One Night, a romantic short story

One Night by Paige Gibson

It’s never what you’d expect, going someplace you’ve never been.

We dressed up for a birthday party to celebrate someone neither of us knew. My best friend had grown weary of me moping around. Her parents were kind enough to give us their tickets to attend a lavish birthday soirée. They already had plans for a cruise that same weekend. They had a life.

The party was in Reno, Nevada. The lights and buzzers were good distractions for the otherwise despondent. Who can dwell on the thought of being unloved and abandoned when bells and whistles are going off? There is no time for self-pity when the slot machine next to you is trumpeting how lucky a stranger is.

Dressed in my favorite amethyst-colored, mandarin dress with its jaw-dropping slit up to my thigh, I was ready to be social. Tanya, my best friend of 20 years, looked hot as hell in her flashy red dress which accentuated her two blessings. It was her go-to dress when she was on a mission to get some phone numbers, as we single ladies call it.

“Thank you for making me come out of my cave.” I hugged her, smiled and was ready for whatever the party had to offer. I had become a hermit after being dumped. It was time to get out from under the burdensome weight of inadequacy.

We stood in front of closed double doors. No one had come in or out. Were we in the wrong place?

Tanya readjusted her boobs, fluffed her highlighted blond hair and popped a mint. “Let’s go.” She pushed the handles down and the doors swung open like an Oscar moment.

I felt like a child opening up the secret panel in the wardrobe leading me into Narnia. Taking that brave first step, I crossed the threshold and froze. There he stood, with the confidence and composure of James Bond. Across the room on the edge of the dance floor, waiting for me. He turned his gaze to greet me and found my smile in the process.

My broken self felt my heart jump into its cage and my eyes instinctively looked down. “Do you see him?” I asked Tanya, making sure he wasn’t a novelty of my overactive imagination.

“Do I see the handsome man standing by the dance floor? Oh yeah,” she said with a sigh. “Come on, let’s find a place to sit. Maybe he has a friend.” Having been single for two years Tanya was ready to pounce on any available man who was willing. Surely in a casino, she would find plenty.

It was a large, Cinderella ballroom. A band played on stage in front of the dance floor. The remaining space held 80 round tables, seating 10 guests each. People were filtering in through an entrance on the adjacent wall. There were still plenty of seats available. Where would he be sitting? Damn.

I looked at the edge of the dance floor again hoping to get a closer look. He was gone. Crap. We sat down at a table with three couples all sporting 20 Shades of Gray. A comfort zone for me.

“Why did you pick this table?” Tanya leaned in to ask. “You couldn’t pick a table without oxygen tanks?”

“You said pick a table, so I did.”

She rolled her eyes. “I thought you’d pick a better table.”

“Sorry.” But I wasn’t. “Where’d he go?” I whispered in Tanya’s ear as I scanned the three tables near my left, “I’ll look this direction, you look that way.” I said trying to be nonchalant. He was walking back from the bar, holding a drink and talking to another man. “He has a friend.” I nodded in their direction, behind us.

Tanya turned in her seat. “Oh, his friend is cute too.”

We waited to see if they would look for us. No luck.

“We need drinks,” she announced. Being a drinker she was more comfortable with a drink in her hand and one flowing through her veins.

I, being a lightweight, had to pace myself. “Let’s wait until we find out where they’re sitting.”

“Hi, I’m Gertrude and this is my husband Harold.”

Some people are more friendly than us. They were a cute couple, especially for being upwards of 60. “Hello,” we said in unison, our trance broken by her friendly voice. “Sorry, we didn’t mean to be rude. There is so much to take in here,” Tanya said.

“This room holds 800 people, but it’ll pack up shortly. There’ll be plenty of men for you ladies to choose from.” Harold grinned revealing white dentures.

Busted. And we lost track of the men.

“Don’t look so obvious,” Tanya said. “Let’s get our drinks now, we’ll get a better view.” She looked at our dinner mates and asked, “Anyone else want a drink from the bar?”

The gray-haired and balding couples graciously declined. No doubt they would gossip as soon as we stepped away.

The bar was on the other side of the room from where we sat. It seemed so far away, considering what I wanted was closer to me. I’m usually a “take your pick of the crop” type of woman, wanting to look around at the best options, but not this time. The best had already been found.

The band, dressed in black suits, played popular hits from the 80’s and 90’s. Stray Cat Strut bellowed as we pranced through the curvy alleys toward the bar. Perfect music for Tanya who still lived in the decade of blue eyeshadow. She was in heaven: 80’s music, gambling and hundreds of men all in one room. Bliss.

Double-fisted rum and coke for her and one Cape Cod for me. We meandered our way back, searching for our beacons. Even before taking a sip, I found myself feeling lighter, that unnecessary boulder of inadequacy slowly rolling off.

Loving this moment in time, of unknown potential, of positive energy that filled the room; I took stock of my appearance. Stomach in, shoulders back. Do the stare-at-my-ass, sexy walk. Try not to trip. Subtle smile. Own the room. Try not to spill the drink.

Back at our table, Tanya leaned in. “They’re sitting two tables away – in front of me.”

The man seated next to her chair pulled it out for her since her hands were full.

“Thank you,” she offered.

An announcement came over the PA, “Dinner is about to be served. If everyone could take their seats to clear the floor.” The band changed to playing mellow elevator music. Most of the seats were now occupied with suits and floral print dresses.

Tanya had the view advantage from her seat, while my angle was better for viewing our table guests. I would have to settle for her commentary to avoid looking like an obvious stalker.

Wow. It dawned on me how fixated I had become. There we were, in a room with hundreds of men, and I wasn’t interested in looking at any of them. How unlike me.

The smell of lemon and garlic filled the air, as plates of bread and salad began to dot the tables. For the first time in months, I had my appetite back. Being dumped by my boyfriend of three years (for an older woman) had the benefit of no appetite, so I easily lost the 10 pounds I’d put on in our years together.

The bread was soft, warm, and slightly sweet. The garlic butter whipped, melted on my tongue. I savored it as if it were my first – kiss. Intoxicating carbs were exactly what my soul was looking for.

Tanya was slacking on her commentary duties, as her mouth was preoccupied. I couldn’t take it anymore. As nonchalantly as I could, I turned my head to the left. His table was full and he was sitting on the far side. Trying to be sly, I leaned back in my chair like a teenager trying to put the moves on a date. He had a smile on his face. I’ve always found happy men more attractive. I leaned forward trying to get a better view. He was talking to an attractive brunette sitting next to him. Instantly my appetite was gone again. Girlfriend? Wife? A sudden, dull pain in my right shin brought me back.

“Hello? What are you thinking?” she whispered.

Gertie and Harold smiled, obviously witness to my portrayal of a sad woman. The couple to their left were still satisfying their hunger. The couple next to Tanya was engaged in each other’s presence. How sweet.

“Look at me,” she said. “What?” My shoulders sagged like a rejected lover.

She stared at my mouth. “You have something in your teeth.”

“What? What are you talking about?” I said, flashing a child-like fake grin showing all of my teeth before I began to giggle. And I giggled myself to the brink of peeing. I couldn’t help myself. Jeez, how much have I had to drink?

As I calmed down, I ran my napkin across my teeth so as not to embarrass my best friend any more than necessary. “Did I get it?” I flashed my teeth. “I don’t know what came over me.” Perhaps realizing my own absurdity. Oh well.

“Glad to have you back,” Tanya said.

The best thing about a true friend is just how well they know you.

She looked at our now silent table companions with an apologetic smile, “Please forgive her. I brought her out of a mental hospital for the weekend.”

Sometimes it’s that simple. That one moment your brain is completely distracted and it derails any self-doubt you were running on. No thoughts of heartache, only feelings of love for friends, new experiences, and possibilities.

The boulder rolled down further.

A server came over bringing us a rum and coke and a Cape Cod. She cleared the table of empty plates. My mouth started watering at what deliciousness was to come.

Tanya looked at the men’s table to see if they sent the drinks, optimistically, of course. “I can’t tell. He turned his head away and is talking to his friend. They are both so cute.”

Odd to me that even in our mid 30’s we still describe men as cute. A term best suited for boys, but appropriate in our current state of cougarness. He had a goatee. To me, it is the single easiest thing a man can do to make himself more attractive. A goatee will make an ugly man average and an average man handsome, but that’s just me.

With chicken and garlic mashed potatoes consumed, we were content. I wondered what dessert would bring. Hot, steamy and succulent? Warm’n juicy? Cold’n hard?

Relaxing in my comfort zone, thankful I wasn’t wearing snug pants squeezing my meal in, a man’s voice broke into my tranquility.

“How are you this evening?” Dressed in a crisp white button-down shirt, a loosened apple-red tie, and black slacks, he stood within an arms reach of me, no longer on the edge of the dance floor.

I sat up straight and sucked my stomach in.

“Just lovely, dear. And you?” asked Gertie.

“Very well, thank you. My name is Justin.” He reached out to shake their hands.

He was talking to the old couples! What the hell!

“Gertie and Harold. Nice to meet you.” Gertie spoke for them both.

“You too. How are you two this evening?” He asked the middle couple.

Seriously, hello, I’m right here.

“Fine and dandy, the name is Randy and this here is my wife Edith.”

“Pleasure to meet you both.” Justin nodded. “And you two?” He asked the couple sitting next to Tanya.

What is going on here?

“We’re good. Have a seat; join us.” Randy offered.

He stood with his shoulders squared and back straight, close enough for me to touch.

“That’s kind of you, but I have plans. Perhaps later.” He looked at Tanya. “Hi,” he said with a coy smile on his face. “And your name is?”

She was as shocked as I was.

“Tanya.” She gave me a sideways glance and her nose twitched. “Nice to meet you.”

He reached out to shake her hand. The lingering traces of cologne wafted past my nose as he reached in front of me for her hand. He was the whole sensory package. His pale brown hair had a professional cut. The color matched his goatee. A few years younger than me, I would guess. I was enthralled and bewildered.

“My name is Justin Bradford. How are you on this fine evening?” He asked as he reached for my hand.

About time. “Superb. And you Justin?” Damn, I can be coy.

“Very well, thank you.” His face asked the question his lips did not.

“Ilyana Turner.” I sat up straighter.

His hand had not let go. “Would you dance with me?” He asked in a gentleman’s tone, but confident.

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