Fulton Ferry. My pier. I’m so glad to be back—the dock an anesthetic to sooth any inner beast. But tonight, instead of sitting near the barge, I detour to sit beneath trees close to the restaurant’s entrance. I find a dark, secluded spot, probably not smart, especially in my state, but what the heck. I’ll be careful, while enjoying the mysterious allure of the East River and Manhattan through the lighted branches.
Loving the solitude, I promise: I won’t take this for granted, thinking maybe I had, when a blast of cold air causes me to choke inducing another coughing fit. Quickly unzipping my bag I rummage inside and withdraw the cough syrup. Those were the last two bottles, I remember regarding the airport store which provided my supply. I swallow repeatedly coating a raw throat as I rethink the last couple of weeks.
I wonder, what progress I did I make?
The obvious answer, none that I could see. Failing Madame first with Seneca; then Mom, since we aren’t any closer. I can’t convince Madame this way. Pulling my leather coat tighter, I glance down at myself, underneath the dim lights of the yellow bulbs threaded through the trees, reminded; I never changed. The black wool pants suit still packed in my piece of carry on from this morning, forgetting to change in haste.
Mr. Riley. My face I feel flush with thoughts of him bringing back my embarrassment. But, he was wonderful, I thought causing a heat to spread through me.
After a couple of minutes, I watch a few romantic couples who somehow slipped onto benches opposite me. Suddenly out of place I stoop to grab my bag.
“Hello, again,” the voice familiar bolts me upright.
Squinting up into the lamplight, I try to recognize the man standing in front of me.
Oh! The tweed-coat stranger. I feel as if my smile will connect in the back of my head, wondering, why is he causing my heart to race?
“Hello again,” he says in his beautiful warm voice, a question in his eyes.
Yes, I’m very happy to see you.
“Hello yourself,” I say with more confidence, yet feeling silly not knowing his name. “I remember your face, but I never got your name. What is it?”
“Sky. Sky Blue at your service.”
“You’re kidding. Right? . . . I mean . . . I love it, but did you change your name or something?”
“Actually, I didn’t. My mother felt pretty positive about me during her pregnancy, even though her boyfriend left her. She felt like I was her blue sky, especially since her last name was Blue. So there you have it. Sky blue.”
“I love it. Sky. Well nice to formally meet you, Sky. I’m sorry that I didn’t recognize you that last time.”
“Oh. It’s okay under the circumstances. You looked pretty distraught. I should have said who I was right off the bat. But my vanity wants to believe that I’m the kind of man women don’t forget,” he said laughing.
Though teasing, he’s probably right. Dark slacks and a heavy gray sweater under his leather jacket—he makes quite an impression. Even his smell you couldn’t forget—faint and familiar. He was definitely good-looking.
“You were my hero. How could I forget you? You proved that chivalry is not dead.”
He sits down beside me saying, “With a beautiful woman it’s never dead.”
His wonderful words don’t distract me from his habit of sitting very close; though, do I really want him to move? inhaling his woodsy scent.
He continues, “I always seem to come across you when you’re feeling down. Are you okay? Aren’t you happy?” he asks sounding sincere. “You should be happy. . . What do you think?” he concludes tilting his head. “Give me a chance; I’ll make you happy.”
Wow. With anyone else that line would be corny; but wouldn’t I like him to try? though I don’t answer. Instead I ask; smiling, “So, Sky. What do you do?”
“You didn’t answer my question, but I’ll get back to it. . . I’m a journalist. At least, that’s my attempt. Why I happened to be at the club that night? I wanted to do a short article on jazz for a college course, so I wanted to interview the band, when I saw you. A beautiful woman in distress. I was sorry that you needed my help, yet more than happy to oblige. . . But, mystery woman, you’re very hard to keep up with. Where have you been hiding?”
Finding him easy to talk with, I explained, “I went on a mini-vacation. I just needed to get away.”
“Why? . . . Oh! I guess I’m prying. I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to. It’s just . . . well, I want to get to know you better. Though that shouldn’t be difficult. I kind of feel as if I know you already.”
Do you? This seems impossible. A handsome hunk saves me twice and I question getting to know him better? while something causes me to realize how dark the area has gotten. Maybe the trees. Maybe I should be heading home.
Standing up I thank him again wanting something more, but thinking; maybe it’s not a good idea.
“Again, you don’t answer me. Why?”
Finally I come up with it; my perfect safe answer. “Why don’t you walk me home; you can get to know me as we walk. How’s that?”
“Now we’re talking.”
I grab hold of his arm, his arms strong through his dark leather jacket, though mainly to steady myself. It seems that every time he’s around I’m dizzy. An unexpected moan escaped me. However I manage to stabilize myself, while he takes my bags.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes. Yes, I think so. It’s just I’ve been running around since early this morning. I flew in from Chicago, but I went to work this morning; my car got towed and I don’t think my Mom is feeling well. Plus I didn’t eat. So it’s probably the stress of everything,” I explain as we exit our secluded spot.
“If your mother is sick in Chicago, why are you here?”
Wow! I wasn’t prepared for that; I think glancing up at him.
“Well, she’s not extremely sick. And this is just a quickie necessity trip for my job. I’m a dawning designer. Fashion,” I say dropping his arm, but picking up my pace. “I must eat.”
“And a saxophonist. Wow. Talented. So. You going to be here tomorrow? Maybe you can eat with me. How about lunch?” he asks hooking my arm through his again.
Inwardly skipping, I contain my smile, angling my head to look past him up at the stars. I finally say, “I think I’d like that.”
Well onto Columbia Heights, walking separate but close, we slowly stroll the promenade towards the hotel falling into a comfortable silence, while watching boats along the river. Every few steps my arm brushes his. This small gesture makes me catch my breath; tosses me into light-headedness. I wonder, is it just me?
I sneak a quick glance up at him and find him looking down at me.
Again breathing, actually parting my lips to exhale, I thrill to the irregularity of his breathe, finding his eyes not exactly on my face. Following his gaze, I watch the front of my fitted white shirt rise and fall rapidly. I raise my eyes drawn first to the strong line of his jaw, but resting on his soft mouth. Suddenly I tremble, oblivious of any others strolling along this same path, the wind casting me a whiff of new leather.
How my legs managed to carry me to the hotel’s portico I’m clueless. My immediate concern? How do I invite him up without raising any eyebrows among my neighbors? Four years I’ve lived here and I’ve never brought a single man into my apartment. Never even gave it much thought. But now I’m torn. More than anything I want this man upstairs, but I don’t want to give these really religious people the wrong impression of me.
Standing facing him, our eyes level with me two steps above him, I gaze at the slight hollow at the base of his throat. I don’t/can’t move.
Sky tilts his head; catches my eyes; asks, “Do you have some coffee? I would love a cup.”
Yes! Yes I should invite him up for coffee. That’s perfect, my body still not moving. It knows; it’ll never work, though I find myself staring at his chest. From me the small voice whispers, “Why don’t we just stand here a second. I haven’t been up to my apartment yet. I need to see it first,” desire designing a plan.
“So you want me to stand here and just look at you for a while?”
I blink confused as he continues, “The pleasure is all mine.” He leans past me placing his arm against the hotel. The tiny brush against my face lights a fire, the intensity of his stare raging the embers. Needing to strip, my brain blurred knowledge: late October, Indian summer, a street crowded with window-shoppers, used bookstore browsers or people just sitting, eating or talking at the sidewalk cafés, while restaurants interiors house people enjoying their cozy warmth. Okay. Cliché; but I fought screaming, “Forget my neighbors;” thinking: Tonight is for us, as his eyes travel me beginning with my face. The journey takes in the length of my body.
Tightening my hands into fists in my pants pockets, I watched his pleasure increase, surprising myself with my boldness. His faltered breathing gave me power. Taking an exaggerated breathe, I removed a hand to touch his face. Instead, I reach behind me and take his hand. No longer concerned. My fingers entwine with his; gazes not broken, I back up drawing him with me, not hearing outside sounds with my heart a raging ocean; thundering. Pounding—“Diamond!”
What?! . . . Who!
Swinging around, I twist to a cold shocking douse of Prudence. Prudence Nobles leaning heavily on her walker.
Lord no! I cringe. Of all the wet blankets. Her sharp pronunciation of my name forcefully killed any desire I felt. Here I stand now erect, cursing her timing, but managing, “Oh hi, Mrs. Nobles.”
While I look at Prudence, she’s staring at Sky with that direct piercing stare. I felt she wanted him to explain himself, but Sky’s gaze is just as unrelenting. Even though his arm is still propped against the hotel’s wall, his other hand clenches and unclenches tightly. I also notice him gritting his teeth.
Mrs. Noble’s eyes shift to me and back to Sky.
“How have you been Diamond?” she asks me her eyes not leaving him. “I’ve missed seeing you. Is everything all right?”
I myself wish that Mrs. Nobles would just disappear, but I answer her. “Everything’s fine. Thank you for asking.”
Mrs. Nobles continues, “I’ve been wanting to talk to you, Diamond; so when you finish here I’ll be waiting inside.”
Inside? Waiting? Why?
I want to shout, “No! I’m grown and I’ve been on my own for four years. I can make my own decisions.” But I don’t. I sneak a quick peek at Sky and he’s looking at me as if to say, “Yes. Tell her.” Instead, I say, “Okay. Give me a few minutes.”
“Sure. Take your time,” she said; but I knew she meant, “Rap it up. Quickly.”
All of this couldn’t have taken more than a couple of minutes, but the downshifting of my emotions takes forever. Then I notice a woman escorting Mrs. Nobles. She holds the door while Prudence slowly pulls herself along.
When I turn back Sky looks furious.
“Who was that?” he asks.
Actually I sympathize with his anger, because we were reprimanded like children caught playing “naughty doctor.” She turned the fire hose on us! That would’ve been fun if we wanted the hose.
I answer him, “That’s my neighbor Mrs. Nobles.”
“Neighbor? Not grandmother? Godmother? Older aunt?”
“No. None of those.”
“It’s hard to explain, but I will . . . Just not tonight.” I smile. “How about me explaining tomorrow? Are we still on for lunch or even dinner?”
His whole countenance lightens up. “Most definitely. What time shall I pick you up, Madame?”
Funny he should call me that.
“How about five?”
“Five it is.”
As he turns to leave he lets his arm drop lightly along my arm and I almost forget Mrs. Nobles. He leaves me hungry for tomorrow.