My friend Nadine invited me out to a laid-back Sunday dinner at Babbo to meet her inner circle of friends. Turns out this casual cast of characters left me far from relaxed. One of them was a TV star I couldn’t stop staring at. The other was a guy named Jacob, who I violently hooked up with one night this past summer.
Nadine winks at me, “Julia and I found each other at my fave place, Chateau Marmont. We’re kindred spirits.”
Jacob responds, “Yeah, we’ve met. You missing L.A.?”
All I can think to say is, “I miss Coffee Bean.” The table looks at me in horror.
The TV star with Abercrombie & Fitch looks swoops in to fill the silence, “I heard they just opened up a really nice one on 14th Street.”
Nadine adds, “Darling, You’re in New York now. We have Sant Ambroeus.”
Jacob says laughing, “Julia, don’t let anyone else hear you say that, or you won’t have any friends.”
We share an uncertain glance, until he averts his attention to the wine list. Jacob is dark-haired, is in his early 40s and has the rugged air of a man bear on a perpetual hike up the hills of Hollywood.
I focus on the TV star sitting to my right at the head of table, while Nadine and Jacob dive deep into conversation.
“So how do you know them?” I ask.
“Jacob directed me in his movie a few years ago and has become a good friend. I met Nadine through him.”
“You’re an actor?” I say to the heartthrob, pretending I haven’t seen him on TV a hundred times.
“Yeah,” he smiles with believable humility. “You know what you’re going to get to eat? I’m thinking about the sea bass.”
I really want the steak, but it’s 50 bucks, so I settle for the $12 autumn salad. It has avocado in it—a complete protein—so I’ll survive.
I’m brought back to the night Jacob and I were introduced at an industry party. I was casually seeing someone at the time and threw back several vodka tonics to ease my conscience. We ended up sucking face in front of a fire pit until it got too hot. When I didn’t want to take it to his place, he suggested we meet on Poinsettia Street in West Hollywood. I had sideswiped two cars on that street when I first got my license and associated it with bad vibes, but I didn’t tell him that. I pulled up in front of his Bimmer and got into his waiting car.
He unbuckled his seat belt, threw back a piece of Dentine and tracked his lips on my neck.
“I’ll bet you’re a great fuck,” he told me.
My body tensed, “That’s not happening tonight.”
“When it does, and it will…” Loosely cupping my throat, he continued, “I know how you like it.”
“Oh, yeah? How?” I whispered.
He gripped my throat tighter and started to finger me. Torn between desire and fear, I tried to push his hands away.
“I want to take things slow.”
Fingers still thrusting inside me, he said, “You love it.”
Enraged and titillated, I rode the wave of my ambivalence until his dominance and our lack of mutual trust made it almost unbearable to continue. Jacob would ask me to dinner soon after, but I was put off by his Neanderthal behavior and guilt-ridden about my nonexclusive relationship with another man. I suggested a friendship coffee, which never happened.
My thoughts were disrupted by the arrival of my salad. The TV star dug into his warm fish. I want what he’s having.
“Where do you live?” I ask him.
He wipes his mouth with the corner of his napkin, “We’re just off Mulholland Drive in the hills. I would live in New York in a second if it wasn’t for work.”
“You said ‘we.’ Are you married?”
I rejoice in finding several rebellious strands of dirty-blond eyebrow hair on his chiseled, symmetrical face.
He finishes chewing a roasted carrot, “I have a girlfriend.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful. You think she’s the one?”
He beams, “Yeah, she’s kind of everything I’ve ever wanted.”
Picking at a brown piece of avocado, I ask all upbeat, “Are you going to propose?”
He smiles, “We’ll be in Mexico with her family in January, so I’m going to ask her father for her hand there.”
Jacob passes his pasta primavera to the TV star, insisting he try some. I wonder if he’ll offer me a bite too, but he doesn’t. I manage to steal a forkful.
Studying the TV star, I try to find a crack in his far-too-perfect persona. Maybe behind his façade—and yes, he was actually the captain of his high school football team—is a lackluster, simple mind. Maybe when asked about higher learning, he clamors to change the subject.
“Did you study acting in school?” I fish.
He says laughing, “I guess you could say I acted my way through Harvard.”
“Great school.” I choke on my tap water and in between dry heaves. “You felt like you played a role there?”
“Let’s just say I got an all-around education. Senior year was fun. I was class treasurer, and since I wrote the checks out to the liquor store, I got a lot of free alcohol.”
What can’t this demigod do? I’m desperate. “How about crying on cue? I find that challenging as an actor.”
“That is tough, but the other night, I was in bed, stoned with my girlfriend, and I thought about how it’d feel if my golden retriever died.”
“My Bichon Frisé passed away. It’s rough.”
“Ugh, I can’t even go there. I just started sobbing.” He gets choked up, and it takes all my strength not to reach over to him. “And then I ran downstairs to get my dog and wouldn’t let go of her the rest of the night.”
As I watch him sip the last of his pinot noir, I wonder what it would feel like to be in bed with him, smelling his Ivy League sweat, our feet intertwined in the air, holding onto each other and crying about the inevitability of future loss. Not only did I want to be with this man, I wanted to be him. But coming back to real life, the sad realization hits me that even if he was single and there ever was a chance, I’d be too envious of his career.
The waiter brings the bill, the moment of reckoning.
Jacob handles it and announces, “Let’s go Dutch.”
The TV star throws down his black Amex while I search for a credit card somewhere in my purse, below gum wrappers and used-up MetroCards.
Adrenaline racing, I look across the table of half-empty wine glasses and chocolate desserts, which I had none of. Do I say something? Clutching my blue Chase card, I lock eyes with Jacob. It’s the longest he has looked at me all night. I slowly hand it over to him, and he grabs it. Eighty dollars later, I should have ordered the steak.
I try to brave the 22-degree walk home, but when I feel an unreasonable draft up my shit fraud of a coat, I hail a cab and add it to the night’s tab. Leaning back into my warm ride, I think more about my dog, Boston, who passed nearly four years back at midnight on the first day of the new year.
In the brief moment, when the vet held his long needle just centimeters from Boston’s emaciated thigh, there would be no pause button. His eyelids would flutter until they fell. We’d leave him there until the weekend’s end, when my father would pick up his frozen body and bury him under a big rock somewhere in New Jersey.
Thinking of Boston, I am overcome with the compassion that was evading me as I jealously searched for the crevices in this man’s character. No one—not even someone seemingly so perfect—can escape the tears of being human.