Mom: You are going to the party tonight, yes? You are still going to the party?!
Rachel: Still going.
Mom: I think you should go right at the beginning. Do you understand? No more than fifteen minutes after it starts. Right at the beginning.
Mom: Rachel Bacharach, you’d better not be rolling your eyes!
Rachel: Definitely not doing that.
Technically, I still live at home and if I were there in my room, my mother could be yelling this to me from one end of the hall to the other. But in reality, I live mostly with my friend Tamara in the very compact, very stylish 2-bedroom apartment she rents in DUMBO so I can do normal, adult things like get ready for a party without being reminded to brush my teeth or find a husband.
Texting, of course, still allows my mother to try, but I don’t want to take away all her fun, now, do I?
My dress is an old favorite but has held up well. It’s a navy silk wrap dress, and I like to wear it with hot pink heels and lipstick that’s a skosh brighter and pinker than my usual. It’s a good look with my dark wavy hair and pale skin. And anything that’s going to look good with my pale skin is a win in my book.
Of course, next to Tamara I’m going to look like a uniformed worker from a Communist country, but I’ve gotten used to that.
Tamara and I go to the Bosches’ traditional Last Night of Hanukkah party together every year. She’s been my best friend since birth. Well, sometimes it seems like she’s everybody’s best friend, but they can think that; I know she’s really mine. She happens to be one of the least Jewish, Jewish people I know, to the point where she’s not really anything. She just likes to celebrate and if you want to do Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or make up your own thing, she is up for that–and will show up fully versed on how to respect the occasion. She’s thinking about becoming a diplomat which I think is a great idea. Because she can talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything–while making you feel like it’s all about you.
Mom: Do you have the address? You know they moved? Are you sure you don’t want to head over with us?
Rachel: I know they moved. All is well. See you there.
Mom: Cheryl says there is a New Man.
And there it is.
Rachel: Ok. Bye, mom. Love you!
Tamara swans out of her bedroom, having successfully tamed her dark hair into a sleek updo and applied an impressive cat-eye. She shivers dramatically and pulls closer the two sides of a large, furry coat that I have never seen before that really should be keeping her warmer given that it appears to have come from an enormous polar bear experiencing an 80’s faux-punk phase. The hot pink fur stripes coordinate beautifully with my shoes, though. “Ready?” she asks.
I grab the hostess gift sitting next to me and get up from the couch. “Don’t want to be later than normal-late,” I say, adding with an exaggerated lack of enthusiasm. “My mother told me Cheryl says there’s a New Man.”
“Which has been corroborated by Sara who says her mother told her Dascha said exactly the same thing,” Tamara adds.
“But you know Sara always gets to these things later, so no competition,” I joke. Sara and our other close friend Eliot live in Manhattan and they always think they’ll get to the Upper East Side parties before us, so they wait until the last second to leave the house and then Tamara and I end up beating them from Brooklyn.
“Shall we?” I say, making a point of not rushing as I tie the belt of my coat and pull the wool collar up around my face.
Tamara opens the door to the winter chill and we’re off.
We’ve splurged for car service tonight, and we’re not the only ones. Luckily, we’re old pros and know to leave extra time for the trip over the bridge.
It’s a big night for holiday parties and the streets of the Upper East Side are blocked with big black cars picking up and dropping off fresh-looking partygoers in suits and tuxedos, sparkling gowns and every shade of fake fur. Huh. Tamara’s totally on-trend, if a little less formal than some of these other women. The sidewalks are well-shoveled, and the snow banks created by all that work form a winter runway leading partygoers up to the Bosches’ front door.
The door is already open when we get to the top, filing in with several other party guests. We greet the Bosches and have a bit of a chat, complimenting them on their new vintage carved wood panel foyer before we’re encouraged to go and enjoy the party. There is someone to take coats and someone standing by with a tray of champagne flutes and someone attempting to corral small children.
I decide to ditch my coat while Tamara keeps hers on for a bit because she doesn’t want to break up her outfit yet, so we part and agree to try and find Sara and Eliot and rendezvous as a group.
Once my coat is stowed, I look around for the powder room to check my hair and lipstick. There has to be one downstairs but I can’t find it, and since the second floor seems to be fair game for the party as well, I head for the stairs where a bunch of teens are crowded at the bannister.
The Cohen triplets look bizarrely tall this year, but I guess they’re in high school now? Same mischievous expressions, though. “Hi, Daniel,” I say, directing my attention to the one I can tell apart due to the small mole by his ear. “Do you happen to know where the powder room is?”
“The powder room,” he says in the voice of a bad Shakespearean actor, “is upstairs. Down the hall, first door on your left.”
“Thanks,” I say.
“Delighted to help, Rachel,” he says, sketching a bow as his brothers snicker.
Upstairs…down the hall…first door on the left.
The doorknob gives easily, and I step through—
In seconds, I’m completely disoriented by a blast of cold wind, the sight of a hot guy moving quickly toward me, and the fleeting sense that I should not have let go of the door handle behind me.
The fleeting sense is confirmed when the object of lust standing on what is definitely more of a surprise balcony than a powder room calls out, “Don’t let go of the…oh, man.”
The door slams behind me. I whirl around and grab the handle, tugging it hard, but no. I turn back around. “Sorry.”
I suppose I would be more tongue-tied over the way he looks in that perfectly fitting grey suit and Hanukkah-blue silk tie if I weren’t flummoxed about locking us outside when it could have been prevented.
“Tell me you have your phone,” he says.
I wince. “In my coat downstairs.”
He winces back. “Me too.”
“This is not the powder room,” I say, more of a question than a statement.
“This is not the powder room,” he replies. Definitely a statement. “But,” he says with a grin, “All is not lost.”
“I feel pretty lost, but, yes, I’m listening.”
“Cheese plate. We have a cheese plate.” He hoists a well-endowed cheese plate.
I vaguely wonder if the rest of him stacks up this well. I smile. “You brought a cheese plate to a powder room? Gross.”
“I absolutely did not,” he assures me with mock gravitas. A man who knows how to properly deliver the timing required of mock gravitas is on my checklist. “This is clearly not a powder room,” he continues. “And besides, I was never trying for the powder room. Some kid at the bottom of the stairs told me there was a pool table behind this door.”
“The Cohen triplets can be real shits,” I say. Which is true. If there is a prank to be pranked or a spit-take to be spat, the Cohen triplets are on it.
“Too late now, but good to know.” He holds out his hand, “Ozni Caplan. But, just Oz.”
I take his hand. Oh, it’s so warm. It’s been in his pocket. “Rachel Bacharach. No meaningful nickname.”
He’s got a confident handshake. He frowns a little, though. “Your hand’s freezing.” And then of course, tiny little snowflakes drift down and he’s taking off his suit coat and putting it over my shoulders.
“Oh…thanks!” I’m a little stunned, as I pull the two sides of his jacket together. “I’ve been coming to the Bosches’ Hanukkah party for over a decade–since they held it at their old house–but I’ve never seen you before.”
“New to the city. Arrived last week. Transferred from the San Francisco office and now I work for Adam Bosch.”
I stop myself from blurting, “Are you the New Man?” He can’t be. Since my mother began trying to marry me off–well, I can’t remember when she ever wasn’t–I’ve met countless New Men, from an age when she was still using the term New Boys. They were never like this.
Oz Caplan is kind of a dream. If I had a body like his I’d certainly be looking for all kinds of excuses to take off my clothes and hand them to someone else. He’s tall, which I don’t take for granted. And he’s got a jawline that’s one dose of reality short of being chiseled like a god’s. Dark wavy hair cut short, dark eyes, the perfect amount of stubble. I drop my gaze to his hands. No rings. Could this be….is it possible my mother was right? Part of me knows she will lord it over me the rest of my life if it’s true, but part of me can only focus on the fact that my heart is beating faster than it was before I got here.
He moves the cheese plate and places it on the flat piece of railing between us and hoists his champagne flute. “I’d suggest we ration our supplies until we get rescued, but I can’t imagine it will be that long before some other sucker falls for the old billiards-room-is-on-the-left trick. And now I know the importance of being ready to catch the door.”
We talk and shiver and eat bagel slices and very good cheese, passing the flute between us. Oz has an energy about him that just sucks me in. It reminds me of Tamara’s way although there’s something more grounded about him. Tamara is always looking around her, not wanting to miss a beat; Oz is looking right at me.
I tell him about walking down the promenade in Brooklyn and my very close family; he tells me about skateboarding down the hills of San Francisco and his very not close family.
I explain express trains; he explains how summer can be the coldest season.
I laugh my head off over his description of going to Zabar’s for the first time last week; he laughs his head off over my description of the time Sara and Tamara and I all dressed up as Esther for Purim and went to a dive bar on the Lower East Side.
Deep in my heart–my skeptical, skeptical heart–I believe this is only the beginning.
I look up and watch bits of snowdust melt into his thick, dark hair. Something’s going to happen between us. Something’s definitely going to ha—
A loud click and the door behind me flings open.