'You Don't Bring Me Flowers'
Never before had anyone been so familiar with a doorframe. Liam knew every intimate curve and knot in this hardwood molding. He had spent many nights just before the threshold of apartment 15b . Not because he had to. He had his own place just a few stops down on the nine. Liam often preferred to call the second floor hallway of the 15th Street apartment building his home. This doorway was far warmer than a half-empty futon in his under-decorated studio on frigid New York City nights. In times like these, this hallway had hope.
Liam sat, waiting with his legs crossed, pads of his feet pressed against one side of the deep doorframe and his back arched against the other. He thought about all the words that had passed over his lips, all the pleading and sweet sugary promises he had made through this pine and painted door. He wondered how many of those promises he would break. He wondered how much she had even bothered listening to before she retreated into her nest, wrapped herself in her oversized blankets, shut out the world and shut him out for the night. Liam turned his gaze downward at his loosely wrapped fingers and the stems of the flowers he had picked from an unsuspecting window box. He tried to recall if Fae particularly fancied daisies at all. Thinking that maybe he recalled a sidelong comment about the flowers during one of their many strolls through the small square, he remembered being cynical about the name of the park itself.
“Well, it's more of a triangle, really. I mean, honestly, Fae. How could anyone make the ridiculous blunder of labeling this three-sided, three-pointed, tri-angled park Christopher Square?” Language was an abstract art for Liam. He fancied himself a poet and often blundered through English with disregard for brevity and clarity, striving to ignore as many grammatical rules as he could while still sounding like he knew exactly what he was talking about.
“It's a square in spirit.” She always replied like that to his pseudo-poetic ramblings. Fae was quick and clever, as her name would imply, with a tongue that was both sharp as a knife and blunt as a lead pipe. Liam rarely had a rebuttal for any point she made. If he did somehow manage to refute her facts or witticisms, she always had another more brilliantly accurate and silencing thing to say. Momentarily mute, Liam found himself a corner of brick wall, turned his back to it and leaned there, observing Fae as she knelt. Her nimble fingers were plucking weeds from one of the few flower boxes that had not been overtaken by ivy. She seemed so engrossed in her work, such a maternal figure to these haphazardly planted flowers that Liam was surprised that she had replied to his criticism at all. She ripped out several ragged clumps of weeds, shaking the excess dirt back into the boxes with the careful flicks of a wrist sporting a green thumb. The un-bloomed flowers thanked her for their segregation from their oppressors.
Fae's personality was entrancing, and her intellect fascinating but Liam could often be caught staring at the long curls that hung down between her shoulder blades, and indulging in the other more physical aspects she had to offer. Those locks were every sort of chocolate and mocha brown and a few flavors of honey blond. Beauty consultants would say that she required a corrective color. Liam thought her to be perfect the way she was. Fae's hazel eyes were equally hypnotizing, untainted by eye shadow or eyeliner. On this particular occasion, however, Liam was caught staring at a less romantic and far lustier location of Fae's body. Feeling his eyes on her, Fae looked up to find that he was staring and her eyes locked in on, and followed, the imaginary dotted line from his pupils to her nipples. Fae's bosom was prominently displayed in a skimpy blue tank top, which popped from her maroon corduroy jacket. The pale flesh peeking with a clash of pure color was hardly an accident, but Fae mustered a pseudo-glare to keep him on his toes.
“Sorry,” Liam managed to stammer as he spun on his heel and looked over the brick wall, rouge already flooding his cheeks. However, Fae had forgiven him before he spoke. She stood up from her work and remembered how Liam had held her bare curves in quivering, sweaty palms not any less than a day ago. This made her smile. There was no commitment, though that was part of her excitement. There were no restrictive promises, no expectations of what they might partake of each other. But, for now, she would turn away from him and follow the parameter of the brick wall, half crouched over with weeds in both hands, searching for something. After a few moments, Liam faced her and tried to resume dialogue.
“What are you…” Liam began, speaking so softly that Fae interrupted.
“I can't hear you,” she insisted, still walking at a stoop, eyes locked on the area between the cobblestone and brick wall. Finally, she found what she was looking for and stopped.
Liam cleared his throat, raised his voice and repeated himself. “What are you doing?” he asked, watching as she started digging her fingers in a dirt gap between the cobblestone and the brick wall. When Fae had made a hole that seemed satisfactory to her, she tucked the roots of ragged weeds underground and buried them in the displaced dirt.
She stood, looking solemn, wiping dirt-stained hands on her pants. “If you take weeds away from flowers, they're just plants. They ought to have a chance to try on their own.”
Fae giggled softly, giving up the game for now, and ran up to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and pressing him against the corner of the park's wall. Resting her chin on his shoulder, she gazed into the trees behind him. Their burnt colors fenced in the park on the opposite side.
Gently, she asked, “Is autumn at peak here, yet?” Her eyes settled on the strong oak and maple trees and, in particular, their twisted limbs. Though the orange was a tortured, dying color it was striking. Fall was always the trees' most beautiful time.
“Not sure. The foliage is beautiful, though,” Liam said, shoving his hands into the deep pockets of his denim trousers, ignoring the flaming leaves, all the while trying to get her face in his peripheral vision without her noticing. “Do people ever look at the trees at a time when they're not dying or just barely being reborn?”
Fae shook her head, and slipped her fingers over his hands into his pockets, and after a short time of quiet observation she huffed, “Foliage,” with a small laugh. “We're getting old, Liam. Only the elderly walk through Manhattan and comment on the leaves. We should be out watching strippers and slipping them dollar bills or something.”
Liam laughed and replied matter-of-factly, “Well, maybe you're getting old. You brought it up. Being a polite young person, I just decided to go along. And I would rather see you stripping.” He wriggled his hands around hers in his pockets and said, “I think that I've got a dollar or two…”
“Is that so?”
“It is so,” Liam said, with decisiveness in his tone. “But you won't. You're too old, and we're busy talking about leaves. You old hag,” he grinned.
Fae pulled her chin and arms from him just then, pressing her palms to his belly, giving him a push that wasn't exactly gentle. “I'll show you old hag!” She pealed the thick maroon jacket from her arms and away from her shoulders, and threw it into his face. Scatting what was internationally known as stripping music, she sang, “Buh dah dah dah, bum!” Shock painted Liam's expression when he tucked her jacket under his left arm, and then changed into smirking as he saw her pale fingers rolling up the bright blue tank to reveal the bowls of lime green that cupped her bosom and a mischievous flash of white smile. A young looking homeless man was feeding birds from a bench and froze mid-crumb toss to stare. The realization that Fae really was about to get mostly, if not completely, nude in the middle of this park finally stuck. Liam's eyes darted to the now numerous pairs of eyes that were locked on her increasingly bare torso. He lunged at her then, his blush matching the maroon jacket he had poised as a weapon, and wrapped it around her shoulders. Fae's fingers let loose of the tank, and it fell, cloaking her navel again.
Blue and hazel eyes locked and they both knew. In an instant, Liam was going to kiss Fae, she would kiss him back, and it would be tender and tasteful like a black and white romance. Knowing that what they really had was far from film noir, and that it was much more like gray area, Liam tried setting aside his doubts for the moment and draped his arms around her again. He closed his eyes and basked in the warmth of their small embrace, and his eyes behind lids saw snapshots of nudity. Fae woke Liam from his daydreaming with the softest kiss he could recall having since this morning. She rested her head on his shoulder, and he took solace in this rare moment of public tenderness. A tingle remained on Liam's lips. It was in moments like these when he caught himself wishing for more convention, and their relationship becoming something concrete. Liam longed for love with a title.
These moments were dangerous, and he knew it. This time the filter from brain to mouth was somehow bypassed, and the warning bells and flashing lights in his head were ignored by his larynx, and lips parted to speak. His lungs fought for what his brain knew would be a tragic error, but they only served to help the pending mistake by refusing to provide him with enough oxygen to speak and think at the same time. Body chose speech. His heart jumped at this lapse of organ organization and against the advice of Liam's mind, Liam's body whispered, “I love you.”
The moments following were akin to the last few seconds of a horror film. Liam knew as soon as he spoke that her response would either be a loving, “Ditto,” and they could walk off safely into the sunset, or a punch to his back with a blunt fist, or a pocket knife, or whatever she might have in that frayed messenger bag she always carried. The quiet moments turned into what felt like full clock minutes, but Fae only shifted slightly, seemingly less comfortable in his arms or her own skin. However, she did not pull away. Instead she held him tighter for a moment, and ran her tongue over her lips, wetting them for words. She spoke, inquiring softly, “Liam…?”
She whispered softer then, barely audible, and it seemed as if the smoky voice came from inside his head rather than the beauty in his arms. “You're it.” And in a blink, Fae had slipped her arms into the sleeves of her coat, clutched the bag under her arm, and taken off through the center of the square, startling pigeons into flight.
Liam stood, blinking for a brief moment before his heels dug in and his shoes thudded after her across the faux-cobblestone. “Fae! That's not fair!” he whined, running after her. Her boots took flight down the steps to the subway, brushing past most people unnoticed. She slid her metro card and dove through the turnstile just as the familiar beeping warned of a departing train and of doors intending to close. Quick as she could, grin plastered on unpainted lips, Fae leapt into the nearest car. Turning slowly, she placed her palm against the Plexiglas to wave at Liam and the train began to lurch and roll away. She watched him as he yelled from behind the turnstiles and knew what he said without reading his lips. He held up seven fingers.
“I won't forget!” she yelled through the door, ignoring the glares from a few older black women seated nearby. Liam shook his fist mockingly at the departing train, grinning all the while.
His step always had a particular bounce after a meeting with Fae. He began with a flying leap and bounded up the subway stairs, against the flow of traffic and into frowning faces. People often frown when one walks with the stride of a young lover. “They are just jealous,” Liam scoffed to himself, reaching the street surface again. His stride leveled into a steady waltz. Somehow, the uneven faux-cobblestone walkway of his neighborhood lent itself to his half dancing and the light post tempted him to light-hearted spinning. “This can't be just a fling,” he thought.
Liam was dancing up the stairs to his apartment building and paused at the door to rifle around in his jacket pockets for his keys. Liam was perpetually misplacing his keys, and the moment absolute panic of being locked-out was immanent, was always the same moment in which his fingertips found cool metal in the last pocket he had thought to check. Liam let loose a sigh of relief, pulling the keys from the rear pocket of his jeans and thrust the key into the lock. The cylinder always stuck a bit, and the constant complaints to the landlords hadn't made a bit of difference in the four years that Liam called Christopher Street his home. One flight downwards, onto the basement floor, brought Liam to his door. It was hollow steel, and the doorknob always felt like ice. Twisting the knob and key in unnatural circles in order to make the door yield, he entered his studio. The tiny window above his bed was brilliant with sunshine, but cast the shadows of feet and calves as countless people walked by. The door shut behind Liam with an unavoidable slam. He pressed his index to the flashing button on his answering machine, and flopped on his bed to listen.
“Liam. It's your mother.” The thick Jewish accent paused in its twang for a moment. “I don't understand why you don't call us. Your father. He's…well, I'm worried.” Liam sat up in order to hear better. “Liam…come home. Please.” A click as she presumably set the phone back on its hook, and then the abrupt beep of the answering machine. Liam blinked, and reached over to pick up his cordless to return her call but remembered halfway that he couldn't call her back if he wanted to. He had his long distance plan canceled last month. And undoubtedly his father would pick up the phone if Liam called collect, and the British tightwad would never say “yes” to accept the charges. He would hang up as soon as he realized that it was not an actual person on the other line and before Liam's recorded name had a chance to make a plea. Instead, Liam laid back and pulled his hands into his lap, folding his fingers together to think for a moment. She was worried. “About what?” he wondered. But she was always worried, so, he was not.
His Hebrew mother and English father were certainly a match made in hell, or at least, they did their best to make Liam's life hellish. They didn't live in the far away Jewish-haven of Florida , or any other more suitable place for their retirement. They weren't far. He never took the train back over to Queens to visit the Worthingtons because when he moved out at eighteen, he swore he wouldn't bother. Liam knew that someday he would break his childish vow to himself and visit, but he decided that for now, for today, he would remain adult enough to be independent and immature enough to rub it in his parent's faces. His mother's voice on the answering machine was not much different than it normally was, pleading him to “come home.” She never had gotten used to the fact that Liam would someday grow up. So, when it happened, she was completely unprepared. On his first date, when he was sixteen, she made him call her every hour from the new cellular phone she made him carry to make sure that he wasn't “dead in a ditch somewhere.” It was the size of a Pringles can and sat awkwardly in his pockets. He never did get a second date while living at home. It had been three years since Liam had even bothered to set foot in Queens, and two since he had actually spoken to his mother on the phone.
It was in that moment that Liam made a conscious effort to think about other things, as his parents only made him tense. He decided to focus on Fae, seven o'clock and what the fuck was he going to wear.
Read Chapter Two