The champagne is Kerry's idea. We're waiting for the guys, on our first round of cocktails in the lounge area of the Gallery Bar at the Biltmore. It's a refreshing change of ambiance from downtown's other three nightlife options (grungy, kiddie, or bougie). Here it's wingback chairs, piano, chandeliers and cast plaster columns. Bartender in a brocade vest who doesn't ask to hold a credit card. Patrons are scarce other than a cluster of puffy fifty-ish banker types in tuxedos. We're catching up.
"Oh, I've got something good," I say. I've already filled her in on Bonnaroo (she's only impressed by the 80s-era names on the lineup) and Terence's news (the cause for the champagne). "My ex-husband got remarried."
"Shut up. Really?"
I tell her what I know, which isn't much. Just what's on the wedding website, which is still up two months later. The only noteworthy part is the About Us timeline, which has some interesting dates. Keyword: overlap. But the liquor in my bloodstream makes me feel forgiving. And anyway, any sting I felt at the discovery a few days ago dissipated with the remembrance of how disastrously mismatched and unhappy he and I were.
"It's funny, but the thing that bugged me most was the photo gallery, all these snapshots of them together. He's wearing clothes I bought him. And I can tell from his hair that if those pictures weren't taken, like, simultaneously, then they were pretty damn soon after we split."
"So wait, you knew her?"
"Yeah. Well, no, I never met her. I knew of her. He worked with her. They were friends. She had a boyfriend at the time. He said."
She is suitably scandalized but I can't generate much more feeling about it. Any emotion I had to spend on him was cashed in half a decade ago. We move on.
Another round of cocktails because the guys are both still at work. Pimm's Cup for me; I know to keep my drinks light as long as possible, because there will be many. She's having dirty martinis, juice on the side, not her usual. She's sick of the sweet stuff, she says. A waitress dressed identical to the bartender brings a silver dish of mixed nuts.
Terence arrives first, smiling sheepishly and raising his arms in playful victory as he reaches us. He knows I will have told Kerry his big news. As he's settling in, leaning over to kiss me hello, I see Kerry give the signal to our waitress. She has the champagne ready behind the bar, and Ross walks in just as she's presenting it. Terence is surprised and grateful, but I just point at Kerry. "All her." There's half a strawberry for each of us, which we plunk into our flutes before toasting Terence. Clinking glass and cheering. Aaand we're off, I think.
We drink and talk. We gossip and joke. We debate dinner options, though it's still early. We drink and talk more. I excuse myself to go cough in the soundproof plushness of the ladies' powder room, cursing my choice of light leather bomber and ripped jeans. I'd kill for a puffer, knee boots, thick socks. At least my insides are alight with liquid warmth.
Back at the table, I nearly topple the flutes in my tipsy haste to show them something. "Oooh, you guys. I almost forgot. Check this out." On my phone's browser I search for an actor who I've recently realized is the spitting image of a mutual acquaintance. When I find the image I'm looking for, I pass my phone to Kerry. "Doesn't he look exactly like him?" Her astonished agreement pleases me.
"Oh my god, he totally does. Ross, look at this." She texts the photo to our friend.
We're ready for dinner; Italian wins out. But not our usual mom-and-pop spot. The bigger, fancier place with the menu and prices to match. We're celebrating, after all. On the walk over I split off alone and run back to the apartment for a warmer coat. Stupid not to have dressed better, getting over a cold. "Get a table, I'll be five minutes behind you." As I'm hurriedly trading summery flares for heavy denim and a sweater, Terence texts a photo. Two greyhounds he's just passed, on a walk with their owner, Kerry just ahead in the frame and looking, from the tilt of her shoulders, a bit wobbly. Puppehs, baby.
Dinner is delicious but a bit of a shitshow. We agree to share three entrees among us but somehow no one pays attention to the fact that all three choices contain red sauce. Kerry dislikes red sauce. When the food comes and she declines any of it, the rest of us stop cold, in the middle of serving ourselves, and stare at her incredulously. "Wait, you're not going to have anything??"
"I don't like red sauce. I told you guys! That's why I wanted the white pizza." I glare at Ross, who changed the pizza order.
"You are her husband," I accuse, pointing at him. His job to know her dietary preferences. But she isn't really mad, and squelches my insistence that we order something else. She's fine. She'll just have bread. She's pretty toasted.
I'm tasked with picking the wine, though I only ever order pinot noir or shiraz. We go through the pinot in a flash, as well as the sausage and black truffle pasta special, gnocchi, and a pizza the ingredients of which I can't identify. (Other than red sauce.) Halfway through the meal the mood of the table plummets and all of us are bickering with our partners. Kerry is morose, hungrier than she's letting on, and Ross is annoyed at her for stubbornly refusing to eat more than a bite of gnocchi, sauce scraped off. Terence is sloppy wasted and his table manners are driving me crazy. I snipe at him bossily. "Stop pointing at everyone's food like that." "Leave those for Ross, you finished the pizza." "I'm going to bathroom. Don't touch my wine."
After the plates are cleared, though, we're laughing again and back to our happy buzzy place. What's next? I want Kerry to see a nearby rooftop bar she's never been to but I know there'll probably be a line to get in. Kerry does not do lines. ("I'm forty-four," she likes to announce proudly. "I don't wait in lines.") But they're game to at least walk over, which we do, linking arms as couples and marching stiffly in the cold. Kerry doesn't have a jacket but swears she's fine.
There's a line, and though we give it a couple minutes, it'll be at least a quarter of an hour before we can get in, so we bail. Where to? Someone suggests the huge but cozy hipsterhaven craft cocktail bar/restaurant a few blocks over, where Kross met Terence for the first time, in September of 2013. As we troop in, Terence points to where the four of us sat that night. "It was right there, remember? You had your scooter." I remember.
We find four chairs by a carved-out section of wall where a fireplace would make sense, though there isn't one. Instead there's a grouping of tall glass oil candles. Little bit of heat, anyway. The chairs are low and wide, dark metal wire with thin ivory cushions. A low square cement table at our knees holds our drinks. Dirty martini, Terence's old-fashioned, my cider, and some cocktail with Mezcal that the bartender at first refused to make for Ross when he admitted he'd never had it. ("I'd rather make you something else," she says flatly. "Most people send it back, they don't like the smoky taste. It's really, really smoky," she repeats insistently. Ross listens to her argument, placidly nodding, yes, okay, that's alright. It's just us two at the bar getting drinks for the others and I feel defensive on behalf of my painfully polite friend. "It's fine," I tell her firmly. "He never sends anything back. And he's adventurous." Both are true, and he does indeed enjoy the drink.)
Back at the table I realize I've left a ring behind at the restaurant, that I took off when Kerry and I were trying on one another's jewelry. There's little chance of finding it, a delicate chain-style ring that, when taken off, collapses to nearly nothing. "It's no big deal," I insist. "Seriously like ten dollars at Unique LA. Totally replaceable." Terence runs back to the restaurant to look anyway, but returns empty-handed five minutes later.
We stay a while. The conversation turns to family. Kerry, sister to three brothers, tells us about the one she doesn't see much. Accomplished athlete, father to two boys she suspects will follow suit. At some point I pull my legs up into my chair, detaching from the talk and just blissfully enjoying the company of my friends. Kerry is Googling her athlete brother for pics to show me and Terence and Ross are animated, laughing about something else. Holy fuck I'm going to miss these people. I take a picture of them. Kerry's nose is in her phone but I can't risk asking her to look up; she'll hide her face. She hates having her photo taken.
When I drift back in, they're talking about Vladimir Putin. I don't have anything to contribute. My cider is the most delicious I've ever had. I examine the label. "Wandering Aengus". Must find. Whole Foods maybe?
Something's happened. Kerry's upset. What is it? What happened? Apparently she's annoyed that she's the only one with a full drink; ours are nearly empty. I thought we were drinking? she asks peevishly. I thought you guys wanted to get drinks? Isn't that why we're here? I try to soothe her. She's pretty far gone, and she's a lovably grumpy drunk. It's okay! Finish your drink. We're just chilling. I think we were talking about going someplace else, after, instead of getting another round.
But we're losing her. We need to change locations quickly or she'll be done for the night. So we head back out into the cold towards the main drag of bars. Long strides to match the men, and to keep warm. Terence scampers up to the elevated shopfronts that run the length of the sidewalk besides us. He weaves in and out of columns, singing, cavorting. I catch his eye and gesture with my hands. Your jacket, I mouth silently, jerking my head towards a shivering Kerry. Without interrupting the song or the weaving, Terence dutifully peels off his jacket and hands it to Kerry. She refuses ("I'm fine! Have I complained once?") but I forcefully drape it over she shoulders and after a moment she gives in and slips her arms through the sleeves.
Next bar. Loud, crowded, familiar faces. The bouncer, blue-eyed and thick-necked, greets me with a one-armed hug. "Hey stranger, long time no see." We used to chat when I'd come here to meet Kerry for drinks, back when I'd just gotten divorced. He doesn't card any of our group, and we find a snug corner in the back.
We stay too long. Kerry's starving, but refuses the chips I sneak off to buy her. We're all tired. Saturated. Maybe just old. The bar is playing 80s music though, which eventually gets the best of Kerry. She slides off her bar stool to dance. The chips, like the cider, seem like the most delicious I've ever had. Why does everything taste so good tonight? I squint in the dark at the bag. "Zapp's Voodoo Potato Chips." My shopping list grows.
Selfie time. Even Kerry's into it, cheerfully leaning into me for a shot of us. She likes it! Amazing! "Post that somewhere," she commands vaguely. Social media is a big mystery to her, as is my blog. But she knows I post stuff, somewhere. "Seriously. That's a great picture." It's a great picture of her. I, on the other hand, am a scraggly-haired disaster. Still, I know I'll post it, because of how she truly lit up when she saw it. That's rare.
Time collapses. We're on the move again. Next stop: more food. Second dinner for three of us, first for one. We take a Lyft to the famous Pacific Dining Car. I'm the only one who's never been, and the others enjoy my impressed reaction. It's as cloistered and rich and old-world and fun as they'd promised on the ride over. All green velvet and brass. Tartan carpet, soft-spoken waiters in penguin suits, cardboard framed menus heavy in the hand. Holy shit the prices. Seventy dollar steaks? You guys...
No, it's okay, there's a cheaper late night menu. Here.
I leave the decision making to them. I'm not really hungry, though I'll pick at what we get. I zone out, editing photos while they discuss. I only want to make sure Kerry gets exactly what she wants this time. Sure enough, when the server comes there's a moment of indecision and she offers to sacrifice her first choice, but the rest of us shout her down.
Food comes fast on the heels of final cocktails. Eggs benedict, hash browns, some kind of bacon and spinach scramble? I have a bite or two and then let the others finish it off. When they're done I smear chunks of fresh, hot white bread across the plate. The yolk. So fucking good.
It's fantastic - the meal, the laughter, the sleepy happy tipsy feel of our foursome. Our mood is solid. Everyone is firmly on board. Team players, all. Kerry even submits to more photos, cuddling on her husband like a cat. I thrust the phone in her face. "Look at you. Look at your skin!" She shrugs it off, smiling, not even asking for copies of such flattering photos of herself. She couldn't care less. I love this woman.
Afterwards we head back out through the narrow doorway single file, each grabbing a foil-wrapped Swiss chocolate ball, except for Terence, who takes four. We summon a Lyft, huddling together to wait in the chilly asphalt parking lot. The lot is virtually empty, but the others assure me that post-bar diners are about to descend en masse. The Lyft driver who responds to Terence's request looks like Aileen Wuornos. He holds up his phone to show us her profile picture. "Monster's coming to get us," he quips.
"Great," I say. "She's going to blow you guys and then kill us all."
Terence is quick tonight. To Ross, without missing a beat: "So just a typical Friday night, eh?!" All four of us lose it, staggering like drunks as we try to catch our breath from laughter.
I know I'll pay for this night tomorrow, and probably a few days afterward. I'm already nauseous from mixing drinks and when I laugh, a nasty cough seizes me for a good minute. So much for recovery. But fuck it. Epic night, that I know I'll want to remember.