Reservations – A Novel
By Drew Filchak
Chapter One: "Reservations"
I took my regular seat at the bar. Hank nodded his head once in greeting and set a basket of coffee cups on the service ledge. I studied him for a moment and a slow grin spread across my face.
"Moving a little slowly this morning, Hank?"
A throaty groan rumbled from his mouth in response. He grabbed the coffee pot and a cup with one hand and turned towards me. "Don't start, man." He said as he reached to rub the bloodshot, irritated eyes. I smirked as I watched him set the pot and cup on the bar next to me. "Help yourself this morning. I'm way behind schedule."
I chuckled and filled the cup with the steaming liquid. "It must have been some Sunday night, man. I haven't seen you in this bad of shape on a Monday since your trip to Vegas."
"Don't remind me, Blair. God my head hurts." Hank moaned as he stood up, pulling three containers of juice from the cooler beneath the service bar. He placed them in the tub of ice cubes then grabbed a handful of previously rolled silverware in napkins. He deftly tossed a set to me then began placing the remaining sets in front of the barstools which lined the three-sided bar. "If the aspirin and ibuprofen would just kick in, I think I'll survive. Damn that woman!"
My smirk widened. "So you're gonna blame it all on your lady, eh?"
Hank finished placing the silverware and grabbed the basket of coffee cups and saucers, placing one above each roll of utensils. He finished quickly and returned the basket to the lower counter, then turned to look at the settings on the bar. "Fuck! I forgot the placemats. Man, today is not starting off very well." He grabbed a stack of placemats and began to work them under the silverware and saucers.
"So?" I asked.
"So what," Hank responded over his shoulder.
"You're going to blame Natasha for your rough morning?"
"It's Natalie, Holmes, and yes ... I am. She's the one that insisted we go out dancing to celebrate our anniversary. I was happy on the couch chillin' with the Av's game. It was three goals to zip and just starting the third period. Wantuk had just completed his second hat trick of the season and Montreal was looking like they were from the junior hockey league. Then Natalie waltzes into my apartment, dressed to kill and lookin' fine, turns off the game and says she wants to go dancing to celebrate our anniversary. I about killed her."
I couldn't help but laugh. "What anniversary? You just met."
Hank stopped halfway in his placemat arrangement and hung his head, slowly shaking it from side to side. "Our three month anniversary. Shit. Only chicks can think of that kind of stuff."
"Not just chicks, man," I chortled.
Hank looked at me and smiled wryly. "Oh, yeah, I forgot. You ... what do you call yourself? Friends of Dorothy?" He chuckled. "You 'Friends of Dorothy' think of that stuff too. How could I forget?" He shook his head again amused and started again to arrange the placemats.
A surprised laugh rolled from my mouth. "Way to go! You remembered this time. The aspirin must be kicking in!"
"Yeah or you're rubbing off on me after all these months. Don't you have a job to go to or something?" Hank finished placing the last mat and turned towards me, his fists placed firmly on his slender hips.
I returned his fake scowl with a plaintive look. "Please sir, may I have some food first. I'm really hungry. I got money, really sir, I do."
Hank tried to hide his smile, but I guess the feigned look of hunger on my face was better than I thought. He laughed and threw the towel draped over his shoulder at me. "You're certifiable, you know that?"
Hank shook his head and smiled as he placed his hands on the bar in front of me. "If I had to work this morning after that stupid night in the clubs, then I guess I'm glad you are my first customer. Some of the others would have just demanded their food whether I was ready for them or not. Thanks, Bro."
"Aw, shucks, Hank. Give me a smooch and I'll consider us even."
He laughed then turned from the bar and walked to the computer. "Where do you come up with that shit? Is it like written in some book or something? Man, you crack me up sometimes." His chuckle slowed as he logged into the service program. "You want your usual?"
"No," I returned playfully. "I think this morning I'll have the bartender."
“Someone needs to get laid.” He chuckled again. "Sorry, buddy. The bartender is not on the menu."
"Okay, then. Yeah, I'll have the ..."
I caught movement on the far side of the restaurant. A tall, well-dressed, lanky man standing inside the door that led from the building's interior. He was immaculately attired in a midnight blue suit, white shirt, and colorful, but reserved tie. Rich, dark brown hair covered his head with just a slight bang hanging down to soften his otherwise austere look. He had a firm chin and sharp jaw. He exuded power and confidence to the point that I was certain if the room were full of people, most, if not all, eyes would be turned towards him.
I watched as he looked at the empty tables, scanning for something. Then he glanced at his watch and proceeded to make his way across the restaurant towards the bar. A newspaper lay tucked beneath his arm.
"Blair?" Hank asked.
I pulled my eyes from the guy. "Skip the usual, Hank. I'll have him for breakfast. Damn, boy!"
Hank glanced over his shoulder and his eyes widened briefly. "Forget about him, Blair. He's way out of your league and I'm 110% sure he's not interested. I'll get you your usual order, okay?"
I sighed as I saw the man approach and take the last seat against the wall pillar opposite of where I sat. "Yeah, whatever, Hank."
Hank nodded and keyed in the order, then grabbed the pot of coffee still sitting next to me and moved toward the new customer.
"Good morning, Sir. Coffee?"
The guy nodded and said something low to Hank. "Right away, sir." Hank replied, then turned to the computer and punched in an order. He then filled a glass with tomato juice and poured a double-shot of premium vodka from the cooler into a separate highball glass, placing both of them in front of the man. Once finished, Hank left the bar and headed into the kitchen.
I was transfixed. His classical looks and overall appearance combined with what I saw as a reserved demeanor caused me to stare. Normally, I am not one that is easily impressed with a 'package'. There is always another pretty face or a more fantastic body than the last one. I actually go in for regular looking guys. I don't fall much for appearances, but this man simply had it all. I had the crazy desire to chew his earlobes and nibble my way down his jaw to his lips. Hank was right, I needed it bad. Forty-two years old and I couldn't remember the last time I'd been affected like this. I was simply mesmerized.
I watched him subtly. He looked as though he were contemplating something ominous, then, to my surprise, he reached for the vodka and downed it in one shot.
'Whoa!' I thought. Drinking that hard first thing in the morning amazed me and stirred up a surprising feeling of pity. Whatever the guy was dealing with had to be intense.
I watched as he shuddered briefly and closed his eyes, appearing to try and shut out what ever it was that he was feeling. Normally, I'm not one to stare openly at a person, but my eyes kept returning to him. As my thoughts continued in the same line, I realized that he'd opened his eyes and was staring at me, scowling. I dropped my eyes to my coffee cup. Feeling a bit rude, I cautiously flicked my glance to look towards him again, hoping to get the chance to send a smile in his direction, but he'd opened the paper and appeared indifferent towards any further contact – with anyone it seemed.
Two guys and a woman, dressed in business attire, entered the restaurant from the street and settled at the bar. I noticed that my well-dressed stranger refused to acknowledge their presence as well, choosing to read his Wall Street Journal and sip his coffee. 'That's the way it goes sometimes,' I mused. But my libido did not seem to get the same message. The man was handsome in anyone's estimation, but the draw for me was in his demeanor; so reserved, so controlled. He sat upright on the stool in a pose just shy of being rigid. It was full of pretense and self-importance and I found myself quietly squirming.
Who was he? Where did he come from? The fact that he'd entered the restaurant from the interior building entrance instead of from the street brought more questions. Again, the question of why he was drinking so early on a Monday dug into me. That just wasn't right. There was a wedding band on his finger. Could his wife have left him? Or ... had an affair? That would take an extremely dumb woman to make a mistake like that. Maybe Hank would share what he knew. I didn't hold out much hope, though. Hank was close-mouthed about his customers.
Hank returned to the bar with my food and as he placed it before me, I took my chance.
"Hey, Hank? What do you know about the stud in the suit over there? He's intense and I can't keep my eyes off him?"
Hank leaned towards me with his hands placed on the bar's edge and focused his eyes on me. "You need to just forget about that guy," he whispered forcefully. "I told you, he's major league, All-Star level. Take my advice on this, Blair. Forget about him."
Surprised, I raised my eyebrows at Hank's forcefulness. "But ..."
"Eat your breakfast, buddy." Then he turned towards the new customers and wished them a good morning.
That was all I got out of him on the topic. I kept stealing quick glances at the guy as I finished eating. He caught me looking one other time and again scowled.
I finished and left. It was still Monday and I had a number of back-to-back meetings scheduled. I needed to focus on business and put my All-Star stud out of my head. I chuckled to myself as I crossed the street toward the entrance to my office building. Hank definitely has a way of putting things straight to the point.
I did succeed in forgetting about the guy until the following morning as I walked up to the restaurant's entrance. It was seven o'clock, my usual time. As a rule, I was regimented in my schedule. I'd leave my house at 6:40, drive the thirty some blocks to downtown, park in my reserved spot and head to the restaurant for breakfast with Hank. He'd even commented on my predictable schedule as well as my seeming inability to feed myself. I was a great cook, but not for myself. I just didn't cook much for myself. Besides, my schedule was my schedule. I liked it that way. My clients and my company knew when I'd be at the office in the morning. The calls usually started within minutes of my arrival, primarily from the home office on the east coast. Since Denver was two hours later, the big bosses were already well into their morning by the time our office opened.
My thoughts drifted back to the previous morning as Hank greeted me from behind the bar. I looked around and saw that, as usual, the place was empty and I was the first customer. I felt a vague surprise and let-down that my stud in the suit wasn't sitting in the spot across from me. Hank caught my smile.
"What's that smile for? It looks like you're scolding yourself over something?"
He poured my coffee, then rested the pot on the bar, waiting for my response.
"Aw, Hank. You know me too well." I grinned. "I had the weirdest feeling of 'let-down' when I walked in and that guy from yesterday wasn't sitting where I remembered him." I chuckled at myself as I sipped from the cup, replacing it on its saucer. "I had forgotten about him," I began, giving Hank a wink and a nod. "Just like you told me to, but then I walked in here and what can I say ... some guys just stick in my brain."
The slow shake of his head told me that another lecture was coming, but he surprised me and laughed instead. The pot found its place on the warmer. "You're good-lookin', for a white guy that is." He smirked. "I'm sure you're beating off the guys with baseball bats."
I grinned. "Well, I'd rather just use my hand, if you get my drift."
Hank snorted. "Man, you got me again. Sick. You know that don't you?" He moved to the order terminal, his laughter continuing. "I better get you some food. Maybe it will help that warped mind of yours. You want your usual or are you sick of it? The cook is making blintzes this morning. They're pretty good."
"No, just the usual, thanks."
I finished my coffee as I waited for my order and continued to banter with Hank. Our conversation lulled, the early hour showing its effect. My mind wandered to one of my scheduled meetings and as I reviewed notes on my Blackberry, a movement across from me caught my attention. I looked up to see my All-Star taking his seat. I froze in mid-stare.
There he was again; perfectly dressed, perfectly groomed, and perfectly handsome. He glanced once in my direction, saw my open-mouthed stare then opened his paper, his lips twisting in a disgusted grimace. I blinked and broke through my stasis. Hank approached him and again wished him good morning followed by a 'Sir'. Then he filled his cup with coffee and poured the tomato juice and vodka. Again, the guy stared at the glass in front of him before he downed it, closed his eyes and flinched. This was a scene I would witness each morning for the rest of the week.
He would arrive at 7:15, Hank would greet him, and he'd drink the vodka then work on his coffee and juice. Each morning he would at one time or another catch me staring at him, grimace or scowl, then ignore me totally along with the rest of the customers. Instead of being offended, I was nonplussed. Actually, I was fascinated and my curiosity continued to grow exponentially with each repeat occurrence. By Friday, my curiosity and desire for first contact got the best of me.
My face still burned with embarrassment as I watched the elevator doors open to the 32nd floor of my building. I moved through the main doors of our offices and headed straight to my own corner. I normally greeted the city and mountain views from my window with a customary 'Hello, Gorgeous', but this morning I sank immediately into my chair. My assistant found me staring blankly at the wall a few minutes later. I assured him that everything was fine and while I never asked him to bring me coffee, I did this morning; anything to get him out of my office and leave me to my thoughts. I also asked him to hold all calls until I told him differently.
In fast-replay mode, I saw my All-Star's rich, brown eyes glaring dispassionately at me. His words, cold and precise, echoed like a nightmare that refused to end.
'You make me sick!'
My face flushed with renewed embarrassment. I simply could not remember the last time I'd felt this way. I closed my eyes and replayed the scene.
I wanted to make some kind of contact with the guy who was quickly becoming more than a curiosity to me, so I finished the last of my coffee, dropped some money next to my plate and proceeded to make my way around the bar towards him. As I approached, my confidence surged. I'd never previously been self-conscious, at least not enough to deter me from a desired prize. As I approached, I realized that he was the prize of all prizes -- El Dorado and the Crown Jewels combined.
"My name's Blair," I started as I extended my hand towards him. He turned from his paper and glared at me. I wasn't daunted by the glare. "Blair Michaels. I wanted to say hello to you. I've seen you sitting over here by yourself and thought that maybe you'd like some company. Someone to talk to, you know."
He dropped his glance to my outstretched hand for a mere second then turned back to his paper. His rich voice floated up to me from the newsprint. "Not interested."
"Just trying to be friendly and all."
Then, to my surprise and smug enjoyment, he raised his hand with the backside facing me and pressed his ring finger towards me as if to force me to see the reality the wedding band represented.
I smirked. At least he didn't think I was straight. "Yeah, so? I've seen wedding bands before. I'm not interested in shacking up with you ... yet." I grinned. The game, played well, always heightened my desire.
He turned to look at me, his eyes flaming. "Then what are you interested in?" His voice, clipped and abrupt, threatened an explosion. The emphasis he placed on 'interested' let me know that I needed to go in for the kill, close the deal. There was interest here. I could sense it. It may be hidden behind his ring, but it was still there. My intuition never let me down.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
"Well, since you've asked," I started, a twinkle sparked in my eyes. I leaned a little closer and dropped my voice a notch. "I'd like nothing more than to start on your earlobes and nibble my way down your incredible jaw and finally capture those perfect lips of yours with my own. Now that would be a perfect start to my day." Great Line!
His reaction was a little different than I expected.
His eyes flared once, slightly widening, their intensity shooting straight through my own cocky stare. Then the flame died, replaced with a dead, frigid look of unqualified contempt coming straight at me through a narrowed gaze. His jaw clenched rigidly and his voice, ragged and seething, growled out words that I didn't immediately understand.
"You make me sick!" Each word, accented and emphasized by his growl, slammed into my psyche. They pummeled into me like a storm, snapping my tether and condemning me to the merciless fury of the hurricane – a ship adrift and ripped apart by winds.
How could I have been so wrong?
My senses reeled with the blatant disgust and revulsion emitting from him with those four small words. My body recoiled as if struck by a blow as my face instantly flamed, embarrassed beyond anything I could remember. My desire and swagger evaporated. I stuttered out a response, my eyes widened in stunned reaction.
"I ... I'm, uh sorry. I ... completely misread your ... uh ... the situation. My apologies. Sorry to bother you."
I snapped my head forward in a nod. The last sight I had of him, just before I turned to leave, seared itself onto my inner sight – the cold, disgust in his eyes flared once, then, like a star that burns its last molecule of hydrogen, flashed to nothingness. And as he dropped his glance, as if he had no more use for it, I saw a sheen of tears cover his eyes. My heart lurched as I spun from the restaurant.
And here, now at my desk, fully seeing my completely insensitive actions, my heart lurched again in recognition of the glimpse I'd seen of the man's pain. Watching him from across the bar each of the past five mornings, I'd misread his indifference as being sourced in attitude and stature ... in playing hard-to-get. I never imagined that it was pain, an obviously deep pain, which he covered effectively with his solitude. My perpetual, confident swagger caused me to interject my desire for him into a fantasy based in the lie that he had to be interested in me. When did I become so much of what I despised?
"I am such an insensitive ass!" I said to the wall.
"Not usually, boss."
I jumped slightly having failed to hear my assistant enter through my open door with the coffee. He placed it on my desk and then paused. I looked at him with resignation then shook my head quickly in repeated denial.
"No, Peter. I'm just as insensitive and crude as the straight men I bash all the time. I'm no different."
"You're wrong. You're not like other men. Now, I don't know what has happened to make you say this or to shake you up so badly this morning, but you are far from what I would call insensitive. I would not have continued to work for you if you were. I can get 'insensitive' anywhere," his pause allowed his words to sink in before he continued. "Wanna talk about what ever happened?"
I shook my head again. "No. Not really, but thanks. I need to take a good look at myself this weekend. I'm way too much about cock and balls and swagger. There's more to life ... and there used to be more to me … I hope that there’s more to me."
I looked at him and saw a gentle smile and a brief nod of his head. "Well then, New York needs you on a call in ten minutes. I'll put it through when it comes in."
Alone again, I shook off my introspective thoughts and made a mental commitment towards taking a hard look at myself this weekend. For the first time in a very, very long time, I had reservations about who I had become. I needed to be sure that what I saw when I looked at myself in the mirror was something I could continue to like. As it stood right now, I wasn't much liking what would be staring back at me.
Monday started like every other Monday with one exception -- I wasn't sure that I should be sitting in my usual spot at the bar. I'd even considered asking Hank if I could get a table in the main section of the restaurant which is usually opened only for lunches, dinners and weekend brunch. But, finally, I decided that if the guy did show up, and I got the chance, I would simply nod and ignore him.
The plan worked for the most part, though it had one exception – I did get the chance to nod to the guy, but then I immediately glanced at him again briefly and I found that he continued to stare at me. The look on his face said that he was appraising me. I did not think that he was appraising me because he was interested in me. No. I usually make it a habit not to give into delusions. This guy was appraising me and I recognized almost immediately that he was reluctantly impressed that I showed up after our crude interaction the prior Friday.
I took the opportunity to nod again with just the slightest curl of a smile; a gesture meant to acknowledge the appraisal and the lines drawn. He did not respond, at least I believe he didn't respond, because I immediately returned to the report I was reading. I made it a habit to not work while I ate, but my weekend spent in introspection had placed me a bit behind on my reports assimilation.
I left the restaurant earlier than normal and headed to my office to prepare for the week.
On Thursday, I felt the first sign that the new routine of nodding to the guy might just be something that was earning me a little respect. I watched as he entered the restaurant and made his way to the bar. Regardless of any decisions that I had made about myself the previous weekend, I still found him to be stunningly attractive. But after he sat down in his usual place and took what I now deemed to be his ritualistic shot of vodka, our eyes met. And this time, after I gave him the curt nod of acknowledgement, I was more than surprised to receive a nod from him in return. He then closed the door he used to shield himself from the rest of the world and began to read his paper.
'Well, I'll be damned!' I thought in surprise. I looked back down to my plate and allowed a slight grin to cover my lips. I didn't stop to consider just how strange or pathetic it was to receive satisfaction from that slight gesture. I returned to my normal banter with Hank and filed my little victory away.
The next day and most of the following week were mere repeats of Thursday -- a brief nod after his shot of vodka. I was content. I continued with my surreptitious glances, my reward being frequent snapshots of his consistent beauty and presence. I no longer desired more.
On Wednesday of that week, just as I was about to pay my ticket and head to the office, I watched him answer his cell phone. The call lasted mere seconds. He launched from his chair and raced from the restaurant through the door that led to the interior of the building. I wasn't the only person besides Hank to notice. Other customers did as well. For the first time in a week and a half, my curiosity again reared its head. I would have to wait more than a month for the enigmatic answer
Ten days later, on Monday, he finally returned.
I had not been idle during his absence. Daily I pestered and cajoled and finally pleaded with Hank to tell me who the guy was and what was going on. His response to the second question remained consistent – he had no idea. His response to my first question was initially dodged with his usual finesse and aplomb – mind my own damn business. But I could tell by the end of the following week that I was making headway. His 'stop asking me' and 'I can't tell you' were definitely progress. Still my efforts in the end came to naught. Finally, Hank told me that if I asked him one more question about the guy that he would refuse to serve me. Practicality won out and I took the hint. It was impossible for me to even consider finding a new breakfast spot.
But now, he was back. And, strangely enough, I admit I missed him. Granted, we didn't have a relationship to speak of that existed outside of those five or six days worth of 'nods', but I had fought for those 'nods' and looked forward to their return.
When I first saw him standing at the entry to the restaurant, I actually gasped. Luckily, Hank was in the kitchen. Somehow, I felt that Hank would have sensed that since I first laid eyes on the guy, my guy, I hadn't had any desire for sex with other men. Pathetic as it may sound, it was the truth. And trust me; I was beginning to feel the strain. The response to his appearance in the doorway was pitifully evident in my slacks.
He stood in the doorway for what seemed like a very long time. He repeatedly looked over the closed portion of the restaurant and then finally began his progress to the bar. I knew something was different immediately and it took me only a few seconds to grasp what it was.
His paper was missing. The space under his arm remained empty. No one would have noticed this change but me, but then I obviously had a vested interest. That wasn't the only change, though. And this second change was noticed by Hank, himself.
The sadness in his eyes, in his whole expression was palpable, vivid – raw. He didn't sit at the bar and blubber into his vodka, but in a considerably more expressive way, he radiated loss and emptiness. His eyes were dark and haunted and failed to meet Hank's eyes as he ordered what I assumed to be his normal fare.
I observed Hank take his order and then pause briefly before giving him a curt nod. I watched him pour the vodka and place it before the man. My brows rose slightly as I noticed that he failed to pour him coffee or serve him his usual glass of juice. It was just vodka this morning, straight up and neat. I felt compelled to watch him. My previous curiosity disappeared as an empathetic reaction, based not only in the change in his order, but also by the significant change in his appearance, roused within me.
The departure from his normal routine continued. He reached for the glass without his normal contemplation. Then, in a surprise move, he gazed across the bar at me, catching my open glance. He nodded then downed the alcohol in one toss. The customary shudder that his body made which normally accompanied his shot was absent. Rather, he placed the glass forward on the bar as though to indicate a refill. My eyes widened in surprise. He looked at me with his soulless eyes again. This was definitely a morning for surprises. The lack of any emotion in his eyes caused my own to mist instantly with sympathetic compassion. I looked down to my coffee cup so he wouldn't see my response to his pain, though I was certain he noticed.
Hank returned with a plate of toast and placed it in front of the man. He noticed the empty glass and after receiving a nod from the man, replaced it with a newly filled one. This time, the man paused before drinking it and I watched him give a barely perceptible sigh. He then again, downed it in one swallow, closing his eyes as his body shuddered.
My food arrived and as I took my first bite, I discreetly watched him eat his toast. Once finished, he placed some bills on the bar and, in his normal, reserved manner, exited the restaurant.
Hank shook his head once, informing me to keep my questions to myself. Luckily, two customers arrived and he was able to busy himself with their order.
The next day, the normal routine returned -- his standard three drinks and his egg-white omelet were consumed. The only difference was his nod to me before he swallowed the vodka. The week passed in its same, pedantic manner then the new week began.
My contentedness with the minimal interactions shared daily with my breakfast companion surprised and confused me. A minute change in my personality, resulting from my recent weekend of introspection, allowed me to feel satisfied with our token morning acknowledgment of each other.
On Wednesday evening of that week, as I mulled over my situation during a run through the park, I stumbled over a curb, seriously damaging the ligaments in my left ankle. The pain was tremendous and I knew instantly that this wasn't a normal twisted ankle. As I tried to return to my feet, pain shot up my leg causing me to fall again to the ground. Luckily, a fellow jogger helped me to a bench then ran to a parked police cruiser who came to my rescue.
I missed work on Thursday and it was on crutches that I made my way from my parking garage downtown to the restaurant Friday morning. I was later than usual, by fifteen minutes at least. The three block walk from my parking space usually took me five minutes, but this morning between the crutches, the throbbing in my ankle and the intense gusts of wind that swept through downtown, it took me a good ten additional minutes to make it to the restaurant. The door leading into the restaurant from the street stood on the flattened corner of the building facing the intersection of 18th and Stout. I fumbled with the crutches as I maneuvered the door open and half hopped into the entryway of the restaurant. Just as I cleared the threshold, another strong gust of wind caught the door and slammed it into my left leg, which trailed bent behind me. The force of the blow caused me to lurch into the restaurant in a tumbled free-fall, crutches flying.
In mid-flight, a shout of pain and surprise burst from my mouth. I crashed onto the floor, pain again exploding in my ankle and reflected against my closed eyelids in searing white streaks. I heard the sound of footsteps caused by hardened leather soles on tile approach.
"Christ! Are you okay?" The deep timbre of a rich, concerned voice penetrated my pain- flooded mind. "Don't move for a second."
I felt hands press onto my raised shoulder, stabilizing me as I lay on the floor. I opened my eyes and stared at the crouched legs of my rescuer. I immediately recognized my breakfast companion by the sound of his voice and after clenching my eyes tightly as another surge of pain throbbed in my ankle, turned my head to look into his worried face. Indiscriminate anger flared irrationally through me as the impotence of my situation sunk in.
"Yes, I'll be fine," I growled between clenched teeth. "The fucking owner of this goddamned building should put a damned tension closure on that door. Fuck!"
The man flinched at my words, apparently shocked by their intensity. So what? I was pissed off and embarrassed – a lethal combination where my vocabulary was concerned.
I heard Hank shout my name as he made his way towards me. "Blair? Damn, man. That was some entrance. I saw you in mid-flight as I came from the kitchen. Are you all right?"
He lowered himself to his knees next to me as I tried to press myself into a sitting position. The man's hand continued to press against my shoulder. "Let me sit up." Some of the anger in my voice diminishing. I felt his hands pull from my shoulder. "Yeah, Hank. I'm fine. Just a bruised ego. Help me up, would ya?"
Hank lifted me to a tentative balance position on my right foot. My breakfast companion gathered my crutches and offered them to me, wordlessly. I quickly glanced at his eyes and gave a brief smile. "Thanks."
Hank placed his hand on my shoulder. "What are you doing on crutches? What happened?"
I smirked and let out a quick sigh. "My mind wasn't where it needed to be," I began, my eyes flashing quickly to meet the dark brown orbs of the tall man that stood before me then glanced at Hank. "I accidentally stepped off a curb as I was running in the park Wednesday night after work. Total grace in action."
Hank chuckled and patted my back in commiseration then turned towards the bar. "Well, come and sit your butt down in your chair. Take a load off." I couldn't stop myself from looking once again at the tall man who remained standing mutely before me. His appraising look changed slightly as his brow raised in sudden comprehension. I flashed a brief half-smile then turned from him towards the bar before my look could reveal anything else to him.
Once seated in my normal spot, my leg propped on the barstool in the corner, I groaned as the adrenaline which had surged during my incident ebbed. Hank poured me some coffee then added a shot of Grand Marnier before I could stop him.
I grinned. "Hell, Hank, I have a video conference in an hour with the boys from New York. I can't go in smashed."
"You'll be fine. You're a big boy. Now shut up and drink your coffee."
I smirked in thanks to him and sipped from my cup. A few early morning customers arrived. My sense of being watched became unbearable and I finally flicked my glance towards my silent companion across the bar from me. He stared at me intently as he spoke quietly into his cell phone, never failing to drop his glance. I returned the stare until Hank brought the coffee pot to top-off my cup. When I looked towards the man again, he was gone. My eyes quickly found his retreating form as it approached the interior building exit. I noticed his three drinks were untouched.
The following week at work was insane. I missed breakfast on Tuesday and Thursday of that week due to being in the office by five. Luckily, I had graduated to a cane on Wednesday so my mobility was finally unhindered by the damnable crutches. I worked late each night. On both Wednesday and Thursday evenings, as I passed the relatively busy restaurant, I saw my 'guy', sitting alone in the corner circular booth. My heart clenched out of sympathy and compassion as I observed the desolate and lonely expression on his face. I stood for a moment each night and watched him through the window as he stared blankly into either his untouched plate of food or his partial glass of wine. The two mornings that I'd made it to the restaurant, Monday and Wednesday, I'd noticed with a surprised lightness in my heart that his standard morning vodka was missing from his line up of beverages. It had given me a faint flicker of hope that whatever had happened to him to produce his palpable pain was somehow fading slightly into the background. His nods continued each morning, but the fixed stare from the previous Friday failed to repeat itself.
I had been surprised earlier in the week on Monday that a new door closure was in place. Hank grinned at me when I mentioned it.
"It was installed by ten o'clock Friday morning."
My surprise caused his grin to widen further. "Damn. You must have some powerful connections, bud," I said.
He shook his head. "Nope. Not me. The owner took your little tirade to heart. Let’s just leave it to that."
My confusion brought a quiet chuckle from Hank. He quickly raised his eyebrows once then turned to serve a customer. Suddenly, the light in my head flickered on. My 'guy' was the building owner? "No way!" I stated aloud to myself. I saw Hank shoot me a quick grin over his shoulder before he returned to his customer,
I quickly glanced across the bar to where my 'guy' sat and when he met my eyes, I nodded towards the doorway then slowly tipped my head in thanks. A brief, little smile flickered across his lips as he nodded. Then, as usual, the impenetrable 'door' slammed shut yet again and he returned to his paper.
Now, as I stood gazing at him through the window Thursday night, reflecting on the past month's happenings, I knew that the time for another approach ... a different kind of contact was called for.
My chance came the following evening.
Special thanks goes to Rock Hunter for his endless efforts to edit this mess. Thanks, Bud!
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