"YOU are the most awesomest woman in the world I've ever met. Have I told you how awesome I think you are? I feel like I've known you forever, my darling!" he emphatically whisper-slurred into my ear.
Even if I hadn't witnessed firsthand how much he had drunk tonight, the words themselves showed just how inebriated he was. The man teetering beside me had one arm draped across the back of my barstool, his hand dangling dangerously close to my derrière, the other propped up on the edge of the highly-lacquered slab of oak that served as centerpiece of The Century Club. Thomas Malort, Senior Account Executive of the area's most prestigious advertising firm, had just landed the client that careers are made from: a multi-national firm, multi-year deal, with multi-billions in revenue. To say Tom was celebrating would be an understatement of the most profound kind. His excitement and vivacity was palpable, and the sense of merriment had spread across The Century Club like a tidal wave when he announced with pride that tonight the drinks were on him. A genuine, generous soul, not often seen in the down-and-dirty world of first-class advertising, Tom had short brown hair, a touch of silver just beginning to frost his temples, the little lines around his eyes and mouth revealed a lifetime of smiles and sunshine, and one absolutely-adorable, lose-yourself-inside-of dimple. Six foot tall and toned with just the right amount of muscle dancing under a dark lavender Prada shirt. I don't think I would have changed anything about him if I were able to order him up like a filet of moderately-aged beef. Well, just one thing.
"And you smell soooo good!" he groans as he nestles his nose into that little crook below my right ear, just the spot that sends shivers down my spine.
"Tom," I whisper as I delicately remove myself from his nonsensical murmurings with a practiced ease. "I think it's time we found you a cab ride home."
"Only if you're coming with me," he counters as he deftly twirls my chair to face him, catching my knee gently between his so I'm compelled to look at him directly.
"You know I can't, Tom," I mutter to the floor, my head whirling from the spin, or maybe it was just the most recent round of drinks that found their way to us.
"Darling," he whispers as he gently lifts my chin and we lock eyes. I feel the heat radiate between us as he starts to slide forward on his barstool, my conscience clanging alarm bells while my personal temptress gives me a gentle push.
"Tom,.." A light peck on the lips. "..you.." Okay. This I can handle. "..are.." Nothing untoward. And yet our lips are still pressed together. "..married.."
And before I know how it's really happened, my head is tilted and my eyes are closed, head reeling from a liberal dosing of booze, the mutual chemistry, the sensuality of a darkened, woodsy barroom...not to mention a slight lack of oxygen.
"Wow!" Tom whispers as we finally pull apart. "That was, wow! I'm speechless."
The surges of pride, not to mention hormones, are reigned in by my saintly dispenser of guilt, her alarm bells having morphed into "I told you so's."
"So, where do you live?" he asks as he tosses a platinum card at the bartender who silently materialized across from us. With the experience of knowing when a member is ready for a prompt departure, the bill is presented to Tom almost instantly. The barman's impassive half-stare into the distance, meant to camouflage him into the surroundings only deepens my embarrassment, and I blush, a perceptible scarlet letter pronouncing my shame.
We ride down the thirteen floors in the Members' elevator, arriving in the lobby of Garrick Tower with a whoosh and a soft clink. Tom has declared my hand his lifeline, the only thing that is keeping him from flying off of the earth and into outer space. Oh, boy. This might turn out to be a tougher night than I thought. We step out into the cool pre-dawn night, and I realize that there aren't going to be any cabs waiting here, not at this hour.
Just as I start to really worry about what I'm going to do with an incredibly intoxicated multi-millionaire, a car door opens in the shadows to our right. Phillip Williams, still dressed immaculately in his driver's uniform, hurries over to help me maneuver Tom into the backseat. He holds the door open, waiting for me to climb in, but I hesitate in the door and turn back to look at him. He, too, is wearing the same stoic expression I noticed in the bartender. I lightly squeezed his forearm, made certain he was looking at me, and shook my head as I whispered, "Wait."
Tom was already on his way to fantasyland when I leaned in to say goodbye. He grabbed my hand, covered it in tiny kisses, and clutched it to his cheek.
"Why couldn't I have met you eight years ago before I met...well, before I got...I just wish I had met you before..."
"I know, I know. Mr. Williams is going to take you home now, okay? Good night, Tom."
I prised myself from his drowsing grasp and stepped away from the limo, approval in the old chauffeur's eyes. As Mr. Williams closed the door, I heard Tom say, "Good night, my darling. I love you!"
"Are you okay getting home, Miss..?" the old man asked me, angling for my name as well as checking on my safety.
"Oh, yes, my car is just around the corner. I'll be fine." I assured him. He nodded and continued on to the
driver's side, pausing to glance at me once more, searching his extensive memory for a name or face to match.
"Are you sure you're okay? You seem to know me. Do I know you? What's your name?
"Really. I'll be fine," I said as I finally started to walk away. "Just call me 'Darling.'"
And as the limousine pulled away from the curb, my tears began to fall with the morning dew.
"Why does this keep happening to me?" I accusingly ask myself. "But at least this time, no one knows who I really am."