Monday, February 27, 2006

Intimate and Distracting

(Thursday's post continued...)

Sixth Avenue, that tunnel of fluorescent light and Midtown melancholy, led my taxi toward the darkness of Central Park. It was early evening, when day crosses into night and vibrant hues turn a deep shade of amethyst, dime-store emerald green; the leaves have just lost their luster and hang listless from their fat, tired branches. The cab dropped me at 5th Avenue and 61st Street—the Pierre to my left, the park and its vanishing beauty to my right. I stepped out of the car and into the expensive, sweet air of the hotel lobby. My lips parted slightly. I moved cautiously over the marble floor, stepping carefully from square to square like a child trying to avoid cracks in the sidewalk. I had to stop and lean one shoulder against the cool wall. Walking into the hotel for the first time was like seeing a truly beautiful man: you feel that if you look away from the strong chin, the arresting eyes, you’ll forget exactly how it’s all positioned, how every surface glows.

“Excuse me sir,” I said, walking toward the concierge stand, “I’m supposed to meet a friend in the Rotunda for drinks but—”

“Would this be a gentleman friend?” he asked cocking his head to the side, smiling down at me. He turned on his heel and set out at a brisk pace across the lobby. “What are you waiting for Mademoiselle? He shouldn’t have too many martinis before you arrive,” he called over his shoulder. I followed his elegant sashay past reception and through the hallway. “Your suit, it looks very 1970’s Yves Saint Laurent, Ms., Ms…”

“Belle—just call me Belle,” I said, high-red creeping into my cheeks from his attentions.

“Jacques,” he said stopping in a doorway, looking me over. “It’s a pleasure to have you with us. Now go, enjoy yourself. Make him order champagne.” With that he turned and disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.

We were the only two people in the room. Christopher sat beneath a fresco of Poseidon and a vaguely Italianate landscape scene. He was disheveled and handsome. A tumbler of Scotch, neat, sat on the table before him. A silver bowl, crystal decanter and vase of peach-colored rose blossoms had been shifted to the opposite side of the table; it was as if he had rejected the precious trappings of his surroundings.

“Hello, Mr. Randolph,” I said standing before him, aware of the formality I had imposed between the two of us. He ran his fingers through his hair and looked up at me.

“I’m sorry?” he asked, squinting through his tortoise-shell frames.

“I’m Belle. And I suppose you’re the ‘unconscionable Yankee democrat?’ That’s what Granddaddy calls you, anyway,” I said, grinning.

“You’re the granddaughter? You’re Belle?” he said, slowly making his way to his feet.

“I’m afraid so.”

“Please, have a seat. I’ll get the waiter,” he said as he moved around the table and into the doorway of the adjoining bar area. He pulled at the lapels of his cutaway summer jacket and everything shifted forward. I saw him in profile. According to Pappy, he was ten years Mamma’s junior. That put him at about 45 years old. The nervous, boyish energy shaved off a decade. So did the shock of chestnut hair that showed no signs of graying.

He returned with a waiter. “The lady would like…” Christopher began.

“I’ll have a whiskey on the rocks and a glass of soda water on the side.”

“Right away, mademoiselle.”

“Now that’s an order,” Christopher muttered, raising an eyebrow. “Well, now,” he began, sliding in next to me on the silk-covered settee.

“Yes, so dear of you to take time out—”

“Oh well, anything for your grandfather—he was the last of the good ones. Nothing really quite like Bra—”

“Pappy was one-of-a-kind…” I continued to talk, I’m sure of it, because he kept staring at me, but I can’t remember a thing that I said. To be Mademoiselle at The Pierre on a Monday night seated next to an important, beautiful man… heartbreaking. Christopher’s brown, unkempt hair hid most of his features except for the nose and the chin. It wasn’t pronounced or proud, instead his chin was delicate and handsome, the nose—straight and serene. I wanted to raise his glasses and press the warm of my lips against his tired lids.

“I’m sorry that I had to get off the phone so quickly this morning. Well, no, I take that back, I’m not sorry. Much better to meet you here and see firsthand what’s been brewing down in Alabama.” He reached over and casually fingered the edge of my jacquard jacket. “What exactly are you looking to do up here in New York?”

“I suppose that’s why I’m here speaking with you,” I said, stammering, fixing my eyes on the light fixture behind his left ear. His gaze was intimate and distracting; looking at him was like gliding your legs over smooth, cotton sheets...

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