Prizes

18 Jun, 2012

by Dasha Kelly

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It’s like a Couples Wonderland in here tonight.  Practically every chair in Blu is filled with someone’s better half or, perhaps, better halves to be.

Beyond the south wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, a starlit and indigo sky stretches across the view, mirroring the dim hues and flickering candles inside. I take a slow lap around the room and then stand by the bar. I greet the bartenders and wait staff as they flow back and forth, but keep a keen eye on the room. I’m watching for any movements to suggest the imminent surrender of a seat.

I soon spy a couple preparing to vacate their couch near the fireplace.  I weave through the room and deposit myself into their seat before the plush cushions can reshape themselves. My couch and another loveseat are positioned next to the featured musician, a singer and guitarist named Ryan McIntyre. I look about and see couples knotted together in various stages of flirt and familiar:

The Just Mets — she speaks without affect, but corrects her posture each time she pauses to touch her tall drink.  He is leaning forward, just close enough. He nods his head to her words while his eyes tour her face and hair.

The Torch Bearers – effusing a well-stoked passion, even in their casual affection. He cups the curve of her knee as he orders from the waitress and she twists the curls at the nape of his neck once his attention is returned to her.

The Favorite Sweaters – well-worn and familiar, they are comfortable in each other’s company. Her face glows blue from her phone screen, his expression is blank, content to have her tucked safely in the nook of his draping arm.

The lounge hums with conversation, clinking glasses, laughter and Ryan.  He strums the final chord of a John Mayer song and a sound of distracted applause ripples through the room.

“David Gray!”

Ryan had just begun the charming, between-songs banter, when the man seated on my neighboring couch blurts his music request. He is deliberate, his volume just decibels under shouting and landing squarely between the settling applause and throat clearing. He’s dressed in khakis, a striped button-down, loafers and a blazer (yes, blue) drapes across the back of the couch. His seatmate is dressed in a soft and scalloped blush colored dress.  He raises his eyebrows in her direction and she smiles back approvingly as Ryan starts the next song. This must be David Gray.

There was a lot of couch real estate between them.  I believe scoring her favorite song should’ve prompted a wink, a touch, a kiss on the cheek or, at least, move them closer together.  Instead they tap their feet, bob their chins and enjoy the music.

The couple behind them, however, is fully committed to a bit of PDA.  She’s someone’s bridesmaid, liberated from the pack. Her hero, dressed in jeans and a sultry fitted tee, leans across their small cocktail table for a long and fluttering kiss. The pair of couples at the table next to them surround a small fountain of chocolate fondue.  All four are dressed casually, but the fellas somehow strike me as the least likely candidates for fondue.  Watching them all smile and laugh and dip, I suspect the ladies are applauding themselves for introducing another good idea.

Cold Play! a voice calls from the other end of the room. As Ryan chats with the audience again, a man comes forward to drop a bill into a large glass tip jar. “Yellow” is Ryan’s next song.

Dave Matthews. Michael Bublé. John Legend. Kings of Leon.

Between each song, men stand at Ryan’s tip jar in twos and threes, waiting to toss their tips into Ryan’s jar and win their dates’ favorite tune.  It reminds me of the carnival, when guys would test their skill and valor against moving ducks, falling balloons and stacks of milk bottles to win their ladies an over-sized stuffed toy.

My couch neighbors are smiling at one another again.  She sweeps hair from her shoulder, laying bare the sanguine curve of her neck.  He flags our waitress.  In the center of the room, The Worn Sweaters have tucked away the cell phone and cuddle tight on their plush chair. The Just Mets are still at the bar, facing one another on their stools now.  Her back and gestures seem more relaxed, his eyes are pinned to hers.  The Torch Bearers are gone.  She’d led him away long ago with barely the tip of her pinky finger.

My neighbors are on their feet.  We smile good night as they move past me.  I’m relieved to see him stop and deposit a tip in to Ryan’s jar.  Carnival prizes, after all, are never actually free.

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About the author

Dasha Kelly

Dasha Kelly is founder and director of Still Waters Collective, a Milwaukee-based outreach initiative utilizing the transformative power of the written and spoken word. Dasha has performed and delivered workshops to writers, youth, educators, co-eds, executives, inmates and artists throughout the U.S. She is also an HBO Def Poetry alum. As a poet and novelist, Dasha’s writings have appeared in anthologies, text books, magazines and online. Her latest collection of work, Hershey Eats Peanuts is available through Penmanship Books. She is currently working on her second novel and a new collection of essays.

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