A knock – which is unusual because there’s a buzzer at the building entrance, so my door doesn’t get too many unexpected knocks. I finish pouring my glass of wine, walk over, look through the peephole and immediately open up.
“We’re going out to dinner at the Grand Concourse and I was early so I thought I’d check your place out.” She strides in past me as if she’s been here many times before. “A nice old gentleman let me in. Mom’s always raving about your view.”
“Not much of an apartment,” I say. “But a very expensive view.”
I go back to the kitchen and take down another glass. “I was just heading to the balcony myself. Why don’t you go on outside and I’ll get us something to drink.”
She makes her way through the sliding doors without much difficulty and in a moment I follow.
She’s clutching the railing, looking out, the wind playing with her blond hair decoratively. “Wow,” she says.
“Indeed. I’m thinking of installing one of those binocular things and raking in the quarters.”
I offer her the wine and her long fingers close around the stem, fingernails a shiny shade of pink. We clink glasses. “To the view,” I say.
“The view.” She takes a tentative sip, looking back into the early evening. “Mom was right.” We stand side by side, and it is beautiful, absolutely clear, the river glistening, the herky-jerky stream of cars moving fitfully alongside it, the lights of downtown just emerging and all those bridges cutting across everything.
Her smile’s gone as she turns to me, brushing back her bangs. “I also kind of want to talk to you about Mom.”
“Huh.” I retreat to one of the deck chairs. “Yeah, about that.”
“It seems to me like maybe you two are having some problems.”
“I’m a little confused about that myself, Ronnie.”
I’d been friends with Maria before I’d left town, and, I admit it, been attracted to her, but back then we’d both been married. When I returned neither of us was.
I’d run into her at the opening reception for the Santeria exhibit at the museum. She was alone – having recently broken up with her boyfriend I learned – and seemed quite pleased to see me. We stood under a garish carving of Oshun, talking about our lives, the art around us and a relaxed flow of other things until the caterers took the glasses out of our hands and kicked us out.
She ended up following me to my apartment in her car to take in the view. Soon we were making out like teenagers on the rug in front of the sliding doors – but also like a teenager I ended up frustrated and alone after she’d bolted up, straightened her dress and announced that she had to leave.
“And we started off so well.”
We saw each other for more than a month after that, amicably enough, but with diminishing returns, that first flash of passion seeing to recede farther and farther every time we got together.
“I guess it was just too much too soon.”
“I think she thought it was too soon after she split up with Bob. Mom likes to consider herself this spontaneous person and all, but then she always ends up having these second thoughts. To me if it comes from the heart you should own it.”
The last time I saw Maria – and the first time I saw Ronnie – was at a dinner the three of us had at the Grand Concourse a couple of weeks ago. It was perfectly pleasant, but I couldn’t help feeling the odd man out, as if Maria was using Ronnie as a shield, deflecting my every attempt to get close. After dessert the two of them went their way and I went mine.
During the meal Ronnie had talked about her degree in Marine Biology, but also of her love of performing. I told her that Disney World had a huge aquarium at Epcot, and I knew a guy down there that I could talk to if she was interested in a job. Why not? I said. After all, you already look like a Disney Princess.
She seemed struck by that, and for the rest of the evening I caught her glancing at me out of the corners of her eyes when she thought I wasn’t aware – kind of the way she’s looking at me right now.
“You know, I’ve called your mother, texted her, left messages, the whole bit, But I haven’t heard a thing back from her. I mean I’m definitely interested in pursuing a relationship and I want her to know that, but on the other hand I don’t want to come off like some kind of a stalker. I can take a hint.”
“No, no it’s not you. I think she’s just afraid of getting involved again. I mean she and Bob got together right after she and Dad broke up and they went out forever. Everybody assumed they’d get married eventually but one day it was just over. I never really understood that either, although he was kind of a perv.”
“Yeah, he actually made a pass at me. Can you believe that?”
Unfortunately, I can. As she stands there, crowned by twilight, her mother’s elfin features and lush Latin body stretched over her father’s lean, patrician frame, she certainly looks like some kind of princess, if not quite as innocent as the Disney variety.
But I’ve waited too long to answer and there’s a charged silence until the bells of Saint Mary of the Mount start ringing. She looks over her shoulder at the illuminated clock across the river.
“I guess I better go.”
She tosses down the rest of her wine and puts the glass on the picnic table as I open the sliding door and lead her into the living room.
“It’s good to see you, Ronnie. Put in a word for me with your mother if you want, although I’m pretty sure it probably is me.”
“Don’t say that. You’re a good guy.”
After that our parting hug seems natural enough, but she doesn’t let go, holding on as I try to pull back, bringing her face close, then tilting it slightly to kiss me.
I press her tighter, that body on mine, and the next time her lips are near I kiss her back, hard, our tongues meeting.
We release and I step back, stunned and flushed. “Ronnie – I –“
“See you around,” she says, smiling and cool. “I’ll tell Mom you said hi.”
Before I can speak again she’s closed the door behind her. I run my hand over my face, still feeling the warm shape of her in my arms, then slowly make my way back to the balcony.
She’s already on the sidewalk, and I watch her, shaking my head what the fuck when, just at the point where I can see her and she can see me, she turns and waves, then continues purposefully toward the Incline.