Autumn 2004 – London
When he noticed the swirling wind lift and drop her dark curls in and out of her startled watering eyes, Nigel stopped speaking. A warning that autumn was on its way, in the chilly breeze, underneath the burnt orange sheer, goose bumps raced up and down her bare legs. Her brand new nails clawed her chest. He was going to marry Sara and he seemed to make clear, that she should have known that sooner or later this affair (a new term he used to refer to their two – year relationship) would have to end. She hopelessly recalled that just one week ago, while still inside her, he had confessed that his mother would turn in her grave at the thought of her blood even considering marrying a girl like Sara. A good Sicilian, she used to tell her son, should marry his own. He confessed that although his mother’s words were hypocritical – she had married an Englishman – as he held Nora he knew in his heart that his mother would have preferred her. He clarified that he realized that although Nora was not a Sicilian, to his mother, a half moulinyan would be better than an English woman. They rolled about the bed laughing at his mother’s old country anecdotes and in that moment Nora was sure that he would finally break-up with her best friend and they would be together. He kissed her hungrily, held her arms down and pushed himself deep inside her.
On the late summer day, she stood freezing and embarrassed. He had made her his whore, and like Nigel, she would let her mother down by letting him get away with it. Unable to control herself, Nora grabbed onto his arms and begged him to take it back. She hurled insults that he was already unfaithful, what made him think that marriage would suddenly make him true? Her words had already been a consideration that nearly prevented him from going through with the engagement but deep in his heart he knew that Sara was meant to be his wife. He couldn’t however, erase the guilty thoughts of he and Nora fucking right underneath Sara’s nose or the consistent lying. He cancelled dates lying that he either had to work late or needed a boy’s night out. When in fact, Nora would take the train to his cottage in Kent and spend the entire weekend. Nora was right, he thought, he was a fool to marry Sara, so long as this sublime beauty would be near, infidelity was inevitable. His sublime beauty clawed into his arms. Her black eyes pleaded.
He grabbed hold of her and ignoring his contemplation, scolded, “Enough! This should not be a surprise to you!”
“I’m pregnant,” she revealed.
His calloused fingers slowly released her wrists and breathing out a large sigh, she noticed his eyes grow soft. Giving in to her naivety, she took his hand and placed it against her belly. He held it there and noticed that underneath her long lashes, her midnight eyes danced. With his other hand, he cradled her cheek and drew to his, her parting red lips. She threw her arms around his neck and gave in to him completely. Running his hands over her shivering body, the dissipating crowds, in Regent’s Park, hadn’t mattered.
He whispered softly, “Are you sure it’s mine?”
In the increasing wind, she rubbed her arms and watched the grey clouds slowly march across the sky. Looking back into his light brown eyes, she slapped him. Nora attempted hitting him again but was quickly thwarted. He grabbed her, and wrapping her arms around her body, he pleaded that she calm down. How could he ask her such a question? The two – year affair had taken Nora by surprise. She had planned to attend the London Fashion Institute in two years, and returning to the States, in Seattle, WA, she would develop her knitting skills. The time she dedicated to being available to him accompanied with her heavy school workload, had left her no time for dating other men. When she had first arrived in London, Sara was amazed with how in droves the boys had pursued her new housemate. When the affair was in full swing, Nora’s gradual lack of interest in dating and brooding moods started to affect Sara and Nigel’s courting and eventual relationship. And when confronted, Nora would either deny that anything was bothering her or insist that she was homesick. Sara, feeling sorry for her foreign housemate, regrettably and on many occasions, invited Nora out with her and Nigel. Nora took advantage of her kindness to be near Nigel but also to prevent the couple spending time alone together. Falling for Nigel or anyone was the furthest thing from her mind. On that day, however, she stood, accused of trying to trap him, cold and pregnant.
“It won’t inconvenience you in the least,” Nora shook trying to choke back tears.
“Nora, please…” he began then paused to think, “I…I don’t know what you thought that this was. I made it clear from the beginning that Sara was the one and now you expect me to drop everything because you got yourself knocked up?” He labored the point, insisting that he was late and that his fiancé would be sure to give him at least ten lashings if he didn’t hurry. He quickly turned and ignored Nora’s extended hand. Unable to hold back her tears, she reached out and watched him disappear.
Spring Present Day – New York City
“Nora,” Jackson called.
“Huh?” she jerked startled.
“Are you listening to me?” he asked.
Nora stared down at her vomit and shook her head, “I’m sorry, baby, what did you say?”
“I said, I don’t want a huge industry wedding, I just want a special day for just the two of us.”
Jenny Soldeinbaum returned holding a Starbuck’s coffee cup. She sucked in her stomach and clomped up to Nora, who was holding the balcony door open, and curtly asked, if, she and her fiancé were quite through viewing the townhouse. She also blared that treating her, as a discarded pet was cruel and quite unprofessional. Ms. Soldeinbaum, in her 15 years of New York real estate, had never been treated with such disrespect. Jackson attempted to wipe the sick from his feet and entered the flat. He rubbed his hands through his hair, apologized for Penny’s over exuberant remarks, and explained to Jenny that he and his future bride would need time to discuss the large investment’s pros and cons. Nearly startled to death that Jackson was on the other side of the door, a befuddled Jenny, laughed coyly, and inviting Jackson in for a hug, opened her arms. Unsure of what to do, he accepted.
“Ah, darling,” she cooed rubbing his hair, “you take all the time you need and if there is anything else you’d like to see, just tell Jenny and she’ll take care of her favorite rock star!” And awkwardly turning on her black pumps, she tipped her macchiato and gestured the couple out.
Landing on the front stoop, Nora blocked the bright sun from her eyes then lit a cigarette. Using his long hand as a visor, Jackson searched beyond the budding dogwood and cherry trees for his rival. Beyond the glistening new grass and the birds’ mating calls, he had vanished. Trying to hide his concern from Nora, he threw his arms around her shoulders and laughed loudly about his realtor,
“Now I’m not saying that I’m all that, but was my realtor flirting with me in there?” he joked.
She picked a small piece of tobacco from her tongue and forced a laugh. Jackson turned to his fiancé and lifting the cigarette from her mouth and stomping it under his shoe, he suggested again,
“So, what do you think, why not get married today?”
“Why are you all of sudden wanting to elope? I mean, what about your mother?” she asked nervously and dug deep into her bag for another Virginia Slim.
A comforting warm breeze lightly brushed against his cheek. He failed to respond to her question and instead, he kissed her lips. When their lips parted, she cocked her head up and assured him, for such shenanigans, not only would his mother disown him but she would completely blame her new daughter-in-law. With a frustrated sigh, Jackson rummaged his hands through his mane and suggested they get a cab. Nora cradled her Salvation Army coat in her arm and pretended not to see Jackson’s disapproving glance.
“You are going to ruin yourself with those things. And since when do you care what my mother thinks?” he challenged.
While, she scoured her large bag frantically for another, her bedazzled heels stabbed out her other smoke. He considered while in the bright light, underneath the dark red color, as they wrapped the cigarette’s filter, her lips were cracked and dry. Along with that, he noted, on the unexpected warm day, that although they were glorious, her long legs unceasingly knocked together. And perhaps in a desperate attempt to steady herself, Nora slouched her small shoulders forward and continued chain-smoking. Jackson blamed his success for her failing health. To him, in an obvious cry for his attention, she had been unfaithful. By ignoring her silent pleas, to her, Ian’s angry possessive world had been enticing. His atonement, he supposed, like the sisters of Notre Dame, would be to devote the rest of his life making her happy. However, struggling to stand in her dream neighborhood, she was too thin and still throwing-up make-believe breakfasts.
He towered over her and knew that she would be the worst decision he could make for his career and personal future; but somehow, to him, even amongst all of the lies and her failing health, she glowed. Even now, when he noticed that her shoulders were bent over from weakness, he saw her postured, like one of her sketches, in an elegant couture pose. And only in his eyes did her melancholy smile brighten any day.
Stabbing her last cigarette, she answered him, “I don’t have a problem with your mother, remember, it’s the other way around,” she ravaged her bag for another pack then gave up. Jackson did what he usually did and said nothing. He had learned that bringing up his mother’s scathing opinion about her, she could avoid his probing questions about why she was late or who was on the phone or his marriage proposal. Instead of playing into it he asked her flatly whether or not on that day, she would marry him.
Pulling back her shoulders, she straightened her posture and pushed her weight onto her tall heels and observed, “You stood directly in my sick and didn’t say a word about it.”
Recalling the stomach bile that had encircled his shoes, he grew saddened. In his fantasy world he imagined that perhaps she was pregnant but now looking at her and really seeing Nora, he knew that even if she were with child, her starving condition could never support a baby to term.
“What can I say that I haven’t already? If I ask if you’ve eaten, you tell me yes and if that is true, you discard it two minutes later. I don’t know what else to do anymore,” he was tired and disappointed in his failing perk and continued, “throw on top of that the fact that I just can’t trust you…” he trailed off hopelessly.
“I want to call off the wedding,” she said clearly and triumphantly pulled from her purse, her actual last cigarette.
He expected that this news would feel differently, maybe more shocking or even devastating, but her words continued to demystify their relationship. Her beauty unfortunately had always belonged to her – not even Ian could take possession, nor anyone else. It was, however, Penny’s metrics, that created the falsehood that her beauty had been a tangible item to exploit. The last ten or so years had been spent chasing a number one record, earning the appellation of humbled celebrity, and chastising Dirty Herberts for their unapologetic arrogance; yet in that quiet dark moment, it all seemed ironically arrogant. After all, it was her beauty that had captured his and the world’s heart. Wherever he toured, from Kansas to New Zealand, they all showered him the same congratulatory speeches – how does he leave the bedroom with such a beauty? If she were my girl, I’d lock her up, so no one else could even look at her. Even her more notorious moments had aided in his reaching and holding the number one spot, throughout the world, trumping Dirty Herberts. He had finally claimed the throne; and in obtaining the enviable goddess he was the new rock god. Without her on his arm, would he survive?
Her wet midnight eyes tried to search his thoughts, giving up she confessed, “I thought since you had saved my life that it was my obligation to give you mine. But trying to visualize our future in that over priced flat, I realized that I need to give you back yours,” from her finger she pulled the 3-carate princess diamond and placed it into his hand, “I’m sorry, Jacks.”
He folded his long fingers over the ring and dropping it into his pocket he asked if she would keep their break-up quiet.
“At least until the last leg of the tour. I’d like to dodge the gossip hounds and just concentrate on doing good shows,” his eyes pleaded, “and they all still love you.”
That his first reaction expressed concern with how he needed to handle his press and the Shanty’s fans, annoyed her but also left her feeling justified and realizing that the days of putting up with this sort of aloof passivity were over, she shrugged and assured her silence. Taking full advantage of his PR concerns, she also suggested that if she stayed in the flat while he was away, this too would limit the gossip hounds from suspecting anything. He agreed full knowing that she had had nowhere else to turn. He felt good about allowing her to stay put this time. After all, despite putting her on too high of a pedestal, he genuinely had loved her very deeply. She thanked Jackson and wishing him a safe trip, she quickly ran off to a fabricated lunch appointment.