I hummed indecisively when Adam motioned to me and the bartender turned his green eyes to me with an inquisitive expression.
"The champagne cocktail, please," I stated and settled on my padded stool while we waited for the rest of our party.
"It's nice," I told Adam after my first sip and nudged my flute an inch toward him so he could taste.
He nodded in approval and noted you just caught the bitters at the end while I pointed at the cube of sugar bubbling happily at the bottom of the glass. I thought it was pretty - the little brown lump underneath the pale amber liquid - and also found the spiral of lemon rind rather aesthetically pleasing.
There's just so much contrast - perhaps conflict? - lately. I'm exhausted but energized by some of the work I'm doing. I hated leaving home - abandoning Chienne with only the neighbor girls to care for her - but love spending time in the sunshine on the left coast. I didn't want to come but am glad I did.
"No," I replied simply earlier in the afternoon when asked if I had questions. Adam had informed me of my pay increase - 3% - for next year and my bonus - also around 3% - based on last year's performance. Because he knows me, he waited as we sat under the umbrella perched over our table, letting me twist the ring around my finger before I frowned and began to speak.
"I keep thinking about how you said I was unsteady," I admitted. "How there were moments of greatness and then those that were far less than impressive. And I guess I can't decide if you don't appreciate me enough because I'm so awesome or that I'm indescribably blessed to even keep my job - raise be damned - because I screw it up sometimes." He grinned at me and I shrugged before saying I was leaning toward the latter.
"Katie," he sighed and leaned an elbow on the table to think. "You had a good year - you do great work. And, yes, there's room for improvement. But you should feel really good about this - very few people got raises last year and you did. Everyone's getting more this year, but you're very near the top of the range."
"It's not the money," I replied, then shook my head. "Well, it is. I'm pleased about the money. But I have enough lately. I'm not struggling - which, after grad school and post-doc - is so intensely lovely. I just want to feel smart and effective and happy."
And there are some days I am - where I bubble like the lump of sugar, emitting fizzles of goodness and light and joy.
Then there are the days I'm not. Where it's nothing but bitter and difficult and miserable. And the bubbles of happiness seem so far above me where I've settled in the gloppy fog.
"Is the top crunchy?" I asked suspiciously later this evening when deciding on dessert. "I had a creme brulee and the top was barely caramelized and it was disappointing." I paused after saying it, remembering the dish I'd shared on my first date with Will and tugged the hem of my dress further down my tights-clad thighs and sighed.
I miss him. Smiling over interesting questions and answers. Admiring his hands while lacing my fingers through his. The humming sound he made while considering some action or reaction. And that's fine, I decided, jabbing my spoon through the extra-crispy top of my dessert later on. (The waiter liked me.) As my tongue explored the creamy custard and the burned sugar that crunched atop it, I decided it wasn't an unpleasant ache - the gentle regret that it didn't last longer. Good memories are worthwhile even if I may wish there were more of them.
I thought then, as I often do, of Doug. And how it's over though I selfishly hope we continue to be friends. And the sense of sick regret is vastly unpleasant. For I hate disappointing people even as I accept that part of being an adult is doing just that. But only sometimes.
It's the balance of bitter and sweet, I suppose. And the faith that the last sip - that bit of liquid that lingers on your tongue at the end - resided at the bottom near that lump of sugar and will be intensely, deliciously sweet.