My heart rate was already around 190 with the stress of running back and forth before Marty even stopped at our table.
"My, my. Phillip Farrell having dinner with a woman."
I scowled at him, but he lounged against the black-painted wall opposite our booth as if he had nowhere else to be. With his short, salt and pepper hair, grizzled face, and gym-fit body that was only now starting to sag a little, he wasn't bad looking but he wasn't half as good looking as he thought. Who else but a total poseur would wear leather chaps in a restaurant? Even in the dim gloom of romantic candlelight, I could see the malicious grin on his face.
"Hi, Marty. How's it going?" I tried for polite. I'd dated him for three years; I knew how much he would be enjoying this. Besides, he was like a cat: the more you pushed him away, the more insistently he'd try to sit on your lap.
Marty put a too-warm hand on my shoulder and leered down at me. "I didn't think you had it in you, dear." He'd smeared too much bronzer over his cheekbones in an attempt to add definition. He'd ended up more Boy George than Elizabeth Taylor, though. I'd always told him it was too much when we were going out, but he never took any notice. I didn't know why it had taken me so long to realize that he'd never listened to me at all.
I shot a look over at Gina, my date. She was staring at Marty with narrowed eyes. Her long, dark hair fell sheer down her back. Black, burlesque-style tattoos curled round her arms. That was what had made her stand out from the others in the coffee-shop where she worked. At the moment, I wasn't sure I wanted a new relationship, but I did know that I wanted sex, even so, it had taken me three weeks to get up enough courage to ask her out on a date.
With her carefully painted red lips and ripped black lacy top, you could tell that she didn't take her femininity too seriously. She would have been beautiful however she dressed, but there was an element of play in her display. Not like some of the pursed-mouth girls you often saw out at night falling out of halter-necks as they tottered on high heels, plastered with make-up. The future Conservative Wives of America (give them a few years) who looked worse than drag queens.
"Marty, we're kind of busy, so if you'll excuse us."
He mugged, playing to Gina. "That's not very nice, is it?"
Her welcoming smile caught on her face, but she scooted over a little on the banquette like she was going to invite him to join us.
I cut in quickly. I just wanted to be rid of Marty before he blew it all. Before our starter platter of chorizo and olives had even arrived, the spike of her high heel had been running across my crotch enticingly, snagging on the denim from time to time in a way that made me wriggle and push against the sharp heel of her shoe. Whenever our eyes met, she'd given me a wicked smile.
"Marty, come on—" I didn't want to beg. I knew Marty would pounce on any weakness I showed, and even though he'd left me, I knew I he wouldn't forgive me for 'breaking ranks' as he'd probably put it.
"Bit desperate isn't it, dear?" Marty dropped his voice a little, but there was no mistaking the nod he gave towards Gina. I could already hear his screeching laughter as he retold this story—waving a hand in front of his nose and screaming about the smell of fish—to his little gang of bitchy queens who hung out in the Castro Café.
There was no doubt that she'd heard, too. Her eyes glittered and she scooted back to fill the gap she'd left in the booth.
"Marty, you're way out of line—" But I was reluctant to push back my chair because I knew that he'd cause a scene.
"Marty, my sweet, are you going to keep me much longer?" A high voice trilled from over by the maroon velvet curtain which covered the door. It was Aaron, the butchest-looking, campest-acting beefcake ever to come out of Ohio. Marty had left me for him eight months ago.
"Oops." Marty shrugged. "Got to go. Guess you kids'll have to entertain yourselves." Then with one final smirk, he was gone. I breathed a shallow sigh of relief.
Gina waited until he'd sashayed past the row of booths and out of the door. "Who the hell was that?"
"An old friend," I muttered. I shifted my weight from side to side, trying to peer across the sleekly dark interior of the restaurant to the doorway which led to the back room.
"Doesn't seem much like a friend to me."
I wanted to close my eyes and let my face sink down into the cool, purple puddle of my blackcurrant parfait. As if this evening hadn't already been stressful enough. I dropped my napkin on the tablecloth.
"I've got to—"
"I know—you've got to go to the men's room again."
I gave her a smile which I hoped wasn't a much of a cringe as I felt and dashed past the end two booths, but when I was just out of sight, I didn't branch right to the bathrooms, but left into the smaller back room of The Stars at Night.
Luis was waiting for me at a corner table.
"Jesus, are you okay?" His tone was concerned.
I slid back into my seat. "I'm fine."
"You're fine, really?" His tone was a little less concerned. "Granted, we've been talking online for three weeks now, but this is the first time I've met you, and you just spent forty-five minutes in the bathroom."
"Was it really that long?"
Luis brandished his Blackberry. "I answered three work e-mails and organized my niece's birthday party while you were gone. I was starting to wonder if you were coming back." He frowned. "It's a good job you're as good looking as you are; otherwise, I would have been out of here."
"Sorry. I really am sorry." And I really was sorry. Luis was hot. When we first arrived, I'd left Gina sitting in the booth, but as I was making my way back from my first and only genuine visit to the men's room, I'd glimpsed him sitting alone at the dark-blue linen draped table in the back room. I'd recognized him immediately from his photo and my heart began to pound.