I'm sleepy in Beirut.
My phone rings: Hugg.
"Where are you? Come and pick up your things from my car. I'm tired; I need to go sleep, yalla. Where are you? Hello? Hello?"
He's standing on the corner as I come out of Huvelin Street. He sees me, turns around and starts walking. "How old do you think I am? Never do this with me. Yalla, come take your things, I want to go home."
I was walking a few meters behind. His walk was brisk and punctuated with nervous shoulder shrugs. My shadow was long, and he would occasionally step on my head.
The cruelty of a teddy bear.
I felt silly and spoiled. I didn't intentionally walk away to get a reaction from him, but I was acting out against something that had happened that evening.
He spoke of his ex-girlfriends, girls I knew, the type of girls everyone knows, popular girls, personalities. My jealousy didn't come as a thought, but stealthily, in the way I held my chopsticks, the way I was searching for something to say, pretending to try to keep the conversation afloat. I knew jealousy was irrational, because it was a jealousy of shadows, of ghosts. Those girls, they were crazy, mad, he said, and I couldn't imagine him with none of them: with me he's so calm and contained, but maybe that is a sign of…
We left as the restaurant closed. I wanted to take a walk – the weather was lovely, and we were in Achrafieh, a place that I loved and was familiar with. He obliged.
At about the same time last year, Clooney and I walked the exact same streets, at about the same time, in about the same weather. And it was during that walk that I swore to never go for the good-looking ones, ever.
The crowd at Crystal was dispersing, my friends were busy dancing and I relished sitting by myself, observing the people from high above. I was tired, the alcohol, the high heels and the dancing had worn me out.
Suddenly, an apparition: Clooney. What a face, what posture and what a smile! I couldn't but smile back. He was moving towards me, I looked away so as not to jinx it.
"How can I not do something when I see a smile like that?"
He was still very good-looking from up close. He looked like a Hollywood star playing the charming Italian: clean shave, neat short hair with a slight peppering of white, a set of perfect teeth, tailored suit, crisp white shirt and a gorgeous laugh (the kind of laugh you'd hear over the phone and think of elegant cocktail parties in some penthouse overlooking Central Park).
We spoke for a while. He was in his early forties, though he didn't look it, called his father "Pappy", nearly got married at a very young age to a European girl and was suggesting we go have a cup of coffee some place.
My friends were getting ready to leave and I wasn't leaving without them. I didn't want to make it too easy for him; he must be used to instant house calls.
"I'd like to see you again"
I took his number. The act of someone taking down my number at a nightclub really puts me off. It's cheap. He walked out in front of us, like a teaser for a blockbuster movie. His walk was suave, well-paced and intriguing.
By now we were in the car, waiting for our drunken friend to finish his conversation with the little warde boy. Clooney approached the car window, drew his number in the air with his index finger and motioned for me to call him.
I got home at sunrise. It must have been a very beautiful, fantastical spectacle because I was inspired to live life to the fullest, to grab it by its balls, to seize the day and all that jazz.
What I did instead is send Clooney a message, suggesting that we go abroad for the weekend, a strange trip with a perfect stranger. At that moment, it felt like something beautiful and sincere.
Right now, it feels more like the past-tense of a DIESEL ad.
That afternoon, he replied, very enthusiastic about the idea and very keen on discussing it over dinner: tomorrow night, Centrale.
I was, indeed, very excited.
He picked me up in his delicious coupe, we both looked the part and it felt like a chapter from The Great Gatsby.
"I didn't want to call you, to hear your voice. I like the idea of not knowing."
He spoke my mind.
We turned heads as we arrived and the heads kept on turning back towards us throughout the night.
He talked a lot that evening, apologizing here and there for speaking too much, and then talked some more. He spoke well and of interesting things. I was charmed, except for his frequent bathroom breaks. That was when I thought of coke…maybe?
He kept on saying that I was cute. Cute. Cute. CUTE.
"What a cute little young thing. I find it very exciting."
"Gosh, you're cute."
My friends were out in Gemmayzeh, and I wanted to show off my arm candy (my arm candy, for a change). I got us lost, he took the wrong turn, was obliged to turn around, and while looking me in the eyes, stepped on the pedal to reverse. I felt so beautiful as I heard a scratch produce itself all along the left side of the car. He waved it off, smiling, and that right there was the most original romantic moment of my life.
My friends thought he was cute, but perhaps a little too old for me. I thought that they couldn't be more wrong.
He dropped me off to my car and then followed me until we had to split ways. I used to find the whole I-will-follow-you-in-my-car-even-if-I-live-on-the-other-end-of-the-world and call-me-as-soon-as-you-get-back thing really silly. It wasn't as though they could stop the world from being a nasty place. But with Clooney, I couldn't but appreciate the gesture.
Hugg is a little bit like that too. He gives the evil eye to guys who look at me, he calls me to make sure I get home safe, he tells me off for walking away into an empty street in the middle of the night…
Having walked half the distance to his car, I apologized. I could see he was smiling and my sense of relief was a huge wave breaking. He scolded me for a little longer, but it was just long enough to not become a lecture.
In fact, I appreciated his reaction; it's exactly what I need, a little bit of self-respect from his part and a lot of unwillingness to take my shit. Had he not reacted the way he did, he would have gone straight into the folder along with Mr. Keller.