It was dumb, wasn’t it?
Or at least a little cliché.
Sitting alone at the bar on his first drink, a cigarette resting lazily between his fingers. He looked around at the place, at all the couples and co-workers scattered around, murmuring to one another over drinks. This was The New York Bar; a jazzy cocktail restaurant at the Park Hyatt Hotel. Apparently, it was most famous for being in some movie he hadn’t bothered to see. But it was a nice spot—classy mood lighting, delicate jazz music, and one hell of a view of Tokyo from the top floor.
It was perfect for a first meeting.
He took a sip of his drink with one hand, and smoothed some hair behind his ear with the other. God, he felt so under-dressed. Matt told him to pack something other than old tees and gym shorts, so he threw in a black polo and cargo shorts and called it day. He’d have felt like a total golf dad if it weren’t for his hair, which he was finally able to pull back into a simple bun with enough left over to stick out.
God, he felt so out of place. The guy at the table next to him was sleek-looking; wearing a nice grey suit and his tie a little loose around his neck. He was chatting up the girl across from him, saying something he couldn’t understand in Japanese, but the girl giggled lightly and blushed.
He wished he could be like that; all laid back and suave as he kept his date hanging on his every word. Right now, he was just nervous. Nervous and terrified because he wasn’t suave or interesting or looked remotely together compared to the others around him. He all but screamed ‘fucking foreigner’ as he sat there alone at the bar with his eyes practically bulging out of his head.
He took a heavy drag from his cigarette and exhaled in a shaking sigh. Calm. This was no time to freak out. She would be here soon. He had to get it together now. Now. Now!
He took a small puff and nearly choked on the smoke as he heard a soft voice call his name from behind him.
He coughed harshly, and pulled the cigarette from his lips. “Sh-Shit.” He fumbled to snub it out on the ashtray before getting up to face her. “Sorry. Uh ... Hi. Zoie. Hi.”
He wiped his hands on his pants and reached out for a handshake. He saw her start to lean in for a hug before immediately stopping, looking down at his hand and chuckling.
“Hi,” She gave it a small shake and Ryan giggled. Awkwardly.
He started swearing at himself in his head.
“May I?” She gestured at the empty seat across from him with a smile.
“Oh! Y-yeah, of course. Here.” He hurried to pull up her chair. As she brushed past him, he took a second to admire the dress she wore and how it hugged the curves of her torso, and how pretty satin looked under the lighting in here. Red was a good choice.
“You look nice,” He chirped as he sat back down. “I like your dreads.” His eyes pointed at the dip-dyed tresses she wore in a high, messy bun. A few loose strands hung in front, framing the sides of her face.
“Thanks. I like your polo.” She chuckled and tilted her head at him as he let out a tiny scoff. “What? It’s true! You look very distinguished.”
“Oh yeah, I got a country club meet right after this, so ...” His lips stretched into a smile at her trying to keep in a laugh; her nose scrunching, and her lips pursing shut. “It’s okay to laugh. I look like a golf dad in this.”
“... Okay well yeah, a little,” She said with an airy laugh, “But it’s not bad. Really. You look nice.”
Silence. Hidden under the table, his hands were squeezing open and shut and his leg was rapidly bobbing up and down. He tried to keep calm. Not think about it. They said hi. They were talking, even joking a bit. The worst was over. Right?
“Are you nervous?” He heard her ask, ripping him from his thoughts.
“... The truth?” She gave him a nod. “Yeah.”
“Oh thank God, me too,” She admitted quickly, like it were a breath she’d been holding onto. “Which is wild because Tinder in Japan is so...” She gestured her hand wildly and he chuckled.
“I like this, though,” She added while pointing to the two of them. “Most guys on there are just looking for a quick hi and then right to a few rounds of fucking.”
He choked a little on the last sip of his drink. The liquid burned the back of his throat and caused him to cough. He put a fist up to his mouth and turned away as he coughed as quietly as he could.
“Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, really,” She chirped as she dug through her purse and pulled out a pack of Djarum Blacks. She pulled one out and carefully put it to her lips, which he now noticed were painted an equally pretty matte red, “But you know, I at least wanna know something about my date. Like favorite color at least.”
“Here.” He pulled out his lighter and reached forward, carefully flicking it on and watching how she cradled the flame and brushed her fingers against his knuckles at the same time. The touch was brief, but it somehow made his insides twist. She took a small drag and exhaled into the air. She was left handed. Interesting.
“Thanks,” She flashed him a small smile and looked around the bar. “Interesting choice for a date. You like the movie?”
“Nah I, uh, haven’t seen it actually,” He admitted as he took a small sip of his scotch, “My buddy Matt has, though. He’s the one who recommended it to me.”
“Aw, that’s sweet.”
“Yeah,” He chuckled softly and looked down, gently swirling the remnants of his drink over the melting ice chunk resting inside. “We’re supposed to go again later during our trip.”
“Ah,” She took another puff and sucked in a breath, exhaling slowly. “So you’re here for a short while, then.”
He gave a small nod. “You?”
“Live here, actually.”
“Word?” His brows lifted in pleasant surprise. “That’s awesome.”
“It is, it is ...” She trailed off a bit, falling into a brief silence as she puffed on her cigarette and he nursed his drink in his hands. He looked up and opened his mouth to ask her something, but immediately shut it as a waiter came up to the table. He flashed a small smile and looked over at Zoie.
“gochuumon wa okimari desu ka?”
“Ah, hai,” She sat up a little straighter in her seat and Ryan slid over the menu closest to him on the table. She leaned over to read it and he couldn’t help but watch, taking notice how her earrings dangled and how curly her lashes were. “ettoo ...” she sucked in a breath and gave the waiter an apologetic look, “sumimasen, mō sukoshi matte kudasaimasen ka?”
The waiter gave a polite bow followed by a simple “hai, kashikomarimashita” before walking away. Zoie gave a slight bow back and apologized, Ryan tilting his head at the very ‘Japanese’ display before him. The second she glanced over at him, he tensed and looked away. She flashed him a small smile and an apologetic look.
“Needed a little more time, sorry.” She pulled up the menu and tilted her head at his glass. “What are we drinking tonight?”
“Oh, uh ... whiskey blended.” He tipped back the remainder of his drink and set it down. “It’s pretty good, actually.”
“Sounds good to me – sumimasen!” She slightly raised her hand and the waiter came back over. “Aisuboru no uisukī onegashimasu.”
“Aisuboru no uisuki. Hai, kashikomarimashita,” the waiter looked over to Ryan and pointed at his empty glass, “kochira, osage shite mo yoroshii desu ka?”
Despite having no idea what he just said, Ryan smiled and nodded, and the waiter took his glass with an appreciative nod. The girl across from him smiled lightly and looked back at the waiter. “Kare ga uisuki o mōippai, onegaishimasu.”
The waiter gave another nod and left them for the second time. She sat back a little in her seat and took another puff of her cigarette.
“So, Ryan Magee,” She spoke, giving him an amused look as she exhaled. “Your profile said California. LA boy, huh?”
He gave a timid smile and nodded. “South Carolina originally.”
“Southern boy,” She said as her brows lifted in surprise. “Kinda sorta.”
“Kinda sorta, yeah,” he chuckled. “You?”
“Midwest,” She chirped as she reached forward, gently flicking her ash away in the tray between them. “Born and raised in Chicago, moved out east for school … After I graduated, I just kept in that direction until I hit Tokyo.”
“So, uh, how long you been here then?"
She thought about it for a second, her eyes pointing up at the ceiling as she counted in her head. "Um ... 3 years. More or less."
“’s cool...” Ryan mouthed. He could feel the conversation winding down. He looked down at his hands for a split second, suppressing the need to fidget with them as a prolonged silence swelled between them.
“Okay I just have to say, your profile picture is 100% the reason why I said yes.”
He lifted his head and gave her a confused look, his voice falling into a laugh. “What?”
“I mean it!” She laughed a little with him and flashed a crooked smile. “Like, the little meme in your bio was good and all, but I loved that you were looking all cheesy-sexy while your friend was doing some weird shit in the background. It made me laugh.”
He suddenly pictured himself in the bathroom, propping a leg up on the sink and flexing his non-existent muscles in the mirror with his friend Matt fake screaming at his cat in the background. He sputtered a laugh that he immediately covered with his hand. It was loud enough to make Zoie sit up straight with wide eyes, and the couple at the next table look over at them.
“Oh my god,” she mouthed at him with a smile.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“Was that your laugh?”
“No!” He said quickly before chuckling. “Yeah. Sorry.”
“No oh my god, it’s fine,” She said with a quiet laugh. “I just wasn’t expecting that. Holy shit.”
Warmth spread across Ryan’s face and he knew he had to have been colored beet red. He secretly hoped the dimmed lighting would hide it. She briefly looked down at the table, her smile crooked but sweet as she chuckled quietly to herself. He smoothed back a few loose strands of hair behind his ear and smiled at her. The second their eyes met he looked away out the window.
The city looked awfully pretty tonight ...
“You know what I like to do at places like these?” Zoie said over their second cigarette. She had on a playful smirk and held up the menu. “I like to look at the most expensive items on the menu and try to picture the type of person to order it.”
Ryan frowned as he pulled the cigarette from his mouth and sucked in a sharp breath.
“Like this. Look.” She set down the menu between them and he leaned forward. She pointed down at the dinner selection: Hyogo Kobe Sirloin. 20,500 yen.
“Holy shit,” he breathed.
“Yeah,” she chirped with a rapid nod.
“What is that, like, 200 dollars?”
“Yeah. That’s little dick energy.”
Ryan looked at her and laughed. “What?!”
“Yeah!” She pointed back down at the item. “C’mon, you can’t tell me the person who orders that for someone is hung. If you know you’re hung, are you gonna order that?”
“No, but not because I’m hung, because it’s expensive!”
“Exactly, the price tag is a distraction,”
“’kay well what about this,” He grabbed the wine menu and pointed down to a cult classic. Screaming Eagle Napa Valley. 2015. They wanted 790,000 yen for it.
“That is for ...” She clicked her tongue a few times as she thought about it. “... The CEO dad who sees his grown kid once every two years. The kid, who’s making almost as much as the dad, uses that as a power move to get back at him.”
“Big dick energy,” he added.
Her lips stretched into a faint smile. “Big dick energy.”
“Huge,” he said as he picked up his glass.
“Exactly. Like it whip it out on the table and the table breaks.”
Nearly choking mid-sip he lurched forward and put a hand to his mouth, covering it as he tried to keep in a laugh. He failed horribly, but it didn’t seem to bother her. She just laughed with him, hiding her smile as she put a hand to her mouth.
A warm, tingling buzz was swimming in his veins as the whiskey finally started to take an effect. He leaned forward in his seat and listened to her as she spoke. She had a nice voice. It was comforting, slightly sultry, and with a little edge to it. It’d be good for radio, he thought.
“So, what do you do?” He found himself asking, gently fiddling with the cigarette between his fingers. He watched as Zoie smoked the last bit of hers before exhaling.
“I mean, it’s not that amazing,” She chatted as she reached over and snubbed it out in the ashtray. “I’m a translator – a glorified one at that – for the company I work at. You?”
He thought on whether saying he was a ‘YouTuber’ sounded a little pretentious or not. He could say ‘Let’s Player’, which was the truth, but was that really all that interesting? Let alone impressive?
“Entertainment,” He answered after a brief pause, “... Well, technically an Editor for my friend’s Let’s Plays ... on YouTube. My buddy and I run a channel together too, but I mostly edit for my friend’s channel.”
Zoie’s brows raised as she gave a full toothed smile.
“Ooh, a Youtuber, fancy!” She said in a rather flirtatious tone, “You got a big following? Should I ask for an autograph?”
Ryan chuckled, flashing a shy smile as he took a sip of his drink.
“Yeah my, uh, roomate does those, um ... Mukbang things on the side. She gets to hang out in the YouTube space here. Let’s me tag along sometimes...” She thought about it for a second before scoffing and shaking her head. “I say ‘roomate’. She’s a friend who lingers at my place a lot. We film together too, sometimes.”
“Ah,” Ryan gave an understanding nod. “So you make YouTube videos?”
“I dabble,” she answered simply with a shrug, “Mostly vlogs no one looks at. Except my family and friends back home, of course. They like to see where I am, what I’m up to...” Her lips turned up a cheeky smile. “Turns out a small handful of weeby strangers do as well.”
Ryan scoffed softly as he swallowed in response. She snickered a little and shook her head. “Bad joke. Sorry.”
“No no,” he insisted politely, “It was funny. Weebs are ... um ... funny.”
‘God dammit,’ he thought to himself. He had no idea what he was talking about. He wanted to put his face in his hands and sigh, but the feeling went away as soon as he saw her amused look. Regardless of his attempt at being nice being a bit of a flop, she still smiled and kept in a laugh that made her body shake. He giggled quietly to himself, and they sat in silence for a few more minutes. they shared a silent, comfortable conversation with one another, maintaining eye contact and sharing playful smiles. Occasionally Ryan had to look away out the window or down at his drink, for the color of her lipstick was distracting and the way she looked at him made his insides twist. He ran a nervous hand through the loose strands of his hair and smoothed it behind his ear. She watched him the whole time.
“You wanna get out of here?” She earned his attention again and smiled, “I mean the drinks here are great and all, but there’s this Izakaya — um ... bar thingy in Ni-chome that I think you’ll like. It’s my favorite.”
Ryan felt both his heart and his stomach sink with nerves, and a strange sense of excitement. Still he agreed, and despite her insisting they go half on the bill, he paid for their drinks and followed her out into the busy streets of Shinjuku.