He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not…He Loves Me
After telling my mom and Stella about Tommy, I am exhausted. They are both thrilled. A million and one questions came at me. I am shocked I got through telling them without a hundred interruptions. Of course it could be the way my dad prefaced it all.
“Ladies, Val has something to share. Let’s all sit here quietly and listen. Save your questions until after she finishes.”
I felt like I was at a press conference. It did make it easier that I just did a dry run with my dad. Of course, leaving out all the juicy parts in the version as well. Then like a press conference, the questions started like rapid fire.
“Okay ladies, it’s late. I know you have a lot of questions but I believe that Val needs to call Tommy and sort out a time they can meet and talk.”
Amazing how he does that, control a room. Forget being a Psychologist, my dad should be the press secretary for the President. I debate which is harder, answering all these questions or calling Tommy. Obviously, calling Tommy. So, like my dad says, “get the hard stuff out the way first”.
Tommy picks up on the first ring. Awesome? Or Psycho? Maybe I am the psycho, I should be thrilled that he is waiting for my call.
“Hey baby!” Tommy says excitedly.
“Hi handsome.” I try to sound happy and confident.
I don’t know why I can’t shake the funk that I am in. After telling my mom and sister about Tommy, any doubts I was having dissipated. I am happy and excited about us now. Yet, I behave so melancholy.
“Are you ok?” And of course, he notices.
“Yes darling, better than ever.”
“Ok, you just sound so sad.”
“Honestly, I am not sad at all. But I do think we should talk face-to-face.”
I laugh a little. I must sound really awful because he now sounds a bit frightened.
“No baby, it’s all good. I just think we need to talk instead of just going with the flow.”
“Where are you?”
“It’s after midnight babe.”
“I don’t care, I can’t sleep anyway. Let me come to you.”
“I am at my parents’ in Emeryville. I will text you the address. Actually, let me text you the address of my dad’s bar. We can meet there. Too many eyes and ears here.”
“Okay, but I was actually excited to meet your family.”
“And you will, just not tonight.”
I text Tommy the address to the bar then head inside to say bye to the family. I promise that Tommy and I will be down this week for dinner. And they can ask all their questions then. Or I can FaceTime mom and Stella tomorrow. Daddy drives me back to the bar, I have my own set of keys.
“Want me to stay?”
“I don’t think now is the right time to meet him. I wan’t it to be a perfect as it can be, and yes, I know it won’t be perfect, when he does meet you.”
“Okay baby girl. I love you so much.”
I know that my dad is sitting outside in his car, a respectful distance from the bar. He is a true gentleman and great dad, so he will make sure I am safe, first and foremost. He also secretly wants a once over of Tommy. Being a bartender all his life, he has this canning gift of reading a lot about a person just by the way they walk. I feel safer knowing he is down the street until Tommy arrives. I do pour myself some liquid courage, plus I can’t waist the good bottle of champagne we opened earlier. Daddy keeps a great stash for me in the back, he taught me to never drink cheep shit.
After two glasses, there is a knock on the door. As I walk from around the bar, Tommy opens the door slightly. This is one of those story book moments. Seeing each other from a slight distance, we smile awkwardly at one another and move slowly towards one another. Once we are toe to toe, Tommy’s hands are at my cheeks pulling my mouth to his. At this point I am glad he is holding onto me because I can’t feel my legs. His kiss, that’s where the love started, the kiss from my recurring dream. In this moment I feel as if I am watching all of this from a movie screen, complete out of body moment. Not only do I feel his lips, his love seeping into me; but I also see myself letting go. He loves me. In his touch, he tells me it all. I watch as his hands move from my cheek and wrap tightly around my body. See and feel him holding on as if he is so afraid to let go. Don’t let go, I silently shout at us.
Not sure of how long this kiss is lasting, not wanting it to ever end. This is me falling in love. The ethereal me wants to run outside and get my dad, bring him to witness the fall. Someone needs to bear witness to this monumental moment. Valentina Perotti is falling in love with Tommy Brooks.
“I love you Valentina Perotti.” Tommy whispers as he pulls away.
A loud screech, did you hear that? I turn around in the movie theater to ask the rest of the audience in the movie theater. There is no one. There really isn’t even me. Did no one hear that loud sound? The sound of breaking to avoid a collision. What is wrong with me? Okay, Ethereal Val, get back in that body and take control of robot Val before logic sets in and ruins the most romantic moment of our life.
Time seems to be so confusing right now, I can’t tell seconds from minutes from hours. Opening my eyes, I see Tommy staring at me with a very confused look. Oh God, definitely not seconds. How long has it been since he professed his love and I failed to respond? Is it too late? Or do I say it back, now? Val!
“I love you Tommy Brooks.” Phew! That was close.
Tommy’s lips are back on mine, our body sway as if the room is filled with Sinatra. In my mind we are spinning, like in the movies. The audience gets to witness this from all angles, take in the full picture of what is happening right here and now. Mesmerized, shoving popcorn into my mouth kind of savoir faire. Dizzy and a bit unsteady, I hear that loud sound again. The sound of my brain wanting me to stop what I am doing and gain my senses.
I reach for Tommy’s shoulder, partly to separate us, surely to steady me. Taking a deep inhalation, I am conscious to smile and not sigh. I don’t want to be misunderstood in my actions.
“Mind if we sit?”
“Mind if I pour us drinks?” Tommy always has the best ideas.
I let Tommy handle the bar. For any of you that have ever owned a bar, you know this is a big deal.
“My dad hides the good stuff in the back.”
Tommy walks from the back holding a bottle of champagne, I guess I drank the other bottle already.
“You didn’t find the Oban?”
“I feel like celebrating, champagne is more fitting for this moment.”
“Cheers!” We toast, making eye contact of course.
“So, Valentina Perotti, this is where you grew up.”
“For the most part. Our apartment isn’t too far from here. But yes, I have spent as many hours at this bar as I have my home.”
“I can see it now. Little Val, running around, helping out. I bet you were such a good girl.”
“What do you mean were? I am a good girl.”
“You are a great woman.”
“Oh, okay, I am the asshole.”
“Never, impossible, couldn’t if you tried.”
“So, Thomas Brooks, where to we go from here?”
“Anywhere and everywhere. What is that saying? The world is our oyster?”
“Good thing I love oysters. But seriously. I think we need to talk about us.”
“This is us.”
“Okay, smarty pants, describe this to me.”
“I am a man, who is in love with you, a woman.”
“Corny, but go on.”
“I didn’t realize what you meant until I almost lost you.”
“Better. Keep going.”
My dad taught me that when you are trying to figure out what the other person is thinking, you stop talking. Make them talk. Ask the right questions that gets them to think out loud. Listening and hearing are two very different actions. My dad’s favorite is, “why don’t you tell me your side of the story?”
“I think we both stumbled into each other.”
“Actually, you sought me out.”
Hm. Defensive. Time to channel Bartender Phil.
“Why don’t you tell me your side of our story? Pretend I am a total stranger, and tell me about us.”
“Is this that bartender therapy I always witness you doing to your customers?”
Avoidance. Keep silent. Don’t let him change the subject. He knows clearly what I am asking. I smile at him lovingly and sip my champagne. Refilling my glass. Waiting patiently.
“Okay, total stranger, let me tell you this great love story.”
Funny. I guess I sort of deserve that. But I am here because I don’t know what he is thinking. I need to listen to his version, hear what he thinks and learn his love language (this one is Mikey’s). This is like debate club. I can’t debate my side if I don’t fully understand his side. Not that we are debating. But I am trying to related to this version of life.
“Once upon a time, I walked into this bar and saw this girl.”
“Sorry, your story, not mine.”
“Once upon a time, a few years back, I found myself at a bar, The EndUp. When I walked into the bar, a lady caught my eye.”
For the first time in my life, I feel like a Princess. And I like it.
“The lady is dancing with her friends. I want to find the courage to say hello but I am too enchanted by her. By the time I could draw up the valor to approach her, another knight beat me to the battlefield. I hung my head, tail between my legs, I leave.”
“What about the part where you talk to Carlos?”
“My story, remember? And what about Carlos?”
In that moment I realize that he doesn't know Carlos told me about him.
“You are the storyteller, I will shut-up.”
“I will finish my version but you aren't getting off that easily.”
It sucks when you are busted. I fill our glasses and work at listening and not interrupting. Apparently it only works against me.
“So for several months, I would find myself at The EndUp, not able to shake this beauty. Something about her pulls at me. To my disappointment, I don't see her there again. Defeated, I give up. Life goes on for me. She is there, in the temporal lobe of my brain, teasing at my lambic system.”
My heart warms and I feel blood flowing to my heart. Pumping hard and fast, I take a few deep breaths, trying to steady my heart rate. This only pushes the butterflies to my stomach. Acknowledging this familiar stimulation of my core. Even tonight, waiting for him to walk through the doors. Even after all this time, I still get butterflies whenever I anticipate him.
“So, one night, to start of the winter break of my senior year I decide to follow the voice in my head pushing me to Triple Rock. So many nights I fantasize about the bold side of me that goes to find this lady. A little birdie, apparently named Carlos, told me where to find her.”
No doubt he will be holding me to how Carlos plays into my narrative. Blood moving back from my stomach to my chest.
“I walk into Triple Rock, not know what to expect, pleasantly surprised. Not only is this daydream very much reality but she is even more fascinating than my memory knows. I watch as the crowd carries her to her alter. Enraptured by her dazzling caper. Forcing my feet to approach the bar, I draw up the nerve to say hello. This lioness is wild, not easily attainable. Every man loves the chase. I hunt, she mocks me, I pursue, she remains impervious. Her haunting fuels my insistence. Pulling out all my ammo, finding charm I didn't even realize I was capable of. Not sure how if I win her over or she has no where else to run except into my arms. If any of you have ever chased a cat around the house, impossible. But when you finally wrap your arms around that kitty cat and she purrs into your neck, there is almost nothing better.”
I can feel a purr in my chest rising and kitty getting moist. Just the memory of being in his arms turns me on. I want to be there now. It takes ever bit of willpower not to embrace him right now. I flex my abs and stiffen my spine. Keeping me from moving to him. Tommy opens another bottle. The pop of the cork instinctively calms me. Bubbly and refreshing, I put back the glass, trying to put out the fire burning in my loins. The reality of my third bottle of champagne starts to relax all my muscles.
“I won't go into the details of our passionate encounter that night. But I will tell you that I found heaven in her arms and saw Angels every time we came together.”
That does me in. I stand to walk over to him.
“Wait, Val. I need to finish while I can.”
All is a sudden the magic in the room disappears. This is not a good sign. Tommy's face goes from dreamy to stern.
“I need to be honest with you.”
Oh God, this is not what I pictured the next few seconds to be. The feeling of wanting him so badly turns to sheer pain. Tantalizing turns to terrifying. The vibration of passion is replaced with fearful shaking.
“Since I can remember I was dating Brittany. Our families are tight and so we just became what we became. Our relationship always tumultuous. We spent as much time breaking up as we did together. I didn't know any better so I always thought it was how things just are. Because of proximity and ease we just made things work.”
That scene in Alien, when the creature rips apart it's victims gut, my insides are exploding. All around there is a pounding. I am trying to listen but the drumming gets louder and louder with every word that he tells. Suddenly my ears are filled with “I told you so” from everyone. What started as a dream come through is now a nightmare.
“Please Val, let me finish before you let your feelings decide your next move.”
Damn right! You better talk fast because my Queen is about to crush your King for making a pon of me! Is what I want to scream but I am afraid to open my mouth. Afraid to move, I steady myself. Hearing my dad telling me never to assume. Thank God my father’s voice calms me even ethereally. I stare intently at Tommy, letting know that I am listening angrily. But listening none the less.
“Because Brittany and my family are so intertwined, we are always together.”
First of all, why does she have to be a Brittany, the name alone says she is a privileged beauty. Secondly, he is speaking in present tense, not past tense. Let him finish Val. Then beat the shit out of him. My God! What did I get myself into? The heaven he spoke of earlier just went to hell in an handbag. I can hear myself exhaling loudly.
“I never had the chance to even consider another girl in my life. She is just always there. Until I saw you that night at The EndUp. Something clicked in me. What I felt for you, a total stranger, that night was more than what I ever felt for her. Your existence changed the dynamics of Brittany and I. But when I couldn't find you again, I fell back into the routine that was she and I. However my eyes saw differently. I started to see where she and I don't fit.”
Again, present tense.
“I broke up with her at the beginning of my senior year. Told my parents it wasn't going to happen. I can't possible be with her if all I ever dream of is you.”
Of course that switches my mood. My ego is slightly pleased. But he is still talking so this feeling is short lived.
“I dive myself into my schooling. Even though I am guaranteed a job with my father upon graduation, I still wanted to earn my spot. I need to know that I am better qualified than any other candidate.”
Okay Val, see, this is fruitless anyway. He is going to work for his dad and you are going to New York. So just end it right here right now. You have the means necessary to walk away right here right now! But…I love him, I love him not…I love him. I am so fucked!
“Yet no matter how much I allowed school to distract me, you drew away my attention constantly. That's when I set out to find you. Going back to The EndUp again at first. I never found you but I did run into your friend again, Carlos.”
Remind me to kill Carlos for not telling me he ran into Mr. Stanford again.
“Before you call Carlos and yell at him, I asked him not to say anything. I needed to figure out what I was going to do. Brittany and our parents are relentless.”
Does he even realize his constant use of the present tense. I am getting so mad at this point just from that. Fucking grammar!
“After our first night together I knew my choice. But it has not been easy. My parents are very controlling. They keep manipulating my time and putting Brittany and I in compromising positions. I am constantly having to tell her that I am no longer interested in her. She is more stubborn than my parents. Her ego won’t allow the realization that there is no chance for us.”
“Tommy, you are a grown man. Please stop blaming everything on your parents or this other girl in your life. You are allowing this. You forget, it’s you who chased me. I didn’t ask for this.”
I am impressed that I was able to vocalize those thoughts so calmly. Especially since every cell in my body is on fire. I don’t know who I am more furious with at this point, Tommy or myself. I have been just as passive in this situation. With that being said, I have not been spending our time apart with another option. So the question is, am I the other woman?
“No doubt, you are right. And I have been a chicken shit this entire time. I need to tell my parents about us. That’s why I wanted to see you as soon as possible. I want us to figure this out so that we can move forward the honest way.”
“Have you been sleeping with her?”
“Oh God no! I would never betray your body in that way.”
“Do you love her?”
“Like a sister. I realized the difference when I fell in love with you.”
At this point I am at a loss for words. I don’t even know how to proceed from here. I spent the last six hours breaking down walls in hopes of us becoming more than just fly by night. Yet I know for a fact that those walls are now back up, reinforced steel all around. Staring at my empty glass of champagne, I feel like a Bloody Mary. Unsure if I am a meal or just something to get me through a hangover. I can’t get myself to look at him.
“I need you to leave please.”
“I need you to leave please.”
“No, I am not leaving. I just found the courage to love you, I am going to fight for you. Even if it means fighting with you on this.”
I want to throw my glass at the wall. I want to throw it at him. I have never been so angry in my life. The one man I finally decide to give myself to fully has just deceived me.
“I know that I have no right to ask anything of you hear. And please know I am not saying what I am about to say a defense. I know I am wrong, there is no need to prove my innocence here. But please look at this from where I stand…”
Did he just ask me to put myself in his shoes? I freeze, because the inside of me is shaking so badly that if I move, it will be violent. He has some nerve.
“As I was saying, from where I stand I didn’t know what we were to one another. I know that we really enjoy our time together, but I also didn’t want to push you in any direction, afraid if I did that I would loose you.”
“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”
“Val, please don’t swear at me. I said that I know I am in the wrong here. Now I am asking if we can please solidify what we are to each other and the rest of the world. Will you please be my girlfriend?”
“You will have to forgive me if I can’t answer that right now.”
“I can respect that. But I am not leaving. So you can yell at me, hit me or we can sit here all night in silence. But I know that if I walk out that door right now, there is a strong chance you will never let me back in. And that, I know I can’t live with. Sure as the sun sets and rises, I love you and only you.”
Oh God! I don’t even know where to go from here. But I do know that tonight is not the night. I can’t. I need to sleep on this and talk to my family first.
“I need you to please leave. I promise that we will talk tomorrow. But I can not do this tonight.”
Tommy gets up and leaves. I lock the door behind him and head up to the apartment upstairs to sleep. Setting my alarm for 6 a.m., tomorrow is Monday and I have class.