Authors: S. M. Lumetta
“What?” Nash seemed lost. “How could you forget the first time we had sex?”
“Because the next time was in your hotel room, and I’d had the best orgasm of my life, so I naturally remember that as the first.”
I looked at Charlotte as Vivi rattled on. “So, they’re
this open about their sex life?”
Straight-faced, Charlotte and Drew slowly nodded at me in unison.
It was so much fun having friends.
As we hit summertime, I was feeling antsy. I worried that though I was paying my way (Vivi wouldn’t accept rent, only utilities), I thought I might be a burden. Vivi and Nash were fanatically supportive hosts, but I was feeling ready to try living on my own. Even with numerous warnings and discouragement from my doctors, I managed to coax Nash to see my side, which brought Vivi on board. Dr. Henry added some stipulations to my therapy (including an extra phone session once a week). With a green light and my inheritance and insurance money, I had some room to do some serious house hunting.
Denny’s best friend was a real estate broker, so within twenty-four hours of contacting her, I had a list of properties for perusal. I found a one bedroom in a gorgeous brownstone in a relatively quiet corner of the West Village within a couple weeks. Apparently, this was “a miracle,” according to Vivi. I told her with a wink that I accepted miracles. It was also reasonably close to Vivi and Nash’s place, as it turned out, and after I told her that I recognized the countertop from one of my visions, she felt easier about me being on my own.
“What did you see in that one?” she asked.
“My stranger was leaning here,” I said, demonstrating during my last tour of the place before I’d closed on it. “He was peeling a small orange.”
“That would explain why you practically jumped on it.”
“I almost licked it,” I admitted.
“Ew.” She made a disgusted face. “Don’t ever. Not until you bleach all the surfaces. Seriously.”
Vivi’s shopping and interior decorating skills helped make the place livable and less empty. Even with so few belongings, I was amazed to feel so comfortable. We bought amazing bookshelves and Vivi and Nash filled them with books, part of their housewarming gift, along with a new dishwasher. I tried to pay them back for that, but they refused.
It had become a pretty hot summer, so I made a point to explore the neighborhood and get used to it, to map it out a little. In the process, I fell in love with a quaint little coffee house less than three blocks away. Its walls were lined with books—both used and loved—classics and contemporary fluff. It was everything a library should be, save having the actual space for any significant literature collection.
One day in July, I settled into a cushy armchair with a chai tea in hand and a randomly chosen book in my lap. With the intention of getting a feel for my new
, I flipped the book open and was lost to the story for a few chapters until a voice tugged at my ears.
“Just a plain ol’ cup o’ coffee for me, please, ma’am.”
The southern inflection of male tenor sent a chill through me, forcing my eyes to flutter closed. My mind whirled, ecstatic that a premonition was finally present tense. My heart sprinted, wild and rabid with disbelief.
He’s here! It’s now!
I jumped to my feet, almost dumping over my cup, and spun toward the counter to find him. The smile lifting the edges of my lips lost its grip and my expression fell. His face wasn’t right. Where I thought I’d be happily lost in the forever of those blue eyes, I found simple kindness in hazel.
“I’m sorry,” I sputtered, choking on disappointment as my throat constricted with crushing emotion. “I thought you were someone else.”
I had anticipated my stranger, not this rugged, slightly older gentleman. He nodded with a weak smile and tipped his hat. I ducked back into my seat before a tear of frustration escaped down my cheek. I was too upset to pretend to be engrossed in my book. I left my mostly full tea on the table, failed to mask the pathetic sob that erupted with a heavy breath, and grabbed my bag before rushing to the exit.
Tears streamed as I hurried toward my apartment, but I let them fall freely. That the
of him could upend me in such a surprising way scared me.
When I got home, I struggled to get my key in the lock. My door begrudgingly shoved forward, and as soon as I was inside, I slammed it shut. As I snapped all the locks, I noticed my hands trembling. You’d have thought a gang of drunk, plundering Vikings had chased me.
As I gained control of my breathing, I asked myself,
What was I running from?
I thought a premonition had come true.
I was wrong, and I was embarrassed. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, right? The mere idea of him was so strong and consuming, and I wondered why it wasn’t a scarier prospect.
Because it felt so good.
It was like no comfort previously imaginable. The only part that did scare me was the fear that what I’d seen wasn’t real. And that I
crazy after all.
I stopped staring at the backside of the door, turned around, and leaned against it. The sun streaming through the windows spotlighted the blood-red chair I found at Vivi’s favorite antique shop in Queens. I loosened my death grip on my keys and purse, and tossed them halfheartedly onto the bench to the left of the door. I pouted and made a beeline for that gorgeous comfy chair. Curling myself into the fetal position, I welcomed the sun beating down on me. The warmth permeated all it touched, eventually relaxing me. The trembling subsided and I succumbed to a heavy, troubled sleep.
When I woke, the sun and warmth were gone. Disoriented and stiff, I stood to search the room for the clock and saw it was past ten. I became aware my phone was beeping and that I had a message. I couldn’t believe the ringing hadn’t woken me.
“Hey there, hotpants!” Vivi’s bright voice snarked in her voicemail. “Give me a call and let me know how your explorations were today. Oh, and I wanted to remind you that Nash and I will be leaving for Chicago in the morning for his American Bar Association Conference. We’ll be there until Sunday. Call me. Bye!”
I immediately called her back.
“Lucie,” she said, her voice smoky as if she’d fallen asleep in her armchair again. “I was absolutely not sleeping.”
“Your lies are so transparent.”
“Bitch. So how was your day?” Her voice regained some of its usual perkiness.
I hesitated, which she pounced on, forcing the story from me. When I finished, she hummed.
“This is still an adjustment period,” she insisted. “It’s not unusual to be emotional even when it doesn’t seem right to be. Plus, you’re so amped to run into Mr. Wonderful, it’s hardly shocking when you burst.”
I smiled, sighing as I paced. “You’re right. I … I just want to be done waiting. For my memory, for my man.” I smiled a little. “Sometimes I don’t care if I ever remember. That’s not right, is it?”
“You are who you are—”
“With or without memories, I know.”
“Am I such a broken record?”
I laughed. “Of course not, though you do use that one a lot, which is fine because apparently it hasn’t sunk in yet.”
“Hey, amnesia has no hard or fast rules. You could remember it all in a second, little by little or never,” she said. “But you will have support no matter what.”
“Thank you,” I said, quiet and sincere. “I mean it. If I haven’t said it enough, I’m telling you now. Thank you.”
“You can thank me by calling me while I’m in Chicago! I beg you to distract me from gouging my eyeballs with shrimp forks. I’m telling you, I am dangerous when bored. Crap, I should have asked if you wanted to come with us!”
“Stop! Have a weekend away, for crying out loud. Enjoy loud, obnoxious hotel sex,” I told her. “You freaks are hornier than newlyweds.”
Cracking up, she couldn’t deny it. “If you insist! You’ll bail us out, right?”
“I will deny I know you.”
Her laughter led to gasps and soon Nash took over the line. “What are you telling my wife to do to me, Red? It better be hot.”
I rolled my eyes, hoping he could hear them grind in their sockets. “I told her to take the nipple clamps. I heard you like those.”
“We have nipple clamps? OW! Vivi, God dammit,” he swore, and her laughter got louder. “Not the nipples! They’re sensitive.”
“Listen.” I swallowed a cough after choking on my own spit. “I don’t want to keep you and your sensitive nipples. I’m sure you’ve got to get packed, so have fun and if you see anyone I know, tell them I said hi.”
I snickered at my stupid joke, but it soon fell flat as my vision danced and my eyes closed. Apparently I had something to “see.”
Nash slams himself into a booth next to Vivi. His expression is sullen and dark. Her gaze is locked on his face from the second he appears. Gently, she cups his cheek and turns his face to hers. His face softens from the hard-set mask of anger he is trying to maintain. She kisses his lips so tenderly, they barely make contact.
“I told him to call Drew. He owes him for what he did. As for me, I don’t … I haven’t seen him in ten years, Viv,” he says, his voice eerily low. “He said he was dead. What the fuck does that mean?”
She takes her hand from his face and slips her arms around his waist, pushing his arm over her shoulder to hold her. “Baby, I know you love your friend, and I know you missed him, but you can’t fix him.”
“Hey! Hello? What happened—did my nipples send you into a frenzy?”
“Sweet Christ!” Vivi shouted. “Enough with the goddamn nipples.”
My headache was worse and I felt weak enough that I had to sit down. As I recovered, my mind hovered around what I’d seen, and a sensation spread from the center of my chest as if hot tea were being poured into the chambers of my heart and pumped throughout my body. I knew it was going to be a tough situation for him, but that I had to offer him support.
“Sorry, I, uh … was just thinking,” I hedged. “Have a good trip. You’ll be fine.”
“Are you okay, Red?” he asked before Vivi grabbed the phone from him.
“What happened? Did you see something?”
“I don’t really understand it, but yeah. It’s someone Nash’s going to see there but it’s … it won’t go well. Just be your usual supportive self, Viv. That’s all he needs.”
Reluctantly she let me go, but only after I promised to call and distract her as often as possible.
After hanging up, I went to the couch and lay on my side. My line of sight was directly across the room to the counter island in the kitchen. My thoughts immediately veered back to the catalog of images of my stranger. His killer smile and those heartbreakingly blue eyes looking at me with such sadness and hope at the same time. I was desperate for something tangible in regards to this man, but all I had were visions and questions. What made him so sad? What was his name? Is he my soul mate? That’s why I’m seeing these things, right?
The answer came from so deep within me, and I briefly wondered if I was possessed. Perhaps I should call for a young priest and an old priest.
I know a movie reference!
I smiled to myself, thinking of a conversation with Vivi about horror movies. That made me think of the spooky wink in the mirror, and I felt a wild flush of anxiety. I jumped up and padded down the short hall to the bathroom. Grabbing ibuprofen for the headache, I glared at the antianxiety meds. I didn’t like using them, but after that oddly disconcerting nap, I decided I’d feel better if I just went back to sleep.
The sun had barely crawled out of bed, filtering groggily between the buildings of Chicago when I arrived, though the city was already awake. Union Station bustled with bodies, and no one paid attention to anything but getting where they were going fast.
Fluidly slipping past commuters and tourists like a shadow, I tucked my smaller bag under my arm, pulling the larger one tighter to the front of my body to easily avoid contact or notice. Even if they saw me, they really hadn’t.
As I stepped through the doors onto Canal Street, business lights flickered on from behind panes of glass. Three yellow taxis and a green gypsy cab lined up at the curb and waited to pick up fares. The mass of people grew dense just outside the doors, so I turned north toward Randolph and a thinner crowd.
A block or so past Randolph, I hailed a cab, and with only the slightest hesitation, I got in. The memory that had broken free last night flashed through my mind, sending a chill down my spine. I twisted my head to one side, felt a satisfying pop, and directed the driver to drop me at the Intercontinental. I’d find the arranged meeting point on foot after I checked in.
I didn’t bother to watch the city outside the windows even when I felt the car come to a stop. Horns blared and blended into a raucous symphony of frustration as we became mired in stereotypical bumper-to-bumper traffic. Looking up momentarily, I scanned across the sea of cars to check the location. It wasn’t much farther. We inched along, and I reread the text message I’d received just minutes before the train had slowed to a stop on the platform.
10 NVPR $.
Ten o’clock at Navy Pier to get paid. Soon enough, I’d get another with instructions for a download—a meeting to get the next assignment.
Finally the cab pulled up to the hotel. I made sure to tip—people tend to remember the jerks who stiff them. Throwing my small bag over my shoulder, I gripped the handles of the other and nodded casually at the bellman as I passed.
After I freshened up and secured my bags in the room, I turned on the TV for white noise. Once the clock read 9:45, I left. I went through the lobby, out to the street, and shoved my hands in my pockets as I joined the flow of traffic on the sidewalk. My eyes hidden behind sunglasses, I moved smoothly through the crowds and walked with the same hustle as everyone else.
When steam escaping through sewer grates hit my nose, unease flared. My stomach flipped, a flash of heat burned quickly across my skin, and my heartbeat sped slightly. Nearly stumbling, I stuttered a breath or two and watched the sidewalk pass beneath my feet until I forced it from my mind.