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If It Isn't You, It Isn't Here

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After the day I’ve had, I don’t feel like going home. I don’t want to be alone, but I don’t really want to be with mates either. I feel like listening to empty chatter in which I do not actually have to participate. It’s a thing among therapists- that at the end of our days we long for human connection, but lack the energy it takes to connect, having left most of our blood, sweat, and vigor in the therapeutic ring of fire.

People don’t really get it if you just want to hang out and not participate in discourse or interaction of some sort. At best they assume you’re being evasive, and at worst they assume you’re being snobbish.

So, we search middle ground, lest we frustrate others with our peculiar quirks.

I push through the door of my middle ground, also known as Deville’s, and don’t know weather to be happy or sad that the bar is mostly empty. There’s no familiar faces, tonight. I find a seat and shrug out of my overcoat, but leave my scarf around my neck. It’s a chilly night and I’ve not been able to shake off the cool shadow that settled over my soul after my last session.

“Hey Bridge!” Doreen cheers from the other side of the bar. “What’ll it be?”

“Hi Dory. Let’s do a vodka martini, a little dirty, extra olives.”

“Alright. And you wanna see a menu?” Her smile is wide and her brown eyes shine against her deep complexion. I don’t think she realizes she’s rubbing her belly.

“Sure,” I say. “How’s bub going?” I ask and nod at her tummy.

“Aw, she’s doing brilliant! We’ve just had another ultrasound and doctor says she’s measuring nicely.” Doreen sets a place for me and goes to mix my drink. When she brings it back, I see the olives she stabbed onto the pick are stuffed with blue cheese, almonds, and a spicy pepper, respectively. She did that because she remembers I liked them last time. I smile at her.

“Have you made a decision,” she asks and nods at the menu which I haven’t even opened yet. I glance down at the menu, but a gust of freezing air hits me as the door to the establishment opens, and causes me to look up. A lanky figure stands, silhouetted by the streetlights, in the doorway for a moment in a pose that brings immediately to my mind superheroes on the brink of an epic rescue. For a moment, I’m blinded and distracted by this vision that seems to fill the entire door frame. Doreen says, “I’ll give you a few more minutes,” and wanders off.

The lean, lithe woman walks out of the shadows and into the light and warmth of the bar. She takes a seat close enough to me so I can see her angular profile which is framed by a thick fringe of black hair. Close up, she is much more petite than her initial impression led me to believe, but she still has a few good inches on me, even in the four inch heels I’m wearing. She tosses her coat on the back of her chair and slides her scarf off from her neck in a long, supple motion reminiscent of a snake charmer. She mesmerizes me. She catches me watching her and smiles. I return my eyes to my drink but I continue to feel her staring at me, watching me, almost as if she is trying to place me from somewhere. I look back up.

“Do I know you?” I ask.

“Well, no, not biblically,” she says and smiles. “But I was waiting for you to maybe talk to me. Hi.”

“Hi,” I say and gulp my martini.

“What are ya drinkin’?” She asks.

“Vodka martini.” I say, and smile as I add, “A little dirty with extra olives.”

“Oooohhhh!! A little dirty she says!” The brunette slaps her thighs as though I’ve just said the funniest thing she’s ever heard. “Dory! Get me what she’s having and make it a little dirty!” She leaves her coat where she tossed it and moves to the stool next to mine. She thrusts her hand out at me, “I’m Franky,” she says.

“Bridget,” I say and take her hand. She wraps her fingers firmly around mine and holds them fast and almost painfully tight for a long moment.

“Nice to meet ya,” she says and settles on her stool.

“You actually do look familiar,” I say. “Have you been in here before?”

“Oh? Do I come here often?” She laughs and I instantly shrivel awkwardly inside.

“No, I mean. . .”

“Nah, I’m just kidding. I’ve been here a few times, yeah. But you might have seen me on TV. I’ve been on a cooking reality show?” She crinkles her nose as she offers this little nugget of information like maybe she’s embarrassed by it.

“Oh my god, yes! I have seen you on TV!” I am grinning and forgetting that I didn’t feel like talking to people. For some reason, I suddenly want to talk to this woman, who I have just realized has stunning green eyes, all night long. “How do you manage to put up with that Mike Pennisi? He’s intolerable.”

“That’s one word for it. I’ll tell ya, between you and me, I’d love to throw a pan of boiling oil on the shit bag, but then I wouldn’t win this competition, and also between you and me, I’m totally going to fucking win this competition.”

“Well, I’ll be rooting for you, Franky,” I say. That first sip of martini had gone straight to my head, but I take another sip and then another. Franky’s drink comes and she lifts it up.

“Cheers then,” she says and we clink glasses.

“Ah, yes. Here’s to you winning!” We sip and she smiles at me again.

“So what do you do?” She asks me.

It’s the question I dread. It’s the question I always want to lie about. When you tell people you are a psychologist, they want to know several things. They want to either ask for advice, or they want to hear about all your success stories. They do not want to hear about why you end up in a bar by yourself at the end of the day because you just learned your favorite client has a super aggressive cancer and tried to off themselves. They don’t want to hear about the woman who went back to be beaten again by her sociopathic spouse, or they want to blame it on you for not being a good enough therapist to talk her out of it. They don’t get why the kid dropped out of school right before graduation when they were so close because they were being plagued by flashbacks of things that happened long ago in the dark. And no one can understand how just sitting and listening can take such a mental toll on you, how listening to six people in a row cry about dark, twisted traumas woven into their DNA makes you want to curl up into your own ball of salty submission and never open your own eyes again.

No one understands the contradiction about the puzzle of humanity that keeps you on your toes, and keeps you coming back to the well time after time. You’re intrigued, but you’re so exhausted it’s impossible to care for yourself well, let alone to nurture another human or a relationship. No one understands any of that, or they judge and you end up feeling guilty, so it is a lot easier to say you sell insurance, or that you bake cakes, or that you are in between gigs at the moment.

“I’m a forensic psychologist,” I offer with a little shrug. I’m suddenly feeling warm enough to untie my scarf.

“Holy shit!” She cries. She downs the rest of her martini and says “Dory, two more of these.”

“I’m afraid it’s probably sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is,” I say.

“Nuh. Nuh way. That shit is fucking cool. But oh man, I bet you go home tired! No wonder you are in a fucking bar drinking alone.”

“Well, I’m not actually alone at the moment, am I?” I say, simultaneously shocked and impressed that she completely understood without my even having to explain the magnitude of my workload.

“No. You most certainly are not,” she says and puts one of her long, black jean clad legs down so her boot can reach the floor and she can scoot her stool a bit closer to me. “You single?”

“Oh,” I sigh and roll my eyes way back in my head. “That’s a long story.”

She smiles at me and puts a hand out to tug at the end of my scarf. “It’s not though. It’s a yes or no question, Gidget.”

“My name is Bridget.”

“I prefer Gidget,” she winks. It makes me smile helplessly. “You wanna order food, or you wanna get a room?”

“My god,” I gasp. My fingers spay out in front of me on the bar. She slides my scarf down off my neck and takes it in her hands, plays with the fringe on the end of it. My eyes are fluttering all over the place, but she never breaks eye contact on me for a second. When she finally catches me in the forest of her eyes, I stay. It’s like I couldn’t move even if I want to. And I do not want to. I want to stay. It’s like lying back on a bed of ferns in the sun, and you can smell conifers somewhere not too far off. It’s warm. I don’t even remember what it feels like to be cold. I’m gone. I’m there. She takes my scarf and places it on the back of my stool with my coat. Then she places her free hand on the bar, very close to where my hand has flopped itself out like a starfish on the polished cherry.

“You’re cute when you’re flustered,” she says. Her fingertips inch their way closer to mine. She knows what she’s doing. She knows exactly what she’s doing so I leave my hand where it is and I watch as her middle finger grazes the tip of my index finger. It sweeps back and forth once, twice and then stops. It comes to rest, tip to tip, her finger against mine. I inhale sharply and lick my lips. “Are your biometrics accelerated?”

“Pardon me?”

“Isn’t that what they call it when your heart and respiration rates speed up? When your aroused and your pupils dilate? Biometrics?”

I laugh. “Yes, that’s correct.”

“Well, did yours speed up when I got closer to you or what?” She raises an eyebrow at me.

“Did yours?” I swallow hard.

“Oh yeah,” she says and in a gesture that is frighteningly quick at first and then sleepily slow next, she raises her hand and strokes my neck which is now bare of my scarf. At her touch, I close my eyes. “No!” She commands and I snap them back open. “Don’t close your eyes. They’re so pretty. So blue. You’re like a dream, Gidget.”

“One could say the same about you, Franky,” I say.

“Could one? Could one say that?”

“Yup. One could.” I raise my glass and sip. The alcohol has emboldened me and I want to get lost again in her eyes. I want to go to that green place and smell those green things and let her touch me in ways I haven’t been touched in ages.

“Can I buy you supper?” She asks and it’s almost adorable how she dips her head and looks up from under her lashes when she makes her request. No. Not almost. It is adorable. It is. She is. She is suddenly everything.

“I don’t know how I could say no even if I wanted to,” I murmur because my heart commanded I’ll always be honest with her.

“Awesome,” she says. She claps her hands and rubs them together excitedly. Then she peels off the cardigan she’s wearing to reveal two amazingly toned arms, one of which is tattooed with a naked woman.

“Interesting ink,” I say.

“I’ll tell you the story some day, but right now, I want to feed you, yeah?” She sticks up her hand in the air and Doreen comes back over. “We would like the ahi tuna special and the fillet medium rare. And how about you bring us some bruschetta to pick on, yeah? Oh, and a bottle of the Layer Cake Shiraz.” Dory takes our menus and disappears. “Don’t tell me you’re a vegetarian.”

“I won’t,” I say. I’m simultaneously pleased with what she ordered and I’m also a little perplexed because a woman has never before ordered for me without even consulting me.

“You like Shiraz?”

“Love it.”

“Perfect. Now you can tell me about this complicated girlfriend, not girlfriend that you may or may not have.”

“You assume it was another woman?”

“Um, I know you’re gay. I mean, the second I looked at you my senses were pinging like crazy. Am I wrong?”

“You’re awfully sure of yourself. I don’t typically discuss my sexuality with people I’ve just met.”

“Yeah, but we’re having a moment here,” she says and she puts a hand on my knee. “We are having a moment here? Aren’t we?” She takes her hand away and picks up her drink. She shakes her head and looks frustrated and confused for a moment. “Man I must be way off my game or something.”

“Yes. I’m gay.” I say with a short laugh. “Can we move on to the next question in your relentless interrogation?”

She presses her lips together in an impish smile and looks at me sideways before turning her body back toward me on the stool. “Yup,” she says with an almost sheepish nod of her head. “Seriously though, what brings a lovely lady like you out all by yourself? I mean Deville’s is a nice enough place, but still. . . “

“Oh, I don’t know. Have you ever had one of those days where you want to be alone but you don’t want to be alone and you just aren’t ready to go home and just be with your cat?”

“I can honestly say, no, I have never had one of those days,” she says and we both laugh whether because its actually funny or because we are a little drunk after two martinis on empty stomachs, I don’t know.

“So did you always want to cook?” I ask her as Doreen sets a steaming plate of toasted bread covered in roasted tomatoes, garlic, cheese, and olives in front of us.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I came up in foster homes and didn’t really have a knack for academics so college wasn’t gonna come easy for me. Cooking somehow made sense. I could figure out how to combine flavors and make things look pretty on a plate like some people can figure out algebra or painting. Plus it really draws the girls.” She winks as she shoves a bite of bruschetta into her mouth. She chews unabashedly and nods happily then swipes at her mouth with her napkin.

At some point, and I don’t know when exactly it is, the rest of the world disappears and it’s just Franky sitting there, eating, and talking to me about her life. I’m rapt with everything about her, the rise and fall of her voice, the way she chews, the contraction of muscles in her neck when she swallows, and the little puffs of breath that somehow find my own skin and let me know she is real and there next to me. I can barely look away from her long enough to pick up a piece of the appetizer, and when I do my fingers are shaking and I feel foolish as I can barely feed myself.

“Enough about me,” Franky says. She doesn’t seem to notice my poor hand to mouth coordination skills for which I am eternally grateful. “We were going to hear about your girlfriend situation.”

“It’s complicated,” I start.

“That old story?” She clicks her tongue.

“Afraid so,” I smile.

She bites her lower lip and then says, “Well, tell me this, in all this complication are you free or spoken for?”

“I’m very free,” I say. She raises an eyebrow and her tongue darts out of her mouth as she licks the lower lip she was previously biting. My imagination is flapping around like a wild bird trapped in a cage and I’m wondering desperately what it would feel like to have that tongue float over my neck where her fingers had been not so long ago.

“In that case, what are you going to do with all your freedom?” She asks and while there is definitely a flirtatious undercurrent to her voice, her eyes are intensely sincere.

I shrug. “It’s a good question, and to be honest I haven’t figured it all out yet.”

“Well, I hope I’m around when you figure it all out.”

“I think I’d like that,” I say.

We finish our dinner and order coffee and dessert just to keep talking. Finally, Doreen comes over and pushes a check on the bar in front of us. She rubs her tummy and frowns, “Bub and I have to go home and go to bed, ladies. You mind settling up?” I look around and the rest of the restaurant is empty.

“Oh, so sorry Dory!” I say and reach for the check, but Franky has it already and has given it back to Doreen with a credit card.

“This one’s on me,” she says and winks. “You can get it next time.”

“Alright,” I say and start to wrap my scarf around my neck. “And thank you. This was an unexpected pleasure.”

Franky picks up my coat, and as she helps me into it, she says quietly into my ear, “Unexpected pleasures are a bit of a specialty of mine. Just wait and see.” The sensation of her voice and breath in my ear floods every nerve ending in my body. She grabs her own jacket in her idiosyncratic fast, yet graceful movement and slips into it in a heartbeat I find myself wanting to relive again and again. “Come on, I’ll walk ya to your car,” she says.

Outside the door, she grabs my hand and laces her fingers into mine. She grins at me, her eyebrows raised. I stumble a little drunkenly toward her, trip over my own feet and laugh. “Heels,” I mutter.

“For real, Gidget! Those are some serious weaponry you’ve got on your little feet. You could kill a man with those things.” I lead her down the street to where my car is parked, not letting go of her hand for even a moment. When we reach my car, she says, “On second thought, maybe I ought to call ya a cab,” she says as she presses up close to me against my car. I put my hands on her waist and her hands find their way to my neck and are happily playing with my hair. She touches her nose to mine. “Or, on third thought, you could come up to my place. I live right around the corner.” Her breath floats up to the sky, a warm cloud of vapor in the cold air.

“I don’t really do one night stands,” I say as she unbuttons my coat to stroke my sides. I shiver under her touch, but not because I’m cold. Something tells me as long as I’m next to her, I’ll never feel cold ever again.

“I know,” she breaths against my lips.

“I can’t,” I hear myself whimper. “Not here, not yet.”

“I know, I know,” she whispers and brushes her smiling lips against my face. “I don’t want a one night stand either.”

“No?” I say.

“No,” she says and that’s all I need to hear to allow her lips to cover mine. If I thought her breath in my ear was erotically flooding, it’s nothing compared to the sensation of her tongue sweeping over mine in long, silky waves. I clutch at her body wanting all of her closer to me. She straddles my thigh and grabs my ass so she has ample purchase to thrust against my center which is already throbbing for her.

“Fucking hell, Franky,” I gasp, breathless against her neck.

“Right?” She chuckles. She sweeps the hair off my forehead and kisses it then cups my chin in her hands and looks intently at me. “Is it just me or does this feel like it’s moving a little fast?”

“A little fast?” I say. “It feels like a run away train.” I take her hand from my face and put it on my chest, over my heart. “Feel that? There’s your fucking biometrics for you, Baby.”

She lowers her face and moves her hand so she can kiss the spot over my heart. I knit my fingers in her hair and can’t avoid the moan that escapes my lips. “So Gidge, tell me, what is your heart’s desire?” She asks and again, I”m gone into the green of her gaze.

“That’s some pretty heady convo post two martinis and a bottle of wine,” I sigh. “But I can tell you this, if it isn’t you, it isn’t here.”

“Perfect answer,” she grins and kisses me again. This time it’s a bit slower, more intentional as we caress each other in the dark against my car. I shiver against her. “Ah, you’re cold. You want me to call you that cab?”

“I want you to take me up to your place, Franky,” I say. She smiles so hard her nose crinkles. She nuzzles me and buttons my coat. Then she wraps her arm around me and leads me up the street.