Autumn in New YorkbyAngeline©
Every city wears its history. Some, being newer, have few adornments; others wear the jewels of their years like dowagers. Julia considers this as she hurries with the crowd along Sixty-Seventh Street. She is not a native New Yorker, but from Connecticut--close enough. Her two years in Manhattan, two years of chasing auditions and working part-time as a secretary at Julliard (Lady Julia of Julliard, her friends say), have made her a wiser but no less fervent lover of the city.
She loves New York in the way only those from somewhere else do. She rarely takes it for granted. "Maybe it's because of the acting thing," she thinks, that Woody's quote about Manhattan being a stage set resonates with her.
She feels this everywhere she goes. From a bench in Lower Manhattan, looking across the river and the span of bridge to the fairy-lit trees of Brooklyn Heights, to coffee for one at the Astral Plain in the West Village where a beautiful young redhead and her tall attentive lover brew tea and serve warm blueberry crumb pie, where an old woman dozes in a rocker with a cat at her feet, to the haute mannequins on Fifth Avenue and the Harlem jukes.
But if Julia McGuinn loves all of Manhattan, she adores the Upper West Side. It's exciting culturally, it buzzes her intellect, but it's sedate with dignified old brownstones, almost rural in spots where Central Park meanders away from the avenue or Riverside meets Drive.
Julia sees so many metaphors in the city, but tonight in the bright blink of this cool October Wednesday, the glitz of Lincoln Center seems subsumed by the gargoyles peering from their pre-war perches.
Like they're watching me. Like something might happen.
Maybe they're benevolent spirits protecting the old architecture. Maybe they'll give her luck. Julia worked until four today, then sat in a cattle call for an Ain't Misbehavin' revival . She sang eight bars of Mean to Me and, who knows, she might get a callback. She's pretty sure she looks good in cashmere and a fitted skirt, her thick black hair brushing her waist. And she thinks she can sing--her voice is husky but on tune. Years of private lessons have taught her to breathe right and sing out. The song lingers in her like fog.
You're mean to me Why must you be mean to me? Gee, honey, it seems to me You love to see me cryin'
I don't know why
I stay home each night when you say you'll phone You don't and I'm left alone. Singin' the blues and sighin'....
The piano player smiled at her. Nodded encouragement.
Julia pauses in front of One West Sixty-Seventh: the Café des Artistes. She can't really afford it, but what a night for a drink in the venerable haunt of Marcel Duchamp, Fiorello LaGuardia, Isadora Duncan. She enters the warmth and clink, marveling at the murals, and, amazingly, is seated at an empty window table near the bar.
Nineteen dollars and a half glass of tawny port later, Julia is relaxed, half-listening to half conversations around her--a film revival, someone's flagrante delicto , the playoffs--when her waiter walks to the table. He's handsome and disarming. An actor, she thinks. Look. He's watching himself approach. He smiles perfectly.
"The gentleman would like to offer you another glass of port."
He nods toward the bar at a man half in shadow who looks older, no not older, experienced? No, not that so much either, but supremely confident, secure. He's wearing a short wool cape over his suit. Oh God, how affected, but it has slid partway off one shoulder, which looks a bit silly and somehow makes him seem safe.
His hair is full black like hers. It's combed straight back and curls over the cape's collar. She sees he is pale and his features are thin though he has a sensual mouth. He looks at her then, across the room, and his eyes stop her cold. They're large and dark brown, knowing, perhaps sad, but she always reads too much into everything. He's hitting on her, of course, but she's a pretty confident soul herself, so she smiles at him and nods to the waiter that, yes, she'll take the drink.
More amazement. Capeman does not get up and try to join her, only gives her a faint smile, a brief lift of a glass of something dark before turning back to the bar.
Julia is miffed. She wasn't going to do anything, after all, maybe some harmless flirting. He seems eccentric and interesting, a dangerous combination in a man and she'd probably regret...
He passes her table and smiles again, slightly, a beautiful small smile, says "You're as lovely as the night," which would be trite if he stayed, but he leaves. He doesn't look back.
He had a low clear voice.
The port warms her. It's a sophisticated taste, delicious. She's not much of a drinker and walks home a little tipsy to her studio on Eighty-Fourth Street, and her ordinary tabby cat, Miss Otis. They share tuna salad, Miss Otis delicately nosing aside the celery and onion.
The moon is large above the buildings. Not full, but big and silvery, an almost November moon.
Julia awakens. It's almost three in the morning, and her nightgown is bunched around the curve of her hips. She's touching herself and flushed. She remembers a hazily sexual dream. She's excited. She rubs, touches her breast and soon is arching up, crying out before she turns and sleeps again.
The next two days are busy. No callback on Misbehavin' yet, but a lead on auditions for A Christmas Carol. Work is hectic. Still, Julia finds herself wandering by the Café des Artistes both days, once at the lunch rush, the next day as evening falls, but no sign of him.
She remembers his eyes, how they were at once vain and sad.
And she keeps having the dreams. She thinks he plays some role in them--maybe he's the lover who makes her wake trembling. Her last whatevership ended abruptly about three months ago. She has convinced herself she enjoys this aesthetic solo flight. Hell, she's probably just horny, and he was an interesting man who paid her a compliment. She's walking home down her street, lost in these thoughts, a few dark blocks from home, when she sees him looking into an antique shop window.
He turns and smiles at her. How did he know she was there? Did he see her coming, reflected in the glass? No, too dark--she can't see him in there. What was he even looking at?
His smile is engaging. She returns it.
"I never got a chance to thank you for the port. It was very kind of you."
Another smile. "We all want to be warm on a cold night, and the Colheita is excellent, I'm told. And you really did look beautiful framed in the window. I wanted you to stay a while longer. I was watching you."
Julia watches him. His words are provocative but he is reserved.
"I'm Julia McGuinn." She puts her hand out and he takes it. His is smooth but cold, his grip gentle but strong. He lets go of her small warm hand reluctantly. He seems hesitant, struggling with himself momentarily.
"My name is Theo. Theo Thantapoulis." He laughs. "A mouthful, I know."
"You're Greek?" (Oh how gauche of me. He'll think I'm a nosy dope.)
Theo waves his hand, speaks as if he heard her thought.. "Greek once, yes, but American now. American like you, Julia."
His eyes really are mesmerizing. They have a liquid quality. They're intent on her.
"Will you drink with me this time?" She will. He takes her elbow and steers her to a black Mercedes with a driver waiting. Oh my. And then they're back at the Café, seated in the bar together this time. She sips her drink and says "But you're not touching your port."
"The truth is I never drink wine. Or alcohol. But the glass is a prop for me; it makes me feel I fit in."
Julia fixes her own dark eyes on his and says "Why would you feel you need to fit anywhere? You seem so confident.."
"In many ways I am, in others perhaps not so." He holds up the glass. "My little crutch." And again they smile at each other. They like each other, it's not just friendly. She feels his attraction and her own, mixed with the vague dream memories.
"It's getting late Julia. I need to dine, and I can't do that with you. Yet. Let me drive you home. It's a cold night and a long walk."
(How do I know if I'll see him again?)
"You'll see me again Julia. Yes. Soon." He brushes her hair with his fingertips and the driver opens her door.
And he's gone again.
Two nights later she wakes again, full of sexual pangs. It's him in the dreams, she's sure. She heard him say her name in his soft voice. She stretches, looks at the window, which she doesn't remember opening. The curtains are blowing and she sees an odd-shaped shadow pass over the full moon. She shivers in her white cotton nightgown.
She decides to go out to the coffee shop on her corner. Another thing to love about New York. Everything is open. Anything is out there.
The street is mostly quiet but there's some traffic, and she walks past the coffee shop, continues south and west toward the park. Blocks later she stops in front of the Dakota. Lennon gunned down here, ghosts of celebrities, actors and writers and artists, dead and alive in the corridors and the apartments.
It's his voice.
"Lady Julia. Come here."
She walks through the entryway back past the gatekeeper's cottage and around to the back. The service door is open. She walks in, heels echoing, down stairs and through an unbolted wooden door.
Into a sumptuous windowless apartment. The floors are thick with silk carpeting and Persian rugs. There's a soft leather sofa and a club chair. A book open on it. Books everywhere. Records. Not cds. Neat rows of vinyl and Pachebel's Canon playing.
"Can't you sleep, Julia? Would you like a nightcap? Not port this time. A cognac?"
"Are you cold? You've walked a long way in your gown."
She looks down. Oh my God. She's in her nightgown. Her white cotton nightgown. She stutters, she's at a loss as to how his happened. It occurs to her that she could be dreaming.
"I'm often cold, Julia. The Sun is bad for my skin. It's cold to be always out of the Sun."
He walks to her and puts his hands on her shoulders. They are cold, much colder than her skin, but her shiver is from his lingering touch, not the chilly fingers. Her lips part, and he slides his hands over her breasts, cups them. Her nipples pucker, not from the cold. His touch is like the dreams.
"Why is this happening, Theo? Why am I here?
He's looking in her eyes and stroking her nipples. She wants to gasp.
"I didn't pick you, Julia. I didn't mean to. Sometimes I see someone who draws me." He looks away. "Maybe you remind me of someone I knew long ago." Shrug. "You're a beautiful woman, and I saw you framed against the night. You draw me against my judgment. I want you, but you can leave if you like. I'll call the car, bundle you up."
One hand has moved to her waist, drops, touches her thigh. She realizes her own warm fingers are caressing his face, running lightly over his lips. His breath is the only warm thing about him. She feels the hard shape of his teeth.
"You may not want what I have to give. A gift. A curse. More curse than gift. Clarity and violence and remorse. Beauty but pain, Julia. Many kinds of pain.
She touches his cold hard chest through the black robe, but can't feel his heartbeat.
She takes his hand from her thigh and slides a cold finger between the hot folds, pushing the cotton in, holds his hand to her.
"Give me what you have. I dreamed about it."
He smiles broadly and she sees the tips of his canines, sharp, gleaming. He touches his mouth to hers and she barely feels the scrape where a drop of blood wells. He licks it and closes his eyes then slides his open mouth down her, his hands pushing the gown to a heap at her feet. He doesn't break the skin again, not yet, but continues to lick, tastes her and sighs at the hot humanity, the beating life. He lowers her to the carpet and licks, licks like a kitten, sucks tastes of her flesh into his mouth, pins her wrists back over her head, makes her scream.
A good scream. A pleasure scream, and somewhere in the midst of that scream, somewhere between the maul of his mouth and his cold thrusting inside her, his head darts to her breast and he bites hard in the underswell and sucks bliss like a baby and pushes himself in and out and sucks and groans, makes her scream, pain and pleasure shrieking together.
They pulse on each other. He lifts his head and smiles, bites his own lower lip, glues his mouth to her, gives her what he has to give. Her throat works.
Every city wears its history around and within its inhabitants. The night sky is cloudy, heavy, obscuring the fingernail moon. Light rain falls.
Julia McGuinn sits alone at the bar in the Café des Artistes, half in shadow, holding a glass of something dark. She crosses her long tapered legs and smiles at her waiter. Tomorrow she'll visit the piano player.