Daniel and Sylvia (Part 1)

     There was no doubt he was going to get in trouble for what he was about to do. Even knowing eyes were cautiously watching him, he wasn’t about to keep from doing it. For the last six years he had played out his forbidden act at least a few times each of those years and, quite frankly, it had become a bit of a game to him.

     Daniel had been frequenting Baroque’s on the top floor of the Ritz-Carlton since that day six years ago when he landed a position as a Sales Associate for a Medical Supply Company. Coupled with the final hearing of his divorce three weeks earlier, he felt the need to celebrate a new start to his life. A life he hoped would be full of happiness, stability, and eventually, true love; things which had been sorely missing for him. That evening, after getting the call he was the candidate hired, he tapped “Cleveland fancy restaurants” into Google and told himself the first result was where he would treat his newfound beginning. Since that first ceremonial dinner, this cavernous restaurant with its $50 steak dinners, minimalistic décor and patrons who come to rub elbows rather than to eat had become his celebratory hiding place. Anytime he earned a promotion or sold an account the rest of the office envied, this was where he came to do his private end-zone dance. He would always call ahead and ask the maître d, Marques, to save his table in the corner where the walls were windowed from floor to ceiling, showcasing the entire Cleveland nightline before him.

     Tonight, Daniel was sitting with his back against the line of windows which showcased the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Almost always, he would sit with his back to the other patrons so he could take in the horizon and pretend he was all alone in his temporary triumph. For some reason tonight he was in the mood to people-watch. Of course he ran the risk of being caught sooner with what he was about to do but he didn’t care. He took a quick look around, making sure no one was watching before reaching inside his suit jacket. He noticed as he reached for what was in his pocket Marques purposefully turned his back from him as had become their routine.

     What he was about to do was really rather childish but since that first celebratory night it had become tradition. In actuality, it had become a bit of a superstition as well. If he didn’t do it, he believed the next great success would never come his way. He always scoffed at the athletes and their superstitiously laced rituals yet here he was doing exactly the same thing. As his one hand was reaching into his suit pocket, his other retrieved the personalized, Colibri lighter his boss had given him a few Christmases ago.

     Lying his lighter on the table, Daniel began un-wrapping the cellophane from the cigar in his other hand. He had already pre-cut the end of it, learning from past incidents, time was of the essence. Sneaking a quick peek at Marques, he placed the commemorative cigar between his lips and fired his Colibri, hearing a gasp emanate from nearby.

     As the flame scorched the pressed leaves, his eyes surveyed the patrons. There was a woman staring daggers at him from the direction he heard the gasp and he knew he wasn’t going to have as much time as he usually did. With an arrogance that pretended she had never done anything wrong herself, she turned to Marques and tried to get his attention with the wave of her hand; her husband's face flushed with embarrassment the entire time.  As he took the first puff on his cigar, he found peace in the fact Marques would take his time noticing the skin-flare the lady had just sent up.

     With his other hand he gripped the glass the waitress had instinctively brought him moments earlier. It contained two fingers of Gentleman Jack; an indulgence he allowed himself during only such occasions. Aware other patron’s skin-flares were also being fired, he quickly downed his drink, closed his eyes and savored the burn before taking another long drag on his cigar. This act, in his mind, assured there would be more success to come and for the next few moments, the rest of the world didn’t exist.

     As the first puff of smoke began to dissipate, he could hear the mumbled complaints of the other customers become louder. He thought back to the first time he lit up 6 years ago and was scolded by Marques. He had retreated to Baroque's bar and was surprised when, after a couple drinks, Marques joined him. Over the next couple hours the conversation began with taking sides of the basketball game on the television and ended with why Daniel had come to Baroque's and the desperation he felt in jump-starting his life again. He explained to Marques that his persona isn't as brash as he must have come off in the restaurant and that he was truly unaware of their no-smoking policy; he just wanted a celebratory moment. Thanking Marques for his time, he paid for both their drinks and slipped into his jacket. As he stood and reached to shake his new friend's hand, the maître d paused for a moment before offering if Daniel ever needed to wallow in another success, he would take his time coming over before demanding he put the cigar out as long as Daniel would feign ignorance and immediately put it out. Daniel agreed, not sure he would actually ever do it again.

     Of course, since that exchange at the bar many years ago, he had taken Marques up on his offer a number of times. Now, as he watched his friend approach the first gasping patron, he took what he knew to be the last puff on the stogie. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the maître-d nod in all the right places while stretching out the conversation. The heightened level of ranting let him know Marques would cave early and, when he turned to already head his way, he proved himself right.

     There was an improvised script Marques and he worked out over the years. Marques stood before him now and, with a little too much familiarity said, “Excuse me sir but you can’t smoke in here.” 

     As Daniel swung his head upward to deliver the scripted line to his friend, he caught site of her. She was sitting three tables over, staring back at him with controlled panic on her face. He felt all the air being sucked out of him just as it had the first time he saw her five years ago. Her hair had been cut shorter but still fell over her shoulders with a softness his fingers were already pining to stroke themselves through again.  She was wearing a black fitted sweater with a modest skirt which exposed no more than an inch or two of stocking before disappearing inside her knee-high boots. They had locked eyes and both were frozen in time. 

     Marques was talking to him but the words sounded as if they were coming from two rooms away. Daniel didn’t want to take his eyes off Sylvia. He never thought he would see her again. If he were to look away, he was afraid she would disappear without warning just as she had before. His mind began racing, trying to make sense of what was going on. He noticed she was sitting with man at her table and they were done with their dinner. Her date was scrolling through his wallet like it was a rolodex, looking for which credit card he was going to use. She broke their connection by turning to the man and saying a few words he absently nodded at. She stood up, shot a quick look back to Daniel which pleaded for understanding, then quickly weaved her way around the tables towards the exit.

     As he watched her walk away, Daniel tried to get his body to do what it was being told. He knew he had to go after her but couldn’t get his legs to cooperate. Thankfully Marques was there to snap him out of his paralysis. Grabbing his arm and giving it a quick jerk, Marques was genuinely concerned when he asked, “Hey! Are you ok?”

     Turning his head towards the maître-d seemed to awaken not only the rest of his body but his train of thought. He knew he had to leave now and his legs were finally willing to oblige him. He snapped himself upright and dropped his cigar in his drink before apologizing to Marques that he will have to take care of his bill another time. Daniel was sure the surrounding patrons believed he was storming out because of their complaints but they couldn’t have been further from the truth. Five years ago he and the woman who had just fled from him again pledged the rest of their lives to each other. Then, one morning when he rolled over in bed and reached for her, she was gone without so much as a note. It took him years to get over not only losing her but realizing he would probably never know the reason behind her leaving. He always asked himself how he would react if he ever saw her again and tonight he got his answer. 

     As he picked up his pursuit his mind began recalling all the questions he wanted her to answer but all his hands wanted to do was touch her again. All his heart wanted to do was love her again. He wasn’t sure whether it would be his mind, his heart or his body that would prevail if he caught up to her. Now, running towards the elevator he was sure she was on, he knew he was about to find out. 

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