Staring out the window makes Scott wonder why he’s in the café in the first place. Multitudes pass by, impossible to spot every individual. Sitting at his table, Scott notices the hand-holders. The pairs. Those walking together rather than at the same time as others. A curiosity crosses his mind, at how long some pairs have been coupled. An envious thought enters Scott, thinking how free those pairs are, holding hand on the street.
“Here’s your coffee. Anything else?” A waitress interrupts him.
Scott checks his wallet. “Yeah, how much was the chicken sandwich?”
“I think I’ll wait on that. I’m expecting someone.”
In perfect timing as the waitress leaves, a young woman in a white and bright yellow floral dress comes to the table. “Sorry I’m late. Hope you got started without me.” The dark hair on her looks different to Scott. Not in any discernable way.
“Nah, I don’t mind waiting. In fact, you just missed the waitress. Did you want anything? I’m pretty hungry and already know what I want, but I can wait if you need some time.”
Picking up the menu, Scott’s guest already makes up her mind. “If you know what you want, I’ll just pick something quick, like a chicken sandwich or something.”
He can’t help but chuckle a little. “No way, Nancy. I was just about to order myself one before you came. Did you want a coffee too?”
Nancy’s nose crinkles and her eyes squints. “Coffee with a chicken sandwich? That’s a little weird, isn’t it? I’m just getting a lemonade with it.”
Scott smiles and nods when he calls the waitress over. The conversation becomes routine for him. Laugh at Nancy’s jokes, repeat the last thing she says as a question. Comment on some part of his own day.
Getting up to use the restroom, Nancy kisses Scott on the cheek and makes her way to the back. Scott turns to the window once again. “Here because you have to be, right?” Scott hears from the table next to him. Turning to see someone leaning back in his chair towards Scott, he wonders what the man meant by that.
“I’m sorry? Do I know you?” Scott inquires.
“No, and I don’t mean to eavesdrop, and it’s probably not my place, but that girl is more of a friend than a girlfriend, right? And you’d prefer it that way?”
Scott looks the man over, feeling his fists clench on the table. “Listen, I don’t know who you think you are, but if you’re saying what I think you are…”
The man quickly chuckles, waiving in apology. “So sorry. Look, I didn’t mean to upset you and I don’t mean any trouble. Listen, I’m…a friend of Dorothy’s. And I don’t think I’m mistaken in thinking you are too, right?”
A sense of confusion washes over Scott. Unsure of who Dorothy is, he tries to think if he even knows anyone by that name. When the realization hits him about what the man is actually talking about, Scott clenches his chair, wondering if he should leave. How could he have known? I’m with Nancy, she kissed me, there’s no way…
Raising a preemptive hand to hush Scott, the man smiles, giving a calm reassurance. “I know you’re thinking how I could know, right? What gave it away? Look, you’re just out of college, right? Just got your first job maybe a year ago? I was in the same boat as you ten years ago. I’ve seen what you’re doing a thousand times. I can spot it in my sleep. Just doing what your parents expect you do to, right?”
Astonished, Scott simply nods his head, unable to speak. There was the eerie accuracy at which the stranger knew Scott’s life, but Scott was not sure if he should be transfixed on that, or the idea that someone else like him spoke so boldly about it. In college, there were maybe one or two others like him that he suspected, but had no way of knowing. He assumed there was no one like him in the accounting firm. But here this stranger is, talking to him about it just as if he was asking about the roast beef on the menu.
The man turns to his table and writes something on a napkin. “There’s this place in Greenwich. It’s a place you can go to have a drink, just relax, but most importantly, you’ll be among other…friends. No pressure or anything, and you can even sit in a booth all by yourself all night if you want. I’ll be there tomorrow night if you want to go at a time when you’ll know someone.” He grabs Scott’s hand and slides the napkin in before turning to his own table, reading a newspaper as if nothing occurred.
As Nancy comes back, Scott nervously shoves the napkin in his pocket, wondering if the last few minutes actually happened.
* * *
Though Scott wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving, The Stonewall Inn looked fairly ordinary. He could have passed by a dozen times and not realized what it had been. Standing on the sidewalk, he wonders if he should pass by yet again.
Some stranger hands me a napkin and I expect, what? Looking at the scribbles on the napkin, Scott wonders what could possible come from stepping into that building. What would Nancy think if she knew I came here?
As he tries to make up his mind, he sees the man from the café approach the door. I don’t even know the man’s name, Scott thinks as he rushes over to the entrance.
“You showed up! I actually wasn’t sure if you would.” The man says as they enter. Scott’s eyes wash over the room. Women sharing a drink, some people alone with their glasses; he thinks he spots men in women’s clothing. Breathing out, Scott finds stepping into the establishment a little easier.
“I’m Allen, by the way” the stranger says as the two find a spot to sit. “Did you want a drink? I got it covered.”
“Not just yet. It’s just…I’ve heard of these places but never seen one. Hell, I’ve never…you know…my freshman year…”
Allen smiles and nods, having heard this before. “I get it. It’s not like places like this are widely advertised. I just happened to spot you yesterday at the right time. Now that you know it’s here, well, I’m not gonna be your babysitter forever.”
Scott feels comfortable enough to laugh. Enough to tell Allen he knows he shouldn’t string Nancy along. But his parents want grandchildren and Nancy wants to be the cute couple in her building. He knows so much about what others want.
The two talk a little more, Scott opening up to Allen without bothering the bartender. He tells him more than he ever told Nancy. He stops mid-sentence about his freshman year when the disturbance at the door gets attention.
“Police! We’re taking the place!” The words set off a cascade in the building. Exploding in motion, people throughout the building head in all directions, frantically looking for an escape.
“Oh god, I can’t get arrested! You don’t understand, I can’t get arrested!” Scott panics, warning Allen as patrons head for windows and doors.
“Just stay calm. There’s two hundred people here, they can’t arrest us all. Just keep your head and we can slip away during the round up. Just stay calm.”
Scott looks at the windows, seeing police already there. He hears shouts from the back, assuming those are blocked too. He follows Allen’s lead, walking calmly towards the officers at the front.
Once outside, Scott sees more police cars than he’s ever seen. He also sees a bigger crowd gathered to watch a raid. What if they can arrest us all? He panics. More people are being dragged outside. Scott sees some people already in police cars. Allen grabs Scott’s shoulder. “This place is a front. The wiseguys were the first to get picked.”
Trying to pick their moment to slip away, Scott and Allen hears an uproar. Looking towards one of the cars, Scott sees a man, wearing women’s clothing, on the floor as an officer holding a baton hovers over him. The officer winds up for another strike when a beer bottle flies through the crowd, striking him.
“Gay Power!” the crowd roars. Ignoring the perfect moment to slip away, Scott and Allen see the crowd throwing pennies and bottles at the cops. A nearby burst startles Scott, as he sees someone slashing a patrol car tire. One of the larger police wagons begins to rock, as people try to tip it over.
Discovering that they’re being ignored, Scott and Allen slowly back away. “What the fuck is going on?” Allen mutters, watching as more police cars arrive. The crowd doubles in size as more police come.
The street is filled within moments. Both police and onlookers grapple and punch. Shouts, slogans, and commands echo through the evening. Scott knows he should have left long ago. Maybe not even have came in the first place. He looks on the crowd, and thinks that where his life was a secret, these people are fighting so that their lives are not hidden. He’s tired, awake much longer than he would normally be. But he realizes that, after seeing this escalation, he absolutely must have a talk with Nancy.