Erotic art. That's what had done him in. Blonde hair, too. It lightly brushed against his shoulder as his lips almost met hers.
Almost. Her eyes were blue, not brown. And in them, he saw the awkwardness indicative of first meeting. He wasn't going to lie. This did have a split second allure, but he wasn't going to go through that again. He didn't have to. The contented domesticity he'd found in her warm brown eyes drew him in and called him home.
As close as he'd come, he pulled back.
"I gotta go," he mumbled.
"Why?" She asked, clearly taken aback. "We were just about to create our our form of distraction."
Distraction? He said to himself. Abstraction is more like it. He could mull it over later. His own confusion called for a speedy exit, yet he knew he owed her something.
"Look," he said simply, "We just got our signals crossed." That was as plain as he could make it. He eyed the five cups of now cold coffee, wishing the study group had never left.
"I led you to a place I never planned on goin'. I'm sorry."
She sat alone on the stiff, fitted hotel sheets, staring after him.
Sitting solitarily in his Jeep allowed him to breathe, but offered no solace.
His hands practically strangled the steering wheel while his head thumped against it, repeatedly.
He was a man at war with himself; his frustration evident on so many levels.
Why had he been so tempted to give in? He wondered.
"Because livin' with the blonde with the deep-set brown eyes is torture, damn torture," his id screamed; his head hitting the wheel once again.
She had asked him to go, but she might as well have thrown him out, out of their home; her voice taking on that 'bossy tone', urging him to keep his distance. He heard the record execs' laughter, mocking him faintly, as he made his exit. One of them wanted her, he knew. And he was jealous. "She's mine!" He wanted to scream but couldn't, having relinquished any claim to her that night in Jamaica as he wound a chastity belt around her with his words, now serving to suffocate them both.
There it was in black white: The abstraction of their life together had given way to many shades of gray, or in his case, another shade of blond that had threatened to take him from her.
He focused on the straight beams of light radiating from the headlights, guiding him as he shifted the Jeep into drive. "Maybe it is just that simple," he mused aloud, "I just need to go home, and give in --- to her.
Pulling into the driveway, Tony noticed their normally well-lit home was completely dark. He'd been more than a little unnerved, abstracted even, when he'd left, and the blackness that now surrounded him made him all the more uneasy.
"Maybe those record guys actually had the nerve to ask her out for a drink," he scoffed bitterly. And given the constrained civility of their conversation earlier that evening, she might've rightfully accepted. He briefly imagined both of the guys sitting at the bar taking bets as to which one of them would leave on her arm at the end of the night as she politely excused herself and went in search of the ladies' room.
"Get a grip, Micelli," he told himself. "She was probably exhausted and went to bed, forgetting to flick the porch lights on," he said, somewhat satisfied with the alternative, seeing as how it was so much more Angela. As he unlocked the door, darkness once again greeted him, disconcerting him enough to wonder if he was indeed alone. His eyes drifted to an otherwise ashen fireplace, seeming also to concede to impending abandonment as well as quell any inclination he may have had of romance burning anew as he entered the house. His eyes half closed, he sighed resignedly. He was tired; tired of all the abstraction, so tired in fact that his eyes narrowly missed the soft light filtering from underneath the swinging door, welcoming him home.
Tony could scarcely believe that, here, at what one might consider his 11th hour, reality had finally dawned on him. Angela was both at home and awake, and he knew if he stepped just beyond where he stood and into the light, all their years of abstraction would manifest into an exceedingly daunting reality; and so, he hung back, door ajar, looking tentatively at her.
She sat at their kitchen table, sketching, scribbling, and yes, even erasing, seemingly unaware of his presence. Her long blonde hair was swept up off her neck in a messy French Twist, held modestly in place with a dull point pencil. He smiled; gone was the ever poised and almost posed ad exec persona that she slipped in and out of everyday; the side of his domestic partner that unwittingly told him he would never be good enough for the high-heeled woman who came home to him everyday. The one from whom, at times, he wanted to run and hide. Yet, at present, he could not take his eyes from her, completely captivated by the innate duality he'd found within her, for she now, ever the professional, appeared both candid and content; the archetypal, dare he say, working 'wife' and mother.
He was in love with her, in every abstract sense of the word.
"Pulling an all-nighter?" He ventured.
The sound of his voice never failed to rouse her from the most tedious of tasks. His household chores, too, would cease the minute he heard her heels clicking confidently across the linoleum as she made her way into the kitchen. The kitchen was her first stop, as she knew that was where he'd always be. It was his domain and their routine; the image of him standing in his apron was home to her, and tonight, with the hour hedging just upon midnight, was no different as she looked up, greeting him with a smile rivaling that of the Mona Lisa.
"Hi," she said. "You're home late." "Studying must've went well, then."
"Yeah." He paused. "Covered quite a bit, and let me tell ya, Ange, I've never been more tired of all things inanimate," he said, walking behind her, his hands coming to rest on her shoulders. He tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear before adding, "Looks like you do your best work in the kitchen too." He grinned, peering over the the top of her head to get a look at the impeccably laid out storyboard in front of her; his hands now gently kneading her shoulders. She exhaled, sighing softly before she spoke.
"John and Peter were here; we had a great brainstorming session, and you know me, I just couldn't wait to get the ideas down on paper. And I was---" From where he stood, he could see a dimple punctuating her left cheek, forming the mere hint of of a smile.
"You were waiting up." He finished.
For the second time that evening, reality hit him, approaching slowly at first, then washing over him with such an intensity that he shook, stunned, his head swimming in this new revelation: He was married. Angela's head now rested comfortably against his chest, offering him tangible evidence of this still abstract fact, and he shuddered to think about what would've transpired if he hadn't come home.
He envisioned Angela frantically canvassing all of the local hospitals, or at the very least, making a midnight run to the batting cage.
His chin rested on the crown of her head, both silently reveling in the slightest of intimacies.
"Dance with me?" He murmured, his voice low in her ear.
"Tony," she said, amused, as she protested weakly, "It's a quarter after twelve, and I've still got my heels on; we'll wake the kids..."
"We're alone, Angela," he said; his brevity and tone putting an end to her every extenuation, rendering his proposition undeniably appealing.
"...And not for nothin', but never has there been a day that you haven't looked great those heels or any pair at all... very distracting, though you'd look great if you took 'em off too. His eyes met hers with a suggestive smile.
"Oh, so you're into corporate women now, are you?" she said, her lips curving ever slightly into a coquettish grin.
"Women?" "...And here I thought I was livin' a settled suburban life with just one, a blonde whose 'excutiveness' is nothin' short of alluring, and oh, I've heard she finds men who know their way around both a weight room and a kitchen with an equal measure of finesse quite debonair.
"Men?" She questioned teasingly, "Well, maybe just one," she said, gingerly stepping out of her heels as she took the hand he offered her.
Wordlessly she watched as he rekindled the fire that had reduced to little more than cinders in the hours he had been away from her, the flames now flickering and blazing from within the hearth, as strains of Sinatra's voice sonorously rose and reverberated through the air. He beckoned her to him, his eyes on her and her alone as she came toward him, drawn solely by the slow controlled motion of his index finger. He had usurped every ounce of her femininity with one fluid movement and it wafted about him, the subtlest of perfumes.
His left hand held her at arm's length, appraising her from head to toe, while his right arm suggestively wound its way around her back, his fingers lightly trailing the length of her spine. Reaching the slope of her neck, he noticed her eyes were half closed, and it took all his willpower to resist drawing her into their comfort zone, with her head coming to rest on his shoulder, but if his near misstep earlier that evening had managed to tell him anything about the six year waltz he and Angela had found themselves in, it was that 'comfortable' just wasn't working anymore. Yet, in the six years she had shared with Tony, comfortable was all Angela had allowed herself to expect, so when she felt his fingers gently tug the pencil from where it remained interred amid her golden locks, she raised her eyes to his questioningly. His eyes darkened, beguiled by the waves of blond cascading down her back. The overt look of desire she saw in his eyes left her feeling uninhibited and free as the last tendrils of hair spilled over her shoulders. With a slight toss of her head and a coy smile, she recaptured her femininity, and held him, reeling, in a purely Angela-induced vertigo. He grabbed ahold of her hips, pulling her to him, in a desperate need to regain his equilibrium and close the distance between them.
"Hi." He murmured. The intense vertigo he felt moments earlier artlessly subsided as he lovingly pressed his nose to hers.
"It's been awhile... I've missed this."
"Hi to you too," she said, looking up at him, her fingers laced lightly about his neck.
"It really has been awhile since we've had any time alone." She echoed softly. Her statement unwittingly indicative of just how close they had become.
"Yeah, thanks to Mrs. Rossini and her perfect timing... Maybe we should give kudos to the borough too," he added with chuckle. "Seein' as how the the street fair is but once a year."
She laughed into his hair, never having felt more connected with anyone in her life.
"Think about it, Angela, he said incredulously; his exuberance becoming contagious as he continued, "A night with no dependents, that includes your mother too--- who's who knows where with who knows who." he added with a grin. "Whatever are we gonna do?"
"I'd say this is definitely a step in the right direction." She said, punctuating her words with a demure smile.
"Yeah, yeah, it sure is." He paused, grinning slyly at her. "For now." His last two words lingered suggestively between them, an open invitation as they moved about their living room, contented for the moment in their exclusiveness.
"What are you thinkin' about," he asked, placing a chaste kiss into her hair.
"Us, actually. About the last time we danced like this. We had just become friends with that couple..." She trailed off, watching his eyes roll back in his head.
"Braaad and Janeee," he said, drawing out the names of of the troubled couple as a means of emphasizing the distaste and disgust the mere syllables left on his tongue.
"Those two wackos weren't friends, Angela. They were fiends, preyin' upon us because we didn' t parade about that club, regal in our exclusivity. I don't work that way; I 'm a private person, not one to get caught up in a facade. Those two weren't a couple; they were a facade; The guy admitted as much. He couldn't commit to save his life and neither could she!"
"You seemed to enjoy dancing with her."
"I wanted us - you and me- to have friends. I can't help it if neither of 'em understood the definition. He rested his hands on her hips, saying, "I mean, the way I see it there's dancing and then there's dancin'," he said, studying her face, his eyes alight with pleasure in seeing how seamlessly her body aligned with his as he pulled her close and held her against him.
"I kept her at at a respectable distance, and she violated me!" He shuttered.
"Only you're allowed to do that." An impish smile played at the corners of his mouth.
She raised an eyebrow, her brown eyes sparkling with mischief. "Violate you?" He knew she was enjoying toying with him far too much.
"Ah well, you know..." He flushed slightly, struggling to find the words to tell her he enjoyed their own brand of intimacy, no matter how ephemeral it was.
"Remember Atlantic City, Angela?" He asked, his wistful reminisces supplanting him, if only momentarily, back to their lazy evening stroll along the boardwalk, his hand traversing her face, playfully dabbing away a dot of vanilla custard from the tip of her nose. He then felt her arm dip even lower from where it had been loosely draped about his waist as she gave his derriere an affectionate squeeze. Grinning, he hugged her to his side in silent acknowledgement of a promise fulfilled, leaving onlookers to wonder if they were a newly wedded couple, flirting scandalously within the bond of their young marriage, or some surmised, perhaps they had been together for years; a part of those lucky few who'd managed to 'get it' and keep it going. The long look she returned him intimated as much, and he felt himself being pulled from his reverie, leaving him to once again lose himself within the deep brown depths of her eyes.
"I wasn't puttin' on a show for the masses there, Angela," he said, willing her to understand.
"I was... I am... simply caught up in the nearness of you."
His heartfelt declaration was immediately met with her resplendent smile. The thin line of her lips curving slowly at first, carefully considering the sincerity of his words before ebulliently erupting across her face; a brilliant reflection of her comprehension, an intimation of just how well she knew and understood him.
Seconds passed as she stood waiting, waiting for that boyish grin to cross his face. When it failed to appear, she stepped back, beclouded with doubt in the interim. Supposing their barely begun dance had come to an end, she turned away, preparing to slip quietly to her room, alone.
His hands flew to her shoulders. "Angela, don't... don't leave." He stood, for the moment, gripped in fear. "Not when at any minute I could--- Just hear me out... I got more to say. There are things I need ya to know before we---" He cupped his hand under her chin, turning her face toward his. His tone arrested her; her love for him keeping her there as she read the characteristic warmth in his eyes, knowing then that their night together had, in fact, just begun.
"You mentioned having more to say?" She inquired, drawing the words out slowly as she angled her face to his and wrapped her arms around him yet again.
"Uh huh," he mumbled against her mouth.
Her eyes on him, she drew away, millimeter by millimeter, it seemed, causing him to concentrate on the thin line of her lips as they curved to form the dimple that appeared seemingly for the sole purpose of teasing him. He took in her face; porcelain skin, features aesthetically Elizabethan, a composite of all that he wasn't and all that he wanted, inebriated him. He sobered as he started to speak, willing himself not to drown within those expectant and desirous eyes that held fast to his.
"I did get caught up in you that night," he said, reflecting again briefly on their time at the Paradise Ballroom when he saw Brad slipping that ring on Jane's left hand. He shook his head. "I knew it shoulda been me, slippin' a ring on your finger." "What would those two-timers know about an engagement anyway?" He muttered. "I bet they didn't make it down the aisle, let alone past the first pew. And here we are, six years in, maintaining a home and raisin' a family, and I can't even---" His Brooklyn accent thickened the more frustrated he became.
"All that jerk did was validate my insecurities, so if I abstract myself from you, or choose to refrain from bein' all over you at a ballroom, it's my bizarre way of keepin' you, of keeping things the way the way they are. I mean, I see things as they are, not as they aren't. It's a curse, I guess. But I also know who I come home to, and that you deal with men who look as tailored and professional as you yourself are, and yet you come home to me, propping yourself up on the kitchen counter, munching on carrots while I make the salad, chatting nonchalantly about your day. And I stand there, fighter that I once was, resisting the urge to pick you up and put you there myself. But I don't, 'cause I know it wouldn't end there, and if there's one thing I've learned in this life, it's that you never tell a man he has everything because it's in that moment of certainty that he realizes how quickly it can all slip away, and you can't tell me it won't happen because it did; it happened to me; everything slipped away with a slide into third, so I contend myself with being both the man and the dad you need me to be, but give me just one night Angela, a night of just you and me, a night transcendent of the rest of our lives, and I'll show you what a loving husband I can be.
"Tony, you know my recent dealings with John and Peter are just business, right?" She raised her eyes to his to find his lips lightly touching hers.
"But what's happening here, between you and me, this isn't 'just business' either, right?"
"No." She said, softly pressing her lips to his.
He sighed contentedly as she nestled her head against his chest. Looking down at her, his mind wandered; his eyes resting on the nape of her neck, almost hidden from view by the starched collar of her fitted oxford blouse. She sensed his restlessness as he absentmindedly fingered the buttons of her shirt.
"Would you like some help?" She queried, placing her hand over his. His eyes, having been half closed, flew open as the warmth of her hand and the sound of her voice, having dropped to a husky murmur awakened his appetent need for her.
Together, they pushed the tiny buttons through the slits of pressed fabric. The material parted, revealing Angela's lace-clad chest, causing Tony to inhale sharply and bury his face in her bosom. He remained stilled by the rhythmic rise and fall of her breathing; his warm breath teasing and tickling her breasts as he sighed, discontented and overwhelmingly aroused by the sight of her nipples hard-pressed against the coarse lace of her bra.
Leaning down, she kissed the top of his head as he trailed impatient kisses along her neck; her pulse quickening and heart pounding as he mouthed the words, "I wanna make love" in a drawl; lulling, timbral, primal; his voice an Italian aria resounding in her ears.
He watched her eyes turn fifty shades of brown as he came upon her. His steps strident, keeping pace with her every movement as she backed away from him, her slim waist just out of his reach as she slipped sinuously across the linoleum, her pupils alight with pleasure, then darkening, simmering with unsolidified desire.
Resistance and distance from Tony was futile, Angela knew. Scant seconds passed before she felt his palm press into her back, bracing her as he pushed her needfully against the banister.
"I saw your face, and I knew," he said. I knew I wanted you, yet I could never admit it to myself or to you because the look that passed between us lasted only a moment. I mean, I knew, but I didn't know..." His eyes held hers admist his contradiction, and he loved that she'd understood as she always did; he had loved her from that first day.
"You stood before me, a harried working mom, hell-bent and determined that you'd had enough of me, and still you couldn't ask me to go, and I couldn't ask you to stay. Then, with a frustrated flick of your wrist, your hair tumbled, damp ringlets, blonde and unruly, from the towel they'd been wrapped around. A twist of of fate-literally. I couldn't take my eyes from you, couldn't walk away, and it's been that way ever since, Angela, you and me- we've been caught in a simple twist of fate, and tonight, as back then I couldn't stop starin' at you, still seeing the working mother I've always known, content in her domesticity so unlike the harried woman I first met six years before, and then you looked up at me with that smile. Suddenly, I no longer saw the smile of my best friend, but that of my wife, knowing then that you expected my fidelity, and that what we had was no longer enough."
"Have you had enough of this, Angela? Of me--- of us?"
"No," She murmured, and he stood, punch drunk, at her ability to yield such power over him with the subtle innunendo she infused within a single word, her signature verbal foreplay settling on his lips.
Tony blinked; his eyes abstracted by both sunlight and sleep; his body wrought and sated, after having succumbed, satisfyingly, to exhaustion. He watched her rise, nude, from the bed they'd shared, studying the long, lean line of her body, exquisite in its structure, his eyes concentrated on the nape of her neck before finally coming to rest on the curve of her backside. He admired her with the aesthetic eye of Da Vinci, content in beholding his magnum opus.
He grimaced as she reached for her robe.
"Don't do that."
She cast him a coy glance over her sholuder. "Thought this was your favorite outfit," she said, her comment rivaling her expression.
"Oh, it was; it was--until last night."
"Last night?" she feigned innocently. "What about last night?" It was clear she was ribbing him.
Crawling up behind her, he succeeded in slipping the robe past her shoulders once more. "We lost each other," he said, his breath husky and hot against her ear. "Come back to bed, and I'll show ya."
Erotic art. That's what had done him in. Blonde hair, too. It lightly brushed against his shoulder as his lips almost met hers.