I always said that no blog would be worth sacrificing a relationship for. That I'd respect a significant other's wishes for privacy and end the blog if it was going to become an issue. J did not want to live in a fishbowl, which I respected. He made assumptions about what I wrote about and, to the best of my knowledge, never actually read a single post, preferring to imagine it as something more base and sensational than it was.
J is no longer in the picture. I won't go into why, at least not in this post. I won't go into when, because this gives me a 14-month blurry timeline to play with.
I have accumulated a lot of stories these last 14 months, and there's no need to do something so ordinary as tell them in chronological order.
Let's start with Barman Ben.
For those just joining in, or those whose memories are as bad as mine (that's why I have to write everything down), a brief rundown on this Ben character:
I met him nearly two years ago at Cozy Bar, where he still bartends today. Handsome, charming, mysterious, the man was a cocktail of trouble, and I instantly developed a maddening, overwhelming crush on him. He intrigued and inspired me so much, I wrote a short story about him, possibly my best fiction to date. I gave him a copy of the story and he loved it; he mentions what a good writer I am to this day when introducing me to other patrons. Ben himself is an actor (stage and screen). One of the Cozy regulars, Magazine Mitch, teased me about my crush when not mercilessly hitting on me. He and I went to see Ben in a play where he appeared entirely naked. Ben flirted, and I could have sworn some spark was there between us, but nothing ever came of it. Then I started seeing J and my visits to Cozy Bar became less frequent.
Barman Ben got under my skin in a way few other men ever have, and while I made peace with the fact that nothing would ever happen between us, there remained a secret thrill of seeing him behind that bar, and a lingering question mark in the back of my head. What if?
One night X months ago, I went to Cozy Bar with my friend Dancer Denise. We expected a girls night, but within minutes of arriving got caught up talking to others. There was a special energy to the place that night and it was extra-lively. Lots of familiar faces, retro music, and a buzz of effervescent conversation had us in high spirits in no time.
Barman Ben was behind the bar and his usual dapper self. I stood at my usual spot at the corner of the bar and fended off overtures from the men around me, polite but disinterested, watching Ben without watching him. All this time and he still had a mesmerizing effect on me.
"Why don't you just tell him you want to fuck him?" Magazine Mitch asked.
"Can you not say that so loudly please?" I knew Ben couldn't hear us, but I couldn't be too sure.
"Do you want me to tell him?"
"I'm sure at this point he pretty much knows." I shrugged.
"Face it, Dolly, it's never going to happen."
"So that's why you should get with me."
I laughed. "We're not going to make out, Mitch."
"I liked you better before you lost the weight. You were less cocky then."
Denise ended up leaving with a cute boy she picked up at the bar. Barman Ben and I raised our eyebrows over the spontaneous pair-up and smiled. I felt him looking at me throughout the night but made it a point not to look back... much. He was exceptionally flirty with a random girl I ended up talking to, as if to show me how well his charms worked on others. There was something pointed about it, and I smirked at the prolonged hug he gave her when she left.
He teased me about not having my money ready quickly enough when I ordered drinks. I teased back the next round, waving around a twenty and smirking with mock impatience. When he gave me my change, our hands lingered, squeezed together, took an inordinate amount of time to separate. I looked down at my drink, remembered to breathe.
What was happening here?
I sensed a new curiosity from Ben, an intrigue. I didn't dare imagine anything would come of it, not after the way I tortured myself about him in the past. So I played it cool, flirted with guys who talked to me but made it clear I was a dead end. Eventually, it was near closing time and it was just me, Magazine Mitch, and a handful of others. It was past last call, but Ben still served me and didn't take my money.
Then it was just Mitch, Ben, and me. Past 4:00am. The three of us stood outside and smoked cigarettes. Mitch and Ben discussed music I wasn't familiar with and I focused on being still. I didn't want to appear as drunk as I was. Ben sent me a sidelong glance from time to time, which I matched.
I lit another cigarette and continued to listen to their conversation. Out of nowhere, Ben pulled me over to him, had me stand in front of him like a human shield and talked to Mitch over my shoulder. I smoked while he pressed against me and felt me up from behind, hand up my dress, against my thighs and hips.
Ben took the cigarette out of my left hand, threw it into the street, and placed my hand between us on his crotch. Just like that. And just like that I complied, stroked him over his trousers like it was the most natural thing.
I understood two things right then:
1. This was not about hearts and flowers, this was physical. The romantic portrait I conjured of him in my story was not the same Barman Ben grinding against me. And that was okay, because--
2. In that moment, I knew I would do anything he wanted me to. He could have stripped me down right outside the bar in broad (early morning) daylight and I wouldn't have blinked.
Magazine Mitch carried on talking as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening before him, until he finally said,
"Should I leave you two to it then?"
"Come back in for a few minutes," Ben nodded at the door. "Both of you."
Ben poured Mitch half a pint and led me to the back room. He put my handbag on the pool table, pulled me over to the wall and said,
"We're going to do this, but we're not going to do this tonight."
And then we were kissing.
There weren't any butterflies, because butterflies are the stuff of stories that might have a happy ending, and this was a dead end from the start. So kissing Ben didn't make my heart take flight. It actually felt like an out-of-body experience, like it must be happening to someone else, maybe somebody a little less numb with alcohol.
Ben unbuckled his pants, but this time he didn't need to guide my hand. His own hands travelled south, past fishnet and lace boundaries, but I was too drunk to feel anything beyond a surreal thrill.
He guided me to a nearby couch, sat me down, and stood in front of me. Halfway through he said,
"You're good at this..." he tilted my head so I looked up at him, "and you know you're good at this."
Of course, this is when Mitch decided he needed the bathroom. He wandered past and started saying something to Ben, only seeing his back at first. Then he realized.
"Oh. Never mind then."
I think I laughed, despite having my mouth full.
Ben didn't let me finish and I don't know why. I think he was close. Whatever the reason, that was it. He took one taxi home and I took another, but not before Mitch congratulated me.
When I woke up that afternoon, it took me a while to believe that what happened with Barman Ben really happened. I wish I had been less drunk, to remember what he smelled like, what he tasted like, what his hair felt like between my fingers. It's okay. I remember enough.
I finally kissed him. Yes, there was the other stuff, but that didn't matter to me as much as the kissing did, because that's all I ever wanted. I didn't want to bed him or date him, I wanted one moment, mouth-to-mouth. And I got it. That's enough for me.