Part II: If You Asked Me To…

“Hello, Beth,” a familiar voice says from behind me. After the last few days of many encounters, I know who it is, before I turn around.

“Hello,” I answer swiveling around confirming my suspicions.

“Did you have breakfast there?” He asks as his nose crinkles. His eyes squint together from either the sun or the sub-zero temperatures. I’m surprised he’s not wearing a hat and notice his ears are glowing red most likely stinging from the brisk wind.  Despite the arctic temperatures his arms are crossed in front of him, and his hands are clasped together in a relaxed manner as if he could stand there all day.

“Yes,” I answer facing Evan.  “It’s a nice place. The breakfast was wonderful. But I wasn’t adventurous enough to try anything really different, just the regular eggs benedict. A friend of mine suggested the place.” I can’t help myself as my lips curl upwards. I glance up to Evan who stands a good foot above me.

Briefly, his gaze shifts and he watches the rush of cars criss-cross the streets.  When he faces me again, there’s a gentle nod of his head and a knowing grin.

Evan’s wearing a long wool winter coat, leather gloves, and a plaid brown scarf that’s bundled around his neck to protect him from the unusual cold weather this time of year.  White wisps of air swirl around in front of him as he says in a gentle river of a voice, “I’m headed to the hotel.  Starting my shift.”

“Oh, I’m headed in that direction too,” I say dropping my eyes to the pavement.

Is that me leading him on? I don’t know. Should I have drawn a line by now?

I push the thought aside. Nice guy like him, I’m sure he has a girlfriend. I didn’t notice a ring. He’s probably being extra kind to me, pities me really, because I’m alone in this big beautiful city. I shouldn’t read too much into his words, mannerisms, and gestures. He probably acts the same way when he meets anyone.

“If you asked me to…”

My mouth opens and then closes. Lines shape my mouth to form the well-known friendly greeting of a smile.  This is our dance. Mine and Evan’s. I’ve been in this spinning, whirl of a city that holds a flood of shops, markets, and tickets for all the big Broadway shows, and through it all Evan disappears and reappears when I need him; and whenever we see each other he will find an opportunity to say at the beginning of the encounter, or at some point later, if you asked me to….

Evan said it when I stood blankly at the front entrance to the hotel swinging my head from right to left, while simultaneously spinning my phone in all directions, trying to figure out what street to take to get to Times Square. I figured it wouldn’t be that hard – look for the brightly lit neon sign! But oh, tall buildings are everywhere and conceal that which should be obvious! And the shadows from the skyscrapers hide everything else.

It was only when Evan appeared, glimpsed over my shoulder at my phone, and then pointed and said, over, yonder! – I had a clue in which direction I might find that amazing place I’d seen only on TV. Then he said with a wink, Dorothy, just follow the blue dotted trail….

Playing along I nodded, and while holding my phone in front of me, stepped one foot in front of the other and began skipping down the pavement as if I were Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Then a couple of days ago, I was returning to my hotel with feet and calves that burned.  I had spent the day exploring some of the boroughs of NY, and my body punished me for it. Prior to my trip, I spent most nights binge-watching Netflex while eating ice cream; and then asked the same body to run a marathon (of sorts) in Miu Miu boots with no training. That’s the reason I didn’t notice the man who lunged at me and reached for my handbag a few meters from the hotel. As I had the strap of the purse looped through my shoulder it escalated into a tug of war between me and the thief, with me refusing to let go of my Coach baby as if it were something precious and irreplaceable like a child. The man out of frustration raised his hand to me, and I was certain his intention was to hit me. But before he made contact, Evan appeared in front of me and with a left hook punched the thug to the ground. The assaulted thief quickly recovered, and sprang to his feet. Evan chased him until I yelled, Evan don’t! Leave it!

Once we were inside the hotel we called the police. Evan said, we have to tell them because the man may try it again. I used the opportunity to give Evan a scolding for risking his life for a handbag. Facing me he said, it wasn’t the handbag, it was the person. Then he said, if you asked me to, I wouldn’t mind getting you a coffee while we wait for the police to come. 

“I wouldn’t mind walking with you to the hotel. You can protect me, in case someone tries to steal my scarf.” He says with a thin smile while clapping his hands together again.

I nod and say, “I would like that.” I can’t face Evan. I enjoy this man’s quietness, his calmness, and his energy all rolled into one.  My eyes are fixed on the pavement as my hands grip the small wallet I carry tighter.  The wind clips my cheeks and forehead. It causes tears to gather in my eyes because of the brisk slap from Mother Earth.

Is it the cold that causes me to tear up? Or is it emotional pain? My lower lip begins to pull towards the pavement. If it is emotional pain, is it because of what happened over a month ago? Or is it guilt that’s sweeping across my body like a virus making me feel a little worse each day; I ignore the signs and push aside the dizziness, nausea, and headaches  and explain to others I’m sure it’s just because I’m tired. Until in a final moment of outrage by my body for not noticing the subtle signals, it burns up from the inside. A fever takes hold of me signalling a virus was plaguing me. It leaves me so weak I can’t even get out of bed to get a glass of water.

As we begin walking Evan says, “how many days do you have left here?”

“I leave tomorrow,” I announce while shrugging my shoulders. It shouldn’t matter to either of us. I’m an insignificant tourist who booked a room at the hotel that Evan just happens to work at in the heart of this bustling city. Millions of people travel here every year.

“Oh well…” his voice disappears and is carried off by the wind.

I tug at my red hat and pull it down a little further to block out the cold. Once that’s done, I place my hand over my scarf to protect my chest. The frigid air is punching me in the throat.  For a moment, I can’t breathe.

Gone is Evan’s smile. “If you asked me to, I wouldn’t mind taking you out for dinner?” He says with hurried words.

My husband loves to watch boxing. I think of the man who tried to steal my purse and wanted to strike me. With the question Evan asked me, I see myself hit. Blindsided and surprised, my arms and legs stretch out in all directions as I am tossed to the ground.

Small convulsions begin to erupt throughout me. My hands shake, eyes twitch, knees rattle together as I realize my mistake.  The only words I begin to mumble are, “shit, shit, shit…”

“It’s ok,” Evan says somewhat defensively. “I just thought we had a connection.”

“I’m married!” I blurt out as I begin to whimper.

“Oh!” Evan says. “Oh Christ! You must think I’m the worst kind of man? Asking out a married woman? Geez, I didn’t know.” He says touching my arm gently and at the same time backing away.

So many emotions. “I didn’t know you thought of me like that. It’s been so long. Even when I was younger, I never saw myself as attractive. And now, even less so.”

“What?” He asks as his mouth opens in awe. “You’re lovely.” He quickly releases my arm and says, “Oh no, sorry. Should I say that? Can I say that? What are the rules?”

I’m still crying, but then I begin giggling at the incredible level of awkwardness. Throwing my hands up in the air I say, “Don’t ask me, I don’t know!”

“Well,” Evan says, “if your husband doesn’t say it to you, someone else should. Just this once.”

“My husband’s a good guy. He tells me all the time, but I never believe him – ” I pause and add, “he paid for this trip for me. Spencer thought I needed a break from everything.”

“Oh,” is Evan’s first response. Then he asks, “did something bad happen?” As if to give me some space, he takes a step backwards.

My tummy tightens. It’s the barren spot, where no fetus will ever grow. “I can’t have children. We just found out.” I say adding, “after we found out, I wanted to go away and he wanted to come too, but Spencer couldn’t get the time off.  I opted to come by myself. Give me a chance to clear my head. He thought it was a good idea too. ”

“Well, that’s shitty.” Evan says.

I laugh so hard at his bluntness. And I can’t stop myself.  Tears flow from my eyes and I quickly brush them away. I stutter, “yu-up” while blowing bubbles of mucus at him.

Evan pulls out a handkerchief, hands it to me, and says, “I don’t expect anything from you. But would you have dinner with me? Just as friends. I don’t think there’s anything taboo about me buying you a Big Mac in Times Square on your last night here.”

“That would be nice. Or maybe a hot dog in Central Park,” I offer as a second option. “And maybe I could pay, for all your kindness.”

“Okay,” he says. “It’s a meal together at one of them high end places,” he says pulling his scarf tighter. He shivers and adds, “we should keep walking. I’m going to lose my ears soon.”

We turn and walk down the street together. I blow my nose one more time into the handkerchief. I glance up to him and say, “I’m sorry for leading you on.”

“You never lead me on,” he says. Then a few seconds later he adds, “you know what I just realized – I never saw you without your gloves.”

“Oh no!” I say throwing my hands up. I pull the gloves off revealing my diamond engagement ring and wedding band.

Evan laughs, gently touches my ungloved hand, and gives it one quick kiss and says, “Don’t be sorry. I never minded.”

Part I: If You Asked Me To

There’s something about him – his quietness, some insecurity, or maybe it’s not insecurity at all but the sign of a confident man.  Perhaps it was the way he placed his hands together, not in an arrogant way, but one of quiet reflection. I instantly liked him.

“If you asked me to…” his voice is rhythmic as if he’s humming a song. A few moments later, after I turn and face the man who spoke the words he continues, “… I wouldn’t mind helping you with your bags?”

Bashfully smiling, I glance down at my three bags and answer, “I would love that. Thank you.”

He effortlessly hoists the duffle bag over his shoulder, and wheels the two other bags forward. We take long strides towards what looks like a golden cart.

Casually, I add to the conversation we already had about my bags and say, “I’m not a light packer.” Throwing my black gloved-hands over my face with embarrassment, I provide more explanation saying, “I’m only here for the weekend.”

He chuckles at me, and nods his head as he places my bags on the yellow gleaming luggage trolley. In a quiet voice he whispers, “I’ll tell you a little secret.”

“Okay,” I answer matching his tone as if we were spies on a mission to save the world.

“Most people aren’t.”

My face flushes as I giggle.

“If you want to check-in, I can take these to your room,” he instructs me as blonde wispy hair bounces on the top of his head.

“Right!” I answer in agreement.  I don’t know why I didn’t head straight to the lobby desk of the hotel.  This isn’t my first trip travelling alone and for sure, I know what the standard protocol is. But it’s my first trip in some time, going solo.

I’ll blame the flight. A gusty north wind blowing up the Atlantic Ocean made for an erratic, bumpy, and all around turbulent flight.  In the last few seconds before we touched down, my table dropped in front of me as if our plane were asking me, one last meal?

At various times while airborne, all I saw were the backs of people’s heads that ricocheted right to left, and up and down.  Sudden surprised gasps punctured the cabin air as we were jostled. Finally our landing gear skidded along the runway. As a tribute to the dramatic flight we already had the pleasure to experience, we lurched forward in a final crescendo as if it were a last attempt by the pilot to stop the plane before we ran out of pavement!

Thinking about the whole ordeal again, my hands shake. I walk towards the counter in my Miu Miu suede boots, Calvin Klein winter jacket, and hang onto my Coach handbag. I leave my gloves on as they were a gift from someone I love immensely, were expensive, and given at a difficult time in my life last month. Also, I have a tendency to lose things. The joke between us was this: we should have strings attached to your jacket, so you don’t lose them.    

I laughed, nodded in agreement and said, I’m sure you’re right.

***

I’ve checked in, received my room key, and spin around to see the bellhop with the nametag that said “Evan” on it speaking to another guest.  As I approach him I notice his robust frame, and guess him to be a man in his 30’s. His head is slightly tilted as he speaks calmly to an elderly woman in a black fur coat and carrying a white miniature poodle. Her eyes twinkle at him and with a wave of her hand she says, “thank you,” as I arrive.

Evan turns around to me and says, “All set?”

“Yes,” I announce proudly holding my swipe card to my room. Flipping the envelope open as if I’m about to announce the winner of a prize I say, “I’m in 1104.”

“Ok,” he says. He glances down at my bags and scoops the duffle bag from the cart, and proceeds to wheel the other two bags behind him. Glancing back at me he says, “The elevators are this way.”

Once inside the elevator he asks, “What brings you to New York?”

“Oh,” I stall.

The whole story? Part of the story? No story?

I decide to keep it to the basics.  “A little escape, from the dreariness of life,” I answer.

“Ah,” he says. “I understand that. Do you have plans while in New York?”

“Not really. Maybe do some shopping.” I laugh throwing my head back. “Assuming I can get anything else in my suitcase.”

Evan smiles at me. I may have even heard a gurgle of laughter. It’s hard to tell though. He’s probably afraid to laugh. Friends told me that when they first met me, I made them feel uncomfortable. It was the way I dressed, and the way I carried myself. They believed I lacked a sense of humor because I seemed sooooo proper. After they got to know me though, they learned quickly, I wasn’t a serious person.

Ding! The elevator breaks into our conversation.

As we walk down the long corridor together Evan says, “You should see a show. I’ve head New York has a couple,” he says as his forehead scrunches together in mock amusement at his own joke, and with a small trace of a smile.

When we arrive at my front door, I tap the swipe card to the lock and watch as the light switches from red to green with a click. I glimpse up at him and say, “Perhaps I will.”

When I push the door open, we’re greeted with heat that is stifling!

From behind me I hear, “Holy Sh–! That’s hot!”

I lose control at the almost unfiltered comment and near-oops on his part-; and also the blatant honesty.

He catches my eye and says, “I said holy shoot, that’s hot.”

“Yup, that’s what I heard.” I bend forward in laughter.

He quickly heads towards the thermostat and says, “If you asked me to, I’d turn the thermostat down, and open a window so you can breathe in here?” I know it’s a rhetorical question, because he’s already taken care of the thermostat and is now pulling a window open.

My eyebrows are  squashed together. I can’t stop laughing. I wave at him and say, “Yes, please!”

With the window open a cool breeze rushes through the room. It calms my laughing.

I tilt my head at his lingering grin. My smile remains too.

In a burst of electronic energy my phone splashes through the moment and breaks the quietness between us.

Evan walks towards the door and waves a hand at me. I begin rummaging through my bag searching for my cell. My eyes flicker at my wallet.

TIP!!! TIP!!!

Shit!

I turn around and frantically wave at Evan trying to get him to stop while saying, “Hello?”

As I approach the door, my face is flush. I pull my wallet open. Evan touches my arm gently and whispers, “Next time.”

“Sorry, can you hold on?” I say to the familiar voice at the other end of the line.

“You were so helpful.” I stare at Evan’s green eyes.

With a calm smile, Evan shifts and says, “I never minded.”

“You made me laugh.” I stagger over my words.

He doesn’t know. Evan doesn’t know there’s only one other person who’s been able to make me laugh in the last month, and I have him on hold.

“Good.” He says as he disappears through the door.

With nothing left to say, and Evan gone, I close the door and say into my phone, “Hi, honey.”