Ed smelled an expensive perfume that was a mix of sandalwood and roses.
“Sorry. Excuse me, I tripped a little,” he fumbled.
The woman he bumped into was a different color than the blues and greys of the late-night business crowd. She was in her 40s and her dramatic black jacket was regal drapings of soft black fabric holding everything from view but her crown of red and bronze hair, and beautiful high red boots with a tall wood heel. She turned toward him, holding a tall glass filled with ice, the contents of which had spilled down the folds of her chic coat.
Ed grabbed his own sleeve and made to brush off the liquid but was stopped by her shooting up her forefinger.
“Just buy me another. I have time to wait.”
“I’m sorry, what did you have?”
“And some napkins.”
He fumbled across the bar to get a fistful of cocktail napkins, muttering ashamedly how sorry he was.
“Oh, goodness, you, please relax?” With a flourish, she spun off her jacket, revealing a sleek, black fitted off-the-shoulder dress, the neckline is a wreath of carmine red roses. The red boots completed the startling outfit. Its appearance stopped those are the bar desperate to get in a final shot or beer, stopping some mid-sip.
“Oh no, did I get your dress as well?”
As she was inspecting herself, brushing away an errant spec and smoothing a wrinkle, Ed admired her strong, curvaceous body. A figure shockingly in contrast to the safe blues and muted greys of others at the bar.
Looking at her inspecting for any damage he had done, Ed felt dethroned. His high with charming Hnark was gone. His accomplishments at work felt hollow and so silly. The dress was not store-bought, at least at no store he would ever go. He saw a similar boot in a window once, the glass was thick and bulletproof. And then her smell, he wished it could turn invisible and so that he could breathe it. Instead, he was once again old, fat, and out of date.
Not five minutes before, he was tired and happy, having impressed an amazing woman. Someone that he respected. Someone that people were scared. Tonight, we were smiling and laughing. We had crouched together like kids watching a couple fucking.
He had heard the whisper of her nylons sliding together.
It had been more than the swish of the nylon, though. Ed had traced those sheer black nylons, up over her knees and down between the warmth of her thighs. The sensual sound of nylon lapping together was punctuated by a quiet snap of something else. In his mind, a lace thigh high caught on its mate, gating honey glow skin, sheer black flower panties, her labia pursed between her legs –
“Forget the drink,” she said, looking down at her phone. I need to go. “You’ll owe me?”
“Yes, of course.”
Her jacket was back on, and she brushed by him.
“Good night – ?”
“Ed. Good night Ed, don’t be a clutz.”
Her eyes were blue, and they twinkled at him.
His apologies were drowned by the roar of the door opening and the city outside.
He slunk to the back of the bar and out another way, hoping that he could get a car and go home. The bar had a rear door that opened into a discreet street, known for quick exits and decisions that lead to regrets the following day.
She was there, attending to her phone, and wrapping herself more comfortably in her gorgeous coat. It’s draping hiding once again all but her red boots in lush black fabric.
She looked up and then down again.
“Don’t trip again, Ed.”
“I’m sorry once again. I hope it didn’t stain.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Not taking her eyes off her phone.
Ignored. Ed fumbled to order a car on his own phone.
Despite his embarrassment, Ed couldn’t help but notice the species of Night People that flowed from the bar’s more discrete door. He saw those transformed by the risk and lure the night offered. There were round milk-fed faces softened by drinks and drugs, pale cheeks red with excitement. The boys and girls had recklessness to them, collars were thrown open, chests peeked from under a third or even fourth button. Their business safe, shoulder-length hair was swept up with an afterthought of gel or pinched with a bow dug from the bottom of a purse. These happy screaming animals screeched and cooed to one another, laughing at their moment not being under a microscope.
Ed also saw the predators. Dark, muscular, beautiful, smoldering hunters. They stalked the innocents. Ready to pounce and satisfy their lust and needs on one, and then another. They wound around and between them, whispering and coaxing them all to higher elevations of excitement and desire.
Delicious, savory smells drenched his senses. Back doors sighed with the end of 1,000 dinners while light night kitchens created wound tendrils of exotic and spicy feasts through the air.
Floor cleaner, dishwater, and garbage crept in as well, reminding him of its end with the dawn. The streets would clear, and the characters would sleep once again. But at this magical moment, the day world leaned back, letting this otherworldly scene to take place. Fairies and demons, Night Kings, and Witch Queens.
The car pulls up, and they both reach to get into it.
They look at each other. Ed looks dumbly at their phones.
“Sorry,” Ed fumbles. “Where are you going?” he called into the driver.
“Who are you?” he asks in a heavy accent.
“Who are you?” the driver yells back.
She brushes Ed aside and says in a much calmer voice.
“I am going up to Midtown, to to the Hotel Giulia. Can you take me there first and then wherever he wants to go?”
He jerks a nod.
“Do you mind taking the scenic route?”
“No. No, of course not.”
“Good, you owe me for the drink anyways.”
The car slinks away from the hotel and into a road lightly inhabited with other vehicles.
The interior is pleather milk tan and smells of thick, cloying cardamon. Perhaps this is how Chai should smell.
Besides the sound of soothing, writhing Hindi music, the car is otherwise silent.
The mix of her intoxicating expensive perfume and the car’s own luxuriant smell, Ed’s head is cleared.
People soundlessly slide by, a woman in a long black coat and dark hood walking a tiny, bristly white dog.
A gaggle of girls happily exhausted by a night of joyous partying wash over their car at an intersection. One of the drunken, glassy-eyed group smiles sleepily and drunkenly winks at Ed.
“I’m Ed. Sorry for the confusion.” He holds his hand out for a shake.
“Don’t be apologetic, Ed.” She takes his hand and shakes it curtly with a red gloved hand, matching her boots.
“That’s a pretty name.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean that as – ”
“You mustn’t apologize so much.”
“It has been a long night.”
“Really? Tell me about it. Perhaps I should thank you for letting me take you on a detour from going home. Do you need a break?”
“It was a long week, so I am happy its Friday.”
“Everyone seems to be. What plans do you have tomorrow?”
“I have nowhere to go on Saturday. There’s no one waiting for me.”
“That sounds sad -”
“Sorry, that wasn’t meant -”
“Oh my, Ed!” her gloved hand pressed emphatically on his arm. “You mustn’t be so apologetic. The cosmos must eat you alive. Are you happy at work?”
“What? I – don’t – what?”
“If you apologize for what you are, you give back what the universe has given you. It’s like apologizing for a gift.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“Are you still sorry?”
“Yes? I didn’t mean to spill that drink on you?”
“It was just water, soda water, actually.”
“You don’t drink alcohol?”
“I’d like to show you something more nourishing than alcohol. Alcohol drains the energy from you. It pulls you away from your center. Those girls celebrating their friend’s divorce, the ones that winked at you? They will be exhausted all day Saturday and Sunday.”
“It looks like they would.”
The car pulls up to a hotel that Ed has never seen before. It’s tall and thin. The only detail that leads him to believe it’s a hotel is a long red French-looking awning. Hiding beneath is a tarnished bronze door. From the sidewalk on Ed’s side, a tall doorman, all in black, watches them intently.
Strina moves to leave.
Ed shuffles out and holds the door open for her.
She draws up near him.
Her eyes are green.
She scans him up and down.
“Come with me. You must buy me that drink, now for your sake. Don’t say no, and don’t apologize.”
Her smile is friendly but commanding.
She pulls lose his tie.
“Did you like this?”
She throws it into the car.
“Could you pay the car?” she says this so close to him, he feels her breath on his cheek, her gloved hand touches his chest.
She buttons one button of his coat.
He reaches in fumbles for his wallet.
“Only cash.” The man says in a guttural accent.
This was not his Uber.
He pulls out a twenty that he had – thank god – in his wallet and hands it to him. The man mutters a good night and pulls away while the door closes.
She is standing midway between him and the hotel door. A faint wind ruffles the folds of her coat while the heat lamps alight her almond hair with notes of almond and bronze. Ed has the single image of her that he’ll remember tomorrow. When he’s gasping for breath and wishing that he was dead, he’ll wonder whether her eyes were green or blue.
One hand holds her jacket together while her other is out, by her side, waiting for him.
As he approaches her, she flashes him an approving smile. She hooks her arm into his and pulls him close to her. “This is a private club owned by a friend of mine. You’re my very successful plus one.”
“I’m not very successful.”
“Oh! What did I say about not apologizing?”
“Hallo.” The doorman says.
“Hello,” she says, “Ghoreyeba.”
He opens the door and lets them through.
“It’s an Arabic butter cookie.” She whispers in his ear. “This is a private party where very uptight people let their hair down. You’ll fit right in.”
Ed comically bristles at her.
“I’m teasing,” she says once again with a magnificent perfect smile. “Come. I’ll show you what I drink. I bring this to them.”
“You import it?”
The building is deeper than it is tall. Ed’s question goes unanswered as they wind through worn halls with ancient rugs dense with the funereal smell of flowers and tobacco. Ed notices the stencil of where a crest was pulled from the wall, leaving behind a white shadow of where it hung for so many years before the new inhabitants took it over.
Each of the long line of double doors in the hallways holds a secret. Ed reluctantly hears their activity. One they pass has a thump of dance music, another Ed can’t help but hearing the electric crackle of Arabic yelled and screamed. Yet another room drones an unbroken monotonous murmuring of prayers.
Strina reacts to some, her eyebrows perk up in acknowledgment of others, or she smiles softly.
“Can you speak Arabic.”
“It is a beautiful language, is it not?”
They turn up stair after stair, a second floor, then a third. Finally, they arrive where a thin, gaunt-looking young man waits at a landing, no older than 15. He wears his father’s suit and his first mustache and dutifully stands by a rolling rack of coats.
Without acknowledgment, he takes Strina’s coat. She says with a soft smile in Arabic, and he smiles bashfully.
He gives Ed a passing glance, one where his deep brown watery eyes meet his, then fall away. He returns to his far-away stare, thinking what any young man would be feeling at a coat station in a private club at 2am on a Friday night.
They wind up, yet another stare. The steep stair makes Strina’s ass sway back and forth in front of him. The knit black dress accentuates her heart-shaped ass. The light reveals her thong, sexy thin lace bands with an ornate arrangement of tiny red roses nestled between the crest of her undulating cheeks.
Ed’s world swims and softens from the dense smell of flowers and spices. The worn, chipped stairs become quaint. Scratchy tinny Hindi music heard from old speakers dotting the stairs fill his senses. The image of the passionate couple grunting and moaning on the copy table flashes in his mind. He fights his hunger to pull up her dress and bury his face between her cheeks. His tongue would hook under her taint, lifting her up against the wall as she gasped.
Strina has stopped at the last stair step. She’s looking over her shoulder at his lust of her. Her eyes peer through her almond curls.
She reaches and pulls up her dress slightly, revealing her beautiful smooth, perfumed heart-shaped ass and thigh-highs embroidered with roses.
Ed’s fingertips are on her thigh slowly, lightly caressing upwards. He feels the silken texture of her nylons, the red, green, and black embroidery of the roses, and her warm skin before brushing his hand away with a teasing smile.
“Ready?” she asks.
“Yes,” he says from far away.