I grinned. "So will alcohol," I said, nodding at the screwdriver he was lifting to his lips. I inhaled the first drag of my cigarette and blew the smoke into the spring air.
He laughed. "That's true."
"I didn't know you'd be here," I said, eyeing him from my spot on the sidewalk. I had gone to the charity dinner with some friends, and although I knew I would see any number of real estate agents, bankers and lawyers, I didn't know an attractive man would be in our midst.
"Yeah," he responded. "We're doing dessert." He worked for a restaurant in town, one of the many establishments who donated their food and time to the dinner that benefited developmentally disabled children.
"Well, that's my favorite part of any meal."
We laughed, and he told me he'd see me inside.
I silently thanked God I had thought to fix my makeup before heading to the function, and gave myself a pat on the back for electing to wear my favorite black stilettos with sheer black stockings beneath my most flattering gray skirt. My reflection in the window looked tall and slender. I straightened my back, tossed my cigarette into the ashtray and sauntered inside.
I met my friends, Ed and Scott, in the hotel's banquet hall, two gorgeous gay men who stood taller than most in the room. They greeted me with strong hugs and clean-smelling cologne. Ed's coworkers, real estate agents at a successful firm in town, surrounded them. We exchanged pleasantries and "how are you"s over cocktails as the room filled with men in suits and women in business attire.
From the corner of my eye, I saw the chef, lingering by the bar and making small talk with another restaurateur. I felt his gaze in my direction, and I made sure I was smiling.
"Who's the chef?" Scott whispered in my ear.
"I don't know his name, but I know him from the bank. His mom owns one of the restaurants in town. I think he lives in the City."
"He's causing quite a buzz. Melanie already asked me about him." He nodded over to Melanie, an attractive thirty-year-old woman who worked with Ed. I smiled hello to her, and we sized each other up, trying to determine which one of us would walk away with the chef. As she was taking in my haircut and my smoky eyes, I was taking in her off-white polyester shirt, the diamonique brooch resting between her breasts.
"You smoke, right?" She said, leaning into me.
"Thank God. You wanna go have a cigarette with me? I'm dying for one."
"Sure," I said, grateful to have found another smoker in the room. We headed down the hall toward the hotel's second bar. Once inside, she lit up immediately.
"So, how are you doing? I haven't seen you since - when? - last summer?" She blew her smoke at the ceiling.
"Yeah, I guess that's about right," I said. "I think the last time I saw you, we ended up going to the Tom Quick to look for your boyfriend."
"Right...Billy..." She groaned. "We broke up not long after that night."
"Yeah. What about you? Are you still with that guy...Tom? Is that his name?"
"That's his name, but no. We broke up in October."
She nodded. "So I guess we're in the same boat, huh?"
I couldn't figure out if she was sharpening her claws or trying to make friends. "Yeah. I guess so."
"You know," she said, "we should go out sometime. I don't have any single friends."
"Me neither...All my friends are either coupled-off or gay men."
We looked around the room, a dizzying array of camouflage hunting hats, overalls and pot bellies stared back at us.
"Look at what we have to choose from," I said, extinguishing my cigarette in the ashtray.
"I know," she took a last deep drag. "I guess if we do go out, we'll have to get out of this area."
I made up my mind that she was trying to be my friend, not my enemy. We spent the rest of the evening around one another, talking about various women we knew, sharing our opinions on the men in the area.
At dinner, we chose side-by-side seats. I felt like she was genuine, sweet. Like I didn't need to feel threatened by her.
We picked at the pasta, chicken and shrimp set before us, and I located the chef. He was across the room from me, with other employees of his restaurant. I saw him looking my way. I felt giddy, wondering when he'd come over and ask for my number.
"Did you try the raspberry torte? The cute chef made it," Scott said, lifting a forkful of dessert to his mouth.
"No, I haven't tried it yet," I grinned, aware that dessert was self-serve. "But I guess I'm going to have to, if it means I get to ogle the chef."
"Do you think he's gay?" Ed asked.
"I don't know," I replied. "I used to think so, but then he came into the bank with a woman one day and introduced her as his 'girlfriend.'"
"Yeah," Ed interrupted, "but I call you my girlfriend, too. So that doesn't mean anything." He took a bite of pecan pie and spoke as he chewed. "I think...he's gay."
Scott countered, "No. Straight."
I announced I thought he was straight.
Melanie thought he was straight, too.
Ed's coworker Leslie deemed him gay.
A woman I'd never met before concurred. Gay.
"Well," Ed said, putting his fork to rest on his plate. "I guess we'll just have to find out. Laurie, you come with me. We'll walk by and Scott will pay attention to which one he checks out more."
Full of vodka and cranberry juice, I giggled like a schoolgirl at the notion. It's so third-grade to walk by a boy you like. I felt silly. But I went anyway.
Plates in hand, Ed and I made our way to his spray of desserts.
"Which one's the best?" Ed asked, eyeballing the puff pastries, the tortes, the pecan pie.
"All of it. But these pastries are probably the best." The chef pointed to creme-filled puff pastries. "They're filled with coconut creme. I made them myself."
Ed took one from the tray and popped the whole thing in his mouth. I took one too, and tried to daintily eat half of a pastry filled with creme.
"Isn't it good? Eat the rest of it," Ed commanded.
"I can't! My mouth isn't as big as yours." I was worried about creme finding its way to my chin, or my upper lip.
"He was blessed with a big mouth," the chef said.
We made our way to the table.
"Gay." Ed announced. "No doubt about it. Gay, gay, gay. He told me I was blessed with a big mouth."
"So what." Scott said. "It's the truth. And anyway, he checked out Laurie more."
I felt triumphant. "Well it's only fair," I said to Ed. "You can't have all the cute ones."
"Well, I think Scott's wrong. He probably just liked your shoes. I think he's gay."
And so the mystery was left unsolved. Dinner had come to a conclusion and it was time to leave. We gathered our belongings, decided to meet at a local bar and headed out to our cars.
On my way out of the building, I saw the chef. He was loading pans covered with aluminum foil into the trunk of his Audi. I smiled as I strolled past, offering nothing more than that.
To my surprise, I heard my name.
I turned around to face the chef. "Mmm-hmmm?"
"Can you do me a huge favor," he asked, closing the lid of the trunk.
"Of course I can." I smiled. My number? My address? You name it.
"Can you introduce me to your friend?"
So, I guessed, Ed was right. "Which one?" I asked, trying to figure out how I would break it to him that Ed and Scott were a long-time couple.
"The girl with the brown hair you were sitting with at dinner."
My face fell. "Melanie?"
"Is that her name?"
"Yeah." I had already started to walk away.
"Can you introduce me?"
"She's inside." I said dryly. "Go get her."
I walked to my car, feeling like I'd been punched in the stomach. I also felt one hundred pounds heavier. No one had ever asked me to introduce him to a friend of mine. What's worse, she's not even my friend.
And in that instant, I hated her. I listed, in my head, all the bad things about her. She's got horrible skin. She had a small belly; not very noticeable, but I saw it. Her shirt looked cheap. I heard she's trashy.
As I unlocked my door, I realized that I had no reason to hate her. Not everyone I encounter has to fall in love with me. I'm not every guy's type.
Because not every guy has good taste.