"What's your friend's name?"
My favorite bartender asks me as the friend in question excuses herself for a smoke.
"I wish I could tell you."
I reply with a distorted lack of confidence. I'm no player and she's no girl to be played. I'm also no sleaze and can't imagine that I would have forgotten her name. It dawns on me that we've never introduced ourselves. Not in the formal sense anyway. We met yesterday in the exact place we find ourselves now and somehow skipped the formalities.
I first noticed her on the tail end of one of her frequent smoke breaks. She was standing just outside the window stomping out a cigarette. Intrigued and oddly driven by something, I rose, stood away from the bar, and gawked my head from side to side in an effort to seem in searching for someone. When she walked in and reclaimed her seat, I took the one adjacent. Past that I had no plan.
And from there, due to either a lack of preparation or a lack of game, I couldn't find the words or an unquestionable reason to strike up a conversation. She didn't notice me or at the very least, made the wise decision to pretend that she didn't. A half hour and a few cocktails later, a bad habit was the first thing about me that she acknowledged.
"Shut the fuck up."
I looked up from the cocktail that I was quietly, but apparently poorly serenading and found her staring at me with cold, confident brown eyes.
"You're killing my vibe."
I looked for a reply but couldn't find the words. I glanced back and forth between her, my drink, and my favorite bartender who was polishing a glass with a smirk on his face, pretending not to hear
"Smoke?" She asked.
No. I thought.
"Yes." I said.
Blindly, I followed her out into the cold. She lit two cigarettes and handed me one. Maybe it was the nicotine or maybe it was the sharp breeze, but suddenly I found my voice.
“So, you like music huh?” I asked.
“Everyone likes music.” She replied.
“But you seem to have your opinions. It takes a passionate Marvin Gaye fan to openly criticize a stranger’s Grapevine rendition in a bar.”
“You were butchering it. I couldn’t even hear the song underneath your garbage falsetto.”
I’m not going to twist it, that wasn’t the first time my high notes have been attacked, but that one stung worse than the rest. I laughed, not because I was uncomfortable, but because she was right. I can’t sing.
“I just always wish I could, you know?”
Ignoring me, she said, “I’m going to a concert tomorrow night. It’s just down the street. You should come.” She stomped out her cigarette and turned to walk away. Stopping, she shouted, “Meet here?”
“8:30” I answered.
She opens the door on her way back from the first smoke break of the night. The cold rush of air draws my eyes from a blank stare at the arranged, dusty bottles on the bar shelves to my wrist. I glance at my watch. 9:00.
“What’s your name?” I ask as she sits down.
“Sabrina.” She replies, not bothering to return the favor.
Over the next 30 minutes, we slowly sip our cocktails with the limited conversation I’ve grown accustomed to. In a grand gesture that it’s time to leave, she knocks her empty glass on the wood top and pushes herself back from the bar. Lagging behind, I quickly swallow the rest of my drink, and do the same.
We arrange our scarves and jackets and head back out into the cold. In a manner lacking fondness or attachment in any way, she grabs hold of my arm with both hands just above the elbow. The icy sidewalk is difficult to maneuver in heeled boots and she’s using me for balance.
As we approach the small, jazzy, urban lounge, she lets go of my arm, turns to me, and says, “I’ll see you inside.”
Passing the line, and leaving me at its end, she skips happily to the door. She embraces a figure with a loud shriek of excitement and they slip past the crowd into the venue. Not all too surprised by the events, I wait in line. I came all this way for a show. I might as well stay. I just wish I had asked her who was playing tonight.
After a short wait, I’m inside. To my left is a bar with finer selection than most concert venues, and the fact that I was just used as some kind of deranged arm candy – bodyguard – walking stick blend, leads me to a Manhattan to sooth the pain. Drink in hand, I weave my way through a crowd filled with long pea coats and short dresses. The ballroom is well lit and there is no music, just the buzz of an audience in waiting. Red tapestry adorns the walls, giving the space a vibe worthy of a fine event. Matching red curtains shield the stage’s true contents and add to the strange suspense of the atmosphere.
The lights begin their slow decent into mood mode and the curtains begin to roll back, revealing nothing but a black sheet of darkness behind them and continuing the charade. Finally, three focusing beams of light suddenly illuminate the entertainment for the night. A drummer is positioned in one corner, a bassist in another, and seated at a grand piano with a microphone in place, sits the mysterious woman with whom I’ve recently shared cigarettes, cocktails, and the coldest of personal interactions. All I’ve learned about her to this point is that her name is Sabrina – Sabrina Claudio, to be formal, though nothing about our short time with one another has been. She is one hell of a performer and the show hasn’t even started yet.