Bryan and Lena made dinner reservations for the two of them at A Tavola for Lena’s birthday. She loved the handmade ravioli. From there, the plan was to go to Bar Deville afterward and celebrate along with Werner for making his kickstarter goal within two days. Burton wouldn’t be joining because he had plans to have dinner with his family.
It was a slightly uncomfortable experience. I walked in with Lena and Bryan, and I knew it was a good possibility that Lucy would be there, but I hoped she wouldn’t be. We hadn’t yet crossed paths in the three months since our seven-year friendship ended.
Lucy was sitting in the booth with Maude, Grace and Liam. I avoided the table and went to straight to the bar with Bryan. Marty sidled up next to us.
Marty was not someone I knew very well, but he was friends with a woman, Margaret, who I was tight with during a particularly dark summer a few years before so I knew a lot about him. He might have been attractive to other women but he didn’t smile much, so I didn’t give him much thought. I remember watching World Cup games a few years before with friends we had in common, but he didn’t say a word to me; I dismissed him as mean. The first time we spoke was at a joint birthday party Margaret and I hosted. He surprised me with engaging conversation and genuine interest in what I had to say. With that, along with a tiki lamp he gave Margaret — a very thoughtful gift as it was something she collected — every negative thought I’d had about him disappeared.
Marty and I had a polite conversation as I ordered a vodka soda and he ordered a club soda and lime. I knew Marty didn’t drink. Suddenly, I missed my nights of kiddie cocktails and hangover-free mornings. I knew I shouldn’t be drinking.
“Hey, Marty,” I said. “How are you?”
“I’m doing well. I just got back to town after a few months in Singapore and Australia, so I’m readjusting.” He also worked with Burton who told me he had taken a leave of absence, which I assumed meant he’d gone to rehab.
“What were you doing?” I asked, trying to assess the situation.
“I was working on a beer project. It wasn’t that interesting,” he said.
It wasn’t a spectacular or interesting conversation, but it felt good. He told me about his month-long holiday with his family and he asked about me. I was taken aback that he was curious about what I was doing so I pulled some bull shit out of the air about writing a cookbook to make myself sound more interesting than I am. Then I quickly turned the burden of conversation back on him.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s weird being away for so long, when you come back and it’s like being the new kid at school. Everyone stares at you.”
“Did you get a drink?” Bryan interrupted.
“Not yet. What did Lena want?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Vodka soda?” said Bryan.
“Can you get me a club soda with lime?” asked Marty. Ahh. Still on the wagon. I envied Marty.
“Of course,” I said.
I got the drinks and returned to my conversation with Marty. He told me about a boring banking project he was working on in tandem with a bicycle project — that piqued my interest while instantly making me feel inadequate with my lack of direction and purpose.
“Well, if you ever want to talk bikes, I’ve got lots to say.”
“That’d be cool. And I’d really like to read your cookbook. My mother loves to cook.”
Before I had to come up with additional fibs to cover up my personal deficiencies, Werner blew by with a freshly shaved head.
“Go outside?” he asked Marty.
“Sure,” Marty returned, and they turn toward the cold for a few pulls on a cigarette.
I made my way, cautiously, toward the table. I greeted Maude and said hello to Chris and his wife.
Before I could stand alone for too long or catch Lucy’s eye, I spotted Grace and re-introduced myself. She was a good friend of Burton, but didn’t remember meeting me the first time at Werner’s engagement party. She knew all about me. She also happened to be sitting next to Lucy.
We got along surprisingly well. From what I’d heard about her, I didn’t think I’d be able to win her over. But we had a delightful conversation about having been to the same parties and never crossing paths. Inevitably, she asked how I knew all these people and I had to attribute it to Lucy and explain how much of an asshole I was to her with Lucy sitting a foot away.
“Oh,” she said. “So is this weird that I’m sitting between you?”
“Nah. I mean, it’s kind of like a breakup.”
“But even with breakups, you talk to people in social situations.”
“I don’t think she’ll ever want to talk to me again,” I said. “I was pretty mean. I’m too embarrassed about it to repeat it.”
All I remembered about leaving was Werner walking me out to the cab and I properly thanked him via text the next day while I sorted the wreckage from my late night grilled cheese coupled with auditory flashbacks of the smoke alarm going off. No doubt, I woke up my neighbors. They’re too polite to complain to my face, but not so polite they wouldn’t bitch about me to the other neighbors.
“Thanks for putting me in a cab. I hope I wasn’t too much of an asshole.”
“You were fine. Cabby refused to take you alone, though 🙂 I had to ride with you.”
“Whoops. I was drunker than I thought. Double thank you. I owe you like 1,000.”
Lena had an equally humiliating evening. I was greeted with an email upon waking, “I was far too drunk last night. I threw up in our bathroom sink and licked Werner’s head.”
Though I wasn’t alone in my pain, the anxiety creeped into me as I tried to wipe up the mud from my boots that I had no recollection of getting stuck in. With any luck, everyone else was too drunk to notice the 38-year-old woman who was incapable of holding herself up long enough to catch a cab. But I was probably not that lucky.