There was his apartment, which was glorious. The opposite of mine. Two rented floors of a brownstone, decorated immaculately — ornate wallpaper, vintage velvet chairs, Persian rugs, paintings in old frames. I walked in, looked around, my jaw practically agape, and breathed in the decadence of his beautiful home.
Not long after I arrived, the host, whom I’d never met, walked up the stairs followed by a few people he was showing around. I introduced myself and said, “Your home is amazing. Can I move in?”
“Nice to meet you,” he said. “We’ll see about that.”
It took a minute to really take him in. After we’d already introduced ourselves and I’d said that stupid thing about moving in, after he’d walked away, he turned around and smiled at me. It was then that I saw how breathtakingly handsome he was. I hadn’t expected that.
I was at this party on my own. I didn’t know the host or any of his guests and I’d crossed Brooklyn to an unfamiliar neighborhood to be there, attending a communal concert — the kind where someone opens up their home to a few musicians and random people on the Internet sign up to attend. I was one of those random people — a nosy stranger, someone alone and sometimes lonely.
Initially, a friend and I had planned to go to this party together. I’d signed us up on the website and convinced her that it would be an opportunity to meet new people — which, for many single, straight women in their 30s is usually code for men. At the last minute, however, my friend had cancelled. Going alone didn’t seem like a real option. I was not the kind of woman to confidently saunter into a stranger’s home on her own. But, lying on my couch on a Saturday night, with Netflix open on my computer, was pathetic when I had the option to do something interesting and different. I’ll be brave and have an experience, I convinced myself. I got dressed in skinny jeans and a silk blouse with the top three buttons outdone, made my face up with mascara and red lipstick (I’m not much for makeup beyond that) and rushed out of the door before I could change my mind.
I was 34, newly divorced, newly broken up with, newly fired from a job I loved and living in a 200 square foot studio in Bushwick, where I had to tape plastic wrap on the windows and use the oven to keep the apartment warm in the winter months. I was broke and alone, while all around me, my friends were getting married, getting promotions and buying homes, even country houses. Meanwhile, on a whim, I had taken a life turn, that put me miles behind them. I was frustrated with the world and with myself. A night in a nice home, with adults who didn’t know me, and classical music was a much-needed respite.
When it was time for the concert to begin, the host ushered us into the back garden. There, the guests — mostly interesting people, some of them friends of the host and others, strangers, like me — sat on chairs and blankets strewn across the lawn. The host’s dog wandered from one person to the next, enjoying chin and belly rubs and little bits of food. The night was warm and dark, lit by a few rows of twinkle lights strung between two trees. A cellist and a violinist began to play. It felt like I was in a scene from a movie I’d want to inhabit — the apartment, the guests, the garden, the music, all of it.
I looked from the musicians — cellists and violinists playing Bach — to the handsome host, hoping he’d turn to look for me, that we’d exchange a smile and be swept up in the over-the-top romance of that moment. But he didn’t. Inside, too, he’d kept his distance.
I was puzzled, I thought I’d sensed a spark between us when we first met. I thought, at least, he’d notice my red lips, long curly hair, my curves, the way I laughed — like most men do. But he seemed oblivious or uninterested.
After the concert ended, all the guests moved back inside, drinking wine and nibbling on cheese, getting to know each other better. I observed the host from a distance, wondering if he had a girlfriend, watching for how he interacted with the women there. Meanwhile, I met and chatted with a few of the guests. Being there, in the company of interesting strangers, made me think that my future still had potential, beyond the confines of my newly small life. I imagined myself in a house like that, throwing a party like that, with a man like that.
After a few glasses of wine, I mustered up the courage to talk to him, flirt with him. He welcomed the conversation, even grazed my arm, touched my shoulder. He was so good-looking — almost sultry with bright eyes beneath pensive eyebrows, and a coy smile beneath his dark beard. We talked about books and films, my two favorite subjects, and I learned that we had a few things in common. As we chatted, I felt a tiny spark, again, as I had when I first walked in.
Having been so brave thus far, to have come on my own and stayed as long as I had, I decided to see what would happen if I became the party’s stayer — remain, the last guest, all the way to the end. The stayer was someone I’d never been, but I’d heard of her, the person who has a story to tell that no one else gets to experience.
I’d seen people walk up and down the stairs, so I decide to explore the house. I went down to the lower level where the host’s room was and where a few people were chatting, looked at his pictures in their frames, went into the bathroom to pee and examined the shampoos and soaps in the shower, ran my hands over the smooth velvet of the vintage chairs in the living room.
I came back upstairs and saw that people had begun to leave, but I resisted the awkward feeling of remaining, and stayed. Soon I was the sole stranger among two friends of the host. We went outside and smoked a joint, told stories, talked about God and love and spirituality, the way college students, eager to make sense of the world, do. The host was gentle and sweet. He did not make me feel like an intrusive stranger, or the weirdo that I felt myself to be, but as if I were one of his friends. His dog sat among us, relishing being a part of a pack. I was just drunk enough to feel giddy in that moment and at the prospect of what may come. I felt young again.
Another hour passed until we were too tired to talk. It was three when his friends said their goodbyes and I found myself out of options for how to make this night last any longer. The friends, who were local, walked home and I went to the bathroom before calling a car to take me back to my not-enough life in Bushwick. When I came back out the lights were still dim and the music—Brian Eno— was still streaming from the speakers. The host was in the kitchen cleaning up. I offered to help but he declined.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I like to clean.”
“I’ll just call a car,” I said, heading toward the door. “Thanks for everything. This was really fun. And your place is lovely.”
“Thanks for coming,” he said. “Why don’t you wait inside for your car.”
I put his address and mine into the Uber app and was about to hit the request button when I stopped myself. I’d been so brave to come on my own, so confident in flirting with him, so bold in staying all night. Now it was just the two of us, with the dawn around the corner.
“I have a question,” I said.
He walked over to the refrigerator with a container of leftovers.
“Well, I was just wondering,” I said. “I was wondering if you’d want to make out.”
I hadn’t planned on saying what I said. It just came out.
He opened the refrigerator door and put the container inside, then closed it. He didn’t say a word.
The silence stretched between us, and an eternity passed as I replayed my own words in my head.
I grew mortified. My mind raced. I’d been too confident. Stupidly so. He was too good looking for me. He was gay. He had a girlfriend. I was too weird for him. Too short. Not thin enough. In an instant I grew ugly in my mind’s eye. Contemplated running away, running for the door. Wondered if I could turn back time, take back my words and swallow them. Wondered if there were any chance that he hadn’t heard me, that I hadn’t said it out loud. Then everything was quiet except for the beat of my heart.
Finally, he moved and I unfroze, came back to myself. Still silent, he walked by me with intention, toward the still messy dining room table where plates full of cheese and charcuterie remained, where half empty bottles of wine and half filled glasses were left behind. He walked right by me and it seemed as if he’d ignore what I had said, ignore me standing there, and keep cleaning around me until I was gone.
But then he stopped. Passed me, but so close that I could feel it, that spark firing between us again. Without a word, he turned toward me, put one hand on my lower back and another on my face, pulled me in and kissed me.
Outside in the garden, beneath the twinkle lights that were still on, among bits of food and drinks and empty chairs, the dog wandered, sniffing out what remained of the guests.
Inside, I was the stayer with the story.
Naz Riahi is a writer, living in Brooklyn. She is currently working on her forthcoming memoir, Bad at Love. To learn about the book’s release, find Naz on Instagram @nazriahi and sign up for her infrequent newsletter. Naz's work has been published in Longreads, Catapult, Doré, Guernica and The Fader, and she holds an MFA from the New School.