Little Red Riding Hood

Glowing pumpkins lit the stone pathway that led behind the house. Inside the face of each pumpkin was carved a warning … Turn Back! … or a wicked one-toothed grin or the word Boo! and Erica Healy, the actress, was skipping along and giggling like a child without paying any mind to the warnings.  Her nonchalance was appropriate because she was decked out head to peep-toe in a Little Red Riding Hood costume.  Fierce and fearless.  And most definitely fuckable.

Beneath a red satin hood, Erica’s long brown hair was separated neatly in to two braids and tied at the ends with ribbon. In her left hand she held a small wicker basket, a bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon inside. Her lipstick was the same color as the wine, giving her costume an edge, not innocence.  She smiled and her teeth popped.  Perfectly sized, white as the moon.

Erica playfully teased Jared with a flip of her skirt as she traversed the stone walk way swiftly in her platform Mary Janes.  She wore a short cape with a hood, of course, a midnight blue bodice over a white-chemise and an even shorter red pleated skirt. Her decolletage sparkled in the yellow light.  Jared thought he noticed glitter on her skin, he blanched, but then softened.  This being the only acceptable day of the calendar year for glitter, unless of course you’re part unicorn.

“This way … if you dare!”

Jared followed behind Erica. A lightness in his step.  Feeling frisky and playful himself, he kept tickling Erica’s sides as she walked a step in front of him.

“Boo!”

A warm California breeze blew Erica’s red-pleated miniskirt upwards revealing her black garter belt and matching lace panties. Jared nearly dropped to his knees.  The garters were a nice touch, every boy’s fantasy.  He licked his lips.

“Was that you or the wind?!” she cried out.

Jared swore it was “The wind!”

A bashful Erica, smoothed her skirt down immediately and put her hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp. Quick with the observation, Jared noticed that the curves of her backside were also dusted with the same light glitter.  It must be from her lotion, she must have glitter everywhere.  Jared closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  Erica was painfully sexy tonight.

Jared was wearing old sneakers on his feet, torn blue jeans, a flannel shirt and a wolf eared animal hoodie on his head.  His hands were inside gloves covered in faux fur, fake claws at the fingertips.  He slipped a hand out of one of the gloves to pinch Eric’s exposed right butt-cheek.

“You devil !” she remarked as she playfully slapped his hand away.

“Big bad wolf.” he corrected in a deep sexy whisper.

“Yeah, you’re bad” she winked “And big too.”

Jared asked “Are you sure we really need to go to this party?”

“It’s Halloween!”
“Yeah but I’ve got a treat for you at home.”
“You mean a trick.”
“I can’t honestly be expected to behave all night with you in that costume.”  he slid his hand around her waist and kissed her neck softly as he pulled her in to his arms.  He palmed her rear end and leaned into her heavily.

“One hour.  We only have to stay for one hour Jared.”
“One whole hour? Sixty entire minutes?”
“Yes. One hour.”
“The things I do for you…” he teased.
“You’ll survive.  Just think about the things I’ll do to you an hour from now…” she teased back.

Jared adjusted his manhood right in front of Erica so she could see exactly what she and that costume she was wearing were doing to him before they turned the corner and joined the party, already in progress, beside the pool in the flat portion of a backyard.

There were paper lanterns floating on the water.  Pumpkins, hay bales and flying witches. Orange tinted lights wrapped around the branches of the trees.  The Monster Mash was coming through the speakers.

A signature drink that either had eyeballs or olives floating inside, was being passed around by waiters and waitresses dressed like Mummies.  Lettuce wraps with dagger skewers, to keep the theme going, floated by Erica and Jared on blood-red platters.

Erica raised her left eyebrow and Jared smiled.  They both love kitsch. The party had an admirable vibe going and it wasn’t even 9pm.  It was probably at a Halloween party just like this that the term kitsch was first coined.  Cheesy and corny and playful and fun.

Laughter spilled out across the lawn as Erica and Jared said hello to their friends.  Erica took the bottle of Screaming Eagle out of her wicker basket and presented it to Kim, the hostess.  Kim hooted when she read the label.  “You brought the good shit.” she teased.

Kim was dressed like a mermaid, a sexy mermaid.  Zander like a candy corn.  Nothing sexy about that. Shannon might have been a construction worker, couldn’t quite tell.  And Payam, who was dressed like a cereal box but carrying a bloody sword, told the couple he was a serial killer and waited for their response with baited breath.

Erica tilted her head, Payam repeated the bad joke, and Jared said “Oh I get it.” before unleashing the fakest of laughs.  “Good one Pay.” and he slapped his friend on the back.  “Serial not cereal…..that’s funny.”

Kim rolled her eyes and Erica shared the expression.  “Payam’s been reading old Martha Stewart magazines again.” she teased.

Jared excused himself, threw his arm over Shannon’s shoulder and the two made their way to another circle of people and Erica stayed behind to tease Payam some more and catch up with Kim, an old shared friend, the one who introduced Erica to Jared.

“So…?” Kim questioned when Payam and Zander wandered off to test the serial killer joke on another new arrival. “How is it going with you two? You look adorable by the way…”

“I have no idea what to do with this basket now…”

Kim laughed, shrugged her shoulders, took a sip of her drink and motioned for one of the Mummies with a tray of drinks to come her way. “Girl, I cannot believe Jared agreed to wear that costume!”

“Me either. To be honest.”

Kim took a big sip and chewed on a piece of ice before adding “He’s smitten.”

Erica bumped Kim with her elbow “Me too!” Erica confessed “He’s so great.  I mean you know that but he’s like just so great. So so …. great!”

“And hot!”

“And talented …and he’s so kind and he walks my dog for me! And well….” Erica gushed.

“Look at how you’re blushing! Oh my god you got it bad girl…bad!”

“Stop…don’t say another word.  You’re going to jinx it!”

“Shh…” Kim said and she widened her eyes a second before Erica felt Jared’s hands slip around her waist

As Jared hugged Erica from behind, he rocked their bodies back and forth slowly “I should have known you two would still be here gossiping about me.” he said, his head resting on Erica’s exposed shoulder.

“We weren’t!” Kim lied.

Jared nodded his head and playfully bit Erica’s neck. “Thirty-seven minutes” he said before backing away and retreating across the pool deck to the bar.

Kim swallowed another big gulp of her drink before asking “What happens in thirty-seven minutes?”

“I turn in to a pumpkin.” Erica snickered mischievously, grabbed a goblet from the nearest Mummies’ tray, drained it, then sighed.

Kim laughed a knowing laugh.  “Get it girl!” she said.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Kim somehow convinced Erica (because she was the only one who didn’t have a fuck ton of makeup on and was about to abandon the party early anyway) to get the party games started by being the first, of hopefully many, to bob for big green apples in a galvanized trough bucket.

Ever the sport and naturally drop dead gorgeous with or without makeup, Erica held her hands behind her back and allowed Kim to tie them together loosely with the red checked ribbon from her wicker basket.  Once sure she was secured, Kim turned Erica around to make her dizzy and everyone shouted out “Wrong game!” and laughed hardily.

“Pin the tail on Jared!” someone called out.

“I’m not blindfolded, I’m tied up!”

“Even better! Use your teeth!”

Erica scooted next to the tin trough and assessed the clear water and floating fruit before her and thought what a strange tradition… “This is easy” she said out loud before leaning over the big bucket and going down on her first apple.  She skimmed her face over the water trying to grab an apple with her teeth.  The apples skidded away from her. Everyone laughed, then shouted instructions until she gave up and dunked her face in to the water chasing a particularly good apple up against the wall.  Her lips glided across the slippery fruit until her teeth sunk in to a stem, she pulled back, delighted with her catch only to have the stem snap and the apple fall back in to the bucket with a giant splash.  Everybody laughed, Erica went in for another round, Kim held her braids back from the water and Jared helped her cheat.  Everyone was in on the bob now. Rooting for Erica.  Drinking their eyeball laden punch.  Celebrating all hallows eve.  And silly traditions.

After soaking her bodice and braids, Erica finally got a good hold on a granny smith (with Jared’s help) and she stood up with the apple in her mouth quite victorious.

She spat it to the ground and playfully cried out “Fuck you! Who’s next?” as Jared toweled her face off.  Zander took next go at the trough.  But only after boasting about how he knew exactly how to get an apple on the first try. Apparently, Zander knows how it really should be done and it’s time to stop fucking around.  “Let me show you clowns exactly how this is done.” he bragged.

“Kind of like you tied up.” Jared remarked as he slipped the ribbon off her wrist.

“I’m freezing!” she confessed and she crawled inside the towel he was holding for her.  “I’m going to grab a sweatshirt from Kim’s room….then we can go.  Ok?”

“We don’t have to go…I’m having fun…aren’t you?”

Erica shook her head.  “I will be once I’m warmed up.”

“Kim?” Erica shouted “Dry hoodie?”

“Third drawer!” Kim shouted over her shoulder as she tied Zander up “Or on that shelf in the closet.  Try the closet first!”

“Okay!”  Erica scooted quickly in to Kim’s house, passing the feast sprawled out on the dinning room table and the mess in the butler’s kitchen to the back stairs that led directly to the master suite.  She threw open the double doors and immediately laughed at Kim’s ostentatious and opulent masters’ quarters.  Tray ceilings, gold window coverings, a fireplace Erica couldn’t help but switch on immediately, a fur rug, gold sconces, beveled mirrored wall, a canopy bed with heavy fabric drapes, a mirror above the bed.  It was all too much.  And perfectly Kim.

Erica could hear the party continuing without her – Loud laughter and shouting.  She took the time to nose around Kim’s closet for a pair of yoga pants to wear with the LAPD hoodie she snagged from Payam’s side of the boudoir.  Kim has great taste, well great taste in clothes, not so much in bedroom decor.

“What’s taking you so long?” Jared asked as he stepped in to the closet “Oh, I see.”

Erica had slipped on a pair of Kim’s thigh high boots.  She had taken off her costume and was standing there in just her underthings.  “Like the boots?” she asked coyly.

“Like the everything.” Jared stated as he walked closer to her. “Everything.’ he said again as he ran his hands over her bare backside and pulled her in to him for a kiss.  He kissed her mouth hard, his tongue tangling with hers as he cradled the back of her head.  She broke away from his kiss for a moment, just to catch her breath, then pressed her lips hard against his.  Jared pushed his body in to hers.  She stepped back to keep balance.  He pushed her up against the closet door and squeezed her breast softly, kneading it in his hand.  She moaned and slid her hands under his flannel top – his skin so soft and warm.  She fumbled with the buttons on his shirt until they gave way, wanting to feel his warmth against her skin but her dexterity lost somewhere between a kiss and his touch.

Jared pulled his flannel over his head.  Laid his skin against hers.  Her breasts pressed in to his tight chest.  They continued to kiss.  The passion getting intense.  The kisses became sloppy.  He ran his hands down her arms, across her back to her backside.  He palmed her ass and lifted her up slightly so she was resting on his hips. She wrapped her legs around him. His manhood pressing in to her. Erica moaned.  She could feel his excitement between her legs.  She was thirsty for him.

He slid his hand between them, underneath her panties inside her wet pussy.

“You’re still wet.” he teased.

“Yeah.” she gasped as she nibbled on his shoulder.

Jared worked his fingers inside her and she threw her head back.

“Can we …. ”

“Here?” she asked

Jared just nodded and kissed her before she could answer.  Erica said yes with her kisses and her heavy breaths.  Jared set her down on her feet so he could undo his pants.  They fell to his ankles as he slid Erica’s panties over her feet.  He kissed beside her knee then her thigh before picking her back up and resting her against the door.  Jared looked deep in to Erica’s eyes.  Kissed her softly.  Twice.  Then entered her slowly.   Erica braced herself against his strong shoulders as he thrusted inside of her. Quick strokes.  Long and deep strokes.  She moaned and held him tighter.  Her pleasure revealed in stifled gasps beside his ear.  She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him deeper inside of her.  When she came, just a moment later, she threw her head back and moaned loud.  Too loud.  He laughed and covered her mouth with his hand until she finished.  Her eyes watered and he spilled his seed inside of her.

“You two get lost?” Kim asked with a wink when they rejoined the party a few minutes later.  Fully dressed in Kim and Payam’s clothes.

Erica smiled – a devilish smile and shook her head.

“Please tell me you two didn’t just fuck in my closet.” Kim whispered as she escorted Erica over to the bar and Jared shed his clothes and jumped, in briefs only, feet first in to the cold October pool water.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“Your bed is really fucking comfortable.” Jared whispered in to Erica’s ear.  “Or maybe it’s you.  You’re really fucking comfortable.”  Jared kissed the tip of Erica’s nose and pulled himself closer to her so he could slide his leg between hers.  She shifted positions to accommodate him and hung her leg over his hips.  He could feel her center and he wanted her again.

“Are you calling me fat?  Sounds like you’re calling me fat.” she teased as she brushed his messy mane off his face.

“This ass…” he teased back as he palmed her backside. “Bubblebutt.”

Erica and Jared were buried deep beneath a plush down-filled duvet, softest egyptian cotton sheets and six squishy pillows.  The sheets were pulled up to their necks, only their heads, raised up on the pillows, peeking out.  The air in Erica’s bedroom was cold, the temperature beneath the blankets was heavenly.

“Tell me we can stay right here like this forever.”

“Mhmmm….I’m not going anywhere.” Jared whispered.

He slid his body on top of Erica.  Careful not to put his full weight on her by supporting himself on his his wrists then his elbows planted on the bed on either side of her.  He kissed her slowly.  Pressed his lips in to her bottom lip, then the top, the bottom again before sliding his tongue inside her warm mouth.

“You’re so beautiful.” he whispered.  His eyes sparkling above her.  She blinked slowly.

“You’re not too bad yourself.”  She put her hands in his hair, tucked it behind his ears then closed her eyes.  Reveled in the security of his weight above her.

Jared shifted himself so that he could touch her breast.  She was wearing a thin tank top.  He could see the tender pink pigmented skin of her areolas through the fabric.  He lifted her tank slowly so he could taste her skin.  His breath hot on her nipple, it became erect before his eyes.  He was aroused too.  Between his pointer finger and thumb he tugged slightly at her nipple.  She sighed and he covered her breast with his mouth.  His tongue dancing across her nipple.  His legs sliding between hers.  She opened wide to receive him though their nightclothes stopped him from entering her then.

“You’re wearing too many clothes.”

“Fix that Jared.”

Jared slid her tank over her head.  Then pulled her panties off.  She was naked when he disappeared beneath the sheets to taste her.  She threw the sheet back so she could watch his head bob as he fucked her with his tongue.  Lost to ecstacy she closed her eyes tight and shook through her orgasm.  He kissed her thigh and removed his pajama pants. They bunched by his feet.  Tender and nearly spent, Jared entered her slowly.  And quietly made love to her.  Leaving her on her back so that when he finished, they would be locked in a kiss.  As one as two people can be.  He rested his head on her shoulder and whispered “I think…”

She closed her eyes and listened.

“I think we should go to church today.”

“Church?” Erica questioned. Shocked. Jared’s manhood softening inside of her.

Jared flopped on to his back beside her. “Yeah.  Church. It’s Sunday.”

“I didn’t know you went to church.”

“I don’t.”

“What kind of church then?”

“Russian Orthodox.”

“Oh, starting with something simple?”

“I have a calling.”

“Ok.  But I don’t think the service…mass? …is done in English.”

“Even better.  We’ll understand more.”

“Ok”

So they showered together.  And Erica put on a pale pink dress.  Jared put on black pants and that Prada blue button down he’s wearing thin.

“I think you need a suit…or at least a tie.” Erica suggested.

“And you need a head covering.  Maybe we should go another day.”

“No.  Let’s go today.  Isn’t it a holy day?”

“All Saints or All Souls…something like that.”

“Jared, that’s Catholic.”

“I have much to learn.”

Erica picked up her phone and googled service times and the location of the nearest church.

“Commemoration of the Dead. That’s not too far off from the Catholic thing. And all are welcome…”

“Let’s go.”

So they went.  The cathedral was just outside Studio City.  A quick drive.  Jared and Erica made their way from the parking lot in to the vestibule where they were greeted kindly in Russian and handed a program with English translations.  The service was quite formal.  And beautiful.  And strange.  The type of strange that makes you ask questions.  Want to learn and crave understanding.  Tradition at its finest.  At its most beautiful.  They knelt and they bowed their heads.  Absorbed the music and gave thanks before sneaking quietly out the back just behind the Priest.

“Was it what you had hoped for?” Erica asked as they drove quietly back up Ventura Blvd.

“More.”

“That’s good then. Right?”

“Yep.”  Jared turned Erica’s car up the hill past the Donut Hut and in to his neighborhood.

“Think you’ll go again?  Next week?”

“I’m not in town.”

“Oh.  Ok.”

“I’ll email you my schedule.  I’m gone for awhile again.” Jared said.

“I know.”

“Will you miss me?” he asked.

“Of course.”

Jared parked Erica’s car across from his house.  “I’ll miss you.” he said before kissing her cheek and hopping out of the car.  She got out too.  Only to get in the driver’s seat.  She’d miss him something awful. That’s for sure.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

He texted her.

MISSED THE REDEYE, GONNA GET SOME SHUT EYE

LANDED IN DUBAI, SAT NEXT TO SMELLY GUY

CROWD TONIGHT WAS LAME, TOO LONG TO TAME

MISS YOU, IF ONLY I COULD KISS YOU

And she texted back.

BUSY, RUNNING ‘ROUND ‘TIL DIZZY

LOST MY SUNGLASSES, WEEK MOVING LIKE MOLASSES

SOLD THE ASTOR PLACE, HALLELUJAH, HAIL MARY, SAY GRACE

MISS YOU TOO …. BOO

A week went by. Two.  Then three.  One month.  And she sold more houses and he sang more songs.  And they got comfortable in their separate routines and a distance grew.  And the texts became few and far between.  The phone calls non-existent. She stopped looking at her phone for his number, and he wrapped himself up in adventures and vyrts and his fans and his other life.  And she met a man named Joe who grilled veggie burgers for Kim and Payam.  And Joe kissed Erica. One night on a path over looking the city lights.  And Erica felt a pull in her heart. And she felt sad that Joe’s lips felt nice.  Sad that Joe was the one who called before bed each night.  Sad that Jared was on the other side of the world not losing any sleep.  And not dreaming of her.

But he was.  She just didn’t know that he’d look at his phone, run through his contacts to H and his pointer finger would hover and he’d admonish himself for letting so much time pass.  And he’d curse himself for letting her go. But he’d reign himself in and he’d compartmentalize and he’d go on about his day with her in the way way back of his mind.  And eventually his lips found another and then, only then did he truly accept that he was in love with Erica. And that she’s the one he should be with tonight.  Not just any one…The One.

So at 2am he texted her.

I’M AN ASSHOLE

And she was sleeping, because it was 2am after all.

So at 447am (his time) he sent another text.

FORGIVE ME.

And by 7am (her time) there were fourteen messages waiting for her.  Each better than the one before, because she had to read them backwards (the most recent, the first) she was already waiting at the airport for him to arrive. In the cellphone lot because security threatened to give her a ticket twice.  But she was waiting on USAir and she was waiting for him.  And they were going to be together again.  Sooner than soon.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Erica sat in that cellphone parking lot, listening to the AM station announce the arriving flights.  And she heard the robotic sounding man state Jared’s flight just landed, right on time, but she didn’t start her car.  The race to Jared’s side petered out.  Instead of surprising him by the curb, as she had planned, Erica ran her finger through her playlist and loaded up an obscure band…an old band…a one-album-and done band Max Q, and sighed.

Erica started the car, glanced in her rear view and as she exited the airport, she sang like she was on stage.  Again.  In an empty stadium.  Soundcheck style. Unreserved and free.  And if you’d have heard her, you’d have wept.

THREE WEEKS AFT:

Erica drives a turbo Porsche.  A Panamera Turbo S to be precise.  And she has a bad habit of testing the frame and her reflexes on the days when her senses have been completely depleted by loneliness and angst.  Days she probably shouldn’t be driving at all.  But that mood – that’s exactly why she’s driving the way she likes to drive.

There is a ritual, of sorts, she goes through before taking one of her high speed cruises. It involves some serious self-reflection followed by spreading her important papers (birth certificate et.al.) out on the kitchen table ‘just in case’ and ends when she paints her finger nails the same color as her car’s exterior.

Custom.  Amethyst Metallic.

If her body is thrown from the car, she wants people to know where she came from. Even if they find her weeks after.  Rotting in the brush. They’ll note the unique color, that metallic amethyst, and they’ll remember that empty car they found, sans driver, in a heap at the bottom of the canyon. And they’ll say “isn’t that funny – her nails are the same color as that car ….” and it will click and they’ll say no more, but they’ll look at their feet instead.  Quiet acknowledgement.  Maybe a sigh.  Or an unexpected “oh!”

Erica’s thoughts should keep her home but instead she shakes them off, dons leather racing gloves, slips out of her shoes (she feels more in control that way), slides snugly in to the driver’s seat, and heads up in to the hills. Unbuckled.

The car is opulent.  Borders on garish even.  But when she enters that right hook on Mulholland, right above Runyon Canyon, going god only knows how fast, she feels like Steve McQueen.  And she feels alive. A sensation she’s been missing. She hasn’t felt alive in months.  Speeding up there is risky and completely stupid.  But that’s how she lets off her steam.  With the music loud and the windows down, Erica navigates the S turns like she has been racing all her life.  Across the top of LA.  In the only place smog can’t reach. Far away from her ghosts and him.

On the other side of a manic moment now, she slows the car down to a respectable speed.  Her hands stay tight on the wheel – ten and two.  Because she’s a novice.  And stupid.  And even though she often flirts with death, she’s not entirely ready to become a headline.

She notices now, not for the first time, the retired FDNY Truck parked midway between insanity and her return to earth. And she wonders what the backstory is, yet again. Someday she’ll stop and ask the origins of the truck – how it ended up here.  But not today.  She’s not herself today.

She’s a resentful girl with a chip on her shoulder.  Not the strong girl who left NY to pursue her dreams in the sunshine state.  As it turns out, sunshine is an insult to a broken heart.  And her heart, it is broken.  Though Joe is trying to mend it.  She’s sure Jared has forgotten all about it..and her..and being forgiven.  Fourteen texts and then nothing.  Fourteen texts after nearly fourteen months together.  Will she ever get over him?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

 

Jared’s airplane taxied slowly to the terminal at Newark International.  All around him, other passengers gathered up their ipads, purses and stowed rolling suitcases and readied themselves to deplane.   He just stared out the window.  Looking for a glimpse of the city, though he knows well you can’t see it from here.  He wanted to feel it.  The hum or the heartbeat.  The energy and everything else about this home away from the home that never truly felt like home.  He needed to smell the perfume of Manhattan.  Hear the deafening music of car horns, ambulances and loud cellphone users. Hide out in the open.

California was feeling like a crypt these last few weeks.  A beautiful, monumental, lifeless crypt.  New York would fix that.  His edgy friends.  The pureness of east coast conversation.  Lack of all pretense.  Full of substance.  He needed it.  But the passengers in coach were slow to exit the plane.  Slow to exit the gateway.  Slow to reach the other side of the terminal where he’d try and catch a train unnoticed.  He was lucky, most of the time.  The NJ Transit riders didn’t pay much attention to a hippie rolling a worn red suitcase.  If he kept his head down, and his sunglasses off, no one looked at him twice.  Today, that was comforting.  The only person he had any interest in talking to was on the other side of the country and she wouldn’t return his calls.

He sent a request to Uber for a ride from Penn Station to Bowery/East Second, sat back on the blue plastic train seats and closed his eyes.  He would be in the city shortly.  Then he could fully relax.  The train car filled up quickly with too many bodies for the seats.  He gave up his chair to an elderly woman who gave him a look that reminded him that chivalry died ages ago.  And he winked and her stone face cracked and she put her hand on his elbow and let him guide her in to the seat he prewarmed for her.

“Sit with me?” she requested and she scooted over so he could park a third of his behind on the edge of her seat.  “You’re a nice boy.” she remarked to Jared.  Then she looked pointedly at the man occupying the seat by the window.  Shaming him with one glance.

“Thank you.” Jared said softly but he declined her request.  The man next to them rolled his eyes and put his headphones on his ears.

“Not many of your kind around anymore.”  In her hands she was holding a small wire cage.  There wasn’t a bird inside, nor a candle.  Just more wire.  It peeked his interest so he sat down on her arm rest.  He imagined she’d repurpose it somehow.  But he didn’t dare ask.

“I’m a sucker for junk.” she commented when she caught his eyes on her cage. “I quite like the detail though.” and she lifted her hand off the lid and revealed a garden of roses, discolored and black, curly Qs like vines and Jared nodded.  It was pretty even if the latch was quite bent.  Might make a good bookend. Or perhaps a coffee table tchotchke.  “Are you an artist?” she asked.

He thought about his response.  Of course he should answer honestly.  But honesty always feels too much like boasting so he said “I draw.”

“Oh, lovely. People? or Places?”

“Things.” he smiled.

“Things?”

“Doodles.  I’m not very good.”

“I’m sure you’re just fine.” she patted his hand.  Hers felt like ice and bone.  “Are you doing anything grand in the city this weekend?  I’m sure you must be.”  Jared noted her slight brogue finally.

“I’m here for a rest.”

She laughed.  “Wrong city. Thaisce.”

Jared wrinkled his nose up “You might be right.”

“So you’re running away.  To the city that never sleeps?”

“I’m not running.”

“It’s quite alright if you are. We all need to get away sometimes.”

He smiled.  And the conversation lulled.  The train went underground and Jared stood up again.  When they reached the station Jared took the old woman by the elbow.  Helped her from her seat and grabbed his rolling suitcase.

“Will you be alright?” he asked after helping her up to the main lobby.

“Of course son.  I’ve just flown two-thousand seven hundred seventy three miles on my own.”

“Ireland?”

“Of course.”

“I don’t want to leave you.”

“You don’t have to.  Fetch a cab.  I’ll show you around.”

“I have a car service…”

“Aren’t you fancy.”

“It’s just a black cab.”

“Well, my dear boy.  I’m riding yellow.”

“It was very nice to meet you Ma’am.”

“Don’t ma’am me child.  Makes me feel old.”

As he handed the woman back her empty cage he said “My name is Jared.”

“It was very nice to meet you Jared, I’m May Healy.  Look me up if you find yourself in Breezy.”

“I will.” He promised.

“Alright then.  Up Tip!”  And then she was gone.  Inside a cab on 7th Ave.  And Jared found his Uber driver on the next block.  “Bowery and East Second?” he confirmed.  And he googled a thiasce on his mobile. And it took forever, because Gaelic doesn’t read as it sounds to the English ear, to discover she had called him “treasure.”  It made him smile.  A real smile.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

It was early morning and the sun was just beginning to stretch across the rooftops downtown.  The rest of the city was bathed in shadow. It looked pretty but chilly. Which made no sense…it’s summer.  Jared dressed in layers by the window, modesty useless at his perch above the city.  The people below looked like ants.  Busy and fast moving creatures.  He felt content and justified watching them scurry along.  A Manhattan morning embodies the way his mind functions.  Busy at all hours.  Racing from thought to thought.  Project to project.  Constructive and creative, regardless of the hour.

Jared laced up his sneakers.  Thought about the laces for a moment.  One was frayed and ready to give way.  He double knotted that shoe.  Then felt uncomfortable because one was tighter than the other.  He double knotted the other, grabbed his door key and left the hotel room.

Down below, on the street, he walked past delivery trucks and big store windows.  The stores weren’t open yet but people were already inside.  Refolding clothes.  Redressing mannequins.  He nodded at a gentleman who was setting up his street vendor table and slipped into a coffee shop.  He wasn’t there for coffee, his mind was working on ideas for Black Fuel, Shannon’s pet project that’s in its infancy stages.  Jared isn’t part of the project but he can’t help but pay attention to what works and what doesn’t.  Can’t help but try and learn whatever he can about it because that’s what he does.  A consummate learner.  No matter what the subject.

The coffee shop was bustling, as would be expected at this hour.  Men and women with messenger bags slung over their shoulders.  Business suits and business casual.  Danish orders.  Bagels with schmear.  Breakfast a la carte.  He understood.  Convenient and fresh.  The shop smelled like energy.  Fuel.  But it wasn’t unique.  Profitable , it would appear, but not unique.

His mind went in to hyperfocus mode.  McDonald’s serves egg sandwiches and flavored coffee too.  For a quarter of the price.  What’s the difference?  Why are these people spending $9 on breakfast.  Quality?  Convenience (everything in Manhattan is convenient)?  Is it something else?  Is there another take away from Nosh Coffee that you don’t get at Mickey D’s?  It’s probably somewhere inside denial.  The fruit cups looked like fresh cut fruit, not crap floating in preservatives.  There were several well named choices for schmear.  The eggs were pre-made and micro-warmed but you only noticed if you were watching very closely.  They hid well the truth.  Unlike Mickey D’s with it’s visible assembly lines and it’s lobotomized clerks.

Jared grabbed a bottle of water from the cold case.  Happy it was a glass bottle and not plastic.  With the amount of water he drinks, leaching from the plastic freaks him out.  He admired the label, turned it over and giggled when he saw it was a Cocoa Cola product.  He had seen enough. Gleaned all he was going to glean from this non-chain coffee shop. He put the bottle back in the case and made his way out of the shop and back on to the street.  The sidewalk was filling up fast now.  It was a little after 7am.

Jared had a day to himself.  A rarity lately.  The evening was scheduled thick but his day was wide open until after dinner.  In front of him, an old lady was pulling a large laundry cart.  Though she didn’t have the same appeal, she did remind him of old May Healy.  From the train.  Where did she say she lived?  Queens.  By the ocean.  Breezy Point!  He pulled out his phone and googled the town.  A ferry could take him on the hour.  He was sure she’d be awake.  Maybe the ocean breeze and light conversation would be a good way to spend the day.  He slipped inside Einstein Bagels and ordered a dozen bagels, little containers of butter and cream cheese, fruit cup (for him) and a bottle of orange juice and made his way, bag in hand, to the ferry dock (on foot).

He didn’t think about what he would do if she wasn’t home.  Didn’t realize that Breezy is a gated community.  He just hopped on the boat and let a mini-adventure begin.  He walked to the back of the boat, set his paper bag down on the seat and watched Manhattan get smaller as he drifted away.

The ferry let him off near Kennedy’s (a restaurant still under repair after Hurricane Sandy’s damage) and he remembered why Breezy Point had some familiarity.  This is the little community that nearly burnt to the ground last year when he was in town for the DOC NYC festival.  He saw it all on the news.  300 homes?  Something grand.  He hoped May’s home was spared.  Thats when it clicked that he had no idea where exactly to find May Healy.  Where would he begin to look?  He wandered up Roackaway Point Blvd and crossed in front of St Thomas More Church.  Roman Catholic.  There was a small gathering of gentle old women filtering in through the front doors. He looked down at his watch, 8:15am.  Ah, the dedication of the Irish.  He followed them inside.  Took a seat in a back pew and watched out for May Healy.  He was certain, if the luck of the Irish bequeathed it, that he’d find her here this morning.  And he did.  And she noticed him right away.  She came up beside him, put her hand on his shoulder and told him to “scoot.”  He did and she sat beside him.

“Beautiful morning!” she commented.

“Yes.” he smiled.

“Take mine.” she said as she handed him the church bulletin “I know all the gossip already. And can recite this mass in my sleep…could since I was four I’d say.”

“What makes you think I don’t?”

She patted his hand and leaned back in the wooden pew.  Several people stopped and said hello.  May introduced everyone to Jared and called him “the nice boy from the train” more than a few times.  He politely stood and shook hands and cheek kissed each lady who called on them.  A few patted his tattoos and raised their eyebrows before smiling.  One even informed him “those don’t come off!”  He was amused by the formality of it all.  The ladies (and a handful of elderly gentlemen) were dressed up.  Nice sundresses and summer suits.

The mass wasn’t terribly formal.  The songs were sort of familiar.  He had picked up the melodies at some point in another lifetime, in another place.  May admonished him for not singing along at first. He joined in and they exchanged soft smiles through out the service.  She mothered him, Grand-mothered him really, and took his arm when they exited the pew.

“The girls are going to have fun with this.  A handsome suitor on a Tuesday morning.” she smiled again and he knew she was teasing him. “So have you come in just for mass? Or can we walk?”

“I just came for a hello…and I brought bagels?”

“That’s wonderful.  Some of the congregation is coming over this morning for tea.  Your bagels will be a hit.”

“You don’t mind? I feel kind of strange now that I’m actually here.”

“Of course not.  I invited you, didn’t I?”

The two of them walked out of St Thomas More on to the sidewalks that crept here and there between the houses.  The cars were all parked at side streets away from the homes.  No one parked anywhere close to their houses.  He marveled at the uniqueness of Breezy.  A true walking community, just a boat ride or a car ride over the Marine Parkway Bridge.

“What do you think of my Breezy?”

“It’s great.” he said honestly.

“I’ve been here for forty-something…no almost fifty years.  A lot has changed and well, we lost a lot in Sandy. But it’s coming back.  I shouldn’t complain.  I did fairly well comparatively.”

“Your house wasn’t hit?”

“We were all hit.  Had to take everything down to the studs.  But just water damage.  Thankfully the fire stopped two walks over.  It was quite a storm.”

They wandered through the wedge.  A section that looked more like a war-zone than a beach community.  Jared could tell where the walks used to be.  Imagined what the bungalows might have looked like.  Each empty lot had a sand filled bucket out front. An American flag stuck deep in the sand. Where houses once stood there were debris piles or concrete blocks.  Not much else.  No new construction.  Just empty space.

“Looks like war doesn’t it?”  May remarked.

“So sad.” Jared commented.

“They’re going to rebuild.  Not sure what – there’s talk of raising the new homes up.  Which I don’t like.  Bad enough we have those fancy monstrosities towering over the bungalows as it is.  It’s too much.  But I’m old.  Don’t need much space.  These families have children.  Grandchildren.  It’s just me so a bungalow is perfect.  But I did upgrade my bathroom!”

Jared smiled.  Took in the trappings of Breezy.  Statues of Mary.  Crosses.  Jesus.  He felt a pull in his belly. As much as he likes the far out, rule bending side of life and music and especially art, he also has a deep respect for tradition.  And belief systems that span millennia.

“Would you like to see the Ocean?”  May asked a quiet pensive Jared.

“Of course.”

They wandered up what was left of Jamaica Walk, past the spot where the Sugar Bowl once stood to the sidewalks that led to the sand.  The Ocean appeared before him past the dunes and a warm breeze blew through their hair.  May put her hand back on his elbow when they stepped in to the sand.  Steadied herself on his arm.  Jared guided her towards the water’s edge where they watched some surfers body surf the small waves.  Seagulls squawked around them and shells crunched beneath their feet.  Two teenagers came in on a wave together and climbed out of the surf walking towards them.  Jared stiffened when he saw one had a triad necklace.

May looked at the teenagers and at Jared then back at the kids as they walked towards them.  “Do you know these boys?” she asked just as they approached.

“No.” he said quickly.

“Oh my God! I told you it was him!” one kid said to the other.

“What are you doing here?” The other kid asked Jared as he tried to hug him (soaking wet).  Jared took a step back but let the kid embrace him anyway.  Two sopping wet selfies and a few uncomfortable flattering comments later, Jared had to say goodbye and usher May along since the kids weren’t leaving.

“What was that about.” she asked.

Jared wrinkled his nose and wiggled his chin.  “Um.” he said.

They were back on the sidewalk now, this time it was a gathering of girls that screeched and ran over to him.

“Fuck.” he mumbled.

May looked at him crossly.

“Sorry….Hi!” he said to the girls who were already snapping pictures and asking for group selfies.

“Maybe we should get you back up to the house before you get mobbed again.” May suggested after they left the third set of giggling teens.

“I’m sorry.” he said.

“Don’t be.”

“I…”

“I feel silly, Jared.  I have no idea who you are!” May laughed.  “Do those children buy your doodles?”

“Some of them.”

“So tell me what you really do Jared?”

“I do a lot of things. I’m an artist.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Jared laughed and May winked “Music mostly.  But I act sometimes too.”

“Act?  Anything I might have seen? I could have.  You’re quite handsome.  Leading man?”

“I did a movie in Ireland. In Cork.  I had a really bad accent.”

“I’m sure you were great.”

They wandered along the walkway that ran parallel to the Ocean.  Jared couldn’t see it anymore, it was hiding behind countless dunes, but he could smell it on the breeze and hear the waves crash.  He wanted to go back.  Sit with May there and chat but that wasn’t possible without making a scene.  He had to admit he was a little surprised by the attention.  His band isn’t that big in the states.  Love Lust Faith and Dreams, his new album, isn’t getting radio play either.  But he guessed this Irish enclave has good taste in more than just locale.

When they finally reached Roosevelt Walk, May started regaling Jared of the stories of each of her neighbors.  Lots of firefighters.  Manhattanites.  9/11 families.  Jared’s attention crawled back to reality.  Outside himself and back to May.

Her house was just as she described.  A small gray sided bungalow with a dozen small windows.  A deck that wrapped around from front to back of the home.  With a small gate across the side to “keep her dog in the back because he’s a barker.”  Jared was glad she had a dog. At least she had him or her for company.

They entered the house through the back door and Jared set his bag on the kitchen table.  May’s teeny dog – a Schnauzer of some sort – circled around his feet giving him a good sniff before skittering back and forth around the kitchen, tail wagging like crazy.

“Back door guests are the best.” May kidded and she gave him the penny tour.  Across the back of the house was an eat-in kitchen, no dinning room, mid-hallway bathroom which May was so proud of, she even slid back the shower curtain to show Jared the new jetted tub.  Then frontward to the living area.  Off that room were two very small bedrooms.  Beds neatly made, small chests of drawers and books lining shelves in both rooms.  Paperbacks and beach reads in the front room.  Hard bound classics in the master.  Jared noted May didn’t have a television.  But she did have a ton of photographs hanging on the wall.  May left him to look at the photographs while she freshened up.

Jared danced his eyes across the happy faces in the photographs. Sun kissed people in beachwear and bathing suits.  May was in most of the photographs too.  Someone else is the photographer in the family.  He noticed lots of kids.  Many brothers and sisters.  May has a huge family. He’s not sure why he thought she was a loner.  At the center of the photographs was a large family portrait.  In front of the church they were in this morning. To the right, standing between a pot bellied man and a string bean pale teen stood a girl that looked painfully like Erica.  And in that moment then it clicked.  Erica Healy.  May Healy.  Holy shit!

———————————

“Come come now” May pulled Jared away from the wall of photographs. She didn’t regale him with a single tale. She ordered him to the kitchen “We’ve work to do. The clan comes by before noon and it’s already eleven-twenty!”

Jared followed May back down the hall past her brand new bathroom in to the kitchenette that stretches across the back of her bungalow.  She set down a wooden cutting board on the kitchen table and directed him to a drawer to retrieve a knife.

“On the right….my right.” she said as Jared opened one drawer, then another.  “Rinse the tomato before you cut it.  It has been on the counter a day already. Thin slices.”

Jared nodded and obeyed.

“I’ll cut the cheese.” May snickered and Jared looked back over his shoulder at her with a smile.  He likes this woman.  A lot.  But he has a problem, a problem that’s impossible to actually believe.  But a problem just the same.

As he sliced the tomato, he thought about his predicament. Should he employ full disclosure or just let it go? If he comes clean, that’s probably the end of his day with May.  Which would be quite a bummer.  He’s enjoying himself.  And he’s sure she is too.

What’s a day in a life really?  He’s sure he wont stumble across May’s path again. He could bide his time and effectively avoid any awkward unecessary-ness. But he likes May.  He doesn’t want to run away with his tail between his legs.  But she’ll likely speak with Erica, mention her visitor, and he’d be discovered in short order no matter what he decides.  And the story Erica would tell, after she got over the shock of his trespass, wouldn’t make him look so good in retrospect.  He looks like a stalker.  A creepy, ferry riding, old-woman stalker.  Or worse, a user.  A trickster.  Trying to woo Erica back through grand-ma-ma.  Even though his visit is so far removed from that sort of scenario, who really would believe in this level of happenstance now? Especially if he ran away. It’s too much of a coincidence.

The conundrum made his stomach churn.  He brushed a bead of sweat off his forehead with the back of his wrist.  What have I done? He thought, and much the same could be asked of the state of the tomato.  It was nearly sauce.

“Too thin! Too thin!” May chastised.  Jared made healthier slices.  “Better…” she patted his shoulder.  “Cucumber next, if you think you can handle it?”

He nodded and began to speak “May?”

“Hmm?” May was drying lettuce by the sink.

“I was looking at your pictures…”

“Aren’t they grand?”

“Yes, quite.  You have a lovely family.”

“I do.” May agreed.

“I…I recognize someone in your photos.”

“You do?”

“Yes, your Granddaughter?” He asked more than stated.  Not entirely sure of the relation, heavy with assumption.  “We used to date.  I dated her.”

May put down the paper towel and turned to face Jared.  Her own face not quite registering any one particular emotion.  “Which one?”

“I didn’t know she was your granddaughter before I came here.  Believe me.”

“Which one?” she asked again.

“Erica.”

“Oh, Erica!” May snorted ever so slightly and went back to her salad fixings. “Erica lives way out in California.  You’re mistaken.” and then it clicked.  “Oh.” was all she said next.

“Erica and I aren’t on the best of terms….Should I go?”

“You need to eat, then you can go.” she said with a stuffiness in her throat.

“I’m sorry. I promise I didn’t know you two are related.  I couldn’t have.  You understand?”

“Jared, are you the boy that broke my baby’s heart last year?  Because if you are….”

“I might be.”

“Well then you have some explaining to do.  But not now.  We have company coming and you haven’t diced the carrots.”

“This is really awkward, May.”

“Yes.  And that’s what you get.  Now go out to the shed and get the umbrella. I think we’ll sit on the deck.”

Jared obeyed. And on his way across the deck to the small shed that sat in the sand, he checked his cellphone.  Pulled up Erica’s last text message and he reread it “I miss you too.” she said.  On a Tuesday, just after midnight, over a year ago.  He never sent another text after that.  He can’t explain it.  Yes he can.  He’s an idiot.  And she got too close.  He was in love and he hated everything about it.  Love is an uncomfortable, unwelcome, unnecessary emotion.  It ruins everything.

He pulled up a blank text and began typing quickly “Erica, I’m in New York.  Breezy Point. And you’ll never believe who I’ve met.”

He erased that and wrote another “I just want you to know that I bumped in to your Grandma…”

He erased that one too.

“I’m sorry.” he typed and he hit send.

She responded while he was setting the umbrella in its stand “Who is this?” she replied.  And his stomach fell to his shoe.  How the hell do you respond to that?  He bit his bottom lip.  Opened the umbrella up wide.  And started typing once again.

“It’s Jared” Send.
“and I’m an idiot” Send.
“and I’m at your Grandmother’s house in Breezy.” Send.
“and I miss you.” Send.
“And I’m sorry” Send.
“and I want to explain myself.” Send.

The texts cascaded in to Erica’s phone one after the other as she stood in the door way of a toy store in Bay Ridge.  At my Grandmother’s? was all she truly registered.  The rest was too little way too  late.

“Uh, which Grandmother.  And…why?”

“Healy.  And you’ll never believe the story. Can I call you?”

“idk” she responded.

“Will you answer?” he texted but he didn’t wait for her to respond.  Wouldn’t let enough time pass where she could curse him and toss her phone back in her bottomless purse.  He dialed her.  And she picked up on the third ring.

“I really don’t have anything to say to you.” was how she picked up the line.

“I know.  I know.  But I have so much I should say to you.”

“Should?” she snickered.  She sounded like May.  A lot like May.

“You know what I mean.”

“Do I?” he could hear the sounds of the store around her.  Kids and intercoms.  She was fussing with something.  Pressing buttons.  Electronics of some sort.  Distractions.

“I’m so sorry for everything Erica.  I’m an idiot.”

“You said that already.”

“I’m ….stupid.  I got scared and I …I should be saying this to you in person.”

“Yes you should have.  Do you mind telling me why you’re at my Grandmother’s of all places?  That’s so weird.”

“It’s kind of a long story…”

“Try me.”

“I gave her my seat on the train and well we got to talking.  You know how she is.  So friendly.  She had this little birdcage…”

“And?”

“Well she told me to look her up and I did.  Ok?  I didn’t know she was your Grandmother.  How would I ever know something like that about a random woman on the train.”

“You sound defensive.”

“I feel defensive.”

“Ok well can I talk to my Grandma? Is she there?”

“She’s inside….” Jared said as he turned around with the phone to his ear.  May was standing in the doorway, the screen door between them. She was listening and she wasn’t embarrassed by being caught in the least bit.  She opened the door and put her hand out for the phone.  The look on her face was again unreadable.

“Fancy…” May said as she walked deeper in to the bungalow with Jared’s phone to her ear.  He was beyond tempted to follow her.  To eavesdrop.  But he stood fast on the deck instead.  Getting in further trouble was not in his best interest.  He thought about running.  Taking off down the sand alleyway and disappearing.  He didn’t really need to ever see either of them again. He could pretend nothing ever happened.  He’d already been doing that for a year with Erica.  What’s one more body in the count of people he avoided thinking about?

Twenty minutes past and Jared could hear other people milling about the bungalow now.  Did May forget about him?  Was he supposed to have gotten some hint by now?  She did have his phone and he does sort of need it.  Jared was getting thirsty just standing there.  And his stomach was queasy.

He went to the screen door.  Peaked inside.  And, of course, May was coming down the hall then.  Her face was twisted but she wasn’t angry. At least she was hiding it well if she was.

“Oh Jared.  You’re a fool.” she said as she handed him back his phone.  “You’re a fool and she’s now on the ferry over here.  Two fools.  Meet her at the dock. Bring her here and I’ll forgive you.”  she nodded to the phone…he saw that the call was still engaged.  He said hello and started walking towards the front of May’s house.

“She’s an old woman Jared.”  Erica said in to the line “With a stubborn streak.”

He nodded in agreement, he could see that true already “Are you really on your way?”

“I am whether you’re there or not.  I always see her when I’m in town.”

“Oh. I thought…”

“You thought right…we’ll talk.  But not for long.  I want you to go.  I don’t want May to worry about any of this so I’ll give you ten minutes for her sake. A ten minute walk back from Kennedy’s…you better talk fast.”

“Ok but first let me…”

“Ten minutes.” she said and she hung up the phone.  He spoke again twice before he realized she had hung up the phone.  And his stomach flopped around inside his shoe as he shuffled up Roosevelt walk towards Kennedy’s.

——————————–

Halfway through the walk across the peninsula towards Kennedy’s restaurant, Jared was nearly soaked with perspiration. Not because of the heat or the walk, he was nervous. He stumbled across Huggie Bears, a non-descript convenience store tucked behind several bungalows and beside a set of baseball fields, and slipped inside to grab a bottle of water and his bearings.  He was getting lost on the walkways but he could tell he was at least heading the right direction.  He had time to get lost, the ferry ride is almost an hour.

“How do I get to the Bay from here?” he asked the clerk who rang up his purchase.

“Not more than a kilometer.  You’ll come to the main road after the ball field.  Cross that and head straight a ways.” she answered with a thick Irish brogue.

“Are you from Ireland?” he asked, pointing out the obvious.

“Aren’t we all?” she responded with a wink. “Are you looking for someone?”

“I’m meeting someone at the ferry.”

“That doesn’t come ’til half past.”

“I know.  I don’t want to be late. I need to be there when she arrives.”

“Well you better be going then.” she suggested.

He paid her the $3 and went to step away.

“Do I know you?” she asked.

“I don’t think so.” he said and he walked out of the store back in to the heat of the day.

“I think that was Jaret Leeto!” he heard her shout to someone inside the store.  Great. He thought.  He picked up the pace, crossed Rockaway Blvd and skirted between more bungalows on his way to Kennedy’s.  He recognized this part of the walk, the church was over his shoulder somewhere to his right.  He pulled his hair back in a sloppy bun, it was getting quite long again.  It felt good to feel the air on his neck.  He dabbed his sweat with his shirt collar and readjusted the rest of his clothes.  A vain attempt at making himself presentable for Erica.  When he got to Kennedy’s he saw the pier where the ferry would normally dock.  It was destroyed in the storm.  Up the water a ways was a temporary structure.  Metal.  That’s where he disembarked earlier.  He sat on a bench and retied his laces before watching the ferry grow on the horizon. He could see New York City in the distance.  It was a clear day.

The beach was relatively silent for such a nice day.  He wondered where everyone was.  Maybe at work.  Or home for lunch.  Probably at the ocean side.  He really liked this community.  Even though it was packed with fans.  As the clock ticked towards 12:30, Jared could make out every detail of the ferry but he couldn’t find Erica in the faces of those on the bow.  Just a handful of people.  Not surprising at mid-day.  He stood up when the boat docked and made his way to the temporary pier to greet Erica.  She was one of the last ones off.  And she looked gorgeous.  Sun kissed and windblown.  His heart sank again and he cursed himself.  He really messed up.  Big time.

She was wearing a pair of distressed blue jeans, a white tank top and a soft yellow button up that she left undone.  Lacy sandals and her hair was off her face.  Her makeup was subtle and she was talking with someone as she walked down the plank.  The someone, a man twice her age, was blushing and gushing and Erica was smiling kindly.  But Jared could tell she was uncomfortable.  A fan of hers perhaps?  Or maybe an old pervert.  He couldn’t tell exactly.  Erica noticed Jared then, bid the old man farewell and charged towards Jared.

“Kiss me.” she demanded.  And Jared pulled her in to his arms and did just as she asked.  And it was divine.

“Ok! Ok!” she grumbled as she pulled back from him. “Did he leave?” she asked without looking over her shoulder.

“Who?  Oh.  No.  He’s still there.  Watching.  Should I grab your ass?”  he teased.

“No.  But do something.  He’s a creeper.”  Jared took her bag off her shoulder and grabbed her hand and they turned around together and headed back towards Roosevelt Walk hand in hand at a brisk pace.  “I can’t get a moment’s peace since The Circle came out.” She said and Jared knew what she meant.  The Circle was her latest film, based on a best-selling book by Dave Eggers.  Jared had to be honest, it was a very good movie that was quite popular. Even Jared saw it and he never goes to the movies.  But he went to that. Opening weekend.  Telling himself something about still being supportive even if from a distance.  A great distance.

“You were great in that.”  he said softly.  Erica released Jared’s hand then.

“Too great apparently.  Now everyone thinks I’m an open book.”

“You were a quite convincing Mae Holland.”

“Thanks.”  Erica put her hands out to take bag her bag from Jared and he shook his head.

“I’ll carry it.” he suggested.  Erica relented and stuffed her hands in to her pockets instead. The bag was cumbersome and heavy anyway.

“So, Mr. Leto.  Why the fuck are you at my Grandmother’s again?”

He stopped walking “I told you.”

“Yeah, but I don’t believe you.”

“Why would I lie about that?”

“Because that’s what you do!” she nearly shouted.  The tension he spent a year avoiding sucked the sun right out of the day.  Immediately.

“I don’t….I don’t lie.” he said drawing out the last word like he couldn’t even say it let alone do it.

“You lied our entire relationship!”

Erica started walking again and Jared had to follow.

“I didn’t lie about anything.”

“You said you loved me!”

“I did!” he sighed “I do!”

“Could have fooled me!” she said and she wiped below her left eye where a tear had fallen.  Jared wasn’t expecting this.  He’s not entirely sure what he did expect, but certainly not this.  Jared felt terrible.  As he should.

“I didn’t lie.  I got scared.”

“Nice excuse.” she said.

“I did.  I can’t do … love.  I told you that.  I warned you!”

“So this is my fault?”

“No.  It’s me. I’m all fucked in the head.  I never wanted to hurt you.  Please believe that.  I made a big mistake.  HUGE mistake.  And I’m so sorry I hurt you.” He put the bag down and pulled her in to his arms.  She was really crying now.  Streaks of tears coated her delicate face.  “I’m so sorry.” he whispered in to her hair.  He held her tight and she caught her breath.

“I don’t know what to say to you.” she said when she finally pulled away. “You broke my heart.”

“I know.”

She slapped his chest “You’re such an asshole!”

“I know.”

“I don’t want to get back together with you.  I hope that’s not why you’re here.” she stated.

He hadn’t thought about getting back together with her at all.  He missed her.  That was true. But he was still deathly afraid of all she represented.  An anchor.  Someone to answer to. He doesn’t want that.  Ever.  No matter what the price.

“I told you why I’m here.  And it had nothing to do with you at all until I saw your picture on the wall.”

“Well you know what my Gran says about coincidences?”

—–

“There are none.” May said after she sat the two of them down on the couch in her front room.  Erica with a glass of chilled ginger-ale and Jared with a cup of ice water.  “The Lord doesn’t do coincidences.”

Erica and Jared sat side by side on the sofa, a cushion between them, like two bad teenagers caught in the act.  Or two school kids caught with hands in the cookie jar.  They were being scolded.  And like good kids who only dabbled with the bad, they were respectfully listening to her lecture them both.

“Gran…”

“Don’t Granny me Erica Healy.”

Jared stayed silent.  Probably the smartest move he’d made in a year.

“Gran, It’s over between Jared and I.  We’re ok.  We’ll stay …friends.  But we’re not dating again.”

“You shouldn’t run away from love. Either of you.”

“I’m not running.” Jared said softly.

The ladies both looked at Jared simultaneously. But neither of them acknowledged what he said.  Which was good for him, that statement could have ignited a firestorm.

“It took your father twenty one years and three children with some harlot who wasn’t even good enough to marry to realize he only loved your Mother.” May said sharply.  Erica tried to stop May from telling her parents tragic ‘love’ story but May kept on talking right over her “Twenty-one years!  Just think about all the time he wasted.  And you’re an only child because of that mistake!  An only child in an Irish family.  It’s unheard of!”

“I’m not an only child.  I have two brothers and a sister.”

“They do not count.”

“They do to me.  Can we change the subject?  Please?”

“No.”

“We’re not Momma and Daddy Grandma.  This is different.”

“No it isn’t! He’s the love of your life! You said so yourself.  Or do you not remember last year?  Crying on my front porch step about this boy?”  Erica was turning two shades of beet red and Jared was looking at the floor now, guilty.

“And you.” she said slapping Jared’s kneecap.  “I can see everything I need to know about what went on between the two of you in those blue eyes of yours.  Snap out of it! And get over yourself!”

“I’m not…”

“I wont let this happen again.  And frankly, you don’t have twenty-one years to screw around with like Phil.”

“Grandma, I love you, but this is crossing a line.”

May sat down in her barcalounger and crossed her ankles as she smoothed down her church dress.  Jared thought about the company then.  When had they all left?  His stomach growled quietly when he thought about all the vegetables he had cut up.

“I need to freshen up, and you two need to talk.  Really talk.”  May said and she left the room.

“I’m sorry.” Erica said apologizing the moment May was out of earshot for her Grandmother’s intrusion in to their sticky situation. “I don’t know what has gotten in to her.”

Jared stayed quiet for a while.  Looking at the floor.  Turning his shoe over and over and grinding the tip in to the carpet.

“Are you ok?” Erica asked after a few minutes.

Jared looked up.  His nose was red and his eyes were filled with tears.  Erica softened and this time pulled him in to her arms.  Jared laced his arms around hers as she held him from the side.  “I’m such an idiot.” he said.

“I know.”

—————————-

 

Erica and Jared sat side by side on the couch in silence for quite a while.  May busied herself elsewhere in the bungalow.  They listened to her unload the dishwasher and stack the plates in the cupboards.  Arrange the silverware in a drawer.  Then May loaded it back up.  Pots and pans and the cutting board.  Cabinets opened, then closed.  The screen door opened and closed.  May flittered back and forth at the back of the house until eventually she too was quiet.

They could hear the refrigerator humming. The hot water heater kick on then off.  But neither said a word.

Eventually Jared placed his hand on top of Erica’s and said “So now what?”

It was Erica’s turn to say “I don’t know.”  Then “Maybe you should go.  I don’t want to do this with you.”

Jared felt stabbed in the heart but he also very quickly understood he deserved that.  He also had to admit he wanted to leave too.  The wall between them was too high.  She had nothing left to give, no room for a fresh start and he … well he didn’t want to start over.  He loved her and he missed her but that wasn’t enough to let her inside his well insulated heart.

So they joined May on the back deck.  Had a small and safe conversation before Jared walked himself to the ferry.  From the stern he watched Breezy Point disappear and it was then, only there with his back to Manhattan and his eyes on a little girl playing with shells on the sand, that he let himself cry.  Truly cry.  And he pulled his phone from his pocket, scrolled right to Erica’s number and prepared a text message after wiping the tears away with the back of his hand.

The text messages read thus:

I’m a coward.  >send<

And a fool.  >send<

You deserve better than this and I don’t know how to give you everything you deserve without losing too much of myself.  If ever there were someone I could see myself with, it would be you.  It would be you a thousand times over.  But I can’t actually see myself with anyone.   And that is no reflection on you at all.  It’s my crap. Bullshit that has built up inside me for years.  Call it a wall.  Call it stupidity.  Call it being a chicken shit.  But… >send<

Hit send too quick.  Sorry.  Call me a coward (it’s fitting) but I think it’s best if we both move on.  You will find someone that is everything and everyone you’ve ever needed in life.  And he’ll treat you so much better than I ever would or could.  Tell May I’m sorry too.  I’m sorry for it all.  >send<

And he slipped his iphone in to the front pocket of his shirt and he placed both his hands on the railing of the boat and he dipped his head down and let it all go.

And Erica never texted him back.  He checked every 5 minutes for days.  Turned the phone on and off to be sure it was working right.  Sent messages to everyone he knew, got responses immediately.  Confirmed there was no glitch with text messages.  And eventually, a few days later, he stopped thinking about her again.  Put her in the back of his mind and went on about living.  Played on VyRT.  Gave a few tech talk interviews.  And paid no attention to what he’d done, yet again.

Until a Friday, four or five weeks later, when he was reading the World Wide Trending Topics List on twitter and he saw her name again.

The hashtag read thus:

RIPEricaHealey

And Jared flipped the fuck out.

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