same team

I wake up around 7:45 pm, my forehead pounding. I've been unsuccessfully trying to sleep my way through what I've come to realize must be a sinus infection, because my symptoms are worsening by the day. I have a couple of missed texts and a missed voicemail; invitations from friends to hang out that evening. One is from someone I haven't seen in some weeks and am keen to. But I feel like hell and want to be in better form when I do.

The second invite is from a girlfriend who lives in West Hollywood. Ellie! I'm heading out with D. to Pink Taco on Sunset around 8. Come!! I haven't seen you!! 

I take inventory of my body. Headache. Stuffy nose. Dry throat. Stomach still stuffed from the two slices of pizza I scarfed down that afternoon before falling asleep. Definitely an empire waist kind of night if I do go out, which I know I probably shouldn't, but I really want to see my friends. It's one thing to stay in when there's nothing going on, but I hate the feeling of missing out. 

I listen to the voicemail. L. reiterating her invitation, making sure I get the details in case I want to join them. I glance at the clock before calling her back. She tells me the plan: swing by Pink Taco for a drink and to say hi to some friends of D's, then Bagatelle, then some club in Beverly Hills. D has the hookup and we won't have to wait in line or pay a cover. Also - and this is pitched as selling point - the club is straight. I laugh and tell her I'm in, but that they should go on ahead of me. I'll get ready, take the train to Hollywood, then cab it the rest of the way and be there as soon as I can. 

It's been gorgeous out at night, and I'd love to wear something tight, black, and stylish, but my earlier lunch plus a nap immediately afterward has ruled that out. I guzzle water while I'm getting ready, telling myself futilely that I shouldn't drink tonight. Knowing that I will anyway. I pull on a sundress with a forgiving waistline. It's cute, but not the right look for where I'm headed. I stare at my dress rack for half a minute, trying to envision what I can get away with comfortably, then decide not to worry about it. I need to hurry anyway.

The subway feels like a swamp, and I'm grateful not to have had to dress more warmly. While I'm waiting at Wilshire/Vermont to switch lines, I text my other friend to let him know I slept through his invitation, but would love to make alternate plans. A young man on the bench besides me asks if I'm getting cell reception. I nod and point above us. "I think we're right below the entrance," I say. He offers me his seat, and his friends groan, pretending to object to having to move. I laugh and tell them to stay put, that I'm fine. They ask where I'm headed. I cautiously say West Hollywood, not sure how deep into this conversation I want to go. But they're very chill and friendly, just being generally chatty. They're on their way home from watching jazz and drinking wine at LACMA. 

One of them sits beside me on the train, and we make small talk for another two stops. Have I been to the jazz nights at the museum? No, I have not. Sounds fun though. It is, I am assured. I'll have to check it out sometime, I say. How about next weekend, he smiles. I smile back. No, thanks. Can't make it then. He's unoffended and impassive, and wishes me a goodnight as he and his friends disembark.

The tourist throng at Hollywood and Highland isn't too thick, and I get a cab with ease. It's a van, and I have trouble shutting the heavy door behind me as I climb in. The driver - a hulking, smiling Eastern European - realizes as we're stopped in traffic a minute later that I haven't closed it properly. He reaches back with one arm and pulls it tight. "Oh, I'm sorry about that," I say. Without turning around, he points at his cheek. "One kiss," he teases. I laugh and my phone lights up. L. telling me they've made a first stop at Saddle Ranch, and to let her know when I'm close so they can walk over to meet me. Don't get whiplash riding the bull, I say. Oh god no please, she replies. 

Distracted by the scenes of Hollywood street life on a Friday night, I don't pay attention to where we are, and before I know it, we've arrived. I send a quick text before pulling cash out of my wristlet. Oops, I'm here. She fires back: We're walking down now. 

Getting out of the van with anything remotely resembling grace proves beyond me. Our proximity to the curb combined with my ridiculous clog heels spell disaster, and I nearly break my neck in front of an amused patio full of diners. I scuttle to a corner out of view and text L. I just made a scene trying to get out of the cab. Totally mortified. We have to go somewhere else now, sorry. 

The two of them walk up a minute later, bubbling over with Friday night energy and smiles. Hugs are exchanged and we go inside, where D. greets a large table of friends of his. L. and I hang back, use the restroom, get a drink. We only stay long enough for D. to have made an appearance at his friend's birthday, then we take a taxi to Bagatelle.

We spend the next hour drinking champagne, sharing appetizers, and taking turns updating one another on the men in our lives. D. makes us groan with jealousy when he shows us pics of the model he's seeing. L. and I have had very similar romantic lives for the past few years. She and I are the same age, yet we both tend to date younger guys - as much as ten years younger. For her, this is a deliberate choice. She likes how playful, affectionate, and attentive they are. For me, it's accidental, and something I've been trying to avoid of late, for various reasons.

But I definitely agree with her on the benefits.

Sufficiently liquored up, we join some coworkers of D.'s who are heading to the aforementioned club in Beverly Hills. The three of us ride in the backseat of a spotless black X5, joking and singing along with the music. My headache, I realize, has been temporarily bullied out of existence by the champagne.

We valet the car in front of a smallish club entrance with a massive line of anxious looking, stunningly beautiful people. I'm too tipsy to pay attention to exactly where I am, to glance up or down the street for landmarks - not to mention note the name of the club we're entering - but the immaculate state of the sidewalk registers with me. Yep. Beverly Hills.

Since we've tagged along with a friend of a friend of the promoter (or something along those lines), we are escorted through and past the waiting crowd, to present ourselves to an attractive middle-aged woman in a skintight cocktail dress. She verifies who we're with, then deftly outfits us in wristbands before unhooking the velvet rope to let us pass. I don't make eye contact with anyone waiting in line as all of this happens, but I make a point to politely thank the door staff who usher us inside.

The club is small and very dark. A tiny bar, smallish dance floor, and a raised seating area with about ten sofa groupings for bottle service. There aren't many people here yet.  The three of us fix ourselves drinks at the table the friend-of-a-friend has, and look around. I stash my wristlet and phone under the table, and we take our drinks to the near-empty dance floor. The DJ is jump-cutting crowd favorites from the eighties onward, and we sing to one another as we goof around, still plenty of space between us. Two minutes have barely passed before someone bumps into me, spilling vodka and Red Bull down the bottom half of my dress and my legs. I'm unbothered by the accident - in fact the splash of cold actually feels good in the stuffy nightclub - but we're forced to move to a dryer patch of floor lest we slip.

It fills up fast, and with people that are even more beautiful than I remember them being outside. The three of us have a grand time nudging each other, pointing, giggling, and speculating. Is he looking at you or me? Another drink and another half an hour later, we're ready to mingle.

It's actually a fun little club to be at; it's small enough to not get separated from your friends for too long, but it's filled way past capacity, stuffing patrons into a space that's obscenely undersized for the crowd, and therefore allowing for (forcing, really) plenty of opportunities to socialize with the people you've bumped up against. The three of us are having lots of laughs and enjoying ourselves immensely, and I get pretty brave in my flirtation. L. and I have only hung out a few times, and we're still getting to know one another - including figuring out one another's "type", for wingman purposes. She nods towards a tall, polished-looking guy in a white button down who's dancing near us. "What about him?" she asks me. I check him out. Kind of smirky looking. Smug, really. But he has an interesting face, and I put him closer to my age than most of the crowd.

The man notices us noticing him, and before I know what's happening, he's navigated the two or three steps between us and is dancing with me. In the space of five minutes, I learn his name (Alexis), his occupation (investment banker), and the depth of his arrogance (vast). I almost immediately forget the sarcastic crack he makes about barely being able to afford going out in LA, but it's enough to give him my best really?? glare before mumbling something about needing to find my friends and moving off. But as I do, he says something I don't quite catch. I lean towards his ear to ask him to repeat himself, and he suddenly turns his face to kiss my cheek, though it feels rather like he was aiming for my lips. "Whoa!" I say, pulling back and putting both my hands up in front of me. If Alexis even recognizes my indignation, his face betrays no embarrassment or regret. He just disappears back into the crowd, as randomly as he'd appeared.

The night goes on. Emboldened by the drinks and unfazed by Alexis, I press on, making a game of singling out for conversation any of the men the three of us find cute, just for fun. They're all twenty-something. They're all gorgeous, in my opinion. And for the most part, they're very friendly. We take turns being wingman and recruiting for one another, but nothing really sticks.

I have another mildly shocking interaction with a guy who I notice, and who notices me back. Blondish, chiseled, built but very pretty. A poor woman's Tom Hardy. We throw looks at one another for a few minutes before he maneuvers himself next to me. He's about to speak when suddenly a dazzling platinum blonde appears, wrapping herself around him like a blanket. He kisses her. I turn my back.

A moment later the girl moves away from him. As she does, the man extends his arm just enough to touch my waist and back with a deliberate, slow stroke. I jerk my head around to look at him, and his expression is clear. No, he hasn't mistaken me for his companion. He knows he's touching me. My jaw falls open and I laugh out loud. Unbelievable. I shake my head at him, trying to swallow the remnants of a smile as I step away. As I do so, the man reaches out behind him once more, smacking me lightly on my ass, a half-sheepish grin on his face. I'm too drunk, too surprised, and too amused to react in any way other than to return to my friends.

---

I see him once before we speak. He's stepping past L. and I, his body and face mostly angled away from us as he squeezes past, trying to get out of the seating area. Thick, wavy, sandy blonde hair that he's bound up in ponytail at the base of his neck. I can't tell how long it is exactly, but I suspect chin length. Smooth, slightly tan skin with an even tone and pinkish cheeks. The kind of skin that betrays an excellent diet and more daily water consumption than I manage in a week. Pale eyes, though at first I can't tell what color. He isn't smiling, so I won't see the diastema until we're in conversation a little while later. But I do see his very full lips. About six foot, maybe a bit less. A healthy but not ridiculously-so build. There's definitely cardio in his regime. He's wearing a chambray shirt underneath a kelly green blazer, and black jeans. I put him at twenty-five. He is, in my opinion, easily the best looking man I've seen tonight. A true California beach boy. Probably a surfer.

I point him out to L. as he passes and she gives me a look that says, Yep. Definitely nice. Also definitely young, girlfriend. She's right, I know. Out of my league looks-wise and way too young. I inwardly sigh and think not for the first time how much aging sucks.

A few minutes later I head to bathroom. I'm not really paying attention to where I'm stepping, other than to avoid the toes of the patrons I'm walking with, so I'm surprised when I feel my foot connect with something solid, send it flying across the hallway, and into the wall next to a photo booth. I realize I've just kicked a glass, full force. I look around guiltily, or perhaps to figure out whose glass I've just punted, and I find myself face to face with Probable Surfer.

He smiles widely in sympathy. Diastema. He looks like Heath Ledger, but prettier. Less angular, less gaunt in the face, which glows with...something.

"Don't worry about it," he says. "I think I kicked it before, too."

"You can't take me anywhere," I reply. He laughs and we just sort of look at one another for a moment, assessing. Are we going to keep this going? Do we want to? I want to. Do you want to?

Apparently he wants to, because he makes a subtle join me gesture with his arm as he moves out of the flow of foot traffic, to the only space where we can stand that isn't in the way: next to the obnoxiously glowing photo booth, which is pouring hallogen light on my face at one a.m. I am not happy about this.

I also have a thought as it happens: This is what they mean by "falling" into conversation. 

Over the course of the next several minutes, I gather the following bits of information: he was born and raised in ____. He went to {Ivy League University} for undergrad. He just graduated from ____ law school. We've been to some of the same music festivals - like, on the same actual dates, where we could conceivably have seen one another (we didn't; I would have remembered). He wishes he were going to Burning Man like me. He likes my dress. He really likes floral prints, in fact (I greet this statement with a skeptical smile, as I suspect he's teasing me. No really. I have two floral print sofas at home.) His name is Matthew. He smiles a lot.

Enough time has passed that now I really have to use the restroom, and I say as much. "So what," he says playfully. "You're walking out of my life, just like that?"

Walking out of his life is the very last thing I want to do, but I refuse to ask him to wait for me where he's standing. "I'll meet you back inside," I say with much more nonchalance than I feel. I'm only 80% sure I'll be able to find him again - it's a tiny place but the crowd is thick - but it's the only option.

"Ok," he says. "You better. Same team, right?" he asks, raising his eyebrows in mock seriousness.

"Same team," I nod. He nods too, and then we turn away from one another.

---

While I'm waiting in the line for the bathroom, I chat up two tipsy girls behind me. They compliment my dress, which, if nothing else, is inarguably unique in the mix of sleek, fashion-forward outfits everyone else is sporting.

"I look like I just came from church," I reply. One of the girls shakes her head vehemently.

"Do you have a ponytail holder?" she asks me.

"I wish," I reply. She bites her lip thoughtfully, looking me over.

"A ponytail and some eyeliner. That's all you need," she declares. I smile, not offended at all. She's exactly right.

"Next time," I assure her, feeling as if I've just promised my daughter to make a bigger effort towards looking cool at her soccer games.

---

It takes a few minutes to find him again, but serendipitously, his table is just a few feet away from ours. The next half hour: dancing, drinking, talking, joking. I introduce him to my friends. I try not to stare at him. He slowly ups the physical ante, and eventually, his arm is wrapped around my waist. I am okay with this. There is no arrogance in the gesture or, it seems, in him at all. In fact, I'm beginning to get the impression he's pretty crunchy. I squint at his ponytail. How long? I ask. He responds by reaching back and pulling the band from his hair. I notice it's the same "ouchless" kind I use. I watch as he finger combs his hair down to show me. Yep. Chin length. Golden and wavy and soft-looking. Devastating. I want to run my hand up the back of his head and gather it into my fist. Instead I just smile.

I allow myself one more moony question. "Twenty five?" I say, cocking my head as if studying him. He snorts, throwing me off. "Hmm, really? Twentyyyyyyy-seven?" I say, hoping I don't sound hopeful.

"Twenty-eight," he says, and that line of discussion stops there. He doesn't reciprocate the inquiry.

The club lights come on. Lots of lights, in fact, which seem unnecessarily bright. I catch my reflection in the mirror beside us. I am, undeniably, a hot mess. I've had a sinus infection for a good week, and have been losing sleep steadily because of it. I haven't touched up my lipgloss in hours. I cringe, taking myself in, and think wryly of the expression we used in my dancing days: ugly lights. Strip club owners, it seems, take malicious glee in flipping the light switch the second the clock strikes 2:00 a.m., leaving the girls to scramble to collect payment from their customers and scurry back to the dressing room, lest the brutally unflattering light turn them into pumpkins in the eyes of those men.

Knowing that these ugly lights aren't doing me any favors, I brace myself for a blowoff. But it doesn't come. In fact, the opposite: do I want to come to after hours with him and his friends? I consider. I know my friends are going to be heading home anyway. But if I leave with Matthew, it'll most likely mean spending the night with him. It doesn't necessarily have to, of course - but I don't predict asking him to drive me back downtown at three, four in the morning.

But I'm enjoying him. I can't say that it's any kind of off-the-charts connection, but he is so, so very nice to look at. My ego is tugging on my sleeve. Do it. Come onnnnn, please? You never go to straight bars! You never meet straight guys! What's the harm? Please? For me? LOOK AT HIM.

He turns to face me directly, and his eyes search mine. "What do you say? Same team?" It's that moment - the one where two near-strangers have an unspoken, closing-time exchange. I'd like to hook up with you. Would you like to hook up with me? Where the terms of the hookup are undefined, precisely, but not by a whole lot.

"Same team," I reply, and he accepts this answer with what I decide is an appreciative smile.

I say goodbye to my friends, and we head out into the warm night.

---

Okay, wow, that was quite a post. Your blogmistress wasn't expecting it to take so long to detail this particular adventure, and she's thinking maybe she should stop there, at least for now. I intended to tell the whole story, and I'm sure I will, but goddamn, this is is already eleventy billion words long as it is.

So lemme just publish this and I'll tell the second half later when my elbows recover from four hours of resting with a complete lack of ergonomic kindness on my hard, hard desk.

Incidentally, I really hope it doesn't come across as braggy. Like, oooh, look at me, cute dudes be hitting on me! Really, I'm only sharing it because I know some of you guys get a kick out of the (rare) juicy stuff. I totally would too! And I was pretty mum about what went down with my last manpanion, so I dunno, maybe I feel like I owe you something a little more fun?

Just don't get your hopes up too high; from this point on it was a tragicomedy, but I know it's at least more entertaining to read this stuff than me droning on about the sads all the time. 

Ok, done disclaiming. Thanks for caring/reading about my "romantic" life!

- Ellie