tagRomanceRush Ch. 02

Rush Ch. 02


Inez curled her unkissed lips and hurled the box into the street, where it and the bracelet met their fate beneath the front wheel of a medallion taxi. She snarled in Antoine's direction but could only drop her head in defeat to his ex-wife's indelible presence.

He had not attempted to retrieve the gift, only followed the arc of its route from her hand to the pothole-scarred street. When he turned toward her to lift her chin and apologize again, she slapped him. Her hand, which left a red imprint on his face, stung while his ironic infidelity seared her flesh and emblazoned upon her mind. If he was initially stunned, she was doubly humiliated.

Little did Inez realize that when she hit him, he became fully aware of his existence and, like a newborn, breathed air for the first time. In one act of creation, he was made into her man, sort of like the Book of Genesis re-envisioned on a Manhattan sidewalk. She was his master; he obeyed.

Antoine enjoyed a brief fantasy of Inez reluctantly accepting a ticket for the transgression. In fact, he believed that speeding in the fast lane of a friendship, a bond that only a year earlier he had banished to exile in the land of platonic love, was punishable by 40 lashes.

Inez's face was still flushed from her brief act of violence, no matter how justified, and she apologized to Antoine.

"Shall we eat now?" he asked as if nothing had transpired.

"Sure, c'mon," she said. She had never felt this turned-on before -- not even during foreplay. But, this could be foreplay, she mused.

"Now that's the girl I used to know," he said, sliding his arm around her thick waist.

Mmm, I think this is foreplay, Inez heard the goddess inside of her purr. She felt her claws retract and a confident smile return to her face. When she glanced up at Antoine, she remarked internally how he was framed by the midday sun. She couldn't see his black rhinestone pupils but sensed the heat rising in her face. An orange glow from his radiant gaze. Like a divine entity, he leaned down and kissed eternal life into her, and just as a car drove past blasting Liz Phair's "Extraordinary" from its sound system.

To be continued ...

Standing directly behind Inez, Antoine inhaled the coconut essence from his lover's auburn-frosted braids. She pretended to peruse the Intermission Diner's distressed, laminated menu with interest, its edges taped to a large, weathered window facing West 43rd Street. What she craved lay beneath his nose, the soft double swelling that for the moment trembled dangerously close to her slender neck. Instinctively, the fine hairs at the top of her back and along her arms perked up in a prehistoric response to approaching danger. She tried to focus on the diner's offerings, knowing full well that she wished his generous meat was on the menu.

Invisible swirls of his impassioned breath inadvertently misted the finer hairs on the nape of her neck in the narrow path where her braids separated and dangled past the collar on her olive-green swing coat. Despite the midtown heat, she felt a familiar chill from within.

"I don't mind being your cheap date this afternoon, Antoine, but," she paused without turning to face him, "I want a fancy table, candlelight, roses, and a menu that includes a whole lobster and not just lobster bisque. You dig?"

"Where is this coming from, Inez?" he asked. "You've always told me you prefer comfort food," he said, staring at her generous rear end, which not even the roomiest swing coat could hide. He imagined her on any weeknight, shoveling in bowls of macaroni and cheese while feigning interest in the fate of the protagonist in whatever woman-in-peril movie was airing on her favorite cable television channel. Her shrill tone snapped him out of the daydream -- or nightmare as it were.

"Your ambivalent ways with me for the past 10 months have made me anything but comfortable," she said.

Inez stepped to her left, out of Antoine's erotic force field, and turned sharply toward him so that her braids whipped the front of his opened jacket. He barely had time to look away.

"You should watch those tendrils of yours, hon'," he said, his usually sparkling black eyes narrowing to slits. "I can feel the sting right through my jacket."

"Well," she returned with a defiant flip of her braids, "at least I didn't complain when you bumped my grill. Couldn't you see that I was parked?"

Sensing he had just been lashed, he nevertheless did not want to admit to the emasculation. "You need to accept that we have an indefatigable sexual attraction to one another. So let me just, uh, roll up to your bumper, baby."

"Excusez-moi, but I'm not Grace Jones, and so you're not going to 'drive it in between' -- I believe the words go like that," she said.

"Don't avoid my statement. We're sexual soulmates," he said.

"Okay, okay, I admit that the thought of you turns me on. But enough of that. Look, how about we get together on a weekend for a change? I can't repeat this kind of long lunch hour, or else I could lose my job at the law firm. Then I'll really be up shit's creek," she said.

"So what do you propose?" he asked, and as soon as he did, he regretted it.

"Next Saturday's the second of October, so I'm thinking an Italian restaurant -- maybe one of the quaint ones in Little Italy. C'mon, babe. Whaddaya say?"

He was dumbstruck. He felt as if he was spinning around like a rotisserie chicken. Like a terrified Jimmy Stewart peering over the stairwell in Vertigo. The first of October would be his ex-wife's birthday, but he could not divulge that to Inez. As far as he could discern from his stolen moments with Katrina, she had no one with whom to share her celebrations. Besides, he already had promised to treat her to dinner at Sardi's. He tried to imagine how his best friend, Yannick, would advise him in this awkward moment. He turned somatically febrile, stripping off his acid-washed denim jacket, which matched the jeans that flattered the contours of his lower trunk.

"Grrrrrr," she growled in the manner of a young, foxy Eartha Kitt. She easily lost focus upon glimpsing Antoine's fetching body, which conjured up memories of how he had pinned her against the railing of the yacht as it sailed up the Hudson two years ago. "I don't know how you stay in such great shape, Antoine. Beating off after our naughty phone sessions couldn't possibly be that much of a workout," she said, on the verge of drooling.

"Uh, have you ever heard of a gym, hon'?" he quipped. Before he could follow up his question with a chuckle, Inez jabbed her elbow into his ribs. Passersby were astonished, clutching their sides and sighing as if sympathetically suffering from his injury.

Beads of perspiration doubled in volume as if conspiring against him. Still smarting from the pain, he nevertheless was far more worried as to how he was going to break the news about Katrina to Inez. He stumbled, unable to find his center, as if in a psychosomatic tug-of-war between restraint and desire.

"Oh, dear God, Antoine! I'm so sorry, babe," she said, kissing from his ear to his mouth, then to his other ear.

The thought that invaded his existence was: This is the kind of woman that would cut my throat as easily as she kisses me from ear to ear, and I bet she'd apologize profusely while choking me in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

Tiptoed, she clutched his face and licked along the shadow of his mustache. His lips swelled from the hot, wet sensation. Using her meaty tongue like a penis, she penetrated his parted lips. She sucked in his hot breath and felt a faint contraction in her tilted womb. Then she turned so he could embrace her from behind. Like the vixen he begged her to act out during their phone sex, she poked her plump posterior against his junction.

Antoine felt his boxers tighten on his genitalia. His dark pupils dilated. He bit his lower lip and risked spraining his neck to whisper amorous words into his lover's ear. Inez sank back into his trembling embrace and tried to hide her delight from his gentle prodding against her derrière. They were both grateful for the diner's dirty windows, which they hoped shielded their erotic deeds from the patrons inside.

She leaned forward, pressing her palms to the warm glass. He stood stockstill, his present intertwined with their past like the interlocking strands in her ropelike braids. He was experiencing a delusional fantasy that carried him to the edge of ecstasy. Shutting his eyes, he imagined them having an afternoon tumble on the firm futon she had described in many of their erotic phone sessions. He could taste her briny perspiration and see her muscular shoulder blades sliding upon his firm caresses of her pillowy breasts and continuing around to her back.

As if on cue, a 60-ish saxophonist with the complexion of dark Jamaican rum scraped his crate against the curb to grab their attention. As if the harsh sound of hard plastic on concrete failed to cut through their discord, the musician angled his ax in their direction and blew a swirl of harmony their way in the form of Coltrane's "Giant Steps." His arthritic fingers still worked their magic, their stubbiness a blur on the dull brass valves of his instrument. He seemed to summon all the air in his lungs to breathe new meaning into the song, its freshness in stark counterpoint with his unkempt silver beard, tarnished gold stud molded into his right earlobe and tattered beige camouflage jacket with baggy, soot-stained khakis.

Inez changed her tune. "I want you by my side, Antoine. The way I've desired you to be since reuniting with you last November."

"I was just waiting for the invitation, Inez," he said, his hands buried in his pockets. "Mother, may I?"

Inez howled with laughter at the reference to one of her favorite childhood games. "Yes, you may take one giant step," she said in a mock-haughty tone.

"Ah, that's more like it, hon'," he said and craned his neck for a peck on hers while planting his sizable palms around her shoulders. Despite her plus-size physique, she was nimble and easily slid out of his embrace.

"Antoine, be a darling, why don't you. Take my hand and pretend you're a doting lover consumed with the idea of bedding me upon the first orange rays of sunset." He was still scowling at her comment when she fondled his firm buttocks. She could not believe he yelped, though his effeminate sound was drowned out by the saxman's frenzied crescendo.

The Intermission Diner's sign, its name set in a sans-serif Broadway font, hovered above their heads. It was a fact that did not escape Inez, who had been superstitious since childhood. She hated when her friends would tell her to "break a leg" just prior to going onstage for any of her progressive junior high school's plays. At present she was channeling Lady Macbeth, and in character she cast a chilling glance at Antoine, who looked back at her meekly. She rubbed her forearm as if missing the "friendship" bracelet she had hurled into the street less than a half-hour earlier.

The veteran saxophonist cleared his throat and rattled his coffee cup of coins in the pair's direction. Defeated, he slammed the cup against the concrete beside him and expectorated several times into the street, nearly slipping off his crate. He licked his lips the way he must have before a session at the Savoy, Cotton Club, or any number of elegant clubs where, back in the day, he and many other Black musicians were forced to enter by the back door. He fixed his chapped lips around his reed instrument and serenaded Inez and Antoine with "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

Whether affected by the old man's mojo or simply the gentle swagger of his sax, the pair moved inches closer to each other. They both squinted through the soot-tinted glass to spot a vacant table. Another 10 minutes and they would get lucky.

If the window were any larger, it would have resembled a high, wide display glass in the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. The animals inside this diner's window, however, were stuffed in a different manner. They were wolfing down all sorts of oozing pink-and-green sandwiches and bloody burgers paired with French fries that undoubtedly were as artery-clogging as a serving of Québéçois poutine.

Like the museum's carcasses, Intermission Diner's patrons were of varied stripes and sizes, and Inez was stupefied that she could discern most of them. She was certain that the phenomenon was not due to her visual acuity, though, as she had left her eyeglasses on her desk in a deliberate act of vanity to which all women past a certain age were entitled. Instead, she attributed her unusual ability of making out the diners, despite the grimy glass, to a gestalt that traced back to a childhood obsession for games of connect-the-dots. The problem was she had trouble discerning where to draw the lines in her current, labyrinthine involvement.

Antoine, on the other hand, was a sun-kissed Narcissus so enamored by his reflection that he appeared unfazed by the opaque streaks formed by a curious mixture of water and airborne grime. At first he leaned back with the dexterity of a limbo dancer in a feeble attempt to capture his likeness in the few slivers of light that the window would allow of the sun. Then he leaned his torso forward as if assuming the female position in the abrazo of Argentine tango. Only by absorbing himself into his physical beauty could he temporarily forget his promise to his ex-wife. She was a gorgeous, sensitive woman who embodied a song she had often played on Sunday evenings: Ginette Reno's "Une Femme Sentimentale."

Inez stood by Antoine's side, a hand on her cloaked hip, sizing up his 5-foot-11 frame. Lord, what a god, she intoned. She vacillated between fascination and annoyance until she no longer could bear either. "Fucking Antoine-in-the-looking-glass! Let's go in or dine somewhere else. I won't have much time to eat anyway; I've got to get back to work. I'm not a hotshot like you, able to make your advertising bosses swoon at the sight of you and forget that you're taking advantage of their lunch hour policy."

"Relax, hon'," was all he could say as he checked out his profile. He removed a small comb from his back pocket and touched up his springy 'fro.

She was frustrated less by his vanity than by their phone sex ritual, which always culminated with him groaning loudly into the receiver and with her frowning from not having a chance to get beyond a lubed state. Her soles were wearing thin from the relationship dance with Antoine.

Now, standing on West 43rd Street, procrastinating about their lunch destination, she glanced up to curse the sky. She refused to believe that God could have been responsible for impregnating the latest affliction. As she cast her eyes slowly downward, hands on hips, she fixed her gaze on the Intermission Diner's sign. Flashing in gaudy bile-green neon lights -- despite it being daytime -- save nine of the 125 bulbs, the sign dangled outside the establishment's second-story windows. A peck on the cheek from Antoine brought her back to earth.

They walked through the fingerprint-mottled glass door and waited for the hostess to seat them. Within five minutes a shapely waitress, Janine, shimmied over to their formica table. "What can I get for youz?" she said between cracking her gum, which made Inez's eyes twitch. Antoine gesticulated toward Inez.

"I ain't got all day, ma'am. My shift's ending soon," said Janine.

"All righty, then," said Inez. "I'll have two eggs, scrambled medium, with bacon, home fries and toast -- no butter."

Antoine pretended to snore, which elicited a swift kick in the shin from his lover.

"Ow! Dammit! OK, I'll have one egg over easy and an English muffin," he said.

"Anything to drink for the botha youz?" Janine asked, smirking.

"Make it two freshly squeezed OJs, hon'," he said, winking at the waitress.

"What the fuck was that?" Inez asked as Janine swiveled her hips in the direction of the grill.

"I've been coming here for years, Inez," he said in an annoyed tone. "Listen, don't start."

"Forgive me, babe," she said softly, then kicked off her patent leather flats.

"C'mon, that tickles," he told her as her stockinged left foot circled his right ankle through his sweat socks. When her foot fumbled at his crotch, he stopped complaining and his rock-hard bulge complied with her seduction.

"Down boy," he demanded. They both laughed raucously.

"Why'd you break the mood?" she complained. "Are you opposed to sex before breakfast?"

"What, are we supposed to screw on top of the table before our eggs are served? I don't want to get slivers of glass from salt and pepper shakers embedded in my dick, sweetie," he said with a grimace.

"Hey, what we were just doing--"

"What you, you were just doing," he corrected her.

"Whatever -- that was foreplay. We could always go and have a quickie in a bathroom stall," she said. "Speaking of which, where are the commodes in this joint?"

"Downstairs," he said, pointing toward the rear of the diner at the large, dingy "Restrooms" sign.

"Ooh, that's quite discreet, don'tcha think, babe?" she teased. Batting her eyes at him, she snaked her right foot up his denim-clad right leg until she reached his expanded crotch.

"I see we've been watching 'Unfaithful' again," he said, referring to one of her favorite scenes from the once-controversial film. During more than one of their late-night phone conversations, she told him she often had fantasized about acting out the film's torrid scene in a restaurant's bathroom stall. She even insisted that Antoine not only rent the DVD of the film but also study French in his spare time. A few Berlitz lessons and nearly a thousand dollars later, he managed to perfect a French accent so that he could impersonate Olivier Martínez, for which Inez rewarded him with orgasmic phrases in English.

Considering his lover's mean left hook, Antoine feared her other fantasy -- that of acting out the pseudo-S&M scene in which Martínez's Paul Martel commands Diane Lane's Constance Sumner to slap him senseless.

"You know, I haven't had the balls to admit this until now," he said, grinning, "but that movie's a lousy remake of the great French film 'La Femme infidèle.'"

"That may be, mon chéri, but let's just pray I don't wind up getting a blow to the head with a snow globe," she quipped.

It took him a moment, and then he grasped her point. "Look, Inez, I told you that me and my ex--"

"You can say her name out loud. 'Katrina,' for God sake!" she cried, attracting unwanted attention from surrounding tables. Barely lowering her voice, she continued, "You're still in love with her, aren't you? I can't get over that engraved bracelet."

"You already tossed the bracelet, which, I might add, was unnecessary. Let's get off that topic and the one of Kat...my ex-wife, that is," he insisted.

"Fine, just fine. Uh, here comes our juice," she said in a not-so-smooth segue.

Janine had eavesdropped on enough of their conversation to know that a storm was brewing. She smiled at Antoine as she placed the glasses of orange juice down on the table. "Sure I can't get youz no coffee?"

"We'd like some privacy. Just bring our food, please," Inez snapped.

"Two coffees, one black, one with half-and-half. Thanks, hon'," Antoine added with two winks.

Janine shot a glare at Inez, cracked her gum for emphasis, scribbled "Bitch at Table #7" onto her pad and swayed her hips toward a party of three across the room.

"Just keep winking at our waitress like that, and I'll put that eye out," warned Inez.

"Accept that you're a paranoid woman, but don't take it out on Janine. She's been busting her ass at this diner going on 20 years. She couldn't care less about our love affair." Then, trying to change the subject, he said, "Why don't you go back to showing me how you appreciate seeing me again, ma chérie?"

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