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Hope and Doubt

They usually go together

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to persons, living or dead, is purely coincindental.

I wanted to believe he would be the next big thing. Yet, I had nagging doubts.

Joe and I connected online. His profile seemed a bit on the mysterious side. I’m not sure why, but I am often suspect of a man who has reached maturity and has never married or had children. Our culture still doesn’t readily accept that this is an appropriate choice. He was 58 and lived alone.

Part of the reason this raises a red flag is I tend to think that the guy is still single because he couldn’t figure out how to make a relationship work. Though, I reason this can also be a plus in that there are no ex wives or children to cause problems with new relationships. He was one of the most handsome men in my pool of “matches”.He was mostly bald, but I didn’t care. He had dreamy, deep blue eyes, and an actor’s good looks. I was cautiously optimistic.

We chatted for about two weeks on the dating app. He said he had an undergraduate degree in Finance and worked as a bartender at a fine dining restaurant. As in, bartending was his career. He’d been at it for more than 20 years. He also mentioned that he was a landlord.

He seemed worthy of a date. He wasn’t a perfect match, but I know no one is. He had an education, good looks, a career and a home of his own with what looked like no excess baggage. Maybe he was perfect? Maybe I had been lowering my standards? Whatever. It was just a date.

He offered to pick me up at home to take us to New York City for our first date. He seemed safe enough to trust. I made a rare exception to my rule of always meeting for the first time in a public place. A night on the town in Manhattan seemed a little over the top for a first date. Usually, a first meeting is for a drink or a cup of coffee. If it’s for dinner, I usually meet them at a local restaurant.

On the Saturday night that was set for our first date, I dressed to the nines in evening wear. Joe texted me that we would be having dinner at 8:00 so he would pick me up at 6:00. I was excited. He was so handsome and was witty and funny on the phone.

He arrived promptly at 6. I had my best friend Dawn with me so she could meet this stranger I was going out with. She said, That’s a Bentley Continental GT3! Who is this guy?” She was even more impressed when I told her I was going to the city in this fancy car with the mysterious stranger.

Joe rang the doorbell. When I opened the door, I nearly fainted at the sight of him. He looked so much better than he did in his profile pictures. He was wearing a Versace sharkskin suit, and holding an enormous bouquet of flowers. I had not noticed what a hot body he had in his online photos, but the suit showcased his slim waist and broad shoulders. His blue eyes looked softer in person.

I briefly introduced him to Dawn. She shot me a look that said, “Wow.” We put the flowers in a vase and said goodnight.

Joe gracefully opened the passenger door of his car for me. I was stunned by the sheer luxury of the interior. It had that new car smell. When he got in, I told him about how Dawn must be thinking he is the coolest guy ever because of the car. I thought so, too, but wouldn’t say so in order to play it cool. I was quickly falling for this guy. He responded, “Yeah, it’s just a car.”

He was able to get the car parked by a valet near Daniel restaurant on 65th street. I wondered what kind of connections he had.

The valet left us on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. I was not prepared for the glamour of the Neo Classical architecture inside even though I knew it was the most expensive restaurant in town. We were seated at a quiet table in the corner where we could see the entirety of the beautiful dining room. Joe ordered a sweet specialty cocktail for me, and a martini for himself.

The drinks were served along with a plate of Golden Ossetra caviar. I am not a connoiseur, but I liked this.

We took our time looking at the menu and made the usual first date small talk about where we were from, where we went to school, etc. I pointedly asked him why he had never gotten married. He said he never wanted to, and liked being on his own. This flew in the face of what he stated in his dating profile. It said he was looking for a “long term relationship”. Now that was weird. A successful, hot looking guy had made it to 58 and had been unable to find that special relationship. He seemed to have everything to offer.

This was not the first time I had met someone online whose in person story didn’t jive exactly with their online persona. Still, I overlooked any inconsistencies because I was continuing to fall for this guy. He was even funnier in person than he had been on the phone.

We had a five course dinner that was amazing. He didn’t have much to say because how much is there to say about bartending? I made a point to ask him about his real estate holdings. They weren’t all that impressive. He had a few two family houses he rented in New Jersey. Also not very fascinating. He seemed to glance at his phone more than he should have on a first date.

I tried to resist being dazzled by his good looks and charm because he wasn’t adding up to much otherwise. He was definitely not on my intellectual level, but again, I overlooked it.

He paid the check in cash to the tune of about $1,000. I know bartenders usually earn tips in cash, but I thought it was odd for someone to have that much cash in their wallet. He asked me if I needed to be home by any certain time. I said no because now I was excited to see where else he might take me.

Joe asked the maitre d to get us a cab that whisked us away and downtown. We got out of the cab in front of the 1Oak nightclub. Someone else had tried to take me there once, but we couldn’t get past the door because it was so exclusive.

When we arrived at the entrance, Joe asked to speak to Mario. He was the owner and was very glad to see Joe, and to meet his date, me. He waived the cover charge and seated us at a nice table near the bar. I looked at the cocktail menu and was aghast at the $25 and up prices. I knew where I was, but it was still a shock to see such astronomical prices. Joe ordered drinks for us. The sweet cocktails went down easily one after the other. We danced to a fun mix of music that ranged from current dance tunes to old standards when Joe held me close and gently guided me around the dance floor. I could feel how strong he was when I put my hands on his shoulders and felt his arms. I buried my face in his sweet smelling neck and was filled with warm feelings. I didn’t want to get carried away, but then he kissed me. My will immediately got away from me. At that moment, I would have gone anywhere with him.

I stubbornly tried to keep my head. My intuition and these damn flags were whispering to me that something wasn’t quite right about Joe, but for the most part, I ignored it.

When we sat down for more drinks, he began to glance at his phone again. I will normally excuse this behavior for a man who has a demanding career or children, but this didn’t apply here. I kept drinking and got pretty tipsy. Joe had his last drink at 10:30 because he was planning to drive me home later. He excused himself at around this time to step outside to take a phone call.

Four hours of dancing, drinking brought us to the wee hours of the early morning. We got in another cab at around 2:30 AM that took us back uptown to get the car. Before we got in the car, though, Joe asked if I would prefer to stay overnight with him at a hotel in town. I was tempted, but I told him, even through my buzz, that I don’t move that fast. I was also afraid of how spending a night with him would push my feelings for him too far too quickly.

The ride to my house was much quicker at 3 AM than the ride in at 6 PM had been. Joe became more talkative as he drove. He told me stories about people he gets to talk to as a bartender. He said he felt like a psychiatrist for some of the regulars. In between stories, I went on about what a great time I’d had. I was imagining having a relationship with him, and wanted to encourage it. He ignored several phone calls that came in through the car’s blue tooth system.

We saw the sun rising over the horizon as we got closer to my home. It was 5 AM when he walked me to my front door in the early morning light that made his beautiful eyes light up. It somehow seemed wrong for the night to end.

We said goodbye in the usual way for a great date to end with passionate kisses on my front doorstep, but it seemed like an insufficient conclusion to a spectacular night. He said he would call me, and left. Haven’t I heard this before? I had a bewildering sense of insecurity. Was I supposed to invite him in for breakfast?

I went in the house and wasn’t sure what to do. Was it time for bed or breakfast? I opted for breakfast but was definitely exhausted. After a quick round of scrambled eggs, I took off my makeup and fell into a deep sleep until about 1:30 PM.

I was disoriented when I woke up. I knew something big was going on, and couldn’t quite grasp exactly what. I remembered having a fantastic time the night before with Joe. But where was it going from here? It seemed crazy that I was falling for him this quickly.

I decided it was up to me to either encourage or discourage Joe. I texted him “thank you for a great night, hope to see you soon.” He replied, “I think you’re great. Let’s make plans for next weekend”.

At 5 PM, the doorbell rang. It was 2 dozen red roses from Joe. I thought this was a little weird. We barely knew each other. But, I tried to accept it in the spirit in which it was intended. There was a note that read, “Miranda, I can’t wait to see you again. Love, Joe”. In point of fact, this was actually very sweet. I tried not to feel insecure or suspicious. Of course I’m fantastic and who wouldn’t be anxious to impress me? Even if Joe wasn’t a big reader, he had asked me about the best selling romance novel I wrote. He complimented me on my beauty and sexy figure when we were dancing.

I didn’t want to let on that I was thrilled so I simply texted, “Thank you for the roses”. I couldn’t wait to see him again, either.

Joe called on Wednesday night and wanted to know if I could spend the weekend at his place. What the hell, I’m an adult so I said sure. When I hung up the phone, I realized I had agreed to spending a weekend as a second date. I must have been losing my mind. Isn’t love is like that? But I insisted on believing I was not falling in love. I told myself I was just curious. I went on to deny that curiousity killed the cat.

There was a security gate at the entrance to Joe’s driveway. I couldn’t quite figure why a bartender would need such tight security. I was impressed by the expansive hilltop estate with a magnificent view of the valley below.

The security guard opened the gate for me to drive in to the compound. The main house looked like a glass castle that was lit up in the early evening sky. I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth was going on here that I wasn’t seeing.

The butler let me in and showed me to the gazebo outside in the gardens near the hot tub, pool, and pool house where Joe was sitting talking on the phone. Before I sat down, I heard him say “I took care of it, Louie, I have to call you back.” He put the phone down on the table and stood up to say hello. He was wearing swim shorts that revealed a tan, toned trunk. I felt a little awkward in my sundress when he hugged and kissed me with nothing on except his bathing suit.

Dinner was served on the patio with wine. Apparently, there was a chef in the house. The butler brought us Chateubriand for the main course along with salads of mixed baby greens. Joe continued to glance at his phone while we ate. I was impressed and distracted at the same time. Finally, I asked, “What the hell is so important in your phone?”

He said, “It’s nothing, don’t worry about it”. He turned the phone off and put it away when dessert came. I was eyeing the hot tub while we ate. I didn’t know I was supposed to pack a bathing suit. I noted how secluded the yard was with no neighbors in sight.

I innocently asked Joe how the water was, and casually walked over to the tub to stick my toe in. I kicked off my shoes and stepped down onto the first step of the huge tub.It was very, very hot.

Before I saw it coming, Joe was right behind me and was untying the halter top of my sundress. The top of the dress fell to my waist. I was ready to get in the water. It only took two more moves we made to getting the dress the rest of the way off, and removing my underwear. Naked, I walked down the steps to the bottom and took a seat in front of the jets. I wasn’t at all self conscious.

I think I was expecting to be in this spot since Wednesday when Joe asked me to spend the weekend at his place. We were obviously attracted to each other. There were multicolored underwater lights and speakers that piped out soothing music.

I felt relaxed by the hot water, and within a few minutes Joe was walking into the tub without his swim shorts on. I was melting…

The butler brought us more wine. We were sitting beside each other, naked. Joe was a great kisser..things went from relaxing to arousing. I wondered if this was a common occurence for the butler to be serving Joe and his naked guest wine.

Nature was taking its course but we started to get uncomfortable in the water. It was too hot. Joe said, “Let’s go in the house.”

I needed a bathroom so we headed inside after a quick toweling off. Out of habit, I grabbed my purse to be sure I had my phone in case I needed it when we went in the house.

The air conditioning was on so it was super cold at first. Joe showed me the bathroom in the master suite. He told me to look for a robe in his closet if I wanted something to wear.

The bathroom was designed with Italian marble and gold fixtures. Of course I snooped around. There were the usual men’s toiletries as well as women’s. I saw used eye make up remover pads in the trash can with green eye shadow and mascara swiped on them. It appeared I was not the only recent guest.

I went to the enormous walk in closet next. There were custom built mahogany cabinets and recessed lighting. I was stunned by the enormity of his wardrobe. Row after row of suits and expensive shirts. I wondered what a bartender needed with all of these clothes. He said there would be a robe..I systematically looked over every hanger. I swiped over one expensive suit after another. I felt something hard under a jacket. When I pulled the jacket open I saw a leather holster under the shoulder. I cautiously took out the gun. I recognized it because it was just like one my ex husband had in his collection. It was a simple Browning 9 mm pistol except this one had a silencer attached to it. I have never been or will ever be a fan of guns. I wanted to get out of his house. I texted my friend Dawn and asked her to call me with an emergency in 15 minutes. I finally found the robe, put it on and walked to the living room to join Joe.

He offered me some wine. I politely refused because in my mind I was planning to drive home later that night. I said I would prefer some coffee. My phone rang as the coffee was served.

“Hello? Oh, hi, Dawn, I’m on a date. What’s up?”

“Oh, my God, sure, whatever you need. I can be there in half an hour.”

I hung up and explained to Joe that Dawn was my best friend and is caregiver to her disabled brother. He had gone to the hospital in an ambulance, and they wouldn’t let Dawn go with him. Now her car wouldn’t start, and she needed me to drive her there.

“But you were supposed to spend the weekend!”, he said. “I’m sorry, we’ll have to do it another time. Dawn needs me and I have to go.”

“Hey, I can send a car for her. I want you to stay, please?”

“No, that’s ok, Joe. I have to be there for her, and we can do this another time.”

We walked out to my car together. I was sure I needed to leave yet I was still curious about what it would have been like to spend the weekend there.

On my way home, I called Dawn and thanked her for the rescue call. I told her things were weird at Joe’s and I just wanted to go home. I didn’t tell her about the gun. My mind wandered all over the place as I drove the rest of the way home. At face value, Joe seemed like a great guy. He was hot as hell, rich, had a beautiful home, a ridiculously nice car, and was funny and charming. I had a glimmer of hope that he could be a great guy for me. But, but, that house, his lifestyle- was he a mobster, a hitman, a spy?

No matter what my foolish heart was saying, I decided I would not fall in love with Joe. He seemed to check all of the great boyfriend boxes, but I was going to give my instincts a 100% benefit of the doubt. How could a bartender afford such a lavish lifestyle? I thought he was a handsome hit man or a gangster; the stuff of film noir. I smelled trouble down the road with him so I didn’t return his calls or texts.

To be continued in Part II

Thank you for reading :)

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Young stroke survivor, mother, champion equestrian, tambourine player, storyteller, https://www.victoriaponte.com amazon.com/author/victoriaponte

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