his name was norman
“That’s the place right there,” Joyce said to the taxi driver, pointing at a large yellow awning.
“Have you been here before?” Evelyn asked Joyce. “There’s no name on the awning or the building…”
“No, but a friend said it was a great Friday night place for drinks and food,” Joyce said, quickly paying the cab fare and holding the door open for us.
“I feel like I’m being kidnapped,” I said irritably.
“You are!” Joyce and Evelyn said, laughing in unison.
I wasn’t even slightly amused. It had been five years since I’d been out with the gals. It’d been four years having been engaged to “him”… the suntanned, hunky, heavily-accented Australian who very gradually, before I even noticed how bad things were, he was changing everything about me. I was very young back then, but finally woke up and realized what was happening. By year four, he was controlling me like a puppet master while I lived in misery and humiliation. I started resenting — even hating — all men. And myself. At the end of year four, I’d had enough and left him. No goodbyes. Just packed everything I owned, checked into a hotel, and resigned from my job. I was determined to start over. A year passed. New job. New apartment. By year five, I was content to be living in solitude. But I was still “in recovery” and bitchy as hell. So what the fuck was I doing here anyway?
“C’mon Joan,” Joyce said softly, taking my arm. “It’s just a drink.”
“Right,” said Evelyn. “A change of pace is what you need. Enough work. You can’t live like a recluse forever.”
I said nothing. We climbed down three steps to an entrance, as a doorman opened a heavy, beautifully carved art deco frosted glass door. Suddenly we were assaulted by the loud chatter of people standing around a long, crowded bar, clinking glasses, a mixture of aromas of beer and booze, fragrance and men’s colognes swirling about, a heady scent all together! Sounds of sensual guitar music could just faintly be heard in the background. We had walked into another world. For me at least. The voice in my head said Damn! This looks like a hook-up singles bar! I don’t believe I fell for this!
Joyce took my arm again and steered me to a corner of the bar that seemed less crowded where, surprisingly, there were two empty stools. “What’s everyone drinking?” she asked.
“I’ll have a glass of Chardonnay,” said Evelyn.
“Me too,” said Joyce.
I said nothing.
“Joan?” asked Evelyn.
“I don’t believe you brought me to a singles bar!”
“It’s only a singles bar if you’re looking to hook up. But we’re here just for a drink, some nice music, a change of scenery. So…what’ll it be? Your usual?” said Evelyn, trying her best to be understanding…knowing too well all the heartache I’d been through the past five years.
“Yes,” I said. “Thanks, sweetie. The usual,” I said, softening a bit.
“Joyce, make that a Finlandia on the rocks with a twist,” Evelyn told her. “And I’m going to make a quick trip to the Ladies.”
Joyce grabbed the empty stool that Evelyn had just vacated as the bartender brought our drinks. “I’ll get this round,” I said to Joyce, putting three tens on the bar. “See if you can steal that seat next to you for Ev…”
“Hey Joyce! Hi! I thought that was you,” said a well dressed guy carrying a leather briefcase, approaching us. “Let me introduce you to my wife. She’s just over there,” he said, pointing.
“Joan, save my seat. I’ll only be a minute.” Joyce scurried off, putting her jacket on the bar stool to claim her spot.
I tried to get my bearings and settle in, noticing to the left of the bar, a few steps below, a large restaurant half filled with people having early dinner. It seemed quite a contrast to the crowded, noisy bar just above it. Thankfully the vodka began to relax me a little until…
“Hi! My name is Garry. This is Roger, and Tony. We saw you and your two friends when you came in. We’d like to buy you drinks.”
I nodded and held up my drink, indicating I was fine.
“What’s your name?” said Garry.
Garry was the privileged preppy type. Expensive Ralph Lauren clothes, good looking, well put together. Probable nose job. I thought he was obnoxious. “It’s Joan. I’m waiting for my friends and, frankly, I’m not much in the mood for chatting. Been a long day.”
“Oh… well here comes your friend. Hi! Just introduced ourselves to Joan. Thought we could buy you gals a drink. I’m Garry, this is Tony, that’s Roger.”
“Hi. I’m Evelyn… but we’re fine with drinks. Thanks anyway. Maybe later… ah, here’s Joyce now. Please introduce yourself, Joyce. These gentlemen are trying to be sociable…”
Joyce began talking to the three men, “getting acquainted” talk, then some chatter about the latest hot movie.
Finally out of earshot, I pulled Evelyn toward me and in a stage whisper, “This is not what I signed up for! Either you get rid of them or I’m leaving. Really! That Garry guy is so arrogant I’d like to break his perfect nose!”
“What do you suggest? I can’t just be rude!” said Evelyn.
“You can’t be rude? Really? I always thought you’re very good at it!”
“Damn! You don’t mince words, do you! Okay. Rude it is!” Evelyn said, laughing.
“If you aren’t, then I need to get out of here. I’m already having an anxiety attack. I’m just not interested in meeting men now. I’m sure you understand,” I said, almost tearing up.
“Yes. Of course I do! I’m so sorry…Uh, let’s get a table and then we can have dinner. The food looks great.”
“Fine. Tell Joyce.”
“Let me get the maître d’. I’ll get us a table.” Evelyn said.
“No. I’ll get a table. You try to extricate Joyce. Okay?” I said, my lower lip trembling.
I walked to the restaurant entrance, waving at the maître d’. As he approached, I said I needed a table for three as soon as possible. He nodded, said five minutes.
I turned to find Evelyn as she was pulling Joyce by the elbow towards me. As soon as they were close enough, I said “Table. Five minutes.”
Joyce said “Great. I’m famished anyway. And a little too tipsy.”
“Me too,” said Evelyn. “I don’t know how you can drink straight vodka, Joan, and still look sober.”
“I’m not sober. Just pissed at creepy Garry. What chutzpah!”
“Y’know, I think you’re right,” Joyce said. “He kept asking too many questions about you. He said he likes your very long, sexy hair…among other things. Far too nosy. I think you got his number spot on!”
“Your table is ready, ladies,” said the maître d’. “This way, please.”
We descended three steps to the restaurant and were shown to a table for four along the side wall under a collection of beautiful oil paintings hanging throughout the restaurant. “Your waiter will be with you shortly.”
“I could use another drink,” I said.
Both Evelyn and Joyce said “Why not!” laughing.
Our waiter arrived, handed us menus and took our drink orders. Surprisingly, the drinks arrived in a flash. We all toasted, looking forward to a great meal.
The restaurant was a little less noisy than the bar with some classical music playing from somewhere above. Joyce began telling us a story about the two friends she met earlier when suddenly the fourth chair was rapidly pulled out from our table and Garry sat himself down, uninvited, saying “Hello again.Thought I’d buy you all dinner!”
My brain suddenly clicked into revenge mode and, to the utter shock of my two friends, I smiled warmly at him, Mr. Obnoxious Perfect Nose, and said “How nice! Thanks. I see you already have your drink.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Evelyn and Joyce exchange strange, nervous looks. I quickly turned to them and gave them my slit-eyed ‘just watch me’ look they knew so well. So they followed my lead and began smiling and chatting up Garry too.
Making sure they were keeping Garry occupied, I looked over toward the bar, searching for the tallest, best looking man I could see… uh… right there… got him!
I slid my handbag onto my lap under the table, took one of my business cards out, found my pen, and on the back of my card I blindly wrote HELP!, all while hidden by the tablecloth. Garry was still enthralled and occupied. He was probably thinking he had caught himself a threesome.
I waved to the nearest waiter, and motioned for him to stand by my side farthest from Garry. Turning away, I whispered in the waiter’s ear “Up there at this end of the bar… there’s a very tall man facing us… in a blue blazer, red tie… see him?” Waiter looks, squints, then nods. “Please give him this card… and hurry!” as I slipped the card from under the table into his hand along with a ten dollar bill. The waiter smiled, nodded, then quickly left.
“Sorry, all” I said to the table. “I just realized I left my sunglasses on the bar and asked the waiter to see if he could find them. So, has everyone looked at the menu? What looks good?”
Evelyn and Joyce looked at me warily but Joyce said “The filet of sole almondine looks fabulous. What about you, Garry?”
“I think I’m in the mood for a rib eye steak with onion fries and…” as Garry was trying to finish…
“How about you, Evelyn” I said to her, interrupting Garry mid-sentence and smiling. “I think I’m going to have a rib eye also!”
“Really, Joan? A steak? You almost never eat meat…”
“But tonight I want something I can sink my teeth into… a very bloody rare steak!” I said.
“Okay. You talked me into it. I’ll have the same. But I’d like to finish my drink first,” Evelyn said.
“Drink up, girls,” said Garry. “because I’m going to select us a great bottle of wine to have with dinner.”
“How nice,” I said with a smile that, for those who know me, was one which could kill. Evelyn and Joyce started to look even more nervous. They knew me pretty well.
A few minutes passed as Garry was waxing on about the kind of wine everyone should like when, suddenly, a tall, very handsome man wearing a perfectly tailored blue blazer walked up to our table, stopping directly behind Garry’s chair.
“Excuse me, Sir” tapping Garry on his shoulder rather firmly with his stiffly pointed index finger, “Will you please come with me.” It wasn’t a question.
“What?” Garry said, turning, surprised, looking up at the man standing over him, who was looking down into his eyes, unsmiling.
“You heard me, Sir. You’re wanted in the bar. Now.” Then taking Garry by the elbow, he virtually lifted him out of his chair and steered him to the steps leading him up and out of the restaurant.
“Hey, what’s going on? What was that about?” asked the gals.
I smiled, shrugged, and said “Let’s just have a nice quiet dinner,” and I signaled for our waiter. We gave him our order. For three. Without ordering any wine.
Joyce said “I assume Garry is not returning?…”
“Probably not.” I said, smiling. For the first time that evening, I felt something like happiness. Or accomplishment.
Evelyn chimed in “And I guess you’re not going to tell us who that good looking man was, or what you’re up to?… No. I guessed not. Well… at least you haven’t walked out on us!”
They both laughed loudly when I said “Hey, now I’m REALLY having fun!”
We started talking about the kind of people at the bar as we were finishing our drinks and waiting for our food.
About twenty minutes passed and our tall, handsome hero returned, standing at our table, smiling. “Is everything alright here?”
I stared… said “Thank you so much for rescuing us, Sir! What did you say to him?”
“Not to worry. You’ll never see him again. This I can guarantee.”
“Again, I don’t know how to thank you…”
Holding up my business card between two fingers, he said “You don’t mind if I keep the card then?”
Smiling, I said “Not at all… but may I know your name?”
“Norman. My name is Norman Evans. Enjoy your evening.” he said, smiling. Then he left.
And that’s how I met my husband.
Note: In 33 years, Norman never told me what he said to, or whatever happened to, Garry.