Negative Space Ch. 02by_bloom_©
I hesitated before getting dressed that morning, both aching to impress the mysterious subway man, and hoping that he wouldn't be there on a Saturday. I wanted it to be coincidence, but if I were honest I really wanted him to be there for me. I pulled on a formal skirt and sleeveless blouse that I thought accentuated my body well while making it look like a happy accident for a professional woman. I slipped a silver necklace on, earrings, and bangles. I pulled my long hair up in a stylishly messy french twist. Liking how I looked, I ate a quick breakfast, and walked down to the subway.
When I first entered the car I didn't see him where he usually sat, so I sat down in the closest open seat, leaning back to feel a hot, smooth arm beside mine. I looked to the person beside me, shocked to see the man himself, wearing a casual v-neck t-shirt and jeans, looking absolutely fantastic. I felt a rush of adrenaline, and tried to lean away, but the older woman on my other side made space impossible. His arm settled back in to touch mine, raising my hairs in anticipation. My breath quickened, and I sat tensely, feeling every centimeter of his hot bare skin against mine, as the subway rushed into the darkness, the lights going out. The subway car was silent except for the pounding of a teenager's headphones in the distance, and suddenly I found myself aware of my surroundings in a way I hadn't been in years.
I could hear his breathing, smell his sweat and his cologne, and feel his muscles tightening and relaxing below his skin. He shifted, and I could feel his breath gently lifting the hairs that fell down around my neck. I shivered, feeling the familiar fear of unknown men, but also an excitement that located itself suspiciously low in my abdomen. I tried to take a calming breath, but it came out haggard, catching when I felt smooth lips brushing my collarbone. I froze, and the lights came back on to show him seated comfortably and appropriately distant from me. Turning to him, I caught a mischievous smile before he looked back and me innocently. Saying nothing, I sat straight forward, trying not to notice each time his arm brushed mine, sending chills up to my shoulder and down my spine.
The rest of the subway ride was suspiciously long, and I was frazzled by the end of it, so intensely aware of his body, his movements, and mine in reflection to his. When we finally reached my stop I jumped up, rushing out of the car immediately, only turning around when the train started to pull away, catching his grin in the window.
Completely spaced out as I took the kids bowling to escape the heat that afternoon, I missed my phone ringing twice. At the end of the second call, Annie looked up at me, her sweet little brow furrowed.
"Aren't you going to pick up the phone, Lanie?" she asked.
"What? Oh, did you hear my phone ring?" I looked around for my bag, finding the two missed calls from their mother. I called her back immediately.
"Hi Allison, so sorry to miss your call!"
"Where are you?! I told you last week that the Annie and Lyall have a doctors appointment today! Right now!" I slapped my hand over my face, groaning.
"I'm so sorry Allison, we must have lost track of the time. We'll be there right away." I gathered the kids quickly, carrying Annie out in tears because of the unfinished game, and hopped in a taxi.
As we stepped into the doctor's office their mother kissed each on the head and ushered all three behind a nurse into the exam room at once. Then she closed the door and turned to look at me.
"And what if that had been an emergency, Lana?" Her tone was cold and hard.
"I'm really sorry Allison, honestly. It was simply too hot to be outside, and the kids were excited to go bowling. I promise I won't loose track like that again."
"How can I be certain?"
"Give me another chance, please--I can prove to you by making sure the children are excellently cared for and always on time to their appointments. I'll carry my phone on me in case you need to talk with me or one of the kids."
"Well, Lana, I can't say I'm pleased with the way this turned out. I know the kids are feeling sentimental towards you, but that won't stop me from finding another nanny if you mess up again."
"Absolutely, I understand. Again, I'm terribly sorry."
"As you should be, Lana, as you should be." She turned and walked into the exam room with the kids, leaving me outside.
Sunday, my day off, I slept late, curling my body around the sheet in the cool breeze of morning. I finally gave in to wakefulness, reading in bed like I did every Sunday morning. Angry at myself because of the telling off the day before, and anxious about my mysterious subway man, I eventually dropped the book, getting dressed and going out to the park nearby. I took a brisk walk, the exercise doing me good and helping me to work up an appetite for once. The day passed uneventfully, with another long call from Tom bemoaning the patients at his practice. The girl had indeed had MG, and I congratulated him for the diagnosis.
"Ah, well, you know how it goes--there are some symptoms one can't put out of one's mind. For example, her weakness in the months preceding her medication for Lyme's Disease. Others might ignore that, but those are the sorts of things I don't miss."
I groaned. I doubted he had completely forgotten that I was the one who gave him the diagnosis, but having told so many other people it was his idea, he must have convinced himself a little bit as well. He was always so impressionable.
Monday morning I stood, sweat cooling in the air conditioning, not a single seat available. I clung to a pole in the center of the car, pressed on either side by other commuters. I was just relaxing into the acceptance that he had not returned that day, when a familiar heat burned through my shirt at the small of my back. His smell, the muskiness of his sweat and his cologne, and the electricity coming from where he rested his hand on my back--I didn't even have to look to know it was him. The train jolted and sent me backwards into his body and he wrapped his arm around me like a lover. Although I wanted nothing more than to sink into his body, I pushed away from him, turning to scold him for touching me without permission.
"Excuse me sir, I do not know you." My voice quivered, unused to confrontation.
"Well," he smiled his mischievous smile, "would you like to?" I almost laughed at the predictability of his answer, slightly disappointed. He had turned out to be a regular old creep like anyone else on the train. I shook my head and turned away from him.
"No thank you, and please stay away from me."
"Wait--" he grabbed my wrist and a shock of electricity went straight up my arm and down between my legs. He smiled knowingly. "I'm sorry, but you just set it up so well. How could I not answer that way?" I was silent, and he continued. "Look, come have have a drink with me after you get off tonight."
"No, I--how do you know I'm going to work?"
"Aren't you? It's what most people do when they commute 6 days a week."
I sighed. "No, I'm sorry, but I can't. I don't know you at all and wouldn't be comfortable." He stepped closer to me and leaned close to my ear.
"I do know you're interested, though," he whispered, sending shivers down my back. "Like that--I can smell how aroused you are." I gasped and pulled away from him, but he leaned farther forward, whispering again, this time so close his facial hair brushed my cheek.
"Just think about it. If you'd like, we can meet on your day off. Next Sunday evening, if you're interested, come meet me at the Hungarian Pastry Shop on 110th and Amsterdam at 8." He pulled away and my ear was suddenly cold where it had been so hot under his breath. He stepped off the train, and I looked around, cursing myself as I realized I had missed my stop. I got out at the next station and forked over the cash for a cab, not willing to be late again after last week.
The rest of the week went slowly, each day following the pattern of the last without the excitement of my mysterious man. He hadn't been on the train since Monday, and by Thursday I was as deflated as normal, sleeping through the train ride and watching TV by night before bed. I thought his forwardness would make him less appealing to me, but the imprint he had left on my stomach where he wrapped his arm around me was still throbbing. Without any lover or friend to hug me over the past six months I had become an addict to human touch, little brushes on the street or the comforting squeeze on the subway of human bodies all around was the extent of it, and each one brought me joy.
Tom called again Friday night, having stepped outside the bar to ask me what I was doing.
"Don't you have better things to be doing than checking up on me?" I asked. "Who's there with you? Melissa? Robert?"
"Robert, Marco and his new girlfriend, and yes, Melissa."
"Well go nag Melissa then. You always did find her much more fascinating than me."
"Oh come on now, Lana! You know I only hooked up with her twice. And I always came back to you."
"Tom, do you really want to have this conversation? Now go--I am actually quite busy."
"Busy doing what? Research on how exactly to make the kids' breakfasts tomorrow morning? Or, let's see, just exactly how to change the three-year-old's diaper? Lana, what are you doing with your life?"
"I'm not fucking wasting it with you, that's what. Now fuck off, Tom. Seriously, I'm sick of listening to you babble about your hard life and trying to boss me into coming home to you. This is my home now, and I'm no longer engaged to marry you, so go do what you've always loved doing--fucking other women."
I hung the phone up and sat dismally on the bed. 10:30 on a Friday night and I was sitting alone in my grimy room, eating leftovers and watching cop shows. I turned off the mute on the television and lay back on my bed, watching the reflections of light on the ceiling.
Sunday morning I woke up early, unsettled. I rolled out of bed to sit naked at my desk, the day already hot enough for clothing to feel irrelevant. I checked my email and looked up free events in the city that day. Kayaking lessons, walking tours, book signings. Nothing that interesting. The computer hummed and blew out hot air, so I turned it off and took a cold shower, bringing my body temperature down, taking deep breaths and calming myself. In the way that one discovers one has already made a decision the moment the coin is flipped, I stood looking into the mirror, knowing that even though it was a terrible idea to go meet the strange man, I had already made my decision. I made it the moment he whispered it to me, the moment I felt his breath on my neck when the light went out in the subway car. I dried off and dressed, the simplicity of my dress meant to be an indication that I was merely curious, not interested in showing off for him. I slipped on earrings and pulled up my hair, guiltily imagining his mouth on my neck where I could still feel the brush of his lips.
Stepping out of the subway and into the light of the early evening I decided to walk for a while before I went to the pastry shop. I was early, but I hadn't been able to stay in the apartment any longer, so I walked slowly up the street to the edge of a park, watching the bikers and rollerbladers fitting in one last lap before dusk. Having made the decision to come meet this man, my body responded with adrenaline and sensitivity like I hadn't felt in ages, except, of course, for those few days on the subway with him. I thought about his rough charm and expensive suits. He must be wealthy, I decided, and bored enough to want a little excitement with someone like me. I turned back towards the pastry shop and walked in, scanning the room for him. The place was packed, but he wasn't there, so I ordered a cappucino and a croissant, and found a little booth in the back where I pulled out a book and waited.
Twenty minutes passed, and I began to be nervous that he wouldn't show, berating myself for assuming he would remember, that he was serious. The dusk was just thickening into dark as I decided to pack up, and as I closed my book I saw him sitting at the bar, watching me.
"What are you doing?" I asked, "How long have you been there?" He just smiled, slipping off the bar stool and sliding into the booth across from me.
"I didn't think you'd come," he said. "I'm glad you're here."
I traced the shadows down his face with my eyes, amazed as his grace of movement, the way nothing, not even shadows, seemed to stick to him. The light always seemed to quiver slightly around him, as if he were repelling it.
"What now?" I asked, finishing off my croissant and continuing to try to figure out the refraction of light in his eyes.
"Well, first, I thought I'd introduce myself. I'm Theodore Wagner," he said, slipping momentarily into a thick accent, pronouncing his 'th' like a 't,' his 'w' as a 'v,' and even rolling his 'r's. I smiled--it was an appropriately romantic name for such a mysterious man. "But please, call me Theo." The accent slipped away again, and the waitress came by with a single small shot of espresso for him. He thanked her and she laughed, winking at him and letting her hand fall on his shoulder before leaving. A low laugh left him, and as I turned away in embarrassment he caught my hand. I gasped as a bolt of electricity flew through my fingers down through my core and landed between my legs. I pulled my fingers from his and the circuit stopped, but I remained painfully aware of his suggestive smile.
"And what, may I ask, is your name, Madame?" He reached as if to touch me again and I curled my fingers under, away from him, making two fists.
"My name is Lana Crane."
"Lovely to meet you Ms. Crane," Theo said, pulling my hand towards him, sending waves of excitement through my body as he slipped his fingers into my clenched fist, loosening my hold, and bringing it up to his mouth. He barely grazed my hand with his lips, but I had to close my eyes to hold back the moan that would have certainly come from me otherwise. His fingers on their own sent me into a spin, but his lips gave me a sensation I had never felt before. The skin where he touched me burned, radiating outward. I looked back over at him, my lips parted and my cheeks reddened. He smiled, leaning forward over the table to question, "Were you about to say something?"
I closed my mouth and shook my head, breathing deeply to calm my shivering diaphragm.
"Are you alright, Lana?" He had to know he was doing this. He had to be doing it to me on purpose. I willed myself to get it together.
"Oh, I'm fine, Theo, thanks. Are you?"
"Well, no, Lana, I'm not quite alright," he mimicked my tone, but quickly became more serious. "I'd be a lot better if we could get out into fresh air. Would you come walk with me? This place is too crowded right now for my taste."
I had sort of liked that it was so crowded, that this man who I didn't know, but who had such lasting control over me would have to be respectful of that. As if he knew exactly what I was thinking, though, Theo grinned. "We can stay under the street lamps, if you'd like."
I guess it would have been easy enough to fake, but under his joking I sensed a nervousness, a concern. It was as if he could joke only so long as he knew I would agree, but if I said no, he would actually be hurt. I studied the shadows that slid over his face as he leaned closer to me. Carefully reaching out, I touched my finger to his forehead, this time prepared for the rush of arousal and attraction that came, tracing it along his eyebrow, dipping into his temple, and stopping at the corner of his mouth. Eyes focused on mine he moved his head to kiss my finger, letting his lips fall open and breathing gently through his mouth. I shuddered and pulled it away, unable to decide how dangerous he was.
"Come on," he muttered gruffly, standing up and grabbing my bag. He tucked his hand under my arm and pulled me to my feet, leading me out the door. Still dazed by the warmth of his breath on my skin, I followed, stumbling along behind him until the door of the cafe shut behind me. The darkness brought me back, reminding me that I did not know him.
"What do you want from me Theo?" I looked over to see his eyes clamped shut, a grimace on his face. "Are you alright?" I asked, placing a hand on the side of his face, turning it towards me. I ignored the warmth that gathered in my abdomen at the touch, and took both thumbs, running them firmly along his eyebrows, gently massaging his temples. He breathed deeply, relaxing into my hands, and his eyes slowly opened. He winked.
"You got over your nervousness fast! I should try that more often with girls."
I snorted, pulling my hands away, but he grabbed my wrist. "If...if we find a bench, do you think you could keep doing that?" His voice was so quiet and hesitant I would not have heard it if I were not standing so close to him.
"What's wrong, Theo? Are you in pain?" I bent my head forward, looking to see if his pupils were dilated, and for a moment his irises shone metallic silver, as if he had reflective, silver marbles instead of eyes. I blinked, and they were back to the mysterious grey they had always been.
"Theo, did you hear me?"
"I..." He stopped, clearly holding something back, willing something that I could not possibly know. "I just need to sit down. I think I have a bit of a headache." I walked him back to the park I had seen earlier, glad for the warmth of the evening and the multitudes of people it brought out after dark to keep us company.
We sat on the bench, and he closed his eyes, pressing my hands to his temples. I sighed.
"Well if we're really going to do this, let's rearrange." He opened his eyes curiously, and watched me scoot to the end of the bench and shift so that I was sitting with my back to the arm rest, facing him. "Lie down with your head in my lap." Theo grinned.
"And no funny business, buster! Just lie down on your back and relax." He did as I said, and I slipped my hands underneath the back of his head to his neck, gently massaging the muscles there and moving up to the indent where his neck met the back of his head. From there I moved my hands around the sides up to his temples, then pressing behind his ears and down along his jaw. A low humming came from him, and the muscles in his jaw started to relax, his lips falling open just a little bit. I moved my fingers up to the bridge of his nose, pressing gently but firmly, then moving down to the dips beside his nostrils. Back up over his cheek bones, and he let a deep, unconscious sigh out.
"You're just so... unfazed." Theo murmured. Unsure of what to say, I was silent, continuing to massage his face and dragging my fingers through his hair. "I mean," he continued, opening his eyes to look straight at me, and I saw the shimmer of air again, as if it couldn't stay put on him. "I mean, I'm just some dumb guy who asked you out from the subway. I could be anyone, and you're just sitting here with my head on your lap, massaging me."
"Well," I countered, "I am a medical professional, so I did take an oath to do no harm. And you are clearly in a lot of pain." I was silent a moment, pulling lightly on his ears. "Are you going to tell me what's causing you so much pain?"
Now Theo was silent, closing his eyes again to just let me move my massaging back down to his neck and shoulders. "It's something like a migraine. I've had them all my life. Nothing to worry about." He seemed to drift off, but suddenly perked up. "Though, I have to say, no one has thought to do this before. It's great!" And with his eyes closed and a smile on his face he began to hum, clearly delighted in such an honest way I could not help but feel a rush of endearment towards him. After a while I stopped massaging him, content to run my fingers through his hair. His breathing had become suspiciously slow, and I looked around, realizing that I must have been sitting on that bench for a half hour already.