Cindy led the way up the stoop and into the building. She was one floor up, at the rear, and the windows of her apartment overlooked a large set of porches and gardens at the backs of other buildings. It reminded me a tiny bit of the set outside Jimmy Stewart’s window in the Hitchcock movie, Rear Window. That immediately made me wonder if anyone was looking through Cindy’s window at the two of us.
If they had been watching, they would have seen two people in a studio apartment that was so cozy it was almost all bed. The walls were exposed red brick, and there were a few framed posters of Van Gogh’s work from the Metropolitan Museum collection. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting (maybe a Bette Midler poster?) but not Van Gogh. The colors really popped off the brick walls and gave the apartment a warm glow.
The bed was huge, probably a queen-size, but it looked like the flight deck of an aircraft carrier had been crammed into one side of the studio. Cindy had it covered with a spread and a couple of large bolsters, indicating it served double-duty as a couch. In the tiny gap at the foot of the bed was a small wooden desk and chair. Over the desk hung several framed photos of Cindy on stage with other actors. Cindy was far and away the most attractive person, man or woman, in any of the photos. The only other person that caught my attention was an angry-looking young man with shaggy brown hair. He was affecting a casual stance, but he looked ready to explode.
“Dress rehearsals for an Off-Broadway production of The Hot L Baltimore,” Cindy said, pointing at the photos.
“You were the ingénue?”
“If there is one in that play.”
“What’s this guy? The Angry Young Man?” I pointed at Mr. Shaggy Hair.
“No, more the Disillusioned Cynic. But Larry does have a smoldering anger. Makes him interesting.”
“As an actor. Makes you wonder what he’s going to do next.”
“He’s not interesting off-stage?” Why did I care whether she found him interesting? I couldn’t answer that.
She smiled at me and said, “Not to me.”
“But he was interested in you, I bet.”
“His problem, not mine.” She took off her suit jacket, revealing an off-white, sleeveless blouse underneath. It was of a soft silk and clung to her body as closely as the suit jacket had. I had to admit that if I had the chance to cling to her like her blouse, I would. She draped the jacket over her little desk chair and kicked off her high heels. I almost expected her to say was going to slip into something more comfortable.
A change of subject seemed like a good idea. I looked around the apartment and said, “This is really nice.” I meant it.
“It’s really small,” she replied, smiling. “But I love being in the Village, and having this view.”
“I don’t blame you. It’s great. Ever find yourself watching the neighbors a little too closely?”
“I try not to follow my Jimmy Stewart impulses, but as an actress it’s hard not to people watch. Especially when they’re behaving completely unselfconsciously. It’s like a huge textbook of human behavior.”
“Not to mention hours of free entertainment.”
Her smile grew wider, “Would you like a drink?”
“Should I make some coffee?”
“You’re a cheap date.”
“Am I your date?” I asked. “I thought we were mutual dumpees of Mike’s.”
“Maybe,” she said, sitting on the bed. “But the minute you came upstairs, you crossed the invisible line and became a date.” She patted the bed. “Come sit down. I don’t have a chair to offer you.”
I sat as instructed, close but not too close. “So where’s the invisible line?” I asked. “On your stoop? The building’s front door? Your apartment’s front door?”
“My bed?” she asked.
“Isn’t your bed playing the part of a couch right now?”
“It’s a Shakespearean device — like when a girl plays a man. The audience knows it’s a girl, but the characters in the play can’t see that it’s not a man. The audience is supposed to see through the device at the same time as they’re supposed to accept it.”
“So I’m supposed to believe this is a couch even though I know it’s a bed.”
“Does that mean that I crossed the invisible line when I sat on it or not?”
“Whatever you want it to mean.”
“That sounds more Freudian than Shakespearean.”
“Whatever you like.”
I chuckled, a sound that wasn’t too nervous to my ears. “Not to raise difficulties at this delicate moment, but aren’t you seeing Mike?”
“Isn’t he engaged?”
“Yes . . . but . . .” I was lost here. A European man would have known how to handle this kind of situation with ease, but I lacked the necessary romantic sophistication for it. “But you knew that . . . and you’re seeing him anyway, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am. But since he’s engaged, it means I’m hardly beholden to him.”
“And so . . . now we’re here . . . together . . .”
Cindy got up from the bed and lit a pair of candles, one on the top of her desk, and the other on a tiny night table near the bed. She turned off the studio’s lights. It was quite dark in her apartment now, and we could see that the lights on in a number of the apartments that faced hers over the gardens. There were people under those lights, playing their parts in the dramas of their lives. Cindy settled back down on the bed-playing-the-couch. She was nearer to me than she had been.
“When I asked you to come up, didn’t you want to be here — ‘together’? Didn’t you know I was seeing Mike?”
Oh, brother, I thought. She wants honesty. This would have been so much easier if I had had more to drink at dinner. “I . . . uh, I . . . I’ve been working on instinct here, and I probably haven’t given this enough thought. Of course I want to be here with you . . . you’re gorgeous, and you seem very nice. . . . But you’re with Mike. And you’re helping him to cheat on his fiancée, who’s a wonderful person . . . ” I stopped, completely uncertain where to go with this dazzling line of conversation. “I’m sorry. It was very nice of you to invite me up. If, at this point, you want me to make a discreet exit, I will.”
She laughed in her low, throaty laugh. “Why would I want you to go? Look, I realize this is a complicated situation.”
“To put it mildly.”
“Your best friend is engaged. He’s cheating on his fiancée with me. I’m here coming onto you — meantime you feel bad about what he’s doing to her and disloyal for wanting me. Does that about sum things up?”
“That seems to be pretty accurate. How do you know I feel bad about his fiancée?”
“Would you bring it up if you didn’t? Wouldn’t disloyalty to a pal be enough to make you hesitant?”
“I guess so.”
“Where does that leave us?” she asked.
“You mean aside from being on a bed together in a dark room?”
She laughed softly and leaned close to me, her lips brushing against mine ever so gently. “Could we just leave things right here — just us on this bed together in the dark?”
For a long moment, I concentrated on nothing but the soft touch of her mouth on mine. The last thing I wanted to do was answer her question, because the minute I opened my over-sized, uptight mouth to speak, it would spoil everything.
“Does silence mean assent?” she whispered between kisses.
“It means I’m trying not to think about anything except you.”
“Are you succeeding?”
“I would be if you kept quiet.”
She shifted much closer to me, her breasts pressing against me, her arms around me, pulling me tight. Her kissing intensified. My anatomy reacted as you might expect when a man is on a bed in close proximity to a beautiful woman in a dark room.
“Are you succeeding now?” she asked.
“I’m doing better,” I said in a husky whisper. “But you keep interrupting things to interview me.”
“Why is that a problem?” She was much better at talking and kissing than I was. “We don’t know each other very well — I thought we could have the pleasure of each other’s company and get better acquainted.”
“Oh.” I kissed her again, then leaned away from her, still in her arms. “Why are you doing this with me? Why are you — if you’ll pardon the use of the term — ‘cheating’ on Mike?”
The smile left her face for a second, and I thought she might break off our kissing tête-à-tête. Then her smile returned, “Is it possible to cheat on a cheater?” she asked with the tiniest trace of bitterness.
“Are you . . . are you with me right now as . . . a way to get back at Mike?”
“What’s your problem with him?” Cindy asked, pulling a short distance away from me. “I thought you two were friends, but you’re pretty damn competitive with each other.”
“I hate to admit this, but I’m the competitive one. Mike . . . well, he’s not worried enough about me to bother competing.”
“You’re wrong about that,” she said, leaning toward me to kiss my cheek very, very softly. “Why do you think he told me all about your name? And your divorce?”
“I don’t know . . . maybe he thought you’d be interested and ask a lot of questions, and he could have fun watching me answer?”
She shook her head, her blonde hair swaying gently. “Mike’s afraid that you’re smarter than he is. And, much as he puts down your ‘nice guy’ status, he’s jealous. He’s afraid that, in the long run,” there was continued gentle kissing on the cheek as she spoke quietly, “you’ll do better at romance than he will.”
I took her by the arms and pushed her back a few inches so I could look directly into her eyes. I was in deep waters here: Mike Munro’s incredibly sexy mistress was telling me that I — Solomon “Jack” Quincannon — was a better catch than he was. Or was she?
Ever since the day in seventh grade when I first noticed that Beth McNamara’s hair had soft reddish-blonde highlights and that her eyes were a very pretty shade of blue and that she filled her Catholic schoolgirl’s blouse in the most attractive way possible; ever since I responded in the way that all males have responded from time immemorial and worried that the baleful gaze of Sister Miriam Joseph would fall upon my crotch, and she would know exactly what was going on in my perverted little mind; ever since then I’d always wanted to be . . . more. More confident, handsome, charming, funnier, taller — whatever I needed to be comfortable when I was with a girl. And, oh, how I wanted to be with girls. During high school, there had been indications that I was, amazingly enough, attractive enough in my own way and that I shouldn’t worry so much. As a senior I almost achieved a state of self-confidence. Almost. Then it was off to college where I met the true male ideal: tall, dark, and handsome — Mike. I sometimes wondered if he liked my being around because I was a smart, attractive guy that he could always beat out for the beautiful girl. I was reminded of the old saying: Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. I wasn’t sure which reason kept Mike and me close.
“Is . . .” I couldn’t have been more unsure of myself if I were walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls “. . . is what’s happening here, happening because of me? Or Mike?”
Cindy pulled herself completely away from me. “You really know how to kill the mood, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry, I really am . . . I’m in unexplored territory.” I straightened up next to her. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, but I’m really confused—”
“Maybe I like you,” she interrupted, her voice getting harder, “Maybe I find you attractive. Could those be the reasons I’m with you right now?”
“Well . . . I . . . guess so.”
“You’re the kind of guy someone could have a relationship with, instead of an affair.”
“Thanks.” I stroked her hair and even in the dark, could see her bitter sad smile return. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I shouldn’t have said what I just said to you.”
“It’s all right.” She patted my leg in a friendly, dismissive way. “Just being you.”
“Way too uptight, right?”
“A little uptight. Mostly . . . honest.” She paused, thinking, then said, “Is there someone else in your life?”
“Is there someone else? Someone you’re not cheating on?”
I laughed, mostly to avoid having to admit how close to the mark Cindy had just come. “Didn’t we establish at dinner that I’m in between amorous engagements?”
She shook her head, considering me with her steady gaze. “That’s just a convenient way for you to escape talking about yourself.”
“I thought you were an actress — do you do psychoanalysis as a hobby?”
It was her turn to laugh. “No, it’s part of my craft. Actors are always supposed to look for the unexpressed motivation in a scene.”
“Maybe I am what I seem to be: currently unattached.”
We sat in the dark for a long moment, saying nothing. I turned to look out the window to see if anything entertaining was happening out across the gardens. Many of the windows had gone dark, and the few that had lights on were empty. The Human Drama was slowly closing for the night.
“Hey,” Cindy said softly, calling my attention back to her. “You’re not attached, and there’s no such thing as cheating on a cheater.” She shifted closer to me. “I think that means we’re free to do whatever we like.”
“Well,” I said with mock reluctance, “when you put it that way . . .”
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