For a while a haze of anger kept my head in a fog as I drove, until the solo artist on the car stereo—a new jazz saxophonist—put some spirit back into me allowing me to find rhythm and beauty in the constant flow and ebb of traffic moving to his groove. I’m grateful that an overcast day and my confrontation with Vie couldn’t squelch my spirits, as I think about Cowen on my way to the agency—since I’m meeting him there.
So the twenty minutes flies and I’m happy and excited when I pull up behind a navy blue Acura—someone else with Mom’s good taste.
Checking my face in the rearview mirror, I reapply my lipstick when I look again at the license number before me.
That’s Mom’s car. . . What’s it doing here?
And parked in front of it is, Cowen’s black Benz? He’s here too?
Did Mom decide to check on the position without discussing it with me first?
She was interested in it again, I remember walking up the walk, but shouldn’t she have said something?
Discomforted because of being here, I think again, yes, why didn’t she tell me she was coming?
Actually the question I ask is, how am I going to explain myself? irritated.
But she did send some food to the funeral; maybe she’s just checking on that and I could be doing the same. That should work.
Satisfied, I walk to the agency’s front window, beginning to feel a little anxious.
Shouldn’t the agency be well lit if they’re both there?
Unexpectedly, weight like a wet bear overwhelms me.
What’s the matter with me?
Like always, I forgot to close the blinds when I left last night. Feeling anxious I think, this is stupid—peeking in; but I can’t help myself; something’s not right.
Suddenly my knees buckle, but I lock them in time, wiping my sweaty palms against my slacks as my breathing stabs like exploding plate glass. It’s shards along with my teeth seem to puncture my lungs, leaving me gasping, my hand now at my throat, the other over my mouth, while Mom freely sucks the air from Cowen’s lungs; gripping him as if life itself were dispensed from inside him. Anyone able to tear him from her hold would be a superhero.
From deep inside me horrible whimpering noises escape, growing louder and louder, now a piercing scream numbing my brain. Fortunately my back finds support against the car—I backed away? Feeling my way around it, I hurry to yank open the door before animal rights arrives searching for the pained creature obviously being skinned alive. Sliding into the driver’s seat, I turn on the ignition and the radio seems to blare as I pill away from the curb into traffic to the runs of a jazz pianist reliving the passion they displayed, the same passion displayed as he played.
And he played for me.
I watched his long lean fingers, with great dexterity, speed and skill, strike the keys, but with an underlying greater intensity. In amazement, I watch his fingers fly over the keys, striking them without one sour note, staccato and lively, coming in right on cue, causing chills to run through me. When time comes for him to fade away and allow the saxophonist, or guitarist to take center stage, he does it smoothly, beautifully, while I long for him to play again.
Whereas, other nights he played as part of the band, tonight he is more passionate. Tonight, you would think he desired to exorcise some demon, while carrying the crowds and my emotions to a level, rarely experienced. The band members even glance occasionally at him, smiling their approval.
I drove to the memory of his fingers flying over the keyboard, wondering about their intensity; feeling my own intensity on foot on the accelerator flying over the pavement now in control.
He was amazing.
Cowen was amazing. Is amazing.
Suddenly the wail of a siren breaks my speed and spirits. Being forced over the officer approaches the car motioning for me to roll down the window.
“Young lady, do you have a death wish? Do you have any idea how fast you were traveling?” he asks bending to peer into the car.
“No sir. I’m sorry.”
One look at my face had him tearing up the ticket, leaving me with the admonition, “Why don’t you try talking with someone? And slow down or you won’t have the opportunity.”
“Oh, thank-you officer. And I will; I’ll find someone to talk to. Thanks again.”
He continues to sit while I try to pull myself together, so I decide to get off at the next exit, which just happens to near Vie’s hang-out—a karaoke joint—one of Vie’s midnight retreats, during the day your average bar.
Pulling in the graveled parking lot, still saddened, I think, did he even notice me?
Dumbfounded, I think; this doesn’t make sense. When did this happen—them getting together? How could it happen?
Why didn’t I see it? Why did I have to see it now?
In one moment, all vestiges of happiness scatter on the wind rushing pass me through the open car window.
Love, trust, what were these? Bubble words. Venetian glass emotions ready to pop with little to no pressure. Again I’m shown how fragile fidelity really is.
Then with whom do I entrust it if not family?
In the lot, the questions, when, how, and why? launch my mind into pandemonium. I hang onto the steering wheel, my forehead throbbing against the rubber; while the shock, hurt and anger wrestle for power, my body performing a series of uncontrollable shakes.
Eventually shock leaves, anger filling its shoes.
Why should I be crushed? I had just as much right to him as she had, even more so. Hadn’t she been married twice already? What happened to “its Diamond’s turn for love?”
Maybe here among Mom’s reappearing friends—Bloody Mary, Martini, and Margarita—I can figure this out, and what I should do about—Tap! Tap! Tap!
Twisting to see, who? I silently scream at the grizzly face almost plastered against my window, as pain shoots through my shoulder blades and behind my eyes. In embarrassment I think I recognize Bill’s face—the manager, as the source of the tapping; remembering him from the night I dropped Vie off. Since he stood outside when we drove up, she introduced us before she went inside.
“Hey! You okay in there?”
“Is it you Bill?”
“Yeah. Do I know you?”
“Yes. I’m Diamond, friend of Vie’s. I’m sorry to bother you. I guess I just fell asleep. I’ve been terribly tired. You don’t have to worry,” I say rolling down the window.
“But you don’t look so good,” this burly bearded man says with the most unexpected tenderness. “Why don’t you come inside?”
“Oh, I don’t know Bill. I’ll be okay.”
“You sure? Anybody you want to call?”
“No. Nobody. . . You know Bill, . . . maybe I will come in. Just give me a minute, okay?”
“Sure. Take your time.”
With that he went through the heavy dark oak doors, a large boar’s head welcoming patrons.
After a minute I follow him in.
Inside the dingy interiors, over the loud music I hear, “Hey, Diamond. Come on back.” He beckons with his thick hairy arm—the white tee shirt appearing to cut his circulation right above bulging biceps, looking more Bill the bouncer, than Bill the owner.
“Here. I cleared away this booth for you. You can seat yourself here awhile if you like. I’ve got some things to take care of before the wild crowd comes. . . Not unless you want to talk,” he says winking.
Smiling at his bearded weather-beaten face I say, “Thanks, Bill. I’m okay. But I do appreciate your offer. Is it possible to get a coffee, though?”
“Sure. Coming right up. . . Jake! . . . A coffee for the missus.”
“On its’ way,” came the response from behind the swinging door separating the kitchen.
I’m amazed at how you can find comfort from the most unlikely sources.
I sit for what seems like hours in a brainless stupor, with head in hand. After a while in the darkness, listening to Bill’s jukebox, songs about lost love, despair, but mainly about family reminded me of my why I’m here in Chicago. I came to mend broken ties, not to pursue new ones. Finally I decide to try and put away my feelings for Cowen, to bow out gracefully, though I am disappointed with Mom.
For a few more minutes I allow myself to mourn what-could-have-been, feeling the martyr.
Just before the evening rush, I look up from my umpteenth cup of coffee, to a pair of dark pants standing beside me.
“Cowen! . . . What are you doing here?” my heart betraying me by racing.
“I wanted to make sure you’re alright,” he says.
Make sure I’m all right? . . . He saw me?
“I’ve been looking for you,” he says, taking a seat across from me in the booth, a semi-wonderful vision.
How I wanted to dislike him, but how could I when he came for me?
“How did you know I was here?” I ask, taking in his handsome appearance in a black turtleneck sweater under his black leather coat.
“Well, in the insurance business you make friends everywhere,” he says motioning for a cup. “I wrote up a policy for a police officer that drives this section of town. I gave him the plate number for your rental car and asked him to look out for it, then give me a call when he found you. How’s that for detective work?” he asks grinning a beautiful grin.
I look down at my cup to make sure that I’m drinking coffee, not hallucinating, “Yes. How’s that,” I repeat quietly.
I look up and in his face I see concern personified, but decide; I’m still angry. Why didn’t he say something? . . . He didn’t know she was my mother? . . . I drove her car. What about your detective work there?
Now I’m not even sure I want him to sit across from me; yet . . . I don’t want him to leave either.
He shouldn’t say anything to me; at the same time he should say something, anything to convince me that I didn’t see what I saw.
This isn’t what Vie meant, is it?
“Diamond, I’m sorry,” he begins—me all ears, eager and anxious. “I’ve really been meaning to talk to you before now.”
Oh no. This doesn’t sound like a confession.
I wait, my hands now underneath the wood table, nails pressed into my palms.
This doesn’t sound like the beginnings of a declaration. He’s not going to denounce this attraction that I’ve been feeling these past weeks?—an attraction I felt was mutual.
But it doesn’t matter now, right, Diamond? You’ve decided to bow out.
Cowen continues, “Diamond. I don’t know how to say this.”
Just say it. . . No, don’t say it, I plead inside.
If it’s not good news, maybe he should just say it, quick, like extracting a bad tooth. He’s causing me pain—like that dentist. But when it finished I felt better . . . didn’t I?
“Diamond. You’re a very beautiful girl. Wherever you go I’m sure you attract a lot of attention. Sometimes, I find myself distracted when working around you.”
Really? Sometimes, you do?
As if reading my expression, he smiles. “Yes, sometimes, because other times I have other things on my mind.”
I rest my hands on the table before me, willing him to pick them up, place them against his face, but knowing he won’t.
“Diamond . . . look at me.”
I do. I obey. Willingly.
In the dim light, with his head at a slight angle he catches my breath.
No . . . It’s okay, Diamond. It’s Cowen.
The chiseled features belong to a kind, sincere man. A man saying, “Diamond, you’re wonderful and so is your personality. You add so much life to the agency. . . Do you have any idea how much you’re missed when you’re not there?”
I numbly shake my head.
“Well you are. A great deal. . . But I been noticing something and . . . stop me if I’m wrong.”
“I get the impression that maybe you’re a little attracted to me,” he says delicately.
Oh my god! . . . Is he going to really put this off on me?
Looking intently at him, I try to decipher his tone—maybe he’s kidding.
But his words? . . . Did he actually want me to say, “yes” before he admits to anything?
Oh no! He does. He wants me to admit to it.
But I can’t; I don’t; I stay silent, horrified, thinking; this isn’t happening!
I want to scream, “yes I’m attracted to you, aren’t you to me?” because I know he is.
If not, why are you doing this to me? Why do you want me to say so if you’re not?
I want to shout; “It’s not fair,” but again I don’t say anything, my fingers now digging into my thighs.
Glancing towards the front door, I want to brush back my curls with dignity and walk straight out of here; but I don’t.
“Diamond. I’m sorry,” he hurries on. “Obviously I’ve made a mistake. . . I’m really embarrassed. . . And if I’ve embarrassed you, that wasn’t my intention.”
My eyes begin to water.
I don’t believe him, wasn’t this his intention? Then why?
“No. No, it’s okay, Mr. Riley. . . I think I’m coming down with a cold.”
Lame; but what could I say? I am embarrassed, sitting here thinking about how noble I’ll be. . . No. No, I won’t let him come between Mom and me. And what do I find out? That the attraction was one-sided anyway.
What a fool.
Cowen came to reject me, sure, to reject me gently, but it’s rejection any way you spell it.
No I’m not embarrassed; I’m humiliated, devastated. But I’m not going to tell him that.
Instead I try smiling, joking a little, “Yes, Mr. Riley. You’re very attractive and all, but I couldn’t . . . You know. . . You being so old and all.”
Liar. Like that matters. Why should I even care about sparing him?
Cowen smiles a beautiful smile that lifts all signs of worry from his face; relieved. “I’m flattered. For you to find me attractive at all is a major notch in my old belt.”
He’s trying, and it does lighten the tension, but my shame remains.
“Mr. Riley, I’m sorry you felt it necessary to talk to me. Really I am. But don’t worry, you won’t have to again.”
“You don’t have anything to be sorry for. Actually, under different circumstances I would probably be more than flattered, but as it stands. . . Give things a little time, Diamond. Who knows? If you’re not swept up in a few years you may want to remember me,” he says patting my hand.
“And you won’t be swept up?” I ask.
I meant Mom.
What was that all about? But I couldn’t actually ask about her now, could I?
But he’s saying, “I’m pretty sure I won’t be. Trust me.”
He stands up and looks as if he wants to kiss me on the cheek. Then he thinks better of it and pats my shoulder.
What did Mom do to deserve a kiss?
Suddenly his motion of just walking away is too much to bear, causing me shortness of breathe, giving me the shakes.
Seneca wait! almost rolls off my lips.
But Cowen turns around and asks, “Are you coming? I’ll follow you to the rental agency.”
Overjoyed, despite my humiliation, I grab my purse. Despite his rejection he gains greater height in my eyes.
As I walk beside him he leans over and whispers, “They’re going to raid this place tonight. Think we should warn Vie?”
My mouth falls open.
“Why indeed?” Cowen repeats laughing.
How gullible am I? I wonder, just now taking in the pole center-stage, also imagining what other things may take place here to merit a raid.