In truth, I didn't want to acknowledge him with any more familiarity than a customer does a bartender. Upon walking in and looking around for the friends I was meeting, I was dismayed to find the only people in the room I knew were him and the door guy/bouncer, Ethan*. Only one table was occupied with ladies drinking colorful cocktails, so he sat with Ethan at the corner of the bar playing rummy. I came to stand between them, greeted them both, but hugged only Ethan. He asked me to join them in a game. I dismissively remarked that I hadn't played rummy in years, and continued looking throughout the room, wondering if I'd missed someone in the dark recesses. Surely I wasn't to endure this alone. He wanted to know what was the matter with me, because I looked so somber. I replied that I was supposed to be meeting people when I looked over my shoulder and felt great relief at seeing them all come through the door. Ahhh., saved. Now I could go back to my plan of treating him as simply a bartender.
It took him long enough to wait on me, getting everyone else's order first, although he should have been able to guess mine automatically. I was simultaneously doing my best NOT to look at him or call his attention, which probably didn't help the matter. But I was clearly in there to drink! Why didn't he ask?!!! Not only that, but after the friends came in and asked why I was just standing there, I had made the joking remark that I was waiting for Bartender to get off his butt and make me a drink, which promptly spurred him to get behind the bar. I anxiously waited for him to get to me, knowing we had a deadline to get to a movie that night, and that I was ordering a very strong drink that I typically like to nurse, but I waited patiently as he served all of the friends in my group, knowing that we were all on the same deadline to see the same movie. However, when there was no one left in the group to serve save me, he went to a lady down the bar who hadn't approached until after all of us were seated.
"Hey, do I get a drink?" I exclaimed when I saw him moving toward her with an ear inclined for her order.
This time I didn't feel so successful at keeping the sharpness out of my voice and making it a joke, but he took it in stride and did eventually make me an excellent martini.
The vodka loosened me up so I was shortly able to include him in my general conversation. He had seen the movie and gave his impressions, which weren't very favorable. I wanted to know more. What was wrong with it? His answers were ambiguous and unconvincing. Finally I asked, "Were you still thinking about it after you left the theater?" to which he replied that he was. "That means it was a good movie," I declared. No more discussion needed.
Now the ice was broken, and I was able to treat him in the manner I always had, only with reservation. I would not flirt with him as I once had. I found that slope far too slippery. That's what made it odd to discover him looking at me. I refused to hold his gaze, but when I looked again, it was still there. Then, a little later in the conversation, he seemed to be giving me a sly, knowing look, which I dismissed. I'd obviously read into his looks before. Then Sheila*, sitting next to me, asked him why he was looking at her like that, to which he replied that he wasn't looking at her, and his expression broadened as his gaze remained on me, as if sharing an inside joke. Yes, he was looking at me, not her. I got that part of it, but I still didn't know why. The topic of conversation escapes me now, but I was unable to make any connection between it and myself. Whatever joke he was trying to share with me went right over my head, and, to be honest, I was a little offended that he even tried.
Time came to leave for the movie. A couple of our party had already gone. Sheila and I said our goodbyes. I again hugged Ethan when he reached out an arm, but I ignored Bartender. He wanted to know if I was coming back after the movie. I tried blowing it off by saying it depended on Sheila, but she was quick to deny the option for her poor dog was awaiting release at home. He asked me at least twice more. Truth was, at that moment, I wanted to return. My keen enjoyment of chilled out conversation was being cut short. I wanted more, but I shook my head and kept saying, "I don't think so." He looked disappointed, leaving me to feel very confused ... and curious. What did he care?
I was proud that I did not feel the need to return after the movie. Part of me wanted to only for the sake of telling him how wrong he was about the movie. Many people walked away saying it wasn't for them, but I found it compelling and just plain good, old-fashioned story-telling. I didn't, though. My car was parked directly across from the theater, so I drove directly home. I'm still left wondering, however, about those quizzical looks, and what strange impression he'll leave me with the next time I venture forth for a cocktail and good conversation.