If my best friend hadn’t killed his mistress, I wouldn’t have had a prayer with his fiancee. Funny how things turn out.
Life would have been much easier if I hadn’t been in love with Sarah Reynolds. In fact, being in love with her was so difficult it wasn’t something I readily accepted. When it first dawned on me that I was entertaining feelings of love for her, the ink on my divorce papers had scarcely dried. Divorce is not a fun proposition by any stretch of the imagination, no matter how you pretty it up. It hurts like hell. And the pain lasts and lasts. My strong feelings for Sarah, I told myself, were really a reaction to the pain of being dumped by my ex-wife.
Only post-dumping craziness could explain my falling for my best friend’s fiancee. To put it mildly, being in love with my best friend’s future spouse presented an obstacle or two. And the fact that she and I reported to the same workplace every day only made my life more complicated.
Nope, there was no easy, healthy, happy way for me to love Sarah.
But I did.
And then my best buddy Mike Munro indulged in a little extracurricular nooky and followed that up with a bit of homicide. “Homicide” might be too strong a word. It was always possible that the folks from the District Attorney’s office would see it as an accidental death. For that matter, maybe the DA would fasten upon another suspect. But however you sized it up, Mike’s behavior had an amazing effect on Sarah and me . . .
You could be forgiven for thinking that I was the one out on a date with Sarah on the summer night that everything began to unravel. My almost-six-foot frame was in a dark-blue pinstripe suit, with a crisp white shirt and bright red tie with paisley pattern — along with my brown hair, blue eyes, and reasonably solid jawline — I was every inch the handsome young success story. This was not my usual work appearance to be sure. I was normally found in a pair of tan slacks and a button-down shirt. “Business casual” as it came to be known late in the 1990s. But that night was different.
Sarah and I were going to a fancy reception that Mike’s investment firm was throwing at the River Café on the East River, directly under the Brooklyn Bridge. Since Mike worked in the Wall Street area, he was a quick cab ride away from the Café and traveled there with some of his colleagues. Sarah and I were meeting him there, and we were all dressed-up, journeying together from midtown Manhattan to Brooklyn on the leather seats of an air-conditioned limousine that Mike had arranged.
Sarah looked gorgeous, not that she would ever have believed that. The lovely Ms. Reynolds was incapable of considering herself very attractive. How could she look herself in the mirror every day and take the time and energy she obviously did to dress as well as she did and still not conclude that she was pretty? The answer to that question was a long story tightly wrapped inside the family history of this youngest daughter of a large Irish Catholic brood. Over the five years of knowing and working at the same office as Sarah, I’d found out that her father, as Irish patriarchs are wont to do, had drunk himself to sleep every night for decades. Her mother had clung to sanity with every fiber in her being (and probably every prayer her soul could generate) but hadn’t really managed the trick. Despite the booze and mental infirmities, there was enough money for everyone to move along: Sarah’s older siblings had gone to famous colleges, had married well, and had solid careers.
But when there was trouble in the Reynolds family, who was the one they all turned to? When her father broke his leg falling down the stairs (“Thank God I had a few drinks in me — it relaxed me enough that the break wasn’t worse”), who used her vacation time to stay at home with her mother and care for dear old drunk Dad? When one of her sisters was laid up with the flu, who spent nights and weekends caring for the kids and cleaning up the sister’s home? When her older brother was out of work, who moved back into Mom and Dad’s place so that the unemployed bum could live in Sarah’s apartment rent-free for four months? If anyone needed anything in Reynolds Land, he or she turned to Sarah for help or sympathy. Fortunately for them, she never failed to be a willing patsy. She was aware of her role in all this and was capable of volcanic resentments toward her family members, but every time the lava threatened to flow, she suppressed it completely. Sarah was perpetually to be “little Sarah.” Never completely free of her parents’ troubles. Never quite at the same level as her siblings. And, by extension, never at the same level as her friends.
Fortunately for Sarah, plenty of people thought she was wonderful. Me, for one. And Mike Munro for another. Although falling into romantic favor with Mike Munro was a mixed blessing for any woman. If only she could have seen herself with our eyes. Well, mine anyway.
Despite her mediocre self-assessment, Ms. Reynolds sat on the seat of the limousine with me, looking very pretty indeed. She had strong blue eyes over a straight nose and a great smile. Her brown hair dropped in a fashionable wave to her shoulders. She wore a sleeveless navy-blue dress with a matching jacket. The dress had a rounded neckline, and she was wearing pearls. Simple and classy. The dress was form-fitting enough to emphasize what most men would describe as a “nice ass.” I occasionally struggled to avoid being grouped with most men on matters of chauvinism, but Sarah had a very nice ass.
“You look terrific,” I said to her as we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. I added lightly, “Mike doesn’t deserve you.”
“It’s the other way around.”
“Not even close. He doesn’t deserve you even if he’s tall, dark, and handsome.”
“You forgot that he’s rich,” she said, smiling as she spoke.
“I didn’t forget. But money has nothing to do with whether or not he deserves you. Does it?”
“Of course not,” she snorted then smiled, “but it doesn’t hurt.”
“Of course not,” I repeated. Then I forced a grin to hide my resentment at Mike’s good fortune in being engaged to Sarah.
The limo descended from the Brooklyn Bridge. The driver wound through a couple of turns, and then we were arriving at the River Café with its fantastic view of downtown Manhattan. That view has made the Café very popular for receptions and as a locale for movies. I climbed out of the limo into the pleasantly warm June evening and waved off the driver so I could hold the door for Sarah. She smiled as she got out and slipped her arm through mine as we entered the restaurant. The touch of her hand on my arm sent a spark of excitement through me. I caught a gentle hint of her perfume, which made me painfully aware that she was incredibly close and completely out of reach at the same time. Man does not mess with his best friend’s girl. That’s an immutable rule right out of the John Wayne Handbook for Living.
Once inside the Café, with barely a moment to absorb the view of the river and the spires of Manhattan, we were greeted by Mike himself. Surrounded by the Wall Street crowd, he was a man in his element. He was at least a couple of inches taller than I and had thick, dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, a year-round tan, and the taut body of a man who worked out religiously. He was so good looking he wouldn't have been out of place modeling the expensive suit he wore, but he made too much money to waste time being a model. Mike swept Sarah off of my arm and into a hug and kiss. He wasn’t slipping her the tongue, but it was a kiss to make sure everyone in the place knew the lady was his. She pulled away laughing and a little breathless. With his left arm still around her, Mike turned toward me.
I put my hands up as if to fend him off, “I don’t kiss on first dates.”
“That’s not what I heard,” he said, offering his hand. I gripped his hand, and he gave me a firm, Control Master shake. I made sure to grip with equal firmness. Hey, I hit the weight room at the gym, too.
“So, did the limo collect you guys all right?” Mike asked.
“It was wonderful,” Sarah said. “Thanks so much for arranging it.”
“Yes, thank you,” I added and really meant it. I had just had the chance to spend twenty minutes in the back of a well-appointed automobile with a very attractive woman I happened to be in love with. Why wouldn’t I be grateful to the man who had arranged it?
“Did you help yourselves to the bar?” Mike asked.
“In the limo?” Sarah asked in good-humored shock. “It’s only a short ride to Brooklyn.”
“Yes, but Mr. Munro knows that you had to survive the journey in my company,” I said. “Mike thinks that no one could travel to Brooklyn and simultaneously put up with me for twenty minutes without a drink.”
“Without several drinks,” Mike replied. “Doubles.”
“There are people in this world who manage to live without consuming mind-numbing quantities of consciousness-altering substances,” I said.
“Sure. But why bother?” He was smiling as if he only half-believed his own baloney. “Anyway, would you two like something to drink now that you’re here?”
“Yes,” Sarah said quickly, cutting me off from making a smart remark. “I’d like a glass of wine, please.”
Mike nodded to her and turned to me, “And what about you, Jack?”
“I’ll have a beer, thanks.”
“Good. You can come with me and get it.” He looked back at Sarah and jerked his thumb at me, “I have to introduce Jack to this guy at the firm. Would you mind staying here and looking pretty?”
“I’m not sure about the pretty part.”
He turned up the wattage on his smile, “I am.” Then he ushered me through the crowd toward the bar.
“Introduce me to what guy?” I asked.
“The partner in charge of our communications department,” he said. “He might have a job for you. Something that would pay a lot more than your current job.”
“I don’t need more than I’m paid at my job.”
“Everyone needs more.”
“Okay, maybe that’s true. But I love my job.”
“Who helped you find that job? Who said you’d love it?”
“And now I’m telling you that maybe our firm could provide you with another job you’d love and make more money at it. Wouldn’t that be the best possible situation?”
“It wouldn’t be horrible, I have to admit.”
We reached the bar and ordered drinks. Mike sent a waiter over to Sarah with her glass of wine. I saw her lift her glass to us in a toast from across the room. I returned the toast, hoisting my beer. Mike was too busy scanning the crowd to notice. I joined him in looking over the incredibly well-dressed, well-groomed people. This little chunk of society, which made money by playing with money, had been dubbed the “Masters of the Universe” by Tom Wolfe in the '80s. That name was no longer in vogue, and the Great Recession had put a major dent in their self-esteem, but a few recent years of record bonuses had allowed these latter-day Titans to feel plenty potent. Their eyes were sparkling, and their cheeks were tight with forced smiles. Some of them were going to need facial massages to get the muscles working normally again.
Turning to Mike, I asked, “Why are you being so good to me?”
“I’ve always been good to you, haven’t I?”
“Yes. But there’s usually an ulterior motive lurking somewhere.”
“Am I that transparent?”
“No, actually you’re not. But I’ve been watching you for years. I’ve finally caught on. So, what’s in it for you tonight?”
“Well . . . it’s nothing you’ll find too painful. I was hoping you could escort Sarah home at the end of the party.”
“Isn’t escorting Sarah your job? One of the duties of a fiancé?”
“Yeah, sure. Usually. But I need to do something later.”
“Need to do something?”
He looked at me for a moment then said, “The limo will be waiting for you outside. It’s reserved for the entire night. You two can go someplace fun if you want. Then please make sure Sarah gets home safe and sound. Please?”
“While you’re off attending to your needs.”
“Exactly,” he said with a sly look.
“You’re a schmuck.” I said, keeping my voice flat.
“Hey, we’re not married yet. I need to get this out of my system so I can settle down and be the kind of husband Sarah deserves.”
“Yeah, like that will ever happen.”
I gave that comment the reply it deserved — I took a long sip of my beer.
“Is it my extra-curricular activities or Sarah?” he asked.
“What?” I was starting to heat up. I had passed “Mild” and was headed toward “Medium” on the chili-sauce scale.
“Are you jealous of my going out later or of my being with Sarah? Or both?”
I made a point of looking directly into his eyes and holding eye-contact. “You tell me.”
“Both.” His sly expression had dissolved into a smirk.
“Oh, Jack, my boy,” he said, clapping me on the back. “You need to loosen up. Take things as they come.”
“Advice like this is very precious,” I said. There was nothing delicate about my sense of irony. “Where were you when I was getting divorced?”
“Telling you to get laid, as I remember. What was the point of your being faithful? Did it save your marriage?”
I shook my head and laughed softly. “You’re a real piece of work.”
“Always have been. Now, can I introduce you to this guy, and we’ll talk about a great job for you?”
“Well . . .”
“And after that, you have a drink or two with Sarah and take her home. Please?”
“You’re still a schmuck.”
“Thanks. I knew I could count on you.”
After a few minutes of conversation with “the guy with the great job,” Mike and I searched for Sarah.
“Well?” he asked me as he scanned the party for sight of his pretty fiancée.
“Doesn’t it sound like a great job?”
“Much as I hate to admit it, it does sound pretty good.”
“Come on, pretty good? You get to write, you get to edit, and you’ll have to travel to hardship posts like Paris and London for the occasional conference. And you’ll get paid more. Pretty good? I’d hate to see you define excellent.”
“All of that sounds great, but you ignore the fact that all of the writing and editing would be about financial issues. I’m not looking to cover the Yankees for The Daily News — although I’d gladly sacrifice your left testicle to do that — but I’m not sure I want to spend all of my time covering finance.”
He paused for a second then said, “Why my left nut?”
“Would you seriously consider the proposition if I changed it to the right one?”
Sarah glided out of the crowd at that moment, saving Mike from further discussion of testicular sacrifice. He immediately slipped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close for a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Sorry we were gone so long,” Mike said. “I’m just trying to get our pal here gainfully employed.”
“Are you trying to take him away from the Board?” The Board was the National Board of Business Research, where Sarah and I worked. She looked genuinely dismayed and turned to me, “Are you thinking of leaving the Board?”
“This is all Mike’s idea. In his view of the universe, I’ve served my useful purpose at the Board by introducing you to him, now he wants to line my pockets with Wall Street gold.”
Sarah swatted Mike lightly on the arm, “You leave him where he is. Who will I talk to without him?”
“I’m just trying to set him up for the future. Help him earn some real money now.”
“Before I become a broken down old has-been,” I added. “Look, Mike heard about this opportunity here at his firm, thought I’d be a perfect fit, and wanted to make sure I had a shot at it. He’s just looking out for me.”
“Are you going to take the job?” Sarah asked.
“We’re nowhere near that stage of things. So let’s not worry about it tonight,” I said.
Mike clearly wasn’t worried. He was busy scanning the crowd again and the sudden widening of his smile made me think he had acquired his evening's target.
“No worries,” I said to Sarah, lifting my beer in another toast. She clinked her wine glass against mine and took a sip. That gave me a chance to twist ever so slightly and find Mike’s target.
She stood out among the carefully polished Wall Street wizards. The swirling blonde hair with highlights, the heavy eye shadow and bright red lipstick, the curves that were gloriously obvious in a clingy black dress — this lady was not in the financial services market. My guess: She was an aspiring actress or a pop singer still waiting to make her breakthrough.
Mike turned back to Sarah and said, “Listen, I hope you don’t mind, but I have a bunch of people I need to say hello to, and then a few of us are going out for an after-party party.”
“Bonding exercise?” I asked.
He ignored me, “Would you mind if Jack takes you home? The limo’s still waiting, and if you want to use it to go somewhere, you can. Make a night of it — on me.”
“I don’t mind, if Jack doesn’t.”
“He’s happy as a Boy Scout at a Jamboree.”
“That’s not exactly how I would have put it,” I said, “but I’d be delighted to squire you anywhere you wish to go.”
“I’m sorry,” Mike said, “but I really do have to mingle.” He shook my hand and then swept Sarah up in another emphatic kiss. “Have a good time,” he said, then winked at me and whispered so that only I could hear, “but not too good a time.”
We finished our drinks and decided against another, instead wandering outside to find our driver. He was easy to spot among the numerous limousines; When he'd first picked us up this evening, I'd noticed scruffy red hair curling over his collar, and his face was buried in a Travis McGee novel, Pale Gray for Guilt. As Sarah and I had climbed in, I saw on the front seat next to him copies of The Empty Copper Sea and Darker than Amber. Our driver came prepared to wait-out his passengers no matter how long they stayed at the fair. As he saw us coming out of the River Café, he put down his paperback and made a half-assed effort to get out of the car to hold a door open for Sarah. He was way too slow, and I beat him to it with ease.
Sarah and I had decided to have a nice dinner and had the driver take us to the middle of Greenwich Village, where we cruised the tiny streets looking to be inspired by an interesting looking restaurant. It didn’t take long to find a cozy little Italian place not far from Sheridan Square. I hopped out and held the door for Sarah — she hadn’t even exited the car by the time the driver had resumed reading about Travis McGee.
Inside, there wasn’t a checkered tablecloth or wax-covered Chianti bottle in sight. The host glided up to us, spoke in heavily accented English, and showed us to a very nice table for two. A basket of various breads, a bottle of imported olive oil, and small plates all appeared within seconds of our sitting down. We skipped pre-dinner drinks and ordered a bottle of red wine.
I was feeling guilty for my part in Mike’s charade. But what are friends for? I asked myself. When your best buddy asks you to take care of his lady, you do. But when the lady is also a friend, and you’re helping your best buddy screw around on her, aren’t you helping one friend by screwing another? And if a guy is truly your best buddy, does he get your help by manipulating you? Still, he asked for my help, and I hadn’t been able to think of a good way to say “no thanks,” especially since he might be helping me acquire ludicrously gainful employment. And then I looked across the table at my lovely, unsuspecting dinner companion and felt like a two-bit con artist.
“This is a nice place,” Sarah said. “Did you know about it or did we just stumble upon it?”
“I had a vague memory of it. My ex-wife loved it.”
Sarah looked concerned, “Do you want to go somewhere else? Does this have bad memories for you?”
“No, no, we don’t need to change restaurants. I told you, I have vague memories, not bad ones. The vagueness is probably a defense mechanism.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” I said smiling comfortably, “I’m sure. Really.”
She looked hesitant, as if she wanted to say something else. “Does it —”
The waiter interrupted her by stopping at our table to ask if we were ready to order.
Sarah nodded, and I said, “Yes.” We both ordered veal and house salads.
The waiter said, “Very good,” and headed for the kitchen. Why did waiters say, “Very good,” when you ordered? It reminded me of being in second grade when the teacher would compliment you for holding your pencil correctly. Were you supposed to feel better about yourself because the waiter said, “Very good”? I shook my head a little to snap myself out of this pointless reverie and refocus on Sarah. She had that hesitant look on her face again.
“Does it still hurt?” she asked.
“Does what still hurt?” I asked guardedly.
“Your divorce. Or maybe losing your marriage.”
I took a deep breath. I hated having this conversation — even with very close friends. Baring my soul was not something I did easily with anyone. Still, the very fact that Sarah was willing to talk about it made me want to discuss it with her. There was something about her quiet warmth that made me want to open up.
“Getting divorced sucked,” I said. “I hated it. Hated joining the pool of People from a Failed Marriage. But what really hurt was losing my wife. I honestly believed that Jennifer and I were going to be together for the rest of our lives. It never occurred to me that we weren’t supposed to be together.”
“Do you miss her?”
“I did for a long time. The first few months when we separated were terrible. And then, eventually, we got the divorce, and I felt the pain all over again. But now it’s been a year since our day in court, and things are better. Who knows, I might even go on a date some time this century.”
“You haven’t dated at all?”
“Oh, you know, I’ve gone to the movies once or twice. Had the occasional casual dinner with a nubile young wench. Nothing close to serious.”
“Why nothing serious?” Sarah wasn’t prying; she was genuinely interested.
“Why are you asking all these questions?”
“I want to know. We talk a lot at the office, but always about the Yankees or movies. It’d be nice to get to know you a little better.”
“Know the Real Man?”
“Maybe you’re trying to divert attention from yourself.”
She gave me a nervous smile in response and said, “You’re the one evading my questions. Why nothing serious?”
“Pathetic as this is going to sound; I’m just not ready for anything besides dinner and/or a movie. I never expected to get divorced — I feel as if I don’t know anything about how things work between men and women. I’m not ready to find out the hard way.”
It went way beyond feeling as if I didn’t know how things worked between the male and female branches of homo sapiens. I had felt hollowed-out by the pain of my wife’s leaving me. I’d never seen it coming. And I was terrified of being blindsided again, which I fully expected to be since I didn’t feel that my separation and divorce had properly educated me in matters romantic.
Sarah looked at me for a long moment, saying nothing.
“What?” I asked. “No encouraging words? Nothing about getting back in the saddle?”
“I’m not qualified to give anybody advice on their love life.”
The resignation in her words brought a vision of Mike at play with the blonde from the River Café to my head. By now they were probably in the back of the limo that had brought the blonde to the reception, and Mike was deliberately spilling champagne down her cleavage, drinking it up from her skin. I could imagine him fumbling the champagne bottle back into place on the bar and then gently pushing the girl down on the leather seat as he began to undo her clothing.
“Sure you are — you’re a romantic success story,” I said, forcing myself to concentrate on Sarah’s face and ignore the porn show my imagination was generating for me. “You just got engaged to Tall, Dark, Handsome, and Rich.”
At this moment, Tall, Dark, Handsome, and Rich was probably locked in a coital embrace with a woman not his fiancée. Given Mike’s sporting temperament, it was easy to picture him casting a glance up front to see if the limo driver was taking in the free entertainment.
Sarah said, “I still don’t know what came over him — why he asked me to marry him.”
It was difficult to understand why Mike had asked Sarah to marry him. And not because of Sarah. She was beautiful — at least she was to me. I loved the play of light in her blue eyes and the slender curves of her body. Sarah wasn’t overpoweringly attractive like the blonde Mike was cavorting with at that split second in time. She didn’t have the dark, dazzling sexuality of my ex-wife. But those women were incredibly hot for the short run. Their looks would sear a man — well, me anyway — but Sarah’s beauty would wear well for a very long time. A lifetime.
But Mike clearly wasn’t ready to settle down. Not for a night, never mind a lifetime. Take his activities on this very evening: After the limo ride, Mike would accompany his blonde companion back to her place, snort a line of cocaine, and have sex again. And then . . .
“You’re crazy,” I said. “You’re one of the loveliest, nicest women I’ve ever met, and Mike is . . . Mike is . . . a lucky slob that you’ve agreed to marry him.”
“Given that you’re a close friend of his, you don’t sound very enthusiastic about him.”
I said, “Look, Mike and I have been pals since freshman year of college. He fixed me up with lots of dates, introduced me to people on the school newspaper, and even created a study group that got both of us through some tight spots. After college he introduced me to Jennifer and later pushed me to the job at the Board. He’s incredibly generous and energetic. But sometimes . . . ” I hesitated. Way to go, Jack, I thought to myself. Go ahead and find a diplomatic way to tell Mike’s fiancée that he’s not the best thing in her life since the training wheels came off her bike. While you’re at it, why don’t you tell her what he’s doing right now?
“Sometimes what?” Sarah asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. I guess . . . Mike’s always been the epitome of cool, you know? And the thing is, he knew it. He basked in the glow of his own coolness. But me . . . I always wanted to be cool, but I always felt . . .” I hesitated again, searching for the right words, “I always felt about as cool as the proverbial dumb little brother. Even tonight, when he was helping me, he was pushing my ‘dumb little brother’ buttons. Being friends with Mike has allowed me to bask in the glow of his cool, but — and I hate to admit this — I guess I resent him for being the cool one.”
“Sometimes I feel that way,” she said. “Like he’s too cool for me.”
I shook my head, “Believe me, he’s not cool enough for you. You’re for real. Mike, well, once you’ve scratched the surface —” I stopped, realizing I was about to do a little character-assassination of this woman’s betrothed. “Look, you shouldn’t listen to me — I already told you, I don’t know how the whole man-woman thing works.”
Our food arrived, and I made a mental note to tip very well — the waiter’s timely delivery of our meals had saved me from myself.
“How did Mike propose?” I asked as we settled into eating. “Did you know it was coming?”
“I didn’t. I thought we might be headed in that direction, but he caught me by surprise. I’m not sure he planned it out. You know how impulsive he can get.”
“I know. So, how did he ask you?”
“We were out having dinner about a month ago. It was a nice place, but not the kind of romantic place you take someone if you know you’re going to propose. Suddenly, in the middle of a conversation about something else, he popped the question. He didn’t have a ring or anything.”
I pointed to her hand, “That has since been remedied.”
“He took me to Tiffany’s the next day.”
“Is Mike’s impulsiveness the reason you haven’t set a date?”
Sarah looked down at the table. I hadn’t meant to hit a sore spot. Maybe Mike was hesitating to set a date. Maybe he thought of an engagement as a perpetual dinner reservation — holding his spot with a woman. “Hey, setting dates can be tough,” I said. “Getting the church, a place for the reception, making sure that Uncle Henry from Outer Kazoo is going to be there — the whole thing can be next to impossible.”
She looked up and smiled weakly, “Something like that.”
“Mike would be crazy to let you get away — and he’s not crazy.”
Her smile strengthened a tiny bit.
“You should just go ahead and set a date,” I said. “If Mike doesn’t show up, the Best Man will fulfill his duties to ensure a matrimonial ceremony occurs — and I’ll marry you.”
Sarah laughed softly, “That sounds pretty good.”
My heart pumped hard despite the silliness of the conversation. “Sounds good to me, too.”
“Thanks for taking me out to dinner.”
“You’re a good friend, Jack.”
“Oh yeah, that’s me.”
Our conversation switched to much safer topics such as movies and baseball. When dinner was finished, Sarah declined coffee or dessert, but I managed to persuade her it was in our best interests if she helped me consume my tiramisu. It was delicious, and after the first bite, she didn’t require any more persuading.
She slid her arm through mine as we left the restaurant and crossed the sidewalk to the limo. Inside the car, as we headed toward her apartment, it was all I could do not to lean over and kiss her. Mike and the blonde were probably in a drowsy state of satisfaction, only minutes away from a little more cocaine and a little more nooky. But I couldn’t convince myself that Mike’s behavior granted me permission to try my hand at romancing his girl. Not to mention the shock it would send through Sarah if I made a move on her.
The limo pulled up in front of her brownstone near Brooklyn Heights, We got out without any help from our driver, and I escorted her up the steps to the front door of the building. We stopped at the top of the steps, a small light above us casting a pale glow on our faces.
“Thanks so much for tonight,” Sarah said. “I had a really nice time.”
She threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug, then a quick, friendly kiss. There wasn’t a trace of sex in the kiss — I could have been her avuncular grandpa.
“See you tomorrow,” I said.
She nodded and disappeared inside.
I walked back down to the limo, vibrating from the contact with her. I wanted to run back up the steps, press her doorbell, and tell her . . . what? That I loved her? That she should forget about Mike?
“Pathetic,” I muttered to myself.
I took the last few steps across the sidewalk, turned back to Sarah’s brownstone, and gave it one last look. Snap out of it, you idiot. She belongs to Mike, whether he really wants her or not.
Back inside the limo, I barely noticed the spectacular views of Manhattan as we hurtled across the Brooklyn Bridge. I looked at the back of my raggedy-haired driver and wondered what kind of wisdom his Travis McGee books held for a situation like mine. After bumping our way uptown over Manhattan’s rough pavement, we reached Columbus Circle, and I said to the driver, “Thanks. I’ll walk from here.”
The driver flipped me a sarcastic salute and pulled over to the curb on the Central Park side of the circle. I got out, and he practically burned rubber leaving me.
“Very impressive,” I said to his retreating taillights. Then I walked the almost-twenty blocks to my cozy little apartment on the Upper West Side. Once inside, I dumped my suit jacket and tie over the back of a chair, grabbed a beer from the fridge, flopped onto my couch, and kicked off my shoes. I turned on the TV and began switching channels. Anything to keep my mind from wondering what I could have done to improve my goodbye with Sarah. Or from contemplating what Mike Munro was up to at that very moment.
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