A real man wouldn't feel this nervous about fucking a woman who isn't his wife. A real man would relish the danger; cherish the joy-inducing illicitness of it all. A real man would throw caution to the wind and let his cock lead in the tango of infidelity.
So much for that “real man” bullshit.
He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. He was more pale than he'd remembered and somehow less confident looking. Where was that Redford charm, that Brando bravado he'd hoped would be there?
Pulling the blue cashmere sweater over his head, he went back to the bedroom in search of his blazer. A sweater and blazer? He wasn't sure if he looked more like Fred Astaire or Fred Rogers. It didn't really matter. Dressing for a date that would include dinner at a restaurant (with reservations) and sex at a hotel (with reservations of a completely different sort) is like mulling over which cart on 43 rd had the safest plate of falafel. In the end, things would end up the same: initial joy and physical pleasure, followed by a sense of unease that eventually led toward inevitable sickness and a lasting remorse for the mistake he'll make again and again. There it is. He was no Stanley, no Cool Hand Luke, not even Mr. Fucking Rogers. He was a lab rat, running toward nothing and unable to stop.
Chock full of rationalizations built on shakily constructed metaphors, he slid into the blazer. Toward the door, keys in hand, he took one last look in the small, oval mirror that hung in the hall. The figure in the mirror nodded in approval and winked, “You go tiger,” and he walked out the door.
As always, the train ride was brief. Fucking MTA, never giving you quite enough time to ponder the mistakes you've already made and put into perspective the impact of the one you're about to make. With an increased heaviness in his step and a slight drag in his gait, he walked onto the solid stone platform and moved toward the stairs. Tucking a tuft of hair behind one ear and staring intently at the ground beneath his feet, he ascended each step cautiously, slowly.
The walk from the subway to the too-nice French restaurant was a blur. Inside, he encountered some out-of-work male model masquerading as a maitre d'. He stated that he had reservations.
Stevens – party of two. Stevens? STEVENS? Jesus Christ, had he really used a pseudonym when he called? How sad, he thought. If avoiding clichés was a chore he couldn't handle, perhaps adultery was a bit too big for him to chew as well. Biting off more than he could chew? Maybe it was time to give up on that cliché-avoidance resolution.
The table was nice enough. Round, white cloth with matching napkins. Empty wine glasses of a certain quality. Typical. Manhattan.
With alarming speed, the waiter, né garcon, approached to assess the situation. Would he care for a drink while awaiting his dining companion? Of course he would. Belvedere. Double. Neat.
His eyes danced around the room in a vain attempt to spot someone familiar, someone who could provide a plausible reason to flee the scene. No luck. The waiter again, this time with the vodka. Three big swigs, maybe four, and it was gone. He waited for that loosening feeling that only alcohol can provide. Waited for the faucet to be turned imperceptibly, letting the vodka flow slowly, filling the space between his brain and his skull until everything began floating, vaguely worn out, dazed like an afternoon spent sailing in the summer sun. It never came. Instead, he sank. Struggling for air, he began longing for the shore.
Another vodka. A look at his watch. He hated being early for anything. Unfortunately, this was anything but anything. He wiped beads of frustration and intoxication from his forehead. Finishing the second drink, he looked at his watch once again.
Six minutes. She'd always been punctual.
An appetizer, perhaps? We have a lovely –
Okay, I'll check back in –
Yes, the check.
You want the check?
He reached for his wallet and pulled out whatever cash was inside. Sixty-three dollars. That should cover two vodkas, tip and an apology for an unused reservation at a Midtown restaurant.
Cash on the table. A nod to the waiter. Walk toward the door. Turn toward the subway. Fuck it. In the back of a cab. Back to the Upper East Side. Back home. Back to her. Back safely. Back to normal. Back to himself. Back to nothing.