Already captivated by the warmth that shined through her smile, I raised my glass to catch her attention. When she tilted her head ever so slightly, I subtly nodded back and decided to wander over.
“You should try the food here,” I suggested. “It’s the best Thai you’ll find in all of Los Angeles.”
Her expression appeared puzzled.
“Sorry… I’m assuming you speak some English.”
“A little,” came a coy reply.
“Just enough,” I confirmed, covering any embarrassment. “Here, the house drinks are truly special. Okay if I invite you and your friend for one?”
“My cousin can’t,” she said, apologetically. “She has to meet someone and is already late”
The two women introduced themselves. I then did the same. As it turned out, Elizabeth was visiting from Poland. Her first time in California. And her cousin Izabella, who lived here, was in fact running late.
“I understand,” I said, my eyes returning to Elizabeth’s. “But it’d be great if you could hang in just a bit longer.”
As our eyes locked, we both hesitated then broke into a pair of not so reluctant smiles.
I got us a table and ordered a bowl of delectably spicy, rock ‘n roll clams. The waitress suggested a couple of potent Thai cocktails to wash everything down.
Unfortunately, no one warned us these drinks had the shortest of fuses. Hit us hard and fast – an implosion of dynamite from within. But they were well worth it. And the clams were incomparable.
Struggling to keep my head in place, I wondered if Elizabeth felt the same. Couldn’t tell. It was impossible for me to get a clear focus.
We quickly made up for any lost ground. Despite the difference in nationality, language and cultural backgrounds, we couldn’t have grown more at ease.
Although we had just met, it sure didn’t feel that way. Call it part of the delayed kick from our drinks – a shame that burning sensation lingered a bit too long. It broke down any barriers in communication.
We exchanged past experiences, Elizabeth’s trip to California, her travels as a professional ice skater, my brief life in the entertainment business, a mistaken marriage with a refreshing divorce.
I revealed a few highlights of my education, both formal and self-taught. We covered our various evolving interests in our respective lives and each of our cerebral fantasies for the near future.
The evening absolutely flew past. Soon, the restaurant announced closing time was upon us. I quickly called for a cab to drop Elizabeth at her cousin’s place.
But first I asked Elizabeth for her number and set up a date for the next night. She seemed thoroughly amenable. The following morning, however, she would be heading north for three days to stay with a friend in San Francisco.
I arrived at Izabella’s precisely on time with a light, dry California wine for the three of us.
Once there, I opened the bottle and let it breathe before pouring us each a glass. We sipped and schmoozed until Izabella excused herself to take a phone call.
Elizabeth and I then took advantage to head off to a café, one I knew that had just opened a few weeks earlier.
Already becoming sort of a hot spot, it wasn’t easy to get in. The manager had to recognize you first.
It helped I had known Freddie from when he ran a classic dinner spot up on Sunset. Within minutes, he had us settled at a table up front while the growing line outside simply didn’t budge.
We were hypnotized by a young southern pianist, who was born to the blues. His music captivated everyone in the house right through to the three extended encores he played long after his set had ended.
Elizabeth and I were careful how much we drank.
We made a pact, not to get so thoroughly sloshed the way we had the night before.
Something from within told us to be restrained. And we were. We successfully held it together.
Before leaving the club, for some unknown reason, I called to my parents’ place. At that very moment my father was being loaded onto an ambulance to rush him to the emergency room.
When I told Elizabeth, she insisted we head straight there.
I offered her a lift to her cousin’s place, but Elizabeth wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, we rushed to the ER, arriving just seconds ahead of my father.
Unfortunately, he was no stranger to the process. This wasn’t the first time. Nor the last. But I admired him. He made it a point to pull himself together for Elizabeth whom he’d never met.
The doctors decided Dad would have to stay overnight. If all went well, however, I should be able to take him home in the morning.
In the meantime, I truly appreciated having Elizabeth there too. She was so attentive to my old father, a complete stranger.
Elizabeth, clearly a good person, was one of a kind. I definitely missed her when she went up to the Bay area for those three days. Although I couldn’t wait for her to be back in LA, the timing worked perfectly. Allowed me to focus and deal with Dad’s hospital stay.
Also needed to be able to think things through. Sure, after a failed marriage, I’d totally sworn to remain a bachelor. Even the best laid plans could well be for naught. Things change. Events happen. One needs to adapt to the flow.
Certainly, my mind was adamant when I’d first met Elizabeth. I rationalized having learned to be content by myself –no point looking again for trouble. A good book was the best companion.
Good friends ran a close second. And one of the best was Claus. He was considerably older than I was, but we thrived on each other’s conversation.
Claus had lived through a lot. He was a survivor – also a natural born skeptic. That was part of his charm.
Once every couple of weeks, we’d grab a bite of dinner and some wine together, have a bundle of laughs and exchange views on the world. Always looked forward to those evenings.
I remember the evening after Elizabeth got back when I told Claus about her, his eyes lit up. He hadn’t heard me speak about other women as passionately. This was true enough even though I wasn’t fully sure how I felt.
“Doesn’t matter,” insisted Claus. “Bring her.”
I agreed, invited her and made the arrangements, recalling how events had unfolded. Completely unplanned.
Elizabeth sat quietly next to me at the local Italian restaurant we frequented. Speaking only when Claus or I addressed her or so it seemed.
The smile she showed was charming and warm as we held hands under the table. I could tell she had made a terrific impression.
When I next saw Claus, he asked how serious I was about a potential relationship, not only encouraging me to take a chance but warning that I’d be an utter fool not to reach out.
I had my concerns that cultural differences could prove an obstacle. And I still feared the word commitment.
He asked what is life about if you don’t take a chance?
Claus warned me that everything had a price. If I didn’t reach out, I might never be able to forgive myself.
After three earlier marriages that failed, Claus still was willing to take a risk. A risk that paid off. Four was his lucky number.
His marriage to Christine proved to be the one that mattered. That’s not to say Claus and Christine didn’t have their share of differences. Same as any couple. Went with the territory.
The two offered each other space and understanding –the magical ingredients of any relationship. Together these made it all work.
I learned from Claus to be a good listener. Not to recklessly blurt out the first thoughts the second they popped into my head.
Most of us are on exceptional behavior when we meet someone new. We want it to work. But sometimes we learn better if we have a failed relationship or two under our belt.
Honest communication between two people helps.
Bachelorhood had its attractions to many. But holding out for something better can mean ending up with nothing at all.
Claus and Zev, two of my super-close friends were both older than I was.
Zev, like Claus, instantly became one of Elizabeth’s biggest supporters. He too felt I mustn’t lose her.
These guys were exceptional family men.
Most of my other friends had been single. No marriages. No kids.
Of the women I knew, most were racing their biological clocks or had already given up on them.
Zev and his incredible wife Mayling both urged me not to make this mistake. A family has a future. Bachelor friends are just waiting each day to hear about the next party.
I had a hard time grasping the concept. One internal voice would ask “Is she the right one?” Another argued “What if there simply isn’t a right one?”
Relationships don’t come easily. Life is what we make it. We get back only if we first give freely.
I was thoroughly confused when Elizabeth and I met again in Paris two months later. But drifting closer to a decision.
As Elizabeth and I were there to celebrate her birthday.
Are we ready? we asked each other without saying the actual words. Both of us had no way we would or could risk saying no.
We instead ordered l’escargot, lifted our glasses and toasted Claus, Izabella and Zev. Once we did, we then went ahead and toasted the two of us being together.
The Austrian couple at the next table raised their glasses in agreement.
About the Article
This story follows two strangers who accidentally meet one evening in Los Angeles.