Posted by: patti | October 3, 2009

Love Letters, Part 2 (Day-After-Friday Fiction)

Part One here.

Annie touched the papers on the desk, her fingers tense, tented over her words.  She picked up a pen, clicked it once, twice, put it down.  She shook the mouse to chase the screen saver off the monitor.

“Hey.”  Behind her, Robert’s voice was soft, so soft that Annie didn’t hear him at first.

She spun her chair to look at him.  “Um,” she said.

“I have tickets for the ballet tonight, and my date canceled. Do you want to go?”

Annie hesitated.  A date who canceled?  Ballet?  Slender fingers gripped her ribs.  She closed her eyes.  “Um,” she said.

“Ballet’s not for everyone, I know . . .”  He trailed off, and moved more fully into the doorway.

“No, no, it’s not that.  I’m meeting my brother for a drink and then I was just planning to go home.  And,” looking down at her jumper, “Well, am I dressed for it?”

“You’re fine!  It’s not a premiere or anything.  You could go straight from here to there to the Kennedy Center.”

“Okay.  Mike said he’d be here around six.  Do—”  Again, Annie hesitated.  “Do you need to go home first, or do you want to join us?”  She wasn’t sure which she’d prefer.

He shrugged and nodded at the same time. “No, that’s great!  I can’t wait to meet the famous actor!”  He wagged his tie at her and went back to his desk.

Annie rolled her eyes.  Mike is so famous, I’ll be paying for drinks, she thought.

She was able to finish her morning work quietly, interrupted only by a few phone calls, distracted only by her thoughts of Robert and the ballet.  At noon, she left before Robert could ask to join her.  She wasn’t hungry, but she needed the air, the time to think.

Annie had the elevator to herself.  She rested her temple against the cool metal of the car and did not close her eyes, even though she wanted to.  The whooshing doors revealed the atrium full of lawyers and weak March sunshine.  Once through the revolving glass doors, she stood atop the wide brick entrance steps and looked up and down the block, not sure where she wanted to go next.

In her pocket, she let her fingers trace the edges of her cell phone.  She knew she should call Dan, and say, simply and lightly, something like,  “Hi honey, I’m going to the ballet tonight with Robert.  Remember Robert?  You met him last summer on the fishing trip?” Annie shook her head and dropped down one step.   She never should have taken Dan along on that company outing; he’d had too many beers and too much sun and had asked Howard if Robert was gay.  Or, she thought, she could just call him tomorrow and say she went out with some people from the office.

A messenger knocked into her, skipping her down another step.  Best not to tell Dan anything at all, Annie decided as she started walking toward M Street.

The wind cut through her tights as she crossed M and turned up Wisconsin at the gold-topped bank.  The sidewalks were full of moms with strollers, couples with each other, kids with metal in their faces and ears; no one in a rush.  She passed another bank, an antiques shop, a boutique with vintage clothes on racks outside.  Crossing Wisconsin to make her way back to M, she spotted a side street free of cars but full of vendors.

Annie moved toward the first display, a crude stall with makeshift display boxes.  Silver rings and bracelets nestled in foam under pocked Plexiglas, bright beads and silver chains hung above.  She ran her fingers through the chains and could hear her mother say, “A lady never buys her own jewelry.”  Rolling the beads of a delicate silver chain between thumb and forefinger, Annie asked the lady behind the table how much it cost.  After paying, she shook her head at a crinkly bag and slipped the chain over her head.

Stopping to examine the faded paperbacks on the next table, Annie wondered if she could write an essay about living in D.C., about how different it was living in South West and working in Georgetown.  About how a New York girl could fall in love with a different subway, about how easier and harder D.C. is, compared to New York.  It would be the perfect piece for that back page of the Washington Post Magazine, she imagined, the one that comes out every Sunday.  When the acceptance letter came, she’d call Mike first, of course, and then her folks.  She’d e-mail everyone in her address book, and she’d make copies of the acceptance letter and send it to all her former teachers.  She’d write personal notes on each copy (“Remember me?  Thanks for believing in me,” something like that).  She didn’t have home addresses for her teachers, but she was sure she could send it care of her schools.  Would it be too much to have the article framed when it appeared in print?

“Annie?”

She jumped and spun around, toward the voice.  “Dan?” she yelped.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said when she saw Robert.  He was standing at the other end of the book table, a tattered A Tale of Two Cities cupped into his wrist.

“Thought I was someone else?”

Annie nodded and tried to compose her face, to hide her sudden, confusing, rush of shame and disappointment.

“See, now I wish I was someone else, too.  Dan, was it?”

Annie nodded again.  She opened and closed a book on the table.

“Eating today?  Or just wandering?”

“Um,” she said.

Robert studied her.  Annie pulled at her new chain and looked away.

“I’m just wandering, myself.”  He raised and lowered his book.  “See you later, I guess.”

He turned to go, but turned back.  “Hey, aren’t you cold?  Do you want my scarf?  Or my coat?”

She shook her head.  “Thanks, but I’m not really cold.”  She was cold, of course, because it was the second week in March and she had left her coat home because this morning the day had looked warm out her window.

Robert looked skeptical, but shrugged and walked away.

Annie watched him walk toward Wisconsin, sorry that she’d been tongue-tied.  Robert looked and sounded nothing like Dan, and she didn’t understand why she was so sure it’d been Dan calling her name.  Dan was back in New York and unlikely to drive all that way to surprise her with an unplanned visit.

Because it was Friday, the afternoon was almost as quiet as the morning.  Annie responded to a worried e-mail from her mother:  “Mom, I know that you wish I lived in a better neighborhood, and so do I, but this is all I can afford right now.  The building is safe, and I am on the sixth floor. Please don’t worry.  I know that the pothole on my street scared you, but the mattress they filled it in with is only temporary.”

Just before six, Annie was startled by her brother Mike, who burst through the door singing “It’s a Hard Knock Life” at full volume.  She started to shush him, afraid Howard would scold her again for another of Mike’s disruptions, but stopped when she registered his hair.  Just recently an enviable chestnut with blond highlights, Mike’s hair was now painfully platinum.  Almost blue.

“What show’s that for?” Annie asked, making a face.

“None.  Didn’t get the part,” he said as he squeezed her off the floor in a bear hug.

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