There was a persistent knocking at my door. "Randy? Randy. C'mon." I knew who it was. Only one person is as impatient as this. As the knocking continued, I slowly maneuvered through my apartment. I approached the door and asked, "What's the password?"
"You know my voice, Randy. Open the door."
"Randy, it's Mike. Open the door."
I could hear him sigh. We go through this conversation every time he visits, which is quite often. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. "Red Boston."
I opened the door and turned back into my apartment. Mike clicked the door closed behind him, and I could smell him. "Man, you smell like wet dog. What the hell."
"Sorry. CK was out most of the morning, jumping in the puddles from last night's rain and decided to shake right next to me before I left."
I headed to my couch and sat on the left cushion. Mike usually sits on the right cushion, leaving the middle cushion available. My furnishings are sparse and simple.
I felt his weight pounce onto the couch. "Do you have to flop down like that? I'd like to keep this nice-looking couch in good shape. I don't want to have to get the springs replaced because you flop down."
"You're grouchy this morning. Did you run out of coffee?"
"I'm grouchy? Why can't you ever just say the password? You know I can't just open the door when someone knocks. And yes, I ran out of coffee."
"Well, you're in luck. It's Friday and we can go to the store today. Are you up for that?"
I crossed my legs and turned toward Mike. I could feel him starting to relax; he didn't seem as annoyed or fussy now. "Yes. How's the weather outside?"
"Oh, it's nice. What you're wearing is perfect. No jacket needed."
I uncrossed my legs and stood. "Well, I just have to get my shoes on and we can get going." I walked slowly to my bedroom and stooped below the door. I'm 6'4" and usually have to stoop in doorways. Not a good height when you have my condition.
My socked toes found the shoes and I slipped them on. I heard the springs on the couch groan and Mike's shoes scuffing my carpet as he walked toward me. "I know my way around my own apartment."
"I know. Why don't we go and get some coffee before we get your groceries? Maybe you'll lighten up a bit."
Stooping below my doorframe again, I sighed and stayed there for a moment. "Yeah. That sounds good."
Mike held my arm and walked a step ahead of me. I knew the terrain well; I've traversed it many times. I could hear the sounds of cars crawling by, as the speed limit is only 30 mph. A couple walked behind us, arguing over her shopping addiction. Her perfume was strong, but sweet. I could nearly taste it. "Mike" I whispered. "What is she wearing, the lady behind us?" We stopped, and let the couple pass us.
"She has on a blue skirt, about knee high…"
"No, the smell. What is that?"
We started to walk again. "I don't know, Randy. I don't recognize it. Why?"
I shook my head. "Never mind." I didn't want to tell him the smell reminded me of my mom. I can talk to Mike about most things, but my mom and her death are off limits.
A few more steps and we entered the small and quaint coffee shop. The aroma lifted my spirits quickly and Mike led me to my seat. He left me alone to place our orders. I fidgeted with my hands, realizing I left my cane back at the apartment. The door opened with a bell jingle and I smelled something familiar. I held my breath for a moment, hoping I was right. The moment passed and nothing happened. I could still smell fresh baby powder and lavender, lingering around me. I let my breath out when I felt someone quietly sitting near me. A giggle emerged from across me.
"Sorry, Randy. I tried."
I smiled. "Dalanne, I know your lovely scent. You can't hide from me. Hug?"
Her chair scooted back, so I stood. I waited for her to round the table and felt her generous arms around my neck. Not many women are tall enough to do that. Dalanne is right at six feet tall. I wrapped my arms around her waist and gave her a long hug. Letting go, I asked, "Do you want to join me and Mike for coffee?"
"I'd love to. Let me order my coffee and I'll be right back, okay?"
Her scent stuck around as I was left in my own thoughts. Dalanne is a dance teacher. Her studio is next door to my apartment complex. We've become good friends over the past few months. Her laughter is music to my ears. She's quite the story teller and a wonderful listener. She grew up in Quebec and came to the States four years ago. She's here in Massachusetts now, enjoying her career and visiting her parents in Cape Cod as often as she can.
"Randy, your coffee." I reached in front of me carefully placing my fingers in and around the Styrofoam cup, testing it. I inhaled and then sipped. The heat washed itself over me and I felt my muscles relax, my whole body not so rigid.
"Thanks. It's just what I needed."
I could hear a smile behind Mike's voice. "I know, man. I know. Hey, Dalanne was right behind me. Is she joining us?"
"Do you want me to disappear for a bit?"
Mike minces no words. He's a great guy. "No, but thanks. She's on her way, isn't she?"
He cleared his throat.
"Hi, Mike. I thought that was you ahead of me. How are you?"
"I can't complain. I shouldn't complain. Unless you want me to complain."
Dalanne sat and laughed at Mike. Music. "You're too much. Really." She sipped at her coffee. There was a moment of awkward silence as we all sipped at our warm coffee.
Mike broke the silence. "Dalanne, what are your big plans for the weekend? Cape Cod, maybe?"
"No, my parents are on vacation, so I won't be visiting them. We have a dance recital coming up in a month. I've ordered all the costumes already, so I'm hoping those will come in this weekend."
"Is it next month already?" I asked. "What songs did you decide on for your classes?"
As Dalanne went on about music for her ballet dances, I had an image of her in my head that I couldn't shake. This beautiful lithe figure, on tip toes, dancing slowly to Chopin; muscles trained well, as each fluid move eases into another. Her hair is long, so I imagine it flowing gracefully in and out of her face, as she looks down at her own steps, and looking back up, as if looking at the stars.
"So, Randy. Does Saturday night sound good to you?" Dalanne seemed intent on this question and I didn't know how to answer. "Dinner? I can pick you up around seven?"
When did she ask me about dinner? We've never been out to dinner. Lunch and coffee kept our relationship light and friendly. "Dinner sounds great" I said with a smile.
After a quick round of groceries, Mike and I headed back to my apartment. "So, dinner with Dalanne, huh? Nice."
"Yeah, it should be great. She's never been to the apartment, so I had to give her the password. Do you think that was a bad idea?"
We stopped in front of the doors of my apartments. "No, man, I think its fine. Also, that was a good move letting her pick the place."
We took the elevator to the second floor and rode quietly. Ding and the doors swooshed open. To the left fifteen steps and my door on the right. I handed the keys to Mike, and I heard the brassy clanging sound as he entered the key into the knob and turned.
I put the three bags of groceries on the table, and let Mike put them up. As I listened to the bustle in the kitchen, I crouched below my bedroom doorframe and slipped off my shoes. Leading myself back to the couch, I laid down. I tried not to think about tomorrow night. All I could hope for was to not look like a total idiot in front of Dalanne. Dinner is very different than lunch or grabbing a cup of coffee. It's much more intimate. My nerves were starting to crawl up my stomach and making its way to my throat. I had to swallow. I suddenly thought of something and sat up quickly, making the couch springs groan.
"Should I get her some flowers? You know, for tomorrow."
He was quiet for a moment. He stopped putting away groceries. Or maybe he was finished and hadn't folded up the paper bags. His light footsteps shuffled across the kitchen and sat right next to me, in the middle of the couch. I could still smell the morning's coffee on his breath. I resisted the temptation to tell him so.
"Randy, it's not often a lady as attractive and nice as Dalanne asks a guy out. She really likes you. Like, really likes you. Tell you what… Don't worry about going out tomorrow to get flowers. I'll have them delivered here to you, say around 5. They'll knock and just leave the flowers in front of your door. And when Dalanne comes to get you, just have them in your hand, ready."
"Mike, are you sure I deserve you? You're too good for me." I suddenly felt bad that I couldn't go out and look for flowers for her myself.
"Dude, that's what I'm here for. When you signed on, they hired me to help. It just so happens I'm nicer than most of those people. And, even better, I'd like to think we've become friends."
His arm was on the back of the couch behind me and with his hand, he patted me on the shoulder. I tried to smile my best smile, hopefully hiding the tears that were welling up. "Are you finished putting up groceries? I'm really hungry."
We made some quick sandwiches for lunch while he gave me some pointers for tomorrow's date.
"Just relax, and don't have any expectations on the night."
"Be yourself." Oh, how I hate that one. He's right, though.
"Ask questions about her, be interested in her." I'm already interested, so that should be easy.
"Use your senses, you're good about that. You know when the mood is changing; you can read body language better than people that can actually see. Go with the flow. If she keeps the conversation light and easy, keep it there. Let her control where the conversation goes."
After we cleaned up from lunch, Mike left saying, "If you need anything -anything- you have my number. Don't hesitate to call me."
There was a soft knock on my door. My heart was knocking against my chest. "Red Boston," came a delicate voice. I made my way to the door and opened it, flowers in hand.
"These are for you."
"Oh, Randy, they're beautiful!" She took the bouquet from me and gave me a light hug. "Do you mind if we put them in water?"
I hadn't thought of that. I stepped back and turned around to lead the way into my apartment. She's never seen it, so I was hoping Mike cleaned as well as he said he did. "Nice little place. Cozy."
"If you look in the cabinet above the fridge, there should be a vase in there."
I heard her rattle around and take out a glass vase. "Pretty vase, it looks old."
"Oh, is it dirty?" I hoped it wasn't nasty, another thing I hadn't thought of, damn it.
"No, not dirty. But I can tell that it's seen many years of flowers."
"It was my mother's." Crap! Why did I say that? I don't want to talk about my mother!
"Well, it's very pretty. Do you mind if we use it?"
The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering around hard and were promising to make an appearance soon. "Yes, we can use it, that's fine."
She turned on the tap and I could hear the plastic around the flowers being pulled and torn. "How did you know that I love lilies?"
"I didn't. Just a guess, I suppose. I love the gentle smell of lilies, not too strong."
I could hear a smile with her voice. "I would have to agree." She hooked her arm with mine. "Are we ready?"
I nodded and we left.
She decided on Italian food, which, in my opinion, was an excellent choice.
"Would you like to look at the wine menu, sir?"
Before I could even begin to speak, Dalanne spoke up. "Something red, light, from '97, please."
The restaurant sounded busy with murmured voices in the midst of their conversations, the clinking of utensils on ceramic plates, the glittery sound of glasses. My butterflies started their way up from my stomach and were about to make good on their promise. I didn't know where to start conversation. I didn't want to sound dull. In my throat, the butterflies flittered about.
"Is there water on the table?"
"Yes, to your ten o'clock."
I put my hand on the table and softly reached for the glass, testing its weight. I lifted it against my lips and took a long swallow. The butterflies were squelched back down and settled on my stomach again. Gingerly, I put the glass back on the table.
"Your wine, ma'am. Would you like to test it?"
"No, thank you, sir. I trust your judgment."
As the wine was being poured, Dalanne mentioned, "I know the menu very well, would you like me to order for you? They do have a menu in Braille."
I was touched. "Order for me. Surprise me."
She placed our orders and the waiter stepped away. "Your wine is at two o'clock."
"Oh, thank you." I deftly fingered for my wine glass. We sipped at the same time, and I could hear her fingernails slightly tapping along the stem.
"So, what does Red Boston mean?"
There was a story I haven't told in a long time. Mike doesn't know. A part of me wanted to shrug it off, but a bigger part of me wanted -no needed- to tell the story; tell what happened.
"That's a story I haven't actually told anyone," I finally admitted out loud. I heard Dalanne let out a small gasp of air. The silence between us was awkward. Should I begin telling the story? I was fine for a minute there, and now the butterflies weren't fluttering anymore; they were hammering against my stomach, my chest, and my lungs. It was almost hard to breathe. Taking my time, I grappled for my wine glass at two o'clock and tried not to gulp it down. A slow swig and then another. She's quiet, but I know she's still there. I can smell her lavender, and could feel her anticipation.
So I took a deep breath and began my story.
"February 1989, I was twelve years old. My mother had already passed away; my father and I were walking to hail a cab." I stopped, uncertain.
Dalanne prompted, "I'm here. Go on." The resonance between us was electric.
"It was a decent enough day, cold but sunny. I remember I was wearing my mittens given to me by my grandmother -my mother's mother. She knitted them herself. They kept my hands warm. My father was a slow walker, he shuffled his steps. He always shuffled; he walked toe first. He held my hand tight. I could hear very fast steps headed towards us. I tried to call out to my father, but the runner must have been fast because he knocked right between us, my mitten coming off into my father's hand."
"Dinner is here." It was barely a whisper. I stopped my story for a moment. Maybe a busy restaurant wasn't the best place for this.
The dinner plates softly plumped against the table in front of us. It smelled wonderful. "Sir, Ma'am, your plates are hot so please be careful."
Dalanne instructed me through my dinner plate. Once I knew where everything was, I tentatively began to eat. I could hear her take small bites, her teeth clinking on her fork. We finished our meal in silence.
After the meal, we declined coffee and I paid the check. Dalanne took my arm and showed me out of the restaurant. "So, what happened after you were knocked away from your father?"
"I was able to see."
She stopped abruptly.
"It only lasted a moment. But I was able to see. I could see cars on the street, I could see people walking around, and some people were watching my father and me. But the one thing I remember most seeing was the sky. The sun was setting, and the shadows were dancing along the buildings of Boston, making everything this deep rich and beautiful hue. That's how I remember Boston. That only lasted for that instant. I later asked my father the color of the sky. 'Red, my son. The sky was red,' he had said."
Dalanne was quiet and then I felt her arms surround my waist, and her head rested on my shoulder. "That…" She tightened her grip around me. "… was a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with me."
Monday morning, there's the usual insistent knocking on my door. I shuffled my way through the apartment and asked for the password.
"Dude… It's Mike"
"Password," I said, but this time, with a smile on my face.
I opened the door and with baited breath, waited for his reaction. Nothing registered for a moment as I walked back through to the kitchen. "Oh! Dalanne! Hi." Shock, surprise, and I'm positive he was grinning from ear to ear.
"Randy, am I needed today?" I thought about that for a second.
I was about to respond, when Dalanne did so for me. "You know, Mike. Take the day off."