Playing Hard to Get

Corner Booth Episode 43

25 October 2008

Playing Hard to Get

by Jennifer Anthony

Noelle slipped into a seat in NoLita’s Café Gitane for the third time in three days. She’d ordered her usual – a double latte and one of their fabulous pains garnis – this time, the mozzarella tapenade, tomato and basil on foccacia. The perfect combination of caffeine and embellished bread to soak up the hangover from yet another McDonald’s: The Musical after-party.
      Various languages and accents drifted up and around her from surrounding tables. To her right, two Chilean girls eyeballed their recent purchases from Character, a store around the corner. And to her left, a Frenchman discussed the upcoming election with a bespectacled hipster.
      Noelle bit into the crunchy bread and took in the ambiance: the brightly colored walls and red barstools before her, the soothing accents, the umbrella-shaded tables just outside, the attractive staff, and the beautiful customers. She pierced a forkful of salad and chewed with her eyes closed. The dressing had a fruity essence…was it peach?
      She smelled Lance’s cologne even before she opened her eyes to find him standing beside the table.
      “Hey,” he said. With his paint-splattered tee-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes, he was nowhere near as fashion-forward as the rest of the customers. And yet, he looked as delicious as the sandwich on her plate. Noelle almost forgot that she was a little upset with him for taking off to the Hamptons for a week.
      But then he smiled, and his white teeth, contrasted with his tan cheeks, betrayed a Hampton’s tan. She pictured him lying beside a beautiful woman on the beach. And in bed. She could feel a scowl spreading across her face.
      “Salut,” Noelle said, frostily.
      “Can I join you?” he asked.
      Noelle obliged him by sweeping her right hand before the vacant chair across from her.
      He heaved down into the seat, still smiling. “You look – and smell – great,” he said. “Kind of musky.”
      “It’s The Scent of Peace. From Bond no. 9. I also wear Dior, but a portion of the sales from this perfume go to Seeds of Peace. Pretty cool organization. It empowers young people from areas of conflict with leadership and peacemaking skills.”
      “Cool. You smell good, and you’re supporting a cause. Clearly, I need to consider some new cologne, since I’m not only outdated, I’m selfish, too. I’ve been wearing the same ones since – ”
      “The nineties?” Noelle said. She felt a little twinge of regret when he started at her bitchy tone.
      “How’d you know?”
      “One of the ones you wear is Obsession, n’est-ce pas?” she asked.
      He shrugged apologetically. “Yup. I don’t shop much, as you can tell.”
      “Oh, you always smell very good,” she said, to make up for her snippiness. She had no claim over him yet. And thus no right to play the role of the bitchy, jealous girlfriend. Yet.
      “Thanks,” he said, smiling again. “But I think it’s time to move into 2008. Maybe you could help me pick out something new.”
      Noelle felt the scowl widening across her face. As if she wanted to help him pick out new cologne so some Hampton Hussie could reap the benefits! But she was an actress, above all things. So she made herself smile and said, “Bien sur. We could do that some day.”
      She paused as he ordered a Café Americano from the waitress, then added, “So. How was your trip to the Hamptons? I called you up after opening night last week – but – mon dieu! You’d left for the week!”
      “Oh, it was alright,” Lance said. “Nothing special.”
      Clearly this was to be a fishing expedition. “So. What all did you do?” Noelle probed.
      “Visited a cousin of mine,” he answered, pausing to take a sip of the coffee that the waitress set before him. “He’s convinced I must be a train wreck after the breakup with Becky, so he wanted me to spend some time relaxing at the beach house with him and his wife.”
      “Oh!” Noelle said, perking up now. She took an enthusiastic bite of her sandwich and chewed happily.
      “But little did I know that his wife was gonna set me up with someone,” he said. He leaned forward conspiratorially and whispered, “A model.”
      “Oh,” Noelle repeated. A wedge of tomato lodged in her throat and she sputtered and coughed.
      “You okay?” Lance asked. “I know CPR.”
      Noelle swallowed hard and felt the tomato chunk give way. She had a screaming hangover, her lunch had been ruined, and she had nearly choked. She had no more energy for acting. Finally, she managed, “So I’m sure it was a smashing week with the model.”
      “Actually not. Not my type at all. And I really hate setups. I was civil, of course. But finally, I had to tell her – all of them –that I was already interested in someone.”
      Noelle stabbed at her salad, watching helplessly as the leaves dodged the tines of her fork. “Oh? Who?”
      “It isn’t obvious?” Lance said.  “You, of course.”
      Lance had beaten her at her own game. Although she was officially the actress, he was doing a fine job in the role of playing Hard to Get.
      She speared a pile of lettuce and said, “How about we go looking for that cologne today?”

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