Chapter 14 – Continued
They sat there looking down at the waiter’s tip, tucked under the edge of a plate, knowing that if they got up from the table now it would be over. The ease and promise of the evening would simply sputter out like a cheap candle.
They sipped at their cooling coffee as the waiter paced, wishing that they would leave so he could get a fresh couple in place.
After a silence, Davis mentally conceded defeat and set down his empty cup. Laura smiled and opened the door to the future.
“You know, Davis,” she began hesitantly, “I’ve had a really nice time tonight. I’ve needed something like this. It’s been a long time.” She smiled at him and meant it, really meant it.
“I’ve enjoyed it too. I don’t want it to end, but I know it has to. Can we do it again?” he asked. “Can we do this again?” He was feeling surprisingly shy.
The ball was in her court. If she said no she would be back where she started, in her apartment and alone. If she said “Yes”…who knows where it might take her. But it would take her someplace. That much was sure.
“Yes, I’d like to do it again, but next time it’s my treat. I insist. Fair is fair.”
Davis nodded in agreement. “If that’s what you want, I’m okay with that. What about lunch tomorrow?
Laura thought for a moment before speaking. “What about breakfast? There is a place down on Chestnut. They make great omelets and…”
Davis interrupted her. “I know the place. They have some tables out on the patio? Yes, very good, super French toast too. Breakfast tomorrow? What time?”
Almost laughing at herself for her forwardness, she asked him, “Is seven-thirty too early? I like the early morning on the street.”
“Seven-thirty it is.” He was hoping for something a little bit later. He was going to be up late tonight, working, but he smiled and agreed to meet her there. She insisted on that condition, yet again. “First one there chooses the table,” he added.
Outside the restaurant the sun had set and the fog was sending the temperature down. Laura shivered as soon as they stepped out onto the sidewalk.
“Brrr. It’s getting cold. Laura, you’re going to freeze to death. Here, take my jacket.”
He started to remove his sports coat in a very traditional gesture, but Laura stopped him.
“Don’t worry, I’m fine,” she said, trying not to shiver. “I live close by. You just go on home now and I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Okay?”
“Are you sure? I can walk you home. Remember, this is a big city with some very nasty people.” He really was concerned. And, he wanted to spend more time with her as well.
“Thank you, but I’ll be fine, really. That’s very sweet of you.”
She leaned into him and kissed him softly on the cheek, gently squeezing his arm. “Good night, and thank you again for the best time I’ve had in quite a while.”
With that, Laura turned and walked around the corner into the shady darkness. The fog swirled behind her and she was gone.
Davis stood there, not really knowing what to do or how to feel. Should I follow her and see where she lives? No, that’s stupid and juvenile, and besides she’d kill me if she caught me. I like her. She’s smart, a good talker – once she relaxes, and I think she likes me.
He started walking home. It was only seven blocks. He’d be there before he got too chilled. He didn’t need to catch a cold or anything. He had too much work to get done.
“Seven-thirty a.m. Why did I agree to that?”
Laura moved quickly through the shadowy side streets back to her apartment. On her way home she stopped several times, just to check and make sure that he wasn’t following her.
Once she was inside, with the deadbolt locked, she took a deep breath as she kicked off her shoes and sat on the end of her bed.
I like him. He’s smart, he doesn’t talk too much, and I think he likes me. She saw her image in the mirror on the dresser. She thought her reflection was giving her a stern glance.
“What are you looking at?” Laura said from the bed. “It’s just breakfast. It doesn’t mean anything. Nothing is going to happen. He’s just a nice guy. I’m not going to hide anymore, so I might as well have some company.”
The next morning came very quickly for Davis. He had stayed up working on his client’s accounts until a little after two a.m. Spending the evening with Laura just pushed everything back. It was worth it, he thought. With a few hours of sleep and a shower he’d be fine. Why didn’t I suggest nine a.m.?
The morning was bright and sunny. The fog held just offshore, obscuring all but the tops of the Golden Gate Bridge towers. It left most of the bay clear with whitecaps glistening and the commuter ferry boats bouncing in the choppy water. The large blue and gold ferries came into The City from Marin county and the East Bay communities. A steady stream of southbound cars and buses crossed the bridge, emerging from the fog and spilling onto Lombard Street on their way to downtown. Just another work day in paradise.
Laura was up early. Her hair took little more than a towel dry and a quick fluff. The new look, being more casual, required less.
Anyway, this was just breakfast.
She slipped on the denim jacket, donned the floppy hat, her sunglasses and, with a sense of guilty caution, tucked the small revolver into her bag. She felt that Davis was not a danger, but, as even he said last night, “It’s a big city with some very nasty people.” She had already met one of them.
Taking her time and enjoying the walk, she spotted a flock of the wild parrots again, and heard the deep bellow of the foghorns from out by the Golden Gate Bridge. She felt at ease and was looking forward to the day. She half regretted bringing the gun.
Arriving first at the cafe gave Laura, by prior agreement, the right to pick the table. Contrary to her last visit, she chose one of the tables on the small patio. The edge of the umbrella above the tabletop fluttered in the early morning offshore breeze.
Ordering some orange juice, she sat there, lifting her face into the sunlight rising higher over the East Bay hills. The warmth felt comforting. She closed her eyes and let it wash over her. “Oh, God, this is good,” she said out loud.
“It’s fresh squeezed for every order.”
Her eyes snapped open to see the smiling young waiter standing next to the table holding a ceramic coffee pot, steam rising from the curved spout. “Would you like some coffee?” he asked. “We get all of our coffee from a roastery in Mill Valley.”
When her heartbeat slowed, Laura smiled back at him and lifted her china cup. As he poured, the aroma of the strong Kenyan blend made her mouth water.
“I’ll be having a friend join me shortly. He would love some of this.”
“Then I’ll just leave the pot for you both,” he said, and wandered away to greet some new arrivals.
By her second cup it was almost ten of eight and Laura was beginning to think that she had been stood up, when she saw a frantic looking man half running down the sidewalk. He hurried up to the short wrought iron fence that bordered the patio.
“I’m sorry…I’m sorry. I overslept and then I couldn’t find a clean pair of socks.” She looked down and saw two bony ankles peeking out from under his chinos. “I’m sorry. I hope you didn’t think I forgot.” He was panting.
“Take it easy, Davis,” she said, laughing at his discomposure. “Come on in and have some coffee.”
Over Eggs Benedict and hot coffee Davis gave Laura a short primer on things to see and do in “The City.” Some of the touristy things were worth seeing, others were not. There were some great little shops, cafes and vistas that must be explored and neighborhoods to experience. He went on and on about the cultural glories of the Mission District and it’s “best food in town.”
She listened, enjoying his enthusiasm for his new hometown, only rarely interrupting him.
“It all sounds like so much fun, so much to see and do,” she said, “but what I wish you could really tell me is where I can buy some decent clothes. I’m getting tired of wearing the same few things all the time.”
“Union Street,” he said, “is just a couple of short blocks from here. Lots of nice shops.” He pointed south toward the steep hills that set the Marina apart from the rest of The City. “When we finish here we can stroll up there and you can check it out. Okay?”
“Oh, that sounds good. I really do need some new things and maybe I’ll buy you some new socks, you poor soul.” She smiled and patted his hand as it held his coffee cup.
The waiter brought over their check and Laura handed him a crisp $100 bill. She left him a good tip, thanking him for his attentive service.
“Now,” she said, “which way is Union Street again?” She took his arm as they crossed Chestnut and headed south.
The shops on Union Street, a neighborhood called “Cow Hollow” from its rural origins, let Laura find the clothing and accessories that she needed to refill her closet. It also lifted her spirits. She didn’t feel so temporary any more. Maybe things could work out for her here.
As they moved up the street, Davis found himself carrying shopping bags from several different stores, and loving it. He didn’t know why, but he just did.
They stopped for a light lunch and then worked their way down the other side of the busy street, this time browsing in the overpriced art galleries and bookstores.
In the window of a real estate office, they ogled the pictures of the narrow Victorian row houses known as “Painted Ladies,” being offered for $1.7 million and a “fixer-upper” for a mere million.
“They have got to be kidding!” Laura exclaimed.
“Nope, and at that price, there’ll be a bidding war,” said Davis. “Real estate here is insane.”
They were sitting in an ice cream parlor, enjoying a scoop of mango gelato when Laura noticed the time. It was a little after three p.m. They had spent the day – just spending the day together.
“Don’t be sorry. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Even if these bags are getting a bit heavy,” he teased.
“Oh, again, I’m sorry. I’ve used you like a slave.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Davis answered. “I got breakfast, and a very nice new pair of Irish woolen socks out of it. I feel fully compensated.”
As they left the ice cream parlor Laura looked at Davis struggling with the bags and said, “This has been a wonderful day and I have you to thank for that, but let’s catch a cab from here.” With that, she stepped to the curb and let loose with an ear-splitting whistle. Two taxis came close to colliding trying to get to the curb first.
They got into the red and white “Veteran’s Cab,” the bags piled on their laps.
“Where to, folks?” asked the cabbie.
Laura spoke first. “Where to? I’ll drop you.”
She was not ready to let him know where she was living. Realizing her strategy he leaned forward and told the driver, “You can drop me on Fillmore, down by the middle school.” He was going to stop for a drink. The cab pulled away from the curb, into traffic.
“Laura, thank you for today. Dinner again tonight?”
She thought for a second and then countered with, “How about breakfast again tomorrow? I’m exhausted. Same place, same time tomorrow morning?”
Knowing that he couldn’t push her too hard, he agreed.
“Sure, only could we make a bit later, say, nine a.m.?” He was going to be up most of the night making up for not getting anything done today.
“All right, 9 a.m., Sleepyhead.” The taxi pulled over at the corner of Fillmore and Chestnut.
“Thanks again for a great day.” He leaned toward her. She met him halfway and they kissed. This time her fingers rested on his cheek as she found his lips.
He got out of the cab and waved as it pulled away, executing an illegal u-turn and joined the flow of traffic on Chestnut Street.
He was not much of a drinker, never was, but he stopped at the little tavern a block up Fillmore.
Sitting on the stool, nursing a light beer, he went over the day, playing back the moments. It was a good day with her, even though there were several things that struck him as–not odd, so much as mysterious. When Laura paid for breakfast and for her purchases on Union Street, she paid in cash. What woman doesn’t use credit cards? And she paid for everything with hundred-dollar bills. He saw the dress store clerks check them with their fraud pens, so he knew they weren’t counterfeit. But who carries that many hundred-dollar bills with them to go out to breakfast, and why did she not want him to know where she lived? She didn’t have a wedding ring on. He had reflexively checked for that while they were both holding onto the ice cream in the Safeway.
If he was forced to list everything he knew about her, it would be a very short list, indeed. He took out his pen and jotted on a bar napkin.
- She has a New York accent, although it sounds like she’s trying to hide it.
- She pays for everything in cash.
- She is afraid of someone named Dominic.
After that…nothing you could say for sure.
Oh, yes, he thought, and added another item to the list.