DISCLAIMERS: The characters are mine. Please don't repost or copy without my permission, unless it's for personal use.
Sex/Love Warning: No sex in this one, but this is the story of women falling in love. If this isn't your thing, you'd best pass on this one (no harm, no foul).
Language: As usual, my characters have a potty mouth. That's just the way they are.
Feedback: Yes, please, if you feel the inclination and have the time. Send your comments to email@example.com
There was nothing special about that Saturday night. It was hot and humid. Which made it different from the Saturday nights that were wet or balmy or icy. But the weather didn't make it special. There were still people going to hole-in-the-wall restaurants that served the best tapas on the west side; to nightclubs where women in diamonds drank manhattans and talked about the Middle East; to theaters housed in small rooms where avant-garde groups performed all-nude productions of The Lion King.
I drove my cab. I picked people up and dropped them off. I got decent tips once in a while. Everyone complained about the weather or the president or the traffic. I just drove. Nothing special.
So how was I supposed to know I'd fall in love?
I certainly wasn't thinking about love. I wasn't thinking of anything in particular, actually. I was perturbed though. I was running late. I have this schedule, you see. It's not that strict. A cabby's schedule can't be that strict. Sometimes you'll intend on being somewhere, but you'll pick up a fare that takes you across town. And that's what happened to me that particular Saturday night.
An old guy in a wheelchair hailed my cab on the lower east side. He was headed to the upper west side. Of course. I had a heck of a time getting him into the back of the cab. He grumbled and cursed; I grumbled and cursed. I finally got him in, and once his elbows were tucked inside, I slammed the door. Then I had to struggle with the wheelchair. Getting the chair into the trunk was harder than getting the old guy into the back seat.
Once we were heading across town, I was treated to one diatribe after another. Like I said before: complaints about the weather, the president, the traffic. He did mix it up a little; he blamed the president for the traffic and the weather for the president. I didn't exactly follow his logic.
He lived in a dingy high rise some sort of home for veterans and when we pulled up outside I was hoping for a porter or nurse or something. But no such luck. I had to haul the wheelchair out of the trunk, and then his ass out of the back and into the chair. My lower back was screaming at me by the time I was through. But my agony wasn't over yet. He asked me to wheel him up a ramp and into the lobby. I almost told him to go fuck himself. But I didn't. I was a good little girl. I smiled and said "sure thing" (or something equally Polly Anna-ish) and pushed his creaking chair up a cracked concrete ramp.
I got him into the dimly lit lobby and pushed the button for the elevator. He finally told me he'd be OK from there. Then he gave me money for the fare.
"There's a little something extra for you, sweetheart," he said with a wink.
I smiled, feeling a little mollified. But when I got back to my cab and counted the bills, I found a measly three bucks tip. I cursed him. For a good five minutes. But what are you gonna do? The world is made up of cheapskates. Old ones and young ones and middle-aged ones. People suck. They're evil, rotten, selfish, smelly, arrogant bastards.
I really believe that. But not quite as much as I did then. Falling in love mellows you. The grindstone of love polishes your rough edges. And makes you say poetic shit like that.
But I've gotten ahead of myself again.
After cursing the old man up one side and down the other, I realized that I was late. Remember that schedule I was telling you about? Well, when the opera was "in da house", I tried to be there when the curtain fell. You see, operagoers were the exception to the cheapskate rule. They were usually good tippers. The "old money" tipped because it was the socially responsible thing to do spread the wealth to the riff raff. The "new money" did it to impress their wives or girlfriends, hoping that throwing money around like it meant nothing would be a sexual turn on. The "psuedo money" tipped to copy either the old money or the new money, with no real idea why. The only ones I had to watch out for were the people who just went to the opera because they enjoyed it. Freaks like that were just impossible to predict.
The old guy had thrown off my schedule. When I checked the clock in the dash, I realized I'd miss the opera crowd unless I really hauled ass across town. So I drove like a maniac, dodging potholes and crashing through puddles of yellow-tinged water. I moved through wraiths of steam oozing from sewer grates and nearly hit a dark figure darting between parked cars probably running from the cops.
When I arrived at the opera house, the lights were still on, but all I saw were the taillights of the last of the cars and cabs. I pulled up into the taxi line, optimistically peering around. After waiting five or ten minutes with no luck, I decided to circle the block, looking for stragglers.
I was almost ready to give up altogether when I saw her.
I noticed her dress first, though I'm certainly not a clothes person. It was a deep green and it seemed to change colors as it shifted with her steps. It was satin, I suppose. Like I said, I'm not a clothes person. I can identify denim most of the time, but that's about it. Anyway, her dress was sleeveless, tight at the top, but with a full skirt that came down to mid-calf. I say it was a dress, but that's like saying a Harley is a "bike" or Yankee Stadium is a "ballpark". I'm talking understatement. She was wearing a gown. It was absolutely breathtakingly stunning.
I trailed behind her as she walked in and out of the light of the street lamps. I watched her ass as it swayed slightly under the shimmering gown. I felt my libido wake up, wipe the sleep from its eyes, and drink a shot of espresso. I could have watched that ass all night, but I decided to pull up beside her instead. She must have spotted the yellow of my cab out of the corner of her eye, and she gave a little jump and turned to me, raising her hand tentatively.
Now, tentative waves are rare in my business. Shrill whistles, shouts of "Taxi!" from the diaphragm, decisive hand motions that throw the entire upper body out into the street that's what I'm used to. I stopped anyway. After all, she already had my attention.
She hesitated again, and then walked toward the car. I hit the button for the passenger window and she leaned down, but stayed a few feet from the cab.
She was beautiful. I can't believe I used up all my adjectives on her dress. Forget her dress. No, wait, don't forget her dress, because it matched her eyes deep and green, but constantly changing colors: one minute, the green of spring grass; the next, the green of a stormy sea. Her hair was a red-gold, the color of a tropical sunset. It was pulled back into an elaborate, elegant braid. Emeralds danced on her earlobes.
She didn't speak, so I decided to help her along a little.
"Need a ride?" I asked. The words sounded strange. I felt like I was picking up a hitchhiker instead of a fare-paying passenger. I tried to cover up the awkwardness by flashing what I hoped was an encouraging, friendly smile.
I remembered too late that my ex-girlfriend Pam always told me my encouraging, friendly smile reminded her of a psycho clown. Sure enough, the girl in the green dress gave another little startled jump and looked as if she was about to cry.
"I need to get to Monroe and Fifty-First," she said in a hesitant warble.
I wondered for a moment how to respond. "Yeah, I know where that is" seemed mocking and cynical. "All right, babe, hop in" seemed way too macho. I settled for something simple.
"OK," I replied, carefully keeping my face neutral so I didn't send her screaming down the street.
She took another step closer to the car and examined me for a moment. I was straining to maintain my blank face. It kind of hurt.
"I don't have any money," she said when I seemed to pass further scrutiny. "I can't pay you. I left I mean my purse it was in her car my cash and cards "
Now she did start to cry. I watched as tears filled her eyes. They shimmered in the streetlight, and she brushed them away with the back of her hand.
"Someone stole your purse?" I asked, trying to piece together the broken words.
"No!" she cried. She took a deep breath, and then said in a calmer tone, "No. We had an argument and she stormed off. She didn't know I left my purse in her car. It was my stupid mistake. She'll realize eventually." She paused and wiped more tears from her face.
"I'll call her tomorrow," she added, sounding like it was the last thing she wanted to do.
Now, you need to picture my brain for a minute. This is what it looks like: an enormous, dark, empty room. Like the high school gym with the lights out. And there are these big, neon signs. They float in the middle of the room and flash messages. At this particular moment, they were flashing these messages:
She can't pay you.
Her ass is fantastic.
You'll lose money.
She will be very, very thankful if you give her a free ride.
I bet she looks great soaking wet.
Well, what do you think I did?
"It's all right," I said, letting my lips curl a little bit at the corners my alternative to the encouraging, friendly smile. "I'll take you home. I can't leave you on the streets and you can't walk that far especially not this late at night."
"If you give me your number or something, I'll get the money to you tomorrow." She didn't move and looked seriously at me, obviously wanting to settle the method of payment before getting into the cab.
"Sure," I said, "that sounds like a plan."
Only then did she nod and get into the back.
"My name is Gillian, by the way," she said politely. "Gillian Fisher."
Her skirts rustled as she settled against the seat. I hoped that the old dude hadn't pissed himself or anything, and tried to sniff the air unobtrusively. I didn't smell piss, but I did smell her perfume. It smelled of spring flowers, sunshine and a sea breeze. And underneath, something more. Something that said: "Lie down on this blanket next to me in a field of daisies overlooking the ocean and screw me till my eyes pop out." Holy shit, that was some perfume!
I was busy breathing in as much of the perfume as I could when I realized it was my turn for introductions. I put my brain onto the puzzle of figuring out my name.
"My friends call me 'Mike'," I eventually managed. "It's short for Michaela. I've only admitted that to a select few, so count yourself special."
"OK," she said. She looked serious, which was definitely not the effect I was going for. "Thank you so much for doing this. I didn't know what to do."
"No problem," I replied, trying to sound nonchalant rather than cocky.
"I can't believe this happened." Gillian closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the headrest. I thought about telling her to move her beautiful hair. God only knew what dirty, greasy, nasty heads had rested there since I'd cleaned it last.
"Oh well, happens to the best of us," I replied. Damn, I was trying not to be cocky, and it slipped out anyway. I watched in dismay as her chin began to quiver.
"Was it bad?" I asked softly. That sounded better, and my sympathy wasn't even fake. I could feel my stomach clench in empathy.
"She's always viewed our relationship as open," she replied. She stared out the window as we passed the dark buildings of the theater district and began to circle the park. I could tell her eyes were focused on the past and the bitch who had just broken her heart.
"And you haven't?" I asked carefully.
"I guess I hoped that we would get closer as time went by, and she would start to " she trailed off and put her hand to her mouth. "Oh God, how could I have been so stupid."
"You weren't stupid," I replied. I finally remembered I had a box of Kleenex in the glove compartment. I stopped at a red light and quickly fished it out, removing the top tissue in case it had picked up gunge. I opened the partition that separated me from the backseat and passed the box over my right shoulder. She took it and smiled at me. She looked more beautiful at that moment than anyone I had ever seen.
"I was naïve then," Gillian said, wiping her eyes with a tissue, and then drawing another and delicately blowing her nose. "I was living a fantasy. I should have known months ago that she would never change."
"And what happened tonight?"
"I saw her kissing an usher during the intermission," she said with a resigned sigh. "I sat through the final act, trying to decide what to say and how to say it. And despite my mental rehearsal, I failed miserably."
"Let me guess: she jumped on the offensive right away and all of a sudden it was all your fault."
"Yeah." The word was sighed more than spoken.
"Bitch," I snapped. I tried not to think of all the times I had been on the offensive in an argument with an ex-girlfriend. I never cheated on anyone, but God knows I wasn't always an angel.
"She didn't say anything that wasn't true," Gillian said dejectedly.
"I find that hard to believe. I'm sure she said things just to push your buttons. Try to forget about it." I wanted to add, "Try to forget about her," but that was moving a little too far beyond sympathetic stranger into the realm of buttinsky.
"I need to rethink my life," she said, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror. "Decide what my priorities are where I'm going and how I'm going to get there. What I want in a relationship or whether I even want a relationship right now."
"Wow. How about coming up with a plan for world peace while you're at it?" I grinned to show her I wasn't being a sarcastic bitch. She flashed a small smile and blushed a little. OK, I was wrong before. It was at this moment that she looked more beautiful than anyone I had ever seen.
About this time a voice started yelling in my head. The voice was pointing out that someone incredibly beautiful was in my cab deciding what she wanted in a relationship. The voice was encouraging me to flirt, exchange phone numbers, discuss star signs, and cry out, "Look no further, the sexy thing driving the cab is exactly what you need." I was already halfway to her house and all I'd done so far was utter vague, sympathetic there-there's.
"I think I'll just start with sorting out my own life," Gillian said.
"That sounds like a good idea," I replied. The voice groaned and the sound echoed in that big, dark room that was my brain.
"You're a very good listener, do you know that?"
I looked at her in the rearview mirror and I must have had a look of utter shock and amazement on my face, because she laughed. It was a warm chuckle and her nose wrinkled in amusement.
"Hasn't anyone ever told you that before?" she asked.
"Uh no," I admitted. "My ex always said I never listened to a word she said."
"Well, maybe she just didn't have anything worthwhile to say," Gillian replied. Then she looked out the window, an embarrassed flush crossing her face. "Or maybe I've been talking too much about my problems and you haven't been able to get a word in edgewise."
"No, not at all."
She looked at me and raised an eyebrow.
"OK," I said sheepishly, "you have been talking a bit, but I don't mind. Really."
"Well, I think I've been very rude." She sighed. "Why don't you tell me something about yourself? Do you enjoy driving a cab?"
Oh no! It was the question that I dreaded most in the whole world. Everyone asked me the same thing. My mom asked me at least once a month, and that was saying something because I only talked to her once a month unless I needed money. Girls in bars asked me, my fares asked me, the guy that cut my hair asked me, the clerk at the liquor store asked me. Everybody friggin' asked me.
And everyone got a different answer. Not because I didn't know the answer for myself, but because they were all asking for different reasons. I had to make sure I gave them the answer they wanted to hear. And now Gillian, the most beautiful woman I had ever met, was asking me the question. What answer did she expect? What answer would she get?
"It gives me an opportunity to meet a lot of different people," I finally replied, nodding my head as if I were agreeing with myself. "People from all over the world come to the city. Everyone's got a different story to tell. There's something different every day."
There. That sounded pretty good, didn't it? It certainly wasn't a lie. More like four random sentences that didn't add up to shit. But Gillian seemed to like it.
"I bet you could write a book," she said. I could see the stories in her face. My past fares were all dancing in her eyes. But not the ones who pissed themselves or puked all over the seat.
She glanced out the window and realized we were nearing her street.
"I'd love to hear a few of your stories some time," she said.
The voice in my head developed a body and became a cheerleader. She was in the big, empty room in my head and she was yelling and waving her pompoms. She was kinda cute.
"I'm y-y-yeah that w-w-would be I'd l-l-like that."
Why do I stutter at the very moment when I need to be suave and debonair? I sounded like friggin' Porky Pig.
But wait a minute. Was she really asking me out? Or was that a brush-off? I frantically tried to remember her exact words, tone of voice, facial expression Oh, shit, that was a brush off. And I responded like it was an invitation to see her again.
"You know .s-s-some time .I could t-t-tell you you know some s-s-stories " I frantically tried to recover my fumble.
"Do you have a pen and paper?" she asked, as I turned left on Monroe. It was a quiet street and large shade trees covered the streetlights, making the neighborhood look like a shadowy fairyland.
"Sure," I replied. I crossed Fifty-First. "Hang on. What number?"
"What?" She looked out the window as if she'd been in a daze. "Oh, three more houses on the right side."
I pulled up in front of the building she indicated. It was an old Victorian that had been split into a couple of apartments.
"Looks nice," I said. She didn't make a move to open the door, and I turned to look at her.
"Pen and paper?" she asked again.
"Oh, yeah," I blushed and then quickly rummaged through the glove compartment, finding a pen I hoped still had some ink. I then handed her a blank receipt.
She took the pen and paper and scribbled something. Then handed both back.
"And do you have a card or something?" she asked.
I nodded and dove back into the glove compartment. I fished around for the little stack of business cards that I'd had made. They'd all been stained by coffee that I'd spilled at some point. I found one that didn't look too ragged, and handed it to her.
"Thanks again for doing this," she said. Her fingers danced along the side of my hand as she took the card. She smiled shyly.
She got out of the cab and I rolled my window down.
"How will you get inside?" I asked.
"I have a key under a flower pot," she replied, standing beside my window. "It's a horrible cliché, and they tell you never to do that, but I lock myself out all the time for one reason or another."
"Well, I'll watch until you get inside," I said. At least, that's what came out of my mouth. Inside my head, I was saying, "Ask me up, ask me up, ask me up" on an endless loop.
"Listen," she said. "I still don't feel comfortable about taking a free ride like this."
The loop changed: "pay me back with sex, pay me back with sex, pay me back with sex."
She reached up and took off an earring.
"Take this as insurance," she said, holding it out.
"No, don't be silly." I held out my hand and waved dismissively, but she grabbed my hand and dropped the earring into my palm, then folded my fist around it.
"Please," she said, "it would make me feel better."
She held on to my fist. Her hands were soft and warm, like the pads on the bottom of a kitten's feet.
"OK," I replied. "I'll return it y-y-you can call me w-w-we can get together ."
Shit, I was Porky Pig again.
"I'll call tomorrow." She gave my hand a squeeze before releasing it. She smiled and hesitated a moment, as if she were going to say something else. I waited. Everything stopped: the voices in my head, my stuttering speech, my heartbeat.
"Good night," she whispered, then turned and headed across the sidewalk and up the steps to her front door. When she reached the top, she bent down and fished a key out from under a flowerpot. Then, she opened her door. Before going in, she turned and waved. I managed to move my arm and wave back. It was the most physically difficult thing I'd ever done.
I watched as her lights came on. I stayed there, looking toward her apartment like some mad stalker. I saw her shadow a few times, moving in front of the blinds. Ten minutes later, her lights went out again.
"Taxi!" The cry cut through the night like a dull knife through Spam.
Shit, why didn't I turn off the in-service light? I needed a drink or something. Time to think.
"I need to get down to the waterfront as quick as you can!"
Oh, I so didn't need this.
The back door creaked on its hinges and I looked in the rearview mirror at the woman who was literally crawling into the backseat. I had no idea why she wasn't getting into the cab like a normal human. It had something to do with a huge bag, extremely uncomfortable but stylish shoes, and pants that were two sizes too big.
"I was three blocks up," she explained, panting like an excited terrier, "and I ran the whole way. I thought " She looked at my reflection in the rearview mirror and stopped speaking. Her panting stopped, but her mouth stayed open. "I thought y-y-you were g-g-going to pu-pu-pull away." She closed her mouth, took a deep breath and then snorted. "Shit! I sound like fucking Porky Pig."
"Are you all right?" I took a better look at her. Her hair was cut short, in a ragged style. It had been colored bright pink, but it was growing out exposing blonde roots. It reminded me of rainbow sherbet or a jaundiced kid holding a stick of cotton candy.
"I'm OK," she replied. "I was just surprised. I expected a man who smelled of garlic and BO. Isn't that a cab driver requirement?"
"I'm sure I've smelled a time or two, but I try to shower and brush my teeth before I get in the cab." I smirked at her and she smirked back.
"Well, it's much appreciated, let me tell you." She took a cautious breath just to make sure I didn't reek. "It actually smells nice in here. Like perfume." She took another, bolder sniff. "Like really expensive, designer perfume."
"My previous passenger," I explained. I tried to keep every iota of wistfulness out of my voice.
"Oh?" she said, with a suggestive eyebrow lift. "Do tell."
I almost replied before I realized I was talking to a woman who had just crawled into the back of my cab. I turned around, my seatbelt painfully cutting into my neck. "Lady, are you going somewhere? The meter's running you know."
She grinned. "Oh, it's like that is it?"
"Like what?" I replied testily.
"I will get the truth out of you before this night is over."
Oh great! A crazy woman had gotten into the back of my cab. It happened a lot. The trick was getting them out again.
"How 'bout you just let me know where you're going? I'll take you there, you'll pay me, and then I'll drive away. That's generally how these things work."
"That might be how things work in your universe, but things are different in mine." Her eyes twinkled. They were green, and clashed with her sherbet hair. "I dance to the beat of a different drummer."
"March," I corrected.
"March to the beat of a different drummer," I replied. "The saying is 'march to the beat of a different drummer.'"
"I prefer dancing. Marching is too martial."
"But that's the saying," I said, trying not to sound frustrated.
"Oh dear," she said in a patronizing voice, "someone was raised with way too much structure. You need to lighten up. Think outside the box."
"Look," I said, completely giving up on keeping frustration out of my voice. "Do you want to go somewhere tonight? I can't stay parked here."
"Yes, I want to go somewhere. Dancing, funnily enough." She dug into her pants pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. She unfolded it and spread it out, peering at it in the dim light. "Damn, I can't read my own writing. Is there a Waterside Avenue?"
"No. What about Water Street?"
"No, it's definitely something Avenue."
"Maybe." She put the paper against her forehead and closed her eyes, humming in a monotone. Yep, I definitely had a crazy woman in the back of my cab. "Is Riverside near the waterfront? I'm heading to a warehouse right on the water."
"No, Riverside isn't anywhere near water."
"So why do they call it 'Riverside'?" She asked, stopping the hum and opening her eyes to peer at me.
"How do I know?"
She sighed, and pursed her lips clearly disappointed in my lack of knowledge about the origin of street names. I gave her a blank stare. I'd run out of reactions. My account was completely overdrawn, and she'd only been in my cab for five minutes.
"Maybe I should call my friend and ask her where they are."
Dumbfounded. I still had dumbfounded shoved in my back pocket.
"Yeah," I said, pulling out my dumbfounded expression, "that might be a good idea."
She rummaged in her pants pocket again and, after a few moments of frantic digging, withdrew her cell phone.
"I hope she has it on vibrate," she said, dialing rapidly with her thumb. "Otherwise, she won't be able to hear the ring in that place."
I decided to start driving toward the waterfront. The sooner this crazy woman was out of my cab, the better. Then I could work on what I would say to Gillian when I called her. Or what I would say when she called me. I couldn't decide whether I should wait for her to call me, or call her first. If I called her, it would look like I was demanding payment. But if she called me, she'd look like she just wanted her earring back. So maybe she'd wait. And if I waited, we'd never end up calling each other.
"Ally! Hello? Can you hear me?" The voice rang out in the confines of the cab like the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral. I tried to concentrate on driving and pleaded with any supreme power listening to end my nightmare.
"Oh, good, I can hear you now." She lowered her voice. It now reached the level of a drunken sports fan shouting from the back of the bleachers. "Listen, I'm in a cab on my way there, but I lost the address where? .The Pussycat Lounge?" She looked at me. "Do you know where the Pussycat Lounge is?"
I was tempted to say "my bedroom", but I resisted. I just shook my head and scowled, heading toward the expressway.
"She doesn't know yes, I said 'she' no, she doesn't smell of BO and garlic." She looked up and our eyes met in the rearview mirror. The corner of her lips turned up slightly in a little grin. "Oh yeah," she said in a sultry purr.
Yes, you heard me. It was a purr. A downright sultry purr. And I had no idea what the question had been.
"I need to know where we're going," I said gruffly, completely rattled by the sultry purr.
She cleared her throat and scrunched her eyebrows in concentration. "Ally, where is the club? What's the street called?" She listened for a moment. "Really are you sure? OK, we'll be there in a while ." The little grin appeared again. "I will." She pushed the off button on the phone and then peeked up at me. She quickly looked away when her eyes met my baby blues in the mirror.
"Well?" I tried to ignore the little grin and sideways look, and thought about Gillian's innocent smile and sweet blush.
"It's on First Street."
"That's not 'Something Avenue'," I said testily.
"No," she replied sheepishly. "I think this piece of paper has the address to a really good Vietnamese restaurant I heard about. Now I remember that I wrote the address to the club on my eye appointment reminder card, not my electricity bill envelope."
"Easy mistake to make," I said. I actually sounded sincere. I think I was beginning to relate to her universe.
"My name's Jessica, by the way," she said, thrusting her hand through the little window in the plexiglass partition. "My friends call me Jess."
"Mike," I replied. My right hand didn't bend backwards, so I kept both hands on the wheel. Besides, I needed both hands to dodge a kamikaze minivan. I thought about whether Gillian had a nickname. Did her friends call her Gill or Gilly?
"Mike," Jess replied with a knowing nod. "Short for Michaela."
"How did you know that?" I stopped wondering whether Gillian had a nickname and wondered instead whether Jess was psychic.
She paused for a moment and let me stew, then she chuckled. "I read your taxi license."
"Oh, duh," I replied with a self-mocking snort.
"Why didn't they call you 'Chaela'?" she asked.
"The same reason they didn't call you 'Sica'."
"Oh. Hardy har. That's so funny I forgot to laugh." She pretended to be angry for a second and I rolled my eyes at her.
"Actually," she continued, "my family calls me 'Lucky'. My Dad said it was because I was the seventh kid, but I think his brain could only hold six names, and when he got to mine, he drew a blank."
"Seven kids? It's too bad he didn't draw a blank in the other department."
There was a note of terror in the cry, and I slammed my foot on the brake. I heard the screech of tires from the car behind me and waited for the impact which miraculously didn't come.
"What's wrong?" I shouted at her, ignoring the honking and screaming from the car behind me. I started driving away quickly, my tires skidding and shrieking.
"I refuse to talk about my family on a first date," she said, now completely calm. "It's one of my rules."
"This isn't a date," I replied angrily. "You're in a cab; I'm driving you to a club. Remember?"
"Well, I think the same rule should apply."
I had temporarily forgotten that I had a crazy woman in my cab. We had been conversing in a relatively normal manner. I let down my guard. I vowed not to make that mistake a second time.
"OK, fine," I said, "here's another rule: don't scream 'Stop!' when you're in a cab. The driver will have a tendency to stop suddenly and you might go flying through the little plexiglass partition."
She sniffed dismissively.
"What's the plexiglass partition about anyway?" she asked. "Do you think I'm going to spit on the back of your head?"
"Based on some of the things that have gone on in that backseat, spitting is the least of my worries."
"Oh yeah? Like what?"
"You don't want to know."
She looked slowly around her and I watched realization take hold of her face and twist it around as she began to decipher some of the stains on the upholstery. She carefully drew her hands into her lap.
"You're right. I don't want to know."
She was quiet for thirty seconds and I began to fantasize about completing the rest of the journey in silence. Oh, what foolish dreams!
"So, Mike," she said, leaning forward, "do I detect a hint of the south in your accent?"
"I grew up in New Orleans." I was bemused. No one had ever detected a "hint of the south" in my speech before.
"Really?" Like an excited child, Jess bounced on the seat and her eyes sparkled. She leaned her head into the gap in the partition. "Do you know voodoo?"
"Um .no. We moved here when I was twelve," I replied, rolling my eyes. "I was too young for the voodoo priestess lessons."
"Well, you should have done it. You already have the eyes for it."
"What are you talking about?" She was definitely in another universe. No doubt about it.
"Mystical eyes," she said, as if that explained it. I gave her a quizzical look, so she continued. "Like in the movies. When evil spirits or aliens or something possesses you, you get black eyes with no pupils. But the mystical characters all have beautiful crystal clear eyes."
"Did you just describe my eyes as beautiful?" I teased.
"Yeah, I have to admit, your eyes are beautiful. Shame about the rest of your face."
I grinned and saw a matching smile reflected in the mirror. But then fear gripped my heart. What was I doing? I was flirting with a crazy woman. A crazy woman who thought my eyes were beautiful. Oh shit, the crazy woman was attracted to me! And I was sending the wrong signals. The cheerleader in the big room that was my brain began to frantically wave flags around instead of pompoms. I tried to remember the semaphore lessons I took as a Girl Scout.
Just be quiet and drive the cab, the flag signals said. Just pray her slim hips are not so slim that she can squirm her way through the gap in the partition and onto the front seat.
Just stay calm.
"Take the next exit!" Jess cried out suddenly.
My calm hotwired a car and drove to Tijuana. I fought to bring it back under control. I scraped against the curb, but managed to exit where she pointed.
"Why did you want me to exit now?" I asked after realizing we were still miles from the waterfront and in a neighborhood the pizza delivery guys wouldn't enter.
"If I'm expected to dance the rest of the night away, I need to eat something. I'm absolutely starving."
"Yes, eat. You know, consume nourishment? Stuff large quantifies of yummies into your cake hole? Does any of this sound familiar?"
"Cake hole?" She was losing me.
"Look, you do have lunch breaks or dinner breaks or whatever, don't you?"
"Yes. On my own. After I've been paid my fare plus a juicy tip for putting up with crazy women."
"I'll make a deal with you," Jess said, completely ignoring my crazy woman comment. "Keep the meter running the whole time. You eat dinner with me and if you absolutely hate the food, I'll pay for the time in the restaurant. If you love the food, you'll deduct the time we were in the restaurant."
"That sounds like I'd have to do math."
"I'll do the math. Is it a deal?"
"No," I replied. I was really getting annoyed and could feel a tension headache beginning behind my eyes. "I've already lost enough money tonight. I wasn't planning on taking a break until dawn."
"Why did you lose money tonight?"
"Long story," I mumbled.
"OK," she said. "Then you can keep the meter running no matter what. That's fair, right? Believe me, you'll end up thanking me."
She reached through the partition again and placed her hand on my shoulder. She squeezed it gently and I could feel some of the tension leak away in a tingly stream. God, I needed a back rub. Well more than a back rub. I regretted not asking Gillian to let me come up to her place. Maybe I should have begged. Instead, I was stuck driving a mad woman through the worst part of town. A mad woman with amazingly small, warm, tender hands.
"OK." I huffed. "We'll eat something. As long as I can keep the meter running, what do I care?" I tried to keep a scowl on my face, but her smile melted me like a pat of butter thrown on a hot griddle.
"Cool! Take a right at the next light, and then the first left."
I turned as instructed and found myself headed down a dark street more of an alley really.
"Jess," I said slowly, trying to look calmly at the men on the corner who were staring coldly back at me, "you do know where we are, right?"
"Of course," she replied. She sounded like a kid on the way to Disneyland. "Pull into this parking lot. This is it."
It wasn't really a parking lot, just a dirt and gravel area next to a dumpster. There was room for my cab, but only because I can get very creative when it comes to parking. A dimly lit neon sign announced the hole in the wall as "Lois's Place". There was no other clue to what Lois did in her place.
Jess was out of the cab and moving quickly across the lot as I was locking the doors and coming around the other side of the car. I heard her shoes skid on the gravel and looked up to see a man coalesce from the shadows beside the dumpster and step into her path.
The only impression I had of him was that he was huge. Nothing else registered in my mind. Just HUGE. And not football linebacker huge we're talking Marvel comic book huge "crush, kill, destroy" huge. Massive.
"What the fuck are you doing here, little girl?" His voice was like a caramel frappacino smooth, rich, and sinfully delicious and it scared the shit out of me.
Jess looked up at him from about waist level and put her hands on her hips.
"Oh, look, it's a big bad mother fucker trying to scare the white chicks."
I felt the interesting sensation of my blood turning cold. Yes, the cliché is accurate. I realized in a startling second that Jess was not just crazy, she was criminally insane.
"You seen too many old movies, bitch. I ain't Shaft. And walking around this neighborhood at this hour ain't no joke." He didn't move, but if he did, I knew it would be slow. It would also be deadly. Shit, he could probably drop kick Jess over the top of the building.
"Oh Jesus, I'm pissing myself with fear. Too bad I didn't wear my adult diapers today." Jess stuck her chin up defiantly.
I saw his hand move into his pocket and his dark brown eyes seemed to turn black. I remembered what Jess had said about alien eyes. But this wasn't science fiction. This was harsh reality. We were about to become statistics.
What I did then wasn't some heroic act. I didn't stand there and think, "should I jump in my cab and drive away quickly, or should I risk my life for this mad woman?" If I had thought about it, I'm sure I would have chosen to run away. Really. I just didn't have the time to weigh all my options. So I moved forward and pulled at Jess's elbow, spinning her around and behind me, and stood in front of the Incredible Hulk. Then my mouth started moving.
"Look, we're really sorry, she didn't mean what she said about mother fuckers and diapers. She's insane. Crazy. Really, really not normal. So we'll just be on our way and we won't bother you any more. I'm just going to dump her off somewhere safe. Maybe a hospital. I'm not sure. But somewhere very far away from here." The words just poured out of me and when they were all out, I looked up and up hopefully.
"You two ain't going nowhere," the giant rumbled.
"Yes, really," I started again. "This is gonna be much better for everyone. You don't want to get I don't know dirty or whatever." I was going to say covered with blood, but I thought better of it. "She really isn't worth your time. Like I said, she's just crazy."
"I am not crazy!" Jess said, trying to pull her arm out of my vice-like grip.
"I don't care if she's crazy or not, you're not going nowhere." The human mountain started walking toward me. I felt my knees begin to wobble, but managed to stand my ground.
"Of course we're not going anywhere," Jess said from behind me. "We're hungry."
She started to giggle, and her laugh was echoed by an eerie rumble. I thought it was an earthquake. I swear I felt the earth move. But I soon realized it was the man before me. The low rumble developed into a full laugh, and he threw his head back and reveled in the hilarity. I extracted my trusty dumbfounded expression and stood there trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
"Oh, man, that was a good one, Lucky," the man said, wiping tears from his eyes. "'Bad mother fucker'! Where the hell did you pull that one from? We're gonna have to give you some lessons in being street."
"I am totally street," Jess protested, pulling out of my now limp grasp and stepping out from behind me. "I just felt like kickin' it old school."
"Well, your girlfriend here was ready to take a bullet for you," he said. "She's definitely a keeper."
"She's not my girlfriend," Jess said. She glanced at me for a moment, but I couldn't read her expression. I was too busy trying to catch up. I had a pretty good idea that I wasn't facing imminent death. That was a good thing. Everything else was still cloudy.
"I take it you're not going to kill us," I said, deciding to go out on a limb.
"No." he smiled broadly, revealing a gold cap on his right front tooth. "I already got me my quota of white chicks tonight."
"It's good to see you again, Rodney," Jess said, stepping up and giving him a hug. She couldn't reach around him, but he enveloped her in his arms and lifted her off her feet, spinning her around in the air. Her legs swung out with the centrifugal force, and she giggled like a little girl on the tilt-a-whirl.
"Rodney, this is Mike," she said once she'd returned to earth. "Mike, this is my brother Rodney."
I reached out and watched my hand get swallowed by his. He shook it carefully, obviously aware of the dangerous power of his hands. I wondered how many daisies he'd accidentally crushed. I smiled gratefully when I got my hand back safely, and then turned an inquisitive pair of eyes on Jess.
"Brother?" I asked.
"Long story," Jess said, smiling enigmatically. "Remember the rule."
"Come on in, you two," Rodney said, motioning us toward the restaurant. "Mama's got the chicken frying and the waffles in the iron."
Chicken? Waffles? What the ?
"Christ, I'm hungry," Jess said, licking her lips.
I allowed myself to be led into the restaurant. When I found myself in the kitchen, I quickly realized that we'd come in through the back door. A large woman was standing over a deep frying pan and I could smell the unmistakable odor of frying chicken. And waffles.
The woman turned when she heard the door. When she spotted us, she shuffled forward and swept Jess into a hug. Jess disappeared between broad arms and healthy bosoms. The woman closed her eyes and silently rocked Jess for a minute.
"Well if it isn't my little Lucky," she said. Her voice was a smooth contralto. I added that up with her size and Rodney's reference to "Mama" and connected the dots. Just call me "Genius".
"Auntie, this is Mike," Jess said, her voice slightly muffled. The woman didn't let her go, but Jess managed to get an arm loose and reached out, grabbing me and pulling me forward.
"Well, hi there, Mike," the woman said, smiling at me as she finally let Jess go. Her face sparkled like starlight. I had never before felt such complete welcome in a smile.
"Mike, this is Auntie Lois, the best cook in the city." The woman blushed and swatted Jess's arm.
"Nice to meet you," I said. I responded with a friendly grin, realizing too late about my scary smile. But Lois didn't seem to notice, just smiled even wider in response.
"Mike's my cab driver," Jess explained. "We were on the way to a club at the waterfront, and I realized I was hungry."
"And you just had to bring her here." Lois smirked and Jess blushed and I realized I was missing something again.
"I was just really hungry," Jess said, hanging her head. Lois nodded her head knowingly. Jess glanced at me, and when our eyes met, she quickly looked away and blushed even more.
I don't usually like to be left in the dark about things. Shit, I hate it. I once refused to speak to my ex for a week after she threw me a surprise birthday party. But the blush distracted me completely.
"Now then, you two go and take a seat inside," Lois said. She started bustling around the kitchen. "Rodney, make yourself useful and chop up some more of those chickens over there." We left as Lois and Rodney both set to work.
It was nearly midnight, but there were still several groups of people in the restaurant. Or maybe I should say there were already several groups of people in the restaurant. I wasn't really sure whether chicken and waffles was breakfast or dinner fare. One thing was certain: Lois' Place served massive amounts of food. Flintstones-sized portions were being consumed all around me.
Most people were eating chicken and waffles but there were also omelets, chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, candied yams, and huge slices of pie being attacked with gusto.
"You're gonna love the food," Jess said. She led me to a table tucked away in a corner, where two large glasses of water and napkin wrapped cutlery was already set out.
"Chicken and waffles?" I asked dubiously as I sat down.
"Yes, chicken and waffles. You come from New Orleans. Surely you've eaten them before."
"I've eaten chicken and I've eaten waffles. I've never eaten them together. I've never contemplated eating them together." I lowered my voice so as not to offend my fellow diners. "And I have to admit the very thought right now is turning my stomach."
"You'll change your mind once you try it."
"Well, OK, we'll see." I was hoping what we wouldnt see was my chicken and waffles spewed across the tabletop.
"Oh, you'll love it," Jess replied confidently. "There's no doubt about it."
"While we wait," I said, changing the subject, "why don't you explain something to me: you said Rodney was your brother and Lois was your Aunt, but Lois is Rodney's mom, right? And genetics hasn't always been my strong suit but ."
"It's a long story," she replied. She started to play with the saltshaker, pushing it between her fingers, watching its movement as if it would suddenly grow legs and run away from her.
I heard a buzzer go off in my head. I recognized it as one of the alarms in my early warning system. My entire body was wired with a complex system of bells, buzzers, and automatic muscle twitches that were triggered in various scenarios. Pothole coming up? My hands could turn the steering wheel before my eyes even saw it. Woman sitting at the end of the bar, sipping a glass of Burgundy, and reading the latest Anne Rice novel? A slight electric shock would register in my left thumb, reminding me of the danger if I bought her a drink.
This particular buzzer was my baggage alert warning. Working on the same principle as the airlines, I allow only one small carry-on bag into any relationship. I can deal with that much. Anything more and you compromise my comfort, pose unnecessary risks should your baggage shift mid-flight, and clog the aisles when it's time for you to leave.
Jess had baggage and way more than a backpack or laptop case. I could see it in her eyes. They were still a sparkling green, but there was something behind the glow. It was like looking at a tree, lit by a ray of sun, while noticing storm clouds gathering way off in the distance.
My buzzer said, "Run a mile", but for some strange reason, I suffered a systems failure. The buzzer suddenly stopped and strange words came from my lips.
"I like long stories."
She looked up from the saltshaker and for a nanosecond looked like a lost kid who had just been found. I nearly reached out to take her hand and reassure her that everything was OK, but she smiled and the look of intense relief dissolved from her eyes, replaced by the humorous twinkle I'd come to expect.
"Nope," she said, shaking her head. "You know the rules. No life stories on the first date."
"You forgot again that this isn't a date," I replied teasingly.
"Doesn't matter." She set her jaw. "I won't break the rules."
"So if you don't share your life story on the first date, when do you spill your guts?" I asked.
"Fourth date," she replied immediately. "The one right after sushi."
"Yeah, sushi is the third date. On the sushi date, you find out how much wasabi your girlfriend can take. You also need to check out how good she is at sharing food and whether she can pick up a grain of rice with her chopsticks."
"What if she doesn't like sushi?"
"If she doesn't like sushi, it's all over after the second date."
She studied me for a moment, her eyes narrowing as she considered.
"Do you like sushi?" She asked.
"Yeah," I replied, meeting her inquisitive gaze. "I love it."
We held each other's gaze for a moment. I blinked first; I've got to admit it. I cleared my throat and took a sip of water.
"So tell me again about the fourth date," I asked.
She hesitated for a moment, and her smile got a little wider.
"Well," she continued, "the fourth date goes like this: first, you go to a romantic restaurant where you eat too much and drink a little too much wine. After dinner, you go for a walk somewhere dark and romantic along the river maybe. You chitchat for a while. You're already comfortable with small talk, even with those quiet moments when neither of you has anything to say."
"I'm thinking those moments aren't too common for you," I interrupted.
She snorted and then blushed slightly. "Do you want to hear this or not?"
"Sorry, go on," I lowered my head in an apology and then noticed her smile fade slightly.
"Eventually you sit somewhere," she continued in a more serious tone. "It's dark and you can just make out each other's silhouettes. It's better if you can't see too clearly, easier to tell the truth when you don't have to look into someone's eyes. What if they don't understand or they judge you? You still don't know them that well, it might be a huge embarrassment." She hesitated and lowered her eyes. "It might be the last time they ever want to see you again."
"I don't think it will be," I replied softly.
"But you don't know."
Jess looked into my eyes and hesitated, then a dazzling smile broke across her face and her eye's emerald twinkle turned into a laser light. She opened her mouth to say something, but at that moment, Lois pushed through the kitchen doors with our food. Jess's laser eyes shined even brighter.
"Here you go, girls."
"Thanks, Auntie," Jess said. She bounced on her seat, as she had in my cab, and grabbed for the little pot of syrup sitting on the side of the table. I watched in sick fascination as she poured it over both her waffles and chicken.
"You girls enjoy," Lois said. She placed a hand on Jess's head, running her fingers through the yellow and pink mess.
"We will," Jess replied and smiled back lovingly at Lois.
Lois gave her a final pat on the shoulder, and then moved to check on the other diners. Jess turned back to her meal and I started to eat my chicken, trying my best to keep her eating out of my line of sight.
"No, you have to eat them together," Jess instructed. I looked up just as she shoved a forkful of chicken, waffle, and dripping syrup into her "cake hole".
"What?" I swallowed my half-chewed piece of chicken. "Better out than in", I always say. I hoped it would stay in.
"The chicken and waffles," Jess explained patiently. "You can't eat one and then the other, like the main course followed by dessert. If you do, you avoid the whole taste sensation. You have to eat them together. Come on, try it. What are you afraid of?"
No one has ever called me a chicken shit. Except when I refused to go to the tantric sex seminar with my ex. I'm usually up for any challenge. Shit, I ate a ladybug once. All Jess was challenging me to do was eat chicken and waffles at the same time. I could do that.
To help me along, Jess speared a piece of chicken and another piece of waffle, dripping with syrup, and held the fork a few inches from my mouth. I held my breath and then quickly took the bite of food from her fork. I chewed it the minimum amount of time to ensure that I didn't choke to death, then swallowed quickly.
As I let out my held breath, my taste buds were bombarded with the taste of chicken cooked to perfection with a lovely crisp batter fluffy waffle, and pure maple syrup. The taste lingered despite my quick chewing and swallowing.
Jess peered intently into my eyes, and I let her stew a few extra seconds. Then I gave up control of my face to a hyperactive smile.
"I told you! I told you! I told you!" Jess bounced in her seat again. Her crowing and bouncing caused most of the other diners to turn and stare.
"Yes, OK, calm down now and eat," I said. I tried to look serious, but her antics brought another smile to my face. Christ, I'd smiled more in one night than I think I had in my whole life. First Gillian, and now this goofy, crazy woman.
After a few moments of eating, I realized that there actually was a way to shut up Jess: feed her. She ate silently, concentrating completely on her food. She absolutely worshiped it, slicing it reverently, chewing it respectfully, and thanking it as she swallowed, closing her eyes now and then in prayer. It was an amazing sight to see.
It was a wonderful respite, but the silence was shattered seconds after the last bite was consumed.
"So, what was her name?" Jess asked, taking a final swallow of water.
"The woman who left the smell of designer perfume in the backseat of your cab."
"Oh," I replied, my thoughts returning to earlier in the evening. The gorgeous woman in the backseat of my cab. It seemed like such a distant memory like a year had passed since I dropped her off. "Gillian Fisher."
"Gillian Fisher?" Jess's face froze and her eyes widened in shock. "Did you say 'Gillian Fisher'?"
"Yeah, do you know her?"
"She's a slut," Jess replied forcefully. "You don't want to have anything to do with her. She has a long history of falling in love with beautiful, dark-haired cab drivers and then breaking their hearts."
"Really?" I paused and noticed a tiny twitch in the corner of Jess's left eye. "You lying bitch."
"Ha! Had you going there for a minute."
"You did not."
I huffed, since I had a feeling that we could keep up the "Did not/did so" argument all night.
"Wait a minute," I said with a grin. "Did you just describe me as beautiful?"
"No. I was talking about another dark-haired cab driver that I know."
"Uh huh." I rolled my eyes.
"So tell me about her, this Gillian Fisher," Jess said. She propped her elbows on the table and rested her head on her interlocked fingers, looking at me inquisitively.
"I it's just " I didn't know where to begin. " . Uh sh-sh-she was j-j-just "
I felt a burning sensation in my cheeks, and knew that I was blushing. That realization caused me to blush even more. My blush is horrible. I get two red spots high on my cheekbones. I look like a friggin' garden gnome.
"I picked her up at the opera." I started again, deciding to start with the facts. It felt strange to talk about Gillian with Jess, but she seemed to want to hear about her. "She'd had a fight with her girlfriend. The bitch was cheating on her. Gillian saw her kissing an usher during the intermission. They had a fight and Gillian was stranded without her purse. She had no money, no way to get home."
"Oh, so you drove her home for free?" Jess sighed. "That's so romantic."
"Yeah, you obviously fell in love with her, didn't you?"
That's more or less what came across my lips. What I was actually trying to say was: what the hell are you talking about? How could I have fallen in love with a woman I'd just met? Lust? Maybe. Love? No way. But for some reason, I lost the power of speech.
"You really should get that stutter seen to," Jess said with a teasing chuckle. Then her face became serious. "Was she very beautiful?"
I looked into Jess's eyes. They were green and had flecks of gold in them. She tugged on a lock of her pink-blonde hair. I noticed tiny freckles scattered across her nose. I tried to remember Gillian's eyes, her hair, her nose.
"No. I mean yes. I guess." I was confused. Very, very confused.
"Hmmm that was three answers to one question," Jess said with a lopsided smile.
"Yes, Gillian was beautiful," I said, looking down at my fingers. They'd picked up the saltshaker. Jess was right, it quite possibly could develop legs and try to run away. "She had beautiful green eyes that kept changing colors, like the sea. Her hair was like gold mixed with fire. All of her features her nose, lips, eyebrows, even her ears were all just perfect. Yeah, I'd say she was beautiful."
"Wow." Jess sighed. "Why can't something like that ever happen to me?"
I didn't know how to answer that, so I didn't even try. I just kept playing with that damn saltshaker.
"Did you get her number?"
Jess was still smiling, still looking interested, still tugging on her hair. I was still confused. Flashes of the evening's conversation came to me. Didn't Jess say I was beautiful? Didn't I say I liked sushi and would never judge her? OK, all of those things weren't exactly said in a straightforward manner, but
"Um, yes," I said, remembering that I'd been asked a question.
"Are you going to call her?"
I ran out of answers. That last question completely stumped me. I turned to my big, dark, high school gym of a brain and found it big and dark and empty. No cheerleaders. No neon signs. No help at all.
It should have been easy, right? Either a "yes" or a "no". A "maybe" might work, as long as it was backed up with some explanation.
Then again, a "maybe" would be too much work. I'd better stick to "yes" or "no".
I waited for my mouth to work. It totally let me down. I was saved by Lois' entrance.
"Did you girls enjoy that?"
"Oh, yeah, Auntie," Jess said, patting her stomach. "That was the best ever."
"You always say that, Little One." Lois smiled and started to stack our plates on her broad left arm.
"We can do that," Jess sprang up and reached for her glass. I did the same, but my mind was still on my simple answer.
"Nonsense," Lois said, picking up the last of the dishes. "You'll just drop something and break it." She looked at me and nodded toward Jess. "This girl used to drop at least one dish a night. I was sure it was because she was dipping her fingers in the syrup."
"That's not true!" Jess protested. "I just have hand-eye coordination issues."
"That's right," Lois chuckled. "You see syrup and have to stick your hand in it. Just like a bear with a honey jar."
"I am not Pooh Bear!"
I snorted and Jess looked at me, her eyes narrowing. "Don't you start," she warned.
"Ooh, I'm sooo scared, Pooh Bear."
"Oh, you are going to pay for that." Her skin was red, from embarrassment or anger, or both. It was incredibly cute.
"You girls better take this outside," Lois suggested. "I don't want you upsetting the other customers."
"OK," Jess said. "Thanks again for a great meal, Auntie."
"You're very welcome. Now don't stay away so long next time."
"I won't." Jess lowered her head. "I'm sorry."
"You're forgiven." Lois looked at me and back to Jess, cocking her head and thinking for a moment. She nodded her head, seeming to come to some sort of decision. "Thanks for bringing your 'cab driver' here, Lucky Girl. I think you made the right decision."
I raised an eyebrow and looked into Lois's chocolate eyes, trying to figure out what wasn't being said.
"Well, we'd better get going," Jess said as she picked up her backpack and fussed with the strap.
"Yeah," I replied. "Your friends are still waiting for you at that club."
Jess stood on her tiptoes and gave the large woman a kiss on the cheek, then headed out through the kitchen. I followed her, exchanging one more long look with Lois.
We said good-bye to Rodney and then left the restaurant, walking back to the cab. Jess got in the front seat. I rarely let anyone up in front with me. It was a vomit-free zone. But I didn't think twice about it.
I pulled out of the parking lot and headed back toward the expressway.
"It was First Street, right?" I asked. "The Pussy Cat Lounge?"
"That's right. You have a good memory."
"I have to. Smelling of B.O. and garlic are not prerequisites to driving a cab, but remembering addresses definitely is."
"Hey, that reminds me: there's something I've been meaning to ask you." Jess turned around so that her back leaned against the door and she could look more directly at me. "Do you enjoy driving a cab?"
Everything seemed to freeze.
It was the question again. Twice in one night. How would I answer this time? A few minutes before, I had trouble with a yes/no answer. Now I was asked the ultimate question of my life. It was just too much.
I groped around in the dark for a moment, and then someone turned on a light. It wasn't a garish, bright spotlight kind of illumination. More like a warm tiffany lamp. I felt safe and comfortable. Telling the truth just seemed natural. I sighed and leaned back in the seat.
"It's the driving, not so much having anyone in the back seat," I began. "In fact, it would be much better if I didn't have to deal with that whole side of the job. But I do have to pay the bills."
Jess's eyes were bright and wide with interest, so I continued.
"It's movement. Movement through a city that feels like I don't know...like a lover, I suppose."
"A lover?" She didn't say it in a mocking voice. She seemed to understand.
"Yeah. Someone you know intimately. I know how the city smells and tastes, how it feels on my tongue, against my skin. Sometimes, driving the streets is like gliding my hand down a smooth hip, across a breast. There are times when I can almost hear the city sigh or moan in pleasure." I paused and waited for derisive laughter.
"I know I sound crazy," I said, not daring to look into her face and see a smirk or a sneer.
"Maybe," she whispered. "But who wants to be sane?"
I told you I wasn't expecting it. I don't suppose anyone ever does. But it happened anyway. And it was at that moment that I realized it. At that moment I knew I'd fallen in love.
You probably figured it out long before I did. What can I say? I'm a slow learner. You might be able to jump from point A to point D, but I have to process through points B and C first.
So. There I was. In love.
"Y-y-y-you know," I stuttered, glancing shyly at Jess, "you n-n-n-ever told me what h-h-h-happens on the second date."
"No. You skipped from the first one right to sushi."
"Oh." She grinned and glanced back just as shyly. "Y-y-y-you want to f-f-find out?"
Damn, she was beautiful.
Gillian did end up calling the next day. And we went out for coffee. I even managed to come up with some stories about driving my cab that made her laugh. I gave her back her earring. We had a good time. But it was nothing special.
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