Chapter 17

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


When he left the plane, he wondered what he had told her? In the moment, while keeping Jackson swimming in spirits, the flight attendant, a huge fan of the band, appeared as an ally. Unfortunately, finishing one drink after the other, he offered up Nora’s litany and had begged the flight attendant to please help him understand what he had done wrong. That his impotence had also been a topic of discussion in the first class cabin left him in a panic. Trying to soothe his immediate hangover, he pressed his fingertips to his temples and hoped his airplane antics would not end up in some gossip rag.

Due to the late season sleet and hail, his delayed flight arrived to JFK just after midnight. Not heeding the warning that the luggage had shifted, the long-legged brunette pressed her thighs against him and prematurely released the overhead storage. A small black heavy bag rolled out and dropped onto Jackson’s head. The leggy brunette quickly retrieved her bag and without so much as a “sorry”, vanished. At that moment, he was quickly reminded why New York was everything that he had not missed; unseasonably cold and wet, crowded and unnecessarily aggressive.

The sleet washed over the speeding cab. From his carry-on, Jackson retrieved some aspirin for his now throbbing head. He hoped that the aspirin would not only stop his headache but also erase his last memory of Nora. The doctor’s biggest concern for Nora, after her release from the hospital, was her anorexic tendencies. Dr. Fiora had informed a clueless Jackson that he would have to monitor Nora’s diet. Reluctantly, he thought it would be a good idea to leave her in Sara’s rigid supervision. He trusted Sara’s arrogance to make the right choices for his diminishing fiancé.  However, when Nora phoned him, only two days after his departure complaining how Sara had tried to drag her up and down the streets of Brooklyn, he guiltily questioned his own judgment. As the cab neared closer to Brooklyn, he felt his stomach get queasy. She promised him, before he left to record in LA, that she would be faithful and that he was okay to trust her. With the speeding tires of the cab rolling him closer and closer, he now wished that rather than promising her a multi-million dollar townhouse in Gramercy Park, he had warned her not to play with the man who had saved her not-worth-saving-life.

“Nora, what do you think?” Jackson asked for the third time.

Penny Dresser opened and slammed each kitchen cabinet. Jackson asked her politely to stop. Annoyed, he asked Nora again what she thought of the townhouse.

“So long as it’s in Gramercy, she doesn’t care,” Penny said, “isn’t that right Gossip Girl?”

Lost in the stained glass windows’ glorious colors of the first spring day, Nora was careful that they did not see as she rolled her eyes at Penny’s off-handed comment.  She crossed to Jackson and stretching onto her toes, she wrapped her arms about his neck and assured him that the spacious Edwardian townhouse was perfect. However, ultimately the final decision was up to him but didn’t he think it was a little big for just the two of them.

“Well I’m hoping it won’t be ‘just the two of us’ for long,” he winked before kissing her forehead, “Penny, what do you think?”

Penny opened the last glass cabinet in the kitchen and slammed it shut. Wincing, Jackson asked why she insisted on slamming his kitchen cabinets. She laughed loudly then warned him, that with the market the way it is right now, it would make sense for he and his future lovely bride to be either a tad bit more frugal or patient. Why not choose a smaller flat, even in the same building?

Jenny Soldeinbaum, Jackson’s realtor, unbuttoned her imitation Chanel tweed blazer, and putting her jeweled hand on her wide hip, attempted to sweeten the deal. Her high-pitched squeaky voice clanged out the park’s rules for the one percent.  In Gramercy Park, park residents (owners or renters), two exclusive clubs, a church, a synagogue and the Gramercy Park Hotel are the fortunate few to hold keys to the four wrought-iron gates opening up Manhattan’s private park. All others are excluded the pleasure of enjoying the two-acres of lush opulence. Jenny clanged that to improve the flat’s value, just for her favorite rock star couple, she would include the keys in either the asking price or closing cost. Stepping in front of Jenny, Penny pointed out that not only was Jenny’s blazer a knock-off but that the cost for owning the keys was a meager $350; but more importantly, Jackson, at this stage in his financial portfolio, was cash poor.

“I wouldn’t recommend borrowing against your savings for a flat that in 10 years may not have the same return,” she hurled.

Jenny, corrected Ms. Dresser by assuring the trio that to buy property in Gramercy Park was a solid investment – recession or not. Penny searched her phone for an article that she had just read to disprove Ms. Soldeinbaum. Jackson running his hands through his overly long hair, asked Ms. Soldeinbaum to give them a minute alone. She turned  abruptly on her tall black Michael Kors wedge pumps, and clip-clopped loudly out of the flat.

“Do me a favor? Do not undermine me while I am in the middle of a business deal!” Jackson roared.

“Undermine you?” Penny mocked rolling her crystal eyes practically to the back of her head, “Get over yourself Conlon! If not for me, you’d still be living in Texas with Dottie!”

“Oh whatever! I was in NYC before you were!”

“ ‘NYC’,” she mocked, “You stayed at my ex-girlfriend’s place!” she made well-known then asked Nora if she could give Jackson and herself a moment.

Nora began to button up her fur-trimmed jacket, an incredible Salvation Army find, when Jackson stopped her. “No, no, no, whatever you have to say from now on you say in front of us,” Jackson declared and placed his arm around Nora.

Jackson, increasing his tone, insisted that he had left his mother’s house for New York City long before Penny was even considered to manage his band. Fully aware that the next few moments would consist of Dawson Creek like dialogue between the two friends, Nora turned on her favorite Jimmy Choo ice pick like heels and escaped, unnoticed, out onto one of the four balconies. Nora thought that it was only a matter of time now before the Texas drawl would start ‘hee-hawin’.  She carefully lit her cigarette and winced listening to Penny’s laundry list of reasons why Jackson should leave her.

“You have got to be either an idiot or completely whipped to believe anything that comes from that pouty mouth,” Penny’s voice rose inside the flat.

“You’re the one that said to keep her! Something about her ambiguous skin color? – Or whatever the fuck!” Jackson yelled.

Jackson paced the dark wood briskly. Penny glanced through the Edwardian stained glass doors and discovered Nora vomiting.

Getting back at her point, Penny lowered her voice to lessen her friend’s burden,”Look Jewy Jenny is right; Gramercy is a sure investment – it’s golden. But my job is to ask what happens when you spend four million dollars today and little Miss Hunger Strike decides that Cialis isn’t really doing the job and cuts out on you again?  Then what?”

Jackson listened and duly noted that his copy of the Guardian’s expose on Nora’s affair with Ian, along with some bond statements, and other miscellaneous keepsakes, were kept in a small metal lock box.  Like some sort of celebrated self-flagellation, every other day, he would open the hidden newspaper and carefully pull each page open and study the images. He told himself as if mocking Antonio Banderas in the role of Zorro, that he had to memorize every line of the face of his rival in case they were to one-day meet again. His head would ache in agony with just the thought of being tossed aside for a soccer hooligan that liked to slap up women. In the mean time, Penny continued in a calm yet dominate manner.

“I’ll tell you what will happen, you’ll be fucked. And if you’re married, she’ll be sitting pretty in this palace with the coveted key while you pay for it from the Mark hotel!”

“Stop it!” he hissed.

Through the stained glass doors, his sharp voice pierced Nora’s ears. Penny insisted that she was only looking out for his best interest and that sometimes the truth is not a pretty picture. Jackson, silencing her again, ordered her to leave at once. Penny gathered up her purse and lap top bag.

Turning towards the balcony she started up again, only nastier, “You may have these boys fooled but those fat lips ain’t…”

“Penny, I asked you to go!” Jackson’s shocking volume silenced her.

The heavy black bespoke door shut loudly behind Penny.

“Baby, did you eat today?” his question hung high among the ceiling’s intricate cornices, medallions and moldings.

He joined his future wife on the balcony where her lips trembled and her breath became shorter and shorter.

“You okay, sweetheart?” Jackson reached out to her while she peered over the railing.

She breathed in slowly and watched in envy the few smiling Gramercy residents stroll the sunny streets below. Why was everyone smiling, she thought? The sun mocked her as it warmed her legs. Jackson’s defensive excuses for his high school friend were attempted as calming sentiments but they seemed to only upset her further. She searched the street for an angry pedestrian or someone as ugly as she felt. She agreed with Penny – Jackson was an idiot for taking her back, the four million for the flat, all of it.

Jackson put his long arm around her shoulders, kissed her head lightly and pretended not to see her sick spreading over the tiny balcony floor. He assured her that everything was going to be fine and that with time they could work out their problems. Ashamed of herself, she found solace in an angry man wearing a black and red hooded sweatshirt, a pair of jeans and black and white Vans sneakers. Jackson twirled one of her curls around his long finger and peered down below to what she had fixated on. Nora briefly watched the angry man as he seemed to stomp out large fires then left Jackson alone on the balcony. Too hot in the black and red sweatshirt’s hood, the cynical appearing stranger tore it off his head, and revealed a head full of fiery curly hair.

“Ian,” Jackson said recognizing his rival.

Nora tapped on the glass then carefully cracked open the door, “You okay sweetheart? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

Jackson turned quickly and was stunned at the beautiful vision that would soon be his wife. Her beauty would always take him by surprise, it was her subtle power which she held over him. His head swirled with Penny’s metallic insults.

Grabbing Nora by her tiny waist he said, “Let’s get married,”

“We are baby,” she was perplexed.

“I mean today. Let’s get married today,” Jackson’s voice reverberated through the townhouse.

End Part 2