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A Night of Freedom

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Why are Fridays always the CRAZIEST day of the week? Lynne wondered to herself as she closed her laptop, a wave of exhaustion crashing over her. It wasn't that she wasn't rested… Sure, late nights spent catching up on work and the occasional 3am call of duty to vanquish the monsters from her daughter's nightmares didn't help, but it was more than that. It was the weight of responsibility on her shoulders that had slowly drained her energy over the years as she grew from a carefree teen to a Responsible Adult™. A million little decisions to be made every single day slowly chipping away at her spark. Decisions that impacted the socks she wore to which server outage got resolved first to her daughter's future. A seemingly endless cycle of work, mom, sleep, repeat she had settled into over the past decade.

Lynne had found herself surprisingly thrilled when her ex's mother called earlier that week inviting her daughter to visit them for the long weekend. Although it was no more than a thinly veiled opportunity to parade her around to their friends and prove to themselves that they actually cared, as they did about once a year, she was grateful for the opportunity for Emily to spend time getting to know that side of her family, and selfishly looked forward to having a few days to herself.

Emily had been gone since Thursday afternoon and yet all Lynne had managed to do with her newfound freedom was succumb to workaholism. Pathetic, she thought to herself. But at least I'm caught up for once and might actually be able to enjoy the long weekend without that particular cloud hanging over my head. 

As Lynne stretched out on the couch to settle into her much-anticipated quiet evening, she glanced at her phone and found a flurry of messages from her friends. They were planning an impromptu girl squad night at one of the hottest clubs in town thanks to Marie's latest fling, who was a bouncer there. They knew Lynne was free and weren't above resorting to a little peer pressure to get her to join them.

Lynne sighed deeply. Her first instinct was to ignore the texts, pretend she hadn't seen them and come up with an excuse in the morning. She had never really been a club kinda girl and after the week she'd had, all she wanted to do was binge-watch some trashy drama and go to bed early without any guilt. But kid-free nights were a rare occurrence and it had been ages since she'd seen her friends. Something inside her begged her to Carpe Diem for once, and she finally agreed to join them in their reverie. I hope I don't regret this decision when my hangover hits tomorrow morning…

They breezed past the long line outside and Lynne couldn't help but laugh. "This place CAN'T be worth waiting hours for a chance at entry when there's about a dozen others on the strip that would let them in. Who has that kind of time?" Val and Ally laughed along with her as Marie stopped to thank her bouncer with a brazen kiss before heading inside.

Lynne marveled at the grandeur of the club as they headed down an ornate staircase. Rich, deep wood paneled the walls, the floor and the curves of the booths, which were filled with velvety tufts of cream and crimson. Twinkling strings above them lit a path to an extravagant bar, the mirror behind it making it seem as though the club went on indefinitely. Every detail exuded sheer opulence, and Lynne felt as if she had stepped into a Prohibition-era movie set.

She looked down at her outfit as she slipped into their reserved booth, suddenly feeling very underdressed and out of place. They gave their drink orders to a waitress whose day job was surely modeling, and she looked to her friends' faces in awe. "You guys… Where the hell have you taken me? I was expecting something a little more upscale than the fun little dives we normally hit up, but this is on a whole other level. There's a fucking PIANO in the middle of the dance floor!"

Marie laughed as she shook her head. "Lynne, babe, I know you basically live under a rock but how have you never heard of Lux? Everyone I know that's come here has had one of the best nights of their life. I sure did, that's how I met Tony! And that piano? The owner's a little… eccentric… but he’s one of the most gorgeous and talented men I've ever laid eyes on. Some lucky nights he blesses the crowd with a performance. The whole club goes quiet, entranced in his siren song, and it's as if time stands still. It's incredible! Piano or not, I promise by the end of tonight you'll be thanking me for bringing you here."

The waitress returned with their drinks and Lynne rolled her eyes as she took a long sip. I really must be in a movie. Nobody plays piano in the middle of a night club in real life. That's just absurd. As her eyes scanned the crowd, her gaze fell upon a man in the booth across from them- dark hair perfectly coiffed upon his head, eyes twinkling as he enthusiastically spoke, a dark red shirt that would have blended right into the cushions were it not for the sharp contrast of a tailored black suit that surely cost more than her rent. He was the embodiment of the type of person she would expect to find in a place like this, pure beauty and luxury. He glanced in her direction and their eyes met, a blush suddenly flushing her cheeks. She quickly turned away, chastising herself for getting caught staring at him like some kind of creep.

 "Let's just be thankful that Lynne left her fortress of solitude!" Val said as she lifted her glass in the air. "To our squad, together at long last and taking this classy joint by storm!" Marie and Ally followed suit, clinking their glasses together. Feeling like an utter cliché, Lynne stifled another eye roll as she joined them. She leaned back and enjoyed her drink while they took turns catching each other up on the latest events in their lives and made a conscious effort not to glance back over at the mysterious stranger she was so inexplicably drawn to.

As she shared an embarrassing story from the office earlier that week, she spotted him again out of the corner of her eye. It almost looked as if he was laughing along while she described an elevator ride from hell where her dress had clung to her pantyhose and she had unknowingly flashed her coworkers. She glanced over to look at him directly and he gave her a sly wink as they locked eyes for a moment. Had he really heard the story or is he just trying to acknowledge the fact that I've been caught staring again? She shook off the blush his wink had ignited and turned her attention back to her friends, who were still in the midst of a fit of giggles.

As the group's laughter died down, Val turned to her with a serious look. "Real talk, Lynne. It feels like you've pulled back into your own world way more than usual lately, and it worries me a little. Static cling woes aside, how are you really doing?"

Lynne thought long and hard while she sipped on her drink. "Honestly? I just feel… Drained. And like I'm trapped in this endless loop of work, mom, sleep, repeat while life flies right on by me, and there's nothing I can do to chase after it. The responsibility and monotony of it all is just too much for me to bear sometimes.” She shook her head and sighed. “And of course, there's the horrible guilt I have for feeling that way. I'm so fortunate to have all these responsibilities in the first place, and I love Emily more than anything in the world, but sometimes I find myself dreaming of my 'old life'. Before parenthood, before this crazy career, when Friday night meant the start of an adventure where I could do whatever it is my heart desired without having to worry about the impact it had on anyone but myself."

As the words spilled out her eyes nervously darted back to him. It was only a flash, but she could swear she saw his back straighten, stopping mid-sentence and turning his head ever so slightly towards the booth that had suddenly turned into a therapist's couch, as if he couldn't help himself eavesdropping.

No, she thought to herself. I'm just being paranoid. There's no way this gorgeous man, surrounded by a handful of the hottest people LA has to offer, is sitting there listening to some random single mother's selfish lament. Still, she lowered her voice in caution as she finished her confession.

"I find myself yearning for that time in my life when everything was simpler and I could just BE, ya know? When I had the freedom to just live in the moment every now and then without a care in the world or decision to be made in sight. I miss that feeling more than anything else...” She sighed heavily. “And yet here I am on a Friday night, blessed with a rare gift of a few days completely free and clear of any responsibility, and all I can think about is how many naps I'll be able to take between now and Tuesday!"

"Oh Lynne,” Ally said as laughter rippled throughout the group. "I love you to death but come on now. You can do better than that! Are endless naps what you TRULY desire?"

Lynne laughed nervously and studied the ice cubes floating in her glass as the question rang through her mind. Is this really the person she had become? A few days spent in a blanket burrito sounded divine, but is that what she really wanted? To squander away this opportunity on a Netflix binge? Surely not, but she found her mind blank as she tried to come up with something more fulfilling. What DO I truly desire?

Her inner silence felt louder than the music blaring from the dance floor. As she opened her mouth to change the subject with some wise crack, Lynne's eyes met the stranger's again. He held her gaze for a few moments, an eyebrow raised as if he too was waiting for her response, and she felt herself getting pulled into the depths of those dark brown pools. The strobe lights flickered across his eyes as if there were little tendrils of flames in his pupils. She watched them dance and swirl as the question pierced into her soul.

A hearty belly laugh from Val snapped her eyes back to the table. "Well I'll be damned. Lynne Gardner at a loss for words. Mark this day in history, ladies!" she exclaimed, shaking Lynne from her trance.

She blinked a few times, wondering how long she had been sitting there, staring into some stranger's eyes as she ponded the deepest desires of her heart, as if they held the answer. She soon found herself laughing hysterically at herself along with her friends, and the conversation thankfully turned to a more lighthearted subject.