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The smell of oranges drifted toward me. I put a hand on the back of the chair nearest me and searched the countertop for fruit in a basket. Something, anything, that would explain the smell, which was as out of place in this coffee shop as a Santa suit in the sand. I didn't see anything that would explain the scent, and I drew in a deep breath. I'd learned a long time ago there was no point in trying to hold my nose or my breath. Better to breathe through this. Get it over with.
The smell passed quickly, gone in a few blinks, a couple of heartbeats, replaced by the stronger odor of coffee and pastries. My fingers had tightened on the chair but I didn't even need the support. I oriented myself before letting go of the chair to finish moving toward the counter where I'd been heading to add sugar and cream to my coffee.
It had been almost two years since my last fugue. That one had been equally as mild, but the fact this one had been barely a blip didn't offer much comfort. I'd had periods in my life when the fugues had come hard and fast and often, essentially rippling me. It was too much to hope they would go away, but I didn't want to go back to that.
"Hey, girl, heyyyyyy!" Jen called from the booth she'd snagged just inside the Mocha's door. She waved. "Over here!"
I waved and finished adding the sugar and cream, then wove my way through the jumble of chairs and tables to slide into the booth across from Jen. "Hey."
"Ooh, what did you get?" Jen leaned forward to peer into my coffee mug as though that would give her some idea about what was in there. She sniffed. "German chocolate?"
"Close. Chocolate Delight." I named one of the two featured coffees. "With a shot of vanilla-bean syrup."
Jen smacked her lips. "Mmm. Sounds good. I'm going to choose mine. Hey, what did you get to eat?"
"Blueberry muffin. Should've gone with the chocolate cupcake, but I thought maybe that would be too much." I showed her the plate with the muffin.
"Too much chocolate? As if. Be right back."
I stirred my coffee to distribute the syrup, extra sugar and cream, then sipped, enjoying the extra sweetness most people didn't like. Jen was right. I should've gone for the cupcake.
Jen had picked the wrong time to get in line. The midmorn-ing rush had begun, customers lined up four-deep, all the way to the front door. She threw me an annoyed look and a shrug I could only laugh at in sympathy.
The coffee shop had been pretty empty when I entered, but customers who were put off by the line had started snagging tables while they waited to take their turns. I waved at Carlos over in the corner, but he had his earbuds settled deep and his laptop already open. Carlos was working on a novel. He sat in the Mocha from ten to eleven every morning before he went off to work, and on Saturdays, like today, he sometimes stayed longer.
Lisa, her backpack bulging with textbooks, took a table a few seats away and wiggled her fingers at me without noticing Jen's semifrantic waving for me to ignore her. Lisa sold Spicefully Tasty products to pay her way through law school, and though I'd never found her sales pitches annoying, Jen couldn't stand them. Today, though, Lisa seemed preoccupied, focusing on setting out her books and notepad, already clicking her pen as she shrugged out of her coat.
We were the Mocha regulars, like some sort of club. We met up in the mornings before work, in the evenings on the way home and on the weekends, bleary-eyed from the nights before. The Mocha was one of the best parts of living in this neighborhood, and though I'd only been a part of the club for a few months, I loved it.
By the time Jen got back to our booth with her tall cup of something that smelled both minty and chocolaty and her plate of something oozing and gooey, the crowd had settled. The regulars had found their usual spots and the people who'd just stopped in for takeout had bought and left. The Mocha was full now and buzzing with the hum of conversation and the click-clack of keyboards as people took advantage of the free Wi-Fi. I liked the hum. It made me conscious of being there, present. In the moment. This moment.
"She didn't try to hit you up for some sort of cream-cheese spread today, huh? Maybe she got the hint." Jen offered me a fork, and though I wanted to resist, I couldn't help taking just a taste of her brownie.
"I actually like Spicefully Tasty stuff," I said.
"Pffft." Jen laughed. "Get out of here."
"No, I do," I insisted. "It's expensive but convenient. If I ever really cooked, it would be even better."
"You're telling me. All that money for a bunch of spices I can buy two for a buck at the dollar store and mix together myself. Not that I do," Jen added. "But I could."
"Maybe next month." I sipped more rapidly cooling coffee, savoring the richness of the cream. "Once I get some bills paid off."
"You'll have better things to oh. Niiiiice. Finally." Jen's voice dropped to a murmur.
I turned to look where she was staring. I caught a glimpse of a long black duster, a red-and-black-striped scarf. The man carried a thick newspaper under one arm, which in these times of smartphones and webnews was a strange enough sight to make me look twice. He spoke to the girl at the register, who seemed to know him, and took his empty mug to the long counter where all the self-serve carafes of coffee were.
In profile, he was gorgeous. Sandy-blond hair tousled just so, a sharp nose that wasn't overpowering. Crinkles at the corners of his eyes, the color of which I couldn't see but suspected were blue. His mouth, lips pursed in concentration as he filled his mug and added sugar and cream, looked just full enough to be tempting without being too lush.
"Who's that?" I asked.
"Girl," she said in a low, breathy voice. "You don't know who that is?"
"If I knew, would I be asking?"
The man in the black coat passed us so close I could smell him.
I closed my eyes against that second wave of scent, the taste of coffee so strong on my tongue it should've blocked out everything else but didn't. I should've smelled coffee and chocolate, but I smelled oranges. Again. I bent my head and pressed my fingertips to the magic spot between my eyes that worked swell for headaches but did nothing for fugues.
But no swirling colors seeped around the edges of my vision as I opened my eyes again, and the scent of oranges faded the farther away he got. I watched the man in the black coat take a seat facing away from us. He shook out the paper, spreading it open across the small table for two, and put his coffee down to take his coat off.
"You okay?" Jen leaned forward into my range of vision. "I know he's fucking hot and all, but damn, Emm, you looked like you were going to pass out."
"PMS," I said. "I get a little woozy this time of month."
Jen frowned, looking skeptical. "That sucks."
"You're telling me." I grinned to show her I was okay, and thank God I was. Not a hint of even a minor onset like the one that had hit me earlier. I'd smelled oranges because that man smelled of them, not because of some misfiring triggers in my brain. "Anyway. Who is he?"
"That's Johnny Dellasandro."
My expression must've been as blank as I felt, because Jen laughed.
"Garbage? Skin? The Haunted Convent? C'mon, not even that one?"
I shook my head. "Huh?"
"Ooh, girl, where've you been? Didn't you have cable TV growing up?"
"Sure I did."
"Johnny Dellasandro was in all those movies. They showed them a lot on those late-night cable shows like Up Past Midnight. They were slumber party standbys."
My mom had always been too nervous about me spending the night at someone else's house. I'd been allowed to go to the parties so long as she picked me up at bedtime. I'd had slumber parties at my house, though. "Sure, I remember that show. But that was a long time ago."
That sounded a little more familiar, but not enough. I shrugged and looked over at him again. "I never heard of that one."
Jen sighed and looked over her shoulder at him, then leaned forward, lowering her voice and prompting me to lean closer to hear her. "Johnny Dellasandro, the artist? He had that series of portraits that became famous back in the early eighties. Blank Spaces. Sort of like the Mona Lisa of the Andy Warhol era."
I could maybe have picked out a Warhol painting in a museum if it had been lined up alongside a Van Gogh, a Dali, a Matisse. But other than that "Was that the guy who did the soup cans? Marilyn Monroe?"
"Yeah, that was Warhol. Dellasandro's work wasn't quite as kitschy, but it did go a little more mainstream. Blank Spaces was his breakout series."
"You said 'wasn't.' He's not an artist anymore?"
She leaned forward a little more, and I followed. "Well, he has a gallery on Front Street. The Tin Angel? You know it?"
"I've been past it, yeah. Never been inside."
"That's his place. He still does his own work, and he has a lot of local artists there, too." She gestured around the Mocha, hung with samplings of local art, some of her pictures among them. "Better stuff than this. Every once in a while he has some big name in for a show. But he keeps it real low-key, low-profile. At least around here. I guess I can't blame him."
"Huh." I studied him. He was flipping pages of the paper so slowly it looked like he was reading every single word. "I wonder what that's like."
"Being famous and then not."
"He's still famous. Just not in the same way. I can't believe you never heard of him. He lives in that brownstone down the street, by the way."
I tore my gaze from Johnny Dellasandro's back and looked at my friend. "Which one?"
"Which one." Jen rolled her eyes. "The nice one."
"Oh, shit, really? Wow." I looked at him again. I'd bought one of the brownstones on Second Street. Mine, though it had been partially renovated by a previous owner, still needed a lot of work. The one she was talking about was gorgeous, with completely repointed brickwork, brass on the gutters and a fully landscaped yard surrounded by hedges. "That's his place?"
"You're practically neighbors. I can't believe you didn't know."
"I barely know who he is," I told her, though now that she'd been talking about it, the title Blank Spaces sounded more familiar. "I'm not sure the real estate agent mentioned him as a selling point for the neighborhood."
Jen laughed. "Probably not. He's a pretty private guy. Comes in here a lot, though I haven't seen him lately. Doesn't talk a lot to anyone. He keeps to himself."
I drank the last of my coffee and considered getting up to take advantage of the bottomless refills. I'd have to walk right past him, and on the way back I'd get a full-on view of his face. Jen must've read my mind.
"He's worth a peek," she said. "God knows all of us girls in here have made a trip past him a few times. So has Carlos. Actually, I think Carlos is the only one he's ever talked to."
I laughed. "Yeah? Why? Does he like guys?"
I was pretty sure Carlos was straight, judging by the way he checked out every woman's ass when he thought they weren't looking. "No. Dellasandro."
"Oooh, girl," Jen said again.
I liked the way she called me that, like we'd been friends for a long time instead of only a couple months. It had been hard moving here to Harrisburg. New job, new place, new lifethe past supposedly left behind and yet never quite gone. Jen had been one of the first people I'd met, right here in the Mocha, and we'd fallen into friendship right away.
"Yes?" I studied him again.
Dellasandro licked his forefinger before using it to turn the page of his paper. It shouldn't have been quite as sexy as it was. I was letting Jen's excitement color my impression of him, which had been really too brief for it to be so intense. After all, I'd only had a glimpse of his face and had been staring at his back for less than fifteen minutes.
"You have to come over and watch his movies. You'll see what I mean. Johnny Dellasandro's like.a legend."
"He can't have been that much of a legend, since I've never heard of him."
"Okay," Jen amended. "A legend in a certain crowd. Artsy people."
"I guess I'm not artsy enough." I laughed, not taking offense. I'd been to the Museum of Modern Art a few times in New York City. I definitely wasn't the target audience.
"That is a sad, sad shame. Really. I'm pretty sure watching Johnny Dellasandro movies ruined me for regular boys forever."
"That's not exactly a compliment," I told her. "As if there is such a thing as a regular boy, which frankly I'm beginning to doubt."
She laughed and dug again into her brownie with another glance over her shoulder. She lifted her fork, heavy with chocolaty goodness, in my direction. "Come over tonight. I have the entire DVD box-set collection, plus the earlier ones, and what I don't have we can stream from Interflix."
She grinned and bit off the brownie from her fork. "Girl, I will introduce you to some seriously good shit."
"And he lives right here, huh?"
"I know, right?" Jen glanced over her shoulder one more time.
If Dellasandro had any idea we were so scrutinizing him, he didn't show it. He didn't seem to pay any attention to anyone,
as a matter of fact. He read his paper and drank his coffee. He turned the pages one at a time, sometimes using a finger to scan down the print.