It was a ten minutes before 8pm when he arrived. He had been there before, but its resplendence never failed to catch him off guard. Modish floors patterned in ebony and ivory marble, deep armchairs in dark, buttery leather, a chocolate Steinway piano, and the amber lights of old-world libraries. The bar was the kind of place Hemingway might have lingered a little too long, lights glittering on the crystal and glass. Hushed conversations, each one layering the next.
He perched on the edge of an armchair to wait, eyes darting about the lobby in anticipation. He checked his watch. Still early.
He felt a rush of cool air on his cheeks as the revolving door swept a white-haired couple, dressed to the nines, into the warmth of the lobby. The man, small but well-built, even in his eighties, wore a pocket square and a raffish grin, like a troublemaking boy who could hardly believe what he was getting away with. On his arm, an impeccably styled, sharp-featured woman with a slash of red lipstick. Her air was regal, but it was clear she was struggling to maintain her composure in the wake of a puerile joke. Her crimson pout was now the sole focus of her husband’s attention. It began to warp into a smirk, and then, much to the woman’s chagrin, into a full-fledged smile.
As they passed him in the lobby, the man gave his knee a paternal tap. “Can you believe she’s with me?” he said, gesturing to the woman by his side. “Almost sixty years.”
He watched the elevator doors close behind them and then checked his watch—still a few minutes. A familiar song drifted from the piano. Something from an old romantic, a melody that his father loved and his mother sang to herself in the kitchen. They would have looked at home here. Like a puff of smoke, the lyrics seemed briefly tangible in the air—something something, gave me a thrill—and then dissipated, leaving only the fragrance of their wistfulness behind.
Suddenly, a warm voice spoke his name, pulling him out of his reverie and back into the hotel lobby. He looked up to see the face he came for, as familiar as the notes on the piano, and every bit as beguiling. He smiled, rising with purpose and posture. The evening had begun.