Despite how ear-piercingly shrill the voice was over the cell phone pressed as hard as possible against my ear, I still had trouble hearing her.
“Come again?” I said as I stumbled my way through the obstacle course of restaurant patrons, waiters, tables and chairs crammed together.
“You can hear me just fine! You just don’t wa…” the shrill voice continued to accuse from cellular space, but got lost again between bad reception and noise from the restaurant.
“No, seriously, I can’t hear you. Just give me a moment to get outside….” I plugged my opposite ear with my finger in a vain attempt to improve hearing in the other. With my two hands occupied, I turned my backside to the entrance and used it to press the lever on the door and exit into the night cold.
“Can you hear me now?” I said, unapologetically using the too-often used phrase from TV commercials.
“You’re not even taking this seriously…” she continued to berate me. Angry that I was out with my guy friends. Angry that I allegedly hadn’t informed her of my plans. Angry, now, that I wasn’t taking this conversation seriously. Angry for the sake of being angry. I was sick of it.
“Now just wait a minute…” I retaliated, breath coming out in angry puffs.
It was cold outside. A fine Pacific Northwest drizzle suddenly turned into a full on down pour that obscured the street in a giant palpitating puddle that danced rhythmically in the headlights of passing cars. The sound of the rain pounding on the metal awning over the restaurant entrance drummed a tune that distinguished the angry side of winter, adding a soundtrack to my mood.
“Since when do I need to check in with you every moment?” I shouted into the phone. I turned back towards the entrance, having accidentally wandered out into the rain, distracted.
When I turned, I froze in the darkness at the edge of the light cast by the street lamp that bathed the entrance. Coming towards me, walking briskly down the sidewalk, came trouble.
A wiry young man approached. His only defense against the cold night air was a button-down shirt from a second-hand store, a pair of worn jeans, Doc Marten boots and a flat newsboy’s cap. Both his cap and shoulders glistened with rain.
His shirt sleeves were rolled up to reveal thin, but muscular forearms covered in a plethora of tattoos. I imagined his whole body was covered with them, because I could see several more creeping out of the collar of his shirt, up to his neck and to his throat. An earring sparkled in one of his ears. He had that starving artist look about him. A musician, perhaps. A rock ‘n roller.
His clenched fists swung back and forth in his determined walk. Dark, intense eyes cast wildly about above sharp cheekbones. A pulsing jaw muscle ground teeth under a scruffy goatee that was the same red color as the curls that struggled to escape from under his cap.
Everything about him expressed anger. Angry because of something that had just happened? Angry because of something that had been on going? Just plain angry at the world? Who knew.
He looked like any number of hooligans that wandered downtown on a Saturday night, looking for trouble. If I were to venture a guess, I’d say he’d just been bounced from some other bar in the vicinity, and now was looking for a new place…or a new person…to vent his rage.
My suspicions were confirmed when his roving eyes locked onto mine. When I didn’t waver from his stare, his clenched jaw muscle bulged even more and his agitated stride shifted in my direction.
“Sweetie, I’m going to have to call you back,” I said distantly as I lowered the phone towards my pocket, clenching my other hand into a fist.
“What! Don’t you dare ha—” the shriek from the phone was suddenly cut off when I snapped the clam-shell shut.
I was already in a bad mood, I wasn’t about to let a maladjusted drummer make my day worse. If he wanted a fight, I’d give him one.
Before the ruffian could pick up his pace and charge me, something caught his eye in the restaurant window. He came to a sudden stop and turned his body and attention completely towards the glass.
His tense form melted, his shoulders slumped and the anger drained from his face, leaving behind the visage of a broken man. The intensity in his eyes softened to something between surprise and disbelief.
His fists slowly relaxed and opened as he delicately reached out to the window pane. I suddenly was no longer on his radar, forgotten.
My own tension drained away, and curiosity took its place. Though I didn’t step from my spot, I leaned in to see what could have possibly tamed the beast.
There, sitting at a large table near the window, was a mixed group of well-dressed yuppy-ish individuals merrily celebrating some occasion. Champagne buckets were strategically placed at all the cardinal points of their table, and an endless stream of waiters attended to them. Loud laughter could be heard even on this side of the window, and heads inside the establishment turned in the direction of the beautiful people.
A young lady sitting at the table looked up, and a hint of recognition crossed her face.
It was then the voyeur suddenly turned away, bringing his hand up to his hat as if to adjust it, obscuring his face in the process. He started to shuffle away from the window back in the direction he had come. I was now truly no longer a concern of his.
The young lady in the window turned to the man next to her, hurriedly said something and rushed for the door. The man barely noticed, deep in conversation with the trust-fund recipient sitting across from him.
A moment later the door opened and the lady came out, the hem of her white frilly dress gathered up in her hands as she made a few quick steps toward the retreating tough.
“Eamon?” she said.
The young man stopped and half turned his head in her direction, as if debating whether or not to respond. For a moment he looked as if he were going to bolt, but instead he slowly turned completely towards her.
“Yah,” he responded.
Was that an accent of some sort he had?
The young lady smiled. “Wow, long time no see. How have you been?”
The young man—the tough guy who had only moments before looked prepared to take on the world—suddenly looked like a puppy who had just been caught peeing on the carpet. He scratched at his head, avoiding eye contact.
“Good, I reckon,” he responded after a long pause.
Suddenly they both looked at me, keenly aware that I was watching.
And as if on que, my cell phone rang. I snatched it out of my pocket and turned away. I was certain who it was, but for some unknown reason I hit the “ignore” button. And for yet more unknown reasons, I still put it to my ear and said loudly, “Hello?”
With my free hand I leaned against the lamp post, turned my back to them and pretended like I was talking. A moment later I stole a glance at the couple. They had returned their attention to each other.
“I tried to contact you when, well, you know…” she said as she gestured with her chin at the man sitting at the table, who was still laughing it up with his friends.
Eamon leaned forward peering into the window. “So that’s him then, yah?”
Again that hint of an accent.
She smiled and mimicked his manner. “Yah.”
He wrinkled his nose. “He doesn’t seem like much.”
The young lady giggled.
I looked at the guy in question. I had to agree. He was handsome, but in a manicured sort of way. He had a poofy blonde pompadour, teeth that seemed ridiculously large and much too straight, a bulky watch on his wrist, and an all too familiar manner of ordering the waiters about.
“He’s been good to me,” the young lady said.
She was attractive. Not beautiful, but very cute with an inner charm that was apparent even to a casual observer such as myself. Her long blond hair was worn up, but looked as if it had been gradually escaping its constraints all night and was falling about her bare shoulders. She had nice skin, and though nowhere near heavy, she was on the pleasant side of plump.
“Like I wasn’t, you mean?”
She looked hurt. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Yah, well it’s true. I admit it. I coulduh been better to you.”
She stepped closer and touched the buttons on his shirt. He flinched a little, again looking like he might make a run for it, but he let her hand rest on his chest. His thumbs were hooked in his belt loops. He still avoided eye contact.
“What happened to us Eamon?” she implored.
He shrugged, then finally looked her in the eye. His eyes glistened with moisture, and I didn’t think it was from the rain.
“I reckon it just wasn’t meant to be.”
“As I recollect, we argued a lot.”
“Over what? I don’t even remember anymore.”
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, then back. He shrugged again. “Everything. Nothing. We argued just to argue, I think.”
There was a moment of silence.
“Well, we don’t have to argue anymore. We can make a fresh start. Come,” she said pulling on his arm towards the door. “Come meet everyone. They’ve heard so much about you.”
He pulled back, firmly re-hooking his thumb in his belt loop.
Avoiding eye contact again, he said, “I can’t go in there. I don’t belong.”
“Nonsense, you’re my friend, you’re welcome anywhere I am.”
From my angle I could see the hurt in his eyes at the designation “Friend.” She may as well have stabbed him in the heart with a knife and twisted it.
She reached for him again, smiling. He pulled away.
“I just can’t.”
A pause, then he summoned the courage one more time to look her in the eye. This time his eyes weren’t just moist, they were red and brimming.
“Because I still love you. Always have. Always will.”
And with that he finally did turn and run into the rain soaked-night.
The young lady stared after him in shocked silence. It was a few moments before she turned back to the door, slowly approaching it in a daze. She reached for the latch, hand lingering on the metal. She looked into the window and watched for a moment the party she had left behind, still making merry in the warm and safe confines of the restaurant.
Suddenly, she gathered up her dress and sprinted into the darkness in the direction Eamon had gone.
I lowered my hand holding the cell phone to my ear, no longer needing to maintain false pretenses. I was alone again, and this fact seemed punctuated by the sound of the rain reasserting itself in my ears.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the little drama I had witnessed, other than I was suddenly reminded that regret is a sin that eats at the soul.
I was startled out of my musings by the cell phone ringing in my hand. I didn’t need to see the caller ID to know who it was.
I took a deep breath and put the phone to my ear.