw him reach over me to slide a beer from the sink.
“Hi,” he said.
He held the beer bottle toward me, his hands slick on the glass, cold water pooling in the crevice between his skin and the bottle. “Is the opener over there?”
I took the bottle from him, overreaching, as I’d done with Drazen, so I could touch his cool, wet hand. Then I put the bottle cap on the metal edge of the counter and pulled down swiftly. The cap bent and popped off, clinking to the floor. I held up the bottle for him. “Here you go.”
“Thanks.” He considered the bottle, then me. “See that girl over there?” He pointed at a girl about my age with short, dark hair and striped leggings.
“In twenty seconds, she’s going to come over here and ask what I’m working on for my show. I don’t want to tell her.”
As if on cue, the girl saw Kevin and walked over. It was the first time I experienced him as a charmed person, and it would not be the last.
“It would be better if she didn’t ask. My paintings are secret before a show. If I tell her, she’ll own them. Her soul will own them. I can’t explain it.” The kitchen was crowded, slowing the striped leggings’ progress and pushing us together, forcing us to whisper.
“I get it,” I said. I would have gotten anything he said at that point. I would have claimed to understand quantum mechanics if he explained it to me. “They aren’t born yet,” I continued. “If she sees them while they’re being made, she knows them as children. Their insides.”
“My God, you get me.”
I had no snappy reply. I wanted to get him. I wanted to get everything he said from now on. He touched my chin. “If I kiss you, she’ll turn around and go away.”
In retrospect, that was the lamest come on imaginable from him. He’d done much better in the year following. But at the party, the word “kiss” breathed from his beautiful lips, was all I needed. I put my hand on his shoulder, and he slipped one around my waist. Our lips met, and I held back a groan of pleasure. I’d only ever been with Darren, and I loved him. I would always love him, but kissing that man, like that, with his taste of malt and chocolate, uncovered physical sensations I didn’t know could come from a kiss. I felt every pore of his tongue, every turn of his lips. The world shut off and my identity became a glow of sexual desire.
I went home barely able to walk from wanting him and completed my breakup with Darren the next day. If desire was supposed to feel like that, I needed more of it. I felt awake, alive, not just sexy, but sexual. Thoughts of him infected me until I saw him again and we tumbled into bed, screwing like wild animals.
A year later, when I walked away from him, weeping, I realized I’d let my sexuality control and manipulate me through him. He took my music and crushed it under the weight of his own talent. He ignored what I created, dismissing it, degenerating it, so that within three months, I couldn’t sing a word and any instrument I picked up became a bludgeon. I’d never felt so creatively dead and so sexually alive.
When I got the strength to walk away from him, I vowed never again.
I snapped my locker closed, thinking about those Dodger seats on the first base line. A corporation gets a skybox. A real fan gets tickets at field level, luxuries be damned. I’d never seen a game from that angle.
Debbie came into the locker room, buzzing with talk and flirting and locker doors banging, and handed out our tip envelopes. “A good night for everyone,” she said, then got close to me. “Someone is waiting for you at the front exit. If you want to avoid him, go through the parking lot, but be nice. He’s a friend of the hotel.”