It wasn’t until nine that day that they understood what had been going on. The people at the party seemed to be entertaining themselves enough for Maria to leave for a while. They were laughing and dancing and jumping all around, and for a fleeting moment she feared the whole floor would crumble and they would all fall down and die. Nothing of the sort happened, but a bunch of people were still missing. Or rather, they had failed to show up. Maria was known for throwing the biggest and baddest parties in town, she shouldn’t feel insulted by his absence, but somehow, she did. They’d met in a bar a few weeks ago, quite randomly. He had this weird look on his face, the puppy dog eyes she called it days after they had begun chatting. He wore sideburns and that gave him a seventies look she rather enjoyed. He looked like a huge teddy bear, she liked that too. He wasn’t much of a talker, but for some mysterious reason, she enjoyed his company. And when she had invited him, his shy smile seemed to mean yes, I will come and kiss you under some carefully placed mistletoe. But it was nine, and he was still missing.
There was nothing on earth he hated more. Parties. As it was, he felt awkward everywhere he went. But parties were the worst. Frank couldn’t even remember why he had said yes, but he guessed it was because he was an idiot. Idiots like making people happy, and he could tell he had made her happy. The only downside was, he himself wasn’t that happy to begin with. As he dressed and buttoned up his shirt, he wondered what it truly felt like to be happy – are we ever anyway? Probably not. He felt around for his perfume, something he hadn’t used in weeks. The first spray felt strong and bitter, and took him right where he didn’t want to go. He was standing there, a few months back, right over there down the steps. And she was looking at him, two steps up, she wanted to kiss him. And he wanted to kiss her back. But he didn’t. I took the right decision, said some silly part of him somewhere. In a moment, she smiled, she cried, she ran into his arms, she vanished. It all felt like the same motion, and in the end, he was still left alone, considering whether or not to buy glue for a broken heart. The following days had all been the same – getting up, feeling that very same ache, and fixing himself a drink. All in all, that’s not a bad life. Just a very dull one. The clock struck eight, and he knew it was time for him to go.
Maria stepped outside and looked down the stairs. No one was coming up or waiting. She imagined he would be waiting down there, waiting for her to come and pick him up. He was the shy type but surprisingly, she liked it. He looked rough, didn’t really care about his appearance, but had this vulnerability about him. He frowned a lot and that made him look focused, tormented, mysterious. He was a poet, although she’d never seen him write anything. She wanted to introduce him to her world, he’d be the jewel in the crown, the king to her Queendom, her very own Gatsby. She would buy him new clothes and convince him to grow his beard, and he would do it with a smile and thank her for everything she did. Men often need decisions, but never their own. She remained on the threshold for a while and imagined what her life would be with that man – oh how her friends would look at him. All he had to do now, was to show up.
The subway was full and smelled like oil and sweat. Frank had lost the habit of taking it – he used to be one of those people who would commute like they would read a book. He didn’t care where and how he would settle in a wagon, he just found a spot and let himself be carried away. When he finally reached the right station, he stepped out of the train and looked around. He followed a group of people, all joyful and jaunty. He missed the camaraderie; having friends and buddies and people to talk to. There had been people in his life, but one after the other, they all went away. Or maybe he was the one who went away. That part still remained unclear. From time to time here and there, some would send him text messages at night, Frank, are you okay? Are you home and safe? He would watch the screen for hours and never reply.
Sergio was there too. He and Maria had been something for a long time. He had seen her naked before and after the surgeries, he had like what he had seen in both cases. She on the other hand had not been that satisfied. It was difficult for Maria to admit it, but she had never been that satisfied by men. Most women she knew felt the same way. There was just something about men from that particular generation – most of them feel inefficient, uneffective. From the other side of the room, his drink in hand, Sergio looked at her with a daring smile. He was obviously sending a message, and wasn’t being too subtle about it. This is something Maria, and many like her, had come to realize : being subtle is a lost art. Like handjobs. Handjobs had been underrated for way too long, she thought. She and Nathalia had been talking about the topic for days during the last reunion – blowjobs are trending, maybe, but in some way, they felt derogatory. Handjobs allowed women to keep the upper hand, and that was what mattered. Maria liked having the upper hand. She felt she was getting a bit turned on and decided to ignore Sergio and go fetch herself a drink while waiting for her mysterious suitor. It was half past nine, and she had already seen three different couples kiss under mistletoe.
Frank found the entrance door ajar as he arrived. He stepped in and saw the elevator door closing. In a single step, he made his way towards the closing door and held it with his hand. Sorry, he had mumbled, without even looking at the person standing inside. Their eyes met for a brief moment and something exploded. Both of them remained awfully silent, and tried not to look as unnerved as possible. Frank’s feet felt numb and a wave of perfume immediately took hold of him, lifting him up and threatening to send him down at any moment. There was no way of telling what she was thinking as she stood there, beautiful eyes and smile out to kill. After a long while, seconds really, he said he was going up to the seventh floor. And so did she. They both felt awkward and stranded, with nothing to say and nowhere else to look.
Someone knocked on the door. Maria pushed her way towards it and ran to open. Ivan had just arrived with four bottles of red wine. Something in his pocket made a bump, he looked like a ridiculously overdressed kangaroo. He kissed the air near Maria’s cheeks and let himself in. He’d done that very same move so often over the last couple of years that Maria could time each and every breath and movement he would make. Some people yelled as he came in, extatic, and she barely heard him say that her fucking elevator was out of service, yet again. Maria often saw the silver linings in situations like that – at least she would work on her butt even after quitting the gym.
When it jerked and came to a halt, Frank believed the scent had finally dropped him on his ass. But it was the elevator. Something was probably tangled, ripped, broken; he had no idea how elevators worked, but a thing was certain – they were stuck. He asked her if she was okay and she said yes. She looked pale like death, but he still wanted a kiss. She wasn’t claustrophobic, but she wasn’t exactly fond of situations like that one, he knew that very well. They tried pushing the alarm button and the reset one, but nothing happen. Something prevented them from moving up or down, they were just there, eyes in eyes, hands close.