Jul 31, 2008
The Victoria Park subway platform at 6:00 in the evening is not a place where I enjoy being. It throngs with commuters, all manner of people, anxious to be on their way and return to the comfortable privacy and intimacy of their own homes. I stand close to a post and gaze, unseeing, over a sea of bobbing heads moving into the already crowded station. The air is thick with the scent of humanity made worse by the heavy, humid summer air. My free hand moves absently to my tie, loosening it slightly and my fingers slide under it to deftly undo my collar button. My mind wanders anxiously over facts and figures; design specifications, project deadlines, team deadlines and I feel a slight knot of tension in my stomach which deepens as the crowd grows thicker and closer; not a moment goes by that I am not jostled by someone jockeying for a better position in order to ensure entry to the next train. My other hand is warm and sticky on the leather handle of my briefcase, gripped tight, the knuckles verging on white.
There is a slowly rising rush and roar of noise and the air is compressed bringing needed relief and I hear the noisey clatter and screetch of a train coming up the tunnel. I slide around the post to face in the direction of the void where the train will arrive and attempt to maintain a minimum of personal space; it quickly proves impossible as the crowd moves forward in anticipation of the train's arrival. Finally, with a climactic crescendo of noise, the train bursts from the tunnel and, to the tune of metallically squealing brakes, eases to a stop. A ritual follows; the chimes sound as the doors open and a recorded voice echoes friendly instructions above the general din, 'Mind the gap! It is dangerous to rush the train. Please allow exiting passengers to leave the train.' The Dead Sea of commuters parts magically and a few hapless individuals exit before the human wave crashes onward. I follow mechanically in the wake gradually moving closer to the train.
A voice echoes somewhere in my head, distant and indistinct, seeming to call my name. Then it is outside of my head, drawing closer. I watch as the doors of the train draw nearer; I think of the door of my apartment jealously guarding its silent emptiness.
A hand emerges from just behind my field of view and touches my arm. I instintively withdraw from that touch and my head whirls around to guage the threat.
"Paul!" she says again, and then smiles. "Got a second?"
My mind runs through mugshotted mental images of known people. I draw a blank and then hit on the appropriate identification
The chimes begin to sound again to signal the doors closing and I look at her on the platform. The electronic voice echoes through the station again, 'Please stand clear. Please stand clear.' I stop moving toward the train and turn on my heel to face her as the doors whisp shut. I feel invited by that open, frank smile and the girl who is standing on the platform. A moment later, the train begins to accelerate and I suffer the dizzying illusion that it is we who are moving, not the train.
"Jackie!" I say and take a step toward her, my hand automatically moving out to shake hers. My mind returns, unbidden, to the last time we met.
My girlfriend of the time had arrived late at our usual bar, where I had been entertained by Jackie's playful banter, with the odour of a man on her, thinly veiled in a heavier than usual cover-up of perfume. Her deception and betrayal had led to the inevitable end of the relationship that very night. The experience had left me in a months long depression as I sought the reasons for my failure in the relationship. Eventually, it came to me that it might not have had anything to do with me; I had been a good and loving companion. The decisions made had been her own.
She takes my hand in hers and shakes it, still smiling at me.
"How you doing, stranger? I had wondered what became of you."
"I'm doing great, Jackie, just haven't been back to the bar in a while. How's business?"
"We're still there; I like it! Sorry to make you miss your train by the way."
"Hey, don't worry about it. It was too damn crowded anyway." I wipe a bit of dampness from my forehead to underline my discomfort with the crowd and then straighten my tie a little.
"I know what you mean. I can't stand it either. I just got off the afternoon shift so I had to deal with it. I much prefer working nights - better tips, too." She winks at me and I smile back at her, feeling a little more relaxed.
A train rushes, clattering into the station on the opposite platform, pushing the air in front of it. I feel my short-cropped hair fluttering on my head and instinctively smooth it down with my palm. Jackie hooks a finger around some thick, dark brown curls and tucks them behind her ear. She is speaking but the words are swept away by the noise of the train. I hear 'coffee' and 'treat'.
"Sorry?" I say as the train rattles to a stop.
"Oh, sorry," she answers and rolls her eyes. "I'm just going to Antonio's to get a coffee, wanna come with? You were a good tipper, this one will be my treat! I'm joking! C'mon!"
I fumble about in my mind looking for a reason not to go but fail to find one. I have been used to steadfastly heading back to my apartment after work without a thought for staying out, even for just an evening stroll or a light supper in a sidewalk caffe. The end of the relationship had left me withdrawn and looking for solitary escape rather than trying to find new diversions.
"Um, I should really...," I notice that she is looking at me questioningly, one eyebrow cocked dramatically. I realise that I am being a fool. I have just been invited to coffee by an attractive woman who is friendly and intelligent. In my apartment, nothing waits for me but my own isolation and lonliness.
"Yeah," I say and feel like I am crossing a barrier. "Let's get a coffee."
Her words are once again sucked away in the mechanical roar of the train leaving the station.
Minutes later, having negotiated the crowded narrow galleries, we push through the turnstyle exit and emerge from the dim station, reborn, into the bright, early evening sun on the edge of Victoria Park.
Jackie takes the lead and we delve into the peaceful green of the large city park.
"I come this way whenever I can," she comments and breathes deep as the traffic noise gradually dims behind us.
"It is nice," I answer, "I don't come here nearly as often as I could."
The narrow stone path leads us past huge century oaks and other spreading trees that lend their shade and keep the park cool even on the most oppressive days. We watch a pair of grey squirrels that seem to be enjoying a game of tag, running up and down the rough bark of a massive tree trunk. I notice a young couple sitting close together on a rought-iron bench, his arm is curled around her shoulders and his other hand entwined with hers. Their faces are very close together as they share some whispered intimacy and I turn my head away to protect the privacy of that moment.
The park's quiet has a tranquilizing effect on me and I undo the button on my jacket to allow it to float open. I slip my fingers into the inside jacket pocket to retrieve my sunglasses and put them on, enjoying the shaded clarity that the nearly round lenses bring to the world.
"Hey, those look good on you," Jackie says, "they make you look like..."
"Yeah, I know, John Lennon." We both smile; hers is broad and open, mine more restrained and circumspect. I tell her that the effect was more convincing when my hair was longer, but that was a few years ago now and not quite the hairstyle for my current job. I don't really look much like John Lennon; there is perhaps something similar in the angles of my face and the form of the nose and mouth. And, of course, he was younger when he died than I am now. Poor guy.
We continue on our meandering jouney along the winding path, occasionally chatting about this and that but also slipping into comfortable periods of shared silence, punctuated by an occasional comment or observation. A brilliant red cardinal darts past and then finds roost on the sagging branch of a towering pine tree. It begins to twitter happily.
We pass a man sitting on another bench who, under different circumstances, might have been a working guy or a business man sitting in the shade with one leg crossed over the other and a newspaper draped over his lap. Instead, he is clearly homeless or destitute. A dirty duffle bag sits on the ground beside him, full to bursting with such possessions as he has. I notice that the newspaper is upside down but he continues to scan it avidly, his lips moving as he reads whatever imagined words. I assume he is one of those poor souls who fall through society's cracks, become lost, and never find themselves again. On the bench beside him lies an over-sized knit cap of the type usually used to store up long dredlocks; in it lie a few pennies and a dime, the change saved over to incite further donations. I fish in my pocket and produce a two dollar coin and drop it in with the rest as we come abreast of him. He looks up, smiling almost toothlessly in the surprisingly younthful face and then mumbles something incomprehensible. I lamely say 'have a good day' as the strong odour of an unwashed body reaches me and then we are gone.
"Do you always do that?" asks Jackie and she studies me like an interesting bug.
"Um..hahaha...yeah...I guess I do it as much as I can, you know. It doesn't cost me anything, really."
"I think it's easier for guys," she observes. "You don't have to deal with this...," she says and holds out the bag slung over her shoulder on a long draw-string.
"That's completely true," I answer, "but there's nothing to keep a girl from having some change in her pocket either."
"Nope, doesn't look good in the jeans..." and she indicates the smooth line of her black jeans gently hugging the broad form of her hip and thigh.
"Wow," I answer in mock-seriousness, "life is complicated!"
"Terribly!" she says and sighs, exasperated, but with the edges of her mouth curled up appealingly in an ironic smile.
We approach the edge of the park and I notice the direction in which she has been leading.
"Shouldn't we head down University Avenue?" I gesture vaguely with my arm toward Antonio's about a block and a half south.
"Oh!" She answers. "Didn't I say? I wanted to go by my place and change. You don't mind do you? It's just here." she says and points to a large 1930's style brownstone visible through the trees on the corner of the busy avenue. "I won't be a minute. You can come up with me."
We gain the favour of the 'walk' light on University Avenue and sprint the six lanes across, keeping our eyes on the aggressive cross-town traffic waiting to turn north in our path, and safely arrive on the sun-baked opposite corner. The sun is gradually drawing lower in the sky and the shadows of the trees from the park are beginning to lengthen across the broad avenue. I retrieve my cell phone from my pocket and glance at it. No messages. It is just on 6:45 in the evening. I follow Jackie up the worn sandstone steps and we pass through the heavy, brass, double doors and enter a high, cool, arched foyer with two elevators in the centre and ascending stairs to one side.
"We can take the stairs," she says, "it takes forever to wait for the elevator and I'm only on the second floor."
The doubt that has been lurking in my mind finds voice.
"Ah, I don't want to intrude, Jackie. Why don't I just wait for you here?"
In my mind I picture a single girl's apartment, perhaps shared with a girlfriend, and the common items of a young woman's life scattered about. Essentially, I know Jackie so casually that I'm not sure I'm comfortable infringing on her privacy.
She stops in mid-step at the bottom of the stairs and then turns to look at me. She retraces her steps and comes to stop in front of me, fixing me in the eye. She stands as tall as my shoulder which makes her above average for a woman and with her big build, I'm sure she could be an imposing figure if driven to anger.
"Hi, I'm Jackie," she says and holds out her hand.
I look down at her hand stupidly and then back to her face. She reaches out and takes my free hand in hers and then shakes it.
"Hi," she repeats, "I'm Jackie and I'm not going to do anything terrible to you. But if I did, you'd probably like it, so c'mon upstairs while I change and then we'll get a coffee."
I can't help but break into a grin when placed at the receiving end of her candor and I nod, feeling foolish again. She smiles at me again and winks and then we ascend the stairs to the second floor.
We pad along the silent carpeted upstairs hallway and then stop before a door as Jackie pulls open her bag. She paws about inside it and then, with the soft jingling of keys on a ring, extracts the desired quarry. She selects one and inserts it in the mechanism, turning it forcefully to the sound of a loud click as a bolt is retracted. Then she selects another key and slips it into a second lock, turns it and then opens the door. We enter.
"Well, this is home sweet home," she says, and steps past me to hang her bag on the knob of an entryway closet where it sways gently for a moment with the weight of the contents within.
The apartment is spacious but spartan; the furnishings few and essential. She gestures toward a comfortably cushioned chair and invites me to sit while she changes in 'two shakes', then she disappears down a short hallway and into a room. I move as directed and stow my briefcase to the side of the chair and then exhale as I slump into the chair.
My intended relaxation is interrupted by a loud squeak and I jump up again, confused, as though someone just played a practical joke on me.
"Paul, are you playing with my daughter's toys?" her voice resonates down the hallway.
"You have a daughter?" I explore between the cushions and discover a white plush bunny. I sqeeze it gently and it squeaks softly back in reply.
Yeah. Anne; she's three and a force of nature. She's staying with my mom for a few days." Her words are punctuated by the sound of a closet door sliding and the dry slap of a drawer being vigorously closed.
"It's a bunny," I call back to her.
"That's one of her favourites. I wondered where it had got to. Thanks for finding it."
"No problem. I guess the father isn't in the picture?" I look around and notice a distinct lack of male presence. I place the toy on a side table and sit down cautiously.
"No. He left when she was one, best thing he ever did for me besides giving me my daughter," her words come back to me amidst the apparent rustle of clothing being adjusted. I am struck by the bluntness of her words, un-tinged by any hint of bitterness, just matter-of-fact, as though sterilised of connected emotion.
"Oh..." I answer her back, not knowing what else to add.
"I'll show you why in a second," she finishes and there is silence in the apartment except the sounds of small objects being quickly handled in the other room.
True to her word, Jackie bounces into view only minutes later transformed into an urban night creature. Her longish thickly curled hair is tied back and two large hoop earings dangle from her ear-lobes. She has applied some makeup to her face which has slightly lightened her skin tone but the dark makeup around her eyes show them off starky; large and deep brown.
"Well, how do I look?" she asks me and does a quick pirouette.
"This is a version of Jackie I was completely unaware of," I answer truthfully.
She wears a short black skirt that arrives to mid-thigh over black leotards and calf high boots laced all the way up through silver eyelets. Above, she wears a voluminous white blouse which gathers to her surprisingly narrow waist and accentuates her large bust and broad hips. I can't help but be drawn to the bountious femininity of her figure and, for a moment, I imagine her thighs locked around me, our hips pushed together and moving slowly, the taste of her skin on my lips. I shake my head and mentally chastise myself.
The impression given by her way of dressing is one of sexuality but not of the seamy kind. Rather, it seems to me, that Jackie is a confident and pratically minded woman, comfortable in her body and proud of being the woman that she is. I applaud her strength and sense of self.
"You look great, Jackie," and I smile at her to show my appreciation.
"Thanks!" she says and beams her smile back at me.
"Just one final touch and we're good to go!" she announces. Her arm descends into the bag hanging by the door and moves about the various concealed objects then emerges with a lipstick tube. She turns to a mirror hanging on the wall beside the door and, leaning close, carefully applies the dark colour to her full lips. My eyes are once again drawn to her figure and I gaze at her from the vantage point of the comfortable chair. Her eyes connect with mine from the mirror's reflection and she smiles at me again as she finishes with her lipstick and then drops the tube back into the hanging bag.
She turns toward me and enters the room saying 'Ready!' She stops a few feet away from where I am seated and seems to contemplate me for a moment, her eyes moving over my face. I return her gaze, unsure of it's significance.
"This is the last gift he gave me," she says finally. Her hands move to her blouse and she begins to unbutton it. It gradually falls open revealing more and more of her bust. The she turns and peels the fabric off the back of her left shoulder.
Her skin is lightly tanned and the strap from her bra sits heavily over her shoulder. From the base of her neck to just above her armpit runs a jagged pink scar, puffy and disfiguring, dotted on both sides from numerous suture marks.
"He threw a lamp at me," she confesses, turning toward me and rebuttoning the blouse.
"It broke and tore across my shoulder like that. If I hadn't turned away when I did, that would have been my face or my eye. Annie was in the room at the time, screaming in terror at the noise and shouting. She was so frightened that she was turning blue."
She stares at me defiantly. I am struck again by the cold determination that she exudes; an emotionless force of will-power that she will not be a victim.
"I picked myself up and my back was already soaked in blood. I went to Annie and held her and then I told him that if he didn't get out right now I would have to kill him. And I meant it. I would have killed him in any way possible to protect my baby. He did leave. I never looked back from that moment on."
"I'm so sorry, Jackie," I say, my words coming out sounding stupid and ineffectual.
"Don't be, Paul." She steps closer and runs her hand over my cheek. "You're not the type of man that would do that."
I shake my head in agreement. The image of that scar is now a scar in my memory.
"Hey. Do you still want that coffee?" I ask hoping to change the mood.
"I sure do!" she say, her eyes now softened and relaxed.
She collects her bag and a leather jacket from the closet and we exit to the sound of the bolts being thrown back in place on the heavy door. Soon we are back on the street, bathed in sunlight and with a cool evening breeze in our faces.
We walk the short distance south toward Antonio's in silence. Jackie bounces along seeming not to have a care in the world; her step sends her hips swaying in that assured sexuality and self-contained positivity that seems to come off her in waves. She had referred to her little daughter as a 'force of nature'; I think I know where she got it from. The buckles on her leather jacket jingle and the sun shines in little sparks off the metal studs that line the arms and back. The back of the jacket bears a large 'Motorhead' logo.
I walk alonside her with my hands in my pockets, still running over in my mind what I have just seen and learned of this woman. I feel sad for her but I know that is not the right thing to feel: she is not sad but, at the same time, the whole situation makes my skin crawl with discomfort. I look up at her and she is smiling happily, the hoop earrings bobbing about at the sides of her head and her large breasts heaving with each step; her whole body exudes movement and activity.
"Storm coming..." she observes and points down University Avenue in the direction of the lake.
I follow her pointed direction and nod my agreement. On the horizon, dark, clouds are gathered, high and threatening; illuminated brightly by the setting sun.
"Looks like another big one," I say, impressed by the wall of approaching darkness.
We arrive under the striped red and white awnings of Antonio's and are quickly enveloped in the happy atmosphere of the place. Antonio's is a city tradition and it is all driven by the raucous presence of Antonio himself with his large moustache and perennial striped apron. Tonight he doesn't seem to be around but we are greeted by a similarly garbed head waiter at the door who asks us, loudly to be heard above the general din, how our day has been and continually chats pointlessly as we weave through the crowded establishment to a fortuitously positioned round table with two stools by the front window. He continues chatting as he seats us and I notice his eyes travel appreciatively over Jackie's figure.
We announce our intention to have some coffee and he returns even before we are settled with the coffee and bar menus. We thank him and he walks off, yelling the number of our table in Italian to a young waiter who is already serving nearby. Soon the young fellow walks towards us and begins to shout 'Ehi cumpa!' upon seeing me although we have never met before. We laugh together and eventually turn to ordering coffee: a cappuccino for me and a latte for Jackie. The waiter thanks us and walks off shouting again, 'E' va be', cumpa', non e' niente per niente...' I have no idea what he is saying.
The reason for the popularity of the restaurant is it's infectious light-hearted atmosphere. Jackie and I quickly absorb it and we begin to raise our voices in conversation as the mood strikes us. Our coffee's arrive and we fall into an easy rhythm of talk, interspersed with periods of silent enjoyment of the strong beverage as we watch the sometimes comical antics of the waiters as they juggle trays or make 'scenes' at people's tables. It is not a place to come for an intimate dinner.
A young man approaches our table and catches Jackie's eye.
"Ben!" she shouts and holds out her hand to him. He takes her hand and then, leaning close, they kiss in the air near each other in the typically urban fashion.
He is a pleasant looking guy, about medium height and build, in his mid 30's maybe. He has a red sweatshirt on over khaki-coloured chinos and boat shoes. His hair is short and sports that little flip at the front that, personally, I don't understand. His eyes are bright and intelligent, mobile and a constant panoply of expressions seem to float across his mouth.
Jackie and Ben exchange a volley of greetings and then turn toward me.
"Who's your friend, Jackie?" he says and smiles at me while his eyes study my face, evaluating.
"Ben, this is my friend Paul," she gestures toward me with her hand, "He used to be a customer but we met by chance in the subway today at rush hour and now we're having coffee."
Ben and I shake hands. His grip is firm and professional.
"Nice to meet you, Ben," I say.
"Likewise Paul," he answers sincerely. Jackie continues with her introductions.
"Ben and I met years ago when we were both studying communications at college," she directs her comments to me while Ben stands by and nods.
"And somehow, all these years later, we still manage to bump into each other," adds Ben happily in continuation.
"It's true!" she exclaims.
There is something incongruous in the conversation, and I can't put my finger on it. I think it has to do with the time-line.
"Ben runs a blog site now and he's really enjoying it," Jackie reports to me. "I tried it but I'm just too busy. It was fun for a bit," she shrugs her shoulders, resigned.
"A blog site?" I ask Ben, "you mean those online diary things?"
"Yeah, that's right, but people use it in all different ways. I especially enjoy the community that develops."
"That's really interesting," I comment, "maybe I should try it too!" Jackie and Ben both smile.
"You should!" they answer in unison. Truthfully though, I couldn't imagine putting the intimacies of my life on line for the whole world to see. Not that I could imagine anyone being interested in reading about my life.
I invite Ben to sit with us but he appologises and declines.
"I'm entertaining some business colleagues this evening and I had better get back to them before I forget what it is we're supposed to be doing." We laugh as he flips open his wallet and hands me a business card. "Just in case you decide to check us out..."
"Thanks," I say and appreciate the gesture, "I will have a look."
"Good!" he says and we shake hands again. Then he turns his attention back to Jackie who is sitting quietly and observing us.
"And you.." he spreads his arms and they embrace quickly, "I'll see you next time we bump into each other."
"You can bet on it," Jackie answers with enthusiasm.
With a wave, Ben wanders off across the crowded restaurant, his shoes making squeaky noises on the bright white tiled floor. He rejoins a large table on the far side. Outside there is a loud crack of thunder and the window behind me is buffeted with a blast of wind. I look out and see some stray pages of newspaper being driven up the street by the gusts; the storm has nearly arrived.
"Nice fellow," I comment and Jackie nods energetically.
"He's great. I can't believe how long I've known him."
There it is again; the unspecified incongruity. I decide to explore it.
"How long is it since you knew him in college?" I inquire innocently.
"Well, let's see," she pauses a moment and then continues, "I'm 35 now, so that was..."
"You're what?" I interrupt and stare at her. I am immediately embarassed because I think my voice was louder than it should have been.
"It's gotta be 12 years, at least," she finishes and stares back at me. "What's wrong?"
"You...are 35?" I shake my head in disbelief. I can imagine the comical slack-jawed look on my face.
"Yeah. I know. I look younger," she says to me. "How old are you, Paul?"
"I thought you were 25, or maybe 27 tops," I confess, still shocked as I appreciate the youthfulness in her face. "I'm 42," I answer.
"Well, there you go then," she says, "I had you for maybe 35 or a little more."
"Yeah, I guess it works both ways," I concede and my mind is still working over the changed parameters.
"I had Anne late," she adds, "but I'm so glad that I did." She smiles openly again and I can see the sparkle in her eye of the fiercely protective love she has for her child. "So do you like me more or less now that I'm 35?" she asks me and takes me completely off-guard. Her smile turns coy and playful and her dark eyes meet with mine.
"Ah...I like you fine, Jackie. I like a strong woman who knows her mind." I suspect that my answer is not what she was looking for but she seems to accept it.
"That I do..." she answers cryptically. Her hand goes out and gently touches the arm of my jacket as though she is reassuring me. Then she starts and her eyes open a little wider.
"Say, are you hungry, Paul? I gotta say that I'm famished here. I keep smelling all these good things! We could have a couple drinks and something to eat then head out before it gets too late for you."
I am hungry, too. I think of heading back to my apartment but, at the moment, it just doesn't appeal to me compared to Jackie's company. I pull my cell from my pocket at notice the time: 7:45 pm. We have been together almost two hours now and I have completely enjoyed being with her. Since it's not too late, I decide that another while could only be better.
"That's a great idea. I am hungry. Let's ask for some menus."
The evening passes in conversation and joking commentary on the other patrons. We eat a light meal, sharing our appetizers, and have another round of drinks. Jackie's sharp wit keeps me on my toes continually and I find myself opening up to her honesty and directness. She sits close to me and makes me feel her presence.
At about a quarter to ten, I look around me and feel the sudden flush of panic on my face.
"What's wrong?" asks Jackie and concern washes across her expression. Her hand grips my forearm again as she studies me.
"...my briefcase," I say, "I've lost my briefcase!"
She looks down and scans the floor with me.
"Where did you put it?" she asks.
"I'm sure I put it...I don't remember." I begin to feel ridiculous and absent.
"Did you have it when we got here?" she asks me. Her hand has moved and now covers mine which tightly grips the edge of the table as I fish about in my memory.
"Um...the subway...the park...your apartment..." An image comes to me of the two of us walking down University Avenue; Jackie beside me, and I with my hands in my pockets. I remember sliding the briefcase out of the way beside the chair with the bunny in it.
"Oh my God," I pronounce with mixed relief, "I left it at your place! I'm so sorry, Jackie."
"Oh! Well if that's all! We can go back and get it. We're done here anyway."
"Paul! Don't worry about it."
Her hand is still on mine and then they curl together for a moment. I motion to our waiter who swiftly totals the bill on his little pad. I insist on paying to thank her for her company, and she says it's ok as long as she can pay the tip. We agree and quickly settle up. Then, dodging carefully through the still crowded restaurant, we thank the waiter again and step out into the street.
We are immediately caught in a gust of wind that surges up the street. Jackie moves quickly to hold her clothing in place as the wind swirls and eddies around us. Some big drops of rain are falling and dotting the sidewalk with their wetness.
"Uh, Jackie, I think we want to get moving before this breaks!"
She nods her agreement, glancing nervously toward the sky which hangs low and swirls ominously.
"Maybe we should have kept our eyes on this," she suggests.
"To be honest, I was enjoying myself," I confess. I find that I have to raise my voice over the constant rumble of thunder.
"Me too," she answers softly and glances at me.
I take her arm we begin to jog up the street. My mind is on the walk across the park back to the subway station; it can be dangerous in a big storm like this. We are half way up the block when we are blinded by a flash of lightning that streaks across the city, painting it white. A simultaneous clap of thunder heralds the arrival of the storm and Jackie shrieks in shock at the impact. The ground trembles slightly and some distant car alarms begin to sound.
"Geeez," is all that escapes my mouth before the deluge falls.
The rain comes down in a torrent; single large drops soon transform into a constant sheet of water which descends on us, driven by a fierce wind.
We cling to each others arms and run up the street knowing that in only minutes we will arrive safely at Jackie's apartment. The rain is so thick that we shield our eyes, dodging under awnings as we move, searching for such tentative protection. The sidewalk soon begins to run with water and I can hear it rushing over the storm drains in the street amidst the sound of the pounding rain. We arrive at a cross street and wade throught the rapidly accumulating run-off that begins to crest at curb level. Jackie's high boots splash loudly through the water while my own low leather shoes are quickly sodden. Her leather jacket, which she attempts to hold closed tightly around her, offers her some protection but my business suit is wet through and I feel the water pouring off my neck and down my back. I shiver and squirm at the coolness on my skin.
We arrive at the intersection opposite her apartment and are forced to stop for the red light and the misted glare of approaching vehicles. We make a common mistake by standing too close to the curb, with no protection from the downpour, but by then it makes little difference.
A bright yellow, glistening wet taxi approaches, streaming too fast through the river in the street and sends a wall of water over us. It is gone in a moment, leaving both of us soaked through. There is a gap in the traffic and, still huddled together, we dart across and burst into the quiet foyer of her building.
"Geez," I say again as we stand, looking at one another, while little pools of water collect at our feet.
"Oh my God," responds Jackie, and attempts to peel some heavy wet curls from her face, "I haven't been caught like that in a long time." She regards me and shakes her head sadly. "Your suit's probably ruined."
I study myself and the water still streaming from me and shrug my shoulders. Outside, their is another flash followed by a crash of thunder.
"Impressive," I note.
"C'mon up," she says in her matter-of-fact tone. "Let's get dried off."
I follow her up the stairs, my shoes making wet noises with each step, and soon we enter her apartment. I spot my briefcase in it's hiding place beside beside the chair as soon as we enter and breathe a sigh of relief. I take a step toward it before Jackie stops me.
"Where are you going?" she asks me, dripping wet, and standing with her hands on her hips. I can see that she is shivering and I feel my own chill as well.
"Jackie," I try to be conciliatory, "I should really just go and let you dry off and get to bed."
"You aren't going anywhere in a storm like that," she pronounces and does not move. "You can sleep with me tonight and maybe we can get your suit to dry. I don't know about your shoes. It's way too dangerous and you'll be soaking wet for another hour and a half while you try to get home."
"Paul, I said 'sleep'. Do I have to repeat to you what I said before?"
"No," I answer sheepishly.
Why would I argue back? My mind works slowly over the situation. I am being told to sleep with a desirable woman. Would there be anything more tantalising than the thought of waking up beside her? As much as I resist the thought of staying, the more an impulse is screaming at me to do just that, to take that chance and, at least, sleep comfortably with her for one night; what happens after that is anyone's guess.
"You're right, Jackie. Thank you," I say finally and she nods her approval.
Jackie gives me directions and soon I am in her bedroom with a towel to dry myself while she retires to the bathroom to change. I strip down to my boxers and when she emerges, wearing a long black t-shirt, she takes my clothes from me and hangs them in the bathroom along with her own. When she returns, I am sitting awkwardly on the edge of the bed.
"What do you think?" she asks me, "It's the least sexy thing I could find."
"I think it doesn't work," I answer honestly. She cocks her head a little and smiles.
We slide under the covers, both of us feeling tired from the day and, in the darkness, listen to the rain pouring down outside. I can feel her closeness and I can't help but feel aroused by it as the chill slowly leaves my body. We talk quietly for a few minutes and I feel myself gradually relaxing and slipping off to sleep. As I drift off, I feel Jackie move a little closer and her hand slips into mine.
I awake in complete darkness and my hand slides out across the bed; it is empty and cold. A sigh escapes me and I throw my arm across my face dispondently.
It was a dream; a beautiful, vivid dream which was supposed to end with me waking up beside a woman who had masterfully seduced me. I don't know when it was that I realised that I was being seduced by her but I liked it. I wanted her to seduce me; there was so much about her that I admired...and desired. There was something opposite and complimentary about us: her boisterous to my quiet; her spontaneous to my thoughtful; her directness to my reserve. Her ying to my yang? The thought of her eyes on me, watching me, boosted my flagging ego, so eroded by the bitter end to my last relationship. I wonder whatever became of Jackie.
I lie awake, my mind still fuzzy with sleep, feeling very sad and alone. In the darkness, I imagine the contours of my empty apartment around me and the emptiness within me grows.
Then I start at the sound of bare feet entering the room and I snap awake. The sound passes the foot of the bed and I hear the delicate friction of wood-slatted blinds. A thin ribbon of grey light brings depth from the darkness.
Jackie stands by the window in her long black shirt. My mind does a double-take and I rub my eyes. She is looking at me again in that contemplative way that belies her inner machinations, then she crosses back to the bed and climbs up on it, her legs tucked to the side.
"Good morning," she says.
"Good morning," I answer feeling very happy. My hand extends toward hers and she receives it, gripping it in her own.
"You slept right through the alarm," she says to me.
"I had no idea." I answer, my hand still in hers.
"I put on some coffee," she announces and then seems to make a decision.
She pulls back the cover and slides under, pulling it up around her neck. I roll onto my side toward her and wonder what she is doing as she moves about for a moment. Then she is still and turns toward me. In the space under the cover I can feel the heat from her body on the naked skin of my chest. Then she draws close to me and her skin is pressed against mine. My hand slides up her thigh and over the crest of her hip to pause lightly on the softness of her waist. Her hand passes up my side and over my shoulder, coming to rest of the side of my neck. We kiss briefly, our eyes open, feeling the closeness of one another.
"I thought we could wake each other up," she says to me, and then moves her hip slightly so that my breath catches, "but I feel you're already up." Our hands are moving now, softly exploring.
"Jackie?" I say as my lips draw away from her neck.
"mmmm?" she answers.
"Thank you for seducing me."
"I hope you'll stick around for more," she answers, her voice barely a husky whisper, and then her mouth is on mine and we begin to drift on a river of sighs and caresses.
I think I will.