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The winds of change blew a nasty gust of havoc from one end of Morningside Drive to the other. It knocked over unchained garbage cans, rattled windows and stirred up unswept trash. As fate would have it, there were only a selected few whose doors were not only knocked on but kicked in.
Barbara Allen lifted the sheer white curtain from her third-floor bedroom window and peeked outside. The sky was dull gray, the clouds as heavy as a maternity ward of expectant mothers. Stately brown-stones were shrouded in fog, reminiscent of a scene out of an old English movie, but the lively radio voices of the KISS FM Wakeup Club playing in the background made the surreal come down to earth.
"Thank God it's Friday." She dropped the curtain back into place before sitting on the side of her bed.
She stuck her feet into her thick-soled white shoes, the third piece of her standard white ensemble. Finding something to wear five days a week hadn't been a problem for close to fifteen years.As a licensed rehabilitation therapist, white was de rigueur.
Barbara enjoyed her work at New York's Cornell University Medical Center. On the orthopedic unit where she worked, she'd met everyone from the grandmother with a hip replacement to the star athlete with a torn tendon.
She picked up her carryall bag from the foot of the bed and walked into her living room en route to the front door, but stopped short. Two empty wineglasses sat in proud accusation on her coffee table. A hot flash from the previous evening played with her mind: a little wine, some easy jazz, a cool breeze and a man young enough to be her son.
The alarm of her cell phone rang on her hip, its gentle vibration sending an unexpected thrill to shimmy down the inside of her thighs. It had been a long time if the vibration from a cell phone could get her going. Maybe she should have let that young boy stay the night. What he may have lacked in experience he could make up for with energy. She chuckled to herself at the ridiculousness of the notion and wondered what the girls would have to say. What she should have done was never let him within ten feet of her apartment in the first place. What had she been thinking? Hmmph, she knew what she'd been thinking. Fortunately, good sense prevailed and not a minute too soon.
Barbara gingerly picked up the glasses with the tips of her fingers as if they had the power to mysteriously conjure Michael up if she stroked them too hard — like a genie in a bottle. Holding them away from her body she went to the kitchen and deposited them in the sink, but not before being pulled into the watery remains that floated in the bottom of the glasses...warm hands, seductive words, sexual star-vation...the kiss...almost. Grrrr. With a shake of her head she pushed the images aside, slung her bag onto her shoulder and headed out. She was much too old to be longing after that young boy as if he was dessert, she scolded herself while locking the front door. But if just thinking about him felt this good, then... Barbara, don't let yourself get tripped up in those thoughts. Too long in the unholy state of abstinence must be frying your brain, girl.
She trotted down the three flights of stairs, her standard shoulder-length ponytail bouncing behind her. She hurried passed the doors of her sleeping neighbors, careful when passing old man Carter's door so as not to stir up that maniac fox terrier of his that thought it was a pit bull. The dog was no bigger than a cat, but noisy enough to wake up the whole building. She chuckled to herself. If she didn't get caught in any unexpected traffic on FDR Drive she should arrive at the hospital in plenty of time to get some coffee and relax before her shift started at eight.
The hospital rehab ward was where she'd met Michael Townsend six months earlier and where her current dilemma began.
He'd had surgery on his knee and was assigned to her for rehabilitation. Her job was to get him ready to resume his position with the NBA. His job, it seemed, was to get her in a position in his bed.
For the life of her, Barbara couldn't fathom why a young, gorgeous, wealthy man would be interested in her: a widow, old enough to be his mother and at least ten pounds overweight. Well...maybe five. Genetics played a big role in her smooth caramel-brown complexion, but was also responsible for her 42-inch hips and 40-C bust line. She was a solid size sixteen, and with her love of a good meal she knew, without careful monitoring, she could shoot past sixteen and keep right on going. Big women ran in her family on both sides like track stars trying to see who gets to the finish line first. Her mother and aunt on her father's side were in a constant dead heat.
Maybe that was it, she'd surmised. She was sure Michael must have some kind of mother-separation issue. But he'd told her on more than one occasion that he may have thought of her in a lot of ways, but mother never entered his mind.
She hadn't said a word to the girls about Michael and it was killing her. She wasn't sure if she'd resisted telling them out of embarrassment or afraid that they would all agree that she should give in and give it up! What would she do then? She knew she couldn't hold out much longer and she needed some advice other than her own.
The wind kicked up a notch as Barbara stepped outside. She hurried toward the corner where her car was parked, just as the first fat drop of rain hit her on the tip of the nose.
April, she thought.
By the time she got her ten-year-old Volvo warmed up enough to drive, rain danced furiously against everything it hit.
"This can't last," she muttered as she watched the wipers wage a fruitless battle against the deluge.
A sudden rapping on her window nearly had her drawing her last breath. She peered through the foggy driver's-side window then pressed the button to lower it.
"Stephanie! Damnit, you nearly scared me to death."
Barbara rolled her eyes and unlocked the doors. Stephanie jumped in the backseat. "Whew. Almost drowned out there."
"What in the world are you doing going out this early? It's barely 7:00 a.m."
Stephanie laughed in that way of hers that made you believe that life was simply wonderful all the time. "Going out! Girl, I'm just coming in. Long night." She laughed again, followed by a delicate yawn.
Barbara shook her head in amazement. Stephanie Moore was the party girl of the quartet and at least four nights out of five she could be found in some nightclub or four-star restaurant with any one of an assortment of handsome, eligible and not-so-eligible men. All work related, she would insist during their weekly Friday-night soirees. And the remaining trio would regularly um-hmmm her with raised brows of doubt.
Stephanie's job as senior publicist for H. L. Ruben & Associates, one of the most powerful PR agencies in the country, was demanding on a variety of levels, the most demanding of which was keeping the company's high-profile, high-paying clients happy and scandal free. Suffice it to say, Stephanie was a pro who could put such a convincing spin on a bad situation that you would walk away believing that the bad situation was truly a blessing. And she had the looks to go with the job. She could have easily been a runway model and had done some print work right out of college, but felt it was not her true calling. But she maintained her flair for fashion and her makeup on clear, cinnamon-toned skin, framed with an expensive "I can't believe it's a weave," complete with strawberry-blond highlights that were always a showstopper. Stephanie Moore was a Tyra Banks look-alike without the big boobs. "So who was it this time?" She glanced at Stephanie in the rearview mirror and swore she saw a small bruise on the side of Stephanie's neck. It was then that she noticed that Stephanie was actually holding the top of her blouse together. "Steph...is everything okay?" She twisted around in her seat. Stephanie Moore may be a lot of things but disheveled, even at 7:00 a.m., was not one of them.
Stephanie brushed the water from her midthigh black skirt and crossed her long legs. "Yes. Fine. Tired, but fine." She brought her delicate hands toward her neck. "And to answer your other question, just another wannabe. Cute, though. Where are you headed?"
"Work. Where else?"
"Could you drop me off in front of my building? I need to get out of these wet clothes and take a nap. I was dozing in the cab, and the idiot cabdriver let me out too soon."
"Steph, you live three houses down."
"I know, but aren't you going that way?" Barbara glanced at her friend again in the mirror. Dark circles rimmed the bottom of her lids as if her mascara had entered into the New York Marathon.
"You coming over tonight?" she asked, cruising to stop in front of Stephanie's building.
"Wouldn't miss it. What are you fixing?"
"I thought I'd fix my pasta salad. Everyone seems to like it."
"What about you?"
"Wine, of course."
"I caught that note of sarcasm. Can I help it if you, Ann Marie and Ellie are better cooks than I am? No sense in disappointing you guys with my hopeless dishes." She puckered her lips. "That was one of Brian's biggest complaints. I was great in bed, wonderful to look at but I couldn't boil an egg. Go figure." She shrugged in her patent dismissive fashion, but her tone lacked its usual sass. "His loss." She popped the car door open. "Thanks, Barb. See you tonight."
Before Barbara could respond or ask the questions that hovered on the tip of her tongue, Stephanie had darted out of sight and into her building. For a moment she sat there wondering just what kind of night Stephanie had really had. She turned on the radio and slowly drove off.
She often wished she was more like Stephanie; carefree, secure in her sexuality and not caring much what others thought of her and her choices. Unfortunately she was the polar opposite, hence her dilemma about Michael. And maybe it was just as well.
Barbara arrived with only fifteen minutes to spare before she had to clock in. She went directly to the staff lounge hoping against hope that a fresh pot of coffee would be there to welcome her.