Read an Excerpt
Eighty Days Blue
The Eighty Days Trilogy, Book Two
By Vina Jackson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA Copyright © 2012 Vina Jackson
All rights reserved.
A Meal of Oysters
In the middle of Grand Central Station, he kissed me.
It was a lover's kiss – brief, soft and affectionate, full of the lingering memories of a day spent in blissful denial and a reminder that this would be our last night together in New York. We hadn't spoken about the future yet, or the past. Hadn't dared. It was as if these few days and nights were a window between those two looming spectres, best forgotten until the inevitable passing of time forced us to face them head on.
For the next twenty-four hours, we would be lovers, just an ordinary couple, like any other.
One more night and one more day in New York. The future would keep.
It seemed fitting to spend a few of our last minutes together in Grand Central, one of my favourite spots in the city. It's a place where the past and the future meet, where all the disparate fragments of New York mingle – the wealthy, the poor, the punks and the Wall Street girls and boys, tourists and commuters – each passing on their way to separate lives, united only by a hurried few moments of scurrying, all briefly sharing the same experience, racing for a train.
We were on the main concourse, next to the famous four-sided clock. After the kiss, I looked up and around, as I always did when I was standing there. I liked to gaze up at the marble pillars and vaulted arches holding an upside-down Mediterranean sky, the zodiac view that ancient cartographers imagined angels or alien life forms might have when looking down on the Earth from the heavens.
The building reminded me of a church, but having always been ambivalent about religion, I had more respect for the power of the railroad, proof of man's never-ending desire to go somewhere. Chris, my best friend in London, always said that you never really know a city until you've sampled its public transport, and if that was true of anywhere, it was true of New York. Grand Central Station summed up all the things I liked about Manhattan: it was full of promise and alive with the energy of people rushing to and fro, a veritable melting pot of bodies in motion; the opulence and grandeur of the gold chandeliers hanging from the ceiling were a promise to everyone who passed through with nothing but a dime in their pocket that somewhere overhead, opportunity waited.
Good things happen in New York; that was the message of Grand Central Station. If you worked hard enough, if you threw your dream in the ring, then one day you'd get lucky and the city would throw a chance right back at you.
Dominik took my hand and pulled me along through the crowd to the ramp leading down to the Whispering Gallery at the lower level. I'd never been to the Whispering Gallery in St Paul's Cathedral in London either; both were things on my never-ending to-do list of places to visit and things to see.
He stood me in the corner, facing one of the pillars that joined the low arches and then ran to the other side.
'Summer,' he said, his soft voice coming through the pillar as clear as a bell, as if the wall were talking to me. I knew it was an architectural phenomenon – sound waves apparently travelling from one pillar to its opposite across the domed ceiling, nothing more than a bit of acoustic magic – but it was eerie nonetheless. He was a dozen feet away, with his back to me, yet could have been whispering straight into my ear.
'Yes?' I murmured to the wall.
'I'm going to make love to you again later.'
I laughed and turned to look at him. He grinned at me wickedly from across the space.
He walked back and took my hand again, pulling me into another embrace. His torso was pleasantly firm, and he was nearly a foot taller than me, so even in heels I could rest my head on his shoulder. Dominik wasn't bulky – he didn't work out at the gym, or at least not that he had ever mentioned – but he had a lean, athletic physique and the fluid movements of someone who enjoys being inside their body. Today had been hot, coming to the end of a New York summer, the sun during the day so harsh and scorching you could fry an egg on the pavement. It was still muggy, and though we'd both showered before we left Dominik's hotel, I could feel the heat of his skin through his shirt. His hug was like being enveloped in a warm cloud.
'But for now,' he whispered, into my ear this time, 'let's eat.'
We were standing right outside the Oyster Bar. I didn't recall having mentioned to Dominik my love of raw fish – another of my idiosyncrasies that he had guessed correctly. I had half a mind to tell him that oysters made me squeamish, just to make the point that he might not always be right, but I had been wanting to go to the Oyster Bar since I arrived in New York and wasn't going to turn the chance down now. Besides, I'm suspicious of anyone who doesn't like oysters, and he might feel the same way. I didn't want to tell him a lie that might backfire.
It's a popular place and I was surprised that he'd been able to get a reservation at this late notice, though knowing Dominik, he'd probably booked in advance and never mentioned the fact to me. We still had to wait for twenty minutes to be seated, but the waiter brought the menus immediately and waited to take our drinks order.
'Champagne?' Dominik asked, ordering a Pepsi for himself.
'A bottle of Asahi for me, please,' I said to the waiter, watching a hint of a smile pass across Dominik's lips as I ignored his suggestion.
'The menu is rather overwhelming here,' Dominik said. 'Shall we share some oysters to start?'
'Are you trying to fill me with aphrodisiacs?'
'If ever there was a woman who didn't need an aphrodisiac, Summer, it's you.'
'I'll take that as a compliment.'
'Good. I meant it as one. Is there any particular variety of oyster that you prefer?'
The waiter had reappeared with our drinks. I waved away his offer of a glass: beer is meant to be drunk from a bottle. I took a cool sip and glanced at the menu.
They even had oysters from New Zealand here, grown in the Hauraki Gulf, not far at all from my home town. I felt a fleeting ache, a passing pang of homesickness, the curse of the weary traveller. No matter how much I liked whatever new city I happened to be in, I was still at least occasionally plagued by memories of New Zealand. Seafood was one of those things that reminds me of home, of warm days and cool evenings spent in the sea, digging my heels into the soft, wet sand at half-tide to pick out tuatua and pipi, the shellfish that live in shallow waters on sandy beaches, or of Friday nights at the local fish and chip shop, ordering half a dozen deep-fried oysters served in a white paper bag, covered in salt and served with a big slice of lemon.
I asked for half a dozen of something local, whatever the waiter thought was good, and Dominik asked for another half-dozen of the same. Homesickness or no homesickness, I hadn't come all the way to New York to eat seafood from the Hauraki Gulf.
The waiter disappeared to the kitchen, and Dominik stretched his arm across the table and laid his hand over mine. His touch was colder than I expected, considering the heat of his body, and I shivered involuntarily in surprise. He'd been holding his glass with that hand, I realised, and it must be cold, though he always ordered his Pepsi easy on the ice.
'Do you miss it? New Zealand?'
'Yes. Not all the time, but when something reminds me of home, a word or a smell or a sight of something, then I do. Not my friends or my family so much, because I talk to them on the phone and by email, but I miss the land, the ocean. I found living in London hard because it's so flat. Not as flat as the parts of Australia I've lived in, but still flat. New Zealand has a lot of hills.'
'It's like reading a book, watching your face. You give away more than you think. It doesn't all come out in your music, you know.'
He'd been disappointed that I had left my violin in my flat before returning to his hotel room just a couple of streets down from me. I promised that I would fetch it and play for him again before he left. He'd booked an overnight flight and would be taking a cab to the airport tomorrow at around 4 p.m., returning to London, to his duties at the university and his home full of books near Hampstead Heath. My fortuitous week off was coming to a close and I would be back with the orchestra, rehearsing for our new show, on Monday.
We hadn't discussed what would come next. In London, just before I left for New York, we'd had a loose sort of arrangement, a relationship of sorts but an unstructured one. He'd told me that I was free to explore, so long as I told him the details afterwards, a requirement that I had enjoyed. I got a kick out of telling him what I'd been up to, and sometimes I did things or avoided them just for the sake of the following confession. I hadn't mentioned that point to Dominik. He was like the priest I'd never had. He'd seemed either amused or aroused by my adventures until the night that he saw me together with Jasper, when everything had gone so badly wrong.
I hadn't told him about Victor either, the man that I had fallen in with in New York. I wasn't quite sure how to broach that. The games that Victor had played had been so much more perverse than Dominik's tastes. Victor had even sold me, had given me to his acquaintances to use as they wished. I'd gone along with it all, enjoyed most of it. Would I tell Dominik about that? I wasn't sure. It was only forty-eight hours since I left Victor's party, because he had wanted to mark me permanently as his slave, his property, and I had refused. The suggestion of a permanent mark had been just one step too far. Already it felt like a lifetime ago. Being with Dominik had washed the sting of Victor away, at least for the moment. I was also sure that Dominik had known Victor in London and that added a whole layer of awkwardness to the situation.
'How's London?' I asked, changing the subject.
The entrée arrived quickly, despite the reviews I had read suggesting the service was slow here. A dozen oysters were fanned out like jewels on a large white platter with a lemon in the middle, cut into halves, each half covered with white muslin, tied tightly at the top, trapping the seeds inside as if one miscreant pip escaping from the flesh of the fruit might ruin the whole dish.
Dominik shrugged. 'You haven't missed much. I've been working – lecturing, working on some papers in my spare time, doing a lot of writing.' He glanced up at me, caught my eye, hesitated for a moment and then continued. 'I've missed you. Some things have happened that we should talk about, in due course, but for now, let's enjoy tonight. Eat your oysters.'
Dominik brought an oyster to his mouth, resting the shell on one palm as he flicked the fleshy meat into his mouth with the delicate silver fork the waiter had provided. There was something savage about the way that he had extracted the juice from the lemon, so firmly you might say he crushed the fruit, rather than squeezed it. Then, almost as the next step in a well-practised ritual, he sprayed black pepper across the dish with two fierce twists of the grinder. He speared the fish neatly, deftly, not allowing a spare morsel or a drip of juice to stray from its trajectory to his tongue.
I preferred to ignore the fork and just suck the oyster straight from the shell, enjoying the slippery feel of it, the slap of flesh wet against my tongue, untampered by utensils, the salty juice coating my lips.
I looked up to see Dominik watching me.
'You eat like a wild creature.'
'It's not the only thing I do like a wild creature,' I said with an attempt at a sly smile.
'I can't deny that. It's one of the things I like about you. You abandon yourself to your appetites, whatever they might be.'
'In New Zealand, they'd think this a refined way to eat seafood. Back home, I've seen people bite the tongues off pipi, the shellfish we have in the shallow water near the shoreline. They flick their tongues out of their shells when you pick them out of the water and the real enthusiasts bite them straight off, eat them alive.'
Dominik smiled. 'Were you one of those, eating sea creatures alive?'
'No, never had the heart to do it. I thought it cruel.'
'You admired it in other people, I bet, though?'
'Yes. Yes, I did.'
I suppose it's just part of being naturally contrary and something of a rebel, but the more likely a food is to split a room into lovers and haters, the more likely it is that I will enjoy it, or at least admire people who do.
'Fancy a stroll?' Dominik asked, thanking the staff on our way out.
They responded with a warm goodnight. Dominik was a generous tipper. I had read somewhere that you should always pay attention to the way a man treats animals, his mother and waiters, so I filed this bit of information away in his running positive column.
I looked down at my shoes. Black patent stilettos, and as I had only brought my smallest, most glamorous purse, I hadn't had room for a spare pair of flats.
'We can get a taxi if your feet hurt,' he continued.
'Yes, these heels weren't made for walking.'
I thought he would head to the road to hail a cab, but instead he grabbed my wrist and pulled me forcibly to the side. He pressed me up against the wall outside the restaurant by the stairs leading to the East 43rd Street exit and ran his hands down the sides of my body and round to my backside. I could feel the bulge in his trousers against my thigh. I thought he was getting hard, but I couldn't be sure, so I reached a hand down to check. He batted my probing fingers away. Damn him. His habit of getting me all fired up and then leaving me hanging drove me crazy. The quicker we got home, the better.
'I'll have you off them soon enough,' he said as he set me down again, not bothering to whisper.
A middle-aged woman standing in the now long queue outside the Oyster Bar, dressed in cream trousers, faux-snakeskin court shoes and, despite the heat, a pink cardigan, tutted at us.
Dominik linked his arm through mine, and we walked west up 42nd Street to Park Avenue, jostled by the Saturday-night crowd, a sea of partygoers, tourists, showgirls and spectators, all jazzed up and on the lookout for a sniff of the action. The fun part of the weekend was just beginning for most; their energy was gaining an almost manic edge, feeding off the bright lights and flashing billboards, the traffic whizzing by and Times Square Tower soaring into the sky above us like a gaudy middle finger flipping the bird to the more respectable parts of town.
'Did you still want to see a show?' I asked, hoping the answer would be no. We'd floated the idea earlier of behaving like tourists and catching a play on Broadway. True, we'd spent most of the day in bed together, but I for one wasn't worn out and I didn't want to waste our last night.
'I'd rather watch you,' he replied, his eyes glittering, and my heart raced in response as I remembered how much Dominik liked to watch, how aroused he had been after each of the private concerts he'd arranged where I'd played my violin for him in various states of dress and undress. I thought of the precious Bailly that he had bought for me after my own instrument was damaged, on the grounds that in return I would play Vivaldi for him – nude. How after the first solo concert in the crypt in London, he had fucked me against the wall, right there and then, before taking me home to his house in Hampstead and asking me to bring myself to orgasm while he sat in his office chair and watched.
We stood at the intersection while the rest of the world rushed past, and I imagined that if that moment were caught on film, the picture would be of just Dominik and me, our bodies clearly delineated in a whirl of colour, as if we were the only two people who existed, whole, on the streets of New York, while the rest of the population was indistinct, people blending together in a blur, each individual as featureless as the next.
We took a lengthy walk down Broadway, past Union Square, and then veered off towards University Place, avoiding the faded glitz and glamour of Fifth Avenue. By the time we reached my place, my feet were killing me, though the sensation was numbed by the couple of beers I'd had with dinner and the light-hearted feeling I had walking alongside Dominik, with his arm threaded through mine, as if all my troubles had been swept away, at least for one more night and one more day.
Dominik didn't know it, but we were standing outside the apartment that I shared with a Croatian couple, Marija and Baldo, who played in the brass section of the orchestra and spent most of their evenings out. When they were in, they filled the flat with the sound of their lovemaking, heavy breathing and headboard thumping, Marija so loud that I was envious, though of course she may have been faking it. I wasn't sure of the status of their relationship, whether they were married, cohabiting or perhaps living in sin, each on the run from their own respective partners, which would explain why the fire of their lust never seemed to dim.
Excerpted from Eighty Days Blue by Vina Jackson. Copyright © 2012 Vina Jackson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.