Traffic crawls, the ordinary bumper-to-bumper agony, less so with a gray BMW trailing visible through my rear view mirror. Cowen’s steadfast eyes keep me in sight following me to the airport’s drop-off point.
What a gentleman, I concede. To ensure that I make it home safely after turning in the rental car after all the drama I caused him. No wonder Mom couldn’t help falling for him.
Anxious about his waiting, I tap the car keys on the counter a signal for the woman at the computer to hurry. I will pay you whatever you wait, I want to scream, but bite my tongue instead for a peek behind me reveals an extremely long line of irritated individuals making me happy that I’m not her standing behind the counter.
Finally after another ten minutes I race out; winded but apologizing, “Hey, sorry to keep you waiting. I guess this isn’t a good time to be returning a car,” I finish as he leans over to open the door for me. I slammed the door shut just as a police officer arrives. Cowen pulls off into a steady stream of cars before he can say, “Keep moving.”
Sitting quiet, I wonder if he’s thinking about this afternoon’s incident; but I’m too afraid to want to push it. So, folding my hands in my lap, I watch the strip of fast food restaurants pass realizing how hungry I am, anxious that I’ve held him up long enough.
“Want something to eat?”
“No. No, that’s all right. I’m not hungry.”
Why did I lie?
“Well I am. Mind if I stop for a second. I’ll go through the drive-thru,” he says turning into Arby’s. “You sure you don’t want anything? My treat.”
“Oh no. That’s really sweet of you. But no thank-you,” talking loud to camouflage my growling stomach, which I instantly draw in.
I glance at my middle, then at him, smiling, “Well, maybe a turkey sandwich.”
When he pulls up to the window, the girl flirts shamelessly with Cowen as he hands her the money. When she stoops down a little further, I glance at her from beneath my lashes with a secret little smile causing her smile to evaporate, though I rode the same boat as she—paddling nowhere with him fast. This man was strictly for the cameras.
As Cowen drives me home, he makes small talk about plans for the agency. That’s when I tell him that he’s plans shouldn’t include me.
“Mr. Riley, I’m going home.”
“I know. That’s where I’m taking you.”
“No. I mean I’m actually going home tomorrow; my home in New York.”
“Yes. I’m sorry I didn’t say something sooner, but I never planned on staying at the agency. I actually only took the job for Mom. She said she needed to work, but she didn’t have enough skills at the time, so she heard that Mr. Peters’ was hiring. . . .”
“So that explains.”
He looks over at me and smiles. “Why you’re such a wonderful girl.”
Everyone lately talks in codes. I stare at him waiting for more of an explanation, but he turns back to road, still smiling.
Gradually his smile fades and he says, “You know. I think I’m really going to miss you.”
Now it’s my turn to smile, because I know he will.
After reaching the corner of the block, I ask, “Mr. Riley. Would you mind just dropping me off here? I’d rather walk the rest of the way.”
“No. Not at all. But you’re okay?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, I’m fine. I just don’t want to . . . you know.”
“I understand,” he says, reaching over me to open the door, letting me out. “So when will you leave?”
“Well, how about dropping me an e-mail telling me how everything’s going?”
“So this isn’t really good-bye, then; it’s until later.”
As I walk down the long block, leaving Cowen, my thoughts turn to Seneca. Somehow, the street-lights along the walk remind me of his last one in the reverse order so long ago. In the dusk, I wonder if he had any regrets, surprised with the since of lost I feel.
I can’t tell from this distance if that’s Mom’s car parked in front of the house. But after walking midway the block I see that it’s a neighbors. And I’m thankful. After entering the house, I sit down on my bed trying to find the energy to pack, debating if there was anything I really wanted to take back with me. Barely able to keep my eyes open I lay across the down comforter for just a second.
Sometimes I sit directly in front of him wanting his full attention. Other times watching him play here every night for a week, usually sitting at the same small intimate table near the front, but off to the side, close to the wall in the shadows. From that vantage point, I was far enough back to be hidden by the club’s dim interiors, yet close enough to observe him.
I would watch his bronze sculptured profile bowed in concentration over the piano keys and the slight angle of his broad shoulders, hunched as he played, wearing a dark sports jacket that was obviously cut to give his arms room to maneuver. The jacket accentuated a narrow waist and hips when he stood up and buttoned it, before taking a bow and throwing his shoulder-length wavy hair magnificently back.
A very handsome distinguished looking man, an older version of the picture I carried of him on a gold chain, in an ornate circular miniature frame; hanging around my neck.
I was fortunate that a friend of mine, who also plays jazz piano, loves Seneca’s work and is a fan. That’s how I was able to find him. My friend also had a contact in the band who lets him know of Seneca’s future gigs around the city—before it reaches the newspapers—so that he can arrange his affairs to be free those nights. Because of that advance information, I was able to arrange my own affairs to be here, early, before the masses of jazz lovers arrived. My friend is probably here in the crowd—quite close to the stage himself, but I needed to come, alone.
Madame knew I would find him, had prepared for the moment. She’ll be very happy with me. I’d promised to locate him, and though in the beginning I didn’t want to, I’m glad she made me. It was actually something I wanted since I was a child, but had given up the idea of it ever happening. I convinced myself that it wasn’t important, but after seeing and watching him perform, I realize that I had never really forsaken the dream. I had only buried it for a while.
“Would you like another Long Island Iced Tea?” asks a waitress already bearing a tray full of empty glasses and interrupting my reflections. She skillfully navigated her way through the tables to me, because they were so closely situated—because of the crowds.
“Yes, please,” I answer.
“That’s a beautiful little picture frame. Is that your boyfriend in the picture?” the waitress continues before she leaves.
My hand instantly goes to the frame. I must have inadvertently taken it out from under my mock turtleneck during the performance. “No,” I respond, but someone special, thankful that the picture was too small for her to see it distinctly.
The chain does catch your eye against the black dress. I have to be more careful of that. How often do I unconsciously take it out? I wonder.
After all these years, I find myself wondering how our meeting would go. I know how I imagined our reuniting would be. I would find him. How? I didn’t know, but he would take one look at me and instantly know me. Even though a man, he would show deep emotion against his will, his eyes welling up with tears. He would then grab me up into his arms, hugging and kissing me, expressing his sorrow for all the years of separation—all the time telling me how much he missed me and insisting that he loved me despite what his years of absence portrayed. He would then promise that we would never separate again. The scenario was a childhood one. He was my father. Now, as an adult, I didn’t know how the script would be played, but I would love the live recreation of my childhood dream.
While I wait for my drink, I focus on him.
To feel as he does—shown in his playing ability—is how I feel about life in general, to that strong degree. The joy and happiness you feel through your accomplishments, is experienced to the utmost degree, a natural high. Unfortunately, your pain is felt the same.
The waitress brought back my drink. I sip it while the band performs their finale. The song is a popular one that continues to motivate the crowds. While they clap their hands and tap on the tabletops during the set, I try to steel my nerves for what lies ahead.
Startled, I glance around in the complete darkness of the room, trying to gather my bearings. Finally, I realize that the clapping is a branch hitting persistently against the small window behind my bed.
Carried on the wind shaking the panes I hear voices. Near? Then footsteps. Kneeling, I peek out onto the front lawn just as a slim figure of a man wearing a dark overcoat gets into the back seat of a yellow cab.
A quick look at the clock on the side table says only nine o’clock p.m. Looking out of the window again, Mom is now standing on the sidewalk in the outfit she had on earlier, staring after the cab. As if my stare draws her, she glances up at me, but I duck back not knowing why I did. Then I remember. She stood staring then too.
Was it he?
My heart races like the answer is “yes.”
Did he come and Mom sent him away again? I wondered, lying back down, listening to the front door shutting.
But I knew it couldn’t be, because after that night he would never look for me.
I pull the edge of the covers back over me, sliding down to dream another ending to this unpleasant saga. A pleasant one, imagining that he was that man.