We huddle in the corner, avoiding the crowd, the noise.
We picked Susan up at the train station. Me, getting my bearings, looking ahead to where I might pull in, I ran a red light. A chorus of horns drove me back to the line. Sitting stupid, trying to look proud, or at least competent as the drivers who honked bog down next to me in traffic of their own.
The Greek restaurant we chose—clobbering its competition, a Vietnamese noodle house, by three to one—sat bright and empty sandwiched between construction and darkened shops that close at dusk. Four and a half stars, I expected a full house, a line at the till, standing awkward, hovering, waiting to pounce on a breaking table. Instead we picked our seats for warmth, safely away from the windows and the door. We ordered unobstructed, then lounged comfortably, legs crossed, chairs slid out. We rose repeatedly for one more thing: to fill our sodas, grab some napkins, again for silverware, and of course trips to the restroom after our ninety-minute drive.
Then back in the car to drive to the theater, the party already well under way. We arrived intentionally late to minimize interaction, mingling. The invitation said six forty-five at the latest, our tickets unavailable after that. I shot for six thirty. Enough time for a quick thank you to our host, a business contact, a woman I’ve never met. Just show my face, smile, talk small topics, and then off to our seats. Lancaster is an unfamiliar city, smaller than expected, easy to navigate, easier to park. We arrived at six.
We huddle in the corner, Susan, Sophie and Eli in chairs, me standing close, against a wall, agitated, anxious. Each of us questioning silently why we accepted this invitation. Smiling forced smiles, nervous, quiet conversations, waiting for the night to end. We walked through the party when we first arrived. Made requisite pleasant conversation with the check-in people, noticing how we under-dressed compared to everyone else. Pressing in, engulfed by the crowd, we staked out a small empty spot in the middle of the room. Later, out of the action, up against a wall. And then upstairs away from the bar, the food, the desserts. And now out of the party completely, a separate room. In our corner, huddling.
Soon, the doors will open. Families not connected to the party will file in to find their seats. We’ll blend in, join them, leave my work behind. Looking at my tickets, I’ll find we’re in the front row. Dead center. Room to relax, stretch our legs, no one will need to squeeze by. Tension will drain from our shoulders and necks, my headache will no longer pound. In the half hour before the play starts, we’ll talk and joke and dream and reminisce and wonder, and we’ll question one another what the painting on the curtain might mean.
And when the curtain rises, we’ll remember why we came.