The bar was almost full when I walked into the restaurant. The hostess greeted me with a smile, a slicked-back perfect ponytail and a red lip to finish her look. As she asked if I needed a table, I spotted a man at the bar in a light red Patagonia puffer jacket with two seats open on either side of him. I also noticed a napkin on his plate indicating he was finished. I told the hostess I thought I had found a spot.
I was meeting my friend and neighbor, Ashley, for drinks. Her brother had just flown in from Miami for the holiday break, and R+D Kitchen (nicknamed Rich + Divorced) was one of our favorite spots for a bite and an adult bevvy.
“Is this seat taken?” I asked.
“No, I’m just finishing up,” the man said.
“Oh, thank you so much. I’m meeting a few friends here, and you know how hard it is to get three seats together,” I said a little nervously.
He laughed and looked down at my purse, which I had hung under the bar with a wrapped present sticking out. “I do. Is that a gift for one of your friends?” he asked.
“It is,” I said with a smile.
“What is it?”
“It’s so cheesy. Do you know that movie 'National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation'?'”
“Well, it’s a sweatshirt that says ‘It’s a Beaut Clark.' There were a bunch of other great ones, like ‘Sh—er was full.' That movie has such great one-liners.”
Then I immediately regretted swearing because I suddenly realized how attractive he was. He appeared to be fit and seemed tall even though he was seated. He had a warm smile and a shaved head. He seemed to be wearing cream-colored sweatpants, which perfectly completed his casual look.
There also was a wit about him that sparked my interest, and sitting there, it felt so comfortable and magnetic, as if we’d laughed together before.
Then he gave me a look of surprise that I had just cursed, but it also seemed as if he was intrigued enough to chat more.
“How did you find this gift?” he asked with a smirk.
I laughed and said, “Oh, it was served to me on Instagram."
We both laughed.
He then signed his check, gathered his things, told me to have a happy holiday and left the bar.
"But wait," I wanted to say.
A few minutes later, my friends arrived, and we ended up finding a place at the other end of the bar by the fireplace. My friends ordered wine, and I ordered an Aperol spritz . We browsed the menu and caught up a bit.
I started up a conversation with the bartender.
“Hey, you know this place is nicknamed Rich + Divorced, right?" I said. "You guys should do some sort of dating introduction here. It would be so fun. … I have no idea how you’d do it, but did you see that guy I was talking to at the other end? Like that would've been a perfect match! I could somehow message him on an app or the bartender could play matchmaker. Is he a regular?”
I was in full investigative mode with the bartender, wanting to know more about the handsome man.
“He’s definitely a regular," he said. "I see him maybe once a month or two but I don’t work that often. So he may come in more.”
“Interesting. I know this is completely inappropriate and please tell me if you can’t do this or are uncomfortable," I said. "But could you look through the credit card slips and see if maybe you can find a name? I’d be so grateful.”
We look at each other. “And if not, no worries," I said. "I know it’s probably against protocol, and you might get in trouble. And I wouldn’t want that. But I just have to ask."
He laughed and grabbed the receipts and started thumbing through them.
“Oh, thank you so much!” I said.
“Eh, here it is," the bartender said. "So sorry. He paid with Apple Pay, so there’s no trace of his name on the bill.”
Ten minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and it was the handsome guy again. He smiled and said "Merry Christmas." Then he handed me a sealed card still in the plastic envelope from Paper Source.
The front read "Sh—er's Full," and the card had a simple illustration of that scene from the movie .
I had no idea what to say. He smiled again and walked out. I don't remember exactly what happened because I was kind of frozen in surprise.
My friend Ashley said that Mr. Handsome must have written his name or number inside. “Open it!” she said.
She took the card from my hand. It was sealed. I took it back from her and opened it. It was blank. There was nothing inside. “Should I run after him?” I said.
“Yes!” Ashley said.
I got up from the bar and ran outside.
But it was quiet. I looked both ways, up and down the street. I didn't see him anywhere.
I walked back inside the restaurant and chalked it up to a weird Christmas happenstance. But just in case it wasn't, I left my number with the bartender and the rest to fate.
The author is a dog mom and executive producer living in Los Angeles. She is on Instagram: @courtcleavs
L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $400 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.