The moment Sebastian walked through the hotel’s tall glass doors, he immediately went to look for the bar.
“God, I’m so nervous,” he mutters under his breath. “I need a fucking drink before she arrives. I can’t stand it.”
He passes by a beautiful water fountain featuring several stone dolphins doing some sort of ballet dance together. It may not be the kind of art that he’d like sitting around his house, but at this particularly swanky downtown hotel, it’ll do. He amuses himself watching the water gushing out of the dolphin’s mouths, as if they have a perpetual projectile vomiting problem that refuses to go away.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a bright neon sign that says “Stratosphere Bar & Lounge.” Sebastian makes a beeline straight there and finds an open stool. Tonight, Sebastian is on a date. Even though he knows the woman he’s about to meet, he cannot help but feel a crippling level of anxiety at what’s about to happen. Not only has he not been in the dating pool for years (he and his ex-wife divorced a year ago after twelve years of marriage), but the lady he’s about to go on a date with is…
…a professional bodybuilder.
For the past decade or so, Alyson has been one of the country’s top competitive female bodybuilders. She’s won multiple contests across the world, earning accolades from celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman and corporate endorsements from most of the top athletic apparel and vitamin supplement companies. She may not be a major “celebrity” in the traditional sense, but Alyson is well known if you pay attention to the niche little world that is professional bodybuilding. She’s a superstar within this community. Sebastian, who isn’t normally interested in the sport itself, has watched her career blossom from a distance.
Sebastian, to his credit, knew she was destined for stardom. They briefly dated back in high school. Back then, she was a swimmer. He interviewed her for the school newspaper (Sebastian was the editor-in-chief of the school’s weekly journal) and they hit it off right away. The moment he first saw her, he could not take his eyes off her finely sculpted body. And, after chatting with her for his newspaper article, it became clear that she possessed a determined spirit that few could say they have. Whether she chose to pursue swimming for the rest of her life or some other athletic pursuit, Sebastian knew she’d become a superstar no matter what path she travels. It was her destiny to achieve greatness.
One fateful night, a few weeks after they started dating, they even took each other’s virginities. It was the night before her family moved across the country to North Carolina. Alyson’s father was in the military and the post-9/11 War on Terror was in full swing. Knowing this would be their final few moments together before she moved out of his life forever, they decided this would be the time they “lose it.” Together. On their own terms. She snuck into his bedroom a few minutes past midnight and tried to make love as quietly as possible so Sebastian’s parents wouldn’t wake up.
It was an incredibly embarrassing moment for Sebastian – he came about twenty seconds after entering her – but nobody said life would follow a storybook formula. It certainly hasn’t for him, at least not of late. She didn’t come close to orgasming, though she still felt happy that she was able to lose her virginity to a boy she genuinely loved. After she moved to the east coast, they spoke on the phone a few times here and there…but they eventually moved on and stopped communicating once they both entered college. And that was that, as they say. Until tonight.
“What’ll it be, my friend?” The kindly bartender asks. This snaps Sebastian out of his trip down memory lane. His Eastern European accent is hard to pinpoint. Sebastian guesses he’s Polish, though he’s more than open to the fact that he could be dead wrong. He could be Russian, for all he knows.
“I’ll have some Glenlivet 12, neat, please.”
“Coming right up, sir. Are you with the party over in the ballroom?” The bartender points to a large banner hanging up over the ballroom entrance that reads “Blue River Group New Year’s Eve Party.” Sebastian shakes his head.
“No, sir. That’s not me. I’m here on a date. Yeah, it’s unusual to go on a date with someone on New Year’s Eve, but that’s the way it is.” He winks at the bartender, who has already turned his back to retrieve a clean whiskey glass and a bottle of opened Glenlivet 12.
“Good luck, buddy. If I see a lone lass walking in here, I’ll be sure to direct her to sit right next to you.” He grins at his customer.
“I appreciate it.” Sebastian takes a lone sip of his drink and savors the rich full-bodied flavor. “Oh, and trust me. You’ll notice her when she walks in. She, uh, hard to miss. To put it mildly.”
The bartender gives Sebastian a coy look of genuine curiosity. “Huh. What do you mean by that, friend?”
“You’ll see.” Sebastian smiles. This answer seems to satisfy the bartender, who resumes his task of slicing and juicing limes.
Wearing white khakis, a charcoal grey sports coat, and a bright white tie to match, Sebastian is dressed well enough so that no one can accuse him of phoning it in, but he’s not dressed so well that Alyson might feel awkward if she’s not dressed equally well. If he recalls correctly, Alyson isn’t the type who likes to play “dress up.” She’s more comfortable wearing sweatpants and a hoodie than she is dressing like a Brazilian supermodel strutting down the runway. Sebastian always liked that down-to-earth nature about her.
“Holy shit!” The bartender exclaims.
Sebastian looks up from his drink to see what the fuss is all about. He turns around and looks in the direction that the bartender is focused. His eyes take a while to adjust to the bright blinking Christmas-colored string lights that are still hanging across the bar’s entrance. But once they do, he sees exactly what the friendly bartender is reacting to.
Not a literal angel, but she might as well be one. Sebastian’s eyes cannot stop looking at the young woman who just walked into the hotel lobby. Standing at an imposing 6’ 2” (with heels, 5’ 10” without) and wearing a bright flowy form-fitting red dress that shows off every single curve she has to offer, this woman is a marvel to regard. However, despite her gorgeous face, long blonde hair, and impeccably tanned skin – which is impressive for the month of December – there is one aspect to this woman’s appearance that stands out above all:
Sebastian knows that this must be Alyson. Who else could it be? But in his vague memory, she wasn’t this strikingly beautiful. Or was she? His focus is only on her impeccable figure, not his foggy recollections of their past together. She’s built like a Greek goddess. Broad shoulders, bulging arms, a finely chiseled abdomen, and legs that look like they could easily crush a man’s skull – she’s by far the strongest woman he’s ever seen in his life. But not just bulky though…she’s curvy, super feminine, and carries an air of confidence of a hundred Fortune 500 CEOs.
Her walk is mesmerizing. Every soul in the lobby – from hotel staff to party guests to road weary travelers – cannot stop looking at this woman’s figure. Sebastian, a man who appreciates a female derriere just as much as the next fellow – stares in a trance-like state at the way her butt bounces with each step she takes.
Finally, Alyson spots Sebastian and approaches him. Sebastian can feel his heartrate beat faster and faster with every step she takes toward him. He gingerly stands up from his stool, remembering that he has to practice some semblance of courteous behavior. She prides himself as a gentleman, after all. The bartender, who now realizes what Sebastian meant by “she’s hard to miss,” nearly drops his cup of lime juice on the floor. Alyson, whose muscles seem to get bigger and bigger the closer she gets, lays a kiss on Sebastian’s cheek and hugs him. Her embrace is so tight, Sebastian is afraid she’ll break every one of his ribs. She may need to send him to the ER, if she’s not careful.
“Hi Sebastian! God, it’s been so long,” Alyson gushes. “Wow! You look great. You haven’t aged a day. Still as handsome as always.”
Once Sebastian regains his ability to breathe, he kisses Alyson back on the cheek, lingering there perhaps a few beats too long. She smiles at him as they both sit down. The bartender asks the muscle-bound lady what she wants to drink. She orders a dirty martini. The bartender, struggling to maintain his professional composure, proceeds to make her drink as efficiently as possible without staring perversely at her.
“Thank you. Wow, you look fantastic,” Sebastian squeaks, hoping his gaze remains respectfully on her face and not glued to her incredible body. “I always knew you were going to take the world by storm. Though I never anticipated you’d look quite like…this.” Impulsively, he traces a finger across her swollen left bicep. She playfully flexes for him so that the long vein going across the top pops out a bit. Sebastian struggles to keep his composure but is glad that she isn’t creeped out by his behavior.
“Well, life certainly takes you to unexpected places, doesn’t it?” Alyson, keenly aware the power she has over him, decides to break whatever tension is in the air. If she doesn’t, who will? “I’m really glad to see you. I feel like it’s been forty years since we last were together. Even though it was actually, what, eighteen years?”
“Nineteen,” he politely corrects her. “Nearly twenty. God, that’s hard to believe. Time sure flies. I’ve been through so much during the past couple of decades. Judging from your celebrity status, the same clearly applies to you too. We could spend all night catching up. Well into 2022, to be sure.” As captivating as her muscles are, his gaze is fixated on her beautiful face. Her kind smile, bright eyes, and glowing complexion can put a spell on any man. Sebastian considers himself under the strongest spell possible. They spend the next two hours chatting endlessly about their lives, careers, ups and downs, and hopes and dreams for the future. He admits that his life hasn’t been the same since his divorce. Battling for custody of his children took its toll. Alyson, who for whatever reason seems shy about revealing whether she has kids or not, listens intently with the level of care usually reserved for a professional therapist.
As time goes on, more people start to trickle into the bar. The time is now 8:36 p.m., which means it’s going to be midnight on the east coast soon. NYE revelers who want to watch the ball drop in Times Square on television begin to crowd the bar. No matter who walks in, they cannot help but stare at Alyson. It’s not every day that you see a gorgeous statuesque muscle goddess sitting at the bar chatting with one lucky chap. The bartender, who tries to slip a quick glance at Alyson’s long thick legs whenever possible, struggles to refill everyone’s drinks and keep his cool at the same time. He’d never admit it, but he’s a closeted fan of female bodybuilders…and knows who Alyson is. She may consider herself a “minor C-list celebrity,” but as far as the hardworking bartender is concerned, she’s a mega superstar in his heart.
“It’s getting awfully crowded in here,” Alyson observes. Sebastian looks around and nods his head. He’s feeling slightly tipsy (he’s lost track of how many times the bartender has refilled his glass with Glenlivet 12) but cognizant that their privacy is getting encroached upon. He’d like nothing more than to move to a more discreet location, if possible.
“It sure is. Damn. I guess watching the ball drop in Times Square is still exciting to folks, even though it’s the same shenanigans every year,” Sebastian laments. “If we had something like that over here, that’s where everyone would be.” Alyson downs the rest of her lemon drop cocktail, wipes her mouth with a napkin, and places her right hand suggestively on Sebastian’s leg.
“Do you want to go somewhere more, uh, quiet?” Her piercing brown eyes could burn a hole through his soul. A few of the guys sitting within earshot of them immediately turn their attention to Sebastian, as if to say without words, “Do it, you idiot! Because if you say no, I’m going to jump in and say yes.”
“I’d love to,” Sebastian quickly replies. The bros who thought for a split second that they might have a chance to swoop in and score with this blonde muscle goddess turn their backs the moment it becomes clear Sebastian wasn’t going to drop the ball like a moron. Alyson fishes in her purse for something and takes out a room key.
“Great. Let’s go. I’ll pay for our drinks.” As fast as lightning, Alyson leaves a few $100 bills on the bar counter and grabs Sebastian’s hand. The bartender nods to her, appreciating both the generous tip and the remarkable eye candy that she’s provided him during the past few hours. Walking hand-in-hand like old lovers – making the drunk bros around them even more envious, if such a thing were even possible – Sebastian and Alyson exit the bar with the pomp and circumstance of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman leaving Rick’s Café. This Hollywood moment may seem like the end of a great epic romantic drama, but Sebastian gets the feeling the plot is about to thicken.
“Hold on, you’re staying at this hotel?” he asks.
“Yes, I don’t live around here anymore. And whenever I’m back in town, I prefer to stay in the best place possible,” she boasts. “This is it. The best this city has to offer.”
Sebastian feels a bit self-conscious walking alongside Alyson through the hotel lobby. Every man, woman, and child stops to stare at them. Specifically, they’re staring at her. It’s not too often that you see a woman with the beauty of a movie star and the musculature of an NFL linebacker gracefully walk past you. But tonight is that night for all of these folks. One small child felt compelled to ask his mother if the lady in the red dress is a boy or a girl. She doesn’t know how to answer that question. No doubt, many similar conversations were happening simultaneously around them.
Just breathe, Sebastian tells himself. Don’t make yourself look like a fool, for God’s sake.
He wouldn’t want to pass out right here in front of all these people before he can get to her room. As the newly minted power couple move toward the elevators, Sebastian senses that he’s about to get supremely lucky.
As fate would have it, Alyson is feeling the exact same thing.