I took another tension filled drag from my cigarette, filling my lungs with its comforting warmth, staring in disbelief at the message on the glowing screen.
“RE: INVISIBLE MAN”, it read.
The email header alone sent my heart pounding with anticipation ... and anxiety. It had been so long that I’d nearly forgotten the message I’d sent, a message written in a moment of vulnerability ... mixed with a couple of scotches. I had been feeling the frustration of loneliness and wrote an open and honest invitation on one of the countless chat room boards, fully expecting it to collect dust among the other countless messages posted by other countless lonely men; a reality I’d become all too resigned with.
But there it was.
With nervous anticipation, I slowly hovered the cursor over the words before gently pressing, sending my computer off to retrieve the email. I felt the need to take a deep breath, amazed at my own reactions and giddy nervousness, as I sat watching the cursor spin as it worked to display the message.
As the screen snapped to blank, then slowly began to recreate itself with its new message, I closed my eyes and released a soft sigh before beginning to read the reply:
I have been thinking of your message for some time, reading and re-reading your words, filled with excitement of its suggestion, but until now, overcome with my fears and trepidations.
But today, right now, I’m willing to take a chance. Willing to take a chance that you are the man of your words, and willing to respect my wishes. Like the moonlight, be gone by morning. And like a shadow in the night, silent and untouching.
Friday night, Giovanni’s restaurant ... Ask the bartender for a yellow rose along with your drink, you’ll understand ... a yellow rose
I sat back in my chair, struggling to catch my breath. Was it possible? Can this be real? These things don’t happen to me. They never happen to me.
And yet, there it was. A response to fantasy I’d held onto for more than twenty years. To be a spectre, a shadow in the midst of a woman alone, an apparition, free to experience a woman enjoying her own body, ... an invisible man.
And as I sat, overwhelmed by exhilaration, it suddenly dawned on me ... today was Thursday!
How long had this message been waiting for me? It had been a long and exhausting week, returning home late and lacking the energy to do much of anything, I hadn’t checked my messages in nearly a week.
The message was three days old, and it would be almost too late to expect that she, this mysterious answer to my secreted dreams, would receive my reply. God, had I blown my chance?
“John?” The sound of my name snapping me out of yet another daydream.
“Um, yeah?” I replied, recognizing the voice of Sally, the office secretary, calling out my name.
“Is everything okay?” She asked politely.
“Yes?” I answered, uncertain of what she was asking, but able to see the puzzled look on her face.
“Your phone...” She said, “ ... it’s Jenkins... ?”
“Right ... I’m sorry Sally, I’ve got it...” I fumbled out.
Jesus! I couldn’t seem to hold a single thought all day, save one. Sally gave me an odd look before stepping out of my office doorway and back to her desk.
“Bob, I’m sorry...” I apologized.
“No ... I can’t ... something’s come up ... Yeah ... All right, I’ll talk to you on Monday ... All right ... You too ... Hey, Bob, you’ve been to that Italian place downtown ... Yeah, Giovanni’s ... real nice, huh? ... jacket and tie? ... All right, thanks ... Yeah ... See ya Monday...”
I felt a relief in having asked, imagining the embarrassment of showing up at the restaurant under dressed. Being able to dress casually to the office had both its advantages and disadvantages, one of which was always wondering what kind of impression to make with which client, but I suppose that’s only human nature.
Attempting to finish the work on my desk proved pointless, my thoughts still hopelessly wandering away, until I finally decided to call it quits. Grabbing my coat, I locked my office door, informing Sally that I was going home for the weekend, and headed out on the long drive home. Too nervous to sit still, I spent the remainder of the afternoon working on the simple chores of life; cleaning, laundry, trying to pass the time away as best as I could, before finally deciding it was time to get ready for the evening.
After a quick shower, and carefully selecting a suit to wear, I found myself suprised at the nervousness I felt. Standing in front of the mirror, inspecting the details of my appearance; shirt and slacks neatly pressed, the tie neatly tied and straight, a chance to wear my only real piece of jewelry - a dress watch given to me as a gift from my father before he passed on, ... shoes look okay, shave looks clean, mustache neatly trimmed, could use a haircut soon but it looks fine...
“Enough ... you look fine ... besides, everyone looks good in black, right?”
The trip into downtown was actually pleasant, the Friday rush hour traffic having died down, the throngs of workers having fled the city for home in the suburbs, leaving the few late nighters and people seeking entertainment behind. I began to feel a rush of nervous energy as I made my way through the downtown lights, finally finding the restaurant amid the tall towers of the downtown business district.
The place was abuzz with the after hours business crowd, eagerly ushering themselves in the door from the sidewalk entrance as I pulled into the valet station, slipping the young valet a twenty to have the car close and quickly.
“Yes Sir!” He snapped with a smile as he hopped into the car and sped around the corner.
Stepping through the dark doorway, I was suprised to find the size of the restaurant more than I’d expected, deceptively small from the street, but opening once inside into a large room with an impressive horseshoe bar adjoining the dinning room. Bathed in warm light, the dark wood-paneled walls and rich leather gave the place an air of sophistication, energizing the excited hum of people at the bar. A mix of both young and old, the bar was alive with the excited voices of downtown office workers eager to blow off a little steam and start off the weekend with a bang.
I worked my way along the crowd and was fortunate enough to find a seat at the far corner of the bar, sitting myself to view the room, and ordered a drink.
“Dewers on the rocks, please.” I asked, thinking to myself of the message that’d been floating in my head all day.
A yellow rose ... not just yet.
The cool, familiar taste turned to warmth as I sipped slowly at my drink, taking my time as I people watched, enjoying the energy of the people around me and thinking of the strangeness and excitement I felt myself.
Who could it be? Was I too early? Was I too late, missing my chance?
It was an amusing game, this yellow rose was playing, and I almost chuckled out loud at the thought of it. And as I finished my drink, feeling that the slightest of edge was beginning to melt away, I felt the time was right.
The bartender arrived to give an asking nod as he took my drink.
“Please... “ I replied,
“ ... and I’d also like a yellow rose.”
To my suprise, he merely nodded and walked down the bar, returning in a few moments to set my drink in front of me, then dutifully set down a small envelope next to it on the bar.
“Is there anything else, sir?” He asked courteously.
“No, thank you.” I replied, sliding a bill across the bar to him in appreciation of his discretion.
Had he done this before? His reaction seemed almost routine, but somehow I felt confident that in this setting perhaps it was. Jet setters and high rollers, that was his crowd and he worked them like a professional.
picked up the small manilla envelope, not much larger than a business card, and held it in my hand. Judging by its weight and bulk, I could immediately tell that there was more inside than just a note, and my curiosity was piqued, as if holding an unexpected gift.
Taking a small sip of my scotch, I gently lifted the envelope flap and poured the contents out into my other hand. It was a pin, a tie pin, shaped in silver and gold ... a small yellow rose.
And I suddenly began to understand, it was to identify me.
Was I being watched? Was she already here? I could feel my heart begin to beat just a little bit harder at the thought as I rolled the small pin between my fingers.
“How brilliant!” I thought to myself, and smiled.
This was one smart woman, giving herself an opportunity to check me out, to give herself the option to continue or to simply disappear unseen, unknown, without embarrassment or complications. I was beginning to enjoy this game, this woman, even more.
Leaving my drink at the bar, I slowly made my way to the men’s room, the proper destination for a gentleman to adjust his attire, as well as an excuse to properly expose myself to the disguised eyes in the room, her eyes.
After taking advantage of the facilities, and feeling a sense of relief as I felt the comfort of tension flush from my body, I stood in front of the mirror and secured the small pin to my tie. Its soft gold and silver colors contrasted well against the darkness of the black tie, and looking up at my reflection, I felt good about myself. It wasn’t often that I had the occasion to dress to the nines, and I hesitantly admitted to myself that it suited me well.
Over the years, I’d managed to avoid the curse of the desk job, and although I was admittedly not as athletic as I once was, I was still slim for my age. After having tried to disguise what I felt was a boyish looking face for so many years, I began to feel that the years were a help, putting a little hardness to my looks that I found comforting. But as I smiled to myself at the vanity of my thoughts, I suppose I realized it was only a subconscious and silent pep talk, and perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing. We all needed it at some time or another, to rationalize away some truths and overlook the flaws to make ourselves feel better, and I smiled again.
“Lookin’ good, sir. Lookin’ good.” The porter said, catching me off guard and feeling a bit embarrassed as he handed me a towel and offered a dash of cologne.
“Thank you.” I said with a laugh, and a handshake as I handed him a tip. “I needed that.”
Opening the door to the noise of the crowded dining room, I tried to fight the self conscious thoughts of feeling as if on stage as I made my way back to the bar.
Who could it be? Was she watching? It was a strange new feeling for me, to feel the weight of the eyes of strangers, and I tried to disguise my nervousness as best as I could.
It felt almost a relief to take my seat, sipping again at the comfort of my scotch, slowly and discreetly looking about the room. I shook my head in disbelief at my own emotions, trying to squelch my self doubts and just let it happen. What was it that I was getting so worked up over?
The crowd at the bar rolled in and out like the tide, each new group of animated workers replacing the next, and before long I was beginning to feel a bit out of place, the loner at the end of the bar. Not to mention that the effects of the scotch were beginning to take effect, and I quickly realized that this was a dangerous situation; anxious, alone at the bar, and killing time by sipping on scotch, a recipe for getting hammered before you knew what hit you. And as I finished the last sip of my scotch, having sat at the bar for nearly two hours, I decided that it was time to go.
Maybe it was best, meant to be, that whatever was going to happen didn’t. Maybe it was her way of politely letting the both of us off the hook, letting me down easy. If I were leaving too soon, it would have to be as I felt if I stayed too much longer I would either end up too drunk to leave, or worse, make a fool of myself if she did arrive.
“Shit.” I thought silently to myself. I gave the nod to the bartender, wanting to settle up my tab, and finishing with another customer, he walked down to the end of the bar.
“Sir?” He asked politely.
“Thank you” I said, sliding my money across the bar to him.
“Sir, your tab has been taken care of.” He replied with smile. In keeping with his professional manner, returned my baffled look with a quiet nod and quick glance toward the door, then simply said, “Have a good night, Sir.”
“Uh ... right. Thank you.” I replied, still taken aback. “Thank you very much.”, and left him a handsome tip for his service.
I made my way down the crowded bar, not wanting to appear anxious, yet wanting to find the door, ... to find her.
Standing outside were several people, most waiting for their cars as the valet’s hustled back and forth, with yet another group making their way inside. I tried to look, tried to see if she was there, realizing I had no idea who I was looking for. But I hadn’t a clue. Several cars pulled up, the crowd of people dispersing and saying their good byes, and very quickly I was standing alone with the valet captain.
“Can I get your car for you, Sir?” He asked politely.
“Yes, I’m sorry. Here you are.” I relied, handing him the ticket.
“Yes Sir.” He replied, the young valet I’d tipped volunteering to retrieve my car with a recognizing smile. But as he grabbed the keys from the captain, I heard him say something before dashing off.
“Um, excuse me, Sir?” The captain called to me, “I believe I have something for you.”
Reaching under the counter of his station, he pulled out an envelope and handed it to me.
“Here you are, Sir.”
“Thank you.” I replied, suprised once again.
This was possibly the most interesting night of my life, a true mystery, and I was feeling the excitement and tension build as I stared at the envelope.
The valet pulled to the curb with my car, and as I stepped around to enter, he refused my tip, saying that the first was more than enough.