New York - Later That Night 3 страница
"Your shoulders are slumped, you get a small furrow between you brows and you don't know what to do with your hands," Briar ticked them off on her fingers.
"Are you a detective or something?"
"I know you told me forecasting isn't a quality, but when you need a map to the future you have to use landmarks from today. A lot of those come from the comfort of numbers and hard data, but the rest have to come from the people trying to sell you on all that information." Briar poured herself another glass of water and leaned back into her chair.
"So your job requires you to read people?" In an effort to prove Briar wrong, she put her glass down and placed her hands on the armrests in an attempt to look at ease.
"It's a little more complicated than that, but to an extent yes. Megan, you just seem like something's really bothering you and it's so heavy to carry around it's what's making your shoulders slump. Sometimes I've found it helps to tell a complete stranger. Hearing the words out loud are like taking aspirin when you have a headache."
Looking up at Briar through pale lashes, she tried her best to steel her courage. It had been months since Vivian's accident and Briar was right. The pain was just getting worse not better. Until even now she hadn't been able to say the words out loud even when she was alone. Their relationship wasn't passionate, but it had been comfortable. Why hadn't that been enough?
"I'm sorry to push you. Just forget I said anything and just enjoy the moon," said Briar when it looked like Megan would rather be shot than utter a single word.
"I used to have a partner. Her name was Vivian and she was killed in an accident recently," started Megan sounding like the pure definition of misery. She went on to tell Briar about the day at the hospital and the funeral services afterward. "She was such a good person and I miss her."
Briar listened and tried not to read too much into what Megan wasn't saying. There was more, of that she was sure but whatever it was she couldn't bring herself to say it, and Briar didn't feel like it was her place to push. She was leaving soon and as much as she wanted to help, Megan wasn't ready to let anyone in, especially a stranger. And that's what she was to this woman.
"I'm sorry for what you lost. I wish I could tell you that I know what you're feeling, but I can't. I loved my father, and while that still hurts to think about, I can't imagine what it must be like to lose the person you shared your life with. It might've been better for you to have my mother here to talk to," said Briar after Megan's voice faded away.
"Just having you listen helped a lot so don't sell yourself short."
"Trust me, selling short is as close to committing a sin as I come," said Briar even though Megan didn't get the joke. "It's that whole 'walking a mile in your shoes' thing. My mom and dad found each other and built the kind of relationship that people describe as all fireworks and champagne. They were crazy about each other until that final day. Unless I'm very wrong there will never be anyone in my mother's life to fill that gap he left. I've never found that in my life so I have no reference to work from to make you feel better."
"You're an interesting person, Briar," Megan said as she picked up her glass again to take a sip of wine. "Even if you haven't walked in my shoes, you're a good listener."
"Maybe I should put that at the top of my best qualities list then."
"Maybe," she said. Megan took a little time just studying Briar's face. Just like on hers there were traces of something akin to sadness that was etched around her eyes. "If your mother did find someone else, would that bother you?" The question was for her benefit and for her own situation, but she couldn't believe it came out of her mouth. "I'm sorry, you don't have to answer that."
"I don't mind. My mom is a unique person - I'm talking way unique. Someone like her shouldn't spend the rest of her life mourning something she can't change." Briar spoke slowly, picking her words carefully. If they somehow helped Megan get passed whatever was in her heart, then her trip here wasn't in vain. She had followed her heart and perhaps this was what she had been meant to do. "That doesn't mean I think she'll forget what they shared, or that she'll find someone who'll recreate the life they shared, but she deserves the chance to be happy."
"Do you think your father would be all right with that?"
"My father loved my mother with every bit of his being. He never neglected me or made me feel that I wasn't important to him, but I believe he loved her so much he'd want her to find something or someone to be happy about."
Megan reached across the table and placed her hand over Briar's. "Thank you for tonight. It's been some rough months but talking about it really did help."
"Let me help you carry all this stuff downstairs. I'll even help wash."
"You're my guest, and guests don't do dishes. Just leave them and I'll get them after I walk Mac."
Ignoring the directive, Briar picked up the plates and carried them into the kitchen sink. She stopped in front of the small refrigerator and looked at the pictures of which she assumed to be Vivian and Megan together. They made an attractive couple, and from the size of their smiles, she could tell they were happy.
"Those were from a few years ago," supplied Megan. "I believe it was the last vacation we took together."
"Thanks for dinner." It was an inane thing to say to end the evening but Briar was at a loss for anything else.
"Can we do it again soon? I'm off from school for the next few months so if you want I could show you around town." Megan walked her to the door stopping to pick up Mac's leash along the way. "Only if you want that is, please don't feel obligated."
"I'd love to, only if you feel the same way."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm sure you've been looking forward to your vacation time so don't feel like you have to spend it showing me around." She bent down and gave Mac a scratch under his chin before smiling for Megan and opening the door. "Just think about it. You know where to find me."
"Thanks," said Megan sounding relieved. "Good night." She smiled when Briar lifted her hand and waved without turning around. A friend who didn't push her too hard and listened with such compassion might be just what she needed at the moment.
"I realize it's late and I'm sorry, but I need you to do some stuff for me," said Briar as she unpacked the bag on the bed and tried to get Shelia to calm down.
"Where are you?"
She made a mental note to go shopping the next day for more clothes and essentials if she stayed until she felt she was leaving Megan in a better place emotionally. For once in her life Briar felt like she could make a difference and not just in someone's retirement fund.
"I'm in New Orleans taking some time off."
"I realize you're in New Orleans, you left me a message because you were too chicken to talk to me directly. What I want to know is where in New Orleans?"
"I'm not staying at a hotel so you can reach me by cell if you need me, and before you ask, I'm fine and the place I have is great. You'd love it. All there is to do is watch the water and the sun rise and set."
Shelia sat up in bed and grabbed a pad and pen along with her appointment book after patting her partner on the shoulder to let her know it was all right to go back to sleep. "Uh huh, you do realize you have a doctor's appointment this week. And we have to close the quarter at work. Accounting said they could put it off for about another week but that's it. I'm sure we can do it without you but I don't want to hear any bitching if you're not here."
"I trust you to keep things running smoothly, and I didn't forget about the doctor's visit. The first thing I need is a referral for here and I need you to send me the information I need to get into the office accounts. I promise I'll keep an eye on things from the laptop."
"Briar, are you sure you're all right? Do you want me to come down there with you?"
"All my life I've tried to be like my father, Shelia, but for once I'm going to give mom's way a try. I got a second chance to live my life, and I want to help someone else see that there's that same chance for her. Mom told me to follow my heart and it's telling me this is right."
Shelia sighed into the phone feeling a little frustrated that she couldn't be more help. "Just remember one thing okay?"
"You did all right with the first heart you had, so don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Take all the time you need and don't worry about work, I'll handle it."
"You know if it wasn't for Muriel I would've stolen you away years ago. Thanks for being so good to me."
"I'll hold you to that if she ever decides to run off on me," Shelia teased back. "And no need to thank me. You gave me the chance of a lifetime as cliché as that sounds when you hired me. I'll never forget that."
"Take care then and I'll call you with any trading I want you to do. I'll be watching the markets from here."
She heard Mac barking right outside her window after she brushed her teeth and was ready to get into bed. The glass of juice she'd poured was sitting on the nightstand along with the pile of pills she was now taking on a daily basis. There had been a detailed explanation that came with every single prescription. One was so her blood would circulate and not form clots, another set were so her body wouldn't reject the new organ and the others she wasn't sure about since she'd stopped listening at that point. It wasn't that she didn't care about her survival but the chemistry of making her body function was more information than she needed.
After her medical cocktail, she lay down and concentrated on the sound of the water hitting against the houseboat. It was relaxing like the sound machine back in her office that Shelia had bought for her. The day she'd spent with Megan drifted through her head like an inner tube on a lazy river. How different Megan seemed from the woman in all those pictures on the refrigerator. Like her parents, the couple captured in those images looked happy.
She rubbed the scar on her naked chest and let her thoughts drift back to Claire; the someone in her life who'd been willing to share her bed and her home to be taken care of and enjoy what the money could buy. That was so different from sharing a life.
When Briar caught herself running her fingers along her new adornment, something else occurred to her. "What woman would take a chance on me now?" Was it really fair to fall in love with someone only to leave her in the kind of pain Megan was in now?
That troubling question was the last thing that repeated over and over again before she finally fell asleep. The only answer was to keep her secrets and be satisfied with the life she had. There was her mother and Shelia and it would have to be enough.
At four thirty her eyes opened and Briar knew it was a losing battle trying to go back to sleep. She got ready then went out to the first newsstand she could find, scaring the owner who was still cutting open bundles.
She arrived back at the houseboat with four papers and a fresh cup of coffee that she uncapped and put beside her on the small table at the end of the deck. Until the doctor okayed it, the aroma would have to do. So she contented herself with grapefruit juice and a handful of pills to start the morning.
She'd read through all four papers as the sun started to rise then neatly folded them and stacked them on the table. It was then she noticed the visitor who'd come aboard while she was engrossed with the Wall Street Journal. Not finding it as fascinating, Mac had curled up a few feet from her and taken a nap.
"I'm going to have to go shopping for dog treats if you're going to keep coming over. Rueben keeps talking about southern hospitality and I don't want you thinking New Yorkers are rude." She teased with him as he tried his best to jump onto her lap, her voice having woken him up.
When she lifted him up, Mac immediately did his best to lick every inch of her face. How Megan could think this dog was standoffish was beyond her, but she was just glad he liked her so much. The early morning and having Mac stretched out against her chest with his warm body made Briar lean back in the chair and put her feet up. Not much later they were both asleep and that's how Megan found them.
She took in the empty glass of juice, the full cup of coffee and the stack of papers and figured Briar was very much like the man she spoke so fondly of. Getting the opportunity to study her new friend without fear of getting caught, Megan noticed how tired Briar looked even though she was sleeping. The night before as she was telling her about Vivian, Briar was also rubbing her chest like there was something bothering her, but she didn't appear to be in pain.
Her eyes followed the path of Briar's body looking for any sign of injury but found none. When she came back to her face she was surprised by the alert eyes and relaxed smile. "Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't, I think our little pal is dreaming about burying something." Briar didn't move and tried to ignore the way the sun made Megan's hair appear almost golden.
"Do you know all there is to know now?" asked Megan pointing to all the papers.
"How do you know I read them all?"
"Call it a hunch on my part." Her smile grew larger at the gentle way Briar held Mac. He was on the small side but he was usually a menace to anyone new, so having him feel so comfortable with her was a testament to Mac seeing something in Briar that was good.
"I read them, but as a teacher you should realize I'm far from knowing all there is to know."
She laughed surprising herself she still knew how. "Not an intellectual snob then, got it."
"Not even close, lady. I plead ignorance on a whole slew of things."
Megan leaned in as if wanting to continue the teasing banter. "I find it hard to believe you're ignorant on any subject."
"It's true. The first topic for instance I know nothing about is, it's your first day of summer vacation and I have no idea what you want to do."
"The one thing all kindergarten teachers want to do on their first day off of course."
Mac turned over on her chest wanting to feel the sun on his belly making his ears flap onto her chest. "Hedonists could learn something from this dog," Briar joked at the move. "Sorry, didn't mean to change the subject. So tell me, Miss Megan. What do kindergarten teachers do after a long, hard year?"
"They go off to art museums and look at things that were created sans finger paint. Not that I'm not a fan of finger paint but it's nice to look at pieces that are dry and aren't a danger to my clothing."
Briar nodded at the answer. "Do these sculptors of the future also do lunch per chance?"
"Will you let me cut up your meat for you?"
"Absolutely," teased Briar.
"Then I'd love to have lunch with you."
Going through a mental inventory of her wardrobe, Briar figured the suit she'd left New York in was the only thing she had that would suffice. "Can you give me a couple of hours?"
"Sure, the place I have in mind doesn't open until ten."
With a phone call to Shelia, Briar found the nearest dry cleaner. They promised to deliver it within the hour so she used the time to work. The market was open and some of the pharmaceutical stocks she was watching looked ready to move. Another call to Shelia set the parameters for a buy and what the guys needed to start working the phones.
At ten she knocked on Megan's door, glad she'd gone through the trouble of dry cleaning the suit. Megan was wearing a linen dress with sandals and had taken the time to fix her hair.
"You don't look anything like the memory of my kindergarten teacher."
"Mission accomplished then, thank you. I'm going incognito today. I love my job but every once in a while it's nice to put on something that requires a little effort." She hated to compare Briar to Vivian, but she couldn't believe how good Briar looked in blue pinstripes, or that she had actually understood what kind of day she wanted. Unless it was a wedding or a funeral Viv or wouldn't think of dressing up to go out.
Briar walked her to the jeep after breaking the news to Mac he had to stay behind. She received a surprised look when she stepped to the passenger door and opened it for Megan. It was as if it was a new concept for her.
"Where to?" she asked as she slipped the key in the ignition.
"Want to try the Lowe Museum?" Megan pointed in the direction of the interstate when Briar got to the top of the levee.
"That's the new one in town isn't it?"
"It opened just this year actually. Julian Lowe came up with the concept as a tribute to her mother. I love it because it has such a diverse collection of art. There's even a special exhibit of new up and coming artists."
After they parked, they walked the gallery slowly admiring works from classic to contemporary art. Briar had to smile when she saw the name of the major sponsor of the exhibit Megan had wanted to see of new artists. Henley Kilston was written in bold letters with a small acknowledgment for her generosity.
"What do you think of this one?" asked Megan when she saw that she'd lost Briar. She backed track and took a look at what Briar was reading. "Friend of yours."
"You can say that. She's my mother." Briar said it with such wry humor that Megan decided not to push her on it.
"Come on then and tell me what you think of this one."
"It looks like he should keep his day job," she teased. The canvas was blank except for three very small dots along the bottom done in red and another three dots done in yellow in the very center. "I've always been of the opinion if I can do it, it's not art."
"Art critic huh?"
"Maybe I'm just hungry." Briar glanced down at her watch and tried to remember what time Shelia had made their reservations for. "How about I buy you lunch and you can explain to me what deep meaning I'm missing in this thought provoking piece?"
They took their time walking in the direction of the French Market to the Bella Luna restaurant. As they passed a clothing store at the Jax Brewery Mall, Megan looked at the seersucker suit in the window and imagined how Briar would look in it. "Do you have one of those?" she pointed to the outfit.
"New York isn't really known for their selection of seersucker but I might buck that trend if you're really fond of the look."
"You'd buy an outfit just because I like it?"
"Why not? I have to wear a suit to work everyday, so if I own one that you happen to like what's the harm? The one I have on now is my secretary's favorite, though it isn't really meant for stifling temperatures."
"Can I confess something to you?"
"Will it require you to kill me afterward?"
Megan laughed and thanked whatever higher power had brought Briar her way. "Only if you tell other people." She paused and as was her habit when she was nervous, she ran her fingers through the side of her head and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. "I really wasn't looking forward to this summer. At least with the kids and the comfort of a routine, I didn't really have a lot of time to dwell on the fact that I'm alone now."
"What about now?" Briar took her hands in an effort to comfort her and try and center Megan's thoughts.
"Today isn't so bad, and I know you can't stay forever but I'm going to try and enjoy our time together while I have the chance."
"I can stay as long as you want me to, Megan."
She looked at their linked hands and noticed how small hers were in comparison to Briar's. What struck her was not that Briar was being out of line by taking hers, but how cold the soft hands were. "You would do that for me?"
"Of course I would. Besides I don't think I could leave you and Mac all alone if all you two are going to do is mope all the time. I can work from here so don't worry about it." She let go of one of Megan's hands but pulled her gently down the street with the other thinking there was nothing else to say. If she did Briar figured the tears in Megan's eyes would only come down and she didn't want to ruin the young woman's day.
Once they walked passed Café DuMonde they followed the alleyway behind it to the restaurant. On the second floor about a block away was one of the best open secrets of the French Quarter. With the windows thrown open there was an excellent view of the river traffic, and the crystal of the Venetian blown glass looked as if it deserved to be in the museum they'd just left.
"Ms. Kilston, this way please," said the hostess.
Megan placed the name into memory, having not really studied it on the plaque in the museum, and followed the woman to one of the tables by an open window. "Have you been here before?" asked Briar.
"I think we were some of the few people who live here who hardly ever went out to dinner," said Megan.
"I haven't visited New Orleans frequently, but can't you be arrested for that if you actually live here?"
The teasing remark made Megan laugh, a sound Briar was coming to like. "We were always saving for one thing or another so it wasn't important. Vivian liked to cook so it wasn't a problem sharing that chore."
"Considering I can't boil water, I eat out a lot."
Remembering how comfortable Briar looked in the kitchen the night before she was confused. "What about last night?"
"Last night was a fluke I'm still trying to figure out myself, so don't ask me to explain." She opened the menu with a huge smile on her face, "Today though, I'll show you my true specialty."
"Pouring water that you're thinking about boiling?"
"Feisty, I like that. My true specialty is ordering," joked Briar.
Their waiter recommended a few of the specials available and left them to the serenity of the place. As much as Briar complained at not being good at small talk, with her quick banter she was able to bring Megan out of her shell.
"You know something?" asked Megan as the waiter put down the crème brule Briar had insisted she order.
"That I'm getting the check so you can stop trying to signal the waiter?" Briar asked as she put a piece of cheesecake in her mouth. As a New Yorker she felt it was her mission in life to order the particular dessert the city was known for and compare it.
"Yes besides that."
"What?" She held up a piece of dessert on her fork and offered it to Megan.
"You know all there is to know about me and I know next to nothing about you."
She accepted the offering of Megan's dessert before answering. "What would you like to know?"
"Anything you want to tell me."
"I live alone, I'm a stockbroker and I have no pets."
Megan had to cover her mouth to keep from spitting anything out when she started laughing. "And does your name, rank and serial number come with that long explanation?" she asked.
The incredibly pale blue eyes twinkled at her from over the rim of Briar's water glass. "Call me modest, but I hate talking about myself."
"Okay, modest, have I completely exhausted your art appreciating for the day or are you willing to finish?
Briar took her wallet out of the inside pocket of her jacket and took care of the check. "Are you kidding? I'm still anxiously awaiting your explanation as to what I'm not seeing in that dot painting. Well technically it can't be called a painting since there are only six dabs of paint on the whole blank canvas so I'll go with dabbing instead of painting."
Not thinking Briar would mind, Megan took her arm for the walk back. They made the five block trek in silence, smiling to the security guard at the door on the way back in. It was late in the afternoon before they started back to the car. Megan knew if she had one wish it would be used it to grant another day just like today.
For the next two months they followed the same routine. Briar would get up at her usual ridiculously early hour, read her papers and play with Mac until Megan emerged from her place.
They found that they enjoyed spending time together and Briar tried not to think about having to go home as Megan started having to think about going back to school if only to get her classroom ready. In the time they had spent together she'd learned more about Megan's life with Vivian and had even offered a shoulder to cry on when the memories got to be too much. The more those stories emerged though, the better Megan seemed to become, and Briar was left with an empty feeling at not being needed anymore. Then there was her heart.
Over the weeks with all the walking and the more balanced diet, she had started to lose the gauntness in her face and her skin was more toned. The new doctor was monitoring her progress and was pleased with the way her body was adjusting to the new organ that was keeping her alive.
Megan found Briar very easy to talk to, but her guilt concerning Vivian was starting to grow for other reasons. The logical part of her brain warned it was too early after her partner's death to start finding someone else so attractive. It was hard not to though. Briar went out of her way to find things to do around town, on the pretense of playing a tourist that she was sure Megan would like. They had gone to concerts in the park, gone out to dinner, visited every museum in the area and taken long walks with Mac along the levee.
All those outings weren't complete unless Briar found some excuse to take her hand or offer an arm for her to hold while they were out. The dreams she'd had of being swept away by someone were coming true, but it was at the expense of losing Vivian and Megan's heart couldn't accept that.
Through her bedroom window she watched Briar fold the last of her papers so she could pick up the sleepy Mac at her feet. The dog cuddled into her chest as Briar picked up one of his floppy ears and whispered something to him. A chaise lounge with a thick cushion was added to the original chair that was on the deck, and Rueben would sometimes be using it when they returned from an outing. The retired schoolteacher and Briar would spend a little time together everyday, usually arguing over something like how much rent Briar was going to pay that week.
"You're up early today, Miss Megan," said Briar when she saw her walking over.
"I couldn't sleep."
Megan shook her head and fell into the chair. "Just woke up, and I'm not liking it."
Pushing over, Briar held out her hand and took a chance. "Then how about you come over here and I'll help you get some more sleep."
Mac growled a little at the moving and rearranging but just as quickly settled down once everyone was situated. Tentative at first, Megan was stiff from nerves until Briar put her free arm around her so she could put her head on her chest to get more comfortable. This closeness with someone, listening to their heartbeat was what Megan missed most, and they both tried to ignore the tears falling down her cheeks as she drifted into a restful sleep.
Megan didn't move wanting to enjoy the warmth of Briar's body a little longer. "I know you probably think I'm crazy but I do feel better."
"Megan, are you all right?"
The relaxed feeling left her body when she heard the question posed in a deep voice coming from the dock. Alan had left more than enough messages that she hadn't returned because she was always busy with Briar.
"I'm fine," she said as she sat up. "What brings you down here so early?"