I knew that there was no point in trying to go after her. If Amy didn’t want to be found, I wouldn’t be able to find her. I poured a tall drink of blended scotch. My single malt was too expensive to do what I intended to do.
I paced the living room for a few minutes, drinking, and fretting. I was debating whether I should have told her about her dad, but I always came to the same conclusion: it was not my information to withhold. Besides, she was probably right: he would go after her, and I could not stand the idea of that man abusing her. I would fight for her.
I picked up the blanket she had been sleeping with and took a deep whiff of it. Her scent was still on it. I ached. For a month, she’d been ever-present in my life. I had even begun to hope that we might have a good Christmas together. Christmas had been my favorite holiday since I was a child, but the thought of Christmas without Laura had been haunting me, and Amy had eased that a little.
After downing about a pint of whiskey, I started feeling uncomfortably hot, so I grabbed my cap and coat and stepped out into the night air for a walk around the block–more like a stumble. It was well past eleven, and the streets were quieting down. I was vaguely aware of the sound of my shoes on the gritty, damp sidewalk. I was also becoming aware of emotional pain.
The booze was not taking it away anymore. That little switch that flipped after a few drinks which gave me some relief hadn’t popped off tonight. Panic began to rise in me. There was no escaping my grief and worry now.
I stepped into the corner store, not knowing what I was looking for, perhaps just someone to say hello to.
Li said, “We close in 5 minutes. Can I help you find anything, Mr. James?”
“I’m not sure. How about a pack of those Backwoods Cigars?” The thought of a smoke relaxed me a little.
He reached over and grabbed me a pack and slid it over the counter to me.
“That will be $15.99,” he said. I could hear the tiredness of the day in his voice.
I pulled out a twenty, slid it over to him, and said, “Keep the change.”
“Oh! Thank you, Mr. James. That is very generous.”
“Merry Christmas, Li.”
“Yes, Merry Christmas.”
I stumbled as I turned, and he said, “Maybe you go home now. Get some rest.”
“Good idea,” I said, but I didn’t mean it.
The bells jingled as I opened the door to leave, and Li was already turning off the open sign and turning out the front lights. I fumbled with the pouch of Clint Eastwood style cigars until I managed to pull one out. The tobacco was sweet and spicy on my lips as I lit it. I took a deep drag, inhaling as was my custom for just the first puff to get the buzz going.
I thought back to the first time I had met Amy. The bruises on her face. The hard look of need in her eyes. And I began to cry quietly. Suddenly, I felt a great need to be close to someone. I searched my clouded brain for a human connection I could reach out to. I remembered the woman from the bar. I struggled to remember her name. I thumbed through my iPhone for her number. Kyra. It was Kyra.
I constructed a crude text. “It’s James. From the bar. Cheap Irish Whiskey?”
Then I put my phone back in my pocket and walked to my apartment. I wasn’t sure if it could ever be home.
As I fumbled with the door lock, my phone buzzed. I pulled it out. The message said, “what’s up, cutie.”
I replied, “Sorry. Late. Was thinking of you. Need some company. Can we get together?”
“Ummmm…sure. Is everything ok?”
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I didn’t want to talk. I just needed to be close to someone.
“I’m good. How about McMillen’s?”
There was a pause of thirty seconds or so; then, my phone buzzed again.
“I don’t usually do this, but do you just wanna come over?”
“Text me your address. I’ll be over.”
I walked down the hill a ways until I could hail a cab. After a minute or so of walking, a cab pulled over.
I got in. “Thanks, buddy, 2200 Leavenworth. It’s in Russian Hill,” I said, trying to prevent my speech from slurring.
He pulled out and began driving.
“You doing ok, my friend?”
My head was buzzing, but not quite spinning.
“Yeah, just going to meet a friend.”
“Ah…a lady friend, perchance?”
“Something like that.”
He chuckled. “I don’t mean to intrude. Quiet night.”
Her apartment was in the part of San Francisco I was least familiar with. Although I was still intoxicated, I was finding my footing again as I stepped out of the cab. I paid the cabbie and sent Kyra a text.
“Come to the lobby door, will meet you.”
I popped a breath mint and let the menthol and the night air fill my nose and mouth. It felt as if a slow rain was rolling down inside of me—a sadness. I needed to hold someone to be held by someone.
“James?” came a silky voice from behind me.
“Damn, you look like you’ve had a rough night,” she said.
She was wearing a t-shirt, pajama shorts, and slippers. She was the kind of beautiful I needed to see. She took me by the hand and led me inside, stopping briefly in the lobby to kiss me softly on the cheek. “Come on. Let me take care of you,” she said, leading me to the elevator, which was standing open for us.
When the door closed us in, she took off my hat and played with my hair for a moment. Her perfume slid into me like a warm breeze and caused me to relax. I’d been grinding my teeth.
She said nothing as she took me into her studio apartment. The walls were lavender, and a candle was burning next to a platform bed in the corner.
“Can I fix you a drink?”
I shook my head, and she gestured to a cushy cream white sofa where we sat.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
I shook my head and looked deeply into her eyes. She returned my gaze with great sympathy and touched my scruffy face. I took off my coat and laid it on the back of the sofa.
She got up and put on some music. I recognized the song: Damien Rice, Delicate: a bittersweet acoustic love song with an Irish bent. It was the same song we had heard at the pub where we had met. Then she sat down next to me and pulled me to her so that our cheeks were touching and I could feel her moist breath on my neck. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and a warm tremor flowed through me. I ran my fingers up the back of her neck into her pixie hair, which was as soft as down.
“James,” she whispered in my ear., “I want to be whatever you need me to be tonight. Just tell me what you need.”
I put my hand on the small of her back and kissed her wet on the neck. She let out a breath and moved her hand up the back of my neck into my hair, pulling me closer. I kissed her cheek, and then her mouth. Her taste increased my heart rate a little bit, and I kissed her hard while she opened up to me. The switch I’d been trying to flip all evening flipped, and my suffering left me. My worries left me. My pain left me.
I stood Kyra up and pulled her into my arms, still kissing her firmly on the mouth, our tongues beginning to move together. She took my hands and pulled me toward the bed, compassion pouring from her eyes into mine. She pulled off her T-shirt, revealing her small breasts and let it fall to the floor. Then she took off her shorts so that all she was wearing were her white cotton panties. I began to take off my shirt, but she stopped me and began to unbutton me herself.
She took her time undressing my body, kissing each part she uncovered as my arousal increased. When I was completely naked, she turned and leaned back into me, our bodies pressing closer; her buttocks rubbing against me, my arms embracing her. I slid her panties off, and she took my hands she coaxed me down on top of her on the bed, guiding me into herself slowly a little bit further with every thrust.
We became lost in each other. We shed time and space as we made love. I let her fragrance coax the dark parts of me into the light. Her touch soothed my wounds. Her sighs were like small pieces of a song I’d been trying to hear for months.
We climaxed slowly and freely until it faded, and we were just two bodies, two souls intertwined and breathing. I pulled away and rolled onto my back. She laid her head on my smooth chest and played with the small hairs of my lower abdomen.
We never spoke as we fell asleep together in the flickering light of the candle.
I awoke to the smell of coffee. Kyra had poured me a shot of whiskey and a cup of black coffee.
“Do you take anything in your coffee?” she said, wearing nothing but my shirt.
My head was hurting, and I was a little queasy from not having my usual hangover prevention cocktail the night before. “No, the whiskey is fine.”
I tossed it back and took a sip of the coffee. It was strong, which suited me.
We sat down at her kitchen table and shared a tranquil moment of silence as if we had known each other for longer.
“Do you have to work this morning?” she asked.
I looked at my watch. It was already nine o’clock. “I guess not. I’ll call in sick.”
“Do pancakes sound good?” she asked, moving toward the refrigerator.
I gestured to the coffee, saying, “This is good for now.”
“Will it bother you if I make some?”
“Knock yourself out. Maybe another shot of whiskey? Hair of the dog.”
She opened up a cabinet, pulled out a bottle, and put it in front of me. I poured another shot and sipped it. It began to steady me a little. Then she poured one for herself and tossed it back. She made a sour face.
“Man! How do you drink this in the morning?
“Years of practice,” I said.
Then she came around and sat on my lap and said, “I think you’ve had years of practice at something else.”
She began to play with my hair and kiss me on the face, but I wasn’t feeling it.
“Oh,” I said, gently setting her on her feet again. “I dabble a little bit.”
“Is everything ok,” she said with a look of concern on her brow.
“I’ve got some stuff going on.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
I took a deep breath and put my forehead in my hands. “I dunno. It’s kind of a long story.”
“Try me,” she said, sitting down and setting her coffee in front of her.
“Ok. There’s this girl. A young girl, just seventeen. She’s a runaway.” I felt the need to choose my words carefully. “I’ve been sheltering her for a few weeks.”
“You’ve been living with a seventeen-year-old runaway?”
“You don’t think that’s a little weird?” she said.
“I don’t know if it’s weird. I don’t see her that way.”
“But how does she see you?”
“I’m not sure. I mean, if you mean, does she see me in a romantic way? I doubt it.” I thought back to how she had responded to me going out. Had she been jealous?
“Ok. Maybe it’s not weird,” she said. “Maybe you’re just a really great guy helping someone in need.”
I put my finger on my nose and said, “Bingo.”
“So, what’s the problem?” she asked.
“Well, I ran into her dad who wants her back, but when she found out, she took off. That was last night.”
She nodded and took a sip of her coffee. “Do you have any idea where she could be?” she asked.
“Not really. She used to stay at the shelter near Union Square, but that seems a little obvious now.”
“And so, you’re worried that the father might find her? Is he abusive?”
“Yeah. I think he’s pretty bad. She was bruised up pretty bad when I first met her.”
“Have you considered going to the cops?”
“She doesn’t want me to.”
“She is just a kid.”
“She’ll be 18 soon.”
“All the better. She can be protected from her dad. They can nail the motherfucker.”
“I would like nothing more, but I made a promise to her, and I intend to keep it.”
“Ok. Ok,” she said, nodding her head. “I get that. You know, I ran away from home when I was a teenager, too.”
“Yeah. My family life really sucked.”
“Sorry to hear that. Was it your dad?”
“It was both. They were fighting all the time, and I felt ignored, so one night, I packed up some stuff and took off. I lived with a friend for a few days, but they found me. They got a divorce soon after, and things got better. Nothing like what your friend is probably going through.”
“Yeah. Her mother died. It was just her and her dad.”
She reached out across the table and held my hand.
“I’m sorry this is happening to you and your friend, and I’m really glad you reached out to me.”
“I am, too, Kyra,” I said, squeezing her hand. “Last night was amazing, but–”
“Well, I’m just not looking to get involved with anyone.”
She moved her hand away and looked down at the table.
“I’ve been through some stuff, and—” I began.
“No,” she nodded, still looking down. “I get it. You just needed someone to get you through the night.”
She pushed out her chair and stood up. “Well, then maybe you ought to go.”
“I’m in no hurry.”
“Well, I’ve got a lot to do today, and I think it would just be best,” she said, turning her back to me.
I got up and started putting on my clothes. The energy in the room had shifted, and I didn’t think there was any way of shifting it back. Her back was still to me.
“Don’t be that way,” I said, “Remember what you said last night? You asked me what I needed from you. Well, this is what I needed. You were wonderful. I am grateful.”
“No. You’re right,” she said.
“Um, I kind of need that,” I said.
She turned around, tears in her eyes, and stared at me for a moment. Then she began to unbutton the shirt showing her naked body. She was petite, but she had such a compelling curve to her hips. I began to feel aroused.
She walked towards me and let the shirt fall to the floor. She must have seen that I was erect through my underwear because she grabbed it familiarly, and I moaned.
“You like that?” she asked, continuing to stroke and caress me.
She pulled down my underwear, and I kicked it off. Then she knelt and took me in her mouth skillfully and quickly bringing me to climax, making me gasp aloud. She got up and poured another shot of whiskey and tossed it back.
“I haven’t seen the last of you, James. Maybe I’m not looking for anything serious either, but you can’t deny that something special happened between us last night.”
I raised my eyebrows and then put on my clothes and shoes.
“I won’t deny that,” I said, kissing her on the cheek. And in that moment, I didn’t know what I wanted at all other than to find Amy.
“I hope your friend is ok, James. If there’s anything I can do, please don’t hesitate to call me. Seriously,” she added.
“I appreciate that,” I said, and I did. I appreciated her for all that she had done. “So, you’ll be ok?”
She pressed her lips together and nodded, “Don’t worry about me, James. I can take care of myself. Have been for years.” She smiled, touched my face, then kissed me deeply, but just for a few seconds.
I hugged her, swigged a last bit of coffee, and left.
As I started trying to hail a cab, I called into work to say that I’d be out sick today.