HEART IN THE CLOUDS
This is crazy, I tell myself for the hundredth time today. Who does this in real life?
It only happens in the movies, and we’d discussed the movies at length. Love Story. An Affair to Remember.
The stories are nearly identical. Two strangers meet, drawn together by… Fate? Serendipity? Cupid? Perhaps cruel coincidence, for even though they fall helplessly in love with each other, neither is in a position to make a long term commitment. Both have other responsibilities, significant others. Still, defying explanation and all practicality, the lovestruck pair agree to test the depths of their newfound love. Months in the future, they will reunite at the top of the Empire State Building. If they both show at the right time and place, then it must be the real deal. Naturally, life, fate, or whatever, muddles the situation. There is misunderstanding, heartbreak, but of course, it all works out in the Hollywood ending. The music swells as they kiss. Then the credits roll. My eyes roll also.
This is pretty much exactly the romantic, sentimental schmaltz I generally avoid like the plague. But, I’d somehow been convinced, or rather, cajoled into giving this a shot.
A Pacific Northwest version of the Love Story is what this is supposed to be. Yes, like in the movie, we’d agreed to meet. One year ago. We’d said, no, promised, that we’d be right here. Right now. For us, though, it is meant to be a culmination of alleged love and promises we’ve conveyed electronically for over a year. This is to be our first in-person meeting, perhaps the first of many. Or, more likely, the pragmatist in me says, there’ll be no meeting at all. I mean, come on. Who does this? But here I am. This is crazy.
In a modern version of the movie, we’re strangers who bumped into each other online. Over time, no longer strangers. We’ve conversed and conspired, typing or speaking to an LED image of the other. We’ve shared stories, photographs, secrets. Fallen deeply and easily in love, as Hollywood would say. What we haven’t done is touch, kiss, or come within smiling distance of one another. That’s the world we live in, now. That is reality. This – This is crazy. I remind myself to stop saying that.
The clack of my shoes on the polished amber wood floor sounds like gunfire to me. Nearly everyone is looking at me. I hold my chin up and make my grand entrance. Legato, the erstwhile pianist in me says. Fluid. I flow into the restaurant.
I am fashionably late. Fashionably being the key word. I don’t go clothes shopping. Ever. But, inexplicably, I have. Went for broke, not difficult on a writer’s salary, on the outfit I’m wearing. It’s definitely a splurge for the occasion. Michael Kors. Blue. My favorite… OUR favorite color, I correct myself. Tailored. A far cry from the workout gear I wear around my home office. Wearing somewhere around a thousand bucks, I will myself not to perspire. Relax, I tell myself. Probably the hundredth time for that also.
I feel high. I am high. More than 500 feet up. Give or take an inch or so, I think, looking at my noisy shoes. I step into the elevator. It’s huge, and empty. Quiet, except for the obligatory music. “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher.” That’s a legitimate reason to roll my eyes. The trip to the top is surprisingly short. As is the maitre d. He appears as if by magic as I enter, thinking to myself what a long shot this whole affair is.
Beaumont, has slicked back hair, a crisp, classic tuxedo, and a practiced smile. His welcoming “Bonjour” is as smooth as a thirty-two dollar flute of French champagne. “A moment,” I say, attempting to quell the din of noisy doubts in my head. Somewhere a piano is playing. “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing.” Perfect, romantic, why not? I don’t even roll my eyes. At least the pianist is no hack. Little by little, Poco a poco, I’m getting into this whole experience. Beaumont stays silent, preserving the moment as I survey the room.
Finally the maitre d speaks. “Looking for someone?” How do I explain that in reality, I am looking for the absence of someone? I don’t answer, as I finish scanning the room and its guests. It doesn’t take long to confirm my suspicion. Every table, every single damn one of them has a couple occupying the exquisite leathered and lacquered seats, and each other’s time. No singles. No one waiting alone, watching for me, greeting me with smiling eyes. No empty seat beckoning me. Unless I’d like to be a third party, and question one of these foolish couples about why they believe in this illusion of love and romance.
It feels like the room is spinning. Perhaps it’s because the room is spinning, slowly. Sky City Restaurant does that. One revolution every forty-seven minutes. It provides a stunning panoramic view of “The Emerald City,” Seattle, Washington. Breathtaking. Romantic, too, at least to this crowd of gullible marks.
I bite my lip. I’m not going to cry. I’m angry at myself, at how my heart drops, at disappointment that I completely should have expected to feel. I realize that as much as I knew, really knew, this is exactly what would happen, I was still hoping. Believing. Or maybe just wishing. That’s a senseless waste of time.
The piano begins to play “The Way You Look Tonight.” Unannounced, an orchestra in my head begins to accompany the music, turning the song into a dirge. I remember the time I’d spent earlier, fretting with my hair, brushing and rebrushing; all the times I’d smoothed away imaginary lint and wrinkles from the wool of my stylish outfit. I do look good tonight, I tell myself, managing a tight smile. I’d kept my part of the promise, I’d made my entrance. Now it is time for me to exit.
I’m going to leave, not downcast, but with my head held high. When the song ends, I’ll be gone, leaving all these happy, horrid couples to continue nibbling their Wild King Salmon, celery root-apple emulsion, and carrot Parisienne. I want to chastise them. Not for their menu choice, but for being such sheep. Blindly chasing some mythical concept of everlasting love, undying loyalty. Believing in having a “soul mate.” Now, I give free reign to my rolling eyes, and turn toward the exit. And pause. The piano aficionado sings out the last few words “Just the way you look… tonight.” The voice is warm and soft. And familiar. “Hi, Babe,” it says. I spin around, and our eyes lock. The orchestra soars louder and louder, from mezza forte to fortissimo.
It takes a second to catch my breath, find my voice. “I never knew you played piano,” I say, loudly so it will carry to him, and so that I can hear myself over the booming in my chest. “I never knew just how beautiful you were,” is the perfect response. Who is moving quicker now I cannot answer, but the distance between us dwindles into nonexistence. I fall into his arms, his warm hands feeling sublime on my shoulder blades. Strapless had really been a good choice, I think. “I knew you’d come.” we murmur in unison, the last lie we’ll ever tell each other.
His mouth covers mine before I can speak another word. A kiss neither of us wants to end. The music plays on. And on. Tenuto.