Peering into the rear view mirror, I scrubbed a fleck of lipstick off my front tooth, then ran my little finger over my lower lip to even out the color. I wiped the residue on a Jack-in-the-Box napkin stuffed between the bucket seats.
I hadn’t thought of it at the time of purchase, but this Devilish Delight lipstick complemented my devil-may-care mood.
As luck would have it, the color was an exact match for the scarlet streaks in the très cher Hermes scarf I’d tucked under the lapels of my equally out-of-budget black Jones New York suit.
My justification for overspending? The no-brand lipstick was under two bucks, and even sitting down I could appreciate the elegant cut of the Jones New York jacket. More importantly, the tailored pleats in the silk-lined slacks disguised the few extra pounds I’d added over the years.
The result? Dressed to kill. How could Danny resist?
I checked the mirror one last time, rearranging a stray hair and dabbing with the napkin at the beads of moisture collecting on my upper lip.
Sucking in a lungful of air and determination, I swung open the door of my new baby, a gleaming white Lexus sport coupe with gold alloy wheels. I adored my jazzy, totally impractical present to myself for my fiftieth birthday the month before. It fit the Charlie side of me. I had vetoed my husband’s more conservative choice of the Honda sedan. But then again, Harold, along with my mother and my boss, were the only people in the world who insisted on calling me Charlene.
Head erect, I headed across the parking lot to the entrance of Danny’s office building, placing each foot a measured distance in front of the other, that smooth glide I’d mastered at modeling school back in my teens.
I had reached my five-foot-nine height in the eighth grade, towering over my peers and awkward as hell. So Mom popped for a self-improvement course at John Robert Powers after the requisite begging on my part. But she drew the line at my going on to professional modeling. Her official explanation had to do with saving money for college, although I suspected that Mom didn’t think I had the body for it. At the time, I didn’t think I had the body for much of anything.
I detoured around tufts of grass sprouting up through the asphalt in the parking lot, almost tripping over a discarded Budweiser can. Given the condition of the lot, perhaps Danny Shapiro’s life hadn’t turned out as upscale as I had imagined. But the sleek glass exterior of the fifteen-story building looming up in front of me belied that, even with its current shell of scaffolding–added, no doubt, to repair damage from the recent Northridge earthquake.
It had all seemed so natural, so innocent on the drive over from our hotel, near the Los Angeles convention center. Tooling along the Ventura freeway as it sliced through the San Fernando Valley, I had found myself laughing out loud. Ahead of me, a grime-encrusted Pontiac, spotted with gray primer, had been jockeying for position with a chauffeur-driven Rolls. Only in Los Angeles.
My eyes had been on the traffic, but my mind had been filled with visions of Daniel Hirschborn Shapiro, my first love and, I’d begun to think lately, my only love. I kept seeing myself as the shy, naive college freshman seduced, with her full and utter cooperation, by the mature, or so I had thought at the time, and handsome Jewish junior.
Even after the passage of more years than I cared to remember, body memories of our lovemaking steamed to the surface. The touch of his fingers threading through my hair…the smooth feel of the hollow above his collarbone…the small pleasure of toying with the gold Star of David nestled in the soft curls of his black chest hair.
As I approached his building, the silk lining of my slacks swished against my inner thighs, heightening the tension in my belly. Ducking under the iron scaffolding crisscrossed over the building entrance, I found myself in a dimly lit lobby. My eyes flitted from wall to wall, searching for the building directory. Huge cracks zigzagged through the green travertine marble covering the walls. Missing chunks of the emerald-hued stone gave the lobby the pockmarked look of a war zone. Gaping holes at the four corners of a faded rectangular spot near the elevator revealed the directory’s last resting place.
The bile gurgling in my gut confirmed that I was up to no good. Worse yet, my plot had been foiled. Without the directory, I wouldn’t be able to engineer an accidental encounter with Danny. I had counted on using it, not only to locate his office, but also to select a random name to employ as an alibi for being there. The bile ran back down my esophagus into a pool of disappointment, tinged with relief. What was I thinking? Marching into his office uninvited had been out of the question from the get-go. At fifty, I had sufficient brainpower to avoid total humiliation. It was a lark, I told myself, forgetting what an utter mess life had become when I had last pursued Danny. But I had reasoned, and I use that term loosely, that an accidental meeting might fly. I had the oh-my-God-it-can’t-be-you speech at the ready. It could go either way. My heart hoped he would be bowled over and swoop me up in an impetuous embrace. My brain knew he’d dial 9-1-1.
I felt a flush creep up over my cheeks when I realized that a rent-a-cop, hunched up in the far corner, was scrutinizing my every move. His cadaverous hands hung like dead chicken feet from the billowing sleeves of his navy sateen jacket. It was highly unlikely that he was admiring my costly Jones New York suit with his beady stare. I felt like a deer caught in the headlights as he headed my way at a funereal pace.
“Can I help you, ma’am?” he asked, touching a bony finger to the brim of his hat.
“No…nothing…I mean, I left something in the car.”
I affected a nonchalant air and sauntered out the way I’d come in, chiding myself for pulling such a sophomoric prank. A woman nearing midlife, and a therapist to boot, should have better sense. I imagined Marietta, my best friend, wagging her finger in my face and, in the background, my entire caseload of patients doing the same.
The botched encounter squelched my sexy mood. I beat a path back to my car, the model swing to my hips transformed to a jerky retreat. As I fumbled for my keys in my pricey, but deeply discounted, Gucci bag, I knocked the pencil-thin strap from my shoulder. The bag bounced on the asphalt. Bending to retrieve it, I popped the front button off my slacks.
“Shit!” I said, to no one in particular.
Clambering back into the car, I stabbed at the ignition, ramming the key home on the third try. I squirmed in the creamy-colored leather seat as my expensive panties—the last of my extravagant purchases—now clammy, stuck where they shouldn’t.
My hand dropped from the ignition and I sank back into the seat, shoulders drooping, staring at Danny’s building, trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey in its framework of iron. Last month’s massive earthquake had certainly taken its toll, not only on his building but on thousands of other structures in the San Fernando Valley. God must have foreseen my foolish plan to track down an old flame and arranged an appropriate natural disaster to subvert it. Seemed a shame, though, to sacrifice all that property just to get rid of one directory and keep me on the straight and narrow.
I snapped back to reality when I saw the creepy old guard crossing the tarmac toward my car. God forbid that I had parked in Danny’s private space. I glanced at my watch. Damn, how did it get to be eleven? Harold was going to be pissed. Turning the ignition key, I slammed down the gas pedal, nearly bowling over the ancient guard as I squealed out of the parking lot.