Hope (one)

The bar was already crowded when Baxter crossed the door at eight o’ clock Friday night. Many cigarettes had evidently already been smoked and everyone appeared in a jovial mood. Baxter was greeted with a drink on the house by the bartender, Ben. “Haven’t seen you in a while, what’cha been upto?” Baxter pondered the question and answered truthfully: “Walking around the city, drinking overpriced coffee and writing bad poetry…” This stumped the bartender. He noticed the sarcastic tone of voice, but struggled to pick out the humorous elements. Mentally stumbling and shrugging his head with a delayed laugh, he returned to polishing the counter. The bartender was unusually short and bald headed, making his bending action a spectacle of reflections. He religiously polished and dried his scalp, allowing it to reflect the lights that made it past the smoke. Baxter observed the wandering spots of light in a bemused way while sipping his chilled black Russian - thinking about the wisps of smoke emerging from his resting cigarette, nudging the ice cubes with his upper lip. Life was good, not just in comparison to the losers beside him but overall – Baxter had the money, and if it ran out he would just get a job at a coffee shop in the city and live off of that. Deciding that he would come back to the bar, Baxter placed a ten-dollar-bill on the table, got up and left.
        It had rained while he was inside; the cobblestones sharply reflected the lights from the neons and lamps. The air smelled refreshing, the day’s dirt and grime had been washed into the crevices and gutters. Bourbon Street was reborn, teeming with life. College kids entered and exited the bars with electric smiles, even the dirty old men rejoiced in the fact of rainfall. The street united them via the greatest common masculine denominator of alcohol and easy women. All the commercial places had long since closed, as it was approaching ten o’clock; it appeared as if the storefronts had moved back, away from the world of early late night magic. The street was dedicated to them, the young, whom Baxter felt a part of. He found a seat in the sportsbar across the street, pulling out a chair by the window in order to be able to hear the soft drumming of the drizzle on the glass. A drink was ordered and Baxter fished the card out of his pocket while looking for tip money, decided to make it a sign to call her the next night.

Saturday was spent around the apartment, reorganizing the oddly coordinated things Baxter had bought since his arrival in New Orleans. He had $25,000 left and firmly decided to start rationing it out, or at least spend less on alcohol. If he had a job, he would meet people, but he would also have to spend time working. That question could be put aside for now; he had Jamie’s number and interest - and Jamie had money. Certainly she would help him out of financial problems; she was attractive enough for Baxter to go out of his way to earn her favor. The hours passed quickly in anticipation and by six in the afternoon the apartment looked respectable. He had fastened the card above his clipboard, above his desk, adjacent to the phone. Slowly he took it down, in fear that she might suspect an obsession. She had made the first move, and Baxter would play it strategically to not only land her in bed, but also gain her affection and means. Tonight would require a fresh outfit and another shower, so Baxter decided to meet with her at eight. In a rush, he picked up the phone and dialed the seven digits. It rang – twice – before a woman’s voice answered the phone. “Hello?” Her voice had a chime-like inflection to it, causing the two syllables to mimic a door’s bell.

        “Hey, this is Baxter – from yesterday?”

        “Oh, hey Baxter. How are you doing?”

        “Great, I was just wondering what you were doing tonight...”

She answered in a giggle.

         “Actually, I’m kinda busy tonight. How’s about Tuesday night at nine?”

This evident sign of success impressed Baxter; she managed to squeeze him into her schedule and was a decision maker.

        “Yeah, sounds great. Where do you want to meet?”

        “How about that café we met at last week?”

So it was settled. Baxter waited two more days, spending hours thinking of ways to sway her, memorizing stanzas of poetry and scoping out romantic restaurants and walkways. When the day came, he had his plan ready. He would receive her at the café and ask her if she had eaten already. If so, she would be escorted to L’ Affaire de Frere for dinner, otherwise he would skip to the river walk. Under the moonlight, for that Tuesday was accompanied by a full moon, he would point out her features in an artistic manner, making her feel graceful and trusting. Finally, at the end of the date he would make his move and hope for the best.
        Baxter had spent these two days in preparation, allowing nothing to interfere with his planning activities. Not that there was much to distract him, but when he looked in the mirror one last time before heading out, he couldn’t help the imminent feeling that he had forgotten something. The only thing he would hate more than having forgotten something was being late, either way his plans would be spoiled and all the hours spent planning would have been useless – this would be his first real impression. So there he stood, in front of the mirror, five until nine, trying to figure out what it was that he had forgotten. Finally he stepped outside, deciding that a bad entrance would be far worse than any triviality he could have overlooked. The New Orleans weather that evening was drizzling and hot, the lingering humidity would leave a film of water on streets and pedestrians alike. Baxter almost regretted dressing up as he felt droplets of sweat build up and absorb under his jacket. Luckily he lived only two blocks away from the Café du Monde, where they had agreed to meet. The jacket was taken off and loosely slung over Baxter’s left shoulder as he approached the café. There she sat – dressed to kill, in a red slip, standing miles apart from the remaining crowd – by the table where they had met. Baxter placed his jacket over the backing of his chair. He had yet to wear it in her presence. Jamie eyed him:

        “You look nice.”

        “Thank you,” Baxter replied, “you look great.” She smiled knowingly.

        “So what did you have in mind?”

        “How about some dinner?” Lied Baxter.

Jamie uncrossed her freshly shaved legs and slid into a standing position. Only now did it become completely obvious that she had gone all out for this. The shoes coordinated with the dress in tone and looked brand new, not just polished. He skin radiated with the kind of brilliance that hinted at a stress free life and ample baths and lotions. Baxter took her right arm and used his left to hail a cab. Soon they arrived at L’affaire d’frere, the upscale seafood restaurant off of upper canal street he had chosen. “The reservation is under Smith, Baxter Smith.” The twenty-dollar bill slid into the Maitre d’s hand unexpectedly smooth considering that Baxter had only read about this custom until now. The table was by the window, between two high-rising houseplants and illuminated by a single white candle. “Impressive, I really wasn’t expecting this…” she uttered while looking around. Now it was Baxter’s turn to smile knowingly. Everything was going according to plan. Jamie had a salad and some variation of baked grouper; Baxter had a lobster, which allowed him to demonstrate his recently attained dissection skills. “So what is it that you do, exactly?” Jamie asked Baxter, pausing to look him in the eyes. “Oh, I won the Florida Lottery and am taking some time off. Before that, I was active mainly as an investor.” It hurt him to lie to her, especially on a first date. She followed up with more questions which he had to answer in lies to show her his interest in talking to her. Finally she stopped asking and resumed eating. While he was ashamed of lying, another part of him didn’t care. She was getting this for free, and if this is what she wanted to hear, all the better. In the end, they all would get what they wanted.
        The silence had become overwhelming. It was his turn to ask her something. “So what is it that you do?” Baxter was glad it was no longer him who was being questioned. Again, she paused, looked up and focused on his eyes before answering: “Mainly take care of the little guy you saw last week. Aside from that, I love all sorts of movies and music.” She was genuinely interested in him. He was lying to her, fucking it all up. He cared about her, what she had to offer emotionally, not just on a physical level. But this inability, this dark hole of need stripped him of the only possibility at an open, honest relationship.
        Meaningless conversation ensued, the lady was amused and the bill paid. Baxter called another cab, noticing that she was standing directly at his side, in full body contact. Jamie put her head on his shoulder. Baxter felt sick. Physically ill. Liar. The driver took them to the riverside. Only two other couples were on the river walk, and both were walking a considerable distance away. The night air was crisp, everything was fresh in its presence – the contrast between inner warmth and outer cold was unlike anything Baxter had ever felt. Baxter could not decide which was the more beautiful – the moon’s glow on the idly splashing water crests or the wisps of hair blowing across Jamie’s forehead. Fingertips caressed Baxter’s forearm, gliding over his skin, leaving trails of warmth. Slowly, they began processing along the north bank of the Mississippi. “The moonlight brings out your eyes rather beautifully.” Baxter wanted her, not merely physically, but aiming to rest his soul aside her, sharing tranquil moments of wordless and motionless union. The affection shrouded them both, enveloping them in a warm cloud of shared thought.
        “Do you want to go back to my place and have some coffee?” Baxter asked. They had walked for about an hour and the tension had grown nearly audible. “Sure.” Her smile was small in size but more meaningful than anything he had seen that night. Yet another cab was called, this time they shared a spot on the back seat. Finally, Baxter moved to kiss her. Her kiss was like a fire, flickering and spreading throughout, carried by those fingers, fiercely racing and dancing around his neck and ears. Jamie broke for air, separating her fiery breast from his. “I usually don’t do this, but…” Before she could finish, Baxter silenced her with yet another kiss.
        He led her into his apartment by the hand and disappeared into his kitchen to pretentiously make some coffee. There was no time for measuring, a good handful of ground beans went into the filter and two glasses of water were poured, mainly into the designated container. “Should be ready in five minutes,” he yelled, forgetting to turn the machine on. Stepping into the living room, he noticed that she was gone. She could not have left, he thought, figuring she was in the bathroom. Baxter set down and nervously re-arranged his tabletop literature. Finally, he heard the flush and running sink. He sat up, focusing on the bathroom door. The dimmer had been set to twilight; against the bathroom light he could only see her silhouette. Jamie was lightly toned; her slender limbs further accentuated her natural grace. She took her place beside Baxter, who in turn put his arm around her and moved to kiss her again. She pulled away.
        “Baxter – stop. Listen, I really was not expecting all of this. I want what we have to be special. Let’s not just burn it up in one night.” This took Baxter aback, the words sounded so forced. He always assumed she would sleep with him after all the effort he put into the evening. “I understand. But I definitely want to meet you again, I had a great time tonight.” He did, but still, this was short of what he expected - or beyond, he couldn’t tell. “I’m open this Friday night, maybe we can meet up then?” Her offer was accepted and the two agreed that Baxter would call Thursday and set up the details.
        Over the coffee, which was finally turned on and prepared, Baxter felt as if Jamie was holding something back from him. Something major. Maybe it was only the reflection of his secret, she had sensed that he was retaining something and was acting upon it. Probably so. It had become late, Jamie began to worry about the babysitter falling asleep or not wanting to work again – it was hard to find a good baby sitter those days, evidently – so she called a cab.
        “Baxer,” she said softly, “this has been the best date I have been on as far back as I can remember. I feel as if we share something, conversation touches deep so easily. I am so glad you understand me.” Baxter smiled, took Jamie’s hands and looked her in the eyes in response. Soon, the doorbell rang, Baxter kissed Jamie a passionate goodnight and the two went their way.

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